Monthly Archives: August 2007

Friday Feminist – Betty Friedan

An hour a day, a weekend, or even a week off from motherhood is not the answer to the problem that has no name. That ‘mother’s hour off’, as advised by child-and-family experts or puzzled doctors as the antidote for the housewife’s fatigue or trapped feeling, assumes automatically that a woman is ‘just a housewife’, now and forever a mother. A person fully used by his work can enjoy ‘time off’. But the mothers I talked to did not find any magical relief in an ‘hour off’; in fact, they often gave it up on the slightest pretext, either from guilt or from boredom. A woman who has no purpose of her own in society, a woman who cannot let herself think about the future because she is doing nothing to give herself a real identity in it, will continue to feel a desperation in the present – no matter how many ‘hours off’ she takes. Even a very young woman today must think of herself as a human being first, not as a mother with time on her hands, and make a life plan in terms of her own abilities, a commitment of her own to society, with which her commitments as wife and mother can be integrated.

Betty Friedan, The Feminine Mystique, 1963

Recommended reading

I bought the Australian Women’s Weekly (NZ edition) today. Not my regular magazine purchase – my more usual Thursday indulgence is the new New Scientist.

I had a special reason to get the AWW (NZ) – our friends Belinda and Karl, and their son Harry, feature on pages 108 – 109. The AWW (Australian edition) has an article on autism in Australia; Belinda and Karl and Harry are the local colour in the NZ edition.

Harry has autism. Full-scale autism – not the more mild, and less easily detected, Aspergers Syndrome. Harry’s autism was identified very early on, when he was about 16 months old. Aspergers is often not identified until much later, because the indicators are much more subtle.

He’s a fantastic kid, despite the evident behavioural difficulties. He’s cuddly with his parents, he responds to direct conversation, he participates in games. I have seen him play very successfully with my two younger daughters, with all three of them totally focused on a model ship and all the little pieces and ‘men’ that could be moved about on it. On the same visit, when we all went off to visit Kelly Tarlton’s, he was very keen to sit with my elder daughter – he thought she was lovely (she is, of course). He responds to people, he’s talkative, and more than just talkative, he’s communicative.

And like both his parents, he’s very, very smart. He’s no legendary idiot savant – he’s just a bright kid, operating through autism.

None of these things have happened by accident. Karl and Belinda worked out very early on that Harry was not in the normal spectrum of behaviour. Once the initial shock passed, they set out to find out more and more about autism, and about how to work with their son. They have worked extraordinarily hard with him, using charts, photos, rewards, punishments (such as no more computer time), written words, endless repetitions of basic behaviours, to help him to learn how to communicate. Their goal is not to change their son, but to help him to be able to function in our society.

They have spend a huge amount of money doing this – around $200,000. Harry is at school now, with a Department of Education funded teacher aide. The particular grant is an Ongoing and Reviewable Resources Scheme grant, known as an ORRS grant.

Here’s the real problem. Because Belinda and Karl have worked so hard with Harry, because they have poured in the time and effort and money now, his behaviour is manageable, to the extent that funding will most likely be withdrawn at the end of 2008. At that stage, the people assessing eligibility for ORRS grants will visit Harry again, assess his behaviour, and decide whether the grant should be renewed. But Belinda and Karl have worked, and continue to work, so hard with Harry that his behaviour is much improved, so he is unlikely to get the grant again. Yet given the nature of autism, which is not ‘curable’, if the funding for a teacher aide is withdrawn, then Harry is likely to be unable to function in a mainstream classroom.

It’s a lose : lose scenario for parents of autistic children, and parents of children with other disabilities. If they spend time and money now, then in future years, instead of getting assistance so that their children can be educated, and become self-supporting citizens, they will have to pay all over again. If they had simply not bothered, then funding for teacher aides would have been available.

This is a real case where a fence at the top of the cliff would save so much grief in future years.

I salute our friends Karl and Belinda. Autism destroys relationships – the main Australian based article in the AWW gives a break-up rate of 87%. Belinda and Karl have been through some very rough times, but they are still together, and still there together for their children. And their son is a lovely lad.

Real life Second life

I’m still new to blogging, and some things pose a technical challenge for me.

Today’s challenge – a You Tube clip. Take a look at what Second Life would be like in real life.

Total eclipse

Many years ago, when we were aged 5, 6 and 7, my parents and my uncle got my brothers and me out of bed to watch a total eclipse of the moon. I have no memory whatsoever of the eclipse, but I do remember the thrill of being out of bed in the middle of the night.

In the spirit of continuing a fine family tradition, I got my elder daughter out of bed to watch last night’s total lunar eclipse. I woke her up at about 9.45pm, just before the moon moved entirely into the earth’s shadow. As is customary in Wellington when spectacular celestial events are happening, the sky was cloudy, but the winds were fast moving, and there were breaks in the cloud, so we saw the moon several times, each time just a little darker. Eventually, we saw the last glimmering of light on what was from our perspective, the top right hand side of the moon. By then the moon had become, in my daughter’s words, “a beautiful rust colour, a bit like bricks.”

I tucked her back into bed, and went on with my work. Later on, the cloud cover blew away, and I could see the moon getting darker and darker. Eventually the light started to return in a shining gleam, and as I went to bed myself, very late, I watched the moon slip free of the last of the shadow. Wonderful.

I hope my daughter remembers it.

There’s a picture of the eclipsed moon here.

Update: Scoop has some fabulous pictures here


    Villette, Jane Eyre and The French Lieutenant’s Woman

I have only a smattering of English lit in my education, not enough to comment knowledgably about what’s going on in these books. So this is my uneducated, unrehearsed, and unpolished response to Villette, which I find easiest to think about in relation to the other two books. I wanted to write about Villette in particular, because it justifies so much more than a one line review.

There are some marked similarities between Jane Eyre and Villette, other than that they were both written by Charlotte Bronte. In both cases, the heroine is an educated woman, who must earn her own living. She is transplanted into a strange place (Thornfield in Jane Eyre, the city Villette in the novel of that name), where she must find her way. Each woman goes through a terrible ordeal, and yet following that ordeal, she finds someone who could be a husband for her. But in Jane Eyre the heroine rejects her suitor, St John Rivers, ‘though she is happy to be as a sister to him, because she knows that he would stifle her, whereas in Villette, the man the heroine loves never seems to be aware of her love for him. He is kind, friendly, brother-like, but that is all.

Continue reading


The Australian government has decided that immigrants need to know about mateship.

Apparently mateship is a defining Australian value, and people who won’t be mates don’t get to be Australians. Here’s what the Australian government says about mateship.

Australia has a strong tradition of mateship where people help and receive help from others voluntarily, especially in times of adversity. A mate can be a spouse, partner, brother, sister, daughter, son or a friend. A mate can also be a total stranger.

Whatever. I’m sure many of the Aboriginal peoples of Australia would have liked to been included in mateship, and helped out in times of need, instead of being turfed out.

I don’t think is possible to require people to be mates. This is not like being able to describe Australia’s system of government, or the basic values that underpin a Western liberal democracy – freedom of speech, association and religion, the equality of all individuals, the rule of law, and so on, all fairly well mapped out in political philosophy. I think that it’s quite reasonable to expect immigrants to accept the systems of governance in countries they migrate to. But telling them that they must do something that is supposed to be a freely given gift is simply incoherent.

Why philosophers should rule

Some grumpy days, I think that Plato was right. In The Republic, Plato argued that philosophers were the only people who could truly perceive the Good, so they should be the kings. Interestingly, he thought that women could be philosopher kings too, ‘though it would be an exaggeration to claim that he had a high opinion of women in general. It was more that he thought that anyone who displayed the requisite qualities could be a king, and he was sufficiently intellectually honest to admit that these qualities could be manifested in women as well as in men.

I get grumpy when I read wittery little pieces like this one, by the soon-to-be dean of the Anglican cathedral in Parnell. First of all, I get annoyed when someone says that their belief in god gives them a special right to speak on ethical issues. There’s a whole set of untested assumptions in there: that some god exists; that if some god exists, it is a particular kind of god; that the particular kind of god that the person is claiming as a moral authority is in fact the particular kind of god that exists; that the person making the claim knows what this god thinks. The Dean-elect doesn’t even attempt to establish any of those claims.

That’s probably fair enough in a newspaper column. But unlike Sundays when he commands a pulpit, he is not preaching to the converted, and it might be good form to acknowledge that believing in ghosties isn’t much of a basis on which to make ethical claims.

Then he states his base position.

The gift of life is a sacred thing. Our laws reflect that. They seek to protect human life above all else. That’s why our society does not allow euthanasia. We believe there are limits to our right to interfere in the natural course of life.

Where to start?

Continue reading