Category Archives: Feminism

Leopards… spots… Chris Trotter redux

Cross posted

In July 2010, NZ “left wing” political commentator Chris(opher) Trotter wrote this in respect of Labour MP Steve Chadwick’s proposed abortion law reform bill.

The first question I’d like to ask Labour list MP Steve Chadwick is: “Why now?” What’s convinced her that the time is right to reopen the abortion debate? What ill-omened denizen of the current political environment has told her that this is the moment to introduce a members bill permitting abortion-on-demand up to the 24th week of pregnancy?

I would really, really like to know who it was. Because, try as I may, I’m finding it really difficult to make the cost/benefit analysis come out in Ms Chadwick’s, her party’s, or even her gender’s favour.

Dominion Post, 9 July 2010

In other words…. “No no no! Even though I agree with a woman’s right to choose, now is just not the right time for it, because it’s BAAAAAADDD for the Left.”

In November 2010, Chris Trotter wrote this in respect of Matt McCarten’s candidacy in the Mana by-election.

When Matt McCarten told me he was thinking of putting his name forward for the Mana by-election, I shuddered inwardly. … The political analyst in me pursed his lips and shook his head.

“With the Labour Party moving steadily to the Left,” he intoned disapprovingly, “this is precisely the wrong time to challenge Goff’s hand-picked candidate in an important by-election in one of the party’s safest seats.”

Then I caught the gleam in Matt’s eye, and I told my inner political analyst to go stick his objections where the sun don’t shine.

Because if being on the Left means waiting for the “right time” to fight for your principles, then, as the hero of Howard Spring’s wonderful political novel, Fame Is The Spur, discovered, when the fight comes to you, the bright sword of principle can no longer be drawn. Through all those years, while you were waiting for the “right time”, the sword’s blade was rusting fast to the scabbard.

Dominion Post, 12 November 2010.

So on the one hand, even though The Left holds principles dear, it must be pragmatic, but on the other, to hell with pragmatism: The Left should hold fast to its principles.

Guess what the difference is between the two cases….

Update: Chris Trotter has left a comment over at The Hand Mirror, where I cross-posted this. Chris Trotter’s comment.

I believe that’s what you call “a fair cop”.

Guilty as charged.

Good on him.

Friday Feminist – Almas Sayeed

Cross posted

I understood that in his mind, Dad was fulfilling his social obligation as father and protector. He worried about my economic stability and, in a roundabout way, my happiness. Feminism and community activism had enabled me to understand these things as part of a prescribed role for women. At the same time, growing up in Kansas and coming to feminism here meant that I had to reconcile a number of different issues. I am a Muslim, first-generation Indian, feminist woman, studying in a largely homogeneous white, Christian community in Midwestern America. What sacrifices are necessary for me to retain my familial relationships as well as a sense of personal autonomy informed by Western feminism.

The feminist agenda in my community is centered on ending violence against women, fighting for queer rights and maintaining women’s reproductive choices. As such, the way that I initially became involved with this community was through community projects such as “Womyn Take Back the Night,” attending pride rallies and working at the local domestic violence shelter. I am often the only woman of color in feminist organizations and at feminist events. Despite having grown up in the Bible belt, it is difficult for me to relate to stories told by my closest friends of being raised on cattle ranches and farms, growing up Christian by default and experiencing the strict social norms of small, religious communities in rurla Kansas. Given the context of this community – a predominantly white, middle-class, college town – I have difficulty explaining that my feminism has to address issues like, “I should be able to wear both hijab and shorts if I chose to.” The enormity of our agenda leaves little room to debate issues equally important but applicable only to me, such as the meaning of veiling, arranged marriages versus dating and how the north-south divide uniquely disadvantages women in the developing world.

Almas Sayeed, “Chappals and Gym Shorts: An Indian Muslim Woman in the Land of Oz”, in Colonize This! Young Women of Color on Today’s Feminism, Daisy Hernandez and Bushra Rehman (eds), Seal Press 2002.

Apropos of agency

Cross posted

anjum has been writing about agency with respect to Muslim women in particular, but also in respect of all women in minority ethnic groups: We’re quite capable of speaking for ourselves, imperial feminism, dodging bullets. Apropos of that, here is a challenge I’ve given my students, something which seems to have rattled some of them a little, especially those of them who felt that we (whoever “we” is) ought to be very worried about the various forms of veiling that many Muslim women wear, and should be doing something about it.

Turn it around, I say to them. Imagine what a newcomer to Australia or New Zealand, or indeed any other Western nation, might say about the practices we force on women here. Women have to get the hair waxed off their legs, they must wear make-up and straighten their hair, when they’re at work they have to wear shoes that make their feet ache and can result in long term damage to their legs and hips, and there are some foods they’re not supposed to eat, so that they can keep their weight down. Sure, they can “choose” not to do these things, but if they don’t, then they will be criticised, sometimes quite severely. There are no formal rules about these practices, but all the women understand that this is what they must do, and if they don’t, they will pay the price.

Then I say to them, how would you feel if the newcomer decides that she will do her best to rescue Western women, to work hard to liberate Western women from these practices, because it’s clear that they need rescuing.

I’ve had a few stunned silences in my tutorials when I’ve put it that way. And in other places. Including in myself.

200 years later, and we’re still making the same case

Cross posted

The excellent Blue Milk has posted a quote from Andrea O’Reilly, in which Professor Reilly questions the nature of our arguments around improving the status and practice of motherhood.

While I do believe that empowered mothers are more effective mothers and that anti-sexist childrearing and maternal activism are worthwhile aims, I still wonder and worry why the rhetoric of rationalization has become the strategy of choice among feminist activists and scholars today and why our campaigns for social change centre on children, and not ourselves as mothers. Why can we not simply demand that motherhood be made better for mothers themselves?

Click through to read the whole quote.

Professor O’Reilly acknowledges that as a matter of rhetorical strategy, it may be a good idea to emphasise that making things better for mothers will make things better for children. But why, she asks, can we not just make things better for mothers, for their own sake?

It’s a good question, but one that can be discussed over at Blue Milk’s place. I want to tell you about the resonance I heard in Professor O’Reilly’s writing. It’s a resonance with Mary Wollstonecraft. In her A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, published in 1792, Wollstonecraft argues that men and women are of the same kind, that although there may be differences between them, they are differences of degree, not kind, and that if that is the case, then women have a right to be educated, just as much as men do. That is, she argues for women’s right to education on the basis of principle.

But she also argues:

Do passive indolent women make the best wives? Confining our discussion to the present moment of existence, let us see how such weak creatures perform their part? Do the women who, by the attainment of a few superficial accomplishments, have strengthened the prevailing prejudice, merely contribute to the happiness of their husbands? Do they display their charms merely to amuse them? And have women, who have early imbibed notions of passive obedience, sufficient character to manage a family or educate children?

But these littlenesses would not degrade their character, if women were led to respect themselves, if political and moral subjects were opened to them; and, I will venture to affirm, that this is the only way to make them properly attentive to their domestic duties.

But it is vain to expect the present race of weak mothers either to take that reasonable care of a child’s body, which is necessary to lay the foundation of a good constitution, supposing that it do not suffer for the sins of its fathers;b or, to manage its temper so judiciously that the child will not have, as it grows up, to throw off all that its mother, its first instructor, directly or indirectly taught; and unless the mind have uncommon vigour, womanish follies will stick to the character throughout life. The weakness of the mother will be visited on the children!

In public schools women, to guard against the errors of ignorance, should be taught the elements of anatomy and medicine, not only to enable them to take proper care of their own health, but to make them rational nurses of their infants, parents, and husbands;

Besides, by the exercise of their bodies and minds women would acquire that mental activity so necessary in the maternal character, united with the fortitude that distinguishes steadiness of conduct from the obstinate perverseness of weakness.

Arguments from pragmatism have a long history in feminist thinking.

Yes, I know that patriarchy harms men too, and that in slowly, slowly, knocking away the patriarchal structures that oppress women, we create a better world for everyone. But as Andrea O’Reilly says, and as Wollstonecraft argues in other places, wouldn’t it be good for women to be educated, for women’s work to be valued, just because women deserve it, for themselves.

Friday Feminist – Marilyn Frye (3)

Cross posted

The root of the word “oppression” is the element “press”. The press of the crowd; pressed into military service; to press a pair of pants; printing press; press the button. Presses are used to mold things or flatten them or reduce them in bulk, sometimes to reduce them by squeezing out the gasses or liquids in them. Something pressed is something caught between or among forces and barriers which are so related to each other that jointly they restrain, restrict or prevent the thing’s motion or mobility. Mold. Immobilize. Reduce.

The mundane experience of the oppressed provides another clue. One of the most characteristic and ubiquitous features of the world as experienced by oppressed people is the double bind – situations in which options are reduced to a very few and all of them expose one to penalty, censure or deprivation. For example, it is often a requirement upon oppressed people that we smile and be cheerful. If we comply, we signal our docility and our acquiescence in our situation. We need not, then, be taken note of. We acquiesce in being made invisible, in our occupying no space. We participate in our own erasure. On the other hand, anything but the sunniest countenance exposes us to being perceived as mean, bitter, angry or dangerous. This means, at the least, that we may be found “difficult” or unpleansant to work with, which is enough to cost one one’s livelihood; at worst, being seen as man, bitter angry or dangerous has been known to result in rape, arrest, beating and murder. One can only choose to risk one’s preferred form and rate of annihilation.

Marilyn Frye, “Oppression,” in The Politics of Reality, 1983

Victim blaming 101

Cross posted

Gregory Meads murdered Helen Meads just four days after she said she was going to leave their marriage. Now that he has been convicted by a jury, some more information has been released. It turns out that he beat her savagely about 18 months before he killed her.

The details are in this newspaper report, and they are horrifying. The report is *triggering*.

What the Meads jury didn’t hear

But it seems that at least one police office thinks that it’s Helen Meads fault.

Detective Sergeant Rod Carpinter, the officer in charge of the murder investigation, said the case highlighted the need for people to seek help from police, Women’s Refuge or another organisation help before family violence escalated.

“Here we have a woman who has lost her life, children left without their mother and their father facing a long term of imprisonment.”

Dude, it highlights the need for Gregory Meads to stop being a violent arsehole. Gregory Meads was the man who threw the punches, Gregory Meads was the man who pulled the trigger, Gregory Meads is the man who is responsible for Helen Meads being dead, for the children being without their mother, and for their father (that would be Gregory Meads) being in jail.

Maybe it also highlights the need for police to press assault charges a little harder. I really don’t understand why Gregory Mead’s assault on Helen Meads was not prosecuted in the first place. If police had taken their responsibilities seriously, maybe Helen Meads would still be alive, and her children would still have their mother.

Enough with the victim blaming.

I’m not impressed by what he said

Brendan Black is a new daddy, and he’s had an astonishing revelation. He has found that he needs to get over his semi-embarrassment, in public, about his partner breastfeeding their little boy. He’s urging all men to do the same, in an opinion piece that appears in both The Sydney Morning Herald, and The Age.

Grow up men! Breasts are not public property

His ostensible purpose is laudable: he wants men to get over the idea that there is something wrong with women breastfeeding in public.

Once my son was born, I quickly realised what I had long dreaded: my wife’s breasts had to be shared with someone else, even though he had a greater need for them than me.

He sets out some fairly standard ideas about the confusion between the sexualisation of breasts, and the need to feed babies. There’s nothing new in what he writes, except that he is addressing men. And yes, it’s jolly nice that he’s supporting breastfeeding. Of course, you will note the privilege that’s on display: because it’s being said by a man, it might get taken seriously, and even get published in a couple of big newspapers, but when women have made the same arguments, that’s just those wretched feminists getting whiny and shrill again.

But what really, really annoyed me about the article was his assumption of ownership.

Nevertheless, seeing my wife’s naked breasts several times a day, even with lessened ownership rights and in a new context, is still enjoyable…*

Oh, he asks for permission before he looks, but he still assumes ownership. And that’s the flavour of the entire article. He used to own his partner’s breasts, but now he has to share them, and hey, he’s okay with that.

Dude, it’s simple. The person who owns a woman’s breasts is the woman herself. Not her partner. Not any man who cares to walk by and take a look. Not even her babies. But the woman herself. That’s one of the basic notions of bodily integrity we have in Western liberal democracies. And once you understand that notion of bodily integrity, then whether or not a woman uses her breasts for sexual pleasure, or for titillation, or for feeding a baby, is none of your business whatsoever. Start with the notion that women own their own breasts, and then you don’t even need to worry about whether your “ownership” rights have been affected, because you never had those rights in the first place.

And by the way, this sort of behaviour…

We love to sneak a peek at a woman’s cleavage, cop a feel when we’re allowed to (and even when we’re not)…*

… is not a matter for joking. That’s sexual assault. ‘Though no doubt it would be more properly regarded as stealing from the man who owns them.

Update: Check out this excellent post at – This is not yours.

* Emphasis mine