Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Do daughters make feminists? And why "good boy" and "good girl" are clumsy praise

I've two columns up today.

The first is on the ABC, 'An adoring family does not a feminist politician make'.

Prompted by Margie Abbott's praise for her husband, I'm discussing the idea that God gives men daughters to make men feminists. A sample:
Yes, a good feminist politician ought to be ethically consistent: as concerned with gender equity in the kitchen or rumpus room as they are in parliament. 
But this 'ought', to briefly toy with Hume, does not necessitate an 'is'. Plenty of male politicians are beloved by their daughters and wives, but straightforwardly against feminist legislation. George W Bush, for example, has twin daughters, who said, during the 2004 election, "We love our dad too much to stand back and watch from the sidelines." Bush later told Oprah he was "blessed" to have his family, who made him the man he was. But the Bush government was steadfastly against Jenna and Barbara's reproductive rights, as women. Again: plenty of love from daughters, but little feminism to speak of. 
Mrs Abbott's speech might convince some Australians that the Opposition Leader is not a macho bully; that he maintains loving and respectful relationships with many women. I certainly do not doubt this. But her speech does nothing to recommend Mr Abbott as a 'feminist' politician, particularly given his refusal to repudiate his old views. 
As a consequence, anyone interested in women's rights and gender equality ought to remain as sceptical of Margie Abbott's husband as they are of this Christian God who magically delivers edifying daughters.
(Photo: ABC)

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The second is in the Canberra Times, 'Every good boy deserves...to become better'.

I'm arguing that the language of parenting ought to be more sophisticated; that just saying to our kids 'good boy' or 'good girl' deprives them of the language of ethics -- and the tools to reflect and rebel. A sample:
[This phrase] helps a child perform the right acts, but not to reflect on what these acts are, or why they are valuable. 
For example, when my son reads a book to his little sister, he is not simply being a ''good boy''. He is being generous, patient and sympathetic. His goodness requires not only that he put aside his own books for hers but that he recognise that she cannot yet read primary school texts. In other words, he has to put himself in her shoes, and remember the feeling of exile from Enid Blyton fantasy land. 
My daughter is not simply ''good'' when she swings on the bars, twice her height from the tanbark: she is brave. And when she does it on bike racks over asphalt, she is not brave, but foolhardy. 
These words do more than give names to what we already are. They help to think about what we might become; to give labels to the virtues we are in danger of missing or misunderstanding. Recklessness can be confused with courage, and liberality with profligacy; the words help to make our ethical aim more accurate.

1 comment:

Rolly Christian said...

Good morning Damon,

If you’re going to rip “lessons” from the Bible you’d best get your quotes in context instead of prejudicially groping around in the dark.

After the Sodom firebombing episode Lot was later piled with alcohol by his recently “widowed” daughters to father them some children of their own (two wrongs don’t make a right). Is this Bible story an example to follow on the value of wine, women (& song) or a cautionary tale? The Bible is full of teaching and cautionary tales blended together. Rudimentary application of context and some discernment is needed to draw this out at times for the casual agnostic / part-time theologian. King Solomon and his unwise choice for many (a consumer’s collection of) wives is a noteworthy case in point.

Meanwhile back in Genesis the angels did in fact stop Lot’s “error” in offering his daughters to appease members of the violent gay lobby gathered outside his door demanding fresh meat. Thankfully they didn’t get handed over to the mob. In your drum piece this “erroneous offer” was inferred as an event attributed to, or approved by God. Was the gay lobby, Lot or the Angels doing the right thing?

On NT submission in marriage of wives to their husbands is it also written by Paul, “Husbands love your wife as Christ loves the Church”. Biblical submission is not one will dominating another. Did not Paul also write in Galatians 3:28, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female for you are all one in Christ Jesus”. Gender equality is pretty clear here at this Judeo-Christian origin point.

As a suggestion if you wish to make an example of Liberal / National party politicians you would be best to at least offer some similar criticism of Labor leaders otherwise your posturing as an intellectual philosopher will appear partisan and untenable. Nobody seriously listens to a blinkered party hack philosopher (unless of course you’re an ABC News editor). Both major parties leave much to be desired in a “reasoned debating style” fitting of the Australian national interest which also happens to be part of their job description.