Category Archives: Relationships

Who are we, what are we, and why are we with who we’re with?

Dear Craig

Below is an email that could have been sent to Craig McLachlan from the numerous women who’ve accused him of sexual harassment. Even though the accusations are from just four years ago, there is no written record.

Dear Craig
Firstly, I think you’re terrific in the role of Frank N Furter. You’re a great actor. However, I’m deeply upset by both your words and actions towards me.

I’ll tell you now that this email has been Bcc’d to six other cast members – three women and three men. They won’t find it a shock as they know my concerns and expect the email. The email is date stamped so acts as a record of correspondence. Isn’t it great to live in 2014!

If you feel ‘set-upon’ or uncomfortable with this, you could forward my email to management so that they can act as your ‘eyes and ears’ just as my six colleagues are acting as mine. I’d invite that.

I’ve made it clear to you on three occasions now that your inappropriate words and actions are not welcome. I hate it. While I think you’re a great actor, I’m not in any way attracted to you. Your sexual remarks during performance and physical contact are not wanted. I’ll be clear. Don’t make any physical contact nor utter any words that aren’t in the script.

The play’s content is sexual, but we are actors and therefore separate from the content. If you can’t separate yourself from your character I’m sure management can find you some guidance.

Yes, it’s 2014 and Rolf Harris has just been jailed for five years. The women in his case are clearly after his paintings and the royalties from his songs. I’m not like that. I don’t want this to become a media circus to attract broadcast ratings and I’m not after money. This is also not a gender based anti-male thing. I just don’t appreciate your non-scripted words and actions.

I will not be taking your behavior to management at this time. However, if it continues after the 11/9/2014, I will have no hesitation in reporting your behavior to management with the support of my six colleagues.

There will be no one-to-one discussion on this matter between you and I. Any attempt at private communication outside of scripted lines will be deemed harassment. Mobile phones are capable of recording and did you know there is a new phone app that records video to the cloud? Amazing.

I sincerely hope you take this seriously.
Christie Whelan Browne (and the rest)

PS: If you don’t get this it’s because I thought my career and the dollars it would bring were more important and gee, every man (or woman) has their price. Didn’t Thomas More say that?

Burqas, Biology and the Islamic Reformation

This opinion piece first appeared in ‘Online Opinion: Australia’s e-journal of social and political debate’ on 3/12/2015. The article on that site can be found HERE

As an Atheist I have no contact with God in any of his or her forms. Yet as an educated human I understand that some people need a belief system in their lives. While I may think that nearly all of these systems are devoid of common sense, some are more palatable than others. Islam, in its purest and most fundamental sense, isn’t one of them.

Now we don’t need to have immersed ourselves in the teachings of a particular religion to feel the ‘vibe’ of the religion. Our 21st century brains are very well trained at getting the gist of most things. From films to books to consumer products, we don’t need to be scholars to get our own personal perspective of things and religion is no exception.

The Hindu religion is fascinating and has some wonderfully colourful characters. When travelling in India or within Indian communities at Lord-Ganeshhome in Australia I’ve never felt threatened or insecure. Sure, there’s some scary Hindu Gods like Kali or Shiva who supposedly create havoc at times. Yet there’s also some very likeable ones like the protection deity Ganga, or my favourite – Ganesh – the Elephant deity of Arts and Sciences. None of these deities urge Hindus to kill.

I find the Buddhist faith equally as benign. Buddhists seem to laugh lots and experience their faith more inwardly. They don’t evangelise and they don’t make me feel threatened or insecure. However, I don’t like their orange robes much.

The Christian faith, with its often dour and humourless preaching does make me itch a bit. The churches are always dark and devoid of colour. There’s no orange and there’s no elephants. On visiting the Hillsong Church in north-western Sydney recently, I’ve come to believe that Christians are among the ones likely to form armies of blind faith to march against something or someone. That in itself is scary.

The Sharia difference
Yet the Muslim religion is different. Sharia law is the basic legal framework of the religion and the introduction of Sharia Law into western countries is a goal of Islamist movements around the world. By Islamist I mean fundamentalist – the most literal interpretation of the Koran.

Sharia, in its truest meaning it is a body of moral and religious law and deals with both state and personal issues. State issues could involve sharia-law-jpllpunishments like stoning and beheading while personal law could relate to hygiene, diet and sexuality. There are vast differences between Sharia Law and secular law and these differences are a point of conflict between progressive, moderate and fundamentalist Muslims world over. Fundamentalist Sharia however, is very scary.

Most Muslim countries only practice partial or ‘interpreted’ Sharia law meaning secular and Sharia Law work side by side without the extremes. Islamists – the fundamentalist kind, don’t represent most Muslims due to their extreme beliefs. We may like the oil that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia controls but don’t be fooled –  they are equally as oppressive as Islamic State.

Yet our western understanding of Islam is predominantly based on our exposure to news reports about terrorism or crime. Islamic State related terrorism can occupy well over half of a media’s news space while the disproportionate involvement of middle-eastern men in Australian crime has featured heavily in local reports over the past decade. This is reality and reality hasn’t been kind to the Muslim faith in Australia.

Now some may feel I’m being unfair to say that men from middle-eastern backgrounds have a disproportionate involvement in Australian crime. In 2013, the then NSW Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione said that the middle-eastern crime wave was getting ‘‘increasingly difficult to combat”. Middle-eastern involvement in Australia’s illicit drug trade is immense. The number of young men from middle-eastern backgrounds participating in gang rapes around the country is staggering. The crimes of Bilal and Mohammed Skaf and many more like them illustrate a hatred of western women that is hard to understand but clearly present.

Yet what frightens me more is the way women are treated in a strict, fundamentalist Muslim household. On a recent visit to the Sydney Suburb of Merrylands to check out a 2nd-hand lounge, I found myself in a Muslim household with six men and three women of mixed ages. It was around dinner time. I smiled and said hello to everyone yet the women weren’t allowed to speak to me. One woman tried to illustrate with hand movements how to get the lounge to recline yet was quickly ushered away by a man. It was not a comfortable environment and the muzzling of women is not something most Australians are used to.

The Burqa and Niqab
The Muslim religion is the only one where the more fundamentalist streams hide the eyes of women via the Burqa. Of course, more moderate Muslim women may wear the Al-Amira, the Hijab, Burqa_Womenthe Shayla or the Chador- all head-wear that show the eyes and most of the face but still display respect for Muslim values. No problem there whatsoever.

Seeing the eyes and most of the face of another human is one way we, as human animals, measure our personal safety. The eyes show intent and without seeing it we can only guess at what that intent might be. Sure, we may be wrong at times, yet when a fast decision is needed, our initial gut-response is important.

In medieval times, knights hid their eyes behind metal gauze. The Klu Klux Clan hid their eyes and face and we mistrusted them implicitly with due cause. Perhaps if the balaclava was worn less in terrorism attacks and robberies we might trust the Burqa a little more. This is unlikely to happen.120511-muslimwear

The Burqa or the Niqab make our initial biological assessment of safety versus danger impossible. When facial visualisation cannot take place, assessing our relationship with that person becomes futile. It just makes matters worse if women can’t shake hands or speak. Women become chattels or objects devoid of a vital human and indeed natural attribute – communication.

Is this the way we want people to relate to one another in Australia? Is this how we want to see women regarded in this country?

While my left-wing sensibility tells me I ‘should’ tolerate this difference for the sake of diversity, my common sense and indeed biological need for a secure environment tells me this is not OK.

3bc98a269d1f174fbba494b61a884b4dEmbracing English
In an interview following the Paris terrorist attacks in November 2015, the Grand Mufti of Australia Dr Ibrahim Abu Mohammed spoke all of his answers in Arabic. Is it too much to ask the leader of an Australian religious group to speak in English? Is it too much to ask anyone who elects to become a prominent and representative citizen of Australia to use English as their main mode of verbal communication?

Not embracing the transition from Arabic to English is another way that makes assessing ‘friend or foe’ impossible. If the dominant population of English speakers can’t understand what is being said by a group who are not just over-represented in crime statistics but solely represented in terrorism news, then our first response is to mistrust it. Is there a hidden intent? Is there something they don’t want me to hear? Are they mocking me?

For civil rights types and the Antifa brigade to express disgust at these defensive yet natural responses is to put an entirely non-human perspective on what is really a very human reaction. These are the types who if being chased by a lion, may first say “Oh, here comes a nice, friendly lion because really, some lions CAN be friendly”. They become lion food very quickly.

Open faces – open arms: The push for an Islamic Reformation
Now I understand fully that most people of the Islamic faith in Australia speak English and don’t wear the Burqa. Yet the minority are those with the greatest impact. They are the ones who stand out simply because we can’t possibly relate to them. They may be a regular ‘Aussie’ in lion’s clothing, but gee, we can’t be fully sure.

The Burqa  must be prohibited in Australia. If we are to give a little by accepting those who need refuge, the Muslim faith must also give a little. Our society has open faces, not just open arms. While some may see a ban on the Burqa as an attack on Islam, clear thinkers see the reverse to be true – that wearing the Burqa is actually an attack on not just Australian values, but the rights of women. Women should not be muzzled or hidden in this country.

Muslim leaders and indeed any leader speaking to a general public audience must also communicate in English. If they can’t they shouldn’t be speaking in publichelp.

Perhaps what the Islamic faith needs is a reformation; a movement that will bring the outdated and stricter Sharia elements of Islamic belief into the 21st century; a New Testament Islam if you like. If Islamist men are too entrenched in inflexible doctrine to mount this reformation, it is the women who, like the feminists of the 1960’s, must take control and force a change that will benefit Muslims around the world.

The 1960’s feminist cry of ‘Burn the Bra’ could translate to ‘Burn the Burqa’ – the progressive Muslim women’s cry of the 21st century.

While it’s perhaps too much to expect women from Iraq, Saudi Arabia or Afghanistan to forge a ‘New-Testament Islam, progressive Muslim women from Australia may be perfect to lead the way.

Shedding the facebook facade

New Year’s Day in my family has traditionally been about chucking out old clothes. We stuff old T-shirts, shorts, dresses and business shirts into bags to take to the nearest charity bin. It’s a sign of renewal and growth – that by shedding our old skins we’ve moved on from who we were. It’s also an understanding of aging, and that with the progression of years come different tastes and different waistlines.

This year, I gave away a pair of slim-fit jeans I’d never worn. The tag was still on. Bought as an incentive to lose weight, they failed miserably. I remain fat. The jeans remain slim. It was a good idea at the time.

Yet this year we added a new angle to the clothes disposal routine. This year, amid prodding from computer-less octogenarians, we embarked on a ‘Facebook friends cleanse’.  More specifically, we decided to research just what ‘friends’ were really friends and if we were actually as popular as we thought.

With many of the family spread across the world, us ‘cleansers’ were mostly over 40 years old. My 17 year old daughter, with over 500 friends would probably have refused to participate anyway. I was proud of my 96 friends and looked forward to reaching my century. I’m a cricket fan and remain largely competitive.

The ‘cleanse’ involved asking three simple questions about our friend’s photos. Question 1. Could we name them? Question 2. Had we ever met them? Question 3. Would we go to their funeral?

What eventuated was not surprising to the octogenarians and disappointing to us young ones. On average, we could positively answer all questions for 30% of our ‘friends’.  We smugly knew around 80% of their names and we’d met a staggering 93% of them. The major stumbling block was the dreaded ‘funeral’ question. If 70% of our ‘friends’ died, we wouldn’t attend their funeral.

Now this finding wasn’t so harsh until one of the octogenarians, one who is known for their blunt comments about weight gain and baldness, reminded us that should the research be valid, 70% of our friends wouldn’t attend our funeral either. As one of us had only 12 friends, this left a funeral procession of three people. She optimistically observed that at least the wake would be cheap.

As Facebook starts its eighth year as the world’s most popular social networking site, it’s time to put the concept of friendship and what it means under scrutiny. If attendance at a funeral is at all associated with care and even respect, our New Year’s Day research indicates that we don’t really ‘care’ about 70% of our ‘friends’.

The normally vocal defence to this by those with friends to burn is that many Facebook friends aren’t ‘real’ friends and everyone knows it. ‘Friendship’ is just a term used to help boost our numbers, a term not indicative of real life. Equally not representative is the seemingly endless ‘amazing’ life adventures ‘friends’ seem to have every day – a life where even doing the washing requires a Facebook post; a life where every holiday snap is excitedly posted. For a while I had friend-envy. I thought I was the only one not excited about doing the washing or walking the dog. Now I know better. If they knew that 70% of their friends really couldn’t give a damn perhaps their posts would be less ‘amazing’.

Yet as the younger generation and a battalion of middle-aged wannabees increasingly view Facebook as the necessary life platform, it begs the question as to what these generations are doing on a platform that’s largely not real or representative. As Australia’s magazine sales plummet, perhaps Facebook is replacing them as the place for ‘amazing’ gossip or ‘incredible’ adventures. I’m half expecting a friend to post a fad diet soon or perhaps a guide to better orgasm?

This week we gave four clothing bags to charity. This year, we’ve resolved to shed friends. Not the real ones, yet the ones who like the old clothes or slim jeans, just don’t fit any more or perhaps have never been worn. Perhaps facebook could introduce a special section for newly shed friends, where like our clothes; they could be adopted by others and reused. Now that would be ‘amazing’.

The end of monogamy

This piece was first published in the US based ‘Third Report’.

As our politicians and sports stars fall from monogamous grace like ninepins, and as the US based adultery website ‘Ashley Madison’ prepares its worldwide launch, it’s time to examine the ideal of monogamy in the light of cold, hard 21st century relationship facts.

Monogamy, that ideal expected of anyone in a ‘stable’ relationship, has become an impossible and unnatural practice for many in modern times. David Barash and Judy Lipton, authors of the The Myth of Monogamy, recently told Australia’s ABC that 50-80 per cent of men and just under half of women cheat on their partners. So what is it about monogamy that makes it so damn difficult?

The most recent evolutionary theory is that infidelity may well be a necessary act to increase genetic diversity and guarantee species survival; that while being impossible for a high proportion of the male population, the institution of monogamous marriage may well have outlived its usefulness – even for women. If, as Darwin stated, our primary evolutionary imperative is to survive and reproduce, monogamous marriage, through partner restriction, may be limiting our survival as a species on this planet.

In ancient times, marriage was merely a contract between families to secure land and guarantee the existence of lawful offspring. Men could have concubines and visit prostitutes, while maintaining a relationship with their wives for procreation. As the Greek orator Demosthenes put it: “We have prostitutes for our pleasure, concubines for our health, and wives to bear us lawful offspring.” Publicly at least, women enjoyed no similar liberty.

The increasing power of the Christian Church in Europe meant marriage evolved into a spiritual state where men and women became ‘one flesh’ with all the assistant responsibilities that ‘one flesh’ involved. Monogamy was written into the contract and the marriage sacrament became a contract between the couple and God; a serious contract indeed!

With average life spans in 17th Century Europe of only 40 years, and with a high infant mortality rate, monogamous marriage helped ensure a ‘stable’ environment for children to survive. Poor couples married young and due to the general uncertainty of life, produced many children. Monogamous marriage therefore, could well have been an evolutionary necessity to maintain our genetic legacy.

It’s also true that in these centuries past, people lived in smaller villages and towns – usually with the church at its highest point. Anonymity was difficult, and individuals were less likely to ‘stray’ because infidelity didn’t remain secret for long – especially if it resulted in offspring. As God looked down on his fearful subjects from the town’s central rise, monogamy, however irritating, was easier than infidelity. Church enforced monogamy, fear of God and the monotonous work produced by the early industrial revolution, created a passive and socially controlled workforce unwilling to venture outside the norm.

But in today’s large towns and enormous cities, and with the decreasing influence of the Church in the lives of many, infidelity is not only simple but often without consequence.

Readily available birth control means offspring can be avoided. Flexible working hours means more workers control their own time – a scenario ripe for infidelity, while people are often anonymous in their own neighborhoods, let alone their cities. The moral influence of a close community is virtually non-existent.

Yet perhaps the major force making monogamy an evolutionary anachronism is the wealth and health created by modern life. When resources are scarce, caring for children resulting from multiple partnering is impossible. When resources are plentiful, this care is, if not simple, easily bought from an army of businesses and nannies all too willing to fill the childcare void.

We now live longer than our ancestors and can enter other relationships once our children grow up. 45 was virtually old age in 1765. Now, it’s scarcely middle age and men can reproduce again to further their genetic legacy. Many women of course will say the evolutionary imperative behind infidelity benefits men, with little or nothing positive for them. If spreading our DNA is our dominant evolutionary call, women are restricted by their reproductive clock.

Remember though, that it’s only been the last 300 years that humans have lived into their 80s. Evolutionists are now saying that as humans live longer, it’s probable that women’s reproductive lives will extend proportionally. Indeed, the evidence is telling us that this is already happening with a 60 year study of 2000 North American women by Yale University’s Stephen Stearns revealing women are definitely evolving to reach menopause later in life, According to Stearns, ‘Natural selection is still operating.’, while according to evolutionary theory, this longer childbearing window will allow for multiple partnering, greater genetic diversity and more choices for women.

Yet what of those who elect to ignore the evolutionary lure of infidelity and travel the monogamous road? Are their genes destined for the DNA scrapheap or is there still some positive evolutionary purpose behind ‘As long as we both shall live’?

Monogamy, at least during the initial glow of love, serves a definite evolutionary purpose in guaranteeing paternity (and therefore the selected DNA) of offspring. Indeed, this could well be the only evolutionary purpose behind monogamy in a healthy and wealthy society. If he is monogamous, then she knows that all his resources will go towards the care of her offspring. If she is monogamous, then the offspring will certainly be his and he can provide the resources for its survival without waste.

It’s also true that in a society rife with infections, the monogamous pair will not be exposed to the sexually transmitted kind and could well live longer as a result. With the increase in pharmaceutical quick-fixes for sexually transmitted infections, this theory is diminished. Indeed, The Pill and antibiotics could be regarded as monogamy’s greatest enemies.

As the coming northern hemisphere chill makes snuggling a very attractive pastime, and as Ashley Maddison makes infidelity cool, we could succumb to the moral confusion and self flagellate all in the name of monogamy. Preferably though, we could realise that as intelligent mammals in a free and open society, we need no longer be bound by the dictates of 17th Century Europe and enjoy the biological rush that comes from our ancient evolutionary urges. We could also realise that every biological drive has its consequences, and that those consequences are anything but simple.

Tiger and infidelity? Just blame Darwin!

This piece first appeared in the Courier Mail on December 10, 2009

The public tisk-tisking over Tiger Woods’ seemingly endless affairs needs to be examined outside the context of tabloid sensationalism. Is the public discussion because Tiger has failed as a moral role model in breaching his marriage contract? Is it that the attention he’s given to his affairs may have detracted from or (heaven forbid) assisted his golf game? Is it because the regular ‘Men’s golf weekends’ arranged by thousands of men each week risks being squashed by wives everywhere?

According to the US based ‘Marriage Education Fund’, the unpalatable truth is that 44% of married men and 25% of married women ‘cheat’ on their partners. A study by the University of Chicago found that of the thousands of married men and women who stated they had a ‘happy’ marriage, 27% had experienced an affair. You’re not alone Tiger!

Recent socio-biological thought also indicates that infidelity may be an evolutionary trait; that the concept of everlasting, monogamous marriage is an evolutionary anachronism ripe for dumping. Far from enhancing our gene pool, the institution of monogamous marriage may well be limiting genetic diversity to the detriment of western society.

In centuries past, when humans had a lifespan of barely 40 years, monogamous marriage helped guarantee the survival of offspring by maintaining a functional environment for children to grow to maturity. Couples were married at 17 and had as many children as possible by age 30 due to the high infant mortality rate.  Mum and dad, exhausted, poor and taxed-out, died at 40 yet they survived and reproduced. Evolutionary work done!

While we have children later than our ancestors, we can still live a good 20-30 years after our children grow to adulthood and reproduce. For some men and women, those later years may involve caring for grandchildren while parents work; yet another evolutionary development ensuring the comfortable survival of the children. Survive and reproduce. Evolutionary work very well done!

For some men, those post-children years can also be used to begin other relationships in order to reproduce yet again. Their genetic inheritance is doubly guaranteed and the gene pool is further diversified. For those with bucket-loads of money to ensure the survival of their first brood, or those who are attractive, fit stock to women of childbearing age, beginning the new family (or having affairs) can begin early. Survive and reproduce two or three within a life span and your evolutionary work is extremely well done!

Enter The Tiger. He, like 44% of married men and 25% of married women, elected to stretch the boundaries of monogamous marriage to include this evolutionary imperative. Thousands do it every day, and if you’re an elite athlete with money, brains, a good body and an obvious ability to master the sporting world, you will attract women who may well want a piece of that DNA. This indeed, is a woman’s evolutionary drive and Tiger would be a prime target.

By demonstrating the uncertainty of marriage and the often impossible concept of monogamy, he’s reminded us of a truth we’ve known for a very long time. Yet while monogamous marriage may be an uncertain institution, the Men’s golf weekend, an institution that’s been in Australian society for a long time, and one usually sanctioned by women as a ‘harmless blokey’ adventure’,  is most certainly now a thing of the past. Thanks Tiger

An Easter re-think on miracles

crucifixionFirst Appeared on ABC Online: 10/4/09:

Many years ago, my daughter asked me to tell her the truth about the Easter Bunny. It was a pivotal point in life for both of us, and the topic of conversation soon shifted to Santa Clause and the tooth fairy. What I hadn’t anticipated was a deeper discussion with a nine year old on the religious significance of the resurrection.

‘Why do adults spend so much time making us believe things that aren’t true? Maybe Jesus didn’t really get out of the tomb at all. It’s pretty funny after all isn’t it?’

According to my daughter, that question is on the lips of nearly every child who has ever attended a scripture lesson. It’s a question though, that is largely confined to adult theological discussion …as if children don’t ponder such ‘miracles’. I remember asking the same question of Mr Parker during scripture in 1966. I was soundly reprimanded for it.

These days of course, there would hopefully be no such reprimands.Teachers would take the time to listen, explain and understand, rather than attack. Our focus on creating children with a passion for enquiry and an independent mind would surely override the need to implant doctrine without discussion. Surely.

Yet the question remains pivotal in explaining the decline in Christian belief over the past 30 years in Australia.

Church leaders are largely adamant on the actuality of the resurrection. Catholic Archbishop of Sydney Cardinal George Pell is consistent with most of his fellow leaders when he states “If Christ isn’t truly risen then we’ve backed the wrong horse.” Only the Quakers have the vulnerability to view the resurrection as a matter of interpretation. It’s a vulnerability the rest could well learn from.

Perhaps there are many ‘lapsed’ believers who would gladly return to the fold if the acceptance of miracles wasn’t so pivotal to the ‘Christian’ label. The contradiction between our contemporary focus on logical world understanding, and the Christian insistence that not only did Jesus rise from the dead, but was a virgin birth, divided loaves and changed water to wine is surely too much for the rational human mind to seriously contemplate. From my daughter’s summary of what children really discuss after scripture, it could well be doing more to damage our children’s trust in the Christian faith than maintain it.

I realise fully that to Christian believers, faith in miracles immerses them in a different world. That by suspending the need for rational order they create an environment for deeper belief and spirituality. That unquestioning ‘faith’, is a fundamental hallmark of Christianity.

I also understand that by accepting the resurrection as fact, it makes it so much easier to accept without question the other miracles so pivotal to fundamental Christian faith. In 2009, as the number of practicing Christians in the western world declines, surely our relationship with God need no longer hinge on the ‘in for a penny, in for a pound’ acceptance of miracles?

Unlike our often-tardy European ancestors, our educated society doesn’t need the threat of damnation or the lure of heaven as a form of social control. The idea that some supernatural entity was capable of ecstatic or damning miracles may have done the trick during the reformation. In struggling, oppressed and uneducated populations, fear of the unknowable is always a prime method of social control. This explains the Christian churches’ powerful drive into oppressed African and South American countries. In wealthier, educated societies however, the threat of supernatural intervention commands far less leverage.

In our society that is controlled more by its access to wealth than lack of it, we are more likely to be persuaded by feet on the ground logic than legendary miracles…by evolutionary proof rather than ‘intelligent design’. It’s also true that in ordinary secular life, any remotely dubious promise is likely to be scrutinised by a consumer watchdog or the ACCC. For the sake of miracles, the separation of church and state is indeed a necessity.

If the important life of Jesus is going to be questioned alongside Santa and the Easter Bunny, perhaps it’s time our religious leaders took a more flexible view of the Bible and those who read it differently. Perhaps it’s time they embraced the resurrection not as literal fact, but as a metaphor for the incredible resilience of humans and nations in the face of catastrophic events. Events we have seen all too much of lately.

The literal and the metaphoric could stand alone or together, yet both views could be honoured by religious leaders as valid expressions of ‘a’ relationship with God,…a relationship meaningful for all in modern society and one not contingent on, nor defined by our acceptance of miracles.

Sticking up for the Blokes

This piece first appeared in The Melbourne Age in May 2001

It’s happening again! Every year about this time men come in for a bashing. Men’s role as dads, their position in the workplace and their even less secure position in the bedroom are all questioned. As usual, men are blamed for everything, yet this year men should prepare for a few new bruises.

The recent report by the Centre for Labour Research at Adelaide University paints a dire picture of working women and particularly working mothers. According to the report, working mums feel tired and guilty. Their sex lives are up the spout. Their partners are bastards and they feel ‘torn’ between the expectations of good mothering and the need to earn a buck.

According to the Head of the Centre for Labour Research, Dr Barbara Pocock, ‘Women find they can’t be a terrific worker, a wonderful mother and have great sex at night’.Oh dear!

Of course, none of this is their fault, but rather the fault of men who simply haven’t kept up with the trend, who still don’t do any cooking, who still don’t care for children and who seem genetically blind to dust, dirt or anything that needs cleaning.

While no one denies that men and women see dirt differently, the real question that needs to be asked of the thousands of ‘tired and guilty’ women is ‘What on earth did you expect?

For hundreds of years, men have known all too well that giving sweat and blood in the workplace means giving less in the family. Men didn’t like it much, but in order to provide financially for families, it was simply something they had to do.

I remember my dad going off to a cleaning job at 5am, only to finish before his ‘real’ job began at 8.30. He then backed up three nights a week with a night cleaning job as well! I saw him perhaps 10 hours a week if I was lucky. Did he like the idea? Not much, but it paid the mortgage and kept us from that ever threatening bread and dripping.

Until the early 70’s, women accepted (and often enjoyed) being the dominant manager of family affairs because dad was busy turning the wheels of industry. If dad was the chief of business, mum was the chief of the family, and while nowhere near a satisfactory situation, the gender roles were tolerated as parts of a system that limped along.

But let’s get back to the original question. What did women expect when they made that bold foray into the workplace 40 or so years ago?

It’s true that many women saw the lure of work and career as a dangerous new frontier; a frontier that had prevented men’s intimate role in families and that could do the same to them if they didn’t look out.

Yet many others took the “women can have it all” approach to this frontier of work. It was simply another item to be included with the driver’s license, the credit card and the multiple orgasm.

Rather than forging a newer, more realistic model of work, 70’s feminists led the charge headlong onto the male white-collar career treadmill. Shoulder pads to the wheel, this charge held no thought for the sanity of the millions of women who would march after them. Like the followers of Jim Jones, or the victims of the Waco massacre, women have been led into the fire, and not surprisingly, they aren’t happy.

The ‘women can have it all’ ideal must rank alongside such other urban myths as the classless society, the level playing field or successful consensus decision-making. Women can no more ‘have it all’ than men can. There’s a price to pay for work that pays, and while we may not like it, our current workplace structure isn’t likely to change for men or women.

Yet perhaps the most distressing part of Dr Pocock’s report is her belief that ‘While women agonise about what it means to be a proper mother, there is no parallel debate over fathering’.

Oh Dr Pocock, where have you been? I know Adelaide is 10 years behind Melbourne but not even the residents of Manjimup have missed that debate.

The fatherhood business is booming, with books, seminars, government funded research, private research and a thousand ‘experts’ giving their tuppence-worth on fatherhood issues every day of the week.

And according to private research carried out in 1998, most dads hate the thought of having to work harder and longer in order to pay the increasing costs of mortgages, school fees and food bills. Most feel tired and guilty at not being able to give more to their relationships. Most feel torn between the expectations of good fathering and the need to earn a buck.

Not surprisingly, most find they can’t be a terrific worker, a wonderful father and have great sex at night’. Sound familiar?