Tags: albert jacka

6 Sep 2009, Comments (20)

Men, Women and Risk

Author: Helen

Anson Cameron glares truculently out from the AGE Saturday opinion page (photo, sadly, not featured on this online version) and dishes it out to all those panty-waists, girly-men, Deltas, Gammas and drones “with fat voices” who would dare to suggest that bushwalking by yourself in a remote alpine area minus emergency beacon, crampons and other necessaries? Maybe not such a great idea.

It’s sad to live in a time when a man is slated for walking alone on a mountain. A cowardly age where the supine pontificate through a spray of Cheezels crumbs. Could John McDouall Stuart have foreseen a day when Australians upbraided one another for going close to the edge? Could Albert Jacka have imagined so many of his countrymen would come to believe mollycoddling themselves through their allotted span and dying amid a symphony of chirps and beeps given off by medical machines was a life lived? What might Nancy Bird have made of an age where her fellow Australians sit there and tut, immersed in disapproval, while stunning themselves with whatever calorific high their lapbands allow? How despondent would Sir John Monash be to see so many of his countrymen lost in a Bermuda triangle of couch, TV and fridge?

…etc. Yes, I think we get the idea.

Other people were more about the positives of the Minister’s solo walk and the spiritual high which such an experience can give. A climber called Andrew Ramsay described the Mount Feathertop experience as like “a drug”.

‘It’s really spiritual. It’s communing with nature in a way, well to me, it’s like no other.

”I’m sure it’s the way surfers talk about big waves and solitary beaches. They’ve got the danger of getting washed on to the rocks or shark attack and things, and they’re out there surfing on their own in wild seas.”

One reason Tim Holding came in for criticism was the cost of his rescue, which was considerable (involving helicopters, 50-plus volunteers – with the concomitant risk to their lives and safety – plus a Super Seekrit spy plane which the owners, the Federal Police, hadn’t even unveiled yet. So, again the question was asked, and again the debate came down on the side of the bushwalkers, the solo boaters, the kayakers, and all the followers of extreme solo sports. Because awww, what a blow it would be to the human psyche if we weren’t allowed to push ourselves to the limit like that, even if in rare cases someone needs an expensive emergency rescue? How can we allow filthy lucre to dictate the extent to which we extend help to those who are prepared to go further than the next person?

Meanwhile, a debate with a very different tone was going on over at Crikey and the newspapers over the Victorian changes to the rules for home birth midwives, which turned, of course, into a debate about the pros and cons of home birth. The consensus on home birth seems to be that it’s terribly dangerous (which I haven’t researched in depth but appears to be untrue for properly regulated systems like the one they have in Canada) but also that it will direct taxpayer’s funds to the selfish wants of selfish, middle class (boo!) women!

Commenter “Chris Johnson”:

Since when did insurance companies hand out life policies to tight-rope walkers? If you use an unlicensed tradesman to build the family home you pay for the fall-out. So isn’t this debate about much the same? Improving birth options within the health system for the majority of users shouldn’t be interpreted as cracking down on a handful of people who prefer in this case to birth outside it. No one is preventing births from taking place at home or in the backyard swimming pool as long as liability for the outcome is accepted by those seeking the alternative. Directing taxes towards improved birth facilities in public hospitals where most births take place and where there’s a concentrate of medical and allied health professionals seems more constructive than handing out Medicare rebates to a minority opting for makeshift delivery rooms. We’d all prefer to be tucked up in our own environment when in need of family support but if we can’t offer the luxury to millions of ageing Australians it seems a bit rich to pander to .22% of our population. Our health system is begging for a revolution but there’s a national budget that can only go so far. Using taxes to install and upgrade facilities for the majority of birth experiences seems more logical and realistic to me. Wingnuts or selfish sods – take your pick Bernard.

What’s the difference between the two? Is it that extreme sports and exploratory solo journeys, while not exclusively done by men, are still dude-approved activities, while home birth is not something that any dude is thinking of participating in? Let’s line them up and compare:

Mountaineering dude: Very expensive for taxpayers. But it would be an inestimable blow to the human psyche if we discouraged people from following their dreams and pitting themselves against the wilderness.
Homebirths: Seen as expensive for taxpayers, so forget it. Selfish women.

Mountaineering dude: As the search and rescue leader told us repeatedly, Mountaineering dude could be responsible for the deaths or disability of others if there were further accidents out there as a result of the search in the terrible weather conditions. However, no injunctions against going out on Silly Walks.
Homebirths: If something goes wrong, a transfer to hospital is in order. If everything possible goes pear-shaped, it is possible that someone could end up dead or disabled. (The idea that this happens in hospitals too is rarely mentioned.)

Mountaineering dude: It’s a drug, it’s a spiritual experience. I need it to get away from the humdrum existence and relieve the pressure of my responsibilities. Chance to get close to something that’s bigger than myself etc…
The Plain People of Australia: Right on!!! And that spy plane is way cool boy-toy!
Homebirths: The experience of birth in the home environment will be immeasurably better for me and for the baby, although I always keep my responsibilities in mind throughout.
The Plain People of Australia: I’m not going to let the Government spend MY TAXES just so you can have YOUR EXPERIENCE, Lady.

And just a hypothetical – although one of these examples is true:

Mountaineering dude: Describes the Mount Feathertop experience as “a drug”. Is interviewed respectfully.
Homebirth mum: Describes her home birth experience as “a drug”. Is held up as an example of these irrational hippie moonbats.

Interesting, isn’t it? Mountaineering Dude and Homebirther seem to be a bit of a wash, risk wise. I can only surmise that it’s part of the tangled web of gender expectation. Men take risk, good; it all fits with the manly character (and the idea of venture capitalism) and is necessary and good. Also, their experience matters; they should be allowed to enjoy risktaking behaviour without criticism or undue financial …err, risk! (Wait, what?)

Women take risk, bad: Should shut up and do what we tell them to do. And their experience is neither here nor there. If they want a spiritual high they can do the Dude-approved thing and climb a mountain; Home birth, being very much womens’ business, can’t possibly be accorded the dignity – and tax dollars – that we assign to recreational climbing.