Tag Archives: Everyday feminism

Leopards… spots… Chris Trotter redux

Cross posted

In July 2010, NZ “left wing” political commentator Chris(opher) Trotter wrote this in respect of Labour MP Steve Chadwick’s proposed abortion law reform bill.

The first question I’d like to ask Labour list MP Steve Chadwick is: “Why now?” What’s convinced her that the time is right to reopen the abortion debate? What ill-omened denizen of the current political environment has told her that this is the moment to introduce a members bill permitting abortion-on-demand up to the 24th week of pregnancy?

I would really, really like to know who it was. Because, try as I may, I’m finding it really difficult to make the cost/benefit analysis come out in Ms Chadwick’s, her party’s, or even her gender’s favour.

Dominion Post, 9 July 2010

In other words…. “No no no! Even though I agree with a woman’s right to choose, now is just not the right time for it, because it’s BAAAAAADDD for the Left.”

In November 2010, Chris Trotter wrote this in respect of Matt McCarten’s candidacy in the Mana by-election.

When Matt McCarten told me he was thinking of putting his name forward for the Mana by-election, I shuddered inwardly. … The political analyst in me pursed his lips and shook his head.

“With the Labour Party moving steadily to the Left,” he intoned disapprovingly, “this is precisely the wrong time to challenge Goff’s hand-picked candidate in an important by-election in one of the party’s safest seats.”

Then I caught the gleam in Matt’s eye, and I told my inner political analyst to go stick his objections where the sun don’t shine.

Because if being on the Left means waiting for the “right time” to fight for your principles, then, as the hero of Howard Spring’s wonderful political novel, Fame Is The Spur, discovered, when the fight comes to you, the bright sword of principle can no longer be drawn. Through all those years, while you were waiting for the “right time”, the sword’s blade was rusting fast to the scabbard.

Dominion Post, 12 November 2010.

So on the one hand, even though The Left holds principles dear, it must be pragmatic, but on the other, to hell with pragmatism: The Left should hold fast to its principles.

Guess what the difference is between the two cases….

Update: Chris Trotter has left a comment over at The Hand Mirror, where I cross-posted this. Chris Trotter’s comment.

I believe that’s what you call “a fair cop”.

Guilty as charged.

Good on him.

200 years later, and we’re still making the same case

Cross posted

The excellent Blue Milk has posted a quote from Andrea O’Reilly, in which Professor Reilly questions the nature of our arguments around improving the status and practice of motherhood.

While I do believe that empowered mothers are more effective mothers and that anti-sexist childrearing and maternal activism are worthwhile aims, I still wonder and worry why the rhetoric of rationalization has become the strategy of choice among feminist activists and scholars today and why our campaigns for social change centre on children, and not ourselves as mothers. Why can we not simply demand that motherhood be made better for mothers themselves?

Click through to read the whole quote.

Professor O’Reilly acknowledges that as a matter of rhetorical strategy, it may be a good idea to emphasise that making things better for mothers will make things better for children. But why, she asks, can we not just make things better for mothers, for their own sake?

It’s a good question, but one that can be discussed over at Blue Milk’s place. I want to tell you about the resonance I heard in Professor O’Reilly’s writing. It’s a resonance with Mary Wollstonecraft. In her A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, published in 1792, Wollstonecraft argues that men and women are of the same kind, that although there may be differences between them, they are differences of degree, not kind, and that if that is the case, then women have a right to be educated, just as much as men do. That is, she argues for women’s right to education on the basis of principle.

But she also argues:

Do passive indolent women make the best wives? Confining our discussion to the present moment of existence, let us see how such weak creatures perform their part? Do the women who, by the attainment of a few superficial accomplishments, have strengthened the prevailing prejudice, merely contribute to the happiness of their husbands? Do they display their charms merely to amuse them? And have women, who have early imbibed notions of passive obedience, sufficient character to manage a family or educate children?

But these littlenesses would not degrade their character, if women were led to respect themselves, if political and moral subjects were opened to them; and, I will venture to affirm, that this is the only way to make them properly attentive to their domestic duties.

But it is vain to expect the present race of weak mothers either to take that reasonable care of a child’s body, which is necessary to lay the foundation of a good constitution, supposing that it do not suffer for the sins of its fathers;b or, to manage its temper so judiciously that the child will not have, as it grows up, to throw off all that its mother, its first instructor, directly or indirectly taught; and unless the mind have uncommon vigour, womanish follies will stick to the character throughout life. The weakness of the mother will be visited on the children!

In public schools women, to guard against the errors of ignorance, should be taught the elements of anatomy and medicine, not only to enable them to take proper care of their own health, but to make them rational nurses of their infants, parents, and husbands;

Besides, by the exercise of their bodies and minds women would acquire that mental activity so necessary in the maternal character, united with the fortitude that distinguishes steadiness of conduct from the obstinate perverseness of weakness.

Arguments from pragmatism have a long history in feminist thinking.

Yes, I know that patriarchy harms men too, and that in slowly, slowly, knocking away the patriarchal structures that oppress women, we create a better world for everyone. But as Andrea O’Reilly says, and as Wollstonecraft argues in other places, wouldn’t it be good for women to be educated, for women’s work to be valued, just because women deserve it, for themselves.

A shout of nasturtiums

Scavenged from down our street this morning.

A jug of yellow and orange nasturtiums

A jug of yellow and orange nasturtiums

While I’m shouting, a big shout out to the lovely Julie Fairey, of The Hand Mirror, who has been elected to the Puketapapa Community Board in local body elections in New Zealand. Congratulations, Julie! They’re lucky to have you.

Star the fourteenth

I’m creating a virtual star chart, to record my progress in Dry July. The star for making it through Wednesday 14 July without touching the demon drink is Stella Gibbons (1902 – 1989), author of Cold Comfort Farm.

Cold Comfort Farm was published in 1932, and it is very, very funny. If you are old enough to read it, that is. I first tried it when I was a teenager, and Did Not Get It. At all. The satire just went whoosh over my head. But a few years ago, my book group decided to read it, and I found it riotously funny.* Stella Gibbons doesn’t just neatly skewer the conventions of lust and loam and lovechild novels: she drives a bloody great truck through them, in delicious prose, and leaves the genre whimpering on the dusty backshelves of the library.

The heroine of the story is Flora Poste, aged 19, who has been left orphaned and impoverished. She goes to live with her rustic relations at Cold Comfort Farm. Each of the relations suffers from some problem, but with a bit of modern common sense, Flora drags them out of rural misery, and into the no nonsense twentieth century.

The man’s big body, etched menacingly against the bleak light that stabbed in from the low windows, did not move. His thoughts swirled like a beck in spate behind the sodden grey furrows of his face. A woman . . . Blast! Blast! Come to wrest away from him the land whose love fermented in his veins, like slow yeast. She-woman. Young, soft-coloured, insolent. His gaze was suddenly edged by a fleshy taint. Break her. Break. Keep and hold and hold fast the land. The land, the iron furrows of frosted earth under the rain-lust, the fecund spears of rain, the swelling, slow burst of seed-sheaths, the slow smell of cows and cry of cows, the trampling bridge-path of the bull in his hour. All his, his . . .

“Will you have some bread and butter?” asked Flora, handing him a cup of tea. “Oh, never mind your boots. Adam can sweep the mud up afterwards. Do come in.”

Defeated, Reuben came in.

He stood at the table facing Flora and blowing heavily on his tea and staring at her. Flora did not mind. It was quite interesting: like having tea with a rhinoceros. Besides, she was rather sorry for him. Amongst all the Starkadders, he looked as though he got the least kick out of life. After all, most of the family got a kick out of something. Amos got one from religion, Judith got one out of Seth, Adam got his from cowdling the dumb beasts, and Elfine got hers from dancing about on the Downs in the fog in a peculiar green dress, while Seth got his from mollocking. But Reuben just didn’t seem to get a kick out of anything.

Cold Comfort Farm, Penguin 2006, p. 78

Cold Comfort Farm is also where “something nasty in the woodshed” comes from. It was Aunt Ada Doom’s seeing, and she uses it to great ill (and in Gibbons’ hand, comic) effect.

I enjoyed the comic genius of the book, but I also enjoyed the peeks into Gibbons’ imagined future. Flora talks to her second cousin Charles on a video-phone, and he fetches her from the farm in his small private aircraft, which he lands in a nearby field. It’s clear that many people have their own planes, in much the same way that many people have cars.

The cows are named Aimless, Feckless, Pointless and Graceless, and the bull is Big Business. What’s not to like about that?

Many thanks to my lovely Uncle Tony for suggesting Stella Gibbons to me, ‘though it was possibly a little unfair of him to mention that he was off to pour himself a glass of shiraz.**


* My book group specialised in reading classics, all those books that we were forced into reading when we were younger and didn’t appreciate, but now that we were a little older, we loved them. It was (is!) a fabulous group of well read, informed, witty and articulate women. Our book group sessions would start with whatever book we were reading, then segue to Jane Austen, and from there to gossip, in the richest sense of the word. When we head home to New Zealand at the end of the year, although we won’t be back in the same town as most of the group, we will be close enough that with a bit of luck and organisation, I will be able to rejoin it.

** Tony is outrageously learned. He holds a doctorate in moral theology, of quite a radical kind. Some years ago Mr Strange Land and I were grumbling that the list of distinguished alumni of the university we were at wasn’t all that distinguished. Tony pointed out that his university had a list of distinguished alumni that was divided into two categories: Saints, and Popes.

A picture to savour

On the front page of ABC News:

A picture of Julia Gillard, titled, “Prime Minister Gillard”.