Thursday, November 26, 2009

Great work, guys

It was fantastic to see the story in this morning's Dom-Post about the men running through town at lunchtime yesterday - White Ribbon Day - on behalf of the campaign against domestic violence. For the first time, significant numbers of men seem to be taking on this issue and seeing it as their responsibility to do everything they can to stop other men beating up women. And ultimately that's the only way things will change.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Taking pets to work is NOT work-life balance!

I'm really happy for the staff at CWA New Media in Wellington. The Dom-Post says they get to take their pets to work on Thursdays. Fine - though I'm not sure I'd be thrilled to have a blue-tongued skink wandering around the office in search of cuddles...

But here comes the catch:
"Their bosses say it's a way for modern workplaces to address work/life balance, by bringing people's favourite part of home into the office."

Well, no, not exactly. "Work/life balance" is a stupid phrase, but what it's supposed to mean is being able to fit together your paid work and all the other stuff you need to do without becoming totally stressed out. For most of the women I know, it's more about "paid work/unpaid work balance".

What we call "full-time work" means the amount of paid work someone [being very gender-neutral here] can do when they have someone else at home to do all that other stuff. It wasn't ever meant to be done by the people who DO all that other stuff.

But now all these people, usually known as women, have moved en masse into paid work, and even into full-time jobs. What to do? Introduce work/life balance. We mustn't go too far, of course. Pets at work, maybe. Kids at work - definitely not.

But wait, there's more. In a new book of essays just out from Victoria University Press, Rethinking Women and Politics, Tania Domett looks at the reality of this great new idea. The news isn't good: those who make use of such policies are generally seen as not really committed to their work.

These policies, she says, are a "band-aid" remedy for what is fundamentally an issue of gender injustice. While they do "facilitate women's dual roles and allow them at least limited access to the labour market", they also mask and perpetuate existing gender inequalities.

She quotes Philippa Hall of the [now dismantled] Pay and Employment Equity Unit: "Women have got to get more money and men have to get more time. Men have to work less [for pay] and women have to get paid more for things to change."

Sorry, but it's not about the pets.

Declaration of interest: I have an essay in Rethinking Women and Politics.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Julie and Julia/Elizabeth and me

I've just been to see "Julie and Julia" and I loved it. Meryl Streep is magnificent. Not ever having seen Julia Child's TV programmes, I've never paid much attention to her - not that I noticed, anyway. In fact I did buy the two volume Penguin edition of Mastering the Art of French Cooking about thirty years ago, without particularly observing that Julia was one of the authors, as her name meant nothing to me then. I use it, too, from time to time. Well, Volume I, that is. I don't think I've ever gone so far as to tackle anything from Volume II, Advanced.

There are a clutch of easy recipes I make quite often, such as the leek (or watercress) and potato soup, or the mayonnaise. I occasionally make the hollandaise instead, but I quail at the quantity of butter it contains. The oil in the mayonnaise seems healthier, though given the quantity I eat once I've made it, it's probably not. I make it with a processor (I haven't got a blender, but the processor works fine). Julia, Simone and Louisette (though according to the film, she didn't contribute much) point out that the amount of butter the yolks will absorb if you use a liquidizer - 4 ounces (115 grams) - is only half as much as if you make it by hand! I love the way the difference is discussed:

"It is extremely easy and almost foolproof to make in an electric liquidizer, and we give the recipe on page 100. But we feel it is of great importance that you learn how to make hollandaise by hand, for part of every good cook's general knowledge is a thorough familiarity with the vagaries of egg yolk under all conditions..."

"If you are used to hand-made hollandaise, you may find the liquidizer variety lacks something in quality; this is perhaps due to complete homogenization. But as the technique is well within the capabilities of an eight-year-old child, it has much to recommend it."

Indeed. Julia spent a long time converting all the measurements to imperial - here, now, of course, it would be better if they were metric. Maybe newer editions give both. I should look for one - the print in the Penguin, beautifully set though it is in Monotype Bembo, is getting a bit small.

Every so often I tackle another classic recipe properly. This year I've made the boeuf bourguignon that figures prominently in the movie, as well as the blanquette de veau a l'ancienne ( a slow cooker is excellent for poaching the veal). One Christmas I started well ahead of time and worked my way through the recipe for duck a l'orange. It's always worth it.

Valuable though this precise masterpiece is, it doesn't get the same response from me as Elizabeth David's collected works, and I use them much more often. I also love her two collections of articles (and some recipes), An Omelette and a Glass of Wine and Is There a Nutmeg in the House?

It was Elizabeth who said "Authenticity is the only true luxury", and she's right. In these books she often protested (very wittily) against nasty commercial imitations of, e.g., mayonnaise.

If she could come back, she'd be appalled at the way the industrial food manufacturers bandy about the names of honest dishes. They know this will appeal to people who've heard of them and maybe eaten them in a restaurant. And unlike champagne, these names aren't protected, because no one owns them. So they stick them all over concoctions that bear about as much relation to the real thing as those old bottles of Camp Coffee and Chicory did to carefully roasted beans.

A while ago I was looking for fine cracked wheat in the supermarket to make tabbouleh, the extremely simple and very good Middle Eastern salad made with lots of fresh parsley and lemon juice. You can get it at Mediterranean Foods in Newtown, Wellington, but I was short of time. The supermarket used to have it, very cheaply, in the large help-yourself bin section, but that must have been too unprofitable and is long gone. All I could find was horrible and incredibly expensive boxes of what claimed to be "Instant Tabbouleh".

The makers of all this rubbish should be locked up and force fed on it until they promise never to besmirch the real thing again.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The personal life?

"My great hope is that......women would remember that one of the gifts that they have is that they remained so very close to the personal life, and that the qualities that were discovered in the personal life, the value of human life, the value of tenderness, the attentiveness to others' moods, the need for compassion and pity and understanding, the things that women practice every day in their daily lives, in their small kingdoms, are enormously important." Anais Nin

A friend sent me this quote. I think it goes to the heart of the dilemmas still facing women. We do value these things - don't we? We know they're not really "personal" at all, they're what keeps everything else going. But as things stand, if we hang on to practising them and want to do them well, we put ourselves at risk.

For all the guff about "family friendly" workplaces, the world of what we call "work" pays no heed to this "gift" at all. You're supposed to have women doing all that for you! In countries like ours, the jobs that actually require this "gift" to be done well are at the bottom of every heap going.

What's more, this "gift" is not and should not be seen as confined to women! Men are perfectly able to exercise it too, and many do, brilliantly. But all too often our "small kingdoms" are just that - what he says goes, or else. In the Dom-Post this morning: male partners or former partners kill 14 women each year, and are involved in 3500 convictions for assault on women. So far, no amount of compassion, pity and understanding has managed to stop them.
[cross-posted to The Hand Mirror]