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new internationalist
issue 182 - April 1988


The New Internationalist welcomes your letters. But please keep them short.
They may be edited for purposes of space or clarity.
Include a home telephone number if possible and send your letters
to the nearest editorial office or e-mail to : [email protected]

Heart sinker
Cover of the NI issue 181 I must admit that my heart sank when, coming to the end of your editorial on Housework (NI 181), I found that the prescription for domestic equality is for women to learn to draw the line between labour and love. Why is it always women who have to do the work of consciousness-raising? I'm fed up of constantly having to assert my rights.

Then I realised that women are in the same situation as striking factory-workers. The employers will never alter a status quo that directly benefits them unless forced to by militant action. You cannot be given power - you have to take it. Perhaps you are right. It's up to us to analyze, mobilize - and then demand that men do their fair share.

Peggy Brackstone
Wellington, Aotearoa

Fabulous equality
I do not believe that 'every single undamaged baby is born with fabulous, infinite intellectual potential' (NI 180). Every baby's potential may well be fabulous and is certain to be greater than the current educational system allows, but it still varies.

And who decides what constitutes damage? Ms Gahagan's separation of damaged and undamaged babies is as artificial as separating clever and stupid children.

The point is that intellectual ability and potential vary, but that does not make people better or worse. All children are equal members of the human race.

Tim Allison
Cardiff, UK

Australia's ego-trip
Here in the lucky country, national pride swells for the bicentennial celebrations. If we put half as much money and enthusiasm into social and welfare projects as a mark of real progress, we might set an example to the world. But of course it is the tall ships, re-enactments, fireworks and useless monuments which massage the national ego and never mind if they are an insult to indigenous peoples.

K Hornhardt
Sydney, Australia

Record deaths
If we are playing Human Rights Olympics (NI 179), how about a few votes of censure for Australia? Aboriginal deaths in police custody out-number any other country's record of such deaths.

Angela Clennell
Argyll, UK

Forgotten childless
The population issue (NI 176) was interesting, informative and sensitive. However, though you cited individual cases of childless women being shunned, you largely ignored the problems of the one in ten couples across the world who are infertile. If 'population growth out of control' is a myth, as you assert, then abortion and contraception need not be practiced, for there are many couples waiting who would be glad to care for a child if the natural parents were prepared to give it up.

Stuart McKelvie
Lennoxville, Canada

Smug NI
Your Softly Softly report (NI 177) tells of attempts in Brazil to combat male domestic violence against women. It expresses the hope that 'other Latin American countries, where violence against women is equally common, will be tempted... to follow suit.'

This remark is racist and smug. Male violence against women is universal, even if it is manifested differently in the developed countries.

Ali George
Coventry, UK

Supreme sacrifice
In her fine article At cross purposes on abortion (NI 176) Kathleen McDonnell concludes that' Yes. This abortion is killing. There is no way round it. But I am willing to accept that'.

While this is a step in the right direction, it still sells women, and people in general, short. A woman who bears a child which she cannot support and gives the child up for adoption has given a beautiful gift to the world.

Since there is a loving attachment to that child, she has made a great sacrifice, one that I, as a male, can never know. That giving is a gift from God.

I know NI readers care about making the world better. God has given each of us gifts to share with the world to improve it. Please don't be satisfied with less than your full potential.

Gerry Chidiac
Bay St. Louis, US

Cartoon: Cath Jackson

Dangerous simplicity
I read the Land issue (NI 177) with unease, starting with the Editor's Letter, in which Vanessa Baird uses an incident of being let down by an aboriginal woman as an excuse to pen a homily on race relations. Both her starting point and method of argument were suspect. For she set up the woman as representative of her people and hinted at her white guilt for the consequences of history. This kind of stereotyping is dangerous and misleading. The complex and contradictory issues posed by land questions in Africa were similarly oversimplified. In contrast the Philippines article was informative, analytic and respected the complexity of the problems. This is the type of writing properly suited to a magazine ambitiously titled New Internationalist.

Francis Knipe
Harare, Zimbabwe

Stay positive
I hope the anti-gay letters in the Olympics issue (NI 179) are not going to deter you from positive reporting of gay issues in the future.

Mark Holton
London, UK

The gay connection
NI demonstrated its commitment to the human right to freedom of expression in the Olympics issue (NI 179) by publishing five letters which strongly condemned homosexuality and NI's apparent flaunting of it. I'd like to emphasize the right of lesbians and gay men to define and experience their sexuality without being subjected to abuse and persecution.

Furthermore as a lesbian and a Christian I don't find my sexuality incompatible with Christ's teachings, only with the homophobia of some members of the Church.

Finally, the reader who sees no connection between the struggle for gay rights and the stated aims of NI, has an excessively narrow understanding of radical change, basic needs and the fight for world development.

Kate Chedgzoy
Oxford, UK

Land culprits
Despite recent issues on Land and Green Politics you have not really demonstrated awareness of the planet's destruction by those with land and resources. Four points struck me particularly.

You could grade countries in the Country Profile in terms of their ecological record; you could rate wealth distribution, rather than income distribution; you did not emphasize that with respect to landownership the UK differs little from many Third World countries, with 10 per cent owning 90 per cent of the land.

The way round the evils of unjust land ownership, already adopted in parts of the US and Australia, is a tax on land.

Eric Wall
Derby, UK

Green dollars
Scott Dawson's letter (NI 176) about the LET system missed the theoretical points I was trying to convey. The green dollar could transform the economy and provide the way to address social and environmental need, end unemployment, veto arms production and release humankind's global potential.

Unless Greens focus on the appropriation of the means of exchange as insistently as Marx did on the appropriation of the means of production, they will remain noisily impotent, in or out of office. Maybe Scott needs a new set of spectacles or a temporary loan of mine.

Dick Racey
Immins, Canada

Sex survey
The views expressed in the Masculinity issue (NI 175) about male sexuality contradicted the reports I have from a survey of my female friends. All agree that it is not the act of penetration that is abhorrent to them, but the attitude so often accompanying it.

G Haynes
Cannock, UK

City supporter
Cities are engines of development and political participation, not parasites as you assert in the New York issue (NI 178). The shortages you portray result from inadequate allocation of resources. But those same meagre resources deployed in rural areas would achieve far less.

People all over the world move to cities, however awful their living conditions appear, to improve their lives. Conditions in rural areas are usually far worse, even if less visible.

Missing these points you risk fuelling the policies of ignorance, based on fear of political upheaval. Neglecting investment in cities and forcing urbanites back onto the land holds back industrial growth and the achievement of efficient agriculture, worsening the prospects for everybody.

M Mattingly
Development Planning Unit,
London University, UK

Slow change in Saudi
I found your article on Islamic feminism in Saudi Arabia very misleading (NI 178). Having lived in Saudi Arabia for five years I do not see the 'slow feminist revolution' creating any underlying currents of radical change.

The women who receive employment through paternalism or tribal ties to the House of Saud are an alienated bourgeois minority. The vast majority of women are considered inferior to men. They are not allowed to drive and so remain dependent on men for their mobility. This dependence on the male is at the crux of the Saudi interpretation of the Koran and their attitude to women.

Tim Foster
York, UK

[image, unknown]
The views expressed in these letters are not necessarily those of the New Internationalist

Letter from China

[image, unknown] Minding your
own business
Invasion of privacy is an alien concept
in China, as Sue Robson found out when
she went for a hepatitis injection.

You know my name in Chinese means "God",' said a new acquaintance provocatively, 'and so I know everything. I know many things about you. I know you're 28, have no children, graduated in 1984. and many other things too.'

I was amazed. I'd met this woman, who worked in the provincial Education Administration Department, only two days before. 'How do you know?' At first she teased me, saying she had supernatural powers, but finally admitted happily, 'When we met on Monday, I told you I wanted to be your friend. So I looked out your application form in the office to find out more things about you'.

In the West, documents such as application forms would come under the heading 'confidential'; and if we have seen a colleague's form we pretend we haven't. We might take a sneaky look to see who a friend was writing to, but would not pick up the letter to read - as Chinese visitors do. In the Post Office anyone already pasting stamps onto their letter will pick up yours to examine as well.

Here such Western obsession with confidentiality is replaced by an intrusive concern about other people's affairs. Gossip spreads like wildfire. Personal space is in short supply. At university seven students packed into bunk beds lining a bedroom no bigger than a Western boxroom have to study, sleep, chat and live on top of each other. And if one has a cough, schoolmates and teachers will try to help. A kindly and paternalistic Dean will even escort teachers to the clinic and, as with me, stand watching until asked to leave during an injection in a place I'd rather not show to the head of my department.

Such public concern about matters we would see as private extends to total strangers too. 'Aren't you cold?' the old lady asks as I park my bike and, paying a few cents, take the wooden tag that serves as a receipt. In temperatures that would constitute a hot summer's day elsewhere, but here is like spring or autumn, I shake my head. The old lady stares at me and bends to grip my bare ankle. 'You must wear more clothes,' she says firmly.

People cope with the crowds partly by ignoring them. Cyclists veer across the road without checking to see if someone else is behind them, as they invariably are. Passers-by walk straight in front of cameras - if you waited for every photographer to finish taking her of his picture, you would wait forever. And except in the posed photographs beloved by the Chinese, you're never alone. Perhaps that is part of the attraction of those ubiquitous photos of one person alone with a famous monument.

So while in the West we preserve a defended body-space, apologizing if we touch or are touched by someone else, in overcrowded China bodies invariably collide. While we say, 'Excuse me.', here people simply brush - or haul - you out of the way.

Yet even from a foreigner's viewpoint, it would be a mistake to think there is no individual space in this country. True there is no privacy in the toilets, for example - those smelly unpartitioned rooms with holes in the floor - but women on the lavatory preserve an aloof distance from each other.

And while on a packed train people start up conversations, offer cigarettes and sunflower seeds, play cards - they also withdraw if they want to. Among the noisy 'hard seat' carriages, sprawling with humanity as they are, a few retreat into meditative silence. In the midst of the anonymity of public life, they retire to perfect privacy inside their own heads.

Sue Robson is a teacher of English at a small-town university in the Yangtse River Valley.

[image, unknown]

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