Tag Archives: Mothers

Because it’s always better to police women

Australian wine makers don’t want to put “ugly” health warnings on bottles of wine. They’ve made a submission to the federal government, arguing that they shouldn’t have to use warning labels, because they are ugly, and ineffective in any case.

It is quite unclear how the addition of a warning label will somehow stop an idiot getting in their car and driving whilst intoxicated.

Wine makers are unhappy with what they see as ‘ugly’ health warnings

But they are, of course, reasonable people. So in their submission, they offer a trade-off. While they are not prepared to uglify their bottles, they are quite happy to police women.

WINEMAKERS have offered to label bottles with a don’t-drink-during-pregnancy logo…

Winemakers Federation chief executive Stephen Strachan yesterday said the industry had volunteered to start using the pregnancy logo. “At best, it can raise awareness but it doesn’t do anything in relation to behaviour.”

The logo they have offered up is a silhouette of a pregnant woman, holding a wine glass. Looking at the silhouette, and assuming that this is a singleton pregnancy, I’d guess that the woman is about seven or eight months pregnant. She is of course, slim. The standard “No” symbol, a red circle with a red bar, is stamped across the silhouette.*

Because it’s always just fine to police pregnant women.

See Blue Milk for some excellent posts about policing women during pregnancy:
Whenever people start talking about the “unborn child”
Compare and contrast

… and see Lauredhel’s excellent post about the (non) science behind all the scary tales about alcohol that are peddled to pregnant women:
Bad science on booze in pregnancy: Women infantilised with absolutist messages

*I’m sorry about the low image quality. It was taken from the dead-tree version of The Australian, using my camera.

Tiger Airlines breastfeeding fail and win

A mother from Melbourne was asked to cover her baby up while she was feeding him on a Tiger Airlines Flight.

Airline Breastfeeding Bungle

The fail bit – a flight attendant covered the baby up with a blanket without even asking the mother, saying, “I know it’s natural, but some people may not like to see it.” When the mother checked with the passenger near her, he assured her that he wasn’t offended at all – “No, not at all.” So the flight attendant retreated to suggesting that people walking up and down the aisle might be offended.

I’m guessing that it was the flight attendant who was twitchy about a mother feeding her baby, and she just used “other passengers” as a handy excuse. It’s a big fail on the part of the flight attendant.

But the Tiger Airlines win? They reviewed the incident, disciplined the staff member, set up a new policy and are training staff in it to make sure it doesn’t happen again. Excellent!

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).

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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.

10 feminist motherhood questions, from Blue Milk

The fabulous Blue Milk, feminist mother of a girl and a boy, has a long-running series of 10 feminist motherhood questions. This is my response to her questions.

1. How would you describe your feminism in one sentence? When did you become a feminist? Was it before or after you became a mother?

My feminism is about empowering women as they are, not telling them what they ought to be. I’ve been feminist since I was a girl; I learned it at my mother’s knee. I think one of the earliest manifestations of my feminism was a poem I wrote at school when I was about 14. We were studying ballads, and we had to write one, so I chose to write a protest ballad. A judge in New Zealand had given a man a more lenient sentence for physical violence against his partner, because she was living with him, and thus she was no good trash anyway. I can’t find the case on the web, and I don’t have the poem any more, but I think that was one of my earliest experiences of being feminist. So I was a feminist long before I became a mother, but my motherhood has informed and changed my feminism.
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More pinkification of mothers

From Google today (Mother’s Day):


Such lovely pinkification.

Good grief! Can we please, please get over this girl = pink nonsense, and the constant infantilising of women by associating them with soft, pinky, girly colours.

Bouquet and brickbat – paid parental leave

Bouquet: The Federal Treasurer has made a commitment to paid parental leave. $544 per week ( the minimum wage) for 18 weeks for primary caregivers whose income is lower than $150,000.

It’s about time. But there’s the rub:


The scheme must be introduced in a measured and responsible way, particularly taking into account the global recession, so the scheme won’t begin until January 2011.

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