The girls are not alright

by Maria on February 12, 2013

In Sydney, there’s a restored old barracks in the central business district. From 1848, all single female immigrants came through there before being funneled on to jobs as maids or farm girls. Many were Irish, part of a government scheme to get poor women out of work-houses or other bad situations and send them to Australia where there weren’t enough women to work and marry.

Hyde Park Barracks is a wonderful museum; imaginative and unflinching. Visiting it a month ago, I was moved to angry tears. In a darkened room at the end of a bare wood hall, there were photographs, stories and artifacts of these would-be servant girls. The centerpiece was a battered wooden trunk, about the size of my council recycling bin. Each girl got one to carry everything she might need to a place she would never come home from. She was issued with a Bible, nighties and knickers, a comb and some soap.

This often involuntary transportation was actually a really good option for many girls. Most went on to marry and often outlive husbands, and support and raise families all over Australia. They are shown photographed formally as old women in high, white lace collars and stiff black crepe dresses, the very picture of Victorian respectability; proud, upright, straining just a bit forward, not to show how far they have come, but as if to imply they have always been so prosperous.

What upset me was how unwanted they were, first in Ireland, then in England, and finally in Australia. Irish peasant girls were considered dirty, cheeky and most likely fallen. They were damaged goods. (The good Protestant burghers of bootstrapping Sydney were alarmed at the influx of Catholic breeders, too.) My heart ached for those cheerful, ignorant, doughty girls who pitched up on a then-despised shore to find out even the people there thought they were lazy sluts. [click to continue…]

Democratic Legitimacy and Democracy’s Priority

by Melissa Schwartzberg on February 12, 2013

The central argument of _The Priority of Democracy,_ as I understand it, is that democracy does not have a claim to be the sole justifiable means by which all decisions should be made in a modern political community. Instead, its primary role is to enable citizens (on free and equal terms) to select, implement, and maintain the institutions regulating first-order decision-making by means of voting and political argument. Though I find this quite compelling, I did wonder about the conception of democratic legitimacy underlying the theory, and wanted to push Knight and Johnson to say a bit more. [click to continue…]