radegund: (Default)
I'm editing papers for a Festschrift that my mother is producing this summer. From a paper by John Barnes (UCD): Dante talks about how 'the human soul at first considers goods of little value to be of great value, but by experience or instruction sets its heart on more valuable things':

So we see small children desiring above all else an apple; then, when they are somewhat older, desiring a little bird; then, still later, desiring fine clothes; then a horse; then a woman; then riches in small measure; then riches in large measure; then even more riches.
(Dante, Convivio, IV. 12. 16)


Well. Nice to know where I stand in the hierarchy of possessions, all the same. Feck off, Mr Alighieri.

In the West, we're distanced in time from such odious assumptions, of course, but also in space. I'm thinking of something my sister told me recently, about meeting delegates from the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission, who spoke about how hard it is to raise the question of women's rights in communities where wives must crawl on hands and knees to serve their husbands' food.

More to do.
radegund: (Default)
My sister told me something yesterday that sounded depressingly plausible: apparently, the latest fashion among young teenage girls in Ireland (and quite possibly elsewhere) is to wear their knickers around their wrists.

Their knickers.

Around their wrists.

Yes, we agreed, generations of teenagers have done their best to shock their elders, and therefore this fits into a long and honourable tradition. But still. It's an unedifying little vignette in the endless, maddening performance of femininity, and I feel like a captive audience member.

Or am I wrong, and is this in fact a bold, sex-positive, ironic statement of twenty-first-century emancipation? What do you think?

Today

Mar. 8th, 2008 07:22 pm
radegund: (Default)
Happy International Women's Day, everyone!

Last year, I happened to mention the day at choir rehearsal, and one of the men trotted out the tedious "Why isn't there an International Men's Day?" I was just about to respond, when one of the other men sighed, rolled his eyes, and said, "Because every day is Men's Day, or hadn't you noticed?"

I like it when people are aware of their privilege.
radegund: (Default)
On the theme of Women As Possessions that's been going around my flist of late, a colleague of my sister's was reminiscing recently about her boyfriend's debs (end-of-secondary-school dance - not sure when exactly this one was, but within the past five years, say), and remembering how the unpopular boys in the class were targeted by the whimsical means of spiked drinks.

Whose drinks?

Why, the drinks of the girls they'd brought. Because clearly, spiking a woman's drink is something a man does to another man.
radegund: (swans)
Sorry. I know you all know this stuff already. I just need to get it off my chest. Again.

I went clothes shopping for the forthcoming baby this afternoon, and then scouting for Oisín's main Christmas present. I came home seething.

In which I seethe into the aether )
radegund: (Default)
We're just back from a delightful holiday: two nights in Blarney, Co. Cork, with just me and Niall. The Oyster stayed with my parents. I tried to explain this to [livejournal.com profile] ailbhe on IM earlier, and we both had some trouble grasping the detail of it, but basically, it meant unfathomable amounts of lolling and ambling and relaxed conversation and uninterrupted sleep and tranquil meals and not having to attend to anyone's food or clothes or excretion or cleanliness except our own. It was lovely.

One of the things I did - for the first time in many many weeks - was read the paper. Which was good, because otherwise I suspect my blood pressure would've dropped dangerously low.

The Irish Times has been running a series this week, you see, on What Irish Women Really Think. There was a big survey of 1003 women, apparently, carefully controlled for age, class, etc., and Now We Know.

Let's leave aside for the moment how irritating it is to have such a poll in the first place. Let's ignore the absence of any attempt to define "Irish". Let's pass over the fact that so far, all the commentators except for one opinion writer in today's Weekend supplement have been men. Let me just mention one aspect of Thursday's report that got me going.

Nineteen "issues" (quotation marks used advisedly) were rated in terms of how important they were in the respondents' lives. As the front-page leader pointed out, "financial independence" came top of the list, with 65% rating it as "very important". Other "issues" included "feminism", "equality of the sexes", "female friends", "husband/boyfriend" (yup, that bad), etc. "Politics" came a resounding last, with only 9% of Irish women rating it as "very important". As far as I remember (and sadly, we binned the paper, and ireland.com doesn't give the detailed breakdowns), "feminism" was second last - far behind "equality of the sexes", because clearly, they are TOTALLY DIFFERENT.

Anyway. Best of all, when you do a quick tot-up of the top two rankings, you find that what most closely concerns the Irish woman, with 92% ranking it as "very important" or "somewhat important", was ... wait for it ... "personal care (skin, hair)".

I'll say that again, in case you missed it: "personal care (skin, hair)".

WTF?

I mean. What?

OK. First off, look, I know I live in a bubble, but who are these people? Are there really women who can genuinely stand up and say that they find the state of their SKIN and HAIR to be more important than who's running the country, or than whether their careers (if they participate in the mainstream workforce) will suffer from a glass-ceiling effect, or than their friendships with other women ("male friends" didn't feature on the list - *headdesk*)? OK, I condition my hair, I moisturise my face, and I guess at some level it's "important" to me to do so - but it's "important" in the same way that, say, taking the bins out is important. Or shopping for food. Indeed, like food shopping, it's an area where other concerns of mine, such as environmental sustainability and corporate politics, come into play. But I can easily conceive of circumstances where it'd make sense to me to stop doing it (which isn't the case, obviously, for food shopping or taking the bins out!) - and it's not something I'd even mention if you asked me to list the important issues in my life.

So, my second question: who are the gnatbrains who think it's reasonable to include "personal care (skin, hair)" on a list of "issues" that also features items like "politics" and "financial independence"? Did they give any consideration to the implications of that decision?

Easy answer, there, of course. The doctrine that teh womenz are all about teh gr00mingz is so central to the discourse of femininity that it probably didn't even strike the survey's authors as odd to include it. And equally, it clearly didn't strike the women whose responses singled out "personal care (skin, hair)" as the most important of the 19 "issues" they were asked about that it might be just a bit weird to equate it with some of the other items on the list. (I'm just now remembering that "fashion" was also on the list, but it didn't score anywhere near as highly - which is interesting in itself.)

When I think about it, this is depressingly unstrange. Any time I've had dealings with the personal care industry, I've been fascinated by the language its practitioners use: they seem to speak predominantly in terms of moral obligation and profound importance. I really ought to have a course of facials to solve my problem skin (at 55 quid a pop, thankyouverymuch). I need to use product X on my hair (or unspeakable horrors will result). It is imperative that I develop an effective beauty regime (or I'll end up UGLY, presumably, and then I'll be sorry). I get no sense that any of this is to be done for my satisfaction or enjoyment - it's all about fulfilling my unquestionable duty to some higher principle. If I want to be a good woman, I must perform these (time-consuming and expensive) rituals.

I don't know. None of this is news. But it's thrown me off kilter. I have been wandering around since Thursday murmuring "personal care - personal CARE!" to myself, in tones of unabated mystification. My normal sense of mild alienation from (what I perceive as) majority attitudes has intensified to a distracting level. I'm sure it'll pass. For the moment, however, you can put me down as nonplussed. And enraged.
radegund: (Default)
1. From the Irish Citizens Information website
(Maternity Benefit page)
You will be disqualified (or banned) from receiving Maternity Benefit if during the time for which your Benefit is payable you engage in any employement [sic] or work other than domestic activities in your own home.

Ahahahaha! I'm not even going to touch that one. I'm just putting it out there, in all its pristine glory.

2. From the Social Welfare application form for Maternity Benefit, MB10, part 8
28. What is your spouse's or partner's full name?
29. What is their PPS Number?
30. Is your spouse or partner in employment?
31. What is their gross weekly income?
'Gross income' is their pay before tax, PRSI, union dues or other deductions.
If they are earning less than €280.00 a week, please state their gross weekly income and send in their last 6 payslips, as you may get a higher rate of payment.
...

Their? Is this an autopilot-style error (writer is used to drawing up forms to be used by both sexes), or does it mean that same-sex partnerships are somehow recognised by the Maternity Benefit people? (Genuinely curious: if you know, please tell me!)

Or is it all about the "may" in that last sentence? There's no indication of how they decide whether to pay you a higher rate (and it isn't mentioned on the Citizens Information site). I wouldn't be surprised if only married couples were entitled to it - and I'd be very surprised if same-sex couples were. But then why collect the information from everyone? If my spouse or partner earns more than €280.00 a week, it doesn't seem to have any bearing on my benefit entitlement. (I mean, for instance, do they cross-check this declaration against Niall's Revenue file?)

Hmmmmm.

Default

Sep. 2nd, 2006 04:53 pm
radegund: (swans)
Yesterday, the Oyster and I went to Dublin Zoo with [livejournal.com profile] jane_the_23rd as part of her birthday celebrations. And it was enormously cool, and lo, there was a BABY ORANG UTAN, which was one of the cutest, shaggiest little animals ever in the history of ever. (Actually, it's nearly a year old. But still exceptionally cute.)

Anyway.

The baby went over to its mother and began to feed. Jane and I squeed more than somewhat and showed Oisín the baby having mama-milk. Another family joined us in watching, and then the following little illustration of entrenched gender assumptions played out:

Mother Orang Utan: *nurses*
Baby Orang Utan: *suckles*
Radegund, Jane, Oisín and Other Family: *ogle excitedly*
Mother Orang Utan: *yawns briefly, displaying long, brownish teeth*
Mother of Other Family (to children): Look at the teeth on him! He's been eating too many sweets, that fellow!
Jane and Radegund: ...
Mother Orang Utan: whatevah
Baby Orang Utan: *switches sides and carries on feeding*

Sigh.

Woman

Aug. 13th, 2006 08:46 pm
radegund: (swans)
[Cross-posted to [livejournal.com profile] radegund and [livejournal.com profile] motherism]

When I was growing up (Ireland, 1970s and 1980s), everyone identified adults to children as "man" or "lady". (I still remember the slightly heady feeling the first time a mother said "mind the lady" to her child when referring to me; I would have been in my mid-teens.) I feel a bit squirmy about the imbalance of that, so I'm trying not to do it. Oisín mainly hears "man", "woman" and (most often) "person" from me. Sometimes, when I'm speaking in the hearing of someone who looks as if she'd be uncomfortable with "woman", I can get flustered, forget all about "person" and find myself mumbling "lady". It's not that I'm trying to prevent him from learning the word - there's an absurd goal, if ever there was one! - but it's not part of my normal speech, and I suppose I don't want to normalise it in contexts where I wouldn't use "gentleman".

Oisín frequently raises eyebrows when he says "woman". This afternoon at the park, for instance, I was sitting on the bench beside the mother of a small child whose father was helping her on the slide, and Oisín came over, pointed at me and said "Mama", then pointed at this woman and said "woman?" - plainly asking to be introduced. I caught her eye, and she looked really surprised. Not shocked or cross, but as if she'd never heard a toddler say "woman" before. I think it's possible that she hadn't.

A more striking example was at the till in a DIY chain a few weeks ago, when I asked Oisín to give the money to "the person behind the counter", and he scrutinised her and proudly announced "woman!" (he's only recently begun consistently reading gender clues correctly). I said something like "yes, to the woman", and she laughed, took the money from him (kindly), and then laughed and muttered "I am not!" as she put it in the till. From context, I'm pretty sure she meant to dissociate herself from the label "woman", most likely in favour of "girl", with a side order of "what weirdo freak doesn't teach her son to say LADY?". Meanwhile, on the other side of the counter, I'm thinking, "what weirdo freak explicitly refutes a neutral gender label as applied by a one-year old?".

I don't have a particularly pointy point to make here. But I'm curious: what gender labels do you use with young children?
radegund: (swan-head)
Further to last night's post, I'm remembering a children's party I went to when I was maybe four or five, and at the end they were handing out little presents wrapped in either pink or blue paper. We queued up, and the adult at the top of the queue asked each child, "blue or pink?". I very much preferred blue to pink, so I said "blue" - which was greeted with a degree of consternation. I can't remember whether they actually let me have a blue present, but I do remember this as the first time I realised that the colours were supposed to have a gender association.

When did you? Or is it something you've always known?

ETA: I'm only now realising what a peculiar little ritual that was: if they wanted to give us all the "right" colour present, then why didn't they just hand them out? The gender test was kind of freaky, in retrospect. I think I may have felt some of that at the time, too - it certainly made me uncomfortable.
radegund: (swans)
[This started out as a comment in [livejournal.com profile] cangetmad's journal, but it spiralled out of control so I moved it here.]

The gendering of children's clothing is a big elephant-in-the-corner.

Poke the elephant )
radegund: (blue-pansy)
A stray thought fluttered past my prefrontal cortex just now, and I thought it worth recording.

I hear, on occasion, the truism that the sexism inherent in society is illustrated by the difference in connotation between gendered pairs of words - master/mistress, poet/poetess, bachelor/spinster and so on. (These pairs fascinate me, I confess - particularly the more debatable ones, such as tailor/dressmaker or chef/cook.)

It occurs to me that I've never heard of a male equivalent of the "Dear John letter" - you know, the one that a woman writes to her husband, out on whom she is walking Without a Word of Warning.

[Poll #629978]

The thing that strikes me, you see, is that the application of such a familiar, jokey tag to the notion of an "I'm leaving you" letter reduces it, circumscribes it, makes it less threatening. The "Dear John letter" is not written by a strong woman, striking out for the sunlit uplands: it's all slightly pathetic and drippy and embarrassing, and That's Women For You. You wouldn't take it seriously. Pre-emptive devoicing, as it were.

Or am I wildly off base, here?

And in conclusion:

[Poll #629979]

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