Philobiblon: An alternative, feminist, pin-up

Monday, April 17, 2006

An alternative, feminist, pin-up

That great Sydney tradition, the Royal East Show, has one seemingly inexplicable, but highly popular, element - the woodchopping. In a small arena, a line of people armed only with an axe line up for the starting gun. Then the chips fly and they'll each slice through a hefty lump of wood in no time at all. Why is it so popular? I suspect it has a lot to do with the Australian mythology of "The Bush", the theory that Australians are bushies at heart, despite living in one of the most urbanised societies on earth.

I learn from the Sydney Morning Herald that the Americans are now competing in force, and their lumberjills (wince) are presenting an alternative image of womanhood. Not at all bad... every woman should know how to chop her own wood. (Before you ask, yes I am a dab hand with an axe. Never chopped down a whole tree, but have split up a lot of firewood in my time.)

To something closer to most people's - and particularly women's - working reality, being a waitperson. This article sets out the realities of this job in America - where the workers are almost entirely dependent on tips for their livelihood. Theoretically, this is supposed to be the ultimate in "performance-related pay", but the article explains that the actual level of service has almost no effect on the level of a tip: "How sunny it is outside has the same impact on a tip as good service does."
And finally, good environmental news. Hate to say it, but this will probably have more effect than a thousand sensible messages: the US glossy magazines have decided that "Green is the new black".

"Vanity Fair, the self-confessed bible for America's high rollers, has emphatically embraced the green cause. Inside a leaf-coloured cover, an alpha list of names from Julia Roberts to Robert Kennedy Jnr, and George Clooney to Bette Midler are sending a message to their President and all those still in eco-denial. "Time to get real, " the magazine tells its 1 million buyers. "Global warming is the problem ­ the biggest problem. It's not a matter of when any longer. It's here. Green is the future ­ the only future."
Hot in pursuit, Elle magazine ("go green with our round-up of the best organic treatments for your body") will unveil its own environmentally friendly issue this week for May with a competing clutch of celebrities, including Cameron Diaz, television star Evangeline Lilly, supermodel Carolyn Murphy, and ­ yes ­ Robert Kennedy Jnr."

The reality still has some way to go to catch up with the rhetoric, however:

The "green edition" [Vanity Fair], critics calculate, has used up 2,247 tons of trees. And that's not to mention the production of 4,331,757 pounds of greenhouse gases, 13,413,922 gallons of waste water and 1,744,060 pounds of solid waste.

Elle at least managed to print on recycled paper.


Anonymous dware said...

Re the article on waiting on tables, you may have come across Barbara Ehrenreich's "Nickeled and Dimed," in which she does stints of participant-observer work in various low-wage jobs. More was made of it than perhaps it deserved but it's worth a second read; Eherenreich's point is obvious to anyone who has worked such gigs and has managed to get past them to something better. ..but I get the feeling that there are many who have not spent a spell toiling in the low-end "service" sector.

When calculating a tip, I am guided more by memories of my own time working tables than by whether or not the sun is shining. Even for aggressively rotten service I have trouble tipping less than 15 percent, and if the server has done a good job I have no qualms about exceeding 20. Why? because that's one of the good things about making a moderately comfortable living--one gets the oppoprtunity to pass some of it along. Besides, I can some times see what's left by other diners and it too often looks like too little. Karmic balance for short-tipping involves spit in the soup; better to not lead wait staff into temptation!

4/18/2006 02:51:00 pm  
Blogger Natalie Bennett said...

Good on you for leaving good tips. I admit I'm a terrible tipper, mostly because when I grew up in Australia, where the whole practice was unknown. Often it just doesn't occur to me, and when it does I never know how much, or the protocol.

I haven't read Nickeled and Dimed but I heard Ehrenreich talking about it. Like any such "experiment" it no doubt had its faults, but it sounded like it exposed facts about life in the US that needed to be exposed.

4/19/2006 10:26:00 am  

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