Sunday, December 23, 2018

Let's apply some critical thinking to Christmas

Now that we have critical thinking embedded in every educational institution, we should expect that our traditions will be challenged. Is doing something on the basis of tradition a good enough reason?

Let’s ask some questions about Christmas.

Is December 25 Jesus’ birthday? Some will say that Jesus is the reason for the season, and that celebrating him is the ‘true meaning of Christmas’. This doesn’t hold up to examination. There is nothing in the gospels about Jesus being born in December. In the early Christian communities the birth of Jesus was not celebrated because the story of Jesus’ birth hadn’t started yet. Emperor Constantine, who declared Christianity the official religion for the Roman Empire, declared in 336 AD that December 25 would be celebrated as the birth of Jesus. This was reinforced by Pope Julius I a few years later. The first recorded use of the word Christmas was in Old English in 1038 CE. The words ‘true meaning of Christmas’ were first used on the blurb for Dickens’ book ‘A Christmas Carol’.

Does the celebration have pagan roots, and is it about winter? We know that Christmas replaced a winter solstice celebration in the Northern Hemisphere. It makes sense to have a festival when winters are cold and long and people are prone to depression. The early Puritan settlers of America banned the celebration of Christmas because of its pagan roots. Why are we in Australia decorating everything in fake snow, eating plum pudding and singing about Jingle Bells? Why do we sing carols by candlelight in a heatwave during daylight savings? Celebrating a winter wonderland doesn’t make sense in Australia, where it is hot and we all go swimming.

Is Santa real? The conspiracy about Santa is deep and broad. Adults behave as if he exists. They talk to children as if Santa really does know if they have been naughty or nice, and that he will sneak into their house at night and leave presents. Shopping malls and the post office are complicit with the lie. We can track the story of St Nicholas, through to the 1922 story of ‘The Night Before Christmas’ and the Coca Cola image of Santa as a jolly fat man wearing a red suit with white trim. The practice of exchanging gifts began in the late 1800s. Christmas became a national holiday in the US in 1870.

Is Santa good for parents? Parents have the power to reward and punish children if they choose. They could accept that power rather than defer it to a fictional middle man. It would be honest and transparent and grow trust. As children grow, parents tell them they need to believe to receive, as if that is logical and a good philosophy for life. It is strange that parents lie to keep their children happy then children pretend to believe to keep their parents happy. Is this a good model for relationships?

Is Christmas good for women? Christmas is run by women; they do all the work to keep it going. Women put toys on layby mid-year and keep track of gifts children might like. They organise the food and do the cooking. They organise the relatives and try to make sure everyone is happy for the big day. This brings into question the unpaid work women do. This is work women could just stop doing. We could give the work of Christmas to men and see what happens. We could let children know they are dealing with their mothers directly, and women could accept the credit for the work they do. It makes no sense for women to do the work of gathering gifts and giving the credit to a fictional fat man. It works against the goal of gender equality.

Is Christmas good for the environment? The way we celebrate Christmas has an enormous environmental impact. We spend time shopping, buying gifts packaged in plastic, then wrap them in paper that is bought especially and used once. We buy gifts for people who need nothing new. We wrap the biggest thing we have, our houses, in Christmas lights. We buy more food than we can eat. It makes no sense to save energy, to reduce, reuse and recycle for eleven months of the year, and then create enormous amounts of waste in celebrating Christmas.

We can celebrate when and how we like. Christmas does not have one true meaning. The meaning is constructed, contested, and evolving. We should be challenging ourselves to celebrate according to our values - our real values - not the ones we are told we should hold. This may be uncomfortable, as learning often is. No-one ever said that applying critical thinking makes a person popular. But asking questions should be acceptable, shouldn’t it?

Monday, November 12, 2018

Managing Fertility

I watched Exposed on ABC - the documentary investigating the case of Keli Lane, and I have some thoughts.

Yes, the case was poorly investigated, and yes it was sexist. I don’t know what happened to baby Tegan. But here is my thinking. No man has ever been in a position that Keli Lane found herself in numerous times. She fell pregnant when she didn’t want to have babies, and has been criticised for not managing her fertility. She did not create these babies alone; they were the result of men not managing their own fertility. Each pregnancy could have been avoided with the use of condoms.

Women manage their fertility all through their fertile years which encompass about thirty years of their lives. Most women would use a variety of contraceptive methods, and at various times in their lives experience some combination of an abortion, miscarriage, giving a child away for adoption, experience live birth, stillbirth, IVF, and may adopt or foster a child.

Women are thinking of their fertility every time they bleed each month. Women may not speak to many men about how they control their fertility, so it seems that men don’t see the work that it involves.

In contrast men can impregnate women and not even know.

In the argument against Keli Lane’s defence that she gave baby Tegan to the child’s biological father many people said they found such a scenario unbelievable. Why? It is not at all unusual for women to raise a child alone. It is not at all unusual for a woman to have a child with a man who then leaves. It is not at all unusual for men to not contribute financially, or in any care role, for a child he helped create. If a woman can raise a child without a partner, why can’t a man? Surely in a world where men hold most of the positions of power, a man can raise a child. Of course he can. A man is just as capable of learning care work as a woman is. The assumption is, why would any man want to? And the response to that question should lead us to a major revision of the structural impediments to the experience of raising children and of care work.

Friday, May 11, 2018

My Body Betrays Me

When my daughter asked me what transgender is, I answered that some people feel that they were born into the wrong body. That their bodies had betrayed them. So they change gender. She replied: I feel like I should have had a twin. 

Of course, there was nothing I could do about that, but it did make me think about all the ways my own body had betrayed me. I am a woman and have always been female. My body has betrayed me in many ways.

My body has betrayed me by bleeding at times when I wasn’t ready. Having a female body has attracted unwanted attention from men while I have gone about my own business. I have put on weight when I hadn’t expected to. My body has betrayed me by being short. At times my face has betrayed me by being not pretty enough. I am not particularly athletic. I have frizzy hair. I had crooked teeth and ears that stick out. I fell pregnant when I hadn’t planned to. I broke my tailbone in childbirth. I now have a sore hip from sitting unevenly for years due to the fractured tailbone. I had mastitis when breastfeeding. I had a psychotic reaction (Hoigne Syndrome) to an injection of procaine penicillin which was administered for said mastitis. I’ve had hot flushes from menopause.

Some may feel being physically uncoordinated whilst dancing is a disappointment. Others may have serious diseases, lost a limb in an accident, suffer through a chronic illness or serious disabilities. Some people may feel like their body betrays them because they have a low tolerance to alcohol, or they have allergies. Women who have trouble conceiving, carrying to term or with childbirth, or breastfeeding, feel let down by their bodies. Others are disappointed by their skin colour, hair colour, eye shape or ingrown toenails. We all feel disappointed by our bodies when our plans are disrupted by having a cold or breaking a bone.

At times we are all physically unable to do what we want to do, whether that be to function, to excel, or to have fun. The range is wide.

For me, the biggest betrayal was having leukemia. I never gave my body permission to have a blood cancer. It was sneaky and pernicious. Nobody plans to get cancer and plans to devote time to treatment until it is necessary to do so. Any type of cancer is a betrayal of the body.

People who live long enough to live through a process of aging are likely to experience sore knees, declining eyesight and hearing, general aches and pains, and incontinence. They feel their bodies have let them down.

My experience is unremarkable.

I had reason to think about this again on reading Cate McGregor’s article in which she apolgises to people who were hurt by her condemnation of the Safe Schools program. I appreciate that she is open to learning. What concerned me was this:

'My concept of gender was forged by exposure to the showgirls of the 1970s and 1980s who were my heroines. I had a limited, arguably obsolescent view of how gender variance manifests among contemporary teens.'

I believed that people who want to transition from one gender to another undergo counselling. I assumed this counselling included challenging stereotypes of what is it to be one gender or another, or non-binary. It seems incredible to me that a person could think that being a women in the world today is like being a showgirl. I would expect that some serious consideration would be given to how gender exists within a system of power and an understanding that in moving from one position of power to another a person either moves from a position of oppression to one of privilege, or visa versa. Whilst I’m interested in the experience of people who have navigated this transition and what we can learn from their experiences, surely it should be no shock to them that other people will have other views. Living in male, female or non-binary bodies all carry expectations we may not endorse.

I wonder what percentage of people feel that their bodies betray them when they go through puberty. It is confronting when your body changes from one of a child to one of an adult. It can be a frightening transition, especially since it changes forever how you are perceived in the world and there is no turning back to the simplicities of childhood. No one decides if he or she is ready and no one gives permission for how it happens.

Perhaps feeling betrayed by your body is a common human experience. Perhaps it is unrealistic to expect otherwise.

While some people can afford to surgically and medically change their bodies, most people don’t. Meanwhile, other people are betrayed because they don’t have access to what they need to keep their bodies alive: clean water, enough food, safety, or medical treatment. Probably everyone feels like their bodies have betrayed them in one way or another. Nobody feels that their bodies are loyal and supportive to their will in every way. In the end we are all betrayed by our bodies because we can’t live without our bodies. Perhaps we could learn to appreciate them more, in all their many variations, try to keep them healthy, and be grateful for what they can do.

And perhaps we could change our expectations about people based solely on their bodies.

Friday, January 05, 2018

My article in SMH about volunteering

I had an article published in SMH yesterday.

I didn't write the headline - it is a little less nuanced than I would have written.

Following up on my article regarding volunteering, fundraising and charities I’ve created flowlines to help think through these ideas.

The ideas are about how volunteering, fundraising and charities work in interaction with connecting systems.

Q. Is this my personal responsibility?
Eg. Raising money for Legacy, public schools, hospitals, medical research, the homeless, surf lifesaving, Careflight, international aid
Action. No - write to a politician. It is a collective responsibility.
Yes - keep thinking

Q. Is my action causing harm?

Eg. Making waste, unhealthy food, imposing on people, everything sold is ethically made

Action. Yes - do something else

No - keep thinking

Q. Is my action effective when considering all costs?
Eg. People’s time, investment, consequences, the money going to the most needy.
Action. No - find something else
Yes - keep thinking

Q. Will it need to be repeated next year?
Action. Yes - find another solution
No - keep thinking

Q. Should this be a paid job?
Eg. Managing a group of workers, helping with reading at school, Meals on Wheels
Action. Yes - write to a politician
No - keep thinking

Q. Is this fair and does it build a fairer society?
Eg. Fundraising for a wealthy group of school students to go overseas.
Action. Yes - keep thinking
No - find another solution

Q. Am I volunteering to build skills?
Action. Make sure you are not being exploited and your skills are recognised and rewarded by moving into paid work

Q. Am I supporting a church run charity?
Q. Do I support everything about this group?
Action. Yes - keep thinking
No - find another solution

Q. Does this group have enough assets and money that they could solve a problem tomorrow if they sold some assets?
Action. Yes - find another solution
No - keep thinking

Q. Should I help in an emergency?
Action. Yes - just do it

Q. Should I give blood?
Action. Yes - just do it.

Q. How should I be involved in my community?
Eg. Community garden, choir, sport, political group, local events that aren’t fundraisers, parties, being kind, helping people in any way that doesn’t damage a system (may include bush regeneration, WIRES), organise Soup and Submissions evenings (writing to politicians together), mentoring, any club that shares resources
Action. Yes - do it

I am also including a link to The Story of Solutions

and Naomi Klein at the Sydney Peace Prize

From 25 mins to 104 mins.

And Naomi Klein - This Changes Everything

Monday, January 01, 2018

2017 wrap up

It has been the year of overworking. I won’t talk about my paid job except to say that people make the difference, and that it is over. I’m looking for something else. Outside of my regular job I have done an enormous amount of work this year - reading, thinking, writing and making resources. I feel like I have learnt as much this year as I did studying full time.

This has been the year I have re-engaged with classics (Ancient Greek and Roman Literature). 2017 has been a big year for classics and I want to be part of what happens next.

2017 has been a year of funerals. I have lost two friends, one to blood cancer (we had the same specialist) and one to violence. I have lost my mother’s only surviving sister.

I have been fairly well. I still have check ups and need to look after myself.

It has been the year of yoga. There will be more. And swimming.

I didn’t put on weight this year - something I now need to monitor.

It has been a year of dancing (going out grooving with middle aged women - so freeing to be invisible!), musicals, theatre.

Our campaign to get scripture out of public schools has had a good year. We are nearly at a point where it can roll on by itself, because the main stakeholders with power are now on board, and partly because church leaders have had enough of a platform to destroy their own brand.

I took the family to Cairns and we swam with the fishes at the Great Barrier Reef. I went to Melbourne to a feminist conference, and went to Canberra. I can recommend the All the better to see you with: Fairy tales Transformed exhibition at the Ian Potter Centre in Melbourne, until 4 March 2018, and the Songlines: Tracking the Seven Sisters exhibition at the National Museum in Canberra until 25 Feb 2018.

Anyhoo - back to work. I'm writing longer pieces and hope to publish some things in the new year.

Monday, May 22, 2017

No Name Calling

In 2016 I started working at a university. At this university (as at others) there are active student groups, including Socialist groups. I consider myself a socialist so one day at lunchtime I walked over to their stall. They were asking people to sign a petition against Pauline Hanson. I had noticed that since the federal election they had distributed posters against her all over the campus.

I read the petition statement but didn’t sign it - it wasn’t well written and included some assumptions I wasn’t on board with - and then I asked some questions. When I said I wasn’t going to sign the petition afterall they responded with aggression. I was told that petitions didn’t work anyway. ‘OK’, I said ‘what do you think will work?’ I then entered a strange conversation. I was told that the way to defeat Pauline Hanson and her followers was to shout at them that they are racist. I was told that this strategy had worked last time. I suggested that it was just bullying, and perhaps it would be better to build relationships with people and educate them and bring them along, so that they learn to not be afraid of people they don’t understand. The students told me that my suggestion wouldn’t work because: educated people are racists, in fact Malcolm Turnbull was the biggest racist because he held the highest position in the country; that if Pauline Hanson learnt not to be a racist there would be other people to take her place and it wasn’t about her - even though the posters and petition were all about her; that education doesn’t work and we need to just keep shouting at people that they are racist. I didn’t follow their logic about Malcolm Turnbull and Pauline Hanson, so I asked why they thought education doesn’t work. What did they think education was for if it didn’t lead to making a better society? Why were they at university? That’s where the conversation ended.

I’ve thought of this conversation after Brexit and after the election of Donald Trump. I’ve thought about it in relation to a rule in ethics classes. In ethics classes there is a rule that you don’t call people names. I extended this in the classes I taught to include people outside the room: politicians, celebrities, sportspeople, and I would ask what happens when you call people names. The students would say you hurt people’s feelings. I would agree, and extend the answer to include this: you cut off an opportunity to understand other people. Instead of calling people names, we need to listen and engage. Respectfully. People we disagree with genuinely believe they are right and are good. Shouting in their faces does nothing to change that - usually it makes people dig in, giving them more reason to not listen to you. Calling people names misses an opportunity to increase understanding and to make progress. Let's not do that.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Crow, plough and wheel

I haven’t posted anything personal for a while. Today is Mothers’ Day. I’m still holding out on celebrating until we have equal rights.

I am probably more busy and more productive than I have ever been, so, I guess that transplant is holding. The upside is that my intellectual life is fab. I’m having a lovely time exploring my academic interests, and doing lots of writing.

The downside is that my body is not happy. My hips hurt. I sit down too much. It is hard to attribute what causes which physical problem: ageing, the transplant, my medication, lack of physical activity.

I have been watching Grace and Frankie. That these two wonderful women can be so physically strong and flexible in their 70s is something to aspire to. So I need to keep moving.

I do yoga twice a week, and I’m now having trouble getting into crow, plough, and wheel. I used to be able to just launch myself into positions, but now I don’t have the oomph. I need to work on the oomph. Otherwise, I’m doing fine with identifying as crow, plough and wheel, as I repeat my messages, dig into ideas, and work daily at looking at what is basic to our humanity and how it relates to our present and future.