Friday, September 28, 2012

Social Control & Sexual Assault: The Drink Spiking Fallacy

The following essay was written by the Gingerbread Witch. Sharing or referencing is cool when the Ginger With is appropriately credited. Cheers!


In the mid-1990s, concerns were raised in the U.S. about drugs that posed a ‘special threat’ to women. Drugs such as GHB, Ketamine and Rohypnol ‘were said to be used to immobilize unsuspecting victims for sexual exploitation’ (Jenkins 1999 p. 2). Before long, the media alerted Australian women that they too faced this threat. The first major story of drink spiking in Australia broke in 1998. This story related to a serial rapist who offered women rides home from nightclubs, giving them a hot drink spiked with the pharmaceutical sedative Rohypnol and then sexually assaulting them. The perpetrator, dubbed ‘the hot chocolate rapist’ in the media, was never caught (Silvester, 1998). In this essay I ask: Have press narratives of drink spiking failed to offer an accurate account of drug and alcohol facilitated sexual assault? Further, has such coverage both reinforced constraints on women’s social behaviour and effectively ignored the role of perpetrators in sexual assault by emphasising the role of ‘date rape drugs’?

Recent legislative changes across Australia have made drink spiking a crime itself punishable by up to two years. Further, the Crimes Act 1958 (Vic) was also recently amended as a result of extremely low rates of conviction in sexual assault cases. Finally, in response to the perceived threat of drink spiking, women are now required to engage in extensive behaviour modifications in order to reduce their risk of victimisation. Given the amount of attention paid to drink spiking in Australian media, their role in narrating the debate is worth examining.

I will begin with a brief depiction of the youth culture frequently associated with the use of the same drugs implicated as ‘spiking agents’. I will then discuss the ways in which the threats of sexual assault and drink spiking are internalised by women, effectively placing restrictions on their social behaviour. I will then analyse two recent press articles covering the issue of drink spiking. Finally, I will briefly illustrate prosecutorial perceptions in cases of sexual assault, to illustrate the extent to which widely held perceptions have the potential to negate the potential for sexual assault victims to achieve justice. In doing so, I will argue that media reports of drink spiking have failed to provide an accurate account of drug and alcohol facilitated sexual assault by emphasising the role of ‘date rape drugs’ and ignoring the role of perpetrators — with the added consequence of constraining women’s social behaviour.

The Panic/Chronotype of ‘Party Drugs’

In the 1990s, the youth subculture associated with ‘raves’ or ‘parties’ was evolving into a more mainstream youth culture. The use of drugs such as ecstasy ( and more recently GHB) is so closely tied to this youth culture that they came to be widely referred to in the media and by the public as ‘rave’ or ‘party’ drugs (Desenberg 1997). Desenberg (1997) argues that media ‘discourses’ involving ecstasy are ‘based primarily on moral panic’ which ‘is based on sub-culture mythology’ (p. 1). Desenberg suggests that media portrayals in Britain which linked ecstasy to ‘dangers of sexual violation’ were ‘reminiscent of the way black Jazz musicians had lured white women with Jazz and marijuana during the Reefer Madness of the 1920s’ (p. 3).

Jenkins (1999) argues that the portrayal of ‘rave’ drugs is so ‘wildly disproportionate to the scale of the problem’ with claims about the pervasiveness and effects of such drugs so ‘exaggerated’ that the concept of ‘panic’, or ‘synthetic panic,’ is justified (p. 4). Jenkins suggests that coverage of ‘party drugs’ in the U.S. has ‘clearly been linked to the concept of rape drugs’ used to comatose women to facilitate sexual assault (p. 161). Jenkins acknowledges that certain drugs have been used to facilitate sexual assault, however, ‘the coverage of the incidents in the late 1990s implied a pervasive threat from rape drugs, with the media advocating defensive measures that appear grossly excessive’ (p. 161). The notion of using drugs for ‘sexual purposes’ certainly ‘dates back to the opium scare of the late nineteenth century when sinister Chinese were said to use the drug to coerce white women into sexual slavery’ (p. 176).

Moore & Valverde (2000) argue that the ‘date-rape-drug’ model of ‘complex risks and paranoid safety tips has a logic which owes more to the War on Drugs than to women’s experience of sexual violence’. Rather than relying on the concept of moral panic (which they argue has the potential to ignore the experiences of those who are victims of sexual assault associated with drink spiking), they conceptualise perceived risks associated with rape drugs as existing primarily within the ‘chronotype’ of the ‘club/rave/large youth party’ (p. 517). The ‘chronotype’ concept suggests that:

Certain sets of events that do not loom threateningly most of the time are regarded as probable on that particular chronotype; among them, women are thought to be at risk of being drugged and raped even by their good friends. This logic is chronotype specific: the use of drugs for rape purposes is never portrayed as happening in the daytime in coffee shops or in doctor’s offices (p. 517).

By placing themselves in the chronotype, women are essentially putting themselves at ‘risk’ and as ‘good neo-liberal subjects’ it is up to them to ‘save themselves through constant risk-management’ (p. 517). Moore & Valverde go on to argue that the ‘worst possible risk’ in neo-liberal society is that of losing the capacity to manage one’s own risks. They suggest that this explains a large aspect of the date-rape drug fear, as well as earlier panics involving ‘knock-out drops,’ ‘opiates’ and ‘Mickey Finns’ (p. 526).

Sexual Assault and Social Control
...we could remind women that taking their vaginas out to venues with them is ‘risky’...
(Lawson & Olle 2006 p. 50).

Smart & Smart (1978) argue that women are subjected to ‘continual socialisation’ which causes them to internalise the ‘implicit threat of rape’. Newspapers are one source of this socialisation insofar as their portrayals of sexual assault ‘perpetuate and reinforce specific naturalistic assumptions and stereotypes about women and female sexuality’ (p. 100). News reports often include a ‘warning or caution’ which advises women of certain places, activities and behaviours they ought to avoid. Ultimately, portrayals of this nature remind women about the consequences of breaching the ‘boundaries of socially approved behaviour’. Moreover, press reports have a propensity for associating the ‘superficial details’ (such as a woman’s profession (see for example Oberhardt 2008), voluntary consumption of drugs or location) of the sexual assault with the ‘central topic’ (the offence itself). Consequently, it often eventuates that the ‘conventional wisdoms concerning rape are upheld, namely that women who get raped are in some sense responsible for their own fate, could in fact have avoided their suffering by not putting themselves at risk by entering the specific social space or territory within which the rape occurred’ (p. 101).

Lawson & Olle (2006) argue that by relying on the surreptitious act of slipping a drug into the drink of an unaware person, the drink spiking archetype uses imagery, ‘reinforced in news items,’ which overemphasises the importance of the spiked drink — effectively diminishing the significance of sexual assault (pp. 47-48), the implication being that drug and alcohol facilitated sexual assault is about the woman’s behaviour rather than ‘someone else violating their right to be safe’ (p. 50). They argue that Australian media continually implores women to engage in ‘hyper-vigilant’ behaviour modification to avoid victimisation with ‘countless news items offering tips on how to prevent drink spiking’ and quoting authorities who support this model of prevention (p. 47).

Moreover, the media is also ‘reluctant to discuss perpetrators and prefer the spiked-drink-as-offender paradigm’ (Lawson & Olle p. 48). According to Lawson & Olle (2006), the common inclination of media reports to distinguish ‘between premeditative and opportunistic perpetrators’ is ‘erroneous’ (p. 50). This distinction suggests that ‘real rape’ is premeditated, reinforcing notions of opportunism which focus on women’s behaviour — and the idea that men are unable to control impulsive sexual urges (p.50). Naeme (2003) suggests that this portrayal of drink spiking is ‘concerning because it resurrects an old stereotype of women lying about consensual sex that they later regret’ (p.1).

The concept of drink spiking is open to ‘traditional victim-blaming stereotypes’ (Naeme 2003 p. 1). Stereotypes of this nature rely on ‘risk’ factors to assign a level of responsibility to women for sexual assaults against them. Wearing a short skirt or similarly revealing clothing is one example of an earlier ‘risk’ which was used to make assumptions about a victim’s character and ultimately to portray her as having played an active role in her assault based on her choice to wear a particular item of clothing (Smart & Smart 1978). Naeme argues that media portrayals of ‘alcohol induced sexual assault’ have led to the ‘recall’ of these stereotypes within the discourse of drink spiking (p.1). It is distressing to note that one indication of the influence wielded by media portrayals of drink spiking and drug and alcohol facilitated sexual assault is the extent to which they are internalised by victims. According to Lawson & Olle (2006), women who contact sexual assault services usually report that;

… they were out drinking and don’t know what happened to them. They are often reluctant to talk to anyone or report to police because they feel stupid and responsible for what happened, because they were voluntarily drinking. Few women talk about their right to drink alcohol without fear of being sexually assaulted… These women have made a distinction between real victim and not-real victim and they do not see themselves as genuine victims of crime
(pp. 48- 49).

Lawson & Olle (2006) cite media reports following the release of results from a Western Australian toxicology study which indicated that ‘real’ drugs were rarely present in reported cases of drink spiking. News reports suggested that these findings equivocally meant that drink spiking was an ‘urban myth’ perpetuated by women who later regret poor choices made after having too much to drink (omitting the fact that participants of the study were people who suspected their drink had been spiked with no further victimisation) (p. 49). The drink spiking archetype necessitates the presence of ‘real’ drugs to constitute ‘real’ rape, to the exclusion of alcohol. A positive toxicology result becomes ‘proof’ that a sexual assault has indeed occurred (p. 49). Likewise, Naeme (2003) argues that while the primary concern of sexual assault services is the sexual assault itself, the primary concern of the criminal justice system is the collection of evidence to support a woman’s claim of having been sexually assaulted. Consequently, toxicology tests become ‘tests of victim credibility’ (p. 2).

There has been increasing international interest in the toxicology results of women reporting drug and alcohol facilitated sexual assault, particularly in relation to drink spiking. The common finding of many existing studies points to alcohol as the drug most consistently present in victims at the time of their assaults (see for example Horvath & Brown 2007; Hindmarch & Brinkmann 1999). In contrast to the stereotypical media portrayal of a predatory male ‘slipping a drug’ into the drink of ‘an unsuspecting woman’ to facilitate sexual assault (p. 417), Horvath & Brown (2007) found that ‘voluntary consumption of alcohol by the victim’ was the most frequent means of intoxication in reported cases of sexual assault (p. 426). In response to the labelling of Rohypnol as a ‘date rape drug’ in media reports, Hindmarch & Brinkmann (1999) conducted a toxicology study of 1033 urine samples of victims in the U.S. from 1996-1998. The primary focus of their study was to determine the presence of Rohypnol in victims of sexual assault. They found that .6 per cent of the sample contained Rohypnol while 37 per cent of samples contained alochol (p.229). GHB, also frequently portrayed as a ‘date rape drug,’ was found in 85 out of the 1033 samples(p. 227-229) .

Media Portrayals of Drink Spiking

On 1 September 2008, the Frankston Standard/Hastings Leader published an article headlined ‘Sexual Assault Outrage.’ In this article, journalist Clifton-Evans (2008) quotes Victoria Police crime statistics which indicated an 85 per cent increase in sexual assaults over the course of a year in the Western Port/Mornington Peninsula region. Clifton-Evans then goes on to quote a young woman who claims to have had her drink spiked in a Melbourne nightclub the previous year with what she ‘believed’ was GHB, with no further victimisation resulting from the incident. There is no direct link made in the article between the region’s sexual assault statistics and the reported incident of drink spiking which occurred a year before in Melbourne, aside from the young woman quoted being a resident and welfare worker from Western Port. In other words, the incident in which she ‘believed’ her drink was spiked with GHB occurred in Melbourne, not in the Western Port/Mornington Peninsula Region. In addition, the young woman reported that she experienced no further victimisation (Clifton-Evans 2008).

This article is concerning insofar as it makes it impossible to understand what is actually behind the rise in sexual assaults in addition to reinforcing the ambiguity surrounding ‘drink spiking’. Another concerning element to this article is that it perpetuates victim stereotypes. The young woman is portrayed as a respectable, professional woman. She was holding her ‘drink of water the whole time’ (emphasis added) (Clifton-Evans 20080). This suggests that the young woman was not voluntarily consuming any mind-altering substance and allows her to fit the stereotype of a ‘good woman’ through her temperance (Kirkby p. 1997 ). Moreover, she was ‘lucky’ that she had friends with her who ‘protected’ her against further victimisation (Clifton-Evans 2008). The implication here is that adherence to the risk-management strategy of relying on friends will protect women from sexual assault (Moore & Valverde 2000 p. 517).

A few weeks later the same local paper published another article headlined ‘Use cards for drug test- Coasters tell if drinks are spiked.’ Journalist Morris (2008) reports that:

A Frankston night club has introduced coasters that can detect if a drink has been ‘spiked’... [with] the drugs GHB or Ketamine... Sen-Sgt Caroline West... said the cards “are a great idea”... “From my knowledge, we’ve had the odd problem, but spiking hasn’t been an issue in Frankston. However, it’s good for people to be aware”
(Morris 2008 p. 1).

The use of coasters to test drinks for ‘rape drugs’ firmly places the responsibility on women to manage the risks associated with going out, given the implicit potential for women being required to re-test their drink before every sip (particularly when, as in the previous story, one can fall prey to involuntary ingestion of ‘rape drugs’ even when holding one’s glass of water the whole time). This article is one example of how women are encouraged to prevent harm associated with their being in an environment, such as a nightclub, where their mere presence is indicative of women placing themselves in a risky environment (Moore & Valverde 2000 p. 525). Further, Morris (2008) refers to the drugs as being ‘odorless,’ and ‘tasteless.’ This demonstrates one way in which coverage of ‘drink spiking’ displaces the ‘moral properties from assailants to problem substances’ as if ‘the substances are themselves devious’ (Moore & Valverde 2000 p. 524; see also Lawson & Olle 2006; Naeme 2003). Finally, the article quotes a local police authority who claims that drink spiking ‘is not an issue’ in the area (Moore 2008). This is in stark contrast with the earlier article which portrays drink spiking as being largely responsible for an 85 percent increase in sexual assaults in that very area (Clifton-Evans 2008).

The journalists in both of these articles perpetuate the myth that the drugs are perpetrators (Lawson & Olle 2006), engaging in the use of a ‘drugs as weapon’ metaphor (Naeme 2003 p. 9). This metaphor ignores the reality that people often use drugs and alcohol voluntarily (see for example Desenberg 1997 p.2 ) and in doing so, excludes the possibility for sexual assault to occur in ‘situations involving voluntary ingestion’ (Naeme 2003 p. 9). In focusing on illicit drugs such as GHB and Ketamine, these articles also support Naeme’s (2003) assertion that media portrayals fail to consider that ‘unexpectedly high levels of alcohol present in victim toxicology results might indicate drink spiking with alcohol’. Jenkins (1999) suggests that despite alcohol being the most common drug used in ‘date-rape’ incidents, its ‘legal status immunizes it from consideration alongside other drugs’ (p. 176).

... achieving justice?

Assuming that one means of gauging the extent to which an issue is conceptualised by society is to examine how the institutions within a given society respond to that issue, I will now examine prosecutorial practices and legislative framework of sexual assault (without suggesting that the two align). Kosse (2007) describes the relationships between media portrayals, public perceptions, legislative frameworks and victim internalisation of perceptions as follows:

The media’s rape narratives also affect how people think of rape, and reactions to these rape narratives possibly perpetuate stereotypes and misconceptions. The effect of this is quite damaging because it results in society failing to address the real causes and issues underlying rape. A misunderstanding of rape may produce faulty policy and laws as well as unjust law enforcement. Finally, if the media continues to use inaccurate narratives, real victims may become reluctant to share their own personal rape narratives, especially if they conflict with media stories and themes’ (p. 3).

Lievore (2004) explains that sexual assault is difficult to prosecute due to the frequent absence of corroborating evidence (such as a witness or forensic evidence) (p. 1). For this reason, a victim’s credibility comes into question in the course of prosecuting sexual assault cases. After interviewing a number of Crown Prosecutors in Australia, Lievore discovered existing views amongst them that ‘juries take a moralistic view of victim behaviour that could be perceived as ‘rough,’ such as drinking, willingly going with a stranger, or showing interest in a man' (p. 5). Some of the prosecutors felt that ‘even where there is corroborating evidence, some juries are likely to believe that ‘she asked for it’’ (p. 5). It is precisely these sorts of beliefs that require urgent and persistent challenge; especially given that the Crimes Act 1958 clearly indicates that a woman is incapable of forming free agreement (consenting) when she is intoxicated, regardless of the means by which she became intoxicated. As Naeme (2003) argues, sexual assault ‘in the context of voluntary ingestion is not a harm resulting from women’s intoxication; it is a crime resulting from men’s disregard for a lack of consent or recklessness in ascertaining whether consent is present or can even be formed’ (p. 10).


The way in which drink spiking is portrayed in Australian media frequently fails to offer a realistic account of drug and alcohol facilitated sexual assault. Indeed, coverage of issues such as a rise in the number of sexual assaults can be quite damaging when that coverage suggests, without relevant evidence, that the underlying problem is drink spiking. Media coverage of this nature promotes the false view that (usually illicit) drugs are to blame for sexual assaults rather than focusing on the actual perpetrators of the crime. Further, media narratives which suggest that drink spiking is widespread and can occur in numerous settings ultimately results a restriction of women’s rights — in that they are required to continually engage in harm prevention strategies to reduce the likelihood of sexual assault. Another consequence of these inaccurate portrayals is that they perpetuate the belief that women who voluntarily use drugs or alcohol, or put themselves in certain settings, are active agents in assaults committed against them. This is clearly at odds with consent as it is legally defined. Consequently, an environment emerges in which women who are victims of sexual assault are often unable to achieve any sense of justice in terms of the crime committed against them.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

POAS & the last Frost

The Last Frost: Peeing on a Stick (aka POAS)

It’s Melbourne’s “Grand Finale” week of icy temperatures… maybe. In a City nicknamed ‘four seasons in one day’- who is ever to really know what nature has in store? I silently cross my fingers that this is indeed the last frost. I’m not sure if the seedlings I started off in my bathtub six weeks ago can be expected to thrive in ‘the real world’ unless ‘the real world’ holds up its end of the bargain.

Compared to the journey of trying to conceive (aka TTC), gardening is cathartic. Himself and I started our TTC Journey in January. We took a break after three months- a break for as long. In our three month break I learned about so-called ‘nature’. I learned that the average women is only fertile for 2-3 days each month. I learned that if I take my temperature with a basal thermometer at roughly the same time daily, AS soon as I wake, BEFORE I DARE MOVE, I can track my cycle that way. Unfortunately, my temps, due to shift work, are erratic. But oddly they are erratic even in spans when my shifts aren’t an issue. I’ve had a few well-meaning comments in fertility groups that maybe temping can’t tell me anything, or my efforts are futile (sometimes it seems like no one is hearing me). Yet I continue.

We all know ‘feminism’ is a contested term. It means many different things to different people. But I consider myself to be a feminist of a Foucauldian persuasion. Foucault was all about ‘power’: who has it, who does not.

As I sit at 10 ‘DPO’ (Days past ovulation) testing… knowing that is likely to be repeated daily for the next eight days… likely to be followed by ‘AF’ (Aunt Flo- my rags), to be followed by ‘enticing my man’ for sex ‘at the right time’…. Repeat process over until I get a BFP (big fat positive-preggo test), only to know that things could go terribly wrong…

I am overcome with respect for women who have been on this path so much longer than me. I may pee on a stick 5 times a month for ovulation and another five times to discover if it’s worked, but many in the TTC community have peed on sticks hundreds, if not thousands of times, and are still waiting for their ‘lucky month’.

And yet there are other women in the world who have and share power, who make dreams come true for couples who have been through this torturous process over and over for years. For same-sex couples, for single men and women…. All of whom dream of one simple thing: being parents. Whilst at the same time legislatures WEILD power by deciding ‘who gets to and who doesn’t and under what circumstances’.

In my mind, it’s not a government’s job to make those choices for us. Their job is provide harm-minimising regulation. But governments have never been good at harm minimisation regulation. It’s not a vote winner.

So I’m not really sure where the power lies.

The Balloon Gov't: Education and Tafe

The State Government of Victoria has ripped the arse end out of Victoria’s tafe system. This is one, of many, measures the Balloon Government has adopted in an effort to make themselves appear ‘fiscally conservative’. The Balloon's also fail to make true their election promise of making Victorian teacher's "the best paid in Australia".

I agree with a notion of fiscal conservatism, in a more pragmatic way. The 'Government' is all of us. We contribute to a 'common good' via our taxes. Public infrastructure, education, healthcare- these three things should be the same for everyone, despite how much money they make. If you can afford more, that's your own business!

I cannot, for the life of me, comprehend how cutting investment in skills and education is in any way fiscally conservative.

Effectively these cuts mean that there will be more Victorian’s suffering a lack of education and skills than there used to be. This means that the State of Victoria will become less productive. This means that MORE Victorian’s will find it harder to get a job and will be living off of taxpayer funded benefits. Ironically, because less of us will be skilled and educated, there will be less tax-payers.
Nice one Balloon! Hope the investment in public transport security (of which I’ve yet to actually see or feel a difference from) is worth it! RIGHT ON!!!

Monday, September 10, 2012

Reciprocal Inspiration- Is your Hero OK?

Many people have inspired me greatly over the course of my 29 (NOT YET 30) years. Usually inspiring people cycle through me until they become my inspirational equal. I've probably only started to become aware of this in the last two-ish years, but it's been empowering.

I've had some rare moments of utter contentment. Brief moments frozen in time when I never would have desired anything else other than what I currently had before and around me in that moment. My wedding comes to mind. The births of my siblings. Having the opportunity to be there with my Nana when she passed away. Gratitude is not always about happy events... I know this because I because I didn't get there in time for my father's death. It made me miserable. But it also made me understand the fortune of being there when someone you love dearly passes.

For some reason, however, when I haven't yet found the meaning in something and the going is like walking on razor blades in the middle of a desert, I rely on other people to help me through. Sometimes, the person has written a song that I've heard a million times before but in that moment
it's perfect. It might be a teacher, a writer, a stranger.

This is for people who have inspired me in difficult times. People who's horns turned out to be far more useful to me than the wings I once imagined they had. It's for people who have randomly been there in a moment in time when I've needed them to be. For the one's whose names I never even got the chance to ask. For my dogs that have been there through my sobs- perhaps the only heroes I still consider to be flawless.

Take it easy on yourself and remember that inspiration, like burden, is a reciprocal arrangement. It's what the J.D. Sallinger quote that heads my blog is all about.

Surrogacy as an ART in Australia

Gingerbread Essay
(The following essay was written by Gingerbread Witch in 2006. It is being posted in light of recent Victorian law reforms. Gingerbread Witch is happy for it to be viewed and shared, however, anyone seeking to reproduce it as their own work shall face the full extent of her wrath).


Throughout history sexuality and reproduction have often been subject to paternalistic regulation. The common ideal in Western cultures is that reproduction will occur when a man and a woman who are married have one or more biological children. If for any reason, such as infertility, marital status or sexual orientation, reproductive practices deviate from this ideal it is often argued that such practices should be regulated against to preserve ‘the family’. Surrogacy provides infertile couples, singles and gay couples with the opportunity to raise children. Australia’s laws surrounding surrogacy are complex and paternalistic, and where surrogacy is allowed it is allowed only to occur in very specific circumstances and only in altruistic arrangements. Commercial surrogacy is illegal in all Australian states.

When should individual rights relating to sexuality and reproduction be regulated against?
Should surrogacy be legal, and if so how should the practice be regulated? In this essay, I will argue that all forms of surrogacy should be legal and that rather than being influenced by moral views, regulation should only occur to prevent harm and should be informed by available evidence and experiences relating to surrogacy. I will provide an overview of how surrogacy came to be understood and practiced as it is today. I will then offer a brief outline of the debate about the regulation of surrogacy. Finally, I will outline the arguments authors who have discussed the issues of prostitution, family, infertility, gender and sexuality to attempt to draw parallels between their arguments and surrogacy.

What is Surrogacy?

Advances in the development of fertility treatments, such as IVF and artificial insemination, over last thirty or so years have led to many debates in societies around the world about how the use and further development of such treatments ought to be regulated. This essentially signifies a debate about the regulation of reproductive rights and autonomy. Surrogacy has been amongst the forms of reproduction that has attracted these kinds of debates, yet surrogacy can hardly be thought of as a reproductive technology in the same way that one would think of IVF as a reproductive technology, as it is quite likely that surrogacy has existed throughout history. Several references to surrogate-like practices can be found in the Bible and in the histories of various cultures (Blyth & Farrand 2005).

Surrogate arrangements can vary widely. In it’s most basic form, surrogacy means that a woman agrees to conceive and carry a child with the intention that she will give up the child at birth to be raised by the commissioning person or couple. Perhaps the reason for the inclusion of surrogacy in the wider debate about reproductive rights is that reproductive technologies have meant that surrogacy can now be accomplished in a wider variety of ways, and has perhaps become more common.

In it’s earliest forms (and undoubtedly even today in some cases) conception within a surrogacy arrangement would have been most commonly achieved through sexual intercourse.
Around the turn of the twentieth century the first modern reproductive technology, artificial insemination, was developed (though it quite possibly could have been practiced earlier) (Blyth & Farrand 2005). Artificial insemination is where the so-called ‘turkey baster baby’ came from (much in the way that IVF created the ‘test tube baby’). For surrogacy, this meant that sperm could be introduced into the surrogate mothers vagina by some means other than sexual intercourse. The later development of IVF meant that conception could take place by fertilizing the egg with sperm outside the body and then injecting the zygote into a woman’s womb (HRCF 2004).

In any case, when the egg used in conception originates from the surrogate mother, it is often referred to a traditional surrogacy. When the egg originates from a source other than the surrogate mother it is called gestational surrogacy (HRCF 2004). Despite the development of IVF, many surrogate mothers continue to conceive via artificial insemination using the sperm of either a sperm donor or an intended father. This can take place either in a private home or in a medical clinic. In this kind of arrangement, the egg obviously comes from the surrogate mother herself. In an IVF arrangement, the egg can either be that of the surrogate mother, an egg-donor or an intended mother, with the sperm being that of a sperm donor or an intended father. This leads to a wide range of possibilities about how a child might be conceived in a surrogacy arrangement as well as the number of people involved in such conceptions.

Commercial Surrogacy: Compensation or Exploitation?

As if all of these issues weren’t enough to consider, there is yet another ingredient added to the surrogacy debate mixture that looks a little funny standing next to the above noted issues. That is, the often made distinction of commercial surrogacy versus altruistic surrogacy. Where discussion about other aspects of the practice tend to revolve around methods, this aspect revolves around the compensation of the surrogate mother for carrying the child. In other words, the distinction between altruistic and commercial surrogacy do not represent two separate forms of surrogacy in the way that gestational and traditional surrogacy do.

Commercial Surrogacy simply means that the surrogate mother is paid for her services in carrying the child. Altruistic surrogacy occurs when there is no money paid to the surrogate mother. From the outset, I’d like to make it clear that those are the main differences between the two forms, yet there are often grey areas to be found in any given case. Surrogate mothers who are paid for their services, may often have altruistic reasons as well which are equal factors in their decisions to become surrogates (Beckman & Ciccarelli 2005). Likewise, surrogate mothers who are defined as ‘altruistic’ may often receive some level of compensation (even if only for medical expenses) presenting commercial elements to the arrangement (Stuhmcke 1996).

The Australian Legislative Landscape

Commercial surrogacy has become a rare yet hardly unheard of practice in the United States, where in many states, it is not a criminal offense. In Australia, altruistic surrogacy is legal, though in a highly complex way, in most states, and commercial surrogacy is criminalised in all states. This has meant that Australian’s who wish to access surrogacy services may have to travel overseas to access commercial surrogacy or interstate to access altruistic surrogacy depending on the legislation in the state where they live. For example, in Victoria altruistic surrogacy is legal, however only if both the surrogate mother and one of the intended parents are infertile. After the recent surrogacy birth of the daughter of Victorian Labor MP Stephen Conroy and his wife Paula Benson, there has been a revival of the debate for uniform, or at very least sensical legislation for surrogacy in Australia (Dunlevy 2006).

While there has been some support for reforming surrogacy legislation across Australia, commercial surrogacy is condemned with vigor by many legislatures along with many media commentators and some interest groups (see for example Nader 2006; VLRC 2005; ACTLRC 2003). This points to an interesting contradiction in the debate. Because some Victorian’s have to travel interstate to access altruistic surrogacy, there is a possibility that uniform legislation will be developed across the country. However, the fact that some Australian’s have to travel overseas to access commercial surrogacy does not appear to warrant it the same consideration. I guess we’ll have to wait for a politician to do it first.

The Australian Capital Territory Law Reform Commission (ACTLRC) (2003) has argued that commercial surrogacy should be prohibited, while altruistic surrogacy should be allowed. The report noted that their stance on prohibition of commercial arrangements was not based on the fact that a participant had been paid, but on the chance of exploitation. However, earlier in the report, they recognised that exploitation can occur in any human relationship, as well as within altruistic agreements, and that;

…the days when a paternalistic state would readily intervene to prevent women from making decisions due to the fear that they might be unable to cope with the practical and emotional implications of them are long gone.

However, the ACTLRC (2003) was concerned that in the case of commercial surrogacy, the exploitees may be either desperate commissioning couples coerced into paying excessive sums of money when they are emotionally vulnerable, or ‘young women who were addicted to drugs or gambling or who were simply poor’ when they are financially vulnerable. This points to some judgemental assumptions on the part of the ACTLRC, about surrogate mothers who seek compensation for their services. In any case, the ACTLRC offers no evidence that these concerns are credible enough to criminalise commercial surrogacy.

The ACTLRC (2003) was also concerned that, in commercial arrangements, the parties would be more likely to be strangers, and that this may lead to problems for surrogate mother when it came time to give the baby up. Another concern was that ‘the fact that the children have been born as a consequence of commercial alternate parent agreements might cause unfamiliar complications’ in custody disputes. Finally, the Commission was concerned commercial agreements might open up the possibility that a surrogate might be payed an additional fee, upon birth, which would lure here into giving up her child were she to show a sign of wishing not to. While these are important factors to consider when talking about the regulation of surrogacy, the ACTLRC do not consider them thoroughly enough, effectively placing these issues in the too hard basket.

While in many areas the ACTLRC’s (2003) views were amongst the most balanced and thoughtful views regarding surrogacy in Australian law (by arguing that access to surrogacy should not be based on discriminatory criteria such as marital status or sexual orientation), they became less thorough and convincing when discussing commercial surrogacy. Much of their reasoning for not endorsing decriminalisation of commercial arrangements in Australia was similar to other arguments against surrogacy in general.

Gender, Family and Work

It has been noted that debates about surrogacy in general result in unlikely alliances (Ciccarelli & Beckman 2005). For example many feminists, together with moral conservatives, oppose surrogacy, but for different reasons. Where some feminists argue that surrogacy reinforces traditional gender roles or traditional family forms, moral conservatives argue that surrogacy defies traditional gender roles and poses a threat to traditional family formation. Both groups argue that surrogacy arrangements will have a negative impact on the children who result from surrogacy. Both groups also express high levels of concern that a surrogate mother may find herself unable or unwilling to separate from the child at birth (Beckman & Ciccarelli 2005).

Many responses to surrogacy reflect the paranoid fear that surrogacy is a threat to the ‘traditional’ or ‘nuclear’ family model. The idea that the family is ‘in crisis’ has long been used to justify arguments for the regulation of sexuality and reproduction in Australia. Specifically, promiscuity, the use of contraceptives, abortion, women’s participation in paid work, their use of paid child care, gay liberation, divorce and later the development of reproductive technologies were all issues over which moral conservatives objected to based on the threat such practices posed to ‘the family’ (Gilding 1991 pp. 121-130). Gilding (1991) suggests that these so-called threats were in fact not threats at all, but indications that that the family the family was doing perhaps the only thing it has ever consistently done, changing (pp. 131-32). He contends that ‘there is nothing natural about the family’ (p. 132).

Changes in the ways that we understand the family reflect a shift in social values to a greater respect for the autonomy and biography of the individual, yet the confusion heightens as these biographies become broader and we are presented with the possibilities and questions that flow from them (Beck-Gernsheim 2002 pp. 6-7). Beck-Gernsheim (2002) suggests that at the heart confusion surrounding the family lies a fluid truth that cannot be grasped by a simple or single model- this is the reality that we are gradually expanding once ‘narrow ways of living’, increasingly motivated by autonomy and choice, while at the same time being faced with the new-burdens of self along with the sometimes painful requirement to negotiate our selves with the expectations our community. She explains that ‘whereas there used to be many exceptions but also impressively solid rules it is now in many respects no longer clear what is the exception and what is the rule’ she further notes that ‘whereas variety used to depend mainly on external circumstance, it today depends mostly upon people’s own choices’ (pp. 13-15).

It is important to remember that a moral position, even if it is a position shared by the majority, can not form an adequate basis for state regulation of a practice on its own.
Blackford (2003) argues that when it comes to the personal lives of individual citizens and the way they choose to conduct their lives, such as their ‘ability to express themselves freely, have consenting sexual relationships, and make reproductive decisions, the state permits freedom of choice unless a compelling reason can be found to do otherwise’. This view supports the legalisation of all forms of surrogacy with appropriate regulation in place that will minimize potential harmful impacts (Blackford 2003).

Moral arguments, even if the majority of citizens support them, are not enough to place limitations on the liberties of minority citizens (Blackford 2003). Blackford (2003) contends that an individual’s ability to make choices can only be justifiably limited or taken away, when they are found to be extremely harmful to society or another individual. He notes that despite ‘the frequent attacks on surrogacy, from both Right and Left, a liberal society places at least the main burden of proof on those who argue that particular conduct should be suppressed by the state’.

Blackford (2003) also claims that despite the arguments of those who claim that surrogacy is immoral, harmful and should be illegal, there are actually many others who argue that surrogacy has the capacity to be a positive practice. The benefits noted by Blackford include the options which surrogacy presents to infertile couples, as well as to single people or gay couples, thus enabling the creation of non-traditional families.

Blackford (2003) argues that those who claim that surrogacy will harm the children who eventuate from the practice are largely speculative and lacking in evidence. Thus, such claims do not provide a sound case for legislative prohibition. Nor, he claims, do the concerns of conservatives that surrogacy will undermine the traditional family model. He notes that many different means of family formation are now accepted in our society, and some further argument would need to be put as to why the state should use its coercive power to attempt to reverse this or make a special exception in the case of surrogacy’.

The idea that a child’s well being will be adversely affected by the nature of his or her conception is another argument often asserted by those who oppose surrogacy. Others, who oppose only commercial surrogacy often use a similar arguments, claiming that a child will be affected by the ‘price paid’ for his or her life. Indeed this is a moral argument for which there is no compelling evidence. While there is not a lot of empirical evidence about this in general, what little evidence is available suggests that this is a false assumption and that children who result from surrogacy are thus far known to adjust as well as children resulting from other forms of reproduction (see for example Golombok, Jadva, Lycett, MacCallum & Murray 2006).

A concern often cited is that surrogate mothers will have incredible difficulty giving the child they have carried over to the commissioning parents at birth (van Zyl & van Niekerk 2000; Anderson 1991). While there have been cases (such as the baby M case) that this has happened, most available evidence does not support that this is a widespread aspect of surrogacy. Beckman & Ciccarelli (2005) have noted that while surrogates often report a few hiccups in the process, or even minor difficulties straight after birth, they are satisfied with their decision to be surrogate mothers.

Anderson (1990) has argued that commercial surrogacy is ‘baby selling’, that it will result in the reproductive capacity of poor women being exploited by wealthier people or that the well-being of the children who result from such arrangements will put at risk (pp. 77-81). However, as noted by Blackford (2003) the assertion that surrogacy is ‘baby selling’ is ‘not correct, either technically or morally. Babies cannot be sold, because they are never property’.

Anderson (1990) has argued that surrogacy, particularly commercial surrogacy, should be criminalised. She believes that commercial surrogacy commodifies women’s work ‘the work of bring forth children into the world’ (p. 80). She argues that pregnancy is partly a social process during which social norms encourage a pregnant woman to bond with her unborn child, but that surrogacy contracts undermine this norm and encourage women to repress this aspect of pregnancy (p. 80). Anderson believes that commercial surrogacy contracts should be criminalised on the grounds that they are exploitative to women and children. She claims that the practice of commercial surrogacy reduces women and children to ‘objects of use’ (p.92). At very least, Anderson suggests that a surrogate mother should not be forced to give up her child (p. 87).

Borrowing from the union movement’s assertion that labour is not commodity, Anderson (1990), in the title of this article and in her conclusion supports her argument that commercial surrogacy should be criminalised because ‘women’s labor is not a commodity’ (p, 92), yet she fails to reflect the meaning behind that idea. While the union movement may value that labour is not a commodity it does not contend that this means workers should not be payed for the work they perform, or that paid work should be criminalised! Anderson’s argument does not reflect the notion that women’s labour is not a commodity; it reflects the idea that women should not be paid for what is traditionally known as women’s work. This idea has been around for a long time, and fits the idea that only men’s work is worthy of compensation, thus implying that in order for a woman to be payed, she must participate in men’s work, that is work performed in ‘public’ rather than in ‘private’. Thus, it makes sense to bring up prostitution in this discussion, as it also raises similar arguments.

Many of the arguments made for the criminalisation of prostitution (which are very similar to the arguments made for the criminalisation of commercial surrogacy) are not enough to justify legislative prohibition of prostitution. Nussbaum (1999) argues that taking money for work we do with our bodies is acceptable and reminds us that almost everyone does it (p. 276). She views criminalisation of prostitution as being more dangerous and harmful to prostitutes than prostitution itself, as it gives women, who already have very few options, even less options, and forces them to work in conditions where their safety and health is put at increased risk, and to do their jobs in a society that views them as criminals (pp. 288-294).

Nussbaum (1999) believes that the genuine cause of the stigmatisation of prostitution has more to do with class and gender stereotypes. She explains that historically there were certain types of services, skills or talents for which it was inappropriate to expect payment. These were generally activities that involved a lot of thought or spiritual reflection (i.e. teaching, art, performance). This view was based on the aristocratic belief that ‘those with inherited land wealth can perform these activities without stigma [as there is not a need for them to make money-the cause of stigma], and others can not’ (pp. 278-280). This, together with widely held ideas that women were inferior to men, that their sexuality should thus be controlled by men, that their bodies should be covered up and that their work should be conducted strictly in the private realm, points to the long history of class and gender stereotypes which, in many ways, remain living when we criminalise prostitution (Nussbaum 1999 p. 280). As noted by Nussbaum (1999) when ‘we consider our views about sexual and reproductive services, then we must be on our guard against two types of irrationality: aristocratic class prejudice and fear of the body and its passions’ (p. 280).

Similarly to Nussbaum, Sorensen (1991) argues that the criminalisation of surrogacy essentially criminalises women ‘just as other ways in which women use their bodies have been criminalised’. She notes that surrogacy involves women who are making choices about the ways they use their bodies. She further explains that to criminalise women for participating in surrogate motherhood, or ‘to make moral judgements about them, is either to punish them for their poverty, or to make a very patronising assessment of their ability to make choices’.

Arguments that contend that commercial surrogacy will result in poor women being exploited assume that surrogate mothers who receive payment for their services will be poor. Most people work for money, but this does not mean that people who work are poor. Indeed, fair payment for work, even where it is a job that a person enjoys doing, intends to reduce exploitation in the (no pun intended) labour market. Indeed, some people in ‘unskilled’ labour are paid unfairly, thus increasing their level of exploitation, while others in similar ‘unskilled labour’ are paid fairly, and perform their work in good conditions. We would not conclude that the latter are exploited, or even poor. Insofar that Nussbaum’s arguments relating to prostitution offer the basis for the argument that the state should not intervene on women’s choices to exchange payment for their sexual or reproductive services, it must be remembered that surrogacy is different in that surrogate mothers often find meaning and positive fulfillment in their experiences of surrogacy. Nussbaum’s arguments would apply more heavily to surrogates who are highly disadvantaged, and for whom the altruistic incentive is low, not that these two factors must exist together.


I have shown that arguments supporting the criminalisation or highly paternalistic regulation of surrogacy tend to rely heavily on various moral positions (and that indeed sometimes these positions contradict one another). Some of these positions maintain that surrogacy is a threat to the family while others contend that surrogacy reinforces patriarchal structures and gender roles. Moral positions never provide a sound justification for prohibiting individuals to flourish in whatever way they so choose unless such choices inflict on the rights of other individuals to do so or present a pervasive threat of harm. Surrogacy, whether commercial or altruistic, does neither and should therefore be decriminalised in Australia. The development of quality regulation of surrogacy should be heavily guided by available evidence and experiences of those who’s voices are thus far largely missing from the debate; surrogate mothers, parents and where possible the children who result from surrogacy arrangements.


Anderson, E. S. (1990) ‘Is Women’s Labor a Commodity?,’ Philosophy and Public Affairs, 19 (1) pp. 71- 92.

Australian Capital Territory Law Reform Commission (ACTLRC) (2003) ‘Substitute Parentage Agreements’ [online] [accessed 28 November 2006].

Beck-Gernsheim, E (2002) Reinventing the Family: in search of new lifestyles, trans. Patrick Camiller, Cambridge: Polity Press, pp. 1-15.

Beckman, L. J. & J. C. Ciccarelli (2005) ‘Navigating Rough Waters: An Overview of Psychological Aspects of Surrogacy,’ Journal of Social Issues, 61 (1), pp. 21-43.

Blackford, R. (2003) ‘Surrogate Motherhood and Public Policy,’ Quadrant Magazine, 47 (3) [online] [accessed 24 November 2006].

Blyth, E & Farrand, A (2005) ‘Reproductive tourism- a price worth paying for reproductive autonomy?,’ Critical Social Policy, 25 (1), pp 91-114.

Dunlevy, S. (2006) ‘I’ll carry your baby’ The Daily Telegraph [online],22049,20718214-5001021,00.html [accessed 29 November 2006].

Gilding, M (1991) The Making and Breaking of the Australian Family, Allen & Unwin, Sydney.

Golombok, S., Jadva, V., Lycett, E., MacCallum, F. & Murray, C. (2006) ‘Surrogacy families: parental functioning, parent-child relationships and children’s psychological development at age 2,’ Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 47 (2), pp. 213-222.

Human Rights Campaign Foundation (HRCF) (2004) ‘Surrogacy Basics,’ [online] [accessed 10 December 2006].

Nussbaum, M. (1999) Sex and Social Justice, New York: Oxford University Press, pp. 276-298.

Singer, J (2006) ‘Moralists cry out on surrogacy,’ Herald Sun November 13, 2006, [online],21985,20744756-5006029,00.html [accessed 20 November 2006].

Stuhmcke, Anita (1996) ‘For Love or Money: The Legal Regulation of Surrogater Motherhood,’ Murdoch University Electronic Journal of Law, 3 (1) [online] [accessed 15 November 2006].

Van Zyl, L. & van Niekerk (2000) ‘Interpretations, perspectives and intentions in surrogate motherhood,’ Journal of Medical Ethics, 26, pp. 404-409.

Victorian Law Reform Commission (VLRC) (2005) ‘Surrogacy Law needs clarification,’ [online]$file/ART_Position_Paper_3.pdf [accessed 20 November 2006].

Everyday Realities: An Argument for Same-Sex Marriage

Gingerbread Essay
(The following essay was written by Gingerbread Witch in 2008. Gingerbread Witch is happy for it to be viewed and shared, however, anyone seeking to reproduce it as their own work shall face the full extent of her wrath).


The Australian government recently announced that it will reform various pieces of legislation removing elements which are discriminatory towards non-heterosexuals with the exception, of course, of same-sex marriage and adoption rights (Schubert 2008). These reforms have been widely celebrated by many non-heterosexuals. There are, however, many who argue that in refusing to make same-sex marriage and adoption available, the reforms do not go far enough.

Weeks (1991) defines ‘heterosexism’ as ‘compulsive heterosexuality’. Thus, it is clear that marriage, as legally defined, is a heterosexist model. The question of the extent to which families are based on heterosexist models is more complex, for there is no clear-cut legal requirement that marriage be an element of family life. Indeed, the entire concept of family is fluid and constantly changing. The traditional nuclear family model is, however, the idealised family form in Australia. This model consists of a man and a woman who are married and have one or more biological children.

In this essay, I will argue that legal defence of marriage as an exclusively heterosexual institution reinforces heterosexism in families and in other institutions. In doing so, I also want to acknowledge the need to further encourage a variety of viable and attractive alternatives to marriage and reproduction so that individuals are genuinely able to choose how they want to ‘be’.

I will begin by offering an overview of the arguments of authors who have discussed non-heterosexuals experiences of youth, communities and families. I will then offer an analysis of a recent exchange between the Prime Minister and a young gay male in an effort to illustrate the debate about same-sex marriage which is currently taking place in Australia. Finally, I will outline the arguments of authors who address the issue of whether or not marriage is of any value to non-heterosexuals.

Moment of difference

It is difficult to get around the reality that most people grow up in heterosexual households which resemble, to some extent, a nuclear-family type of model (ABS 2008). This can be difficult for non-heterosexual youth who often experience rejection or violence when disclosing their sexuality to their families. Mayo (2006) has argued that heteronormativity in institutions such families, schools (in part through sex education) and churches often fail to offer queer children the ‘sense of futurity’ enjoyed by non-queer children. This is made even worse because queer children often do not have access to the communities of which they are likely to eventually become members. Further, Mayo argues that queer youth present a ‘challenge to traditional family forms, autonomy and sexuality’ which is seldom recognised by these institutions (p. 487).

Mayo (2006) acknowledges that ‘linking sexuality to family-like commitment’ (as happens with the idea of same-sex marriage) may ultimately justify privileging same-sex couples based on their ‘similarities with reproductive heterosexual couples’ (p. 479). Even so, Mayo argues that, given the current social context which aggressively prohibits same-sex couples’ access to marriage and denies queer youth the same rights of citizenship extended to their non-queer counterparts, the ‘idea that one might plan for future relationships may at least give queer kids a way to imagine themselves as part of the social fabric, as people whose choices and attachments will matter to others’ (p. 473).

While negative coming out experiences certainly exist, some non-heterosexuals have very positive experiences of coming out. Gorman-Murray (2008) has investigated narratives of ‘coming out stories’. He found that some non-heterosexual youth have found their families to be supportive of their sexuality as well as encouraging the development of their identities. He argues that these homes become somewhat ‘queered’ as these families, despite being heterosexual, are able to reject heterosexism. Further, for the non-heterosexual youths who have these experiences, their family home comes to signify a site of ‘resistance to heterosexism and support for the ongoing development’ of their identities (p. 32). In other words, heterosexual households and family members have the capacity to accept and affirm sexual difference without feeling as though their own ‘sense of self’ is under threat. This, argues Gorman-Murray, educes a form ‘of heterosexual identity which actively contests hegemonic constructions of heterosexuality as ‘normative’ and ‘proper’’ (p. 39).

Non-heterosexuals face specific barriers to social-participation from the moment they are aware of their sexuality. Many things, such as family, social networks and jobs, occur as seemingly natural and normal course of life progression for heterosexuals. Even when, as Gorman-Murray (2008) has suggested, considerable support and encouragement is found within families of origin, non-heterosexual youth still lack a sense of likeness, as Mayo (2006) argued, in that they often do not have access to the communities which they are likely to eventually become members of.

Everyday Experiments
‘New stories about sexual and intimate life emerge’... ‘when there is a new audience ready to hear them in communities of meaning and understanding, and when newly vocal groups can have their experiences validated in and through them. This in turn gives rise to new demands for recognition and validation as the new narratives circulate. These demands may be the expressions of a minority, but they resonate with broader changes in intimate life’ (Weeks 2000 p. 215).

In non-heterosexual communities or social-networks, the language of the family is frequently adopted ‘to describe a variety of selected relationships, which includes lovers, possibly ex-lovers, intimate friends, as well as blood relatives’ (Weeks 2001 p. 48). Weeks (2001) argues that these ‘families of choice’ ‘do family’ similarly to heterosexuals (p. 49). Rather than mimicking heterosexual models, this is indicative of the reality that non-heterosexuals often develop close intimate bonds with people who are not biologically related to them. Conversely, some non-heterosexuals feel uncomfortable using ‘family’ to describe these relationships on the basis that ‘family’ is an ‘’institution’ which has so often excluded them’ and persists as the ‘perpetuation of an exclusively heterosexual mode of being’ (p. 16). Further, as non-heterosexuals increasingly focus on ‘family’ and intimate relationships, an ‘important shift in the cultural politics of sexual non-conformity’ begins to emerge (p. 13).

Similarly, Weston (1993) explains that ‘families we choose’ bring ‘friends, lovers, and children together under a single concept,’ and claims that rather than imitating heterosexual family models, ‘gay kinship’ signifies a ‘historic transformation’ (p. 392). She argues that seeing the possibility of developing intimate yet not sexual relationships amongst non-heterosexuals led to a ‘key historical development that paved the way for the emergence of lesbian and gay “community”’, and later for the emergence of ‘the ideological opposition between biological family and families we choose’ (p. 398). Whereas ‘family’ language was once used in lesbian and gay communities to describe a ‘sisterhood’ or ‘brotherhood’, it has developed into a language referring to more interpersonal relationships amongst non-heterosexuals (p. 408). Families we choose, she goes on to argue, are defined ‘in opposition to the biological family’ and opening up possibilities for non-heterosexuals to act as agents in creating ‘culture into lesbian and gay social organization’ (p. 408).

In conducting field research on gay male intimacy is Los Angeles, Stacey (2005) found that gay men in ‘El Lay’ revealed a ‘host of familial desires, behaviors, patterns, and conflicts by no means unfamiliar to mainstream heterosexual culture or to feminist criticism’. She argues, however, that ‘the gender difference (or similarity) of the usual suspects helps to illuminate, and perhaps to challenge, many otherwise reified conventions of gender and sexual practice’. It also ‘raises cultural curtains that allow us to inspect some of the backstage props and cultural stage sets in which we ordinarily enact our particular gender, sexual, and familial scripts’ (p. 1931).

Weeks (2000) argues that new stories will emerge when there is an audience ready to listen to them (p. 215). Stacey’s (2005) research supports this argument. She explains that ‘popular discourses about safe-sex, the “gayby” boom, marriage, domestic partnerships and “families we choose”’ offered the participants in her study the opportunity to imagine what their ‘familial prospects’ might be. They ‘represent the first cohort of gay men young enough to contemplate parenthood outside heterosexuality and mature enough to be in a position to choose or reject it’ (p. 1916).

Marriage as a legally defended heterosexual institution

‘I’ve been with my partner, my boyfriend, for, like, nearly two years. We have the support of our family, our friends, our whole community. Why can’t we get married? What’s the problem?’

This question was asked of the Prime Minister when he recently appeared on an episode of ABC’s Q&A. He replied: ‘The Marriage Act in Australia is very explicit about it being between a man and a woman’... ‘That is the position of my party’... ‘That is the position I hold personally...’ (Q&A 22 May 2008). Two issues in this exchange are telling. The first is that the person posing the question, a (presumably) gay male, found it necessary to frame the question defensively as opposed to asserting his question in a rights-based frame. His choice to justify the validity and legitimacy of his relationship by drawing attention to the fact that it had been legitimated elsewhere suggests a need to make his relationship appear as normal, like everyone else’s.

The second interesting issue is in the answer. Clearly the man asking the question is aware of the Marriage Act, as well as the position of the Labor Party and the Prime Minister on the issue of same-sex marriage. His question was not a what question, but a why question, he wanted to know why his relationship wasn’t good enough to be granted the recognition of marriage. The Prime Minister’s answer that marriage ‘is between a man and woman’ can then be understood to mean that the only forms of relationships worthy of marriage are heterosexual relationships, to the exclusion of all others. Thus, heterosexuality is more deserving. You want to get married? Become straight.

To argue that marriage should be an institution exclusive to heterosexuals because that’s what the law dictates is in any case a weak argument, using a fallacy of circular reasoning. While the legislation may explain the way things are, it does not explain why they are that way, or whether they ought to be that way. To put the circularity of the argument another way; ‘Of course marriage is between a man and a woman’... ‘Because it’s [same-sex marriage] illegal. And why is it illegal? Because marriage is between a man and a woman’ (Pobjie 2008). The inability or unwillingness on the part of those who make these arguments to reflect on their reasoning any more deeply suggests that what is not being said may be more telling than what is being said.

Moral panic and ‘the family’

Many responses to the issue of same-sex marriage reflect the paranoid fear that it poses a threat to the ‘traditional’ or ‘nuclear’ family model. The idea that the family is ‘in crisis’ has long been used to justify arguments for the regulation of sexuality and reproduction in Australia. Specifically, promiscuity, the use of contraceptives, abortion, women’s participation in paid work, their use of paid child care, gay liberation, divorce and later the development of reproductive technologies were all issues which moral conservatives objected to based on the threat such practices posed to ‘the family’ (Gilding 1991 pp. 121-130). Gilding (1991) suggests that these so-called threats were in fact not threats at all, but indications that the family was doing perhaps the only thing it has ever consistently done- changing (pp. 131-32). He contends that ‘there is nothing natural about the family’ (p. 132).

Governmental and legislative defence of marriage and parenthood as being privileged domains accessible only to heterosexuals illustrates the extent to which families are socially constructed. In short, to limit access also limits choice and possibilities. Weeks (1991) argues that unconventional ways of relating always exist beneath the surface of mainstream society. Occasionally, a form will emerge to the surface, becoming more visible and creating a wave of panic in doing so. The usual private presence of these forms become a matter of public concern and new social boundaries are drawn often ‘at the expense of what is unconventional and different’ (p. 134).

Weeks (1991) uses the 1989 case of ‘Clause 28’ in Britain to illustrate this point. Responding, in part, to the attempts of ‘several local authorities’ who had been attempting to promote ‘positive images’ of homosexuality, ‘Clause 28’sought to prohibit the ‘promotion of homosexuality’ and ‘homosexual pretended family relationships’ on the grounds that such forms ‘weakened traditional family values’. Weeks (1991) argues that this response served to reinforce the legitimacy of heterosexuality at the expense of homosexuality. As the lesbian and gay community had grown and ‘posed an implicit challenge to the hegemony of family values,’ it was feared that by ‘promoting homosexuality’ and validating ‘pretend family relationships,’ the more normative traditional family was being placed under attack and thus needed to be protected (pp. 135-140).

Of what value?

I now want to turn to the question of what value marriage may or may not hold for non-heterosexuals. It is important to acknowledge that people cannot be effectively generalised on the basis of their sexual or other status. In other words, it cannot be assumed that all, or even most, non-heterosexual people even want to get married. Indeed, many would balk at the suggestion. Here, I will try to unpack the issues at stake.

‘I can't help feeling that the idea of same-sex marriages conflicts with a fundamental characteristic of being queer. Don't queers pride themselves as being radical, an "other", a tribe that has always stood side by side with subversion?’ (Deveny 2007).

Deveny (2007) completes the above statement by acknowledging that this is not always case as there are multiple ways of being gay, straight and even of being married. Deveny is not arguing that same-sex marriage should be illegal, but that the institution of marriage itself has a dubious history which has included the exclusion of non-heterosexuals. Deveny further argues that it is not likely that same-sex marriage will force marriage as an institution ‘to evolve into a modern, tolerant and less exclusive legalisation and celebration of a union’. Marriage is in any case, she claims, ‘a car up on blocks in the front yard’ with ‘divorce thriving’.

One point of concern amongst many authors is that same-sex marriage may ultimately serve to ‘normalize’ homosexuality, thus creating a situation in which one form of non-heterosexual relationship is more acceptable than others. Richardson (2004) explains that in the 1960’s ‘liberationist attacks on constructions of sexual and gender ‘abnormality’ were not associated with seeking to be ‘normalized’ through incorporation into the dominant culture.

These social movements were highly critical of ‘mainstream society’, and contested many core institutions and cultural values in fundamental ways. A major focus of political action was opposing traditional (heteronormative) definitions of family and gender roles’ (p. 395). She goes on to argue that one of the effects of legalising same-sex marriage ‘would be to make ‘a package’ of lesbian and gay citizenship rights contingent on coupledom status’ (p. 398).

The current state of affairs is such that marriage, as a legally defended heterosexual institution, reinforces what Ingraham refers to as the ‘heterosexual imaginary’. Ingraham argues that ‘the institution of marriage’ and ‘state domestic relations laws’ both work to naturalise the ‘heterosexual imaginary’ by using ‘marriage as the primary requirement for social and economic benefits rather than distributing resources on some other basis, such as citizenship’ (p. 211). In this light, it can be argued that part of the reason that marriage is able to naturalise the ‘heterosexual imaginary’ is due to its current status as a legally defended heterosexual institution. Thus, if marriage were not legally defended as between a man and a woman, the ability for it to reinforce a ‘heterosexual imaginary’ would be progressively weakened.

Both Richardson (2004) and Ingraham (1994) have noted that one of the ways that non-heterosexuals have been adversely affected by the institution of marriage has been due to the fact that those who are married have enjoyed greater social and economic benefits that those who are not married. It would then follow that same-sex marriage would not remedy this disparity entirely.

As I noted above, there is no shortage of non-heterosexuals who have no desire whatsoever to marry. If resources were to continue to be distributed in such a way that privileges one construction of relationship network over another, then attempts to create real alternatives to marriage would face unfair and unnecessary barriers (see Barret & McIntosh 1982). In other words, while I argue that same-sex marriage should be legal, I do not contend that those who marry should attract a privileged status over those who do not. As has been argued by Barret &McIntosh (1982) ‘when we talk of choice, we must mean something more than purely legal freedom; we mean viable possibilities as well’ (p.135).

Weeks (1991) explains how ‘moral communities’ are created through attachments which ‘provide the context of relationships rather than the primary focus’ serving as sites where ‘alternative sources of identification and value are emerging’. Such communities offer the validation of both ‘identity and difference: what we have in common and what divides us’ (p. 154). These communities are highly varied and complex, and ‘in their very existence challenge the idea that there can possibly ever be a single pattern of relationships universally applicable to all’ (p. 155). He argues that the challenge is not really to ‘find alternatives to the family, nor in attempting to make the term family so elastic that it embraces everything, and comes to mean nothing’. Conversely, the real challenge is to create a ‘moral language’ which is able to grasp and articulate ‘the variety of social possibilities that exist in the modern world, to shape a pluralistic set of values which is able to respect difference’. Further, Weeks warns that ‘a true pluralism must begin with the assumption that happiness and personal fulfilment are not the privileged prerogative of family life’ (p. 155).


I have shown that the legal defence of marriage as an exclusively heterosexual institution essentially means that marriage is itself a heterosexist model. The traditional nuclear family model is the idealised model in Australia. Most people grow up in households which are to some extent based on this model. Making marriages legally accessible to non-heterosexuals would progressively weaken the heterosexist elements of marriage and thus of families. This is of particular importance to non-heterosexual youth who, unlike their adult counterparts, have limited access to lesbian and gay communities and are less able to create their own families of choice.

To argue that marriage ought not be legal because it might not be valuable to non-heterosexuals is paternalistic. A better approach would be to remove incentives to marriage to ensure that alternatives are viable and attractive so that individuals are genuinely able to make choices about how they want to ‘be’.

Australian Broadcasting Association (ABC) Online 2008, ‘Govt excludes same-sex marriage from law changes,’ [online] [accessed] 10 May 2008.

Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) 2007, ‘Australian Social Trends 2007,’ [online] [accessed] 1 June 2008.

Q&A 22 May 2008, Australian Broadcasting Association (Television).

Barrett, Michele & Mary McIntosh 1982, The Anti-Social Family, Verso, London

Deveny, Catherine 2007, ‘Gay marriage? Why would anyone want to?’ The Age [online] [accessed] 10 May 2008.

Gorman-Murray, Andrew 2008, ‘Queering the family home: narratives from gay, lesbian and bisexual youth coming out in supportive family homes in Australia,’ Gender, Place and Culture, vol. 15 no. 1 pp. 31-44.

Gilding, Michael 1991, The Making and Breaking of the Australian Family, Allen &Unwin, Sydney.

Ingraham, Chrys 1994, ‘The Heterosexual Imaginary: Feminist Sociology and Theories of Gender,’ Sociological Theory Vol. 12 No. 2 pp. 203-219.

Jagose, Annamarie 1996, Queer Theory, Melbourne University Press, Melbourne.

Mayo, Chris 2006, ‘ Pushing the limits of liberalism: queerness, children, and the future,’ Educational Theory, vol. 56 no. 4 pp. 469-487.

Pobjie, Ben 2008, ‘What, Porn and Firecrackers Weren’t Enough?,’ New Matilda [online] [accessed] 10 May 2008.

Richardson, Diane 2004, ‘Locating sexualities: from here to normality,’ Sexualities, vol. 7 no. 4 pp. 391-411.

Schubert, Michelle 2008, ‘Law reforms for gay couples,’ The Age Online [online] [accessed] 10 May 2008.

Stacey, Judith, ‘The Families of Man: Gay Male Intimacy and Kinship in a Global Metropolis,’ Signs, vol 30 no 3, 2005, pp. 1911-1935.

Weeks, Jeffrey 1991, Against nature: essays on history, sexuality, and identity, Rivers Oram Press, London.

Weeks, Jeffrey 2000, Making Sexual History, Polity Press, Cambridge.

Weeks, Jeffrey 2001, Same sex intimacies, families of choice and other life experiments, Routledge, London.

Weston, Kath 1993, ‘Families We Choose,’ in The lesbian and gay studies reader eds. Abelove, H., M. Barde & D.M. Halperin, Routledge, New York.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

'The smell of cordite always makes her think of the fourth of July' -Tori Amos

For the Love of the Gun
-Gingerbread Fiction Witch

For months, work had been my priority. I had so many projects happening, it was difficult to get away. His restaurant closed for two weeks at the same as it did every year. I had deadlines and couldn't really relax or take time off. He cooked beautiful meals according to my ETA. I was usually two hours later. He didn't complain.

Finally, we managed to catch a movie. He even let me pick the chick flick. It was 10 P.M. and the night was so cold that it was almost painful to walk the mere 300 meters from the car to the cinema. As we settled ourselves into the warmth of the seats, I noticed a police officer I knew a few rows ahead and did a quick nod of hello as the lights dimmed.

I felt warmed by the theatre, by His shoulder and foot. By the simple time we'd taken out for this.

The movie was funny & light to start off with. I don't know much about it beyond that. Just as I began to appreciate the moment, things became noisy... I suddenly noticed red wine on my white skirt... and I looked at Him at the same time as he looked at me. He looked confused as I said "I have wine on my skirt"... it all happened so fast... "but you weren't drinking wine babe"....

I noticed the police officer friend of mine a few rows ahead had fallen asleep, chick flick I thought, typical.

But the noise was not that of a chick flick... it was that of a World War Two Docco. I felt a pull at my wrist. It was Him, lying in the floor between the rows "get down". I looked once more at my friend a few rows ahead, and noticed the sounds of his wife screaming this time. That's when it sunk in.

iGoogle My ADHD Life- Big Mistake!

Why your productivity should never rely on Google or iOS apps that rely on Google…


It seems to be that in our uber tech-weenie times, Google and Apple just can’t get along.

The following is non-tech-weenie-safe review of Google’s approach to iOS (or whatever the fuck it’s called) users.

The word on the tech-weenie street is that Google runs some kind of Android thingy these days. Hence they are in no rush to help out Apple- their competition- by providing superb functionality to users with Google accounts.

Two years ago, after playing secretary for a mates iPhone whilst she was overseas for two weeks, I joined the Appiltion. I could sync my google calender to my phone, and my email to my phone and I thought it was heaven on earth.

Very quickly after this, I realised that my control over my google account was diminishing. For example, I tried to create a google plus account, with a rather unflattering nickname. Despite attempts to e-mail google (they srsly have no customer support which will bite them and their users-including me- in the arse sometime soon) I cannot shake this nickname as being my email ‘title’. Now when I joined Google+ on my iphone, the assurances re privacy were all there, but since joining, in practice, I’ve simply lost control.

I also cannot organise my Calendar sufficiently anymore. I have been trying for weeks to clear my calendar via phone, desktop, everything and I always get the message that ‘Google Calender is unavailable’. This sucks arse for me because I’ve just got a kick arse all-in-in-one time management (huge bonus for distracted types like me) that I would like to sync with my iOS Calendar. Only my iPhone is synced already with Google, so I can't even change that until Google chooses to be functional again. Srsly, I don't care about the tech-weenie wars, but Google isn't going to win my heart or my investment by giving me shyte functionality on iOS!

Google Calendar, unlike most other providers, has no real help section, they leave their clients to tread the waves of Google, put up with their shit attempt at social networking (google+) and the impacts such as I described on old school users, and take away control from their user-base.

This witch may well be looking for a new Gingerbreadhouse very soon as well as e-mail, desktop browser, bloghost, etc. in the very near future should Google not get its act together.

-The Witch

Friday, July 13, 2012

The History Wars

The History Wars...

Victoria's high school curriculum is at risk of some serious axe-action because high school students find the subject of Australian history 'boring'. Yet 'Revolutions' a subject about the bloody global revolutions of the past is extremely popular amongst high school students, and many teachers suggested on the Jon Faine radio program last week, that it had to do with the 'bloodiness'.

For the living memory of these students, they knew only one Prime Minister up until 2007- John Howard- the man who championed the anti-'black armband view' of our History. He said we should be proud of our history. He said we should not apologize to the Stolen Generations for the forcible removable of Aboriginal children which happened under previous governments policy as an act of Australian Parliament. He taught us that waxing our eyebrows will make people love us.

Perhaps avoiding this black armband contributes in some way to the view amongst today's high school student's that our history is boring?

Parents discourage their children from studying history because they want their children to study something that will advantage them vocationally. I argue that long and tired concept that without knowing our history, we cannot proceed with our future.

But what led to our history being thought of as boring? What about our unique feminist history? Germaine Greer is ours! For good and bloody ill! And so is Helen Reddy HEAR ME ROAR!!!

And what about our you bloody legend economy?

The post-GFC political landscape has all but mirrored that of the U.S. despite Australia avoiding recession and being LITERALLY the economy that every other major world power would die for. The voice of the left, particularly that of the the conservative left, has all but disappeared.

Our 'labor party' Government now seeks to re-institute off-shore processing in response to a problem that really is only blown up to make them look like they're doing something. Our workplace relations legislation is better than 'WorkChoices' but seriously, that's not difficult to do. I bet most Australian high school kids don't know the history behind 'labour day'.

Just as I begin to feel discouraged, I think of Australia's response to the AIDS crisis in the early '80s... Bob Hawke was our PM, his daughter was a heroin addict. Australia responded with needle exchanges, educated sex workers and essentially poofters, junkies and whores ended up saving our country from the epidemic of HIV/AIDS still running wild in the US. WE SHOULD BE PROUD OF THAT!

I think of the unique history of Australia's Union Movement, Sovereign Hill, and how that has led to Australia being what it is today. In what other country do you think you are entitled to 4 weeks paid annual leave each year? In what other country to do you think the concept of long service even exists?

What other country can boast taxpayer funded paid-parental leave, a universal public health system, a strong and reasonable union sector which establish world-class wages and conditions for it's workers, decent public transport systems, pensions for uni students, disabled, carers and the old AND STILL KICK MAJOR ECONOMIC BOOTAY on the global scale? WE SHOULD BE PROUD OF THAT!

What about the Rabbit-Proof Fence?

We should be proud of the Apology finally delivered to our Stolen Generations in 2008, and we should be proudly working with our Indigenous people to close the 17 year life expectancy gap- the gap that should SHAME US DEEPLY (yeah here's my black armband, and I wear it proud).

We should be proud of the multi-culturalism that contributes to our contries wealth instead of bowing to those who claim it detracts. We should be ashamed of the way we treat asylum seekers and migrants from non Anglo-European backgrounds. We should be proud of the fact that we eventually embrace them- but seriously, shouldn't we do that from the start?

We should be proud of Australia films!!! We will survive!! It's the vibe of the thing!!!

Australia's high school students probably find Australian history boring, because the 'anti-black armband view' does not allow for a real sense of pride. The white picket fence view is fairly boring indeed.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Politics and Sports

F.F.C: Hear no Evil, See No Evil, Speak no Evil

A few weeks ago, Australian’s awoke to find themselves with a new Prime Minister.

Supporters of the Western Bulldogs, like myself, would surely have been stoked to discover that, perhaps for the first time in Australian history, the Sons of the West donned their memorabilia in the Prime Ministerial Office.

Other Aussie’s wondered why. “I voted for a blonde barbie doll” a friend commented to me, “now I have a ranga”. My questions about whether her blonde barbie doll was in fact grey, or had his name been on her ballot paper, were dismissed with an apathetic turn of the head.

Julia sacked her boss because she knew if she didn’t, her party would not be able to lead, so they say. Despite winning against Howard in opposition, the polls told a story of doom in an Rudd v. Abbott contest. Whilst the running of the nation may perhaps be an important issue to some people, the fact that Abbott is actually contesting the Prime Ministership is amusing enough to allow me to delve into my own shallow concern of AFL footy.

Barry Hall, a recovering short fuse, was given numerous chances, even after king hitting an opposition player in a manner which could have cost that player his life. Baz has clearly given his every effort to reform his behaviour since this time. He quit footy, most likely scared of his own actions. The ‘dogs gave him a chance to shine for the last years of his career and shone he has. Yet, a few weeks ago, after some unclassy provocation from a North Melbourne Player, he faced the possibility of serious penalty from the AFL for the headlock that followed. At the time, I sympathised wtih Baz, perhaps I still do, however the fact is that Hall was standing up against a very unexperienced player. Despite my love for Baz I can’t help but wonder ‘who is the adult here’? We swat flies, we wave in front our faces to keep them away, we do not put them in headlocks.

Ben Cousins, of the RFC has been subjected to unrelenting media for his illicit drug issues. Unfairly, I think. If he were studying law at the time of his issues (and many law students of that age do), he’d have a much better chance at a career and happiness then he did being a footy player. He’s never been accused of hurting anyone other than himself.

Mick Malthouse was chastised for his comments to a certain player of a certain team earlier this year and was forced to semi-apoligise. The footy player complained on air that Malthouse had not contacted him to apologise via phone. The alleged victim has not left her house in two years and the player goes on to be a footy hero loved by many. The likliehood of the investigation being re-opened is slim to none. It’s a situation that all supporters of the AFL should really be concerned about.

Then we have Jason Akermanis. Big Mouth Aker. Handstanding Aker. Aker who is not only an amazing footy player, but entirely uncontroversial in many ways. He played footy, he got married, he had kids. Aker has never been involved in any illegal activity. He wrote an honest article about whether or not the afl was prepared for open gay footballers. To me it was obvious, of course the afl is not, not most clubs anyhow. Many clubs are still trying to resolve misogony as a first step. Aker did not advocate the reality, he simply spoke it’s reality. From the outside, I cannot see anything he has done wrong at Footscray. And I am deeply concerned about what his sacking, and the way it was done, says about the FFC. My gut tells me that this sort of culture is not one that can win premierships.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

MFB drops ethnic mix legal push

April 1, 2010

THE Metropolitan Fire Brigade has shelved its attempt to bypass equal opportunity laws amid intense criticism of its plan to give preference to multicultural and indigenous people in pre-employment training.

Last night, MFB chief executive Ken Latta said the decision to withdraw its application to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal was due to an ''extraordinary reaction'' to its plans, and ''misconceptions'' about what it was trying to do.

He said the MFB would lodge a new application at a later date as it was not possible to change the affidavit that had already been lodged with the tribunal. The MFB was seeking an exemption from the Equal Opportunity Act so it could give preference to indigenous and under-represented cultural and linguistic groups in pre-employment training.

Peter Marshall, the national secretary of the UFU, which had opposed the application, welcomed the MFB's decision. It comes after criticism from women firefighters at a separate plan to boost the number of women in the workforce.

''We see as this as a win for common sense - the female firefighters didn't want any special treatment and certainly they're the ones that know best,'' he said. ''And indeed, in relation to other groups within our society, we look forward to reinstating the program that we were jointly developing with the Brotherhood of St Laurence to reach out into communities where there are the most vulnerable and disadvantaged in our society.''

Mr Marshall said that program that the MFB had ''walked away from'' would have provided real assistance ''without lowering standards''.

Mr Latta said there was no attempt to undermine standards or the merit process through the VCAT application.

''If people from cultural backgrounds unfamiliar with firefighting as a vocation complete the pre-application program, they must still then apply and compete with other applicants in our recruit selection process,'' he said.

''They will then be placed on the order of merit. If they are high enough on the order of merit to get in our recruit program, they must then complete the full normal recruit training with all other recruits.''

Mr Latta said there were no intention to outsource training, as the union had claimed, through its pre-employment training proposal with Swinburne University.

The MFB, which has fewer women firefighters and people from non-English-speaking backgrounds than other emergency services, says it needs to change its overwhelmingly white male workforce to better reflect the community and extend the safety message to migrant communities.

Mr Latta, who retires from the MFB today, said that when it lodged its new submission, the language would be ''unambiguous for all''.

I would like to make a few points about this issue, based on my personal opinion, as I sit here pondering the ways in which the Victorian UFU might be using their power and what implications this might have for paid firefighters and communities in Metropolitan Melbourne:

1. Emergency Services such as firefighting are of critical importance to their communities.
2. Emergency Services, as many other public (and private) services are best able to fulfil this duty when they represent the community they serve.
3. The many communities in Melbourne which the MFB is responsible to providing services to are (to use a politically touted phrase in a less politically-charged way) diverse communities in relation to ethnicity, nationality, culture, sexuality, gender, religion, values and so on.
4. Most firefighters were related to or friends with a firefighter prior to their decision to embark on their chosen career path. This means that they have the advantage of being exposed to the industry prior to gaining entry into it. The vast majority of paid career firefighters in Australia are white men. It follows that the establishment of a mentoring program targeting under-represented groups in firefighting would merely serve to provide such groups with the prior exposure to firefighting that most other firefighters already have.
5. The current reality is that many, many people living the communities serviced by the MFB do not see ‘people like me’ represented in the fire brigade. This is not just an employment issue, but an issue of those in these communities having a legitimate need to be able to relate to and identify with the service providers (firefighters). The satisfaction of this need would facilitate a deeper trust between the communities and the fire service and inevitably lead to a more effective fire service.

Example: At the first Mardi Gras in Sydney, violence was imposed by the NSW Police upon those marching in the parade- a result of the complicated and tense relationship between the two, based on the police having misconceptions about this section of their community. Things have progressed since the first Mardi Gras, with NSW Police and firefighters now marching with those from the gay/lesbian/transgender communities in a symbol of community solidarity. While this may not be a sign of a perfect relationship between emergency services and a section of their communities, it is a positive step.

When was the last time the MFB stood in solidarity with diverse sections of their community in this way? From my understanding, it has happened at the Melbourne Pride Parade. It might be worth investigating what people at the MFB were committed enough to participate in this diverse section of their community, to give them confidence in their fire service.

6. The intention of the MFB seems to be to find effective ways of attracting under- represented groups in firefighting to the job. It’s a way of flagging the option of firefighting as a career to people to whom it may not otherwise occur that ‘people like me’ care also able to pursue this career. When I say ‘people like me,’ I mean those you do not see examples of ‘people like me’ who are firefighters.
7. Another intention of the MFB appears to be to create a working environment that is attractive to a diverse range of potential recruits.

Example: allowing parents returning from parental leave to request part-time employment for a specific period of time provided that it is operationally viable. Currently, the Victorian UFU has the final word on whether this is option is extended to a firefighter in such a situation because it is not enshrined in the EBA. Strategies, such as using a part-time annual leave/part-time on duty arrangement may be employed.

In our society, it is currently a reality that women take are far more likely to take parental leave and to be engaged in part time employment. In that way, the inflexibility with regard to the 10/14 roster system may be a deterrent, for women who may plan to have families, to entering in to the firefighting profession. The same can be said for instances in which there is a caring responsibility in the family as well as a variety of other situations in which women find themselves in to be most likely to have to make difficult choices relating to the juggle often termed ‘work/life balance’.

This is a generalisation while at the same time a genuine reflection of the current state of affairs on a societal level (though this may vary depending on what one does for work and where one works). Men find themselves juggling the ‘work/life balance’ as well. As can be seen in the Government’s Paid Parental Leave Policy, caring roles are not socially sanctioned for men. Flexibility in the workplace has the potential to change this over time. The benefits of work/life balance can be a benefit for everyone provided that the commitment to such a goal is genuine and well planned.

8. ‘Diversity’ and ‘flexibility’ has been incorporated (and continues to be entrenched) into firefighting EBAs in other parts of Australia (such as the ACT) and in the EBAs of other Emergency Services within Victoria (such as the Victorian Police).
9. The role of a Union is to collectively bargain for fair wages, rights at work and employment conditions (i.e. recognising that labour is not a commodity, ensuring dignity and respect in the workplace, etc.). While the UFU is doubtlessly committed to such a role in many ways, it appears as though the Victorian branch of the UFU tends to work against the securing of certain entitlements and conditions that other Unions advocate for (and indeed that their own Union has, in some other states/territories, already bargained for).
10. Finally, almost all paid firefighters are members of the UFU, compared with considerably lower rates of Unionisation of many other industries. Whilst I believe that Unions are an essential element to an industrial system, with all of their obvious functions, it is clear and important to note that through its disproportionally high rates of unionisation, the UFU possess considerable power. Power is either wielded or shared. Without wishing to make assumptions or judgements about the paid female firefighters who claim they don’t want flexibility, I will say this: it must be daunting for the very few women who are paid firefighters in Victoria to do anything other than conform to the dominant views currently circulating amongst MFB firefighters, particularly given that their very presence in the job may often be viewed as divergent enough.