Monthly Archives: October 2010

Friday Feminist – Martha C. Nussbaum

Cross posted

On the one hand, it seems impossible to deny that traditions, both Western and non-Western, perpetrate injustice against women in many fundamental ways, touching on some of the most central elements of a human being’s quality of life – health, education, political liberty and participation, employment, self-respect, and life itself. On the other hand, hasty judgements that a tradition in some distant part of the world is morally retrograde are familiar legacies of colonialism and imperialism and are correctly regarded with suspicion by sensitive thinkers in the contemporary world. To say that a practice endorsed by tradition is bad is to risk erring by imposing one’s own way on others, who surely have their own idea of what is right and good. To say that a practice is all right whenever local tradition endorses it as right and good is to risk erring by withholding critical judgement where real evil and oppression are surely present. To avoid the whole issue because the matter of proper judgement is so fiendishly difficult is tempting but perhaps the worse option of all. It suggests the sort of moral collapse depicted by Dante when he describes the crowd of souls who mill around in the vestibule of hell, dragging their banner now one way, now another, never willing to set it down and take a definite stand on any moral or political question. Such people, he implies, are the most despicable of all. They cannot even get into hell because they have not been willing to stand for anything in life, one way or another. To express [this] every succinctly, it is better to risk being consigned by critics to the “hell” reserved for alleged Westernizers and imperialists – however unjustified such criticism would in fact be – than to stand around in the vestibule waiting for a time when everyone will like what we are going to say. And what we are going to say is: that there are universals obligations to protect human functioning and its dignity, and that the dignity of women is equal to that of men. If that involves assault on many local traditions, both Western and non-Western, so much the better, because any tradition that denies these things is unjust. Or, as a young Bangladeshi wife said when local religious leaders threatened to break the legs of women who went to the literacy classes conducted by a local NGO (nongovernmental organization), “We do not listen to the mullahs any more. they did not give us even a quarter kilo of rice.

Martha Nussbaum, Sex and Social Justice, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999.


Cross posted

New Zealand Labour Day, 2010

Yesterday, Madame Grémont, the cleaning lady, brought Maman a bouquet of roses. … OK, I won’t go into the fact that Madame Grémont gives roses to Maman. They have the same relationship that all progressive middle-class women have with their cleaning ladies, although Maman thinks she really is the exception: a good old rose-coloured paternalistic relationship (we offer her coffee, pay her decently, never scold, pass on old clothes and broken furniture, and show an interest in her children, and in return she brings us roses and brown and beige crocheted bedspreads).

From The Elegance of the Hedgehog, by Muriel Barbery, translated by Alison Anderson, Paris: Gallic, 2006 (trans. 2008).

From time to time when we have both been working full time, or near full time, we have employed cleaners, and we have always paid them decently, ensured they have paid tea breaks, asked them to do a springclean instead of a regular clean if we are going to be away (even if we don’t need the house cleaned, the cleaner still needs her wages), tried to treat them respectfully as people who are providing a much needed service for us. Plus I have always insisted that they not clean the toilets: we can clean up our own sh*t.

Even so, this paragraph from this excellent novel hit home. All the same, I wonder what the alternative is? Should I treat people who come into my home to clean with less respect than say, tradies who come in to fix taps and drains and electrical connections and the like?

I don’t think so. I think the answer is to remember that cleaners and other workers are entitled to the full protection of the law. The quality of their employment is not dependent on an employer’s fancies, but on the conditions that have been fought for by unions, and enshrined in law. And decent employers should comply with those conditions, not because they fear the might of the law, but because they are the minimally decent way to behave with respect to other human beings.

Friday Feminist – Marilyn Frye (3)

Cross posted

The root of the word “oppression” is the element “press”. The press of the crowd; pressed into military service; to press a pair of pants; printing press; press the button. Presses are used to mold things or flatten them or reduce them in bulk, sometimes to reduce them by squeezing out the gasses or liquids in them. Something pressed is something caught between or among forces and barriers which are so related to each other that jointly they restrain, restrict or prevent the thing’s motion or mobility. Mold. Immobilize. Reduce.

The mundane experience of the oppressed provides another clue. One of the most characteristic and ubiquitous features of the world as experienced by oppressed people is the double bind – situations in which options are reduced to a very few and all of them expose one to penalty, censure or deprivation. For example, it is often a requirement upon oppressed people that we smile and be cheerful. If we comply, we signal our docility and our acquiescence in our situation. We need not, then, be taken note of. We acquiesce in being made invisible, in our occupying no space. We participate in our own erasure. On the other hand, anything but the sunniest countenance exposes us to being perceived as mean, bitter, angry or dangerous. This means, at the least, that we may be found “difficult” or unpleansant to work with, which is enough to cost one one’s livelihood; at worst, being seen as man, bitter angry or dangerous has been known to result in rape, arrest, beating and murder. One can only choose to risk one’s preferred form and rate of annihilation.

Marilyn Frye, “Oppression,” in The Politics of Reality, 1983


I feel so ashamed.

Protestors holding sign saying, "No to refugees."

Detention centre debate begins

We live in one of the richest nations in the world, and we cannot even behave with minimal decency to children whose parents have made a desperate journey to come here. Some people there wanted to offer welcome and support to these people, but most people wanted to have nothing to do with them, and certainly didn’t want to have them in their own comfortable community.

I wonder how many of these people go to church on Sunday, or send their children to church schools, where they claim to teach Christian compassion?

Update: Grog’s Gamut has an excellent post – The triumph over power, prejudice and bigotry…

To be honest, I doubt the 500 people who attended the meeting reflect the real view of most people who live in the hills. My suspicion is more than a few of those who attended the meeting don’t even live in Woodside. If Jamie Briggs wants them to be his supporters, then go for it – but he can then forego any crud about him being “a moderate”. My view is that the real majority of the residents is voiced by people such as Kim Galdigau who “said the Christian church community in the area wanted to know what it could do to help”.

Victim blaming 101

Cross posted

Gregory Meads murdered Helen Meads just four days after she said she was going to leave their marriage. Now that he has been convicted by a jury, some more information has been released. It turns out that he beat her savagely about 18 months before he killed her.

The details are in this newspaper report, and they are horrifying. The report is *triggering*.

What the Meads jury didn’t hear

But it seems that at least one police office thinks that it’s Helen Meads fault.

Detective Sergeant Rod Carpinter, the officer in charge of the murder investigation, said the case highlighted the need for people to seek help from police, Women’s Refuge or another organisation help before family violence escalated.

“Here we have a woman who has lost her life, children left without their mother and their father facing a long term of imprisonment.”

Dude, it highlights the need for Gregory Meads to stop being a violent arsehole. Gregory Meads was the man who threw the punches, Gregory Meads was the man who pulled the trigger, Gregory Meads is the man who is responsible for Helen Meads being dead, for the children being without their mother, and for their father (that would be Gregory Meads) being in jail.

Maybe it also highlights the need for police to press assault charges a little harder. I really don’t understand why Gregory Mead’s assault on Helen Meads was not prosecuted in the first place. If police had taken their responsibilities seriously, maybe Helen Meads would still be alive, and her children would still have their mother.

Enough with the victim blaming.