Sunday, May 29, 2011

How Slutwalk runs counter to other feminist action

How do feminists protest and is it for attention or for power?

Whilst it is heartening to see young women being active for women’s rights, and embracing feminism, the means of the Slutwalk protest begs some questions.

Any one feminist protest can’t be all things to everybody. All feminists support the main message; ‘no-one deserves to be raped’, while some feminists question the attempt to embrace the word ‘slut’. However, it is likely the protest would not have garnered the attention it has without the use of the word. This isn’t a problem specific to Slutwalk.

There is a group in the Ukraine called Femen which initially formed to protest against the growth of prostitution and sex tourism in their country. They protest by being topless. They have since campaigned about other issues, using other means, such as mud-wrestling. Most of the members of the group are young; the average age is 22. They are the most known feminist group in the Ukraine, where one in eight sex workers are university or school students. The problem could be looked at as funding for students, or availability of work, but the message is muddled by the means of protest.

Although some feminists believe the means of protest does a disservice to women, that is, reinforce sexualised stereotypes, a spokesperson for the Femen group says “We don’t want to be traditional feminists. Women’s organisations and groups here only write papers and nothing more. We need activists who will scream and leave their clothes in the street.”

Fair enough. They don’t see the point of writing papers, but don’t they see that they need to be more creative? Protesting about the sexualisation, stereotyping and sale of women by taking off your clothes might get attention, but not serious attention. It doesn't get you power. It plays by the rules of the game that you are objecting to. Time for a new game with new rules.

There are many other ways feminists are taking action.

France is considering joining other European countries such as Sweden, Norway and Iceland, in making the buying of sex illegal. This means the client will be charged, fined and/or imprisoned. Some object to the move, saying it will simply make prostitution more dangerous for sex workers. Iceland has also banned sex clubs and profits from nudity, so, no lapdancing and no topless waitressing. The prime minister is a lesbian woman. She has married her female partner, because same sex marriage is legal there. Almost half the parliamentarians are female. Iceland ranks fourth, behind Norway, Finland and Sweden, on the international gender gap index. The message is clear: women are not for sale.

As a younger woman I may have marched at Slutwalk. But as a mother, I have to run these things through a daughter test. Would I want my daughters walking with me? Do I defend the right for my daughters to identify as sluts? No and no. The answer would be the same if I had sons. Calling a woman a slut is an attempt to denigrate her. Identifying as one is more problematic. How about saying a person’s sexual preference or history is nobody’s business? How about sticking to the slogan that no-one deserves to be raped? Slutwalk runs counter to the good work feminist mothers have been doing to change society for their children.

Maternal feminists, along with child health experts, are campaigning against a range of gendered issues: child beauty pageants, violent video games that denigrate women, gender stereotyped clothing and toys marketed to children, sexualised gender stereotyped advertisements on billboards, magazines with pornographic images displayed in public places, language in public discourse that denigrates women, music and costumes in dance schools that are too sexualised for children. Feminists are talking back to businesses and advertisers. These issues come together in forums such as the Right2Childhood conferences. Mothers are directing their children to toys, clothes, performers, musicians and artists who do not play the slut card to get attention.

We need more of them. We need more female designers, writers, directors, musicians. And many more women in advertising and business who can take their feminism to the places of power where decisions about our culture are made. Without taking off their clothes.

Many women around the world are working in advocacy and agency, that is, investing in women and girls in developing countries to assist their family’s and community’s move out of poverty and into dignity. The newly appointed head of UN Women, Michelle Bachelet, has real power to make change. Women working as health workers in rural communities are making change happen. Women who insist on being part of peace talks are making change happen. Women working to help the 1100 women a day who are raped in the Congo identify as feminists. Women who help women and girls escape the sex trade are feminists. Women who work with infant and maternal health in developing countries are feminists. And women who give money to charities and NGOs who work for change are taking feminist action. None of them are campaigning to identify as sluts.

There is much more work to be done. We need more action. Surely there are better ways to claim power and make change happen than take off your clothes and take to the streets.

Theatre and young people

After my rants that Sydney theatre is too prone to sensationalism for it own sake, blokey, and about bodily fluids, I’ve been talking to a local playwright. She works with young theatre groups and tells me that young people (aged say 13 -25) only want to be involved in theatre about sex, drugs and violence. The swearing (theirs, not mine) is assumed. A dance teacher I know says the same thing.

As someone who is training to teach drama to teenagers, this gives me pause.

Will I be able to engage young people in theatre without incorporating sex, drugs and violence? Should I just accept it as a developmental phase and go with it? Or can I steer young theatre practitioners in another direction? Why is it that we protect our primary school aged kids so fiercely, then when they turn 15 they can access all the M15+ material they can get their hands on. It is all Red Bull, sex, drugs, language and violence. The material they cover in class encourages it. Yes, they need to engage with adult concepts sometime, but will they also love the classics? Maybe classics with adult themes? Maybe classics with drugs, sex, violence and swearing? Hello Shakespeare! Hello Tennessee Williams!

I do remember what it was like to be seventeen, and thinking that I knew everything, and that I was an adult, and the old people didn’t understand.

Now I’m one of those old people. I find myself thinking, ‘why can’t the young people just talk nicely to each?’

But hey. STC made a profit last year, so maybe I just need to get with the programme. We can do sex, drugs and violence, but in a nice way.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

What do feminists do to get attention?

Undress, of course.

And I’m not just talking about Slutwalk.

There is a group in the Ukraine called Femen which initially formed to protest against the explosion of prostitution and sex tourism in their country. They protest by being topless. They have since campaigned about other issues, using other means,just as mud-wrestling. Most of the members of the group are young; the average age is 22. They are the most known feminist group in the Ukraine, where one in eight sex workers are university or school students.

Although some feminists believe the means of protest do a disservice to women, that is, reinforce sexualised stereotypes, a spokesperson for the group says “We don’t want to be traditional feminists.. Women’s organisations and groups here only write papers and nothing more. We need activists who will scream and leave their clothes in the street.”

Meanwhile, France is considering joining other European countries such as Sweden, Norway and Iceland, in making the buying of sex illegal. This means the client will be charged, fined and/or imprisoned. Some object to the move, saying it will simply make prostitution more dangerous for sex workers.

So, I guess the other way feminists can make change happen is by becoming politicians.

A degree in secularism

A university in California is now offering a degree in secular studies. It is an interdisciplinary programme, so students can take classes from philosophy, history, sociology, psychology, science and religion.

The course is being offered due to the growth of irreligion. About 16% of Americans described themselves as non-religious. Between 12% and 21% of Americans identify as atheist or agnostic. One third of Canadians are secular. One in five Canadians say they don’t believe in a God. In France 33% of people are now atheists. Belguim 27%. Rates are higher in the Czech Republic, Estonia, Sweden and Slovenia.

This is a growing academic trend.


Motherhood: The Musical

From the Australian producers of the smash-hit Menopause The Musical® comes an equally hilarious, musical journey about the lives and friendships of four very different mums sharing their humorous insights into the challenges of motherhood. There's Barb, an over-worked, underpaid, stressed-out mother of five; Brooke, the lawyer, who works too much and barely sees her kids, Trisha, a single mum struggling to balance work, her family and her divorce and finally Amy, the naive young woman about to have her first child.

Having received rave reviews interstate and overseas, this musical written by award-winning singer/songwriter Sue Fabisch, features 20 sensational songs including her Top 10 Billboard Comedy hit The Kids Are Finally Asleep. You'll love this joyous musical journey as it takes a loving and funny look at the blessings and the perils of being a Mum. This is all about laughing and crying, craziness and calm, smiles and tears, all wrapped up into 90 minutes of great musical entertainment. A must see for anyone who is, has, or knows a Mum.

Tue 26 Jul - Sat 13 Aug - Everest Theatre, Sydney

Anyone want to come with me to see this?

Monday, May 23, 2011

Going to concerts alone

A few weeks ago I posted on Facebook an invitation for someone to come with me to see two artists I really want to see - Bat for Lashes, and Joan as Policewoman. I like their music. Bat For Lashes hasn’t been to Sydney before, and when Joan last played here the reviews were great. I want to see them. But my request sunk like a stone. No reply. I’m thinking my FB peers don’t know who they are. And maybe my nieces might like the music, but can’t afford to go, or are too busy, or just don’t want to go with me.

Which makes me feel... old. I’ll be going to the concerts alone, which I don’t really mind. I’m happy to go to movies alone; there isn’t much difference, except there is an interval. But I’m betting I’ll be the only lone ticket holder who isn’t on their mobile phone during interval, so looking like I don’t have any friends. I’m the age now where I’m invisible to the younger people who will be there, which gives me a kind of freedom I plan to enjoy. I’m not going to impress anybody and no-one will mind me. Also, part of me is thinking I need to get out and do these kinds of things before I’m too old. When will that be?

I’m thinking about what it means. What demographic do I belong to? I am still interested in what’s going on in the world of the arts, but have been out of the loop for a while - just too hard with young children, but they're getting older now - so I’ll just go to these things on my own. I saw Sufjan Stevens, and Iota, who were fantastic, but none of my friends know who they are either. And I have no interest in seeing the more mainstream acts that are marketed to me - Pink and Bon Jovi. Most people are just too busy to keep up with new artists, and I understand that.

So here is my conclusion. I need to start sharing music with my friends, like I used to before I had kids. And I need to actually talk to my friends more often. I need to make a point of actually phoning them, just to keep in touch. I don’t drink. I don’t text. We don’t do dinner parties. So I need to do something. Organise our own things together, without kids. Instead of just relying on bloody Facebook.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

How to Spot a Psychopath

If someone had given me this list when I was 16, I may have avoided a few of the men I went on to become involved with. So charming, those psychopaths.

And, like the film and book, The Corporation, points out, these are the qualities of successful corporations, and successful business people. (Not in the case of the men I knew. Some just ended up being criminals.)

What the story doesn't emphasis is the influence of watching violent films on the mind of the young potential criminal. Tony, the patient at the psychiatric hospital, there for committing GBH, claimed insanity based on what he had seen in violent films. His crime itself was, arguably, a copy of a scene from one of those films.

Green Parent Award Winner - congratulations Zero Waste Home

Congratulations to Bea, at Zero Waste Home, for winning the parent category at The Green Awards. Her blog is an inspiration. Have a look. She includes lots of tips on avoiding waste. She plans to use the grant to extend the message.

And see who else is doing good work on encouraging sustainability.

Well done all.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Two stories

Two stories

Two stories (I'm summarising fromTGW here - but you'll see the connection)

Made in China

You may have heard last May about a series of suicides at an Apple iPad factory in China. The company responded by issuing workers with t-shirts, to improve morale, and placing nets under the windows. Monks were brought in to exorcise evil spirits, and workers were asked to sign contracts promising not to suicide.

The workers at the Foxconn factory making iPads and iPhones are still being exploited and living dismal lives.

In the factories at Shenzhen and Chengdu about 500,000 people provide the labour for Apple, a company that made a net profit of $6 billion in the first quarter of 2011. Workers are recruited through government advertisements promising work and good pay. Most workers are aged 18-20. When workers arrive they are put through military drills run by former soldiers. The dormitories sleep up to 24 people in a room. The rules are strict. No kettles allowed. Chinese law caps overtime at 36 hours a month, however many regularly work up to 80 hours of overtime a month. The rule is that workers are entitled to one day off in seven. However one day off in thirteen is not unusual. Workers are forced to work through their lunch break. Some say they are forbidden to talk to one another.

City of Joy

City of Joy is a centre for the survivors of rape in Bukuvu, in DRC. One of its founders is Eve Ensler, who wrote The Vagina Monologues, and raises money from performances of her play. Money is also contributed by UNICEF and various foundations and donors. Eastern Congo is the rape capital of the world. A conservative estimate is that half a million women have been raped since 1998. The City of Joy was created when Eve asked the women of the Congo what they needed - shelter, a roof, a place to be safe, a place to be powerful. The women there are referred from the hospital. The gynecologist had noticed that rapes had become more brutal - women’s wombs were being destroyed with guns, sticks and glass. Says Eve Ensler, ‘If you destroy women, you destroy the Congo...Raping women is the cheapest and most effective way to instill fear in and humiliate a community. It doesn’t even cost a bullet. ‘ Says Mukwege, who has worked with these women for two decades, ‘ If you destroy enough wombs, there will be no more children. So then you can come right in and take the minerals.’ The City of Joy is owned and led by Congolese women. The program houses sixty women for six months. Survivors have counselling and learn about their rights. They also learn literacy, accounting, farming, production, business, self-defence and the internet. The space is arranged like a village. The women are empowered. This is feminism in action.

Congo is the poorest country on earth, yet rich in resources - gold, diamonds, minerals. Under Belgium rule it was plundered for rubber. Now it is coltan - a mineral used in mobile phones, laptops, iPads, which is in high demand. The history is one of many brutalities, linked to the Rwandan genocide. Women are escaping the Congolese rebel militias. Recently a lieutenant colonel and three other army officers were charged and sentenced with crimes against humanity. The other side of the problem is what becomes of former child soldiers who want to rehabilitate. Two groups are working with the army - the British NGO Christian Aid, and a Congolese church and development group, CBCA. They are running training sessions for high-ranking soldiers to teach them about civilian rights, child protection, sexual violence, and the law. Soldiers are supposed to be paid $50 a month, but in reality are not fed for days. Reform of the army may be a big part of the solution.


While we’re squabbling over plain packaging for cigarettes, lets consider the problem of smoking in China.

China has banned smoking in indoor public spaces, however, there is no penalty for breaking the ban. In China half of all men smoke. There are 300 million smokers. However, the tobacco monopoly is state-owned, and and as much as a 10th of the country’s tax revenue comes from the industry.

Monday, May 16, 2011

The Talk

Last term we had a sex education program visit the school.

The first session was for children Year 3 -6 about the basics of genitalia and reproduction. The second session, for Years 5 & 6, was about puberty and changes during adolescence. I attended the first with Clancy. Matilda (and her friends) didn’t want to go. Fair enough.
Some of the children clearly had no previous instruction on sex education. My friend had told me she wanted her children to keep their innocence as long as possible.
My favourite part the of the session was when a Year 4 girl covered her mouth with her hand and said ‘Oh My.’

It was a good session.

Others have been talking about ‘The Talk’. This from a mother who found The Talk didn’t go quite as she had hoped.

And resources for those who need a little help. This seems to be for older children. Might be best to get the facts out of the way before children become embarrassed about the conversation.

The tricky part for me is pitching the morality. What I’ve done. What I believe is healthy. What is safe. What is realistic. That the ideal doesn’t always square with the reality. That loving sex, or recreational sex, can end in disappointment and pain. Pregnancy or disease. That they need to protect themselves. That respect is key - even if that respect is to have sex and walk away. That what you do or don’t do is nobody else’s business (no slut or virgin shaming here). That sex is serious and not for children - that’s why there are laws around it. That more important than the conversations with their mother will be the conversations with their partners (but they can keep talking to their mother).

I can understand how much easier it must have been to say ‘save yourself for marriage’ - there’s a lot of protection from hurt in that, but I’m not married, and I’ve had sex (obviously), so I can just be honest. They’ll know the options and make their own way.

The reality - from the Guardian Weekly

The Obama administration released their report on the status of US women. US women earn 80 cents to a man’s dollar, are more likely than men to live in poverty, and are more likely to be stalked or killed by intimate partners. And marriage isn’t what it used to be. Fewer women are marrying, they are marrying later and for reasons other than having children. The more egalitarian the relationship within marriage the better. Couples and children are happier and healthier (and have more sex) if both parents work and share the caring (including housework) responsibilities. A college education for the woman has benefits all round; their children do better at school and they have fewer divorces.

And a book review

Sex Before the Sexual Revolution - Simon Szreter and Kate Fisher

This book focuses on the experience of marriage among the working and middle classes in Britain between the end of WW1 and the early 60s. The authors interviewed people who are now quite elderly, who always considered sex to be a very private matter, and struggle with the language with which to describe their experiences. The authors found the respondent saying they enjoyed sex all the more because of its very private nature. Innocence was highly valued. Knowledge of bodily functions was slim. Interesting is the criteria for attractiveness - good skin, a fine head of hair, cleanliness, smart clothes, and a sense of essential benevolence in a potential partner. Sex was about love. The giving of love rather than the receiving of pleasure. A sense of being cared for and confirmation of love.

And the context (always context).No recourse if things went badly. Exclusion of homosexuals, bisexuals, the upper class, and those who didn’t marry. But interesting, for what it is. And it would have been my parents’ experience.

A far cry from the way most people think about sex today, when norms are set by the pornograhy industry.

I’ve talked to my girls quite openly, answering their questions. Matilda was asking questions a few years ago. (This is a child who, at age four, asked ‘If Christmas is Jesus’ birthday, when is Santa’s birthday?) I stopped that initial conversation when I became uncomfortable talking about my own experiences. Some conversations since have been prompted by situations we see on tv. There’ll be many more conversations to come. We talk about it as we do everything else - just as situations arise, and questions are asked, while we’re doing other things, eating dinner, being together. And I’ll probably tell them to attend to their own interests even when they are concerned with what boys think of them.

Surely better than the sex education I had - from reading the World book Encyclopedia, watching Blankety Blanks and tv soaps, and the message of the Catholic Church.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

What is it with the C word?

In which I show which side of the generation gap I'm on.

While we're talking about embracing the word 'slut', lets also look at the word 'cunt'.

I've noticed my teenage and young adult FB friends talk to each other using this word as a term of endearment. Like 'silly cunt, lol'. Is this word also being embraced? Is this a universal thing amongst young people, or is it particular to the Catholic schoolgirls I know?

I remember when Sex and the City started, and was controversial because they used the c word, admittedly as the word for a body part. For a cunt. At that time, only criminals referred to other people as cunts. Just like there was once a time when only sailors and criminals had tattoos.

Are there no bad words anymore?

I do acknowledge that I now move in conservative circles. Well the circle is more like a dot. I used to move in less conservative circles, but, having had children, now associate with people who don't swear much, drink much, take drugs, get tattooed or have one night stands. I hang out with stable, sensible, responsible, well-spoken people. Non-cunts.

And whilst I understand, I still don't want my kids identifying as sluts, or getting tattoos or calling their friends cunts.

That's just the side of the generation gap I'm on.

Friday, May 13, 2011

The Merry Makers and my family - Compass ABC1

My sister and her son are going to be on the tv show, Compass, on ABC1 on Sunday night at 10pm.

My sister is a single mum and a teacher. Her son has Down Syndrome. They are in a dance troupe called The Merry Makers. They were in the documentary film about the troupe, called The Music in Me, and the book, Love is in the Air. Being part of the group has meant so much to them. The Compass program is about the Merry Makers performing in Disneyland last year.

If I talk about one sister, I should talk about the rest of the family. If the above is enough for you, stop reading now.

I have five sisters and two brothers. My mother always loved kids and wanted a big family. She was a stay at home mum, and helped out at school and sports. When she was 52, she had a stroke and has been disabled ever since. She’s now becoming quite frail. My father is also aging and has ongoing medical problems.

My next sister is a single mum to a child, now grown, who is diabetic. She had a child previously, who she put up for adoption. She kept in touch with her first child through letters, and now her child is a mother herself, and we all know her and her family. My sister works a stressful job in sexual health.

My middle sister was the conservative one. She is the only one who had a wedding. She married, had four children, then studied to be a teacher. When she was diagnosed with cancer she was given three years to live. The prognosis was right. When she was offered a job as a teacher she couldn’t accept because she was dying. She died two and a half years ago. She was tested because my brother was having pre-cancerous polyps removed from his bowel and told us we should all be checked. She was already at Stage 4, with secondaries. Her doctors told us the gene for this cancer has been identified and we can all be checked. We could have one gene for it, or two, which would mean it passes onto our children, or none. We’ve all been tested. I have none. Others in the family have more.

My youngest sister is a preschool teacher. She is single and has no children of her own, which wasn’t necessarily her plan

My brothers live a little further away from us. They are each married, and have four and five children. Their wives work. The brother who is closest in age to me (I made his wife’s wedding dress - they got married when they were 20 and 21) is also a volunteer surf lifesaver.

You can see a range of mothering issues right here in my family.

It reads like a pretty heavy family, but it doesn’t feel that way, being in it. And we all support my sister and her son in The Merry Makers.

Mother movies coming soon

We Need to Talk About Kevin has been made into a film, with a dark haired Tilda Swinton as Eva. The film has been well received at Cannes. Can’t wait to see it.

The film adaptation of I Don’t Know How She Does It, by Alison Pearson, is being made in the US with Sarah Jessica Parker playing Kate Reddy. Should be released this year.

Hope they both do better than Motherhood, a film with Uma Thurman playing a blogging mum.

Should mean that public conversations about mothering are coming soon!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The growth of Slutwalk

I reported a few months ago that an incident at a Canadian university, where a police officer told a group of students 'women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimised'. The Slutwalk they organised in Toronto was attended by 3000 protesters. The protest has widened. Slutwalks have been organised across Canada and the US, in Argentina, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Sweden and the UK. In Australia there are Slutwalks organised in Brisbane, Melbourne, Adelaide and Sydney. Some people are marching to empty the word of its connotations. Some are embracing the word. All are marching in protest of the the idea that any women deserves to be raped.

By the way there were ten women present who heard that policeman. The use of Facebook and Twitter spread the word. And so a movement is born.

Feminism 101

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

I'm angry about this

How many people sat in meetings nodding their heads at this proposal? How many people designed and made the posters and badges, not suggesting that maybe this isn't a great idea, or considering what it means for the young women who work in the shops. The response from the CEO of General Pants is not good enough.

The federal budget allows $222 million to the National School Chaplaincy Program. Why? Public education is supposed to be secular. If schools need counsellors (and they do), then employ counsellors.

And especially this from the SMH:

1100 rapes a day in Congo, study finds

Read more:

Why is this not front page news every day? We've know about this for years. Why is the situation not improving?

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Motherhugger Greatest Hits

In celebration of reaching 5000 hits, I'm sharing the most viewed posts.

My most viewed posts, by a long way, are Other Words for Sexy and Hot

and Music for Kids to Dance To

These are viewed every day. Who knew there was such interest?

My favourite post is about women in rock

And, congratulations to the finalists in the Sydney Writers' Centre Best Australian Blogs,
which include the following mummy blogs:

Random Ramblings of a Stay at Home Mum (winner)
Not Drowning, Mothering
Miscellaneous Mum
Woog's World

Other blogs about education, literature, writing, social and media commentary are also worth checking out.
News With Nipples sure looks feminist to me.

More blogs for me to follow! (One day soon, I'll read something other than blogs and uni study. Fiction - I miss you!)

Saturday, May 07, 2011

Context, calling privilege, and comparing down

John Sutherland (whose books on literature I enjoy - he’s having fun - not being an egghead) wrote a piece for the Guardian Weekly (which I’ve taken to reading - so light and fits in my bag) about context. He says everyone is accusing everyone else of taking their words out of context. He reminds us that this is a term from literary criticism, which I have some interest in, literature being my field of study. To summarise, at Cambridge in the 1920s (think T.S. Eliot) the English faculty shifted from talking about ’works of literature’ to talking about ‘literary texts’. The term bred into subtext, intertext, paratext and context, culminating with Jacques Derrida’s announcement: There is nothing outside the text. So, the idea that we are to contextualise everything has seeped into public discourse. Sutherland says we should give the term back to the literary critics, but I don’t see how that is possible. We open our events with acknowledgement of country. That provides context. When we present a paper or write a piece we state our context: I am a white woman, living in a first world country. My paper is about this and not about that. I acknowledge that. But I’m talking about this.

The feminist blogosphere is aflame with discussion over calling privilege. I call privilege, and not just in regards to feminism. It’s just that I am aware, as are we all, I assume, that we are privileged and there are many other unheard voices left out of the conversation. I’ve noticed it in feminism. At the f collective conference last year there was no discussion about women outside Australia, even though a woman from DRC was on a panel, and no-one fucking asked her what we could do to help. That made me angry. If the f collective conference had been framed as a middle class white women’s space, then I wouldn’t have expected anything else. But the conference was promoted as being for everyone when, clearly, it wasn’t. And yes, the moderating was lacking, which became evident when the last session, which was supposed to round up where we go to from here, turned into a mud slinging match, accusations of tokenism and “I, as a real feminist declare that those people (not present to defend themselves) are not feminists’. The story of feminism in a nutshell. (But, hey, I didn’t organise a conference, and I understand the work they did do and why they couldn’t do everything, and talked to them about it afterwards, and congratulated them on what they did achieve.)

I think there are two things going on here. Lets look at some context.

Where are the feminist activists? What actual activism is going on here? Are there any spaces where feminists can work together? From my experience, feminism is a broad church. Basically we want gender equality, but what that looks like in reality is different for different people. Maternal feminism might be different from sex-worker feminism, from ethic minorities to GLBTQ to differently abled to intersections of all the above. If the only real presence feminism has is online, then that is not enough, and too heavy a burden for those who run the sites or blogs. One group can’t be all things to all feminists. We need more groups and more representations and generally more feminists being active. And yes, I understand this is unpaid, unrecognised work. That’s the only kind of work (child care, housekeeping, committees, writing letters to newspapers, filling the gaps) I’ve been doing for the past eleven years. Which isn’t to say I’m a super feminist, because in a lot of ways I’m not, and because I identify as other things as well. Things which may or may not intersect with feminism in other people’s worlds.

So, my second point. Perhaps it links in with environmentalism and the global economy. Generally we are becoming more aware of our place in the world in relation to other people. To the workers in China who make our electronic devises and live and work in dehumanising conditions. Our western lifestyle is based upon overseas poverty. To the contamination of soil and water caused by the damage to the nuclear reactor in the Japanese earthquake. That our burning of oil and coal matters. To the consequences of the Global Financial Crisis. We are all connected - to the advantage of some and disadvantage of others according to the distribution of power. We are seeing ourselves in context. Which leads me to what I’m trying to do, and trying to teach my children, for our own happiness and to be responsible citizens of the world. And that is comparing down instead of comparing up. Being grateful for what we have. Being Pollyanna and playing the glad game. We don’t need to live in a bigger house, because the fact we have running water makes us wealthy in global terms. Comparing down, and being grateful, rather than comparing up and being envious and unhappy.

Perhaps part of the problem in the feminist blogosphere is that so many people are now ‘getting it’ and they want to let people know they ‘get it’. In time when we all ‘get it’ the dust will settle and the context will be taken for granted. Like a new greenie or a religious convert. It takes time to integrate and learn to talk to people about these revelations. To be respectful and mindful and engage in the conversation aware of the contexts. We could call privilege in all kinds of situations - the list of top ten things a woman needs that includes red lingerie, the latest electronic gadgets and kitchen appliances. Or, a list that includes clean water and food, medical assistance, to be safe. You get the picture.

So, I’m thinking that John Sutherland won’t have his way. Context is here to stay, and that’s a good thing. We don’t want to abandon asking ‘what are the assumptions and who is being excluded?’ We don’t want to do that when we talk about access and equity. For schools and services and advertising and everything. And to abandon that question would mean a total rewriting of the English curriculum, and a few other curricula as well.

So, where do we go from here? We become the change we want to see. Like Toni Morrison writing the books she wanted to read. Like the Muslim woman who designed a burkini. Like the mums who make and sell vintage style children’s clothing. Make your own blog. Start a babysitting club. Write a song. Stage a play. Start a feminist bookgroup. Make a space for the people you want to connect with. It will take the pressure off the feminist bloggers.

Friday, May 06, 2011

A little bit of everything

The longer I leave posting, the more there is to talk about.

We’ve had the strange configuration of Easter and Anzac Day merging with family birthdays, where I found out my uncle, who was a lecturer at Duntroon, had protested against the hazing (bastardisation, he called it) when he was there. This was before women were admitted. I’m not surprised more students from the academy are now speaking out.

Then residential school. Calling it an intensive school is not a misnomer. It was intensive. I learned I can still act. That I still like to act. That the tribe of English and drama teachers is a tribe I’m happy to belong to. That the world I used to inhabit still exists. My little piece of maternal feminism consisted of staging a mother combing her child’s hair for nits to the sound of the music Popcorn. People liked it. About time we saw women’s unacknowledged work on stage. I stayed with my friend who is a single mum to a child with special needs. Working full time. Has her own talents. Saw a glimpse into how hard that world can be.

The main thing I learned was that two weeks without exercise equals a back which is cactus.

Reading The Guardian Weekly proved handy, as I presented on issues in the world today, as they may be pertinent to mounting a production of a play. Matilda is now using those papers for researching issues for debating, and her enrichment program. We very efficiently mounted a production of Woyzeck. The issue for me is that some people in the world are more valued than others - and some are disposable. The other striking thing is the prominence of news stories about family breakdown resulting in death. The father in Melbourne throwing his daughter off a bridge. The mother driving her children into the Hudson River. The father who killed his toddler daughter and wrote updates about it on Facebook. The story of Woyzeck (and Greek mythology), over and over. What are our expectations about being in a family? What happens when families break down? Is it possible to avoid such tragedy?

I returned home to a family in action mode - we really have a cram packed week every week.

Banjo is sick. She has been delirious in her fever, and last night, puked into my lap.

And now Mothers Day. We saw the Target advertisement on tv, showing the different types of mums you can buy for: gourmet, sporting, pampered. I quietly noted that, once again, there is no Chinese mum or Indian mum, or Tongan mum, or heavy metal mum or surfie mum. I asked the children what kind of mum I am (creative/ intellectual?) and Clancy said ‘You’re an old fashioned mum’. I guess that will do. After years of bleating on about how Mothers Day started as a protest for peace, and how we could make it a day of political action, I’m coming around to enjoying the children enjoying giving me gifts from the school stall, and visiting my own mum, while she’s still alive.

But, obviously, some mothers are more important than others, because if you are a teenage mum, you will be forced to put your child into care at twelve months old, so you can study or train and still qualify for benefits. And while parents need all the support they can get to improve their lives for themselves and their families, and we know that the education level of the mother is crucial to this, no matter where the family lives, perhaps offering incentives would be better than offering punishment.

Meanwhile, Hungary, with a new conservative government, is considering offering mothers an extra vote in elections. The objections are based on this perhaps privileging Roma families. Obviously some families are more valued than others. The government also wants to push through laws protecting the life of the foetus from conception. Consequences, anyone?

Philosopher and ethicist, Peter Singer, who I respect, but don’t always agree with, has again called for people in wealthy countries to give money to people in developing countries. Because eight million deaths a year can be prevented. In this case, I do agree with him. Eight million people could give $1000 a year. This is doable. Imagine telling our children we ended world poverty.

The Mothers’ Index, released annually by Save the Children, reports Australia as the second most mother friendly country in the world. The report looks at infant and maternal health. Norway comes first. Afghanistan came last, with every woman expecting to lose a child. The USA does badly for a wealthy country. The comments started with readers calling privilege - that Australian women should stop whining.

Calling privilege is a hot topic in the feminist blogosphere at the moment. Especially in the US, and around issues of race. Thanks to Blue Milk for reporting on this. You can see more on hers, and many other feminist blogs. And yes, Feministe, I’m hoping that I am filling the gaps that I see. I’ll be writing something about this soon. Ah, feminism. This conversation got stuck in the 70s; we’re just rehashing the same old lines using different media. Time to move on.