Monday, 21 August 2017

Pale, stale, male in need of some lippy

I'm watching Gareth Morgan make some great points in his press conference.  He's trying very hard to wrestle the media towards old-fashioned policy analysis, rather than new-fangled celebrity personality worship, which he's concerned is diminishing our political decision-making.

He's right, of course, that we need to understand what people we might vote for will do if they have political power.  He's right too, that "JacindaMania" is a little terrifying, when it's hard to see, yet, if Ms Ardern's policy leadership will look significantly different for the Labour Party.

What's curious in this for me though is the equally old-fashioned way Mr Morgan got to make this press conference.  Sexism.  "Putting lipstick on a pig" is sexist no matter who it's aimed at - it suggests femininity is an artifice, a tool to fool, artificial in and of itself, hiding something no one really wants.  It's even more sexist because it's aimed at a young woman of course - Mr Morgan says he could have said this about John Key, taking over from Don Brash.  But he didn't, and as far as I can remember, neither did anyone else.  The reality is, when women take up political power, they are free targets in ways men are not.

Having the armoury of misogyny at your beck and call when you want to undermine women's leadership is powerful, because the cultural meanings - femininity weaker, masculinity stronger and better - do not need to be spelt out every time.  Your audience already knows.  Just as your audience already understands the dog-whistling racism that defines the ways Māori leadership will be reported - and as for being wahine Māori, well, let's just ask Metiria Turei, shall we?

Our political world has been pale, male and stale since forever in Aotearoa - despite the stories we tell suggesting we have the best race relations in the world and the least sexism.  We've had exactly two female prime ministers out of 39, and just one Māori "acting prime minister" who for some reason doesn't make the list of 39, James Carroll, in 1909 and 1911.  This is the history of our political leadership, and it both underpins and recreates the idea that white men should rule of right.  Who else has the experience, after all?

But we're seeing this chipped away at, bit by bit.  I'm not sure I can remember any other leader in Aotearoa followed with a hashtag like #IamMetiria.  People know they have to hashtag difference, and they want to.  The calling out of the media sexism Jacinda Ardern has already faced down with ease - in her first few days - began inside the media itself with veteran broadcaster Hillary Barry hitting the nail on the head.

And bless Gareth Morgan, with his harking back to the good old days of policy analysis driving media.  He has never looked more aligned with the other rude old white men in New Zealand.   And partly, I think that's kind of a shame, because I would genuinely like to see media analysis focusing on the impacts of policy this election.  I'm just not sure that I ever have.

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

The lies we tell to get by

I have a boyfriend (please leave me alone)

Yes I am totally mentally distraught about this pregnancy and would get lots worse if I had to continue (please give me an abortion)

No extra flatmates (please give me enough resources to support my whanau)

It's not you, it's me (please let me go)

I'm driving tonight (please don't spike my drink)

Maybe, I'm not sure, but perhaps we could do it this way? (please listen to my excellent idea)

No I don't mind you asking me if I'm having more kids, it's okay (please don't get angry with me)

Sure I can work late (please see my worth)

Oh yes, baby is a great sleeper (please think I'm a good parent)

Thanks, you look great too (please stop talking about my appearance)

---

We live in a society where women often need to lie to get by.  Honesty is often the preserve of those who have a high level of safety and comfort.  May we live in a world where we don't need to lie to get by.  We don't live there yet.

Friday, 28 July 2017

Teen Vogue and Anal Sex

Content note: discusses sexual violence, transphobia and anal sex.

The tidal wave of critique Teen Vogue set off by writing an anal sex 101 post a few weeks back has just washed up in Aotearoa, with various NZ feminist Facebook sites posting criticisms labeling Teen Vogue misogynist or just plain "not woke."

Our feminist sites are not including the Christian fundamentalists and moral conservatives flack - that sex is dirty, bad and should only be joylessly discussed by someone's parents.  Well, that's a little facetious, but it's been a long time since I've seen "sodomy" so liberally sprinkled through my feed. 

The Teen Vogue article opens:
When it comes to your body, it’s important that you have the facts. Being in the dark is not doing your sexual health or self-understanding any favors.

With that sentiment in mind, we’re here to lay it all out for you when it comes to anal sex.  It's important that we talk about all kinds of sex because not everyone is having, or wants to have, "penis in the vagina" sex. If you do have "penis in the vagina" sex and are curious about something else, or are finding that that type of sex is not for you and you'd just like to explore other options, it's helpful to know the facts. Even if you do learn more and decide anal sex is not a thing you'd like to try, it doesn't hurt to have the information.
If you're not comfortable reading about anal sex, that's perfectly OK, too. We have plenty of other articles around a variety of issues and wellness. Feel free to click out if you'd like! No pressure at all.
It goes on to describe how anal sex works  making a distinction between "prostrate owners" and "non-prostrate owners" in terms of kinds of sexual pleasure someone can expect.  It's factual, accurate as far as I can tell with my non-prostrate owning body, and focused on consent:
Whether you are planning to give or receive anal sex, a conversation must take place beforehand. Enthusiastic consent is necessary for both parties to enjoy the experience.
Asking for anal can be a bit daunting, no matter who you are. Have a one-on-one with your partner and let them know that this is something you want to try. Be honest about your feelings about it. In a healthy relationship, you should be able to discuss anything openly. Everyone wants to have a good experience.

This resource gives people wanting to negotiate anal sex a good sense of how bodies work, it's queer and trans inclusive (through not using ideas of "women" or "men" which don't include trans and non-binary people, and not making assumptions about who is doing what), and it talks about consent.  Not just in the passages I've highlighted, but through the article making explicit that while anal sex might be some folks cup of tea, for others it won't be on the bucket list, and that's just fine.

And the feminist critique?  Well, a little bit like the moral brigades, there's some fairly explicit lip-curling about sex going on in Meghan Murphy's response:
Yes, some women claim to enjoy anal sex, which is fine, if true, but failing to discuss these basics in an article presenting itself as sex positive, body positive, and educational, is incredibly weird.
Nothing more anti-feminist, frankly, than not believing things women "claim," particularly in relation to things sexual.  When women's "claims" of sexual violence say, are queried in terms of their "truth", most people who call themselves feminist know which side we are on. 

This particular aspect - the sex-negativity, and therefore conflation of anal sex with sexual violence - screams out in these critiques.
I am terrified reading a study by Dr Cicely Marston from the London School Of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine titled “Anal heterosex amongst young people..”. (BMJ 2014) Some of the comments from girls who have experienced painful attempts at coerced anal sex are difficult to read as a both a feminist and as a mother.
I hope that author would find people's descriptions of painful attempts at coerced vaginal sex just as horrifying.  Because the issue here is consent, not what kind of sexual activity folks are engaging in.

And then there is the transphobia.  Ms Murphy's blog - and the others that follow - literally drip with the stuff:
The problem is that the article included a glaring anatomical error, failed to address any of the larger contexts surrounding anal sex and women (namely, patriarchy), and completely erased women from the conversation. Literally. Neither the word “woman” or the word “female” appear once in the entire article. Even the diagram depicting female and male anatomy uses the terms “prostate owner” and “non-prostate owner” (uncomfortably reminiscent of Green Party Women’s call to “non-men” last year), and Engle uses the term “vagina owners” in order to avoid uttering the horribly offensive word, “women.”    
The glaring anatomical error here is not Teen Vogue's, but the idea that talking about women without including trans women is acceptable, particularly in an article about sexual health.  The idea that trans men will have their experiences covered when it's assumed all men have penises.  And yes, Ms Murphy, some folks will not know where it place themselves in an article about "men and women", and some of us are not even only having sex with people with different genders.

Ms Murphy has quite some form here, leaving Rabble in Canada after petitions from many feminist groups challenged her writing. Her Feminist Current site seems to promote transphobia pretty regularly:
In April 2017, Riley J Dennis, a writer, YouTuber, and trans activist, who identifies as “a non-binary transwoman” and is in a relationship with a woman (which you’d be forgiven for assuming is simply a heterosexual relationship), posted a video asking the question, “Are genital preferences transphobic?”
Feminism can and should be debating what consent means, what sex looks like when it's fun for everyone involved, how we include all kinds of women in our conversations about sexist oppression, including in relation to sex.  But that's not what these feminist critiques are doing.  I'm sad to see them being promoted by established feminist groups in New Zealand.  To be honest, I expected a better level of analysis.

I'll be over here, reading Teen Vogue.

Monday, 17 July 2017

Not Yet Time for a Lady Time Lord

Look I know it's probably unexpected, but I don't support a female Doctor Who.

Why would we do that?  Why would we pretend that it's ok for a shape shifting time-travelling immortal alien to be portrayed as anything, and by anyone, other than a (probably straight) white man who has spoken English from birth?

Sure Missy shows that Time Lords can change their bits, as Mr X pointed out to me, but really that just proves the point.  Missy/The Master is a villain character (usually) and they do all sorts of weird and Not Normal things, being female is clearly just another one of those aberrations.

Also what will we do with all the toilet seats in the TARDIS?  Will they have to be permanently glued down now?  Oh the (in)humanity!

Surely Doctor Who isn't The Doctor without a sonic screwdriver (don't mention Capaldi's sunglasses, sssshhhhh, never happened) and we can't expect a lady to carry around a manly tool of that type (penis compensator?) especially as her clothes won't have any real pockets.  Will she have a sonic silicon pot holder instead?  Can't see much lock picking and computery twiddling happening with that!

Finally, and this will be hard for some readers to accept, but our society just isn't ready.  There are still countries in the world where women have not yet been state leader, can't be lawyers, have little access to education, are barred from driving and even voting.  We should be working hard on all of that, not rejoicing at the mere breakthrough of a woman playing an iconic TV character who has inspired generations and is at the apex of the world's biggest English language fandoms.

Look away from the small beautiful victories and see how we still fail.  Despair at our lack of power, not stomp our feet as the cliffs crumble.

Do not, ever, hope.





I don't do comments here anymore - you can find me easy peasy on Twitter @juliefairey and similarly on Facebook.

Sunday, 16 July 2017

Feminist Election Stuff - Women's Choice & Vote Equal Pay

Two big Auckland opportunities coming up in August

Women's Choice Election Forum - 7th August, 7pm, University of Auckland
Held every three years, an opportunity to hear the major parties debate on women's issues.

Facebook event for all the latest info and to share/invite others.

Chair will be Judy McGregor, stalls for organisations and cool stuff (eg Women's Bookshop) before hand, and reps from

  • Labour - Jacinda Ardern MP
  • Greens - Jan Logie MP
  • NZ First - Tracey Martin MP
  • Maori Party Cinnamon Whitlock (Ngapuhi, Ngati-Kahu ki Whangaroa, Te Rarawa) 
  • Mana Party - Tracey-lee Repia · (Ngapuhi, Ngati Porou, Uenuku nga Iwi) 
  • National - Erica Stanford


Vote Equal Pay March & Rally - 12th August, 11am, Britomart
Organised by the Pay Equity Coalition, a chance to show your support for pay equity and also hear from political parties on how they will tackle the gender pay gap.

Facebook event for updates and to spread the word.



Do feel free to email me about any other relevant feminist election stuff julie dot fairey at gmail dot com to promote and share :-)

Friday, 9 June 2017

Colin Craig is an abuser

In between the Comey/Trump and British election news this morning was this:  Colin Craig is planning to sue Rachel MacGregor for defamation.

This is yet another way of abusing his former press secretary, who already took him to the Human Rights Commission (HRC) for harassment, resulting in a confidential agreement and a financial settlement in her favour.

MacGregor's agency has been continually stripped by Craig throughout this long saga - first when she was his employee, during the HRC mediation including saying he'd put aside $1M to "destroy" her, then when he did that terrible sauna interview and broke confidentiality,  and later with further media comments along similar lines.  Most recently, as he and other men with resources keep taking each other to court for defamation, MacGregor has been forced to be a witness and to even be cross-examined directly by Craig.  This is abuse.

Because he has resources and money, Craig is able to continue to use the legal system to abuse. Sadly this is all too common, where the court is used by abusive men to control, punish and exhaust former partners, as outlined in a shocking recent Out of the Frying Pan Into the Fire report from The Backbone Collective, including:

Women told us that even though initially they went to the Family Court after separating from an abuser seeking protection and safety they now wish they had never done so. For these women, the Family Court has become the new abuser and many have told us it is worse than the abuser. They have been unable to rebuild their lives as they are trapped in Family Court proceedings for years. During this time they continue to be exposed to violence, abuse and associated trauma and they are unable to ‘move on’ in any way.

And

Women’s harmful experience of the Family Court was made much worse because of the compounding effect of time spent in court proceedings, the increasing financial burden and the multiple health impacts. They identified that there was no logical start or end point in the proceedings; once they got involved in the Family Court they found it impossible to get out. Many said they were just ‘hanging out’ until their child turned 16 and they no longer had to be involved. 

Sound familiar?

The Out of the Frying Pan Into the Fire report refers to "litigation/legal abuse" and I am in no doubt that is what Craig is doing to MacGregor, albeit through defamation proceedings rather than in the Family Court.   No doubt there are many other stories of legal abuse through other legal avenues too, multiplying the original injustice of the abuser's actions.

MacGregor said this at the most recent court appearance:

"To this day my allegations stand concrete strong. I withdrew my complaint because I had no longer time or energy to deal with this very weird man. I withdrew the complaint because I couldn't afford to deal with him any more."
And the next day while Craig cross-examined MacGregor she made this appeal to the judge:

"I don't understand how this is an opportunity for me," MacGregor replied.
"I can't believe I'm being made to stand in front of the man that did this to me.
"I can't believe a man who treated me like this is allowed to question me over and over, it's just so stupid." 

It could not be any clearer - MacGregor DOES NOT WANT ANY OF THIS.

And yet Craig keeps going and going, continuing to put his wants ahead of anyone else's, and continuing to abuse someone who has had less power throughout all of this.  Craig's lack of self-awareness and his seemingly endless financial capacity mean he can keep going too, despite supposed barriers to stop vexatious litigation.

Twitter talk is looking at setting up a way to donate to crowdfund MacGregor's defence, and as long as she is ok with that happening I'll be making a contribution and will share the link.  Her consent to that is vital - we don't help if we do it without her approval when she has already had that stripped away so many times.

With all of this, Craig's abuse and the Family Court report, I'm reminded of the outrage around another case that went on and on, with a rapist allowed to cross-examine the woman he repeatedly raped, after which there were calls to change the law to make sure this travesty could not be repeated.

As it stands our court system seems to allow legal abuse to continue.  MacGregor's case is high profile for a variety of reasons, and is, sadly, but one example.  Our legal system continues to fail women, and those with less power, to secure justice from abusers.




I don't do comments here - you can find me easy peasy on Twitter and Facebook if you really want to let me know what you think @juliefairey

Monday, 22 May 2017

Tipping - bad for all, worse for women

If you ever notice that I say chicken oddly, then know that it is because I worked at a fast food outlet called Chick-Inn every Friday night, Saturday day and Sunday night for some time in my teens.  It was probably about a year, but in hindsight it felt like much much longer, especially after the Gypsy Kings CD got stuck in the stereo and was thus on All The Time.  I used to twitch whenever I heard Bamboleo but I'm okay now.

But I digress.

This place did delivery as well as eat-in.  I was a "cashier" which means I was at the counter, took the orders and money, put together drinks, soft-serve ice-cream and jelly cups and other bits that were pre-prepared, gave people their food and often ended up in the kitchen helping out with putting together the burgers and boxes of chicken and cooking stuff and so on.  Dishes were for drivers, yet I ended up often taking their phone orders, preparing their bags and doing those dishes.  I never got a tip over the counter, and that was fine.

Some years later I found out that the drivers used to routinely get tips on the doorstep, sometimes several hours' pay extra a night.  Never a cent was shared.  This was their due apparently.  Despite the backroom work done by others to get those orders out the door and in to the cars asap there was no acknowledgement of that (and not just in money either but that's something else).

And guess what?  The drivers were almost all male and those of us working the cashier jobs mainly female.

I've worked in other hospo and service jobs too, never as the only money that I needed to survive, luckily.  As someone who did not fit the physical stereotypes for shall we call it extra appreciation (and sadly also harassment) I don't think I ever got a tip.  Again, that was fine.

It was fine because I was paid a (relatively) fair wage which was not undercut, or reliant upon top ups, from tips.

Hospo and service jobs already have a massive power imbalance and exploitation is rife.  The Customer Is Always Right (even when they harass you or hit you or are unreasonably unreasonable and you want to spit in their food but you don't or maybe you do but you make sure no one else sees).  Smiles Are Free (but are they really, for the smiler?).


If We Don't Take Care Of Our Customers Someone Else Will (so give them whatever they want in case they flee and tell all their friends about our awfulness nevermind how they treat you).  And many other Inspirational Customer Service Quotes that reinforce the lowliness of the person doing the serving, and the supremacy of the customer, and the role of the manager as champion of the poor downtrodden arseholes with the money.

And there's the vicious cycle - you aren't worth much because you aren't paid much, and you don't get much in tips so you are obviously not worth much, and around and around we go.

So yeah, tipping as a way of improving customer service?  Not likely.  Tipping as a way of making those working in hospo and service industries even less powerful and more discriminated against?  Very very likely indeed.

Tuesday, 16 May 2017

But toddlers don't get irony

It happened, it finally happened; Early's first tantrum, a few weeks from turning two.

He decided to really really go for it.  At St Lukes shopping mall, from when I tried to sit us down for lunch in a cafe to about thirty minutes later when he made a dash for the wine glass display (!!) outside Stevens, fell over and dropped his bread, lay there for a little while loudly contemplating the ongoing awfulness of his horrible life, and then deigned to allow me to wrestle him into his stroller with only faint resistance.

This may have been Early's first but ahah, little did he know, this was not mine.

I started out all wrong.  I tried to placate him, thinking he was just hangry, impatient for the lunch that was coming.  He'd eaten all his snacks sometime earlier, a miscalculation on my part.

He paraded his grievances with his awful mother to all the other tables around us, visiting each in turn and giving them a smile before refusing any overtures from me and moving on to the next lovely stranger.  One of the lovely strangers was more delightful than the others, possessing a plate with hot chips on it.  Early loves hot chips.  I swear his eyes grew even larger.

The lovely stranger was not immune to Early's charms or his garbled message and a chip was offered, accepted and consumed.  I craftily picked a long chip, knowing it would take him longer to eat so I might be able to capture him and return him to our table.  Hangriness addressed, I thought.  My normally happy chappy will return now, phew.

But no.

Early was not finished.  Once the chip was gone there was the grieving process to go through, thus:

1. Denial - That cannot be the last chip!  I see other chips!  Take me to the chips!!

2.  Anger - No more chips?  This Shall Not Pass!  (This bit took rather a long time, including rolling around on the floor; trying to hide from mummy under someone else's table then being unable to find the way out so I had to go and try to get him from one side so that he would escape out the other; pleas to many lovely strangers for rescue, assistance, chips; general grumbly crying noises; actual hot angry tears and a little snot; doing that breakdancing move that involves running around in a circle on your side on the ground; a sort of half downwards dog arrangement.)

3.  Bargaining - Ok, I will consider your poor offer of bread that you ordered especially for me because I love bread, but there better be more.  Not that bit though.  And this bit was ok but now it is Not Ok in fact it is Awful, are you trying to poison me woman?!  Oh that other bit will do I suppose, but actually no it won't.

4.  Depression - Wailing, lots of wailing.  I just want to lie here on the ground face down wailing, I'm going to drown in my own tears and it will be All Your Fault, and also don't even think about trying to get me in the stroller, I shall never ever move again.

5.  Acceptance - Well alright then, why haven't you taken me home already?

And the irony was that we would have got home and the bottle would have been made and imbibed, the snuggly cot entered and embraced, much much earlier without the tantrum.

I'm hoping he hasn't started as he means to go on.



I don't do comments here now - you can @ me on Twitter @juliefairey or Facebook.

Sunday, 26 March 2017

Feminist Parenting Forum - AKL, Tues 28th Mar

What:  Feminist Parenting Forum

Who:  Put on by the Auckland Women's Centre, featuring a stellar panel of Emily Writes, Tania Pouwhare and Sisilia Eteuati, all welcome

When:  Tuesday 28th March, doors open at 6.30pm for 7pm start

Where:  Mt Eden War Memorial Hall, 487 Dominion Rd, Balmoral, easy to get to on the 267 or 258 bus routes from the city or the southern isthmus, also the Outer (Orange) Link and cross-town services along Balmoral Rd.  Some parking behind the building too.  

How:  Tickets are on a sliding scale from $0 to $20 based on what you can afford.  Payments can be made in advance to the AWC bank account "Auckland Women’s Centre Incorporated" 12 3012 0782605 00 Reference: your name, forum.  Cash accepted on the night too, sorry no eftpos.  Email info@womenz.org.nz to register.

Facebook event here.

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

The Roastbuster Lottery

The clamour for consent education in high schools is growing post the Wellington College rape comments, from journalists to petitions to sexual violence prevention groups to hundreds of secondary school students marching on parliament.

Education Minister Hekia Parata says no, we can leave it to parents, in a line borrowed straight from Family First.  As with other FF stances, this makes little sense.  Since our best information says nearly two thirds of child sexual abuse survivors experience that abuse from a family member, and for one in six that's a parent or a step-parent, "leaving it" to parents really doesn't seem like a safe idea. 

It's a daft idea for another reason too.  For a government that claims it's interested in evidence driving practice, Minister Parata's comments are even more embarrassing.  Because consent education in high schools is the best tool we have to reducing the perpetration of sexual violence.  And that's not a community group I have linked to, it's the ACC information page about the healthy relationships programme, Mates & Dates, developed for high schools in response to Roastbusters.
____________________________________________________________________

There are really two issues at play here.  The first is about what good practice consent education looks like.  And there's stacks of evidence about that, fortunately. 

It doesn't look like one-off sessions in assembly, no matter how inspirational your speaker might be.  In fact, it doesn't look like one-off sessions at all.  It doesn't look like telling young people how horrible rape is, or about legal penalties, or telling them to wait to have sex.  It doesn't look like raising awareness of sexual violence.

Consent education which works looks like skills-based activities which allow students to build on the consent skills they already have, and practice them in multiple non-sexual situations.  It looks like enough dosage - 5 weeks - of sessions, happening weekly, over each of the five years of secondary school, so students can integrate the content and bring it to life in their worlds.  It looks like trained facilitators who know their stuff and can manage young people disclosing abuse, because some will.  It looks like a whole school approach which supports the sessions and becomes safer for all students.

That's just the set up.  In terms of the content, it's vital consent education teach analytical skills for young people to analyse gender roles and expectations around sex.  It needs to look at peer pressure, alcohol, the media, music.  It needs to reinforce that consent is about seeking explicit enthusiasm as well as knowing what you want.  It needs to be strengths-based, because that's how people learn, and open to diverse sexualities and genders, because that's how we have relationships.  It needs to be adaptable enough to recognise and be able to tease out and respect different cultural beliefs around relationships and sex.  And it needs to teach bystanding skills - how to intervene to help your friends or others stay safe - to undermine rape culture.


The five sessions of Mates & Dates for each year group cover healthy relationships; skills and consent; identity, gender and sexuality; when things go wrong; and keeping safe together.  They have been designed with the evidence in mind, and they fit into the Health Curriculum but can be taught in any block of sessions schools make available.

So we have a programme which meets the evidence and is available for high schools right now.

Then there's the second issue.  Is the slavish devotion to schools making their own decisions about this wise, or are we literally creating a rape lottery?  Minister Parata is unwilling to make sure every student in New Zealand has access to programmes which reduce both the likelihood of experiencing and perpetrating sexual and dating violence.

How is this responsible governance?  New Zealand has the highest rates of partner and sexual violence for women in OECD countries.  The "cost" of family and sexual violence is estimated by government - and this is based on reported figures - to conservatively reach $6 billion every year.  The figures I'm quoting come from a Cabinet Paper, not an advocacy group for survivors, and they miss out the high rates of sexual and partner violence reported in Rainbow communities, and the one in ten boys who report unwanted sexual contact in high school. 

If we could change this, why wouldn't we?  Secondary school students want help to dismantle rape culture, and they want consent education.  The protests last week showed that, and so did the focus groups around the country that ACC ran in creating Mates & Dates.  We have a problem with rates of violence, and it's costing enormous amounts of resources - not only for the state, but for individual survivors, their relationships, families and communities.  We have one part of the solution, and it's even sitting in a box ready to go.

This should be an election issue, because every single party in New Zealand should want to prioritise their spending on sexual and family violence to make sure it doesn't happen in the first place.  That's what consent education is, done right.  Step up, politicians, listen to what people want and make sure schools become the safe places they should be for all students, not Roastbusters.



Monday, 20 March 2017

Abortion, again

A few things it may help to understand, from my personal observations of being very anti-abortion until I was about 16, then increasingly pro-choice to the point where now I have badges and everything.

Embryo/fetus = baby?
Those who oppose access to abortion for other pregnant people, not just for themselves, often genuinely do see the embryo/fetus as equivalent to a newborn baby.  Science says it's not, and therefore it becomes a moral issue that should be up to the individual pregnant person.  There is heaps and heaps and heaps of science on this, seriously.  I'm not going to link it all, here's just one from New Scientist showing that the neural connections to feel pain are simply not there at 24 weeks gestation.*   

From my personal experience of a miscarriage at six weeks I know that what I lost was not a baby equivalent.  From my personal experience of ultrasounds through three other pregnancies I know that what I was pregnant with at 20 weeks was also not a baby equivalent.  From my personal experience of having three live babies I did not feel like what I carried was a baby equivalent until they were being born.  That's just my experience of course, which informs my decisions and actions and should not necessarily inform yours or anyone else's - which by the way further underlines my determination that the pregnant person gets to decide, not anyone else.

The importance of "innocence" 
There is a view of human adults that is common I've found amongst those opposed to abortion which assumes adults are not "innocent".  I was raised kind of Catholic, I went to a Catholic school for about 6 years, and I'm familiar with the concept of sin, particularly as they apply to women.  There are a number of ideas that go along with this - periods as punishment for women as a result of Eve's apple trick, the idea that menstruation is "dirty" in fact significantly dirtier than urinating or defacating and that those who are menstruating are also dirty, and some really screwed up ideas about sex as sin.  The view is that we are constantly corrupted from birth onwards, at some point, probably in our late teens, reaching a tipping point, as exhibited by the white (pure) coffins for children versus darker colour coffins for adults that are common in Christian-influenced cultures.

The unhelpful construction of Sex as Sin
The sex as sin stuff is particularly awful in my opinion, breeding a lot of the terrible attitudes we have about consent, body image, toxic masculinity and unhealthy attitudes to girls and women.  Sex is considered for reproduction only, which always makes me wonder if those opposed to abortion on that basis have sex during pregnancy or after menopause or if infertile (but I would never ask).  Sex for any other purpose, such as pair-bonding, pleasure, physical release, would be sinful.  Do you know who has pretty much certainly had sex?  Pregnant people that's who.  Can we be sure it was for procreational purposes?  Probably not** if they are seeking an abortion.  Sinners!

Innocent versus sinner - choose a winner!
By virtue of being unborn, an embryo or fetus is absolutely clean of sin, ie a total and perfect innocent.  So in a contest of bodily autonomy rights between a baby equivalent that is totally without sin and a pregnant person who probably sinned just getting pregnant, let alone all those others times, guess who wins?  A baby is always a Good Thing, an adult human, particularly a woman, not so much.

A lot of people however don't consider sex sinful, do think it's a good idea that every child is a wanted one, and are a bit iffy about the idea of forced pregnancy.  I tend to think that the pregnant person is a full human here and now, and is the best placed person to choose whether or not to continue that pregnancy, to become a parent or expand their family.  Whatever reason they choose to go ahead or not is a) enough and b) not my business.  

God has a Reason?
There's also a theme that comes across sometimes in anti-abortion missives, that we shouldn't second guess God.  If God wants you to be pregnant then there's a Reason and that should be respected and you should go through with it regardless.  God Moves in Mysterious Ways is not just a weird cover of a U2 song.  What if the embryo or foetus aborted was going to grow up to cure cancer?  (Never to undertake genocide or be a serial rapist, mind).  

This is how sometimes people who even oppose abortion on the grounds of rape or incest position themselves - a baby is always a Good Thing, therefore a baby coming out of the terrible thing that happened is God's way of making it right.***  Other people might think it would be traumatic to know that you are a parent to your rapist's child, of course, let alone have to deal with the sometimes awful experience of pregnancy, any physical resemblance the child might develop, an ongoing relationship with the rapist as the other parent, and so on.  

Surgery is gross
The ickiness of surgical abortion grosses people out. As too would pregnancy and childbirth (c section or otherwise) if they stopped to think about it much.  See also: Stomach stapling, brain surgery, removal of teeth that have roots that have grown around the jawbone (that one made you wince didn't it).  A lot of surgery is gross to non-medical people, and can be quite violent too.  It's one of the reasons they put us under anaesthesia, sedate us, put up a screen between the patient and the area being operated on, during surgery.  I had to have a version prior to the birth of my first child, to try to turn him in the womb, and it was a full on muscular attempt and that didn't even have any blood involved.  The pulling and pushing that happens to your body with a caesarean is intense, despite an epidural.  Surgical abortions are not unique in their grossness BUT the gross details of terminations have been deliberately and widely publicised by those opposed to abortion to up the ickiness factor.  

Add surgery is gross to innocent baby versus sinful wanton woman and you see where this is going.

The cruel twist here is that medical abortions are relatively non-icky.  They are not too dissimilar from a heavy period in most cases.  Yet NZ's abortion law and the stigma attached to abortion means that every year hundreds of terminations that could have been medical have to be surgical because of deliberate delays built in to the system to deny the pregnant person the right to choose.

At the heart of it all
It's distrust of women, innit?****   It's a failure to understand that women are full moral adults, just like men thank you very much.  And thinking women aren't equal well there's a name for that (Spoiler alert: it's sexism).  Here's a particularly egregious example of how this plays out in real life, from 2014 on Dominion Rd in Auckland. 

Often when I've asked people who are squirmy about abortion and consider the current law an acceptable compromise*****  they come down to an argument that they want the pregnant person to be really sure because it is such a big decision.  Yet similar legally enforced overbearing rigor is not routinely required for other big decisions like becoming a parent, having another child, picking a career, getting hitched, or buying an apartment in a 1990s Auckland building with monolithic cladding.  

If not the pregnant person, who else is in a better place to make a decision on whether to continue a pregnancy or not?  No one.  Seriously, no one.  NO ONE.  

The answer is so simple.  If you are opposed to abortion don't have one.  You don't get to make decisions with other people's bodies, and the law shouldn't enshrine that you can.





*  Terrifyingly I had to go down to the fourth unpaid Google hit for this - the first two unpaid were anti-abortion sites lying about the science.  The third was this possibly helpful (haven't had time to read the whole thing) factcheck article.**  Of course there are many people who need an abortion because a wanted pregnancy has become non-viable, which is awful and tragic and doesn't need someone standing outside a clinic with a judgemental sign for those going through that to feel bad.***  The other position sometimes held simultaneously is that women will just lie and say they were raped to get abortions just because they don't want to have a baby right now, which is FUN FACT why the NZ law does not include rape as a ground but only as a consideration, because back in 1977 they thought women would lie about rape to get abortions.  Oh the irony.**** And not just women, because anyone else who is able to get pregnant must have their judgement impaired by that pesky uterus too I guess. 
***** Which it is not, it was considered a victory against abortion even in 1977



No comments, I don't do comments anymore.  I'm easy to find on Twitter @juliefairey if you are so inclined.

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Bystander Boys at Wellington College

Wellington College hit the media yesterday in ways their leadership team will not be enjoying - two of their boys were posting comments encouraging rape in a Facebook group.

The similarities to Roastbusters won't be lost on anyone, but the issue of rape culture is far more common than the handful of schools who make headlines.

We have the unravelling of rape culture though folks, right here in front of us.  Two Wellington College boys brag about raping drunk girls - and other boys on the page report it, immediately.

People acting as ethical bystanders - intervening to disrupt norms which support sexual violence - is the best evidence base we have for changing rape culture.  That's exactly what the boys who reported this did, and I want to congratulate them, whole-heartedly, for the bravery in stepping forward and making it their business.

After Roastbusters, I asked a question about how we grew boys. Growing consent, making sure all genders know how to seek and check in with sexual partners in an ongoing way during all sexual encounters, plays an enormous role in shifting norms which make sexual violence possible.  But addressing the social norms which undermine consent in more collective ways, from speaking back to jokes about rape to challenging sexist language about girls to standing up to transphobic victim blaming to stepping in if you see an unsafe situation - all of these things are critically important too.

Rape culture isn't just about the individual decisions you make in your bedroom, or anywhere else you like to be sexual.  It's about the collective norms we allow around us, at morning tea at work, in the sports stadium, at the pub - or on the Facebook site where your mates are bragging about sexual stuff that's not okay.

We need to push for universal consent education in all our high schools - evidence based, comprehensive, multi-year, taught by experts who address gender norms and teach bystanding skills.  Quality high school consent education is the best evidence we have that we can change the rape culture and reduce sexual violence perpetration.  Just before Roastbusters, an evaluation of existing school programmes in New Zealand could not give any a pass mark.  This and Roastbusters was the impetus for ACC creating a high school healthy relationships programme.  Mates & Dates - full disclosure, I was one of the authors - is running now, but it is currently not compulsory.  Schools get to "opt-in" around consent education, and they often don't know which programmes are "good".

If we are serious about unraveling rape culture, it might be time to insist on compulsory, evidence based consent education in every high school.

But for today, I will be celebrating those Wellington College boys.  The ones who stood up to their mates, and stopped them bragging about rape.   We need more boys like them.  We need more people like them.  What will you do to stand up against rape culture?


Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Rage post about the gender pay gap: warning contains ALL CAPS

So there's new local research out today that the gender pay gap is a) real and b) primarily due to conscious and unconscious bias.

Firstly YES.

And also: it is good to have this in the public arena and being discussed, and for the Minister for Women to accept the findings as opposed to going "but we really need more research to be sure".   It is a victory for all those good folks who have been fighting to get this issue looked at on the facts, for many years now.

Because it is undeniable, it really is, that there is a gender pay gap.  There has always been a gender pay gap.  It was a little smaller a few years ago (went down to 11%, now back up to 12%) but it has ALWAYS BEEN THERE.

And yet people have sought to deny it, explain it away, it's because women want to be paid less, take time out for children, aren't as qualified as men, don't need as much income because the man of the house is the breadwinner.  WRONG.

And we knew these dismissals were wrong.  Lots and lots of us.  Not just from lived experience or from observing others around us but from the other many ways that workplaces, and society, treats women as less than men apart from pay, and from statistics, and from court cases and union agitation.  WE KNEW THIS ALREADY.

A little digression about "conscious and unconscious bias".  Can we please just call it what it is?  SEXISM.  That's what you call it when people are intentionally or unintentionally discriminating against women, individually or collectively, because they are women.  It's sexism, it's always been sexism - even the other explanations (now proven to have had only a small impact) like time out for childcare, taking jobs with lower responsibilities, not asking for promotion or pay increases blah blah blah all have a basis in sexism.

So how do we stop sexism, vis a vis the gender pay gap?  Apparently we need to raise awareness.

This is the point at which I start to get a certain song from That Bloody Woman (NSFW lyrics) stuck in my head.

See para 5:  WE KNEW THIS ALREADY

Yes, it probably will help, and it will give the many many organisations that ALREADY KNEW THIS new strength to push for implementation actual practical measures that will close the gap and treat workers fairly.

But excuse me for a moment while I rage inwardly against the people who only now see the truth that was there the whole time, and pledge to eliminate this Awful New Injustice They Had Never Heard Of Before Today.

I heard someone on the radio saying there is a strong business case to pay women fairly.  Of course there is, there always was.  Just as there are strong economic arguments to support the Living Wage, paying teachers more, showing that cleaners bring more value to society than hedge fund managers.

Again, WE KNEW THIS ALREADY.

Because businesses who get to pay lower wages save money in the short term.  Anyone who has ever worked in the union movement or a strongly unionised workplace will be able to tell you this -  for too many in management and above keeping the quarterlywage bill low is seen as essential, even when it undermines longer term benefits like staff retention, and increased productivity.

The tyranny of a corporate approach (in government too) that demands the lowest possible wage bill, and the lowest possible number of staff, will continue unless we ACTUALLY MAKE IT STOP.

That means legislation folks, not just raising awareness.  LAW CHANGES, sweet sweet law changes that make it necessary to STOP paying people less based on irrelevancies like gender identity and race.

We've asked nicely for pay equity for many years.  We've even asked assertively and with facts, like men do (eye roll).

CAN WE JUST DO THIS ALREADY?  (PLEASE)


I don't do comments anymore.  You can find me on Twitter or FB under juliefairey.










Monday, 6 March 2017

Clickbait hate and feminism which makes us proud

Feminism that includes trans women - and indeed trans and non-binary gender people all across the spectrum - is not a "nice to have".  It's not just a matter of having a jolly conversation about whether pussy hats exclude women without vaginas, clitorises and vulvas. 

Getting that stuff right matters, if we're serious about our feminism tackling power around gender.

But actually, this last week should have reminded cis people in Aotearoa that feminism that includes trans people is vital.


Look here quickly, if you have the stomach, at Rosemary McLeod, who says she doesn't like being intimate with strangers in relation to public toilets.  She calls a girl "the transgender".  Really?  Quick tip, Rosemary, not a good look when you're aiming not to look like a bigot.

Rosemary also tells us a story about a man watching women going to the toilet.  Which is horrible, gendered violence is real and disgusting.  But this violence has nothing to do with trans women, and including this little anecdote in this particular "opinion" piece is code for nothing more than transphobia.  Because trans women are not men, and there's zero evidence, anywhere, that trans women are going to the bathroom to hassle other women.

So here's some steps for Rosemary to consider:
  1. Fight against gendered violence by fighting against rape culture and other ways victims are blamed for sexual harassment and other kinds of sexualised violence.  This will mean not blaming trans people for transphobic attacks against them.
  2. If intimacy in toilets bugs you, don't use public ones.
  3. Stop misgendering trans women.  It's disgusting.  The high rates of violence towards trans people are enabled by these cultural attitudes (see point one). 
Much as the continuing transphobia of Rosemary McLeod is troubling, what's maybe more troubling is the "mainstream" media in Aotearoa continuing to publish such bigoted nonsense.  Traditional news outlets seem to be seeing gender diversity as a clickbait opportunity, where the more bigoted their coverage is, the better.

Contrast NZ Herald covering Laurel Hubbard being selected for the NZ weightlifting team with the coverage over at Newshub.   The Herald article includes comments about the "huge advantages" Ms Hubbard has, as a trans woman, over her competitors.  This is farcical - Ms Hubbard has jumped through all the hoops necessary.  The mounting evidence about hormones and sports performance shows what most people intuitively know anyway - that there is far more overlap than binary difference across genders when it comes to athletic performance, and some of this is about hormones and more is about other factors.  I am prepared to say that I can hit a cricket ball better than most men I meet, because I spent years practicing.  Some of this is old-fashioned sexism - boys are better - some is bad science
It's not even clear whether natural testosterone boosts performance to the same degree that synthetic testosterone does. Holt, the UK-based endocrinologist, told the Court of Arbitration for Sport that "the current state of evidence regarding testosterone's effects on athletic performance is 'rudimentary.'" He said natural testosterone may affect a person's lean body mass, but other things do, too, like high levels of human growth hormone in the body. What's more, he says, plenty of other physical traits give advantages to athletes, and those aren't regulated like testosterone is. Some basketball players are blessed with height, for example, while some swimmers are born with higher lung capacity and large hands and feet.
And most is transphobia, because trans women are not boys.

But the Newshub article is interesting - because it's just factual:
She says it's gone down about as well as can be expected - and while people have voiced concerns, most are supportive once they understand the protocols the organisation must follow.
Ms Pilkington says Laurel Hubbard meets all the criteria to compete as a woman.
Reporting on gender is becoming a place where there are some disappointing and predictable generational issues.  Newer media gets it, understands that in New Zealand one young person in every secondary school class identifies now as trans or unsure of their gender.  Knows that gender diversity is real, an ordinary spectrum of human behaviours that has been restrictively shackled by gender norms feminists railed against and young people are leapfrogging over.

Mainstream media - the Herald and others - are still using trans issues as clickbait.  Still aligning themselves with conservative forces of hate, despite this being just bad reporting in terms of evidence, to say nothing of socially irresponsible and ethically bankrupt.  This is yet another death-knell for them frankly, because newer media are just doing it better.

So folks, in an explosive week of an explosive month of an explosive year of an explosive decade in terms of trans rights, let's make sure feminism is on the side we can be proud of.  When it comes to the pussy hats, let's stop using genitals as shorthand for gender.  Most of us don't believe in this as feminism.  The defensive mantras "this is just fun, stop taking it so seriously, it's not transphobic" reminds me of nothing more than the ways some men react to being called out on sexual harassment.

It's a bit of a laugh, right?  Why are you getting so bothered?  Because it matters, our feminism matters, in a world so consistently treating trans identities and lives with such little respect.

Saturday, 21 January 2017

A crack in the wall

I've been on a lot of marches, organised a few too.  I used to get very affected by the crowd feeling, overwhelmed, which isn't a problem when it's happy but was harder when it was angry or even negative.  I've built a wall (yes, a wall) now that I'm a parent that means I don't react as once I did, especially when my children are around.  I push it all away behind the wall, muttering "later, later", but Later rarely comes.

Today Later came a little for me, after the Auckland Women's March, when I came across a sexist arse in Aotea Square.  It was the Mansplainiest of Mansplaining.  A man with a megaphone yelling at those leaving the march, mostly women, about how good women have it, and how wrong we all are.

Because the problem isn't the disproportionate impact of poverty on women and other marginalised groups, or the over the odds rate of incarceration for indigenous people in colonised countries world-wide, or the economic inequality and injustice that in our own city manifests in people begging on the streets and children (usually with their mothers) living in cars.  The problem isn't the greed of some, the complicity of others, the oppression that is sexism, racism, discrimination on the basis of sexual identity, body parts at birth, income level, skin colour,religion, and the downright meanness of many.  No the problem is that women are stupid.

The problem is not that women are stupid.

At first I felt not much, as I had on the march - intellectually pleased by the turnout and seeing friends and family, proud of my kids with the signs they made, assessing in the back of my mind how this was playing out as a protest given my own experiences.  I was ok to walk on by, and to then feel bad about doing that because I knew I probably shouldn't.

But then this chap was just so earnest, and so misrepresented feminism and the issues and the arguments, and maybe I've been listening to the soundtrack of That Bloody Women too much lately but I yelled at him.  And then I went closer to him and yelled at him some more.*

I was shaking with anger and knew I needed to walk away.  A few bystanders clapped as I went back to the stroller and someone else yelled at him too.  He kept going, certain in his righteousness, with his red capped mates no doubt pleased he'd got a reaction.

I've seen this before, this supreme arrogance, and it has always got under my skin.  I'm reasonably articulate, it's been a large part of my jobs for years, but I can never find the words to move people like this one.  Not in the moment anyway.  Maybe he'll read this and maybe it'll have an impact but I sincerely doubt it.

Because whenever I've seen this before I've also seen in their eyes the dismissal of whatever I say.  Which, when you've lived a bit longer and had a few things happen to you and people you love, becomes what we used to call on the feminist blogs a few years back "denial of lived experience".

It's a dismissal, a denial, a calling untrue, of what has actually happened to you in your life, what you have actually seen and experienced.  So callous, so ruthless, a simple "no, that's not possible".  Or, more often the more sly refutation of "then why didn't you...".  All of it, all of it, saying what you know is true must not be.

That gets to me, down in my bones, in my very gut.  I can remember starkly a few other times; the argument in a politics tutorial where someone ended up telling me that a child of my acquaintance was choosing to be poor; the pleas to those who would observe a social justice march, walk alongside rather than join in, to come on board, met with sneers that told me I was dirt and my hopes ridiculous;  the shutters coming down on the eyes and the turning away when I was hurting and a peer didn't want to see it; the constituent who insisted on the unimpeachable veracity of information I knew intimately was completely untrue.

And when I got back to the stroller, and the two kids I had with me, my wall had a big crack in it.  Bits were leaking out.  And I couldn't do that right then, couldn't leak everywhere.  One of my children was oblivious, but the other was a bit confused and upset: "I don't like it when you yell at people Mummy."  "It doesn't happen very often though, does it?"   "No, but I don't like it."

A quick fix job on the wall then, rushing to squeegee up all the leaked rage and frustration, squeezing it back over the top to deal with Later.  Mortar of forgetfulness, brick of fake cheerfulness for the kinders.  I've done it before, I imagine most parents do, I'll do it again no doubt.  The wall was solid again.

Maybe it's more like a dam than a wall, maybe.  I shall work on finding a turbine for that anger to power, a positive outlet that creates energy rather than flooding the whole valley.  Maybe this is that.


 


*  And mis-spoke and said I was paid worse, when I meant I was treated worse, as unlike most jobs in Aotearoa NZ, the pay for my role is transparent and set independently by the Remuneration Authority, that's the bit I'm kicking myself for most, damnit.


I'm not doing comments on my posts these days.  I'm easy to find on social media if you desperately want to tell me what you think, under my name, Julie Fairey.

Wednesday, 14 December 2016

Three year olds, "science" and burdening society

There is a whopping conflict of interest buried in a horrifying article I want to write about today.  First the horrifying bit:  Professor Richie Poulton is waxing lyrical about which three year old children will grow up to be criminals or poor:
"A simple test at the age of three can predict if children will grow up to be a burden on society, New Zealand researchers say.
The tests on the brains of young children can reveal who is likely to become part of the minority of adults to use the biggest share of social services, new findings from the Dunedin Multidisciplinary Study show."
Three year olds.  Imagine the state deciding a three year old you know will be a criminal one day.  Imagine what the state will do to that child.  Imagine being that child.

This is Minority Report on steroids.  It's not even pre-criming - it's just class and race profiling, because we all know which (poor, brown) children Professor Poulton is talking about:
"We also found that members of this group tended to have grown up in more socio-economically deprived environments, experienced child maltreatment, scored poorly on childhood IQ tests and exhibited low childhood self-control," Poulton said.

The problem here is not that people without enough are a burden on society.  It is that we have structured our society so that many people do not have enough but the rich can thrive.  Finding ways to blame three year olds for intergenerational, entrenched poverty and racism is a quite the side-step, even for the most vicious of benefit bashers.  I wonder how well Professor Poulton's test predicts white collar crime?  I'm sure it takes into account the institutional racism which study after study has identified in our criminal legal system.  And I'm certain he found a way to pay attention to the fact that the children of rich people may not need to access social services in the same way because they are well-protected by the wealth of their parents.

Now to the conflict of interest, which hasn't even made the small print. The article fails to mention that Professor Poulton is also the Chief "Science" Advisor at MSD.  It does say:
"The findings were enabled by a "unique situation" in which governmental data on benefits, criminal convictions and health services could be analysed alongside the smaller scale but more detailed information gathered by the Dunedin study."
So people's INDIVIDUAL information, about accessing benefits they need, and criminal records, and how and when they have needed healthcare has been handed over to researchers who are interviewing people one-on-one about their lives.  Because of the "unique situation" of Professor Chief "Science" Advisor Poulton - benefiting from government money as a researcher in one role, making decisions about what counts as research and evidence in another while he is part of the vast collection of data about us that is the Integrated Data Infrastructure

I wrote six weeks ago of my concerns at an increasingly pressured community sector being forced to hand over individual level client data to the government if they wanted to continue to be funded:
"The same database which has your tax details, benefit details, student loan, car ownership history - hell, there's no limit to what the Integrated Data Infrastructure might grow to include.  Let's be honest, there's been next to no public conversation about the developing surveillance system this government has created, and what's appropriate to link and why."
How much money is being spent on the Integrated Data Infrastructure?  Enough to feed and house all the people in New Zealand that are hungry and living in sub-standard housing?  How much money is Professor Chief "Science" Advisor Poulton getting for his longitudinal research - particularly in a climate where other longitudinal research funding is being cut?  And just how political are these decisions?  Designed, say, to fit an agenda which criminalises poverty?  Let's not forget how Bill English recently justified cutting funding to New Zealand's largest longitudinal study (not Professor Chief "Science" Advisor Poulton's):
Finance Minister Bill English said the decision was more about providing "value for money" rather than saving money.  He suggested the Government was not gaining adequate access to the data.
"There's a whole history behind the Growing up in New Zealand study, there have been ongoing negotiations for some time, to make sure it meets the Government's needs. 
"To some extent the longitudinal studies aren't as powerful as they used to be, because we've got our own administrative data."
What was important to the Government was the "availability of the data".
The brutality of this government is, I believe, not yet fully appreciated, when they write off three year olds and the families they come from as "professional agency hoppers" and a "burden on society."  Let's not forget too, the changes in child protection for these written off three year olds - changes which without doubt at some point will include introducing private profit motives.

This government is finding new ways to make money from those already carrying the burden of greed in our increasingly unequal world.  Some of it just looks like the old ways - giving money, jobs and positions of influence to their mates, exploiting conflicts of interest for all they are worth, making those at the bottom of the heap increasingly vulnerable through shrinking protections and safety nets.  Some of it looks newer - privatising prisons and maybe at some point child protection.

Devastating as all these changes are for those with the least, the biggest damage of all may be to our imaginary world.  Three year olds look like children to most of us now.   But if Professor Chief "Science" Advisor Poulton has as much sway as his title suggests, when will they start looking - especially the poor brown ones - like future criminals? And what will that mean to how we treat them - or how we allow the state to treat them?


Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Leading the National Party

"Do you really think it's ok for us to get here so early, John?  Doesn't strike you as a little, well, unfair to hold the leadership vote without anyone here but us?"

"Actually Bill, I'm relaxed about it.  At the end of the day, you're the best man for the job, I've already been straight about that with the New Zealand public.  We need to work on you being relaxed now.  Apparently that might be a bit of a problem."

"Oh John," Bill says with admiring awe in his voice, "no one is as relaxed as you."

"Well, the five houses help.  And the nice little nest eggs I have in my offshore bank accounts.  And of course the Labour Party hasn't exactly been the stuff of nightmares for me, have they?"

The two men, best of friends, chuckle together over their last few years. Relaxing together, again.

Their peace is rudely interrupted by the crash of doors flung open.

"J-j-judith!  How l-l-lovely to see you.  And what's that you've done to your hair?"

"Hello Bill.  It's a new look I'm trying."  Minister Collins approaches the outgoing Prime Minister, swishing her shimmering locks, bound into a tight ponytail.  "What do you think, John?"

"Smashing Judith.  It's a great look for you.  Why don't you come and sit over here?"

"So when do we vote on the leadership?  You should all know, Cammy will be running some rather interesting stories over the next few days.  Investigative stuff.  Hard hitting."  Minister Collins turns her attention to the other man in the room.  "How are you, Bill?"

"I-i-investigative stuff?  W-w-what do you mean, Judith?  I am a clean slate."

John pats his deputy with his right hand.  "Relax, Bill.  The public won't care about that silly little housing thing.  It's hardly like stealing, is it?  At the end of the day, you paid us back.  And no one cares about abortion.  Besides, we tidied that up ages ago, remember?"  Turns to Minister Collins.  "Judith, what's that on the table?"

"Oh nothing John, just my Ipod.  I'll turn it off now.  When are the others getting here?"

"Actually, Judith, we might just hold the vote now, everyone else is late. Oh, who's that?"

Paula Bennett strides into the room, wearing gold leopardskin and sporting a stunning new hairstyle.

"We need to pick someone kiwis want to have a beer with, a few sausages.  We all know that's me," she says, flicking her ponytail high.  "Bless you Bill, you're looking old, are you feeling ok?  I guess those memories from the worst election result ever must feel close now?  Poor darling."

"H-h-hello P-p-paula," says Bill, looking from side to side, checking with the Prime Minister how to behave.  "Great hairstyle."

John is distracted, looking at Paula, eyes clouded over, his hand reaching towards her.  Minister Collins slaps it down.  "Good grief man, be serious."

Minister Bennett says sweetly "are you worrying about people thinking you're a dreadful old Tory, Bill?  I guess I can see that, too."

"Girls, girls, girls," says John, appearing to have recovered his relaxed poise.  "Remember what I always say: the media and public are idiots.  They don't even care when our children behave like they hate the gays, remember Bill?  And we're the party of family values!!!"

"I do hate the gays, John.  All the gays.  I mean, think of the children....."  For the first time, Bill starts to become animated, puffing out his chest and growing a couple of inches in height.

Minister Bennett pours herself a beer, knocks it back in one.  "You've got a problem there, Bill.  Might want to deal with that."

"Hello everyone.  Prime Minister, so good to see you.  Now, shall we get this vote underway?"  Steven Joyce enters the room.  "I have the proxy votes of everyone else, been carrying them for a while."

Minister Collins looks up from her Ipod with a sneer.  "What on earth is going on with your hair, Steven?"

"Transplants, Judith.  I'm getting it cut tomorrow, but I've had to tie it up today because they were so successful."  Minister Joyce fixes his eyes on the deputy Prime Minister.  "Bill, my friend.  How on earth are we going to deal with the fact the public sees you as a loser?  If you're my deputy, that won't be as much of a problem, of course.  Who wants to open all the proxy votes?"

"H-h-hello S-s-steven, I'm n-n-not a loser.  John said so.  He said no one will remember.  And I believe him.  Right, John?  John?"

"Steven, I've never seen you looking so good.  Let's take a look at those proxies shall we?  I'm feeling relaxed about this, very, very relaxed.  Looking forward to my new job and at the end of the day, that's all that matters."


Monday, 7 November 2016

I am not a Hillary fangirl but

As a little girl growing up I briefly hated Helen Clark because I realised she would likely be NZ's first female prime minister and beat me to it.  I disliked Jenny Shipley for a lot longer, before, during and after her stint as PM, for her policies and limited view of society, not least the odious Code of Social Responsibility (which by the way is largely in place these days from what I can see).

When Hillary Clinton became the first female presidential nominee of a major political party in the USA I was a bit excited, although Bernie was closer to my politics and had Larry David as his SNL impersonator.  Could this actually happen?  A woman in the White House not as First Lady or a staffer or a visitor, but as the President?  In the flood of anti-Hillary outpourings that washed over us all, even here on the other side of the world and dateline, over the next few months that excitement was quickly extinguished.

And then for a long time now we have been watching Trump.  This election is all about Trump, much like a real reality TV show (and what an absurd phrase).  I can't believe it has come to this, that what seemed like a joke or a play for attention is now coming to an endgame that could put someone in control of the USA with no political experience or understanding, a seemingly compulsive liar who is racist and sexist (and anti-abortion) and no doubt lots of other awful things I have missed because to pay close attention to this is to take a wound to the heart every five minutes.  I could pepper this paragraph with links to The Awfulness but surely it's accepted by now, despite his  often nonsensical denials, that he has done and said and downright IS these terrible things.

So he's not fit to be President, not fit to be a politician from my point of view.  Like Paul Henry times ten.*

Thus it's quite possible to support Hillary on the basis she is the lesser of two evils, and I take on board the views of the many many people who tell me that's so.  She's quite a long way less surely most people outside the USA can objectively see that, but putting that to one side, she is, as we all are, a flawed human being.  Will she be as good as Obama (himself not perfect, eg the extra judicial execution of Osama Bin Laden)?  Time will tell.  Her championing of Black Lives Matter, an unapologetic pro-choice position, supporting marriage equality all point to a capability to lead on tough national issues that her country seems very divided over from all this distance away, filtered through CNN, Last Week Tonight, and Fox.  The capacity for an inclusive, optimistic, hopeful leader is there.

As a feminist I don't support Hillary because she is a woman.  I support her because she is a feminist woman, a woman with the skills and life experience, a woman who has handled a truly bizarre and hurtful campaign with grace including being stalked around the debate stage by a large man who has encouraged people to shoot her supporters and wants to put her in jail.  I support her because the idea that a woman can be a political leader is still anathema to some, as I see myself in my own political life sadly.

Part of me looks forward to the awkwardness that will ensue.  Bill can't be First Lady.  How often will Hillary accidentally be called "Mister President"?   How much outcry can we look forward to if she refers to founding mothers?  It will be hard for her, and it will be hard for women, to see that everyday sexism happen, but it will also hopefully be a catalyst for change, for realisation by some of those who haven't understood to date.

Clinton is not the perfect feminist left wing presidential candidate.  She's also not Thatcher.  The US Democrats aren't even a particularly left wing party by NZ or European standards, just in comparison to the small minded small government zealots of the Republicans.

Hillary will be the first female president of the USA, and as I did when Obama became the first African American to hold that role, I suspect I may shed a few tears Wednesday afternoon NZ time.



* I originally wrote million, then scaled it down to a thousand, but really seems like they possibly aren't that different.  You get the idea.




Wednesday, 26 October 2016

Control, surveillance and "professional agency hopping"

In 2009/10, communities won a serious victory against this government when the hated, poorly conceived, cost-cutting travesty that was the "ACC Clinical Pathway" was kicked well and truly into touch by survivors, feminists, mental health support services and specialist sexual violence response agencies.

It was a community issue worth fighting.  In the short time the Pathway was implemented, the review forced by activists demonstrated a staggering drop in survivors who could access support, and horror stories of trauma were told by survivors and by the community agencies and therapists trying to support them.


The ACC Clinical Pathway illustrates the dangers of ideological public policy, and the importance of community safeguards and advocacy in speaking truth to (rape culture, neo-liberal) power.  I'm mentioning it now because I think this government has learned from that public policy defeat, but not the lessons we might hope.  Quietly and quickly, calmly and efficiently they have muzzled the community sector so it will not happen again.

There were some warning signs even back then.  I was heavily involved, in my own time, in fighting the ACC Clinical Pathway.  The sexual violence agency I worked for then was quietly told by an ally in government that we lost a large contract because of my activism, which thankfully my boss did not begrudge in the grand scheme of survivor safety. This should be completely shocking - to change a funding decision based on the private activities of an employee of an organisation - particularly when, as it turned out, we were right.  But in a growing context of threats to advocates, it somehow just started to become intimidation business as usual

This government has decimated the community sector with a series of smart, chilling moves over quite some time, dismantling the sector's ability to play watchdog on punitive government policies.  There were the changes to the Charities Commission, restricting the ways in which organisations registered as charities could "advocate" for social change.  Even far from radical groups like the National Council of Women were forced to take legal action to defend their rights to advocate.  This step institutionalised advocacy, away from the public eye.  It's ok for community groups to meet with nice government officials quietly, to talk about their concerns - but don't even think about saying anything in the media.

Another major step was the introduction into contracts of requirements that community groups cannot discuss their contracts anywhere.  This one policy stroke alone would have stopped the ACC Clinical Pathway activism dead in it's tracks - because gone from public view and debate would have been the volume of horror stories from around the country of the impact the Pathway was having on real people.

Then there are the terrifying spectre of funding cuts.  Everywhere you look.  Services going under, like Relationships Aotearoa, despite nothing to replace them.  Services cutting their hours, and relying yet more heavily on volunteers.  Play nice, little community group, or we'll be sending you home, no matter how many lives you hold in your hand.

While the language of community shifts to neo-liberal talk of markets and providers and social investment and demand and results based accountability, the language of "people who are asking for help" has shifted to the obscene "professional agency hoppers."

The latest nail in the community coffin, that community groups will have to report to government the names and personal details of people coming to them for help if they want to be funded, is just the logical conclusion of all the changes over the last few years.  Taken together, these changes severely undermine democracy and the ability to show solidarity with people with little power.  They also turn community groups into de-facto arms of the state and will certainly stop people accessing community services through fear, shame and stigma.

If you doubt this, think about whether you'd be ok with the STI tests you're having being linked to your name in a government database.  The same database which has your tax details, benefit details, student loan, car ownership history - hell, there's no limit to what the Integrated Data Infrastructure might grow to include.  Let's be honest, there's been next to no public conversation about the developing surveillance system this government has created, and what's appropriate to link and why.

But think again, about accessing services.  Let's say you've got a gambling problem, and your relationship and home are both at risk if you can't change.  But if you go ask for help, that will be linked to all your other personal information.  Are you ready for that, or should you wait a little longer?

Or you've got an eating disorder and it's quietly killing you, but if you ask for help and it's loaded onto your system, will it mean you can't apply for that job you want in government?   

Then there are the safety concerns.  Logging women and children escaping domestic violence into a government database every time they go to a new Refuge will make them much less safe, particularly if their abusive partners can access where they are.  I've worked with women whose abusers were Police officers, and to keep them safe we had to make sure nothing was ever logged in their Police files which might help them to be tracked.  Will this new system acknowledge those dangers?  Of course not.  And while we're on this one, women going to multiple Refuges isn't "professional agency hopping," Minister Tolley, it's acting to save your life in the cycle of violence perpetrators use to control their families.  Just as people who've had lots of trauma and difficult stuff in their lives needing to try multiple agencies to find all the pieces of the help they need isn't "professional agency hopping," it's desperation and fear and lack of trust born from experience.  And it warrants compassion, patience and generosity - not sanctimonious penny pinching and vicious judgment - because do you know what?  If I'd survived some of the things women I've worked with have been forced to manage, I can't even tell you what my survival strategies would look like.  They wouldn't be clean, or pretty, or the model of a perfect little social services consumer though, I'll tell you that for nothing.

If funding contracts which force the community sector to pass on names and personal details had been introduced immediately post the ACC Clinical Pathway defeat, the community sector would have fought.  Fought for their place as safety, for people and families they support, to hold together lives which might be fraying a little.  Fought to remove barriers to help-seeking, not add them.

No, the government introducing it now is smart. 

This government has been confident in shutting down evidence it doesn't want to hear, from silencing researchers to these steps to muzzle the community sector.  It doesn't seem to want the well-informed debate when it comes to complex social issues, debate informed by people with personal knowledge and professional experience in supporting communities.  There are even steps to dismantle the long-term funded research in this area, now the government is exerting more control.  When questioned over the cuts to the longitudinal research Auckland University runs in order to understand child development needs - the kind of research which should help us decide community services - Bill English let slip some frightening honesty:
"Finance Minister Bill English said the decision was more about providing "value for money" rather than saving money.He suggested the Government was not gaining adequate access to the data.
"There's a whole history behind the Growing up in New Zealand study, there have been ongoing negotiations for some time, to make sure it meets the Government's needs.
"To some extent the longitudinal studies aren't as powerful as they used to be, because we've got our own administrative data."  What was important to the Government was the "availability of the data".
If the community sector hands over the names of people asking them for help, not only will it stop people getting the help they need.  Not only will it shift what the community sector is for - away from advocacy and support, towards monitoring and policing services.  Not only will it mean advocacy slips further into the distance, weakening our public policy development.  But it is part of a wider and largely unmonitored shift towards the state controlling more information about us than we've ever agreed to, and with that, making decisions about public spending based on data they control and interpret. 

Does anyone seriously think these changes will be good for our communities?  Trevor McGlinchey from the New Zealand Council of Christian Social Services absolutely nails it when he says:
There has been a quiet revolution occurring which will have profound impacts on community-based social services organisations......Robust discussion and critique is needed to ensure that the most vulnerable in our communities can access the services they need, and community organisations can continue as independent promoters of civil society and community development.
Call me cynical, but the people that brought us the ACC Clinical Pathway are not qualified to make decisions about communities without us acting as safeguards.  Bill English and his "administrative data" do not fill me with confidence, because this government is ideologically driven to support the powerful and leave the less powerful to rot, in cars, substandard housing, shiny new prisons, a decimated community sector.  It's almost as if, the more they silence our voices and have control over interpreting our voices, the less we matter.