Church gives women bishops the thumbs down – again


The Church of England has again voted down the introduction of women bishops, after a long and divisive debate including over 100 speeches.The Church of England has again voted down the introduction of women bishops, after a long and divisive debate including over 100 speeches.

The measure had majority support but did not win the two-thirds majority in all three houses of the General Synod that was needed for it to pass. It was lost in the House of Laity by just six votes.

The result will embitter and embarrass supporters of modernisation, with many tweeting that they were “ashamed” of the church’s decision.

Among existing bishops, 44 voted for women to join their ranks, three voted against and two abstained. Among priests, 148 were in favour and 45 against. Of the laity, 132 were in favour and 74 were against. Forty-two of the church’s 42 dioceses have previously backed women as bishops.

The church will not vote on the issue again for at least five years. But there has been speculation that women priests might turn to civil law for redress, asking that the church be stripped of its exemption to obey equal-employment laws.

Before the vote, Sally Muggeridge of Canterbury asked who would go to see the Queen, a woman, and “tell her that we’ve failed her?”

Canon Jane Charman of Salisbury described the debate as “one of the most inward looking? I can remember”, saying a spin doctor did not exist who could make excluding women sound like good news to the outside world: “Synod, we need to pass this legislation.”

But speakers opposing the measure cited scripture as the basis for their refusal of “female headship”.

The synod was voting on a compromise measure that would have allowed women bishops but left wriggle room for conservative evangelicals, with women bishops able to “delegate” authority to a male bishop if their parish requested it. The incoming Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, said the compromise was “as good as we can get”.

But Edward Armitstead of Bath said the measure was unsatisfactory and that opponents of female bishops had not really been listened to: “The measure as it stands is discriminatory and does not offer reassurance to the almost a third of members who cannot accept female headship.”

Bishop Peter Forster of Chester said he was uncomfortable with the ordination of women as bishops even though he gladly ordained female priests. The proposed change would allow parishes to choose their own bishops and would mean bishops “will not be in Eucharistic communion with one another”.

Women spoke against the measure too. Rosemary Lyon said she was not a misogynist but “we need to stick with scripture.”

“Please vote against this. There is a better way,” she said.

Canon Rebecca Swyer of Chichester said she felt the church did not have the authority to make this decision.

Rod Thomas of Exeter said the compromise would still mean recognising the authority of female bishops, something he believed was not accepted in scripture.

But Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams asked how long the church could sustain a system in which some priests are blocked from being bishops. He said he wanted the church to “liberate itself” from the issue so that no more time and energy would be spent on it.

First published in The Age.

Chilling testimony turns spotlight on crimes of honour

Shafilea Ahmed’s parents are on trial for her murder, highlighting a vicious trend of hidden violence, writes Karen Kissane in London.

Her dreams were so ordinary: to be able to wear jeans and T-shirts, to go out with a nice boy, maybe to go to university and do law. But such dreams, for girls like Shafilea Ahmed, can be deadly.
Shafilea (pronounced Shafeela) was pretty and bright and full of spirit but she died at 17, in 2003. She had gone missing from her home in Cheshire, but her Pakistani-born parents did not report her absence to police. Her younger sister Alesha says it was they who killed her – in front of their other children – to save the family honour.
A taxi driver, Iftikhar Ahmed, 52, and his wife, Farzana, 49, are now on trial for their daughter’s murder. They have pleaded not guilty and the jury is still hearing the evidence.
But the case has turned the spotlight on so-called “honour” crimes in some of Britain’s migrant communities. About a dozen women a year die in acts of revenge over breaches of “honour” that might include refusing to wear traditional clothes or accept an arranged marriage, or choosing a man of whom the family disapproves.
UK police recorded more than 2800 honour attacks in 2010, a figure that is understated because only 39 of the country’s 52 police forces revealed their numbers. Among the 12 forces able to provide comparison figures from 2009, there was an overall rise of 47 per cent in such incidents. Five hundred of the attacks were in London.
The figures were released last December by the Iranian and Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation following a freedom-of-information request. Due to under-reporting by women, “the reality is far darker” than the numbers suggest, says its director, Diana Nammi.
She says the victims are mainly of Asian or Middle Eastern backgrounds but also include Eastern Europeans. They die, or are abused, because “it’s easier to sacrifice a son or a daughter than it is to sacrifice a society or your extended family, who you are trying to please all the time”, one young woman in a refuge recently told the BBC.
The suicide rate among south Asian women in Britain is three times the national average, thought to be the result of women taking what they see as the only way out of an intolerable situation – or being forced to kill themselves.
For Shafilea, her sister claims, death was preceded by months of abuse, including at times starvation, beatings, and threats with a knife. Alesha told the court her parents had drugged Shafilea to make her compliant about getting on a plane back to Pakistan in 2003. When there, Alesha said, “My mum told Shafilea she would be staying in Pakistan and wouldn’t be going back.”
She drank bleach so that she would not be forced into an arranged marriage, Alesha said. Shafilea was flown back to Britain for treatment and spent three months in hospital. Her parents told her to say she had drunk the bleach because she mistook it for mouthwash in the dark, but she reportedly told another patient that she had taken it to avoid marriage.
A former patient, Foisa Aslam, told the court Shafilea had said her parents had accepted a formal offer for her but “she didn’t even love the guy … she wanted to get out of there but they had taken her passport from her”.
Nammi says Britain needs a detailed strategy to deal with honour-based violence. It is more usual for domestic violence to involve only a husband or father, but honour-based violence can have wider groups of perpetrators. “Sometimes it’s not only the very close family – father, mother, brother – but members of the extended family or the wider community can be involved. Sometimes a contract killer or a bounty hunter is hired. Some families will pay other people to track them down and find where they are living, and some will pay to have them killed. That’s happened in England a few times.”
She says it will take time to help traditional elements in some communities change their thinking, and meanwhile, the government needs to establish special refuges for women fleeing honour revenge attacks. “It’s not just about domestic violence, it’s about the risk of being killed,” she says. “Refuges are crucial but in the UK many refuges have closed” because of funding cuts.
She warns that some welfare organisations make a mistake in trying to mediate between the threatened girls or women and their angry families. But some women who are forced into reconciliation find themselves taken back to their country of origin, she says.
“There are cases of girls under 14 whose families say, ‘We won’t force her into marriage’, and they sign a piece of paper saying that and then the next day the girl disappears. I always advise social services not to negotiate with the family.”
The prosecutor, Andrew Edis, QC, told the Chester Crown Court that this case had taken a long time to come to trial because Alesha, now 23, did not tell her story to police until 2010, when she snapped after being arrested for taking part in a robbery at her parents’ home.
He said the jury must decide whether she was finally freeing herself of a dreadful family secret that had haunted her since she was 15, as she claimed – she told the court she had feared suffering Shafilea’s alleged fate if she spoke out – or making up “a wicked lie”.
But he questioned why she would make up such a story. Alesha claimed Shafilea died after a row that began over the fact she had worn a T-shirt to work. Her parents suffocated her by stuffing a carrier bag into her mouth and holding their hands over her nose and mouth so that she couldn’t breathe, Alesha said. She claimed she later saw her mother with black bin bags and wide brown tape and saw her father carrying a plastic-wrapped burden out to the car.
More than four months later, Shafilea’s badly decomposed remains were discovered near a river in Cumbria.
Alesha told the court her loyalty to her parents began to unravel when she went to university and found herself wanting the same freedoms her sister wanted – but being told the same things by her parents, who wanted her to go back to Pakistan and find a husband.
“That is when I saw that it is not normal and that what happened to my sister was wrong. When it’s your own parents, you don’t see things like that because you love them.”First published in The Sydney Morning Herald.

A little privacy, s’il vous plait, for a reluctant first lady

It’s not that she’s shy. In fact, Valerie Trierweiler is known at the magazine Paris Match, where she works as a journalist, for slapping a male colleague who made a sexist remark.
She also managed to win presidential hopeful Francois Hollande away from his partner of 30 years and the mother of his four children, Segolene Royal.
And she lashed out publicly when her own magazine featured her and Mr Hollande on its cover last month. “I am angry to see the use of photos without my agreement and without letting me know,” she posted on Twitter.
She followed up with congratulations to the magazine on having reduced her to a trophy partner “on International Women’s Day … (spare) a thought for all angry women”.
Assertiveness notwithstanding, Ms Trierweiler, 46 and a twice-divorced mother of three, will be a reluctant first lady of France if the voting in the election starting today results, as polls predict, in Mr Hollande becoming president.
She might not in any way fill the ballet slippers of glamorous Carla Bruni, the wife of current President Nicolas Sarkozy (Ms Bruni, a former supermodel, always wears flat shoes because she is 10 centimetres taller than her husband).
While she has sometimes accompanied Mr Hollande to political events, Ms Trierweiler stays in the background. She declines to be interviewed and journalists have been told they are not “campaigning as a couple”. The press does not call her Mr Hollande’s “partner” but his “companion”.
Nor is there any serious talk
of marriage, despite the
historic French preference for married presidents.
Asked during the campaign if he intended to marry her if he won, Mr Hollande said, “You do not get married just for reasons of protocol. You get married out of choice. “I stand alone as a candidate before the French people. Alone. It is not a couple standing but a personality who must convince with his ideas, his method … I will do nothing which is against my principles.”
All of which makes this relationship an interesting milestone in the evolution of French attitudes to the sex lives of politicians.
The French have long tut-tutted over what they saw as adolescent Anglo prurience in the obsession of British tabloids, for example, with the love lives of the rich and famous. Traditionally, French politicians were allowed to keep their peccadilloes off stage as long as they were managed discreetly. Paris Match revealed during his time in office that then president Francois Mitterrand had a mistress and a love child but the rest of the French media ignored the story.
The custom largely protected male indiscretions.
But there has been more publicity over Ms Trierweiler. Mr Hollande’s separation from Ms Royal was announced just after the 2007 election in which Ms Royal, also a senior Socialist, had lost her own bid to be president.
A few months later, a French website published news of his romance with Ms Trierweiler, which had begun when she interviewed him in 2005 in a meeting she later described as “a lightning strike”.
Since then, Mr Sarkozy’s flamboyant love life has grabbed the headlines. In 2008, he married Ms Bruni, 12 years his junior and with a colourful past of her own that included affairs with Mick Jagger and Eric Clapton, less than four months after divorcing his second wife.
The courtship was public, including kisses at the Great Pyramid of Giza and press conferences in which Mr Sarkozy meditated upon love and destiny, offending traditionalists who criticised it as American-style tabloidisation of French politics.
Ms Bruni, who is also a singer-songwriter, has also discomfited the French with confessional lyrics about falling in love with her husband, and about her indifference to public criticism: “Let them curse me and damn me/I don’t care.”
If anyone has broken the mould of France’s (unofficial) first lady, it is Ms Bruni.
For Ms Treiweiler, the attempts at distance from Mr Hollande’s public life have not been enough to protect her career as a political journalist from problems with conflict of interest. She had to stop attending editorial conferences at Paris Match during the campaign, saying, “They cannot deprive themselves of a subject and I cannot intervene.” She also recently gave up presenting a TV show called Portraits of Candidates for another on celebrities.
If the last Ipsos opinion poll taken before campaigning ended on Friday night is to be believed, Ms Bruni will soon be exiting the Elysee. It found Mr Sarkozy was narrowing the gap but still trailing Mr Hollande, 47.5 per cent to 52.5 per cent. The poll was taken before defeated centrist candidate François Bayrou told voters to back Mr Hollande.
Ms Bruni last year told the BBC that when she stopped being first lady, she would “just go back to touring, you know. Playing guitar and touring is what I miss the most”.
And her husband? “He’s going to work until he dies. He’s that type of man … After taking care of France in the way he did it, I think you can do absolutely any other job.”

First published in The Age.

Nixon video: teen arrested

LIKE most other chapters in the tawdry saga of the teenager and the football world, the news broke on Twitter.

The teenager announced her arrest to her 15,000 followers: ”Fabulous, have just been arrested – off to the police station . Thanks. DUUUHH, VIDEOS.”

Police had taken her to City West police station, where she was questioned about possible offences including drug possession and secretly filming AFL player manager Ricky Nixon.

About the same time, commercial news bulletins were showing footage the teenager says is of Nixon – in his underpants – in her hotel room.

After she was released by police without charge, she told The Age she had had not known covert filming was illegal until the police told her so: ”Ricky wasn’t aware that I filmed him,” she said. ”Ya, well, oh well, my mistake.”

Regardless of how the film was obtained, the teenager was last night sticking to her story that she and Nixon had had sex, and that he had taken drugs in her presence.

Nixon had emerged yesterday morning to vigorously deny the claims on Melbourne radio.

He painted himself as an innocent, fatherly figure trying to help a troubled young girl – in her hotel room. Yes, he admitted, he’d been a duffer to have seen her in private, most recently last week. But no, he insisted, there had been no alcohol, no drugs and no sex involved.

”I did not use drugs in her presence. I have not seen drugs when she’s been there. She has a video she’s put together which conveniently shows drugs in the video with her, not with me. She also shows a video that purports to show me in a hotel room with here. Yes, I was, [but] it doesn’t show me having sex with her. I’ve never had sex with her,” he told 3AW.

Nixon’s self-admitted error in visiting the teenager in her hotel room was all the more remarkable given her role in publishing on the internet naked photographs of two of his clients – St Kilda players Nick Riewoldt and Nick Dal Santo. She has since admitted that she lied about the origins of the photographs.

As 3AW’s Neil Mitchell asked him: ”You knew this girl was unreliable and dangerous. You’ve been telling people that for some time. Yet you went to her hotel room. Why?”

Nixon: ”I totally agree with you. I shouldn’t have gone there. I want to make that really clear. I apologise to everybody who thinks I’ve done the wrong thing.”

He hinted that the girl had said on the phone things ”that didn’t sound good to me” and that he had thought she needed help. But he refused to be drawn on whether he had been concerned that she might self-harm. He said the episode meant he might be reluctant to help people out in the future.

Commentators have quickly homed in on questions about the media ethics of the organisation that broke the story of the alleged relationship, the Herald Sun. The paper just happened to have a photographer outside the girl’s hotel as Nixon left it one morning last week.

Had the paper set up an under-aged girl to do a ”sting” on Mr Nixon?

Editor Simon Pristel yesterday strongly denied this, and he denied that the paper had paid her money. Asked whether he or anyone on his staff had urged the girl to provide photographic evidence of an inappropriate relationship with Mr Nixon, Pristel said, ”No, not at all.” No money had exchanged hands for the story either: ”We haven’t given her one cent.”

He did say the Herald Sun last week paid for the girl to have two nights in a city hotel. It was during one of these nights that the girl allegedly texted a Herald Sun reporter saying Nixon was in her hotel room. A reporter and photographer later saw Nixon leaving the hotel in the early morning.

Nixon yesterday said he had only arrived at the hotel 20 minutes earlier and merely spoke briefly to the girl about having stolen his credit card from him.

Pristel told The Age his paper paid for the girl’s stay in a hotel last Thursday and Friday nights out of concern for her welfare because she had nowhere to go, as her time in a different hotel at the AFL’s expense had run out. ”We didn’t feel it was appropriate that she should be on the street,” he said.

Pristel said he was concerned about how this might look, so he asked the girl’s lawyers to provide a statement confirming that the offer was made out of concern and not as an inducement to provide information.

He said Victoria’s Surveillance Devices Act made it illegal for him to publish the girl’s videos, or to report on their contents. If Nixon gave permission, however, they could be released: ”If he says he’s got nothing to hide, then I’m sure we might find a way around that.”

Nixon yesterday accused the Herald Sun of having reneged on an agreement: ”They did a deal with me which they seem very keen to break.” He refused to elaborate further.

Asked if there was a deal with Nixon, Pristel responded: ”On Friday when I met Ricky Nixon ? I put certain allegations to him. He denied some, admitted other things, and on legal advice I decided to publish his admissions and denials and to exclude from the next day’s paper certain other material. He was aware of the general nature of what we were publishing.”

Nixon, who is managing director of Flying Start, is now staring down a major threat to his career.

The AFL Players Association will investigate the scandal. Its accreditation board will on Thursday consider a preliminary inquiry on the matter.

Teen adds tech touch to wrath of a woman scorned

It has become a parable of the internet age: a girl, a laptop and a swath of destruction through high-profile football careers. Cyberspace is full of mocking laughter over the posting of naked photos of St Kilda footballers by a vengeful teenager – ”The Girl who played with Nick playing with himself”, she’s been dubbed, while her enterprise is ”Dickileaks”.

Meanwhile, the combined might of several powerful institutions has proved hapless, if not helpless, in attempts to silence her. Even with her name shielded, the girl’s following on Twitter had last night swollen to more than 6500 followers (up from about 200 the day before) and the hissing spat that has developed between her and some of St Kilda’s finest reached new heights – or should that be lows?

St Kilda captain Nick Riewoldt said it was hard to understand why a girl he did not know had posted explicit images of him and his teammates on social network sites.

In one image, Riewoldt is standing staring at the camera with a sheepish expression, his hands framing his genitals, while clothed fellow player Zac Dawson grins. Another photo shows Nick Dal Santo on a bed in a rapt state of self-communion. Both images have written across them in elegant, cursive script, in Santa-red ink, ”Merry Christmas Courtesy of The St Kilda Schoolgirl!”

Unsurprisingly, Riewoldt said yesterday that the publication of the pictures had caused him distress, shock and disappointment, and urged the girl to stop posting them. He claimed the photo with Dawson had been taken 12 months ago by teammate Sam Gilbert in a hotel in Miami and he had asked for him to delete it. Riewoldt, Gilbert and the club claim the pictures had later been removed from Gilbert’s computer without his consent.

If the naked boy-play was about male bonding, it has gone horribly wrong. Yesterday Gilbert had to issue an apology to the teammates hurt by the pictures.

The girl who kicked this hornet’s nest has another version of the truth entirely and appears to have, as yet, no inclination to mercy. In a series of media interviews, she said she planned to continue posting images and had no sympathy for Riewoldt, who she claimed knew her and had treated her badly.

She also said it was ”incorrect” to suggest that she had not taken the pictures herself. ”I took the photos and uploaded them on Sam’s computer and sent them across from Sam’s email address to mine,” she told The Age from Queensland, where she is on holiday with her parents.

Her Facebook profile was taken down following a Federal Court order to remove the photos on Monday. She said she had not broken the law because she still had not been presented with any court order.

”I don’t really see myself as an outlaw, more like someone who actually stands up to the football players. In a way, I guess it’s kind of bad what I’ve done, but I’m happy with it as well because I know there’s a lot of girls out there who thank me for having the guts to actually do it.”

The girl has made it clear she is acting out of revenge. She claims to have become pregnant with a child – or, in some reports, twins – to a St Kilda player, but to have lost the pregnancy to stillbirth in October. She laid a complaint and there was an investigation by the AFL and by police that found no grounds to proceed with charges.

She has said she was partially motivated by abusive Facebook messages and voicemails from footballers that she had received over the past few months.

When her Facebook site was closed, the girl went to Twitter and posted a link to the pictures.

For Gilbert and the other men, the court order to remove the photos came too late. The pictures had by then gone viral. A legal system designed for careful, leisurely consideration is flapping its black robes in consternation as it tries and fails to chase internet rabbits down their many and varied caches.

Meanwhile, the girl still sends out her 140-character messages-in-a-bottle on Twitter. Here, she complains about the burden of her newfound celebrity – ”29 radio interviews, 4 video interviews, so tired!” – and curses those who cross her with punctuation-free fluency. ”Want to know who the f—ing little snitch is that released something to the media. Can I trust no one?” she asked on December 20.

She likes Queensland and strawberry cheesecake, sings to herself ”when I feel I’m going insane”, and says to one contact, ”I’m used to being the one in control and the one that’s manipulating you, not the other way round.” She also tells one apparent critic, ”You don’t know either of us, so don’t judge.”

She earlier told The Age she was writing her autobiography – bridling at a suggestion that this might be a little early, at 17 – and is looking for an agent.

She said she was not concerned about what repercussions her actions would have on her later life. She said, ”I don’t really want to know what’s going to happen in the future. I take every day as it comes.”

Her online photo shows a lean, tanned girl in a bikini. She is on all fours in the shallows on a beach, her knees spread wide, gazing at the camera with a provocatively tilted head and the pout of a model. She describes herself as ”Athlete. Model. strong”.

Last night she posted a video in which she said, ”I think girls should stand up more to football players. When the whole thing came out in May, I had more than 500 messages saying, ‘Can I have some of the football players’ numbers? I think they’re really hot.’

”I said ‘No you f—–g don’t, trust me, God.’ They are hot. They are famous. They do have money. I guess that’s what turned me on when I first met them. But basically I am saying to all the girls out there, unless you’ve been in a world like that before, I’m saying don’t get involved with them, honestly.”

She was unsure whether she would upload more photos, after all, she said, because she was confused about the legal hearing, but ”I am going to keep on saying what’s the truth, and I’m going to f— these footballers up, OK?”

She said ”mwaah”, kissed her fingertips and laid them gently on the camera lens.

A child of the age of narcissism, using the uncontrolled medium of the age, acting out the age-old wrath of a woman scorned.

Hearth of darkness

The killing of Julie Ramage put family violence on the public radar. Two years after her husband was sentenced to 11 years’ jail, Karen Kissane asks whether anything has changed.
SHE looks to be a strong young woman, with a confident walk.
But as she sits in Melbourne’s Magistrates Court she leans her face into her hand, her shoulders bent, closed in on herself.
When it comes time for her to give evidence, her voice is steady and deep, but in the silences while the magistrate considers, she draws shaky breaths.
Her former partner has threatened and assaulted her many times, she says, including once trying to strangle her.”
He has told me he’s going to get me, he’s going to kill me. I am watching my back all the time.”
She says pleadingly, “I can’t live like that!” Her former partner already had many breaches of intervention orders to his credit, so the magistrate does not hesitate to extend her order. Out of the witness box and back in her seat, the young woman weeps with relief as it is written out. Asked if she has any questions, she says: “So the next time I find cigarette butts on my balcony, I should ring the police instead of cleaning them up?” Magistrate Anne Goldsbrough answers: “Family violence is about power and control and making people feel frightened.”
She suggests the young woman get legal advice about applying for victim compensation, perhaps to pay for the locks on her home to be changed, or for counselling. She arranges for her to talk to a support worker about a safety plan, and suggests she contact her local police station’s family violence liaison officer.
As the supervising magistrate for family violence and family law for Victoria’s magistrates court system, Goldsbrough provides one-stop shopping for troubled families.
She tries to tread lightly among the powerful emotions and painful experiences that parade through her courtroom daily. Usually she does not read aloud the accusations written on the court forms in front of her. “There can be allegations of rapes, of a husband bashing his wife’s head against the fridge in front of the children, knives drawn, doors broken down.
That doesn’t need to be read out, once adopted in evidence.
This process is hard enough for people as it is.”
The issue that used to be swept under the carpet has hit the headlines of late, with claims of family violence now whizzing around the celebrity circuit.
Heather Mills, the estranged wife of Paul McCartney, says that he beat her and once stabbed her with a broken glass. Closer to home, Michelle Downes, a former wife of late racing-car driver Peter Brock, recently claimed that their marriage was marked by frequent beatings – and that they began on their honeymoon.
And next week it will be the second anniversary of the sentencing of Jamie Ramage, the Balwyn businessman who strangled his wife Julie on the familyroom floor. The case put family violence on the public radar in a new way, as a phenomenon that is not confined to an underclass but that also plays out behind neo-georgian facades in leafy suburbs.
Has anything changed since then?
Public awareness is higher; the United Nations organisation Unifem expects to sell up to 400,000 white ribbons for this year’s Men Say No to Violence Against Women campaign. The campaign began on Saturday with White Ribbon Day and will run for 16 days, finishing on December 10.
But, at first glance, police figures suggest the problem in Victoria is worse. Last year the number of assaults reported in homes was 11,259, a 29 per cent rise on the year before.
(The overall number of family violence reports was 29,162, an increase of 5 per cent). There was also a 72 per cent rise in intervention orders sought by police over family incidents (to 4523). Family violence incidents in which police laid charges rose 73 per cent (to 5185).
The Government and the Victorian Community Council Against Violence say the surge is not due to an explosion of violence in families but to a code of practice for police that was introduced in 2004. It is based on two principles: that offenders must be held accountable, and family members kept safe.
This has given more victims the confidence to complain, and given police the ability to intervene more effectively, says Candy Broad, who was last year appointed by Premier Steve Bracks to coordinate a whole of government approach to family violence.
She says there were political risks attached to beefing up the response: “It’s a doubleedged sword. Once you put the spotlight on it, reporting goes up, and then you’re asked, ‘So what are you doing about it?’ But it is important to put those increased reports into the context of a very large level of under-reporting. It’s estimated that only about 20 per cent is reported.”
The new code allows police to apply for an intervention order on a victim’s behalf, and police now initiate 50 per cent of intervention orders statewide.
Broad says: “This is in recognition of the fact that the women are frequently conflicted.
They just want the violence to stop and for the family to stay together.”
Police also have new powers to remove an offender from the family home and hold him in custody while they seek an intervention order. Women’s advocates had long criticised the injustice of a system that left some women and children no choice but to leave the home while the offender remained.
Women who were surveyed consistently said that they did not want to have to go to refuges with their children. So the Government’s commitment last year to an extra $35.1 million across several departments also included money for basic emergency accommodation for men forced to leave the family home.
Other measures include the trial of family-violence magistrates courts in Heidelberg and Ballarat – which can order men to attend counselling – and special family violence lists at Melbourne, Sunshine/ Werribee and Frankston courts.
A “common assessment tool” has been developed; a standard questionnaire that helps people such as police, doctors and teachers to make a call on whether individuals in a family are at risk.
There are still problems. At a recent luncheon organised to raise awareness of family violence, Julie Ramage’s family lawyer, Caroline Counsel, told Police Commissioner Christine Nixon that there are still failings in the force. Nixon acknowledged that change takes time.
After the luncheon, Counsel said she had a client whose former partner breached an intervention order to stay 100 metres away from her, coming “so close that there was not even a centimetre between his fist and her eye. He gave her a black eye.”
When the woman went to police, still wearing her bruises, she was discouraged from pursuing her complaint.
Counsel says: “They said to her, ‘Do you realise this will tie up your life for three months, and your life will not be your own?
You don’t really want to do it. He won’t do it again.’ And my client said to me, ‘Well, why did I bother with the intervention order?’” Others point to gaps in after-hours help and in longterm psychological support for women and children who have been traumatised. Researcher Debbie Kirkwood wrote a recent report called “Mind the Gap” that found that too often women trying to flee have nowhere to go because incidents are most likely to happen at night or on weekends, when normal refuges are not open to newcomers.
Sister Angela Reed is the coordinator of Mercy Care, one of only two after-hours emergency refuges in Melbourne. It runs on donations and volunteers.”
Women who come to us, less than 2 per cent return home,” she says. “Women who go to motels, 50 per cent return home.
That in itself is an argument that (putting women in motels after hours) is not an adequate response.”
Broad says that a crisis line is available to give advice to victims 24 hours, seven days.
Magistrate Goldsbrough often finds that both the woman and the man can be confused about what constitutes crossing the line. “Some defendants still assert that it’s a ‘family or private matter’ when brought to the court. There are women who don’t consider that threatening to kill the family pets if she leaves, or destroying property each time she tries to separate, can be considered family violence. There are mothers whose faces are pushed into cars at children’s contact time, who are spat on, threatened, and called highly offensive names in front of the children. And he will say, ‘But I didn’t touch the children!’ You explain to him that violence in front of the children is violence to them.”
In 2003-04, police recorded 25,577 children as “present” at family violence incidents in Victoria. In 1525 cases, it was the child who was the direct target.”
We now understand that if family violence occurs in the presence or the hearing of a child, it actually changes the way the child sees its safety,” Goldsbrough tells a father who has just been ordered not to be aggressive when visiting the home of his former wife and child. She suggests that he contact the Men’s Referral Service to help change his behaviour: “You can feel angry, but you can’t act angry,” she tells him. “Will you phone?” He shrugs his shoulders. “I don’t know.”
Karen Kissane is the author of Silent Death: The Killing of Julie Ramage.

First published in The Age.

Trophies without winners


TRYING to explain the national obsession with football, a fresh-faced young woman says innocently, “It’s something nice for people to believe in.”
That is the first and last time innocence appears in the documentary Footy Chicks. For the most part, the people who are its subjects detail with artless vulgarity the pornographic sexual pastimes of players and the often painfully young women who are their groupies.
This film’s material is fascinating, if appalling, but it has been pulled together in a way that is ultimately shallow and unsatisfying. It could even be argued that it exploits the young women to whom the filmmakers had wanted to offer a voice.
Director Rebecca Barry has said the idea for the film came from news of allegations of sexual misconduct by professional footballers, which “really disturbed me. Whether or not the allegations were true, it became apparent that in the footy world, there were real problems in players’ attitudes to women.”
Barry found the media reporting sensationalist and was frustrated not to hear from any women who were part of the game’s off-field activities. She made Footy Chicks – with the help of producer Michaela Perske, who also did much of the camera work – as a way of redressing that imbalance.
The documentary, scheduled to screen the night before the AFL grand final, portrays a Darwinian world in which footy players are hunted by young women who see them as the ultimate trophy males (“as close as you can get to prime beef, I suppose”, says one male sports journalist). The women’s comments back this up: they talk of wanting to have sex only with big strong men who have great bodies. One woman displays a picture on her mobile phone of a naked young man and says, “He loves his body. I love his body.”
An 80-year-old woman who is a veteran fan of the Manly Sea Eagles in the NRL says the women to whom the players are attracted also tend to be a type: tall, slim (“anorexic of course!”), with hipster jeans and dirty blonde hair. There are stories here of gang bangs, of rape and near-rape, of the infamous “pig on a spit” phenomenon. This is a culture fuelled by youthful insecurity, booze and narcissism, in which the men and the women use sexual scoring to prop up egos apparently frozen in adolescence. For the men, it’s the age-old confusing of dominant sexual behaviour with manliness. For the women, it’s the same equation employed by middle-class suburban trophy-wives: they derive their social status from the men to whom they attach themselves, however briefly.
In several of the anecdotes told, moral and legal lines are badly blurred: encounters that began as consensual ended up with women feeling violated, or a woman who had sex with one player found herself unexpectedly accommodating half the team.
One retired player describes a scene in which “a young lady known for having enjoyed the attentions of more than one bloke” was drunkenly vomiting over a balcony at a party. A player came up behind her, pulled down her knickers and began having sex with her. The story-teller seems confused about his own moral stance: “I don’t think there was anything malicious in it – but of course there was, she wasn’t consenting and was being sick. The last thing you want when you are being sick is to have some bloke come and shove his willie up you.” But his voice is uncertain and he laughs awkwardly. It’s like he can’t find the words to express his disquiet and so pushes it aside.
This film seems to do the same thing. In some ways it lacks a moral compass. The only value endorsed by those analysing the phenomenon is rejection of the sexual double standard that judges women more harshly than men. Is it as simple as that? Does perceived equality mean that it is now impossible to criticise women for conducting themselves as some men do, for aping the worst of male behaviour?
That the women consent and pursue these encounters disguises the underlying power dynamic. The men still regard them as spoilt goods, unfit material for being brought home to meet mother, in a different category to their wives and real girlfriends. The women say they’re OK with that – but they also say they are looking for something more, for a “real relationship”. The women talk about how they have to know “where to draw the line” so as not to be abused, but the film does not explore what that line is or how women enforce it. It ignores some very uncomfortable questions about the risky behaviour of women who could be seen as “asking for it”.
Several of the young women are photographed and their first names used. All of the men talking about personal experiences do so anonymously (at their own insistence). The unintentional result is that it is women who will bear any odium associated with this venture.
There are also many things this film does not tell us. What kind of class or family background produces a footy chick? Where does she go when her time is done? Does she find that this phase of her life was psychologically destructive?
And how universal is this behaviour among the players? Would a competition for best and fairest off the field have few contenders?
This is a sad film but worth watching with your teenagers as a talking-point. The moral that mine drew from the story is that it might be “nice” to believe in football, but it would be emotionally healthier if these young people believed in themselves.
Footy Chicks screens Friday at 10pm on SBS.

First published in The Age.

Beware the queen bee



The Devil Wears Prada is the buzz of the film world, but female bosses like the powerful magazine editor it portrays aren’t just celluloid creations.
“The details of your incompetence do not interest me. Tell Simone I’m not going to approve that girl she sent me for the Brazilian layout. I asked for clean, athletic, smiling; she sent me dirty, tired and paunchy. And RSVP yes to Michael Kors’ party, I want the driver to drop me off at 9.30 and pick me up at 9.45 sharp … Also, tell Richard I saw all the pictures that he sent for that feature on the female paratroopers and they’re all so deeply unattractive. Is it impossible to find a lovely, slender, female paratrooper? Am I reaching for the stars here?”
Meryl Streep as magazine editor and fashionista Miranda Priestly in the film The Devil Wears Prada.
REVENGE is meant to be a dish best served cold, but The Devil Wears Prada is hot. It is a chick-flick about a she-devil editor at a top fashion magazine. One day she decides to take a chance and hires “the smart fat girl” as her junior assistant.
The perfectly normally endowed new staffer finds herself in an office of ridiculously thin women (“I’m just one stomach flu away from my goal weight,” says one) who are forever erupting into cries of “Prada! Armani! Versace!”
Even more ridiculous are the demands of her imperious mistress: “Find me that piece of paper I had in my hand yesterday morning,” or, “I need 15 skirts from Calvin Klein.”
What kind of skirts?
“Please bore someone else with your … questions.”
According to Time reviewer Richard Schickel, “Streep is, predictably, a marvel as Miranda, flapping her wings, nipping at her perpetually frightened flock, hissing her contempt for their frightened ways.”
The film is based on a book of the same title by Lauren Weisberger, a former assistant to US Vogue editor Anna Wintour, who is widely believed to be her model for Miranda Priestly.
In a show of stylish defiance, Wintour attended a preview screening dressed in – mais oui! – Prada. The film is due out in Australia next month and is already an American box-office hit.
The immaculately turned-out Wintour once had a cream pie hurled at her face by animal protesters who were angry that her magazine promoted fur.
The character of Miranda Priestly is a pie in the face for women in leadership positions who have had to battle the stereotype of the powerful woman as dragon lady, bitch and ballbreaker. The film also plays on the idea of the catfight, a phenomenon dear to the hearts of unreconstructed men who like to believe that, deep down, women dislike and back-stab each other.
Real female bosses don’t act like that, surely?
In fact, painful as this might be for the sisterhood to admit, some do. Female lingo has long had a name for it, too: such a woman is a queen bee.
It is true that both water-cooler wisdom – the views you get in a straw poll in an office – and social science research suggest that women managers tend to have a more caring and sharing approach to managing staff than men do.
In organisations where women made up at least 30 per cent of the top three ranks of management, according to a study by Professor Colleen Chesterman at Sydney’s University of Technology, staff said they found their working environments more congenial, collaborative, goal-focused and people-oriented as a result. They also believed women could manage in tough times and were prepared to make hard decisions such as cutting staff and rationalising budgets.
Professor Leonie Still, of the Centre for Women and Business at the University of Western Australia, says male managers tend to take charge (problem-solving, delegating, influencing upward). Female managers take care: supporting, rewarding, mentoring, networking, consulting and team-building.
“He would rather be taking a client or a boss out to lunch,” she says. “He builds relationships outwards, looking for the next promotion. She prefers to look at maintaining relationships within the team …”
But it is difficult in organisations where female leadership has not reached the “critical mass” of 30 per cent.
In stressed, competitive workplaces dominated by men, even the women managers adopt a hard-edged macho style, according to research on high-tech companies by Professor Judy Wajcman at the Australian National University. “Some of the women identified with women, but other women feared being ‘tainted’ by being seen to be interested in women. It’s fear of discrimination. It’s as if they were telling the men, ‘I’m not like them, you can trust me because I’m in a different category,’ ” she says.
Meredith Fuller is a counselling psychologist specialising in career development. In her practice, Fuller sees both the queen and the workers she has stung.
What drives her? “She often has a great sense of entitlement, which can come from having been daddy’s princess. The entitled princess’ strategy is flirtatious and seductive, with a high edge of manipulative anger. She will play the cutesy game. She’s charming and witty but when she’s not turning it on, she’s full of rage. Men want to help her and don’t understand why other women don’t like her. She has an enormous saccharine smile but she will hunt out anyone who’s any good, work them like a dog, hide them away, present their work as her own and get rid of them. It’s search and destroy.”
The second kind of queen bee is desperate to prove that she is better than everyone else, “and that can come from a childhood that left her with poor self-esteem. Rather than feeling entitled, this woman is a bitter and twisted competitor. Her game is usually, ‘I’m going to be a better boy than the boys. I’m going to look fantastic and I don’t care who gets punished in the process.’ It’s all about her, in a very narcissistic way, and she can be very aggressive, intimidating and scary.”
The queen bee sees her problem as the tiresomeness of others in her hive: ” ‘I have got these idiots working for me! They’re all hopeless! They’re all envious of me, passive aggressive towards me, they are all out to get me, they are so resistant!’ She perceives herself as someone who’s a real star, who’s special, and isn’t it tragic that there are so many mediocre people in the world and they all happen to work for her?”
Fuller says that underneath her apparent arrogance, the queen bee is desperately insecure that she is not good enough and that she will be found out. “Some go to the extreme of fearing they will end up a bag lady on the street. They are so afraid they will collapse that they encase themselves in a suit of armour; you know, the ones who’ve got the $10,000 suitcases and the $3000 shoes? They talk about their accoutrements as being their secret weapons, so that they can walk into the awful meeting with bravado: ‘I’m sassy, I’m brilliant, no one’s going to mess with me.’ ”
As actor Lily Tomlin says – the trouble with the rat race is that even if the woman wins, she’s a rat.
But women who aren’t rats won’t stay with women who are. Katherine Milesi, a partner at accounting firm Deloittes, says she has a friend at another company who has just resigned because of a queen bee. “She was interfering with this person’s time outside work, constantly contacting her outside of work hours. She made it very difficult; she was demanding and controlling. This person had very strong feelings about having to take action; she doesn’t have another job to go to.”
Executive recruiter Kathleen Townsend, who helps in the hiring of chief executives, general managers and managing directors, says this sort of behaviour is rare. The importance of people skills is now much more recognised than it used to be: “The Gordon Geckos and other people who were standing on others to get to the top are increasingly less attractive to companies.”
She has occasionally struck “tolerance of appalling behaviour and massive egos”, which was associated either with creative enterprises such as movies or with some big-billing partners in law and accounting firms whose ability to attract revenue was highly valued. But they went through junior staff quickly, and tend to be found out now by the relatively recent practice of the exit interview.
It is only when women become leaders in large numbers that we will learn how much dysfunctional female behaviour is personal to the individual, and how much is a response to the power dynamic of the individual workplace.
In her research, Professor Leonie Still found that when the tables were turned, junior men could behave manipulatively with women bosses: “The man will flirt and flatter and play the submissive male to get what he wants, then he will go around and boast to everybody that he can get anything out of the boss – and there’s always a sexual connotation to it.”
For Professor Judy Wajcman, the question is not so much whether men and women manage differently, but the way in which women are judged more harshly for doing what men do.
“When men are decisive, they are seen as strong, directive managers. When women do exactly the same thing, they are seen as ambitious and hard.”
They are also less easily forgiven for blunders, according to Elizabeth Bryan, president of the NSW branch of the Australian Institute of Company Directors.
They tend to be cautious managers because they know there is little margin for failure for them: “If a woman makes a mistake, you get very, very quick judgement – ‘She couldn’t hack it, she couldn’t handle it.’ You just don’t get the same thing with males, they’re just not criticised in the same way,”she says.
There will undoubtedly be chats around the water cooler about The Devil Wears Prada.
Women on the defensive can always quote Meryl Streep on where she found her inspiration for the role of uber-bitch Miranda: “I thought of all the most wilful studio honchos I know, mostly men.”
How to avoid the sting – If your manager is a destructive queen bee …
1: Never be alone with her for important exchanges. She will lie in the form of “not remembering” what you remember about what was decided.
2: Transparency is your weapon because secrecy is hers. If you find yourself shafted by her in a meeting, say sweetly in front of colleagues, “I am really confused that you said that, because I thought we had agreed that this and this was happening.
Can you help me understand what has happened here?”
3: Counter her attempts to undermine by dividing and conquering and working individuals very hard, by talking to colleagues and finding support. Don’t allow yourself to be isolated by self-doubt.
4: Be protective of your privacy. Make sure not to leave your work open, because she will look over your shoulder and her eyes will “vacuum” your desk.
5: Stay calm. Many staffers who must answer to queen bees tolerate illtreatment for months and then explode over something minor. She will turn this into evidence of your emotional instability.
6: Protect yourself with records. Write confirming emails after verbal exchanges and cc others; always print out and keep hard copies of communications.
Source: Meredith Fuller, counselling psychologist in career development.
LOUISE ADLER CEO, Melbourne University Publishing
LOUISE Adler often quotes American author Nancy Kline in speeches about women and business: ‘Invited into the seats of power, we agree largely to leave behind and devalue our women’s culture. We respond with ‘Thank you, I accept your invitation to enter the boardroom and agree to put all my energies into … lying (and call it diplomacy), into obsession (and call it loyalty), into exploitation (and call it resourcefulness), into conquest (and call it reward), and into control (and call it power). I will not cry or … expect tenderness …’ “I think that’s women’s experience. But I take the view that women can lead differently, that they don’t have to behave in the way men do.”
ELIZABETH BRYAN, NSW branch president of the Australian Institute of Company Directors
“YOU need a critical mass of women to create a woman-friendly environment. In a lot of professions, the graduates are over 50 per cent women. By the time you reach managerial and professional status, about 44 per cent are women. The next stage up is executive management and that drops to 10 per cent women. CEOs are only 2.3 per cent women. It’s fear of female power. Most of the senior women come up through support roles, where they are not seen as a threat. But you probably won’t get a woman running the core business of the company. As soon as you are a line manager, you have real power and are therefore a real threat. Before we get real change we will have to have lots of women, not just the occasional extraordinary one.”
KATHERINE MILESI, partner with accounting and consulting firm Deloitte
“THERE is still some degree of reticence in women about putting themselves up for promotion, particularly from senior manager to director, and from director to partner. Often it’s because they are starting on a family and don’t believe it’s possible to have a family and be a partner at the same time. About 12 months ago, a couple of people had a word in my ear, and they changed my mind about that. I have a part-time partnership; I have every Friday off because of my children. When you are first in management, it’s certainly a learning curve asking people to do things for you. Women will often be a little bit more apologetic – ‘Can you do this as a favour for me?’ rather than ‘This needs to be done and can you do it?’

Sins of the mother


What is it with mothers and daughters? Karen Kissane tries to make sense of this volatile relationship.
SHE had tried to teach her daughter all the right things about resisting the modern world’s caging of girls. Be happy with who you are, not how you look; wear what you like, not just the brands that carry cachet with the kids at school; stay in touch with your own feelings about what you want and follow them.
And then came the awful moment, the one that challenged her fond beliefs about her mothering. Her teenaged daughter was going to the movies with friends. She came to say goodbye dressed in a pair of tights
with a hole, a skirt and top in colours that did not match, and a favourite handbag that her mother thought clashed with the lot. The comment was out of her mouth before the mother could stop it: “Going for the Little Orphan Annie look, are you?”
The ugly words hung in the air between them. The daughter slid her eyes away and quietly kissed her mother goodbye.
The mother says, with regret, “Here she was, being quirky and individualistic and anti-fashion, using her clothes to find out who she was, and it was me who tried to put her in the cage. And I know exactly why it happened; even now that I am middle-aged, whenever I tell my mother I have something important on, one of her first questions is, ‘What will you wear?’ She still reminds me when she thinks I need
a haircut.”
What is it with mothers and daughters?
The relationship between mothers and daughters is different to that of any other dyad in a family, researchers say; it can be more intense, more volatile, more conflicted, more painful and more rewarding. Part of the reason for this is that talk is a much bigger part of the mother-daughter exchange, and what mothers say – and what they leave unsaid – has a powerful effect on their daughters, who yearn for their mothers’ approval and resent that yearning. Although daughters often do not realise it, the reverse is also true.
American linguist Deborah Tannen has studied mothers and daughters and written about her research in a book published earlier this year, You’re wearing that? Understanding mothers and daughters in conversation. Writing in the Washington Post, Tannen says, “For girls and women, talk is the glue that holds a relationship together – and the explosive that can blow it apart. That’s why you can think you’re having a perfectly amiable chat, then suddenly find yourself wounded by the shrapnel from an exploded conversation.”
She found the most common complaint from daughters to be:
“My mother is always criticising me.” The corresponding complaint from mothers was: “I can’t open my mouth. She takes everything as criticism.” Tannen says mothers subject their daughters to a level of scrutiny they otherwise reserve only for themselves, and that the Big Three topics for criticism are hair, clothing and weight. A mother feels obliged to criticise because she knows women are judged by their appearance, and because daughters represent their mothers to the world, Tannen says.
Sometimes, it is because a mother just doesn’t understand a daughter’s choices. Tannen gives an example from her own life. Tannen had recently taken a teaching position at a prestigious university. She showed her mother around her new office, with her name on the door and her publications on the shelf. Her mother asked if she would have done all this if she had stayed married (her mother had been distraught at Tannen’s divorce). No, Tannen said, she would never have got her PhD if she’d stayed married.
Her mother replied: “If you’d stayed married, you wouldn’t have had to.” Ouch! Tannen wrote: “With her casual remark, my mother had reduced all that I had accomplished to the consolation prize.”
But what mothers do not say to their daughters – “what my mother didn’t tell me” – can also have a profound effect. There is the thin-lipped, disapproving silence about
a daughter’s actions. There is the avoidant silence about the awkward topic – sex, periods, the family scandal. And then there is the great silence, heavy with things unspoken, that is maternal depression, which was so beautifully and wordlessly portrayed by Holly Hunter in Jane Campion’s film about the almost-submerged mother, The Piano.
The psychological effect of the great silence on daughters is well documented, with the daughters of depressed mothers at greater risk of depression themselves. What happens in the psychic space daughters share with their mothers has profound physical effects, too: one study of girls in America and New Zealand found that those whose mothers had mood disorders reached puberty earlier than those whose mothers did not. Their mothers’ unhappiness and instability kick-started their periods. The researchers speculated that human females might have evolved to
respond to early childhood stress by accelerating pubertal development.
There is also some evidence suggesting that personal secrets in a mother’s history can play themselves out again in the next generation if they are hidden away. One study more than a decade ago examined families in which the mother had had an abortion when she was young. In those families where the mother did not tell her daughter, the daughter had a higher likelihood of finding herself in need of an abortion in early adulthood than did the daughters of families where the mothers had talked about their own experience. Perhaps those who do not learn from family history are also destined to repeat it.
But mother-daughter relationships are so complex and so nuanced that it is sometimes hard to judge the application of a worthy principle such as openness; when to tell, and how to tell. Erica Frydenberg, a professor of psychology at the University of Melbourne, says mothers might not tell daughters about an abortion, for example, because they do not want their daughters to prejudge how to manage a pregnancy.
The timing of a revelation can also be crucial. Erica tells of a woman who was told on her wedding day that the person she had thought of as her mother was actually her aunt; that her biological mother had died when she was tiny. “She was so shattered
by this information that she never spoke to the aunt again for the rest of her life. Judgements about discovery are very tricky.”
For every daughter who feels she has suffered over something for which her mother did not prepare her, there is a mother who feels her daughter resisted being forewarned about possible painful experiences.
Maggie Kirkman, at the Key Centre for Women’s Health in Society at the University of Melbourne, was a co-researcher in a study about the way parents talk to their children about sex. “Relationship information was one of the things parents wanted to talk about, and daughters often didn’t want to talk about it.”
Kirkman says mothers trying to warn daughters about potential life problems can be a bit like a doctor trying to deliver bad news: “People will swear blind that no one told them, and they were told but they found it too distressing to absorb it.”
The difficulties of falling in love, and falling out of love, can be similarly uncomfortable for daughters to hear about: “I tried to tell my daughter how it felt when someone important fell out of love with me. She was sympathetic, but I think she felt it wasn’t something that a mother should be sharing. Daughters want parents to be coping and to be bulwarks against the world rather than people who will fall apart when something happens.”
On the other hand, in Kirkman’s study there was a woman who blamed her teenage promiscuity on the fact that her mother did not talk to her about sex or relationships and failed to educate her “that you don’t just throw yourself into a sexual relationship without thinking of the consequences”.
In the world of classic “chick lit” – Jane Austen, the Brontes, even the light-hearted Regency romances of Georgette Heyer – it has always been the task of the mother to guide a daughter in the proprieties and protect her from sexual predations. Often in these authors’ stories the mother is absent or inadequate (a contrivance
to give their heroines greater trials and greater freedoms), but even then, she symbolises protection or restraint. In her book, Beyond the Myths: Mother-Daughter Relationships in Psychology, History, Literature and Everyday Life, Sydney researcher and psychologist Shelley Phillips points out that when Rochester begs Jane Eyre to be his mistress, it is the ghost of her long-dead mother who tells her to flee temptation and leave Rochester and Thornfield.
For Erica Frydenberg’s daughter Lexi, though, one of the great strengths of her relationship with her mother is that her mother did not ever tell her about judgements she had made about her daughter’s adult relationships. Lexi, 33, is a Melbourne pediatrician. She is also mother of a little boy and is five months pregnant with her second child.
Lexi says she feels her mother has given her great freedom to make her own choices. She never heard much about Erica’s own experience of childbirth and early parenting but Erica was always there to help with cooking and cleaning when Lexi was sick or exhausted: “I was grateful that she was there to support me and didn’t put her own issues on me and didn’t constantly reflect on her own experience.
“We have never talked in depth about marital relationships either.
I think she adores my husband and is completely there for us, but we never sat down, even when I was going out with men, and said, you know, ‘He’s got this or that going for him, or not going for him.’ She gave me freedom to form my own opinions.”
Long after one long-term relationship ended, Erica told her daughter that she had found the man exceptionally boring. “I had no idea,” laughs Lexi. “I thought she thought he was a great catch.”
Another time, when Lexi was in a “total dilemma” about her reluctance to marry a man who seemed perfect, her mother did not buy into the debate. She referred Lexi to a psychologist who could help her think it through independently. “It was a clever thing to do at the time because if the relationship had worked out and she had put her two cents in, it would have changed the dynamic between us, and if the relationship didn’t work out because of something she said, I would have resented her for it. By being supportive but suggesting that I do the deep talking with someone else, she wasn’t putting a value judgement on the relationship.”
Erica Frydenberg herself had been brought up by a mother who was a Holocaust survivor and who was progressive for her culture and her times, but who did initially resist Erica’s determination to adopt Australian freedoms, such as mixing with boys and going to university. When it came Erica’s turn to mother Lexi, she decided it was important “to respect the other, and to be there to assist and to ‘scaffold’ but
to really trust in my kids’ capacities”.
Erica remembers only one time they ran into trouble in Lexi’s teens – “saying she was somewhere when she wasn’t, an under-age drinking thing. That wasn’t very hard”. And Lexi remembers only one major dispute: her mother wanted her to have a big wedding, and Lexi wanted a small one. “That was the biggest crunch time.
I hadn’t actually anticipated her opposition because she had always been so open-minded. But in the end Adam and I dug our heels in. We wanted to form our own boundaries as a couple.”
Such a rebellion-free youth is unusual. According to Shelley Phillips, most daughters report that they argue more with their mothers than with anyone else when they are teenagers and young adults. Conflicts often centre around everyday things such as tidy rooms and outings but the intensity can escalate out of all proportion to the issues. Daughters argue with their mothers because it is during fights that they work out who they are and what is important to them. Many researchers have concluded that daughters do not want to “separate” from their mothers or break the relationship; they want to maintain emotional closeness all through their adult lives in a way that is not as common with sons.
Kim Kane, 33, a commercial lawyer and children’s writer, has forgiven her mother all her “sins”: making Kim eat celery sticks and carrots at childhood parties, studying at university instead of being “a proper tennis-and-tuckshop mum”, vacuuming furiously outside Kim’s bedroom if she slept in too long. Says her amused mother Barbara, “That is grotesquely exaggerated!” She adds, “Kim was always my great leveller.”
They see themselves as close – they share a love of trashy magazines and the high arts, and often go to the opera or to a gallery opening together – but Barbara says she doesn’t expect that closeness to extend to talking about everything. “I’m very close to my mother but I don’t tell her about things that would worry her. I’m sure my girls are the same, they’d just give me the general headline.”
Asked to think about “What my mother didn’t tell me”, Barbara says that, while it is not something she would have expected to come from her mother, she does wish now that when she left home she had known that it was wise to get established in a career before starting a family. She had three children because she wanted them to have the fun of siblings, but it meant that her own career as an art historian began late and had to be squeezed in around family commitments.
For Kim, too, the only thing she wished she had known involved the world of work: she found some corporate environments tougher, blokier and more bruising than the sheltered world of her family, and realised that she had to upskill in boisterousness and bad language. “That’s something my family could not have prepared me for because we don’t act like that.”
Just like the women in Tannen’s research, Kim remains sensitive to her mother’s criticism in a way that she is to no other. When she showed her mother the manuscript of her first children’s novel, her mother took seriously the request to say what she thought. “She said, ‘Well, it’s good, there are some strong characters, but I’m not sure about this.’ I was absolutely gutted!
I found myself saying to publishers, ‘This is what my mother thinks’.
I sounded like a 14-year-old!”
Lexi Frydenberg recently had an ultrasound for her pregnancy. Her mother came with her because her husband was away. They were both delighted to hear she is expecting a daughter. Says Lexi, “We both had tears in our eyes. Because I have a very strong bond with my mother, I’d like to have that with a daughter.”
You know how it is with mothers and daughters.
Mother-daughter books …
1. The Joy Luck Club, by Amy Tan
Four mothers and their first-generation, Chinese-American daughters dealing with culture clashes.
2. Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott
Single motherhood in 19th-century New England.
3. Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen
The silly Mrs Bennet is heroic in her tireless attempts to get her five daughters good husbands.
4. White Oleander, by Janet Fitch
Heartbreaking coming-of-age story.
5. Beloved, by Toni Morrison
Civil War tale of runaway slave Sethe, who is haunted and comforted by the ghost of her murdered daughter.
6. Unless, by Carol Shields
A wry feminist meditation on women’s roles.
7. Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, by Rebecca Wells
A novel of imperfect love and forgiveness.
and films …
Freaky Friday (1976 and 2003)
Mother and teenage daughter swap bodies and are forced to live each other’s lives.
High Tide (1987)
Gillian Armstrong’s tale of a maternal relationship lost and potentially found.
News from Home (1977)
An engrossing meditation on the bonds of family, identity, exile and creativity.
Stella Dallas (1937)
A mother raises her daughter alone, renouncing everything to allow her child a better chance in life. — JANE SULLIVAN AND PHILIPPA HAWKER

First published in The Age.

Husband ‘blew a fuse’ before killing, court told

WHEN Paul Margach suspected his wife Tina was having an affair, he searched her mobile phone for telephone numbers and called a man he had never met, Shane Breheny.
Pretending at first to be his wife’s brother, Margach asked Mr Breheny whether he had got along with Tina, “and if we had it off”, Mr Breheny told the Supreme Court yesterday.
“He was trying to put his (four-year-old) younger daughter on (the phone), and saying ‘This is your new Daddy’, ‘You have broken up my family’, all that sort of stuff.”
The following night, Margach stabbed his wife to death in a jealous rage. Firemen who arrived at the house in Hurtle Street, Ascot Vale, after he phoned for help on October 15, 2004, found him waving and crying with both his young daughters on the front veranda.
He told them he had stabbed his wife because he found out she was having an affair and begged them to save her life.
Margach, 38, has pleaded not guilty to his wife’s murder. His wife had not had an affair with Mr Breheny, a sign-writer, but had confessed to her husband that she had a couple of drinks and danced with him while on a weekend away in Swan Hill with her girlfriends.
She and Mr Breheny phoned and sent text messages to each other several times the following week, and she told Mr Breheny that she had feelings for him.
The night before she died, Mrs Margach told him that her husband “blew a fuse” over the news of her flirtation and hit her on the nose and that “the kids are all crying”. But she still wanted to stay with her husband and said, “I deserve everything I get at the moment.”
Mrs Margach spent much of that phone call debating with Mr Breheny about whether her husband could trace their conversation. In fact, Mr Margach had installed a listening device on the family telephone line. Her conversation was replayed in court yesterday.
Mrs Margach suggested to Mr Breheny that they both leave their partners. Mr Breheny told the court he was being light-hearted when he replied, “I would in a heartbeat.”
Mrs Margach told Mr Breheny that her husband had “this big jealousy problem” and that she did not show him the affection he wanted.
She said she had to remind herself that her husband was a good father and a good provider, “But is that everything? . . . If I didn’t have kids, it would be like, there’s my door.”
She told Mr Breheny that she felt differently about him to the way she felt about her husband: “If someone . . . wanted to touch you or something and I was there I’d want to knock them out.”
Mrs Margach told Mr Breheny that in the argument with her husband, he said, “I’m going to make it my goal just to destroy you.’ I said, ‘That’s good, that’s great . . . You forgot the acid. Do you want me just to lay down now and pour it on me?’ . . .
“But I don’t want to hurt him like that . . . He was really hurting tonight and that hurt me.”
The case continues.

First published in The Age.