Shows I’d rather watch than Q&A

May 30, 2016 § Leave a comment

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

May 11, 2016 § Leave a comment

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?

May 4, 2016 § 1 Comment

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.

Where’s the Gap? Follow-up post

April 12, 2016 § Leave a comment

A friend read my previous post and made some comments to me, and I thought it might be a good idea to address them in a follow up post.

Why the bit about HECs debt and super?

The HECs debt is rising, and there is little chance of government recovering all of this debt. A recent Grattan report suggested lowering the repayment thresholds in order to increase the number of people repaying their HECs debt by nearly 50%. Future policies in this space will probably focus on how to get this debt repaid.

More than half of tertiary graduates are females, we can make a crude but reasonable extrapolation that more females than males will shoulder HECs debts. Because of the gender pay gap, females are more likely to take longer to pay off their debts, or indeed, fail to pay all of it. This means the cost will fall to taxpayers.

The situation with super is similar. Australia has an ageing population, and there are more females than males in higher age groups (e.g. over 60 yrs), this means that over time, we will get more and more elderly females living off their super.

Because of the gender pay gap, these women have probably accumulated less super then men, and will therefore rely on welfare benefits to meet the gap between their living needs and their super payout. The cost of providing welfare will also fall to taxpayers.

The impetus for providing these arguments is to say that in addition to equal pay being a good thing in principle, there are also economic incentives to eliminate this pay gap. Making sure there is equal pay benefits us all. My primary argument is still that equal pay is something that we should strive for on principle, but for those skeptics out there who think the pay gap is just the result of women making poor life decisions (and therefore why should we help?) these arguments show that the gender pay gap can affect everyone, and that more equal pay benefits us all.

Should we be aiming at gender-neutral policies?

My friend mentioned that parental leave policies should aim to be gender neutral, and that in fact this whole debate about the gender pay gap should be discussed on gender neutral terms. It’s about empowering both sexes to do things outside of their traditional gender roles, which will help address the differences between male and female working hours, and therefore level their pay.

However, I believe that the time has passed for entirely gender-neutral policies, at least for parental leave schemes anyway. We are at a point where the norm is still stacked against the female. The norm is that the mum stays home to look after the kids while the dad works. To proactively combat that norm, we need policies in place that still allow mothers to take time off work to look after children, but also does more to encourage fathers to take leave. For example, a period of parental leave that can be taken by either parent, and an additional, say, 2 month period that is reserved for the father on a take it or lose it basis.

Where’s the Gap?

April 6, 2016 § Leave a comment

A feminist bake sale at University of Queensland proposed to sell goods at prices proportionate to the gender pay gap. For example, a man would pay $1 for a cookie, but a woman would pay $0.7. The organisers of the bake sale have been subject to threats of rape and violence as a result.

Gender pay gap is an issue that I’ve struggled to reach a position on because I’ve realised it’s not a black and white problem. I used to be frustrated when I raised the gender pay gap with male friends and they would remark that it was because women give birth to children and take maternity leave, so of course there’s gap, because they simply work less. I think that’s an unsatisfying explanation to the problem, and I also think women shouldn’t be singularly penalised for giving birth to not just their own, but also their partner’s child.

But back to that issue later. Where does the gender pay gap exist? Why does it exist? And is it fair to say that it shouldn’t exist when the factors underlying the difference in pay has nothing to do with gender discrimination?

Should a garbage collector complain about the pay gap between garbage collectors and doctors? Can a person without a university qualification mount a legitimate argument for why they should be paid just as much as someone who did go to university? Education, career choice, amount of time spent working, are all factors that can contribute to a difference in pay. What causes the gender pay gap? And is it purely due to gender? I believe that pay discrimination purely based on gender is wrong. But if say, a nurse is paid less than a doctor, then I see nothing wrong in that. The issue of course, is that there are more female nurses than male nurses, and there are more male doctors than female doctors, which means that when aggregated, females in the health sector earn less than men.

For example, ABC Factcheck found that in law, the median salary for female graduates is $62,000. For male graduates it’s $70,000. That’s semi-useful, because it removes the effect of maternity leave since graduates aren’t usually at that stage of their life yet. However what the industry break down? Are women earning less because more women work in the community legal sector while more men work in corporate law firms?

While it’s important to raise awareness of the pay gap, I think in general that a sufficient level of social awareness has been reached. I think we need to move on to the next step of how to close the gap. I think it’s unproductive to focus on the overall statistic that on average, women earn less than men, because that puts too much focus on the gender, and I don’t think gender is the real cause of the gap (though I stand to be corrected), the real cause are factors such as career choice, parental leave and so forth. These issues need to be solved by policies targeting the specific factors.

The pay gap should not be solved by individual women in more privileged jobs advocating for a higher salary, leaning in to their job, and trying to take as little parental leave as possible. Cheryl Sandberg’s solution completely disregards large segments of female employees such as nurses and teachers, whose pay is determined by enterprise bargaining agreements, not by how much they lean in. Unfortunately, Cheryl’s advice does not give a comprehensive solution to the problem, and what’s more, puts the entire onus on women.

We need policies that focus on increasing female workforce participation, and to open up women to more career opportunities by, for example, making sure that throughout their education they are engaged with STEM subjects. This doesn’t just go one way. In order to increase female workforce participation, we need to encourage men to take time off work. A father taking paternity leave, for example, should be just as normal as a mother taking maternity leave. Dads shouldn’t have to face any stigma for doing so. In addition, men should also be encouraged to consider jobs that tend to require care and compassion, without copping flak about being sissy or girly.

There are also economic incentives for making sure women have the freedom to work more, and their partners consequently, being able to take time off work to look after the family. As Annabel Crabb points out, more women than men hold tertiary qualifications. We can make a crude extrapolation that more females than males therefore have student debt. Tertiary debt is currently ballooning and it is in the taxpayer’s interest that student debts are paid off. But if women are earning and working less than men, then a large proportion of student debt will take a long time to be paid back, or not paid at all.

In addition, there are more females in the higher age brackets, and therefore possibly more females now living off their super (another crude conclusion), but how can we decrease their demand on the public welfare system when women in general accrue less super over their lifetime because of the pay gap, and we lack the policies to empower women to participate more in the workforce, and in sectors where people are paid more?

Personally, I like the idea of reforming how paternal leave is used in Australia, and to make sure that more men are using it. That would be my starting point for addressing the gender pay gap.

Sillicon Politics

March 15, 2016 § Leave a comment

Following on from my previous post: I recently watched a Sillicon Valley documentary on SBS called The Hidden Face of Sillicon Valley and it got me thinking about the political position of Sillicon Valley executives.

(On a side note: I wouldn’t recommend the documentary. It felt like a montage of failed attempts to get in contact with Sillicon startups, with the documentary then trying to insinuate something dodgy was going on from the fact that they were being ignored by Facebook, Twitter, Google, etc.)

Sillicon Valley CEOs like Mark Zuckerberg are advocates for marriage equality and other socially progressive ideals. This places them left with regards to the dimension of social and political equality.

In terms of the degree of government control (another dimension of political belief), Sillicon CEOs are more likely to be right-of-centre. A good example would be Airbnb and Uber, they will pretty much infiltrate a city first and then become incredibly combative when regulators step in. They also tend to be more aggressive defenders of free speech.

A friend of mine said this generally aligns with their commercial interest. Sillicon start-ups cater to customers with socially progressive views (in general), but their wealth is best left outside of government control.

Libertarians vs Liberal

March 9, 2016 § Leave a comment

What’s a Libertarian? And is it different to being a Liberal?

I used the word Libertarian once, and someone thought I was referring to right-wing conservatives. But if Libertarian just means one who wants to protect liberty then how can that be exclusively attributed to either side of the political spectrum?

Some people might think protecting liberty means less intervention by government. Others might think protecting liberty requires government to step in and regulate banks, markets, welfare and so on so that everyone is equally empowered and has the same access to opportunities.

A while ago I came across a new variation of the term – a latte-sipping Libertarian. Rather than referring to right-wing conservatives, it refers to socially left-leaning intellectuals.

Which sounds very much like the wikipedia entry for ‘Liberal elite’:

…a pejorative term used to describe politically left-leaning people, whose education had traditionally opened the doors to affluence. It is commonly used with the implication that the people who claim to support the rights of the working class are themselves members of the upper class, or upper middle class, and are therefore out of touch with the real needs of the people they claim to support and protect.

Personally I find it more useful to think of being liberal as a multi-dimensional concept. You can be liberal on several fronts – the degree of government control, the degree of social and political equality, and the degree of economic freedom.

Someone who is a liberal with regards to government control likes little government intervention. Government should be small, with most services privatised.

A liberal in terms of social and political equality means someone who wants equal social and political rights for people of different races, genders, sexual preferences and so on.

In terms of economic freedom, a liberal likes free market. This dimension might alternatively be conceptualised as a subset of government control.

A democratic socialist for example might be liberal in terms of social and political equality, but less so on government regulation and intervention, and perhaps also economic freedom.

A conservative might be liberal in terms of being anti-government and pro free markets, but not liberal with regards to social and political equality.