Author Christine M Knight's Blog
Saturday, August 12, 2017
Twenty-two-year-old Mavis Mills first appears in my novel In and Out of Step. Outgoing, gregarious, and confident, Mavis is a significant secondary character in that novel. Mavis' story - a subplot - is used to provide contrast to and insight into Cassie Sleight's (the central character) journey.
At one point in the novel, effervescent Mavis is severely injured – physically, emotionally, and psychologically - by domestic violence and the fire of her partner’s rage. He also destroys her guitar and the copies of her original songs. Part of the subplot from In and Out of Step explores the context of the domestic violence and provides insight into the psychology of it. Excuses are not made.
At the start of Life Song, Mavis is twenty-eight-years-old and very different from the young woman who shone throughout most of In and Out of Step. She is the central character in Life Song. She has become subdued, distrustful of her own judgement, and an echo of her former self. Unexpectedly, she discovers she has a choice: continue to live a life tainted by domestic violence or seize the opportunity before her and try to rise above her circumstance and, like the phoenix bird, leave the ashes of her past life behind.
'Could she live the rest of her life as she'd been living. She couldn't, not now she'd glimpsed another world, fleeting though that vision had been.'
Life Song is not a cliche 'chic musician on the road' story and is definitely not a romance. It is about the woman Mavis becomes and the people who stand by her as she undergoes transformation – physical, psychological, and to an extent spiritual. She does not solve her problems in the arms of a man but makes the hard choices herself.
The drama comes from the tugs-of-war that Mavis has to work though. It is made all the harder because Mavis' heart is in conflict with itself. One person, no matter how strong, cannot win a tug-of-war alone. The same applies to Mavis.
Readers learn about the things that give Mavis strength and that enable her to boldly embrace the inevitable changes coming into her life as she becomes Nikki Mills, the Song Bird from Oz.
There are many kinds of wins in life, most of them personal rather than widely acclaimed. It's those personal 'brave heart' moments that define Mavis. Reader feedback through my publisher and website is that Life Song is a gratifying read.
As part of your journey in reading this blog, I suggest you listen to Move On. In my imagination, it is first sung by Mavis' support network, but ultimately the song becomes her personal mantra.
Australia is a diverse landscape and has diverse communities. Life Song gives readers an opportunity to spend time in some of those communities. The title alludes to the fact that each character's life has its own melody and when sung in concert become the symphony that is Life Song.
Life Song is one of four novels in The Keimera Series. Each novel is a standalone narrative and has the backstory woven into it. The Keimera Series is an opus.
Keimera does not in any way allude to chimera, a monstrous fire-breathing hybrid creature from Greek mythology.
If you would like to lend me your support so that I can produce more music from my novels, you can buy any of my songs from CD Baby. Each of my songs can be purchased for the very small price of $1.69. My music is also on iTunes and other major online music sellers as well.
Tuesday, February 26, 2013
I was an adolescent in the seventies. The success of the second wave of the women's movement meant my world was very different from the one my mother had known. Career opportunities for women were much wider than in my mother's generation, and the notion that a woman had to give up her job/career when she married had been overturned. Attitudes to love, relationships, work, and career were definitely changing.
Many women no longer saw marriage as the way to secure social standing, economic security, and happiness. However, like the travellers in Star Trek, young women and their mothers were in unchartered territory. The central question for young women was: When I grow up, who and what will I be?
Like many other young women, I looked to novels and other people's experiences for guidance. Contemporary writers like Jackie Collins, Judith Krantz, Barbra Bradford Taylor wrote about worlds and people far removed from the Australian scene and that had little to do with the issues women and men faced here. Australian writers still wrote about outback and pastoral life. The world and the concerns of people I knew remained mostly unexplored and ignored in fiction.
By the 1990s, for many women and men in Australia, the boundaries between sexual liberation and promiscuity were blurred. The old codes that had defined interaction between women and men of my parents' and grandparents' generations had become labelled as out-dated and had been dismissed. What had once been common male acts of respect for women, shown through a range of courtesies and related manners, had mostly disappeared.
In many instances, men who held fast to old courtesies and manners were labelled as sexist. Vocal women's groups argued that male sensitivities to the status of women, be it in social spheres or the workplace, were out of place in the modern world.
In the subsequent vacuum, a new culture grew in an ad hoc manner where women and men 'worked it out' as situations arose within families, relationships, and in the workplace; this was not always done successfully.
The ripple effect of life in a community without clear codes of social interaction continues to be felt today: in football clubs, in workplace ethics as demonstrated by the recent lawsuit against the CEO of David Jones, and, as in the most recent news, at universities such as the Australian Defence Force Academy.
It is ironic that vocal women's groups argue the reverse now.
Tuesday, February 26, 2013
Recently in Australia (2011), the Kristy Fraser-Kirk sexual harassment lawsuit against David Jones and its CEO claimed damages to the tune of $37 million. Was it an overpriced cost in cutting an anti-sexual harassment suit in a modern world?
Consider the power of money and its role in undermining the power and sway of the KKK in the USA while noting that organisation was not eliminated. Laws alone are not protection when moneyed defendants can protract cases and force punitive costs on the plaintiff. Plaintiffs need paid legal representation inbuilt into legislation to avoid further punitive consequences beyond the abuse of sexual harassment. That cost should be recouped from the defendant when a guilty verdict is made.
Tuesday, February 26, 2013
So what's being done about sexual harassment? Apart from awareness heightening posters and mandatory training on equity and diversity that reinforce that it is wrong, there are not any genuine consequences to sexual harassers or workplace bullies. Compare the issue of sexual harassment in the workplace versus drug abuse. People found guilty of drug abuse can be dismissed on the grounds of unsafe practice in the workplace. Surely, the cost to the workplace associated with mental health issues for people subjected to sexual harassment and/or bullying are an even greater cost than drug abuse. The grounds for dismissal are the same: unsafe workplace practice that threatens the wellbeing of others in the workplace not to mention the health of the workplace itself.
Values are embedded in everything we do and say as well as what is not said or done. Workplace lip service about sexual harassment with genuine punitive consequences to harassers makes a joke of the policy and in reality is a form of endorsement of the harassment.
Tuesday, February 26, 2013
An urban myth and popular excuse used to pressure women to excuse unwanted sexual overtures from and actions by men is the notion that 'men are fixated on the size of their dicks' and 'preoccupied with sex'. This myth is not only nonsense but also an insult to mankind.
Food matters to men too as do many other priorities such as philosophy, politics, art, and literature. Patriarchal societies have evolved from caveman times. Thinking men have responded to generations of women in western societies who had asserted their human rights and demanded equality in treatment. Without the support of men in western society, women would still be suffering repression as in some Middle Eastern societies.
The selling of values through popular media has been important in the evolution of attitudes about sexual harassment and relationships. Personally, I think that media influence began when the medieval Code of Chivalry was promoted through the popular media of that time - bards and minstrels - to combat the power abuses rife at that time. The widely promoted ideal In practising the solaces of love, thou shalt not exceed the desires of thy lover was a response to a common abuse. Was this the first time a woman's rights in sexual practice were considered and recognised as valid?
In the seventies and eighties, television shows such as 'I Dream of Jeanie' and 'Bewitched' reinforced that women should not have power. Not only did 'I Dream of Jeanie' heavily sugar coat the master slave relationship, it reinforced that women who had access to unlimited power were frivolous in their exercise of it. It affirmed a woman's place was in service of her master benevolent though he may have been. Likewise 'Bewitched' sold wifely domestication as the rightful price of love. Although Samantha and her kind had unlimited power, it was used for luxury consumption, lifestyle, and getting out of jams again demonstrating that women did not know what to do with real power.
Likewise, popular media today, as part of its exploration of gender relationships and politics, reflects, challenges, and at times unwittingly affirms negative environments and cultures that foster a locker-room mentality and related harassment. In numerous story lines, genuine sexual freedom has been hijacked; real gender freedom has become shackled to sexual expectations that a woman 'should put out' as part of gender interaction and because of sexual freedom.
17 Again (2009) is a good example where the story represents the growing counter cultures of respect and disrespect in gender relationships but doesn't probe it. This is where the susceptible viewer can miss the passing editorial comment embedded in the narrative about teen female behaviour and think that such behaviour is the accepted norm, and it was the father (Zac Efron) who was out of step (although still really handsome)!
Glee offers a similar exploration but also documents harassment and bullying as a common feature of a culture where talent, intelligence, and difference are compartmentalised and portrayed as unpopular, even unacceptable. As central characters, the nerds and geeks are portrayed as types of anti-heroes, however, any validation of them in the narrative may be missed amidst images of blonde bombshell cheerleaders and body-beautiful football jocks and the preoccupation with sex and its power. The biggest concern about Glee is the representation of harassment and disrespect as part of life. Without any embedded subtle editorial comment in the show, its stories unwittingly validate and perpetuate that status quo. The unthinking person absorbs that embedded value and is less likely to draw a line within his or her own environment.
Although we are in the 21st century, many groups within the media continue to 'sell' traditional gender myths and promote acceptance of harassment and inequality as a given in life.
Tuesday, February 26, 2013
Having experienced sexual harassment from my teenage years, I saw it as a given in workplace and social interactions and part of gender politics, a reason to move on to new employment and relationships if it could not be avoided. The concept of making a stand against it was alien despite it being the sixties, seventies, eighties, nineties, even the nougthies. My female role models were tenacious and persevering but not militant. Although they questioned aspects of the gender politics, they were still very much part of it.
By the eighties, the ripple effect of the women's movement seemed far-reaching, changing even conservative female and male worlds. The 'workplace suit' had been tailored to a female as well as a male cut - not always tasteful or fashionable. Gender politics had not been dismantled but had gained new dimensions, overt and covert. The texture of gender politics was as varied as the nature of the workplaces.
Increasingly, issues of power and intimidation manifested in the workplace as did the politics of resentment, bullying, and protest. Labels and an attitude of 'get with the times' devalued protest about harassment and contained that protest to a degree, as did the protracted nature of litigation when some women took that path.
Despite the 1984 legislation that defined sexual harassment and legislated against it, I am very aware that the workplace and locker-room culture that 'fed' sexual harassers lagged behind. It did not magically disappear then and continues to exist now. The ingrained culture of conditioned past practice meant that many women were not immediately empowered by the legislation then although it has shaped much of female and male perception now.
The old platitudes prior to the 1984 legislation have resurfaced in the first decade of the 21st century. Comments like 'You should be flattered' or 'What you lack is a sense of humour' or 'Don't be a prude' or 'Get with the times' not only isolate the 'victim' but shift responsibility to a shortcoming in her or him.
Everyone everywhere every day needs to draw a line to crush the culture that fosters sexual harassment.
Tuesday, February 26, 2013
Sexual harassment as an issue is complex and varied in nature. It can be a by-product of power, an aphrodisiac in itself for some people, and combined with the unthinking respect given to authority makes the 'architect' of such harassment feel unassailable. It goes beyond the behaviours of a self-serving lothario who does not recognise societal codes of behaviour in a modern western world where men and women have sexual freedom. It encompasses the workplace femme fatale who uses sex as leverage to broker her career goals. Her actions reinforce the view that sex is coinage for workplace transactions and interactions. The sexual attention associated with such harassment is not an aspect of romance or honest sexuality. Sexual harassment is based on power and intimidation. It extends into the politics of resentment, bullying, and protest.
The Jane Hill versus the NSW Water Resources Commission case of the mid 1980s shows the complexity of sexual harassment. That case showed that sexual harassment could extend beyond sexually explicit behaviours to covert harrying actions by men when they feel disempowered in the workplace as in Ms Hill's case when she was promoted. It also demonstrated that laws alone are not protection when moneyed defendants can protract cases and force punitive costs on the plaintiff.
After the 1960s, in its most invidious form, sexual harassment became a symptom of a culture that did not understand sexual freedom and female rights beyond the notion that the boundaries that had previously restrained sexual behaviour had been removed. That culture labelled anyone who took offence at sexual harassment or who questioned such behaviours or who said no as prudish, uptight, lacking in a sense of humour, oversensitive, and most importantly, out of step with the values of the day. Such labels resulted in dismissal and invalidation of other perspectives and responses to the intention behind unwanted sexual attention. Sexual harassment existed then and exists now because there are people in the workplace, wider community, and the popular media who no longer recognise 'what is acceptable or offensive, how and why'.
By the eighties, the ripple effect of the women's movement seemed far-reaching, changing even conservative female and male worlds, but the nineties saw the 'workplace suit' tailored to a female as well as a male cut. Women seeking powerful positions adopted male dress codes as part of the business of gaining power in the workplace. Gender politics had not been dismantled but had gained new dimension.
Monday, February 25, 2013
Despite the considerable 'wins' of the women's movement and subsequent related legislation, gender issues continue today. Thirty years ago, sexual harassment remained undefined, and women were treated as second class citizens. Women were trapped by a fixed societal image.
When finally recognised as an issue, sexual harassment remained misunderstood then as now. In 2010, a male colleague remarked in response to the settlement of the sexual harassment case brought by Kristy Fraser-Kirk against retailer David Jones' CEO: "I'm still waiting to be harassed. You wouldn't hear me complain." That comment reflected my long-term observation that many men have difficulty understanding the difference between sexual attention and harassment. In the first decade of the 21st century, when I talked to women under thirty, beneficiaries of the women's movement, I found widespread negative reaction to feminist values and agenda.
By 2011, feminism and fundamentalism seemed to be equated as extremist principles that are out-of-place in the mainstream western world. Even glossy high-profile women's magazines print interviews where young women deny the values of their feminist forbears. Today, nearly thirty years after legislation against sexual harassment, mainstream women seem intolerant of anyone who find such harassment wearing and distressing. The tide seems to have turned against women who believe a stand against sexual harassment has to be taken.
That tidal change is clearly seen in an interview in USA Today with actress Christina Hendricks who played Joan Holloway of Mad Men - femme fatale, expert in using sex as coinage, and follower of the adage 'If you can't beat the system, use it.' Holloway was quoted as saying 'people think her character is hot because she's got fire to her. She snaps back, and men love her because she's in touch with her sexuality and femininity. The men in the office can play with her a little bit. They can tease her, and she's not going to be in the bathroom crying later.'
It's a sad comment in this day and age by any woman claiming to be modern. Hendricks does all women a serious disservice in her suggestion that Joan Holloway should be a role model. Women who use sex as coinage play a part in perpetuating a culture that supports sexual harassment.
In addition to intolerance of women who object to being sexually objectified in the workplace, it appears we live in a time of narcissism. A time where what we look like is more important than who we are and the values we hold. An era that is intolerant of physical diversity among women. The female gender, from ten years and up, is very aware of the pressure to be thin and to be a small size - preferably smaller than size 8. We also live in a time where no one escapes sexual objectification, not even in the fashion styles for children.
Being sexy appears to be the driving goal today not only among our youth but in the wider population. That goal is rivalled only by the drive to remain youthful - agenda sold to the wider world by Hollywood and the advertising media. We are beset by images of older actors who supposedly defy age through cosmetic surgery and by air-brushed images of women of all ages that denies reality. Unfortunately, cosmetic surgery cannot change the quality and integrity of our skin and so the result is a disturbing parody of youth. Air-brushing cannot conceal the reality of age. Some exceptions to this trend are Dame Judy Dench, Helen Mirren, and Sally Field. Not only have they embraced their age at every stage, they appear focused on what really matters - the roles we play in life and retaining personal integrity. They have resisted the pressure to conform to a fixed image of youthfulness. They remain liberated.
©Christine M Knight