All About Women: female police stations could help fix family violence, and other takeaways | Life and style
Yesterday was International Women’s Day – you might have been alerted to this when an empowering discount code landed in your inbox. But it feels hard to spend too much time being vexed by the cringey corporate interference when women are still being murdered on school runs and in their homes, and dying in police custody. 61 women were the victim of homicide in Australia last year. Nine have already been killed in 2020. According to women’s safety advocates, the government is ignoring experts and not doing enough. We have bigger things to be angry about.
A conversation about domestic violence was one of the first sessions at this year’s All About Women. The annual Sydney Opera House festival also devoted panels to topics like ageism, the women of Isis, race, sexual violence and abortion, with a speaker line-up including Yael Stone, Clementine Ford and Chanel Miller, the survivor of the Stanford University rape case. (Keynote speaker Lindy West cancelled her appearance late last week.) Here are four takeaways from the 2020 event.
It’s time to rethink the way we police family violence
Journalist Jess Hill, the author of Stella prize-nominated See What You Made Me Do, called for Australia to adopt a network of female-centric police stations like those found in Argentina. These stations are largely staffed by women, focus entirely on family violence and offer services such as childcare, financial counsellors, legal help and psychologists for women trying to leave abusive relationships. They are designed to be welcoming spaces that encourage women to report violence earlier, before it escalates. And they work.
Hill says the domestic homicide rate where these police stations are present has been reduced by 17% overall. And it’s been halved among 18-26 year olds, because younger women who have not yet had children with abusive partners are more likely to seek intervention before they become “stuck” in relationships.
“You don’t have to walk into this big, forbidding police station,” Hill said. “You’re greeted at the door, your children are taken care of, and there’s no onus on you to go to court or do any of the things [Australian] police say is up to you to be a ‘good victim’.”
“Why wouldn’t we try something like that?” Hill asked. “Why not do something radical? It’s proven.”
Rejecting beauty standards isn’t that simple
If we accept that conventional beauty standards harm women, does trying to conform to them betray the sisterhood? It’s fraught.
Author and appearance activist Carly Findlay says she doesn’t wear make-up or filter her photos because she believes “it’s important to show our real faces”. She is adamant that people who are appearance-diverse need to be seen as they are, and to be “constantly representing” for those who don’t have a platform.
Author Bri Lee wrestles with similar ideas when deciding what she posts on Instagram. Lee says “the line is very clear for me”, that she would never use an app to Facetune her appearance. But she acknowledges that “if you take 50 photos and pick the one where you’re posing to look the slimmest”, you’ve not exactly opted out of the patriarchy.
“Or even just putting foundation on could be conceptualised as putting a filter on your face,” Lee says. “Where do you draw the line? If you engage to any degree, how can you judge people at the far end?”
Regional Australia needs better alcohol solutions
Adults residing in outer regional and remote Australia are 1.7 times more likely to drink to dangerous levels than those in major cities. Campaigner Shanna Whan – a woman from rural Australia and recovered alcoholic – says we need to do more to help Australians living outside our capitals to find help.
She says the bush has unique challenges when it comes to kicking booze. There are louder narratives around it being “un-Australian” not to drink, and fewer alternatives to the pub as a site for social gatherings. Geographic isolation means you’re more likely to go big stints without seeing friends or family so when you do get together, at big parties or football games, “the focal point is alcohol”. And no one’s going to show up to an AA meeting in a small town where anonymity doesn’t exist.
But Whan borrowed a 12-steps axiom to explain why regional Australians desperately need to be able to talk about the issue: “Nothing survives in the darkness. You’ve got to bring it out into the light.”
The common thread of women’s resistance
Through history, women have turned to a particular method of activism: textiles. Unlike prohibitively-expensive paints, explained artist Stanislava Pinchuk, the needle and thread is a medium women have always had available to them. It’s also one that could be made very visible and yet communicate messages too dangerous to yell through a megaphone.
There are countless examples to be found across cultures and centuries. During the American Civil War, women made quilts embroidered with their political allegiances. Suffragettes wore socks that had “votes for women” stitched around the ankle. In the second world war, Japanese women adorned kimonos with falling bombs and warplanes in a show of nationalism. Across East African nations, in the lead-up to elections women wear prints with the faces of their preferred candidates “strategically placed” on their backsides.
And it’s not quite fabric, but as far back as the 17th century, African slaves in Colombia braided “maps” of escape routes into their hair. Meanwhile, Pinchuk’s latest large-scale work, The Red Carpet – which debuted at the Sydney Opera House this weekend – references these histories, using data mapping and large-scale photography to display the damaged topography of Kiev’s post-revolution Maidan Square, set within a Ukranian Bessarabian rug, artificially rendered onto the steps of the Opera House. Who needs a paintbrush, anyway?