Tags: girl germs

2 Dec 2007, Comments Off on Girl Germs at the Capitol

Girl Germs at the Capitol

Author: Helen

I took Girlchild to the Germaine Greer lecture on Jane Austen on Wednesday night. It was part of the Jane Austen and Comedy conference organised by Laura. I’d expected to have to drag this Millenial along under gentle duress, eyes rolling, in the hope that she might be intrigued in spite of expectations, and that she’d look back on it as an interesting experience, hearing a public lecture from one of our most prominent intellectuals and shit-stirrers. How I underestimated that girl. She, like, totally got it at once, came cheerfully and willingly and listened attentively (with the odd chuckle), despite not being a huge Austen fan.

Shameful confession: I’ve never been inside the Capitol Theatre before. The theatre itself is a larger than life personality which would upstage a lesser speaker. It was nice to hear a voice say hello in the queue outside and turn around to see Genevieve from Reeling and Writhing, who I’d met at a couple of blogmeets.

If you didn’t want girl cooties, it was the wrong place for you. I was amused to see that the crowd was overwhelmingly biased to women my age or older, and that many of them – Genevieve included – had the same idea of bringing a daughter along. Initiating them into TEH HIVEMIND. (Tim T was in the audience, but I didn’t spot him.)

“Check out the estrogen level in this place,” said Girlchild. I wondered if we’d all start menstruating at the same time the next day. Hell, with this many women in one room, the men would be, too.

Germaine Greer has an image in the popular mind as a ballbusting terror on wheels. It doesn’t reflect her real-life persona, as most of the people who read here would know. She’s like your favourite auntie, the generous and funny one who nevertheless doesn’t take any crap from anyone, and might come out with Outrageous Remarks after a few sherries. “Hello, there,” said a sweet voice to kick off the lecture. She spoke self-deprecatingly of not doing written lectures very much, but aiming to please anyway, and her disappointment at not being able to see our faces because of the stage lighting. She took us on a magical mystery tour around the Bildungsroman (with reference to The Getting of Wisdom and Mansfield Park), the eighteenth century, Colin Firth’s wet shirt (she’s over it); Why she doesn’t write fiction herself; Psychoanalysing Fanny Price in Mansfield Park; the invention of scottishness, Percy Shelley, and many other fascinating side trips, rather like the alleyways of Melbourne into which we spilled afterwards – you never know what you’ll find, but like Greer, you always return to the firm grid of Bourke/Elizabeth/Swanston which keeps us on topic.

Maybe shamefully, I was hoping for a hint of controversy – a provocative remark, a hint of intellectual stoush maybe – and blow me down if Pamela Bone didn’t stand up right at the very end, in question time, and ask why, if Germaine was able to talk about the patriarchal structures binding Fanny Price and other female heroines, why she wasn’t … I forget here what she was actually advocating Greer do at the time, but anyway, feminists aren’t doing enough.

I recognise not everyone frequents the same corner of the blogosphere, so if you don’t immediately recognise this popular strawargument, I’ve blogged it before here, and you can find much robust discussion (cough) here and here.

Greer’s reply was a study in fluency and civility, although her voice was fighting irritation in response to Bone’s, which was sullen and accusatory. I wonder how many times Greer has had to take on that stuff from the Decents in her own home base. Rather than focusing on the savagery and needless suffering caused by the West’s concept of direct “intervention”, as well as the fact that our incursions onto middle-eastern soil have not really been prompted by concern for the status of Muslim women, Greer’s central point is that in the places where the barbarities happen, we have no standing. We can only help people on the ground who have some standing in that society. Otherwise, we can denounce until we’re blue in the face, but nothing will happen– the people practicing the barbarities just think we’re weak and degenerate for doing so. Also, as we can’t seem to get the justice system to do much for rape victims in Australia, we won’t be very effective anywhere else.

No stoush ensued. Laura asked a question about the reading of Jane Austen, and do we read it in the wrong way – that is, as a romance novel? Greer’s answer is that there is nothing to worry about, the text is always there and we will always have it no matter how many production companies make bodice-ripper movies out of it.

I wish we could always have Germaine, but at least we had the experience of hearing her speak; Girlchild and I were exceedingly diverted.

Update 2/12/07: Laura and Another Outspoken Female debrief. Other people we failed to spot in the audience: Gina Riley and Judith Lucy.

LP has more – and that hilarious Andrew Bolt has weighed in too, wouldn’t you know.

Update 6/12/07: Dr. Cat, who was part of the JA conference, debriefs too.
Crossposted at Road to Surfdom

25 Sep 2006, Comments Off on Girl Germs redux

Girl Germs redux

Author: Helen

Sam Holt, whose DVD “Being Dad — the Baby DVD ” is mentioned in this article, replies to this post (comments closed there now because the spambots move in after a few weeks).

I have just been forwarded your blog by a friend and i must say it was interesting reading. I am Mr Holt, please call me Sam. I trust that you haven’t seen the DVD we produced but have managed to draw your opinions on us and the DVD from a couple of quotes that made it into the press. I don’t take offence to your spray but i would encourage you to watch the DVD (I’ll happily send you a copy) so that perhaps you can draw your opinions from a more balanced perspective.
The DVD was not made because we are saying guys don’t read the books that are out there.

Well, what Sam said was: “”The reason we made it is because there’s nothing out there for dads…There are lots of things out there for women, by women.” Both of which statements are demonstrably false. The baby and child book market is positively bristling with male names. Perhaps the quotation was taken out of context from a longer and more reasonable statement – we all know how journalists do that. But it seems pretty unambiguous.

I read the majority of pregnancy and birth books and found them to be comprehensive in their advice and medical information. I would encourage all of my mates to pick up a copy of Up the Duff or Baby Love because they will give you plenty of info that our DVD won’t.

So, there is something “out there for Dads”. So why did the authors of the DVD want to say there was some kind of crisis, that men had literally nothing to guide them through the treacherous waters of early fatherhood? Well, they needed to advertise their product, and they went for it. Good for them. But I wish they had used a sales pitch which didn’t imply that a body of knowledge perceived to be completely dominated by women (and I hope I’ve made the point sufficiently that it isn’t), must be worthless as far as Dads are concerned.

Just to be clear, do I think books shouldn’t be written which are Dad-friendly? No! That would be silly, since dads taking up more of the nitty gritty of parenthood is exactly what we need and want. (Employers can’t deny employees family friendly conditions so easily if male and female employees are demanding parental leave and flexibility in equal numbers.) Baby books with pictures of Dads doing stuff, not just “ladies with babies?” Yay! I’d just like to have had the idea expressed in a way less… disrespectful, I guess, of “wimmins stuff”. I’d like Travis to have said “Wow! this is really hard. I’m looking at all these mums with prams with new eyes. And all the stuff in these baby books can be quite technical.” and I’d have liked Sam and Troy to express their opinion of their new DVD as the niche product it is, something to add to a useful body of work which will be especially useful to Dads, instead of the somewhat apocalyptic vision of men in a dreadful Information Vaccuum.

Personally speaking, the two most useful baby books I had were Christopher Green’s wonderful Babies! and Richard Ferber’s Solve your Child’s Sleep problems. Both by blokes, as you can see.

The premise of the DVD was two fold. 1. Not everyone likes reading books or finds them to be their preferred medium through which to learn. 2 we thought that many guys would appreciate listening to the stories and experiences of other men who are talking honestly about their feelings and emotions and not trying to macho it up or make it a try hard comedy act.
Whilst you may have taken 5 seconds to google some book titles i suggest you try reading some of them (which i have) that are targeted at men and get back to me with your honest opinion as to there readability. Even the odd good one still comes from the viewpoint of one individual or expert, we wanted to demonstrate the diversity of experiences that pregnancy and birth provides by showing lots of different people.
I would also encourage you to have a look at the feedback section on our site. You will see that there is a great deal of positive feedback from women who have also found the DVD to be a more preferable format to books and many who have said that it gave them another perspective on their pregnancy and birth.

There seems to be some confusion here, and it’s probably the journalist’s fault rather than yours, as to why exactly Travis and the rest of us are buying and reading this material. The DVD in question seems to fill a good and worthwhile niche – something to watch while expecting a child or while babies are still little, which can normalise a variety of experiences and show differing viewpoints, without going too much into the nitty gritty learning detail, as you say. But a lot of baby books and childraising books are for a very different purpose. Sure, info on breastfeeding may be irrelevant to Dads, but everything else is pertinent. If you’re looking for advice on tantrums, what to do when the kid has croup, what that funny rash might be, or when vaccinations are due, you don’t put on your gender-tailored DVD. You go to a book – and you don’t really much care who it’s written by (as long as they’re good). As for “readability”, well, that’s why Christopher Green and Kaz Cooke sell megasquillions of copies. (Well, so does James Dobson, but there’s no accounting for tastes.)

We didn’t make the DVD to make a fortune, we both have our own businesses that we are focused on. We believed, and still do, that this DVD would provide a different perspective on the millions of parenting publications that are out there. Perhaps if you were not so keen to try and make this a man v woman issue or one where you are seeking to criticise men, or women for that matter, for creating a differentiated product that others may wish to watch or read you may be able to see that.
If you are suggesting that we should have just accepted the material in the marketplace as opposed to creating something which we believed was missing from existing titles then perhaps you should stop blogging and just let people read rants from others that were doing it before you. Why reinvent the rant wheel?

Well, in general it’s good to get an idea of what’s out there first. Here we’re starting to find out what the DVD is really good for – as I said, getting others’ experiences and thereby normalising your own. But it would have been great if Travis had just had a bit more patience with learning from mothers’ experience and not behaving as if he’s a creature from another planet. (I blame that John Gray, myself). You know what would have been really interesting? If Travis had read one of the publications from the last decade or so which seek to answer the very problem he spoke of:


“It ended up being the most stressful time in my life,” says the 31-year-old IT consultant…. I felt a bit ripped off, because nobody had ever warned me it could be a bad time.

“…I thought it was meant to be happy.”

The fact is that this has been much discussed in baby books and the press over the last couple of decades, and I wish Travis had shown the insight that lots and lots of mothers feel exactly the same way. Contrary to popular wisdom, women don’t have a magical ability to parent just because of their gender. And you know what the books say about who’s most likely to freak out in the first few weeks? Highly organised, professional women. Why? because they’re used to being organised and in control, and with a newborn that’s hardly ever possible. Travis, being an IT consultant, is obviously at risk. I’m not being facetious here – as an IT consultant, he’s used to being organised and attacking a problem in a controlled way. With newborns, there’s no algorithm to make them sleep and burp and stop crying on time. If you want help with that, and the architectural diagrams, you do have to go to the baby books – and remember that every kid’s unique and they’ll never help 100%.

It would make a happy tear come to this patriarchy-blamer’s ageing eye if the Travises realised that in this respect they’re not so different, and perhaps men and women could come together and share knowledge about this and other things without obsessing over whether their manuals are coloured pink or blue. Is this an impossibly idealistic notion? maybe. But I read a lot of younger bloggers who are just starting out in family life and I get the impression that they are less hung up on gender roles in parenting, so I live in hope.

I commend your blog, and all blogs, and respect the fact that it allows you to have your spray. Do me a favour though and take the time to watch the DVD and, if you hate it, spray it. You should know better than to read a few lines quoted by a journalist and form an opinion on people and products without taking the time to see for yourself.
As a parting note i would like to say that your insinuation that we are wanting to ‘dumb’ the experience down for dads is quite insulting. I strongly believe that the DVD actually improves the birth and pregnancy for mums and dads due to the diversity of people in and experiences it shows.
All the best with your blog and let me know if you’d like a copy of the DVD…

(Snip silly last sentence implying that I’m a mad hormonal strawfeminist unable to think straight for Teh Emotions™ Surely that one’s ripe for retirement by now.)

Thanks, Sam, for the offer of the DVD. As a blogger I’m a bit over-punctilious about who I give my postal address out to, but I’m sure it will hit the local library after a while. Here’s a link, if anyone wants to check it out— maybe one of the first-time dads to be in the blogosphere can give it a try. The “dumbing down” reference was a reference to the paragraphs I quoted from the interview, which said that men didn’t want to know a lot of technical details and finer points and would rather just watch a few anecdotal stories with their mates. Then, there’s the capitalised BLOKES DON’T READ on your website. Again, I think the article is a bit confused as to what niche the DVD really fills. As a standalone product, it’s probably excellent, but it’s not a replacement for baby and child books. That’s the thing – I feel a bit silly devoting such a lot of time and space to what after all was little more than an advertorial, but I was questioning the assumptions behind the marketing exercise.

3 Sep 2006, Comments Off on Damned baby books, covered in Girl Germs.

Damned baby books, covered in Girl Germs.

Author: Helen

Image from http://www.lileks.com/institute/dorcus/dress.html

The dreadful consequences of reading Chick books when you’re a bloke

I’ve been meaning to post for a while on the way in which “feminism” is usually taken to mean “aspiring to do what men do”, while men still contemplate doing things which women do with distaste or outright horror. What does that mean for fatherhood in this supposedly egalitarian time?

Listen to this sensitive young Dad.

“[The birth of my first baby] ended up being the most stressful time in my life,” says the 31-year-old IT consultant.

“It turns out that it can be like that for a lot of new parents, but I think I felt a bit ripped off, because nobody had ever warned me it could be a bad time.

“There are all the baby books aimed at mothers, and even the antenatal classes my partner and I went to at the hospital talk a lot about the actual birth and how to breathe and how to change a nappy, but they donít talk that much about how to survive the pregnancy in the first place. I thought it was meant to be happy.”

Kelly, whose daughter, Ava, is now 13 months old, never had a chance to see Being Dad-the Baby DVD. If he had, maybe, just maybe, things could have been different. At least thatís what the two men behind Being Dad would like to think.

“The reason we made it is because thereís nothing out there for dads,” Sydney-based Sam Holt says of the DVD he and his business partner, friend and fellow new dad, Troy Jones, made for $10,000.

Oh, boo fuckin’ hoo. As just about everybody except him has noticed, the baby book market is huge. If anything, there’s too much of it out there.

Now you’ll be saying, “Oh, come on Helen, be fair. Remember your own babies – we all have that horrifying feeling that we should know it all but we’re so, so inexperienced. It’s terrible! and it’s such a good thing that Dads are getting more involved at the coalface. Can’t you just be a little empathetic!” OK, yes, his feelings are valid, but this feeling is an integral part of being at that coalface – and it will continue to be until we get improvements in childrens’ services and health that women have been begging for for generations. (But, of course, mothers are completely over-serviced, aren’t they.)

Really, nothing out there for Dads? Oh please. Two words. “Library”. “Google”. Here’s a few recommendations, for starters. (I’m only going to bother to link two, because I recommend them highly, but a quick Amazon search will find the others.)

The Complete Book of Pregnancy and Childbirth – Sheila Kitzinger (Obviously, a Bloody Sheila)
Babies! – Christopher Green (My favourite, and Australian)
Toddler Taming – Ditto, ditto
The Baby Book: Everything you need to know about your Baby from Birth to Age Two – William Sears, Martha Sears, etc (Don’t Australian books have much snappier titles?)
Gentle Baby Care: No cry, No fuss, No-Worry Essential Tips for Raising your Baby – Elizabeth Pantley, Harvey Karp
Caring for your Baby and Young Child: Birth to Age 5 – American Academy of Paediatrics (hell, that sounds important and masculine!)

I arrived at this list simply by citing the first 3 results from a search on “baby care” on Amazon plus three books I used myself. Imagine what spending a whole half-hour on research might throw up. Or even talking to your Mum.

Did you notice something? The word “mother” is absent in these titles. Many of them are written, or co-written, by men. So Sam Holt’s assertion that all the Baby-birth-and-child stuff out there is “…for women, by women” sounds at best, engagingly naive, but I do not buy it. I think Sam knows he’s talking shit. It is totally possible for you– Travis, Sam, and Troy– to read some of these books yourself. And many men have boldly gone that way before.

But that’s not the real reason, is it? The guys in the article stamp their feet, pout, and say they’re not going to read something that hasn’t been specifically written for men! Because, you know, they might be seen on the train reading something which looks like… ugh… chick’s stuff!

This goes to the heart of the matter to me. How we say we’re equal if women-doing (formerly) men’s-stuff is seen as a step up but men-doing-womens-stuff is seen as a step down? What’s so shameful about reading a few parenting books fer feck’s sake?

Now, you know articles like this one always have the obligatory paragraph about how men today are portrayed as dumbarses by the mass media and advertising. (Women, of course, are never so portrayed.)

One thing that men are still struggling with is that there is a bit of social discourse –especially in advertising- that says men are quite bumbling and incompetent as fathers.

Well, it might help if you didn’t say things like the gem I’m quoting below from Mr Holt, and just to make my point, I’m reversing the genders and making the topic “science”:

“There are lots of things out there for men, by men. Men really want to know absolutely everything. They want to go into the scientific enquiry thing like theyíre experts, whereas I think women want something different. They donít necessarily need to know all the different terms and all the different intricacies; they just want some anecdotal evidence from the girls.”

The DVD result is casual chats with 60 mums from across Australia…

….”We didnít think mums want to be told by experts,” Holt says. A little bit doesnít hurt, though, and interspersed through the true-life stories of Australian girls dealing with the pressures of learning science….there are some words of wisdom from a biologist and a physicist.

See how patronising this sounds? What Holt is really saying is he wants to present a dumbed-down version of the information that’s already out there. Childraising books aimed at Dads? Bring it ON– but don’t whine that there’s nothing for them. There’s just a lot of stuff the Travises, Troys and Sams are apparently too macho to read.

This quote from a Majikthise post came to mind. It’s about education, but the principle is the same:

When a gender gap…favors boys, the proposed solutions generally involve changing girls to meet the prevailing ideal. This is usually the most sensible way to approach the problem. Girls are underperforming in math and science? Well, then we should keep up the emphasis on math and science for everyone and push girls harder.

By contrast, when a gender gap favors females, people are more likely to address the discrepancy by challenging the evaluation criteria…

And, as she goes on to describe, changing the educational approach- for instance, by using comic books in the classroom. I completely agree with using different techniques for kids with different learning styles, but if girls had to use comic books to learn to read it would be seen by the usual suspects as proof of their inherent intellectual inferiority, while if the boys are falling behind, it’s a fault in the system (or the books are too girly). I remember my Dad sneering at one of the excesses of illiterate postmodern university – “Women’s maths!” he spluttered– (whatever the hell that was, and I never bothered to find out, but it was obviously a Bad Thing). If I told my employer I’d only want to read about relevant legislation or system administration if it was written specifically by women for women, it’d be feminism gorn too far.

Travis would be feeling even more ripped off now. Having refused to read Teh Girly parenting books, he won’t have realised the thirteen-month-old daughter still isn’t able to bring him the cooked breakfast and cute handmade card. Bummer! I hope the rest of you had a great day.