Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Workshop on Feminist Mothering and Maternal Activism

I'm running a workshop on Feminist Mothering and Maternal Activism at the upcoming feminist conference F: A Festival. A Conference. A Future. It is being held in Sydney April 10 and 11, and costs only $30 to attend the two days of panel discussions and workshops. More info here:

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Iceland bans stripclubs and could be the world's most feminist country

Look. It is possible. From The Guardian. Gives me hope. I wonder what the flow-on effects will be in the culture., eg, songs, tv, depictions of women on billboards, and if it will mean less domestic violence, sexual harassment and so on.

Iceland: the world's most feminist country

Iceland has just banned all strip clubs. Perhaps it's down to the lesbian prime minister, but this may just be the most female-friendly country on the planet

o Julie Bindel
Thursday 25 March 2010 22.00 GMT

Iceland is fast becoming a world-leader in feminism. A country with a tiny population of 320,000, it is on the brink of achieving what many considered to be impossible: closing down its sex industry.

While activists in Britain battle on in an attempt to regulate lapdance clubs – the number of which has been growing at an alarming rate during the last decade – Iceland has passed a law that will result in every strip club in the country being shut down. And forget hiring a topless waitress in an attempt to get around the bar: the law, which was passed with no votes against and only two abstentions, will make it illegal for any business to profit from the nudity of its employees.

Even more impressive: the Nordic state is the first country in the world to ban stripping and lapdancing for feminist, rather than religious, reasons. Kolbrún Halldórsdóttir, the politician who first proposed the ban, firmly told the national press on Wednesday: "It is not acceptable that women or people in general are a product to be sold." When I asked her if she thinks Iceland has become the greatest feminist country in the world, she replied: "It is certainly up there. Mainly as a result of the feminist groups putting pressure on parliamentarians. These women work 24 hours a day, seven days a week with their campaigns and it eventually filters down to all of society."

The news is a real boost to feminists around the world, showing us that when an entire country unites behind an idea anything can happen. And it is bound to give a shot in the arm to the feminist campaign in the UK against an industry that is both a cause and a consequence of gaping inequality between men and women.

According to Icelandic police, 100 foreign women travel to the country annually to work in strip clubs. It is unclear whether the women are trafficked, but feminists say it is telling that as the stripping industry has grown, the number of Icelandic women wishing to work in it has not. Supporters of the bill say that some of the clubs are a front for prostitution – and that many of the women work there because of drug abuse and poverty rather than free choice. I have visited a strip club in Reykjavik and observed the women. None of them looked happy in their work.

So how has Iceland managed it? To start with, it has a strong women's movement and a high number of female politicans. Almost half the parliamentarians are female and it was ranked fourth out of 130 countries on the international gender gap index (behind Norway, Finland and Sweden). All four of these Scandinavian countries have, to some degree, criminalised the purchase of sex (legislation that the UK will adopt on 1 April). "Once you break past the glass ceiling and have more than one third of female politicians," says Halldórsdóttir, "something changes. Feminist energy seems to permeate everything."

Johanna Sigurðardottir is Iceland's first female and the world's first openly lesbian head of state. Guðrún Jónsdóttir of Stígamót, an organisation based in Reykjavik that campaigns against sexual violence, says she has enjoyed the support of Sigurðardottir for their campaigns against rape and domestic violence: "Johanna is a great feminist in that she challenges the men in her party and refuses to let them oppress her."

Then there is the fact that feminists in Iceland appear to be entirely united in opposition to prostitution, unlike the UK where heated debates rage over whether prostitution and lapdancing are empowering or degrading to women. There is also public support: the ban on commercial sexual activity is not only supported by feminists but also much of the population. A 2007 poll found that 82% of women and 57% of men support the criminalisation of paying for sex – either in brothels or lapdance clubs – and fewer than 10% of Icelanders were opposed.

Jónsdóttir says the ban could mean the death of the sex industry. "Last year we passed a law against the purchase of sex, recently introduced an action plan on trafficking of women, and now we have shut down the strip clubs. The Nordic countries are leading the way on women's equality, recognising women as equal citizens rather than commodities for sale."

Strip club owners are, not surprisingly, furious about the new law. One gave an interview to a local newspaper in which he likened Iceland's approach to that of a country such as Saudi Arabia, where it is not permitted to see any part of a woman's body in public. "I have reached the age where I'm not sure whether I want to bother with this hassle any more," he said.

Janice Raymond, a director of Coalition Against Trafficking in Women, hopes that all sex industry profiteers feel the same way, and believes the new law will pave the way for governments in other countries to follow suit. "What a victory, not only for the Icelanders but for everyone worldwide who repudiates the sexual exploitation of women," she says.

Jónsdóttir is confident that the law will create a change in attitudes towards women. "I guess the men of Iceland will just have to get used to the idea that women are not for sale."

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Feminist conference March 22

I attended this conference on Monday night. I'll write up my notes when I get a chance, but the ideas are covered here in this piece from SMH.

It was filmed for ABC Big Ideas so it should be on tv and their website soon. Will keep you posted.

Feminism finds its fighting focus

March 20, 2010

Women still need to battle, writes Kelsey Munro, when even Rwanda has a stronger female presence in parliament than Australia.

Three ideas you won't hear in Parliament: introducing quotas to guarantee a number of women MPs; making half the senior public service jobs part-time to encourage more women to apply; or mandating paternity leave to ensure child-rearing is more fairly shared.

Yet while the po-faced feminism of old has become, as the Sydney writer and academic Rebecca Huntley puts it, ''daggy or passe", a new front is opening.

In this election year in Britain, for example, the academic Fiona Mackay detects a resurgence under way. A run of new books is reinvigorating the topic including Living Dolls: The Return of Sexism, by Natasha Walter; The Equality Illusion, by Kat Banyard; and a reissue of The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan.

There's new energy in campus women's groups and gender studies courses; a blooming of feminist blogs; and membership of the venerable British women's group the Fawcett Society jumped 25 per cent last year, she says.

Research suggests that while the term ''feminist'' might be out of favour with young women, its central tenet of equal rights and opportunities is anything but. ''It's hard to tell, but I think something is happening, that women are getting angry again,'' says Mackay, a senior lecturer in politics at the University of Edinburgh. ''There are a lot of really uncomfortable truths about the fact that women's position is still disadvantaged, and it's systematic. It can't be explained away as a series of choices.''

Yes, 1970s-era feminism is finished, a victim, according to some narratives, of its own success. In Western countries feminism achieved the mainstreaming of once-radical claims for women's rights to self-determination, Huntley says. But then it split into warring factions preoccupied with incompatible concerns and sometimes self-defeating trivialities: the cosmetics of sexual empowerment versus exploitation, gender separatism, glass ceilings.

Today those fights continue around the fringes, while in the centre is the harsh reality: a 17 per cent pay gap and scandalously low representation of women in Parliament and on corporate boards means that even in Australia, there is still a long way to go to achieve true equality, says Professor Louise Chappell, a researcher in gender and politics at the University of NSW.

With only 27 per cent women in the lower house and 35 per cent in the Senate, Australia is on a par with Afghanistan, but doing better than the US (16 per cent in Congress) and Britain (close to 20 per cent). But we lag behind Cuba (43 per cent), Sweden (46 per cent) and Rwanda (56 per cent).

"Those countries where women have higher representation are countries that have quotas," Chappell says. "Quotas are not the perfect solution, because … there's debates about the best person not getting the job. [But] without those sort of measures it's really hard to overcome entrenched stereotypes.''

While there are notable women such as the US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, and the Deputy Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, the experience of a few striking individuals does not represent the reality of women's power in politics, Huntley says.

Gillard says instead of parliamentary quotas, the onus should be on political parties to recruit candidates of merit from ''particular groups''. Since 2002, the ALP has required 35 per cent of candidates for winnable seats to be women, but the Liberals are against quotas.

Finding ways to boost female representation is important, says Karen Beckwith, a political science professor from Case Western University in Cleveland, who, along with Huntley, Mackay and Chappell and others, will debate the new fronts of feminism and politics in Sydney on Monday.

''Women constitute half the population … I see no reason why they shouldn't constitute half the elected government,'' Beckwith says. ''Women constitute a majority in university, in postgraduate study. We should be asking, what's wrong here?''

The US party system requirement for independently financed, self-nominated political candidacy erects barriers, she says. But she sees some progress. ''Parties have been responsive … because they think that by running a woman against an incumbent they may be able to win when there's a perceived gender gap, a marginal district, or a man who's behaved in a scandalous way.''

Dr Susan Goodwin, a senior lecturer in policy studies at the University of Sydney, who is also joining the debate, sees a novel alternative to the revival of affirmative action. She says the time demands of management jobs effectively preclude mothers from advancing to higher positions, and that creating part-time senior roles in the public service would change that.

''Many men just don't seem to feel they have to be devoted to their family in the same way women do … It means those women with kids doing senior jobs are under all this additional pressure and men aren't,'' Goodwin says.

Which takes us back to feminism's oldest battlefield: the domestic sphere. While women have become more involved in the paid workforce, research repeatedly shows men have taken up little of the slack at home.

A solution for those who can afford it is to hire a cleaner or use childcare - to outsource what men won't take on. For those who can't, women still tend to carry the burden of household duties.

''We haven't necessarily got men taking on some of those [domestic] responsibilities or redefining those roles,'' Huntley says. ''The solution - what we're doing at the moment - is not just to kick this work down the food chain."

Taking time off to raise children is a factor affecting women's position in many ways, from the pay gap to less superannuation to career seniority. ''Having a human life which involves caring for other people shouldn't have such a detrimental effect on your career,'' Mackay says.

Both major parties in Australia ''support'' flexible work conditions and paid parental leave is finally on the political agenda. In the US, it's a distant dream, but in Britain statutory maternity pay lasts 39 weeks.

Chappell says feminism has a lot of work to do in the many countries where women still have few rights and are subject to sex trafficking and other abuses. But a reinvigorated, diverse feminism has a lot to say in advanced industrialised countries, too. ''These inequalities are still the product of policies and decision making that's happening within political institutions and workplaces. Feminism offers a way of critically thinking about it and really shining a light on these things.''

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

From Hi 5 to Lady Gaga - music for kids - some help here

I'm posting this now in light of the recent kids-at-Lady-Gaga-why-aren't-concerts-rated? cuffuffle, and the Growing Up Fast and Furious conference. An 8 year old boy from my daughter's class attended the concert. Which would have cost a pretty penny,.It would have been hearing-damage loud. And on a school night. My sister is a preschool teacher and asked her kids to bring a cd to share. One child brought in Pink. Needless to say, my sister didn't play it.

My kids don't listen to music with raunchy lyrics. It takes some work. We haven't watched the Saturday or Sunday morning music video shows since we had kids. That's ok by me. My tastes have changed and I've realised it doesn't really matter if i don't keep up with every new artist and new song. I find the singers I like through reading reviews and looking them up on youtube now anyway. And I'm pretty vigilant about the songs my kids dance to at dance class.

My girls are 5, 7 & 9. They listen to HSM and Miley Cyrus. Other suitable singers would be perhaps Kelly Clarkson, Tina Arena, Delta Goodram. Not The Veronicas or Lily Allen or Pink or Lady Gaga.

I've done a lot of research on music for kids. It doesn't seem right that kids go from the Wiggles to Pink. There is a lot of music out there that just isn't available at the local shops. I bought cds online from the US. If you have a look on Amazon you can follow the links.

Some suggestions:

Compilations like Free to Be You and Me, Songs of Thanks and Giving, Schoolhouse Rocks, Martha Stewart Sleepytime and Playtime, A World Of Happiness, For Our Children 1 & 2, Mary Had a Little Amp, For the Kids 1 & 2, Lollipop Rock 1 & 2, Jazz for Kids, Nicky's Jazz for Kids, Chicken Soup for Little Souls.

Artists such as Raffi, Ralph's World, Laurie Berkner, Dan Zanes, Rory McLeod, Margaret Rutherford and many more - Lisa Loeb, Shirley Temple, They Might be Giants, Danny Kaye, Peter Paul & Mary, Johnny Cash, have a look - there are lots of adult artists who have a kid's cd.

The series of A Child's Celebration of: Silliest Songs, Showtunes, Soul, Song 1 & 2, the World, Rock and Roll, Dance, Folk and so on. And yes, they are all original artists.

I also got some learning French cds that my kids like.

There is also the Sing! series that are made for schools - you can buy them and the sheet music from ABC shops. My kids like Kids Sing Beatles from the ABC shop too.

We also listen to the radio - but the more nostaglic stations - I listen to an alternative current music station when I'm on my own.

I play cds of older artists at home - Beatles, Cat Stevens, The Mamas and the Papas, The Carpenters etc. And 70s funk and disco.

My favourites are the jazz ones and the Child's Celebration series. Good fun.

Good luck - there is world of music for kids to be discovered! You aren't just stuck on The Wiggles and Hi-5! Or, Pink and Lady Gaga.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Women and girls just not important in Asia and the Pacific

An article in SMH today by Virginia Haussegger about the missing millions of girls and women in China. Maternal mortality and a culture of abusing women in the Pacific.

All very confronting. Short of national action, ie trade sanction or aid tied to improved statistics, what can we do? We can give money to charities that help.

Oxfam, TEAR Australia, Plan Australia, Women for Women International, Unicef, World Vision, Medecins Sans Frontier. Pick a charity and give!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Australian dads work harder

According to a study Australian dads spend more time parenting than French dads. Good news?

The flipside is - they also spend more time at work as in France the working week is capped at 35 hours a week. And people take their holidays.

AND women in Australia and France are still under-represented in the workforce. Australian women are more likely to work part-time.

BUT French families have greater access to childcare.

Australian parents are more likely to parent more intensively.

Interesting how the father interviewed says he spends his 'spare time' driving the kids to their activities. For a mother, isn't this just part of parenting?

Growing up Fast and Furious Conference - Impact of media on children

Growing up Fast and Furious: Reviewing the impacts of violent and sexualised media on children
March 19 2010
Presented by The Australian Council on Children and the Media and the Children and Families Research Centre, Macquarie University

Along with other participants, such as health care workers, educators, parents, media producers, children's advocates, and one politician, I listened to academic researchers, (details here on this topic.

Feel free to distribute.

Here is the summary of the findings.


The evidence that watching violence on TV causes aggressive thoughts, feelings and behaviour was indisputable in the 70s. Now the evidence is clear that listening to music with violent lyrics, watching violent scenes on TV or film, and playing violent video games, causes aggressive thoughts, feelings and behaviour, both in the short and long term. This evidence is comparable with other health risks such as the link to smoking causing cancer, lead causing brain damage and asbestos causing cancer. Violent children become violent adults.

People watch violent video games because they enjoy the action, and the rapid editing of the scenes. Gamers like the feeling of autonomy, of control, of competence, the challenge of learning new skills and building on them. Often the perpetrator of violence is the hero and rewarded for his violence.

Just as we are what we eat, so too we behave according to the influences we feed ourselves. People who use violent media are learning scripts of behaviour. They become more tolerant of violence, and desensitised to its effects. Some violent video games are made for the US military in order to train soldiers. These are then modified and sold as entertainment. People who use them are more accepting of rape, date violence, and are less empathetic.

Playing pro-social video games increases pro-social behaviour. Games can be good, just as TV can be - it depends on the content.

Children are now exposed to, on average, ten hours of media each day.

As parents we can help our children by:
- asking for government regulation by writing to your local member,
- blocking certain types of sites from your computer,
- checking the ratings,
- directing our children to more appropriate sites, games, shows and films, ie, those made for children,
- it also helps to be with your children and talk to them as they consume violent media. Talk about alternate means of conflict resolution,
- we can teach children to regulate themselves, ie, tell their friends they are not allowed to watch M rated (recommended for mature audiences) or M15+ (legally restricted) movies or games,
- audit children's involvement, that is, reduce screen time, and critique the messages.
- Play real, interactive games. Read.
- Teach non-violent problem solving.
- No TV or computers in bedrooms.

Sex in the media

The issue is not about censorship. It is about protecting children.

Advertising works, if not consciously, then when you are tired, stressed, sick, drunk, hurrying or thinking about something else.

Constant exposure to sexualised, and dehumanised, portrayals of women, teaches people to devalue women.

Men who have just viewed pornography or listened to violent, misogynistic lyrics are more likely to find women, even women politicians or well dressed business women, as less competent.

Examples can be found in advertisements, films, tv shows, games, clothing, music, music videos, products marketed to girls and women such as cosmetic surgery, grooming products, Playboy brand accessories for children, toys, magazines, radio advertisements, reality tv, advertisements on billboards and buses. Showing children in an adult context, and showing adults in children's context, is problematic.

Adult sexual images and themes are being imposed on children in a developmentally inappropriate manner. This has an impact on children's emerging understanding of sex and gender. It holds the potential for child exploitation and abuse if used for adult sexual gratification. It teaches implicit and explicit gender stereotypes and misogyny in popular culture. Sexual attractiveness is promoted as key to being a girl, to the detriment of other attributes. It fosters insecurity regarding appearance. Sexuality is sold as girl power, that is, girls embracing raunch culture believe they are liberated and empowered, however, the truth is they are they are objectifying, limiting and demeaning themselves.

These messages cause detrimental effects on girls' and boys' self esteem and their body images. It stereotypes, distorts and trivialises their views of gender, limits their expectations for themselves and others, and it leads to early sexual behaviour. It exposes children to possible abuse from predatory adults.

Similar to the influence of violence in the media, hypersexualised gender stereotypes teach children a script for behaviour. This teaches them about sex in a way that undermines their potential for healthy self esteem, healthy sexual behaviour and their future relationships.

Self-monitoring of advertisers and businesses is not working.

As parents we can help our children by:
- trying to minimise their exposure to sexualised images (that is, don't watch music videos, or films or tv shows that sexually stereotype women),
- monitor their Internet use and keep computers and TVs in family rooms,
- check the ratings. The Australia Council on Children and the Media have a movie review service on their Young Media website.
- expand what kids are seeing and doing in an age appropriate way, that is, expose children to wide range of gendered role models, and encourage interest in a wide range of interests that are based on competence and creativity
- promote media literacy, that is, question media messages,
- complain to businesses and advertisers about private adult scenes shown in public where children can see them, and about inappropriate goods marketed to children,
- talk to other parents, and join organisations that are working against the sexualisation of children, such as

If culture is passed on through the stories it tells, what does this level of violence as entertainment and sexualisation in the media say about our culture? Most children get most of their stories through electronic media.

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child was adopted in 1989. Article 17 recognises "the important function performed by the mass media," It encourages the media "to disseminate information and material of social and cultural benefit to the child," and calls on governments to encourage the development of guidelines to protect children from harmful material.

Anything the media can do negatively, it could do positively.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Questioning just about everything we know about parenting - Po Bronson and NurtureShock

When I first read about Po Bronson's articles in Newsweek, and his book, I thought, oh no, now everything we thought we knew about parenting is being questioned. Because you wouldn't want to feel comfortable for a minute, would you? But, I needn't have worried. If this article which summarises some of his findings is any indication, we're OK.

How Not to Helicopter
Po Bronson

I’ve never bought macrobiotic cupcakes or hypoallergenic socks. Nor have I hired a tutor for pencil-holding deficiency, or put covers on the stove knobs, or used a leash on a toddler to be safe in a busy airport. At the grocery store, my kids are often in other aisles, but they’ve never felt lost. When they were babies, we weren’t scared to leave them with babysitters. Their preschool didn’t teach Mandarin, nor even worry about teaching them to read. Nor have I ever questioned a teacher about one of my children’s grades.

In fact, nobody I know has done these things. The only parents I know who are superprotective are parents who have to be—and it’s totally justified—because their child has Down’s or Asperger’s.

But like all of you, I still suspect these horror stories—while not representative of reality—shine a light on the unmistakable reality that we are not giving our kids anything like the freedom or independence we enjoyed as children when we were growing up. If we turned out fine, then why do we think our kids have to be raised so differently? This is the grand theme of Nancy Gibbs’s story on the cover of Time, “Can These Parents Be Saved?”

The problem with using these horror stories to make a point is that they’re not helpful in finding the right line between parenting and overparenting. Carl Honore’s book Under Pressure is also filled with bad-parent stories ripped from the newspapers. Obviously it’s wrong to sue a college because it did not admit your child. Obviously it’s wrong for a tennis dad to spike his son’s opponents’ water bottles with Temesta, a drowsiness drug. Obviously it’s wrong for Japanese 2-year-olds to enroll in cram schools.

As Gibbs admits deep into her article, having parents involved in children’s lives is exceptionally good for children. They get better grades, drink less, use fewer drugs, etc. Backing away completely is not the answer.

So the real question is, for regular parents—normal, involved parents who are not crazy, headline-worthy overprotective freaks—in what dimensions do we need to back off?

We think our book NurtureShock, and our column here, have already noted many areas where good parents are going too far. Here’s a summary of those points, in some cases with additional commentary:

* Praise them less, and help them develop accurate awareness of how well they’re doing—so don’t try to spin them into believing they’re better than they are.

* Protect their sleep hours fiercely.

* When young children hurt each other’s feelings, give them a chance to come back together on their own. You might not see apologies or overt repair, but scientists are learning that repair can be implicitly implied when kids end up side by side again.

* Choose schools that don’t assign too much homework (more than an hour in middle school is too much), and the schools will finally get the message.

* Protect play time, and as children mature, help make sure they still have outlets for fantasy.

* By the time a child is 11, don’t encourage or expect her to tell you everything. Some things need to be none of your business. Set a few rules and enforce them, but in other domains encourage independence and autonomy.

* Teens need opportunities to take good risks. They need more exposure to other adults, and even kids of other ages—and less exposure to teens exactly their age. They need part of their life to feel real, not just a dress rehearsal for college. They will mature more quickly if these elements are in their life.

* Colleges have gotten better. It’s harder today to get into the top 30 name-brand colleges, because so many kids apply, but the next 70 colleges are now just as good as the top 30 were when you went to college, and the next 100 are darn good too. Care about your child’s education, not the notoriety of the name printed on his college sweatshirt.

Actually, his site, NurtureShock, is actually really interesting.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Feminism now - a snapshot

Before going to the feminist conferences I thought I would take stock of where feminism is right now. See what has worked and what work is still to be done, and how we might change strategy in order to make change happen.

Globally, women are doing badly. Girls still die due to gender neglect. In developing countries, boys are educated before the girls, taken for medical care before the girls, so girls miss out. Women and girls are trafficked into the sex trade. In their millions. And worldwide, millions of girls are 'missing'. We know where and why women are dying, or seriously damaged, in childbirth, and which countries have low infant survival rates.

We know that investment in girls and women is an efficient way of raising a family, and raising a community, out of poverty.

In the developed world we still have the glass ceiling. There is still a big gap between women's and men's pay. There is a big gap between mother's pay and non-mother's pay. Women are under represented on most boards, and governments. We know that having women in positions of power is healthy for companies.

Women are still sexualised in the media. Women are still the victims of assault and abuse, particularly by men. A few years ago the NSW Police Commissioner stated that women are fundamentally disrespected in our society.

We now live in a raunch culture where to be sexy is paramount as shown on music videos and advertisements. Sexy clothes and toys are marketed to small girl children. Some feminists are speaking out about this. Other feminists are concerned about joining the conservatives and wowsers.

The Association for Research on Mothering in Toronto is in crisis due to lack of funding. The Australian branch is contemplating a name change, to be more inclusive. Perhaps this is the way to go. Perhaps it would be better to focus not on mothering, but parenting or care work, which could be shared.

Books about feminism are still being published and there is still much work to be done. None that I have read really point in a direction that would make change happen.

Middle class women can outsource child care and domestic work to working class women. Men still don't share the domestic load.

Most women I know who have children, whether they have a partner or not, work or not, say at some point that the experiment of living in a nuclear family has failed - we should live in a community of women and children where people share the load and pool their resources. Men can visit or not.

The single best strategy for a women married with children to avoid poverty is to stay married. Single women can build their own financial futures. Not so easy for single mothers.

If there were more women in powers of position, would things move faster?

Although I identify as feminist, I'm starting the believe we need to take action without gender lines. It is not just women who care. It is not just women who care for children, for the earth, and about poverty or about wellbeing.

Do I believe that, as a women, I am better than a man at cleaning the house, doing the shopping, and raising kids? No. Do I believe that as a woman I have more of an affinity with the earth? No. Do I believe that men are smarter than women, more capable, and deserve to earn more money or hold more power? No. Do I believe that the issues facing women also have impacts on men and children? Yes.

I've noticed that the Sex Discrimination Officer often couches feminists issues in terms of men's health, or children's development or just plain wellbeing. Perhaps focussing on feminism, which obviously hasn't been working too well, isn't the way to go.

Do I want to spend time working out what kind of feminist I am (essentialist, radical, Marxist, socialist, eco), or just get on with the job of doing what I believe is right. Not because I'm a feminist, or because I'm a woman, or because I'm a mother, but just because I am a citizen.

What is very interesting is, that while I'm thinking about all this, there are two (yes two!) public forums coming up in which to discus feminism. WOW! Even the Essential Baby forum has been discussing feminism: Is feminism compatible with being a stay at home mother? 38 pages of responses.

So, while I'm renewing my membership to WEL, and joining Women's Forum Australia, have a look at the upcoming conferences.

Info about the conferences here:

Why feminism still matters: A Sydney Ideas forum

The University of Sydney will host a panel of leading international and Australian commentators and political scientists to question how far women have really come in politics in the last 30 years.

The Sydney Ideas forum titled "Why Feminism Matters" will be held on Monday 22 March 2010 at the Seymour Theatre Centre and marks the month of International Women's Day.

In what promises to be a fascinating and robust discussion, the panel will debate the different approaches taken by men and women in politics, the impact women have had in shaping public policy and the political agenda in recent decades, and the role feminism plays in politics today. The panel will also reflect on the giant steps some women, including Hillary Clinton and Julia Gillard, have made in politics but will also examine why the top job remains elusive for women.

The panel includes top commentators and political scholars from throughout the world including Professor Mary Fainsod Katzenstein (Cornell University), Dr Fiona Mackay (University of Edinburgh), Professor Karen Beckwith (US feminist scholar), Dr Sue Goodwin (University of Sydney) and Rebecca Huntley (Australian social researcher). The panel will be chaired by broadcaster and former Olympic swimmer Lisa Forrest, one of the first women to make the move from professional athlete to a successful career in the media.

'Why Feminism Matters' is an Arts Matters forum co-presented with the University of Sydney Arts Association and the Faculty of Arts.

The panel:

Professor Mary Fainsod Katzenstein is a leading commentator on contemporary US politics from Cornell University, USA. Katzensetein has extensively researched political activism and social movements, feminist activism in the Catholic Church and US military, social strategies on poverty and issues of prison reform and incarceration. She won the 1999 American Political Science Association's Victoria Schuck award for the best book on gender in political science for Faithful and Fearless: Moving Feminist Protest Inside the Church and Military. She has co-edited Social Movements in India: Poverty Power and Politics and teaches courses on incarceration both at Cornell University and at the Auburn Correctional Facility in New York.

Dr Fiona Mackay, senior lecturer in politics and Director of the Graduate School of Social and Political Science at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland. Dr Mackay has provided research advice to women's organisations, politicians and government departments, and has represented the UK at numerous British Council international events on women, democracy and human rights. She has played an active part of the 50/50 campaign for gender parity in political and public life and also recently co-authored the book Women, Politics and Constitutional Change, and the forthcoming Gender, Politics and Institutions.

Professor Karen Beckwith is Flora Stone Mather Professor in the Department of Political Science at Case Western Reserve University in the United States. She was the founding lead editor of the journal Politics and Gender, and co-authored Women's Movements Facing the Reconfigured State (2003), and Political Women and American Democracy (2008). Professor Beckwith is the founder and organiser of the project The Comparative Politics of Gender, to be published this month as a multi-article symposium in perspectives on politics.

Dr Sue Goodwin, a senior lecturer in policy studies in the Faculty of Education and Social Work at the University of Sydney. Specialises in research on women's participation in public policy and motherhood in contemporary Australian social and political contexts. She is the co-author of The Sociological Bent: Inside Metro Culture (2005) and Social Policy and Social Change (2009), as well as the forthcoming The Good Mother: Regulating Contemporary Motherhoods. Is currently working on another book examining how gender and class intersect in occupational choices and pathways.

Rebecca Huntley, writer, social researcher and alumnus of the University of Sydney. Huntley is the director of the Ipsos Mackay Report, Australia's longest-running social trends report, and authored Eating Between the Lines: Food and Equality in Australia and The World According to Y: Inside the New Adult Generation. She also contributes regularly to Australian Vogue.

Lisa Forrest, panel chair, was the first woman to host her own national sports program, ABC TV's Saturday Afternoon Football, before moving on to general reporting on The Midday Show with Ray Martin, Everybody on ABCTV and her own radio program, The Evening Show, on ABC Radio 702.

Event details:

What: "Why Feminism Matters" Sydney Ideas forum. Sydney Ideas is the University of Sydney's international public lecture series.

When: 6.30pm on Monday, 22 March, 2010

Where: The Seymour Theatre Centre, Cnr of City Road and Cleveland Street, University of Sydney

Cost: $20/$15 concession. Free tickets are available for University of Sydney staff and students at Seymour box office (not online).Please bring ID.

Bookings: Phone (02) 9351 7940.


Contact: Katrina O'Brien

Phone: 02 9036 7842


The F collective presents

F: A Festival, A Conference, A Future

Feminism: What’s it to you?

F is a conference to reinvigorate the feminist movement

F is a vision for our feminist future.

We invite you to join us for two days of lively debate, workshops and discussion about where we are from, where we are at and where we are going.

Bring your best ideas and your best friends.

Participate, create and connect.


When: 10th and 11th April 2010Where: NSW Teachers Federation½39-41 Reservoir Street, Surry Hills ½ ½

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Parenthood on tv

Hey, look. In the US they're doing parenthood on tv and we aren't getting it here. We'll have to be satisfied with Desperate Housewives, Brothers and Sisters and watching Parenthood, the movie (still good, and Jenny, there's a reference to the rollercoaster in this article).

And the film called Motherhood starring Uma Thurman as a blogging stay at home NY mum looks like it won't be released here in cinemas. It will be available on DVD mid-April.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Boobs on the brain

A new advertisement for boobs on a woman's head to direct men's gaze from a woman's chest to her brain - have a look.

Will this help men take women more seriously??

Hillary Clinton calls for gender equality

At the UN Conference in Beijing Hillary Rodham Clinton repeats her call for gender equality.

"In 1995, in one voice, the world declared: human rights are women's rights and women's rights are human rights," Clinton said, recalling her own words in Beijing that were met by cheers from several thousand delegates.

However, Clinton said women are still the majority of the world's poor, uneducated, unhealthy and hungry, and they are victims of a "global pandemic" of violent attacks including rape. Women are also the majority of the world's farmers, but are often barred from owning the land they tend, and they suffer the consequences of armed conflicts even though they rarely cause them, she said.

"In too many places, women are treated not as full and equal human beings with their own rights and aspirations, but as lesser creatures undeserving of the treatment and respect accorded to their husbands, fathers and sons," Clinton said.

She was loudly applauded when she drew on her Beijing words and issued a new challenge.

"We must declare with one voice that women's progress is human progress and human progress is women's progress, once and for all," Clinton said.

This principle is "at the heart" of U.S. foreign policy, she said, stressing that "the subjugation of women" threatens U.S. security and "the common security of our world because the suffering of women and the instability of nations go hand in hand."

However, the comments question how US foreign policy supports conflicts that hurt women...

Feminism now - reviews in The Guardian - where to now?

I know I'm always referencing The Guardian, but the truth is I don't read regular discussions about feminism in the Australian media. This article is long, so be warned. What surprised me was mention of the momoirs, which I read, and intend to review. I've included the paragraphs here. It has given me something to think about.

The piece is mostly about the influence of raunch culture - Katie Price, Madonna, young girls who aspire to be glamour models, and women working in the sex industry believing they are empowered. What a big fat mess.

Anyway, this Friday I am attending a conference called Growing up Fast and Furious - about how media affects the development of children. I'm guessing the experts will say the influence is detrimental and will be preaching to the converted. Any ideas for ways forward? My best hope is positive role modelling - showing children women who care about more than their own sexual attractiveness - women who work in NGOs, women who are professionals in their creative fields (and it would help if the judges on So You Think You Can Dance stopped talking about the girls being 'hot' and 'sexy' to the extent that it becomes totally meaningless - do they mean attractive or appealing or what? and that they didn't present women as sexual in contexts where it just isn't appropriate), women who do what they love rather than do in order in order to be desired (Hello Lara Bingle - ever heard of feminism??), and for the people who care about these issues to keep speaking out and offering real alternatives to the mainstream culture.

The conference:

How the 'new feminism' went wrong

"Completely sold on the myth of "self-invention", today's woman believes herself in control of her life, from birth to the present day. There's no governing philosophy, just an urge to assert her will. She doesn't know what she's doing, but she's damn well doing it.

Anyone who challenges or questions her will get short shrift, even our own children. A slew of motherhood memoirs portray the baby as a "rival consciousness". This memorable phrase was coined in Rachel Cusk's A Life's Work. Cusk's nuanced portrayal of maternal ambivalence was read one way by those seeking support for their perception of motherhood as an endless bad hair day.

Mothers are now more able to portray themselves as victims of their children. Brett Paesel says she was prompted to write her memoir Mommies Who Drink by the silence around motherhood and women's unwillingness to bear witness to their subjugation, "which feels like complaining". No one dares convey the rage evoked by the maternal requirement to put someone else's needs above their own? None except Stephanie Calman, author of Confessions of a Bad Mother; Kate Long, author of The Bad Mother's Handbook; Mel Giedroyc, author of Going Ga Ga – Is There Life After Birth? and so on and on. These controlling mothers seem to feel wronged by the autonomy of the people in their orbit. The fact that their children are separate beings with their own beliefs and habits seems like a dreadful affront. Female confessional writers seldom pay much mind to how it feels to be them. Far from being a golden age of female self-expression, this is the opposite. Real self-expression requires dialogue. With the other point of view excluded, candid authors are communicating nothing.'

I'd better start with that in looking at the momoirs, but that is for another day.

The books mentioned in the article are also reviewed here:

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Women leave work for family, but do men??

A few times this week other mums have talked to me about how children need their parents even when they are at school, and especially when they are at high school. We've talked about how kids are holding it together during the day at school, putting on their best faces, doing what the teachers ask, negotiating their relationships with other kids, then when they came home, they collapse - it all comes out. If I expected my kids to be in care before and after school, and during school holidays, they'd hate it, and our relationship, aside from being rush rush rush, nag nag nag, would be awful. For the parents I know who want to be with their kids, but still want to work, the only job that seems practical is working as a teacher. Working longer than school hours and during school holidays isn't an option.

I must say, I've known men who stay home with kids, but they don't do nearly as much as the mothers - they might be with the kids during the day, but not book the swimming lessons, organise dinner, supervise the kids. And they are applauded for doing the minimal style parenting that they do. The mothers working full time or part time are still expected to do it all. And not because they have impossibly high standards.

Can women train their children to share housework and child-caring responsibilities equally with women? Will we ever reach real equality for women?

Reporter Emma Alberici contemplates her career, and if anything has changed, when she sees her female peers leaving work to be with school-aged children. The double standard is still staggering. The comments are interesting too!

Thanks Michelle for passing this on to me.

Yes, we have a long way to go, to get everyone to do the menial work, the thinking work, and share the work of raising kids and running a household, giving an example of how we would like our kids to do it when they are adults. But we also, I suggest, need leave from work for care responsibilities, or community work or even a stint of international aid. It isn't just mothers who can care.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Women's History Month

Virginia Haussegger has a piece in SMH today about women's history.

Apparently it is Women's History Month, and there is lots we can learn about our foremothers' fight for equal rights. I didn't know about Zelda D'Aprano, who chained herself to the doors of the Commonwealth Centre to protest pay rates being based on gender.

Women's History Month has a website gathering resources. You can find it here.

Friday, March 05, 2010

The rally to save ARM

I belong to an academic body called the Association for Research on Mothering (ARM). It operates out of York University in Toronto Canada, and there is an Australian branch. The Association runs conferences - 3 a year - one in Toronto, one in New York (with Mamapalooza) and one international. In Australia we have conferences every second year. They also publish journals twice a year, and other publications, as well as resources for academics who teach mothering units in gender studies courses. Its founder and Director, Andrea O'Reilly, is a main voice for mothers in Canada. You don't have to be an academic to be involved.

This week we received word that the Association is to close due to lack of funding. It was never set up as a research centre, so is not eligible for funding. York uni gives the centre an office. It is funded by other grants and membership fees and selling publications.

Women all over the world have been rallying to save ARM. We have been sending emails to York uni, talking about ways of raising the funds ourselves, possibly housing the Association at another uni. and asking people to buy the publications now. They need $20,000 to continue.

If you are interested in the continued existence of the Association for Research on Mothering please get involved now. If you never knew of their existence, now is the time to check them out. There is a Facebook page set up to support the group. They have their own website. Bloggers have been writing about what the Association means to them, and how sorely the loss will be felt.

Thanks. This Association has meant an enormous amount to me. That mothers are worthy of serious thought. That a group of academics connect with other mothering groups and are involved in social action. That I can read their publications and attend their conferences. That I found a home with them. That other women are thinking about how mothers can be feminists too. Can be activists and can support each other. And this Association is a driving force in the mothers movement. It was integral to the creation of the International Mothers Network.

I do understand that procedures must be followed, there are responsibilities to be met - accountability and fiscal management. I suspect the group may disband, and reform as a proper Research Centre, if we can't raise the funds to continue as we are.

I guess what we really need now is an Australian uni to house the Australian Research Centre for Mothering (our ARM branch was housed at UQ for the first few years, but now has no home). In the meantime, I guess the Australian branch can keep hosting conferences, where academics and practitioners can come together to share their research in all sorts of fields - medical, legal, culture, the arts, social policy, international issues.

Anyway, bloggers who say how I feel about ARM are here:

I'll put up others as I find them.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Closure of Association for Research on Mothering

News today that The Association For Research on Mothering is closing. This is due to lack of financial support from York University.

Lets hope another university sees the value in continuing the work and picks it up.

What are the implications for us in Australia?

No more conferences.

No more publications.

We will see if the Encyclopaedia of Mothering will be published - it was due to be released in April.

We were trying to build an Australian branch - The Association for Research on Mothering - Australia (I'm on the committee). We need to decide if we can continue without the mother group.

Very sad news indeed...

Monday, March 01, 2010

Unions to work on equal pay for women

In the Sydney Morning Herald this morning, reports that women's pay is worse than in 1985, when compared to men's. The first part of the article is reproduced here.

Women's pay worse than in 1985
March 2, 2010

WOMEN'S lack of progress towards equal pay is to be placed on the federal election agenda, with unions set to conduct a public and political campaign calling for government intervention.

The ACTU executive will this week endorse a report stating that the issue of pay equity is to be the ''major union campaign priority'' this year, apart from the federal election itself.

Last year women in full-time jobs were paid just 82.5 per cent of men's pay - less than they were in 1985 - and the ACTU report highlights that fewer than 2 per cent of ASX 200 companies have a female chief executive and only one in 12 directors are women. The ACTU report says that, although women are now more likely than men to be university graduates, they earn $2000 a year less when they start work and continue to fall behind in wages and superannuation.

The union push will be a combined industrial, political lobbying and community campaign, the report says. It will demand improvements in paid parental leave and push for tougher government regulation of business.

The ACTU president, Sharan Burrow, said employers ''should be held to account where they fail to promote women or pay them the same as men''.

She said it was unacceptable that in a country as wealthy as Australia women's pay was on average 17 per cent less than men's. "Women continue to face barriers to fully participating in the workforce and it is unacceptable,'' she said.

Among the measures suggested are greater protection from discrimination due to family and carer responsibilities and better regulation of flexible work arrangements for women and men with caring responsibilities.

Lets hope the action is successful!