Monthly Archives: February 2010

Friday Feminist – Christine de Pizan (3)

One day as I was sitting alone in my study surrounded by books on all kinds of subjects, devoting myself to literary studies, my usual habit,. my mind dwelt at length on the weighty opinions of various authors whom I had studies for a long time. I looked up from my book, having decided to leave such subtle questions in peace and to relax by reading some small book. By chance a strange volume came into my hands, not one of my own, but one which had been given to me along with some others. When I held it open and saw its title page that it was by Matheolus, I smiled, for thought I had never seen it before, I had often heard that like books it discussed respect for women. I thought I would browse through it to amuse myself. I had not been reading for very long when my good mother called me to refresh myself with some supper, for it was evening. Intending to look at it the next day, I put it down. the next morning, again seated in my study as was my habit, I remembered wanting to examine this book by Matheolus. I started to read it and went on for a little while. Because the subject seemed to me not very pleasant for people who do not enjoy lies, and of no use in developing virtue or manners, given its lack of integrity in diction and theme, and after browsing here and there and reading the end, I put it down in order to turn my attention to more elevated and useful study. But just the sight of this book, even thought it was of no authority, made me wonder how it happened that so many different men – and learned men among them – have been and are so inclined to express both in speaking and in their treatises and writings so many wicked insults about women and their behavior. Not only one or two and not even just this Matheolus for this book had a bad name anyways and was intended as a satire) but, more generally, from the treatises of all philosophers and poets and from all the orators – it would take too long to mention their names – it seems that they all speak from one and the same mouth. Thinking deeply about these matters, I began to examine my character and conduct as a natural woman and, similarly, I considered other women whose company I frequently kept, princesses, great ladies, women of the middle and lower classes, who had graciously told me of their most private and intimate thoughts, hoping that I could judge impartially and in good conscience whether the testimony of so many notable men could be true. To the best of my knowledge, no matter how long I confronted or dissected the problem, I could not see or realize how their claims could be true when compared to the natural behavior and character of women.

Christine de Pizan, The Book of the City of Ladies, 1405

Memo to doctors: women are moral adults

A group of New Zealand doctors is challenging a proposed Medical Council guideline on abortion. The new guideline requires doctors to tell women who are unsure about their pregnancy that termination is a possibility. They are not required to provide the certification for abortion themselves (under NZ law, a woman must obtain signatures from two certifying consultants), they are certainly not required to provide the abortion themselves. However under the proposed guideline, they must tell women of the possibility of abortion, and refer them on to another doctor.

So this is an attempt to balance doctors’ freedom of conscience with patients’ needs. I’m already pretty unhappy with the balance in favour of doctors: why on earth should doctors be allowed to refuse to provide medical treatment in the first place. But this is hardly an imposition, that doctors should be required to tell patients about the possibility of a particular procedure.

I think the subtext from the doctors who oppose this new guideline is particularly nasty. It says that they will make moral decisions for their patients, because women can’t be trusted to make those moral decisions themselves.

I’m not interested in any medical doctor telling me what to think about moral issues. I’m interested in them telling me about what treatment options are available to me, what effects those particular options may have on me, what the likely outcomes are if we leave a condition untreated. But in no circumstance do I think that a doctor has any role in making moral decisions for me.

The text of the new guideline is under judicial review. It will be interesting to see what the court says about doctors as arbiters of morality.

Update: See the Queen of Thorns for an excellent snark about this, and there’s a discussion at The Hand Mirror too.

But what about the parents?

As part of its coalition agreement with the National party, ACT was promised a working party on school choice. Their basic idea is that the top 5% and the bottom 20% of students should be identified, and then those students and their parents can choose to go to different schools for different classes, depending on their needs. So a child might go to one school (“provider” in the report’s language) for one class, and another school for another class, and back to their base school for the rest of their education, taking the relevant portions of funding with them wherever they go. You can download the whole report if you like (Step Change: Success the only Option, Report of the Inter-Party Working Group for School Choice – PDF 2.3MB) but I wouldn’t bother. It seems to be a very thin piece of research, channeling ACT market ideology. Even so, the two ACT MPs on the committee don’t think it goes far enough: they’re releasing their own minority report.

You will no doubt already be thinking that this is vouchers in disguise, but frankly, I’d rather have vouchers than this ill-thought-through nonsense. Over at Red Alert, Kelvin Davis has been doing an excellent job taking the report apart. In his most recent post, he takes on the logistics question. That is, how on earth are we going to get 25% of the school children in New Zealand on the move each day, to get to their specialist classes. ACT et al have suggested buses, but I bet you that just won’t happen. Instead, as usual with New Zealand public schools, there won’t be enough money to fund the activities and extra education properly, so any parents who want to help their children to take advantage of the extra education on offer will end up running a taxi service themselves. And what that will mean is more cars on the roads, more parents juggling work and childcare and education commitments, more organisation just to keep your family arrangements ticking over.

None of these things are difficult in themselves, but add them as yet another thing to already stretched households where the adults are working full or near full time, or to already stretched households where paid work is scarce so there’s just no spare money for running the car much, and you have a recipe for outrageous stress.

You know what would be really, really nice? It would be great to be able to drop the kids at the local school, and be confident that no matter which school they were at, they were going to get the best possible education, because the school was adequately resourced to teach kids of all abilities. No running about like headless chooks just to get the children to a school where the education they need is available, because it’s available right in their neighbourhood, where their lives are physically located.

Education is not just about kids and schools. It’s about kids and schools and parents and caregivers. Any education policy needs to think about all three of those things.

Bloody hell!

Kevin Rudd has been taking lessons from Father Abbott.

At that point one of my friends introduced me, dropping in that I am completing a PhD. At this, Rudd rolled his eyes and in a terse voice lacking any sense of irony remarked that is the “excuse” that “all” young women are using nowadays to avoid starting families.

He made this remark to Nina Funnell, who is a researcher in the Journalism and Media Research Centre at the University of NSW. She has written a newspaper opinion piece about it. It’s an admirable takedown: you should go and read it now.

Update: A Shiny New Coin also talks about Rudd’s remarks, and there’s more at Skeptic Lawyer.


The Ninth Festival of Feminist Parenting is up at Mothers for Women’s Lib.

Women aren’t “us”

Graeme Blundell has a good review of the third series of Underbelly in The Weekend Australian magazine. Good, because he uses the terms “us” and “our” and “you”; he makes the reader (that would be me) feel as if I am part of the experience, that I have seen some of this series too. It makes me want to watch the series.

In the second part of his review column, he switches genre almost as far has he can, moving from the sheer nastiness of corruption in the New South Wales police in the 1980s and 1990s, to the joy of Sesame Street, with its unfailing commitment to good television for pre-school children. Again, he uses the words “us” and “we” – a mode that includes his readers in the experience. He is enthusiastic about Sesame Street, and he kindled the same enthusiasm in me, making me remember that from its beginning, Sesame Street was revolutionary.

It was a revelation and showed us that children are sophisticated viewers: they have a shrewd sense of fact and fantasy and are active interpreters of plot.

I felt as though I had been drawn into the group of people that admired and ‘enjoyed’ Underbelly, and rejoiced in Sesame Street.

Until the last sentence.

And the TV sets came out of the cupboards where our feminist wives had hidden them.

That “us” and “our” and “we”? He was only speaking to people who have wives.* Not to me at all. And somehow, I don’t think he had lesbian women with wives in mind at all, when he was prattling on with his inclusive pronouns.

When do you think that he will realise that women are people too?

Valentine’s Day – doing it right

Stylised heart, with Cupid's arrow, love birds and roses, with 'how do I love thee' across the middle, and 'let me count the ways - six south australians reveal what touches their heart' below.The cover of the local paper’s Saturday magazine insert didn’t look promising this weekend – a stylized heart, pierced by Cupid’s arrow, with love birds tweeting about and roses for extra decoration, and “how do I love thee” plastered across the middle. The teaser below reads: “Let me count the ways – six south Australians reveal what touches their heart”.

Oh no, I thought. Here we go for a dose of schmaltzy, ageist heteronormativity, with a side serve of excluding singles for good measure, all in honour of Valentine’s Day.

But The Advertiser surprised me.

The five stories inside feature a mother’s love for baby, a young gay man and his partner, a woman and her guide dog, a man who loves sport, and a wife and husband who have just celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary. Each of the stories shows how the the person’s love is part of their lives; the sports lover talks about taking his son with him to matches, and acknowledges how his wife makes it possible, the gay man talks about the meals his partner cooks for him. It’s all about love as a part of life, rather than some overhyped unreal romanticism about the one perfect person for you.

Fortunately for my on-going assessment that there’s good reason for The Advertiser to be tabloid sized, further into the magazine there’s a column about what men should wear and do for Valentine’s Day, and what women should wear and do (not available on-line). It’s all about him giving her very expensive gifts, and her getting dressed up in sexy lingerie. Sigh.