Didgeridoos make girls infertile

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Didgeridoos make girls infertile




An Aboriginal academic has accused publisher Harper Collins of gross cultural insensitivity over a new book which includes didgeridoo lessons for girls.

The publishing house is preparing to release an Australian version of an American book called The Daring Book for Girls.

"We present stories and projects galore, drawn from the vastness of history, the wealth of girl knowledge, the breath of sport and the great outdoors," an excerpt of the book reads.

But the general manager of the Victorian Aboriginal Education Association, Dr Mark Rose, says the publishers have committed a major faux pas by including a didgeridoo lesson for girls.

Dr Rose says the didgeridoo is a man's instrument and touching it could make girls infertile, and has called for the book to be pulped.

Read it [url=http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2008/09/03/2354059.htm]here.[/url]

It's Me D

I had a female friend growing up who loved the didgeridoo and played it frequently; I never got the hang of it but she actually got pretty good. I wonder if I should tell here the risks she put herself through [img]rolleyes.gif" border="0[/img]

I'm not sure what to think of this Dr Rose but the following excerpt should have been included in the OP as well I think:


Dr Rose fears the inclusion of the didgeridoo lesson in the book sends out a "tokenistic" message about Aboriginal culture.

"That's the issue that perturbs me the greatest," he said.

M. Spector M. Spector's picture

[url=http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/australasia/daring-book-for-girl... publisher has now apologized.[/url]


An Australian publishing house was forced to apologise today for a book that encourages girls to play the didgeridoo, an instrument that in Aboriginal culture is usually reserved for men.

Aboriginal academics accused HarperCollins of “extreme cultural insensitivity” over its decision to include instructions on playing the didgeridoo in an Australian edition of a British bestseller, The Daring Book for Girls….

Mark Rose, head of the Victorian Aboriginal Education Association, said that HarperCollins had committed “an extreme faux pas” by publishing a chapter on didgeridoo playing. “I wouldn’t let my daughter touch one,” he said. “I reckon it’s the equivalent of encouraging someone to play with razor blades. I would say pulp it.”

In Britain, where the activity manual and its companion volume, The Dangerous Book for Boys, were originally published, both have been bestsellers. In the US, the two books have been on the New York Times bestseller list for months.

HarperCollins Australia, which will release its version of the girls’ book next month, has replaced some of the original content with material aimed at the local market, such as the rules of netball and instructions on how to surf.

Shona Martyn, the company’s publishing director, initially defended the didgeridoo chapter, saying she was not convinced that all Aboriginal people would be offended by it. But today she bowed to pressure, issuing a statement apologising “unreservedly” for any offence caused, and saying that the chapter would be replaced when the book was reprinted….

Dr Rose said that, in indigenous culture, there was “men’s business” and “women’s business”. He said: “The didgeridoo is definitely a men’s business ceremonial tool. We know very clearly that there’s a range of consequences for a female touching a didgeridoo. Infertility would be the start of it.”

His views were echoed by an indigenous author, Anita Heiss, who is chair of the Australian Society of Authors. “I haven’t seen the book, but that sort of stuff, had it been written by an indigenous person, or had they actually spoken to an indigenous person clearly that chapter wouldn’t have been in there,” she said.

“It’s cultural ignorance, and it’s a slap in the face to indigenous people and to indigenous writers who are actually writing in the field.”


It's hard to tell, from this one article, whether this one guy objecting to it represents the general opinion of most people within his culture, or whether there are activists within who are interested in challenging gender roles.

And of course, it matters whether or not it's coming from within or without. If the person writing the book is someone from outside trying to change people who are quite happy with the way they run things within their own culture, then I agree, that's extremely insensitive. But if there are movements from within that culture that are challenging gender roles (as you see within most cultures and religions), then it gets a little less cut-and-dried.

This reminds me of a story about something that happened when I was working this spring on an aboriginal solidarity campaign. A fabulous woman I worked closely with mentioned that she would have joined in on a ceremony that was happening near us, but that she couldn't because it was her "moon time". Apparently when women have their periods, there are some ceremonies they can't participate in.

Now, of course, my western Christian experience with women and menstruation is the whole "Women on the rag are unclean!" thing from the Old Testament. So to me, this sounded sexist. But I didn't want to be disrespectful, so I said nothing.

But a day or two later, when it came up again, I just had to know why this incredibly outspoken, feminist Mohawk woman was observing what seemed to me like a prohibition. I knew there had to be an explanation that I just didn't know or understand, because if you meet this woman, you know that she's not bending to any man on anything, you know?

By that time we'd worked together long enough for me to be able to ask a dumb question. [img]wink.gif" border="0[/img] So I asked her why it is that women can't participate in certain ceremonies when they're having their periods.

She told me that it's because women are considered to be "in ceremony" already during their moon time. And that you cannot perform other ceremonies at the same time, because your spiritual strength is so strong during moon time. Menstruation is a time of reflection and prayer and ceremony.

So, I experienced a total "paradigm shift" (lord, I'm sorry for using that horrid buzz phrase). I went from thinking of periods as annoying inconveniences and an excuse for being labelled "unclean" by patriarchal religions and men, to thinking of them as a time when women's bodies are in sync with nature, with their spirituality, a time of strength and renewal, and a time of power, particularly reproductive power.

Can you imagine how insensitive it would have been for someone like me to, say, insist that my friend join in the other ceremony and "dare" to defy a supposedly sexist cultural tradition? Or to write a book telling teenaged girls or women to do so?

So, I'd like to know, from women within the indigenous cultures of Australia, whether they accept the prohibition against using didgeridoos, what the reasoning is behind it, and whether there is any movement from within to change this rule, before I'll jump on the "oh isn't that stupid, why shouldn't girls be allowed to play" bandwagon.

But I also won't immediately assume that this guy speaks for all men AND women within his culture either, and condemn this book outright. There just isn't enough information in this article to go by.



By that time we'd worked together long enough for me to be able to ask a dumb question.

You'd be amazed (well prob not) at how many would not ask that question.
My first reaction was "well she shold tell them its sexist and demand changes" before I finished reading what you wrote [img]redface.gif" border="0[/img]

martin dufresne

Fascinating cultural leap forward there, Michelle. Thanks for sharing it.
My own initial reaction upon reading this (ABC News) story was "Arrrggghhh, another Western malestream media nugget designed to give the impression that "Aren't those cultures backward...?" Indeed, even if there are movements challenging that cultural imperative from within an Australian aboriginal culture, isn't this story playing to an outside audience and just coding this under "coy beliefs" (e.g. thread title) and "constraints on freedom of expression"? Or even "fundamentalist primitives trashing women's rights but have no fear, the West is coming to the rescue."

[ 03 September 2008: Message edited by: martin dufresne ]


Is there a specific hole in the didgeridoo that can only be played by a penis, like a slide guitar?

Ken Burch

It may be that the instrument was originally meant to be a musical Phallic symbol.

[ 03 September 2008: Message edited by: Ken Burch ]

Ken Burch


Originally posted by Jingles:
[b]Is there a specific hole in the didgeridoo that can only be played by a penis, like a slide guitar?[/b]

Jesus! who plays slide guitar like THAT?

[img]confused.gif" border="0[/img]

Think of the consequences of a broken string!

[img]eek.gif" border="0[/img] [img]eek.gif" border="0[/img] [img]eek.gif" border="0[/img] [img]eek.gif" border="0[/img] [img]eek.gif" border="0[/img]

M. Spector M. Spector's picture

[url=http://www.daringbookforgirls.com/]Here it is[/url], the cultural-imperialistic book that is designed to ride roughshod over the sensitivities of religious minorities.

What were they thinking when they published this [url=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dhXFkiQVs34]rubbish[/url]?

Bookish Agrarian

Hey is that the alternative to [url=http://www.dangerousbookforboys.com/]The Dangerous Book for Boys[/url] my son and daughter loved that book. It was great.

Agent 204 Agent 204's picture


Originally posted by Michelle:
[b]So, I'd like to know, from women within the indigenous cultures of Australia, whether they accept the prohibition against using didgeridoos, what the reasoning is behind it, and whether there is any movement from within to change this rule, before I'll jump on the "oh isn't that stupid, why shouldn't girls be allowed to play" bandwagon.

But I also won't immediately assume that this guy speaks for all men AND women within his culture either, and condemn this book outright. There just isn't enough information in this article to go by.[/b]

The [i]Independent[/i] article that M. Spector links to suggests that he doesn't, though I wish they'd given a bit more detail than this:


While most Aboriginal cultures consider it a man’s instrument, not all believe that women should never touch or play it.

M. Spector M. Spector's picture


Originally posted by Michelle:
[b]But I also won't immediately assume that this guy speaks for all men AND women within his culture either, and condemn this book outright. There just isn't enough information in this article to go by.[/b]

Suppose you knew he speaks only for about 10% of the men and women within the aboriginal culture. Would that make it OK to dismiss his concerns?

Isn't it the case that the smaller the group, the more vulnerable it is to having its culture destroyed by the dominant white culture?

martin dufresne

Doh... The issue is not how few Aboriginals there are but how few of those Aboriginals Dr. Rose is speaking for.

M. Spector M. Spector's picture

Is that not exactly what I was talking about?

If you knew "how few of those aboriginals Dr. Rose is speaking for" would it make any difference to whether their concerns could be dismissed out of hand or taken seriously?

martin dufresne

MS, no and yes.

In response to Michelle:
I've gone a-hunting in Australian dailies and, lo and behold, [url=http://blogs.news.com.au/images/uploads/Rose.jpg]Mark Rose[/url] seems to be winging it:

From « The Age » :

« Shona Martyn, the publishing director of HarperCollins Australia, said she was unaware of any taboos on women playing the didgeridoo.
She said she apologised if the publisher had "inadvertently offended anyone" but believed it had acted responsibly.
She said there was probably a "divergence of views" on the issue among Aboriginal people.
There were no plans to pulp the book, she said.
"We would only ever pulp a book if it was a very genuine reason, and I'm not convinced that we've offended all Australian Aborigines," she said.
She said her own daughter had been encouraged to play the instrument by local indigenous people during trip to Uluru, as had African-American singer-songwriter Tracy Chapman during her visits here. » (« Girls' didge-playing guide 'offensive' », September 2)

And this bit of investigative reporting by the Herald Sun’s Andrew Bolt:

"Does Rose seriously believe his daughter will turn barren at the touch of a didgeridoo, or does he think even the most backward superstitions should be honored, as long as they are black? And why, as someone barely black himself, does he assume those superstitions apply to him, anyway?
In fact, is Rose simply reinventing Aboriginal mythology? I ask because ethnomusicologist Linda Barwick writes this:
[i]It is true that traditionally women have not played the Didgeridoo in ceremony. However let us review the evidence for Aboriginal women playing Didgeridoo in informal situations. In discussions with women in the Belyuen community near Darwin in 1995. I was told that there was no prohibition on women playing and in fact several of the older women mentioned a women in the Daly River area who used to play the Didgeridoo. In a discussion with men from Groote Eylandt, Numbulwar and Gunbalanya it was agreed that there was no explicit Dreaming Law that women should not play Didgeridoo, it was more that women did not know how to. [/i]

Didgfest Australia, an Aboriginal-backed festival of the didgeridoo, agrees:
[i]There is a myth that women should not play the Didge. While it is true that women do not play in public ceremony, there appears to be few restrictions on women playing in an informal capacity. It is not taboo for Aboriginal women to play the didge in most parts of Australia, and there are occasions where women role play and take hold of the instrument in comical mimicry of men. In rare cases, some Aboriginal women in ‘Top End’ communities have become proficient at playing the didjeridu, though they never perform in ceremonial contexts. [/i]

[ 03 September 2008: Message edited by: martin dufresne ]


Whatever keeps white kids from playing them all night while I'm camped out at a folk festival, I'm behind. Something could be done about the 20-year-olds with Marley shirts and their bongos, too.

Just sayin'.

martin dufresne

[img]biggrin.gif" border="0[/img] [img]biggrin.gif" border="0[/img] [img]biggrin.gif" border="0[/img]

Ken Burch

(self-deleting cheap but accurate joke before anyone gets pointlessly offended about it.)

[ 04 September 2008: Message edited by: Ken Burch ]

[ 04 September 2008: Message edited by: Ken Burch ]

martin dufresne

[img]rolleyes.gif" border="0[/img]



Originally posted by martin dufresne:
[b]Fascinating cultural leap forward there, Michelle. Thanks for sharing it.

Except that this is precisely the kind of explanation given in other traditional cultures, e.g., in Judaism and Catholicism, for example. It's not that women are less. It's that they have some other kind of role, some other kind of power. This is exactly how conservative Jews explain why Jewish women are not allowed/required to participate in certain things and exactly how the Catholic and Orthodox churches explain why women can't be ordained or (in the case of the Orthodox) approach the alter.

I've heard this, "you're not inferior, you're special" to explain why I can't do things a million times before!

ETA: And I've heard this from strong Catholic women, just as Michelle heard it from a strong aboriginal woman.

[ 04 September 2008: Message edited by: RosaL ]

martin dufresne

(Back-edited for clarity) Doesn't it matter if and when women are speaking in their own voice, in the face of male pressures to conform to either spiritual doxa or secular liquidation of culture? This seems to be what is happening in Australia around this musical instrtument, and in the experience related by Michelle. Who are we to prejudge from the outside that women couldn't be doing that?

[ 04 September 2008: Message edited by: martin dufresne ]

M. Spector M. Spector's picture

Women "speaking in their own voice" are not infallible. Sometimes they say things that are bullshit.

And there is not a shred of evidence in this didgeridoo story that any male pressure is being exerted to force aboriginals to conform to "secular liquidation of culture." It's about a book written to challenge girls of all cultural backgrounds to be adventurous and self-empowering; to question their sex-stereotyped roles in their own society. Nobody's trying to force aboriginal girls to do anything.

martin dufresne

On the one hand, Mark Rose is arguing no Aboriginal woman should touch a dgideridoo (when a number of Aboriginal women are apparently saying and doing different). On the other, this whole media nugget is based on ridiculing Aboriginal women for holding a foolish belief presented as standing in the way of a great, liberating book.

M. Spector M. Spector's picture

Gosh, Martin, that looked like the beginning of an actual point. I look forward to its development with great anticipation.

martin dufresne

And I look forward to your head pulling out of that sand... OTOH maybe not.

M. Spector M. Spector's picture

You sure are good at avoiding discussions. I wonder why?

Cueball Cueball's picture

I was in Halifax with a friend of mine from Kashmir. One day he spent an entire afternoon sitting on the stoop doing statistics. He discovered that:

97% of drivers were male.
100% of all cab drivers were male.
50% of all women were wearing sunglasses even when there is no sun.

That is Halifax.

Anyway what is this tabloid muckraking piece, with sly racist overtones and all kinds of factual errors in it doing in the International News and Politics forum. Can't Babble open up a tid-bits forum so that people can titilate white peoples racial superiority complex with left field stories about white supremacy over the backward?

Who the fuck is Dr. Rose, anyway?

"Victorian Aboriginal Education Association."

Like what the fuck? Who are we listening to, and why are we listening to them?

[ 04 September 2008: Message edited by: Cueball ]


Revised thread title: