Monthly Archives: February 2008

Friday Feminist – Carole Vance (3)

One clue lies in an obvious form of danger – the sexual violence committed by men against women: rape, sexual harassment, incest. As women began to speak out, it became clear that these apparently taboo acts were far from uncommon, and their damage to women was great. Beyond the actual physical or psychological harm done to victims of sexual violence, the threat of sexual attack served as a powerful reminder of male privilege, contraining women’s movement and behaviour. The cultural mythology surrounding sexual violence provided a unique and powerful route for it to work its way into the heart of female desire. A rag-bag of myths and folk knowledge that the contemporary feminist movement opposed depicted male lust as intrinsic, uncontrollable, and easily aroused by any show of female sexuality and desire. The main features of this ideology have been roundly critiqued by feminists, primarily for blaming the female victim while letting men off the hook, but its corollaries are equally pernicious. If female sexual desire triggers male attack, it cannot be freely or spontaneously shown, either in public or in private.

Carol Vance, “Pleasure and Danger: Towards a Politics of Sexuality”, in Carol S Vance (ed.) Pleasure and Danger: Exploring Female Sexuality, Pandora: 1992, extracts reprinted in Feminisms, Sandra Kemp and Judith Squires (eds), Oxford University Press: 1997

54th Carnival of Feminists

Tena koutou, tena koutou, tena koutou katoa. Greetings, greetings, greetings to you all. And welcome to the 54th Carnival of Feminists.

Starting in the country of my birth, Aotearoa New Zealand, and with a guest post on my own blog, Julie Fairey, who long blogged under another name, writes about the process of becoming a mother. The ex-expat Stef writes about celebrating the other rich relationships in your life on Valentine’s Day, and Make Tea Not War talks about her moment of realisation when reading Doris Lessing’s autobiography, that this writer who was so critical of other mothers, had walked out on her own two children. Stargazer Anjum writes about the wage gap, and laments that a woman who speaks out about it will be labelled, in an effort to shut her up.

Travelling with the sun, and moving to the country of my adoption, Pavlov’s Cat scratches and snarls about people who insist on calling all women “Mrs”. The Hoydens have a WTF moment over Blow advertising (NSFW) – that this link may not be safe for work says it all. Penguin Unearthed writes about identifying as a mother; many women emphasise their identity as a mother, perhaps to reinforce that mothering, or parenting, is important work. Blue Milk teaches her daughter to use a v-word, and it’s not vagina.

Moving west again, to India, Nandita Saikia wants to feel comfortable in her own skin. Creating harmony with Pavlov’s Cat, Unmana writes about the process of deciding not to change her name when she got married.

Blogging from Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, ex-pat Jane muses on relationships on Valentine’s Day.

In the continent where human beings first began, What an African Woman Thinks reflects on her identity, and states loud and clear, I am not my tribe. Writing on Reproductive Health Reality Check, Florence Machio makes the same point, but she claims membership of The Tribe Called Woman.

In the country where the language that we use in this carnival first developed, the Archbishop has suggested that sharia law might be a jolly good thing. There’s everything to say about this, and nothing. Natalie Bennet, founder and co-ordinator of this carnival, takes him on, in Sharia and the out-of-this-world archbishop.

Debs has made a transition and shifted house, but not before making a statement about porn. A post on Socialist Unity debates using a medieval image of Venus to advertise an art exhibition. Is it art or is it porn? (may be NSFW, depending on how your workplace has sets its censors).

The F-Word lets us know that you, me, and anyone else who calls themselves feminists are destroying the English language. But evidently, feminists are so busy destroying the English language that they have forgotten their proper task, replacing the police in defending women: Cruella-blog discusses just who is responsible for stopping ‘honour’ killings.

Over the Atlantic to the Americas. In Canada, Miss Vicky has some not so offhand remarks about turning 40. Unrepentant Old Hippie opposes the Unborn Victims of Crime Bill; in her words, “it isn’t a sneaky foot-in-the-door stealth attack on reproductive rights — it’s a jackboot kicking the door wide open and stomping on the faces of women… forever.”

The election in the middle latitudes of North America, the United States of America, concerns us all. Some election blogging – the Young and Broke Amanda Gleason assesses the race so far. Menstrual Poetry writes about Republican front-runner John McCain’s position on abortion. It’s sneaky moves he’s making there. Obama: was he or wasn’t he sexist talking about Clinton getting down periodically? Mad Kane’s Political Madness thinks it’s a textbook case of subtle sexism. Feministe whistles up a storm on the same topic. But Karnythia at The Angry Black Woman contemplates breaking up with feminism.

Elsewhere in the US, the Muslim Hedonist grapples with explaining the facts of life to her daughters. However, as Cara writes, even explaining the facts of life merits being labelled immoral, according to some. Further facts of life – Mad Melancholic Feminista writes about motherhood and work. Yet more facts of life from the Feminist Philosophers – why girls don’t think they can do math.

Rage Against the Man-chine rages against Bratz dolls and their outrageous hyper-sexualisation. A Broad Writes a Letter about primate sexuality, celebrating the huge range of ways in which women are able to display sexuality in the land of the free.

Shakesville says it: what’s not to love about the wonderful Emma Thompson. Ornamenting Away calls bullshit on the time in a man’s life when he must make a choice; he gets to make a redemptive choice, but does she?

Viva La Feminista gives us two posts about a doctor who performs abortions, and the book she has written. And from the blog on, how to make moms happy on Valentine’s Day.

Barry Leiba gives an account of a Dinner Party at the Brooklyn Museum. And echoing Stef who urged us to celebrate the friendships in our lives, and like the Dinner Party, celebrating the women in our past, Shana Thornton-Morris recalls and rejoices in the friendship between Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton.

So I have sketched a path around the world, and we are back to the start of the day again, in New Zealand.

Haere ra. Farewell.

  • *********


If you are would like to host the Carnival of Feminists yourself, contact the festival founder and co-ordinator, Natalie Bennett, on natalieben[at]gmail[dot]com. It’s great fun doing the festival – give it a go!

For London and UK based feminists, the Feminist Library in London has recently re-opened on Saturdays from 11-5.

What’s a parent to do?

I find this story disturbing on so many levels. A known pedophile is deported back to New Zealand. His modus operandus is to approach kids in streets, carrying a kitten. In his last place of abode, police found a soundproof cell in the backyard. He watches kids with binoculars. Of late, he has been hanging around schools.

Police have warned schools and parents in the area.

On the one hand, this man has committed no crime in New Zealand. So now, in effect, he will be stigmatised in the community where he lives, punished for a crime he has not committed, and may never commit.

On the other, this is not exactly a safe person. I know that as a parent, of primary school age children, I would be deeply alarmed. You bet I would be talking to my children about not approaching strangers, and walking them, or driving them to and from school. Mollycoddlying them, in fact.

One of the consequences of that will be criticism for being risk-averse, for wrapping my children in cottonwool. We are constantly told that children these days have no freedom to explore, to be unsupervised, to learn to look after themselves.

From a parent’s point of view, supervising children, walking to school with them, not allowing them to roam around the neighbourhood, reducing risk, is all about seatbelts. To be sure, the chance of a child being attacked, assaulted, raped by a pedophile is very low. But the consequences, if it does happen, are exceedingly bad. So metaphorically, we get the kids to wear seatbelts.

I have, only once, in 42 years, been involved in a car accident. I have never, ever, been in an accident when I have been driving a car, in 25 years of driving (aside from dents in carparks). But I always, always, wear a seatbelt, and I always, always, ensure that my children, and other passengers in the car, wear seatbelts. No one criticises me for that, even though it seems that the risk of an accident is exceedingly small. In fact, transport police and road safety campaigns urge me to belt up.

Why then, do I get criticised for not allowing my children to walk home by themselves? Especially if there is a known pedophile in the area.

Everyone is Elinor

I posted a link to an internet poll a few weeks ago – Which Jane Austen Heroine Are You? Hat tip: Julie Fairey. Going on clicks and hits and comments, it turned out to be one of the most well-read posts I have written (‘tho I still want to know why I get so many hits on my review of Barbie as the Island Princess).

On blog and off (some people were far too discreet to characterise themselves in public), just one person identified herself as passionate Marianne Dashwood, a couple as the lovely, reflective, and balanced Anne Elliot, and a few more as sparkling, witty, and fully alive Elizabeth Bennett. But most of us turned out to be Elinor Dashwood.

Without pretending that this amounts to anything more than idle speculation based on a few responses to a whimsical poll, I wonder why so many of us live like Elinor. She’s an interesting person – sensitive, feeling, passionate, but all overlaid by being sensible, by restraining herself, keeping her own counsel, not revealing what it is that she truly thinks and feels, always looking after other people, always taking responsibility for other people, and for herself. She is a good person, but I find, just somewhat dull, ground down a little by her cares, never quite cutting loose, and allowing herself to simply enjoy herself. I don’t think I can recall one instance of her simply enjoying a simple pleasure, giving herself up to the joys of the moment (‘though I’m happy to be corrected on this). She takes life, and herself, very seriously indeed.

I find Anne Elliot much more attractive. Like Elinor, she is sensible and responsible, but to me she seems to be a fuller character. Although she takes life seriously, she seems to remember to at least try to enjoy small things. She has the courage to look her past full in the face, and acknowledge to herself, that she made a great mistake, that she should have held firm, and married Wentworth. That’s a remarkable step – we often find it hard to admit to ourselves, that really, we have chosen the wrong path. Moreover, Anne admits her own complicity in this. She has sufficient maturity to lay some of the blame with Lady Russell too – not trying to pretend it was all her own fault, nor laying all responsibility at Lady Russell’s feet. Of course, when we meet Anne Elliot, this mistake and turmoil is some years in the past, and she has had time to reflect on it, and come to terms with it. No wonder she seems to be so adult in comparison to some of Austen’s other heroines. Elinor, however, is caught up in the midst of her seemingly blighted love affair. She has had no time to reflect on it. Perhaps the difference I am seeing between the two women is just one of the passage of years.

Be that as it may, why does it turn out that more of us are like Elinor? Taking responsibility, being sensible, doing our duty first, and putting ourselves, and our own feelings, last. Not taking time to smell the roses?

I know that in my own life, I don’t damn well have time to smell the bloody roses! Children to feed, house to clean, washing to do, school trips to go on, preparation work for a very small temporary part time job, research and writing to get going – endless tasks and duties, everyday. Anything for me comes bottom of the list. Of course, I can make time for me, and I have organised some things for me to do that are just for me, but even that is scheduled carefully, and fitted around everything else. Busy, busy, busy, with hardly ever a moment to think about what I really want. And I suspect that it’s much the same for most other people too, especially other parents.

Stop the world – I want to get off. But not until after I have cooked dinner.

It’s no wonder I turn out to be Elinor.

Guest post: Turn and face the strain

I’m delighted to have a guest post from Julie Fairey.

Like my gracious host Deborah, I too am living in a strange land these days, although I’ve managed this move without any actual physical relocation.

My days and nights used to be mine to command. Now I live at the beck and call of a tyrant, one who insists on using a foreign language that I am slow to learn. Wriggly has redefined how I see myself, and my relationships with others*. His tyranny extends to determining when I sleep and when I wake, even sometimes when I can eat, and the dictates of the Holidays Act and other relevant labour legislation simply do not apply in this area of employment. I’d like to think that one day I’ll benefit from Wriggly’s nepotism, seeing as how he is my son, although that slim hope of advantage seems a long way off at 3.13am.

On the whole I think I like this new life – certainly I am rather enamoured of the cause of all this change despite his obsession with sleep deprivation as a form of torture. I’m still working on getting that first genuine smile, but even without that I’m finding motherhood a rewarding experience.

The challenges of protecting and sustaining this new life have (so far) been very stimulating. I have always liked problem solving and planning, and dealing with Wriggly’s dictatorial nature has me thinking outside the square as never before. There’s a strange fulfillment in working out why he’s crying, and thus making a small baby happy, if even for a few moments. I’ll be back to paid work later in the year, but for now I’m mostly happy working out how to do things with only one free hand (or even on occasion no free hands) and getting a sense of satisfaction from managing a trip to the shops and back without assistance.

I’m also rediscovering the houseproud Julie who was buried under the stress of working a difficult job with longer than normal hours. I’d put housework in the Someone Else’s Problem** basket, we’d eat out whenever there wasn’t time or energy to cook, and generally I accepted that my home was going to have to be dustier and more cluttered than I really wanted. Now I can take control of all that for myself, at least as Wriggly’s demands allow.

But inevitably concerns of a feminist nature rear their heads, when one partner in a relationship is staying home to maintain the lives of three people and the other is out in the world earning the moolah to fund that life. Both are important, indeed vital, roles, but how to share them with some form of equity? Particularly when both members of this partnership have been living all our lives in a society which still tends to divide this stuff up along gender lines. If I hear one more person tell me “well that’s just the way it is” or “all women/men are like that” I may very well scream so loudly that Wriggly is shocked into silence for a good five minutes.

For now I am largely shelving my parity worries, as I focus on learning all the new skills that are suddenly necessary. Sooner or later the fair division of labour will have to be faced though, because already I feel my world has become somewhat smaller. Without the wonders of the interweb I suspect I’d have little to offer in the way of conversation except to comment on the bodily functions of babies. Even with the ability to read all about The World Out There online I find I generally end up talking about Wriggly sooner or later in every interaction.

And if I’m totally honest I do feel that I’ve gone from one stressful job to another, with little time off from the strain. While the core competencies of the two roles are significantly different, they have one key area of overlap – I find that the people I deal with most are constantly wanting something from me and often their desires are difficult to satisfy. As with my previous day job as a unionist, the best way to resolve the demands is usually to turn and face the strain as soon as possible. But that’s not always what I want to do.

I’ll keep navigating through this new land, for the rest of my life, and as the time served as a parent starts to mount up no doubt I will come to terms with how to embrace my new role without losing my old self. For now I’ll take my kicks from Wriggly’s gurgles and gurning, and accept that my payment will be in the currency of cuddles for some time to come.


* Eg, my parents are no longer my folks, they are Wriggly’s Nana and Grandad. Even the cat has a new moniker – Big Sister.
** Specifically the cleaners’ problem.

Friday Feminist – Carole Vance (2)

The hallmark of sexuality is its complexity: its multiple meanings, sensations and connections. It is all too easy to cast sexual experience as either wholly pleasurable or dangerous; our culture encourages us to do so. Women are encouraged to assent that all male sexuality done to them is pleasurable and liberatory: women really enjoy being raped but can’t admit it, and the often horrid cartoons in Hustler are just a lighthearted joke. In a countermove, the feminist critique emphasized the ubiquity of sexual danger and humiliation in a patriarchal surround. Initially useful as an ideological interruption, this critique now shares the same undialectical and simplistic focus as its opposition. Women’s actual sexual experience is more complicated, more difficult to grasp, more unsettling. Just as agreeing not to mention danger requires that one’s sexual autobiography be recast, agreeing not to speak about pleasure requires a similar dishonest alchemy, the transmutation of sexuality into unmitigated danger and unremitting victimization.

Carol Vance, “Pleasure and Danger: Towards a Politics of Sexuality”, in Carol S Vance (ed.) Pleasure and Danger: Exploring Female Sexuality, Pandora: 1992, extracts reprinted in Feminisms, Sandra Kemp and Judith Squires (eds), Oxford University Press: 1997

Crisis of belief

We have toothless children at present – both the Misses Six have one front tooth missing. So the tooth fairy has been visiting. Like our treatment of Santa Claus, we have not told the children that there is a tooth fairy, but when they came home from school with the belief, we played along with it. The girls put their lost tooth in a glass of water beside their beds, and in the morning, mysteriously, there is money in it, as well as the tooth. Our household tooth fairy doesn’t take the tooth. The going rate for a tooth is $2, plus 10c if the tooth is clean. Back in the old country, it was 5c if the tooth was clean, but then 5c coins were removed from circulation, which resulted in a bit of tooth price inflation. The girls have always been most careful to clean their teeth – every little penny counts, apparently. They have always been very anxious not to lose teeth when they are visiting their grandparents. My father once told our eldest daughter that the New Plymouth fairy only pays 5c per tooth, clean or not.

But this morning, a crisis struck. The 20-minutes older Miss Six lost a tooth yesterday, a couple of weeks after her 20-minutes younger sister, provoking a worry about precedence in the household. So the tooth was cleaned and put in a glass of water, which was carefully placed on Miss Six’s bookcase. But in the morning, no money.

Miss Six came weeping into the kitchen. “She forgot me!”

Immediate parental crisis. On the one hand, I’m not all that keen on encouraging belief in teeth fairies, for much the same reason as not encouraging belief in the Easter Bunny. Just too much. On the other, my lovely, trusting little girl was upset.

We gave in to the tears. The girls’ Daddy led a hunt around the house, in case the tooth fairy had put the money somewhere else, while I grabbed the coins and sneaked them into the glass. Miss Six was so relieved when she looked in the glass a second time.

But alas, tooth price inflation has struck again. I couldn’t find a 10c piece, and the only extra coin we had was a $1. So now the going price for a tooth is up to $3. Ouch. Each child’s milk teeth are now worth $60 in total. Luckily, we only have to pay that in $3 instalments.

I don’t think we will ever forget the tooth fairy again.