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The weight of gender November 13, 2010

Posted by Amanda in Fashion, Observations, Personal, Uncategorized.
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Is it a boy or a girl?

It’s the first question someone asks when you have a baby – or even before. These days the gender question might be answered well before birth. It goes along with “do you have a preference for what you have?”

It must be so common to find out the sex of the baby that we had to ask what we’d had in the delivery room because no-one told us.

But since the moment they said “It’s a girl”, I’ve felt the weight of responsibility for bringing up a child of the female sex.

If you had asked me in my younger years whether I wanted a boy or a girl, I probably would have strongly preferred a girl. There are a number of reasons for this – I only have a sister, I went to an all girls school. I didn’t really grow up with boys and I think for a long time I didn’t really ‘get’ boys.

But when it came to realising that we were actually having a child, it mattered less and less. My only reason for preferring a girl was that we could agree on a name – something that eluded us for a boy.

Unlike many other cultures, it seems the preference for girls in western nations is quite common. I was surprised at the number of people who expressed a hope that I’d have a girl and I’ve heard parents almost defending why it’s good to have boys.

The marketing of baby goods is strongly skewed towards girls – go to any clothing department or baby market and the products for girls outnumber those for boys many times over.

I feel real pressure in bringing up a girl child. How do I instill in her the strength she’ll need to stand up for herself in this world where men still have so much of the power and influence? How do I help her to avoid the crippling problems of self-esteem and body image that I suffered? Can I let her know that being intelligent is a good thing for a girl and playing dumb isn’t a way to get through your teenage years?

Perhaps these are all problems that I’d have to teach a boy as well, but having a girl, I directly relate it to my own experience.

But the first issue I have to face is dressing this little being – I’ve never been a ‘girly-girl’. I remember loathing pink throughout my childhood and now I eschew anything that is overly feminine or that might cast me in a role of femininity that is contrary to how I’d like to be perceived.

During my pregnancy I was quite outspoken about my feelings about pink and haven’t been given much in that particular hue. But within me there is still a battle in my mind as to how we dress her.

When she was in hospital, she wore mostly gender neutral suits but on the day we brought her home, I put her in a dress for the first time and it shocked me to have her put so clearly into the gender box. Do I just accept that I dress differently from Chris and that’s the way the world is, or should I avoid the fripperies of so much female clothing? And then there’s the aesthetic part of me that wants her to look good – anyone who’s seen my wardrobe would understand that it’s something I care about and enjoy.

I suppose the only thing I have to fall back on is my own upbringing  In my recollection, my parents never tried to strongly put us in the girly camp. My dad took my sister and I hiking and surfing, and we requested and received more lego, car tracks and sporting equipment than we did dolls – or at least I recall preferring those toys.

Perhaps that’s the model I need to take with my daughter – don’t ask her to be feminine or not, just let her be what she is.




Co-housing – dream to reality June 19, 2010

Posted by Amanda in Uncategorized.
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Welcome to my old dead blog. Maybe I should resurrect it. Thanks to Kathleen, Pete and Memily for giving me something to post even if it is three years old.

This is an article I wrote about co-housing. Since the article was written I’m not sure how much has changed, but I know Sarah and Brian are still there and recently had a baby. As far as I know it’s going well.

Last September, nine people, two cats and four chickens moved into a block of flats with a vision not just to live next door to one another, but to share their lives and resources. This suburban street in Annerley is the site of one of Brisbane’s newest co-operative housing experiments.

There are a growing number of these urban “intentional communities” springing up around Australia. Many see communal housing as a viable option to combat the increasing loneliness of urban societies and to positively impact the wider community.

For the Annerley group, the decision to share a space came out of many years of dreaming and an earlier co-owned house that didn’t allow for expansion. In the end it came down to the tenacity of Sarah Eastwell who doggedly searched for the perfect place for her utopian dream.  The block of four flats was eventually purchased by five of the current residents.

The large back yard is strewn with play tents, swings and toys as well as a complex chicken run and the remains of a demolished BBQ.  It serves as the communal area for the residents who congregate around rickety wooden tables and tell tales of impromptu night gardening sessions after work.

Eastwell says that she was motivated by the realisation that her social circle was shrinking.

“As we got older, our friends had children and moved to the suburbs and we didn’t see one another anymore,” she says.

Eastwell’s partner Brian Murphy lives in the community as a non-owner and describes her as the ‘burning soul’ who brought the project together.

“Sarah is the key instigator, the catalyst, the chairman, the banker. It really did take one visionary,” he says.

Sarah has always enjoyed share-housing and the informal interactions that come from having other people around.  She says their flats allow all participants to have their own space but still have the social advantages of a share house. She finds the idea of a nuclear family isolating.

She says that this model takes the pressure off her relationship because she is not reliant on her partner for company and it allows her to spend more time with her sister and her niece who also live in the community.

“This is almost like a chosen family, which can work so much better because you have similar ideals and values which you don’t always share with your own family. It makes the concept of family a bit broader,” she says.

Dr Bill Metcalf started exploring communal living after the Aquarius festival at Nimbin in 1973. Over the last 20 years he has lived in a variety of intentional communities and as a social historian, he has spent more than 20 years studying them. He is currently researching the history of communal living in Australia. He says that communal living has changed since the stereotypical communes of the 1960s and 1970s.

“People have a vision of somebody at Nimbin smoking dope and wearing gumboots but there are many other options,” he says.

Metcalf says one of these options is a movement termed ‘co-housing’. He says it is the way of the future for communal living. Co-housing involves urban developments of inter-connected townhouses or apartments. Each family or resident has their own living space, but relationships are developed through shared facilities such as kitchens, dining rooms and child care facilities. Members maintain a level of privacy but are encouraged to participate in community meals and other activities.

Metcalf says that a shared vision and communal meals are the keys to successful communities. He believes that the sharing of meals is fundamental to communal living as it encourages communication and cooperation between the members of a cooperative.

Shared visions may be religious beliefs, environmental concern or simply a desire to stay connected with others, He says that the vision must include a conviction that sharing is good and is a moral responsibility.

Metcalf says that communal living is like any important close relationship,

“If you think you can be in a relationship and it will all be roses. It ain’t like that, you have to put energy in and you have the downs and the ups,” he says.

One of the greatest challenges faced by residents of intentional communities is the establishment of appropriate boundaries between personal and communal spaces.

Boundaries have been a cause of tension for marketing academics Terry and Rosie Gatfield who, along with their daughter Emma, son-in-law Steve Lamar and their three children, moved to adjoining houses on a hillside at the Gap four years ago.

The Gatfields had long had a vision of a “clan house” for their extended family where they could live communally. The project stems from a Christian faith that says everything should be shared and family is central to this vision.

Terry has found that community living is a place of growth and great pain. He says that pain comes from letting go of the expectations that he had about community living that are not shared by those around him.

“You start off with an unwritten contract that I had firm in my own mind but it doesn’t get realised in other people’s minds,” he says.

Terry had expected that boundaries would be looser and that the space would be shared more freely.

“If boundaries are that important, you should not go down that path,” says Terry.

But, psychologist son-in-law Steve says that he still feels some need to protect the identity of his nuclear family and he has struggled with the open attitude of his wife’s father.

“For Terry it is relatively boundary-less, your space is my space, my time is your time, it comes from his Christian framework, he is very idealistic about that,” he says.

The children who are a part of this experiment have adjusted to community living well and at times have shown their parents and grandparents the way.

“ Children work out community in the most natural way of all of us, they just buzz in and out. As a result of that, on a Saturday morning, the three kids might disappear and we discover they are watching TV in Terry and Rosie’s bedroom.  For our kids, they see Terry and Rosie’s house as much their house as our house”, says Steve.

His wife Emma, an artist, says her children have a much closer relationship with their grandparents.

She says, “When you are family, it naturally kicks over into community in lots of ways. For example (my son) Toby has breakfast there almost every day”.

Grandmother Rosie says that western societies have lost something, now that having an extended family close by is no longer common.

” Reclaiming something beyond the nuclear family is just wonderful. People are giving that up now and they don’t know what they are giving up. This is not abnormal in a lot of communities, it is normal,” she says.

There are plans to refurbish an empty house on the property for use by other family members, one of whom is expected to move there later this year. Terry has visions of spiritual retreats and artistic endeavours in the surrounding bushland.

Terry and Rosie say they hope to remain in the ‘clan house’ until they die, and they would hope that the house would never be sold to someone outside the family.

Dr Metcalf says that for those who do not have the connections of a family, communal living can be a more than adequate substitute,

In his opinion, people are hard wired to be social beings and current trends of single person households are dangerous to mental health, He says that communal living is a positive force for the individual and the wider community.

“The benefits to the individual are quite basic. It helps with loneliness, it helps with psychiatric problems, it helps develop social skills, it gives you a place, it gives you a home, it gives you a sense of belonging.”

There are financial benefits to living communally with shared resources and facilities, but Dr Metcalf along with the residents of the Annerley house agree that this cannot be the primary motive for developing an intentional community.

“You have to want the communal aspect because there is a lot of negotiation and there is a lot of decision making, and it can be really hard,” says Sarah Eastwell.

The main benefits to the wider society are environmental.  A group that lives communally has been shown to consume one third less energy than someone living on their own.

Communal groups also often resolve conflicts and problems without the use of outside groups like social workers and psychologists through mutual support.

Dr Metcalf believes the future of communal housing is looking bright. He says that although there is no hard data, anecdotally, intentional communities are on the rise and that most Australians could imagine themselves living in a co-housing arrangement.

At Annerley, the household believes that the group dynamic facilitates creativity and working together. The group plans to build a sewing room and a permaculture garden.

They are looking forward to establishing a communal area under the building that will allow for more interaction between all the residents. They also have plans for an outside eating area.  Sarah speaks admiringly of another co-housing project that has its own home brewery maintained by the community.

“You can create something bigger than if you are on your own. You can have a shared vision and work together. You can do ordinary, everyday activities but in a social environment,” says Sarah.

Sarah says that she often wakes up in the morning, wanders out to the verandah she shares with other community members and is overjoyed that she has achieved her goal.

“I see myself here forever, I see it as a nest, somewhere to come back to.  I can’t think of anywhere I would prefer to live.”

Brisstyle markets July 2, 2009

Posted by Amanda in Uncategorized.
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Cannot wait for the Brisstyle markets this weekend – Brisbane etsy sellers come together to sell their wares in real life!

You’ll find the cutest clothes and jewellery plus bags and lots of children’s stuff.

It’s at St Augustine’s Church Hall in Hamilton this Saturday 4 July.

Blogged out October 26, 2008

Posted by Amanda in Uncategorized.
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It’s been nearly a year since I updated this blog.

But now I’ve linked it to my name domain, I don’t know what to do.

I’m not that interested in blogging like I used to … twitter takes care of that.

Not sure where to go from here.

Working for the Aunty June 19, 2007

Posted by Amanda in Media, Personal, Uncategorized.

It is 362 days since I did any paid work but today I succumbed. I was trying to make it to a year.

Not that I am complaining because I have wanted to do work like this for a long time!

I produced a radio program on my own for the first time- YAY!

Audacity June 4, 2007

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If you’ve ever heard something on the internet that you wish you could save and keep, I have got the tool for you.

Audacity is a great free audio editing tool that allows you to record and edit sound on your computer.

It has been very useful for me to practice editing for my course and hopefully to get some work in radio.

The Drought January 20, 2007

Posted by Amanda in Uncategorized.

Those of us who live in the city may talk about what we are doing to save water, and how the water restrictions are affecting us but I have just driven to Canberra from Brisbane with my parents and I don’t think that we urban dwellers have much of an idea how bad it really is. Our high falutin talk about water tanks and washing the car with a bucket is so petty when you see the situation that the land is in.

We drove for twelve hours today and I don’t think I have ever seen the country drier. There are isolated spots where there must have been some rain but generally the country is brown all over. The sheep are indistinguishable from the land because it is all dust. There are areas where there doesn’t seem to be a blade of grass. It must be just heartbreaking for the people whose lives are tied to the land and the weather.

One can’t help but wonder what is going to happen to these towns and farms if the current patterns of frequent droughts continue. It seems inconceivable that anyone can keep on doing this for long but I suppose there are people who have been living through it for 50 years or more.

I feel quite hopeless about it all.

Moving blues … January 11, 2007

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I am not very nice to be around for the first few months of being in a new (or in this case old) town. Although I really like living in different places, I do find myself being irritable and not very happy during the settling in period.

The problem is amplified because Brisbane is not somewhere new, not somewhere exciting (for us) and there isn’t too much for us to discover. Whereas usually we have all those experiences of finding the interesting places to eat and shop, here it is all a bit familiar. It feels like the end of the new and the rest of our lives stretch out before us.

I have never been a person who can imagine spending the rest of their life in one city. Hopefully Brisbane can be a sort of base for us where we spend a few years and then go somewhere else for a while and then come back again.

At the moment, we feel like we have at least three home towns. London felt like home when we were there, it felt wrong not to be getting off the plane to stay in Sydney when we landed there and Brisbane is where our history and families are. It is all very confusing but I don’t regret living in any of those places for a time. I think that diversity of experience gives you a totally different perspective on life.

It is difficult to know where we fit here as well. Our old friends are here, but most of them in a very different stage of life to us. That doesn’t mean we don’t want to hang out- not at all- but I suppose we need to re-establish ourselves and find things to do.

This is not helped by the fact that we can’t move into a place of our own until we get jobs. I think I will feel much better when I can have my own space and the cats back!

Anyway, apologies to anyone around whom I seem cranky. And as a side note, if I seem reluctant to talk about our plans, it isn’t personal, it is just another weird thing about me. I find it hard to talk about that stuff in detail.

The Telstra Woman January 2, 2007

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I have never minded the push-a-button-to-get-to-the-right-section thing when it comes to phoning companies. Usually it is pretty efficient and you can get to where you want. I have never really had a problem with that.

What drives me crazy is the voice activated system used by Telstra where I have to listen to an overly polite, sickly sweet voice asking me what I want and then waiting for my verbal reply.  I hate it! I hope you have internet monitors Telstra!! And while we are at it, I also am annoyed by the woman with the speech bubbles in the Westpac ATMs. She is equally smiley, sweet, fake and frustrating.

Most of us are used to dealing with computers and automated systems. We have all adjusted to that quite well. However, when an automated system pretends to be a human, it is infuriating. Don’t pretend we are getting personalised service when we are not. Don’t make us actually have to speak to the machine- it is humiliating. It reinforces the idea that companies think consumers are stupid and will be fooled by a pre-recorded voice.

Please Telstra, go back to “Press 1 for mobiles, press 2 for internet”!

Fashion disaster December 31, 2006

Posted by Amanda in Fashion, Uncategorized.

I have to say that our culture shock has taken on a different theme this time. Last time we came back to Australia from Asia the wealth of everything shocked us. This time it is much less lofty and worthy.

All I can see this time is how badly Australians in general dress. Not only is it boring and beige, the clothes are such bad quality and so badly designed.

In Europe, even shops the equivalent of Target had much more aesthetically pleasing, more quality made clothing. Here, I am sorry to say, many people just look slobby. And Australians seem to be much more afraid of standing out from the crowd. It is so depressing.

Trinny and Susannah, Australia needs you to do a whole country makeover!