Archives: March 2010

Paul Sheehan‘s had a busy week of Feminism! He’s had an unfunny email forward (yes, we all know about them), read a new feminist book, and attended the Feminism Matters symposium at the university of Sydney. And he can’t wait to mansplain tell us all about how, of course, we’re Doing it Wrong!

Of course, this is another deliberate troll by Fairfax (this time) to get us all annoyed and get more eyeballs on the advertisements. But OK. I’ll ask the obvious: Why print an article which seems to just be recycling the same old tropes we see over and over again in the comments threads of online tabloid articles?

Tropes such as: Women do it to women . That is, Natasha Walter’s new book, Living Dolls, is all wrong because some women are employed in the fashion and glossy media industries. Of course this is just the usual failure to distinguish between patriarchy and maleness. The phenomena of high-status women seeking to maintain a status quo which benefits them here and now, and lower-status women desperately maintaining a hold on financial stability by using the limited pathways available to them, is not exactly news to us.

Trope two: Feminists in the West have failed to fix the world for women in other countries. Which, of course, is exclusively the responsibility of feminists. Female ones. This, of course, conveniently allows the Sheehans to criticise without offering any kind of “fix” themselves, that is, ways of helping that don’t involve invasion or other forms of coercion. I don’t think western women ignore the terrible things that are done to women in other countries. That’s not my experience. But for most of us, our traction to achieve change is limited, and where it is possible, it goes ignored by the Sheehans of this world.

As always, I’m curious about the article image and the process by which certain illustrators are associated specifically with this or that writer. This time it’s Michael Mucci. Does Fairfax have a little black book of rightwing illustrators for hire? or will impecunious artists simply do anything they’re told to do, for a commission? For the benefit of those who can’t see it, a female hand, with beautifully manicured and polished nails, is disappearing into dark swirling water. Someone is throwing her a lifebuoy, but it won’t save her, because the lifebuoy is miniature – it’s tiny! The lifebuoy is the usual round red-and-white shape, but with a cross on one side. You know, the old feminist symbol, but without the fist.

The artist has his woman-hating memes a bit mixed there, because it’s usually references such as “well-manicured” that are used to suggest that Western feminists, or women in general, are all effete and inconsequential and spoiled. So it doesn’t quite fit Sheehan’s accusation that Western feminism is failing to fix things for less privileged women in other countries. As opposed, for example, to the critics of feminism, who are… erm… not fixing anything much either.

But back to the rant. Some of his bald assertions just don’t make sense. For instance, he quotes some remarks from Professor Karen Beckwith about women parliamentarians in Muslim countries to “prove” that Western feminists aren’t talking about the darker side of Muslim society. But we didn’t hear the rest of the conference. Do I detect a piece of cherry picking or out-of-context quoting by someone who isn’t known for his careful source checking but who is known for being relentlessly anti-Muslim and anti-immigration?

For me the low point was provided by Dr Sue Goodwin, a senior lecturer in the faculty of education and social work at the University of Sydney, who said: ”We’ve just come through a very conservative, repressive 15 years in Australia.”

To someone like Sheehan this seems positively offensive. (“You’ve never had it so good!”) To many of us, it’s simply a statement of the bleeding obvious. To describe it as the “low point” is simply outing yourself as a trogdolyte who is not going to understand anything anyone says at such a gathering.

Then there’s the “The glass ceiling is only natural, after all” argument. He claims a young veterinarian at the Symposium proved this for him:

Another young woman complained that while 75 per cent of veterinary science graduates were women, male graduates average $10,000 a year more than women. ”We are pissed off,” she said. She then answered her own question: in large animal practices strength is required and men are stronger than women; country people respond better to male vets; women are perceived as future maternity leave candidates.

The old “stronger than women” argument. So, vets are paid by body type? I’ve never heard this one. Do small, weedy male vets get assessed against large and muscular female vets? Since most large herbivores are all stronger than Arnie Schwartzenegger and need restraint devices for treatment, how bloody meaningless is this statement, and how insulting for the legions of women all over the world who are quietly going about their business working with animals?

Country people respond better to male vets. Yes, what Tigtog refers to as the Klein Bottle argument. Sexism isn’t to blame, it’s just that country people prefer men! And this can never change, because, because… well, it just can’t, that’s all!

And…women are perceived as future maternity leave candidates. (Do you get the impression you’d like to know what the young vet actually said, without Sheehan’s filtering?) But faaark! This is why feminism is necessary. If you’re presenting “perceived as future maternity leave candidate” as a reasonable excuse to underpay someone to the tune of $10,000, you’re part of the problem.

and the last paragraph:

Or, as one of the panelists offered, ”Children are the glass ceiling.” Yes they are. It is one of the conundrums between the theory of equality and the complexity of daily reality.

Really. You’d think that a man who claims to do more than half of the domestic load in his household (and forgive me if I take that one with a shitload of salt), would have some inkling of the fact that that bit of handwaving about “daily reality” would go right to the core of what many feminists are trying to say about work and family and the glass ceiling, and the changes they’d like to help bring about?

Sheehan’s writing is so circuitous and confusing, it’s not completely clear whether, towards the end of the article, he’s saying (a) feminism has failed because the selfish Western women are all obsessed with unnecessary fripperies like equal pay, and they’ll just leave to have babies anyway; and they should stop complaining about the “glass ceiling” because it’s just impossible that things could be any other way; or (b) that he’s saying feminism has failed because it hasn’t fixed all this for us. I think the former, because the thrust of the article seems to be that Western feminists are all selfish and not helping the rest of the world out of the water, despite having come as far as our weak, biologically determined ladybrains (and lady bodies) will allow us to.

Not having been at the Feminism Matters symposium myself, I have a rather low confidence in a report from a hidebound conservative as to what actually went down there. Did anyone reading this attend? Leave a comment if you can!

Notice how the “failure of feminism” meme is mentioned in news article headings again and again. Feminism, fail, Feminism, failure, Feminism. Fail. How can this not be hammered into Western readers’ subconscious, and what effect is it having on people brought up reading it? Do we say Western medicine has failed because it hasn’t eliminated death yet?

One of the ways in which Sheehan could help all women would be to support feminism instead of pulling it down. And that doesn’t just go for Sheehan, who after all is a sad clown of the rightwing shock journo pantheon, but the editors who are continually running this sort of thing, because it gets a reaction.

Which I suppose it did. My bad. But I’m not going to click on any of the ads. So there!

So what’s Ada Lovelace Day?

Ada Lovelace Day is an international day of blogging to draw attention to women excelling in technology. Women’s contributions often go unacknowledged, their innovations seldom mentioned, their faces rarely recognised. We want you to tell the world about these unsung heroines. Whatever she does, whether she is a sysadmin or a tech entrepreneur, a programmer or a designer, developing software or hardware, a tech journalist or a tech consultant, we want to celebrate her achievements.

If you’re unfamiliar with Ada Lovelace, please check this out. OK, maybe I’ve chosen that because I love it so much, rather than its hundred percent historical accuracy. Wikipedia has an interesting page on her (and more about that some other time).

I work in the IT department of a nonprofit, as they call them in the US, in a sometimes uncomfortable limbo between the developers, who build the system, and the people who use it.

Most of what I know I learnt from my workmate. She had done a degree, or diploma, or something in IT after working in another place which went through a systems upgrade, and said she got the urge to, as she put it, “see what was behind it all”. And she certainly did. I think she’s probably forgotten more than I know by now. She taught me so much, but she believed in nutting things out for yourself, too, and would take me only so far down a certain path and would then leave me to work the rest out. When I see a discrepancy in some query result or process, and I’m tempted to write it off as some kind of meaningless one-off fail, I hear her saying “there’s always a reason”.

She could be hard work. This woman was full of ‘tude. And she had to be, working in a male-dominated department where she often had to go toe to toe with volatile and entitled developers. She used to bottle it up quite a bit, and sometimes it made her hard to live with. That’s the sort of thing which, in that setting, will attract the inevitable judgement of oh, women, so emotional. But holy Mary McKillop on my breakfast crumpet, you should see the men sometimes. The hissy fits they chuck. Women emotional and feeling, men unemotional and rational – a load of dingoes’ kidneys m’lud, I rest my case.

As a techie, she was ahead of everyone in the building who wasn’t actually conversant with a programming language, and in some respects she was even ahead of those people. What that woman couldn’t do with about twenty-five intricately linked database tables and a fearsomely complex reporting tool, isn’t worth knowing about. She built our website after a two-day training session in web design and HTML (and teaching herself about javascript). Thousands of people use her javascript pages to this day to do stuff online and make payments. She was awesome. And I, a thirtysomething jack-of-all-trades and refugee from the music industry, was always a little in awe of her.

And when I was working with her, although I never dared to ask, she was in her sixties, if she was a day.

Ah, the smashing of age and gender stereotypes: what a lovely sound.

Does anyone else have stories to tell for Ada Lovelace day about their favourite female techs?

14 Mar 2010, Comments (4)

Found Poetry

Author: Helen

Unfortunately, I don’t understand poetry, but I do enjoy it sometimes. I stumbled on some Found Poetry at Ron Sullivan’s blog (she’s a blogger, so you know she’s worth a look.) This is from Home Kinks: Popular Mechanics Home-Owners’ Guide, 1945.

To simplify the task of lifting a meat loaf from the pan,
one housewife places a strip of waxed paper in the pan
so that both ends extend over the edges.

The annoyance of having her silk stockings dry
with streaks in them led
one housewife to hang them between damp towels.

Read the whole thing.

I thought I’d try it for myself. The subject is confronting.

It’s a thought provoking contrast with a pretty palomino, something little girls dream about. Of course, the title was taken straight from the found text.

This is from the February 27, 2010 Auction Report, Tofield, Alberta, Canada.
Pretty Palomino

Black Quarter Horse two year old no white
Run in scared but pretty, good weight
Two-fifty meat buyer
Chestnut Quarter Horse two year filly
Run in star marking good weight pretty
Two-sixty meat buyer

Standardbred four year old no papers
Not fast enough to race but broke. Led around
9DN3E brand on neck three hundred meat buyer
Sorrel grade stud with halter
Chased around three fifty
Meat buyer Walter
Straight to slaughter
Cremello tobiano yearling
Filly application there yearling
Ok weight ninety, meat buyer

Palomino mare Quarter Horse papers promised
Nice looking, run around yelling
For foal selling
As grade pretty good weight
385 meat buyer
Cremello yearling
Same as earlier one
A little heavier meat buyer Les

Cremello tobiano mare registered seven
Chased around with rope halter ok weight
Three hundred meat buyer Walter…straight

Cremello mare reg papers good weight
Two eighty-five meat buyer

Palomino six year old paint mare registered
Run around friendly and petted
Led a bit two seventy meat buyer
Straight to slaughter again

Paint mare palomino pretty
Four year old Quarter Horse cut on knee
Not bad registered a little thin
Two seventy meat buyer straight to slaughter
Pretty palomino yearling filly
Run through one forty meat buyer

The found text didn’t have anything which made a good ending, so my “found poem” just stops abruptly.

The text is from Fugly Horse of the Day, a legendary blog which has done a lot to showcase the problems of continuing to breed companion animals which end up surplus to human needs and wants. Something we all need to think about in these financially shaky times.

And that’s probably as close to poetry writing as I will ever get.

13 Mar 2010, Comments (11)

The Pardoner’s Tale

Author: Helen

This is about a parochial stoush in the ongoing Australian / Expat Australian skirmishes which might make your eyes glaze over. Mandy Sayer, author of Dreamtime Alice and partner to Louis Nowra, has published a piece in the Australian defending Nowra’s article in the Monthly which, according to this article and other people who have read it, is pretty poor stuff. Not having read it myself*, the following will unavoidably be a bit meta: it’s about Sayer’s response and the facts which I’ve gleaned from other trustworthy readers with Monthly subscriptions.

In an essay to mark The Female Eunuch’s 40th anniversary, Nowra lambasts the book as “hopelessly middle class” and Greer’s depiction of women as misogynistic. The playwright and novelist writes: “She wanted women to undergo a profound change in the way they viewed themselves and their relationships with men. If you look at how Greer thought this could happen and what actually did, then our contemporary world must come as a disappointment to her.”
In the essay, published in The Monthly, a current affairs magazine, Nowra not only attacks Greer’s work, but criticises her appearance, her character and even her sanity. “She will do anything to get noticed,” he says, adding that when Greer appeared on the reality TV show Celebrity Big Brother, she looked like “a befuddled and exhausted old woman” who reminded him of “my demented grandmother”.

Sayer’s piece is another example of an bad editorial decision, I think – publishing a piece dashed off in anger by the partner of a public intellectual in the heat of the moment, while the argument’s still unfolding. Would “too close to the action” be a reasonable description? But it sells newspapers, I guess.

It’s wearying how every time feminists write something disagreeing with anyone, the verb used will be “attacked”. You’re writers, people, find another one. Another example of people not practicing what they preach about playing the argument and not the arguer (“play the man and not the ball”). I haven’t noticed Sayer take to the stage to denounce people like Devine, Bolt and Albrechtsen, although “attack” would be a more accurate description of their writing. And “attack” wouldn’t be so out of place describing a piece where one public intellectual attacks another public intellectual (and by extension their dead grandmother) by condemning her based on her perceived unf**kability as a woman and comparing her to his “demented” grandmother.

The whole of Sayer’s argument rests on the idea that because Nowra is such a great guy in her world, and does something to help poor and oppressed people, then there can’t possibly be anything wrong with the Monthly article. I blame the remnants of what a misty-eyed John Howard used to refer to as “our Judeo-Christian culture”. Nowra contributes to charity for marginalised peoples’ education, washes dishes and buys groceries, and respects Sayer’s personal space (all excellent things, I agree), therefore, he is allowed a hateful piece of character asassination in a national magazine, because he’s racked up so many credits in the niceness bank. In other words, he’s purchased an indulgence.

I’d hope that in the twenty-first century we would no longer believe in the Medieval practice of buying indulgences to offset things that we do. If I give a certain amount of money to social justice causes and do a wonderful job of the housework and my paid work and treat everyone around me with respect, it doesn’t allow me to go out and glass someone at the pub, for instance. It’s not a balance sheet. The rest of the world is perfectly within its rights to approve heartily of Nowra’s charitable contributions and domestic virtue, while soundly criticising his hateful article. That is what addressing the argument and not the person means.
*I haven’t read it because I agree that the publication of this article is a massive troll by the Monthly to boost its circulation, but I did go to the local library this morning in an attempt to get my hands on the library copy. Unfortunately the “librarian” on duty at the desk, and I use those scare quotes advisedly, wasn’t aware of the periodical’s existence and was unwilling to ask any staff member to help me locate it, although Computer Said Yes, it was in and available.

It’s interesting to see that here in Victoria, Labour Day and IWD have fallen on the same day this year. Because despite the popular belief that feminism is for boring old fuddy-duddies because all the inequality stuff has been done and dusted, the facts on the ground show that that’s not so. A new report by the ILO tells us what most of us already know: Despite signs of progress in gender equality over the past 15 years, there is still a significant gap between women and men in terms of job opportunities and quality of employment.

Labour day is a bit of a dog’s breakfast in Melbourne because the proper Labour day is the first of May, but we celebrate it – or rather ignore it – on the second monday in March, when the government goes apeshit with bread and circuses (“Moomba”) to deflect any unseemly focus on those nasty unions and their dreadful preoccupation with working conditions.

Me, I’m still hoping that the green shoots I’ve seen where I work – as in, young dads with young children taking days off or leaving early for childcare and school commitments – continue to grow. As a feminist, I’m not interested in work vs. stay-home arguments which are predicated on the model of women being overwhelmingly responsible for child wrangling and domestic work. There’s always the accusation that feminists would deny mothers that “choice”. I wouldn’t deny it to anyone, but I’m not satisfied that in the present cultural climate (still) it’s really a choice. I’d rather see the domestic load being spread more and more evenly between parents as the years pass, and the notion of the Perfect Employee pass into history. That’s where more rubber will hit the road, for a better and more humane work world.


And if I’m wrong (and even if I’m not) some people of that future time will still be bad-mouthing the ber-loody feminists.