Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Home Basic Skills Test

When my kids school did the Basic Skills test I thought, why not do one for home? To make sure that my girls know how to wash their hair, sweep the floor, put on their socks and shoes, use the telephone, wash the dishes, make a sandwich - those kind of personal grooming and basic household tasks.

So, I made our own chart, and, this week, (after talking about it for ages) we did it. I carried around a clipboard and tested the kids as they cleaned their teeth, tidied up their room, sprayed and wiped etc. It was fun. They could all do most things pretty well. Some could do with practise in household cleaning, and the one with the most hair has the most trouble taking care of it, and someone is still a bit wary of the phone, but we plan to test again in a few weeks, so they have time to practise.

So, now I know if I ask one of them to sweep the floor or to tie their own ponytail, they can do it themselves. I figure it would be remiss of me to not make sure they have these basic skills. And I need to remind myself to stop doing so much for them. Especially as we are about to start the school year, and I shouldn't have to clean up after three kids, and get them all ready for school every day. Which reminds me, we should practice packing their school bags.

And no, I don't expect a website where parents can compare their household's scores!

Monday, January 25, 2010

Nine - the musical

I love musicals.

This holidays I have watched the filmed versions of West Side Story, Carousel, An American in Paris, Viva Las Vegas, Bye Bye Birdie and South Pacific. I consider knowledge of musicals to be part of our cultural heritage. Then I saw the new musical Nine.

Nine is an MTV homage to 60s Italian cinema. It is a musical version of Fellini's 8 1/2, directed by the guy who directed the musical Chicago. While I understand it is exciting to cross genres to make a new form, I have a few 'issues'.

Yes, I understand Fellini's films were about awakening sexuality, and about male fantasy and recollections. But surely, haven't we moved beyond filming musical versions of male fantasy yet??

Now I should add the context in which I watched this film. I have three daughters. As I have said previously, I've had trouble finding a dance school for them that treats girls with respect, that doesn't present primary school girls as sexually knowing and available. I've found a school I like, but the class they want to join this year is the class that had girls aged 8 dancing to Britney Spear's Circus (I'm like a fire-cracker, I like it hot!) and the xmas song was Santa Baby, surely one of the worst xmas songs ever. All the teachers of other classes showed more imagination, more knowledge of various musical forms and possibilities than the teacher who taught this class. Her class danced also to some other songs in the top 40 that would be on music video shows, which we don't watch in our home. So, I'm steering my girls into other classes.

Now, my problem with Nine is, why would these actresses, in order to showcase their singing and dancing on film, want to play such sexualised roles? Penelope Cruz does a dance like a poledancer. Marion Cotillard does a dance as a stripper in a men's club (and while I understand it was a metaphor for her feeling used, can't we find another metaphor?). Fergie does a dance about sex, straddling a chair. Kate Hudson and her piece were not integral to the story at all - it was an American for the sake of it. Nicole - well, she's just her, and if you don't like her, then she detracts from the film, even if her character tells Guido she won't be his muse and he doesn't really see her. For a film that is meant to be about loving women, the women seem to have no respect for themselves. They want Guido. Guido is a creative genius, stuck for ideas, and is irresponsible in his relationships. Daniel Day Lewis added some gravitas to an otherwise light film (it is a musical), and his voice as an Italian man is beautiful - I'm a fan - but the film doesn't seem to know what it wants to be. Is the audience for Fellini also the audience for musicals? Probably not (except perhaps me.) And the film does my pet hate in literature (and film) - it is about itself.

So, these top actresses are dancing in the exact style that I want my daughters to avoid. And the film was made by an openly gay director. In my view Ann-Margret doing a striptease style song and dance in Viva Las Vegas is stupid. Sure, dance. Sure, have fun. But no, don't dance to sell yourself to men. Having 8 year olds dancing to Circus or Santa Baby like they know what is about is stupid, and, possibly, a form of exploitation. When the top actresses of our day do they same thing, what hope do we have?

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Magazines for girls

I was a little concerned recently when a friend told me her daughter, who is in Yr 6, wanted to spend her money on Dolly magazine. Apparently the girls in her year all read it, and share it around at lunchtime. These girls are 11 years old.

My friend, being the smart feminist that she is, subscribed to an alternate mag for her daughter, and told her to spend her money on other things. Here is the address for the mag, produced in the US.


Something similar, although, I think, better, was being produced in Australia, but is, unfortunately, currently not in production. Have a look here.


As I've said before, Womens Forum Australia, in association with Melinda Tankard Reist, has produced Faking It, a research paper which can be used as a resource for girls to critique the mainstream magazines.

We need to teach girls about the messages they are being taught in these mainstreams mags, and keep providing good alternatives, which, sadly, are hard to finance when you aren't pushing merchandise and selling advertising, because these are part of what the alternative mags critique.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Ann Orloff - online lecture re care and gender

This is a lecture by Ann Orloff that was given at the UNSW last year. She is working on a new book called Farewell to Maternalism - her field of study is social policy, care work and gender, and she gives a brief history of care and gender in terms of the work/life balance: http://www.abc.net.au/tv/fora/stories/2009/10/21/2720407.htm#

Whilst I'm interested that this topic is studied at high levels, I'm disappointed she doesn't really have any solutions. The most interesting part for me is comparisons between countries- we can measure and compare workplace participation, women at levels of govt and on boards, longevity and rates of infant mortality, maternal depression, access to day care etc. Surely, as Michael Moore says in Sicko (which I watched this week - about the US health system - which is appalling), can't we just adopt the best practice - see what works best elsewhere and then copy their policies? Are there any consequences to the seemingly best practice policies of Scandinavian countries and France etc, eg, that women are not employed in jobs that require fulltime workers? If anyone knows of studies in this, or have any first hand experience, or even word of mouth, I'd be interested to hear.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The Feminist Year Ahead

Sometimes The Guardian is pulp, but sometimes they run pieces like this, and I love them for it. Itemising the movies, books, art exhibitions and events coming to the UK in 2010. Feminism is alive and well.


Also, news from Mamapalooza in New York - they have found a premises in which to house The Museum of Motherhood. They just need to raise the funds. More info here.


What is happening in Australia in 2010??

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Getting the groups together

My friend Joan and I were discussing how great it would be if we got the womens' groups together to have a public discussion, and to share information about what they do.

As I've said before, it took me a long time to find the groups where women are active for change. I emailed Judith Stadtman Tucker of the Mothers Movement Online, a US, group, and asked her if she know of any similar groups in Australia. She directed me to The Mothers of Intervention, which existed as a web-based group, and was led by Liz Conor in Melbourne. I joined the group, and from them found out about other groups. The Mothers of Intervention doesn't exist anymore. The site was badly damaged and Liz is concentrating on other things. But it did connect a few mums who are interested in being active, and through the group I found out about The Association For Research on Mothering.

I also joined The Women's Electoral Lobby, which is probably the strongest of the feminist groups in Australia.

Joan and I were saying how it would be good to learn more about Women's Forum Australia (an independent women’s think-tank focusing on research, education and public policy to bring about positive changes for women), and any other national women's groups. Sometimes it is hard to wade through all the online information to find out what the stance is on certain issues, eg, abortion, or if the group is funded by, for example, a Christian church.

It would also be good to connect these groups with the ones that exist to lobby by issue, for example,

The Parents Jury (food and physical activity for children)

Australian Breastfeeding Association (support breastfeeding, and the right to breastfeed in public)

Maternal Coalition (lobby for birthing rights and maternity services)

Young Media (interested in how the media impacts on the development of children)

Kids Free 2B Kids (concerned about the increasing sexualisation of kids in the media, advertising, and clothing industries. Founded in February 2007 by Melbourne mother of two, Julie Gale).

There must be other groups as well.

It would be great if representatives from these groups met at a public forum, like the Sydney Writers Festival, or at a baby expo, or an event which is already established and already has an audience. Perhaps Insight could do a program. I'd certainly attend a public forum to see what groups lobby for which issues, how they operate, what their principles and policies are, how they can work together, and how mums can be involved.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Smile! Gotcha!

I've recently realised I've probably swum too far against the stream in this regard. I don't take photos of my kids. Why?

Lots of reasons really. I don't have a camera. My hands have usually been busy actually dealing with the kids rather than documenting them. When my second child was a toddler I remember hanging a camera around my neck for her daycare xmas party, and when I went to bend down to her the camera hit her on the forehead. That marked the end of my child photography for some time. The kids are older now and my hands are more free. But I haven't been clicking away.

The main reason is my objection to the fact kids are photographed so much these days. It bothers me more than it should. I see parents and carers photographing and videoing their kids everywhere; at the Art Gallery, on the swings at the park, getting vaccinated (I kid you not), doing any ordinary thing. Kids are treated like little stars who are exposed to the paparazzi that is their parents.

What does it mean? It means the kids are constantly interrupted to pose for the camera. It means that instead of interacting, or sharing the experience, or just letting kids play, parents are objectifying their kids.

At a kids' concert I was sitting near a small family. The mother had her toddler on her knee and her preschooler beside her. She took a photo of the preschooler, showed it to the toddler and said 'There's your sister'. Um, no, you sister is right beside you. She exists in real life. She doesn't have more value because she is on a screen.

I've seen a parent clicking away at her child on the slide saying 'smile' while her toddler is hurt behind her.

When my five year old recently graduated from preschool the parents were taking photos of her group of friends as if they were models - telling them to pose like this or that, and the session lasted a good five minutes. For heaven's sake, they are five! What will they expect at their child's wedding, or graduation from university?

We want our kids to aspire to careers beyond being on Big Bother, but we treat them as if being on a screen (tv, computer, camera, camera/phone or a digital photo frame) means that they are important. They are stars. Frankly I haven't noticed child stars, princesses, heiresses and child celebrities having a very good success rates as adults. I don't understand why we would emulate the poor life experience of being a child celebrity. And I can't think of any child stars, heiresses or princesses that I'd like to be in charge of my aged care.

But now I've realised I haven't taken any photos of the kids for so long (their father takes the photos), and there have been important events that haven't been documented, I think perhaps it is time to take camera in hand, on occasion, and capture some important moments. Or ordinary moments. But I plan to do it discreetly, and without the posing.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

The 80s

Yesterday we went to the 80s exhibition at the Powerhouse Museum- something for the mums and dads. I was surprised at how much paraphenalia from the alternate scene was part of the exhibition.

It reminded me that I was right in the thick of what was happening then.

I saw Michael Jackson at Parramatta Showground. I saw Killing Joke at some venue at the Cross that isn't there anymore. The Damned at the Trade Union Club. Bowie at the Showground. Springsteen at the Entertainment Centre - I paid a scalper $100 and it was worth every cent. I went to the NYE Rat party at Luna Park. I went to the Sleaze Ball, just by chance (was living at Paddo, went out for milk in the morning, ran into someone I knew, went off somewhere, then somewhere else, and ended up at the Sleaze Ball). I scarred my hand outside French's on Oxford Street, where turning on the tap in the bathroom meant washing your shoes - there was no pipe under the basin. I saw Billy Bragg as the date of a journo for On The Street (his flatmate was Tim Freedman). I went to the Kardomah Cafe, The Manzil Room, the Evening Star, The Hopetoun, The Phoenican Club, saw X at the Strawberry Hills Hotel, hung out at the Evening Star and The Civic when I had blue hair, dropped into the Bourbon and Beefsteak for breakfast, heard jazz at Soup Plus, the Harbourside Brasserie and the Basement. I saw drag shows at Stranded. I walked from my house in Surry Hills to the Taxi Club one day, in my dressing gown, because I went to get the mail from the mailbox and the front door slammed shut and I needed to get the keys from my flatmate who worked there. I saw James Brown and Nick Cave and Screaming Jay Hawkins.

Man, I was cool.

And I remember what I wore to everything!

I hung out with punks and goths, and avoided skinheads. I lived in sharehouses for most of the decade. We always had enough money for a night out, even when we were on the dole. And every night out ended up at a sharehouse, which was where we met to watch The Young Ones, drink beer and eat pizza. Sharehouses were open houses.

I regularly went to the theatre too.

In the 90s I saw Prince, Iggy Pop, Marianne Faithfull.

Now, I wouldn't pay $100 to attend a concert or go to a play. Especially anything outdoors. I don't like crowds. I don't drink. My back hurts if I sit for more than about half an hour. Or stand. Or walk for hours on end. I like to be in bed by midnight. I'm probably the only woman in Australia between fifteen and fifty who didn't see Pink in concert. I couldn't be bothered.

So is it a bit sad that I don't have my finger on the pulse like I used to? Or is it just the way things should be? I think it would be a bit sad if I was still into the scene I used to be into. I've outgrown it. If you still live like that at forty, you've got a problem. Now I'm happy to see who is playing at the Festival of Sydney, listen to them on youtube and, if I like them, I'll buy the CD. Enjoy the music in a controlled environment. Mine.

I am happy to support local artists. We see the amateur productions of musicals, and I'm keen to support local artists, musicans and writers. Locally.

No, I'm happy to stay at home. I just need to make more of a scene at my house, where we can talk about art, film, philosophy, literature and life, listen to music, and drink lots of tea, or even make our own artworks - I have in mind something like a Swiss finishing school or a French Salon. We can look after the kids. And perhaps remind each other how cool we used to be. The kids would never agree. Even Nick Cave's kid thinks he is uncool, so what hope do we have?

School holiday expectations

I've noticed something about these holidays - no playdates with families from school.

Now, I don't know if that is because all the local families are on holidays elsewhere - if everybody is meant to be in a holiday house somewhere with family or other friends - but the lack of local playdates is a bit spooky.

Does it mean that local families only hang out with us during term time and the shorter school holidays because it is convenient? Does it mean that those families don't really like us enough to spend time with us over the special season of xmas and New Year? Are we supposed to have friends or family who are higher priority at this time of year. Because, frankly, we don't. Sure, we spent xmas day with family, but that's about it. And while I'm aware I'm not in any inner circles of mum friends, I do actually know a lot of local families and ask people over often. Perhaps I should be forming my own inner circle?

It kind of takes some time and practice to learn to be just by ourselves and how to be a family together, without too many distractions. And we've been doing just that. Kids playing outside. Using the activities they received for xmas. The whole family playing board games or watching a movie together. I've been cleaning up a bit. Cooking with the kids. Eating meals with my partner and all that.

It seems a bit crazy that we see everyone and do everything for the first three weeks of December then BAM. Silence. The tumbleweed goes drifting through our social lives. My 5 year old keeps asking for playdates, and I keep telling her that it is family time - other kids are with their families, and we should let them enjoy their time together without trying to impose ourselves. And I feel a bit as if I fail the family-time test if I'm asking for playdates. Like we've cracked first and couldn't make it through the marathon of boardgames and family activities. But what if the other local families are doing the same thing? What if we all think we should be alone with our families, when we'd really rather be socialising, like we usually do? What if we have all had a long look at our families, and now we need to see some other people?

And it has been raining nearly every day so far, so not a lot of opportunities for going out. What on earth is everyone else DOING?

Perhaps we'll be back to our normal social lives now that most of the dads are going back to work.

I am glad that their father has spent this time with us. He doesn't often feel the full force of three kids playing inside for days on end. One thing we've started is, when we sit together at the table for meals (and we sit at the table together for all meals - usually it is just me and the kids), instead of their father and I being at opposite ends of the table (kind of a policing device), we are sitting together so we can chat more easily. And we're a united front. So much nicer than trying to converse across a table of babbling kids while we're trying to enforce table manners. That's something we'll be keeping. That and playing board games.