Archives: July 2008

27 Jul 2008, Comments Off on Some reflections on gender in my workplace, the Heath Ledger Memorial Dogs Home (and Cattery)

Some reflections on gender in my workplace, the Heath Ledger Memorial Dogs Home (and Cattery)

Author: Helen

This may not be the actual name of my workplace.
Men at W.O.R.K | working on relationships with kids

(Image pinched from the Carman-Ainsworth Community school, Michigan)

So, to follow on from the comment thread on my last post: My totally fictitious playwright was also a writer of hand-wringing op-eds on the impossibility of being a good parent and a good anything else, because if a woman attempts to combine the two she’s doomed to mediocrity in both (aka “having it all”).

My commenters put their collective finger on the framing of this argument: Totally Fictitious Playwright’s argument was perfectly consistent as long as you assume it’s the woman who does all or most of the parenting work, to which I’d add the domestic work as well.


None of this will be fixed properly until they stop calling it ‘maternity leave’ and start calling it ‘parental leave’, and a vanguard of courageous male souls brave the mockery from their male workmates and take it.


not being geared towards rewarding malfunctioning humans who spend 60 hours a week plus at work for years on end. Which implicitly sidelines people who take time out, whether for family or other things, or who insist on leaving the office by 5.30, or who won’t (can’t) drop everything on a saturday and work because someone somewhere is having a panic attack about file 763.

I think aspiring to the psychopathic boardroom may be hard for women who want to be decent parents. It may also be hard for males in the same situation. Perhaps it’s the boardrooms that need the adjustment, as I believe you are saying!

I’ve worked at the Heath Ledger Memorial for quite a few years now and one of the reasons for that (besides being an interesting sideways career change) is that it’s very family-friendly. Besides having an option for flexi hours, so that you can vary your comings and goings and make up for any lost time, it has had maternity leave provisions since the early 1980s. Two years ago, I applied for – and got – 48/52. This is hard for some people to get their heads around. You’re only paid for 48 weeks instead of the normal 52 for the year (which is 48 at work plus four annual leave). But the income loss is spread over the whole year. So in effect you have eight weeks’ annual leave and everything is otherwise normal except that your pay packet is smaller.

The people taking advantage of the maternity leave so far have all been women, and there have been more women working part-time to accomodate family; but I’m starting to see a change.

I blogged long ago about a software upgrade on which I was working, to allow customers to make staggered payments on their dogs if they so wished. The company hired a developer on contract to work with us, and he was the compleat Economically Rational Man with the wife at home. When I described my new setup, he was surprised and of course a little contemptuous of such flagrant, namby-pamby nanny-employerism. That was very nice, he remarked, but in the real world, of course, such arrangements would be completely unworkable.

Funny, I thought, I could have sworn that school holidays were part of the real world. They’ve certainly existed as long as I have.

Now the Heath Ledger Memorial Dogs Home is in the process of upgrading its entire system, and has employed a team of upwards of eight contractors. Most of them are (still) male, young-ish, with young children at home (and some more children have appeared since.) And I have to say, the vibe is very different to the Big Swinging Dick-ism of a few years ago.

As a courtesy to co-workers, there’s an understanding that we email our group if we’re coming late or leaving early, and the emails at the Dogs’ Home tell me a story of young dads using the flexibility of their contract work to share family responsibilities. They’ve mentioned illness, school events, minor emergencies and just the usual Creche or school pickup. It’s the same with my (male) boss, who has one school-aged and one kindergarten kid. Oh, and we are a very diverse group and lots of the contractors are from cultures that you’d assume were more traditional in their expectations about parents’ roles. But it’s happening. And there is no valorisation of the “staying back to work after hours” ethos. It happens, and it’ll happen more as the new system goes live – I worked weekends myself (tag-teaming with the partner) last time. But it’s not seen as a big virtue.

It gives me hope.

You see, us women / feminists can be as active as we damn well like, but until the change in gender expectations spreads to the men and the dads and the male bosses who are also dads, we’ll still be in the position of having to shoulder the “second shift” largely by ourselves, and that’s one of the biggest causes of our opting out of some of the demanding and rewarding jobs. Looked at the other way, once a man is equally likely to go part-time for a few years, take time off or work flexible hours, the number of men dropping dead from their eighty-hour week will decrease. Then- and this is depressing but true- having a balanced life will be less identified with femaleness, and its status will increase. In other words, it’ll become visible as part of the “real world”. Yes, I know, but it just will.

I look forward to the day when, in response to initiatives to do with parental leave and the like, the Chamber of Commerce spokesperson-types won’t be able to bully us all with their “well, women just won’t get the jobs any more if we know they’re just going to get pregnant and take maternity leave/go part-time/not give up their lives for the corporation!” In other words, employers won’t be able to assume that a male job interviewee won’t want to do those very things.

Oh, and once I’d got my 48/52 arrangement, my boss thought it was such a good idea, he got one himself, although he’s opted to use it to work a four-day week instead. So, well done these dads. I do hope these are signs of more change to come.

18 Jul 2008, Comments Off on Hey, I’ve got a great idea for a play…

Hey, I’ve got a great idea for a play…

Author: Helen

It would be about a playwright, so I could have one of those play-within-a-play things. It would be about a playwright who is a great big hypocrite.

My completely fictional Ms Playwright is a professional writer, but still finds it hard to balance the work with her domestic life while her children are young, as we all do. She finds that the realities of her adult life do not jive with her youthful ideals. She’s discovered that the post-70s life is no “dream”. (Gosh!) For this, she blames second wave feminism. She writes articles for broadsheet dailies which claim that combining a career and children are, for women, simply impossible, and feminism has all been a big con and we’re all miserable but don’t want to admit it because we’re just full of the feminist kool-aid. At the same time, in the great tradition of anti-feminist Special Snowflakes everywhere, she is herself building a career that most of us can only dream about.

Also in the great tradition of the anti-feminist pundit, she’s standing on the shoulders of giants in order to piss on them (while tossing off remarks about how much she really respects them, honest), because her success has in no small measure been made possible by the efforts of the women who came before her and fought for womens’ talents to be taken seriously.

Needing to bump up the income to put the sprogs through Grammar school, Ms P thinks up a sure-fire marketing ploy. She’ll write a play which is a thinly disguised account of a traumatic event that happened to a prominent second-wave feminist (SWF). SWF is often in the news and is commonly used by the press as a handy hate-magnet to get the more bigoted sections of the readership going. Therefore, she’ll be easily recognisable and the speculation will make the play an instant hit. Unfortunately for SWF, the public won’t have the information they need to separate fact from fiction, and will tend to take the whole thing as based on fact. Ms P will disingenuously refuse to admit that the play has anything to do with SWF (oh, please) and will primly assert that “there are many fallibilities (sic) among the women of SWF’s generation.” It wasn’t us who ruined the world, Miss! A bad woman did it and ran away.

Naturally, SWF is pretty pissed off by this. Annoyed? Anyone would be! So she makes a couple of acerbic comments, as the media so loves her to do, and is then portrayed as a rampant! Termagant! Madwoman! who “foams”, and has no sense of humour, as well as being a “shrew”,as they’ve done a thousand times before. This leads to another round of hateful putdowns for SWF from random self-anointed experts and huge free publicity for Ms P’s play. Result!

I reckon it should be interesting. And I’ve got this great marketing strategy I’d like to tell you about…

16 Jul 2008, Comments Off on Crackers!


Author: Helen

I’ve been following the World Youth Day bunfight with mild interest and some irritation. The irritation is with the sunny insouciance of the participants, who either (1) are too brainwashed to realise they are celebrating a patriarchal and authoritarian organisation which works against basic human rights for women and gays in many countries, including contributing to the spread of HIV worldwide, and which fights something as basic as contraception, as well as working to wind back social policy gains here through the CEC and the Right wing in both major parties; or (2) know all this and don’t care. We’re treated to regular updates in the news media in which some bright young thing chirps something like:

VOX POP 3: For [the Pope] to talk about something that’s about our environment and how to look after it is quite important. To show that he with other scientists and environmentalists is worried about the state our world is in will have quite a good effect hopefully on all Catholics.

Vox Pop, you’re deluded. The Catholic church has no intention of doing anything to help the global environment, in which the most important thing they could do would be to recognise the right of women to limit the size of their families. And that isn’t going to happen. The focus on “the environment” is just part of the feelgood, happy-clappy ambience the Church is aiming for in this latest recruitment drive.

Over in the US, the Catholic church is in the news too, but for a very different reason: Crackergate!

In case you’re new to this story, a student at the University of Florida abducted a consecrated wafer from communion and held it hostage, as AOL puts it, or something. My favourite “unrepentent Science heathen”, P.Z. Myers, gleefully (1) wrote about it and (2) made jokey comments about visiting some kind of physical retribution on the cracker, or subjecting it to some kind of (mad scientist!1!) experiment, to demonstrate its essential crackerness and utter lack of live Jesus-ness. The horror! For this, both the student and Myers received death threats, as well as Myers receiving much hate email and attempts to convince his employers to sack him.

So far today, I have received 39 pieces of personal hate mail of varying degrees of literacy, all because I was rude to a cracker. Four of them have included death threats, a personal one day record. Thirty-four of them have demanded that I be fired. Twenty-five of them have told me to desecrate a copy of the Koran, instead, or in some similar way offend Muslims, because — in a multiplicity of ironic cluelessness — apparently only some religious icons must be protected, and I would only offend Catholics because they are all so nice that none of them would wish me harm. I even have one email that says I should be fired, that the author would like to kill me, and that I only criticize because Catholics are so gentle and kind.
Oh, and of course, the university president’s office has also received lots of mail demanding my immediate ouster (keep in mind, though…Catholics are no threat to anyone at all.)

The craziness has just taken on a life of its own. Read back from the first linked post and you’ll find a whole saga developing around PZ Myers vs. organised religion. It’s quite an education.
From the American Catholic League:

As a result of the hysteria that Myers’ ilk have promoted, at least one public official is taking it seriously. Thomas E. Foley is chairman of Virginia’s First Congressional District Republican Committee, a delegate to the Republican National Convention and one of two Republican at large nominees for Virginia’s Electoral College. His concern is for the safety of Catholics attending this year’s Republican National Convention in Minneapolis, Myers’ backyard. Accordingly, Foley has asked the top GOP brass to provide additional security while in the Twin Cities so that Catholics can worship without fear of violence. Given the vitriol we have experienced for simply exercising our First Amendment right to freedom of speech, we support Foley’s request.

And you thought NSW passing a special law to prevent ordinary citizens of Sydney from “annoying” Catholics was a bizarre one-off, hmm?

They are increasing security at the Republican convention out of fear of ME? I am puissant. Fear me, O Trembling Republicans…
The remark about my backyard is amusing — Minneapolis is 150 miles away. It’s also more towards one side of my house; I think Iowa would be my backyard, while Canada is my front yard. I sure hope I don’t get assessed for property taxes on the entire upper midwest.

I can’t help but remember the manufactured “scandal” over the Mohammed Cartoons in the Danish press, and the insistence all over the RWDB blogosphere that “free speech” demanded that one shouldn’t be trammelled in ones rudeness to the superstitions attaching to the religions of others. Moreover, there’s a popular opinion out there – it’s often seen in the newspaper letters pages as well – that Christians are always copping insults and copping it sweet because they’re so nice and would never stoop to abuse and death threats because of a prank. Well, look what happens.

Me, my interpretation of freedom of religion – which I think of as one of the liberal democratic freedoms that we should enjoy – is pretty much of the private worship kind, and stops where that freedom impinges on the freedom of others. (In other words, keep those rosaries… to yourself, mate.) I don’t mean that one shouldn’t have public celebrations. Diwali? Noisy new year’s ceremonies in Footscray? Bring it on! Even (shudder) Guy Sebastian concerts, if you must, as long as I don’t have to go. Therefore, in my world, it’s kind of jejeune and undergraduate to prank somebody’s religious symbol; I think this was a bit unworthy of P.Z., as well as the editors of Jylland Posten, to go down that road. But Jesus Christ on a cracker, it certainly brings out the intolerant, medieval, and deadly element of Christianity out into the light. Next time someone starts intoning how tolerant Christians are compared to those awful Muslims, you might like to direct them over to Myers’ blog.
Crossposted at Road to Surfdom

11 Jul 2008, Comments Off on Friday Dogblogging: the (carbo) loaded dog

Friday Dogblogging: the (carbo) loaded dog

Author: Helen

Today, the dogs and I walked to the local strip shopping centre because we were out of bread. We went there because I was too lazy to walk the other way. This was a mistake, because our local milkbar doesn’t know bread from a hole in the ground, and the “bakery” is a purveyor of ghostloaves.*

So it was that I came home with an inferior loaf of white bread which I dumped on the kitchen counter while I went about the business of getting ready for a day out gallivanting with a friend, while the kids indulged their own busy social lives.

About twenty minutes later I was looking for something or other and my distracted gaze fell onto a plastic bag on the floor, in the living room, containing… about three slices of bread. I actually wondered whether it was possible that it was a different bread bag, but then remembered that the chances of me buying that stuff twice in a row were remote indeed. Someone had scoffed over three-quarters of a loaf of bread.

Both dogs look equally guilty, but I’m pretty sure which dog it is. To put that in context, he’s just nearly succeeded in polishing off something the same size as he is. Come to think of it, he does resemble a loaf of Karl’s Light Rye on spindly little legs.

If I wasn’t such a nice person, that dog would be languishing at home while the rest of us go to the Island to perish with cold go for long walks on the beach and chase the waves. As it is, he’s coming with us.

* “Ghostloaf” is a word for which there is no google result whatsoever. It was coined by the Australian novelist David Foster in his Postal Pastoral novel Dog Rock. “Ghostloaf” refers to a commercially made loaf which is made up from a sack of pre-prepared Commercial Bakery mix and which lacks flavour and texture, being mostly made up of air when baked.

9 Jul 2008, Comments Off on School holidays still ongoing

School holidays still ongoing

Author: Helen

Can someone please tell me why Brendan Nelson is always being given column- and air-space lecturing Kevin Rudd how to conduct himself in various matters of state? Why should we care what he thinks? It’s so embarrassing!

Young Brendan, on the ABC:

Now he’s actually going to be able to eyeball these people, and he ought to be a human blowtorch and put direct pressure on them to actually commit to a global response to climate change.

…and, and, (waves toy glow-in-the-dark Jedi sword), he should shoot them all and go Peeiw! Peeiw! …Aaaaaaaaaghiiiiie!)
*Strikes imitation Ninja pose*

However, young Brendan wasn’t really sure how tough that blowtorch should be, and he suddenly realised where he was. Putting on his grown-up voice:

But it will be an act of environmental suicide, an act of economic suicide, if Australia were to be so far in front of the world implementing an ill-considered, not yet put properly developed and tested emissions trading scheme, if we haven’t got a genuinely global response.

OK, so be a blowtorch to your people, but don’t actually do anything that might upset anyone.
Crossposted at Road to Surfdom

7 Jul 2008, Comments Off on “If anyone left, you had to view them as dead”

“If anyone left, you had to view them as dead”

Author: Helen

Image with permission by
Image with permission from Skepchick, who also inspires my awe.

Religion and “family values” are often associated in our media and conversation (Focus on the Family, Salt shakers et cetera). But I’ve noticed that the more culty strands of religion or spirituality do more to destroy families than to promote them. Families, like short lived insects in vast colonies, exist only to perpetuate the larger whole. There’s a pernicious feature that seems to pervade the cultiest of them: if you leave the religion, you leave the family.

Some examples from recent news spring to mind: FLDS, the Exclusive Brethren, the Haredi Jewish community. There are many heartbreaking stories of people who have been forced to sever all links with their families after leaving fundamentalist groups.

Scientology is always in the news, at least, in the tabloid news, centred of course on TomKat and Suri and their exploits. Oh, isn’t it weird, what creepy thing is Tom up to now? But what about “ordinary” (I use that word cautiously) scientologists, who aren’t buffered by such wealth and privilege? What happens inside their cultish society, and what happens to them when they decide to leave?

A while ago, I discovered Sabina’s blog, But Mostly Islands. One of the first things I noticed was that she links to many writers who I read and respect. The second was that, wow, this girl can really write. And the third thing? she’s writing about her life as an escapee from a Scientologist community, or “org”.

Here’s a disclaimer now: Yes, I know that on the internet no-one knows you’re a dog. Yes, I am aware of all the fake memoirs out there – JT Leroy, James Frey, Norma Khouri and all the rest. I have to confess that my encounters with splogs have made me suspicious of anything using the Garland template. (How sad is that?) Still, for now, I am choosing to proceed on the assumption that Sabina is real. The details I’ve gleaned by reading other anti-Scientology links certainly back her up.

While celebrity Scientologists may look endearingly wacky, the reverse is the case at ground level, it seems. Institutionalised living at its worst, combined with psychological abuse. Cold, hunger, inadequate or contaminated food, overwork, lack of sleep, ridiculous rules, military-style “musters”, no pay: little different from life as a sweatshop worker. The various components of life as a Scientologist are described in strange acronyms, for which Sabina provides links to a glossary. It’s a whole world.

What makes me angriest, though, is the neglect of the most vulnerable members of a family, the children.

At that time my father was coming to the Base every Saturday afternoon to teach us Sea Org minors math. There was an unspoken agreement all through my time there, that continues to this day and started long before I was born, that education was unimportant. We only take the kids off post for two days a week and school them to keep the authorities off our backs. During my two years of weekend home school, I taught myself calligraphy, sewed a stuffed owl, read everything I possibly could about Belgium (my main resource was the World Book Encyclopaedia and a couple of books from a library in the next suburb), learned some of the traditions and Dreamtime stories from an Indigenous Sea Org member from the Northern Territory, and was given a short overview on how the eye works from the man in charge of the RPF, who was bullied into being our Sunday afternoon science teacher.

None of the three women who were in charge of running the home school at various times were qualified as teachers.

That, and the policy of “disconnection”: breaking up the family where one member has left the group. It seems Sabina’s mother is also on the outside, which is something. But her treatment by her father must really hurt.

Take a while to read through Sabina’s archives; it’s a fascinating account of a sane person in a crazy world, and her writing, as I said, just sings. For someone who had to pretty much educate herself, she’s done a great job.

And people who think we need religion in order to have good “family values” can kiss my… family values.

7 Jul 2008, Comments Off on Second downunder feminists carnival in a strange land

Second downunder feminists carnival in a strange land

Author: Helen

Already the second downunder Feminists Carnival is up, actually has been for days. It’s hosted by Deborah of In a Strange Land.

logo links to Down Under Feminists Carnival website

I’m related to various Kiwi expats, so I’m glad to find In a Strange Land. As an Adelaide expat myself I agree it can be strange. They call an old-fashioned convenience store a “deli”, whereas everywhere else on the planet a “deli” is a speciality shop with smallgoods and cheeses. I have to say, though, that calling that kind of shop a “dairy” (NZ) is pretty weird, too.

The Carnival showcases lots of Kiwi and other southern-hemisphere writers who are new to me, so my eyeballs will be well occupied for some time to come.

Just read!

5 Jul 2008, Comments Off on Welcome to my balcony

Welcome to my balcony

Author: Helen

This post is mainly for people who have come here via this article. Hello! Have an armchair. This time of year I’d recommend a nice glass of red, or perhaps a hot Milo, but the Bombay Sapphire is also highly recommended. You can have a chat to the wonderful commenters who come here and enrich my life. Well, we do get a few who come up and say rude things and flounce away, but our atmosphere up here is usually pretty good. People who make seriously rude or ad hominem comments may get disemvowelled, or chucked off the balcony (deleted). (Don’t worry, I keep the green wheelie bin in a strategic spot so they don’t break any bones, but just get wheeled away; we’re fairly kind.) You’ll notice this is primarily a feminist blog, and the “f” word does tend to upset some people. If you’re new to feminism, I’d suggest following this link and doing some reading before commenting.

The virtual location of this blog is an upper-story balcony in a Victorian terrace house in Kensington. The blog name was inspired by this guy, because I thought the image of someone watching from a balcony was a perfect simile for a blogger like me, who isn’t a player. We watch, think, and write.

As the tagline says, I’m an opinionated mother of two and IT worker, so unlike many other bloggers, I’m not a professional writer, academic, economist or other flavour of public intellectual or policymaker. I also post over at the group political blog Road to Surfdom, which has been going since, I think, 2002. The Balcony has been going since 2003. I’ve never totalled up how many thousands of words I’ve written, but it’s quite a lot. It’s been a blast, and I’ve met so many interesting people.

New to blogs? Look to your right: that long, long list of links? That’s a blogroll. A blogroll is where you put links to your own regular reads and/or blogs you think other people should know about. As a blog reading newbie, you can discover your own favourites this way. Once you’ve found a blog which really appeals to you, you use their blogroll to find others which are like minded… and then their blogrolls. You’ll notice that there are blogs to interest you no matter what your passions are. You’ll notice, too, that some of the commenters’ names are links; those links will take you to their blogs.

I should point out that I can never, ever get all the blogs which I think are worthwhile onto my roll, because I’m neurotic about it getting too long. It’s a conflict I always have. I should point out, too, that my server space and blogging software have been given to me by the kind and wonderful David Tiley of Barista and Screenhub, and his friend Sam of Spinach7.

The AGE article I linked to finally portrayed blogs from the point of view of someone who has valuable insight and knowledge of the genre, being a blogger herself. There’s a lot of rubbish written in the dead-tree media about blogging. On the one hand, there’s an obsession with comparing it with journalism (thus setting up a frame in which blogging can never seem worthwhile). Political blogging isn’t journalism. It’s not “breaking news”. Personal blogging isn’t simply a series of trivial comments about “what I had for breakfast”. Blogging is writing. That writing may tend more towards personal, literary, academic, political, parenting, food or craft, but it’s all writing. That is what we practice and we have a lot of fun on the way.

Another glass of red?