On separate swimming hours for women

Hamilton City Council is proposing that up to three hours a week be set aside at one of its community swimming pools for a women-only session.

Man ban at public pool

And the response is…. predictable. Start with the headline, with its overtones of “Begone, ye wicked men!” It’s designed to elicit a negative response.

Then there the usual “PC gone mad” trope.

…the proposal was concerning and represented “separatist thinking”.

Excluding ratepayers from public facilities based on their gender was “political correctness going too far”.

“If we are going to do this for women, what about all the shy men among us. Can we have a couple of hours free from women?”

I’ve gotten very tired of the “PC gone made” trope. I’d like to know exactly what the speaker thinks is wrong with the proposal, and his reasons for thinking it’s wrong. Perhaps he’s concerned that it will lead to divisions in the community. Perhaps he’s concerned that it means that some people will miss out on swimming altogether because they are not able to use a particular facility at a particular time. If he had spelled out his concerns, instead of waving his hands in the air and saying, “PC gone mad”, then at least we would have the beginnings of a conversation.

Of course, it could be that the speaker *did* specify some of those concerns, and they just didn’t get reported.

And, Kiwiblog is onto it. DON’T READ THE COMMENTS. Really, just don’t. (‘Though there are a few people in there fighting the overwhelming tide of, you guessed it, “PC gone mad”.)

How much better to think of this from the point of view of what the community needs. Hamilton is a diverse community, and it includes people from cultures where women traditionally wear loose garments and cover their heads, as well as women who have left countries which are not as peaceful as New Zealand is. Many of these women might like to swim, and would benefit from learning to swim, but do not want to wear the form fitting and really rather revealing clothing that New Zealanders usually wear when swimming.

It’s all very well to say that women should just adapt and fit in and get on with it. The net effect will be to exclude these women from swimming altogether, all for want of a little flexibility. Setting aside this time means that Hamilton City Council is working towards providing for the needs of *all* the members of its community. More to the point, there are plenty of other swimming facilities in the city. No one is going to miss out on swimming, or on swimming at a particular time (there are other venues), or on swimming at a particular place (there are other times).

If we are to live in a tolerant and inclusive society, then we need to find ways to accommodate difference. Yes, there are some differences we must not tolerate (forced marriages and clitoredectomy performed on people who have not consented come to mind, and no doubt there are others). This is a difference that a society can tolerate, and ought to tolerate, on the grounds of being inclusive.

And a big shout out to my lovely friend Anjum Rahman for making the case for setting aside a few hours to allow women to swim only in the company of other women.

Travel report: Visiting the margins

As we drove up to Edinburgh, we saw a sign saying, “Lindisfarne 5m.”


We knew about the holy island and the monastery that had been founded there. We knew a little of its history – that a beautiful book of the gospels had been made there, that it had been raided by the Vikings in 793, that this raid was one of the first made by the Vikings, so it was utterly shocking, that the monks had eventually fled, carrying the body of their saint with them, that they had found refuge in Durham, and in time, returned and re-built the priory.

We had no time that day, but driving back, the tides were just right. Lindisfarne is an island of sorts, accessible over a causeway at low tide, but cut off from the mainland twice a day.

It was a beautiful day, blue and sunny, with just a hint of a breeze. We drove out over the causeway, and reached the margins of land and sea. The priory has long since fallen into ruin, but the walls remain, and a few graceful arches.

Lindisfarne Priory

Lindisfarne Priory

(Image from Wikimedia Commons. Description: walls without roofs, arches, green grass, soft blue sky.)

I found myself thinking about the marginal existence of the people who had lived there, not quite on land, not quite on sea. The air was very clear, and the sea blue out to the horizon. I felt that I could see forever. I wanted to stay there and think, even meditate, which is not something that comes naturally to me. I am a perpetually busy person, always with something to do, and even when I sit down to watch TV, I tend to pick up my knitting. This place made me want to stop, just for a few hours.

Looking out to sea at Lindisfarne

Looking out to sea at Lindisfarne

(Description: low sea scape, land on the right had side, part of the island on the left, very blue sea, no waves, still and clear)

I suppose that Lindisfarne is not always so peaceful, and that often as not, wind and waves are howling. But on the day we were there, it was glorious.

Also, there were no Vikings.

LIndisfarne harbour

LIndisfarne harbour

(Description: small shallow beach, almost a harbour, fishing boats and cars, stone building on the left, green grass in the foreground, sea stretching to the horizon, no Vikings)

No girls allowed

There’s a new man in the Vatican, and he seems to be a humble man. He’s not interested in all the pomp and glory, not does he want to lead an isolated life. So instead of living in the grand (grandiose?) papal apartments, he’s going to live at St Martha’s House.

Pope stays put in St Martha’s House

His reason for doing this? He likes living in community.

Pope Bergoglio’s fondness for community life in St. Martha’s House is quite obvious to everyone. The chance of meeting people, sitting down for meals with them, sharing parts of his day with the other residents and celebrating mass in a chapel that is able to hold a good number of people: all these reasons contributed to Francis’ decision to stay, which he communicated to the other guests of St. Martha’s House, first of all to the fifty priests and monsignors who work in the Roman Curia and were able to return to their rooms following the Conclave.

Isn’t that nice? The Vatican Insider certainly thinks so, saying that:

Bergoglio has essentially chosen normality. A normality and approachability that has struck representatives of other Christian denominations in recent days, particularly the Orthodox delegations representing the Patriarchates of Constantinople and Moscow, who were glad to have had the opportunity to sit down to table with the Pope.

It’s all about “normality”.

Except there’s just one critical facet of “normality” that Pope Francis and the Vatican Insider have overlooked.

St Martha’s House is a no-girls-allowed zone. The hostel is for priests and prelates. And in the Roman Catholic church, those priests and prelates are all men. So there will be no chance meetings with women, no possibility of a casual conversation that might give the pope an insight into women’s lives and women’s realities, no passing the time of day with members of half the human race.

Mind you, it’s not quite true that there are no women in St Martha’s House. The House is run by members of the order of Daughters of Charity of Saint Vincent de Paul. That’s right. There are women there, to do the housework.

And that’s normal, isn’t it?


This year’s Hot Atheist Buns.

Darwin Fish Buns

(Description: Tray of buns, each with a Darwin Fish instead of a cross)

I used the same recipe as I have used in previous years, except that I added a tablespoon of instant coffee to get a browner colour and a richer flavour, and per Stef’s advice one year, I made them freeform rather than squishing them up in a tin.

This is becoming a tradition of sorts in our house. Last year I had an unaccountable lapse, and didn’t make any, but in 2010, I made Eye of Sauron buns, and in 2009 I made Flying Spaghetti Monster buns. I first made sacrilegious buns in 2008, when I made atheist “A” buns. The children climbed up the fence and told our elderly neighbours about them, but they just laughed. After all, it wasn’t as though we done something terrible like support Port Power instead of the Crows (this is a somewhat obscure reference to sports teams in Adelaide).

Delicious. We had some late this afternoon, and we will have the rest for breakfast tomorrow.

Hot Darwin Fish Bun

(Description: Hot Darwin Fish bun, split in two, spread with melted butter)

Holidays on holy days

I have another opinion piece in the Dom Post today, ‘though this time, it’s not on-line. I’ve scanned a copy: click on the thumbnail to see a largish and legible-ish version of it, and then click again to increase the size so that you can read it.

The argument is quite straightforward: in order to accommodate the increasing diversity in our society, instead of having public holidays on Christian festivals, but not on other faiths’ holy days, we should change the law to allow each person to choose two ‘public’ holidays for her or himself. This would enable Christians to celebrate Christmas and Easter, and Muslims to celebrate Eid al-Fitr, and Hindus to celebrate Diwali, and so on.

And there’s a fairly standard argument raised in response by those who would like everything to just stay the same and suit them so that they don’t have to make any changes whatsoever: all those people from other ethnicities who came here knew what the rules were before they arrived, so they can just lump it.

In the column, I point out that these days, many people of other faith traditions, meaning non-Christian traditions, were born here, and in any case, many have become citizens, so they are entitled to the same rights as other citizens.

But evidently that argument was too subtle for one of my in-laws, who quizzed me tonight about the column, and raised the standard argument, even though I had addressed it already. I quietly seethed, but simply argued the point back, and suggested that given that we live in a diverse society, and that diversity is increasing, then as a matter of practical living, we simply must find ways of rubbing along together. She desisted, thank goodness.

Because otherwise, I would have had to point out that if immigrants were to simply take on board the rules that were in existence when they arrived, then we would all be celebrating Matariki. And I don’t imagine that she would have liked that at all.

I came across one interesting snippet when I was writing the column. Our Holidays Act says that the purpose of the Act is:

to promote balance between work and other aspects of employees’ lives and, to that end, to provide employees with minimum entitlements to—
(a) annual holidays to provide the opportunity for rest and recreation:

(b) public holidays for the observance of days of national, religious, or cultural significance:

(c) sick leave to assist employees who are unable to attend work because they are sick or injured, or because someone who depends on the employee for care is sick or injured:
(d) bereavement leave to assist employees who are unable to attend work because they have suffered a bereavement.

Source – Holidays Act 2003, section 3 – Purpose

The emphasis is mine.

I don’t think the Act is fulfilling its purpose. It gives employees entitlements to holidays for Christian religious purposes, but no holidays are allowed for any other faith’s religious purposes. Either the Act needs to be changed, or some consideration needs to be given to marking religious festivals in faiths other than the Christian faith.

As usual, I ended the column with a slightly quirky descriptive line about myself.

Deborah … would like to take a day’s leave each year to celebrate Darwin’s birthday.

On re-watching Brideshead Revisited

We’ve just finished watching the sumptuous 1982 Granada TV adaptation of Brideshead Revisted, and this time, Ms Thirteen watched it with us.

I don’t know what Evelyn Waugh had in mind as he wrote the book, and really, I don’t care about his intended meaning, if any. ‘Though I am impatient with most post-modernism, I am quite taken with the idea that writing is completed by the reader, and ultimately, it is the reader’s reaction to the work that matters most.

As ever, I found the early episodes very beautiful, if nostalgic. Oxford was glorious, and the lifestyle of the great house was fabulous, for the privileged few. Really, I drooled my way through the series, enjoying the splendour of the architecture and the clothes and the art.

But this time round, in the final few episodes, instead of agonising with Julia, I simply got terribly impatient. For god’s sake, I thought (and yes, that is intentional), seize love!

Instead, she was trapped by the Catholic church into rejecting the man who loved her, and like her sister and brothers, she was defeated by the church. No partnership, no children, no connection. Those last few episodes are a savage indictment of the Catholic church of the 1930s.

Ms Thirteen was very disappointed by the way the story ended. We asked her what she thought about it all.

“Wow,” she said. “Don’t be a Catholic.”

“There’s more to it than that,” said Mr Bee. “What do you think the deeper ideas might be?”

She thought for a moment. “Really, really, really, don’t be a Catholic.”