Monthly Archives: June 2009

Shining a light

Our local shopping centre (quite large, well supermarketed and fashion boutiqued, bookshops, pharmacies, wine cellars and all that) has a lighting scheme for its underground carparks. Each park has a light above it, which shows green if the space is available, and red if it is taken. So you can drive in and spot where there’s an empty space without too much trouble (unless of course, you have a different colour perception range than the norm). Miss Ten delights in spotting both false negatives and false positives. It’s called “smart” parking.

But there are different coloured lights for some car parks. The lights always show red if the park is occupied (except for the false negative problem) but the parks for people with disabilities who use an access parking card show blue when they are not occupied. Blue seems to be a recognised colour for signalling accessibility parking, ‘though I couldn’t find any regulations to that effect.

But guess what colour they used to signal a vacant “Parents with prams and buggies and babies and toddlers” park? Go on! Take a wild guess, right now, before reading on.

Okay. Made your guess?

The answer is below the fold, and a few spaces down (to give people using feed readers a chance to make an unbiased (hah!) guess).

Continue reading

Friday Feminist – Catharine MacKinnon (3)

If sexuality is central to women’s definition and forced sex is central to sexuality, rape is indigenous, not exceptional, to women’s social condition.

Catharine MacKinnon, Toward a Feminist Theory of the State, 1989

More libertarian than most

Scrubone is slowly, slowly, slowly* developing a graph of the NZ political blogosphere, based on the Political Spectrum Quiz. I’ve just done the quiz, and it turns out that I am a left social libertarian. Wev. Somewhat worryingly, it turns out that I am more libertarian than many of the so-called right wingers in the NZ blog scene. NB: Some caveats apply: it’s an on-line quiz; it’s biased towards the USA scene; it assumes the existence of a god; some of the questions are ambiguous. But it’s still fun, and providing that we are all answering the same questions, it can provide some sense of who we are in relation to each other.

Here’s me: 3.43 left, 6.55 libertarian.


That makes sense to me.

I’ve got lots of favourite sayings that represent my feminism, and among them is one I have adopted from Stef, the ex-expat, who posts at The Hand Mirror. Feminism means that I’m free to stuff up, and make my very own mistakes. Feminism makes me responsible for me, for the good and the bad. I’m damned if I want anyone else telling me what to do, and I’m equally damned if I want to tell anyone else how to live their lives. But I do want to make sure that people are free to choose. To my mind, contra Chandra Kukathas in The Liberal Archipelago, that means that you might need to ensure that it is possible to be free. And even if someone has chosen a position of subjugation, you need to be sure that at any time, she can choose to leave that position. Nevertheless, if that is what someone chooses, then even if I don’t like her choice, I want her to be free to make it.

That accounts for the libertarian part of equation. I’m not pure libertarian; I’m inclined to think that free speech is not a god-given eternal right, and that hate speech can be equivalent to shouting fire in a crowded theatre. So my response to this question on the quiz…

It should be against the law to use hateful language toward another racial group.

… undoubtedly reduced my overall libertarian score. When a black man in the US, an Aboriginal man in Australia, a Maori boy in New Zealand can be killed and the killers not prosecuted, or let off, or convicted only of a minor offence, then there is something profoundly wrong with the way we talk about black and Aboriginal and Maori people. And when women can be characterised as somehow deserving to be raped…. well, that looks like inciting people to violence to me. So I’m not okay with the freedom to spout hate speech, at all.

But above all, I support the right to choose, and make my own choices. When it comes to social issues, I’m libertarian.

But economically, I’m at least somewhat wet. I love taxation! And I absolutely love state provision of education and health and welfare. Why? Because they give people the tools and resources to be free, to make their own choices, to be responsible for themselves, as fully autonomous adults. And that’s why I end up on the left side of the economic scale. Freedom to choose is very, very important, but it’s also important to enable people to make those choices.

Take the quiz! Find out where you stand. But then do the difficult bit. Think a little bit about why you end up in your particular position. And more importantly, can you justify it?

Update: Scrubone has put his chart of the NZ political blogosphere on its own page.

*Another Eric Carle reference.

Stranger in the House

Before moving to Australia, I spent a few years working in the New Zealand public service, as a policy wonk. As part of that job, on occasion I had to go and sit in the House, ready to advise the Minister sponsoring a bill should the opposition raise a tricky technical point. My colleagues and I were literally on the floor of the House of Parliament, even though we were not elected. We sat to the right of the speaker, and slightly behind, on a bench (padded, thank goodness). There was a line over which we were never, ever to cross. Only elected Members of Parliament could go beyond that line. Woe betide the innocent public servant who answered the Minister’s beckoning finger, and put a foot over that line. A parliamentarian would leap to her or his feet and shout, “Stranger in the House!” and the offending official would be removed.

I never put a foot across the line. Nor did my colleagues.

There is good reason for the rule. It came about when Charles I tried to charge into the House and deal with his critics face to face. He was not a large man, so chances are he wasn’t going to have a great deal of success in monstering people. But he did have the power of the monarchy behind him, so even if he could not have dominated Parliament physically, he could nevertheless do so through the power of his position. Unsurprisingly, the Parliament was not impressed, and so it ruled that no men (hah!) who had not been elected to Parliament could enter the chamber (aside from the servants, such as Hansard reporters,* and messengers). It’s an important rule in Westminster-style parliamentary democracies, that parliaments should be able to debate without fearing the influence of outsiders, or strangers.

But four centuries later, when our society has completely changed, and in countries like Australia and New Zealand and the United Kingdom and Canada and Sweden and Denmark and Norway and Iceland (I could carry on, but you get the picture), Parliament is sovereign, and held to be sovereign in the hearts and minds of people who live in those countries, you might think that the Stranger in the House rule could be relaxed.

Think again. Just last week, in the Australian Federal Parliament, a Senator and mother, Sarah Hanson-Young, was separated from her two year old daughter, for no good reason other than the Senate President deciding that the child was a Stranger in the House. There’s an excellent commentary by Blue Milk, posted at her own place and at Hoyden about Town, and another on Andrew Bartlett’s blog. Both make the point that this was very much an exceptional circumstance; Senator Hanson-Young had made good arrangements for childcare, but a Senate division was called early, and she needed to be there for her vote to be counted. In her usual practice, she was walking her daughter down the corridors to say hello to her colleagues, and goodbye to her, when the bells rang. She had just four minutes to get into the House and be counted, not enough time for her to get back to her office and hand her daughter over to her trusted and beloved nannie. Caught out, she did the only thing possible, taking her child into the House, so that she could do the most trivial part of her job, simply being there as part of the head count. On the order of the Senate President, her daughter was taken away from her, in tears. Hanson-Young stayed there, in tears herself, in order to be counted. She has an account of the events here; it’s very obvious that these were highly unusual circumstances.

Talkback radio (apparently – I don’t listen to it) and letters columns in the paper were filled with outrage. How dare this woman expect to take her baby into her workplace! Other parents don’t get to do such outrageous things!! Sort your childcare out, lady, and don’t come bleating to us!!!

But… but… but…

Other parents do take their children to work. anjum has done it, and so have I, on occasion, when I needed to get something finished at work. All of my daughters have attended meetings, gone to tutorials, and sat quietly in the corner of my office while I have cleared my e-mail and gathered up some work to take home for the day. It happens. And really, the world doesn’t end.

The “Stranger in the House” rule needs to change, to accomodate parents. In the olden days, a child would have been at home with her mother, and it would have been her daddy who was the senator. These days, senators and MPs are female and male, parents and childfree, straight and gay, not as many colours of the rainbow as would be nice, but nevertheless, no longer predictably white, male, middle class, and with a nice wife at home to carry all the childcare. Just maybe, it’s time for the rules to change to reflect that.

The diehard traditionalists might try to argue that if we let two year old strangers into the house willy nilly, then by the operations of the dread slippery slope, fairly soon there will be armed soldiers in there demanding that votes go a certain way. But like all slippery slope arguments, that’s just absurd. Usually, with a slippery slope, it’s very easy to make judgements about each end of the of slope. This is a bog standard feature of slippery slope arguments; the slippery difficult bit is in the middle, not at either end. We all know damned well that a two year old child is not going to influence which way the Senate votes, and is not going to distract her mother from the important task of being counted (if you haven’t clicked through to them already, you should really read anjum’s and Blue Milk’s posts about this point). We also all know that it would be a terrible thing for our democracies to be subverted and taken over by strangers in the house bearing guns. Somewhere in between these two extremes, there is a cross over point, where the harmless entrance of a child turns into undue influence. But Senator Hanson-Young and her daughter were nowhere near that point.

If we are going to be serious about supporting working parents, and supporting work-life balance for all workers, including parents, then we need to look at some of our work practices. We need to get a lot more flexible. That includes being flexible about when children can accompany their children to work. And it includes thinking long and hard about whether some of the rules we have operated by in the past are really still relevant today.


* Yes yes yes. I know that Hansard did not start until a later time, but I am taking the opportunity to cast a nasturtium an aspersion about just how public servants are regarded.

We had a weekend away

Granny and Granddad Strange Land have come to visit (foreshadowed here). They said, “Why don’t you and Mr Strange Land head away for a weekend, and we will look after the strangelings.” (Actually, they didn’t refer to their grand children as the strangelings, nor to Mr Strange Land as Mr Strange Land, but you take the point.) So, we did. We raced away to a cottage in Victor Harbour for three whole nights.

We had to head back in to Adelaide for Friday evening, because the strangelings were performing (also foreshadowed here). They were magnificent. All of them. We were very proud. Miss Ten performed ably in a low key production of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and the Misses Seven were very beautiful, and convincing, nightingales.

We took the opportunity (Mr Strange Land not at work, having to come back into town anyway, lots and lots of free time) to test some pianos. We have a piano, and Miss Ten and I both play, but it is very very old, and it can no longer be tuned to concert pitch, and although I can play a trill on it, Miss Ten cannot, because it is too old and heavy. It’s not a problem yet, but it will be within a year or so, when she will get to the stage where she needs to be able to learn to play a trill. And when I am singing, I have to transpose everything up a semitone, to get the right pitch. This strains my musical capacities to the limit, and beyond. So we would like to get a new piano. I tried several pianos in the shop, but Mr Strange Land pointed out that they all played bum notes. I thought that was unnecessary.

We were, shall we say, unconvinced by Victor Harbour. It is apparently, the beachside place to go to, from Adelaide. I can’t see why. There is a lovely beach, and a lovely granite island around which one can walk. But nothing else, except for apartments and shops and concession stands and commercial ghastliness. Adelaide is a foodie town, and Victor Harbour is at the base of the Fleurieu peninsula, which advertises itself as being all about food, but the height of dining sophistication in Victor Harbour is the local pub, which serves not decent pub grub, but bog standard RSL favourites, like crumbed schnitzel. It reminded us of Taupo, twenty years ago, only not as sophisticated. (Mr Strange Land and I feel that we have a fair basis of comparison here; we stayed in Taupo for a few days nearly twenty years ago, on our honeymoon. ‘Though perhaps we were more interested in each other than in Taupo.) To be fair to Victor Harbour, it was the middle of winter, and some establishments would operate only in the high season. Even so, it was not good.

And to be even more fair to Victor Harbour, it was just not my kind of place. Small beaches, quiet cottages, nothing to do other than read and walk and swim and play in the sand, not too many other people – that’s my kind of place. I don’t want to be entertained by local attractions and rides and shops and whoop-de-whoops; I want to let go and forget about the rest of the world, and just be. I should be very grateful to any Adelaide people who have helpful suggestions about where to go next time, or where to take the strangelings next summer.

And to be even even more more fair fair to Victor Harbour, we did enjoy walking over the pier to Granite Island, and around it. Though we did help them with their signage.

Before the Strange Lands visited.


After the Strange Land’s visited.


Other than helping people with their punctuation, we drove about a bit, to see a bit of this land where we live. Notably, we drove over that bridge to Hindmarsh Island. There are two sides to the island. On one, facing the mainland, there is a row of somewhat skanky, and some not so skanky, old shacks / baches / beach houses / holiday homes. They looked interesting, and livable, and real. On the other, facing the ocean, there is a marina, with masses of new McMansions, each with a private jetty, and each crammed onto a small section (block). And nothing else. Mile upon mile of houses and jetties, but no trees, no parks, no community spaces. Not even a local shop, where neighbours might bump into each other as they buy a bottle of milk. Just huge knocked up houses, pushed as ideal retirement homes. The horror! The horror!

We got home on Sunday afternoon to find the strangelings jumping in delight (literally) to see us, and Granddad Strange Land cooking dinner, and Granny Strange Land pouring wine. And knitting. It was lovely to have a small break from the constant demands of parenting, and even lovelier to come home, to find our darlings safe and well and happy, and the Grand Strange Lands looking not too bad either. There had been some moments during the weekend. Granny Strange Land had noticed that the girls’ dressing gowns were looking a little dirty (it was the crumby dried milo stain right down one girl’s dressing gown that alerted her to the problem). So she suggested that they all get dressed, and put their pyjamas and dressing gowns into the wash. “Oh no,” they all said. “Mum never washes our dressing gowns.”

So there you have it. I am, it seems, a negligent mother.

On Monday we will be back to our usual schedules, ‘though to my delight, my beloved parents will be here for another week yet. They are planning to head away for a night, for a mini holiday within a holiday. But they will be giving Victor Harbour a miss.

Friday Feminist – Sandra Lee Bartky

As modern industrial societies change and as women themselves offer resistance to patriarchy, older forms of domination are eroded. But new forms arise, spread, and become consolidated. Women are no longer required to be chaste or modest, to restrict their sphere of activity to the home, or even to realize their properly feminine destiny in maternity: Normative femininity is coming more and more to be centered on woman’s body – not its duties and obligations or even its capacity to bear children, but its sexuality, more precisely, its presumed heterosexuality and its appearance. There is, of course, nothing new in women’s preoccupation with youth and beauty. What is new is the growing power of the image in a society increasingly oriented toward the visual media. Images of normative femininity, it might be ventured, have replaced the religiously oriented tracts of the past. New too is the spread of this discipline to all classes of women and its deployment throughout the life cycle. What was formerly the speciality of the aristocrat or courtesan is now the routine obligation of every woman, be she a grandmother or a barely pubescent girl.

To subject oneself to the new disciplinary power is to be up-to-date, to be “with-it”; as I have argued, it is presented to us in ways that are regularly disguised. It is fully compatible with the current need for women’s wage labour, the cult of youth and fitness, and the need of advanced capitalism to maintain high levels of consumption. Further, it represents a saving in the economy of enforcement: Since it is women themselves who practice this discipline on and against their bodies, men get off scot-free.

The woman who checks her make-up half a dozen times a day to see if her foundation has caked or her mascara run, who worries that the wind or rain may spoil her hairdo, who looks frequently to see if her stockings have bagged at the ankle, or who, feeling fat, monitors everything she eats, has become, just as surely as the inmate of the Panopticon, a self-policing subject, a self committed to self-surveillance. This self-surveillance is a form of obedience to patriarchy. It is also the reflection in women’s consciousness of the fact that she is under surveillance in ways that he is not, that whatever else she may become, she is importantly a body designed to please or excite. There has been induced in many women, then, in Foucault’s words, “a state of conscious and permanent visibility that assures the automatic functioning of power.” Since the standards of female bodily acceptability are impossible fully to realize, requiring as they do a virtual transcendence of nature, a woman may live much of her life with a pervasive feeling of bodily deficiency. Hence, a tighter control of the body has gained a new kind of hold over the mind.

Sandra Lee Bartky, “Foucault, Femininity and the Modernization of Patriarchal Power,” in Irene Diamond and Lee Quimby (eds), Feminism and Foucault: Reflections on Resistance, 1988

50 year old women should not be seen in jeans

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