‘Socialist’ or ‘socialism’ is an alarming word in Australia, let alone the country town of Taree, New South Wales, Australia. Believed by most to be nothing more than Communism, Socialist principles are seen as a ‘failure’. This view became deep-rooted by the fall of USSR and more importantly, denigration by the press, particularly the Murdoch Daily Telegraph, a paper most people read.
Taree, fifteen kilometres from beaches of such colour and inspiration words seem inadequate, is served by the magnificent Manning River. All this magnificence is contrasted by Purfleet, once the ‘mish’ or Mission, an Aboriginal presence on ‘the other side’ of the river. Taree, once a very conservative dairy farming community is now a mixed economy and it is also racist!
In 2007, five women met in Taree at the cafe Raw Sugar for breakfast; a nurse, a teacher, a women’s refuge worker, a school assistant and I, an author and retiree. The original three are members of the Australian Labor (not Labour) Party. Therefore, although the meeting was not politically driven, the conversations had little to do with knitting tea cosies or cooking. It was not long before it was realised that talking was not enough; we were just going around in circles. Socialist Women for Justice was the answer.
Against advice, we used the word ‘Socialist’ even though not one of us declared allegiance to such a philosophy. But we were sick and tired of the conservative attitudes displayed by our governments and press, let alone the people.
After one or two meetings, I fell into the role of ‘scribe’: write to Government, radio stations and local Council. It was agreed that the letters must appear ‘personal’: typed and formal but hand-written envelopes. We knew how many emails politicians receive and seldom see. Perhaps paper may get through?
Probably, Lisa’s concern for the neglected and abused children in the primary school at which she worked prompted our first letters. We cannot say this was one of our successes. On the other hand, our correspondence created a furore to the extent we met with an Education Department delegation and talked about a subject we all knew in our hearts was beyond the people with whom we met: parental drug abuse and child abuse. Am I suggesting our presence and our letters changed anything? Yes, I think I am. One cannot raise these issues without some change occurring even if it is only in the thinking of some teachers, politicians or bureaucrats.
The group did not set out to proselytise. We had nothing to offer. No prizes, no games and very little success but somehow or other women heard of us and our activities: one breakfast a month, enthusiastic discussion and the belief, sometimes erroneously held, that by attending this breakfast and writing a letter or two made the previous week worthwhile.
The subjects tackled are too numerous to outline here but we have the ear of many politicians, State and Federal, some of whom are on our mailing list. I doubt that we have ever been ignored although obfuscation has raised its ugly head every now and then.
We are engaged in two ongoing discussions raised by individuals within the group. One is the accuracy of birth certificates. It was discovered by Kate twenty years ago when she registered her second child’s birth that her son from a previous relationship could not appear under his own name on his sister’s certificate. The powers that be ‘did not want to upset fathers’! Kate fought for some time gaining some ground with the establishment of a data base acknowledging the names of the children but allowed it to rest until she joined SWFJ. We want birth certificates to record the names of all siblings no matter the family name. A Review has taken place in New South Wales and the finding is about to be announced. There is no suggestion we have brought this about. It was the work of people like Kate but our support was an advantage and will be if either she or SWFJ is unhappy with the finding. One has the right to expect Government documents to be accurate.
As for successful outcomes? The most important was our representation of ‘stop and go’ workers: those workers who hold up signs on roads under construction or in times of accidents. On the lowest rung of the ladder as far as power is concerned, they believed they were short-changed with wages and hours. Following unsuccessful representation they approached the Ombudsman who also came down on the side of the employer. We studied the matter and decided the workers were denied their rightful pay and conditions. We made a case for the workers in a letter to the Minister for Employment, the Honourable Bill Shorten MP. He replied promptly and investigated promptly revealing $76000 owed to the workers and other oversights. The workers received that money and an apology from the Ombudsman. This kind of win made years of letter writing worthwhile.
Our successes have never been quite so dramatic; more often than not, we just add another letter on the desk of another politician. Even so, we are politically savvy enough to know that one letter, written with feeling, equates to a certain number of votes to each politician.
As the ‘scribe’, I must emphasise it is not just the writing of letters that sustains this group. It is connection with other women of ‘like minds’ whether in Cairns, North Queensland, Adelaide, South Australia, United Kingdom or Taree. One can write letters without email but it is the immediacy of email that makes the formation of such a group exciting and productive.
An amusing aside; many men, particularly those interested in politics, appear jealous of the group. They ask, somewhat disparagingly, ‘…and what is that “little” group of yours, ABCD or whatever it is?’ There are some even generous enough to say, ‘I wish I could join’! Ha ha …
Marion Hosking (c) June 2013
Born in Epping, NSW, Australia, Marion Hosking, OAM, left school at 13 years for no other reason than she wanted work in a shop to earn her own living. From that moment, she worked and studied, devouring the classics, particularly Charles Dickens, Upton Sinclair and John Steinbeck, from whom she received her socialist education. Always on the periphery of the labour and women’s movements she joined the NSW Humanist Society, becoming its first paid Secretary, She was a Convenor during the Moratorium, marching in protest with her son against Australia’s involvement in the Viet Nam war. On moving to the North Coast town of Taree, NSW, she became involved with a women’s refuge, spending 25 years in various unpaid roles. At age 74, she graduated BA (NEU) as a mature-age student, majoring in history. The same year, she was awarded the Centenary Medal, commemorating the Federation of Australia, for services to the community, and the NSW Premier’s Award for Active Citizenship for work with the Manning District Emergency Accommodation Committee Inc (refuge). Nominated in 2006 for Australian of the Year, the following year she received an Order of Australia Medal (OAM) for work with victims/survivors of domestic violence. Learning how to write and research history culminated in her writing the story of the refuge, Why Doesn’t She Leave? The story of a women’s refuge. Over the last few years she wrote her memoir, Family Likeness and is in the process of writing Our Australian Families.
Married for over sixty years Marion, now a widow, has three children and two grand children. She spends her time volunteering at the Manning Regional Art Gallery where her daughter is the Assistant Director, painting, gardening, facebooking and most of all, writing for Socialist Women for Justice.
Happy International Women’s Day 2013
We have the numbers to create our own wellspring of women to change the world!
Attending a 2013 IWD breakfast I noted much diversity and talent amongst the women attending. So I thought, why not meet, eat, and talk regularly and not just once a year? So, I would like us to set up a grass roots national and international organisation of older women. Grand Matriachs Worldwide – ordinary, everyday women who have lived at least 50 years. Non elitist but grand as in grandmother, grand plan, grand vision and grand stand.
I will start the ball rolling with these thoughts:-
Never before have we had such a large group of women over 50 worldwide.
Never before have we been as active in the community as we have been in recent years
Never before have we by our own activism achieved so much.
Never before have we been as connected to learn that much more needs to be done
Never before have women who have survived, been so supportive of each other.
Never before have we so many amazing women in the third world.
All those of us over 50 are members already with no joining process or fees. We are inclusive of all women who realise and understand what power we can wield. Just BEING what we are is a force of sheer numbers that can be so powerful. Worldwide, there are more than a billion of us over 50 who are matriachs. The huge numbers that we have must count for something.
Let us use our raw numbers to flex our muscles in all areas of life.
Every one of us counts if we cast a vote in any election anywhere.
If we march together our numbers demand political attention and clout.
We need to recognise and harness our collective femaleness into social activism.
We are friends even if we have not met as we have shared experiences
We are all connected because we are daughters, sisters, mothers, grandmothers etc.
Never, ever let us again be ‘just women’ who react as victims and are the ‘other’.
Let us meet, inspire, support, connect, network, mentor, learn, think and plan.
In our homes, families, schools, community neighbourhoods, villages, town, city, country.
Yes and worldwide via the internet so come blog on this website and tell us what is possible.
We do this now, wherever we are, in every way, every day, in all that we do.
In the small and big tasks we undertake daily in child and maternal health, girls education.
Resisting bias and taking steps to prevent and eliminate violence against women and children.
With our collective activism we can achieve in all the ways that we are already familiar with.
Let us take action now for our children, grandchildren, nephews and nieces and all children.
We can lobby for the lives of the future generation to be better than ours.
We can make a fairer, safer, more peaceful and sustainable world for women and children.
We can address the gender imbalance on resources with accessible credit for women.
In Australia we can support Julia Gillard, Australia’s first PM who has been vilified by men to destroy her leadership. As women we know politics and parties are less relevant than people and policies around the world. Julia has put this before electoral numbers, for our planet, our futures our children and grandchildren. Be part of us and never, let us ever again be ‘just women’ who react as victims and are the ‘other’.
Watch this space for news of the Grand Matriarchs Worldwide’s Blog.
Patmalar Ambikapathy Thuraisingham (c) May 2013
A Barrister and Children’s Rights Lawyer, Patmalar Ambikapathy Thuraisingham graduated in law from the University of Durham and is a member of Lincoln’s Inn. She practiced in commercial law in Malaysia, then emigrated with her family to Australia, where she practiced as a solicitor in Ballarat and Melbourne, before going to the Melbourne Bar. She was first Children’s Commissioner for Tasmania, taking a strong and positive stand to advance the rights of children. She is an active advocate for ending violence against women and children, standing up for the right of children not to be hit or assaulted in any way, whether in the name of parental ‘control’ or otherwise.
Body theorising gripped women’s studies for a time in the 1980s and 1990s. Books were written, papers delivered at conferences, newspaper columns and columnists pronounced upon the subject, theses were proposed and completed, PhDs were awarded, and the topic gripped – or seemed to grip – an entire generation of academics. Then, as is so often wont, the topic drifted into abyance.
The body has in past and present held centre stage in more than the academic sense. During the decades and more of the Inquisition, the body – particularly woman’s body – was central to sin. Kramer and Sprenger’s Malleus Malificarum - ‘The Hammer [or Anvil] of Witches’ determined that women’s bodies should not be covered in gorgeous draperies, fine costuming or jewellery. Yet covered should they be – particularly the hair, which was demonised as a source of vanity, pride, evil and error. Still, modestly dressed women were not safe, being destined to die along with their more worldly sisters, for the body was the problem for witch-finders (so called) and no covering could protect a targetted woman from the prickings of Kramer, Sprenger and their colleagues, including the English jurist Matthew Hale who not only sat on trials of witches, declaring witchcraft to be ‘real’ and so to be subject to the criminal law, but pronounced upon women’s perfidy in other regards, particularly in the field of sexual abuse and exploitation.
Centuries later, Zadie Smith’s On Beauty played with the ‘body’ theme in fiction, whilst a century before, the body in all its constituent parts – along with beauty – was both a subject for sniggering sentiment, with ‘naughty’ postcards being sold surreptitiously on street corners and in alleyways or at fun fairs and in seaside pavillions, as well as a serious topic ‘for the ladies’.
Beauty , what it is and how to Retain it, published in London, Sept., 1873 by Frederick Warne & Co, led the way, along with its companion volume, How to Dress on £15 a Year.
Written by ‘A Lady’, readers learned that beauty, being ‘one of the great powers of the world’ necessarily found its way into discussion ‘by the philosphers and poets of all ages’, so that writing about it in the latter half of the nineteenth century created difficulty. ‘A Lady’ was, nonetheless, up to the task.
No longer was the body to be treated ‘by all wise people’ with ‘contemptuous indifference’. Nor was it any longer to be considered ‘a sinful vanity’ to dwell in thought on ‘personal beauty’. Leaving Kramer and Sprenger in the darkness of history, ‘A Lady’ pronounced Christianity – no less – to have, in its fresh ‘muscularity’:
‘… restored to the human frame that due regard with all men owe to it; and the new and more artistic sense of beauty which undoubtedly sprang from the great Exhibition of 1851, has rendered people more inclined to discuss beauty as an important and valuable gift, which, like all other good gifts of Heaven, requires and deserves our careful attention.’
A Lady had firm ideas about what constitutes beauty. Albeit citing writers, philosphers, playwrights and poets from Aristotle to Plautus to Shakespeare, Longepierre, Byron, Spenser and Drayton, and observing that England ‘has been justly styled the land of beauty’, she deplored the failure of English women to take steps to ‘improve or preserve their beauty’. This, it is, that she sets out to remedy.
A ‘gently serpentine’ body is that for which we ought to strive. Affirmation for this standard is found in the words of Leigh Hunt, asserting just this, for stiffness ‘is utterly ungraceful’. Women should emulate the movements ‘of an unconscious child’ for these are ‘the perfection of grace; they are easy, unstudied, natural’.
As to figure, the waist and throat should be synchronised in their measurements, for the waist should be ‘twice the size of this tower of ivory’, the throat, which ’should be round, full, and pillar-like’. Shoulders ‘should be falling, and not too broad’ for very broad shoulders are a sign of masculine, not feminine, beauty. Nonetheless, shoulders ‘had better be broad than too narrow’. Why? For ‘any contraction across the chest gives a mean and pinched look to the person’.
Abjuring the exhortations that found support in the ante bellum south of the United States – as evidenced so well in Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind and in the visual representations displayed in Victor Fleming’s film (who can forget the scene of Vivienne Leigh as Scarlet being laced into her stays, clasping the bedpost whilst Hattie McDaniel tugs and pulls the strings tight, tightly, tighter …), A Lady contends sharply that twenty-seven inches is the signal waist ‘beauty’:
‘The figure should be easy; too small a waist is an actual deformity, and we may remind young ladies who labour under the delusion of thinking that a waist of eighteen inches is lovely, that that of the Venus de’ Medici, the acknowledged type of female beauty, measures twenty-seven inches.’
What is extraordinary about Beauty … , at least in present times when the bosom, bust or breasts are such a feature in the panoply of every plastic surgeon’s list of ‘to dos’ or, rather, ‘must dos’, is that this part of the body is entirely left out of the recitation of ‘form’. It is also instructive to observe the vast difference between then and now: perusing Beauty is a reminder that what is now known as ‘the beauty industry’ has existed for centuries, yet today’s manifestation of it is no improvement on the past and the resort to surgery that appears to be an everyday requirement was generally absent from 19th century recitations of what women were obliged to do to be ‘real’ women.
Chinese footbinding and other cultural attacks on women’s bodies – including the Inquisition, neck-stretching and female genital mutilation (FGM), along with 19th century psychiatric ‘cures’ including clitoredectomy and rhinoplasty - find no place in Beauty … Rather, A Lady concentrates upon posture, diet and ungents for the face and neck. Yet just as the ‘surgical’ changes to women’s bodies caused and cause serious damage, so too the pastes and creams applied. This is graphically described in Barbara Ewing’s Fraud one of the major protagonists ultimately suffers serious skin damage and facial disintegration from applying paste to whiten her complexion.
The field is rich with so many graphic indicators of the way that women’s bodies have ever been, and remain, sites for and of struggle. Women’s independence, autonomy, sense of self and wellbeing are located not only in the mind, but equally so in the body. For women it is clear that the purported disjunction between mind and body is fallacious. Wilhelm Fliess, longtime colleague and friend of Sigmund Freud, drew upon this fundamental connection in his work, a tale of horrors, a recitation of the way in which acts that would be classed as torture in other circumstances can be meted out upon women in the name of ‘cure’.
Beauty … reminds us that homilies such as ‘her face is her fortune’ and ‘no ugly women need apply’ have a resonance in the lives of women and the demands women face in everyday life whether in centuries past or present.
Jocelynne A. Scutt (c) January 2013
Jocelynne Scutt’s films include ‘Covered’ – A DVD Installation in 3 streams – ‘Debating the Scarf’, ‘Romancing the Veil’ and ‘Contradictions of Cover’, ‘A Greenshell Necklace’ (with Karen Buczynski-Lee), and ‘The Incredible Woman’ (with Karen Buczynski-Lee). She is currently researching the field of women’s bodies, women’s ‘beauty’ treatments’, and medical negligence in the field of body ‘enhancement’.
If nothing else, I can claim to have done much to assist the establishment of a women’s refuge in Canberra. The physical presence of the Green Valley housewife, her baby, the nappies and disorder, and the endless recitations of my latest trauma as I fought for recognition of entitlements as a deserting wife with the ACT [Australian Capital Territory] welfare authorities were concrete evidence of the urgent need for a ‘real’ women’s refuge. (In 1972 only ‘deserted’ wives were entitled to welfare.)
… 1972 had been an extremely traumatic year. Separated from my children, I was often in despair. When meetings closed, usually in the early hours of the morning, I was left alone to cry myself to sleep: no future, no place to go. Too ‘working-class’ proud to ask for charity, I fed the baby sugar-water while humourously describing my latest battle with welfare. During the first nine weeks I received only two $10.00 food vouchers. Few women at the meetings noticed. I understand, but still resent, the pressures put on me to ‘move on’. Three or four weeks is insufficient time for a woman in crisis to get back on her feet.
The advent of the Women’s Electoral Lobby (WEL) caused the numbers of women at the house to grow rapidly. Consciousness-raising sessions were divided in two. The activity-oriented, newer, WEL women did not always succeed in grasping the ‘personal is political’ ambit of feminist theory. The potential growth of consciousness-raising ‘rap’ groups bogged down for lack of leadership and inspiration. And hard-core feminists were avoiding discussions about the role and validity of the position of advisor to the Prime Minister on women’s issues, the appointment of Elizabeth Reid to that position; and the relationship of the Canberra women’s movement to both the position and the incumbent.
The last ‘rap’ I attended was on ‘my mother and me’. Many women sat silent, making no contribution. I suspect that the articulate, competent, well-educated Canberra women felt more threatened by the processes of consciousness-raising than I. I could only benefit (in the long term) by discarding the ‘shit’ elements of my socialised role as a woman, housewife and mother. By society’s chauvinistic criteria, my ‘inadequacies’ and ‘unworthiness’ had constantly been confirmed to me. Through consciousness-raising, I came to realise a new and autonomous self …
The Elizabeth Reid situation did not improve my relationship with the Canberra women’s movement. I was closely identified with Liz who had been a tremendous support to me in 1972, not only as campaign manager, but by sharing her home with the baby and me for many weeks prior to the election, and raising funds for my campaign. Labor Party feminisits were attempting to block Bremer Street involvement in my election campaign, using their influence to prevent any direct or specific endorsement of me from the Women’s Electoral Lobby. Other ‘sisters’ stood back and observed my campaign, amazed at my impertinance and gall.
In 1975 I was selected together with nine other women of all backgrounds to attend the International Women’s Year Conference in Mexico City. Even my few remaining feminist friends were disturbed that this may have been an example of ‘special patronage’. Well, whether by intention or not, the Canberra women’s movement actively destroyed any validity that my experiences in Mexico may have had, by the simple expedient of not listening when I returned. Two attempts were made to organise meetings on my behalf to discuss the conference, one at the Women’s House, one with the ANU Radical Feminist Group. Neither attempt even went so far as a date for discussion. The message was loud and clear: the women’s movement of Canberra just did not want to know what had happened in Mexico.
The information they rejected, the great news from Mexico in 1975, was that Australian feminist theory was leading the world. Liz Reid, Laurie Bebbington (the radical lesbian activist from the Australian Union of Students), Pat Giles (trade unionst and now ALP senator from Western Australia) and other Australian women caught and held the centre stage of world interest as their theory of feminism related to practice in their fields. At the same conference, American feminists were booed from the stage when, with chauvinistic arrogance, they attempted to align the weight of the international conference on one side or other of their internal schisms and disputes.
The Canberra women’s movement was predominantly middle class, educated and articulate, with an intimate knowledge of the public service structure and the complexity of its mechanisms. They participated in legislative reforms by submissions on family law reform, anti-discrimiantion legislation and others, and giving evidence at enquiries such as the enquiry into poverty by Henderson and the Australian Council of Social Service. However as time passed, many chose action in fields like child-care, the women’s refuge, abortion counselling and the rape crisis centre. Others took a more ‘revolutionary’ stance or withdrew under the guise of having to ‘sort out your own problems before you can solve the problems of society’.
The political assessment of the ‘correct direction’ for the women’s movement unfortunately led many Canberra women into ‘concrete’ activity or to a ‘self’-centred encounter group/meditation direction, and away from the ‘reformist’ submissions and other legislative processes where their unique talents could be fully utilised. Those women who did persist from within the bureaucracy were seen to be vaguely ‘invalid’. They were either not real feminists, or not really ‘Canberra’.
I see the grand finale for the women’s movement as being the Women and Politics Conference in 1975. I was an official rapporteur on the ‘campaigning’ session of the conference, but throughout that week I was under constant attack from my Aboriginal sisters. Tolerance – if not complete forgiveness – was extended to me for my political consciousness of my working-classness and femaleness, as well as my Aboriginality. But then a sister started a rumour that I was not Aboriginal at all. This charge was not made easier by originating from a sister-by-blood (my biological sister) in a futile attempt to retain her Queensland country town eminence as a member of the Junior Chamber of Commerce and president of the local Parents and Citizens Association. (Years later my mother accused me of ‘destroying’ my sister’s life by ‘coming out’ as an Aborigine: my sister was forced to retreat into the anonymity of Brisbane’s suburbia!) Fortunately, all but a few die-hards accepted the truth when confronted with it.
Personal traumas aside, the Women and Politics Conference was a triumph of feminist sisterhood. Over 800 women of almost all political persuasions found that their female identity gave them more in common than an abitrary division of party politics and ideology. That this groundwork was not followed up was the tragedy of the more recent years of feminism, even surpassing the competition for, and distrust of, the funding hand-outs of 1975-7 …
Pat Eatock (c) 1987
Pat Eatock spent the first years of the 1980s living on the land in Pillar Valley in New South Wales, Australia, then returned to Sydney to complete her MA in history at Macquarie University. At that time she lived inWoolloomooloo, an inner Sydney suburb. Most recently, she was lead claimant in a race vilification case launched against a prominent newspaper columnist in Melbourne, who had asserted that she and a number of other prominent Indigenous Australian activists and professionals were ‘not Aboriginal’.
This is an extract from ‘There’s a Snake in My Caravan’ in Different Lives – Reflections of the Women’s Movement and Visions of Its Future, Penguin Books, Melbourne, Australia, 1987 (Jocelynne A. Scutt, ed.).
Women, state, nation – is ‘women’ the odd word out? Or do women adhere to notions of nation-state so as to conform to expectations of nationhood, patriotism and the divisions that can be so much a part of states and statehood? These were questions underlying presentations at the Women’s History Network annual conference, held at Cardiff University from 7-9 September 2012.
Are women equally committed as their male counterparts to nation-state ideology and construct? Do women play an equal part in the construction and configuration of states and nations? Do nations and states themselves construct or significantly inform women’s identity as women – whether women conform to notions of ‘race’ and ‘ethnic identity’ or reject them in the search for solidarity amongst women, as part of a Women’s Movement?
Under the title ‘Women, State and Nation: Creating Gendered Identities’ , academics, graduate students and independent scholars grappled with issues ranging from ‘Indigenous Feminism in Eighteenth-and-Nineteenth-Century China’, presented by Yang Binbin of the University of Hong Kong; Rachael Attwood’s ‘Unwelcome departures? The National Vigilance Association, the Jewish Association for the Protection of Girls and Women, and the British Fight Against Sex Trafficking c. 1899-1910′ (University College, London); ’The Girl’s Own and the Great War …’ with Alison Enever of the University of South Hampton; Queen Mary, University of London’s Pamela Schievenin on ‘Reconciling home and work: Women politicians and the reform of Italy’s welfare state (1962-1971)’; and from the University of Versailles-Saint-Quentin, ‘The unscottishness of female rule …’ by Dr Arnel Dubois-Nayt.
Papers were presented variously under themes, with parallel sessions providing, as always, dilemmas for conference participants – whether to commit to ‘Gender and the Nation – Crises and Responses’, to ‘Feminism, Female Agency and Activism’, or to ’Imagining the Nation: Art, Fiction, Drama and Music’, or to range between them, endeavouring thereby to gain an insight into each. Fortunately, whichever path chosen by individual participants, three keynote addresses provided insights into each of the themes.
Dr Padma Anagol of Cardiff University analysed ‘Women’s role and participation in the birth of the Hindu Right in colonial India’, where women’s rights, responsibilities, activities and everyday lives were directed in accordance with the proposition that women’s every action and engagement should be dictated ‘In the interests of the nation’. Next, under the title ‘National suffrage spectacle and transnational transfer: a comparison of British and Dutch suffrage activism’, Professor Mineke Bosch of the University of Groningen looked at ‘supremacy’ not from the perspective of religion-and-nation, but in terms of ‘birthplace-and-nation’. She spoke of the way in which the early 20th century suffrage movement lionised and elevated the struggles and gains of British women, yet passed over or downplayed those of equally active and committed women elsewhere, providing the instance of one of her own countrywomen. Religion did arise for her, in a question whether Jewishness may have played a part in the overlooking of her principal protagonist, who held no official positions in the suffrage movement organisations to which she belonged.
Finally, Professor Elsa Barkley-Brown of the University of Maryland entertained and informed with a critical look ‘On play and citizenship: African-American women and the undisciplined body’. She returned to the history – and herstory – of slavery, the Statue of Liberty and the modern-day inheritor of women and men’s claims against the owning of persons, in the person of Michelle Obama and her unique contribution to what it means to be ‘First Lady’. Professor Barkley-Brown posited that Michelle Obama’s engagement in ‘play’ – playing with her appearance and identity through dress, and dressing not as might be expected of a US First Lady and particularly the First Lady of African-American heritage. Illustrating her presentation with images, sketches, photographs and cartoons – one depicting the Statue of Liberty as an African-American woman, with the caption ‘frightening’ the masses rather than ‘enlightening’ them – she spoke of the way in which the African-American woman’s body has been depicted in US culture and history, including an excerpt from the 1934 film ‘Imitation of Life’. Here, the juxtaposition of ‘black’ and ‘white’ woman as friends was alleviated (so as to quell propositions of equality between them) by dress, body/physiology, and placement-on-screen. Hence, ‘white’ equalled slim, smartly dressed, fair-haired and ‘being served’, whilst ‘black’ was shown as plump (‘Black Mammy’ personified), apron over cardigan over cotton floral dress, serving … Ironically, said Professor Barkley-Brown, Michelle Obama is able to express herself in unorthodox (for a First Lady and for an African-American woman in a position of reverential-power) dress without being seen as ‘out of control’ – a body undisciplined – because she has taken on a prominent role in the obesity debate. Leading publicly on the importance of ‘body control’ for young women – and here, particularly, a role model for young African-American women – she is able to dress her own body as she pleases. Not inconsequentially, too, her body is seen as athletically ‘acceptable’ – the body upon which the unorthodox dress is displayed is one that does not offend as ungainly or lacking in conformity to the (acceptably athletic) ideal, whether ‘black’ or ‘white’.
The US culture (or cult) of the First Lady and woman-of-power held attention earlier when addressed in a panel entitled ‘The New Political Woman: at work in the White House and Embassy Row’, chaired by Katherine Sibley of Saint Joseph’s University. Nancy Beck Young of the University of Houston led off with ‘The Idea of the First Lady’, followed by Catherine Forslund’s presentation on one (generally overlooked) First Lady – ‘A Victorian Modern in the White House: Edith Kermit Roosevelt’. Beatrice Mckenzie of Beloit College then presented on ‘”You can’t do political work … You have to be a man to do that”: Constance Harvey’s Foreign Service Career, 1948-1955′ – addressing a woman in power in her own right, in a high-level post in the US administration, whilst Carol Jackson Adams provided an analytical summation as discussant. One question that may be asked here is why it is that US First Ladies are held in such reverance and high esteem, with a prominance not extended, generally, to ‘political wives’ in other countries – Britain, Australia, Aotearoa/New Zealand, France, Germany, the USSR (as it was). Not addressed by the presentations, it remains an issue for historical and cultural exploration and analysis.
As is usual with Women’s History Network conferences, independent scholars played a significant part, with a number of presentations during the conference. Notably, too, the Women’s History Network has determined to encourage scholarship further where not supported by institutions, in the launching of a Women’s History Network prize for this field of endeavour.
Jocelynne A. Scutt (c) September 2012
Dr Jocelynne A. Scutt’s presentation at the WHN conference was entitled ””As a woman I have no country”: World War One, political activism and patriotism’, drawing upon the proposition stated so clearly by Virginia Woolf – ‘As a woman I have no country, as a woman I want no country, as a woman my country is the whole world ..’
In the seventeenth century, the Lord Chief Justice of England, Sir Matthew Hale (1909 -1676)wrote that the common law permitted the physical discipline of wives and that husbands had immunity from prosecution if they raped their wives (Historia Placitorum Coronae, Hale, 1736 @ pp 472-474 ). He also said wives, servants, apprentices and children could be subject to ‘moderate correction’ even if such discipline caused death.
In 1860 the Lord Chief Justice of England Sir Alexander Coburn expressed the same law in his judgment in R v Hopley (1860) 2 F & F 20), but did not acknowledge Hale or appear to have referred to any precedent. He simply said it was the law of England. Providing no precedent is an omission we need to investigate further.
In truth, if we go back a little earlier in history, we note that during the Roman occupation of Britain, England – like other occupied nations - incorporated aspects of the occupiers’ pre-Christian Roman law into their legal system. The Romans had a legal principle that a father or master had absolute dominion over his household, including the power of life and death over his wives, children, servants and slaves. History also tells us Hale was an admirer of the Roman Titus Pomponius Atticus (a childhood friend of Cicero) and that Hale, like all other lawyers of his time, studied Roman law, the main subject for a law degree in Oxford or Cambridge. At that time, common law could be learned only at the Inns of Court in London for those who wished to practice law.
King Henry the VIIth abolished the teaching of canon law at Oxbridge but Roman law continues to this day, with common law a late entrant into an Oxford law degree in the eighteenth century. Its introduction came about from 1758 through the initiative of William Blackstone, Solicitor General of England and first Vinerian Professor of law at Oxford. His lectures on common law were published contemporaneously in 1765 as Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England (Blackstone Reprint of 1st Edn by Oxford Clarendon Press).
Both Hale and Blackstone, although living more than a century apart, studied Roman law in Oxford and common law at the Inns of Court in London. Both would have been aware of the Roman law principle of the power of the paterfamilias, and Hale embraced it whilst Blackstone distanced himself from the Roman law on children and wives, suggesting discipline without violence.
One century after Blackstone, Coburn chose to follow Hale and not Blackstone. I suggest that contemporary law follows this archaic Hale defence and jurisprudence although it has at last been discarded and discredited with regard to violent discipline of all except children.
Hale’s defence and jurisprudence was a sex based gender paradigm in the legal system, perpetuating the dominance of men as husbands, fathers and masters. Most common law jurisdictions around the world have made such violence illegal against all Hale’s stated classes of persons subject to this law, except children. To date, onlyNew Zealand has shaken off its common law heritage by passing a law that such discipline is illegal for children too. In an amendment to its criminal law, discipline without violence remains a defence (s. 59 Crimes (Substituted Section) Amendment Act 2007 (NZ)).
The legal system does not provide children with equal protection of the law from assaults in the course of discipline, as children alone are now subjected to this law and the criminal justice, welfare and social systems manage the consequent risk of harm to children in an ambiguous legal terrain. The law permits the use of ‘reasonable force’ in the discipline of children. What is reasonable in Stratford may not be reasonable in Kensington, for biases – social, class, status, culture – permeate society and the legal system.
In addition, affirmation of this law and policy exposes all family members, including women, to the potential of violence. Women who have been parented in such a toxic environment need support to break dysfunctional intergenerational value systems in which they may have become entangled. Children who learn that such violence is normal behavior grow up with the belief system that corporal punishment and more is a legitimate tool for use in society.
Ultimately such aggression slips into a societal and cultural acceptance of the inevitability of violence. As a consequence we continue to tolerate risks to the health, safety, physical and emotional wellbeing of all women and children. Without legal reform to promote a culture of wellness in the family, this unnecessary stress to women and distress to children will continue. The law is a powerful symbol of the community’s standards of social justice and an authoritative signal of the limits of private and public conduct. If we are to eradicate a cultural acceptance of interpersonal violence that continues to exist after centuries of received legal wisdom, this last legal bastion protective of violence against the most vulnerable members of the family and society must be removed.
As with violence against women, violence against children, wrapped up in obsolete notions of ‘reasonable’ force which tolerates assault as chastisement, should not have the imprimatur of law.
Patmalar Thuraisingham Ambikapathy (c) August 2012
Patmalar Thuraisingham Ambikapathy was first Children’s Commissioner for Tasmania, from 2000 to 2004, where her work continues to have a significant impact. She trained in law in the United Kingdom and practised in the UK and Malaysia. Now a Barrister practising in Victoria, Australia, and formerly working as a Solicitor, she has led the struggle for women and children’s rights, particularly in the area of violence against women and children and their legal representation. She and her work were recognised in 1999 with the award of Children’s Lawyer of the year.
Since the inception of advertising, advertisers have realised that sexual appeal and the desire to find a partner were more effective than any discourse about the advantages of purchasing a particular product. Consequently, the depiction of sex has been a key element in any sort of advertisement.
Always bordering between what was inappropriate and what was not, advertising has been flooded with pin-up girls (mostly ‘white’ and slim) ready to offer to (mostly) males a paradise of the senses. This proliferation of references to sex and sexuality has been constant, increasing hugely in the last 15 years to become an important part of our daily social encounters. Today, the relationship between marketing and sexuality is even more extended and sophisticated, with ‘global sexualising’ being a phenomenon that has spread to most social and cultural spaces.
Despite the reconfiguration of gender roles experienced in the West over the last half century, advertising has remained anchored within a conservative and sexist frame. On the one hand, advertisers have attempted to devise campaigns addressing a self-sufficient and independent woman, while on the other they have repeatedly argued that society demands from them the display of nude women selling themselves through a pornographic lens.
In advertising, sex is presented to the viewer, yet he/she (more often it is a ‘he’) is denied this access to sex, so triggering his desire. Advertisers, then, hope that the consumer, not being able to access ‘having sex’ with the model, craves for the product to complete the circle of desire (Gifford Broke, 2003: 143).
The pattern is endlessly exploited: the object of desire is a woman promiscuously presented for men’s enjoyment. She interacts with the audience, directly addressing him through flirtatious and provocative body language.
In a world saturated by visual culture, advertisers are under pressure to produce more provocative and flashy images to attract the viewer’s attention. Within this trend is a deliberate attempt to combine sex and transgression, with artistic elements to make it acceptable to the majority. McNair (2003) or Taflinger (1996) call this trend: ‘phornography’. Another term frequently used is ‘porno-chic’ or ‘porn chic’, understood as a depiction of sexual rites through a combination of art and glamour. To make pornographic images appropriate in advertising they must be filtered first, then ‘sanitized to remove its graphic rawness’ (McNair, 2002: 67). Through this new filter the misè-en-scene, the poses and vocabularies of porn culture, have gone mainstream. Advertising has appropriated these images where sex is not real but staged and where worn out clichés, nude women in pornographic poses, continue to appeal to men.
Two hundred years have elapsed since the advent of advertising and the same assumption remains: a woman’s body is a commodity that must be on display to be sold. Yet some authors see a change in the representation of women. Rosalind Gill points out that there is a ‘shift from sex objects to desiring sexual objects’ (2007: 84). This tendency is clearly exemplified in advertisements for bras, such as those for the brand Wonderbra. Within this discourse, sexual objectification is understood as something with which women freely engage to obtain power (Heywood, Leslie & Dworkin, L. 2003: 78). Others see in this argument a high level of risk. In Merchants of Cool (Drenzin, 2001), writer and producer Douglas Rushkoff believes that advertising is disguising old sexual stereotypes and presenting them in a new wrapping: that of women’s power. He argues that the women represented in advertising are still trapped in their bodies and he compares this with conventional pornography.
The people represented in these misè-en-scenes are not representative of a broader society: the actors/models are always young, always slim, and almost always white; the scenes represented are sex-saturated yet devoid of the erotic. Over exposure to sexy images contributes to the creating of a hyperreal sexuality and a desensitisation of the sex act. The visual orgy of perfect naked bodies offered to us by global capitalism can leave us so satiated that we grow more and more distant from our own desire. Kilbourne affirms that the accumulation of pornographic messages in advertising degrades sex and makes it more cynical. She compares this sex-crazed fashion with fast food: ‘consuming food for which we have no real appetite, we are never satisfied and lose our ability to gauge our own hunger’ (2003: 179). McNair, however, deems that the pornographication of the mainstream subverts sexual stereotypes rather that reinforcing them: ‘Porno-chic … might be viewed as an index of the sexual maturation of contemporary capitalist societies’. (2002: 87)
Analysis of the social consequences of being bombarded by porno-chic imagery requires the carrying out of empirical studies. These studies should address issues concerning the differences between how women and men are portrayed. We have seen recently an objectification of the male body, but do male models’ poses suggest dependence, innocence or vulnerability? Research should also explore what are the effects on people’s lives of the ‘realities’ constructed by media. If advertising is projecting a slender, forever young and hypersexualised society, where do the rest of us fit in?
Carmen Fernández Martín © July 2012
Amy-Chinn, D. (2006). This is Just for Me(n): Lingerie Advertising for the Post-Feminist Woman. Journal of Consumer Culture, 6(2): 155-175.
Brooks, L. (2000). Anatomy of Desire. The Guardian, 12-12-2000, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2000/dec/12/gender.uk?INTCMP=SRCH, accessed 17-06-2012.
Gill, R. (2007). Gender and the Media,Cambridge: Polity Press
Goodman, B. (Director & Producer), Dretzin, R. (Producer), & Rushkoff, D. (Correspondent & Consulting Producer). (2001). Frontline: The Merchants of Cool [Motion Picture].Boston,MA: WGBH.
Guifford Brooke, C. (2003). “Sex (haustion) Sells: Marketing in a Saturated Mediascape” in Sex in Advertising (Eds. T. Reichert & J. Lambiase),Mahwah,NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum, pp: 133-150.
Heywood, L. & Dworkin, L.S. (2003). Built to Win: The Female Athlete as Cultural Icon.Minneapolis:University ofMinnesota Press.
Kilbourne, J. (2003). “Advertising and Disconnection” in Sex in Advertising (Eds T. Reichert & J. Lambiase), Mahwah, NJ:Lawrence Erlbaum, pp: 173-180.
McNair, B. (2002). Striptease Culture: Sex, Media and the Democratization of Desire, London: Routledge.
Taflinger, R.F. (1996). Taking Advantage, You and Me, Babe: Sex and Advertising. http://public.wsu.edu/~taflinge/sex.html, accessed 27-06-2010.
 Not all “porn-chic” images are accepted, ASA (Advertising Standard Agency) which zealously watches over offensive campaigns ordered to ban an advert for Opium perfume in 2000 because many people complaint that the image was disturbing. In the ad model Sophie Dahl seemed to be giving herself pleasure. According to Libby Brooks (The Guardian, 2000) “the image of Dahl is threatening because she looks as if she knows what she wants” and for many (mostly men) this is not acceptable.
 Amy-Chinn in her study on lingerie advertising points out: “Research with consumers showed that Wonderbra wearers were notable for their self-confidence; they considered themselves unashamed and unafraid of their sexuality and wanted to project an image of being powerful and in control of their lives.” (2006: 162)
Dr Carmen Fernández Martín has degrees in Translation and Interpreting (University of Granada, Spain) and English literature and linguistics (University of Cadiz,Spain). She is currently a full-time lecturer at the Universityof Cádiz. Her doctoral dissertation focuses on contact languages, language attitudes and bilingualism in Gibraltar, and her research interests include also the role of women in Spanish cinema, diachronic studies of sexist expressions in English and Spanish, and the representation of women’s body in the mass-media. Currently participating in an inter-university initiative with the university Abdelmalek Essaadi (Ecole Supérieure Roi Fahd de Traduction) to design a postgraduate course on translation, she teaches historical linguistics, history and culture of English speaking countries and translation and interpreting.
Editor’s Note: Dr Fernandez-Martin’s presentation at the ‘Women in Magazines: Research, Representation, Production and Consumption’ conference held at Kingston University, London, 22-23 June 2012, was entitled ‘Porno-Chic in Women’s Magazines: Comparing English and Spanish Advertising in Written Media’ . This Blog draws on that presentation.
On 29 January 1948, a ‘big airplane’ crashed over Los Gatos Canyon in California. According to witnesses, the plane exploded and a wing fell off. Some of the passengers jumped or fell out as the plane crashed. The fuel tanks ignited when the plane hit the ground. All thirty-two people aboard the plane were killed, ‘scattered like dry leaves’ to rot on the ground.
Each of those killed had a name. The pilot was Frank Atkinson, the co-pilot was Marion Ewing, the flight attendant was Bobbi Atkinson, married to the pilot, and the immigration guard was Frank E. Chapin. Twenty-eight other people were killed in the ‘fireball of lightning’, 27 men and one woman whose body was found with baby clothes next to her. The name given to these other passengers in reports of the crash was ‘deportee’.
The plane had been chartered by the US Immigration Service for a ‘routine transfer’ of Mexican agricultural workers, some of whom had entered the US illegally, and others who had outstayed their work contracts. The plane left Oakland in the morning to fly south to El Centro processing centre, and on to Mexico. The remains of the ‘deportees’ were buried in a mass grave at Holy Cross Cemetery in Fresno, their names unrecorded.
Woody Guthrie’s lament Deportee (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos) sang of the lives of these ‘deportees’:
Some of us are illegal, and some are not wanted,
Our work contract’s out and we have to move on;
Six hundred miles to that Mexican border,
They chase us like outlaws, like rustlers, like thieves.
We died in your hills, we died in your deserts,
We died in your valleys and died on your plains.
We died ‘neath your trees and we died in your bushes,
Both sides of the river, we died just the same.
Guthrie’s song asked,
Who are all these friends, all scattered like dry leaves?
The radio says, ‘They are just deportees’
Like the Los Gatos ‘deportees’, the ‘asylum seekers’ of contemporary Australian politics who lie dissolved in the seas around us are largely unnamed. When the boat named SIEV-X sank on 19 October 2001, 353 bodies lay ‘like birds on the water’. The Australian government has refused to release their names. In answer to a question from Greens Senator Bob Brown, Senator Ellison told the Australian Senate on 11 August 2003, ‘A list was provided to the AFP [Australian Federal Police] from a confidential source after the vessel sank. Provision of any details of that list would compromise that source. It may also compromise a current ongoing investigation in Indonesia. The list purports to contain some details of passengers, but its veracity has not been tested. The AFP believes it is unlikely that a full and comprehensive list of those who boarded SIEV-X or those who subsequently drowned will ever be available.’ In 2005, Senator Brown again asked for the list of names, and was again rebuffed. Senator Vanstone replied: ‘The Government has no way of knowing or verifying all those who drowned, being an illegal venture out of another country with the tragedy occurring at an unknown location. Some names of those who have thought to have drowned are held … The Government does not hold comprehensive information nor is it in a position to verify it.’
Some of the names of the people on SIEV-X have been collected, mostly from the reports of survivors of the sinking. The names of other refugees dissolved in the seas around Australia since SIEV-X are also determined by the government as not to be known.
But these bodies, their names, their stories, and the infinite preciousness of their lives, were dissolved not by the sea but by a deadly language of ‘national security’ that licenses both cruelty and indifference to them. This language removes the unnamed ‘asylum seekers’ into the category and name of ‘outlaws’, out of the protection of the law of the land or of the law of the sea. And this language removed them out of the category of friends to whom the Universal Declaration of Human Rights recognises that we have a duty to act ‘in a spirit of brotherhood’. This language tells those who would follow them that they have no right to escape desperation, inequality or persecution, and that no security in law will be provided to them if they do attempt to escape.
Many writers have bemoaned the way in which ‘national security’ has become empty code for a generalised fear of unnamed others. But ‘national security’ does have meaning. It means that Australia and all nations are pledged by right and by generosity of character to protect the personal security and liberty of those who are its friends, friends by virtue of their humanity.
Goodbye to my Habib, goodbye, Azizah,
Adios mis amigos, Jesus y Maria
Helen Pringle (c) July 2012
Woody Guthrie, http://www.woodyguthrie.org/Lyrics/Deportee.htm
SIEV X 353, http://www.sievxmemorial.com/about-sievx.html
Parliamentary Question, Senators Brown and Ellison, http://parlinfo.aph.gov.au/parlInfo/search/display/display.w3p;query=Id%3A%22chamber%2Fhansards%2F2003-08-11%2F0152%22
Parliamentary Question, Senators Brown and Vanstone, http://parlinfo.aph.gov.au/parlInfo/search/display/display.w3p;query=Id%3A%22chamber%2Fhansards%2F2003-08-11%2F0152%22
SIEV X Passenger Names, http://sievx.com/archives/2003_07-08/20030819.shtml
Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), http://www.un.org/en/documents/udhr/
Dr Helen Pringle lectures in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences at the University of New South Wales (UNSW). A respected human rights, ethics and political commentator, she contributes regularly to online publications, her work having appeared in OnLine Opinion and now in New Matilda. Her scholarship has been recognised by awards from Princeton University, the Fulbright Foundation, the Australian Federation of University Women (AFUW) and Australian universities. Her chapter ‘A Studied Indifference to Harm: Defending Pornography in ‘The Porn Report’ appears in ‘Big Porn Inc – Exposing the Harms of the Global Pornography Industry’, published in 2011.
The 1970s Women’s Liberation Movement saw 24 hour childcare as an essential plank of women’s rightful demands. Conservative forces wilfully interpreted this as indicative of a desire on the part of women to be free of motherhood: anyone who would listen was assailed with tales of women’s wishing to ‘dump’ their children in childcare centres for entire days. This was far from women’s aim. Recognising that many women shared motherhood responsibilities with the responsibilities of paidwork, and that many worked shifts, the demand was framed so as to incorp0rate egalitarian needs. With many women working in factories or as nurses, it was evident that childcare run from 9.00am to 5.00pm would not encompass the necessities of their daily lives. Even for women working ‘regular’ jobs and hours, leeway was necessary to ensure women could arrive at work on time and engage in paid employment that fitted into what was seen as the ‘ordinary’ working day.
Kindergartens long pre-dated the 1970s Movement, and childcare was part of government action during wartime, in particular. In both the First and Second World War, governments – local, regional/state and national – established centres for children who were below school age or who required after-school care. Kindergarten teachers and childcare workers devised forms of play and instruction that encouraged childhood development and recognised children’s right to benefit from childcare – even if the motive in establishing these centres was related to the war effort and the need to ensure that women could move into posts vacated by men joining up and going to the front.
Today, the right to play – for all children, girls and boys - has a firm place on the rights agenda. The Convention on the Rights of the Child – signed up to by all United Nations members apart from two (Somalia and the United States) incorporates this right specifically in Article 31. Play as a right can be read into other provisions of the Convention, as well. Presently, a committee comprising NGOs dedicated to affirming and supporting children and children’s rights is working on an agreed communique expanding upon or explaining the terms of Article 31. The aim is to ensure that Article 31 is acknowledged as central to children’s rights and to the Convention, and that the notion of ‘play’ as a right is not given a limited interpretation, nor subjugated to other provisions.
The work of the NGO committee was the subject of discussion at the 26th World Play Conference held in Estonia from 17-19 June 2012 at the University of Tallinn. Jan Van Gils, President of the International Council for Children’s Play (ICCP), led a lively discussion encompassing issues going to the nature of play, the right to leisure, and what these mean in principle and practice.
Play is critical to physical, social and psychological development of all children, girls and boys. Girls may be particularly susceptible to a narrowing or limiting of the scope of ‘play-rights’ in consequence of social or cultural demands. Cultural denial of girls to be outside or to run, jump and engage in outdoor activities cannot be allowed to override the principle of non-discrimination on the grounds of sex/gender which has a firm place in UN treaties, covenants and conventions and is applicable to children as well as adults. Girls’ right to play cannot, either, be subjugated to a notion that household tasks and duties take precedence. Indeed, the Convention on the Rights of the Child makes this clear. Article 1 provides that discrimination breaches the Convention.
The imagination children bring to play and their ability to make play ‘work’ in conditions that, at first glance, appear to be discouraging, was evident in many presentations and exchanges that followed. Dr Jennifer Cartmel’s presentation gave a particular insight into the capacity of children to play in an adult environment – both making the space their own and incorporating adult roles into their play. The initiative exhibited by girls, in particular, resonates in itself as well as providing insights into the way women’s lived histories are influencing girls’ appreciation of their own worth and the value of their own ideas.
Dr Cartmel (of Australia’s Griffith University) was assigned the task of providing play in a boardroom: a company wished to extend to their employees’ children a week of childcare on the business premises. This meant taking over a boardroom on the 18th floor of a busy office building. Armed with craft materials, cartons, fabric, masking tape and various items she saw as lending themselves to engaging children in play, Jennifer Cartmel advanced into a room that was set up for adult meetings, not children’s play. Ultimately, neither she nor the children were daunted: the children adapted to the space or, rather, adapted the space to themselves.
On the first day, one young girl requested ‘job descriptions’ which she saw as essential to organising play: clearly, the boardroom atmosphere appeared to have had some influence on her perception of play-in-the-space. Being eager to showcase the group’s talents, the child nominated job descriptions as a necessary foundation to the holding of a fashion parade, which duly went ahead, sans manufactured job descriptions. Recognising the importance of non-directed play and the necessity of the freedom to play, Jennifer Cartmel’s approach was not to impose upon the children or ‘dictate’ to them by her producing ‘duty lists’, but to provide scope for the children themselves to work out how they should undertake the various tasks and who should be assigned them.
Girls’ confidence in play settings was evidenced also in their approach to cubby-building. Constructing a canopied structure by adding swathes of material to a small tent, they commandeered the space for their meetings. Ensconced in the tent, they played out corporate roles – taking advantage of the ‘boardroom atmosphere’ rather than allowing it to limit the parameters of their play.
When window cleaners advanced up to the 18th floor on a pulley-and-plank system some of the children perceived as dangerous, one girl (with an offsider) invented a prototype harness. She explained to Dr Cartmel that the prototype would ensure safety for window cleaners working on all levels and particularly up high. She added, however, that she intended to preserve the harness and the ideas that had gone into its development – until she was older. Being a child, she said, there would be little chance of the prototype being taken seriously by government or manufacturers: ‘they won’t listen’, she said, because ‘they won’t take a child seriously’. However, she added, ‘they will when I’m older’. Then, the prototype would be seen for the valuable aid it should be.
So, history, women’s demands and children’s rights collide. This collision – both constructive and instructive – illustrates the way in which principle and theory become embedded in practice and the actuality of girls and women’s lives. The historical struggle by women for education and employment opportunities resonates with girls in their own world of play. The demand of women for the right of girls to an education, played out in the West and mirrored around the globe, presently occurring in Afghanistan (for example) with the work of RAWA (Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan), is vital to the advancement of girls’ right to be human. Play is a part of this and, as the work of those engaged in the ‘play’ movement indicates, the right of girls to play is fundamental. The space in which to exercise this right is a necessary component. The right to space cannot be denied on the grounds of sex, or age. Girls’ right to space to play is a right to be exercised – inside and out.
‘Growing Up Feminist – The New Generation of Australian Women’ and ‘Growing Up Feminist Too – Raising Women, Raising Consciousness’ are amongst the books in the Artemis ‘Women’s Voices, Women’s Lives’ series edited by Dr Jocelynne A. Scutt, whose mother was a kindergarten teacher - providing her daughters with a memorable childhood.
Despite pink’s high profile as a ‘girlie’ colour, in Pink and Blue: Telling the Girls from the Boys in America, Jo B. Paoletti points out: ”For centuries … children wore dainty white dresses up to age 6.’ Colours as sex/gender signifiers did not take hold until just before the first world war. Paoletti cites the June 1918 issue of trade publication Earnshaw’s Infants Department: ’The generally accepted rule is pink for the boys, and blue for the girls. The reason is that pink, being a more decided and stronger color, is more suitable for the boy, while blue, … more delicate and dainty, is prettier for the girl.’ Other publications considered blue to be ‘flattering for blonds’, whilst pink was the colour for brunettes. Alternatively, ‘blue was for blue-eyed babies, pink for [the] brown-eyed … ’ . Stores carrying infants’ clothes and associated products took the ‘pink is for boys’ line.
Contradictions inherent in ‘pink for girls, blue for boys’ exist, too, in directives as to ‘appropriate’ attire for boys and girls. Jeanne Maglaty of Washington’s Smithsonian Institute observes that childhood photographs of Franklin D. Roosevelt are ‘typical of his time’. Photographs from 1884 show him at two years, wearing an ankle-length white dress, his head a profusion of ringlets. Not until age 6 or 7 was a distinction made in dress: frocks for girls, short pants – later trousers – for boys. Within the last fifty years, dress distinction was neutralised by the coming of rompers – a trouser suit, generally with bib and braces. Then, both girls and boys wore trousers – reverting to the gender neutrality of Roosevelt’s time, albeit in the opposite direction.
Pink features not only in baby clothing. In the pop world, pink’s illustrious aura has no sex/gender distinction. Pinkney Anderson came out of South Carolina and the Indian Remedy Company’s travelling road as major force for jazz and blues. ‘Pink’ Anderson’s major albums include American Street Songs and Carolina Medicine Show Hokum & Blues. Anderson’s force as a musical power lives on through Pink Floyd, where ‘Pink’ is for Anderson, Floyd a tribute to Floyd Council.
Meanwhile, musical men have no ‘pink’ monopoly. Known universally by her stage name rather than ‘Alecia Beth Moore’, Pink turned victimisation in to survivorship, powerlessness into power. Like Anderson, she took her title from childhood, converting a bad experience into an expression of confidence:
‘It’s just a nickname that’s been following me my whole life. It was a mean thing at first, some kids at camp pulled my pants down and I blushed so much, and they were like, ‘Ha ha! Look at her! She’s pink!’ and then the movie Reservoir Dogs came out – and Mr Pink was the one with the smart mouth, so it just happened all over again … ’
Yet negative connotations have been attributed to the colour pink: pink has been getting a bad name as in PinkStinks, ‘the campaign for real role models’ where ‘the culture of pink’ is challenged in seeking to give girls ‘inspiration to achieve great things’.
The Observer’ s Zoe Woods reports on PinkStinks’ ‘… campaign against the toy industry’s narrow view of gender roles’ with Hamleys ceasing to label its floors in blue for boys, pink for girls, and rearranging toys ‘by type rather than gender’. Concerns about the commercialisation of the ‘pink is for girls’ phenomenon has made Disney shops a target, filled as they are with row upon row of pink tutus, pink fairy wings, pink wands, pink make-up cases with miniature pink lipstick tubes, powder puffs, hairclips, bows – alongside shops featuring lacy pink underwear including ‘trainer bras’.
Yet should the feminist fightback against what Peggy Orenstein, in Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the New Girlie-Girl Culture, terms ‘the princess industrial complex’, be directed toward labelling pink as powerless and pernicious?
Pink’s association with power and strength is notable. Girl babies survive at far higher rates than do boy babies. Stanford, Yale and Brown medical schools’ research shows girls born preterm do better than boys, with premature birth creating ‘greater problems’ and producing more lasting brain effects in boys. Far from being ‘passive’, ‘submissive’, flaccid, inert or any of those other antonyms decrying pink, girl babies and girl children have strengths which may be overlooked. This does not mean these strengths are not there.
‘Tomboy’ exists because girls climb trees, swing from monkey-bars, play rough and tumble games including softball, basketball and hockey. Far from being ‘sissy’, skippy or skip-the-rope requires coordination, agility and muscle power. Even activities placed firmly into the domain of the ‘weak’ by those who abjure the tutu, dance is far from lacking strength and power. The ability to move to music is recognised, too, as a potent factor in gaining psychological equilibrium and sense of self, both vital to well-being.
So are affirmations of pink as a power signifier anti-feminist? Do those affirming pink’s power undercut girls and women’s ability to grow-up as humanbeings of strength and fortitude? Is there a generational divide here, as asserted in the controversy surrounding the ‘Slut Walk’ movement?
The controversy over ‘slut’ was not that those demurring or objecting did not support the original marchers in Canada, where a police officer unwisely asserted that rape was a caused by women ‘dressing like sluts’. Clearly, he was wrong. Rape is a consequence of male assertion of ‘right’ over the woman who says no or who does not say yes. Rather, the controversy related to whether ‘slut’ could be ‘reclaimed’ as a word affirming women and womanhood.
Unlike ‘mistress’, ‘spinster’, ‘loose woman’ and ‘pink’, ‘slut’ has never had a positive meaning, nor positive connotations for women. Once, a mistress was a woman of power in the household, a woman holding the larder and cellar keys, who ordered household operations, wielding strength through management and administration: no mean skill there. Once, a spinster span – preserving her independence through earning her own income, and spinsters challenged ‘men’s right’ to auction their wives in the marketplace. Loose women had agency and autonomy – walking free and independent, the property of no man.
Pink is a word of power. In the past, this was recognised. No reason for not doing so now.
‘Slut’ has ever meant ‘slattern’ – a dirty, sloppy, smelly and slovenly woman. Can that having no redeeming feature, applied against women by those having no capacity for recognising, or acknowledging, women’s strength, power, autonomy and agency – in general or in sexual terms – be ‘reclaimed’?
PinkStinks has supporters of all ages. Its ingenious inventors are sisters of 40, operating through social networks Facebook and Twitter. The Slut Marches did not comprise young or younger women alone. Nor did the divide fall on one or other side of generational lines.
PinkStinks’ concern is understandable. Yet will it advance young girls’ perception of themselves to be told their wish for pink is an indicator of a lack of identification with power and self-worth? Rather than put down pink – and girls with it, let it take its historical place as a colour of strength. Rather than putdowns in the playground, let’s encourage a culture affirming girls and women as indomitable.
The professional woman may be garbed in black, navy or red – whilst also recognising that pink is powerful.
Dr Jocelynne A. Scutt’s books include Growing Up Feminist – The New Generation of Australian Women, Growing Up Feminist Too – Raising Women, Raising Consciousness, Living Generously – Women Mentoring Women, and Breaking Through – Women, Work and Careers. She is presently researching the history of women’s bodies.