Democracy

Some years ago I received a begging letter from one of my old Alma Maters, Sydney University. As a sop I sent a small donation so I could write a letter strongly condemning this newly advertised degree which was seeking my financial support. This degree was to be directed towards the teaching of those who help to spread to other countries the ideals of “Democratisation and Human Rights”. Whilst I think there can never be too much focus on the principles of human rights, I disagreed with the automatic assumption that the two aspects to this course always go hand in hand. Unfortunately that university must have decided that it was cheaper to employ people who cannot read, as my reply consisted of a letter praising me for supporting their ideals.

How conceited have we become to think only our particular form of what could, at best, be very loosely described as “democracy” can be equated with protection of human rights?

But the conceit gets worse. Bit by bit, day by day, it gets worse.

I do not believe in killing, probably the biggest inroad into the rights of any human. Rarely should we go to war, and I assert that considered killing, based purely on ideology, automatically makes that killing less able to be excused or understood than is a killing based on a reaction when normal human emotions get out of hand. Sometimes the basis for the ideology can be a religious one. Sometimes it is based on very different ideological principles, as, for example, is the death penalty. It is appalling that Boris Nemtsov has been killed in Russia. But it is in no way made more appalling because he was a supporter of democracy. To take revenge, or think this could be a worse example of the crime of murder because it is anti-democratic rather than anti an alternative ideology, is a very limited view.

And what is a democratic ideology anyway? We do not all agree what that means. Fixed into our insular, island culture seems to be a particularly strange ideal of democracy, adopting perhaps the worst aspects from democracies around us. It results in the idea that a vote based on a two party political system, decided by an election which forces everybody to either vote or commit an illegality, is the essence of a good democratic government. Endlessly, for years, we have heard complaints that votes for a third or another small party, or any in fact any exercise of power from a minority in the house of review, are some sorts of anomalies which disrupt a “democratic process”. These can be, in fact, the epitome of a democratic process. For example while Ms Jackie Lambie and her ideas are probably as different from me and my ideas as is possible in any two women, I am proud of the fact that she is bold enough and outspoken enough to represent real democracy. That is to speak as she feels, to vote as she believes and not to feel constrained by party dictates.

Once we have parties virtually gagging the representatives that we have elected, not only true democracy but the very foundation of human rights, that is the right to speak and to hear, has gone out of the window. Even our cabinet ministers seem unable to communicate with us as they wish. Surely we are not stupid enough to think they would always be of exactly the same mind as one another? In a true democracy we, the people, should be able to hear all their arguments and differences and appreciate how they came to some compromise or consensus. But no, in our wonderful democracy, not a word must be “leaked”, especially to those who cast votes.

So we have lost what many countries believe is a right not to vote. We have lost the right, if we do vote, to have our representative speak for us in parliament and vote there as they (or even perhaps their electorates) would wish them to. Meanwhile this wonderful democracy is also ignoring conventions that we have signed with the UN to ensure human rights to others, first by not enacting some of them in parliament and, in fact, by breaching others in a way that is authorised by parliament.

And worse, even though our democracy has already eroded some of our rights, instead of working on this in an inclusive, accepting way in our own country, we seem, in the last decade or so to have become more divided and following less often the basic democratic principle of government, that is considering the minorities as well. Meanwhile we have also been mindlessly supporting carefully chosen groups in countries overseas and even waging wars on the justification that an artificial installation of a “democracy”, as we see it, supported by our troops, will automatically give democratic “freedom”, and therefore human rights, to others.

May I be so bold as to suggest that this comes perilously close to the Arabic word “jihad” or “struggle” to enforce our ideology of “democracy” upon others. And I am sure many agree that such compulsions do little for human rights.

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Domestic Violence

I am a non violent person and am very much of the opinion that we must do all we can to stop domestic violence, a violence which permeates many unfortunate families and adversely effects thousands of children over years.

However I think we should use all the means at our disposal to stop such violence.

I read Dr Tanveer Ahmed’s recent contribution to this debate with interest.

With the figures widely available to us, there is no way we should ignore his contribution as to one of the ways that this problem can be attacked. If some pattern can be established that sheds light upon why some of these men are violent, and indeed why some of these otherwise intelligent women have them back, then we are equipped with more armoury to attack this real problem in society.

From time to time in my past life (prior to retirement some time ago) I was professionally involved in, et al, one or two groups for men who have been violent. I would agree with Dr Ahmed’s view of the reasons for their violence and the frailties which they show. I bear in mind these are men who have agreed to accept help, albeit under some duress.

But it is also interesting to talk to many of the women victims. They too have seen the vulnerability in their partners. They too feel pity for that helplessness and fear. They, too, see that the self loathing and undertakings to reform are sincere at the time they are given. But that is not enough to stop it happening over and over again!

To stop this problem we must, first, help the children and women involved.

But, if we are genuine we must also help these men. And if we apply the same sort of understanding to this issue as we do to juvenile crime, we must look for means which allow us to work with young men before these attitudes and emotional difficulties become entrenched.

It is not a case of women v men. It must be a case of both genders working together to make every effort to stop violence of any sort within families.

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Why Some Women Are Against Feminism

This morning, putting on my “feminist frightbat” T shirt ready for holiday shopping, I had what I view as an epiphany about why some women are so against the very notion of “feminism”.

As a feminist of over sixty years standing I have always found this hard to understand.

I understand the women who want life to be as it was for many generations, who are frightened of making decisions and want them made on their behalf or who want to spend many years child rearing as the major parent and be financially supported by a partner who agrees that his parental job is essentially to provide. I support them in their choice and their right to take up such options.

What I have never understood is women who want half of both worlds, who reject the idea of a movement but yet seek the advantages already won for some women by the feminist movement, such as the right to select clothing and the way they dress, the right to engage in occupations that were previously not available to women, particularly married women, and the right to own their own sexual behaviour. Yet they stop short of saying they will belong to a movement which works for these and other rights to belong to all women, in all circumstances.

I understand this from the male perspective. The fear that women will make a difference to their own opportunities is a real one. If women take up half the senior roles in life that men currently take then there will be less of these roles for men and this would make them understandably anxious. For this reason I admire men who unselfishly support the feminist movement, and there are many of them. I think, in time, most men may eventually realise that they, themselves, will thereby gain in their own choices in the long term. But that the immediate prospect could fill them with fear is self evident.

But this morning I realised that female feminist-rejectors are also fearful. They are scared of leaving a majority group. If they firmly eschew the feminist mantra they can stay in an “anti- extremist” group, enjoying the privileges of the majority group with no stigma, together with advantages already won for them by previous feminists. In the same way racists who do very little of a positive nature to help minority groups can point a critical finger at a few extremists from whom they distance themselves, whilst continuing to enjoy the privilege available to them by being of the dominant race. This process is described well here.

It is a hard call to ask people to really combat the fear of loss of privilege by taking action. That can be recognised. But my message to those who overtly reject feminism is, never bad mouth those who support it. For to do so demonstrates clearly that you belong to the dominant, non accepting majority group. That is a free choice. But recognise it for what it is – privilege and the ensuing fear of being out of the “in” group.

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Invitation to the Baroness and Socrates

Baroness Susan Greenfield would have been welcome at my daughter’s house one evening about six months ago.

We had returned from seeing a lovely, local, amateur theatre offering, which included a melange of tunes from well known musicals, including Les Miserables. In a two meter square area around a table, grazing from Pizza ordered on line, gathered five adults, a fifteen year old boy and a six year old boy. Three adults and the two boys had their iPads/ iPhones in their hands. An animated discussion, if not argument, ensued about which singer, over the many years that had elapsed since Les Miserables had been first performed, had offered the best rendition of “Bring Him Home”, with each speaker supporting his or her view/s with down loaded versions. Three other children were on the move around the house putting in random appearances at the table to help themselves to pizza and to voice their opinions. This animated comparison of various musical offerings, supported by argument and learned analysis of what was being offered (including from the six year old), was impressive. A seven year old girl wheeled by from time to time when she heard something to which she wanted to add her considered opinion and to say what tickled her fancy, and an 11 year old boy sang along. The two year old was very excited.

I have seldom seen such group enthusiasm or a debate backed by such immediate hard evidence.

Even Socrates, whose opinion on the value of reading and writing much mirrored that of the Baroness on digital technology, would have been impressed. In fact he should have been there with the Baroness. I freely agree that both reading and writing and digital technology in its turn modify the brain. Isn’t that otherwise known as evolution?

A second factor which supports the value to the brain of access to digital technology is the equalising factor. (I am sure, however, neither the Baroness or Socrates would like this as it might lower their respective statuses.) On this same occasion there was a perfect example of this. The seven year old girl suggested that perhaps “The Professor” should give a definitive answer as to which version was the best. She was referring to her Uncle, one of the iPhone users, who happened to have an PhD in Music. Two of the other adults (one playing an iPhone) were musicians too. But those of us who were not musicians felt a perfect right to express our opinions. This was not merely an academic exercise. We were actually hearing the contenders, and in the kind of quick succession, with part replays, not possible in a live concert format. The six year old eloquently expressed his liking of a version he had, among other versions, previously listened to on his own initiative, and he now played it with conviction as his choice – it made him feel like crying. What better accolade than that? In the “olden days” he would have had to bow down to the professor’s opinion and his emotional reaction would not have been able to be validated, as it was, in a semi public forum.

Digital technology was thus encouraging hands on development of independent thinking in the young user.

This whole episode was interactive, it was social, it was educational.

AND IT WAS FUN.

Baroness, you are missing out! (And we know Socrates would have had a ball with reading if he had given it a go.)

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Feminism and Discrimination

Congratulations to Tanya Plibersek’s on her magnificent defence today of feminism.

I agree with every word she says. However as a keen feminist, but not a fundamentalist about this, I want, never to excuse, but to attempt to explain the reasons for the common attitude expressed recently by Julie Bishop. Her attitude that people should not whinge but should “pull themselves up by their bootstraps” has been held by many others in all areas where discrimination occurs.

For a time, as a young feminist, I tended to be a fellow traveller with her attitude, advocating that the best way to influence was to take a lead in trying to break through barriers.

I first heard her attitude expressed by a radio commentator on 2GB, John Pearce, in the 50s and 60s. He was constantly railing on his program that anybody could overcome problems and make their way successfully in the world if he (I did not hear much mention of “shes”) just worked hard enough. His constant repetition of this theme in all situations seemed simplistic even to the young girl I was then. Age and experience have certainly led me to a different view.

The concept that people in the community are born with very different capacities to work hard and organise themselves did not seem to occur to him. I have very recently heard Tim Wilson, our Human Rights Commissioner, and over the years the likes of such as John Howard, also holding that overcoming disadvantage is best done by individuals striving and applying themselves, without any acknowledgement of different capacities so to do. That people are born into very different family situations with different abilities and wherewithal to provide support and encouragement does not seem to be acknowledged either.

How do many people even gain access to an aim towards which to strive?

It is much easier for those who only have to deal with one area of discrimination or disadvantage, perhaps only being female, perhaps only being from a poor less well educated family, perhaps only being homosexual.

But most of all it is easier if one is born with other advantages. Some of these advantages are ones of which the person himself or herself may be unaware.

Julie Bishop has the privilege of having been born not only with a very good brain but clearly with steely determination as part of her make up. Tim Wilson is equally clever and he has a compelling facility with the spoken word. Both appear to have come from comfortable backgrounds where they have learnt mainstream “social graces”. They may well assume that these assets come from their own efforts rather than from their birth.

It then becomes easy for them to criticise others for not following similar paths. Thus strident feminists are considered to be whingeing. Supporters of indigenous rights, such as the eloquent and emotionally involved Noel Pearson, are blamed for temper outbursts that people brought up in a restrained background may not find necessary to exhibit to successfully make their points. Those with different presentations, such as clothing representative of religions or ethnicities, are less listened to because they do not conform to the norm, despite equal hard work and considerable effort.

Some people with physical abilities but with outstanding skills in particular areas are respected as “strivers” whereas those without special skills are not similarly rewarded for their efforts.

These are the reasons I agree with Tanya Plibersek. Whilst so ever women who are not necessarily outstanding are not regarded as equal to men who are not necessarily outstanding; whilst those with disabilities who are not outstanding are not regarded as equal to those of us who are able bodied and not outstanding; while the poor do not have opportunities if they are also not skilful enough to display something remarkable although a richer unremarkable person might have better opportunities; then we must continue to speak out.

It is not enough to imagine one is doing enough by setting an example if we merely fight and make our own way, reaping our rewards as we do so.

We have a duty to speak for others and to recognise and acknowledge each advantage we have that may have given us a “leg up” along the way.

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Roads

I never thought roads would become a real sense of imagery for me.

Cars I would understand. I have always loved driving since getting my drivers licence. This was after a lengthy test on my 17th birthday administered by a large police sergeant, who patently thought 17 year old girls should be kept off his roads. But at that time it did not seems to me that very much importance could be attached to roads themselves!

But now, as I drive along highways with deeply wooded median strips whose native flora reach high into the sky, I remember, with some admiration for the road makers, the trips and my destinations when I was being regularly held up by the road widening and median strip building on those very stretches.

That this aberration of mine is shared, to some extent by the population at large was shown to me by the recent ABC radio’s coverage of the 50th birthday of the Gladesville Bridge. I well remember driving from the city to Gladesville as the bridge was under construction, anticipating how apparently random roads would connect, and delighting in revelations as they did. The memories were heightened by the fact that it was my fiancĂ©’s (and then new husband’s) mother we were visiting. I also remember my own engineer father’s delight at this new bridge. (He also admired the harbour bridge but bemoaned the addition of the purely decorative pylons.)

Some roads even awake childhood memories, such as being driven to the Town Hall for “Young Australia Sings” concerts. I still get a frisson of that old excitement when I approach the lights of Sydney at night. On the other hand the beautifully paved Monaro Highway brings recollections of my childhood trips from Cooma to Canberra on a dirt road.

And I have memories of the immense and impressive construction of the new toll road which has now become the M1. Now a Freeway (what images of prospective liberty that title contours up), it is just near where I now live. My son has christened this area “Roundabout World”. The Central Coast is, indeed, very beautiful and much larger and more varied than “Sea World” (and it has even got quite a lot of its own sea) and the plethora of roundabouts may well conjure up many more images than “Dream World”does.

Whilst not even one of the roundabouts here is as challenging as the ones I used to use on my way to work in London, such as Marble Arch or the roundabout that led to my then home or to Victoria Station, it must be acknowledged that for safety in the negotiation of those particular roundabouts the special courtesy of the English was needed. The laconic nature of Australia is more suited by those we proliferate on the Central Coast. However Australia must certainly be able to claim the most politically correct roundabout – the one in our National Capitol which uses the wonderful new Parliament House as its centrepiece.

The old English saying “take time to stop and smell the roses” is not needed here. On our wonderful roads we just need a bit of fresh air through the window to drink in (and perhaps sneeze at) the yellow wattle or hear the beautiful bell birds chiming “in the canyons of coolness” that we pass through.

We have roads by our beautiful lakes, our foamy seas, through our magnificent deserts. We can see our wonderful rainforests by road.

And we learn about life from our roads. As I bemoaned the fact I almost missed an overseas flight due to an accident which delayed the traffic, my son pointed out the obvious lesson, that one cannot expect to still have “emergency time” remaining once one has used it on the emergency.

And signposts! The sight of a golden guitar makes me think I am getting close to the next landmark, the wonderful mountains, perhaps once a haunt of Thunderbolt, leading to the beautiful city of Armidale. The indomitable big merino has moved from its position in the heart of Goulburn to be closer to the Hume Highway, presumably because there it had more interesting things to survey – the highway itself.

And we need to take a lesson from him. There is so much to see on a road, not only the surface but all that needs our concentration on each highway or byway. No detail can be too small. We must see it all. At crossroads we have to stop and make decisions, at roundabouts we can go with the flow. And then we have our wonderful rear vision mirror which shows us, so clearly, where we have been. In these more reflective times that we now live in we have two extra mirrors which also show us what we have left behind us. This gives us two other perspectives on what is passed.

Perhaps these reflections of roads, past and present are giving us a message. It is not the destination that is important. It is how we make the journey.

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Equality in Feminism

I have been quite uncomfortable recently with the discussion equating “equality” with “feminism”. Mostly, it appears, this is to placate comfortable young women who do not wish to feel that their reasonably wide range of choices in life might be upset if they rock the boat. They might turn out like unattractive, hairy, man hating “blue stockings”, as they see us feminists from the past.

However I have been uncharacteristically quiet, thinking that as an elderly “second wave?” feminist, perhaps even tail end of “first wave”, because I espoused feminist principles as a teenager at the end of the 50s, I may be out of date and out of line. But, honestly, I really value men and admire a lot of them. And I have never, ever worn a stocking that was blue! (Mind you I have worn slacks when they were forbidden, even rolled up under an academic gown if necessary.)

But feminism is selling itself short if all it wants is equality in the existing world.

This is for two reasons. Firstly it is unattainable. Men and women are different. Most men are physically stronger than most women. For example in elite sports men are likely to out perform women when each are in competition with the another. Women, at this stage in our biology, are going to be the ones to give birth to, and then, in the short term, supply food for babies . (But both genders, apart from initial food supply, can look after children equally.) There have to be acknowledged and mutually accepted adaptations around these type of basic, everlasting inequalities.

But more importantly, equality as applied to our existing world is not nearly good enough for feminism. Our western world, let alone developing countries, has been structured for many generations around male ideology and still retains much of this structure. Until the aims, ambitions and conceptualisation of the world as a whole are arrived at with mutuality between men and women, we continue to need positive action from feminists (both men and women).

When we have arrived at an agreed upon notion of world aims and structures only then we can settle for an (adjusted) equality in living.

For the young women who do not believe we are living in a society which still reflects some patriarchal power let me list a few dates at which here, in NSW Australia, laws fully enforcing some patriarchal views, were still in place.

Seventy years ago parents could agree to the marriage of 12 year old girls. Boys had to be older. The age of consent did not become equal as between genders at 16 until 1991, but it was the push of the gay community for equality which helped this along, not women’s protection issues. It was only determined by the courts in 1996 that it was illegal for a man to rape his wife. Women’s basic wage was raised and set at 75% of the male wage in 1971.

For a significant part of last century women could no longer continue to be teachers if they married. When they did teach or worked in some other professions, they had to wear skirts, not trousers, and that continued into the eighties. When I was a child girls had to wear white gloves to school and our tunics had to be a set length. As a young solicitor I had to wear a hat in court.

While much of this, as we can see, has now been altered, it remains strongly in the memory of those of us who lived through it, and therefore reflects how we view some other issues. Here, while I continue to concentrate on clothing, sexuality and, intrinsic to these, image, this merely provides a simple perspective to the other issues, some of which are still very tenuous and could be easily lost by behaviour which assumes a freedom and wide community support.

It seems to me that women are still prone to objectification. Nowhere is this more apparent today than in clothes, toys and stories for little girls and boys. Body image is an escalating problem, and is now a problem for both genders. But just because it has become worse for boys as well, does not make it right. Women and girls, and now to some extent young males, have become victims to rampant commercialism. Do we want to sit in this world that has been structured around us and say, “It is OK now the boys are starting to feel bad about themselves too. We are equal”?

Possibly partly as a response to this commercialism, some women continue to focus closely on appearance. Many seem to demand, by their scathing criticisms, that fashionable physical presentation should again be lauded as a positive, even bordering on a necessity of being a woman, rather than as a choice. Having one’s style of dress as merely an optional part of being a female (even a sexual one) was a very hard fought past battle for us and one which still rages in some cultures. Yet while exercising this freedom, some women try to deny that appearance will always give rise to impressions, assumptions and definitions, and even more so when we have choice (just look at the ties of politicians). And lo, they still refer to “blue stockings”.

We women need to be able to be active, equal participants in the sexual game and make sexual decisions for ourselves, not merely be passive. Some of us dress to accentuate sexuality and this is a complete right. But many of the women who choose to do that, object to use of the word “slut” instead of embracing it, whilst we all enthusiastically watch programs on screen about a “rake” without quibbling. Women, no more than men, can “have their cake and eat it”, in a society based on mutuality. As we discard the garbs of submission, we must take on our own responsibility, not only for the presentation we chose to make, but for its contribution to the structure of a mutual society.

I must now prepare to put on the blue stockings.

I, for one, think “feminism” means something a little more than “equality”. Yes, it encompasses the need for equal respect. It encompasses the need for equal opportunities for both genders. But it also stands for a hope for different ideals for the world. And I would always be happy to debate this complex issue with any young woman. But I cannot fit it on a little poster.

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