Monthly Archives: November 2008

Friday Feminist – Iris Marion Young (5)

Cross posted

… the institution of marriage is irreparably unjust. Its original and current meaning is to solidify male power in relation to women, and to draw an arbitrary line around legitimate relationships. Its historical function has been to use women as a means of forging alliances among men and perpetuating their “line.” Today, when these functions are diminished but hardly absent, marriage’s injustice consists primarily n its discriminatory granting of privileges. Marriage privileges specific ways of living and variously inhibits, stigmatizes, and penalizes other ways of living. A basic principle of liberal justice is that societal norms should regulate the rights and obligations of exchanges, relationships and institutional structures, without privileging some particular ways of life. The institution of marriage violates this principle, with oppressive and disadvantaging consequences for many people. If we are not to privilege particular relationships of ways of life, then what it means to be a family must be redefined and pluralized.

Iris Marion Young, “Reflections on Families in the Age of Murphy Brown: On Justice, Gender and Sexuality”, in Intersecting Voices: Dilemmas of Gender, Political Philosophy, and Policy, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1991

Re-imagining work – Part 1

Cross posted

My mother gave up her thesis when my brother and I were born. She found she just couldn’t do it. She never got back to it.
Fellow PhD student

A few years after I became a mother, I realised that I don’t have a career any more. I just have a job.
Senior HR professional

That break we took in Fiji was so good. It have me a chance to reconnect with my children again.
Senior public servant

People want me to come and talk about work life balance because they think I have solved it. But I haven’t. All that has happened is that my husband has taken on the stay-at-home role.
Senior public servant

I really didn’t get a chance to do anything until my children were in their teens, and by then it was almost too late. I’m glad I had my children early, even though it was hard going at the time.
School principal

I haven’t been able to do any research since my children were born, even though my husband is the person who is working a part time job.
Senior academic

I don’t think I’m looking for a career anymore. Interesting work with interesting people will do.
Senior public servant

I think I might see if I can go part time in a few years, down to 80%. I know I will still have to work full time, but at least I won’t have to work weekends too.
Young academic

These are all conversations I have had, over the past few years. I can’t guarantee that the words are strictly accurate, but they are more-or-less right. I’ve certainly remembered the spirit of what people have said to me, because the particular sentiments have stuck in my mind. I can remember exactly who it was who said each of those things: there’s a real name of a real live woman to go with each of those quotes.


I’ve been engaged in an on-going conversation about work-life balance, with so many people. I virtually always talk to mothers in paid employment about their childcare arrangements, trying to work out what it is that makes paid work viable for them. Some of them have nannies, even when their children are all at school, but then, they feel that they don’t really know their children at all. Others have pre-schoolers, so although they regret the lost hours, they haven’t yet struck the after-school and school holiday juggle, which is another whole nightmare. Others have found that if they want to parent their children, then they must abandon their careers, or at least, put them on hold. Some women work a shortened year, but not as short as would suit me.

My own chequered employment career is testament to an on-going struggle with work-life balance. I’ve worked in business, in the academy, and in the public service, and nowhere have I been able to find balance. Business bored me, at least at the low level I was working at. The academy was poisonous, for reasons, some to do with me, some to do with the particular institution at the particular time I was working there, some to do with the nature of academic work in general, some to do with my discipline. The public service was rather better, at least in my unit, where my single, childless, male boss (go figure!) made a big effort to create an environment where parents could work part time, and flexibly. Nevertheless, that is the environment where I heard one woman talking about reconnecting with her kids, and where Mr Strange Land and I became convinced that we needed a wife. The fact is, I have been able to find no solution to the problem of ensuring that my children are cared for, and loved, and parented, and nurturing my own career, and me. If I pursue a career, my children suffer; if I leave paid employment, then not only do I go quietly mad (‘tho Mr Strange Land likes to point out that it ain’t so quiet), but in the longer term, I may lose out, and so too may our daughters.

Of all the childcare/parenting/working possibilities, the shortened year is the one that would work best for me. I’m starting to think that my ideal job (NB: job, not career), is 20 hours per week, in school term time. But that means there’s no management track for me. (And yes, I really would like to run something, some day.)

Even then, the shortened year only works for some people because other people continue to work full time. Someone is there to answer the phones, clear the e-mail, clean the kitchens, resupply the photocopier, talk to clients, just do what needs to be done to keep the organisation ticking over. The fact is that our societies and our work structures are organised around 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday, and the shortened week is an exception to that. As long as we continue to organise work around that 9 to 5 structure, some people will have to work far longer than they want in order to make flexi-hours possible for the rest of us.

I see no solutions other than a total re-imagining of the way we work.

More to come, in a few days – it’s taking me a while to pull my thoughts on this into coherent form.

Cooking with my grandmother: traditional Christmas cake

I don’t make a Christmas cake every year – it depends on where we will be spending Christmas. This year we will be having Christmas at our own home in Adelaide (‘though we fly home to NZ a few days later), so I have made a traditional Christmas cake. Traditional in my line of women, that is: the recipe is the one that my mother got from her mother. I think that Mum eventually got Nana to give her the recipe by sitting in the kitchen as Nana was making the cake one year, and writing down what she did. I don’t know where my nana got her recipe from, but it almost certainly wasn’t her mother, who died when Nana was just a girl. Every time I make this cake, I think of my nana.

There’s quite a ritual to making the cake. The first two steps need to be completed the night before you make the cake.

First, you need to prepare the dried fruit. You will need:
1/2 lb sultanas
1/2 lb currants
1/2 lb sticky raisins
4 oz glace cherries
2 oz glace citrus peel
a few dates

Chop the sticky raisins and the dates and the glace cherries into chunks that are about the same size as the sultanas (or a little larger). Put all the fruit into a large bowl, and add 1/4 cup brandy. (You can use gingerbeer instead, but that’s for wimps. Or sherry, but I prefer the taste of brandy.) Stir it all through, then cover the bowl (my nana would have used paper, or simply put a plate over the top of the bowl; I used cling wrap) and leave the mix to marinade overnight. You don’t need to put it in the fridge; on the bench will do.


Second, prepare the cake tin. I’ve used a 22cm round tin this year, giving me a very deep cake. The cake needs to be cooked long and slow, and because it is so dense, the outer edges may get too dry before the cake is cooked through. Also, you need to ensure that the temperature around the cake is as even as possible. So line the tin with several layers of tin foil, and put a wrapping of brown paper around the outside of the tin too. Nana called for three layers of tin foil, greased, inside the tin, and two layers of brown paper outside it. But, Nana was cooking in a coal range, where it was difficult to maintain an even temperature, especially the lower temperature that the cake requires. With modern tins and ovens, a couple of layers of foil inside the tin and one paper layer outside should be ample. You could probably use even less, depending on how reliable you think your oven is, but I have never quite dared to play too fast and loose with Nana’s rules. When you grease the foil, use a bit of butter smeared onto some paper, and grease every layer. This helps to smooth the tin foil out, so that you get a nice even surface for your cake. Here’s my lined cake tin. Ideally, the edges of the paper layer will go a little higher than the cake tin.


As you can see, preparing the cake tin takes time, which is why it’s worth doing it the previous night.

The next day, preheat the oven to about 140 degrees Celsius (275 Fahrenheit).

Soften and cream 1/2 lb butter, and 1/2 lb brown sugar.

While the butter and sugar are creaming, sift the dried ingredients – 1/2 lb flour, and spices. The type and amount of spices you use are optional. This year, I used about 1/2 tsp each of cinnamon, allspice and ginger, and some freshly grated nutmeg. You could also add ground cloves, and maybe even a tiny bit of chilli powder, to zing things along.

Once the butter and sugar are well creamed, add some essences – about 1/2 tsp each of vanilla, almond and lemon essence. Then, start adding eggs. Nana’s recipe calls for 4 to 5 eggs, added one at a time, and beaten in well. That’s a lot of eggs to beat into just 1/2 lb of butter, and if you add too many, you can end up with the mix curdling. So, just before you add each egg, mix in a spoonful (about 1 tablespoon) of the sifted flour and spices. Then beat each egg in well. After you’ve added 4 eggs, have a careful look at the mix. If it looks faintly streaky and grainy, then you are probably on the point of ‘turning it’, so don’t add any more. If however, the mix still looks smooth and glossy, then possibly you could add another egg. Nana was using eggs from her own chookies, which varied in size, so she may have added five small eggs. This year, I had large free range eggs on hand, so I only used four.

Once all the eggs are beaten in, add the remaining flour, and mix well.

Then, add some coffee. This is my mother’s tip, to help make a lovely dark cake. Before you start adding the eggs, get 1 tablespoon full of instant coffee, and dissolve it in a tablespoon full of hot water, then leave it to cool while you beat the eggs in. Alternatively, put 2 to 3 tablespoons of very fine fresh coffee grounds into a jug, and pour in a little hot water, enough to get the grounds to release their flavour and colour, and leave it to steep while adding the eggs. Then, when you have added the flour mix, strain the coffee, and add about 1 tablespoon to the cake mix, and stir through. This should darken the colour of the cake, and round out the flavour.

Next, add the fruit, and mix thoroughly. And if you like (I never have), you can also add a tablespoon of marmalade at this stage. Then put the cake batter into the tin and smooth it out.


The surface of the cake can dry out too much while it’s cooking, but there’s two things you can do to minimise that. First, wet your fingertips, and shake a little water over the surface of the cake. (Mutter a blessing while you do this, if you like.) Then, put a hat on top of the cake! That’s a square of folded baking paper, sitting on top of the paper wrapping, and covering the cake without touching the surface of the batter.

Put the cake into the oven, and WRITE DOWN THE TIME at which you put it in. Write a note to yourself about the time that you will test it, and the time that you expect to take it out. This is because it is all too easy to forget the details. Nana also recommended putting a baking slide sprinkled with salt under the cake, an inch or two lower, depending on the level of the racks in your oven, but I suspect that this was to do with the uneven temperature coming up from the bottom of her coal range. After many years, Mum and I managed to convince ourselves that we didn’t really need to do it, ‘though both of us felt faintly sacrilegious when we omitted it for the first time. But the world didn’t end, and the cakes we made were still good, so we’ve never done it since (put the salted baking tray in, that is).

Once the cake is in the oven, call your mother, or your daughter, or your sister or aunty or cousin or good friend, and let them know that you have put your Christmas cake in the oven, and that you are thinking of them, and of family and friends, and the love that binds you. This year, I called my mum, and a week or so later, she e-mailed (!) to let me know that her cake was in.

The cake needs to cook for a long time, four or five hours, or maybe even six hours, depending on how big and deep it is. Check the cake at around four hours, and take the hat off. If the cake is singing to you, then it’s in good condition. If it has stopped singing, then you have probably overcooked it.

Singing! Has she gone mad?

Well, no. You will hear a faint sound of popping and bubbling and hissing. That’s the cake singing to you. Test the cake for readiness by gently pressing the top, to see if it feels cooked. A cooked cake will feel quite firm. Most cakes will also feel a little springy, but this is a very rich and very dense cake, so it shouldn’t really feel as though it’s bouncing back at you. You could also use a skewer test.

Once you have taken the cake out, leave it in the tin until it has cooled completely. Then unwrap it, and carefully pour some brandy through it. Pour about 60mls into a small cup or shot glass, then using a teaspoon, dribble about 1/2 the brandy into the cake, and drink the rest yourself. Wrap the cake up in a couple of layers of greaseproof paper, and then put it into an airtight cake tin, or if you don’t have one big enough, cover it up with layers of plastic bags (supermarket bags work well for this). Store it at the top of your pantry. Every few weeks, take it down and unwrap it, and add more brandy (to the cake, and to yourself – you’ll be needing it in the pre-Christmas frenzy).

cakebrandy spooningbrandy

Ideally, you would make this cake two or three months ahead of Christmas. I have never in my life ever been so organised. This year, I managed to make it about six weeks ahead. Maybe next year…

Ordinarily, I would have given metric measurements for this cake, but that would seem to break faith with my grandmother. But for everyone who has been brought up in the new money, 1/2 lb, or 8oz, is about 225gms, or very roughly, 1/4 of a kilo (250gms). If you look at the measures, this is a one-measure cake – 1/2 lb or 1/4 lb of each ingredient. The only tricky bit is adding the right number of eggs, but if you stick to a rule of thumb of four to five eggs per 250gms (about 1/2 lb) of butter, you should be right. I have on occasion doubled this recipe, and cooked it in a 24cm square tin, and the cake was just fine. If you do double the recipe (or multiply it 1.5 times), then don’t add exactly double (or 1.5 times) the amount of spices and essences. The flavours can become too strong if you simply double up.

Just before Christmas, I will ice the cake, with one layer of almond icing, one of royal icing, and some decorative icing on top. I will try to blog it, but that may well depend on just how much brandy I have been pouring into the cake.

Friday Feminist – Melissa McEwan

Cross posted

For the first time in my Friday Feminist series, a very-much contemporary feminist, and blogger. Melissa has a page full of Feminism 101, which you should read in its kick-ass entirety, and she is blogmistress of Shakesville, a diverse community of progressive writers.

On Periods: Let’s put this shit to bed right now: Women don’t lose their minds when they have period-related irritability. It doesn’t lower their ability to reason; it lowers their patience and, hence, tolerance for bullshit. If an issue comes up a lot during “that time of the month,” that doesn’t mean she only cares about it once a month; it means she’s bothered by it all the time and lacks the capacity, once a month, to shove it down and bury it beneath six gulps of willful silence.

Melissa McEwan, “On Periods


Apropos of this, and because I am fundamentally shallow, Mr Strange Land, take note of this:


She’ll believe what she damn well wants to believe

Poneke has been blogging about independent minded daughters. We have some of those in this house too.

I struggled out of sleep this morning to the dulcet tones of the strangelings arguing about the existence of god. Following their parents’ lead, Miss Ten and the elder Miss Seven say that there is no god, but the younger Miss Seven is determined to believe. I don’t think that she really knows what she is talking about, and I suspect that her belief is motivated by a penchant for perversity and a real desire to assert her independence from her strong willed twin and intellectual older sister, not to mention her parents. So she was insisting, loudly, to her sisters, that she was entitled to believe in god, and she was tenacious in defending her point. Eventually, the argument got very tense, and Mr Strange Land stepped in to stop the other two girls from monstering her.

But later on, I found this note attached to the mirror in the bathroom.


“You have a right to bely in god she is a gril”

Her feistiness and independence fill my heart with joy. As for the god-belief – well, she’s seven, and I’m not about to browbeat her into my belief structures, or lack of them. She will sort her own ideas out in her own good time.

It’s okay to force a girl to have sex if she has been flirting with you

Cross posted

“It’s okay to force a girl to have sex if she has been flirting with you.”

That’s what an astonishing 1 in 7 Australian boys say.

There’s a survey out today, from the White Ribbon Foundation, about domestic and family violence (press release PDF – 104KB). The statistics are appalling (there’s a surprise!), but it’s the attitudes that have me in despair, especially the attitudes of boys. The other beauty – 1 in 3 Australian boys think it’s okay to hit a girl.

These attitudes are strongest among 12 to 14 year old boys, which either suggests that older boys have grown up a little, and thought longer and harder about how to interact with girls, or that they have learned how to hide their attitudes, and come out with the socially acceptable platitudes. I hope it’s the former, but given the incidence of rape and violence in our societies, I fear that it’s the latter. 1 in 3 year 10 girls (year 11 in NZ), that is, girls in their eleventh year of education, aged about 15 or 16, say that they have experienced unwanted sex. That would be rape, of course, but we daren’t use that word. But that suggests that the boys learn to say that it’s not okay to force a girl to have sex, but their actions are quite different. And whatever they are doing, they are not conceptualising their actions as rape – it’s ‘forced sex’.

When will boys and men learn that ‘No’ means ‘No’, and forcing a woman or a girl to have sex when she has said ‘No’ is rape.