Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Sex and sexism!

At present, every newspaper, current affairs program and talk back radio show seems to be full of sex, sexism or both.

We have had:
  • The appalling stories of child sexual abuse both within the Catholic church and more broadly in the community, which have led to the announcement of a federal government Royal Commission.  While this is not before time, it will be a massive undertaking and will be in the media for a long time to come.  It is be hoped that raising the community's awareness of the issue will ultimately lead to solutions being found that both reduce the incidence and help the victims recover and also punish the perpetrators and those who have covered up their crimes.
  • The apparently sexually motivated murders of 2 young women in a short period of time which have resulted in marches to end the violence against women, and to 'Reclaim the night' so that women can go out at night safely. Along with this, there was the annual celebration (if that is the right word) of White Ribbon Day last week to raise awareness of broader issues of violence against women.
  • The Prime Minister's now famous 'misogyny' speech aimed at the Leader of the Opposition but which has also led to a heightened awareness of sexism and how it affects attitudes to women and their role in society. 
  • In reflecting on young men and 'date rape', sexual assaults and general hooligan behaviour I heard someone suggesting that adolescent males needed to learn about proper behaviour towards young women.  I thought of a story I heard recently when a 4 year old  told his very sensitive 'new age' father that he was boss of his wife, the boy's mother, probably an idea he had picked up from daycare as it was never an idea even considered in the home.  I think the attitude towards women starts in community attitudes that children pick up long before adolescence and despite recent efforts to educate men and the community in general we have a long way to go. It is probably a case of how people treat each other that is the issue, as violence between men is not appropriate either.
  • Yesterday the Minister for Defence and the Chief of the Armed Forces issued a statement apologising for sexual abuse within the armed Forces and promising to redress the issues.
  • This has been followed by the release today of figures showing the lack of women in senior management positions in Australian companies.  Men hold 2148 line management positions in the top 500 ASX companies compared to 141 women, according to Adele Ferguson in this morning's Age.  In discussing this she raises the issue of women leaving the workforce at least temporarily, to have children and calls for governments to consider the impact their decisions have on working women, including the need for a complete overhaul of the childcare system.  While obviously some employers are more family friendly than others, there is a need for more flexible working arrangements for women and for a range of flexible childcare responses. As a nanny agency we can tailor our services to meet the needs of working families, but we often find we need couples to consider staggering their working hours so that their nannies don't have to 12 or more hours.  Nannies are people with their own lives too, and will quickly burn out if expected to work 60 hour weeks!
Yes, sex and sexism has been in the news and it raises hard issues.  It would be easy to throw up our hands and say 'it is all too hard', or 'that the Government must do something' but it also begins with us. 

As parents, nannies, child care workers we need to:
  • encourage mutual respect between children, and model in our dealings with each other and with children, ways of respectfully behaving.   
  • to practise and teach assertiveness and the recognition of our rights and the rights of others.  
  • be aware of the subtle ways that sexism permeates our attitudes and guard against its influence.  In our picture the boy says 'Mum, I'm wearing the blue dress cos I'm a boy'
It is up to us to create the world we want for our children.

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Australians, a wonderful cultural mix

 I am of English/Irish heritage, from Nineteenth Century immigration.  I like to 'wear the green' on St Patrick's Day but apart from that pay little attention to my cultural background.  This is probably because when I was born i was the dominant culture.  During my primary schooling I sat in classes of 50 or 60, filled with the children of the immediate post World War 2 migration boom.  Apart from the fact that they had different food in their lunch boxes and didn't all speak English, I didn't take much notice of them, I was too busy getting on with my own life.

It became part of our growing up that Greek and Italian families, in particular, were moving into the inner suburbs, buying up houses, digging vegetable gardens and growing vines.  Their children started to go to university, some fulfilling their parents' dreams by becoming doctors and lawyers.  We noticed the growth of the restaurants in Lygon Street, and Brunswick, and gradually our tea drinking was supplemented by coffee drinking and our eating tastes broadened.

New waves of migration brought Turks, Lebanese and South Americans, then as the Vietnam war and White Australia policy ended, first came the Vietnamese and more recently Chinese and Indians, followed by migrants from many parts of Africa.  Gradually the old Anglo-Irish monoculture has been replaced by a multiracial, multicultural society.  It is amazing to think that this transformation has taken place in less that 70 years and while there have been, and continue to be, tensions and difficulties, it has been a generally smooth transition.

Last week I had the pleasure of attending a talk by Alice Pung, the young Australian born writer and lawyer of Cambodian-Chinese heritage.  She spoke very movingly about her father, and his life as a survivor of the killing fields and refugee in Australia.  These stories are contained in her book My Father's Daughter.  Since then I have been reading a book she has edited where many people have shared their experiences of growing up as Asian children in Australia.  Yes, as the first newcomers to look non-European they experienced teasing and racism, but they were also encouraged by their parents to work hard and to succeed.

The enrichment of our culture by the introduction of foods from so many parts of the world is often cited as one of the chief benefits of migration, but the culture has been enriched in many other ways.  Education has opened the way  for the professions and businesses to be filled by the children of the first generation of migrants, friendships formed at school and university cross cultural backgrounds and there are an increasing number of intercultural relationships.

The Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF) promotes the value of 'Cultural Competence', saying:

Cultural competence is much more than awareness
of cultural differences. It is the ability to understand,
communicate with, and effectively interact with
people across cultures.
(p. 16)

That this should happen in Child Care Centres and pre-schools across the country is an important part of the process of understanding, acceptance and tolerance of difference and appreciation of our shared humanity.  At Susan Rogan Family Care, we require that nannies are sensitive to family values and that they work within the EYLF.  For some nannies this has required educating themselves about particular communities, and following dietary and other cultural practices.  For the last 2 years nannies have also been invited to donate books at Christmas to the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre in West Melbourne. 

There are many political questions about migration which are regularly debated and on which people hold strong views.  The first time I saw a woman in a burqa, it was quite confronting but it is more common now although the debate continues about whether it should be allowed.  The fact that we can debate these questions and hold different views is a healthy sign. 

And the fact that our monocultural society has changed forever is also healthy and in our food tastes, festivals and living together we need to celebrate it.

Links you might like:

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Rhymes, Rhythm and Music

A friend said her Maternal and Child Health Nurse commented that she had never heard a 6 month old vocalising as much as her daughter.  Perhaps it would be mean to say, 'like mother, like daughter', but this is probably true. Babies have been regularly engaged in 'conversations' with their parents are much more likely to be early and engaged talkers themselves.  This means active engagement with eye contact and facial expressions as part of the interaction, not just hearing a lot of background talk.

It is also about having fun with sounds.  Responding in pleasure to their noises, imitating back the sounds and describing what you are doing eg 'I'm changing your nappy now.  Yuck what a mess!'

But it also includes the baby rhymes and actions:
Nursery rhymes are great fun, although the range of rhymes we tend to say these days seems to have diminished.  What has happened to
Part of the pleasure of these rhymes is the rhythms that go with the words.  Learning the rhythm of speech is an important part of language learning eg statements are flat, questions go up, instructions are given in a different tone from statements.

Rhythm also invokes actions: clapping, stamping, drum beats, rhythm sticks, rattles and we're starting to get into music, tunes, and more and more complicated rhythms.

If I were asked what I would miss most if I were deaf, obviously the answer would be the voices of my family and friends, but coming in close behind would be music.  Music in all its forms: classical, rock, folk, jazz, opera and the many different traditions that come under the heading of world music.  Making and listening to music is, I think, as old as humankind.  It has been used for recreation, telling stories, religious rituals and as a background to work.  It has the power to soothe when we are tense and stressed, to rouse to action against tyranny and injustice and to lift the spirits when we are sad.  In its different forms it expresses the whole range of human emotions.

While there is a specific genre of children's music with simple, repetitive sounds, even babies will respond to a variety of 'adult' music, and it seems a pity to feed them a constant diet of Wiggles and Hi-5 when this can be varied with so many other sounds, enriching your day and theirs.

How do you use music with children?

Monday, 5 November 2012

Musings about memory and memories

A couple of weeks on holiday and a death in the family, and I have had time to muse about how the memory and the legacy of memories we leave.

The division of memory into short term and long term is commonly accepted, and these days as one approaches 'a certain age' one can become very sensitive to lapses in short term memory, forgetting someone's name; going into a room to fetch something and forgetting what you wanted...the fear of Alzheimer's and related disease is very real.  Our long term memory also tends to fade so memories of our childhood recede, though often when reminiscing with contemporaries or looking at photos, we find we are able to access images and scenes we thought were long gone.

Smell is a sense strongly linked with memory, and especially with those that carry strong emotions.  Remember the smell of the air after rain on a hot day, the aromas of coffee and baking bread that estate agents once used to make buyers more susceptible to a house's charms, Dad's aftershave, Grandma's scent.

There are also memories of physical skills that become so entrenched that we can perform them automatically without consciously recalling each part of the process.  Riding a bicycle is a common example of this, as is driving a manual car without 'bunny hopping'.

As parents, grandparents, nannies, child care professionals we are responsible for moulding the character and behaviours of the children we have in our care, both by our actions and by the role modelling we do. It is amazing to nurse a new born baby and then to watch as that baby grows and develops, both creating memories for us and itself accumulating its own store of memories.

We all know it is no use encouraging children to be kind to other people and in their presence being unkind to someone.  Or having a 'no swearing' policy and then abusing the motorist that cuts us off.  In both these instances, it is not unusual to have a child point out our inconsistency!

When someone dies, many memories are stimulated as people reflect on the person who has died.  This happens even with miscarriages and perinatal births, as once a child is conceived we have a variety of reactions, hopes and fears which centre on the child and the circumstances of its conception and death.  As I have previously written, the death of a child is generally traumatic for all concerned, but all deaths, even peacefully in old age, have an impact on those who have known the person, hence the period of grieving that lingers far beyond the funeral.

I think most of us would want to be remembered as people who are kind, generous, loving, and any of the other attributes we value.  If we achieve great things with our lives for example as scientists, humanitarians, sporting figures we would want these to be remembered.  If our achievements are somewhat more measured we would want to be remembered as people of integrity, living as well as we can.

In Julius Caesar, Shakespeare tells us that "The evil that men do lives after them; The good is oft interred with their bones".  It is terrible to think that this is true of our everyday lives, that all the little things we have done wrong are the things that people remember most about us. I think rather that these misdoings are quite different from those of men like Hitler, Pol Pot, Stalin and Idi Amin.

I read a line in a novel, the title long since forgotten, that lovely old people don't get that way overnight but as the product of their life long way of living.  If that is so, how we are remembered has already started, and the result is in our hands.