Wednesday, 1 October 2008

The Birth of Sexual Opression in Australia.

I got a tad distracted as I was revising for my HIStory exam, I would like to call it HERstory, but what we are taught in school is very much HIS-story!....

We generally like to believe throughout history that majority opinion goes from worse to at the very least, less worse. Sadly this isn’t always the case. Governments will use what ever oppression they deem necessary at any particular point in time to create their desired effect; Whether that be anti-Muslim racism and the fear of terrorism to support US imperialism or sexual oppression to ‘strengthen’ the population among other oppressions. Sexual Oppression is sharpest when governments most require the reproduction of the working class. Cipi Morgan points out in her article ‘Colonial invasion and homophobia in Australia’ “heads rolled across Europe like billiard balls as kings, queens and clergymen scrambled for complete control over the lives of ordinary people” We see this also during WWI in Australia, with a ban on the importation of contraceptives, and again in Nazzi Germany when women were recruited to reproduce with soldiers, and queers and feminist were thrown into concentration camps (along with Jews, socialists, gypsies, Jehovah Witnesses and the many other outspoken individuals and groups). There is minimal if any ‘progression’- rather there are peaks in different opinions based on political struggles and the government’s desperate protection of the economy in our ‘national interest.’ We see much time, but little progress between Hennry Parks’s statement in 1866, that in the business of colonisation, “there is only one way to do it-by spreading over it all the associations and connections of family life” and Howard 2000 assertion that children require one mother and one father-ruling out any aberration to the nuclear family.
"Freedoms Are Won not Given!!!"

As I have asserted again and again on this blog and in my life outside this blog (yes I do have one) we as women, queers and allies have been GIVEN NOTHING! All the rights we have were hard fought for and won. Including the right to vote, the right to use contraception, the right to abortion, the right to have relationships with members of the same sex (not marital yet, but we are working on it!) We find our selves constantly having to defend the rights we do have let alone the ones we continue to struggle for (pro choice rally this Saturday, starts at 12.00 at the state library.)

There can be no doubt of the significant damage done to Australia’s indigenous people and the environment following the British Invasion in 1788. The land was considered to be 'Terra Nullius'- a land which is not inhabited. Cook and the British law of the time had decided that the "Indians" he encountered had no right to the land as they were not 'improving the land'-because we all know how greatly European invasion 'improved' the land.

The extreme poverty of the under classes of Britain had been forced into crime. The numbers of this massive class were so large that they could not be contained within England and so deportation to the "new land" began.

There is no evidence to suggest that queerphobia existed prior to European invasion. In fact in many pre-colonial and pre-class societies there is evidence to suggest that both sexual and gender diversity was more acceptable though different terms were used. Sister-girls are an example of this in Indigenous Australian communities. (Sister-girl: The acceptance and visibility of sistergirls is often considered far greater than gay men or lesbians in aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. Sistergirls are biological men who are effeminate or live their lives as women. Communities will often accept and recognise sister girls as women. Sistergirls undertake the roles and responsibilities of women having relationships with straight men. However sistergirls do not generally identify as transgender.) Societies in North America and Siberia are also said to have practised transexuality and homosexuality. In many ancient societies same sex relations were not only accepted but exalted. Examples include the Mycenaen society of around 12000BC and the Athenian and African societies of 400-300 BC.

Even with the rise of the church “homosexuality” as a separate sexual or identity category remained unknown. The term “homosexuality” was first coined by a German scientist;
Karl-Maria Kertbeny in 1869.

According to Australian historians R.W. Connell and T.H. Irving, the panic around sexuality flared up in the 1820’s. with Governor Arthur’s booting out of officials for offences such as “adultery” and general sexual immorality. They argue that “particular venom was directed against homosexual relationships formed by many convicts and pastoral workers” adding that “unmarried convict women got a fair pasting as sluts and whores” They also point out that although the “1812 parliamentary inquiry into transportation had hardly raised a question about sex, the 1837 inquiry…positively smouldered with innuendo, scandal and moralising.”

Morgan points out the sexism inherent in the over used metaphor in colonial studies which “depicts the agent of colonisation as man and the tragic subject as woman (some kind of irresistible “wilderness” for man’s exploration).

The new ruling class of settler Australians struggled to gain control of the largely prior-convict working class. Family units have long been understood as being an effective way of controlling workers. For the creation of families, wom*n were essential. There were offcourse few wom*n in settler Australia. The Port Philip District (now the state of Victoria) had 75 women to 2000 men in 1838.
The much celebrated Caroline Chisholm, a member of the British ruling class worked to domesticate the ‘frisky convict males’ She lobbied with missionary zeal for the importation of young wom*n. These young wom*n she argued, would galvanise the establishment of an Australian working class family- the platform of an obedient society
The wom*n and their children, Chisholm said in 1847, would act as “God’s police” taming unruly male workers.
This wave of women was intended for the sexual and domestic service of the state. Chisholm herself was involved in first the education of these women; teaching them the skills of cooking, cleaning and elocution, Chisholm then helped to ensure these young wom*n acquired jobs, as domestic labourers. Young wom*n were encouraged to travel to the “new worlds” of which Australia was one in order to find “respectablility” The colonies were advirtised as offering "respectable" work for a wom*n and eventually a greater prospect married-Marriage anf family life ofcourse being the ultimate goal for wom*n and the only way for a wom*n to acheive true respectability. Ruling class wom*n in Australia are reported to have complained about the difficulty in finding female domestic labour and that when found it was expensive and hard to keep. This shows us the vital role that wom*n play in sexism and the relation of sexism to class society as opposed to the gender of the perpetrator.

The use of “decent” working class families by the ruling class in Australia mirrored that of England; With the intensifying of gender stereotypes and the extraction of unpaid female labour in reproducing, feeding, clothing and caring for workers. At this same time the first of the trials of homosexuals were occurring, including that of Oscar Wilde in 1895.

Homosexuality was not invented in Colonial Australia however it certainly made it’s debut as public enemy number one in the eyes of the ruling class.

The old fashioned, conservative, bloodstained and oppressive values of the ruling class are no less prevalent in today’s society, though they tend to manifest themselves in different ways. Like all oppressions, sexual oppression is a tool used to keep the working class in it’s place.

7 comments:

RVB said...

There is no evidence to suggest that queerphobia existed prior to European invasion.

It depends on which culture. The aboriginal/indigenous culture of Australia is but one piece of the multi-ethnic, multi-cultural pie that is Earth. I would seriously doubt that queerphobia did not exist before then, but I agree that it probably got exacerbated when classism kicked-in.

Now Kath, I know you hate me bringing it up...but I find it very strange that you've ignored the role of religion. Religion, by definition, oppresses free-thought and you should look no further than pious groups such as the Exclusive Brethren who seek to distort equality. Of course, if you're queer and in Iran (a dictatorship), you get executed - in the name of religion. And whilst I'm not trying to undermine people like Jess' reconciling of religion with sexuality, I think you'll find the ratio of religious queers to secular queers very distinct.

Kath said...

rvb:
I was talking about Australia prior to invasion.

The rhetoric of Religion has been used by the ruling class to justify sexual oppression.
Pious groups such as the exclusive brethren do not control legislation in western countries.
In Iran and some other countries in the world, horrific punishments are dealt to anyone who strays from the path of ‘sexual morality’. E.g: Homosexuals in Saudi Arabia are stoned within an inch of their life and are then made to sit in front of a wall which is toppled on top of them squashing them-dead. While this sick, barbaric and inexcusable behaviour may be done in the name of religion, it is committed by the ruling class.
It is not faith itself or even religion based on faith which causes homophobia in modern society, (though can contribute to it) but rather the ruling class and the necessities of capitalism which USE religion.
Our own politicians are very slippery in the way they use religion they may use the religion of ordinary, working class Christians (the majority religion of Australia) to support their unjust legislation and at the same time they blame these apparent injustices on the religion, in their attempt to flea from accountability. Well may young labour supporters say that it is not the governments fault, but rather the fault of the church that same sex marriage is criminal. However it was John Howard in 2004 who passed the 2004 Marriage Act specifically outlawing same sex marriage NOT the catholic church! and it is Mr Rudd who CONTINUES to support this legislation, refusing to repeal the ban on same sex marriage!

RVB said...

I was talking about Australia prior to invasion.

So was I. Prior to invasion, European society still existed, as did Asian societies and African societies. I don't think you'll find that all of them were accepting of queers.

It is not faith itself or even religion based on faith which causes homophobia in modern society

But conservative society has been based largely on religion. Furthermore, religion continuous to oppress people in the world. Even 'working class' people, in say the USA, are actively homophobic and they are in no way the 'ruling class'. Furthermore, the 'ruling class' can be queer - but it is unlikely that they are actively religious.

However it was John Howard in 2004 who passed the 2004 Marriage Act specifically outlawing same sex marriage NOT the catholic church.

But the intrinsic link between him, The Exclusive Brethren and the Catholic church is undeniable. Social conservatism, of which Howard was the prophet of, is based on religion.

Kath said...

I wasn’t talking about African and Asian societies, I was talking about AUSTRALIA however you will find that there were communities in these continents in which transsexualism was accepted and in some cases praised. There is no evidence to show that non-heterosexual people were discriminated against in these communities. It is class society which requires men and women to fulfill prescribed rolls and from this comes the oppression of women in queers.

I'm not saying that queerphobia didn’t exist at all prior to class society, however the development of class society and the need for the creation of family units as we know them to day and gender roles can not be separated from the development of sexual repression.

I already said that the working class are religious, this is why the ruling class (politicians) are so able to USE religion.

I don’t think Howard's a Catholic. Howard’s social conservatism was about ensuring the "sustainability" (bahahah) of the economy-Good Old Captain Fuck up! Recession probably followed by depression here we come woohoo!

The Christian faith forbids poverty. According to Christian teachings Christians are not aloud to let other people experience poverty- I didn’t see Howard jumping up and down to prevent poverty. In fact the number of people living under the poverty line increased under Howard. We don’t live in a theocracy. The ruling class chose which bits of the bible they want to use to control the workers.

Many members of the labor and liberal party are not Christians and yet they support the conservative values advocated by their parties. John Howard’s speech writer was queer! Being queer does not prevent a person from perpetrating queerphobia just as being a wom*n does not stop a person from perpetrating sexism.

(By the way By ruling class I'm talking not just about the wealthy, but the class of people who aren’t workers, owners of businesses etc, who's wealth comes from the work done by their workers. It is also these people who make the big decisions of government, as they are powerful lobbyist.)

We do not live in a theocracy. To blame religion for the sexual oppression inherent in our society is to let the politicians off, as they would like. I thought you valued accountability? That said I acknowledge that religion has played and continues to play a role in oppression, but it is not the CAUSE of oppression in our society. I continue to blame the gender roles necessary to class society under capitalism.

RVB said...

There is no evidence to show that non-heterosexual people were discriminated against in these communities.

I think you might be right there, but I would be hesitant to fully believe in that.

I already said that the working class are religious, this is why the ruling class (politicians) are so able to USE religion.

I quite agree. That's why Obama provoked such an outcry by mentioning that American towns (ie poverty centres) cling to guns and religion too much.
I think by educating people, you'll see a decline in religiosity - as exemplified nicely by Europe's strong secular undercurrent and accessible education.

Kath said...

Perhaps. Your comments on education live room for a whole other compeletly unrealted debate.

RVB said...

Yes...well thanks for not asserting your self-righteousness in that answer. :)