30 Nov 2004, Comments (0)

Berloody post feminists

Author: Helen

I’ll tell you why some of us blog – it’s out of sheer frustration at seeing people with no visible qualification being allocated space to mouth off on the editorial pages of our national broadsheets. (Not that I want to come across like Prince Charles or anything.)

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Now I know generational name-calling is not only uncivil, but bullshit. Dina Ross however, who is described as a “writer and journalist”, is happy to title her AGE article “The gen X take on the failings of feminism“, so there you go. Like Virginia Hausegger and Fiona Stewart before her, she’s moaning about the Failures of (Twentieth century style, older women’s) FeminismTM. (“Feminism’s cruel fall-out has polarised mothers who do not work and those who do. The stay-at-home versus work debate has become a minefield of prejudice and antagonism…” etc, etc.)

And what is this feminism? Well, Dina Ross reckons feminism is Shirley Conran and Cosmopolitan!

Of course, if you start from this idiotic premise, feminism’s an easy target.. That’s like bemoaning the state of modern literature and only quoting Danielle Steel and FHM magazine. Hasn’t this woman heard of Simone de Beauvoir, Betty Friedan, Susan Brownmiller, Anne Summers, Katha Pollitt…? and I’m only scratching the surface here.

I googled Dina Ross. Nope, it wasn’t the one with the Supremes. She’s an OK writer– I didn’t mind this short story over here. But I found no sign of any actual credentials to lecture us on 20th century feminism. Is it too much to ask that these scribbler superstars read a book occasionally? Apart from Shirley Conran, that is?

OK, now for a bit of admitted anecdotalism. I really need to address this Gen-X myth that “feminists” are bullying them to get to work and neglect their kids. As a mum of 13 years standing (my feet are killing me), I have heard many a homily in my time from well-meaning people who think that childcare centres are run by the devil and staying at home is the only path to fulfilment. I have yet to experience a conversation where a working mum told a stay-at-home or part time mother she should get a paid job. This happens in postfeminists’ imaginations. (I know there are people who pester single stay at home mums to get a job for ideological reasons, but this is kind of a different angle.) Working women, and feminists, are simply not interested in lecturing SAHMs on their choices. However, they do not believe that all women should be bullied into thinking their lives will be ruined if they do not follow that choice.

Joanna Murray-Smith, a well known Australian playwright, has been disapproving of working mums for as long as I can remember. When I first read her thinkpieces in the ’90s, it was all about how we’re damaging our children by putting them into long day care, and we have to make the tough choice to stay home for them and forgo our selfish ambitions (no mention of the dads). This was no worse than Anne Manne and others who were pushing the same barrow around that time, but it was the hypocrisy of JM-S which made me jump up and down with rage; because she was a famous playwright and could just do her thing at home, so she DIDN”T HAVE TO CHOOSE. Unlike ordinary commuters like me, she could have her cake and bloody well eat it while flicking the crumbs at us and telling us how awful we are.

This time around she is a little more honest, ‘fessing up to the fact that she does, in fact, have a career, but she’s consumed, consumed! With guilt at even working at the computer at home. And still no mention of Dad.

There have been many responses in print to J M-Sís latest ñ mostly against. Liz Porter can’t resist pointing out that the post-feminist desire to make children into Little Emperors just might not be the best thing for them, and that mums have had to juggle tasks, and teach their children independence, throughout history.


It’s a salutary and necessary experience for children to learn that it is not a law of the universe that their immediate needs come first. They do, of course, when children are ill or unhappy. But not when “Batman’s scuba equipment” needs to be found and the mother in question is, as Murray-Smith puts it, on the computer trying to write a few sentences. There are a few handy replies for this situation, used by mothers of all classes. Depending on the age of the child, they are: “wait”, “you are able to get it yourself”, or “what did your last slave die of?”

Mpff. Sounds just like our house. And my kids, long daycare alumni as they are, are thriving.

Comments (0)

  • Sedgwick says:

    It is a vexed issue.

    Indeed one’s issue is always a cause of vexation.

    We have dealt with this particular problem in a way that our family has done for generations.

    Peregrine, Percy, Auberon, Bertie and Montgomery were each sent off to boarding school as soon as Nanny had them toilet trained. Bertie was a bit slow and he hung around the estate like a bad smell (and he was) until he was nearly two. Drove us quite insane. Fortunately an endearing streak of madness runs in the family so none of our chums at the club were any the wiser, though there were the occasional times we would have liked a well pressed hunting pink shoulder to cry on.

    Our family is fortunately possessed of a damn fine pool of eligible second cousins so the girls were easily enough dealt with. We had them all married off by the age of four – well before they began losing their looks and started reading.

    Mind you, young Petunia gave us a few anxious moments what with having inherited the ‘homely look’ gene from Livia’s great maiden aunt, Clementine. Luckily me young nephew Algie has always been a bit light on in the 20/20 vision department, so we ran Petunia by him the week his monocle was lost down the back of the sofa. He seems happy enough with the deal and he’s already been blessed with seven strapping lads all under the age of eight. Five of them are already at Sandhurst.

    Sorry to go on like this chaps, but this subject gets my dander well and truly up the family flagpole.

    Dammit all, young lasses fortunate enough to get a kick-start in life with a hyphenated name should be out there promoting these simple, self evident solutions instead of banging away on an Olivetti, confusing unfortunate womenfolk barely able to button up their own boots let alone read.

  • Sedgwick says:

    It is a vexed issue.

    Indeed one’s issue is always a cause of vexation.

    We have dealt with this particular problem in a way that our family has done for generations.

    Peregrine, Percy, Auberon, Bertie and Montgomery were each sent off to boarding school as soon as Nanny had them toilet trained. Bertie was a bit slow and he hung around the estate like a bad smell (and he was) until he was nearly two. Drove us quite insane. Fortunately an endearing streak of madness runs in the family so none of our chums at the club were any the wiser, though there were the occasional times we would have liked a well pressed hunting pink shoulder to cry on.

    Our family is fortunately possessed of a damn fine pool of eligible second cousins so the girls were easily enough dealt with. We had them all married off by the age of four – well before they began losing their looks and started reading.

    Mind you, young Petunia gave us a few anxious moments what with having inherited the ‘homely look’ gene from Livia’s great maiden aunt, Clementine. Luckily me young nephew Algie has always been a bit light on in the 20/20 vision department, so we ran Petunia by him the week his monocle was lost down the back of the sofa. He seems happy enough with the deal and he’s already been blessed with seven strapping lads all under the age of eight. Five of them are already at Sandhurst.

    Sorry to go on like this chaps, but this subject gets my dander well and truly up the family flagpole.

    Dammit all, young lasses fortunate enough to get a kick-start in life with a hyphenated name should be out there promoting these simple, self evident solutions instead of banging away on an Olivetti, confusing unfortunate womenfolk barely able to button up their own boots let alone read.

  • Sedgwick says:

    What the … ??

    It told me all sorts of gobbledegook indicating we don’t like your comment.

    Bloody Bolcheviks!

  • Sedgwick says:

    Like this, to be precise …

    An error occurred:

    Rebuild failed: Writing to ‘/home/www/dox.media2.org/www/castironbalcony/index.html.new’ failed: Opening local file ‘/home/www/dox.media2.org/www/castironbalcony/index.html.new’ failed: No such file or directory

  • John Carney says:

    Hi Helen, enjoyed your piece, but my fiancee did take exception to your statement that “[you] have yet to experience a conversation where a working mum told a stay-at-home or part time mother she should get a paid job.” She’s copped it several times as both a partnered and single SAHM.

  • Zoe says:

    I didn’t cop it in an aggressive way, but a number of women in my mother’s group were persistent in asking me about when I was going “back to work”. Because I moved cities when pregnant and resigned, I didn’t have somewhere to go back to, and found it tricky to find meaningful part time work. I found an excellent five month contract, but it’s expired.

    It wasn’t the questions, it was the assumption that when your kid was about one was time to go back to work that I struggled with. I don’t know many women who’ve stayed at home as much as I have (apart from my sister), and the women who asked me about work were not judging, but they had not looked beyond their own choices.

    Of course, I’m not suggesting this about your post. I think everyone makes the right choices for their family and (financial) circumstances. While I never felt bullied, I did feel that my choice was considered a little quaint.

  • Helen says:

    “She’s copped it several times as both a partnered and single SAHM.”

    Yes, well I did say anecdotal evidence wasn’t much chop, didn’t I! I come up with my experience from my world and someone else comes up with something different. You really need figures for accuracy – and I don’t think anyone is going to find accurate figures on rude comments about ones home/work status anytime soon.

    But both Zoe’s and the “fiancee’s ” experiences come under the heading of Bloody Insensitive People who come up with unasked for opinions based on what they consider to be the norm (or perhaps the ideal as well). This is a perennial problem with bloody insensitive people no matter what topic they’re addressing.

    Therefore, while the comments you’ve described are perhaps stupid and lacking in imagination, they cannot be described as Bullying by the Entrenched Feminist Establishment by any stretch of the imagination, IMO.

    It’s just that a certain measure of maternity / parental leave has found its way into the working milieu (thank God) so this has created a situation where a lot of people are preparing to go back to work at the one-year mark. Therefore, the bloody insensitive annoying person will determine that you MUST get a job at 1 year / stay at home with your kid because your brain will atrophy / your child will become a neurotic Woody Allan clone.

    Annoying assumption, perhaps. Failure of feminism, no.
    Christopher Bantick, a conservative, published a similar shorter piece in the Age a couple of days ago. According to him his wife received a right grilling (although we must allow for conservative exaggeration when whipping up a nice moral panic). Far from nodding my head in recognition for the time I wasn’t employed and had a small child, I found myself thinking what tools their friends must be – maybe that’s the part of their life that needs to change.

    I also need to mention the fact that “Feminists” (real feminist writers, I mean, not Shirley Conran) on the whole support choice. It was feminism that gave us parental leave after all, and it is feminists who are working to extend it and increase the family friendliness of the workplace a la Finland (See “Canny Compassion). Hardly anti mums at home. That’s a point I didn’t stress enough in my post.

    The structure of taxation and social security in Australia, also, has deliberately been set up by the Howard government to encourage one spouse, usually the mother, to stay home. So to say the zietgeist is so against SAHM’s is quite inaccurate.

    Sedgewick, once I stopped laughing, I noted your comment actually did get through twice and I suspect any trouble you had was caused by Media2’s move to the US. Yes! Our Server has moved and we are now part of the evil empire.

  • Tabula says:

    I’m afraid your comments infuriate me. They infuriate me because they project the issue of your responsibilities to your child into two spaces in each of which your own interest is adversarial with another. Men, and then your child. You draw attention to some failure of men to ‘do their bit’. Well some do, and some don’t but its essentially irrelevant to your responsibilities isn’t it? So why not leave them out of it, or if you want to bring them in make it VERY CLEAR that any failure of theirs does not absolve you. (Because that’s your fight with them not the kids). Then in quoting the snide line “what did your last slave die of?” the suggestion is that ‘stay at home mums’ are fawning all over their children waiting on them hand and foot. How terrible?

    IMO the most convincing position from which one might argue for the worth of mothers (or fathers) staying at home early in their kids lives comes from what one might loosly call a ‘conservative’ position.

    The conservative position on this is hardly for fawning on the kids is it? Its for love, attention and discipline. To get anecdotal for a moment, my own experience of comparative parenthood is that its mostly the working mums who say “Oh don’t hit cheryl with that rock darling”.

    Its the stay at homes, who understand that children appreciate discipline. To generalise again to make my point, the stay at homes don’t tell stories in which their children figure as adversaries, and as equals. They’re neither. Whether you own it or not, there’s resentment in the way you tell your story.

    I expect people will think this is a rave – I don’t have all day here to try to put what I’m saying more clearly – but I’d be interested to see if anyone out there gets what I’m trying to say. If they do I think they’d agree with it.

  • Helen says:

    (Deep sigh)

    I won’t respond in detail to your rave (yes, you’re right, it is) as it’s a mishmash of confused thinking and assumptions not supported by the actual text, e.g. as a feminist I am adversarial to men. If you had time to skim the archives you’d see that is not the case. But we do get persnickety having to point it out again, and again, and again.

    The “resentment” you complain about was about Joanna M-S, Ross, Hausegger and the rest of their underqualified, opinionated ilk being given column space to crap on about what mothers ought to be doing (badly) and what constitutes feminism (extremely badly), while other unqualified and opinionated people like me have to do it for n

  • Helen says:

    (ahem)have to do it for nowt on our blogs!

  • Tabula says:

    We are in agreement. One of us doesn’t get it.

  • […] Shorter Salamon: “Now I’ve had a baby, I am really feeling the effect of the patriarchal structures that still exist and the shortfall between the ideal of equality and the fact that mothers are, for most families, expected to bear the burden, and it’s really hard. OMG WHO KNEW???!! I am the first person ever to have discovered this! WHY DIDN’T TEH FEMINISTS TELL ME??! (Does this sound familiar?) […]

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