Saturday, 15 May 2010

Damned if you do

Christopher Hitchens wrote an article on Slate regarding the French ban on burqas. Essentially as I see it he's arguing that it's a good thing based on two basic prongs, the first being that it frees women from being forced to wear it by their families, and the second is that being able to see each others faces is something important to western culture.

However, if Amanda Hess is right in her article, "But If You're Wearing A Veil, How Will I Know That You're Smiling, Baby? then the "real" argument that Hitchens made is that he just wants to look at the faces of women.

Now I have trouble understanding what Hess wants. Is she saying the burqa, regardless of whether the woman is being forced to wear it, is ok because it prevents us dirty men from looking at their faces? Or that us blokes are to avert our gaze whenever we talk to, or even see a woman?

I suspect that it may be the latter for two reasons. The first is that Hess does not make her stance clear on the issue. In fact she doesn't seem to even consider the merits of Hitchens' argument, instead it's written off as "wrong" simply because Hitchens is a man. The second is in this passage:

In an essay condemning a cultural institution that prevents men from looking at the faces of women, Hitchens instead argues that men have an inalienable right to stare. Of course, Hitchens phrases this in gender-neutral terms—”My right to see your face is the beginning of it, as is your right to see mine”—that assumes social equivalence between the gazes of women and men. In fact, the gender-neutral approach fails to acknowledge the sexist cultural institutions that allow men to exert ownership over women’s bodies through their gaze—like street harassment and sexual objectification. When a guy passes a woman on the street and tells her to “smile, baby,” he’s asserting authority over her face, her feelings, and how she chooses to express them—or not. Those who would declare their “right” to look at women should first note the social context in which women’s faces are often examined.

(my emphasis)

The bold seems, to me, to suggest that I shouldn't dare sully the purity of a woman by looking upon her face. This, coupled with the suggestion in the previous sentence regarding "social equivalence between the gazes of women and men" seems to drive this point home. If a woman looks at me, it's ok regardless of why she's looking at me, but if I look at a woman I'm "exerting ownership over [her] bod[y]".

The underlined part is, in my opinion, completely irrelevant. Just because there are some jerks out there does not mean that all men are dirty pigs. But it does suggest that had Hitchens said that "all women should wear burqas" we would see a similar article. Now if woman wrote an article on the issue in a similar vein as Hitchens' article I get the feeling that we wouldn't be seeing an article from Hess on the subject.

I draw that conclusion (and also the title of this post) on her closing statement:

Forcing a woman to wear the veil is one way to own women’s bodies; declaring that it is your “right” to force her to take it off is just another tactic in the same vein.

If I argue that the ban is good then I'm arguing that I want to own women's bodies. If I argue that the ban is bad then I'm implicitly guilty of owning women's bodies because some women will be forced to wear the veil.

I guess any opinion that I could have on this issue don't matter to someone like Hess because either way I just want to own women's bodies.

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Just as a brief aside, my own opinion of the French burqa ban is more or less that both the French and the French Muslims (ugh, it's an inelegant way of distinguishing them but it'll have to do...) need to come to terms with different issues. The French need to accept that Islam demands followers to dress modestly and should at least allow some sort of "out", say by permitting head scarves, while the French Muslims need to accept that some assimilation is necessary and the burqa is a tradition that they will need to drop. But this is something that deserves its own blog post.

Monday, 3 May 2010

No creationism means censorship?

I saw the headline today in the paper "School censorship danger" and my first thought was "What? Really?" Four words later and my thought was "my arse."

I haven't found an online copy of the article, but its in the today's Advertiser (3/5/10) on page 21 if you happen to be in a place with it. I'll try to find the (an?) online version.

Incidentally it's in "articles of faith". Technically it is the right place to put it, but the view put forward is wrong. Terribly terribly wrong.

Apparently the Association of Independent Schools who represent various types of schools, both secular and religious, are not happy about this ban.

This has been an issue that arose around last year when the Non-Government Schools Registration Board decided to ban the teaching of creationism and intelligent design in science class. The the pdf on their website is here and the relevant section is on page 4, under "Curriculum - Policy, guidelines and procedures (continued)" section B4:
The teaching of Science in relation to creationism and intelligent design

The Board requires the teaching of Science as an empirical discipline, focusing on inquiry, hypothesis, investigation, experimentation, observation and evidential analysis.

The Board does not accept as satisfactory a science curriculum in a non-government school which is based upon, espouses or reflects the literal interpretation of a religious text in its treatment of either creationism or intelligent design
It's really quite clear, you can't teach a religious view and call it "science". If you don't follow this guideline you may lose your registration.

Back in March (I seemed to miss this story though) it was reported by Lauren Zwaans (the same women who wrote this article) that independent schools are seeking legal advice because the government, who regulate all schools including independent schools, decided to actually regulate independent schools.

When the March article was published the Australian Christian Lobby SA/Vic chairman Rob Ward stated that such regulation would turn religious schools into "government schools with RE classes". Oh dear, how horrible. Can you imagine it, faith based schools being forced to teach the same things the government schools teach? Oh the humanity.

Today's article isn't any better, the executive director of AIS SA, Gary Le Duff stated that,
The overarching issue is where does regulation stop, it's not just about this debate.
Right. Clearly the problem is the Government telling independent schools, and remember this include non-religious schools as well, that they can't teach their kids shit and call it science.

He was also quoted as saying:
We have come to some arrangement where the schools communities can manage and govern their schools without excessive intrusion into the right of parents to have their children educated in a particular set of beliefs.
Which is irrelevant to the issue at hand. He also went on about "tolerance", which is also irrelevant. I'm starting to wonder whether the people who try and teach creationism in science classes here in Australia can actually grasp that. It's not about regulation or tolerance, it's about the science.

The Sydney Morning Herald picked up this story as well, with Stephen O'Doherty, the chief executive of Christian Schools Australia, telling us that they are banning the right to teach "biblical perspectives" in science classes.

Good. Seriously, it's a good thing that this is banned. Just like teaching from the perspective of the Koran, or the Vedas or the poetic edda, or even Dianetics. These are "perspectives" that aren't used in science, simply because they are simply rubbish. It doesn't help children understand evolution, in the same way as using these books to teach chemical principles or basic astronomy. Teaching it as true just confuses children, especially if you teach that your specific holy text is infallible.

The Advertiser's article also has a quote from Family First MP Dennis Hood, who said that it restricts parents wishes and that it's "dangerous ground" when you tell schools what they can and can't teach.

Well on parents wishes I think that they can go jump. One of the strengths of our school system is that the average parent doesn't determine the curriculum. The government employs competent individuals who determine what schools can and can't teach children. This ensures that we don't get situations here that we see in the US with creationists getting themselves elected to school boards and trying to force creationism into the curriculum.

And it's not "dangerous ground" at all. Year 12 topics are like that, there are a set number of choices in certain subjects that a school may choose to teach, but what they teach must come from those topics.

Yet we are supposed to see this as a bad thing? I guess it must be, since schools have to teach kids all of that dangerous actual science without being taught "Goddidit".

However, they are still allowed to teach creationism where it belongs, in RE.

Sunday, 2 May 2010

Well I haven't written for a month...

... or have I?

Well, from a "what have I published" perspective, no. I haven't written anything.

The thing is that I actually have written posts.

I don't really know about other people, but I get ideas and start writing them down, and then I find them to be stupid. Other times I start writing on certain issues and find that I can't find enough information, or I just get distracted.

I'll start writing something from an emotional standpoint and then I look for information to double check things and I start to lose those emotions and then I start to wonder why I even bothered writing all that stuff.

I think I need to re-think how I write this blog. I'm thinking that I'll make sure I get at least one post per week on something. The topic shouldn't really matter, I should just write something.