Pregnant women and new mothers dismissed from work

About half of women in Australia still lose their jobs or get heavily ‘restructured’ after falling pregnant or giving birth. Many get small payouts in return for never talking about it. This is unbelievable.

Is this what we want for women in the 21st century in Australia? If you have a daughter or sister would you want them to suffer the same fate? Can you imagine men enduring this?

This is almost what happened to me. Some of you know my story and many haven’t heard it yet (but I’m most definitely going to keep talking about it for decades to come!). In the end I gained my job back within a few weeks by working with my union and the HR department of my employer.

I still don’t know what will happen when I return from maternity leave. I suspect I’ll be treated with a mixture of contempt and ostracism. So I guess that other 50% doesn’t really fare well either: well paying and satisfying part-time jobs are difficult to find or maintain (don’t I know this too!) and the rest of us simply have to put up with being treated as less important creatures, as workers who aren’t really serious about their job (I got this accusation already), or we simply have to make do with whatever restructured position we can sustain.

Just be happy you still have a job, get paid and don’t have to accept conditions that are completely out of balance with your experience and expertise. Right. Better suck it up, right?

“There are two times in which these redundancies are most likely to happen,” said Kamal Farouque, principal of employment & industrial law at Maurice Blackburn Lawyers. “When the woman is on a period of maternity leave or soon after she has returned to work.

“The employer thinks that it’s a lot easier if they restructure, make the person redundant and get rid of the perceived “problem”’.

You don’t have to spend much time around new mothers to hear stories of “restructures” that just happened to coincide with them getting pregnant and taking parental leave.

Fifty per cent of the women in my mothers’ group were made redundant soon after they announced their pregnancy or while they were on maternity leave.

‘Women’s role in child-bearing supports all of us. I urge people to look at it in the broader context. Children represent all of our futures and it’s incumbent on all of us to support mothers.’

Broderick says that both male and female employers need to ask what they would want for their own daughters.

“Do you want them to be an engaged mother and be in paid work? If that’s what you want then we need to all support that in the work environment,” says Broderick. “If we can’t accommodate mothers then we’ll lose them and Australia cannot afford to lose their skills and experience from the labour market.’

Unlawful dismissal isn’t just another aspect of motherhood to be endured in silence. It’s an assault on women’s collective power and wellbeing and damaging to the nation as a whole.”

Breastfeeding through the ages

It was wonderful to find this article through someone’s recommendations through the Australian Breastfeeding Association’s FB pages (an association I’m now a member of… and really enjoy their gatherings).

It’s fascinating and sociologically interesting how breastfeeding has changed through the ages.

Until close to Modernity there was no reliable substitute for breastmilk. From what I’ve been reading it seems that prehistorical humans breastfed their babies exclusively til 6 months and then coupled with pre-chewed food til about 2 years of age. Not incidentally current breastfeeding recommendations are the same: exclusively til 6 months, with food on the side til 2 years. Also important that pre-chewing transfers bacteria and aids in establishing a good microbial flora in children (I do do some of this myself). I suspect prehistoric women shared breastfeeding, cross-feeding each other’s babies as necessitated by circumstances.

Later some substitutes were found: the milk of other animals, almond milk etc. wet nurses were also used for at least hundreds of years: privileged families hiring or paying other lactating women to breastfeed their babies instead of them. Perhaps this was also an arrangement when someone couldn’t breastfeed or a mother died during birth.

Then came early 20th century and both purée-led weaning (my deliberately snarky misnomer) and commercial formulas. This century eventually also brought a new cultural trend: preferring the ‘scientifically formulated’ cow milk based formula to breastfeeding. The former being considered ‘civilized’ and more nutritionally sound, which is now difficult to believe knowing so much about the special benefits and characteristics of human breastmilk.

The latter, breastfeeding, became considered ‘animalistic’, ‘uncivilized’ and an unnecessary burden on mothers.

Today the trend has turned back again: generally speaking breastfeeding is now promoted by health authorities as the healthier option for both mother and baby. Formula is not only considered inferior but in some circles it is frowned upon and the formula feeding mother is considered negligent, lazy or morally reprehensible which puts a lot of pressure on mothers to breastfeed, even when there are many strong hurdles or counterindications from medications for the mother (that would pass into her milk and make baby sick) to illness or inability to breastfeed, not to mention individual choice to not to or to giving up before 6 months or 2 years.

I do realise the positive image of breastfeeding and gentle push to continue end up benefitting many babies, even though very few workplace arrangements or maternity leave schemes allow for the reasonable continuation of such a practice beyond a few months.

So in such a historical period and with such a knowledge of precious anti-breastfeeding norms it is amazing to find that in the mid 1800s many American women got themselves photographed nursing their babies. In fact, it seems this was a temporary fashion trend even though early photographs were achieved via the difficult process of sitting motionless for ten minutes, a difficult feat with a small baby!

Breastfeeding women’s photos in Victorian-era America

The more these images spread online the more breastfeeding advocates and happily breastfeeding mothers will enjoy looking back in time and feeling a connection with these women and their pride in giving their babies precious milk from their bodies. I’m slightly in awe (mixed with confusion) of how women could breastfeed in corsets!!!



Cleaning up the oceans

Cleaning up the oceans

The oceans are suffering from a variety of human created problems. We tend to think of the oceans as these vast, clean, empty spaces, but the reality is very different. Our planet greatly depends on the health of the oceans. Oceans teem with an extraordinary variety of life, and the oceans are suffering greatly, they aren’t clean anymore. In fact they suffer from pollution of all sorts: chemical, plastic, household items, ecological (introduced species), even noise (military sonars send whales beaching themselves on mass or unable to communicate).

On top of these there’s acidification, algal blooms etc, all issues that can be improved with more care: acidification is a hard one as we need to reduce our carbon footprint overall so atmospheric CO2 can stop rising so rapidly. Algal blooms are a bit easier, we can demand companies to be more environmentally friendly and stop fertiliser runoffs into waterways. We can also put pressure on federal and local politicians to clean up the coastline and implement more environmentally friendly politics. We can also stop or reduce consuming items that directly contribute to poisoning the oceans: meat, plastic wrappings etc.

“A non profit group announced on May 14th that a global “ocean clean up” effort on Sept. 15, 2012 netted an astonishing 5,000 tons of trash.
Among the pieces of rubbish collected were more than 2 million cigarette butts and filters, 4,159 candles, 40 lottery tickets and 2,492 baseballs.”

Here are ten ways that can help clean up the oceans. We can all do our bit.

sexualising women in ads is NOT empowering

“Advertising would feel slightly more ridiculous if men were sexualized the way women are…” starts out the blurb for this video compiled by University of Saskatchewan students, presumably from the Gender Studies department.

The argument is contentious, of course, as the underlying issues are more complex than can be wrapped into a short video. Still, the main points stand: women are sexualised in ads in a way men tend not to be, some of these ads are demeaning and go hand in hand with a still patriarchal outlook in society that devalues what women are and do and value highly what men are and do.

New wave (was it third or fourth??) feminism advocates that women play with their sexuality and own it, and perhaps sexualised ads can be perceived as playing with that sexuality from a confident female perspective. I wonder though how many of these sexualised ads can be perceived as empowering though? This video is useful: if the gender roles are swapped to that of men and the result is empowering as opposed to ridiculous or demeaning, then, perhaps then, the ads are empowering… but they aren’t, they are ridiculous because culturally men are inherently powerful and women are not. Still.

Creative artistic response

Creative artistic response
This is wonderful. A woman who often gets ridiculed turns her wit and creativity on those who scorn her.

“For about a year, I’d been taking pictures of strangers’ reactions to me in public for a series I called “Wait Watchers.” I was interested in capturing something I already knew firsthand: If the large women in historical art pieces were walking around today, they would be scorned and ridiculed.

So I found a crowded crosswalk farther down La Rambla, used my rangefinder camera to set the exposure and focus of where I would stand, and handed the camera to my assistant. I bought a cup of gelato and began eating it. I’ve learned I get more successful reactions if I am “doing” something.

In my peripheral vision, I saw a teen girl waiting for the signal to cross the street. As I stood there, eating my ice cream, I heard a repetitive “SLAP, SLAP, SLAP” of a hand on skin. I signaled to my assistant to shoot. It was only when I returned home to Memphis and got the film developed that I realized the sound was the girl hitting her belly as she watched me eat. She did this over and over. I have five frames of her with various facial expressions. I called the resulting image “Gelato.”

“I do not know what the strangers are thinking when they look at me.  But there is a Henri Cartier-Bresson moment when my action aligns with the composition, the shutter and their gaze that has a critical or questioning element.  Even though they are in front of a camera, they feel they have anonymity because they are crossing behind me.

And I don’t get hurt when I look at the images. I feel like I am reversing the gaze back on to them to reveal their gaze. I’m fine with who I am and don’t need anyone’s approval to live my life. I only get angry when I hear someone comment about my weight and the image does not reflect the criticism. That’s frustrating: when I didn’t get the shot.”

Pictures of people who mock me