Dear Daughters – Carrying those Bags – Chauvinism or Chivalry?

Dear Daughters,

My dear sweet husband is a benevolent chauvinist. This came as quite a shock to him because he always thought he was chivalrous. And he thought that was a good thing. The poor man was quite horrified to find out that when he carried the heavy shopping, opened the unwieldy doors, chopped the wood, emptied the bins; he was in fact being condescending and re-inforcing my supposed female weakness.

But here is a Fact:
Men are generally physically stronger than women. Physicality between men and women is not an even playing ground.

If women could physically fight back on equal terms there would be so much less domestic violence against women, less rape, less assault. If women were as physically strong as men we would have mixed gender sports and cheaters wouldn’t dose up on testosterone.

Fact: If I ever had to physically fight my five foot eleven husband there is no way I’d win – thankfully there is no physical violence in our relationship so this will never be put to the test. But you just have to look at him – solid five feet eleven and me, less solid, five foot seven, weighing in at least fifteen kilos less.

So, is chivalry rubbing salt into the wound?

Is it him putting it right up in my face that I am physically weaker than him? That because of my physicality I need him to look after me as university papers are claiming.

Well I’ve thought about this a lot over the last week or so and come to the conclusion that I don’t think so. At least not for most men.

I think Chivalry is in fact as Aretha sings RESPECT.

I think its men saying “Hey I know I am physically stronger than you and I’m going to be respectful about it.” I think it’s an effort by men to balance the scales.

Certainly that’s what my husband feels when he carries the heavy shopping bags, or pulls open that monstrous door because he has both arms free and I have a handbag to carry my girl-stuff, or when thank god he saves me from the heavy gardening – and I say go for it! There are enough things where I do it better than him.

And what’s more I will thank him for his consideration and politeness as the strong, independent, successful woman I am.

Because as a strident feminist woman it takes more than politeness and respect to make me feel weak, belittled or condescended to.

Dear Daughters and Sons – Listen to RuPaul.

I realised in the middle of the night – which is when we realise all great or stupid things – that the one thing I regret in life more than any thing else is this – I didn’t believe in myself.

I have lost opportunities. I have seen small rocks that needed kicking out of the way as enormous insurmountable walls. I have assumed that I don’t deserve the opportunity in front of me or I’m not up to it.

I’ve not been much better in my relationships. I haven’t stood up to people treating me badly and said ‘No More!’I assumed that somehow I deserved to be treated badly – that I was simply more unlovable than other people. And the problem with this is that there are always people around who will take the opportunity to treat others badly – especially if they are getting away with it.

When the editor of The Age (remember newspapers) wrote to me and said the cartoon I’d sent him just needed a couple of changes I said, ‘Oh it’s been rejected.’ And threw the cartoon out when I should have said, ‘I’m nearly there,’ changed it and sent it back. When I won an award for my first manuscript I said,’It’s a fluke’ When I should have said, ‘Wow publisher’s like my work!’ When people treated me badly I said, ‘There’s something wrong with me’ when I should have said, ‘There’s something wrong with you.’

I do believe that not believing in myself comes from having a truly dreadful childhood, with inept parents who didn’t affirm my lovability as a little kid. But! And its a big but. There is a point where we all become accountable for ourselves as adults and can no longer blame our parents, no matter how crap they were, for anything.

Of course I did the typical bad childhood thing and as soon as I got the opportunity I tried to create my own safe loving family where I could believe in myself but the problem with this is that families are ever changing creatures – like life. Your children grow. They find out you aren’t invincible. They find out you are fractured. You can’t keep them as children forever or you become the terrible parent you are trying to escape.

If I could go back and change my life I would believe in myself more.

So my daughters and sons dear – believe in yourselves. Say the right things to yourselves. Expect the best for yourself. Because it turns out that RuPaul is right. If you can’t love yourself – How you gonna love someone else? Can I get an Amen in here!

Dear Daughters and Sons – The Things that Haunt Us

Many times in my life I have curled up into a ball and wanted to disappear feeling that I just can’t do it – life that is.

About Half the Time:

If I could talk to my younger self in these moments I would like to shake myself and say – Listen Younger-self – half the time when people are judgmental towards you – It’s Them – Not You.

Because people can be judgmental shits.

You just need to read the comments section of online newspapers to see that.

About a Quarter of the Time:

I would say to my Younger-self – It’s Not You – you’re just in a shitty situation. You’re working in the wrong place or hanging out with the wrong group or you were born to the wrong parents (if they were abusive) and you just need to find the people or lover or work place or church or playgroup or gym or café or whatever – where you will be appreciated. Because quarter of the time It’s the Situation and Not You.

The Other Quarter of the time:

I would say to my Younger-self – Yes you were an idiot sometimes – probably about quarter of the time. You can’t avoid it. You said stupid things and did stupid things; you handled situations and other people badly. You could have done sooooo much better.

And in my darkest moments these times come back to haunt me.

Interestingly it’s not the big things that haunt me. It’s not the decisions about who to marry (it took me two goes but I got that right) it’s not where to live or how many kids to have. It’s not the affairs I had (pre-marriage) – though one was regrettable because he was an idiot and another was iffy because he was married. But in my defense he had devised an elaborate con including an apartment, red satin sheets (which should have been a tip off) and a colluding relative to convince me he was single.

It’s the little things that haunt me. It’s where I missed friendship because I didn’t think I was worthy and so I mistrusted what was being offered or didn’t even see it. It’s the harsh words I said without thinking or when I didn’t see something from someone else’s point of view and stomped over their feelings without realizing I was doing so.

But of course curling into a ball and beating your head doesn’t change or help and leads to drinking too many whiskeys so the only thing you can do as mundane and cliché as it is – is to pick yourself up, forgive your own mistakes and other’s mistakes too and try to do better. To remember that at least:

Three Quarters of the Time:

It probably isn’t your fault when things and people go wrong so don’t beat yourself up. And you are worthy of friendship and love so grab it and run with it.

Dear Everyone – The right kind of Slackness

When I had cancer people said the most outrageous things to me. Theses included such wisdom as ‘Oh its Karma‘ and ‘I know exactly what you’re going through because my 94 year old father has cancer‘ and ‘Good things will come out of this‘. Worse and less was said to me. And because none of us know what to say to people in difficult situations like death or cancer these efforts to be supportive were not what I needed

There is nothing good in cancer. I don’t believe in Karma or evil people wouldn’t continuously get away with doing evil things and because your 94 year old father has cancer that doesn’t mean you understand what its like to be 40, with young children and being told you may have 3 months to live.

But none of the people who said these things said them with the intention to hurt me. In fact the opposite was true. All these things were said in love, with the intent to be helpful, to empathise and to be supportive.

So I learnt it is not what people say that should be judged but their intent. I could choose to be offended or I could choose to look at the real meaning which was usually an effort to be kind.

So now I try not to hold unrealistic expectations of others. I try not to judge their words but their intent and I try to cut other people some slack.

Of course I fail often and then I emotionally beat myself up and my husband Pete says, ‘Hey Robbi cut yourself some slack.’

An Embarrassing Confession

Dear Daughters and Sons,

I have a confession to make.

If I think about my life I can straight off think of many books that have changed the way I think or the journey I am on. Lady Chatterley’s Lover showed me that I didn’t have to stay in a marriage with no tenderness. Langdon Gilkey’s Message and Existence showed me new ways to think about God and Life. C.S Lewis showed me that we can imagine and live in other worlds. But there are many, many other books that have had an impact on my life. And here is the confession –

I stopped reading books.

When I got a mobile phone.

It didn’t happen immediately but over the years I started lying in bed at night reading what I can only describe as crap or worse playing games, on my phone even though I soon realised this was impacting negatively on my sleep, my thinking, my brain. And none of it was life changing.

So a few months ago – desperate for decent sleep, I decided that I would put down the stupid phone and buy real books with pages you can feel between your fingers. After all a book costs no more than a few coffees and less than a cafe meal.

And horror of horrors I found I couldn’t focus on more than a few lines without drifting off and losing concentration. I was trying to read Maestra by L.S. Hilton and I gave up after 3 chapters because I couldn’t follow it. This is sad but true. My brain was no longer accustomed to reading. I had always heard people say, ‘Oh I can’t read’ but I never understood what they meant until now. Obviously they weren’t illiterate so I assumed what they meant is ‘I don’t like to read’ which was just as confusing to me. But now it was me.

But I stuck at reading and forced my way through several well (Voltaire’s Calligrapher) and not well chosen books and within a two months I was back where I used to be – unable to put books down and rediscovering the incredible bliss that reading is. I picked up Maestra again and devoured it and despite it not being life changing it was still a rollicking though nasty, nasty yarn.

So my request is this – don’t lose the art of reading and don’t waste too much time on your phones. Reading broadens your mind and the possibilities in your life and if you too have stopped reading to sit on your phones you can reverse this and rediscover the wonder of reading. Or perhaps discover it for the first time.

Dear Daughters and Sons – why I am an Atheist who believes in Church

My Sunday mornings are sacred. This combined with the boringness of singing hymns, listening to sermons, a lack of concrete belief in God and the churches archaic attitude to women and gays is why I no longer go to church. But mostly because my Sunday mornings are a sacred family time, spent in discussion over long leisurely breakfasts with several pots of darjeeling.

In my childhood I spent all day Sunday in church. This included two church services, one in the morning and one in the evening, christian endeavour in the afternoons and Sunday school.

I haven’t been to church for twenty years. But these are the two things I miss most about church. Sermons were a weekly reminder that we are not alone in the human struggle – that no matter what we are going through others are also struggling and weekly sermons encouraged us to be the best we could be in these struggles. Church was a place of community. I honestly hardly know my neighbours but when I went to church I not only caught up with my neighbours, I shared meals with them and was aware of any crisis going on in their lives as the church members rallied around those in need.

Now nothing on gods green earth would get me out of bed early on a Sunday Morning but it sometimes feels that if we could find a way of re-defining what church is, it needn’t be thrown out with the bath water.

Because I know I need reminding each week that I am not alone, I need reminding to care about others before myself and to be a better person and I need a place of community where our family extends beyond just us. I just don’t need religion.

Dear Everyone – Happiness only exists because of Sadness

In my last letter I said that I was starting Day 1 on my road to happiness.

Somehow I got stuck at Day 1 and didn’t get to Day 2 for a long time.

And when I got to Day 2 I didn’t realise I’d got there until I was looking back and was able to say ‘Oh yeah things have got better.’

So have I found happiness on Day 2?


Nothing has really got better – not in a practical sense. I am still struggling to pay my bills. I am still 57. I am still invisible when I go out unless my uber cute 19 year old daughter is with me and then some of the shine on her settles on me just because I am standing within her shine zone. My body is still ravaged by cancer and makes me cry and I still pester my gorgeous doctor Gavin with irrational fears of cancer in my left little toe nail. I still feel crap almost every day from the affects of the treatment. There are still crap drivers on the road that make me use language I tell my kids off for using. Alcohol still makes me fat. Avocados, chocolate, bubble tea and cheesecake still make me fat. In fact anything I really like to eat makes me fat.

But we look for Happiness in all the wrong places.

Because Happiness is not to be looked for. Happiness is not to be found – it’s to be made.

And it can’t be made for an entire life time.

Happiness is only happiness in contrast to Sadness. Otherwise it’s nothing.

Happiness, (and its only taken me 50 years to realise this) is made of moments, some are fleeting moments, some last the length of a holiday.

It is still moments of happiness that fill a life.

The rest of the time we rail and struggle against whatever life sends us just trying to survive and trying to find one or two other people who will bare themselves to us so they can stand beside us as we rail and struggle together.

And then the moments of happiness remind us that life is not just struggle and railing and swearing but it is something else, something we can’t put our finger on that we call spiritual or meaningful or …..happiness.

I have realised that for me my true happiness comes from the moments of connection and sharing life and food and celebrations that I have with those I love, my kids, my husband and my friends or even people I don’t know who drop a line to say they are standing beside me.

And no matter what shit happens to me – those moments keep happening.

So I do have happiness.

Dear Daughters – finding a perfect man – Dear Sons – why you can never be one

Yesterday my husband Pete forgot about my strict baptist upbringing and thought he would try a little role playing with me.

He walked into the kitchen, swaggering in a singlet and shorts and said, ‘G’day Lovvie, I’m Big Bob from Big Bobs massage palour for professional women.’

He didn’t get the response he wanted, I reached for my favourite tea pot, laughed and said, ‘Nah thats never gonna work on me.’

He walked out and a few minutes was back, ‘G’day Love,’ he said, ‘Mick the plumber here to fix your ah plumbing.’

‘Nope – not working,’ I said and kept pouring the hot water onto my darjeeling leaves.

‘Ahh,’ he sighed, ‘what do you want then?’

‘Try – Hi I’m Aiden, I have a PHD in Women’s Rights, I’m super kind and sensitive but also really witty and I work out and I can mend fences, do electrical work and any other tradie jobs you need doing. Got any housework or handiman work I can do for you,’ I said.

‘Wow you don’t want much in a man hey?’ he asked.

SPECIAL NOTE: To all the men who keep writing me hate mail about this post – STOP! This post is NOT about men. It’s about women and the sometimes ridiculous expectations we have of what men can be (mainly instilled in us as little girls by disney movies and alpha men in hollywood movies). Like wise men often have ridiculous expectations of women –  and if we aren’t gorgeous and slim and under 35 we simply don’t exist. And for the record my husband is not slim, nor handy with any tools, he can’t do electrical work, or fencing and he doesn’t have a PHD but he does have a really kind heart, he knows when I want protection (because he is physically bigger than me) and he respects my abilities and encourages me to achieve all I want to achieve in life as I hope I do for him.


Dear Daughters – How to Ruin a Relationship

Dear Daughters,

I’m going to tell you how to ruin a relationship because some of you seem not to know. Some of you seem to think equality will ruin a relationship between a man and a woman.
This is not true – it won’t work for you.
Its super easy to ruin a relationship.
If you need help here are a few ideas,

  1. Cheat with someone who looks like Aidan Turner
  2. Be really stupid
  3. Be really selfish
  4. Throw lots of tantrums

In case you don’t quite get it – EQUALITY DOES NOT RUIN RELATIONSHIPS!

So to all of you who have written to me telling me that Feminism is ruining relationships between men and women I would like to say a few things,

  1. Feminism is only a word that means Equality for Women
  2. Equality for women does not Equal Hating Men
  3. The only thing that ruins relationships between men and women is men and women acting selfishly and stupidly, I’ll say it again in case you missed it – equality does not ruin relationships
  4. If you are with a bloke who doesn’t believe in equality for women dump him!
  5. My husband is just as committed to feminism as I am – after all he has 4 daughters and a wife he adores
  6. I personally adore many men, my husband, my 4 sons, my doctor who is often also my friend, my art gallery owner friend Giorgio, my writer friend Mario in Italy, Marco Pierre White who has the hottest voice ever and the list goes on – adoring these men doesn’t stop me being a feminist.
  7. And this is most important – For the majority of women in the world the job of feminism is far from done and we must stand and demand better for those women. We do not live in selfish isolation.

    I wish to thank all of you who have written me wonderful letters like this one,

Dear Robbi,
THANK YOU! I am absolutely dismayed at the cavalier way many (obviously, not all) young women treat the feminist movement. When applying for an executive position, they’ve never been asked their typing speed, of if they “wouldn’t rather have someone to keep them warm at night than this job,” or hearing their interviewers say, “Well, we never thought about hiring a woman, but _____ company did, and I hear she’s done OK,” or “Sorry, we aren’t going to give you the job, but how would you like to have dinner with me?”
You are so right that as long as women anywhere in the world are chattel, we should be working to help them have access to education and jobs, and freedom from forced marriages and servitude.
Best always,
Nana, Happily married (for 25+ years!) feminist.

Now I lets get back to discussing really serious issues like how the world can be divided into Legolas Women and Aragorn Women.
Personally it’s Aragorn all the way for me.

Dear Daughters and Sons – be proud of your mistakes

I complained to my son that it is really hard for me to watch my grown kids (including him) making mistakes and I worry about them all the time and he said,

‘But isn’t that what being a parent is – watching your kids making mistakes and not being able to do anything about it?’

Which makes you wonder why we bother to teach history at all.

We really don’t  learn from other peoples mistakes nor the mistakes made in history and stubbornly insist on making our own fresh set.

Each of us has to learn for ourselves that:

some soap looks exactly like white chocolate but doesn’t taste like white chocolate

hearts can break

words can hurt you

people say what they don’t mean and mean what they don’t say

cigarettes really are foul

wars do start over which side the bread is buttered (or whose god is bigger)

you mustn’t wipe your eyes immediately after putting on nail polish

not all relationships are good and should last for ever after

divorce hurts but you live anyway

you are becoming your parents whether you like it or not

you can survive most things

bad things happening to you don’t make you a bad person

most stuff is just dumb luck

Mind you, the real problem about worrying about my kids mistakes is that I am still making plenty of my own, bucket loads really, so with all my own mistakes to worry about, I don’t really have time to worry about theirs.

In true brilliant parenting –the kids are on their own  – where they should be really – because making their own mistakes is the only way they’ll learn – they sure as hell never listen to me

Dear Sons and Daughters – some crazy shit about how to stay cool.

Dear Sons and Daughters

The generation gap hit me today only it wasn’t a gap – it was a black hole in the space and time continuum.

I always thought I was pretty cool as far as my kids went. You know – a mother they didn’t have to be embarrassed by.

I like cool music like the laidback crooning of Led Zeppelin, the even more laid back Eric Clapton, the grinding sorrow of Gary Moore, I like Jet, Cat Empire and Mumford and Sons.

I didn’t think it was possible for my taste in music to be uncool because surely my generation took music to its edge. I’m mean my music sure pissed off my parents who declared it “sinful”, “evil” and all the other things you want parents to think belongs to your music as they asked why did I have to listen to Rod Stewart when there was that nice Rolf Harris and his wobble board.

But my coolness as a mother got a chink in it when along came Rap and Hip Hop – disgusting mind numbing stuff and the gulf opened.

Then today my son sent me a text that I couldn’t decipher and before I even knew what had hit me I was pulled into the cavernous black hole of eternal darkness where I would float for eternity  – we call it a generational gap.

He texted, “Crazy Shit Man but Whacked Hey”

And I didn’t have a clue what this means.

The language is not dissimilar to the 70’s so I would have understood – “Crazy shit man really cool” (meaning it’s really good) or “Crazy shit man really grossed me out” (meaning it’s really bad) or just “Some crazy shit man” (meaning anything).

But he meant none of this.

So I turned to my other kids who are all older. They suggested he meant,

“I think I lost my brain cells due to being hit by a cricket bat” or “I hit my head against a plate glass window and got a decent whack” or “the toilet at work is blocked.”

But none of the suggestions seemed right the right answer to the question I’d asked him which was, ‘So how was your first shift at work?’

And so being a supportive mother I teased them for growing older and showing the gap between them and their younger sibling.

The younger sibling finally translated for me and what he meant was:

“It literally rains McDonalds. I’m not even kidding. Bags of McDonalds drop down from the sky.”

Of course

I knew that’s what he meant. I’m cool still.