Archive for the ‘Philosophy’ Category

42nd Down Under Feminists’ Carnival

November 5, 2011

Welcome to the 42nd edition of the Down Under Feminists’ Carnival!

Down Under Feminists' Carnival logo

Compiling the edition has been an absolute pleasure. It is so inspiring to observe the strength, diversity and passion of feminist voices in Australia and New Zealand. I hope you’ll enjoy reading this collection as much as I have enjoyed putting it together.

So, push your weekend newspapers to one side and sink your teeth into a smorgasbord of deliciously insightful and thought-provoking pieces from October 2011.

October Highlights

Relatively new blogger Contradictory Multitudes has written a beautiful and insighful piece titled Feminism, colonisation and migration: a tale of caution. Here’s an excerpt:

“Let me be clear here: this is not a post about how feminism is bad. It’s not a post about how Indian women can’t be feminists. It’s not a post about how because the practice of feminism has been subject to the same flaws and power-imbalances as the practice of all political organising everywhere – it needs to be abandoned and/or reviled. For me, living in Australia, identifying as a feminist is a protective, productive and strategic decision. What I am highlighting here are the radically different meanings of identifying as a feminist in India and identifying as a feminist in Australia. What I am further trying to tease out are the consequences and effects of identifying as a feminist in Australia if you happen to be a non-indigenous woman of colour.”


In a piece titled Food, fear and power, New Zealand blogger Letters from Wetville talks about the famous food writer Elizabeth David and delves into some interesting discussion about Western society’s relationship with food:

“The ‘good’ person chooses his or her food carefully and modestly, just as they choose their mate carefully and just once. It is no accident that the narratives focusing on the control of food intake focus on women; in a patriarchal society the need to control the physical urges of women is paramount. A woman entirely at home in her own body is a dangerous thing to a power structure which requires endless expenditure on diet foods, gym subscriptions and fashionable clothing.”


Over at The Hand Mirror LudditeJourno sparks a fascinating discussion about pubic hair removal: So how does your lady garden grow?

“A couple of years ago in Wellington’s Comedy Fest, the only humour in common from all the wonderful female comics I went to see were “jokes” about their pubic hair being revolting. This is the bit that is anti-feminist as far as I’m concerned – cultural norms which tell us our ordinary bodies are disgusting and a return to a pre-adult look for our genitals is a must. But our bodies, including our pubic hair? Ours to do what we wish with, of course. Kinda a baseline for feminism.”



In a piece titled The Colour of Poverty, stargazer asks:

“We never get the image of wealthy people of colour giving aid to impoverished white folk. why is that?”


Family/Women’s Work

blue milk writes passionately about the need to continue fighting for the right to breastfeed without harrassment or judgement, in A word about breastfeeding nazis. She writes:

“Until mothers everywhere can incorporate breastfeeding seamlessly into their lives, until mothers can breastfeed and be whole members of our society, until mothers can breastfeed and talk to the leaders of their country at the same time.. we will not have gone far enough.”


In Part 4 of her series on how to plan a feminist wedding, Musings of an Inappropriate Woman argues that the “imaginative work”, and also the bulk of non-imaginative work, involved in putting together the Big Day, is disproportionately done by women: Weddings as Women’s Work.

Posted at feminethicist is a refreshingly honest piece about the difficulties of mothering: Motherhood: Expectations vs. Reality.


General Feminism & Social Justice

Julie from The Hand Mirror talks about the need for strong leadership in activist communities when dealing with issues of rape and sexual abuse within an activist circle: A ramble about unacceptable behaviour in activisty groups. (trigger warnings apply)

Mindy from Hoyden about Town has a go at columnists who ask ‘where are all the feminists?’ in Feminism – we’re doin it rong #1568454876.

Posted at Penguin Unearthed is the extraordinary life story of an exceptional woman who “took her own course through life, and enjoyed the adventure”: Travelling Feminist: Dona Catalina de Erauso who lived 1592-1650.

Maia at The Hand Mirror writes passionately and personally about women and the prison system in New Zealand: Repost: A Feminist Issue.



Zero at the Bone talks about her experiences of racism within the online feminist community and raises some important points about intersectionality and identity and how they are visible (or not) online: Identity, visibility, and the Internet.



At Gladly, the Cross-Eyed Bear, Chrys Stevenson contemplates: what if “same-sex marriage were reframed as a (circa 1960s) argument against inter-racial marriage” in order to highlight narrow-minded homophobia: Allan takes aim at same-sex marriage but he’s shooting blanks.



bluebec talks about feeling like an imposter in study and work situations: Imposter syndrome. She writes:

“The annoying thing, for me anyway, is that this even happens. That many people (often women) have their abilities, knowledge and skills questioned to the point where they don’t feel confident about them, that they question their own worth, abilities, knowledge and skills. I want to live in a world where people’s worth is not questioned, that’d be nice.”


Posted at :- The Conversationalist -: are some useful thoughts and strategies for combating feelings of guilt: My Anti-Guilt Force Field.


Media & Popular Culture

At the news with nipples the media are called out on their sexist bullshit. In this case it’s a story about Qantas strikers and a Playboy model, and a story about Prime Minister Gillard kissing one of her colleagues: MSM finds the big stories just too damn hard.

Posted at bluebec is an analysis of a rather transgressive video clip by Australian band, Bluejuice: Growing older.

A Bee of a Certain Age highlights the lack of gender diversity in Radio NZ’s choice of panellists on its afternoon program: Diversities.



At Hoyden about Town, tigtog discusses some of the racist and exclusionary practices of the SlutWalk movement: Slutwalk: why can’t it be better than this?

Over at Zero at the Bone Chally writes beautifully about being absorbed into whiteness: Translating ourselves back to ourselves.


Reproductive Rights

In a week of pro-choice posts over at The Hand Mirror there are some great articles, including this one which highlights some awful global statistics, attributed to the lack of safe and affordable access to abortion services: Guest post: Let’s have a look at those statistics.

Ideologically Impure rips to shreds an article about the contraceptive pill that appeared on Stuff fail o? the day II: side effects say what?.



As part of Ada Lovelace Day, Mary from Hoyden About Town profiled Mahananda Dasgupta, nuclear fusion researcher.

Mary also presented a fascinating round-up of other prominent women in science and technology: Ada Lovelace Day blasts from the past: the science and technology Hoydens.


The Body

The A Large Pink Woman takes aim at a male academic for his fat-hating comments about The Muppets’ Miss Piggy: Stop harshing my squee with your ignorant fathating, world.

Fat Heffalump begins her series of interviews with women she finds inspiring by talking to Inspirational Women: Bri King, Australian fat activist and Fat Lot of Good blogger.

Fat Heffalump also writes about claiming fat as a positive identity: Breaking Down Fat Stigma: Criticism of Fat as Identity



At Geek Feminism Blog Skud talks about the disturbing prevalence of online harrassment of women: On being harassed: a little GF history and some current events.

Over at the news with nipples there is a critique of the latest anti-rape advice being espoused by the head of NSW Police: If you’re drunk and get raped, you’ve got no one to blame but yourself, says NSW Police Commissioner. She writes:

“Yes, telling people – not just young women – to look out for your mates is a good thing, but most people already do that. It’s a bit frightening to think that NSW Police’s anti-rape strategy is “hey women, don’t get drunk and you won’t get raped, but if you do get drunk and raped then you should take responsibility for your actions”. Not only is that offensive victim-blaming, but it’s telling women that they will be safe from sexual assault if they don’t get drunk, and that is simply bullshit.”



October has seen the Occupy ‘X’ movement gain momentum around the world, including cities in Australia and New Zealand, so I’ve taken the liberty of adding another category to this month’s carnival.

Rush of Sun shares some thought-provoking material about what Occupy Sydney is about and her experiences of the first week of the protest: Occupy Sydney Day 9 – notes. You might also like to check out her notes from other days. I liked reading about her visit to Penrith (an outer suburb of Sydney) and you can check out a video of a fantastic flash mob that took place in Pitt Street Mall last week: Occupy Sydney – Day 15 – Penrith, flash mob, conversations. Inspiring! She writes:

“Occupy is about giving public voice to the voiceless in our society. Most people understand 1%/99% is not broadly representative, but it can be used to rally. It can be used to start a discussion.

Occupy is not perfect, and does not claim to be.

Occupy is not the only method, and doesn’t claim to be.

Occupy inspires me.

Inequality exists in Australia. We must be able to publicly talk about it. Australia is part of a global financial and political system, we do not exist in a bubble.”


At Pondering Postfeminism I shared some of my thoughts during the first week of Occupy Sydney, drawing on some material by scholar Mackenzie Wark to help contextualise the Occupy phenomenon: Occupying Sydney: some initial ponderings.

stargazer discusses Occupy Wall Street from a New Zealand perspective, touching on the raced and classed aspects of the protest: More Occupation.


[Check out the Down Under Feminists’ Carnival website for information about the 43rd edition to be hosted at A Bee of a Certain Age. Submit your November blog posts at blogcarnival! Submissions to dfr141 [at] hotmail [dot] com for those who can’t access blogcarnival.]


Call for Submissions: 42nd Down Under Feminists’ Carnival

October 4, 2011

Down Under Feminists' Carnival logo

Submit posts here!

Pondering Postfeminism is going to be hosting the 42nd Down Under Feminists’ Carnival. The carnival is a monthly collection and celebration of blog posts of feminist interest from around Australia and New Zealand.

Topics include, but are not limited to, class, family, race, reproductive rights, disability, politics, the body, sex, reviews, media, violence and so on.

To share a feminist blog post by an Australian or New Zealand author during the month of October, please submit it to the carnival by clicking here or by emailing me at: drpen.robinson AT

For more information check out the Down Under Feminists’ Carnival website.

Get writing, get reading, and start submitting!

Submit posts here!

on “Throwing Like a Girl”

April 18, 2010

[image source: AlphaPsy blog.]

Feminist writer and philosopher Iris Marion Young once wrote a rather influential essay called Throwing Like a Girl*. It was originally published in 1980, but I first came across it in a gender studies course I did at university about ten years ago. I remember it striking a chord with me, and as it is still a text used in gender studies courses today – we read it this week – I thought I’d share some of it on my blog. I still have the original dog-eared course ‘reader’ from my undergrad days, so I pulled it out recently to see which bits I had highlighted and what sort of comments I’d written in the margins. There are quite a few asterisks, exclamation marks and “yes!”-es scribbled in the pages, alongside Young’s words, attesting to the excitement I felt when I encountered this essay for the first time.

I remember being struck by how much of it rang true for me, particularly Young’s description of the ways women tend to be self-conscious and cautious about their bodies, leading to a feeling of incapacity within themselves. Beginning with the different ways girls and boys throw a ball, Young’s essay is a philosophical (and phenomenological) investigation of embodiment; of how we live in our bodies.

She argues:

“We often experience our bodies as a fragile encumbrance, rather than the media for the enactment of our aims. We feel as though we must have our attention directed upon our bodies to make sure they are doing what we wish them to do, rather than paying attention to what we want to do through our bodies” (146-7).

Young is making a generalisation about Western women and obviously there are exceptions to her claims, but in her words I could (and can) see myself. So often growing up I mistrusted the ability of my body to do things. “Oh, I can’t lift that, I’m not strong enough”, or “I won’t be able to get the ball in the net”, or “I might get hurt”, or “What if I look stupid doing that?”. A self-imposed “I cannot”, is how Young describes it. These are also things that women are taught about their bodies by society. For example, “sit with your knees together”, “that sport is for boys”, and the fact that “you throw/run like a girl” is an insult. These rules and ideas about what’s appropriate and inappropriate for the female body have implications.

Iris Marion Young argues that by looking at the different ways men and women embody their bodies – the way they live in them, move them, sit in them, understand them, how they take up space, etc. – we can get some insights into the way gendered differences play out in our society, to the detriment of women.

“Typically, the feminine body underuses its real capacity, both as the potentiality of its physical size and strength and as the real skills and coordination that are available to it” (148).

The quote above is one that, on first reading ten years ago, I underlined and asterisked. “Yes!”, I realised, “this is how I live my body”. In fact, it is only in recent years that I have begun to truly appreciate and make the most of the capacities of my body. In 2008 I trained for and completed a half-marathon, which was something I never even dreamed I’d be able to do. I was a complete non-runner before I began. I hated sport and anything resembling exercise, largely because I mistrusted my body’s abilities. So it was quite a revelation to discover that, in fact, my body could run, and with training, it could run long distances. Similarly, by attending “Body Pump” classes, where I lift weights on a barbell to music, I have noticed myself feeling stronger and more confident in my body’s abilities.

But it’s not just lack of physical training that leads to women under-utilising their bodies, according to Young. She argues that it is also manifested in the way women sit and take up space. This is easy to observe in daily life. Check out the different ways men and women use their bodies. Public transport is a good place to do this. Men take up more space when sitting, they generally take longer strides when walking. Women tend to sit cross-legged and hold their hands and arms close to their bodies.

Young attributes these differing modes of movement and use of space to a number of factors. She argues that women are conditioned by sexist society to limit their bodily capacity. For example, she says that girls play games that are largely sedentary and enclosing, and that they aren’t encouraged to develop bodily skills in the same way boys are.

But her key argument is that women are trained into fragility and self-consciousness because they are objectified.

“the fact that the woman lives her body as object as well as subject. The source of this is that patriarchal society defines woman as object, as a mere body, and that in sexist society women are in fact frequently regarded by others as objects and mere bodies. An essential part of the situation of being a woman is that of living the ever-present possibility that one will be gazed upon as a mere body, as shape and flesh that presents itself as the potential object of another subject’s intentions and manipulations, rather than as a living manifestation of action and intention. The source of this objectified bodily existence is in the attitude of others regarding her, but the woman herself often actively takes up her body as a mere thing. She gazes at it in the mirror, worries about how it looks to others, prunes it, shapes it, molds and decorates it.

This objectified bodily existence accounts for the self-consciousness of the feminine relation to her body and resulting distance she takes from her body” (155).

She goes further than this to suggest that women in contemporary society experience a constant tension and contradiction between their subjectivity and their existence as a passive bodily object, an object of the gaze, a sexual object. Here she is discussing philosophical ideas of immanence (being-in-itself) and transcendence (being-for-itself), and drawing upon Simone de Beauvoir’s discussion of these terms. For Young, the way women move – the way they throw a ball – can be explained with reference to the “tension between transcendence and immanence, between subjectivity and being a mere object” (144) that women experience.

“To the extent that a woman lives her body as a thing, she remains rooted in immanence, is inhibited, and retains a distance from her body as transcending movement and from engagement in the world’s possibilities” (150).

Young also points out that as well as the threat of objectification that women live with, “she also lives the threat of invasion of her body space. The most extreme form of such spatial bodily invasion is the threat of rape. But we daily are subject to the possibility of bodily invasion in many far more subtle ways as well. It is acceptable, for example, for women to be touched in ways and under circumstances that it is not acceptable for men to be touched, and by persons – i.e., men – whom it is not acceptable for them to touch. I would suggest that the enclosed space that has been described as a modality of feminine spatiality is in part a defense against such invasion” (155).

One example I can think of here occurs quite frequently when meeting new people. Often, I find, when men are greeting one another, a handshake will suffice. But when greeting/meeting women, a kiss on the cheek is the norm. I don’t always find this offensive, but it is sometimes alarming when it is presumed okay to kiss me when I’m meeting you for the first time! Get out of my space, person I don’t know! Does this happen to anyone else? Someone told me the other day that I should just insist on a handshake by offering my hand assertively. I think I’ll give it a try. But I think it’s a useful illustration of the way women’s bodily space is considered different to men’s.

There’s probably a lot more I could say about Iris Marion Young’s essay – perhaps something about how I don’t think women are rooted in immanence in the same way as they were before feminism came along – but I’ll leave it there for now. Please share your thoughts about gendered differences in bodily comportment. Would love to hear your experiences. Do you throw like a girl?

*Iris Marion Young, “Throwing Like a Girl: A Phenomenology of Feminine Body Comportment, Motility, and Spatiality”, in Throwing Like a Girl and Other Essays in Feminist Philosophy and Social Theory, Bloomington, Indiana University Press, 1990.

Thinking gender

March 17, 2010

Over at one of my favourite blogs, Sociological Images, there’s a recent post that demonstrates the way our bodies, our anatomy become gendered. It uses an example of some anatomical drawings of male and female bodies. Have a look.

I’m currently tutoring in a course about gender, and we have been examining the way cultural understandings of “masculine” and “feminine” affect the way we think about our bodies, our biology, our anatomy. The diagrams from Sociological Images are a really good representation of the ways in which bodies and our understandings of them are influenced by the culture we live in.

To show another example – one that the lecturer in my course used – have a look at the Pioneer Plaque.

[picture source: wikipedia]

I hadn’t seen these plaques before but I find them fascinating. They are aluminium plaques that were attached to the Pioneer spacecrafts in 1972, in case they happen to come across alien life forms on their journey. The pictures on the plaque represent a human female and male standing side by side. But it’s not as simple as that.

There are a lot of things to say about this image, but what stood out for me, especially after seeing the Soc Images picture is the way that the man and woman are positioned.

Look at the way they are standing! The male body (like the one in the anatomical drawings) is standing front on with weight distributed relatively evenly across both feet. The female body, on the other hand, is balanced mostly on one foot and she is not looking directly ahead. In both images, the female body appears more passive and somewhat sexualised – particularly in the anatomical drawing where her hip is thrust out. (There’s quite a long thread of discussion and disagreement about these images at the Sociological Images site.)

There has also, obviously, been a lot written about the way bodies are depicted in art and the media before. For example, Mulvey’s influential argument about the “male gaze”, discusses the way women are very often depicted from a male heterosexual point of view. I think it’s interesting to think of these ideas in relation to other representations too.

Apart from her somewhat passive stance, the female human on the Pioneer plaque is also not participating in the male’s apparent “greeting” to the lucky aliens who might stumble across this strange piece of metal in outerspace. I also love how there are various scientific symbols and concepts depicted on the plaque. Hi aliens, here is a representation of the “hyperfine transition of hydrogen”! Most humans wouldn’t be able to decipher this thing – how are aliens going to make sense of it?

Perhaps the following will require a separate blog entry for context, but I’d like to finish with a short quote from the fantastic feminist philosopher, Moira Gatens. It’s from a chapter where she’s critiquing the sex/gender distinction that a lot of feminist theory uses (yep, separate post needed) but I think it’s helpful to relate her work to the above images.

“Masculinity and femininity as forms of sex-appropriate behaviours are manifestations of a historically based, culturally shared phantasy about male and female biologies, and as such, sex and gender are not arbitrarily connected” (1996: 13).

Gatens, Moira, 1996, Imaginary Bodies, London: Routledge

Pondering Beauvoir

February 5, 2010

“One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman”

I just read an interesting piece about a new translation of Simone de Beauvoir’s classic and influential feminist text, The Second Sex.

The article by Toril Moi provides some insight into the way so much nuance and meaning can be lost in translation. But I won’t discuss that in detail here.

What I want to share is the following excerpt which neatly summarises Beauvoir’s key contributions to feminist thought:

In The Second Sex Beauvoir formulates three principles and applies them to women’s situation in the world. First is her foundational insight that man ‘is the Subject, he is the Absolute: she is the Other.’ Man incarnates humanity; woman, by virtue of being female, deviates from the human norm. The consequence is that women constantly experience a painful conflict between their humanity and their femininity.

The next principle is that freedom, not happiness, must be used as the measuring stick to assess the situation of women. Beauvoir assumes that woman, like man, is a free consciousness. In so far as the status of Other is imposed on her, her situation is unjust and oppressive. But with freedom comes responsibility: when women consent to their own oppression and help to oppress other women, they are to be blamed. The epigraph to the second volume is ‘Half victims, half accomplices, like everyone else’, a line from Sartre’s 1948 play, Dirty Hands. But Beauvoir’s true yardstick is concrete freedom: institutions and practices are to be judged ‘from the point of view of the concrete opportunities they offer the individual’. Abstract equality (the right to vote, for example) is not enough: to turn freedom into reality, women must also have the health, education and money they need to make use of their rights.

Finally, there is the insight that women are not born but made, that every society has constructed a vast material, cultural and ideological apparatus dedicated to the fabrication of femininity. Throughout The Second Sex Beauvoir attacks ‘femininity’ in the sense of patriarchal or normative femininity. To her, a ‘feminine’ woman is one who accepts herself as Other; ‘femininity’ is the badge of the unfree. For women to be free, ‘femininity’ must disappear. Taken together, Beauvoir’s major insights are the foundation of modern feminism. Whether they acknowledge it or not, all contemporary feminists build on Beauvoir’s achievement.

[extract from Toril Moi’s discussion in the ‘London Review of Books’ of a new English translation of Beauvoir’s ‘The Second Sex’.]

I have a yellowing paperback copy of The Second Sex that I once picked up somewhere for 2 bucks. I’m hesitant to admit that I’ve not read it. I mean, I wrote a thesis about generations of feminism (well, kinda) and I haven’t even read one of modern feminism’s founding works?! What a charlatan!

Well, I’m just glad that there are wonderful academics like Toril Moi out there, who can translate the translations for me. 🙂

As a bit of a side note, I’m thinking of adding a section to this new blog of mine where I’ll post about a particular person (perhaps feminist) whom I think needs to be talked about more, or who has influenced my understanding of feminism and postfeminism. It could be called something like “feminist of the week”, but I’d prefer something catchier and broader, while still sticking to the “of the week” idea so that I’m forced against my procrastinatory will to write at least *one* post a week. Suggestions welcome.

Perhaps this entry can be the first in the series. Feminist of the week: Simone de Beauvoir