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International Women’s Day

I am delighted at the calibre of the women and men who have been celebrating International Women’s Day today in such a nuanced fashion. Is is heartening to see how far women have come since my mother, in the 1930s, completed an Arts Degree ( one she was lucky to be able to do as a woman). And she did cheat a bit as it it was a degree very full of Science subjects ! But she could not work as a teacher once she was a married woman.

I was also lucky in my time (late 50s and early 60s), to be able to study for Arts and Law degrees. My female companion students and I felt quite welcome and did manage to cope, in an amused way, with the decommissioned urinal remaining in our common room at the Law School in Phillip St. We also coped OK with the fact we could not wear slacks to Uni and had to wear in hats in court as they were de rigore for females. My male fellow students, workmates, bosses and friends were all very pleasant, polite and very encouraging. But we were far too rare a species then.

Later, after I was married, I did run into some workplace blank walls but still managed to have a satisfying, productive (if not stellar) career and four lovely children as well. The walls I ran into were were all institutionalised ones not personalised ones. They would not happen today.

However there is one small issue that was discussed many times today that I have some doubts about. One cannot draw conclusions from individual experiences but personal anecdotes can ask us to think. This is the issue of young girls and women still eschewing mathematics and science subjects.

I completed my schooling in Cooma where the Scientist and Engineers, including my Dad, were very positive role models and encouraged us all to study Maths and the Sciences . I studied what was then advanced Maths and did quite well in my end of school results. I studied Physics and was told by the gentlemen who interviewed me in connection with my University Commonwealth scholarship that I had achieved a perfect score of 100% in that examination. In my studies of Psychology over the years I have found the reasonable facility in Maths that I had learnt at school helped a great deal in my understanding and study of Statistics (done then by virtue of our slide-rules until calculators and then the wonderful computers emerged, mainframe then desktop).

But it was to me less interesting to study these ”STEM” subjects than the ones I chose which seemed to me the “big picture” subjects, History, Philosophy, Psychology, Education followed by our legal system and all that stands for.

I am delighted with the improvements in the roles of women. I have been impressed beyond all measure with what some women have achieved. But perhaps, with equality not quite here yet, the “big picture” still seems a little more appealing than the delightfully complex and important “silos” that some of the sciences can be. If there is an equality found in the philosophies of life perhaps the rest will follow.

And I cannot help but hope, like Jessica Irvine does, that women have the courage to do all this in “sensible shoes”. Only that way it is possible to follow in their footsteps.

Religious Freedom

As a non theist from a very early age who firmly believes in freedom of belief for everyone, I am dismayed by the current standard of the “freedom of belief” discussions.

I came from a loving Christian family and learnt to fly under the radar about my lack of a belief in a god for all of my childhood. In a scripture exam at my N.S.W. state school in my final year, I expressed my non theist position for the first time. This was in a long essay in which I stated my views on several major religions including Christianity and Islam and said I thought there should be comparative religions and non religious ethics taught at schools rather than a focus on one particular viewpoint. I, surprisingly, was awarded a large Scripture prize for this essay by the local Minister of one of Christianity’s major branches.

So I grew up as a person who, though not a believer, had a great respect for many of the quite similar teachings of several belief systems. I had (and have) considerable regard for most of those who promulgated such. I still did not initiate discussions but felt free to sometimes express my opinions whilst being very cautious not to disrespect others’ views and trying not to shatter their images.

But as time has moved on, particularly lately, my attitudes have been changed somewhat.

I still believe that the beliefs of others and their right to practise such beliefs should be respected. But I now assert that my own views should also be respected – and as equally as those of a believer.

I have lived much of my adult life only being quite active in religious discussions with those I knew had strong religious beliefs, if and when someone was trying to either convert me to that belief or intimidate me with fears of an uncomfortable eternity. Otherwise I kept off the subject because I had no desire to convince anyone else I was right. Relatively recently when discussing the “Safe Schools Program” I was told by a close acquaintance in a rather confronting manner that in rejecting a God I was actually setting myself into the God role. I then replied, “If you mean by that, that I am totally responsible for my own decisions and behaviours, then I accept that you are right.” Until then that was the closest I had come to rudeness and it was also a refusal to engage further. Of course I had continued to satisfy myself over the years by reading widely on the subject, including writings by many respected atheists as well as religious writers, particularly those who wrote on historic viewpoints.

But recently I have been talking to some children and teenagers. When I was young there was often a bit of argy bargy between Protestant children and those children who went to Catholic Schools. This tended to result in a bit of quite friendly throwing of crabapples at the other “tribe” before everyone engaged in also friendly mutual play. My crabapples obviously had to miss everyone and go inaccurately into the sky regardless of what group I was with at the time.

But things have changed. It has moved far beyond crabapples.

It appears now that there is an expectation among many religious children that if any other child expresses an opposing viewpoint they are breaching their “religious freedom”. Young children who protest to other young children that they do not accept their religion are “bullying” them I was recently told by several innocent young children. “God is not true” was elicited as an example of a “bullying” phrase.

This lack of ability for children to accept that others can express an alternative viewpoint, and the extra protection adult believers in a God are now demanding, are probably partly the fault of me and the many non theists like me. We over rated the importance of the hurt the religious might feel on hearing denials of their belief and this has resulted in a viewpoint that their own feelings are more important than the feelings of those of us who do not believe.

To take the risk of removing a comforting delusion from someone is surely no more harmful than insinuating another person cannot understand or appreciate the intricacies of belief and therefore cannot live in an ethical and compassionate way.

The Coward Gene

HAS THE COWARD GENE A PURPOSE?

I have inherited the coward gene. I may have inherited it from an ancestor who was deported to Australia in 1806. He committed the crime (he was a repeat offender) of deserting from the British army. It was, at the time fighting Napoleon in France. He had been press ganged into the army. He was an invader on foreign soil when he deserted. We have seen records of his court marshal when he was sentenced to deportation.

In Australia he was granted a holding, became a successful pastoralist on the Monaro and was, apparently, not afraid of hard work.

I often muse on him at times such as this, just prior to Anzac Day because I, too, feel there is very little excuse for waging war on one’s fellow man, particularly because of the other man’s different ideas. I do not think I could bring myself to kill.

As a University student in the late 50s and early 60s I, with a number of others, protested about the march on Anzac Day and this apparent glorification of war. I fully support anyone who wishes to attend the dawn or any other service to remember those who died in war. As a non theist I do not attend myself but I like to remember and muse on those young men who died particularly those many who did so without necessarily exhibiting any particular glory. When I look at my sixteen year old grandsons I mourn for those other young men, for their families and even for their grandmothers some of whom did not ever know how they fell or where they are buried.

However I resent any message being sent to our future generations that there can ever be a good outcome from waging war. We must work hard on finding other ways to resolve disputes.

Language, music and pageant are so emotive. We frame and idealise our wars in the way we use them. For example our Prime Minister talks of a “death cult”. Which was the “Death Cult” in Ireland? I suppose, as that Prime Minister is a Catholic, it would, in his case have been the Protestants. To others the “Death Cult” may have been Catholic.

We can frame our wars in such emotive language and pageantry (particularly in cases where we happen to be victors – I do not hear quite so much glorification of the Korean or Vietnam Wars). Why can’t we harness such strong emotions to the forging of peace?

In my pre-teens, not long after the end of hostilities in WW11, my father had a professional colleague (a refugee) who became a close friend of both my parents. He had been a German soldier in WW11, he was captured and held in a British Prison of War Camp and, while he was there during the bombing of Berlin, his wife and very young daughter went missing. For years he harboured a wistful hope that perhaps she had met another man and did not want to be found, until he finally accepted their death had occurred in the massive Allied bombing of the area where they had lived. These were two tragic deaths but it was not the glorious sacrifice of life whilst defending one’s country, nor the victorious slaying of a savage enemy.

And those who did not go to war? I am afraid we had many in my family. Neither of my children’s grandfathers went to war in WW11. One volunteered but was rejected on grounds of a heart condition. All his life he bore the stigma of “faking” the condition just to avoid war and almost accepted it himself until he had a major heart attack at the age of 41 had to retire from his loved job as an ambulance driver and eventually died in his early 50s. His doctor commented on his congenital heart defect!

The other grandfather was also keen to join and, as an engineer, was sought after by the navy as someone to work on the new radar system. He was, however, not freed from his government job as it was regarded as an essential service although he was never allowed to explain the details. He too received many negative comments, and was somewhat disadvantaged on occasions after the war when returned service men got preferences with employment. Their step grandfather, on the other hand, joined the navy, was very suited by the camaraderie however did not see any active service, which he was keen to do. His and his wife received benefits until the survivor died.

So negativities to not joining up were quite overt.

As a young married woman I became friends with a neighbour who had been in Changi. He had been assessed as TPI and was never physically fit to work again. He was a lovely gentleman. He did not support marches, even on Anzac Day, RSL Clubs or any celebration of war. His personal perspective was that there was little that justified the killing of others. He thought greater efforts should be made to negotiate issues between nations and between people and anything that smacked of glorification of war was anathema to him. Like many others he just did not talk about wartime, especially not to nearest and dearest.

These are five different types of war stories that will never be represented on Anzac Day, but are the ones with which I was most familiar.

As a psychologist I became more familiar with some of the stories of post traumatic stress disorder, particularly those due to later wars. But what is more unspoken, except perhaps among some medical and psychological experts, is the steps that must be taken to prepare normal human beings for the killing of others when they enter the armed forces. I was moved by the concerns of a drone operator as to how this method of warfare depersonalises killing. Is all this natural? Is this merely eliminating the coward gene by brain washing, the very gene that may give us time to think rationally?

Or does it deflect it another way. Do we have to protect ourselves from another type of “cowardice”, that if we see alternatives to a toughness we are “soft”.

We must criticise the non participants to look tough, we might chugalug a beer to look tough, we must mock a shandy to look tough.

I almost did not write this so close to Anzac’s 100 years but then I chastised myself, ” not to do so is an epitome of the sort of cowardice that you are writing about”.

My Australian spirit was not founded on an invasion of Turkey, it was founded in the attitude of men, like my ancestor who had guts to work hard. And, in his case, to desert from the British Army against Napoleon not only once but twice.