Saturday, 29 June 2013

secret: once i was an idealistic uni student, now i'm a person with ideas

My theory (based on personal experience) is, you grow into politics. Living in Australia and being faced with compulsory voting, you can maintain minimal care factor if you so wish, but it always seemed to me like a superpower of sorts: if you have it, use it for good. Not evil. That's what I learned from Saturday morning cartoons.

Growing up, our family never really talked about that sort of thing - in fact I do remember trying to figure out what voting days were all about for quite a while. My parents never really expressed an opinion to us either way, which meant my knowledge of how a government worked in Australia was gleaned from several (let's face it) half-assed history/civics classes in high school; half-assed perhaps because of the victory of that guy, John Howard, having become PM in 1996- teachers, in my experience, tend to be a bit left-leaning, even when they don't make a big deal of it.

I never really had anything pushed on me, is what I'm saying. This has its good and its bad parts - I have always felt free to think for myself, and have really come at everything from both the values I learned from my parents and the lessons I'd learned for myself in the world, leaving me to make my own conclusions. But I also never had anything to start from and rebel against, which is part of the circle of life; you rebel against your parents and then inevitably you see what they were talking about and concede some points to them. Evenutally. When you're old enough that it won't hurt your pride.

So I floated through highschool without much of an idea of anything, besides who the PM was. And it was always Howard, so there wasn't much that needed updating. I had been given no examples of how a government might affect me as a person, so I did not care.

I turned 18, I registered to vote, I voted - I don't remember exactly who for, but having moved to inner north melbourne, we were always a Labor seat anyway, so I suppose I just went with the crowd. I may even have voted Green, simply because I was a fan of the colour and thought that people who like rainforests can't be all bad. This was my first experience as an Australian voter.

I started at uni the next year and it was like a light went on. I realised what it meant to be a young, semi-independent adult out in the world. I relished the joy of forming opinions based upon a glorious mix of things I read in the Age, social & political commentary from my lecturers (trying to maintain a veneer of impartiality & oftentimes failing miserably), things told to me by people I knew or had just met at a party, fueled by cheap wine and well-meant idealistic passion.

Suddenly, I cared. I protested the introduction of Voluntary Student Unionism, marched the streets of Melbourne with thousands of others; oh the heady power of stopping city traffic. It was because it started to be directly relevant to me, as an individual person. I think that's the key to buy-in from the average australian: once you realise exactly how a decision in government might affect your day-to-day life, suddenly then there are stakes and interest.

Alongside this revelation came the development of my personal politics as a fledgling radical feminist. I had also just broken up with someone who had sought, either consciously or subconsciously, to squash down any sort of inconvenient rebellion against his view of the world. Emancipated, I immersed myself in feminist theorists; built up quite the feminist library. I was so hungry for it all - this idea i'd been unable to articulate that sometimes I felt unhappy about the way things were for me as a woman. Equipped with theory and not a little hell-fire, I started to take on anyone and everyone about every-single-fucking-thing that bothered me about the damned patriarchy.

I'm grateful to all the friends I argued with who argued back in those idealistic years. I still get a little nostaglic for the conversations I'd find myself in on trams, walking away from a lecture at uni through princes park back to brunswick, over a coffee, or a wine, or a jug of beer. Yelled at each other over pub noise, earnestly put forward in a quiet voice with such intense eye-contact, banging the table adamantly at various points of the conversation. Such a good time in my life, empowered by my ability to have opinions of my own, to rethink all the parts of the world that I didn't even know I was allowed to question until then.

A labour government was elected in 2007 and for the first time, I cared. We had an election party, glued to the tv, hugging and cheering when a majority was announced. It felt like a piece of history to be part of, and I felt connected to every other person in Australia who was also cheering and hugging. Interestingly, I've never been dogmatic about political parties (reasonably, I allowed them a few faults each), but I knew for my particular agenda and interests, a Labour government was the better way to go.

My personal feminist politics continued to flourish and edge towards the radical- such an exciting place to be, deconstructing every single part of patriarchy, marching about finding everything from public spaces right down to the English language to be misogynistic. My vocabulary changed; I dressed differently; I inhabited my body, rebelliously unapologetic for taking up space. It was inspiring to be around other passionate women and academics who argued with everyone, refusing to sit quietly and agreeably in the corner. Fuck the Patriarchy, etc.

At the same time, I was in a relationship with a man deeply into social theorists such as Marx, Freud, Castoriadis. We were speaking two different languages and it's only with the wisdom of time that I figured that out. We tried, but there's no way to match the both in a meaningful way that is acceptable for two folk hell-bent on living their politics to the letter.

The other thing that happened was to celebrate the end of my degree, I went on a hike in Tasmania with two friends, one of which was an adamant radical lesbian feminist. Yup, that's a lot of self-applied labels. The hike is a story in and of itself which I may tell at some point in the future, but the punch line is that it was tough work and we're not friends anymore. She didn't find my brand of feminism to be feminist enough, and although i had cut my hair and stopped shaving day legs by then, I still didn't fit her idea of feminist. Part of me knew it was ridiculous, another part felt like a bit of a fraud - she had this amazing ability to take a grip of your very psyche. I'm not the only poor soul this happened to.

As time passed post-uni, I cared less and less for politics, personal or federal. Disillusioned, exhausted from full-time work, unable to air my ideas without them being undermined by fucking Marx (well, my live-in academic, channelling Marx), I hate to admit it, but I gave it all up. Instead of caring about things, I went to the gym a lot. 

From there I spent 3 years in Canada, where I avoided Australian news as much as I could. Care factor: close to zero. Gaining a female prime minister rated, but only just, and mainly for novelty value. I stopped correcting sexist idiots and protesting sexist behaviour. Whistler was a lot of amazing things, but it was also male, middle class and white, a sport and drinking culture where my short hair didn't fit in, and I got told by another woman the reason I hadn't found a boyfriend was because I needed to shave my legs more regularly. Sometimes women are the most evil about these things. 

But whatever; I focused on being an awesome snowboarder, soothed my sense of responsibility to society by working for Whistler Community Services Society, empowered myself as a human being by living selfishly and focusing on myself. I let everyone else do the same things; I didn't challenge anyone anymore than I absolutely had to. It was a wonderful time of my life, despite and perhaps because of this lack of political involvement. 

But now, I've been back in Australia a year. I'm 27 instead of 23. And suddenly, I care about things again. The piece I wrote recently that had such a reaction from everyone reading my blog has only served to encourage me to keep caring; to care even more. As I've said, I'm happy to call myself a feminist again, but it does mean something different this time- it feels a bit less judgemental and a little more inclusive. Anyone and everyone can and should be a feminist on some level. These issues are issues that affect us all, and it is short sighted to shut men out, or women who wear makeup (I have to admit, there are still a lot of beauty practices I refuse to buy into, but I do occasionally shave my legs, and I grew my hair out in the end), or to devalue the input of any woman who has made different choices to the ones I've made. I've grown into politics- if people care passionately about their world, themselves and each other, then hot damn, that's a great start. That makes me want to sit down and have a drink with you and talk things and stuff.

I've been feeling very disillusioned in the past weeks about the state of Australian politics, however. I'm yet to figure out how to make peace with the impending election outcome. I'm not confident of our country in the hands of either (but especially) Abbott or Rudd. I liked Gillard. I liked there being a woman in charge, it made me feel a lot less anxious than any of the other options. I have a fear that the average Australian, with these men in their ears, will feel that Gillard failed as PM because she is a woman, and I fear how long it might take before we let any woman take charge again, which may or may not mean we lose out as a country.

I look forward to a political figure I can get behind and believe in passionately. Whichever sex they may be. 

In the meantime, I'm going to keep reading and writing and talking and thinking about the world I live in. I'm going to get comfortable about caring again; about disagreeing (respectfully). And I'm going to live in Sweden next year, check out a more functional country's politics, and maybe come back in time for Abbott's term to be up. Maybe.

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