Week 2

Before beginning this unit, I hadn’t really given much thought to feminism as a movement or to how I might fit into it. I guess I just took it for granted that I had rights and choices without thinking about what or who had made this possible. I am excited to learn more. If I had to, I would classify myself as a Libertarian Feminist, more likely to want to be independent in everything I do. The DIY label is definitely one for me.

My own mother’s life experience as a young woman was to live under the rule of an autocratic father who imposed the traditional role of cook and cleaner on both his wife and his daughters while his sons were given much more freedom and expected only to show up at meal times!
How did this experience of specific gender roles shape my mother and then ultimately myself and my brothers and sisters? Her often negative reflection on the injustices of her early life could have influenced me to blame men in general for all that is wrong in the world! I could have turned out a raving radical feminist, maybe I am a little bit, but only in private!

Today we as women are afforded so many freedoms, so many opportunities. The availability of ‘The Pill’ was a revolution. Where would we be without being able to control our pregnancies? I chose to delay babies until much later than my peers some of whom were grandmothers before I became a mother! It was a choice. Choice made possible by those placard waving, corset-less and later bra-less women of the western feminist movements. Hurrah!

Having spent most of my working life in the military I reflect on how that institution has been forced to keep pace with modern ideas of gender equality and more recently gender fluidity, a monumental challenge to some – both men and women. Gender roles in the past have been clearly defined and at entry were laid out so that a woman may volunteer knowing which roles are available to her and which are not. Today, the lines are blurred with our predominantly male political leaders ruling that women in our military may now fulfil any role across the spectrum of employment including the role of infantry. This sends the message that gender is now supposed to be a non issue in this arena, which is laughable I think, and is a pretty good example of the clash of an ideal with what happens in the real world. Are we ready as a society to see, inevitably, the first female Australian soldier die in combat? I dont think I am.

One last thing from the lecture which made me feel a little queasy was the information that some women are taking testosterone injections to improve their sex lives and their competitiveness! Does this mean that these women feel that to be acceptable, to be more, to be better, they have to be biologically more like a male?

Cath

Week 3

Something that I found really interesting this week is the theory of Social Construction ie, a way of behaving, a particular way of presenting ourselves that has come about by influences from amongst others, our parents, our culture and our social environment. Media definitely has a profound influence. The idea that we can be something other than is expected or imposed is interesting and just a little bit challenging! It has made me look differently this week at a lot of things, people, my family and the built environment.

My 9 year old son is in need of a haircut, over the last month, we have been having a conversation around it which has gone like this – Me: mate, you really need a haircut. H: but I like it long mum. Me: but it’s just too boofy, it needs to be tidier. H: But mum, I really like it and anyway you have long hair. I actually started to reply “Yes, but that’s different because I am a...............Well, had to bite my tongue didn’t I! ( Womens Health is changing me!) So, against my better judgement, the hair is still long and boofy J How long will this last?

On the subject of media influence, whilst putting together images for my website, (I am doing mothers returning to work and study) I am challenged by the number of images that depict a smiling mother with her laptop and baby either in her arms or sitting next to the keyboard! This image is so far from reality and I think a good example of how we are 'set up to fail' by the media. If you havent ever tried it, it would last about 10 seconds before baby wants feeding, wants hugs, wants to interact with keyboard etc. Oh well it provided me and my friends/sisters with a few laughs!

Cath

Week 4
The Fashion Industry and its Impact on Womens Health
What a fascinating area! I think its something that intellectually, we all know, that they (the fashion industry) are just trying to sell us something – anything. How easy is it to be caught up in it? I remember as a teenager wanting to have the right jeans with the right label and the right type of shoes (actually really ugly ones now that I look back!) It was all part of wanting to fit in – that’s normal right? So I don’t want to be too critical of women who cave to the pressure to have all the right things and to look a certain way. I have no soapbox to stand on.
It is only as I grow older that I can say I am somewhat immune, but not completely. There is always a little niggling doubt that I haven’t got it quite right.

It’s really interesting to pull apart the social construction of what makes us who we are which brings me to think about the influences of structure and agency around womens bodies and which one, structure or agency has the upper hand when it comes to the fashion industries hold over us. Overwhelmingly, it appears that structure is strongly in play here, but the paradox is that we are the ones who have constructed the industry, we give it life by our compliance with its rules. So, how do we go about getting some power back, some agency in this situation. Virginia Braun (2009), finds that education is the key to agency in just about all healthy lifestyle choices. I have found that the more I know and learn about the power of structure in western society the more I choose to rebel against it. Having said that, I do like my concealer, makeup and mascara. Does this mean that we are all in some way under the influence of structure in our lives? I say yes, and its not all bad.. after all it’s my choice to wear the makeup. I have the agency in this situation. Don’t I ????????

Cath



Week 6

Timing of pregnancy and abortion/termination resonates with me as both of my grandmothers were affected by these laws and the social prejudices surrounding them.
One of them paid the ultimate price from the complications of a ‘backyard abortion’ in the 1940’s in Sydney and the other was forced to marry the father of her unborn child in 1930s Ballarat.
Ruby Alice was married to a man who didn’t really take his marriage vows too seriously and seemed to think it was ok to come and go for months at a time. The biggest problem with that was that every time he left home, he left Ruby pregnant AGAIN! What a difference to her life it would have made if she had had access to the Pill or the Morning After Pill.
With few financial options, relying on her husbands somewhat sporadic financial support (as it turns out he had a mistress with other children on the go as well!) and some charity from friends and neighbours Ruby felt she had no choice but to take the road she did. Sadly Ruby passed away leaving six children to find their way in the world alone (my father one of them). Imagine the different path she may have taken if she had had the choice. Who knows, I may have even met her!

On the other hand Alena Grace was slightly better off, that is she wasn’t desperate enough to tread Rubys’ road, I wonder if she would have married my grandfather at all… but the point is she didn’t have the choice. Aren’t we lucky. CHOICE. To be able to control our fertility is an absolute blessing in anyones language.

Cath

Week 7
A point of interest to me this week is the issue of pregnancy potentially holding women back from achieving high political or corporate office. Which led me to check out a couple of high profile women in Australia to see if there were any demographic links between these women, particularly around the issue of pregnancy, whether they had children and how that had or had not affected their careers.

The woman that I found most interesting was Penny Wong, given that she was mentioned in the lecture and that I have always admired her ability to be moderate in her response to other peoples emotive (and somehow less articulate) outbursts around politics and current issues such as the treatment of refugees. It was during a recent showing of Q&A that her compassionate intelligence combined with ‘street smarts’ was evident. I really like the way she conducts herself in public life.

Penny Wong is lesbian and was the first sitting Senator to ‘come out’ - an act of courage in the outwardly conservative arena of Australian politics, I think. She and her life partner, Sophie have a child gained via IVF and donor sperm of whom Sophie is the biological mother. So, I’m wondering is it that because Penny is not a biological mother that she has been able to successfully combine parenting with a career? In the same way that most men have the opportunity to do?

Ros Coward writes for the Sydney Morning Herald on the issue of boardroom gender inequalities – being that it’s almost become a badge of honour for men to openly declare they must leave meetings early to meet childcare obligations or to get to school pick up. On the other hand, if a women is to mention domestic obligations particularly around childcare it was likened to corporate self sabotage!
From her article :
Quote ‘Not so long ago, I was fighting hard to encourage men to take on their fair share of childcare. But I have begun to wonder if men haven't started to flaunt their family obligations in ways not entirely supportive to women. It has become the norm for male colleagues to leave meetings to pick up children from school. Given the whiff of high-mindedness that accompanies these explanations, it is clear my colleagues want it known that they take their fathering responsibilities seriously. Instead of showing admiration, I find myself fuming quietly. This is not because I object to paternal involvement. I welcome it. But men seem to have seized the high ground around childcare, making themselves look good for something that women still have difficulty making public. Even when my children were of school age, I never felt able to expose my domestic commitments. I was determined not to compromise my professional identity’ Unquote.

This makes me wonder what is it that leads employers to think that having a baby makes women a liability in the workforce? When we know all the skills that we come by as part of parenting can only make us more employable!
Cath

Week 8

Even though I have seen the Once Were Warriors Film, the re-playing of that violent scene affected me deeply, I couldn’t get it out of my mind for days afterwards. It sickens me to know that women can be and are being treated in this way. I keep thinking about the quote ‘why doesn’t she just leave?’ and really I think well, yes why doesn’t she? But I know it’s so much more complex that just picking up and going, particularly if there are children involved as well. To my mind one of the most powerful complexities around the issue is the disempowerment of the victim. More so, as it can occur subtlety over time until the victim gets to a place where they feel that they have no choice, no self efficacy, no power. Disturbed.

Cath

Mental Health and Substance Abuse in Women

Parts of this lecture reminded me of the earlier one about fashion and its influence on us, in the same way media has a way of reminding us not only how we should look, but how we should think and even how we should appear to think. No wonder we can all be bit crazy at times!

I found it entertaining to learn some of the history behind the socially constructed idea that it is ‘a girl thing’ to be hysterical and that somehow women must be subdued and treated for this condition. Well, I think I would be somewhat hysterical if I had to suppress any social or political view or had to sit around doing needlework, wearing my corset all day – someone pass me the gin please! I guess I should be thankful as I deal with menopause that I live the modern world which won’t lock me up because I don’t have periods anymore or views me as dangerous because my periods are building up inside me and will of course eventually send me mad. Again, that gin is looking good J

Today it’s reported that young women are using alcohol to levels unseen before, particularly bingeing has become prevalent and dangerously women are using alcohol in conjunction with other drugs. I don’t think this is a new phenomenon, I think it’s just more apparent, more visible through social media. Throughout my late teens and 20s I used alcohol a fair bit, but I didn’t think it was an issue. My guess is that young women today probably feel the same way. So, the question is, is it wrong or bad? Well I don’t like to be told what I can and cant do, so I don’t have the answer to that. Probably social construction at work again!

On a serious note, post natal depression. I have known some women who have endured it, not really knowing what was wrong. I am so glad that it is now recognised as a real and serous illness. During the lecture it was mentioned that being at home alone with a new baby can be very isolating and was likened to solitary confinement (which is used as a torture technique). Why do we leave women at home by themselves with a new baby? Our individualist western society by its very nature encourages us to think that we should be able to cope and if we cant well, we are just not good enough. For as much that women from other cultures complain about their families being in their everyday lives and knowing their every move, I can’t help but think that a new mother can only benefit from this idea that all the family are involved in the raising of the child and as a flow on..supporting the mother.

Cath

Health of Lesbians

I love lesbians! Some of my best friends are lesbians and they are among some of the most independent, free spirited, well adjusted people that I know. So I thought I knew a bit about them, but what I’ve learnt from this lecture is that I don’t know much about their unique health risk factors. No surprise with regard to their increased risk for breast cancer due to the fact that most lesbians wont have a full term pregnancy or breastfeed, or will have children later in life - three factors that increase their risk.
The issue that interests me most is their mental health, particularly due to the life long stigma and discrimination that they face.

I had a chat with some of my friends and this is what they say….

‘The hardest thing was telling my mum and dad that I was gay, it created so much stress for me over a number of years, from when I was about 11 until I was 35 when I told them. They said they already knew! I wish I had saved myself a whole lot earlier. Now I get stressed and angry because someone is telling me I can’t marry the woman I love, this is a whole new area of stress…Suzanne

I just feel like I am up against it..all the time. I feel like my workmates are thinking here comes the dyke, don’t get too close you’ll catch something. Well if they want lifelong discrimination, stress, homophobia, families who wont talk to you – I don’t think that’s catching is it? Anyway, none of them even come close to being my type (laughs) its like every woman thinks you are sizing her up – it couldn’t be further from the truth. I have my life partner, actually we are engaged (smiles) One day if the prime minister says yes, we will be married but we don’t really need her permission to love each other’ Janie

I read that the constant pressure of dealing with homophobia makes depression and anxiety all too common among gay people and that suicide rates are higher among young gay people than straight people because of the social stigma and constant bullying. It makes me feel sad and powerless.

When asked what they want, most gay people I speak to say ‘I just want a normal life with all the same normal things that straight people have’

Cath - gay marriage advocate