Saturday, June 26, 2010

Democracy - we haz it

Ok, so Australian politics has had a wee bump this week. A fairly historic one, all things considered. Poor old Kev is the first Labor PM not to make a full term, and Julia is our first female PM. [Warning: what follows is probably utterly uninteresting to non-Australians.]

So what are we hearing in the pubs, at the water cooler (does anyone actually have conversations at water coolers?), and at the school gate? Great angst about how this isn't democratic. About how we didn't vote for Julia. Well, no, I didn't. I voted Green. And then I gave my preference to Anthony Albanese, on account of he's my local member. If you don't live in K.Rudd's electorate, you didn't vote for him either.

Does no-one in this country know how our electoral system works? (Ok, almost everyone I know on Twitter does, but the media doesn't seem to be listening to them.) A brief reminder, in case you were wondering:

We vote in local representatives. We have an awesome electoral system involving preferences which really allows you to express your opinion. I'll get to that later. So my local rep is Anthony Albanese. That's who I voted for (after preferences). That's who my electorate elected. Your electorate chose someone else. (And kudos to you if you live in Maxine McKew's electorate, you rock!) When all those MPs, elected by their local constituents get together, they form a government based on how many from any given party got elected. Once that government is formed, that party elects a PM. They are free to change that election at any time. Really. No-one votes for a PM in this country. If you wanted to vote for a figurehead, you should have voted "Yes" in the referendum for a republic.

So this has been entirely democratic. And if you re saying, "But factional leaders shouldn't be determining who is our PM", well, who else should be? In this case, Labor Right have pushed for a Left candidate, and the unions have supported her. I can't imagine a better example of party-wide support. And I ask you, was there something that made the ousting of Turnbull in favour of Abbott more democratic than this?

So back to how to vote given that we understand how our PM is chosen (NOT elected). We have one of the world's best electoral systems. When you come to vote, you choose who you really want to represent you. But we live in the real world. If you want a minor party candidate to represent you, you probably aren't going to get that. Therefore, you can make a second choice, and a third an so on, until you vote for someone who gets down to the last 2 in the race for your seat. In the senate, it works much the same way, but there are a number of seats available per state, rather than one per electorate. So how does this work? You make your first choice, the person you really want to represent you. If that person doesn't make it to the final 2, your vote gets re-allocated to your second choice. However, your primary vote is registered, and the electoral commission allocates funding to parties based on their primary votes. So it is worth voting for the party you want to see stronger, even if you know they have no chance of being elected this time.

If, however, you don't exercise your right to allocate all your own preferences (by not numbering all the boxes in the lower house, or voting above the line in the upper house), you give your preferences over to the party you voted for. In other words, if you voted for a Labor candidate who couldn't win, your vote will be cast based on that Labor candidates preferences. If you are thinking this is no big deal, I have two words for you: Steve Fielding. He got elected as a result of a preference deal. If no-one had voted above the line in the Senate, he would never have been a senator.

So I say to you: Who did you vote for? If it was Labor (before or after preferences), who is your representative? If you really think they've chosen the wrong leader, take it up with them. But in the end, you cast your vote to entrust them to choose our PM. You did NOT vote for the PM.

For mine, Julia Gillard is the best leader Labor has to offer. Kevin Rudd was an order of magnitude better than Howard, and Australia will forever be in his debt for ousting Little Johnny. (A tribute post to him is in the making.) But please, when judging the options available to us, consider who will make the better leader - the red-head with the bogan accent or the mad monk? How she came to power is so much less important than how well she will lead her party and our country. I think she'll be shit hot.

And in the end, you are voting for a local rep, not a PM.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

That's why I love belly dancing

I took the family to a belly dance hafla today. I was something of an impostor - it was the hafla of a different school from mine, but run by my teacher. I didn't know any of the other students, nor did I know how these things run and caused complete chaos because I didn't know I needed to be there early to get seats for all of us together.

However, when the dancing began, I had three entranced kids, an entranced husband and a wonderful reminder that not every activity requires a society sanctioned body shape. The dancers were fat and skinny, curvy and straight up and down, short and tall, and every physically possible combination. Fat wasn't covered (although flat chests generally get stuffed, due to the shape of the costumes), and straight up and down gals shook their thang with as much style and grace as their curvy counterparts. There was no condescension, there was no "isn't it nice to see a big girl dancing" there was just cheering and shouting and clapping. There were just dancers.

I was too busy kid wrangling and feeling awkward to take photos, unfortunately. Trust me, they were all gorgeous. I'll ask Georgie if I can link to some of her photos once they go up on Facebook.

Oh, yeah, I also danced myself. I was one of eight doing a Shaabi number. Shaabi is the style of dancing done in nightclubs in Egypt, so we were wearing jeans and high heels. (Not so high in my case, but I did dance in heels!) It wasn't the best of performances, but it was fun. I would love to have the time to really get good enough to perform, but lack of natural talent means the time required would be much greater than the time I have available. At least I have a lovely teacher who indulges me despite my inferior skills.

Not a post

Wow, it's been a while since I wrote anything here. Contributing factors include:
  • laptop death, followed by resurrection with new memory, and a suspected new case requiring 2 trips to Bondi, the second on a Saturday and with 3 kids in tow. *shudder*
  • 2 work projects right on top of one another
  • friends visiting from Melbourne
  • exam
  • belly dance performance today (with associated rehearsals and costume organisation)
  • desperate desire to finish the 2 scarves I'm knitting
  • planning for trip to Melbourne on Tuesday and Tokyo on Thursday
So in lieu of a real post, here are a couple of quotes from my kids.


Elissa: [waving soft toys at the beagle] You can't have these because you don't have hands.


Charlie: Are we mammals?

Me: Yes

Charlie: Are we animals?

Me: Yes

Charlie: Are we the world?

Me: [laughing] No, we're not the world.

Charlie: Are we big piles of poo?

Me: .......

(He's nearly 5, and it's still all about the poo)

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Conversations with Charlie

This morning, Charlie gave me a brief feminism 101 lesson.

Charlie: Why do we have an attic?

Me: Because we work from home.

Charlie: But what about other people?

Me: Most people go out to work at other places.

Charlie: But what about T's mum?

Me: She doesn't work.

Charlie: Yes, she does, she does lots of work in the kitchen.

Absolutely. I'd like a new name for "paid work" please, to distinguish between all the free labour and the stuff we get some cash monies for.


Charlie: [Pointing at my breasts] Why do you have those?

Me: To make milk to feed babies.

Charlie: Well what are you going to do with them now?

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Over and over....

I was going to blog about that ridiculous article berating women for daring to take a sip of alcohol while pregnant and/or breastfeeding, but why? I did it already - 2 years ago, and the refrain from the mummy-blamers hasn't changed.

From this recent one:
...a third of all women surveyed admitted to consuming at least one drink while pregnant or breastfeeding.
And from the one two years ago:
A study has found one third of Australian women have admitted to drinking alcohol when pregnant - and most would do it again.
So nothing much has changed, I notice the world hasn't come to an end, nor do we have a sudden rash of children with... well no-one has proposed any actual outcomes for low level drinking, so I'm not sure what we're looking for here. Certainly there hasn't even been a suggestion of a rise in the rate of foetal alcohol syndrome (which is no surprise, because it requires a significant level of alcohol consumption - a lot more than the one or two drinks 1-3 times a week most women seem to be talking about). So we should all start listening to the "rules" because......?

Monday, June 07, 2010

Token Resistance

blue milk has written a great post about how women are not responsible for rape. Ever.

The comments thread has been both heated and interesting. One comment struck me as both understandable and rather horrific. Darsh said "It is true that guys regularily need to press on through token resistance by girls".

This is a pretty commonly expressed opinion, and it both is a problem and reflects a problem. It's a problem because it's impossible for a person to know if what their partner is doing is "token resistance" or reluctance mixed with fear. If it's the latter, consent is clearly in question. If you can't be sure that you have consent, you shouldn't keep going.

However, it's also true that women do put up faux resistance from time to time. It really, seriously shouldn't happen*. It does happen because women are told they can't be sluts, that they need to be coy, that they need to play hard to get. They are taught from a young age not to own their sexuality. So they do, from time to time, play these games.

So what to do? I think there are two parts to the answer - the short term and the long term. In the short term, men (most often, but women too) need to just stop when their partner puts up "token resistance". It's not a fair thing to do, to pretend you don't want sex when you do, but it's understandable given how women are socialised. It's up to us all to change this habit. I'd suggest that sex ending as soon as someone starts playing coy is a great way to do this. If she's doing it because she really doesn't want to be there and is afraid of the consequences of saying no, that's the only ethical option anyway. If she's doing it because of what amounts to fucked up social training, if you can encourage her to express enthusiasm for sex actively - well everyone has a lot more fun.

The longer term solution is to actually put some sex education into sex education. Teach kids that the first step in having sex with someone is talking about sex with them. That everyone should be clearly and happily expressing their desire before anyone pokes anyone with anything. And most importantly, make it really clear that this isn't a policy of prohibition, it's a recipe for good, safe, respectful and FUN sex. If you're gonna do it, do it right.

*Unless it's in the context of well defined and discussed play.

Friday, June 04, 2010

Can a girl be a daddy?

Tonight's bedtime conversation started out a little challenging, and ended up beautifully.

Charlie asked if a girl can be a daddy. I explained that mummy and daddy were essentially just the names for girl parent and boy parent, and so no, a girl can't actually be a daddy. Charlie impressed me with his next question: "Can a girl call herself a daddy?".

Easy peasy, lemon squeezy - Yes, a girl can call herself a daddy, I was please to be able to say. Thinking of Lesbian Dad for one, I explained that if a family has two mummies, one might call herself daddy so there aren't two people called "Mummy" in the one house, or for whatever other reason - a girl can call herself whatever she wants.

Because these kinds of conversations never end here, Ben asked if there had ever been a daddy involved in the parenting of the kids with two mummies. Well, yes, because biologically, technically, a baby needs egg and sperm from a woman and a man, but they don't have to actually live as a family. So Ben says "So they don't have to get married, they can just go together for a while to make the baby?". Well, yeah, but since you can freeze sperm, you don't even actually have to meet the man if you don't want to, but there are a number of options. Some people also adopt children into their family.

BUT, I carefully explained, you need a man and a woman to make a baby, but you don't need them to make a family. A family can have a mummy and a daddy, or two mummies or two daddies, one parent or even three people. I know a family, I told rapt faces, with two daddies and a mummy (taking some poetic license with the story - I doubt they would ever have used that description of themselves). Ben, ever the pedant, asked if you could also have two mummies and a daddy. Indeed, I told him.

Then Charlie announces, in earnest:
I want to have two mummies and a daddy and no babies and no toddlers.
So this is his plan for adulthood - he's not asking me to find another partner. He's made it clear recently that he's not planning on having kids when he grows up.

Ben follows this logically and says: That means you have to marry two people.

Charlie: Do I have to marry people?

Me: No, you don't have to get married, lots of people don't.

Charlie: How do I get married?

Me: You have a ceremony and a party.

Charlie: Naaah, I'm not going to anyway.

Ben: I'm not getting married either.

Me: You don't want to get married?

Ben: No, well, I don't want to do the stuff before it.

Me: What stuff?

Ben: You know, the dancing.


I loved it all. So far my boys have aspired to be homosexual, poly and asexual - one of them wants kids and the other doesn't. Sadly for him, the same one wants to be asexual and have children, but I'm sure he'll change his mind again before the reality bites. I hope we can keep this openness and total lack of judgement alive for a while longer.

Burqas in person

This isn't a post about what's wrong with burqas. Nor is it a post about what's wrong with not liking them. It's just a post about what they made me think about.

I made my position on the proposal to ban the wearing of burqas clear a while ago. Since then, I've been in a situation where some women were wearing them. We were at a very busy play centre on a wet day, so it felt like the entire population of the earth was there at some stage, and it probably isn't surprising that it included some women in burqas.

And wow aren't they confronting.

After I got past the gratuitous "why would you choose to wear that?" reaction, I started to think about what this said about me and my culture. Why did I have such a strong reaction? It isn't just because these women clearly hold different priorities and beliefs to me. A hijab doesn't induce the same response, nor does a nun's habit or a Buddhist's robes. (These do all induce some reaction in me, just not on the level of a burqa.)

It's obviously all about not being able to see their faces. In Australia, we just don't cover our faces for any other legitimate reason. It's not like we have a need to wear ski masks. We expect motorbike riders to remove helmets as soon as they get off their bikes. So traditionally, the only people who cover their faces are doing it for dodgy reasons. So if someone is covering their face there is this kinda automatic response that they can't be trusted.

Add to that all the non-verbal communication from people's faces that we routinely use to give us a vague reading on their moods and so on, and it doesn't exactly take a lot of navel gazing to get why lots of Australians* find burqas discomfiting. It's a new concept in our culture that people would cover their faces for legitimate reasons, and new cultural concepts are always hard to digest. In this case, however, there's this really easy way to get around the discomfort whilst feeling morally superior - it's not that we find the garment confronting, it's that we object to the oppression of women that the burqa represents. And what's even better, is that we do, in fact, object to the oppression that the burqa can represent, so there's no need to consider that we might just be struggling to replace a cultural default.

And if you think I've missed the mark by a million miles here, consider what the reaction would be if some politician decided to ban stilettos. There's no doubt that they have been used to objectify, oppress, and even cripple women. There are women who feel they are required to wear them to meet some male imposed standard. I look at stilettos and think "why would you choose to wear that?". And yet the outcry would be enormous, and rightly so, because not all women share my opinion. Some wear them for all the opposite reasons - that they feel good, and empowered in them - and who the hell am I to argue with them? But stilettos don't upset any cultural norms, so we've never gone looking for the justifications to ban them.

*And no doubt other cultures too, I'm just sticking with what I know.

Thursday, June 03, 2010


The battle for hearts and minds with respect to Conroy's Internet filter is continuing, for reasons I just can't fathom. I cannot get my head around why anyone finds it hard to decide where they stand given the arguments - namely:

  • It won't work
  • By telling people it will work when it won't, you're making people less vigilant themselves
  • It will block stuff that is legal (both on and not on the secret banned list).
  • Allowing a government to have a secret list of banned sites is the slipperiest of slopes imaginable. Tony Abbott might one day have control of that list. Think on that.
  • Child pornography is bad.
Yep, that's about it for the pro case. Of course, they're right, child pornography is bad, but the filter won't do anything about that anyway.

Sorry, that was a diversion from my point, which is that apparently many people are still swallowing Conroy's bullshit. So EFA (Electronic Frontiers Australia) decided to direct a campaign at mothers. Some people have (validly) criticised this targeting, but I'm OK with the balance of need vs sweeping generalisation in terms of the target. However, the content was abysmally sexist. In case you can't be bothered clicking through, the general gist is that mothers are technically inept and too busy looking after their families to consider the facts for themselves. Tedious at best.

This in and of itself isn't very surprising. EFA contracted an ad agency and left them to it. We shouldn't be too stunned that they used boring, sexist stereotypes - it's what the advertising industry is built on. What amazed me was the stubborn refusal by EFA to acknowledge that there was a problem with them using such a sexist campaign. Something that really struck me was that those defending the campaign kept using the word "offensive". They kept fauxpologising for people being "offended". Some people criticising used that word too, but lots more called it sexist.

There are two interesting things about this - one is that by putting the emphasis on the reaction, "offense" instead of the content, "sexism" they can dismiss the complaints as being about the people complaining instead of about the content itself. The other is that I wasn't offended. I disliked it and complained about it, but I wasn't actually offended. Lots of people never mentioned being offended. This is presumably because sexism is so common place many people, like me, read it as tedious rather than offensive. That's rather disturbing. And it also feeds into the first point. Since so many people aren't offended by this routine, pedestrian sexism, the people who mention that they are, are the objects of ridicule.

In the end the conversation was shut down because Geordie Guy decided that the comments section of their blog was no place for a discussion. Go figure. This does demonstrate one thing rather well though - if even EFA can have quite different ideas about what's appropriate on the Internet from myself and others, I really don't want politicians deciding what I'm allowed to see.