Saturday, August 23, 2014

Teaching Feminism

With the despairing conversations resulting from the tumblr posts on Women Against Feminism, there has been raised the suggestion that feminism needs to be taught. Many groups have been compiling responses to enlighten people who believe we no longer need feminism, or who don’t understand what feminism is. Good work. I’m all for teaching feminism.

A group of Melbourne students at Fitzroy High School want more resources for the teaching of feminism, and want to rewrite the curriculum to include women’s studies, so did crowdscourcing to raise funds. I’m not sure what the fundraising is for. The new Australian curriculum isn’t about to be rewritten anytime soon - it's just being implemented. (From what I've seen of the history curriculum, the knowledge one would hope students wouldn't leave school without - genocide, civil rights movements - are in the elective strand rather than the compulsory strand.) Although there is no explicit unit of work in the history curriculum on women, it is possible that an aware teacher can include aspects of women’s studies in any syllabus unit. I don’t know what they are trying to achieve by creating curriculum resources for the nation. I plan to teach feminism as part of any unit of work where the issue is relevant.

Everything people need to learn about feminism is available online. Start a Facebook page and have regular meetings to discuss the issues. Anyone can like the Facebook pages for feminist activist groups and receive their regular posts about women in art, business, entertainment, about gendered education and toys, about political issues, about books and conferences and panel discussion, and about campaigns for action. There are lots of creative ways to be a feminist:

From the US: Miss Representation, Brave Girls Want (these groups pass on videos and infographics from Upworthy and Buzzfeed), Feministing, Feministe, Everyday Feminism, and the writing of Jessica Valenti (who started Feministing).

From the UK: UK Feminista, The F-Word

From Australia: Destroy the Joint, Collective Shout, the writings of Andrea Fox (blogs as Blue Milk), Clementine Ford, Anne Summers, the blog News with Nipples, Hoyden About Town and their Down Under Feminist  Carnivals, and our Sex Discrimination Officer, Elizabeth Broderick.

From Canada: Motherhood Initiative for Research and Community Involvement

For global issues, read Half the Sky by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, and look at the United Nations groups, UNIFEM and Women Watch.

That should be enough to get started.

There are new books coming out all the time - mostly saying the same things but saying them to new audiences.

At one of my daughter’s schools there is a feminist club. At my other daughter’s school the principal and teachers talk about feminism. Nina Funnell visited the school recently to talk to the students. All good stuff. And good for the students hear about feminism from someone other than their mothers.

Whilst I’m happy to prepare and present programs for schools about Feminism (and many other issues), school students are able to get these activities started for themselves, with teacher assistance. If the students from Fitzroy High School can get started with a discussion in English class and teacher assistance, surely they can continue. If the fundraising is to pay for people like Nina Funnell, Danielle Miller, and the above-named (or me) to visit and present at schools, then carry on.

Meanwhile, I’m planning to attend the conference in Brisbane, run by The Association for Women Educators: Reclaiming Feminism, EnGendering Change, where I hope to find out more, (or, doing the sums, perhaps for now it is enough to know this group exists) and I think it’s time I started a feminist bookgroup. I’ll keep you posted.

Sunday, July 06, 2014

Women in Sydney Theatre

There’s been some controversy lately about gender in theatre. A production of Oleanna in the US, a play written for a man (the uni lecturer)  and a women (the student) was staged with two males in the roles. David Mamet pulled the plug after one performance.

In Sydney, at Belvoir  St Theatre, a male has been cast as the lead in a production of Hedda Gabler.

The production is directed by Adena Jacobs, a woman, who calls it a ‘post-gender’ production.

Ash Flanders, who plays Gabler, say “... I think Hedda is ­almost beyond gender, she is ­almost a mythical creature.”

Now I’ve ranted here before about the state of Sydney theatre, about the work of directors Simon Stone and Benedict Andrews, and how tawdy, misogynistic and base their productions are. (I blame Barry Kosky. Compulsory masterbation scene, anyone?) I’ve asked that we have more female directors and that productions have a vision of what the world may be, not of how depraved the world is. These productions are not what I want to see at the theatre. Yes, I know people watch Big Brother on tv, but we expect a little more critique and insight from theatrical experiences. When I see nudity, excrement and bad behaviour on stage, as someone who has lived with small children, it just makes me think of more mess for women to clean up. I was hoping a female director at Belvoir would be different. I need to think again.

So far, I’ve only read this review, which views it poorly.

If we really did live in a post-gender world, casting men in women’s roles would be fine. If there were loads of great roles for women, it would be fine. If casting against type added some insight or critique, then that would be fine. I’m all for shaking up the classics - transport them to different times and places - that would be fine. But don’t just do it for the sake of it, or for sensationalism. You need to actually have something to say. So now I'm not sure if it is a gender problem, or a Sydney theatre (STC/Belvoir St) problem.

And I wonder what all the underemployed great female actors think about their limited roles going to men.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Writing on mothering/motherhood - a review in LRB

An article here by Jacqueline Rose, about mothers, published in the London Review of Books. It’s a long article, covering a number of texts, but worthwhile. Here are some excerpts.

There was a time when becoming a mother could signal a woman’s entry into civic life. In ancient Greece, a woman was maiden, bride and then, after childbirth, mature female, which allowed her to enter the community of women and participate in religious ceremonies. Established in her household as a mother, a woman gained new economic and affective power (she had ceased to be an object of exchange). She could fulfil her destiny only by becoming a mother, but according to one account of Greek motherhood, in doing so she became more rather than less engaged in the polity. Having a child ushered the woman on a path that led to something other than motherhood itself – an idea which modern times seem progressively to have lost. This version of motherhood expanded horizons. It gave women a voice. ..

But why in modern times is the participation of mothers in political and public life seen as the exception – Great Britain lagging behind the rest of Europe and the US? Why are mothers not seen as an essential part of a contested polity? Why are they exhorted to make their stand in the boardroom – to ‘lean in’, as the ghastly imperative of Sheryl Sandberg’s bestseller has it – as if being the props of neoliberalism were the most mothers could aspire to, the highest form of social belonging they could expect. Today we are witnessing what Angela McRobbie has described as a ‘neoliberal intensification of mothering’: perfectly turned out middle-class, mainly white mothers, with their perfect jobs, perfect husbands and marriages, whose permanent glow of self-satisfaction is intended to make all the women who don’t conform to that image – because they are poorer or black or their lives are just more humanly complicated – feel like total failures. This has the added advantage of letting a government whose austerity policy has disproportionately targeted women and mothers completely off the hook...

‘What we have, for the most part,’ Daisy Waugh writes in I Don’t Know Why She Bothers: Guilt-Free Motherhood for Thoroughly Modern Women, is a repressive sentimentality, a smiling acceptance of female martyrdom, which teeters, at times, beyond martyrdom into a sort of approved, mass-culture masochism.’ But Waugh’s insights are trounced by her breeziness, which makes you feel that mothers have only themselves to blame – that ‘thoroughly modern’ in the title is the give-away…

Perhaps, then, we should be asking a slightly different question: not what a mother is or should be, but what version of motherhood might make it possible for a mother to listen to her child? For if Western culture in our times, especially in America and Europe, has repeatedly conspired to silence the inner life of the mother by laying on her the weight of its own impossible and most punishing ideals, if the term ‘mothers’ is a trigger for a willed self-perfection that crushes women as mothers, then how can mothers be expected to hear their children’s cry – the cry not of wailing babies, which is hard enough, but the cry of protest and plaint? How can they bear to watch their child cast off the yoke of false mental safety, turning on its head what was meant to be the psychic legacy of their own version of motherhood?...

Cultural Diversity in Education

I’ve just done a unit of study on cultural diversity in education. Because I’m an external student I didn’t get to discuss all the interesting issues I wanted to talk about, so I’m raising them here.

Multicultural Public Speaking Competition

I wonder how much about multiculturalism the primary school students understand. I wonder if the topics the students can choose from are really suitable. It’s all a bit more complex and confronting than primary school students, and their teachers, might be comfortable with. And although I’m all for disrupting the norm, I’m not sure this is the right way to go about it. The topics don’t point to the idea that white culture is a culture, but they do assume that, and assume that every other culture is ‘other’. The topics don’t touch on white privilege, although I wonder how far any discussion on multiculturalism can go without mentioning it.

I have reservations about telling my children about racism. Although I’ve told them about issues in history, I don’t want to plant the ideas that people of some races have been regarded as lesser human beings. I don’t think they’ve ever heard an Irish joke. My instinct is to let these ideas die out. The research says they should be acknowledged and  addressed. Some say that being colourblind is the way to go - to stop talking about racism. Researchers disagree. I can make a comparison with sexism. It won’t go away by ignoring it.

I suspect there is a market in selling speeches for this competition. I know that a lot of parents write them for their children, because the concepts are difficult. Writing a speech is difficult. We need to teach multiculturalism in primary schools but surely there is a better way to do it than having a public speaking competition.

How to engage migrant parents.

This question was raised at a P&C meeting recently, and is something I’ve thought about before, noticing that it is usually the white parents who volunteer and participate at school. (This doesn’t hold true for the selective school, where parents are more into the concerted cultivation style of parenting.)

Schools are white institutions. Parent bodies at schools are white institutions. Some cultural groups may not be comfortable with the model of sitting in a circle and everyone having their say. Some may  want to hear only from elders, or those in authority, or may make their point more circumspectly, taking more time. Their style may not suit a fast talking, let’s stick to point and make a resolution type of meeting.

In some families, parents aren’t available in the evening. They may consider this family time, or be working shift work, or be single parents and have no babysitter. It is possible that migrant parents see no value in attending school meetings and functions. If they considered it to have value, they would come. It may be worthwhile asking migrant parents why they don’t attend. If they want to come, but don't feel comfortable, then that is something to work on.

For some families, the family comes first. That may mean helping with younger children or helping with the family business. Education may not be a priority. It is also possible that migrant families may be helping their children’s educations in way we don’t see. For some cultures the school is expected to manage all school related issues, and if parents are at the school it is only because there is a problem. There may be a sense of shame associated with the parent being at school.

It is much easier to involve migrant parents when there is a large culture group at the school. Most studies that have been done in the USA are about Latino or African-American families. Where there is a large parent population who speak another language the school can translate announcements and newsletters to that language, such as Spanish for Latinos. For African-American students they can talk about code switching between Standard English and Ebonics. It is more difficult to address the issue when families are from a wide range of cultures, such as the situation in my local area.

To involve migrant families most schools immediately reach for celebrations of festivals and food. This is now regarded as shallow and tokenistic. If we want to really engage migrant parents then we need to listen to them. We need them to know that their culture is reflected in school materials. We need to invite parents to schools to tell us about themselves and their culture. The way to go is probably to follow the policy guidelines for Aboriginal Education, which states that elders must be invited to the school, and be involved in the school community. But, having listened, we might not always like or agree with or be able to deliver what people want. We can’t assume that involving migrant parents is going to end happily for everyone. Do we really respect cultural diversity or do we want everyone to do things the white way?

The situation may improve with the new Australian curriculum having intercultural understanding as a General Capability.

What is a minority?

If a group claims to have minority status, even if they seem quite powerful, does that mean they do? I remember in the late eighties or early nineties, when minority groups were gaining more attention and receiving funding support. White males were saying they were a minority, and were discriminated against because, according to them, you needed to be lesbian in a wheelchair to acquire funding. Another example would be a religious group that once was persecuted but now is powerful. At what point do you stop being part of a minority? If you identify with the original persecuted group, are you still a minority?

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Book your babysitters - Mamapalooza is coming!

 Mamapalooza is on in May. Make your plans now to come along. Support mothers in the creative and performing arts. Support a broader depiction of mothering in our culture, and join the conversation.

 Ask your friends and please circulate among your networks. 

Events include:   

Launch by Tanya Plibersek, ‘Stolen Moments’ an art exhibition depicting and exploring the themes of identity and motherhood, Tuesday 6pm - 6th May, Tap Gallery

Mama Music night featuring Rebecca Moore and Lisa Schouw (Girl Overboard) at the Django Bar in Marrickville, Thursday 8th May 8pm

Mama Comedy Night Hosted by Lou Pollard Friday 9th May 7.30, Tap Gallery

‘Mothers’ – a play about mothers – Friday 8pm 2nd, 9th,  Saturday 2.30pm 3rd & 10th May at the Roxbury Hotel in Glebe and at the Tap Gallery on Mother’s Day, Sunday 5.30 11th May. 

We need all the help we can get to spread the word.   Thanks

For a full program go to see Facebook: Mamapalooza Sydney 2014 or email

All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenting, by Jennifer Senior

This is the book commissioned after the publication of her New York magazine article a few years ago. If you haven’t been keeping up with all the books published in the last dozen or so years about parenting, reading this will give you the sweep of the important ideas. Senior intersperses interviews with parents with findings from academic studies in a readable way. I’ll cover the main points (so you don’t have to read it).

We no longer know what children are for, which means we no longer know what parenting is. In simpler societies it was about passing down folkways and adding to the family economy. It used to be that children gained satisfaction from helping with farmwork. Now we praise them for their effort in sports. We’re all making it up as we go along.

Since small children think permanently in the present, parenting small children means that the adults in their lives are less able to be in the present. Being with small children provides few opportunities for ‘flow’ and the satisfaction of concentrating on a single task.

Senior mainly reports, but she does contribute this suggestion. To reduce anxiety, rather than look to how French women parent, mothers could look to the fathers in our midst. Mothers tend to multi-task, ie, be relational while doing other things, whereas fathers tend to do one task at a time, which is less stressful.  

Although Senior is looking primarily at middle class parents, it is interesting to note the difference in parenting styles across class. Middle class parents do concerted cultivation. This means they are overinvolved with their children’s lives. We hyperparent because we don’t know what future we are preparing our children for.

Family time is now spent doing homework together rather than eating dinner together. (I must say, this doesn’t happen in our house, but seems to be the way in the US.)

Adolescence is often more taxing on adults than the children. It is confronting for adults to see their children on the brink of adulthood - it means they reassess their own choices.

Our experiencing selves versus our remembering selves. Being with children may not seem fun at the time, but the way we remember being with children grants it significance and meaning.

Wanting our children to be happy is an unrealistic and unmeasurable goal. It places pressure on children. And happiness is a by-product rather than a state in itself.

It is good to be reminded that childhood and parenthood are socially constructed. And that policy lags social change.

In looking at the reasons for having children Senoir turns to parents who have dealt with dying, or the possibility of dying. The answer, she says, is about connection, and that connection in the routine of everyday life. I can relate to that.

It wasn’t an earth-shattering read for me - I’ve already read and discussed these ideas. But if you are a new parent, or considering parenting, or interested in how childhood and parenthood have changed over time, it is a good read.

The way education is going

It’s been interesting to be involved with two high schools introducing Bring Your Own Device (BYOD). The program initiated under Kevin Rudd as an enticement for votes, that all public school students are given a laptop in Year 9, has ended. (I’d like to know if all those laptops are now in landfill.) The response from schools is to implement BYOD from year 7. So far, children have been lugging laptops to school and back every day, along with dance gear, sports gear, cooking gear, musical instruments, or whatever else is required for the day’s activities, and barely opening the laptops.

At one school information session a parent asked if the device bought for year 7s will do for their school careers. The answer was ‘no’. They’ll probably need new devices for year 10, but then the students will need to switch to handwriting their notes, so they can be prepared to write their HSC exams by hand. The demonstrations by the teachers were boring and ineffectual. When asked about managing class behaviour a member of the executive said that we can all multitask now. Apparently we can listen and be online at the same time. Other concerns raised by parents were dismissed as family issues that parents just have to manage. I have my reservations about the whole program.

Meanwhile, we hear about children suffering from nature deficit disorder. We probably all could benefit from spending more time outdoors.

I’m currently studying via distance education. There is a world of difference between studying on campus and studying online, so much so that sometimes I think they should be different qualifications. Studying on campus means easy access to lecturers, getting to know them, and them, you. It means talking to peers about what you are learning. It means being able to work together, attending post-grad presentations and being part of academia. Studying online is all about working alone. It means studying in the margins of the rest of your life. You can do a whole course and never speak the words aloud. That’s a much shallower level of processing. It also means that, although in education we are being taught to cater for various learning styles, the value of group work,  and to deliver and assess using a variety of means, in truth we are being taught a very talk and chalk method. We are reading, and sometimes have online lectures to listen to, and we write very proscribed assignments to prove we have read the readings and understand the main points of the course. It isn’t a method that allows for an animated discussion nor much in depth assimilation of information.

It appears the whole idea of education, and the regulations around both schooling and higher education are about the change.

I’m finding it a bit demoralising to be studying education when the next trend is to run schools as businesses. Even though we are implementing the new national curriculum, the government is talking about changes to the curriculum. It is likely that in the coming federal budget the changes to tertiary education will include funding for private providers to allow more competition, increasing student fees, stopping government support for post-grad degrees, and encouragement for Australian universities to offer online courses to the Asian market. It is thought by some that by retaining HECS we will avoid the access and equity problems of the US style university system. Time will tell.

If studying online is the way of the future, perhaps high school students really do need to bring their own devices, despite educational theory. It is yet to be seen how online learning prepares students to work in real workplaces.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014


I’ve been tired for about eighteen months now.

I read an article about Arianna Huffington and her collapse from overwork. She talked about how a lot of people are sleep deprived. Although I’m not sleep deprived, I think chronic tiredness has the same effect.

‘Even traits that we associate with our core personality and values are affected by too little sleep. According to a study from the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, sleep deprivation reduces our emotional intelligence, self-regard, assertiveness, sense of independence, empathy toward others, the quality of our interpersonal relationships, positive thinking, and impulse control.’
Arianna Huffington

Yep. I relate to that.

Being chronically tired is depressing. You just don’t bother doing what you would normally do if you had the energy. Things like dressing well or disciplining children, or baking treats or visiting friends.

Just when I’m worried that I’m not going to improve, and that my life will be based on lying down for naps, and dragging myself around to get things done,  I’ve had a few little glimpses of feeling better. When it happens, I notice. I’m expecting the tiredness to lift, like when morning sickness goes away. I’ve had a little taste of that.

But then I got a cold. Now I’m back to feeling rubbish and looking for spaces to lie down. I didn’t complain much about having leukaemia, but I’m complaining about having a cold.

I’d been thinking that, when the mist rises, I can just forget all about being sick because I’ll feel normal. Then I read a report on stem cell transplants written by members  of my medical team. No such luck. Soon I’ll be having lots of medical tests - bone density, skin cancer, heart, lungs, liver. I’ll eventually get cataracts. I’m higher risk for secondary cancers, especially skin cancer. I realised how many bullets I’ve dodged already. There was a lot that could have gone wrong that I avoided.  I’ll be taking my leukaemia medication for the rest of my life, ignoring my bone pain, and wondering if it is waking me up when I’m asleep. But when I feel better, I’ll be able to think less about myself, which will be healthy.

I’m glad the weather is changing. I’m ready for a new season. I feel like it’s been summer forever.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Motherhood and Literature

This is what I'd like to be working on rather than writing my uni assignments. I wish I could go. Parking this here for when I get around to doing that PhD. By then, the papers from the conference will be available as a book.

In the meantime I'm happy to be reading this, which also suggests titles for those interested in the topic. Thanks to blue milk for sharing.


Hosted by the Motherhood Initiative for Research and Community Involvement (MIRCI) and Ryerson University

(Fiction, Poetry, Drama, Life Writing, Creative  
Non-Fiction, Social Media)

October 22-24, 2014  
Heaslip House, Ryerson University  
(297 Victoria Street, Toronto)
In 1976, Adrienne Rich broke new ground with her text Of Woman Born, in which she challenged scholars to confront their tendency to avoid discussions of motherhood, observing: "We know more about the air we breathe, the seas we travel, than about the nature and meaning of motherhood." Rich's book helped to launch the academic study of mothering in literature, as evidenced by the publication of several key texts: The Lost Tradition: Mothers and Daughters in Literature (1980), Mother Puzzles: Daughters and Mothers in Contemporary American Literature (1989), Women's Fiction Between the Wars: Mothers, Daughters, and Writing (1998), This Giving Birth: Pregnancy and Childbirth in American Women's Writing (2000), and Textual Mothers, Maternal Texts (2010). The aim of this conference is to advance the study of maternal representations in literary texts throughout history, across diverse narrative genres (fiction, poetry, drama, life writing, creative non-fiction, and social media), and from various maternal perspectives (nationality, ethnicity, race, class, ability, sexuality, ability, age, etc.). Papers from a wide range of disciplines and cultural perspectives, both theoretical/scholarly and creative (stories, narrative, creative non-fiction, poetry) are highly encouraged.
If you are interested in being considered as a presenter, please send a
250-word abstract and a 50-word bio by
April 15, 2014 to BOTH
Andrea O'Reilly: and Liz Podnieks:

Motherhood Initiative for Research and Community Involvement (MIRCI) 140 Holland St. West, PO Box 13022, Bradford, ON, L3Z 2Y5 (905) 775-9089

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Talking to children about leukaemia

This week my daughter's primary school is having a 'Giving Back to the Community Week'. As part of that they're having a Crazy Hair Day to raise money for the Leukaemia Foundation. I offered to give a little talk at the school assembly to explain leukaemia and what the Foundation does. This is the speech I gave (with a few asides).

Hello. I’m Catherine Walsh, [name]’s mum, and I’m going to talk a little bit about leukaemia, my experience with leukaemia and what the Leukaemia Foundation does.

What is leukaemia?
We think of blood as red. It looks red. But actually there are different parts of the blood. Each part has a different job to do. The white cells fight infection. Haemoglobin carries oxygen around the blood to give us energy and platelets make the blood clot so, when you get cut you stop bleeding. Leukaemia is cancer of the white blood cells. Cancer is when bad cells grow in the body. They tend to keep growing until you stop then. The word ‘leukaemia' means ‘white blood’ - that’s how it looked under a microscope when it was discovered. There are other types of blood cancers that are about other parts of the blood. Those cancers are mainly myelomas and lymphomas. All blood cancers are deadly diseases if left untreated. We don’t know why some people get it.

About a year and half ago I found out I had leukaemia. It is a sneaky disease, and you don’t know that you have it until you have a blood test. The main symptom is tiredness, but you can be tired for lots of reasons, and that’s normal. When you have a cold, you can feel that you have a cold, but you can’t feel you have leukaemia. That’s how I found out - I had a blood test. There are different types of leukaemia. For my type of leukaemia most people are treated with medication - they take a pill everyday and that keeps it under control. But my leukaemia looked like it was about to get much worse, so my doctors decided I needed another treatment, and that I should have a stem cell transplant. (It used to be called a bone marrow transplant - your blood gets made inside your bones in your bone marrow). That meant I needed chemotherapy. Chemotherapy is a strong drug that kills cancer cells. Usually it is in liquid form that goes straight into your veins. It doesn’t hurt but it can make you feel sick. And it makes your hair fall out. That’s why you often see that cancer patients are bald. That’s what happened to me - my hair started falling out so I shaved it off. For the stem cell transplant the doctors killed my bone marrow, so I couldn’t make my own blood. They took some of my sister’s blood and put it in me, so my body grew new bone marrow and started a new blood supply system. It’s a dangerous thing to do, and can get pretty tricky, but I was lucky and everything went smoothly. I’m going to be OK.

 I spent ten weeks in hospital last year, and I met lots of patients with blood cancers. Some of them will get better and some of them won’t. People talk about the battle to fight cancer. Scientists and doctors might think of it that way, but as a patient, I don’t - I’ve spent too much time sleeping to think of myself as fighting. I’ve just been obeying my doctors. We’ve made a lot of progress in treating blood cancers, and I’ve been lucky that we have such good medical treatment in Australia, but there is still a lot of work to do, especially for people with other blood cancers, particularly multiple myeloma.

So, what does the Leukaemia Foundation do?
The Leukaemia Foundation helps people in a number of ways. They provide information to patients - they make booklets about the diseases and their treatments. They provide counselling. They provide somewhere for people to stay if they need to travel from the country to the city for their treatment. They can provide a driver and transport to and from medical appointments. And they organise research to be able to better treat people with blood cancer. Their main fundraiser is the ‘Be Brave and Shave’ campaign. They ask people to raise money by shaving their heads, because if you go bald you might make cancer patients feel they are not alone, and they’ll feel supported. We don’t expect children to shave their heads, so [school] is having a Crazy Hair Day on Friday.

So, thankyou for doing the Crazy Hair Day and raising money for the Leukaemia Foundation. I know we’re not the only family at [school] who has been affected by blood cancer. It really is a worthwhile cause.