Monday, October 31, 2005

Arguing against reality

What makes feminists think the way they do?

Here’s one useful case study. The most recent appointment to Australia’s High Court is a woman, Susan Crennan. When she was appointed the Attorney-General, Philip Ruddock, made clear that she was selected not because of her sex, but on merit alone.

You would think that this would make feminists happy. Not so Leslie Cannold. In an article for The Age she notes that if appointments are made on merit, and if there are fewer female High Court justices, then it is being suggested that women are less meritorious than men. This she takes as an insult to women.

But what if there are simply fewer female candidates for such positions because many women choose to devote themselves to motherhood? What if, as Susan Crennan herself has suggested, it is a “biological imperative” which leads to there being more qualified men than women for High Court positions?

Predictably, this response draws out a basic statement of liberalism from Leslie Cannold. She writes,

... such a rebuttal seems to me to constitute further evidence of the discriminatory nature of the system and those who run it.

To suggest that female biology is destiny is to depict women as slaves to their hormones rather than rational beings capable of choosing if and when they’ll reproduce.

For liberals, our very humanity is defined by our ability to choose for ourselves who we are and what we do. We are meant to create ourselves through our own individual reason and will. In this view, accepting an inherited tradition or an unchosen “biological destiny” is considered to be an oppressive impediment to the self-creating individual.

That’s why liberals hate the idea of an inherited ethnic identity. It’s also why they consider a conventional sexual morality to be oppressive and why they want many alternative kinds of family life rather than just the traditional one.

And it explains why Leslie Cannold vehemently rejects the idea that “female biology is destiny” and considers such an idea “discriminatory”.

Where does this ideological view of things lead? Think of it this way. For conservatives, the fact that women are more likely than men to take time off work to mother their children is both a natural and desirable state of affairs.

But a liberal like Leslie Cannold can’t see it this way. For her, biology isn’t allowed to count – it isn’t allowed to predispose women to motherhood.

So when Leslie Cannold sees reality – sees that women are still more committed to motherhood than men – she assumes that this must be because girls aren’t being taught to think logically or that men are somehow being obstreperous in not taking over the motherhood role.

Her efforts to eradicate the influence of biology also means that she must even reject the “compromise” position of many young women, namely, to pursue a career but to take some years off to raise their young children.

For Leslie Cannold, it is a kind of defeat, rather than a reasonable compromise, for young women to have “future plans to stay home when their kids are young” in order to live “less exhausting lives than their mums”.

So the end point of Cannold’s feminism is an oppressive one for young women. They are to sacrifice themselves to prove that their lives are disconnected from any natural impulse toward active motherhood. They must either accept the harried lives of their feminist mothers or else wait for men to be equally committed to motherhood as themselves.

Fortunately, young women seem less inclined these days to accept a view which is so at odds with reality.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Selfish, conservative & inward looking?

One good thing that's happened in Melbourne in recent years is a move away from modernist styles of housing. There's been a revival in heritage styles in architecture, and the quality of these homes is sometimes very high.

Charm has made a comeback!

But the revival of heritage styles doesn't have everyone's approval. As an article in today's Age puts it,

Architects loathe these developments, just about as much as people like them.

Patrick Kennedy is one such architect who is not amused by the fashion for heritage style homes. He complains that,

These houses now reflect the same view as our political climate -
selfish, conservative and inward looking.

Nor is fellow architect Norman Day impressed by the popularity of heritage styles. He believes that such houses are in fashion because,

people are scared. They no longer see houses as places to live - they are investments, they are commodities.

Unfortunately, it seems as if some architects are so committed to modernism that they fail to understand how most people see things.

A lot of us have a greater emotional response to heritage style homes because they connect us to our history and cultural identity and because such styles are generally less severe than the stripped down geometric styles typical of modernist architecture.

Modernist homes often look like offices. Sometimes they are stylish but cold. At other times they are just plain brutally ugly.

Norman Day is wrong. People do see houses as places to live, which is exactly why they have been choosing houses with some traditional homely charm, rather than the more severe modern styles. This may be, as Patrick Kennedy claims, a symptom of conservatism, but it is not selfish and nor is it inward looking.

It has helped to make the newer outer suburban estates more attractive places to live.

(Here's one example of the newer style of housing. I don't like the protruding garage, but the rest of the house is a nice example of a Melbourne heritage style.)

Tuesday, October 18, 2005


Lawrence Auster has written several posts lately on the theme of transcendence. Although this is not the easiest subject matter, it's an important argument and well worth the effort to read.

What is transcendence and why does it matter?

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Loud and clear and wrong

Earlier this month some legal changes were brought about here in Victoria. One of them is that you can no longer plead provocation as a defence for murder.

Here is how The Age reported the impending legal reforms:

Men who kill their partners in a jealous rage will no longer be able to use the partial defence of provocation ... Attorney-General Rob Hulls said yesterday the proposed reforms to go before Parliament today tackled entrenched bias against women ... "This Government will not support a mechanism ... that has been relied upon by men who kill partners or ex-partners out of jealousy or anger".

Football and political identity Phil Cleary ... said the provocation defence was "a barbaric, misogynist law that had to go ... The real challenge now is to ensure that those old-style judges who have been complicit in the law of provocation are not able to stay complicit behind the closed doors of chamber".

Australian Democrats senator Natasha Stott Despoja also welcomed the proposed scrapping of the provocation defence. "The defence of provocation enshrines an anachronistic and old-fashioned world view of male violence towards women as understandable and justifiable ... If we are to abolish domestic violence in this country, we must abolish the protection of its perpetrators in our legal system".

The message here is loud and clear, is it not? It is men who murder women and then use a provocation defence to get off. It is old-fashioned male judges who accept murderous violence against women and conspire to defend the male perpetrators.

Now, I'm glad that the defence of provocation has been abolished. But I have to protest about the way the legal reforms have been reported. Reports like those quoted above perpetuate a stereotype about male oppressors and female victims which is based on an abstract theory, namely patriarchy theory. The stereotype is easily shown to be false.

As it happens, I've already published an article on this very issue, which provides the kind of information which ought to embarrass Rob Hulls, Phil Cleary and Natasha Stott Despoja.

What is this information? A Victorian Law Reform Commission has previously examined the issue of the provocation defence. It found that female defendants were more successful in using the provocation defence than were men. In fact, during the period examined by the commission 8 out of 26 female defendants used the provocation defence and not one was convicted of murder.

The commission also found that men were more successful using the provocation defence when their victim was male rather than female.

Furthermore, even when men were successful in using the provocation defence their average sentence was double that of women who used the same defence.

Not surprisingly, the Victorian Law Reform Commission reported that its data, "does not support the conclusion that the provocation defence generally operates in a gender biased way." In fact, as you can see from the data, if there is any gender bias it is in favour of women rather than men.

The Age report is therefore wrong on two counts. First, the provocation defence was not employed solely by men who had murdered women; rather, it was women who were more successful in using the provocation defence to escape murder convictions.

Second, far from being an instrument of patriarchal control, the legal system is much more lenient toward women than men. If there is any "rooting out" of old-fashioned judges to be done, it will be to identify those judges who are protectively lenient to female murderers, rather than male ones.

Why is it important to correct these media falsehoods? Becuase the assumption that men conspire to oppress women is a destructive one. If offends and ultimately demoralises those men whose natural instinct is to work hard to protect women, and, on the female side, it undermines the trust in men necessary to commit to relationships.

For this reason, we ought to object when the issue of domestic violence is discussed only in terms of male perpetrators and female victims. As anyone who reads a newspaper regularly would know, there are also cases of domestic violence in which it is women who inflict injuries on children, other women or even on their male partners.

The domestic violence issue needs to be addressed without the distortion imposed by patriarchy theory.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Masculinity bad for you?

Every few years we get someone arguing that "masculinity is bad for you". This time it's the turn of the Sex Discrimination Commissioner Pru Goward.

She has told a men's health conference that the reason why men's health is worse than women's is because a traditional masculine identity makes men work too hard to support their families. Ms Goward is reported as claiming that,

if men spent more time with their children and did more housework, it would improve their physical and mental health, make them less likely to engage in risk-taking behaviour, and give them skills traditionally allocated to women.

Now, the first thing to realise here is that Ms Goward has a political agenda in making these claims. Feminists would dearly love men to lower their work commitments and to take over the traditional motherhood role of women.

Why? Two reasons, I think. First, feminists often believe that the reason men have more political and economic power is that men have organised improperly as a group to gain power and privilege at the expense of women, who are therefore oppressed as a group (patriarchy theory). Therefore, for feminists it is seen as a great triumph for women to increase their earnings relative to men. It's easier for women to do this if their husbands are at home with the kids rather than in paid work.

Second, feminists generally follow the liberal view that we shouldn't be limited in our individual will. This means that they like the idea of a fluid gender identity in which role reversal is possible, rather than individuals following traditional gender roles as a "biological destiny".

Anyway, here is one the major problems facing Ms Goward. Women do still want their husbands to work full-time. Women themselves prefer to work part-time or not at all. And men are happiest working full-time.

These are the findings of a major research project, managed by the Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research.

So it seems that men are not "oppressing" women by working hard, nor is it likely, given the preferences of both men and women, that we'll see a widespread role reversal any time soon.

A couple of additional points. It probably is unhealthy if men really do push themselves excessively at work. This is more likely to destroy masculinity in the long run. Interestingly, the research project mentioned earlier found that men's happiness started to decrease when working over 50 hours a week. The optimum was a 35 to 40 hour working week.

Second, it's an impoverishment of masculine identity if men see work and being a provider as the only expression of being a man. Traditional forms of masculinity incorporated other roles as well, including men helping to educate and socialise their own children (especially their sons).

Something else already?

There are signs that our political class is already considering abandoning the idea of an Australian nation in favour of a larger Pacific confederation.

The ALP has actually reached the point of putting forward a policy paper which advocates establishing a Pacific Community (Australia, NZ, PNG and the smaller Pacific nations like Fiji). There would be a Pacific Parliament, a Pacific Court, a Pacific Common Market, a common currency and military integration.

Hugh White, a professor of strategic studies at the Australian National University, approves of the plan and notes that "Closer Pacific regionalism - even eventual confederation - may be an idea whose time has come".

Note that the ALP policy even includes bringing Islander labour to Australia, as part of a free movement of labour.

What this shows, above all else, is how superficial the idea of "civic nationalism" is. Traditionalist conservatives support an ethnic nationalism, in which a nation is founded on a common kinship, history, language, culture, religion - on a tradition which clearly distinguishes one nation from another.

Liberals have abandoned such ethnic nationalism because it's not something that is determined by individual choice, but rather is something inherited. Instead, they have adopted the idea of a civic nationalism in which anyone could choose to become a citizen of any country.

But once national identity is so easily transferable, there is no longer a reason to maintain existing nation states. Hence the fact that our politicians can imagine making us all citizens of some other entity, alongside different peoples to whom we are not closely related and whose traditions we do not share.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Problem solved?

Australia has a system of mandatory detention for illegal arrivals. Anyone found to be here illegally is put into a detention centre until their application for residency is finalised.

It's a policy which comes under constant criticism from the left. Because of endless appeals some people end up staying in detention for long periods.

At least, though, mandatory detention solves the kind of situation Sweden finds itself in. In Sweden asylum seekers who have their applications rejected can simply disappear into the community.

What solution is Sweden having to resort to? The Swedish government is planning to offer an amnesty to allow such people to stay.

So the whole system breaks down. You can arrive in Sweden illegally, claim to be a refugee, have your application rejected, disappear into the community and still be rewarded with an "amnesty" and be allowed to stay.

It is effectively a situation which the government no longer controls: the illegal arrivals do.

It's a warning that Australia should not follow such a model by releasing everyone who arrives here illegally into the general community.