Thursday, September 30, 2010

Symposium in Canberra tomorrow!

Congratulations to my friend Joan for organising this symposium which is being held in Canberra tomorrow.

Gaining Ground: Care and the Maternal across Culture

Please let us know if you are coming so we can organize the numbers for lunch


Australian National University, Hedley Bull Center, Theatre 2

ANU Campus Map -

This SYMPOSIUM is being held the day after an International Women in Asia Conference at the ANU for more information see:


9.30 am: Tea and coffee available – register and an opportunity to meet others.

10.00 am Overview: The 2009 emphasis of the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women was on - the equal sharing of responsibilities between women & men, including caregiving in the context of HIV/AIDS. We will cite excerpts – see:

Kelly Dombroski will follow this with a talk about her PhD study on women as mothers in contemporary China.

10.40 am Guest Speaker: Dr Virginia Mapedzahama from the University of Sydney, speaking about her work in regard to economics and mothering in Zimbabwe.

11.15 am Morning Tea

11.30 am Panel Discussion: (Dr Susan Goodwin, Dr Denise Ferris and Joan Garvan) Representations of women-as-mothers in Australia today are heavily contested. This is a result of changing expectations and practices both by women and within families that are importantly related to increasing numbers of women with children in the workforce. There is an ever expanding body of literature on topics related to mothering/motherhood and fathering/fatherhood, however, there are identifiable gaps evident in both academic and popular texts that forms the basis for this panel discussion.


We are circulating information about the symposium to the participants of the preceding International Conference seeking out any cross-over between our local A-MIRCI network and this wider community. The afternoon session will be fluid & provide the opportunity for participants to give a short introduction to their research, their networks & their hopes for the future. This session will work by way of a conversation circle with a round-up session between 3 & 5pm.This event is jointly sponsored by the ANU and the Australian Motherhood Initiative for Research and Community Involvement (A-MIRCI) formerly the Association for Research on Mothering – Australia see: This Australian group is associated with MIRCI based in Toronto.

The only cost for the day is for your lunch and morning and afternoon teas. If you would like further information and/or to register for the event please send an email to and/or or phone: 6161 6068 as soon as possible.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Women on Boards

While I'm preparing for our AMG at he local community centre (and it is mostly women I see as volunteers on local management committees), a piece in SMH today about the lack of women on boards.

Parents who send their daughters to all- girl schools may celebrate the higher academic outcomes but they underestimate the importance of networking.

Men network endlessly through school, sport, university and business - partly explaining why they keep promoting their mates and associates to the top positions.

Australia's unhealthy focus on contact sports such as AFL, rugby union and rugby league make the networking challenge for women even harder. There are still five AFL clubs with no women on their boards.

As a nation, Australia is getting a very poor return on those 55 per cent of university graduates who are women, because far too many are dropping out of the corporate race.

How can Australia's big law and accounting firms start off with a majority of female graduates and then finish with barely 10 per cent as partners and less than 5 per cent as managing partners?

One issue for women is a reluctance to self-promote.

Men routinely puff out their chests and exaggerate their performance, whereas women stand back and expect their contribution to be noticed without fanfare. This partly explains the 18 per cent pay gap in Australia between the sexes - women simply need to be more aggressive and negotiate harder when it comes to the next pay rise or promotion.

Recent studies show...

You know how everyday in the newspaper, or on tv or radio, there are reports on recent studies showing this or that? Here's how it's done.


Sunday, September 26, 2010

Monica Dux - feminism has just begun

Monica Dux co-wrote The Great Feminist Denial. She presented a speech last week on Feminism Has Failed. She argued for the negative.

To me, this groundswell of activity does not equate with ''failure''. It looks more like a renaissance.

One thing I know for certain: feminism has not failed me. It has allowed me have a career. It has given me financial independence. It encouraged me to take control of my reproduction, to value my body, to see my worth as more than what I can do in bed and what my womb can do. It has given me a sense of unity with other women, and opened my eyes to many injustices that I do not suffer, but that other women do. It has inspired me, infuriated me and challenged me.

But this isn't the point, feminism is not about ''me'' or, more correctly, what it has done for me.

Feminism is about a more just and equitable world for women, all women in all their many and varied contexts. And as long as we keep saying this - as I know my feminist sisters do - we have not failed. We've only just begun.

Is there a renaissance of feminist activity? I think so.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Hope for the planet

I've seen Tim Flannery talk a few times, and always noted how calm he is. If I knew what he knows, I'd be screaming at everyone all the time.

I consider Tim Flannery to be a great man.

He has written a new book Here on Earth: An Argument for Hope, which is being released next week. Some excerpts here:

Beckoning us towards destruction are our numbers, our dismantling of Earth's life-support system and especially our inability to unite in action to secure our common wealth. Yet we should take solace from the fact that, from the very beginning, we have loved one another and lived in company, thereby, through giving up much, forging the greatest power on Earth....

The immediate challenge is fundamental - to manage our atmospheric and oceanic global commons - and the unavoidable cost of success in this is that nations must cede real authority, as they do whenever they agree to act in common to secure the welfare of all. This does not mean the creation of a world government, simply the enforcement of common rules, for the common good.

By ordinary human measures, the climate crisis moves slowly, and so do the changes we're making to address it, so slowly, indeed, that we often fail to detect important thresholds except in retrospect. How will we know if we've turned the corner in our battle for a sustainable future? When profiteering at Gaia's expense is regarded and punished as the gravest of crimes - both because it represents a theft from the whole world, present and future, and because it may not remain mere theft but, as its consequences ramify, may become murder or genocide as well - then a sustainable future will be ours. Such a moment, if it ever comes, will close a chapter in human history - that of the frontier - which has characterised our species for 50,000 years. In early 2010 we edged a fraction closer with the commencement of a campaign to have the United Nation's International Criminal Court recognise ''ecocide'' (the heedless or deliberate destruction of the environment) as a fifth ''crime against peace''....

Perhaps Fermi's paradox tells us that we really are alone in the universe, simply because we are the first global superorganism ever to exist. After all, it's taken all of time - from the Big Bang to the present - to make the stardust that forms all life, and to forge that stardust, through evolution by natural selection, into us and our living planet. If we really are the first intelligent superorganism, then perhaps we are destined to populate all of existence, and in so doing to fulfil Alfred Russel Wallace's vision of perfecting the human spirit in the vastness of the universe. From our present vantage point we cannot know such things. But I am certain of one thing - if we do not strive to love one another, and to love our planet as much as we love ourselves, then no further human progress is possible here on Earth.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Adding to parental anxiety, then backtracking

Twice this week I've read quotes from women who have contributed to the rise of parental anxiety backtracking from their contribution.

Firstly Robin Barker, who wrote Baby Love, says she wishes the book would disappear.

Barker, a midwife and child and family health nurse, approved of the move away from a harsh, distant style of raising children - ''it's just that it all went mad''. She believes having children has become a form of project management, parents obsessing about the little details such as whether their baby should have one spoon of cereal or two and taking to extremes a vision of their children as extensions of themselves.

''There's this incredible competition about whose child is doing what first, right from when they're little babies,'' she says.

''But we can't discount the pressure they're under from external childcare people like me. Honestly, I'd ditch my books now, I'm over all this. I actually wrote them initially to help with some of this stuff but in some ways I think I've made it worse. I really wouldn't care if they disappeared off the face of the Earth.''

Then Nigella Lawson says that cooking is a chore, and parents shouldn't be presenting it as fun for kids. She doesn't however, acknowledge in this piece her contribution to that outcome.

Today's parents, she suggested, mistakenly believed that they had to make cooking "all fun and recreational".

"My mother was a great believer in child labour," Lawson said.

"From quite a young age, five and six probably, my sister and I would be propped up on rickety wooden chairs and put to work."

She added: "I think there was a different view of childhood then - we were expected to be useful to our parents. So we were trained up very early and we all took turns cooking my father's (former chancellor Nigel Lawson's) breakfast."

The mother of two said: "Nowadays, I think parents sometimes feel they have to get into children's television presenter mode and make cooking all fun and recreational, whereas we were just required to help get a meal on the table.

"It just felt normal. I didn't realise I was learning to cook."

She told the magazine: "My mother was a fantastic cook, but often she would be whipping up a mayonnaise, as we helped, with resentment, because she had four children to tend to and you can't be looking after a family of four and constantly be thinking, 'Oh, this is great.'"

The food writer, who served up her first dish on her own, a steamed jam roly poly, at the age of 10, added: "It becomes a chore, because in many ways it is."

Lawson said that she does "not cook seven different things in a week" and that her teenaged children, Cosima, 16, who is known as Mimi, and Bruno, 14, eat a lot of pasta.

Interesting. I keep saying it - intensive parenting has peaked.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Menarche, Menstruation, Menopause

I have five years left of bleeding. My mother had menopause at 52, when she had a stroke. Pretty handy to do both at once. My oldest sister at 50, and my next sister said at 50 that she hadn't bled for a year, so she was done. I'm expecting menopause to be great, and I'm looking forward to it. So I have four or five years left, and I'm going to talk about periods.

For thirty odd years I've been having periods and never mentioned them. I wonder at women who answer 'I've got my period' when I ask 'how are you? because I've always considered periods to be a private matter, but now, with a few years left, it is my chance to talk about it. I've been discreet for thirty odd years. I've managed my periods with discretion, pretending to all onlookers that nothing is going on. No-one outside my household would ever know if I was shedding the lining of my unfertilised womb or not. Not any more.

I've talked to my kids about them. They know where babies come from, and what periods are. When we saw an ad on tv for new pads that have flowers on them my eight year old said 'What's the point of that when they'll just get blood on them?' So proud. We've come a long way since girls were told they had rocks in their stomach, or when girls were told nothing and thought that bleeding meant they were dying. I'm glad. I was raised in a household of six females and three males, and all the females were discreet. We kept a brown paper bag of supplies under our beds, and discreetly carried what we needed to the bathroom, and disposed of the waste in the incinerator. I'm old enough to have used belted pads, pinned onto knickers. Yes I am. There were certainly no advertisements for sanitary products on television, and when they started, I was highly embarrassed. Highly. If we had a day home from school due to period pain my mother would say to my father we had 'women's troubles'. Enough said. My mother was told she wasn't to wash her hair when she had her period, or go swimming, because she would get brain damage. Way to keep women in their place.

I recently read 'My Little Red Book', edited by Rachel Kauder Nalebuff. It is a collection of stories about women and girls' first periods. What struck me was how excited the mothers were about their daughters starting their periods. And how the daughters met their mother's excitement. Some girls seem to have started at camp, away from their mothers, then pretended that their second was their first in order to please their mothers. What's that about? And the girls were all happy to start. They wanted to start. They didn't want to be the last amongst their friends. Some pretended they had started when they hadn't. Why the hurry? And most of them had read 'Are you There God? It's Me Margaret', which was published in 1970. I haven't read it. Surely there must be other books since that came out. Anyway, I'm happy for my kids to read 'My Little Red Book' when the time comes.

Part of the money raised from the book sales go to help organisations that support women's health and education. One of them is in Kenya, The Health and Water Foundation. They provide toilets, sanitary supplies and female teachers to help keep girls in school who otherwise would stay home when they have their period. A cause I had never heard of before, never thought of, and one that is worth supporting.

I know that girls start their periods earlier these days. Some of my daughters' friends, the larger ones, have breast buds. My girls are slight and small and likely to start later rather then sooner. I'm glad.

I wouldn't wish periods on anyone. Having periods is not fun. It is natural, sure, and a sign of good health, but it is a pain. Literally, and a pain to manage. I won't be cheering when my kids start. I'll be telling them, on one hand, to do whatever they would normally do, but on the other hand, if you feel you need to rest, this is your time to rest. Personally, I never schedule to host a party when my period is due. I know I don't feel like doing extra work and coping with extra stress, so I schedule around my period.

Menstruation is a feminist issue. It is something that women are dealing with all through their reproductive lives. Pain, mood swings, how it affects relationships and workplace performance. Some say PMT is the way women make a stand on all the issues they've been putting up with. It clears the air. It is all real, and in order to be taken seriously in the workplace, we feel we need to pretend it doesn't happen. We try to medicalise it away. Or we pretend it doesn't matter. But it does.

With my four or five years left, I'm going sustainable. When I was at university I used to use sea sponges instead of tampons. I'd rinse them in a solution of diluted tea tree oil and apple cider vinegar. I'm going to do that again. And I'm going to get a moon cup. No more landfill for me.

There has been a movement recently to bring menstruation into the open. Menstruation is now a site of feminist activism. While I'm not quite up to using menstrual blood in art works, these quotes from an article in The Guardian last year are interesting:

'It seems that menstrual activism (otherwise known as radical menstruation, menstrual anarchy, or menarchy) is having a moment. The term is used to describe a whole range of actions, not all considered political by the person involved: simple efforts to speak openly about periods, radical affronts to negative attitudes and campaigns for more environmentally friendly sanitary products. (It is estimated that a woman will dispose of 11,400 tampons in her lifetime – an ecological disaster.)...

Next spring, Chris Bobel, associate professor of women's studies at the University of Massachusetts Boston, publishes New Blood: Third Wave Feminism and the Politics of Menstruation. Most menstrual activists, says Bobel, "begin by thinking, wait a minute! Do we have to regard our period as something dirty? Do we have to greet a girl's first period with silence? And then they get interested in challenging that.

So, the kids will be starting while I will be stopping. It will be interesting. I'll celebrate with them when they start. And support them however I can. But I won't be excited. It doesn't mean they are women; they'll still be kids. I'll be excited when I stop.

So here are some resources about menstruation. I'm glad I have more information to give to my kids than my mum could give to her children.

Cups and cloth pads

About advertising for sanitary products not allowed to say 'vagina' or down there'.

A story about Kotex mocking their own riding-a-horse/frolicking-on-the-beach/doing-yoga-in-white-pants advertisements.

A documentary film - looks good - I'd like to see it with the kids

About menstruation - a good student project - and I think it includes part of the film I was shown in high school

The Museum of Menstruation and Women's heath - interesting - wow!

video of the period fairy

How do you feel about your period?
What have you told your kids about it?

You too?

Here's how it played out.

We were watching tv and an ad came on for the U2 Sydney concert. My partner said 'Oh, I've tickets to that. You didn't want to come, did you?'


No, probably not.

The truth is I couldn't be bothered. I could go, but I would have to organise a babysitter, I'd have to get to the venue and back again, and I'd be amongst thousands of people who I don't really want to mill about with, and it would be LOUD, and, I'd probably be tired, and, you see, I just couldn't be bothered.

I never play their music at home, and I hear them enough, probably too much, on the radio.

Last year when every Australian female between fourteen and fifty went to the Pink concert I went online to buy tickets and during the transaction backed out thinking, I really couldn't be bothered.

I've been to good gigs. I've seen Michael Jackson and Prince, Bruce Springsteen, Patti Smith, Bob Dylan, Sinead O'Connor and Sufjin Stevens, The Damned and Iggy Pop, David Bowie and lots of Australian indie acts.

I've been to concerts. I'd probably make an effort to see Bjork, or kd lang or a few other performers. When The Festival of Sydney acts are announced each year I look up the artists on you tube and buy the cds of performers I like, but I don't go to the gigs. Mostly now I'm quite happy to stay home.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Keeping it all together

Everytime I get my hair cut, which isn't often, I realise how I'm aging. When I look at myself in the mirror at home I don't smile. I look blank and wrinkle-free. When I smile at the hairdresser's I see all the wrinkles of 45 years of smiling. I don't dye my hair - I couldn't be bothered, and, maybe, I don't want to hang around too long at the hairdressers, but I do have props to help keep me together now that I'm aging.

I have a rubber ring called Robbie, that I sit on at the computer. That's because I fractured my coccyx while birthing my now eight year old. It was a quick delivery (which I earned after the long labour of the previous child) and apparently the damage was done because the midwife didn't catch the baby in time. Who knew?

I also have one of those elastic bandages that velcro around my lower back. For when I sit too long without Robbie.

I wear a splint on my top teeth when I go to bed. It isn't attractive, no, and almost impossible to talk whilst wearing it. I have it because a) my jaw was clicking when I spoke and b) to stop me from grinding and cracking my teeth. After root canal therapy (therapy, ha ha), having a titanium implant (which means a series of operations - and the implant goes up to my apparently low sinus cavity - not fun), and having crowns, I want to protect the teeth I have.

I have reading glasses which I hardly ever wear. I still feel a bit silly wearing them. I got my eyes tested because my youngest child looked smudgier than the previous two. My mother suggested I just keep her at arms' length. At least I didn't take my daughter to the doctor saying 'I think there is something wrong with her - she's smudgy'. I know I need them because I think of them when I try to shave my armpits in the shower and can't see what I'm supposed to be doing.

And now I'm back at the gym. Partly because I like to fit into my summer dresses, and middle aged spread is real. But mostly because I want to be able to move when I'm older. Walking to and from school and hanging out washing does not constitute an exercise regime. I don't really need to be fit, but I do need for my muscles to not seize up. And I'm short. I can't afford a stoop.

I bring ear plugs to the gym because I have hearing damage. I think everyone in the western world has hearing damage. I don't have an ipod, and haven't been to live gigs much of late, but did enough gig-going in my youth to damage my hearing. Loud noises are now painful. Movies, live venues, children's dance concerts, gyms - all too loud for me. Ear plugs are my friends.

As are those spots at the gym that aren't in front of the mirrors.

Festival of Dangerous Ideas

The upcoming Festival of Dangerous Ideas has two events about motherhood.

There will be a talk presented by Lenore Skenazy, known as 'America's wort mom' because she let her 9 year old son catch the subway on his own. She runs the site Free Range Kids. Her talk is called Is Freedom Too Dangerous for Kids? And there will be a presentation by Anne Manne, who wrote Motherhood: How Should We care For Our Children?,on Are Children Worth It? This is in reaction to the story from NYT which I quoted here earlier.

Some of the other talks are ones in which I think the whole idea might be in the blurb, and I doubt going to the whole talk would provide much more enlightenment. Perhaps these talks are the same, but I want to support public discussion about mothering, so I'm going. I'll report back.

The festival is on at the Opera House Oct 2 & 3. These talks are on the Sunday afternoon. Let me know if you want to meet up.

Friday, September 17, 2010

If that was my holiday, I've had it.

My uni break is over.

I didn't go to the movies. I didn't clean out my wardrobe, or the kids' room, or my papers. I didn't catch up with friends or visit my mum.

I did clean the fridge and mop the kitchen floor. I did go to the gym. I did use my Mothers Day voucher for a facial, and got my hair cut. I baked some biscuits and mended the school uniforms. And I did learn to play ukulele.

Also I booked the kids into lots of activities for their school holidays, which start next week. I'm hoping to keep them occupied so I can keep studying. Here's hoping.

Six more weeks and I'll be a quarter of the way through my MA in English. The kids have lots going on too - preparing for end of year shows. In fact, on Tuesday, each of the kids are meant to be somewhere special during schooltime. One is meant to be in two places at once. I can't run her from one to the other and still look after the other kids, and get us all to her evening performance. It would have been handy to work out how to clone myself, or her, but I was busy mopping the floor.

It's going to be a crazy busy six weeks.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Feminist activist Kat Banyard

I was thinking of writing about needing more fun, when I read this article in The Guardian on Kat Banyard, who wrote The Equality Illusion. Fun can wait.

Some quotes:

In some ways, she is a slightly unlikely feminist figurehead. She is modest, mild mannered, quiet, with just a subtle edge of intensity when she speaks. I ask where her incredible drive comes from – the motivation that has led her to pursue full-time feminist activism, without pay, while many of her peers are (often understandably) forging careers based on the size of their salaries. Is she driven by anger? No again. "I think I just like seeing the best in humanity. If you believe in the inherent dignity of people, in justice and human rights, then feminism is for you. It says that rape isn't natural for men, that men aren't inherently violent, and that women aren't just naturally insecure about their bodies and other issues. The best of us is to be found in feminism. I find that hugely inspiring." (It's no surprise, on some level, when Banyard half-jokingly says that Lisa Simpson is her feminist heroine – she does seem to share a prodigious, thoughtful morality with that small, yellow cartoon character.)

In March, Faber published Banyard's book, The Equality Illusion, and she decided to sink the money from her deal into activism. In the book, she lays out the issues facing women – including domestic and sexual violence, the pay gap and abortion rights – and sketches out ways to tackle them. It is a great introduction for anyone who hasn't followed the women's movement closely, and while it is faintly familiar territory to those who have, it is still an enormous achievement, packed with eye-popping and fundamentally depressing statistics. Women own just 1% of the world's land and property; murder is the leading cause of death for pregnant women in the US; each year an estimated 5.1 million women worldwide are left permanently disabled or infertile – and 68,000 die – as a result of unsafe abortion....

There are many other details to make you weep. I knew that it is estimated that tens of thousands of women are raped in the UK each year, and I knew that the rape conviction rate stands at 6.5%. I did not know, as Banyard points out, that "a diversity or vulnerability issue is identified in more than 40% of reported rape cases – mental health or learning disabilities being the most frequent." Not surprisingly, the horrendously low rape conviction rate is even lower in these cases.....

Banyard's interests are broad-based. She isn't content with working on a single issue, but aims to tear down the entire spider's web of sexual inequality. When I ask what most fires her, what she would concentrate on if she could attack only one issue, she slowly, ardently, argues – true to form – for two. The first is the sex industry. She says that in terms of the basic arguments, people generally accept that rape is bad, and that we need more women in power. But ask people about the sex industry, and the arguments are still ongoing. There are continued suggestions that prostitution is just another potentially enjoyable career choice, that pornography has no ill effects whatsoever. "There's so much misinformation about the reality of the sex industry," she says, "what it does to the women involved, what it does to consumers, and what it does to all women in society."....

Banyard points out in her book that the porn industry is now estimated to be worth $97bn (£63bn) a year, "more than the combined revenue of Microsoft, Google, Amazon, Yahoo!, eBay, Apple, Netflix and EarthLink". Her concern is that this industry is proliferating unchecked; we have absolutely no idea how a world with so much pornography and prostitution might play out. "We're currently experiencing a level of sexual exploitation which is industrialised," she says, "the scale of which is unparalleled in human history. We don't know exactly what the effects are going to be – we just know that they will be big, and we need to deal with it urgently."

The other issue that Banyard is most passionate about, she says, "is men". She bursts out laughing, then elaborates. She says that the future of feminism "depends on men's engagement – it needs them, and it also helps them . . . Right now, manhood is highly political, it means being in control, often being aggressive, and essentially being dominant over women. Until we change that, we won't end rape, we won't end all sorts of violence and mistreatment. And that level of change can't just be imposed from the outside. Men have to be involved in the process of change."

Friday, September 10, 2010

Helping women in the Congo

Some people say the worst place in the world to be a women today is in the Democratic Republic of Congo. If you want to know what is happening there, this is a good place to start. The region is so dangerous that there are NGOs that don't operate there.

I've suggested in our Community Centre newsletter that the people of my community could do something to help these women. I've suggested we hold a fundraiser, a cake and craft stall at our local council festival day, which, I hope will be easy to organise, and should raise about $3000 to help.

We'll see if my community is interested.

Leave the kids alone

In SMH today.

Perhaps the intensive parenting trend is waning. Not sure that kids love a tipsy mum, though...

Hey helicopter parents, just leave the kids alone
Julia Baird
September 11, 2010

The most refreshing piece of advice I have heard lately on raising children comes, curiously enough, from D.H. Lawrence, who wrote in 1918: ''How to begin to educate a child. First rule: leave him alone. Second rule: leave him alone. Third rule: leave him alone. That is the whole beginning.'' Could we be any more different today?

It's true that D.H. Lawrence would struggle to get a job as a manny (male nanny) in these self-flagellating, hyper-involved times. Especially if he let slip that he believed babies should ''be given to stupid fat old women who can't be bothered with them''. But something about his recommendation to just let children be rings true.

Our hand-wringing about the best, most righteous - and time-intensive - ways to steer our kids to shining futures seems to have reached a fever pitch lately, and it doesn't seem to be doing anyone much good.

Anxious parents have become a staple of modern culture: they have been called helicopter parents, snow-plough parents, hovercrafts and PFH (Parents From Hell), and they are frequently parodied. For years, sociologists worried that hyper-involved parenting would make children emotionally dependent and unable to fend for themselves.

Now, new research by Margaret Nelson, Professor of Sociology at Middlebury College, Vermont, shows that it is not the children who suffer, but the parents. They become so focused on their kids that their marriages suffer and often fracture, they spend less time with their friends, in their community and often are deeply unhappy as a result.

And this is one of the great hidden truths in our culture, behind the Kleenex ads and snaps of taut celebrity mothers: many parents are miserable. In the past decade, a ream of studies has confirmed that those who have kids are less happy than those who don't have kids - they only become happier when their children leave home.

Parents consistently score lower on scales of life satisfaction, marital satisfaction and mental well-being. Daniel Gilbert, Harvard Professor of Psychology, found parents were happier sleeping or shopping for groceries than spending time with their children.

At first glance, this shows the most obvious shortcomings of the study of happiness, which does not factor in a deeper joy, sense of purpose, or fulfilment. It focuses instead on days, or minutes, or moments.

Having kids is one of the most mind-blowing, blissful experiences, which can stretch and pummel your heart daily. But it can also be hard - and there is something peculiar about this generation that begs examination: we consistently tell pollsters we are unhappy parents, and we broadcast that fact more than any other.

Today's mums and dads are twice as stressed as they were in the 1950s. Part of this is our own fault: the intense parenting style chosen by the middle class has added to the burden, and misery - since 1965 the amount of time mothers spend on all child-care activities has risen even as more women have entered the workforce.

This should be a good thing. But, counter-intuitively, while we are more involved, we are also less happy. This may well be correlation, but in a new book, Parenting Out of Control, Margaret Nelson argues that part of the reason for our offspring over-reach is technology; from baby monitors to cell phones and social networking sites, which allow us to communicate with, supervise and spy on our kids.

She also finds highly educated adults, who are also spending more time at work, are the most obsessive parents. We have made parenting a profession, pushed ourselves to achieve an impossible ''perfection'', and punished ourselves by sacrificing our own lives.

This is why parents need to chill out, for our own sakes. We should return to the model espoused by British author Tom Hodgkinson, whose amusing and provocative book The Idle Parent: Why More Means Less When Raising Kids is the stuff of fantasy for modern parents. He advocates pleasure, laughter, relaxation, leaving the kids alone.

Hodgkinson's manifesto reads, in part: ''We reject the idea that parenting requires hard work. We pledge to leave our children alone. We read them poetry and fantastic stories without morals. We don't waste money on family days out and holidays. We lie in bed for as long as possible. We try not to interfere. We play in the fields and forests. We push them into the garden and shut the door so we can clean the house. Time is more important than money. We fill the house with music and merriment.''

There are some mad and foolish moments in Hodgkinson's book, but in parts, I cheered. Who wouldn't want to hang out at his house? Why not allow your children to entertain themselves on weekend mornings as you sleep in, perhaps - gasp - with some TV, like we did? Why not spend hours singing with them, playing music, dancing and napping? We should give them as much free time as possible to foster their imaginations and self-reliance. Then maybe even drink a glass of wine at bath time because, after all, Hodgkinson says, ''kids love a tipsy mum''. Instead of constantly 'investing in the future', he suggests contemplating the present. Instead of resenting our kids for relentless demands, we should stop thinking of ourselves as martyrs, loosen up and enjoy them more.

And it's hard not to disagree with statements like these: ''It is our habit of seeing life as a series of burdens imposed on us by outside forces that creates misery. Once we recognise that we are free and responsible creatures the burden is lifted.'' More pleasure, more laughter, more free-roaming imaginations - less misery, more mayhem and madness. Amen to that.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

First-time Mum - A collection of experiences of becoming a mum

I wrote a piece for this book, and now it is published.

You can see it here:

My piece is how motherhood, for me, was a political awakening, and how it challenges my feminism. I wrote what I wish someone had told me when I had my first child. I hope it helps.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Blessing for Helena Botham Carter

This made me smile.

The Essential Baby site (linked to major newspapers)is running these pictures of celebrity mums doing the school run.

Some are surrounded by paparazzi, some look like they just stepped out of the gym/hairdressers, some have probably just seen a surgeon to correct the deformities to their feet caused by walking in those very high heels, and some look like regular women just going about their business.

And then there is Helena Botham Carter, an actor who could have gone the glam career path but chose to marry Tim Burton (they live in neighbouring houses with a connecting door)and have fun with dark and wicked characters instead. Looks like she has better things to do than see a stylist for everyday wear.

I can relate. And that apron with the big pocket looks very practical.

Did you know Helena Botham Carter is part of a fashion line called Pantaloonies. She and her friend revive your old jeans for you by sewing on frills. Most of the money it raises goes to charity.

Monday, September 06, 2010

Ethics Trial in NSW Public Schools

The Ethics Trial is being evaluated and there should a decision soon. Here's hoping.

I want to address the concerns raised by the groups who object to the ethics class.

Would the Anglicans be happy if the same course was run under the name 'Humanist Philosophy?'

I don't wonder at Catholics questioning how to determine right from wrong without reference to the bible - that's the point of the class. I believe the course would explore how we know right from wrong, through asking a series of questions. It is about the children working out answers for themselves. Or working through a process of thinking, without finding answers, but acknowledging that such processes can be complex.

The churches complain that they were not consulted. It isn't about them. That's the point. It is about redressing the current discrimination which, by policy, a policy written in conjunction with the churches, means that children who are not attending scripture class are not allowed to learn anything in that timeslot. That is discrimination. It would be discrimination if it were by gender, by nationality, by religion.

What are they so afraid of?

Judgment day looms for verdict on ethics classes pilot
Jacqueline Maley
September 7, 2010

The future of the controversial pilot of ethics classes in NSW schools is in the hands of an independent evaluator who will deliver her verdict this month.

Dr Sue Knight, an academic at the University of South Australia, is wading through submissions from religious organisations including Presbyterian Youth and the Sydney diocese of the Anglican church, and Cardinal George Pell and Bishop Peter Ingham on behalf of the Catholic Church.

Education Department officials and representatives of the Parents and Citizens' Association have had face-to-face interviews with Dr Knight. The state government is set to base its decision on Dr Knight's report.

The general manager of Presbyterian Youth, Murray Norman, complained that there was a lack of transparency with the trial and said it was difficult to obtain information about it.

The Anglican submission argued confusion was created by labelling the lessons ''ethics'' when the classes were in fact focused on the process of philosophical inquiry and did not give ethical or moral instruction.

As a consequence the trial was flawed and should not be used as the basis for introducting a permanent ethics program in schools, the Anglicans said. If the government wanted to continue with a parallel program of non-religious instruction in the scripture hour, a trial of "humanist philosophy" should be undertaken.

The Catholic Church submission criticised the implementation process for the trial, its content and its ''inadequacies in providing students with a clear framework for discussing and making decisions about what is right and wrong'', a spokesman, Jude Hennessy, said.

The Inter-Church Commission on Religious Education in Schools noted in its submission the apology of the Education Minister, Verity Firth, ''regarding the lack of consultation with any SRE [special religious education] stakeholders prior to the introduction of the lessons''.

Ms Firth visited Crown Street Public yesterday and was given a book of feedback from year 5 and 6 students who have attended the ethics class this year.

Student comments were overwhelmingly positive, said Lesley Holden, the ethics co-ordinator at the school.

''There was so much noise about it in the media I was concerned that what was actually happening in the pilot … there was no way that the children doing the course could be heard.''

Ms Firth said if the trial was approved as a continuing program it would be on equal footing with the religious education classes in the same time slot.

Workplace discrimination

More news about gender based workplace discrimination. I have female friends who are scientists and report that being a mother is not compatible with being a scientist. I know an female engineer who doesn't have children because she believes she couldn't continue her career if she did.

A work in progress. Still.

Birth of a baby too often kills parental career

Rachel Hills
September 7, 2010

Expecting total sacrifice to the workplace ignores changes in gender roles.

REGARDLESS of whether Julia Gillard or Tony Abbott is declared prime minister at the conclusion of the most protracted federal election result in history, one thing is for certain: come January, Australia will finally have a paid parental leave scheme.

It's a victory that is 40 years in the making, and one that will make a real difference to many young families. But the more important changes for equality, both in the workplace and at home, are still to come.

Last week, the Association of Professional Engineers, Scientists and Managers Australia released its Women in the Professions report, which surveyed 1100 Australian women in the sciences, engineering and management. The results are sobering. Nearly 40 per cent of respondents had been bullied, 38 per cent had been discriminated against based on their gender, and 20 per cent reported that they had been sexually harassed - suggesting that the recent David Jones furore is just one drop in a much larger pond.

What is most striking about the findings, however, is the extent to which many women are still struggling to combine family and working life. Australia's birth rate may be on the rise again, but the women surveyed were acutely aware of the negative impact having children was likely to have on their career prospects. One woman tells how a male colleague, upon discovering she was pregnant, sent her an email, saying: ''I am so sorry to hear of your pregnancy. You had so much potential, you would have been a great scientist.''

''I took it as a personal affront when I received it,'' she said. ''Now, I believe he was commenting on the way he knew the academic science industry worked, and the effect it has on most mothers.''

She is not alone. Nearly 70 per cent of respondents said that taking parental leave - paid or otherwise - was likely to be detrimental to their career, despite legally having access to the leave. A similar proportion of those who were already parents said that having children had affected their career progress.

While at first glance these issues might appear to affect women more than men, they are not simply a matter of unbridled gender discrimination. Rather, they are indicative of old-fashioned structures which assume that the ideal worker is one who is willing and able to sacrifice everything on the altar of their career.

Such assumptions may have worked fine in the old days of gender-divided labour, in which men went out to work and women looked after the home, but for some time we have lived in a world in which both sexes expect to spend most of their adult years working.

Increasingly, men and women want to share the responsibility for looking after the household and caring for children more equitably. Just as women don't want to be chained to the home, men don't want to be chained to their desks. Both genders are seeking a balance that allows them to make a contribution to public life, without sacrificing their private life or mental health.

Add to that the reluctance of many in their 20s and 30s to give up their freedom and independence in exchange for a fatter pay cheque, and you've got a significant disjunct between employee and employer attitudes.

But while some companies have responded to these shifts, offering more flexible working hours and conditions, many continue to lag. And if taking leave or going part-time is thought to signify a lack of commitment to work when women do it, it is received even more poorly when men do.

One woman quoted in the report tells how she and her husband initially tried to share their child-rearing responsibilities, but quickly found that it was far easier for her to negotiate flexible work arrangements than it was for her partner. ''There was an expectation from my husband's employer that I would be the one to assume those duties and I had to compromise my return to full-time work to avoid stress to my husband's employment,'' she said.

The truth is that some achievements - becoming prime minister or a High Court judge, finding cures for diseases or writing the great Australian novel - do require extraordinary levels of commitment and significant personal sacrifice. But if we're honest with ourselves, most workers - and most jobs, even professional ones - aren't operating at that level.

Most of us just want to do our work well (preferably in a field we like and are good at), be recognised for our efforts, and take home enough money to enjoy the non-work things we care about. There's little reason these aims can't be achieved as easily in a 30-hour work week as they can in a 60-hour one.

Nor is it the case that long hours always equal better ideas and bigger innovations. We're not just robbing women and men who choose to have families of their individual opportunities for career advancement, we're also robbing ourselves of some of our best and brightest minds. Just ask the 24 per cent of women scientists who expect to have left their profession within five years.

Rachel Hills edits ''Musings of an Inappropriate Woman'', a blog on the politics of everyday life.

Source: The Age

Saturday, September 04, 2010

Name It Change It

In Australia we are seeing a sexual discrimination case like never before, which, hopefully, has made corporations realise that sexual harassment in the workplace is not acceptable. The Name It Change It campaign started in the US last year. It reminds us of the subtle and not-so subtle ways that language is used to denigrate women, in this case, in the media reporting on female candidates. The words included on their Pyramid of Egregiousness are interesting.

Do we need reminding? Oh yes we do.

Once again. Weren't we doing this in the 1970s? Why are we moving so slowly? Will my children still be dealing with sexual harassment in the workplace, as I did, and defending themselves against language that treats them as less than fully human?

I've talked to my kids about this. I hope I'm equipping them now with the skills to say, as I've said, 'That's not OK'.

Friday, September 03, 2010

Hooter hiders

A trend in the UK and US: hooter hiders. An apron like garment you wear when breastfeeding in public.

I breastfed three babies, often in public, and was never very concerned about covering up. No-one ever told me I was offensive, or looked at me as if I was doing anything wrong. People often made supportive comments, or smiled at me.

I found that, before breastfeeding, I couldn't imagine doing it. When breastfeeding, I wondered if I would forevermore be lobbing my boobs out in public. But no. When they had served their purpose I packed them away until next time.

The only time I thought twice about breastfeeding in public was at Bangkok airport.

So, I'm thinking the hooter hiders are a bad idea. And unattractive. And badly named. And people need to see that breastfeeding is normal and natural.