Sunday, October 31, 2010

For all the good it will do ...

The Hon. Mike Rann, Premier of South Australia
The Hon. Jack Snelling, Minister for Employment, Training and Further Education
The Hon. Jay Weatherill, Minister for Education and Children's Services

Dear Messrs Rann, Snelling and Weatherill,

The Women's Studies Resource Centre has been in touch with women across South Australia asking for our help, as your government's funding has been withdrawn as from July 1 and that will force the closure of the Centre.

Observers like myself are aware of the stealth by which the Howard Government conducted a war of attrition against women throughout the eleven years they were in power: programs, organisations and resource centres like this one were slowly, steadily, almost unnoticeably discontinued, dismembered, disbanded, abolished, demolished and/or defunded, quietly, one by one.

It may be that it is the State Labor Government's policy to continue this demolition job done at federal level by its ideological opponents. But as a Labor-voting South Australian woman, educator and scholar who deplores the closure of any library, I would like to think not.

South Australia has a proud tradition of practical promotion and support of women's rights stretching back to their pioneering granting of the vote to women in the 1890s, only the second place in the world to do so.

This tradition was reinforced and much enhanced by the progressive social policies of Premier Don Dunstan's Labor government in the 1970s. It has always been my understanding that the current State Labor government is particularly proud of that era in its history, and regards Don Dunstan, rightly, as a hero. All of this surely suggests some respect for his beliefs and a willingness to honour his legacy.

I would draw your attention to these two elements in particular of the Resource Centre's work:

  • The WSRC is a not-for-profit organisation that has contributed to the practical promotion of gender equity and the improvement in the status of women in Australian for 35 years.
  • The collection is used by DECS, TAFE, ACE and university staff and students, both locally and nationally, by private schools and colleges, registered training providers, researchers and community borrowers.

I hope that the Government will see fit to re-think this funding decision.

With best wishes,
Yours sincerely,

Thursday, October 28, 2010

One degree of separation

There's a Facebook page, though it appears to have been abandoned for some months now, called "Hey, my name is ..." "Don't worry, we're in Adelaide, I know who you are."

I thought of this today when I arrived for my appointment in the sub-basement of the Art Gallery of SA where its research library resides, ready to take what turned out to be sixteen pages of truly awesome notes, and was greeted by a lovely librarian who said 'I believe you know my husband,' which indeed I did, having been on a committee with him for three years. Then I opened the file she'd kindly found and set out for me, and discovered that at least half a dozen of the items in it had been written by the father of a bloke I studied Honours English with in 1976, and whom at that point I already knew a bit because he'd gone to primary school with my sister.

The Adelaide population may now be well up over a million, but it still really isn't all that different from my home town:

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Home notes

You know you're truly, madly, deeply mired in domesticity when in spite of the fact that you have to meet a weekly deadline, grade and write reports on fifteen Honours theses in the next few weeks, and deliver a completed book manuscript by February 1, your update of the calendar features things like 'It's okay to pull up those poisoned weeds now', 'Car way overdue for service', 'Time to de-flea the cats again: make appointment to sell a kidney so you can afford to buy more of the de-worming and de-fleaing gunk', and 'Oh goodie, it's my turn to have the family for Christmas lunch: find sparkly red and green knives, forks and spoons, and get prescription for Valium.'

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

What education is

The announcement that Australian Army facilities near Woodside in the Adelaide Hills are to be upgraded to house up to 400 asylum seekers strikes me as an overwhelmingly Good Thing, but there's something a little strange going on with the ABC's reporting of it. The radio reporting, which I've been hearing intermittently in the car all day, has been pretty unrelentingly negative, with reports of SA Premier Mike Rann being annoyed that he only found out about it an hour before it was publicly announced (fair enough too, I guess: didn't the premature announcement of the phantom East Timor centre teach the PM anything?), reports of locals having insular, knee-jerk negative reactions, reports of the local mayor being worried about the effect on the provision of services, and nothing much positive at all.

So it was weird to check the ABC's website a minute ago and see quite a different spin on all this. Obviously quite a few people are, if not actively welcoming it, at least being accepting and open-minded (and open-handed) about it. But one local woman I heard being quoted on the radio whinged, complete with whiny upward inflection, 'But those children will be going to the local primary school? It'll make class sizes bigger? And my children will be disadvantaged?'

Tell you what, love, if I had kids at school and someone told me to expect an influx of children from asylum-seeker families, I think it would remind me of my high-school days, when I learned at least as much about the size and complexity of the world from the Italian, Polish, Russian, German and, most of all, Greek kids I went to school with as I did from the curriculum. I'd welcome the chance for my kids to find out something about the other side of the world, and what some people's lives are like there. And I'd welcome the opportunity for practical lessons in tolerance of cultural difference and generosity to people in trouble, as well as -- if necessary -- in how to stick up for kids who are being given a hard time. I think the kind of education afforded by that broadening of their horizons would far outweigh any disadvantages of being in a bigger class.

Friday, October 15, 2010

That old chestnut

I see the addiction to alliteration persists when people are trying to dream up catchy titles. The meeja seems particularly addicted to putting the words 'feminism' and 'failed' together, as indicated by the title of this forum, 'Has Feminism Failed?' I suppose we should all be grateful that there's a question mark.

But 'Has feminism failed?' is a completely meaningless question. Has feminism failed what? 'Feminism' is not a person with agency and volition. Feminism is the name of a set of strategies for viewing, analysing and dealing with the world. Strategies don't 'fail', only the people trying to use them to achieve some stated goal. And that's usually because some actively anti-feminist entity or force has intervened, whether it's John Howard quietly dismantling the government programs for women, or some single-digit IQ footballing nuff nuff who thinks any woman who's come home with one of his mates must be fair game for whoever happens to be passing, or a rabidly reactionary female journalist explaining how awful it is for the poor menz to be accused of sexual assault, or some blogger explaining how women just don't understand that men have Urges.

Putting the words 'feminism' and 'failed' together in this manner is nothing more than a fairly transparent strategy, complete with begged question (as in 'When did you stop beating your wife?), for bagging feminism and trying to make women turn away from its principles.

But if people feel they just absolutely must put those two words together in a title or a headline, here's an alternative suggestion. Instead of asking whether feminism has failed us, how about a feature article or public debate called 'Have we failed feminism?'

Monday, October 11, 2010

Why We Still Need Feminism, Part #1,763

If ever you were tempted to think that women in Australia or indeed in the West generally had finally gained some sort of equality in public life, ask yourself this simple question.

Can you imagine how it would have gone down with Australia's (these days) almost uniformly conservative MSM journalists -- and, alas, with the bulk of the populace -- if Julia Gillard rather than Tony Abbott had been photographed in Afghanistan firing an automatic rifle?

They'd be blithering and drooling for weeks. They'd start with Hanoi Jane, and they'd go downwards from there. And in the meantime, Abbott's petulant whingeing about being made to look silly is dominating the papers, most of which are ignoring Abbott's puerile narcissism and instead using this massive non-event to attack what he's calling (and calling, and calling, and calling -- if there's one thing Abbott does love, it's a bit of repetition, a bit of repetition) Gillard's 'low bastardry'.

See, it's okay for the Leader of the Opposition to call the Prime Minister a low bastard, publicly and repeatedly, but it's not okay for a woman to shoot a gun.

The rules are baroque and Byzantine, Grasshopper, and nor do they make any sense, but you break them at your peril.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Two things I read yesterday about Bob Dylan

When Bob Dylan was asked on American radio if he had been surprised by the success of Blood on the Tracks, he said, after a pause, that he didn't know how people got so much pleasure from so much pain.
-- Adam Phillips, On Balance

Bob Dylan ... mooches around backstage without too much fuss, friendly and quiet. I did four shows with him in 2001. We swapped gifts after the last show in Sydney. I gave him Peter Carey's True History of the Kelly Gang and he gave me a big brass belt buckle -- western-style, embossed with the words THE STATE OF TEXAS 1836, which I like to wear once in a while.
-- Paul Kelly, How To Make Gravy

Late twenties blues

He was one of those miserable men of about twenty-eight, which is a very bad age to be in authority, too old to be generous and too young to be wise.
-- Peter Walker, The Courier's Tale

At twenty-nine, Hamilton had passed into that border country where middle age is still remote, but where failure (for the ambitious) can scarcely be afforded.
-- Christopher Koch, The Year of Living Dangerously

If these people are right, it might be better to go straight from 27 to 30, like those buildings in New York that have no thirteenth floor.

Not that this is of the slightest relevance to me. Besides, I remember 28 and 29 as pretty good. A tad desperada, but pretty good.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

More on Grog's Gamut

 Margaret Simons has a must-read post up at The Content Makers on the ethics of journalist James Massola's outing in The Australian of the blogger formerly known as Grog's Gamut, including a crystalline bit of analysis by Swinburne lecturer in media ethics Denis Muller.

Among other excellent points, he makes this one:
... there is another public-interest consideration to be taken into account here, and that is the public interest in having a plurality of voices in the public space or, as John Milton called it, the marketplace of ideas.  If, as a result of the outing, Mr Jericho withdraws from the public space, the Australian polity will be the poorer; it will have been harmed.  The harm would be negligible, certainly, but the principle is not negligible.  Ethical reporting requires that such possible consequences be identified and an honest rationale be developed to justify causing them.