Monday, January 30, 2006


I took my boys to the playground this morning, and stumbled on a local mothers group - mostly girls. The children (10 or so) were mostly 3 or 4, with a few siblings in attendance. Every single girl was dressed in bright pink - either the whole dress, or both the top and bottom. I have no real evidence for this, but I can't help thinking that this is more extreme than it used to be.

Why are girls forced so emphatically into very gender specific clothing at such a young age? And more worryingly to me, I'm wondering what has caused such a retreat into femininity for all those girls. The clothes weren't impractical, but they were very pink. I knew a few of the mothers, and I didn't get the sense they were the kind of women who think a woman's role is only to be feminine and girly. (I've never met that kind of woman, but according to every Sunday supplement article you read about mothers, they do apparently exist).

Maybe it's just another example of the consumer society gone mad. We're all richer now than we used to be (and clothes are cheaper), so we can afford to buy clothes for every occasion and give into our children's desires. Or maybe every mother does secretly want to dress her daughter in pink, and I've forgotten now I've had two sons.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Book Review - Secrets of the Jury Room

This week's book review is Secrets of the Jury Room by Malcolm Knox. Malcolm Knox is the SMH's literary editor, and a few years ago got himself on a jury in a fairly serious criminal trial.

This book is the result of that trial. It doesn't tell the story of it, exactly, as Knox was forced by the defendant in that trial to completely disguise the trial so he (the defendant) couldn't be identified. That's my main irritation with the book - Knox was so (obviously) annoyed by this, that he spends far too much time talking about the arcane legalities about what you can and can't reveal about the jury room.

That aside, it is fascinating. I had expected a fairly pedestrian discussion of the trial that Knox himself was on. And there is a pretty interesting (but completely fictional) trial and jury described in the book. But at least half of the book is a readable, and serious, discussion of jury trials, their advantages, disadvantages, and the politics of them. Knox has talked to as many former jurors as he could (without soliciting - you are not allowed to ask jurors to tell you anything, they have to volunteer it) and read every piece of research (there isn't much) on the workings of juries in Australia. He's also read the US research, but thankfully doesn't use it too much, even though it must have been quite tempting given how little there is in Australia. He has talked to judges and barristers about what they look for in juries when trying to persuade them, and how they decide who to challenge during jury selection.

The eventual conclusion is that juries are an important, but very under-recognised part of the legal system. Most people who have been on juries were sceptics about whether they are a good decision making process, until they have been on one, when they see everyone, including themselves, taking the process much more seriously than they expected, and particularly being quite shaken up by the impact they are having on someone's life.

I've been on two juries (one of which, interestingly, was hung because of a single holdout juror) and I do agree that my fellow jurors took the process more seriously than I expected them to. There were some fairly base prejudices on display in my first trial - fortunately they cancelled each other out as the Aboriginal defendent was found not guilty, due to what seemed pretty obvious police verballing.

I was glad that this book contradicted the research that I read before going on my first jury - I had read that prospective jurors who look intelligent are likely to be challenged - but the way the Australian system works (challenges being solely on the basis of someone's name and appearance) tends to mean that challenges are based more on gut feel, and occasionally some ethnic similarity or difference.

The book ends with a set of recommendations about how to make juries work better ranging from the important (tell juries what they can and can't ask for in the jury room - many juries don't know that they can ask for the transcript of the trial, and judges are reluctant to tell them, because they think juries won't pay attention if they know they can get a transcript later) to the completely mundane (give jurors a meal allowance instead of providing inedible sandwiches every day).

He particularly points out that there are very few hung juries that have one single holdout juror, so abolishing the requirement for unanimity is unlikely to save the courts very much time, but may well change the dynamics of a jury room in a way that will lead to ganging up on people to change their mind in a situation where you have one too many holdouts.

Unfortunately, the political process being what it is, it's hard to imagine anyone changing their view of what to do about jury trials based on a book by a literary editor of the SMH, even one with a law degree, however well researched.

Saturday, January 28, 2006


Our local issue is Graythwaite - a six acre estate in the middle of North Sydney currently used as a nursing home. There is a local campaign going on - posters everywhere, and stalls at all of the local markets. My four year old has been asking what it's all about, so we've been telling him that it's about saving a beautiful old building from being knocked down by builders (largely true - see a fuller explanation below). So now if the subject comes up (and sometimes even if it doesn't), C will tell you all about this beautiful house and how it needs to be saved.

I've always been faintly queasy about children being used for political purposes, but I can't really see how we could have avoided this one, except to refuse to answer his questions. But it makes me realise how easy it would be (right this minute) to make him believe almost anything we wanted him to believe (subhuman status of ethnic groups, for example).

Graythwaite estate is six acres and includes a magnificent house built in the 1830s and was given to NSW in 1915 by Sir Thomas Dibbs to be used as a convalescent home for the wounded Anzacs. It has gradually been run down by the NSW Health Department, and is now in a terrible state and not suitable to be used as a nursing home, so they need to do something with it. The revenue maximising route would be to sell it off to the highest bidder - likely to be Shore school (which is right next door). I'm not a big fan of born-to-rule private schools (of which Shore is a leading example) so I'm not in favour of them getting another six acres to spread out on.

It would also mean that the buildings would quite likely be demolished, and the land would not be able to be used by the public (no school in its right mind is going to allow public access in these days of pedophilia hysteria).

So there is a local group trying to save it (which would mean North Sydney Council buying it for not necessarily the highest offer), which has been doing all the campaigning.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Women's participation in the workforce

There has been a frenzy of comment in the US blogs I read about a recent article arguing that
"Half the wealthiest, most-privileged, best-educated females in the country stay
home with their babies rather than work in the market economy"

Further research by US demographers (as opposed to anecdotally interviewing women who announced their marriages in the style section - good statistical method!) suggested that the "child penalty" (i.e. the reduction in participation rate from having children) in the labour participation rate had closed in the US in the last few decades.

In Australia, as this week's AFR magazine points out, women with children are quite a lot less likely to work than those without, particularly women with degrees. NATSEM is a research centre associated with the University of Canberra that does a lot of microeconomic research, and recently has teamed up with AMP to provide some fairly definitive data.

Although the participation of women in the labour force has increased steadily in the last 20 years (from 45.7% to 56.7%), the participation of women aged 25-44 with dependent children has dropped in the last 10 years (1993 - 2003). And the proportion of women working full-time, with or without children, seems to have almost uniformly dropped in that time. Older women (45-64) with or without dependent children are much more likely to be working than they used to be.

Looking at women working full-time, the "child penalty" is by far the greatest for women with degrees - a 25% difference in full-time participation between women with and without dependent children. For women with no post-school qualifications, they are actually more likely to work full-time if they have children than if they don't.

So what's happened in the last few years is that women are more likely to be working than they used to be, but less likely to be working full-time, and that mothers are less likely to be working, even part-time, than they were 10 years ago. The "child penalty" for full-timers hasn't changed, though. It seems that what's happened is that women have generally cut back on their hours - full-timers to part-time, and part-timers to nothing (particularly if they have children). And older women (likely to be mothers of older children) have got back into the workforce in increasing numbers.

Without income and status statistics about the jobs, it's hard to tell if women are "wasting" their degrees, as Linda Hirshman said in her original article. But the increasing participation of older women in the labour force suggests to me that there is hope that women are taking some serious time off to have their children, but it isn't forcing them out of the workforce forever.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Child obesity

There has been a huge amount of publicity of increasing proportions of children being overweight and obese. The studies often add that obesity is much more common in poorer children, for a variety of reasons (including access to exercise as well as healthy food). So I've been assuming that where I live (not a poor area) is pretty much as it ever was.

I was clearing out my study the other day, and stopped to look at my old school photos. The thing I noticed was not so much that the children looked thinner, but that child that I remembered as "the fat kid" actually looked quite normal to me now. There weren't any children that I went to school with that I would stop and think - gee that child is fat. But they were certainly teased unmercifully for being fat at the time.

It's probably just as hard being "the fat kid" at school as it ever was. But if you are "the fat kid" you are probably at least 20% heavier than you would have been thirty years ago.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Zig Zag Railway

I was up at the Zig Zag railway on the weekend (explanation - 4 and 2 year old boys obsessed with trains) and realised what an impressive achievement it is, not so much building it originally, as the work involved in restoring it.

The Zig Zag railway was a tricky part of the railway built over the Blue Mountains. Tricky, because it was at a very steep point, and trains are notoriously bad at going up and down hills. It was built in the 1860s, and by 1910, engineering had moved on enough that it was easier to build a tunnel (with more than one track, as the single track had become a bottle-neck).

In 1972 a group of enthusiasts (the kind of people in anoraks who I would probably be amused by if I met them face to face) decided to rebuild it. By 1975 they had run their first train, and by 1988 (with the help of some Bicentennial Grants) they had rebuilt the whole 8 kilometres.

The impressive part is how much was done by a group of amateurs. A serious distance of track, that had not been used for more than 60 years was rebuilt by volunteers. And not just rebuilt. They've sourced quite a bit of rolling stock of which the main steam engine is merely the best looking. I might not laugh quite so much next time I see a bunch of train-spotters at a fete - they're probably volunteering their time in more worthwhile ways than I am.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Book Review - Better than Sex: How a whole generation got hooked on work

This week's book review is Better than Sex - How a whole generation got hooked on work, by Helen Trinca & Catherine Fox (who edit the Australian Financial Review's Boss magazine).

Helen Trinca and Catherine Fox are journalists who write about the world of work very much from a management perspective. They are also women (one a mother of three children including twins) and are much more leftwing than I expected for two women who edit a magazine called Boss. Each month, Boss magazine brings the latest management theories to the eager professionals in Australia's capital cities, and publishes interviews with the latest pin-up CEO or visiting US management professor. So it's very much on the side of capitalism.

This book manages to interpret that theory (much of it clearly faddish, but not all of it) and explain how we got ourselves into this position. The "click" moment for me was the chapter which talked about how pleasurable work often is for people.

"...most of our generation stuck it out, gradually being seduced by the notion that work was an important part of life, an end in itself"

and why

"Many jobs have been made more interesting because workers have to engage more directly with clients... The upshot is workers often feel they are a real part of the drive for success and profits...For a company, capturing the emotional energy of an employee is seen as a huge plus...Organisations have a big investment in encouraging you to deny your private life and look to work for the energy and excitement of play and intimacy"

so companies have gradually, and for sensible business reasons, had more and more reason to engage the hearts and minds of people. And workers find that more interesting - if you are working on something that is interesting enough that you think about it in the shower, then you enjoy it more. The downside is that the rest of your life suffers, and if you want that rest of your life to take up a big part of your week, then your employer isn't getting the emotional investment it wants from you.

I have been reading a lot of impassioned discussion (most of which I agree with) about how much of a waste of talent it is that the world of work, particularly for professional jobs, is such a full time world. There's no room for part-timers or even 40-hour-a-week-ers any more. This book is a good way of seeing it from the business side, and I will be rereading it to see what, if anything, I can do about it in my business life, because for better or for worse, I'm one of the ones trying to figure out how or whether I can employ that wasted talent.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Water - when will we run out?

I was very excited this week when I logged on to the Sydney Water dam update - we've had the best week since last July! So this week, we had enough new water in the dams to cover us for six weeks of normal consumption. It's still not enough, though. We do seem to be in a new, lower rain environment that if it keeps going, will see us run out of water in around six years.

So I was outraged this morning when I read in the Sydney Morning Herald that the government has been sitting on what seems to be an excellent and cheap way of substantially improving our water supply;
"Under the confidential proposal by the gas company AGL, disused gas mains would deliver recycled water to industry."
There has been a lot of talk about the willingness of Sydney residents to drink recycled water - politicians say they won't be, many activists say they haven't been asked. But it does slightly miss the point. To purify sewage to the level that it can be drunk is pretty similar to the level of effort required to purify seawater. So Bob Carr's famous description of desalinated water as "bottled electricity" applies almost as much to recycled water - if it is for drinking. But a lot of water used in Sydney is used by industry, so it doesn't need the same level of purification. So figuring out creative ways of getting grey water to industry seems a hugely worthwhile exercise that seems to have gone by the wayside in the public strategy.

I can't honestly think of a good reason for this proposal not to be explored. Even with my cynic's hat on, I didn't think Macquarie Bank was that enthusiastic about the desalination plant being built.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

When to kiss

I had a farewell discussion with someone at work today. He's fifteen years older than me, a really nice guy, and I've worked hard to get him to take me seriously as a fellow professional, not a nice little girlie who is doing pretty well given her age and sex.

Reader, I kissed him.

I realised immediately afterwards that I had broken all the rules of business kissing. Basically, if you're a woman, don't offer a kiss to someone if you want them to take you seriously in the office. If you're a man, use it to prove your power over a woman. Oh well. It was a farewell discussion.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Phone numbers

I am incapable of remembering mobile phone numbers the way everyone else does. I think I'm too governed by the way Sydney phone numbers used to be. In Sydney phone numbers used to be seven digits, by universal agreement expressed as xxx xxxx. So when mobile phone numbers came along, I used the same system - (04x) xxx xxxx. But everyone else in the universe (or at least the people I swap mobile phone numbers with) says (04xx) xxx xxx. Which completely confuses me, and means I am unable to remember theirs, and they can't remember mine. I've tried a few times to tell them my number the "normal" way. But if I do that, I can't even remember my own.

You would think, as a person who has loved numbers all her life, I could switch my thinking. But it seems to be impossible. Maybe I will have to get a new mobile phone number to do it.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Book Review - The Paradox of Choice : Why More Is Less

This week's book review is The Paradox of Choice : Why More Is Less - How the culture of abundance robs us of satisfaction by Barry Schwartz.

This book's main thesis is that too much choice is detrimental to our lives - it makes us unhappy, not to mention taking up a lot of our life. He divides the world into maximisers and satisficers (the only thing I hated about this book was this word). Maximisers are those who are determined to make sure that every choice they make is the best possible one. Satisficers are those who are happy with a choice once they know it satisfies all their criteria.

Most people will display different behaviours for different choices, but if you are too much of a maximiser, then you will tend to make yourself unhappy. Not only do you spend an awful lot of time making every single decision, you are much more likely to regret the decision you made, as you have thought so hard about it that you know every nuance of the option that you didn't take.

Having more choices available will make you more likely to be a maximiser. If there are two choices, you can think hard, or not much, but in the end, the choice you didn't make is fairly obvious. But if you have ten choices, each one will have its good and bad points, and your eventual choice is unlikely to to have every single good point. So you're more likely to be dissatisfied with your choice, particularly if you spent a lot of time weighing up the possibilities (and hence thinking about the good points of all the choices you didn't make).

There are lots of other very interesting discussions about the way we make choices (for example the way a choice is framed can make a huge difference to the decisions people will make - someone is much happier prices being described as a discount for cash than as a surcharge for credit, even if the price is exactly the same - 10% cheaper for cash).

In the end, Schwartz conclues that the excessive choice available is one of the major reasons for the increase in depression and mental illness at a time when we are increasingly affluent as a society.

Interestingly, his solutions are totally personal ones. Although there is too much choice in everyone's life, his view is that the part of each person's life that really needs choice is different for each person, so all those choices need to be available to everyone. His recommendations are good ones, and made me think about the less obvious ways in which individual freedom to choose can backfire. They could seem a bit obvious or patronising if you haven't read the reasoning behind them, so I won't list them all.

On reading the book, I do think there are public policy issues that are worth thinking about, particularly in framing choices. In my own professional life, employers responsible for superannuation choice could use a few recommendations on ways to frame the choices available to employees in ways that they are likely to make sensible choices.

My first thought on reading this book was that now I knew where all Ross Gittins' column ideas have come from recently. Not true, I don't think - it must have been one particular column that made an impression on me. It could come under the category of self-help (and with it's recommendations at the end, it has probably been marketed that way), but to me it's an interesting and different philosophical take on the world.

Monday, January 16, 2006


We have our main computer, with a permanent internet connection, in our main family room. It's been that way since 1997. So when our computer crashed last week, we realised just how dependent on it we had become, even with three other computers in the house. We needed it to look up phone numbers, ferry timetables, the weather forecast, settle arguments, answer strange questions from our four year old about the world...

When we first installed our computer in the family room, even our geekiest friends thought we were wierd, but I get the sense we're not that weird these days.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Housework again

Nicholas Gruen in Club Troppo has devoted his weekly column to the housework issue - why do women do more than men? I blogged about this when he first posted, and this new column is far more nuanced, and well written.

One thing he does do is find some research about how unhappy people actually are with their level of housework. This study shows that 32% of women and 8% of men think their partner could do more of the housework, and about the same for childcare. To me, that suggests that we haven't reached a point where everyone is happy, but Nicholas Gruen prefers to report the statistic that only 14% of women (and 3% of men) are not very or not at all satisfied with the division of labour of housework in their house. I think there is a difference between accepting your lot, and being happy with it, that is implied in these different statistics.

Climate Change Conference

The grandly named Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate met this week in Sydney. For the un-initiated, this is either (a) a sensible approach to fixing the problem of climate change without those stupid Europeans and greenies hanging around; or (b) Australia and the US putting a desperate spin on why nothing should be done about climate change in the slightest by pulling in a few big developing countries (India and China) and having an expensive conference.

I'm still pretty uninitiated on climate change - I've been trying to ignore it as I fear I will become depressed about it.

The thing that is striking me at the moment is how strange the solutions adopted are. The Europeans, who are notoriously anti market forces (see their agricultural policy, if you don't believe me), as a way of reaching the targets that they have agreed to in the Kyoto protocol, have adopted lots of creative market-based approaches (of which trading carbon credits is only the best known).

The Americans and Australians, who like to think of themselves as much more rigorous about economics, and who certainly pay lip service to market-based solutions to many quite diverse problems (health and education being two fairly large examples), have adopted an approach of picking winners (such as carbon sequestration).

Looking at these different approaches does make me suspect that the Europeans are the ones that are actually trying to do something, as opposed to have the appearance of doing something. The Sydney Morning Herald summed our approach up well: "the Australian Government's approach relies heavily on faith; it seems Australia believes industry will do the right thing because it is the right thing."

Monday, January 09, 2006

Book Review - Children of the Lucky Country

This week's book review is Children of the Lucky Country: How Australian society has turned its back on children and why children matter by Fiona Stanley, Sue Richardson and Margot Prior. Fiona Stanley was the Australian of the Year in 2003, and made children the topic of the platform she was given by being Australian of the Year. The book is an expansion of the concerns Fiona Stanley raised during that year.

The book starts with the preamble that although many if not most children are doing better than they ever have before, particularly having a better chance of living to adulthood, there have been worsening rates of diseases like asthma and diabetes, and worsening incidences of depression, juvenile crime and behavioural problems. The other main issue raised in the preamble is that there is a much greater difference in outcomes between the most and least affluent than there used to be.

What follows are excellent surveys in all the trends of ways of measuring children's outcomes. Reported on are things like prematurity and low birth weight (no change in the last 30 years), childhood disabilities (gradually increasing), child abuse (increasing, possibly because of reporting changes), suicides (four fold increase for men aged 15-24 since the sixties, two fold for women that age), substance abuse (increase in harmful use of alcohol, although overall rates of drinking remain similar). Also in this section are various statistics showing that more disadvantaged children are more likely to be affected by all of the above.

There is also a great chapter on how we are running out of children. If Australian women had continued to have children as much as they did in the 1980s then we would have a million more children aged under 15 now. It doesn't have any major comments on why this matters, other than this tending to reduce our level of long term children; rightly or wrongly, you care more about the long term future when you are closely invested in it via your children. As an aside, see Bitch PhD for a great post about why children do matter to society.

At the end of a whole lot of detailed recommendations about how to make children's lives better. The top five are:

  • change the workplace to be more committed to workers as parents;
  • shift more towards prevention in all of our services;
  • reduce violence around children in all of society;
  • enhance the publicly funded school system; and
  • provide excellent child-care (early) at a reasonable cost to all families.

The authors are particularly concerned that the public sector and its systems have been 'kidnapped' into providing more for the needs of the well-off than of the poor.

The strength of this book is that in one place it gathers a huge amount of information about children today. I found it hard to get worked up about the recommendations, though. Not because I didn't think they were a good idea. More because none of them seemed particularly likely to be implemented. To be fair, some of the smaller, more detailed "what can you do" recommendations seemed more likely (for example for parents a suggestion is to use some of the resources in the book to get together and lobby your local council for improvements). But some seemed a bit pie in the sky (for example no worker to work more than 40 hours a week).

Nicholas Gruen in Club Troppo has a review here. His main quarrel with the book is its focus on social disadvantage (the implication being lack of money) rather than general social breakdown:

"I don’t think more money will do much at all if it isn’t coupled with insistence on individual and community responsibility, and strenuous attempts to do everything possible to resist anti-social behaviour. "

This book is a great resource, and a passionate plea on behalf of members of our community who don't get as much lobbying on their behalf as they used to. I hope its existence helps people understand the issues more. But so far, sadly, I think I've heard more about the various children's issues raised from Fiona Stanley when she was Australian of the Year than from this excellent book.

Saturday, January 07, 2006


My four year old has recently become obsessed with the Titanic. It's got me wondering what it is about this story that has kept the world's interest for so long. It was a dramatic shipwreck, but there have been others. Although at the time it was the largest loss of life in a single shipwreck, since then there have been many other worse shipwrecks (although most of them were in wartime - the worst ever in 1945).

I think it was a combination of factors. War time disasters only count if they're your side (eg Lusitania). If the enemy dies, then it's just their bad luck. For those who hate hubris, the Titanic was an example of the folly of hubris - being so sure your ship was unsinkable that you didn't carry enough lifeboats. For class warriors, it was another example of the horrors of the english class structure, where third class passengers were in some cases, locked into a sinking ship. And finally, the story fires your imagination. The ship had sunk slowly enough (it took three hours) that there were many stories of individual heroism and bastardry to fire the imagination. And the media was there at New York Harbour while memories were fresh to write all the stories down.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Christmas presents

I've been comparing notes with fellow under five parents about Christmas presents - how much is too much? And what should you do about grandparents who must give their children huge presents? My parents and parents-in-law are pretty good. They make a big effort to give our kids something they would like, rather than lots of stuff. If anything, they are appalled by our consumerism, rather than the other way around.

One of my friends has competitive grandparents - each trying to out do the other with more (not necessarily better) presents. She is trying to think of tactful ways to reduce the number of presents.

Having children, and buying them toys, makes me realise just how much our living standards have risen in a generation. We buy our boys toys for under $10 that would have been big Christmas or birthday presents in my day. For example, you can get a working microscope for $9.95 in our local toyshop. And the simple electricity set we bought our four year old from the local $2 shop (I think it cost $15) is about ten times better and more educational than the one my husband had at age 10 as a major toy.

So even grandparents who aren't well off can afford to buy quite good presents if they don't have too many grandchildren. But the grandchildren have probably got every toy under the sun because everything is so cheap these days!

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Public vs Private Education

I've been watching the 7-up series. I'm up to 28-up so far. The premise of the original, supposed to be one-off 7-up was comparing 14 7 year olds, mostly from the extremes (exclusive private school, working class east end school) of British society, and interviewing them to show how stratified people's lives were by the class they started in.

Since then, Michael Apted (a researcher on the original program) has gone back to them every seven years to see whether they turned out the way you would expect from the original interviews.

Given the original premise of the program, educational choices is a huge issue that gets explored in the interviews every time. The most sensible of the upperclass private school boys, Andrew, was asked what he thought of private schools at age 28. I can't quote verbatim, but he said something like,

"I think there are two choices. Let people do what they want with their money, and if that means buying their children the best education money can buy, then so be it - it's their money, they should be entitled to spend it. Or else, acknowledge that having those children in the state system would improve the system for everyone, because their parents would be the ones agitating to improve not just the school their children happened to be at, but the school system, and it would improve the system as a whole. And make it impossible to send your children to anywhere but the state system. And that's impossible, so we are stuck with the first option".

I've blogged about this issue for schools before, but it struck me that Andrew's second option, that he dismissed as impossible, is actually how Australian universities work. There isn't really a private system to speak of (although it exists, it's not especially prestigious) so everyone has to go to the state universities. They also have to pay fees, some of them quite large ones, if they don't get into the main entry for their courses, but there isn't really a choice to buy a "better" education with more money, as there is in the primary and secondary system.

It doesn't seem to have helped the university system particularly to have all those rich students (and their parents) involved in it. From what I remember at university, the private school types were much less likely to bother about how good an education they were getting, and much more likely to be propping up the university bar.

From what I read, the university education you get really is worse than it was 20 years ago (when I got one of the last free university educations in this country). Or maybe it would be much worse off still if there was a parallel private system that creamed off the richest students.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Does anyone like housework?

Nicholas Gruen in Club Troppo has a New Year's post on gender relations, which took me aback a bit. Not so much the post, but the comments. You have to read the whole post to get the flavour. My summary (which may be overly pointing out the parts that took me aback) is that he is protesting at the implicit blaming of men for the current situation where women do far more of the housework and childcare than men - perhaps it's a preference, or even an aptitude issue? In other words, women do more of the housework and childcare either because they enjoy it more than men, or because they are better at it.

The comments are full of men complaining about women's over fastidious natures (i.e. it's their own fault that they do more housework, because they dust the mantelpiece when there's no need), and pointing out the huge amount of work they (men) do in the backyard.

I find it hard to believe that anyone enjoys housework as a whole. I know a lot of people who enjoy cooking, but most of them enjoy show cooking for a dinner party, not cooking every night for a household. But the less glamorous things, like cleaning the toilets, or hanging out the washing - who enjoys that? Elizabeth at Half Changed World has some great posts about this.

Women may be better at it, because they've been trained better, but let's face it, none of it is exactly difficult. And they may be more fastidious than men. That's at least partly because in a household lived in by a man and a woman, they're the ones who get blamed (by everyone, men and women) for a dirty house.

Childcare is more complex, because there is a huge amount of fun and joy in raising children, in amongst what can be a very mundance existence. So I find it easier to believe that women do it because they want to (I know plenty of men who, when they find out my husband looks after our kids, sigh and say how much they wish they could too). I don't believe though, except for the breastfeeding beginning, that women are intrinsically better at it. They get a headstart, as they're the ones responsible at the beginning, and that headstart tends to get set in stone as a couple adapts to a life with children. Throw in society's expectations, and it's hard not to end up with a household in which a woman is more responsible for the children than men.

I haven't read Club Troppo for long (Crikey put me on to it by awarding it best Australian blog last year), but it depressed me that what seems to be a very thoughtful blog on many issues seems so dark ages on this one. Or maybe I've been spending so much time with people who agree with me and should get out into the real world more?

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Southerly buster

We've just had the hottest New Year's Day on record in Sydney. It got to 44 degrees in the centre of Sydney. A day which if it had been in December, would have been the hottest December day on record, and I'm pretty sure is the hottest day we have had in my time living in Sydney.

I've been sitting obsessively refreshing the Bureau of Meteorology's observations website all afternoon, tracking the southerly from Bega, to Merimbula, to Ulladulla, Kiama, and then finally here to Sydney.

And now at 9.45 at night, I'm sitting out in the backyard revelling in the southerly which came through half an hour ago. The temperature dropped by at least 10 degrees in half an hour, and I feel like I can stretch and relax for the first time today.

Global warming is clearly having an impact on our weather (not just because of today - I'll return to this in a latest post) but I will be able to cope a lot better if we still get our southerly buster at the end of a hot day. Just the thought of it coming later made the whole day a lot more bearable.


When I moved to this area (an innercity area in Sydney), as one half of a DINK couple, I shuddered at anything that approached community. When the annual street party happened, we used to go out for the day and hope that it was finished by the time we came back, so we didn't have to sneak past. I had my friends in various parts of Sydney, and I wasn't interested in being forced into another community of people (at least that's how it felt at the time).

Now, two children later (and 10 years), I feel very much a part of the community. There are a whole lot of people I will say hello to in the street, and a friend and I organised a little christmas party in our local playground. Another friend (without children) invites us around to drinks at her place once a year or so. We're on first name terms with most of the people in the local shops. And we know the names and something about nearly all of our neighbours.

Of course, children is what has made the difference for me. A baby in a pram, or a cute toddler in sunglasses is a great conversation starter. But I look back on my first five years in this area, and think what a waste it was. In my mid-twenties arrogance, I thought that the friends that I had chosen for myself (forgetting that they were also people I had been thrown into proximity with at university and work) were bound to be more worth knowing that people I happened to live nearby. Of course I've liked some people in the area more than others. But some have become very good friends.

And it's nice to get to know some people that aren't at exactly the same life stage as me. One of the people around the corner is a retired architect, who is responsible for a few iconic buildings in Sydney's CBD. It's great to talk to him about his complete contempt for the heritage rules of our local council.

Modern life does make community optional. I'm sure I'm not the only one, though, that impoverished their lives by refusing to participate.