Monthly Archives: November 2007

Friday Feminist – Catharine MacKinnon

Fifty years ago the Universal Declaration of Human Rights defined what a human being is. It told the world what a person, as a person, is entitled to. Are women human yet?

If women were human, would we be a cash crop shipped from Thailand in containers into New York’s brothels? Would we have our genitals sliced out to purify us (of what?) and to bid and define our cultures? Would we be used as breeders, made to work without pay our whole lives, burned when our dowry money wasn’t enough or when men tired of us, starved as widows when our husbands died if we survived his funeral pyre, forced to sell ourselves sexually because men won’t value us for anything else? Would we be sold into marriage to priests to atone for our family’s sins or to improve our family’s earthly prospects? Would be we sexually and reproductively enslaved? Would we, when allowed to work for pay, be made to work at the most menial jobs and exploited at barely starvation level? Would we be trafficked for sexual use and entertainment worldwide in whatever form current technology makes possible? Would we be kept from learning to read and write?

If women were human, would we have little to no voice in public deliberations and in government? Would we be hidden behind veils and imprisoned in houses and stoned and shot for refusing? Would we be beaten nearly to death, and to death, by men with whom we are close? Would we be sexually molested in our families? Would we be raped in genocide to terrorize and destroy our ethnic communities, and raped again in that undeclared war that goes on every day in every country in the world in what is called peacetime? If women were human, would our violation be enjoyed by our violators? And, if we were human, when these things happened, would virtually nothing be done about it?

Catharine MacKinnon, Are Women Human? Reflections on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 171, 1999

There is a longer extract here.

Out as quick as you can

Capital and Coast District Health Board has, thank goodness, backed down on its silly plan to bribe new mothers to leave hospital quickly. There is a critical shortage of beds in the maternity unit in Wellington Hospital, so in order to keep enough beds available, the hospital was going to give mothers a $100 voucher if they left within six hours of giving birth. The target group was second time mothers, people who already know a little bit about how to look after new born babies.

A moment’s reflection tells you why this was a silly plan. The risk is that people who still need trained care and assistance would choose to leave the maternity ward, even if they were not well. A very poor health outcome, for mothers, and for new born babies.

The bribe is gone now, but not the pressure for women to leave hospital early. If you read the article, you will see that lead maternity carers get an extra payment if women leave hospital early, and that hospital staff are still under pressure to keep women moving out.

This is anti-women, and anti-family. I have written before about the difficulties of sending new mothers home within hours of birth, in connection with establishing breastfeeding.

Rooming in looks very nice, but there’s a big problem with it. Although it is phrased as “allow”, in practice, it becomes, “mothers and babies must be kept together”. So a woman who has been through an exhausting delivery will nevertheless not be given any chance to sleep, because the nursing staff won’t help her to settle her baby, and won’t consider taking the baby into a nursery even just for a while, to allow the mother to sleep. The baby can always be brought back to the mother when it wakes, so there’s no lack of breastfeeding. However, it does take staff time to manage a nursery. So babies must stay with mothers, even at the cost of the mother’s exhaustion. This is a worse problem if the mother is heading home to other children. Unless she has a partner who has time off work, or family nearby, she will be required to look after those children too. So her brief time in hospital really is the last chance she will have to get a decent rest for weeks, if not months. And surely, that must have a bad effect on babies.

And I just don’t see how any hospital which encourages new mothers to leave after just two or three days could possibly be described as a “baby friendly” hospital. Breastfeeding is a learned skill. Some women and babies find it very, very easy, but others don’t, at all. They need help and support, especially in those early few days, when they are tired from the processes of giving birth and being born. By about day three, a new mother’s milk will be coming in, so she and her baby will be getting used to an entirely new process, but that’s almost exactly when hospitals kick mothers out the door. New mothers need to be able to stay in hospital, where they can rest, and where they can get help, for more than just a few days. To my mind, to deserve the title, “Baby Friendly”, a hospital needs to encourage women to stay for five or six or even more days after birth, if that’s what they need. And in order for that to happen, hospitals need to be properly funded.

The solution to funding pressures is not to refuse to treat patients. Let’s see if we can think of other ways that funding pressure could be reduced by not treating people. Maybe kids with broken bones could be sent home to see if they really need hospital treatment. Middle aged men with chest pains could be told to wait a few days, just to see if it really is a heart attack. Perhaps people could be discharged straight out of operating theatres, if they feel that they really have come through surgery quite well.

One of the difficult aspects of this whole episode is that any woman who is due to give birth at Wellington Hospital in the next few months must now be feeling quite nervous. This will affect my family – my brother and sister-in-law have a baby on the way, and they are due to give birth there sometime in January, all going well.

Please, if you have a partner, a friend, a sister, a daughter, a daughter-in-law, who is due to have her baby at Wellington Hospital sometime in the next few months, be there for her. Be there to fetch, run and carry, to sit by her bedside and look after her, to make sure that hospital staff don’t put pressure on her to leave too early.

Of course, that’s the sort of thing that families and friends do in third world hospital systems. We have always liked to think we are a bit better than that, but perhaps we are not. And that’s perhaps the most disturbing aspect of this whole story, that we simply can’t rely on our health system to provide a decent standard of care.

Who is the rudie?

So the Prime Minister preferred to carry on running the country while the queen pontificated about something or other. Predictably, this was seen as an insult to the queen. Coupled with a report about Commonwealth prime ministers not bothering to dine with the Prince of Wales and his wife, it seems that Commonwealth leaders really are terribly rude.

Or are they?

These are, for the most part, elected heads of some of the most robust democracies in the world. I don’t mean robust in the sense of rough and tumble, but in the sense that both the institutions and the practice of democracy is strong. The leaders of democracies gathered at the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting can truly said to have been chosen to lead by their fellow citizens. Sure, not everyone in this country will have voted for Helen Clark, but if John Key, or whoever, is elected next year, then he or she will just as surely be the leader of our democracy as Helen Clark is now. Not because everyone has voted for him or her, but because the great majority of citizens in this democracy will have participated in the democratic processes that have resulted in him or her becoming leader.

And who is the queen? And the Prince of Wales? Nobodies. Nobody chose them, nobody trusts them with any real power, nobody wants them to actually rule. By simply being born in the right wrong place at the right wrong time, they get to swan around, invoke inherited privilege, and demand that we treat them with respect. The position of the Prince of Wales’ wife is no better. She has done nothing on her own account to be entitled to respect, simply married into the Windsors.

I see no reason not to treat the Windsors with common courtesy. But common, ordinary old courtesy is all they should get. If I were to send Helen Clark an invitation to dinner, I’m sure I would get a polite note back, saying “Thanks, but no thanks.” Ordinary, common courtesy. I have no right to make demands on her time, I have no right to expect her to listen to any speech I make, I have no right to compel her to act in any particular way, other than through the ordinary mechanisms of our robust democracy, functioning in the same way as it does for every other citizen. If anything, I have more right to approach the leader of our government than Elizabeth Windsor does, just because I am a citizen.

Rather than the democratically elected heads of Commonwealth countries being apotheosized as “rude” when they elect to spend their time governing instead of listening to these nobodies, the relics of the House of Windsor should be seen as rude, for even beginning to think that they have a right to take up the time of Commonwealth heads of government. Elizabeth, Charles and Camilla, you are the rude people here.

Schmaltzy music antidote

In general, I’m not a Christmas curmudgeon, although if there is one thing that could turn me into one (besides the endless advertising, emphasis on showing you love people by buying them expensive gifts, metres of tinsel in every shop, over eating and over drinking, end-of-year staff parties where people get to pretend that they all like each other, pressure pressure pressure to buy buy buy, and all that), it’s the endless schmaltzy music in shops. Even beautiful a cappella choirs start to make me want to scream after a while. Lovely voices and beautiful music pressed into the service of consumerism makes me feel ill.

But here is an antidote – some lovely voices and beautiful voices pressed into the service of something else. Ladies and gentlemen, courtesy of Marginal Revolution, I give you the Milton Friedman choir. Make of it what you will.

Bugger the view

There’s a story in this morning’s Dominion Post (not on-line, I’m sorry) about a proposed new windfarm. It will have 50 turbines, each 130 metres high, spread over the hills between Porirua and the Hutt Valley, just above the Pauatahanui inlet.

The reason why it’s news worthy? It turns out that the turbines will be visible from all over the city, and while some people in some areas will see only a few, many people will be in sight of all 50 turbines.

Of course, there is a “Preserve Pauatahauni” campaign. Here’s what they have to say:

Local opponents of the $50 million wind farm have been labelled Nimbys (not in my back yard) by some, but Preserve Pauatahanui spokeswoman Diane Strugnell said the leaked information shows that all Wellingtonians should be concerned.

“There is a slow growing awareness that this wind farm is going to be something big,” she said.

“People are realising that if it goes ahead then they will never see the hills the way they are supposed to be seen.”

I never realised that there was a way that hills ought to be seen. There’s two problems with this claim, one just a matter of logical fact, and the other a matter of moral reasoning. This error of logic – Strugnell moves from an idea of what is – the way the hills are seen now – to an idea of what ought to be – the way the hills ought to be seen. It’s the is-ought problem, famously identified by the greatest British philosopher ever, David Hume.

In addition to being poor at logic, I think that Strugnell is also embracing the naturalistic fallacy. If it’s natural, it must be good. You should be able to think of at least five counter examples to that before lunchtime. It’s a classic error in moral reasoning, and people use it all the time.

But errors of logic and philosophical thinking I can forgive – they are common, and not commonly understood, and often enough are sufficiently obscure that they will only be identified by people who have studied a little philosophy or logic or argumentation.

What I find absurd about the claims by the Preserve Pauatahanui group, and claims by similar groups, is that a view, any old view, is somehow worth more than an environmentally sustainable way of generating power. We aren’t talking about an iconic Grahame Sydney landscape here. Sure, the hills around Wellington are nice hills, as hills go, but even then, the Pauatahanui hills aren’t a patch on the Orongorongo ranges, or the Rimutaka hill. So, nice view, but what’s the priority here? A view, or the planet? Or do the Preserve Pauatahanui people think that the hills ought to be sere and brown, burned to a crisp and dessicated by endless dry winds?

I think there has to be a compelling argument before a view would take priority over a wind farm. Not just this wind farm, but any proposed wind farm in this windy and energy-poor country. So far, the Preserve Pauatahanui nimbys haven’t given us one.

Update: I’m not the only person who thinks that the Preserve Pauatahanui people are being a bit damned precious. WellUrban debunks their arguments here. Thanks for the pointer, Stephen.

Getting creepier

Family First’s Bob McCoscrie is determined to defend the right of parents to hit children, so much so that he is reluctant to admit that there could be a problem with the conviction of a Masterton man for hitting his son.

We are starting to find out a little more detail about the case now, including that the offender had a previous conviction for assault.

But that’s no matter to McCoscrie. Instead:

He did not want to comment further on the Masterton case without knowing the full context.

“For example, what was the child doing at the time the father grabbed him?”

That’s right – McCoscrie wants to blame the victim.

Just to help McCoscrie along here, what we do know is that the kid was in his room, and that the father went into the kid’s room to discipline him. So, 33 year old man (big) confronts 8 year old kid (little), and it’s the kid’s fault that the man hit him.


Friday Feminist – Sylvia Plath


Jade —
Stone of the side,
The antagonized

Side of green Adam, I
Smile, cross-legged,

Shifting my clarities.
So valuable!
How the sun polishes this shoulder!

And should
The moon, my
Indefatigable cousin

Rise, with her cancerous pallors,
Dragging trees —
Little bushy polyps,

Little nets,
My visibilities hide.
I gleam like a mirror.

At this facet the bridegroom arrives
Lord of the mirrors!
It is himself he guides

In among these silk
Screens, these rustling appurtenances.
I breathe, and the mouth

Veil stirs its curtain
My eye
Veil is

A concatenation of rainbows.
I am his.
Even in his

Absence, I
Revolve in my
Sheath of impossibles,

Priceless and quiet
Among these parrakeets, macaws!
O chatterers

Attendants of the eyelash!
I shall unloose
One feather, like the peacock.

Attendants of the lip!
I shall unloose
One note

The chandelier
Of air that all day flies

Its crystals
A million ignorants.

And at his next step
I shall unloose

I shall unloose —
From the small jeweled
Doll he guards like a heart —

The lioness,
The shriek in the bath,
The cloak of holes.

Sylvia Plath, written in 1962, published in 1971