Genderqueer, Australian Flags, Trump, Baal; Pots and Kettles

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For the past few months Australia’s chattering classes (and a whole bunch of other people besides) have been discussing debating and (in true Orwellian style) denouncing over the question of the Safe Schools Program, now rolled out in all of Victoria. While claiming to be simply an anti-bullying campaign it very clearly pushes a radical gender theory. Students who hold conservative positions have spoken of themselves facing bullying, public shaming by teachers etc. when objecting to some of the things they were asked to do as “Safe Schools” activities were instituted.

One of the key figure behind this movement is Victorian Marxist and Lesbian Roz Ward. Ward held a senior academic position at LaTrobe University and also a Victorian Government job in implementing Safe Schools. She has never made a secret of her political position and motivations, as more then demonstrated by this talk she gave at the 2015 Marxism Conference:

At the same conference Ward is reported as saying,

To smooth the operation of capitalism the ruling class has benefited, and continues to benefit, from oppressing our bodies, our relationships, sexuality and gender identities alongside sexism, homophobia and transphobia.

Both serve to break the spirits of ordinary people, to consume our thoughts, to make us accept the status quo and for us to keep living or aspiring to live, or feel like we should live, in small social units and families where we must reproduce and take responsibility for those people in those units,

Marxism offers both the hope and the strategy needed to create a world where human sexuality, gender and how we relate to our bodies can blossom in extraordinarily new and amazing ways that we can only try to imagine today, because Marxism has a theory of social change,

Note the clear agenda here. The existence of “small social units and families” where we “take responsibility for those people in those units” is not a natural order – it’s simply the imposition of the capitalist ruling class for their own benefit.

It’s worth taking an aside to note the incongruence of this kind of argument with the wider rhetoric used in the sexuality debates monologues. On the one hand we’re told that families come in all sorts of ways; mum and dad or mum and mum, who’s to say? But those most involved in pushing the agenda forward actually don’t believe in family at all. These “small social units” are artificial constructs of the ruling class. Simple biological facts (read Where Do I Come From? if you’re still not sure on the basics) are thrown out of the window in favour of the new gender agenda. Am I even allowed to say “gender” anymore? I don’t know. I’m pretty sure I just violated someone’s safe zone somewhere.

deconstructedflatwhiteBack to Roz Ward. For a good number of years she has been relentlessly pushing this philosophy, most of the time on a government paycheque of one form or another. And the media have lapped it up. We get all of a tizzy just because some hipster café somewhere tries to deconstruct a flat white coffee but nobody appears to bat an eyelid when the very building blocks of society aren’t just carefully disassembled but undergo a rapid wrecking ball attack.

And yet this morning I wake up to find that Ward is not only sacked from her government job (which happened a few days ago) but now can’t even get a salary from her academic gig.

Roz Ward – a respected Melbourne academic and one of the co-founders of the Safe Schools program – has been suspended from her job at La Trobe University this afternoon, over a private Facebook post which criticised the Australian flag as “racist”.

Ms Ward, who has been at the centre of a News Corporation engineered media storm this week, was notified in writing this afternoon of her immediate suspension (with pay) from the university.

Fiona Reed, the Executive Director of Human Resources at LaTrobe accuses Ms Ward of breaching her employment conditions by embarrassing the university, causing the Victorian Government – a major funder of LaTrobe – to divert resources to defending Safe Schools, and of putting her colleagues at risk by creating an ‘unsafe’ environment.

Last week, under a photograph of the gay and lesbian flag flying above Victorian parliament, Ms Ward joked with a friend on Facebook: “Now we just need to get rid of the racist Australian flag on top of state parliament and get a red one up there and my work is done.”

The ‘red’ is a reference to the Marxist flag – in addition to her work with Safe Schools, Ms Ward is a prominent figure in Melbourne’s Marxist political movement.

Hang on a minute. Roz Ward is a Marxist. She’s supposed to go around challenging these bourgeois establishments and speaking egalitarian truth to the neo-fascist industrial complex thingy power. Isn’t she? What on earth do we expect to come from her lips? Glowing praise of Margaret Thatcher?

then raise the scarlet standard high…

I find myself in the extraordinary position of wanting to defend Ward, and defend her vigorously. All she did was express a political view. Now I don’t agree with her, but surely we have to recognise that the comment she made wasn’t made in a vacuum? One of the other (less noticed, despite their valiant efforts) campaigns running around us is the Australian Republican movement, headed up by their own red flag wearing champion Peter FitzSimons (sorry, couldn’t resist). These guys are clear; the current Australian flag with it’s prominent Union Flag quarter is an unnecessary attachment to an old British Empire that is of the past. And, for those of the same mind as Ward, it represents not just that old Empire but also it’s racist assault upon the aboriginal people of this great land. Now, I think the issue is more nuanced than that, but it’s not an outrageous point of view for her to hold. Frankly, it’s a lot less radical than her genderqueer deconstruction and she’s got every right to express her position.

But no. This will not do. The gathered wisdom of the cultural elites has decided this is outrageous. She is now suspended because she has:

“a. … Undermined public confidence in the Safe Schools program by undermining public confidence in you as a researcher and as a person associated with the Safe Schools program.”

“b. … Damages the reputation of the Safe Schools program and aligns the Safe Schools program with views which have nothing to do with the program and its message and content.”

“c. … Has required members of the Victorian Government to take up their time in defending the Safe Schools program, rather than be positive advocates for the Safe Schools program.”

“d. … Has required senior staff at the University to take up their time in defending the Safe Schools program, rather than be positive advocates for the Safe Schools program or undertake other duties they have.”

“e. … drawn (your colleagues) into the negative publicity around Safe Schools and this has impacted on their ability to continue with their research in a safe environment.”

Wow. Here, surely, is just a perfect example of why Western liberalism is utterly stuffed and we with it. She expressed a Marxist view entirely consistent with that which has driven the Safe Schools program and now she has to go because it’s somehow caused embarrassment. There is now no confidence in her as a researcher despite the fact that this has no impact upon the credibility of her research (notwithstanding real questions about whether half the research departments like hers pushes out actually meet proper sampling and bias criteria).

She has damaged the reputation of the Safe Schools program with views that have nothing to do with the program despite the fact that her expressed views are entirely consistent with the underlying rationale of the program.

and so on and so on. I think you get my point.

So what has led to this remarkable sight of our social liberal leaders turning in on themselves like a school of hungry piranha? It certainly wasn’t facts. It wasn’t a sober reasoning of the issue. It was at the end of the day embarrassment and emotion. Roz Ward said something unacceptable and when that happens even a senior apparatchik in the Ministry of Truth must go to Room 101.

Rhetoric over Reason. Emotion over Intellect.

And the hypocrisy of it all. These are the same people who gnash their teeth and tear the sackcloth over the nomination of Donald Trump as Republican candidate for President. How can people be so foolish as to vote for him? How can an entire group of electors choose a blowhard who rides not on the steady rail of reasoned policy but rather on the whim of reactionary emotion? Well for exactly the same reason that a Marxist can get fired for being a Marxist once that Marxism slaughters the sacred cow.

In a rather timely piece Michael Jensen makes the following observation:

we should continue to name secular liberalism’s metaphysical commitments and ask, are these well founded? Can secular liberals convincingly speak about equality and freedom without reference to some transcendent point? We are not dealing, ultimately, with religion on the one hand, and some faith-free idea of “reason” on the other. “Religious” commitments are found everywhere. The question is: are they reasonable and worthwhile? And what fruit do they produce? I note that where Christianity disappears, it is often the myths and values of nationalism that rush in to fill the void.

Now Michael is not a prophet nor the son of a prophet (Archbishops don’t count on that score) but call me a pink spotted unicorn if that wasn’t an accurate prediction. Roz Ward has pushed a nonsensical anti-biological new reality in our schools for a good number of years and despite some protest it all carries on. But she dares criticise one of our nationalistic baals and all (non-literal, because that would be a micro-aggression) hell breaks loose. Why? Because we’re no longer running on reason. We’ve gone off the rails. We can’t stand it when people tear down our idols, even though we’ll harangue those who criticise ours. In some ways there’s a poetic justice to this, the pot just got convicted of being black and the kettle didn’t even whistle a single word. But it’s a tragedy, not comedy.

It’s certainly not a farce because so much is at stake. Roz Ward’s rapid fall from power is a warning for us all and social conservatives ought to be those most alarmed by it. It is yet another sign that reasoned debate is alien to much of our society. Instead we just go with our gut. We support the Safe Schools Coalition, we fire it’s chief proponent for being consistent and then we line up to vote for Trump. It’s really all the same and we march off together to (non-literal) Hell in a (non-gender-specific) Handbasket as we cast our ballot for whatever tastes good at the time.

The Bible has much to say about idolatry and how it makes people do dumb stuff even when it’s obviously dumb,

Isaiah 41:7 The metalworker encourages the goldsmith, and the one who smooths with the hammer spurs on the one who strikes the anvil.

One says of the welding, “It is good.”

The other nails down the idol so it will not topple.

facadeClassic. Think about that guy with the hammer and nail nailing the idol into place while at exactly the same time being utterly convinced it has genuine power. Well yesterday they nailed down the idol so it would not topple and Roz Ward found herself worrying how to pay the mortgage. A high priestess got sacrificed to preserve the very false god she served and thought would serve her. The golden statue was propped up again and worship will recommence and few will stop to question quite what just happened.

But I hope you will. I hope you’ll actually speak up for Roz Ward who acted with integrity and consistency and got hammered for it. Speak up for her and speak out against this ridiculous culture of tearing down anything or anyone that won’t get with the program while at the same time protecting the façades. Speak up for her not least because her right to express herself consistently is our right to do the same, even when the truth being spoken embarrasses the façade builders. Speak up because (so Jensen) we need to keep challenging the authorities on these particular issues, naming the idols for what they are and seeking the very best for the nations in which we find ourselves.

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  1. Joanna

    As someone who works in a humanities department, I would agree that this analysis rather misreads the way universities work and the place of gender studies/queer theory/Marxism within them. While many humanities departments contain scholars influenced by queer theory and Marxism (myself included, I think both disciplines have some valid points, though I reject their ultimate conclusions), there are very few academics like Roz Ward. Queer theory scholars, in my experience, find it almost impossible to get jobs in Australia – very few universities have gender studies majors or departments anymore, and lots and lots of scholars just do old-fashioned empirical research with leftist but not radical sympathies. This is because universities are businesses and they like their scholarship mainstream and marketable. I’m confident Roz Ward, as a Marxist, would trust the university about as far as she could throw it and she’d probably had a rough time at La Trobe for years. The slightly amusing thing about this, from my point of view, is that my conservative Christian friends see universities as hotbeds of radical subversion and my radical left friends see universities as reproducing conservative neoliberal agendas. Either way, I think it’s fine to call this action by La Trobe out as illiberal, but inaccurate to see those who sacked Roz Ward and those who support her as broadly part of some similar agenda or coalition – they aren’t.

    1. David Ould

      Thanks for commenting, Joanna. Interestingly a number of people have noted to me that academics promoting the genderqueer position (and similar) often find it very easy to not only get positions but to be protected in those positions. I suspect there may be some variety of situations out there. LaTrobe appears to be very sympathetic to the agenda.

      Your comment about the different perspectives (left v right) is also fascinating. I suspect we’re all likely to view things from the margins.

  2. Julia

    I am getting rather tired of the reverse bullying claim being made by conservatives here. Being told not to express an opinion that dehumanizes or belittles a minority group is not the same as being bullied on the basis of a characteristic that’s inherent to a person’s identity as LGBT students face. Similarly it’s easy to believe in the supposedly democratic notion of freedom to express ideas when you don’t have to face the direct lived effects of the those positions and the discourses that surround them. Supposedly conservative students would not be attracting sympathy for facing condemnation of racist or mysongistic views, so it should be for homophobic ones.

    Frankly the Safe Schools debate is out of control. The program wasn’t particularly controversial until a group of Coalition backbenchers sore over the downfall of Abbott and some Murdoch Op-eds decided to run a disingenuous campaign against it. The simple fact of the matter is this – LGBTQIA students exist and should be able to go to school without feeling victimized or invisible, or having views that are discriminatory agaisnt them legitimized. And the attention to Ward’s Marxist views is a distraction – conservatives have a bad habit of using the term Marxist to refer to anything that they dislike without seemingly understanding what it means. Traditionally Marxism doesn’t have anything to say on the subject of Sexuality and Gender Identity – It’s mainly an economic theory that theorized the working proletariat would rise up to overthrow the bougisoue as a result of their economic oppression. As a force in world politics it hasn’t had much sway since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

    It’s questionable whether or not Ward’s view quoted here actually represents a particularly Marxist theory or not. The idea of people living in social or family units isn’t necessarily a capitalist product. During the Stalinist ear of the USSR a heavy importance was placed on heteronormative family structures – family was seen as necessary to the survival of the communist state and Stalin criminised same sex activity labeling it a disease. Similarly other communists leader have labeled homosexuality a product of capitalism. At best for Ward’s view of breaking down homophobic oppression, all a Marxist or communist system could do would replace the economic functions of families with a state social services system which might give people more freedom to make and leave relationships. But that’s got nothing to do with the Safe Schools program.

    Regardless of Ward’s view, there is nothing remotely Marxist in any of the Safe Schools material. It’s not advocating the removal of the current government system to create a communist state – the only thing it would seek to do if the agenda were in fact Marxist. For the most part the information given was a booklet of a few LGBT youths talking a little bit about themselves and their struggles with their identity and coming out at School.

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