Saturday, October 8, 2011

Sometimes it's hard to be a woman.

When did women's rights start taking the right to choose away from a woman?

If we talk about the abortion debate, the end result should be that women have the right to choose, not that it be mandatory.

If we talk about gay marriage, the end result should be that same sex couples have the right to choose whether to get married, not that it be mandatory.

If we talk about any social reform, the result is that there are options, choices, for those affected. Never that it be the ONLY option or choice available. As far as I can tell, that's the reason we are having these debates, because there are so few choices available. It's to broaden the choices, to extend the options.

I am a woman.

As a women, I am proud of those who came before me and fought tooth and nail for my right to have choices. I have the choice to be a parent, the choice to marry, the choice to study, the choice to have a career, the choice to do or be anything I am capable of. Sounds good doesn't it?

Here's the problem.

I often feel that women are taking choice away from other women.

If I choose to be a stay at home mum, cook nice meals and iron clothes for my husband, while home-schooling my children, am I less of a woman? Am I giving those women who fought for my rights less than I should?

If I choose to have a baby but not breastfeed, return to work within 3 months, while my partner stays at home with the baby, am I being a terrible example of womanhood? Am I denying my 'mothering instincts' by shackling my poor partner to the house?

If I choose to stay single, never marry and follow my career all the way to the top, am I selfish? Have my choices made me too 'masculine' and 'hard'? Am I denying my softer side and making choices I will be sure to regret later in life?

A man would have far less scrutiny placed on their life, their decisions and their chosen path. It's not even other men who make the negative statements about women. It's other women!

When did our choices reduce our worth? When did we stop being able to make our own choices and start relying on other women to tell us what we should be doing? Why are we being forced to deny our instincts and use only our heads when making decisions?

There are benefits to being a woman that men will never have. Our bodies have cycles. This means many things; for example if we choose to we can produce a baby, but the most important thing is that the nature of our cycle means we are more in tune with our physicality. There is strength in that knowledge which men cannot replicate.

We are more intuitive. It's a fact. Our 'gut feeling' rarely leads us astray and should enable us to make more informed choices in our journey through life.

We are generally more empathetic. A huge advantage in any area directly related to humanity.

Those are the most obvious differences between men and women. Men are not without their own strengths, it's why a world with equal contribution from the sexes would be so ideal. We bring different skills to the table.

Oh dear, I mentioned a table. No, it's not in my kitchen and I am not tied by the apron strings to it.

The concern I have is that there is a feeling I have (yes, it's my intuition at work) that women, particularly those from the feminist movement, would like those differences to be eliminated. For some it appears that equality means conformity. When did that happen?

When did my right to choose to be referred to as one of the 'ladies' become something to be sneered at. Apparently it's origins are steeped in negative connotations as it was originally a reference to the 'Lady of the house'. So? I AM the lady of the house. My husband is the man of the house and my children are the children of the house. That doesn't mean I spend every waking minute beside the kitchen sink or up to my armpits in bread making ingredients. Any more than it means my husband does.

I also like to be called MRS DALL'OSTO. Not Ms. I dislike the sound that word makes and it's wishy washy feel. But that's just me. That's MY choice. Why take it away from me?

I have to choose Ms because it makes me equal to the man. Seriously? How? By labelling me with a title I do not like, somehow that's empowering? Telling me that my choice makes me a bad parent to my daughters because I am somehow elevating the standing of the 'man of the house'? How is teaching my daughters that this incredible movement that began before them, before me, gave them the right to choose how they would like to be titled dis-empowering them in any way?

I do not like to be called chick, babe, hun or slut. Obviously the last example is a pretty extreme one and I don't think I've ever heard it in reference to myself. Still, none of those make me feel good about myself, so I let people know. You know what? They stop using them. It's how it should be. You simply tell others what you would, or wouldn't like to be called and that's as simple as it needs to be.

It seems to me that women have unrealistic expectations of how this all should work?

If you are a woman, please take note of the following.

If you see a woman with 4 kids trailing her in the supermarket, wearing clothes from 5 seasons ago and trying to choose between wholemeal flour and white flour, do not judge her. She has a hard enough job, trying to balance her time between her children so that none feel left out, struggling to keep a tidy home, balance the budget, worrying about the future of the children she is raising and all the while she feels insignificant and sometimes worthless.

If you see a women in a work uniform, dropping her young baby off at day care, do not judge her. Think instead of the difficulties inherent in her life. The fact that she has chosen to work at home, still cooking and cleaning (because equality still has a way to go in the household), then working at her job (which she is probably undervalued in), all the while having to cope with the usual issues that raising a child inherently has.

If you see a woman in a business suit, walking along the city street, talking on her phone, oblivious to the fact that she just rudely bumped into you, do not judge her. She may well be late for her 4th meeting of the day, feels like she is always one step away from losing her job and the career she has fought for and every day wondering if she is a valued as the men she works beside.

Truthfully, if each of these women made their choices happily, they should feel strong and powerful. Each example is one of a person integral to our society. A worthy individual and a role model to all young women and girls.

We women need to stop pitying, denigrating and looking down on other women. We need to continue to fight for the right we should all have to choose our own pathways through life. We need to ensure that women are protected by other women in those choices and that they understand how much worth they truly have.

These women, all women, deserve better.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The future for our youth on the South Side.

Three weeks ago I received a phone call from Hambledon House. As the Secretary of Edmonton Playgroup I was asked to open up the Graham Street Playgroup Hall for viewing. The reason? 99 Consulting have been given the job of reviewing all facilities in the area for a report into what is required for the youth of the region. This is a 20 year plan and I was keen to be part of the process. I met with Kylie Bock from Hambledon House and Helen Wallace from 99 Consultancy and showed them the venue.

It's a small hall. It has a nice kitchen and a great patio, a large sandpit fills most of the outside fenced area and there is a good sized shed there filled to the brim (that wording is no exaggeration by the way) with toys and kids play equipment.

Essentially, it is exactly what it professes to be. A Playgroup Hall. There are 5 separate playgroups which operate from the facility, one for each weekday. It is available for hire on the weekends to everyone in the community through Playgroup Queensland in Woree and we are grateful every day that the CRC has allowed this hall to continue to be used in the way it currently is.

While wandering about talking through the points of interest in the hall, we began to talk about the proposed plan. Talk moved on from the age group of Playgroup and we began to discuss the real problems for the youth of the south side. The question was then posed; If your children were teenagers and you still lived here, what would you recommend needs to be built or facilitated to suit their needs?

Half an hour later I had answered the question in full. This is a real problem for this area and one I have talked about, consulted about and thought about for a very long time. I have spoken to parents who are desperate for an outlet for their kids. I have spoken to teachers who are locked in a battle with kids on a daily basis and are desperate for assistance. I have spoken to teenagers who have nothing to do, nowhere to go and no connection with the community they live in. It's no surprise that my answer therefore, was a long one.

From there we parted ways.

Last week I received another phone call. This one from another consulting company, Fieldworx. Leanne was interesting in meeting with me. She had been told that I had some ideas and was connected to the community so she wanted to arrange a time for us to discuss my views.

Monday afternoon I met with Leanne and Eleesa. They asked the same question I had answered a few weeks before. My answer?

Build a YOUTH HUB within the walls of the Leisure Centre.

This facility is an ideal host for a multi-service hub for several reasons. Firstly, it's position is right in the middle of the entire community. Secondly, it boasts many distinct areas frequented by teens all around it, one of the reasons an expansion of Hambledon House would not work. Youth aged between 10 and 18 will not seek out a specific venue for assistance with anything. It's a well known fact and discussion with that particular age group confirms it. On the other hand, if they happen to stumble across it, that's a whole different scenario.

Thirdly, the Leisure Centre has not been built. In it's current stage it is able to cope with the adjustments that the addition of a small youth facility would entail. It was actually offered as a proposed inclusion quite a while ago but the lack of communication with those who would be utilising it took it out of the equation. Put it back in. Simple.

Lastly, as part of the Leisure Centre it would have the benefit of being associated with health and wellbeing. That is an ideal mind space for it to take up as the primary use of it would be as a referral base to aid and assist young people who are 'at risk' in many areas from mental heath, physical health, scholastic assistance to building and maintaining healthy relationships.

Beyond that we need facilities to support one another.

Better, more specialised transportation for youth so that they can attend courses and programs in the city area.

Broader appeal in the sporting arena with the inclusion of a skate park and bmx track and the potential to offer rainforest walks and bushwalking tours.

The beginning of some form of arts in the area. There is not one space to practice any artistic pursuit on the south side. Nothing. No music, no art, no theatre, nothing. Some of those could be facilitated right here but others will need to be part of the plan to offer transportation to the city, as mentioned previously.

Then there is the final and most important part. Some kind of meeting space, chill out area for youth to congregate in, access services, access computers and access reading material. Things that we all assume are available in the home but more often than we realise, are not. Whether this is part of the hub or not remains to be seen but it must happen. Perhaps the area at the back of the Sugarworld entrance building would be ideal.

Half way through the meeting I realised that the ideas I had gathered, and the methods this company had used before successfully, were almost identical. If I had not met with these two women I believe it would not have mattered much at all. They already had a plan, and the plan was a good one. They despaired at the 'last century' methods so many areas employ as they simply do not work. Lack of consultation with those who will be using the facilities was a prime reason that past ideas were unsuccessful. The fact that so many areas grow quickly without thought given to potential problems or forward thinking infrastructure was another.

After 2 hours of productive conversation, they headed out to the Gordonvale HUB. From previous experience I know that this facility is a very good one and I am sure they were impressed by the staff, under the expert guidance of Mark Edwards and Sarah Gosling, and the programs held within the walls.

Today they spent the morning with the many and varied youth facilitators from the region. More good ideas flowed and the plan is starting to take shape.

My input may not be used at all. The fact that I was part of the conversation is enough for me. To know that those in charge of this process are enthusiastic, knowledgeable and have such great ideas, with experience to match, is enough for me to rest easy, sure in the belief that the final plan submitted to Council Officers will be a good one. For the region and, most importantly, for our youth, it's a long overdue step in the right direction.

*Special thanks to Kylie Bock and the staff at Hambledon House, Tanya Brooks-Cooper, those who offered their ideas on my FB page, in personal conversations and via e-mail and the young people of Bentley Park and Edmonton who contributed greatly to the outcome of this post. Without their assistance I could not have taken part in this at all.