Thursday, July 20, 2006


Ten Glasgow firefighters are facing disciplinary action for refusing to take part in a PR exercise at a gay pride march in the city. The men, who are based at Cowcaddens fire station, had been asked to distribute fire safety literature at the event last month. They were reported by their superior officers for disobeying orders.

Unions and Strathclyde Fire and Rescue have both declined to comment until an internal investigation is completed. The firefighters are said to have taken their stance on moral grounds.

Scottish National Party MSP Fergus Ewing said it was "unbelievable" that they were now facing disciplinary proceedings. He said firefighters were entitled to their private views and questioned whether handing out leaflets at such an event had become one of their core duties.

March organisers said firefighters were public servants who could not be seen to discriminate. Thousands of people from the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community took part in the Pride Scotia Glasgow march on 24 June


New Zealand: Mother in hot water at public pool over child nudity ban

Amanda Crozier was dressing her 16-month-old daughter at the side of a public swimming pool when an attendant approached and told her there was a ban on child nudity. "You're kidding me, aren't you?" the mother of four replied. No, they were not. She was handed a notice that explained the policy was designed to "minimise the risks".

So began a national debate yesterday. Managers of the pool at the Kaiapoi Aquatic Centre near Christchurch said some swimmers were offended by child nudity and they were also worried about the risk of paedophiles photographing naked children.

"It's not very often I get cross, but I got terribly cross about that," Mrs Crozier said. "It's a shame it has got to that degree really. They tell us they are looking after us, but really they are not because they are making it more difficult for us." She said the two family changing-rooms at the centre were busy when she opted to change Ophelia at the poolside, and it also allowed her to keep an eye on her other young children who were swimming.

The aquatic centre management is standing by its policy, which is also in use at other facilities nationwide. Manager Ann Bergman said the policy was introduced after complaints from pool users offended by child nudity, but also in response to concerns about lurking paedophiles or people photographing naked children. "That's today's changing society. We can no longer do what we [did] in yesteryear. It's not just in pools, it is life in general. We have to change with the times," Mrs Bergman said.

National Party family affairs spokeswoman Judith Collins called the centre's stance "PC nonsense". "These [centre management] are saying to this poor young mother that she should feel she is doing something dreadful in changing her daughter. They need to get a life. "How do they think babies are born? Do they think they come all dressed? Maybe they think there are paedophiles lurking around delivery rooms. People need to start thinking about what exactly they are saying here. Do they allow people to see each other undressed in the changing-rooms?"

Former Children's Commissioner Roger McClay said he found it hard to believe that anyone could be offended by a 16-month-old child being dressed at a poolside. If there was a risk to the child, then the pool staff would be better off keeping paedophiles out. "We can't go overboard with being so politically correct that it negates normal parenting behaviour that has been accepted through generations." Plunket clinical adviser Marg Bigsby was reluctant to comment on the issue without seeing the full facts, but said: "It seems unusual that attention would be drawn to a 16-month-old child being changed in public."

Mrs Crozier said she had no desire to return to the Kaiapoi centre with her children unless things changed. "If they were to reconsider the whole policy that would please me a great deal."

Community Leisure Management, which operates 12 swimming centres from Whangarei to Nelson - including Mt Albert's Philips Aquatic Centre - has a policy of encouraging people to use family changing rooms rather than undressing children in public. If a young child was changing in public view, "common sense needs to prevail", said general manager Craig Carter. "You don't want it to become commonplace with people changing by the pool. You have to draw a line in the sand somewhere." .....

And yes, some of these preschoolers at Newmarket's Olympic Pool yesterday were getting changed by the pool with their mother's help.... Manager John Nixon said the Olympic Pool did not have a policy against parents changing their children near the pool. "We are a family-friendly pool and it's up to the parents to make the decision. "Unless there were other circumstances surrounding what happened, I would say it's political correctness gone mad. Maybe if it was a 16-year-old getting changed it would be different, but not a 16-month-old. It's an overreaction."

More here

Mother of all battles a bit rich in its bias

Women facing the choice between staying at home to care for their youngsters and going to work are not being helped by the present debate on child-rearing that is being led by the privileged, reports Deborah Hope

When my younger son was hospitalised at a tender age, a tense discussion took place at his bedside. In what I can recall only with excruciating guilt, I debated with my husband who would remain at his side and who would return to the office. I left a forlorn pair in the isolation ward and drove off to finish a speech. It was just one of thousands of situations in the past 20 years that have left me feeling torn and compromised between my dual roles as a professional and a mother.

When she wrote The Feminine Mystique in 1963, Betty Friedan described the frustrations and limitations of full-time motherhood as the "problem that has no name", keeping women from fulfilling their capacity. The book launched the women's liberation movement and saw the march of mothers into the work force. But Friedan didn't warn us that in the brave new era, mothers would be exchanging one kind of angst for another. A constant topic of conversation among women with young children, the new angst is born of the sense that motherhood has become a battleground between career and hearth, over working too many hours or too few.

Forty years after Friedan's work became a bestseller, the mummy wars -- the catfight, as one author labels it -- between hostile camps of working and at-home mothers who think they know what's best for other women and their offspring is proving fertile ground for a new publishing bonanza. Law professor Linda Hirshman's essay in The American Prospect set the battle lines last November when she claimed that women who downed briefcases after they had children were letting down the sisterhood. Hirshman says decades of feminist polemic have barely dented the belief that women are responsible for child-rearing and homemaking.

Appalled by the increasing ranks of affluent, tertiary-educated women who opt out of the work force in the US, she drew fire from mummies when she declared "an educated, competent adult's place is in the office", that women should have only one child to make it easier to stay in work and questioned why elite law and business schools should offer degrees to women who did not plan to use them. Hirshman was beaten to the battlefield by Judith Warner's book Perfect Madness: Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety, and by a collection of essays about domestic rage called The Bitch in the House. Now two more authors have joined the fracas.

Leslie Morgan Steiner, an advertising executive at The Washington Post, has weighed in with Mommy Wars: Stay-at-Home and Career Moms Face Off on Their Choices, Their Lives, Their Families. The Ivy Leaguer prefaces her book with the admission she sometimes hates stay-at-home mums. "How can some mums stay home?" she demands, and "Why is it that others, like me, so clearly cannot?" To help negotiate this fractured terrain, she asked 26 mothers, most of them writers and well off, to pen essays on what drives their decisions about paid work.

The obvious flaw in her quest is that for millions of women the decision on whether to work is one not of choice but necessity, to keep food on the table, pay fuel bills and keep a roof over their families' heads. Such women, notes Sandra Tsing Loh in a scathing review in The Atlantic Monthly, include single-mother waitresses, hotel maids, factory workers, supermarket cashiers, manicurists, bank and postal clerks, data processors, receptionists, shop assistants and the nannies who look after the children of the wealthy. Loh labels as "afflufemza" the elite's tendency to "recast problems of affluence as struggles of feminism".

Caitlin Flanagan's To Hell with All That: Loving and Loathing Our Inner Housewife is a collection of her articles about life on the home front originally published in The New Yorker and The Atlantic Monthly. If derision has greeted Steiner's Mommy Wars from some quarters, the equivalent of a missile attack has exploded over Flanagan's offering. "What few will admit, because it is painful," writes Flanagan about choosing whether to work or stay home, "is that whatever decision a woman makes, she will have lost something of incalculable value. "In the end, what did they, my boys, gain from those 1000 days they spent with me before school took them into the larger world? All they gained was an immersion in the most powerful force on earth: mother love."

Flanagan's prescription for every upper-middle-class woe, from sexless marriages and overscheduled children to maternal anxiety, is a return to an idealised vision of 1950s domesticity: "A world as remote as Camelot: a world of good meals turned out in orderly fashion, of fevers cooled without a single frantic call to the pediatrician, of clothes mended and repaired and pressed back into useful service rather than discarded to the rag heap."

Hypocrisy! accuse her critics. Hardly a domestic diva, Flanagan's own "at home" lifestyle is as a writer supported by a cast of characters including a personal organiser, nanny, gardener and housekeeper. She is a stranger to the kitchen and admits that in 16 years of marriage she has never ironed her husband's shirts or sewed a popped button.

For Steiner's mummies, work is a lifestyle choice revolving around identity. For the most part they are journalists, sitcom writers, editors, media executives and novelists, and a more selfish, hysterical bunch would be hard to find. Their worst moments are at cocktail parties, book launches or dinner parties where those taking time off from their highly paid labours to care for babies are humiliated by the crushing question, "What do you do?", and the silence that follows the answer: "I'm a stay-at-home mum."

Mommy Wars will resonate with its target market, privileged women such as Steiner for whom fulfilment, not filling stomachs, is the game. The volume's cover blurb promises "an astonishingly intimate portrait of motherhood today", but it bears no resemblance to my experience of rearing children. Take Dawn Drzal, a former editor with Viking Books and now a freelance journalist based in Manhattan who, according to Steiner, became a stay-at-home mother soon after the birth of her only child. Drzal came home from hospital with a baby nurse and her version of playing at being a stay-at-home mum was with the assistance of a nanny six hours a day. "Every day at noon I would pack up the babysitter with tiny cartons of soy milk and cinnamon graham crackers ... Then I would go food shopping, setting out for a distant organic market or ethnic enclave to hunt down new prepared foods or a particular exotic ingredient for his meals.

"When the babysitter left at six, she would deposit him in his highchair, freshly bathed, and he would happily watch me sauteeing onions or marinating tofu or cooking his favourite dinner, red lentils with garlic, onions and ginger. I had proved no one on earth could take care of him as well as I could," Drzal says, in one sentence wiping out her daily help.

Another of Steiner's self-obsessed essayists, sitcom writer Terri Minsky, spends much of her time in Los Angeles, leaving her husband and children behind in New York. Minsky says she stayed home at first, wanting her children to feel they'd "hit the mummy mother lode". Before you know it she's flying to Los Angeles for months at a time, farewelled by kids screaming, "You said you wouldn't go back! I hate you! I hope you never come back!" "So why did I? I could say it was because I had to if I intended to remain a television writer, live in New York City and send my children to private school. But it was mostly because I want to do this. I need to do this. This is who I am and it's taken a lot of therapy not to apologise for that," Minsky declares.

The elite world view of Steiner and co is expressed through their obsession with clothes. Stay-at-home mums wear stretch pants, rubber clogs and T-shirts; working mums wear Armani success suits or black cocktail frocks with expensive designer accessories and groomed hair. Most mothers living outside this self-centred elite are poorly served by the literature being produced on the subject. In Australia, where three-quarters of women use flexible work hours or permanent part-time work -- as I did -- to help them care for children under 12, women are apparently asserting their priorities. The market is wide open for a book on the real story of working women and how they rear their children.


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