Category Archives: bullying

alan jones, bullies, and my dead grandad

My grandfather was not a good man. I realise it is generally considered uncouth to say such things about one’s relatives, especially the dead ones, but, the truth is, my grandfather lived almost 91 years and yet died virtually friendless. At his funeral only the scantest sprinkling of immediate family and close family friends – ours not his – were present. What I remember most was that the Presbyterian minister – a Masonic ‘brother’ from my grandfather’s lodge – recited a most ridiculous little speech about the grief he imagined the deceased’s loved ones to be enduring. In truth, few of us were sorry to see Grandad go. One of his nearest and dearest, in fact, had requested an open coffin viewing in order, she told me, ‘to be sure the bastard was dead’. Such was the affection with which my grandfather was remembered by those who knew him best. Grandad’s is the only funeral I can remember leaving dry eyed.

One of nine children born into grinding poverty in Glasgow in 1906, my grandfather shared a bed with two of his brothers. The family cottage was tiny; my grandfather’s bed was hidden inside a hallway cupboard during the day, and folded out for the boys to sleep in each night. My great-grandfather, who died before I was born, was, by all accounts, a cruel and violent man with a terrifyingly volatile temper. He would beat his children – and in particular, his sons – on a whim, with whatever weapon came to hand. Whispered family stories tell of brutal bashings with cricket bats and iron bars. In the end, Great-grandad finally died of an infection subsequent to presenting at a hospital emergency room with a slit throat. The official story was that his injury was the result of a botched suicide attempt. According to my mother’s cousin, John, who has an interest in genealogy and so conducted interviews with family members of that generation before they died, my forebears’ dirty little secret is that, in fact, after a lifetime of violent abuse, one of Great-grandad’s sons finally did for him.

It’s little wonder then that my grandfather grew up tough – and mean. He didn’t marry until his late-thirties and so was quite old by the time he and my grandmother emigrated to Australia, following my mother who had married an Australian lad and begun a family here. Grandad was bald as an egg – he had been since his 20s – but sported a tenacious half ring of grey bristle that prickled from ear to ear above his collar. He was physically imposing – tall, barrel chested and strong, even in old age. But it was his invisible yet quite tangible presence that I remember most. Grandad possessed a power to impose his mood on a household that was breathtaking in efficacy. Even as a small child, I wondered how it was he was able to do it. When he and my grandmother were spending a holiday with us, I could wake in the morning and know before I left my room whether Grandad’s mood du jour had turned dangerous yet or not.

When he was feeling chipper, Grandad could be jovial and generous. He had a repertoire of silly jokes and delighted to make us children laugh. When the mood took him, he would empty his pockets of change and with a kindly wink, tell us to ‘pop it in yer moneyboxes’. And then, ‘…to buy books!’ he would call after us as we scampered away. Grandad was entirely obsessed with self-education. He had left school at 11 and had never quite recovered from the sting of failing to make better than Captain during his Second World War posting in Italy. He was always after us kids to read the classics. We ignored him at the time, of course, but years later, having uncovered a love great literature in myself, I often smile to think he’d have been pleased in his way.

But life with Grandad was lived on a knife edge. His mood would change without warning or obvious provocation, and a profound, threatening blackness would descend on the house. It was as though rage were seeping from Grandad’s pores, or flashing from his eyes and fingertips like lightning. We all were acutely aware of his every twitch and tone for the duration of the darkness. My mother, though not herself a victim of the violence of Grandad’s younger years, had many times heard him beating her mother and brothers behind closed doors. When Grandad’s moods were upon him – and we seldom went a whole day without one during a visit – my mother would enter a state of brittle, wild-eyed terror and, drag me and my two sisters along with her. We girls would have to fly about getting Grandad cups of tea and anticipating imminent requests for other treats, turning down the television, speaking way more politely that was usual for us, and generally not-upsetting-your-grandfather. I cannot recall that Grandad’s aggression was ever more visible than power pouting but I do remember the gut-wrenching fear of the possibility that Something Much Worse could happen that held me in its grip on those days.

Although I understand now that she could do no better, I remain capable of flashes of anger that my mother taught me the most important thing to do when confronted with a bully is to avoid any possibility that you might irritate them further, whatever the cost to yourself. I learned to fear the anger of others, and to internalise blame whether or not their feelings had anything to do with me. I have come a very long journey learning to overcome a pathological dread of conflict. In part, I attribute to that phobia my teenage attraction to Christianity, and my staying so many years subject to the manipulation and control that was a central feature of my church experience.

By the end of his life, Grandad hated everyone. He was road raging waaaay before it became a thing. I remember shrinking down in the back of his car while he shook his fist at drivers who had dared to irritate him, shouting ‘Swine!’ and ‘Bastard!’ out of the window, even, perhaps especially, at women. He spent the last decade of his life in a bedsit at a War Veterans home in Sydney; meal times in the communal dining room were an abiding misery for him. Every time we visited it wouldn’t take him long to get around to complaining about the other residents: ‘That bloody fat-arsed bitch Annie MacDonald with her fucking whining….’ Annie seemed often to be the focus of Grandad’s ire. I often wondered at her boldness in continuing so to brazenly piss him off. I used to like to imagine she was a strong woman who enjoyed the game, and to wish that I’d been able to do the same.

***

I had cause to think of my grandfather this week as a furor erupted over the words of another nasty and powerful man. I live in Queensland so don’t listen to Alan Jones’ 2GB program, and only get to hear of his exploits when he’s crossed another line, as he so often does. The public outcry since the vile content of his recent speech was made public has been astonishingly loud. In response to what is probably unprecedented public pressure, so far over 60 companies who formerly advertised during Jones’ immensely popular radio program have withdrawn their support. A petition to sack Alan Jones has managed to attract over 107, 000 signatures to date. I have signed the petition myself, and sent numerous emails to advertisers suggesting they rethink their advertising policy in light of Jones’ long history of bigoted, racist, and misogynistic hate-speech.

Alan Jones (AAP).

There has, though, been some criticism of the social-media-driven campaign against Jones. Jones made what I think was a ludicrous attempt at an apology-thingy on Sunday and some have suggested that ought to be the end of it. But, rather than contrition, Jones used his ‘apology’ press conference to further express his contempt for his detractors. Not surprisingly, this riled more than a few of us up even further. Some have suggested that the anti-Jones backlash is an ALP stunt. While I have no doubt the ALP won’t miss an opportunity to gain political ground wherever it can, I can’t see 100, 000 signatures appearing on a petition almost overnight unless most of those people were just really, really annoyed. Mumbrella editor Tim Burrowes commented that the action will make little difference in the long term. That could be true, but, in my view, that’s not what’s really important.

Paul Sheehan argues that the public backlash against Jones is disproportionate to his crimes, that it is an abuse of power, an act of bullying in itself. While I couldn’t care less whether Alan Jones actually loses his job over this, and while I acknowledge his right to free speech, the point is, a significant number of Australians, including some of Jones’ former fans and toadying political pals, have stood up and said, ‘We don’t like what you did. We want you to stop.’ That’s precisely the way to handle bullies. Ask any Year 2 teacher. It’s what I did in response to my grandfather phoning to abuse me when I was the 20-something mother of toddlers. ‘Grandad,’ I said, ‘I’m a grown woman. I don’t have to take this any more.’ And I hung up.

Jones is acting like a bully who has gotten away with his behaviours for far too long. To me, it looks as though Australia has risen to its feet and said in a loud voice, and without trembling, that we’re not going to put up with his nonsense any more. That is our right and our responsibility, and I’m proud to have participated. It’s likely Jones will go on to offend again, bullying is how he makes his living after all, and plenty of people don’t seem to mind that he does. But my hope is that when Jones once more goes too far, a whole lot of us will rise up and shout a little bit louder. And the time after that, louder again.

I learned something I didn’t know about Alan Jones while reading an article by David Penberthy this week. Penberthy says that, when he isn’t inciting thugs to racial violence, denigrating women, or suggesting our Prime Minister ought to be subjected to a violent death, Alan Jones ‘busies himself with generous acts for put-upon individuals and families, doing unpaid charity work, [and] writing letters to ministers on behalf of people who are illiterate or uneducated’. Who knew? If that’s true, perhaps Jones isn’t rotten to the core, and perhaps he has managed to earn the respect of one or two healthy, emotionally functional adults who have no reason to fear him. Jones is not a young man. Perhaps these good deeds will lead to a more impressive turn out at Jones’ funeral than my grandfather was able to garner.

But if I had Alan Jones’ ear for 5 minutes, this is what I’d say:

Fame is not the same thing as respect, Alan Jones, and fear is not the same as love. Who loves you, Alan? Who knows you – really knows you – and loves you still? Who will weep for you when you are gone? And what will your legacy to the Australian people be? How will the rest of us remember you, Alan? With your power, your platform, your gift of the gab, what did you do to make Australia a better, fairer, safer, kinder place for our children and grandchildren to inherit? What has been your most noble contribution, Mr Jones? And if you’re struggling to think, consider this: My grandfather lived a good deal longer than many men do. Every morning for more than 90 years he rose to a day full of possibilities, a bright instant in which to leave his mark on the world. And every day, almost without exception, he chose to do harm and not good. If that doesn’t strike you as horribly sobering and dreadfully sad, then I feel very, very sorry for you indeed.

an open letter to catherine deveny

Dear Catherine,

I realise you don’t know me but I feel compelled to write. I’m a close friend of Chrys Stevenson and, because I follow Chrys’ writing, I’ve been aware of some of the furore that has erupted since your appearance on Q&A on Monday night (10 September, 2012).

In a previous incarnation, I was a fundamentalist Christian and pastor’s wife. That’s not the relatively bland statement it may appear. I, and my children, were profoundly damaged by Christianity and, some years after leaving, we are still recovering. In any case, I thought you might like to know how that particular Q&A program looked to someone like me.

I understand, I think, what you mean when you describe Archbishop Peter Jensen as pure evil. His conduct on Q&A reminded me very much of how my ex-husband used to drive me to the point of blind rage, and then try to get me to believe I was the one at fault for losing my rag. It’s part of a clever technique I now know is called gaslighting.

Ingrid Bergman in ‘Gaslight’ (MGM, 1944)

Gaslighting is a term coined (from the movie ‘Gaslight‘) to describe a particular form of psychological or emotional abuse. The object is to cause the target to question themselves and their perception of reality. At its most extreme, the aim is to make a sane person appear demented (sometimes even to the point where they believe themselves to be going mad). The technique often works by contrasting the calm, reasonableness of the abuser against the increasingly emotional demeanour of the target. Gaslighting is often, but by no means exclusively, perpetrated by men against women; societal prejudices that position women as nervous, hysterical and less prone to logical reasoning work in the abuser’s favour. The abuser adopts the role of ‘smiling assassin’ and exploits the victim’s emotional response in order to discredit them. That abuse has, in fact, occurred is routinely denied.

Gaslighting is generally a very slow process, but while there was nothing gradual about what Jensen did, and, although I can’t imagine a whole cathedral of Archbishops being sufficient to convince you that you were the one at fault, Catherine, Jensen’s behaviour had all the hallmarks of a contrived strategy to make you look unattractive at best, and crazy at worst.

And both of those desired outcomes are tied to your being a woman. Making you seem ugly and mad is achieved through Jensen appearing the precise personification of elegant rationality and educated white maleness, all the while making vile and even outrageous statements, the import of which slide past the audience because of the persona and relational dynamic Jensen has crafted. It’s clever, and Jensen appears to be an expert. I imagine he’s been doing it for most of his professional life – and has been lauded for it. Without ever launching a personal attack, Jensen was able to make those watching join him in criticising you for being passionate, articulate, intelligent and a woman. Confronted with a communication style that should have raised little comment, viewers became embarrassed that you even existed, and most of them probably weren’t even aware of the sleight of hand being practiced.

Having spent many years in the church (where I found life as an intelligent woman who has trouble with submission fraught with difficulty) I noticed while I was watching Q&A, that two conversations were taking place in my living room. One was audible: like many viewers, I surprised myself by frequently shouting at the television in response to Jensen’s comments and demeanor; I was enraged on your behalf. The other conversation was internal, the vestigial voice of the church as I knew it – of male pastors, of God: “You are woman. Sit still! Be prettier! Take up less space! Be less powerful! Make less noise! Be nicer! We like you better when you are nicer.”

Women in the church are, in fact, largely controlled through what I call ‘the Cult of Nice’. That you – a woman – were passionate and disagreeably vocal on national television broke more seldom-spoken Christian rules than I can count. But the worst of your crimes was that you were proud and unafraid. A less practiced player may have shown himself to be overtly angry about that. But Jensen’s strategy, I think, was not to oppose you, but to destroy you – by making the rest of us ashamed of your strengths.

You, Catherine, violated the biblical doctrine of women’s ‘shamefacedness’, which, while almost invisible in contemporary Australia retains, I believe, the power to influence even many of the secular and liberal among us.

1 Timothy 2:8-10 (KJV)

I will therefore that men pray every where, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting.

In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with braided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array;

But (which becometh women professing godliness) with good works.

and

1 Corinthians 14:34 (KJV)

Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience as also saith the law.

and again

1 Timothy 5:14 (KJV)

I will therefore that the younger women marry, bear children, guide the house, give none occasion to the adversary to speak reproachfully.

As, no doubt, you know, there are more where those came from.

On Monday night, Catherine, you embodied everything that certain forms of Christianity despise about women. I know how disgusted many of the Christians I once knew would have been to see you in action. Still, I have found it astonishing that with scarcely a word, Jensen was able to make even his enemies and many of your supporters believe that you were guilty of some great transgression. Such is the power of the practiced gaslighter.

There will be Christian women – and perhaps secular women too – all over Australia this week who, whether traditionally feminine women or not, will be doing their darndest to show that they are Not Like Catherine Deveny. They will want others to know that they are good women. I imagine there once were black Americans provoked to similar attitudes in response to public criticisms of that most troublesome black American, Martin Luther King Jr, and for very similar reasons.

I am not proud to admit it but I also felt the power of Jensen’s pull on my own mind. I felt it first, in fact, when I watched you engage with former Howard government minister Peter Reith on Go Back to Where You Came From: a desire to side with Nice, a sense that I ought to feel embarrassed and repelled at your bold talk, your making yourself unpleasant to those who remained ‘better controlled’. I felt instructed to be silent, smaller, more pleasant to see and hear, more submissive, less trouble. Nicer. So this is me saying, “Fuck that!”

I am deeply sorry that you have found yourself the target of so many ludicrous and vicious attacks this week. I am not suggesting that others have no right to take issue with your views, or your delivery of them. I’m not suggesting that you conducted yourself perfectly, nor am I suggesting you should aspire to do so. I’m not suggesting that you should care whether you please me, or anyone else, or that you need, or even want, my support or appreciation. But I am suggesting that the deeply personal vitriol you have encountered may be explained by the strategies I have described.

And I want to put my hand up as one woman who values your contribution, and who, because of my own experience as a Christian woman, can see Jensen’s game plan for what it was. Perhaps, in some small way, that matters.

Very sincerely,

Jane

jim wallace and the despicable tricks of abusers (and arrogant schmucks)

Yesterday, Anzac Day here in Australia, will be remembered as the day head of the Australian Christian Lobby, retired Brigadier Jim Wallace, made a complete ass of himself on Twitter.

New to Twitter, Wallace, apparently moved during a patriotic Anzacy sort of moment, dashed off the following tweet:

In case you can’t read it, I’ll copy the content here:

Just hope that as we remember Servicemen and women today we remember the Australia they fought for – wasn’t gay marriage and Islamic!

Oh, yes. That’s in excellent taste, Jim.

The furore that ensued as Wallace’s tweet subsequently whizzed around the twittersphere was impressive and, more than once, obscene. Jim had managed, as I said, to make himself look a total git.

Within minutes, Wallace had removed the tweet and was covering his arse with the RSL by posting the following:

My apologies this was the wrong context to raise these issues. ANZACs mean too much to me to demean this day.

I’m guessing you noticed Jim was ‘apologising’ for the timing of his comments, rather than the content.

Anyway, I’m not going to comment on the obvious fact that Wallace inadvertently revealed his actual racist, anti-gay agenda, or that he chose such an inappropriate day to do all that, or the staggering arrogance of his false apology. But I can’t let this pass without saying a word about Wallace’s appearance on Channel 7’s Sunrise program this morning – his attitude reminded me so much of that of the many abusers and bullies I have had the misfortune to encounter. Here’s the video:

When asked to justify his now-notorious tweet, Wallace responded first by saying that ‘to be maligned by Twitter activists is not the end of the world.’ He goes on to compare himself to olympic gold medalist Stephanie Rice whose one-time inappropriate tweet also caused her considerable humiliation. But at no point does Wallace take responsibility for posting what he now knows (if he didn’t before) was a dreadfully offensive statement to be making, nevermind making it in a public forum.

So…as someone who has close experience of the lasting effect of sexual abuse on children, I feel I need to make this statement:  I warn my kids about people like Jim Wallace in an effort to abuser-proof them. I tell them that bullies and abusers function by fooling us that it not the person who said or did something wrong who is at fault, but rather the poor sod who made an embarrassing fuss about it. I tell them that this is an evil lie.

Abusers harm us, and then slyly try to make us feel ashamed about saying we were harmed. They trick their victims into feeling bad that they spoke up rather than taking responsibility for their own abusive actions. The irony that no fuss would need to have been made had the abuser not acted inappropriately in the first place seems to evade them.

It’s this sort of self-preserving manipulation that makes molested children reluctant to disclose the terrible truth of the abuser’s actions for fear of spoiling everyone’s mood and bringing the wrath of the abuser down on their heads. Not that I’m suggesting Jim Wallace is a child molester, but the game is the same. And it should never go unchallenged.

Wallace had an opportunity this morning to acknowledge that his statements were racist and bigoted. He could have either repented and promised to mend his ways, or fessed up that that’s just who we are dealing with here (like we didn’t already know). His deflecting the blame for the furore from himself to the ‘kind of people’ who outed him is a despicably dishonest act.

So on behalf of all those of us who have had bullies and abusers try to smear our psyches with the shit of guilt that rightfully belongs elsewhere, I’m calling Wallace’s actions what they are. And now we know: He’s that kind of man.

everybody has a story, lady

My 18-year-old daughter quit her job today. The vicious bullying attacks from her boss finally became more than she could bear.

Jackie* and her husband, Al, took over the business about 9 months ago. Although Al is always respectful, Jackie is the more forceful personality and has been nasty and dishonest from the start: She doesn’t allow staff to take the breaks to which they are legally entitled and forces them to work back late at night without paying them extra. She has K and others function in managers’ roles, but doesn’t give them the title or increase their pay. Indeed, until K pointed out her ‘error’, she was paying everyone significantly under the award. Even after she made the correction, she didn’t backpay the staff a penny. She’s been difficult for everyone to work with, but has provided a lot of entertainment for her mostly teenaged staff as they hate on her together when she’s not there.

However Jackie seems to have been carrying out a particular vendetta against K, continually and unreasonably finding fault and singling her out for abuse and personal criticism. She doesn’t like the way K makes sandwiches so chastises her for her incompetence and shows her a new way, only to lambast her again – and restore her to original settings – next shift. She doesn’t like K’s hair apparently (nothing unusual about it), or her earrings (just the four), her height (she’s tiny), or her clothing (it’s a uniform), or (hold me back) her face.

K is no wimp. She is a courageous survivor of anorexia nervosa – an insidious and evil disease. Three times we almost lost her. Only two years ago K spent 5 months fighting for her life in hospital on an NG tube. She continued the battle at home with me for many months and, finally, we beat the bastard dragon with the help and support of a Maudsley team. But it was one hell of a battle.

Then, because she wanted to make up for the year she had lost to the illness, last year K tackled Yrs 11 & 12 in one year, survived, got great marks and is now enjoying studying the course of her dreams at the university of her choice. I am so, so proud of her.

I knew about Jackie’s abuse and it made me angry. I offered to speak with her but K was determined she didn’t want me lobbing in and said she thought she’d be able to manage. Her strategy was to made it plain to Jackie that she wasn’t going to be bothered by her cruelties. But, typical of this kind of bully, Jackie kept looking for a barb that would really reach K in a deep place. So, for the past two weeks, at some point during every shift, Jackie has found a moment to tell K that she’s ‘really putting on the weight’. Any woman knows that comments like that are loaded with moral judgement and intended to wound, but for a recovering anorexic, they are particularly hard to take.

So, finally, K has decided that she can’t stand up under it any more. She has been brought so low by Jackie that she was literally trembling with fear as she phoned to resign. She spoke to Al and described what had been happening. She explained that she was not willing to be subject to that sort of abuse any longer. Poor Al, the abuser’s enabling husband, offered a bunch of excuses for his wife’s abominable behaviour including that she ‘would not have meant to hurt’ K. Sad, really.

Then K received an email from Jackie minimising her abuse and criticising K for not speaking to her in person yesterday. K wrote a calm reply making her position very clear and using the words ‘bully’ and ‘abuse’ and adding that her parents are now involved and are seeking advice about the options open to us.

K feels she made the right choice. Our family’s financial constraints meant that she’ll need to get another job straight away and she finds the prospect a little stressful. But she used her voice to call the abuse what it was, and used her feet to put herself in a place that feels safe. She says she feels relieved and empowered.

But I’ll be carrying out my own little one-woman boycott of Subway anyway. And writing a letter to Jackie, of course. Can hardly wait.

* Once again, names have been changed so as not to out the ratbags.

grade 1 bullies

I am mad.

My little six-year-old sweetie, M, is being bullied every day at the local public school she attends with two of her older siblings. Oh, no-one is calling her names or threatening violence. And it isn’t that some big boy is demanding her lunch money. Instead, one cute little five-year-old redhead named Johanna* has claimed M as her ‘best friend’…and is badgering her with warnings of hellfire and damnation.

According to M, and her older sister B who has been subject to attacks from the same quarter, every day Johanna pleads with my girls to become Christians. In fact, she tells them with real fear in her eyes that they ‘have to’. M, a gal who knows her own mind, tells me that on numerous occasions she has pointed out that ‘everyone can make their own choices’ about these things, and that ‘people don’t have to all believe the same way’. This does not wash with young Johanna who just ramps up her pleadings until the bell rings and she droops herself off to class sobbing. I kid you not.

I don’t doubt poor Johanna is sincere – I’ve met her fundamentalist mother, Anne. Wearing different skins, women just like Anne played a starring role in every church I ever attended. Indeed, I could detect the powerful reek Anne’s legalistic zeal across the schoolyard before I ever heard her speak. I imagine she and her husband have impressed upon Johanna that her little school chums are hell-bound – especially, of course, those with divorced, apostate mothers like poor M. Thus, as we know, it is Johanna’s moral responsibility to ‘share Christ’ with my little ‘sinners’ and save them from a frightening fiery fate.

In common with other bullies, Johanna refuses to respect my daughters requests and so the unrelenting hectoring continues. I’ve encouraged my girls to hold their boundaries and use their ‘no’ assertively every single time Johanna plays this game. B, who is 11, feels the pressure on her is easing. But wee M is wearing down under the humiliation of having her requests ignored again and again and again. Now, M tells me she feels she should just give up trying as it is plain Johanna will never listen.

I feel so angry about this. Bullies are everywhere, I know that. M will encounter them again and again in her life: people who won’t take no for an answer, who respect no way but their own, who just keep on battering on her boundaries no matter how many times she insists they should stop. What makes me furious is that Johanna’s tactics are so effective. Bullies play with our heads. They trick us into believing that when a person who is protecting their own boundary has to raise their ‘no’ to an embarrassing volume in an effort to be heard, that it is they who are at fault. And more, that the victim should wear the guilty blame should the bully feel shitty about being shouted at. Horrifyingly, M is actually starting to believe that it is she who is behaving inappropriately. Ugh!

So…my girl has done her best – but it’s time I was lobbing in. I’m going to speak to the teacher and if I can’t get my girl a break, I’m going to the principal and demand this abuse stop. Hmmmm…I suspect this might not end well: our principal is something of a bully too.

Practicing my Immovable Force face.

* names have been changed to protect the dangerous and creepy