Shows I’d rather watch than Q&A

These days I don’t watch Q&A because it often descends into pointless bickering. Questions are followed by very unhelpful answers. Sometimes politicians (particularly Labor politicians) issue rallying cries of social justice that only serve to win over the audience. Sometimes the hysteria that follows Q&A (e.g. the Duncan Storrar saga) really encourages me to avoid the show.

Q&A does sometimes have guests who manage to make a sensible point. Germain Greer for example, in response to a debate about raising the corporate tax rate, said that raising the tax rate doesn’t matter if Australia doesn’t have a way of collecting the tax. But most of the time it is politicians stating their position without engaging in the question or discussion. There is no thinking. This is why I don’t like Q&A.

What do I watch instead? I like shows where people actually engage with what other people say rather than just staking out a position. For this reason, I like Kitchen Cabinet. The light-hearted feel of the show might make it come across as shallow, but I think it’s one of the rare avenues where politicians can actually explain their view rather than just stake a position. And it gives a much more reasonable and rational account for why their public stance is the way it is. I particularly enjoyed the episode with Jacqui Lambie.

Another show I really enjoy is Insight (on SBS). One of favourites is the one on guns. Robert Brown, a member of the Shooters and Fishers Party who disagrees with current gun laws, is confronted with a Port Arthur massacre survivor, Carol. He is clearly upset and empathetic, but does not change his views. Even though I disagree with him, I still respect his stance and persistence. This is the kind of respect that I feel is lacking in Australian political discourse. People sometimes get confused between disagreeing with a point of view and disrespecting a point of view. All thought has integrity and this should be recognised.


Public Records Office Victoria

I visited Public Records Office Victoria today (more affectionately known as ‘prov’). It is more beautiful and modern than what I thought an archive site would look like, and it’s got a wonderfully lit reading room (with free access to on all its computers).

PROV has over 17 million records and to date has only digitised 1% of its collection. Digitising is a lengthy process and is commonly undertaken by volunteers. It is also getting records at a faster rate than it can digitise them.

Their records include things like:

  • Wills
  • Prison records
  • Health records
  • Rate records
  • Government documents
  • Building plans

Finding things can be a bit tricky. I found an old plan for the Melbourne Town Hall (dated 1849), which is in a collection titled ‘Sydney’. Confusing huh? Turns out the records in this collection are all plans that were once sent to Sydney for approval.

Melbourne Town Hall

Why do we have gender?

I have several drafts not ready to go. Among the topics I want to write and really think about are: negative gearing, an emerging ‘superficial’ social conscience (much more on that later) and of course something else to do with feminism (and while I’m on the topic, if the word ‘feminist’ troubles you, just remove it and call everyone not in favour of gender equality, sexist – that might help, it might not, also more on that later).

But this has been bugging me for a while. Why gender? I don’t mean the strictly biological kind where a female has two x-chromosomes and can carry a baby. Being a member of a particular sex in our society comes with all the trappings of socially imposed gender stereotypes.

And this is where I encounter problems with being transgender. It has been growing on me ever since I read this article by Lionel Shriver. That I should have any issue with being transgender is troubling enough. Aren’t I liberal? I’ve always supported full autonomy, including that people can choose their gender.

But in an ideal world, people shouldn’t feel the need to pick a gender. In an ideal world, your gender should say nothing about you except whether or not you’re XX or XY.

This is my current philosophical predicament. Some people might identify with being female purely on a biological level – I have no comment on that. But others might feel like they are female because they identify more with society’s construct of the female. For example, that the female is graceful; she is patient, kind and nursing. She is beautiful, she has long hair and wears dresses. Third wave feminism is about transcending gender norms. But the idea of choosing to be female because you are drawn to the female stereotype undermines this movement.

And there’s a whiff of the gender-equivalent of cultural appropriation. Many females feel trapped by the female stereotype that their families and society has imposed on them. And there are other drawbacks to being female – you are more likely to be paid less men; you are more likely than men to experience sexual or domestic violence or abuse. This is why transgender people presented a challenge to Germain Greer’s feminism. A man claims they feel female. But what does it really mean to be female? How can they claim that they feel female when they would never have been exposed to the sort of social conditioning that females receive all the time? Underpinning all this, of course, is that gender is a social construct. When you pick a gender identity, you are not so much picking a gender, as a set of social norms and behaviours that you identity with (and that many women may in fact not).

This is why Lionel Shriver argued that this social construct of what it means to be a particular gender is useless. It should go. Gender doesn’t tell you anything about a person’s personality or attitudes. Arbitrarily placing everyone on a gender spectrum is unhelpful and sometimes hurtful. If we didn’t prescribe certain expectations of behaviour to certain genders then no one would feel the need to pick one over the other.

Of course, on the other hand, being transgender is subverting a gender norm. So now my theory is all in a heap again. Help me get my act together.