Monthly Archives: July 2009

Friday Feminist – Louisa Lawson (3)


What would you say if you saw these headlines in your morning paper? Yet why should you not see them? Wives suffer from long hours of work, low wages, lack of rest, and oppression, and women are citizens entitled to just such rights and privileges [as] are claimed by men, among these privileges being the right to cease work, and to make terms for the betterment of their condition.

Working men strike for higher wages, shorter hours, “smoke-ohs”, or in defence of one of their number unjustly or despotically treated, but though sensitive as to their own rights does it ever occur to them to think of the women? Is there any one member of all the affiliated trades who has reflected that there is another class more in need of union and of defensive leagues then he and his fellows. Never! The social constitution may be turned upside down and stood on its head so to speak, when men’s demands required hearing, but no one thinks of the women. Thousands of pounds are spent on organisation, circulating newspapers, bands, processions and free meals, and on the other side thousands on special services of constables and military, while the grievances of the men are being put to the test, but not a soul asks, “Have the women any claims?”

In point of fact even working men themselves stand in the position of employers, because just as under the wealthy there is the less powerful class of labour, so, subject to the social predominance of men, there are the women, weak, unorganised, and isolated.

Does a man concede to his employee wife, defined hours of rest, fair pay, just and considerate treatment? The wife’s hours of work have no limit. All day the house and at night the children. There is no Women’s Eight Hour Demonstration, though we can make a public holiday because the men have won this right. A wife has no time to think of her own life and development, she has no money to spend, it is “her husband’s money”, the complete right to her own children is not yet legally hers, and she is not even in independent possession of her own body.

Surely it must be admitted that she needs the protection of a union as much as a working man.

What is a wife’s pay? It is certainly what no union would allow any member to accept from any employer. She did not marry for pay, you may urge. True, but her work is worth as much as the man’s. He married her to share equally in his disasters as in his successes, and if she has to suffer with him in troubled times, surely she has a right to share equally when finances are sound. “She gets food, lodging and clothes?” Yes, but who else could be hired day and night for a lifetime on those terms.

Louisa Lawson, editorial in The Dawn, November 1890, in Olive Lawson (ed.), The First Voice of Australian Feminism: Excerpts from Louisa Lawson’s The Dawn 1888 – 1895, Simon and Schuster, 1990.

This will be my last quote from Louisa Lawson. I’ve been enjoying reading Olive Lawson’s book of extracts from Louisa Lawson’s newspaper, but in fairness to her and to her publishers, I must stop, well before I hit the fair-use limits. I urge you to hunt out this book in your local library, or to buy a copy for yourself if you can find one. I’m fascinated by the topics Louisa Lawson tackled, by her robust language, and her fearless advocacy for women, and saddened by the extent to which many of the same issues still engage us today, 120 years later.

Mustering time

dufclogoThe Fifteenth Down Under Feminists Carnival is coming up, so it’s time to hunt out some good posts and submit them. Don’t feel shy about submitting your own posts; it’s good to stand up and say, “I’m proud of this.” And do think about paying someone else the compliment of submitting one of her posts – it’s a lovely way to say, “I like what you do.” Any feminist post by any down under blogger is eligible for the carnival.

Closing date for submissions is Sunday 2 August. You can use the Carnival submission form, or if it won’t work for you, send them direct to Lauredhel, who is hosting the 15th Carnival at Hoyden about Town. Lauredhel’s e-mail address is lauredhelhoyden at gmail dot com.

You can tell my brain is going to jelly

I was just over at Third Cat’s place, and left a comment there, with a joke. But I’m not sure how many of the people who come by here also read Third Cat (‘though you ought to, especially if you are a woman of a certain age, and especially especially if you are a mother trying to work out how on earth you got to the space you are in), so I thought I would put the joke here too. My children love it.

Q. What’s the difference between snot and broccoli?

A. Kids don’t eat broccoli.

See! I told you that right now I have jelly for brains. I’m lecturing in the morning. This does not augur well.

Also, it has been raining in Adelaide for days and days and days, and I know I shouldn’t complain, but it would be nice to dry out for just a day or two.

Please don’t remind me of this grumble in parched February.

Work-life balance; we’re doing it wrong

Professor Barbara Pocock, of the Centre for Work and Life at the University of South Australia, thinks that we shouldn’t be talking about work-life balance at all. We should call it work-life interference, and try to measure how much work interferes with our life.

Professor Pocock leads a research team that conducts an annual survey relating to work-life in Australia. The survey has been running for three years now, so she and her team are starting to be able to pick out some trends. The most recent survey shows that part time work is no magic solution to the work-life balance struggle.

Professor Pocock, director of the Centre for Work and Life at the University of South Australia, told The Weekend Australian full-time working women should not kid themselves that going part-time would solve their problems.

“A third of full-time working women overall, 40 per cent of mothers and 25per cent of women without children, say they would rather work part-time,” she said.

“But this study suggests a lot of women will be disappointed by the amount of emotional relief they get by going part-time. On average, it will be better, but it is certainly not as big a change as you might expect.

“Everyone thinks those two free days mean you can run a house without help. So women tend not to purchase substitutes for their own time — they are much less likely to use a cleaner. But on the other side of that is a workplace that is often asking you to work from home or be available on those days off.”

I was deeply relieved to hear that. My own experience, having worked both official part time hours, and as a casual, is that the juggle gets no better. If I am working part time, then the amount I do at home and in the community simply increases, and my overall commitments don’t decrease. I could forego the community work, but I don’t do a lot of that anyway, and for the most part it’s centred around my children’s school, which relies heavily on volunteer parents (mostly mums, but quite a few dads too). Other parents at my daughters’ school say the same; if they do less paid work, then they simply end up doing more housework. Of course, data is not the plural of anecdote, and until now, my evidence has been only at the level of anecdote. So it’s rather nice to have my suspicion that part time work is a crock confirmed.

But it part time workers are unhappy with their work-life balance, full time workers are even less satisfied, especially mothers. Here Professor Pocock has some interesting data. Overall, about two-thirds to three-quarters of workers are satisfied with their work-life balance. However, over the three years that the study has been running, men’s satisfaction with work-life balance has remained about the same, but women’s has decreased (p.25 of full report). Professor Pocock speculates that this may have something to do with the economic downturn. The survey was conducted in March 2009, when the downturn was still very much heading down. Elsewhere, we’ve seen that although more men are losing jobs, creating the so-called “man-cession” (like, d’oh, go get a job in the caring sector, where lots of women have retained their jobs), women have remained responsible for the daily balancing of household budgets (Time article, UK Government Equalities Office report PDF – 528kb), creating extra stress for them, and perhaps adding to the daily struggle to balance work and life.

It does seem that a bit of flexibility is part of the answer; employees who asked for and were granted flexibiltiy in thier work arrangements reported much less work-life “interference” (Professor Pocock’s term – more on that below). Unsurprisingly, employees who were not granted flexibility remained unhappy, but so too did employees who were granted only a bit of flexibility, not all the flexibility they had asked for (p. 67 of the full report). It’s an all or nothing deal. Professor Pocock suggests that this means that legislation needs to do more than allow employees to ask for flexibility. It needs to put some onus on the employer to grant it if at all possible.

There’s lots of fascinating data in the report. It’s all available on-line, along with several press releases, from the Centre for Work and Life’s homepage.

But… work-life “interference.” I can see why Professor Pocock uses this term; a lot of the work is based around asking respondents to what extent they feel that their work interferes with their life. I’m not so keen on that, because no matter what, if you and the kids are to be fed and clothed and educated and housed and kept healthy and tended when unwell, then someone’s got to work, either running a business or as an employee, or at the most basic level, growing food and making shelters and clothes. Irrevocably, work is part of life, and one way or another, we have to find a way to juggle work commitments with family and life commitments. I prefer to see it as a juggle. That to me captures the sense that work is part of what we do, not something that interferes with what we do. It’s one of the many things we need to manage. “Juggle” also captures the sense that if just one thing goes wrong, a slight mishandling, a ball that’s a bit too heavy or fraction larger than the others, then unless we are very, very skilled, or very highly resourced (family and friends nearby to help, sympathetic employer, plenty of money to buy your way out of trouble), or just plain lucky, then it will all come crashing down.

But that’s a mere quibble. This is a fascinating project, and it will be interesting to see what comes out of it in future years.

Cross posted

Update: Per the comment from TheDeviantE, I have edited the post by replacing the word “gyp” with “crock.”

Friday Feminist – Louisa Lawson (2)

There are two views of the woman’s suffrage question commonly discussed, the justice of the measure, and its expediency. Few doubt its justice, many question its expediency, and yet, being just, what does all else matter?

Suppose that the right to vote lay with women only, and that the progress of the world was bringing expansive thoughts and hopes of a happier future into the minds of men. When men perceived that this right was unjustly withheld from them, and felt that their individual manhood was title enough to this right to a voice in decisions affecting all, would they tolerate discussion as to the expediency or wisdom of the measure? Would they stand by and hear the women conjecture how men might perchance misuse the concession if granted, would they quietly wait while political factions summed up the chances of the support of the new voters? No, they would say “Curse you – it is my right. What business is it of yours how I use it?”

Louisa Lawson, editorial in The Dawn, June 1890, in Olive Lawson (ed.), The First Voice of Australian Feminism: Excerpts from Louisa Lawson’s The Dawn 1888 – 1895, Simon and Schuster, 1990.

First steps to legislative change on rape

The NZ Herald is reporting that the Minister of Justice in New Zealand. is looking into changing the law around sexual violence. The article really reports no more than what the Minister said in his speech [full text]. The relevant comments are:

… I believe we need to have an open debate about the way in which sexual violence cases are conducted.

In this regard, I am currently considering potentially far-reaching reforms, including:

* The introduction of a positive definition of consent.

* A requirement that the court consider any steps the defendant may have taken to ascertain whether the complainant had consented, and

* Making evidence about previous sexual relationships between the complainant and any person inadmissible without prior agreement of the judge.

I have also asked the Law Commission to look at alternative approaches for dealing with sexual violence cases before the courts, with specific direction to investigate inquisitorial models.

This is a debate we need to have if we want to improve on the reporting rate of between 9 and 12 per cent for sexual violence offences.

The usual suspect is broadly supportive of these changes, but unsure about the moves around the definition of consent. (If you click through to read that post, don’t read the comments thread. Not that there’s anything there yet, but his commentariat is not known for progressive attitudes. It almost certainly will be vile.)

Here I have to say, the proposal is impractical. Power isn’t exactly proposing this change – more just floating the possibility. But I think consent is often implicit, not explicit, based on how someone responds to you. I think Canada may have gone down this path, but to me it reeks of almost having to sign a statutory declaration of consent before sex.

I disagree. As I have argued before, consent is a positive process, not an absence of denial. Of course there is a grey area, but that grey area lies somewhere between “she said yes” and “I’m am not sure whether she said yes”, not between, “she said no” and “she did not say no.” If this positive notion of consent is embodied in the law, then yes, people will have to be much more careful about their sexual behaviour, and whether their partner(s) is consenting to the activity. How can this be anything but a good thing?

These proposals are also very much in line with what the readers and writers of The Hand Mirror argues in our submission on the government discussion document on legislation about sexual violence. I’m sure that some of the other people and groups making submissions must have made similar arguments too. Score one for using blogging to effect positive change! And a big tick for the Minister of Justice, for continuing this process that was started by his predecessor, and continuing it so positively.

What I did during the holidays

You may recall that the school holidays ate my blog. This is what I was doing.

1. Taught the girls a little bit of music. Contrary to predictions, this has been quite successful so far. Thank you Granny Strange Land for sneakily leaving some cash here when she was last staying, which I used to buy the recorders and a music book. And some wine.

2. Planned, shopped, cooked, served and supervised a birthday party.

3. Gardened.

4. Took the girls on a cultural expedition, which precipitated two revelations, one pleasant, and one puzzling.

The pleasant one: A couple of the girls’ school friends, who very conveniently are sisters, were with us for a couple of days (their mother was doing the usual school holiday, busy job, childcare juggle). I had decided that we would spend one day at home, and go out on the other day. Because my car seats five people, and there were six of us (me, my three girls, our two friends), we took the bus. This in itself is an important parenting thing to do – it is a sad thing if a secondary school pupil or even a university student is unsure about how to catch buses because she or he has never been on public transport before. Once we got off the bus down town, we walked a couple of blocks to the Migration Museum, where the girls got activity sheets and disappeared into the museum, and I took my time and wandered through all the exhibits, reading every possible word and looking at every single artifact. Every now and then a couple of the girls came back to check in with me, and I spent a bit of time helping the Misses Seven with their sheets, but other than that, they managed their own activities. Once we had finished up at the museum, I led them back through the streets to the bus, and we came home for lunch.

Did you catch that word, “led”? This is important. For years and years and years, whenever we have been out, I have had to be on constant watch, checking on small children, keeping them company, making sure they are safe, and they feel safe. Now, they are old enough to be sensible, to look after themselves a bit, and to head off on their own for some of the time. I am delighted in their growing independence, but sneakily, I am also delighted that at last, I can have some quiet space FOR MYSELF when we head out for a drop of culture. Don’t get me wrong! I love going places with the girls, I enjoy their company, I find it fascinating to watch them and their reactions as they go through a museum or art gallery or garden. But it is also good to be able to go at my own pace for some of the time.

The puzzling one: Why were Maori excluded?

5. Spent an evening with a friend (the aforementioned visiting girls’ mother) watching the movie Mamma Mia. My friend and I sang along to every song, and danced, and then did some more singing on top of that – she has a fabulous voice. Our daughters had that look of appalled fascination on their faces that you see when someone overturns an old plank of wood and finds worms, slaters and slugs under it.

6. Worked on course content for semester 2.

7. Read a book on Machiavelli for which I now have to write a review.

8. Slept in and enjoyed the peace and quiet every morning.