Saturday, June 26, 2010

Marriage, part time work, and dads. Work life balance stories.

A piece in The Guardian about the state of marriage. Britain has introduced a financial incentive to marry. Scans recent publications and studies. Interesting.

And a story about two women who started a service matching women who want to work part time with employers.

A piece in the New York Times, like a recent story in the Sydney Morning Herald, reports that dads are now overworked, under-appreciated, and stressed.

And that the future of feminism may well rely on men.

Conclusion? We're still struggling with work/life balance.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Ain't got no (I got life!)

My 8 year old recently announced to her friends' dismay and surprise, that her mother does not own a mobile phone. "How does she survive?!' they cried. (Very well, thank you.) They were also horrified to hear she,said 8 year old, does not own a DS. She explained we are a 'low-tech' family.

So, in support of other 'low-tech' families who may think that everyone else buys every new gadget that is marketed, and in solidarity with Susan Maushart, who, with her family, lived off-line for six months, I'm listing what we ain't got.

Ain't got no:
mobile phone
plasma screen
portable dvd player
digital photo frame
digital camera (he has one, I don't)

That's not to say I don't want things. I want a new record player and speakers.

I've got a blog. (And a life.)

The End of Men - do the economic changes benefit women at the expense of men?

From The Atlantic. A long and very interesting article about how the changes in the economy, and the culture, are benefiting women and how men are falling behind.

Earlier this year, women became the majority of the workforce for the first time in U.S. history. Most managers are now women too. And for every two men who get a college degree this year, three women will do the same. For years, women’s progress has been cast as a struggle for equality. But what if equality isn’t the end point? What if modern, postindustrial society is simply better suited to women? A report on the unprecedented role reversal now under way— and its vast cultural consequences

So many interesting points. Have to read it again.

Thanks, Gretel, I'm with you

This from Gretel Killeen's column in the Sun Herald today. (In a week I've has reason to be thinking about bullies.) In fact, I like everything she talks about this week: calling Kristina Keneally 'cute', what is a hero, harbourside development and shopping. Actually, I like Gretel Killeen. She's a single mum who has made her own career, doing voice work, writing and presenting. Her book for children, Cheery Pie, is beautiful.

Rewarding bullies

Last week, in two separate incidents, bullying was cited as both the reason a girl is suing her former school and a "significant" contributor to a young boy's suicide. As bullying is an escalating problem, perhaps we could look at our children's daily influences. Not just the bully barn of our political leaders but, more immediately, the world of entertainment, where, off the top of my head, flies a high-profile story of a rugby league group sex scandal and an inappropriate radio lie-detecting stunt And what comeuppance did each of these blokes receive? The hosting of their own TV shows.

Every time I see Matthew Johns, I want to scream. The word I want to scream is 'rapist'. I want to organise a group of women to go to his show and when he appears, we scream 'Rapist'. We're escorted from the building.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

I don't understand.

There are some things I don't understand.

Outdoor heaters. Battery operated rubbers (erasers). Electric photo frames. Toys that you ask children to scribble on, then you wash them. Over and over. Coffee snobs who drink out of paper cups and plastic lids, who drink while walking down the street because they are too busy and important to actually sit down to enjoy their coffee, and then throw the paper cups and plastic lids in the bin because they are too busy and important to wash a cup. That shopping guides contain advertorials for many new products and the ethical shopping guide is so much smaller, which implies that everything not in the ethical section is unethical, so why is it being promoted at all?

If we were TRYING to use up the world, this is how we would do it!

Friday, June 11, 2010

Parental leave in Sweden - lets do this!!

A story from the New York Times. In Sweden male uptake of parental leave has been successful and is now just part of normal social and working life. It also results in lower rates of divorce and separation.

Bring it on!

More on this series from The International Herald Tribune, The Female Factor, on Facebook.

Sex and the City 2 - what a beat up!

All this brouhaha about Sex and the City 2.

My 24 year old nephew posted on Facebook a comment: 'the Sex and the City movie is making a generation of young women dumb and ignorant.' My niece clicked 'like'. I posted a reply asking if he really believes a generation of women are dumb and ignorant. Does he believe a sexually active menopausal women in her 50s is to blame. Based on what evidence. Are action films making a generation of young men dumb and ignorant? So many flaws in their sloppy thinking. And the fourth comment, the one before mine, was simply 'sluts.' Interesting how quickly we get there. I suggested that young adults have always been sexually active; we just have more transparency now.

Ok, so Sex and the City may not be the best film ever made. It may show vacuous, self obsessed, wealthy and privileged characters. Are women seeing it simply for the fashions and to see women on the big screen? Why aren't male films attacked the same way?

And here is my conclusion, so far. The problem is that films for women, fun films, are so few and far between that we expect them to be everything. Films for men are a dime a dozen - new ones are released each week.

I haven't seen the film, but if I do it will be in the spirit of old style Hollywood films, where characters are wealthy, and their troubles minor, and the fashion is fab, the conversation is witty and the ride is enjoyable. I'm thinking Katherine Hepburn, Carol Lombard, Bette Davis, Lauren Bacall, Marilyn Monroe. Before entertainment became kitchen sink dramas and gritty realism.

We need more films for women. It would take the pressure off Sex and the City.

Scaring pregnant women with health risks

This in SMH today, by Monica Dux. I'm sure women in France don't forego cheese when they are pregnant.

IT WAS once thought that a pregnant woman should avoid looking at the full moon, or her baby could grow up afflicted by sleepwalking or madness. Similarly, if a baby was born covered in hair, it meant that mum had spent too much time hanging out with the cat. These ideas were not just superstition, but part of the widely accepted theory of "maternal impressions", which held that congenital deformities could be traced to what the mother had seen and experienced during pregnancy.

It's easy to laugh at this stuff, but before we get too smug, consider some of the warnings that pregnant women contend with today. We've recently been told that getting stressed while you're pregnant could cause your child to be a slow learner, to suffer from asthma, diabetes or autism. It's just as bad if you get angry. Losing your temper (a way of life for most pregnant women I've known) could curse your child with a weakened heart.

The difference between these warnings and the old-fashioned cat-and-moon variety is that contemporary scares typically claim to be supported by a scientific study. But just because a newspaper article begins with the words "a study has shown" does not mean that what you are reading should be taken seriously. Not all science is sound and credible. Even "good" scientific studies can be extremely difficult to interpret, and harder still to translate into a few short columns of newspaper space, or a TV sound bite....

It's easy to see why listeria fear turns sane women into neurotics. If you are told that there is a bacteria that could kill your foetus, and are then given a long list of foods that might harbour it, it's difficult to know where to draw the line. Yet while listeria can cause serious complications for your pregnancy, its incidence in Australia is statistically very low. You are probably more likely to be injured by an overenthusiastic yoga instructor while you're eagerly om-ing to reduce stress.

Some might argue that these warnings simply serve to inform women, allowing them to make better choices. Yet there is something insidious about all this alarm. A pregnant friend of mine was recently reprimanded by a male colleague when she ordered a salad in a restaurant, on the grounds of the listeria risk. His decision to publicly scold a grown woman was partly licensed by the fact that she is pregnant (and we all have the right to tell pregnant women what to do, don't we?) but also by the power of the listeria scare.

In Australia, we have access to nutritious food, uncontaminated water and universal healthcare. The prospect of birthing healthy babies has never been better. Yet human beings are notoriously bad at rationally assessing risks. We all know that we're more likely to be hit by a car than killed in a plane crash, yet planes falling from the sky remain scarier. The more spectacular the threat, the larger it looms in our minds.

Pregnancy is particularly prone to this effect. We all desperately want what's best for our offspring, and the thought that we might harm our babies, even inadvertently, is horrifying.

Pregnancy and motherhood are difficult at the best of times. Women carry the weight of huge expectations, and risk harsh collective judgement if they fail to live up to them. They don't need more reasons to feel guilty and judged.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Sylvia Plath Effect

I'm rereading The Bell Jar, so read the Plath entry on Wikipedia. I found there exists such a thing as 'the Sylvia Plath Effect'.

'The Sylvia Plath effect is a term coined by psychologist James C. Kaufman in 2001 to refer to the phenomenon that creative writers are more susceptible to mental illness. Kaufman's work demonstrated that female poets were more likely to suffer from mental illness than any other class of writers. This finding has been discussed in many international newspapers, including the New York Times. The finding is consistent with other psychological research studies.

The effect is named after the American poet Sylvia Plath, who committed suicide when she was thirty years old.'

How extraordinary. I find it quite difficult to believe this to be true. I wonder what Dorothy Porter would have made of it. Or Pam Ayres.

Apparently Sylvia had an IQ of 166. That makes her a genius. I suspect that might be more of an obstacle to happiness than being a female poet. I'd like to see the research on that.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

Elisabeth Badinter - Conflict: The Woman and the Mother

This article on French feminist and philosopher Elisabeth Badinter's new book( a best seller in France, not yet translated into English)is reviewed in the Fashion and style section of the New York Times.

The ensuing comments cover all the usual ground: mothering would be better if men were better; corporations and an uncaring work place are to blame; that the green issues are real and create work for everyone, not just women; and that women's rights and industrialisation dovetailed to fuel capitalist aims we are now revising. It seems the fashion to mother intensively, although she doesn't call it that, has reached France.

Many agree with parts of Badminter's arguments. Some see her as an old school feminist who insults women by categorising them and expecting they blindly follow trends without thinking. Some point out that the working mum/stay-at-home mum is only a choice for the wealthy. In poorer families, mothers work.

I'm glad the conversation is happening. Of course, expectations and support for families in terms of social policies, such as parental leave and health care, are very different in France and the US.

As for the way motherhood,intensive motherhood, is now elevated to a type of sainthood in some quarters, perhaps it is just the swing of the pendulum. Perhaps motherhood, and fatherhood, and the carework of relationships will soon be integrated into a normal life, as it should be.

A carbon tax and tighter regulations regarding food production and the manufacturing of, well, everything, would take the stress off the individual, and off mothers. We need to live more sustainably. Yes, parental leave and health care are essential. Yes, investing in children, and parents' ability to parent is worthwhile. With all this kind of thinking going on, why doesn't every developed country, eg, USA and Australia, have more socialist policies??

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Trusting in a toxic world

A few years ago I wrote The Motherhugger Challenges, a series of exercises in awareness and action for me and other mums to step by step change the world, tackling one issue each month. One of the steps was a plastics awareness month. For that month I noted how many items in our daily lives are plastic. When you start thinking about it, it is quite shocking. And then to consider how much plastic has replaced items made of wood or glass or paper, and what is best for sustainability, it all becomes very complicated.

Anyway, there is a book out at the moment called Slow Death By Rubber Duck, by Rick Smith and Bruce Lourie.They have used themselves in experiments measuring the toxicity of many household goods we use every day. They ate tuna and measured the mercury. They spent a few days eating no food that had come into contact with plastic - now there's a challenge! They measured the toxicity of lots of bad things in our household items, like teflon, and the fragrance in toiletries, and warn what we need to avoid.

They say we shouldn't microwave plastic. (Where does that leave a fan of Tupperware?)

To be helpful, I'm sharing this little rhyme to help avoid toxic plastics. In looking at the recycled symbols remember: 4, 5, 1, 2, all the rest are bad for you.

I had bought a packet of microwave brown rice; the type you microwave in the plastic pack. The recycling number is 7. That's bad. Either wicked bad or negligent bad. But seriously bad.

I've been thinking about how much we trust everybody. We trust the chef to not spit on our food. We trust the doctor to know how to prescribe medicine. We trust manufacturers to not include toxins in their products. Every time we get into a car we trust that the brakes will work, that everyone will obey the road rules, stay in their lane, stop at the red lights. That everyone has had their car checked by a good mechanic. That everyone driving is licensed. That no-one will have a heart attack or brain aneurysm, and that everyone will drive with good will. That's a lot of trust. Especially for a situation where any one of these matters could be a matter of life and death. It is really quite amazing that there isn't carnage on every road every day. OK, I have a problem with anxiety around driving, especially on motorways, especially since I broke down on a motorway, but I think I'm justified.

So, how to live in this toxic world? We aren't to cook in aluminium, although aluminium cookware is still being sold. We aren't to microwave plastic. We aren't to use teflon. There is lead in lipstick. We aren't to use most of the toiletries, cosmetics, and household cleaning products. Michael Pollen, who writes about food, has a few mottos about food, and one of them is 'don't eat anything your grandmother wouldn't have recognised.' Should we try to live as if we are in a WWII house? People were generally healthier then. There wasn't an epidemic of obesity, asthma, allergies, ADHD. So perhaps we should also prepare our food as our grandmothers would have. And use the cleaning products and toiletries our grandmothers would have. My grandmother used Sunlight soap to wash her clothes, her dishes, and herself inlcuding her hair. I could do that. I already use vinegar and baking soda for cleaning. I already cook at home and mostly avoid food additives.

It might be time to resurrect The Motherhugger Challenges.

In our household we ask two questions about everything we might want to buy or use: Where does it come from and where does it go? It seems to be necessary if you want to live a clean and simple, non-toxic and ethical life. But it is also a shortcut to a new type of mental illness. It really can drive you crazy. Environmental or global consciousness makes it very difficult to relax and to trust.

So, it isn't just that parenting has become more intensive. Modern life is more intensive. We shouldn't have to be experts on everything from vaccinations to food sources to trans-fats to palm oil to different types of plastics and what plastic bottle can you microwave milk in,what food additives are banned in other countries and where everything was made, how were the workers treated, what were they paid, what was polluted in the process and where our rubbish goes. If we had regulations that stopped these things at the source, we might be able to relax a little and trust again. To manufacture cook-in-the-pack rice in toxic plastic is unconscionable. Obviously we are too trusting if we think there are regulations to prevent this happening. So, we protect ourselves as best we can, and keep reading the packets and learning about how unsafe our world is, and the information overloads and the anxiety rises. It's all too much. Learning to live simply and cleanly shouldn't be so hard. It should be the base point. Everything should be non-toxic unless stated otherwise.

The next step is to campaign for tighter regulations. How to begin? It requires more energy than I can muster right now.