Monthly Archives: July 2013

The ‘goss’ on Catherine Deveny: what she’s really like!

photo (62)I’m just a middle-aged lady, sitting on top of a little mountain in regional Queensland, tap-tap-tapping away at a keyboard. I’m not famous, I’m not a celebrity and if I venture beyond the village post office, it’s almost certain no-one on the street will tap me on the shoulder and say, “Hey! Aren’t you Gladly, the Cross-Eyed Bear???”

Still, I’ve never been one to be star-struck. Even when I met Cat Stevens when I was just 15 years old (oops, was that a name I just dropped?) I approached him calmly, complimented him on his previous night’s concert, and engaged in a discussion with him about how his music reflected his philosophy on life. Sure, he bought me an ice cream and I kept the cone in a jar for over 20 years before my mother threw ‘the dirty thing’ out, but I think, one on one with Cat, I handled things pretty well.

This weekend I had the rather surreal experience of meeting someone else I admire: comedian, columnist, writer, novelist and television personality, Catherine Deveny. We had met once before. I approached Catherine at the 2012 Global Atheist Convention and she branded my arm with a ‘black ink’ ATHEIST stamp. We chatted briefly, but at that time I imagine if she gave me any thought at all it was to think, “Who the fuck was that?”

Later, I wrote an article, Defending Deveny, about the Twitter storm that erupted after Deveny’s appearance on Q&A with Archbishop Peter Jensen.

We became Facebook and Twitter friends.

In preliminary discussions about the 2013 Reality Bites Non-Fiction Literary Festival I mentioned that it would be great to get someone like Catherine Deveny to attend. Festival director, Melanie Myers responded enthusiastically. I passed on Dev’s details and voila, this weekend at the Reality Bites festival, Catherine performed at the historic Majestic Theatre at Pomona and spoke about “Destroying the Joint” on a panel including Anne Summers and pornography writer, Krissy Kneen.

During the weekend I got to spend quite a bit of time observing Catherine. And, when her festival obligations were finished, we spent two hours in the car together as I drove her back to Brisbane to catch her plane.

In “Defending Deveny” I included a list of the names Catherine was called on Twitter following her Q&A appearance. Here’s an edited version:

“Ugly, extremist, stupid, unintelligent, idiotic, thoughtless, self-righteous, self-centred, self-absorbed, nasty, confused, frustrated, bitter, twisted, humourless, un-funny, unreasonable, unrespectable, disrespectful, sarcastic, mocking, catty, hateful, boorish, blustering, bullying bitch.”

I think, after spending a considerable amount of time with Catherine over the weekend I can strike out every one of those criticisms as uninformed bullshit.

Here’s what I found.

On occasions when Catherine was given the opportunity to comment about someone she didn’t particularly like, she was honest, but never put the boot in. In fact, on one occasion in particular, she showed a remarkable insight into why the person being discussed was rather difficult to deal with. Sure, there was dislike, but it was offset by compassion.

In person, when she could have been rude, she found a way to be honest without hurting the person’s feelings.

Catherine Deveny with Brendan McMahon, Anne and me.

Catherine Deveny with Brendan McMahon, Anne and

At a party, held in her honour, Catherine didn’t ‘work the room’ or ensure she was talking to ‘the cool people’. Instead, all night, she stood quietly, at the side of the room, and spoke quite happily and at length, to some of my friends who – although delightful – are far from famous.

I have met some celebrities (Bob Ansett, Kamahl and Prince Philip take a bow) who on meeting you, will shake your hand limply, quickly register that you’re a ‘nobody’, then look frantically over your shoulder, trying to catch the eye of someone more important to speak to.

Catherine didn’t do that. What’s more, she was genuinely interested in people’s stories. She looked them straight in the eye and asked questions – and she listened, really listened, to the answers. She didn’t always agree with what people said, and she said so when she didn’t, but she certainly didn’t do it in a self-righteous, self-centred, bullying way.

In the panel discussion, Deveny was passionate and talkative, but very conscious of the need to give equal time to the lesser-known Krissy Kneen. When Krissy spoke, Deveny listened attentively. When the moderator called a halt to the session before I could ask a question, Deveny (having seen my hand raised) asked specifically if I could be given a go (on which I passed, the session having run well over time). She also made sure to mention my work from the stage – although she could quite easily have focused exclusively on her own considerable contribution to the “Destroy the Joint” debate.

In the car, Catherine chatted away about life, the universe and everything – just like a normal person, which is what she is. She wanted to meet my mum, because I talk about her sometimes on Facebook, so we detoured via our little mountain abode and found Daphne pottering about in the garden. Catherine was charming, kind and genuinely interested in this 89 year old lady with Alzheimer’s.

Later, Daph said, puzzled, “She was lovely, but why did Catherine Deveny want to meet me?”

On our way to Brisbane we talked about my writing, my career and my life, not hers. She offered inspiration, tips and good advice.

In person, Catherine was warm, generous, witty and, surprisingly, NOT LOUD.

She was far more interested in the people she met than in pushing her own considerable celebrity.

She was professional, well-prepared and provided an energy to the event that continued long after she left the stage.

And when Catherine did talk about herself, she talked about the people she wanted to help, not about how she could land her next big celebrity gig.

It’s funny. The Catherine Deveny described on Twitter during the Q&A Twitter-storm simply didn’t show up at the Reality Bites Festival.

I have a feeling that, just like God, THAT Catherine Deveny doesn’t exist.

Chrys Stevenson

Tara Moss, media, misogyny, Mamamia and me

904092-tara-mossLast year I wrote an article on gender bias in the Australian media. Conceived and commissioned by Jane Gilmore of The King’s Tribune, “The Blokeyness Index” looks at the representation of women (as journalists and as subjects) on the front pages of Australia’s mainstream newspapers.

The results, although disappointing, were no surprise. In broad terms the ratio of men to women on the front pages of our print media is consistently around 70 per cent to 30 per cent. That ratio is repeated in studies conducted throughout the Western world.

Recently, Tara Moss was struck by this very same bias on the front page of The Age. She blogged about it and, today, her article has been published by Mamamia.

I’m very chuffed that the research I did for “The Blokeyness Index” receives a mention.

Tara Moss: On Feminism and the Age of Invisibility – Mamamia

It’s so hard to raise consciousness about these kinds of issues and it’s great that someone with Tara’s profile is using Mamamia to spread the word.

Chrys Stevenson

The Windmills of Tony Abbott’s Mind

Round, like a circle in a spiral Like a wheel within a wheel. Never ending or beginning, On an ever spinning wheel Like a snowball down a mountain Or a carnival balloon Like a carousel that’s turning Running rings around the moon

Like a clock whose hands are sweeping Past the minutes on its face And the world is like an apple Whirling silently in space Like the circles that you find In the windmills of your mind

Like a tunnel that you follow To a tunnel of its own Down a hollow to a cavern Where the sun has never shone Like a door that keeps revolving In a half forgotten dream Or the ripples from a pebble Someone tosses in a stream.

Like a clock whose hands are sweeping Past the minutes on its face And the world is like an apple Whirling silently in space Like the circles that you find In the windmills of your mind.

Windmills of Your Mind - artist Blake McArthur

Windmills of Your Mind – artist Blake McArthur

The Windmills of Your Mind is one of those songs, like MacArthur Park that makes no sense at all, until you think about Tony Abbott’s mind and consider that it may, actually make perfect sense. Who knows what goes on in Abbott’s mind? No wonder he’s been dubbed, “The Mad Monk”. Deputy Prime Minister, Tony Albanese, once famously said of the Leader of the Opposition, “In your guts, you know he’s nuts.” And then there was that bizarre non-interview with Mark Riley which seemed to confirm there is something very, very strange going on under those product-enhanced tufts of hair. How does one explain Abbott’s gymnastic backflip on maternity leave? How can he stand up in Parliament and rail against Julia Gillard’s carbon tax as if it is some kind of demon-inspired communist plot,  when it was exactly the solution he advocated in 2011? It’s not just the ‘windmills of Tony’s mind’ that are spinning; his political pirouettes leave the rest of the dizzied population thinking WTF just happened? But now, an explanation has been advanced into what exactly is going on in Tony Abbott’s mind. While it’s hardly reassuring, it came as quite a revelation to me and I’m excited to share it. Here’s how I came across it. It was around  around 10pm and I’d long since gone to bed when my phone ‘tringed’ on the night-stand next to me. If it had ‘pinged’ I would have ignored it, but the ‘tring’ suggested an email from a close friend, so I rolled over and blearily swiped and stabbed at the phone until the message was displayed. It was from my friend Matthew Addams. “Chrys, I’ll call you to discuss this,” read the cryptic message. Discuss what? Ah, there was an attachment. I thumped the night stand until my hand fell on my glasses. I opened the attachment and started reading an absolutely brilliant article speculating on what it is that guides Tony Abbott’s thought processes. Clearly argued and hugely insightful, the author suggests that  three, often-conflicting, core beliefs underpin Abbott’s worldview:

– Catholic morality – Neoconservative politics – and the firm belief that he is destined for greatness.

“The conflicts inherent in the first two are exposed only when you think carefully and deeply about the impacts of policy in the real world,” the author notes. But, he argues, “Abbott’s pedigree and training for maintaining internal contradictions without resolution … is first rate.” According to the author, Abbott is a simplistic thinker. He attempts no synthesis of these core beliefs. Instead, like some kind of demented butterfly flitting from hibiscus to dahlia to stinking roger, he settles upon a policy based upon one of these political plant-species, until that position becomes uncomfortable or unprofitable. Then, he rapidly takes flight, his thoughts landing on another, often completely contradictory view, from the core belief du jour. “He holds paradoxical ideologies and just doesn’t feel compelled to think through or resolve this. That’s not what motivates him,” explains the author of this revelatory view of the mechanics of Tony’s maize-grinder. “Wow!!!” I emailed Matthew. I felt like someone had just unzipped Tony Abbott’s head and let me peer inside. Suddenly, everything made sense.

Artist: Shungi-Lion

Artist: Shungi-Lion

Tony Abbott’s mental windmill, it seems, has three sails named, “God says …”, “Show me the money and bugger the proletariat”, and “I just can’t wait to be king”. By now I was wide awake and stabbing at my phone in a vain attempt to send a link to the article to my social networks. But it wouldn’t link. Why? Because, d’oh, I realised it was a Word document. The brain ticked over a bit more. It was an original Word document. It wasn’t a published article. It was a draft article written by my friend Matthew. “Matthew wrote this???? Matthew????” Now I was so excited I was jumping up and down in my bed. (It’s a very long time since my bedsprings have had such a great workout!) “Did you write this???? It’s brilliant!!!!” I emailed Matthew. As it turned out, he had indeed produced this incredible piece of political insight. Matthew pinged me on Facebook. His intent in sending it to me, he said, was that maybe I’d think it was good enough to put it up on Gladly, the Cross-Eyed Bear. “It’s too good to be hidden in a blog!” I declared. “It has to be published where it will get a huge audience!” Fortuitously, I remembered that a friend of mine mentioned he had a contact at Independent Australia. (Be warned! Leisurely curry lunches on lazy Saturday afternoons are not just for idle chit-chat – my networking radar is on 24/7!) “Perfect!” I thought. With Matthew’s permission, I imposed on my friend for an email address and permission to drop his name and shamelessly flogged Matthew’s article to the editor of IA. Fortunately, he agreed with me that the article was ‘brilliant’ and agreed to publish it. So here it is, the first ever published article by my dear friend Matthew Addams and how very proud I am of him – and it.

What really goes on in Tony Abbott’s mind? – Matthew Addams

I highly recommend that you read it. I haven’t been this excited about discovering a new writer since I found Jane Douglas at Putting her Oar In! Go on! Head over to IA and have a read – and then share it with your friends.

Chrys Stevenson


Just when you thought it was safe to vote Labor, again …

ballot boxI vowed some time ago that I would not vote for a party which opposes same-sex marriage or, for a party led by someone who doesn’t embrace marriage equality. It’s not that I’m a ‘single issue’ voter – far from it. But, to me, a belief in the fundamental equality of all citizens is a foundation principle of democracy. I simply can’t trust a party or politician whose policy decisions do not flow from this simple, but crucially important, understanding of human rights.

Kevin Rudd’s last minute ‘revelation’ in favour of equal marriage, prior to his recent return to the Prime Ministership, had me breathing a sigh of relief. The Greens in my electorate, Fairfax, have self-destructed by ousting a good candidate (my dear friend) Dr Jim McDonald. I don’t know the newly recruited candidate but I know the shenanigans that have gone on behind the scenes and I won’t endorse the local Greens with my vote (although I will vote Greens in the Senate).

For obvious reasons (I’m looking at you, Tony Abbott) – equal marriage among them – the LNP candidate won’t get my vote no matter how many smiley people stand outside our local library, manically waving blue signs at passing motorists.

The other option is Clive Palmer of the Palmer United Party. Now, Clive is an interesting candidate who I expected to despise. But, having seen him in a couple of extended interviews, I have to say I’m seriously impressed at his stance on social justice issues and his plain speaking common-sense. On the other hand, while he hasn’t declared his party’s stance on these matters, I don’t expect Palmer, a conservative Catholic, to support reproductive choice and LGBTI rights – so, if I’m to keep my promise to myself, I probably won’t be scrawling a blunt-pencilled “1” against Palmer’s name on election day, either.

It seems my only real option is to vote Labor. But, standing on principle, that wasn’t possible while Joe de Bruyn … er, I mean Julia Gillard … headed the party.

Rudd’s succession to the Prime Minister’s role was enough to convince me that my vote in Fairfax should go to the ALP candidate, Elaine Hughes. Hughes comes highly recommended by my friend, Ray Marx, president of the ALP’s Labor Unity faction. It’s a recommendation that I rate highly given my respect for Ray and his views on the issues I care most about. It seems Labor was the salve for my election day woes, after all.

senator-collins-deewr_editBut, this week, a rather nasty fly flew into my polling-day ointment. For some insanely ridiculous reason which defies all human understanding (unless one factors in another fucking stupid back-room deal with ALP destroyer Joe de Bruyn and his bat-shit crazy Shop Distributive and Allied Employees Association [Union]), Rudd appointed conservative Catholic, anti-abortion, anti-marriage equality, anti-LGBTI equality, anti-stem-cell research Jacinta Collins as Minister for Mental Health and Ageing.

Look! I’m not saying that practising Catholics should be barred from public office (although it’s a tantalising thought to toy with). There’s no reason why Ms Collins couldn’t have been appointed to a ministry where she could do the least harm – Agriculture, Industrial Affairs, or Silly Walks, for instance. But no! Rudd appointed Ms Collins to the position where she could do the most harm and piss off the very people he was, presumably, trying to win back to Labor – left-wing voters, the LGBTI community and their supporters and women.

It was, quite simply, incomprehensibly dumb.

I’m having to review my decision to vote Labor in the forthcoming election and I’ll bet I’m not the only one.

Bernard Keane was the first to raise alarm bells with an article on Crikey: Anti-abortion, anti-gay marriage … and the new mental health minister (paywalled, unfortunately). Keane (revealing why the appointment of this eminently unsuitable candidate to the Mental Health portfolio is still stupid but not incomprehensible after all) says:

“Collins is from the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees’ Association and holds the social views one expects of a Shoppie: she is stridently anti-abortion and a diehard opponent of same-s-x marriage; ‘stable, biological parenting’ should be fostered ‘as a social norm’ she said in reference to the same-s-x marriage bill last year. Less than a fortnight ago, Collins helped vote down a bill recognising overseas same-s-x marriages. During her time out of the Senate, Collins was a director of the anti-choice Caroline Chisholm Society, which is currently run by former Shoppie and Collins adviser Helen Cooney. Collins was at the society when it was controversially funded by then-health minister Tony Abbott to establish a pregnancy counselling service. Collins was a winner last year of an award for ‘Christian Values’ from the ‘Christian Values Institute’.”

This might be incidental if Collins had been appointed to another portfolio says Keane, but Mental Health brings Collins’ religious views into sharp relief.

There are many in the anti-abortion lobby, Keane reminds us, who “claim without any evidence that abortion causes mental health problems for women, including, ‘post-abortion syndrome‘, a condition invented by anti-abortionists.”

Also, given her dismissive views (at best) on LGBTI issues, how will Ms Collins engage with and support the many excellent pro-LGBTI initiatives introduced by her predecessor, Mark Butler?

Doug Pollard was quick to spread the bad news amongst the LGBTI community and supporters through his blog, The Stirrer. In his post, Rudd’s New Cabinet – Thank God It’s Only Till the Election, Pollard points out that Ms Collins is “not fond of what she calls ‘the self-appointed enlightened university educated inner city professionals’ in the party.”

Could that be the people who call for policy decisions to be based on evidence rather than religious propaganda? That ghastly intelligentsia which actually reads and responds honestly to academic and medical research rather than ignoring or distorting it to mesh with their own pre-conceived religious prejudices? God forbid!

And, while Ms Collins tut-tuts about we elitist intellectuals it seems she has a few high-falutin’ ideas of her own. In 2009, Gerald McManus at the Herald Sun reported on Ms Collins throwing a tantrum when the temporarily over-stretched Commcar service couldn’t supply a limousine to collect her at Melbourne Airport. It was, apparently, unthinkable that Ms Collins should deign to join the hoi polloi in the taxi queue! Instead, she was put to the shocking inconvenience of having to find another politician who would share their limo and moved to raise the distressing incident in Parliament. Oh! The hardships our politicians suffer to serve us!

Today, the Herald Sun has, again, stepped into the Jacinta Collins fray, with Susie O’Brien writing: Senator Jacinta Collins must tell us where she stands on abortion and gay marriage.

Well, unless Ms Collins has had a ‘road to Damascus ‘revelation à le Rudd, I expect she stands where she has always stood – in total solidarity with the Vatican.

According to O’Brien:

  • In 2000, Ms Collins was one of three senators who threatened to refuse to oppose legislation that would stop single women and lesbians accessing IVF.
  • In 2002, Collins called stem cell research the “unprecedented sanctioning of destructive research on human life”.
  • In 2005 Collins was part of a group of conservative business and church leaders trying to put abortion back on the national agenda under the “pro-women, pro-life” banner. She has also been a member of the ‘pro-life’ Caroline Chisholm society.
  • In 2008 Collins wondered if there would be “blood on the Medicare card” if there was public funding for abortion. She also hinted that she endorsed the Catholic/pro-life propaganda which links abortion to negative mental-health outcomes for women; a claim which has been widely and definitively debunked by mainstream researchers.

  • In 2009 Collins expressed concern about Victoria’s abortion laws, worrying about clauses that force doctors to refer women for terminations even if their personal beliefs oppose abortion.
  • In 2010, she called on the ALP to embrace ‘traditional values’ and reject same-sex marriage, or ‘risk losing touch with its political base’.
  • Collins is, according to Susie O’Brien, also anti-voluntary euthanasia, which gives people with terminal illnesses right to choose to die with dignity. Quelle surprise!

These kinds of views are, as O’Brien points out, “dangerous and antithetical to a just and fair society. And they are totally at odds with the mental health portfolio.”

As an interesting adjunct to this story, as I was writing it, I got a Facebook message from a friend, Annie Chant (a pseudonym) – a former Catholic*, now an atheist. Annie told me she had recently received an invitation and booked to attend a screening of the documentary, “It’s a Girl!” (ostensibly a ‘balanced’ report on how, “in India, China and many other parts of the world today, girls are killed, aborted and abandoned simply because they are girls”.)

It’s a subject that any woman (or man) would be concerned about. If one is ‘pro-choice’ one is obviously going to be opposed to forced abortions! If one is a feminist, one obviously doesn’t want to see fetuses aborted for no reason other than for being female (or male for that matter!).

Annie, however, was astounded to be contacted by phone and ‘uninvited’ to the event this morning by an angry organiser who had checked her Facebook page and found a post questioning the wisdom of Jacinta Collins’ appointment to the Mental Health Ministry. The woman became so ‘vile’ and ‘shouty’ says Annie that she had to hang up on her.

Now, this was clearly not at Ms Collins instigation nor within her control. But I think it speaks to the rabidity of the kinds of views Ms Collins espouses that her supporters would not even countenance allowing a pro-choice atheist to attend a screening which is presumably not about abortion per se but about the wider, humanitarian issue of how women and girls are so poorly valued in too many countries. (Curiously, I discovered, the film is almost certainly, secretly funded by a pro-life ministry).

Like the anti-euthanasia movement, the anti-abortion movement is a labyrinth of grubby propaganda, outright lies, Trojan Horse and astro-turf organisations, and a slew of pseudo-academic and political backers who swear blind that their views are not influenced one iota by their poorly-concealed links to various forms of fundamentalist religion – most often, Catholicism.

These people, of course, have every right to their views. They have every right to ignore the academic and medical literature which shows that abortion is an overwhelmingly safe procedure and does not, under normal circumstances, negatively impact the mental or physical well-being of women. (See, for example, the attached 2011 meta-analysis on “Induced Abortion and Mental Health” from the UK’s National Collaborating Centre for Mental Health.)

Pro-lifers have every right to hold a religious view on abortion and to choose not to have an abortion themselves. I will even concede they have a right to try to persuade others to their view (although not to physically and/or verbally intimidate women as they enter abortion clinics).

What I, and an increasing number of other concerned commentators, am questioning, is the wisdom of appointing someone with these views as Minister for Mental Health!

If Rudd is to lead the Labor government to victory he will need every vote he can muster. This ham-fisted attempt to get in good with the Shoppies and the ALP’s faceless fundies is very likely to lose my vote. How about yours?

You can contact the Prime Minister on Twitter at @KRuddPM or send an email via his Contact Page.

Chrys Stevenson

* The original edition of this post referred to ‘Annie Chant’ as a former Pentecostal youth leader. I had the histories of two friends confused and have corrected it to ‘former Catholic’. Apologies to ‘Annie Chant’ and thanks to her for drawing the inaccuracy to my attention.

Related Post

“Collins’ views ‘at odds with portfolio'” – Patricia Karvelas, The Australian