Monthly Archives: March 2011

Religious Discrimination in State Primary Schools

From the Humanist Society of Victoria …

There are children in our primary schools today who suffer from religious dis­crimi­nation. When religious instruction (or ‘RI’) comes up and parents exert their right of conscientious objection, there can be unintended conse­quences. Separation from their classmates during the RI period is handled like punishment in some schools, and sometimes it is compoun­ded with victimization by other students. And the whole school is affected if a minority is singled out and excluded.

The Humanist Society of Victoria has collected many complaints from the public about the way RI (which is more commonly known as CRE) is being conducted. It has prepared a formal complaint on behalf of the aggrieved parents to the Victorian Equal Opportunity & Human Rights Commission.

The Society has written to State primary school councils, to inform them of the risk of adverse discrimination and to suggest ways of preventing it. Councils were reminded of the wide-spread misconception that schools were required by law to provide RI where it was available. On the contrary, councils are responsible for deciding whether RI is appropriate for their school. We recommend two alternatives: (1) the Humanist course of practical ethics, which is comparable to the

From Golding, The Age

St. James Ethics Centre’s course in NSW; and (2) philosophical ethics taught by professional teachers, trained by Victorian Association for Philosophy in Schools.

RI is a problem also because it is delivered by volunteer instructors from outside the school, not by trained teachers. The system is poorly regulated and not clearly answerable to either schools or parents. Humanists contend that it is an imposition on impressionable children and lags way behind community attitudes and the needs of families in today’s multicultural society.

Concerned parents are encouraged to ask their school (1) to make RI participation a matter of opting-in, not opting-out, and (2) to schedule the RI class after normal school hours. Parents who wish to follow or join the forthcoming legal case can visit the Victorian Humanists’ website and write to the E-mail address,

Stephen Stuart, president

Update from Dan Kerr of the Victorian Humanists: Hey Chrys, well we have received so much traffic on the Victorian Humanists website that the servers could not cope. Please pass on this great news (it shows how much support we have) and please direct your readers to where they can sign up to a newsletter to be updated. And they can email us at

Website:  Religions in School

ABC News Report: Schools ‘discriminating’ against kids who opt out of religion

The Age: Backlash as God forced into schools

Note from Chrys: This is not just a Victorian problem.  Issues with religious instruction are being raised by concerned parents across Australia.  See, for instance, my blog posts on  Religious Conversion by Stealth in NSW Schools and NSW Ethics Classes vs Scripture Classes:  If Your Product’s a Dud, Jim, Don’t Blame the Competition.

If you are a parent with specific concerns about the teaching of RI/CRE/SRE in your children’s school, please contact:

Victoria – (Victorian Humanists)

Other States – (Australian Secular Lobby)

Both of these organisations are well equipped to provide you with advice, information and assistance.

Chrys Stevenson

Feminism: Flogging a Dead Horse? An Insider’s View

A now disgraced and marginalised misogynistic male blogger whose tacky blog I will no longer dignify with a link*, suggests it’s ‘somewhat unfair to keep flogging the dead horse that there is some kind of institutionalized female oppression’.  He was referring, specifically, to the governor-general’s call for a quota to address the woeful ratio of women to men on Australian company boards.  He points to the many Australian women in leadership positions in our government and corporations, the wealth of female talent writing serious stories for our newspapers, and to women driving monster trucks on mining sites as evidence that most of the obstacles to women’s promotion are no longer in place.

Ironically, I  have some sympathy with his position.  I’m not a fan of quotas or affirmative action.  I’m probably one of those women he mentions who, if you suggested they should be appointed because of a quota system, they’d scratch your eyes out.

I’ve always felt it was a woman’s responsibility to fight her own battles in the workplace – no matter how bloody.  As a young woman in corporate Australia in the 1980s and 90s, seeking career advancement was akin to going to war; you needed a well-thought out strategy, the cunning of a fox and the hide of a rhinoceros to succeed.  But, as the male blogger says, it was possible and those who had what it takes to storm the male bastion (Julia Gillard, Anna Bligh, Gail Kelly etc.) are shining examples that women can succeed on their own merits.

On the other hand, only eight per cent of the directors on Australian company boards are women.  Come on!  In 2011 less than one in ten company directors are women?  That’s just shameful – and it’s pretty clear that it’s an institutional problem, rather than a lack of talented women that’s caused the imbalance.  After all, as he says, there’s Julia Gillard, Anna Bligh, Gail Kelly, etc – all shining examples that there’s no shortage of intelligent, educated, career-oriented women.

So, what’s the problem?  There doesn’t seem to be any overt discrimination against women in business, the glass ceiling has been broken, so why so few women in the boardroom?

I can only speculate based on my own experience but, as people on boards tend to be in their 40s, 50s and 60s, it’s probably fair to assume that my experience isn’t unique among women of this age group.  It’s true that I’ve been out of the corporate world for many, many years and it’s entirely possible things have changed.  But, based on the glaring inequity of those public board figures, I’m guessing things haven’t changed as much as they should.

I really can’t blame him for failing to understand what it’s like to be a woman in the workplace. Perhaps expecting a man to know what it’s like to be a woman in business is like expecting a straight person to know what it’s like to be gay.  In no way am I suggesting the level of discrimination is the same.  Only that, in both cases, you can relate the stories of discrimination, abuse and humiliation, but you can’t make someone who hasn’t experienced it know how it felt.

And, sometimes, there are people like him who don’t even ‘get’ that there’s a problem.  They see the end result of women succeeding as proof that the dark days of sexism are behind us – but they don’t see what those women have endured to get there. What I’d like to argue here is that success is not evidence of a lack of discrimination, nor are the removals of official barriers to female promotion.  Further, I’d like to suggest that the lack of female company directors might even reflect the number of  talented and ambitious women who’ve just silently dropped out of the executive talent pool – battle worn and weary.  Maybe it’s because what a woman has to go through to get to the top usually means that the last man standing is usually a man.

The problem is, the discrimination isn’t explicit, it’s insidious and quietly executed.  You wouldn’t know about most of the discrimination unless you were a woman – and even then, you often don’t find out what’s been holding you back.

He also mentions the problem of women’s contempt for other women in the workplace, and I’d like to address that too.  It was certainly something I experienced as a young, ambitious career woman.

In order to illustrate the kind of obstacles women face (or at least used to face) in the workplace, I’d like to share some personal reminiscenses of my own.  As I said, perhaps things have changed, perhaps not.  I apologise in advance for this being very long, but it’s time I told this story.  It needs telling.

Learning the Ropes

Very early in my career I learned that I had to stand up for myself in the workplace.  I was only twenty when my boss pinned me against the wall of the photocopying room with hopes of a quick grope.  I said, “Take one step closer and I will bring my knee up so hard your balls will be black and blue for a month.  Not only that, but I will ring your wife and tell her why I am sending you home with bruised balls.”

He backed off saying, “Oh, it’s like that, is it?”

“Yes, it’s like that.”

“OK, then.  Glad we understand each other.”

I never had another problem with sexual harassment.

For the first six months or so I worked in that job doing almost all of the office administration – while being paid as a secretary.  At length, the boss decided we needed an office manager.  I came in one Monday morning to find he’d hired one of his mates.  The man was clueless.  He  knew nothing about the business we were in or about being an office manager.

“He needed the job,” was the best excuse the boss could make for this monumentally bad management decision.

I continued to do most of the work.  When I complained, the boss had the grace to agree he should have promoted me (but it hadn’t occurred to him).  He gave me a ten percent pay rise – but also increased my responsibilities.  So, I did the admin manager’s job while earning half his salary, while he did very little on twice my income.  I was learning about how it was in business for women.

I Can Do That!

A few jobs later, I was starting to realize I was just as smart as many of the men I was working for. With a bit of training, Ithought, I could easily do their jobs.  In fact, in some cases, I was doing their jobs!  So, I took myself off to TAFE (business school) and did some sales and marketing courses to prove I was serious about promotion.

News that one of the secretaries had ambitions-above-her-station were soon flying around the office.  One day, one of the female accounts staff cornered me at the photocopier.  What is it about offices and photocopiers???

“I hear you’re doing business studies at TAFE,” she sneered.

“Yes, I am.”

“I don’t know why you bother,” she sighed.

“Well, I work in marketing, I’m interested in knowing more about it, and maybe, one day, I’ll be a marketing manager instead of a secretary.”

“You’re wasting your time,” she spat – and I can still hear the venom in her voice.  “You’ll soon get married, have kids, leave work and all that study will be wasted.  You’re just making yourself look silly.  Everyone in the office is laughing at you.”

I soon discovered they were laughing for good reason.

In an attempt to use my new marketing knowledge and ‘get noticed’by management,  I wrote a feature article on my company for a major trade journal.  My boss and the general-manager were delighted when publication of a two-page spread with photos was approved by the editor.  After work, one evening, when only the general manager and I were still in the building, he approached my desk:

“Chrys!  Just wanted to say what a great job you did on that article!”

“Thank you, Mr S!”

“But, I want to talk to you about one little thing.  As you know, this is a male-dominated industry. I’ve given it a lot of thought and I think your article will have more impact if it looks like it’s written by a man.  So,” he said with an avuncular pat on my shoulder, “I’m sure you won’t mind that I’ve rung the editor and had him put my name on it.  You understand, of course!  And, Chrys, we’ll keep this between us, eh?  Head office doesn’t need to know.”

“Of course, I understand, Mr S.  Thank you for letting me know.”

I went home and started looking for a new job.

Climbing the Corporate Ladder

The new job was as personal secretary to a CEO in an international company in the finance sector.  It was a very prestigious position in a very posh office.  I was taking over from the CEO’s previous secretary who’d been promoted into management (a good sign, I thought).

On my first day, I was called into the CEOs office for an hour of very fast shorthand.  I was told it needed to be transcribed and on his desk by lunch time.  I’d been honest in my interview by disclosing that my shorthand was rusty, but this was ignored.  I managed to get down a book full of shorthand at 120 words per minute.  I had no clue whether I could transcribe it.  But there were worse problems awaiting me.

When I sat down at my desk and looked for a typewriter, there wasn’t one.  I asked my female mentor (the CEO’s previous secretary) where my typewriter was.

“There isn’t one,” she said.  “We work on computers.  There’s yours.”

“But, I’ve never used a computer!” I said.

“Learn!” she replied.

“But,” said I, tears stinging at my eyes, “I have all this shorthand, and it has to be transcribed and on his desk by lunch time.  What happens if I can’t work out how to use it?”

“You’ll get fired, I guess,” she sneered and sauntered off.

I fired up the computer, worked out how to use it and had the documents on his desk by noon.  I still don’t know how I managed it.

Shortly after, my female nemesis flounced into the CEO’s office without bothering to check in with me, or even knock on his door.  I heard the click of the lock and then I heard them giggling together as she recounted my discomfort.  It turned out that ‘lunches’ behind locked doors were part of the daily routine for the CEO and his former secretary.  I determined that if I was going to be promoted, it wouldn’t be while I was lying on my back on the office sofa with my legs in the air.

Some weeks later, the boss asked me to bring in coffee for some visiting business executives.  I happened to enter the office at the same time as the (male) sales manager.

“Gentlemen!” said the boss – all ‘hail fellow well-met’.

“Meet Jim Jenkins.  Jim’s our sales manager and a very valuable member of our staff!”  There were handshakes all round as I stood back quietly, still holding the tray of coffee.

Then the boss spotted me.  “And this is … well, she’s the bird who brings the coffee! You don’t need to know her name!” he said with a great belly laugh.  (I might add that as well as making a mean cup of coffee, I had, that week, worked out how to use macros in Excel and designed a program for calculating hire purchase payments that saved the salesmen hours of time doing manual calculations.)

After the visitors left I stormed into the CEO’s office and said, “Don’t you ever do that to me again.”

“What?” he said.

But he knew what he’d done and he did apologise.  In fact, he admired my spunk in standing up for myself.  But many, many women in their early twenties wouldn’t have risked a prestigious, well-paying job to stand on principle – and who can blame them.  Even then, I knew I was in the minority.

I kept studying at night and began submitting marketing plans to my ‘other’ boss, the sales manager, Jim Jenkins (names have been changed to protect the despicable).  I soon found out that my marketing plans were being photocopied (that damn photocopier again!) with my name tippexed out and sent on to head office under his name.  When I confronted him he looked sheepish but he was unapologetic.

“Look, they’re good ideas, but nobody’s going to accept them from a woman.  I’m just making sure they get picked up.  What’s important is that I know they came from you …”

The implication was that if I was a good girl and kept quiet, eventually I’d be promoted into management.

And, sure enough, one day, the CEO called me in to his office.

“We get the feeling you want to be in management.”


“So, we’ve decided we’re going to give you a chance.  But, first you have to learn the business properly.  I’m demoting you.  You’ll move down to the third floor.  You’ll work as a clerk. Nobody is to know you’re on a management-track.  If you tell anyone, you’ll remain a clerk.  If you do well, we’ll move you up.”

It was mortifying.  Everyone in the office thought I’d done something terrible to be demoted from being the CEO’s glamorous PA to a third-floor filing clerk. I hasten to add that this wasn’t how the men in the office were promoted.   But, this was my big chance, so I kept my mouth shut, did my job, studied all the office manuals and, gradually, worked my way back up to the top floor.  But there was no management position forthcoming.  The department I ended up in was headed by a female manager, and it wasn’t doing well.  There was talk of closing it down.  The female manager had another portfolio so her job was safe, but it would mean I’d probably lose my job, along with several others. Sensing my months in the filing department going to waste,  I devised a plan to save the project and presented it to the CEO and sales manager.

“Put me in charge of the department and I’ll bring in a million dollars a month,” I promised.

They examined my detailed proposal and agreed to put me on a three-month trial.  They said I would be the department ‘supervisor’.  Supervisor?  Really?  All the other departments had managers.  I demanded that I be called a manager.  They agreed, reluctantly, but said there would be no pay rise until after the three-month trial.

The promotion didn’t go over well with the other women in the office.  One night, after work, I was invited to join a few of them for drinks.  It was an ambush.  I was asked what my long-term ambitions were.  By this time, I was in love and thinking about marriage and a family.  I said I hoped to do well in my career, but, ultimately I hoped to get married and stay home with my children – at least until they were at primary school.  Now I was told I wasn’t serious about my job, I was a disgrace to the sisterhood, I was just taking up a position that someone with real ambition might have had.  I was called selfish and pathetic.  One of the women, (now a senior lecturer in business studies at a well-known university), said (and this still makes me cry, even now)!

“You know what’s wrong with you, Chrys?  You’re just an awful person.”

The others nodded in agreement.

I was being undermined elsewhere, too.  My secretary usually took lunch from 12-1. I took mine from 1-2 so there was always someone manning (or womanning) the phones.  One day, when she wasn’t back at 1.15pm I was mildly annoyed.  When she wasn’t back by 1.30pm I was getting angry.  By 2pm I was worried.  By 3pm I was just getting ready to ring the local hospitals when she strolled back into the office.  She explained she’d run into the sales manager at a nearby restaurant and he’d invited her to join his table.  When 1 o’clock came and she told him she had to get back to the office so I could go to lunch, he said, “Stay.”

When she insisted on leaving, saying that I’d be cross if she wasn’t back on time, he said, “Sit down.  That’s an order. You work for me, not her.”

I wasn’t mad at her, but I was furious with him.  So furious, I was shaking.  I picked up my handbag andbriefcase and said, “When he gets back, you  tell him I’ve gone home.  And you can tell him he’s damned lucky he’s so late, because if he’d come back while I was still here I would have bloody decked him!”

Later, I found the CEO had also found a creative way to both undermine me and rouse up the sales team.  It turns out the all-but-one male sales team were told if they didn’t pull their socks up, he’d transfer them into my department.

I’m told sales meetings routinely included the taunt, “Watch out or you’ll be working for a woman!” How very droll.

The irony was that the success of my department relied heavily on information from the field, supplied by the salesmen.  That dried up overnight as the salesmen decided to ‘starve me out’ of my position, lest they should end up working for me.

When I confronted the boss about it I was told with a chuckle it was part of my apprenticeship.  I was being ‘tested’ to show that I had the character required to be in management.  In other words, “Don’t start whining like a feminist or you’ll be out on your ear.”

Proving your worth, it seems, was more important than making money for the company.

For three months my department consistently brought in an additional $1 million in business for the company (a lot of money back then).  At the end of my trial period, I fronted up to the sales manager and asked to be put on a management salary.

“Awww, sorry about that.  Budget’s all taken up for this year.  Maybe next year we can talk about it.”

I went home and looked for another job.

You’re the Manager????

Battered and bruised, I chose the next job specifically because it wasn’t in management.  I’d had enough.  I wanted something with no responsibility, no more fighting, and no more humiliation.  I loved working as a sales rep for an international tourism-related group, but within six months I was reluctantly promoted to the job of state manager.

The reactions of male customers were interesting to say the least.  Many insisted on calling me the ‘manageress’ which I found incredibly insulting. A typical response came from a man who approached me at a trade show. He wanted to know more information about our corporate discount scheme.  I was thoroughly acquainted with it, having sold it as a rep, and I explained how it would work for his company.  As I spoke, I could see him growing increasingly uncomfortable.

“Is there something wrong?” I asked, thinking the poor man may be having a stroke.

“Yes,” he said, “I’d really rather speak to your manager about this.”

“I am the manager,” I replied, “But if you’d like to speak to someone else, you can speak to one of our other staff here – this is my secretary and this is one of my sales staff.”

“You’re the manager?” he said.  (Given the strength of the reaction, I might just as well have told him I was an alien reptile in humanoid form, sent to devour him for lunch and take over the planet by dinner time.)

“Yes, I’m the manager.”

“Oh yes, I see!” he said, recouping his senses, “You’re ‘A’ manager, but I didn’t mean the office manager, dear, I meant the real manager.”

“Oh!” I said, “The real manager.  You mean the state manager?”

“Yes!”  he said, looking relieved and handing me his business card.  “Perhaps you can get him to call me?”

“Well,” I said, “I’d be happy to have the state manager call you, sir, but I don’t think that’s going to satisfy you either.”

“Why not?”

“Because, sir, I’m the state manager.”

“What?” he said, his eyes bulging in disbelief, “of the whole state?”

“Yes, sir, I’m afraid so – more than the whole state in fact.  My area of responsibility extends from Coff’s Harbour to Port Douglas and west to Roma.”

He gave me a look of utter contempt and stormed off.

Despite this kind of opposition I did a great job in this role and I have the many letters of praise from the general manager and the chairman of the board to prove it– including a hand-written note from the chairman saying, “Superwoman lives!”

So, my confidence renewed, when the position of national marketing manager became vacant, I decided to apply.  I’d just organized a very large, successful, international convention for the company so I took the opportunity to present my application to the general manager at the end of the convention.  He thanked me and put it into his briefcase.  I waited, and waited, and waited and heard nothing.

At length, I rang and asked him if he’d had the opportunity to consider my application and whether he’d put it to the board (some of whom had asked me to apply for the position).  He said, “Oh, that’s right, you gave me an application, didn’t you?  I forgot all about that.  Too late now, I’m afraid, I’ve just appointed someone else.”

The ‘someone’ was a male (of course) with no experience in our industry. He proved an absolute disaster.  I think I counted fourteen good people who left the company because of him, and learned that the same thing had happened in his previous job. Several months of antipathy between us (had someone told him I was after his job?) ended in a phone calling from the general manager saying, “I’m sending Robert up to Brisbane to sort things out with you.”

In anticipation of what was to follow, I spent the evening clearing out my office.

Robert arrived in my office the next day saying, “The GM says either we sort this out between us, or you’ll have to leave.”

I said, “You have no intention of sorting this out, do you?”

He smirked.  “No.”

I said, “I thought not.  I’ve already packed my things.  Can you help me carry them down to my car?”

And that was it.  Best job I’d ever had – gone.  I heard later that he died.  I felt like Morales in A Chorus Line –

“Six months later I heard that Karp had died.
And I dug right down to the bottom of my soul…
And cried.
‘Cause I felt… nothing.”

The Joke (1)

I moved on to a job as a marketing manager in a subsidiary branch of a major Australian corporation.  Within days it was clear to me that sales were abysmal because the product was inferior.  Doing my job, I argued that even though supplying a better quality product would cost more, the market would stand a small increase and there would be offsets in substantially more sales.  The suggestion was met with a bemused chuckle from the boss.

“You don’t really understand this business yet,” he told me dismissively in a thick, German accent.  “The product is fine.  Just do your job.  Let me worry about the product.”

But my job was about the product, so I kept pushing and he became increasingly more hostile.  The situation denigrated to screaming matches in his office (him screaming, me standing firm, but trying to calm him down.)  Finally, there was a confrontation in front of the general manager.

I explained, “I’m just trying to do what’s right for the company.  People just aren’t going to buy this product – it’s not value for money.  Give me a better product, increase the price by twenty per cent and I’ll sell it. Just give me a chance.  But, please, stop this guy screaming at me in the office.”

The boss said, “Rolf, are you prepared to stop screaming at Chrys?”

“No, I’m not,” he said, “I’m German.  I scream at people.  That’s what I do.”

“Well then,” said the general manager, “there you have it, Chrys, I guess you’re going to have to put up with it or leave.”

I’d just won them a $2 million a year contract, but I left.

I later found out the reason why the product couldn’t be improved. Apparently, there was a cozy arrangement between middle management and the supplier of the raw materials.   This provided a nice little kick-back for ‘the boys’.  As a woman, of course, I hadn’t been privy to ‘the joke’ – although it turned out all the men in the organization knew about it.

An ‘Interim’ Joke

A friend’s husband offered me a job as manager of a travel company he was negotiating to buy. I was offered an impressive salary, a company car of my choosing and extensive international travel. Instead, as negotiations for the purchase of the company dragged on and I insisted I couldn’t wait interminably to be employed, they ‘found me a place’ in their existing business. Here, I essentially found myself doing menial secretarial work, driving a 20 year old car that had been through the Charleville floods, and having to beg each fortnight for the measly retainer they’d given me until the ‘big job’ came through (it never did).

At meetings, it was assumed that *I* would take the minutes. At one meeting, despite the rest of the staff having been told clearly that I was one of the senior management team, one of the male sales reps asked the boss, “Can you get your girl to get us some coffee?”

A death stare from me prompted a blushing boss to mumble, “Ummm, Chrys doesn’t *do* coffee.”

The Joke (2)

I was shut out of ‘the joke’ at my next job, too.  This manufacturing company was losing $4 million a year in Queensland and my job as the premium brand manager was, ostensibly, to fix it.  It soon became apparent they hadn’t hired a woman to fix it – they hired a woman because they thought a woman couldn’t fix it. I was a huge disappointment.

Despite the inhibition of having ovaries, it didn’t take long to realize two important problems.  First, products, quite sensibly, were costed assuming they would be built once.  But, in actuality, the production management was so abysmal, and retail staff so poorly trained, products were routinely being sent back to the factory for two or more remakes.  This meant we were often selling to our retailers at less than cost.

Secondly, our largest retailer was not only buying from us at less than cost, he was taking 90 days to settle his accounts, and his staff were responsible for many of our remakes (for which they were not being charged).  Further, while ‘Mr Best Customer’s’ business accounted for around fifty per cent of our sales, his staff took up around eighty per cent of my staff’s time.  The solution was simple – sort out the factory, build a margin into the costings for remakes, charge the retailer for remakes arising  their errors, insist on payments within thirty days and invoke penalties for late payments.  I remember standing up at a management meeting and explaining in minute detail how, under the current situation, the more products we sold, the more money we lost.

My suggestions were met with horror.  The production manager insisted that the remake problem could be fixed with a new $1 million computer system. I insisted that teaching reps to use a measuring tape would be a much cheaper fix.  The head office was aghast that I’d suggest ‘heavying’ our best customer to pay more for his products and to pay us on time.  They didn’t want to know that pandering to this rather aggressive member of Queensland’s ‘white shoe brigade’ was largely responsible for the $4 million annual loss.  I was told to ‘back off’.  I even had an after hours visit from Mr Best Customer who sat in my office and recited to me, chapter and verse, what I would and wouldn’t do in my new position.

“I have a relationship with this company, lady, and you need to understand that,” I was told.

“Your predecessor and I had a good relationship.  She understood how important my company is to your business and she did as she was told.”

I explained to Mr Best Customer that I was the manager of this division of the company and as long as I was sitting on this side of the desk, I’d be the one making the decisions, not him.

I later found out my predecessor had been sleeping with Mr Best Customer in the nice little inner-city unit he supplied for her.  Funny, he didn’t extend the same offer to me.  Perhaps he thought my teeth were too big.

A new general manager had been appointed at the same time as me.  He was a nice bloke and he was also trying, unsuccessfully, to get the company back on track.  We both met with opposition all the way.  It seems that neither of us were in on ‘the joke’.  I suspect the operation was never intended to make money.  I suspect it operated at a loss for tax purposes and that we were brought in as the pigeon pair (or should that be the pair of pigeons) most unlikely to solve the problem or uncover the truth.  In the end, we were both called into the board-room and retrenched on the same day.  I was given a cheque for $15,000 and was told I looked remarkably happy for someone who was being fired.  I went home and had a bottle of champagne – glad to be out of it.  The general manager went home and blew his brains out. He was married with two teenage daughters.

Viva the Sisterhood

At my next job I had a female boss in Sydney, but reported to a local (female) chairperson.  It was a nightmare.  After several months in the job, I attended the management meeting in Sydney.  After a ‘getting to know you session’ with the other managers, we were asked to fill out confidential forms about how sales could be improved.  As this was confidential, we were asked to be brutally honest with our observations.

I filled out my form, noting that some of the other managers didn’t seem to have much sales or management experience and that, perhaps, more training may be called for.  I was appalled when the female general manager (a well-known ‘management expert’ and motivational speaker) published the comments with my name appended to them – bringing the wrath of all my co-workers down upon my head.

To further put me in my place, when it came time to hand out the bonus cheques, she did so publicly.

“And, Susie, you’ve done a great job this year.  Here’s $500 for you!”

“Michael, you’ve had a significant improvement over last year.  We’re so thrilled to give you a cheque for $200!”

And Chrys, you haven’t been with us long, but we didn’t want you to miss out, so here’s something for you.

I opened my envelope to find a $2 scratchie. The public humiliation made all the worse for it being intentional.

At the end of my second year in the job, the stress of working with a harridan of a general manager and a shrew of a local chairperson had brought me almost to the edge of a nervous breakdown.  There was a big end of year event planned and I rang my female boss, explained I was unwell, and asked for one of the Sydney staff to fly up to provide some assistance.  I was told, bluntly, “No.”

The chairperson, (a corporate ‘fairy’ who makes a living writing and lecturing with fluttering eye-lashes and a ‘little-girl’ breathy voice about how  love and light and other new-agey things can bring sparkle to your business) was similarly unhelpful.  I staged a successful event, while having a full-scale nervous breakdown,  with no help or sympathy from ‘the sisterhood’.  I paid my brother to give me the assistance I needed and buried it in the costs.

When it was over, I quit.

The Flogged Horse Lays Down and Dies

I was so over it all.  I was sick of being opposed at every turn by both men and women.  I was sick of being seen as a threat.  I was appalled at having to spend eighty per cent of my time politicking in order to keep my job instead of giving my full attention to making money for the companies I represented and their shareholders.  I was sick of listening to lies. I was sick of being told to tell lies.  I was sick of being set up as the office patsy.  I was sick of having to do my job three times better than the men in the office – and then having them promoted over me.

None of the discrimination was ‘overt’.  If anyone had seen me in those days I would have seemed like the poster girl for female corporate success.  Sure, I made it into management and for a while there I earned very good money.  But it was at the cost of being insidiously undermined, having my work used to fulfill others’ ambitions, and being constantly bewildered as the ‘boys’ network’ made sure I was starved of vital information. Ultimately, it destroyed my health and confidence so badly I was unable to work full-time again.

The sisterhood was never there for me.  I was seen as a threat or a bitch by other women whose sole purpose in life often seemed to be either to pull me back down to their level or cut through the rungs of the ladder  above me so that any attempt I might make to reach their level would result in me breaking my neck.

I finally ran up the white flag.  Tired, sick and horrified at the person I had had to become to keep a job in the corporate world I left it behind.

Sure, it’s just my experience.  Maybe women have it better these days.  But, gentlemen, don’t think for a minute that because women have broken the glass ceiling they managed to do it without getting ripped to shreds as they moved through that pane of shattered glazing.  Achievement at the cost of your health and self-esteem isn’t equality – it’s masochism.

I decided I couldn’t be a masochist any longer and still live. It was that serious. I expect many other talented, ambitious women have felt the same.  Maybe that’s why women like me didn’t go on to fill positions on corporate boards.  It doesn’t look like discrimination when a woman finally gives up.  Perhaps that’s why men like you are so perplexed when women still complain about their lot in life, while they see no evidence of discrimination.

Perhaps it’s just that too many mares have been flogged to death on their ascent up the corporate ladder, and our corpses are buried well away from the boardrooms of corporate Australia.

Chrys Stevenson

*The original version of this post referenced ‘the male blogger’ and his website. Since then, his misogyny has become so rampant, so crass and so distasteful  that I will not provide him with any oxygen here on my blog. Accordingly I have expunged his name from this post and from the comments.

Fashion Faux Pas and Literary Lunacies – How Dawkins and Harris overhauled my Intellectual Wardrobe

Back in the 70s, while I was proudly strutting around Brisbane in Pucci print hotpants, a white vinyl wet-look jacket, lace-up boots and purple hair (compliments of Magic Silver White) a quick reconnoitre in my fringed and beaded shoulder bag would almost certainly have yielded a copy of  Lobsang Rampa’s I Believe,  Erich Von Daniken’s Chariots of the Gods,  Stan Deyo’s The Cosmic Conspiracy, Linda Goodman’s Sun Signs, Charles Berlitz’ The Bermuda Triangle or John Fowles’, The Magus.

If you’d peered into a window of our house, you might have found Mum and me, studiously asking questions of our ouija board, or caught us popping out for an evening at the South Brisbane spiritualist church.

By the early 80s, I was sporting the high-necked, lace-trimmed blouses popularised by Lady Diana and the Sloane Rangers.  If you’d searched my handbag then, you would probably have found something by Shirley MacLaine, Betty and Barney Hill’s The Interrupted Journey, Robert A Monroe’s Journeys Out of the Body or Charles Berlitz’s The Roswell Incident.

In the late 80s, I was power-dressing in six-inch stilettos and fluorescent-hued suits with enormous shoulder-pads.  During my lunch-break you’d find me reading  Communion by ‘alien abductee’, Whitley Streiber,  Nostradamus, Many Lives, Many Masters by Brian L Weiss or a book on how to develop your psychic abilities.

It’s important to view these literary pre-occupations of mine in context.  In the 70s and 80s these were the kind of books that thinking people read.  Scientific types might have rejected them, but remember that the paranormal was then considered a legitimate subject for study in some reputable universities and in government departments.  Remember also, that most of us (not even the smart ones) had been to university and had no training whatsoever in critical thinking.

People who read and believed this stuff weren’t counter-cultural.  We saw ourselves as keeping up with the ‘cutting edge’ of scientific discoveries.  We believed the study of near death experiences might soon reveal scientific evidence of an afterlife, that scientists really couldn’t explain how Uri Geller could bend spoons and start watches, and that aliens really might walk among us.  These were serious topics of conversation, discussed over meals comprised of prawn cocktails, boeuf bourguignon and Black Forest cake.  Back then, as strange as it may seem, those who held such beliefs weren’t branded as kooks, they were admired as a ‘deep thinkers’.

Neither were we new-agers ‘religious’.  If God featured at all in this popular literature, it was as a watered-down, amorphous, deistic kind of God.  The after-life was not lived in ‘heaven’ but on ‘another plane’.  God did not judge you – you judged yourself.  For those dwelling on the ‘other side’ God, if he existed at all, was a distant deity. He was certainly not the kind of guy who was going to greet you with a firm hand-shake at the pearly gates.

In those days, I didn’t think much about whether I believed in God or not.  But, I do remember being shocked to my core when I  read Shirley MacLaine’s theory that ‘God’ may be no more (or perhaps, no less!) than gluon – the substance that holds ‘quarks’ together.  At the time, I didn’t realize the sensation that my brain was exploding was symptomatic of my first introduction to new-age quantum theology!

By the early 90s, when my hair was blonde and fluffy, my dresses pastel-silk polyester and I was most likely to be found on a plane to somewhere; you might have peered across the aisle to catch me reading The Celestine Prophecy.  You may also have heard me muttering, “This makes no sense!  What a load of crap! Is this guy for real? Back up!  What??????

I’m pretty sure I waited until I was back home in my tastefully decorated, dove grey and pastel pink apartment before I hurled The Celestine Prophecy, unfinished, across the room in a fit of pique.  Sanity was, at last setting in.

The 90s was a great  time for book-hurling.  L Ron Hubbard’s Dianetics was also thrown against the wardrobe that housed my $1000 business suits and demure court shoes.  Poor old Bryce Courtenay’s The Power of One found itself airborne before I’d finished the third chapter – admittedly, more for the terrible writing than its content.

As new age ideas began to appear more out of date than the leopard print polyester cat-suit and crocheted vest crumpled at the bottom of my wardrobe,  my interest shifted from spirituality towards literature which questioned the divinity of Jesus.

Frank Yerby’s fictional Jesus, My Brother, made a huge impact on me while I was still at school.  Now,  as I watched the effect of Christian fundamentalism on my brother and his family, I rekindled that interest by reading The Human Christ by Charlotte Allen, The Secret Life of Jesus by Robert Macklin, The Qumran Origins of the Christian Church by Barbara Thiering, Testament: The Bible and History by John Romer and The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail by Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh and Henry Lincoln.

Please don’t think I read these uncritically!  I wasn’t being indoctrinated, I was following a line of thought.

Soon after I entered university as a mature-age student, (my business suits languishing in the wardrobe as I dressed – according to my new, lowly station in life –  in jeans and t-shirts), I discovered John Shelby Spong’s Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism: A Bishop Rethinks the Meaning of Scripture and Why Christianity Must Change or Die: A Bishop Speaks to Believers In Exile.  Spong lucidly expressed my own growing conviction that the supernatural finery in which Jesus was clothed was a conceit.  That led, inevitably, to a growing realization that the new-age philosophies I’d embraced as a young woman might, equally, have no substance.

University provided me with the techniques and training essential in the critical analysis of both academic papers and works of literature.  While I still held fast (but considerably less dogmatically) to some new-age beliefs I slowly came to realize that just because something is comforting doesn’t mean it’s true.

The scales began to fall from my eyes – but not completely.  Now, I conceded that most psychics were probably frauds – but possibly not all.  Similarly,  I admitted there was no credible evidence for reincarnation – but argued that it was harmless for me to maintain my belief in it, providing I was neither dogmatic nor evangelistic.

My father died when I was 26.  He’d been having problems with his heart and, one day while I was out with my mother, he just dropped dead on the kitchen floor.  A friend who was visiting him, called the ambulance.  By the time we came home (no mobile phones then!) he was in the morgue.  I never saw him again.

During those dark days the thought that he was ‘still with me’ was hugely comforting.  So comforting that despite the fact that I loved him deeply, I have never shed a tear for him.

As my mother tried to deal with her grief, I cleaned out his wardrobe, sold his catamaran and bundled up his toothbrush, razor, aftershave, etc. and put them into the bin without a second thought.  But, when my hand lighted on his contact lenses, I just couldn’t throw them out.  Somehow, these were too personal.  I held them in my hand for a moment then, gently put them back into the bathroom drawer.

“Not yet,” I murmured, “I’ll throw them out one day, but not now.  They don’t take up much room.”

“One day.” I told myself, “it won’t hurt anymore.  But,  today,  it does.  So just be kind to yourself and leave them where they are.”

My dogged belief that my dead father somehow guided my life persisted until quite recently.  Confirmation bias ensured that I found plenty of ‘evidence’ to support my belief.

By now I was retired and living with my mother.  I’d discarded the skinny clothes of yore to those more befitting a matron who was (as my GP so tactlessly described me) ‘female, fat and forty’.  Intellectually, I knew that an afterlife and reincarnation were as unlikely to be true as Jesus rising bodily into heaven (or me fitting into that size 16 jacket I tenaciously held onto in the hope that one day I’d lose the damned weight!).  But, I adopted the same attitude to my increasingly ill-fitting spiritual beliefs as I did to Dad’s contact lenses:

“They’re ridiculous ideas which should really should be jettisoned – but, not yet. It hurts no-one for me to nurse this one little piece of irrationality.  And, one day, I’ll let it go – not just now.”

Towards the end of 2006, I heard about two books by Sam Harris, The End of Faith and Letter to a Christian Nation.  Inevitably, as I looked for more information on them,  I also discovered Richard Dawkins’ newly published, The God Delusion.

An elderly friend gave me $60 for Christmas in 2006 and I used it to buy all three.  I took them away with me on holidays in January and, by the time I returned, I was describing myself with the ‘A’ word for the first time ever.  While I had never, really, been a Christian, the first time I said, “I am not a Christian” aloud, I’ll admit to an odd queasy feeling as I vaguely wondered whether I might be struck  by lightning.

I think it’s really important to say that reading Harris and Dawkins didn’t make me an atheist.  I’d been an atheist for a very long time – albeit an atheist with some rather strange new-age delusions.  What Harris and Dawkins did was to make me clean out my intellectual wardrobe.  They were, in a way, Trinny and Susannah, or the Queer Eye for the Straight Guy team.  I could almost imagine them flinging open my mind and gasping, “You’re not still keeping this old thing, are you?  Come on girlfriend!  We don’t care if you love it, you don’t need it any more – it’s gotta go!”

I clung on for a while but, as I read more, began to talk to atheists on the internet, and tested out the possibility of discarding the last vestiges of my sadly out-dated spiritual attire, I realized I’d reached a stage in my life where truth was more important to me than the comfort of delusion.

The white vinyl jacket, the six-inch wedges, the four-inch shoulder pads, the ridiculously expensive suits and the size 14  jeans have long since been banished from my wardrobe.  Isn’t it right that the ideas and beliefs that no longer fit, that couldn’t stand up to the wear and tear of critical thought, and which, ultimately, proved to be bigger fashion faux-pas than a pair of Pucci hotpants, have also been discarded?

Chrys Stevenson

Some Misconceptions About the School Chaplaincy High Court Challenge

I have an article on Online Opinion today which addresses some areas of political misrepresentation in respect to Ron Williams’  High Court Challenge to the constitutional legality of federal funding to the National School Chaplaincy Programme (NSCP).

But, as a bonus for my subscribers, regular readers, and anyone else who happens upon this blog , I’d like to address some items I was unable to canvass in the Online Opinion article.

High Court Challenge Funding

The first item relates to the funding of Williams’ High Court Challenge.  There are some rumours circulating that it is being funded by the Australian Secular Lobby.  This is arrant nonsense.

The Australian Secular Lobby (ASL)  is a citizens’ co-operative.  It functions very much like a facebook group.  People who are interested can ask to be put on the mailing list, people who need assistance can contact the administrators, but there are no ‘members’ per se, nor are there any membership fees, subscriptions, levies, sponsorships or donations of any kind.  There could not be, because the ASL doesn’t even have a bank account.  It is registered only as a trademark.

Yes, it’s true!   The ASL is involved in guerilla activism – that is, activism on no budget.  The ASL involves a lot of people who work very hard for no money and with no budget to lobby the government and to make the public aware of the fragile state of Australian secularism – particularly in our public schools.  If there are expenses involved  they pay them out of their own pockets, not from any secular slush fund.

So, if you see this silly rumour being perpetuated, can you please make a correction?  The ASL is not funding the High Court Challenge.  That would be impossible because the ASL doesn’t  have a brass razoo nor a piggy bank in which to store one.

While Brigadier Wallace claims his annual salary from the Australian Christian Lobby, our soldiers of secularism fight their battle for no monetary reward and with no budget.  Ironic, isn’t it?

The High Court Challenge is, in fact,  being funded by the Williams family who, I’m reliably informed, don’t happen to have a castle in Spain, a winery in the Barossa, a safe full of gold galleons at Gringott’s bank, or even an ailing rich uncle.  They’re just a normal, suburban family struggling with finances like the rest of us ordinary folk.

Behind the Williams family are many, many parents, citizens, educators and business people who believe passionately that the National School Chaplaincy Program is an assault on Australian secularism.  As such, they’re prepared to put their money where their mouth is to help Ron Williams pay his ever-mounting legal fees. (If you happen to support the case and can contribute a little – or a lot – please visit the High Court Challenge website and make a donation!)

The High Court Challenge vs Wider Concerns

Of course, as I explain in the Online Opinion article, the High Court Challenge won’t stop school chaplaincy and has nothing to do with whether chaplains are good, bad or indifferent.  It may, however,  succeed in cutting off one source of funding and alert Australians to the fact that nearly half a billion of their hard-earned tax dollars is being doled out to pay largely unqualified religious practitioners to work in schools which need, not chaplains, but  trained, secular counsellors.

The High Court Challenge has a very narrow focus and, if successful, a limited effect upon chaplaincy in state schools.  It won’t end chaplaincy in state schools and the High Court justices will not be called upon to pass judgment on the activities of the chaplains themselves.  It’s important to distinguish between the case and the wider concerns of many of those who support the High Court Challenge.

Just a Couple of Disgruntled Atheists?

And now, to the next misconception that’s being put about – that everyone loves the National School Chaplaincy Programme and the High Court Challenge is simply a malicious attempt by  a very small number of disgruntled atheists who want to derail it.

While, obviously, there is only one plaintiff in the High Court Challenge – Ron Williams – he is backed by a large and growing grass-roots movement of Australians who find the government’s entanglement with the Christian right disturbing, outrageous and a serious threat to the secular basis of Australian democracy.  Make no mistake!  Williams has the support of thousands.

Ministerial Claims About Chaplaincy

Expanding on my Online Opinion article,  I’d like to address in more detail some of the claims made in the  joint ministerial media statement by (then) Queensland attorney-general, Cameron Dick and (then) education minister, Geoff Wilson.

“Chaplains are only ever adopted into schools after the principal has consulted with the school’s P&C and the school community.”

Rubbish!  Scores of emails from outraged parents who were never consulted about having a chaplain at their school and presented with a chaplain as a fait accomplis are on file with the Australian Secular Lobby.  I receive many such complaints myself and pass them on to the ASL.

We know for a fact that evangelical churches urge their parishioners to stack – ahem – join their local P&C as a strategy to have the religious view prevail in state schools.  Sadly, non-religious parents, far less well-networked,  don’t realise their local P&C isn’t just comprised of other parents – it’s a sub-branch of the local happy-clappers.

“These non-discriminatory programmes show respect for everyone, regardless of one’s faith, and provide a valuable service that students really appreciate.”

No, they don’t!  The chaplains are overwhelmingly evangelical Christians recruited from fundamentalist churches.  A non-religious person can only be employed as a ‘chaplain’  if all avenues to employ someone with a religious affiliation have been exhausted.  How is that ‘non-discriminatory’?  Indeed, would it be similarly non-discriminatory if some future atheist Prime Minister determined that evangelical Christians could only be employed in a public school if all attempts to employ an atheist had been exhausted?

The very nature of evangelicalism means that chaplains don’t respect other faiths or those without faith.  Evangelical chaplains fervently believe they have a mission to ‘save’ those poor deluded souls who don’t believe as they do.  If they had any respect for non-Christians and the non-religious, they wouldn’t agree to work in public schools. – they would say:

“If parents what their children to have Christian role models and guidance they can bring their children to our church.  Our role is not to inflict ourselves or our faith upon those who don’t seek it, or are not mature enough to make such decisions.  Instead, we are here, in the community, for anyone who wishes to seek us out.  For the sake of the kids, use the money set aside for the NSCP to employ qualified secular counsellors.”

Just recently, in the Illawarra district, we’ve not only seen kids forced to attend SRE classes against their parents’ wishes, but we discovered the local SRE teachers praying online that this would result in religious conversions.  That’s the evangelical mindset.  These religious fanatics are on a holy mission and have no boundaries.

“.. school chaplains provide a vital and valuable service within [Queensland] schools.”

What service?  They are (officially) not allowed to proselytise nor counsel students.  So, what exactly do they do?  In fact, what they do is frequently overstep their boundaries.  We know that chaplains routinely engage in proselytising to students – students and their parents tell us.  In fact, the chaplains told us this themselves in a survey on school chaplaincy:

“In the two weeks prior to the survey,

• 95% of chaplains reported dealing with behaviour management issues, such as anger

• 92% with bullying and harassment

• 92% with peer relationships and loneliness

• 91% with student – family relationship issues

• 85% with sense of purpose and self-esteem

• 81% with grief and loss

• 77% with community involvement and social inclusion

• 76% with spirituality and ‘big picture’ issues of life

• 72% with mental health and depression

• 50% with alcohol and drug use, and

• 44% with self harm and suicide.

If chaplains do manage to control their evangelical urges within the school grounds, they ‘cleverly’ create opportunities to proselytise outside the school gate through after-school activities, school camps, etc.  Sure, these activities are ‘optional’ but they’re not marketed to the kids or parents as being ‘religious’ and, even if the parents realised what they were saying ‘yes’ to, it’s hard to tell a child she can’t go to camp or ‘make-up classes’ with her friends.

In Conclusion

So, to summarise:

a) The High Court Challenge is being funded by the Williams family, helped by donations from ordinary Australians who are appalled at the half a billion dollars of taxpayers’ dollars committed to a scheme designed to win the votes of Christian conservatives while short-changing kids and schools who are in desperate need of qualified counselors. (See counselor to student ratios by state on this link.)

b) The Australian Secular Lobby supports, but is not financially involved in funding the High Court Challenge.

c)  The High Court Challenge is not a frivolous case put by a small group of disgruntled atheists.  It is a serious case, involving some of Australia’s top legal minds.  The fact that it has been accepted for a hearing in May suggests that the High Court believes Williams’ writ raises some legitimate, if not yet proven, concerns.

d)  The defence of chaplaincy being touted by certain government ministers, chaplaincy providers bears no relation to the issues to be argued in the High Court (see my article on Online Opinion).  And, further, they should be thankful they’re not relevant as the ASL has ample evidence to prove that many of the claims are simply not true – or, at the very least, unproven.

As the date for the High Court Hearing draws closer, those in support of school chaplaincy and politicians seeking the conservative Christian vote will be doing everything they can to ‘spin’ the truth.  Conversely, Williams and his supporters don’t need to ‘spin’ anything.  They just want the truth to be heard.

Williams and his team have  a strong case and are willing to let it win or lose on its legal merits.  It’s a pity the Christians and their supporters don’t share the same respect for the truth, the same faith in our justice system, the same commitment to upholding the Constitution, or the same concern for the psychological welfare of our kids.

I may be an atheist, but I believe there are some things that should be held sacred.

  • The psychological welfare of our children – whatever the cost.
  • The separation of church and state.
  • The secular nature of Australian democracy.
  • And the right of every Australian, not only to freedom of religion but freedom from religion.

The National School Chaplaincy Program offends each and every one of these principles.

Politicians who support this travesty of a program should hang their heads in shame.

Win or lose, Williams case will not stop school chaplaincy in Australian public schools.  As important as it is, the High Court Challenge only addresses the narrow issue of federal funding for the programme.  It’s important to distinguish between the narrow focus of Williams’ case and the wider concerns expressed in this blog post.  It seems the only thing that will completely remove this ill-advised programme from our schools is a popular revolt against it.  It’s started already and it’s gaining strength.  Why don’t you stand up for our kids, secularism, and true freedom of religion and join the campaign against the NSCP.


Chrys Stevenson


Disclaimer: Like many others, I have made some small contributions towards Ron Williams’ legal fees but I have no official connection with either the Australian Secular Lobby or with the High Court Challenge.  My only interest in this matter is that of a concerned citizen.