Tuesday, November 01, 2005


Police are being advised to treat Muslim domestic violence cases differently out of respect for Islamic traditions and habits. Officers are also being urged to work with Muslim leaders, who will try to keep the families together.

Women's groups are concerned the politically correct policing could give comfort to wife bashers and keep their victims in a cycle of violence.

The instructions come in a religious diversity handbook given to Victorian police officers that also recommends special treatment for suspects of Aboriginal, Hindu and Buddhist background. Some police officers have claimed the directives hinder enforcing the law equally. Police are told: "In incidents such as domestic violence, police need to have an understanding of the traditions, ways of life and habits of Muslims." They are told it would be appreciated in cases of domestic violence if police consult the local Muslim religious leader who will work against "fragmenting the family unit".

Islamic Women's Welfare Council head Joumanah El Matrah called the guidelines appalling and dangerous. "The implication is one needs to be more tolerant of violence against Muslim women but they should be entitled to the same protection," Ms El Matrah said. "Police should not be advising other officers to follow those sorts of protocols. "It can only lead to harm." Ms El Matrah said Muslim leaders should be brought into domestic violence investigations only if requested by the abused woman.

More here


I have a friend who jokes that she has become, at 40, everything that her ambitious 20-year-old self would have considered her worst nightmare. She is married with three children, lives in a big house in the suburbs of Washington DC, and drives an SUV. She's no Martha Stewart, however. Stop by on a weekday afternoon and you won't see her brandishing a glue gun or rearranging her furniture. More likely, she's lounging in her garden with a book and a glass of Chardonnay while her youngest climbs a play set. Not so long ago, this woman's life would have provoked shudders among her friends.

Today, she is on the cutting edge. Almost four decades after Betty Friedan helped to launch the modern women's movement with The Feminine Mystique, a strange reversal is taking place. Everywhere you turn, the old-fashioned, full-time mother at home is being celebrated - as fashion icon, as status symbol, as sex symbol. Those luscious mums of Wisteria Lane in the television show Desperate Housewives may be desperate, but they are also the most recent and glamorous examples of a trend among American women that has been taking place over the past few years. The percentage of mothers in the workforce with children under one fell for the first time in 25 years in 2000, and those whose participation in the labour force dropped fastest were well-educated, well-paid women.

This trend has provoked the usual amount of media handwringing. A reporter recently called me to discuss the "serious problem" of women "not getting enough 'me-time' ". In her book, Perfect Madness: Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety, Judith Warner catalogued the grim lives of affluent women who had quit their careers. Even with domestic help, it was still a struggle to keep up with the children's ballet lessons and the immense social pressure they felt to be domestic goddesses. But the dirty secret is, for all the noise about the stress of being "trapped" with children, more women are choosing to be at home and are happier for it. Perhaps that's why Darla Shine's new book, Happy Housewives, is so refreshing. She gives voice to the secretly growing consensus that being a housewife is a potentially fulfilling and satisfying lifestyle.

It is bracing reading and the serious message that underlies Shine's heckling may be exactly the sort of snap-out-of-it advice many women need to hear. It is amazing that our generation of women can complain so much about stress. "If you are a married mother who feels overwhelmed, ask yourself this: is your life really more stressful than that of a mother in, say, 1901? Or 1943? Or even 1965?" As Shine puts it: "I wish this for every desperate mother: to realise how lucky you are . we have it pretty good, girls."

To be fair, every generation of women faces its own set of issues, and the modern-day ones relate more to peculiar, psychological stresses than, say, the physical stress of a woman beating her own laundry and living in a cabin. The laundry beater was not plagued with worry about whether she was a "good" mother. She was yelling at her kids to churn the butter faster, and praying that they would not drop dead from catching cold. Women my age, however, were raised for professional careers, not the home. We did not seek degrees in biology and corporate management to better understand the nutritional composition of mashed bananas. The competitive spirit has to find an outlet, too: "It's about aggressive social climbing. It's about chairing an event at their child's school," observed a mother I know. "It's about who has the best decorator or personal trainer."

Shine writes that she was miserable when she quit her job as a television producer after her first child was born. She grew miserable. She resented that her husband kept going to the office while she put in hours at the playground or the manicure salon. "Looking back now I can see how much time I spent whining about being a mom, and trying to keep myself superbusy so I wouldn't have to face the dreary monotony of everyday mummy/housewife life. I left my career to be with my children because I thought I had no other choice, and I was full of resentment." It was only after Shine had a cancer scare that she began to take her blessings less for granted. In embracing the tasks she had rejected, she began to embrace the life she had chosen. This brought order to the house, a renewed closeness with her (now) two small children, greater intimacy with her husband, and that elusive peace within herself.

Whether other women will find such bliss through housework is debatable. But the truth that Shine captures is this: a home is made by the mother regardless of whether she works. Women decorate the house physically and spiritually; they set the pace and rhythm of a family's daily life. They are the ones, too, constantly taking the temperature of their domestic surroundings. "Is everything going OK or is there trouble? Have we eaten too much prepared food this week? Should we all do something together this weekend? Are the kids watching too much television?" This maternal crawl line, constantly scanning below the main programming, is what keeps a home balanced. It may seem unfair but, as Shine writes: "Let's be proud that we put our families first. Be proud that we're holding it all together, making it all work . it's the women who are smart, raising babies, taking care of their husbands, creating beautiful homes, who cook, clean, pull it all together, and do it every day... who really are the women with power."

And if that's not palatable, Shine offers a number of recipes - Mexican Layer Dip, Zucchini Boats, Peppered Flank Steak - to help her strong medicine go down.


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