Tuesday, 12 July 2016

In case you were wondering ... removing pubic hair is less hygienic than leaving it alone

Caitlin Moran and others have pointed out that the fashion for removing all pubic hair from ladyparts arose from the proliferation of pornography via the internet.

Sometimes it's argued that removal is good for female hygiene. In a survey of 3,316 women in the US, published this week in JAMA Dermatology, 59% said they did it for “hygiene reasons".

But according to this useful Guardian article, exactly the opposite is true: it is more hygienic not to remove pubic hair, and the survey explains why.

"Your pubis is your own business. But pubic hair was put there to protect your genitalia from friction and infection..." 

Monday, 13 June 2016

Indiana woman appeals 20 year sentence for her own illegal abortion.

If you thought Donald Trump's widely condemned call for women who have abortions to be punished was totally off the wall, think again. It's already happening in the USA. 

In February 2015, an Indiana court sentenced Purvi Patel to serve 20 years in prison for giving herself an illegal abortion. The Guardian explained (2 April 2015) that because the prosecution contended that the fetus had been born alive, she was in fact: 
"convicted of feticide and neglect of a dependent, making her the first woman in the US to be charged, convicted and sentenced for giving herself an abortion. The law was passed by the Indiana legislature in 2009 in response to a bank shooting in April 2008, in which a man shot a woman who was five months pregnant in the abdomen, killing the twin girls she was carrying. Most feticide laws are designed to be used this way – to charge a third party accused of hurting a pregnant mother or unborn fetus. Patel’s conviction, reproductive rights experts said, is the first time such a law has been successfully used to convict a woman for attempting to abort a pregnancy."

Her appeal against her sentence has now been filed.

Please Note: Some commenters want to constantly discuss the morality of abortion, particularly the issue about fetal personhood, regardless of whether that is relevant on the post in question.  The Hand Mirror has established a separate page (click on the Abortion and Morality heading above) for discussion of that element of the issue (the moral arguments, not just fetal personhood).

In terms of this post, I want this aspect of morality issues to be discussed on the separate page provided, not here on my post. Please respect this. Comments that do not respect this direction are likely to be deleted.

Monday, 9 May 2016

Changing the face we value

Most people have done something for which they want to be forgiven.  Things they feel ashamed of, and want to do differently in the future.  Maybe they've said harsh things to people they care about, treated people around them callously, participated in or failed to stop bullying.

Most people have changed their behavior after getting feedback from people around them that it wasn't ok.  Stopped being late whenever they meet a friend; stopped using a racist or homophobic word; stopped drinking or using drugs more than is helpful for relationships around them.

Nearly all of us, I think, want to believe in redemption. 

So when sports broadcaster Tony Veitch returns to the media to tell his story, again, about the broken bones he left in the body of someone he said he loved, many New Zealanders want to believe him when he says sorry.  Anyone who has hit a partner or a child wants to believe him.  Many who have been hit by a partner or parent want to believe him, because they want to believe their partner or parent is sorry - and maybe they are.  Anyone who knows someone who uses violence wants to believe him.

I believe in changing behavior, that violence is learned, not "natural" or only and always linked to masculinity.  I believe violence is linked to power, always, and I believe we can end violence by shifting balances of power towards more equity, whether that's in terms of addressing the harms of colonisation or ensuring equal pay for work of equal value or addressing the impact the greed of a few has on the poverty of many or teaching that gender and sexuality diversity is pretty damn ordinary and nothing to be scared of.  If I didn't believe in changing behavior and the possibility of ending violence, I wouldn't be a feminist.

But there is something else going on in the case of Tony Veitch, beyond the mere desire to believe that people using violence can change.

Ironically, a truly bizarre piece of writing over at the Standard captures it perfectly.  RedLogix says in their defense of Mr Veitch:
You’ll notice I’ve said nothing about Tony Veitch. I think we should let him speak for himself and allow the space for catharsis as Incognito so very elegantly expressed it. While his words will not placate every judgmental urge, personally I will accept them at face value and wait to see what comes next.
People believe men using violence, rather than women experiencing it.

This accepting at face value happens at every stage.  In the telling of violence in the first place - or it wouldn't take 57 women calling Bill Cosby a rapist before we even thought we needed to investigate Dr Huxtable.

It happens in the re-telling, in court, where many defendants simply use the "she's lying" defense, effective when victims can't get every single detail right when recalling traumatic events.

And it happens afterwards, when men like Tony Veitch simply do not tell the truth and rely on our collective desire to believe him getting them by.  As his victim's father says:
"Tony, to atone for your actions, you must stand in the complete truth.  This was no one-off, as you still attempt to mislead the New Zealand public to believe.  The other charges were never presented to the court, but they remain evidence of your systematic abusive pattern. In those files lies a very inconvenient truth for you."
I would LOVE to believe Tony Veitch regrets the years of abuse that his Police file details.  But for me to do that, he would have to stop making jokes about punching people.

He would have to apologise, not just for the incident he was punished for by the court, or even the years of other abuse, but for his appalling treatment of the woman he abused throughout the media furore which surrounded his court case - and the impacts all of his behavior has had.

You see, I don't think Tony Veitch can possible be sorry for the harm he caused - because he never, ever, ever mentions it.  In all his apologies, we have heard only about how hard it was for him, to be caught out breaking someone else's back that one time.

I have a suggestion for people who want to believe in redemption.  Listen to the person or people who were harmed.  Listen to them some more.  Think about what redemption looks like for them.  Centre that.  We have to stop giving Mr Veitch and others who use violence a free platform to re-frame events to suit them.  We have to change the face we value.

Tuesday, 12 April 2016

Making him stop

Trigger warning: child sexual abuse, victim blaming, rape culture.

It's official, Mr "Prominent Man" was not convicted of indecent acts towards the two girls who said that he repeatedly touched them in their sexual and private parts - their groins, bums and breasts.  He was not convicted of pressing his penis into one of the girls backs.  He was not convicted of forcing one of the girls to touch his penis, by pressing her foot into it.  He was charged with 12 indecent acts - four against a child, and eight against a young person.

The jury struggled to decide, and the reasons for that, of course, are not clear.  In a case like this, there's no forensic proof, no swooping in of science to prove the girls are telling the truth.

The girls said they wanted it to stop.  That's why they told a social worker back in 2014.

They wanted it to stop.

Mr "Prominent Man"'s defence was very simple.  The girls were "lying."  They "had their reasons."

See, here's the thing.  I don't believe you, Mr "Prominent Man."  I think you were grooming the girls so you could keep sexually abusing them.  I think that's why you were buying them things.  I think it was going to get worse - as one girl said, she was scared you were going to rape her - and I think the best outcome of this whole travesty is that the girls actually got it to stop.  And not only that, because everyone knows who you are, I'm hopeful you'll never be allowed anywhere near children - of any gender - ever again, because those around you, even if they care about you, will be wondering, just wondering, and won't want another child to be hurt by you.

I know many people reading this blog will instinctively understand this, because we know how child sexual abuse works.  But some won't. You might have never talked to or been a survivor of child sexual abuse.  You might want to believe Mr "Prominent Man" because it's a nicer world to believe in, the world where children lie about being sexually abused and nice, prominent men just wouldn't do that.  For those people, I'm going to spell some stuff out.

Expecting young people to have clear memories of events at least two years ago (probably longer), when those events are traumatic is ridiculous.  So using "inconsistencies" in their recollections, as the Defence Counsel did, repeatedly, to "prove" they are "lying" is ridiculous.  Trauma messes with memory.

But it's all Mr "Prominent Man" had.  He couldn't say he didn't know the girls, because clearly, whatever their relationship is, there was no doubt he knew them.  And it's not like our justice system doesn't know in these kinds of situations how difficult proof can be.  In 2009, research asked New Zealand Police and Crown Prosecutors:
‘If you had a close friend or family member who was a victim of sexual violence, would you recommend they go through the criminal justice system?’
41% of Police said no, or they didn't know, if they would recommend going through our criminal justice system. Those who were unsure talked about being happier to recommend if the sexual violence corresponded to rape myths (stranger, violent etc).
I wouldn’t put myself through this and certainly would let a friend or family know how degrading it is and that they will be revictimised and the chances of a guilty verdict are very, very low. (Police)
As for Crown Prosecutors, those responsible for arguing that sexual violence has occurred? 61% of them said no, or they didn't know, if they would recommend going through our criminal justice system. As with the Police, those who were unsure stressed they would be more likely to recommend for stranger rapes.
In my view the process for complainants in sexual violence cases is brutal, every aspect of the complainant’s character and conduct is questioned and exposed, and the likely outcome is not guilty. (Crown prosecutor)
Both the Police and Crown Prosecutors in this research talked about how seldom juries believe teenagers, and that any small inconsistency is deliberately blown up by defence lawyers to "prove" dishonesty.

So I ask you, New Zealand, who do you believe?  People working in our criminal justice system, who say our system is so broken, they wouldn't send their own family members there?  Two girls, with nothing to gain but stopping themselves being groped and forced to touch an adult man's penis?

I know who I believe.  Whangarei District Court, you've disappointed us.  Let's hope the community does better at keeping Mr "Prominent Man" away from children in the future.

And girls - you rock.  You made him stop.

Thursday, 31 March 2016

It's Time to Free the Pill

Back in the 1960s, when the Pill became available in Aotearoa New Zealand, the New Zealand Branch of the British Medical Association (the precursor to today’s NZMA) decided it would be unethical for doctors to let unmarried women get their hands on it. Doing so, it was argued, would be akin to doctors giving extra-marital relationships a stamp of approval, and the NZMA wasn’t about to do that.
If you thought doctors keeping us from the Pill for our own good was a thing of the past, think again. Sure, it’s no longer under the guise of protecting our moral purity – (most) doctors have (mostly) given up on that argument. Now, it’s all about protecting our health.
As recently as 1996, both the Royal College of General Practitioners and the NZMA opposed the reclassification of the Emergency Contraceptive Pill so it could be purchased in pharmacies. “We have concerns that in a pharmacy the patient may be disadvantaged from receiving the greater advice that would occur in a general practice consultation,” the college’s chairman, Professor Gregor Coster, was quoted as saying in an article in the British Medical Journal.
Fast forward to 2016, and a new front in this seemingly endless struggle is focused on efforts to get the Pill, aka oral contraception, liberated from doctors’ prescription pads and made available over the counter. The most recent round began in 2014, when Pharmacybrands Ltd (now Green Cross Health, which represents 300 community pharmacies and has an equity interest in 80) and Pharma Projects Ltd, (now Natalie Gauld Ltd.) made an application to Medsafe’s Medicines Classifications Committee to reclassify the Pill so it could be sold in pharmacies without prescription, though only by specially trained pharmacists, following the model that’s now used for the Emergency Contraceptive Pill.
 That application was turned down in the face of stiff opposition from general practitioners and the NZMA: the latter said they didn’t think prescription only access was a barrier to the Pill and wanted to make sure doctors continued to provide “the advice and counselling about its use and about sexual health in general”, while the College of GPs, apparently felt “as if they are being excluded from an important part of primary health care”. (Never mind that the actual users of this “important part of primary health care” were – and continue to be – excluded.)
On the plus side, the New Zealand Committee of the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (is that a long enough title for you?) backed the reclassification saying it was “strongly in support of any responsible development designed to improve access to quality contraceptive advice and service”.

Sunday, 20 March 2016

Honouring Our Prejudiced Past?

The Doris Gordon Memorial Trust: Honouring Our Prejudiced Past?

By Morgan Healey and Alison McCulloch  

Over 2015, the US witnessed a groundswell of campus-based racial justice activism. From Missouri to Princeton University, Black Lives Matter activists and their counterparts honed in on ongoing racial oppression and injustice at universities, and called the institutions’ leaders to account. Activists have asserted a range of mechanisms for addressing these issues, including universities removing the names of historical figures that promoted white supremacy from campus halls and departments.

Internationally, the actions of US activists have had a ripple effect, challenging the memorialisation of people who perpetuated and sustained beliefs in the racial inferiority of non-whites while reaffirming their own supposed racial superiority as white (mostly) men. The tale we tell below draws on these challenges within the historical and cultural location of Aotearoa New Zealand in the context of sexual and reproductive health. As two white/Pākehā authors, we suggest that, in the spirit of cleaning our own house, contesting white supremacy should also be done by those with white privilege and that we must play a role in opposing the ongoing veneration of historical figures that propagated racial and gendered inequalities.

Re-imagining an imperfect past
Our story begins at the most recent conference of The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, where a defunct trust in the name of a mid-20th century physician, Dr. Doris Gordon, was relaunched in conjunction with the National Council of Women. According to the Trust rules, it aims “to promote, undertake, sponsor, co-operate in or otherwise further the study and/or the teaching and/or the practice of women's health and wellbeing in New Zealand”.  Funding will be used to hold an annual Doris Gordon Memorial Lecture by awarding a chosen lecturer with a medal and honorarium. The honorarium will be used for the study, teaching, and/or the practice of women's heath and wellbeing in New Zealand, exemplifying the spirit of Dr. Gordon’s work.

As part of his Inaugural Doris Gordon Memorial Oration, lauding the work of the renewed Trust’s namesake, Professor Ronald Jones told the audience of Dr. Gordon’s work in setting New Zealand obstetrics on a sound footing, stating that she had “made a greater contribution to the health and welfare of New Zealand women and children than any other individual”. Then, with only a passing and absolving reference, he proceeded to dismiss Dr. Gordon’s indisputably offensive beliefs on contraception, abortion, class and race as artifacts of her time with little or no bearing on her legacy.

For the Abortion Law Reform Association of New Zealand (ALRANZ) this raised a serious red flag. Is it possible or even prudent to erase the hateful and bigoted aspects of Gordon’s past in order to glorify her positive contributions? Does the past really have such little bearing on the present that we can selectively ignore part of an individual’s complex biography without consequence? And what does it mean for modern obstetrics that a founding member of the profession believed that contraception and abortion were social evils, and professed the racial superiority of white/Pākehā people? We believe it is dangerous to assume that the prejudices of the past have been eradicated and that the legacies of social reformers can be re-imagined anew, their harmful beliefs stripped neatly away.

Wednesday, 16 March 2016

The chubby canary in the feminist mine.

Cross posted from my usual spot

Most people have heard the ‘canary in the mine” thing, but I’m just going to quickly explain.  Back in the days before electronic testing, miners would carry a caged canary in the mine with them. If Carbon Monoxide built up then the canary would die before the man, and give him a heads up to get out of there a.s.a.p. So yeah, the canary was handy, but it got the rough end of the deal.

With all of this discussion of safe and unsafe male allies of feminism (or self-proclaimed feminists), I was interested to notice that several key figures were already not followed by myself and some friends. The news that someone had said something silly was met with “of course” eye rolls. Most of us had un-followed well before any safety issues, or arguments, simply because we hadn’t liked something they tweeted.
None of us could remember why we had un-followed, it was no major issue or insult, and none of us had interacted, we had simply quietly lost them off our feed.
Interestingly we are all body positive, larger sized women, older women, or trans.

I suspect that if you want to know who the effective allies are, look around you at the feminists on your feed that don’t fit the young, slim and cis bill, check who THEY are still following. I get the sinking feeling we may be the chubby canaries of feminism.
We might have a limit for what we won’t cope with that doesn’t bother other people  in the slightest.
But fat shaming isn’t actually that far from victim blaming. Feminism that doesn’t include trans women is a good marker of feminists or allies that don’t try to learn about issues that don’t directly affect them. Ignoring the voices of older feminists or those you find less attractive, is a pretty good indicator that you have unrecognized biases that need to be examined.
In short, it’s an easy fight saying that hitting women is bad, and women should be treated like human beings. As long as you stick to that line, only real jerks would openly debate, and they are fun to kick. It’s not exactly a high bar. I know this because I do it myself, and it’s the easiest part of being a feminist.
And when it comes to pointing this out, most canaries frankly, can’t be bothered. Let the young, pretty, healthy, cisgender, energetic feminists negotiate with the media savvy likable allies who think we are gagging for their help. I can’t be bothered. I have enough battles with people who are overtly unsafe to bother taking on someone who half the feminist community will back up.
It’s not worth the effort, the exclusion and the stress.
Because when you are a “good guy” you can go a long way towards behaving like a crap one, before anyone gets any support to call you out.
Most people are LOVELY people. Most people are loved. Most people in feminism do active work in an important area to help. This isn’t SPECIAL. This isn’t unique. And it isn’t an excuse for degrading women who don’t fit your rules or specifications to be valued or using slurs against women.

So if someone you love is awesome and working hard, and doing good work, and they screw up. Have a quiet word, remind them that we are only as good as our last action, and for gods sakes, resist the urge to shit on the person brave enough to call them out.

Ignoring the canary doesn’t end well for anyone.

Monday, 14 March 2016

unsuccessful IRL…

Cross Posted from my usual spot.

Keyboard warriors… people with nothing better to do… SJWs, unsuccessful IRL… not helping in the REAL world…

I quit one of my volunteer roles last week and cried hard about it. I will miss the people I work with, the fun we have, and the identity I held as a volunteer for that organisation. But one of the strangest reasons my volunteer work is important to me, is that as a feminist online the above phrases are used to undermine my comments. I am particularly sensitive to the idea of “simply bickering online” rather than getting out there and “really making a difference”. Frankly, it gets to me.
This is bizarre, because during the day I literally save lives, and since I was 16, I have always had a volunteer job as well as my paid role. I have no reason to feel vulnerable to any accusation of lack of action, and yet it gets to me.  Congrats Jerks.
In the future I may not always be well enough to do a paid job, let alone additional work on top of that. My wellness may deteriorate and I may be stuck at home, “just” online.

And to that I say THAT IS GOOD ENOUGH.
n fact, it’s not only good enough, the communication of equality, equity, fairness, and justice to your community is PIVOTAL. Without good marketing, the best brands fail, and we need a good comms team for the decency of humanity. The other side may not have particularly good communication, but they make up for it in the sheer amount of filth they spew onto the net each day.

When we look at the Violence pyramid above, far fewer people are actually assaulting and physical hurting people than there are making horrible jokes, degrading other people and using problematic language to perpetuate issues. So for every person out there literally saving lives, we need 100 at home explaining to Uncle Jack that his emails are gross and offensive and no one wants them. 50 people need to be online showing their friends that they CAN speak up to racist FB posts. 20 people should be on twitter, expecting more of allies, and speaking up for people being harassed and abused. 5 need to be brave enough at work to ask a colleague to explain how that offensive joke was funny.
The people working at the public face of activism are pivotal, they are important, and even if that IS all they do, it is of value.
To expect more of anyone is rude. It is ableist and objectionable. Most people have lives, families, jobs and health to take care of. The fact any of us have time for this, which we can do from bed, is an unpaid miracle and yes, we have things we would rather be doing!

So next time someone uses “they have nothing else in their lives” or “not really helping” as a critique –think twice about supporting them.



Tuesday, 8 March 2016

This international womens day, dont miss a beat.

In the last week I have had cramps bad enough to require pain killers; I have lost enough blood to warrant taking a prescribed clotting agent twice daily. I have had to apply a menstrual pad to my undergarments while standing on the back of a rescue vehicle hoping like hell my (all cis male) colleagues didn’t notice what I was doing back there because we didn’t have time to stop. I haven’t taken any time off. I have looked pretty crap and asked to leave my 12 hour volunteer shift early (I couldn’t), and slept most of my spare time. But I haven’t taken a day off.
Because the STIGMA around taking time off for “lady issues” is so strong. It’s given the side eye. Is she really sick? Is she faking? Is she being a bit soft?  I’m TERRIBLE at taking a break and listening to my body, and I am not proud of it.

My biggest concern around this is that it is a symptom of a bigger problem. We need to START TRUSTING WOMEN.
  • We need to believe women when they say they are in pain.
  • We need to believe women when they say something isn’t normal.
  • We need to stop assuming physiological symptoms are related to psychological issues.
  • We need to believe women when they say they can’t keep going like this.
And I need to start trusting myself. 
Take a minute to think about the last time you listened to your body and did what you felt you needed to do to take care of yourself.
This lack of trust in women is seen in clinics where women are assessed for anxiety rather than cardiac issues, it is seen in pregnancy cases where women must undergo counselling and multiple consultations in order to gain permission for an abortion. This is a symptom of a bigger issue, and we need to start seeing it.
Usually I talk about women’s health at this time of the year in terms of gynae issues as they are close to my heart (metaphorically, not anatomically), but this International women’s day I would like to talk about our cardiac health. I have chosen this topic because it is relevant to both cis and transgender women, and is the biggest cause of Death of NZ women.

Cardiac health and disease is still widely misunderstood, most Australian women (and I suspect NZ women) are unaware that heart disease is a major women's health issue (Guillemin, 2004), yet 8 women a day in NZ are dying from cardiac arrest. And in US statistics since 1984, the number of CVD deaths for females has exceeded those for males.
The outcomes we are seeing in the cardiac cases of women are grim. Women with acute cardiac presentation have poorer outcomes than men, even independently of comorbidity and management of condition. This is despite the fact that women often have less obstruction of the coronary arteries. This out of proportion higher mortality rate is most easily seen in our population of younger women (Davidson et al., 2012).

Misdiagnosis and treatment differences in women compared to male patients are a researched issue. In the Framingham Heart Study cohort, half of the acute Myocardial infarctions in women were unrecognised, compared with being 33% unrecognised in male patients (Murabito, 1995). Pope et al. (2000) reported that women presenting to the emergency department with an acute Myocardial infarction were more likely to be discharged without admission than men, and misdiagnosis was a high risk for those who were under 55 years of age.  
Depressingly, in Canada, Spugeon (2007) found that even once correctly diagnosed, women patients were less likely to be treated by a specialist, transferred, or receive cardiac catheterisation than their male counterparts.

I am not here to put the blame entirely on doctors, we need to be aware that as women, we are more likely to underestimate our risk of cardiovascular disease (Hammond et al., 2007), we are more likely to rate our cardiac disease as less severe as our male counterparts (Nau et al., 2005). If we ARE experiencing pain or discomfort in our chest, we are less likely to report it (Canto et al., 2007), and more likely to delay getting help from a doctor (O’Donnell et al., 2006). In case this sounds like classic victim blaming I want to acknowledge that when you look at the statistics in how women are treated when they DO present with chest pain, it’s no wonder they are cautious about presenting at all. Key reasons for delaying treatment include “attributing symptoms to other causes fear of bothering anyone, embarrassment about a ‘false alarm’ and reluctance to call emergency medical services.” (Davidson, et al., 2012, p. 10).
So, how can we look after ourselves?
Be aware that during a heart attack women and men may both feel chest pain, but women are more likely to experience less common symptoms such as Back, Neck, Arm, or Jaw pain.
Women’s symptoms may include nausea, weakness, or a “sense of impending doom” (dread). (American heart association)

If you want to support women, here is what you can do this year. Start believing. If someone you love is complaining of not feeling well, encourage them to listen to their body, encourage them to see a doctor. If that doctor is a jerk, or minimises concerns, encourage them to see another doctor.
This international women’s day if you are a woman, start listening to your body. Believe yourself, and if you feel like you aren’t coping, then understand that is real. Be kind to yourself, and seek help. Seek rest. Seek wellness. Pick one thing you can do this year that will help you live a little longer, with less risk.
This year I am choosing to promise myself the time to have 3 sessions of cardiac fitness in each week. How I will do that is by cycling to work, swimming, aqua jogging, aqua aerobics, and stationary bike exercise at home. I promise you this. I will look after my heart this year. Because women need strong hearts!

Picture courtesy of the American College of Cardiology

Canto, J. Goldberg, R. Hand, M. Bonow, R. Sopko,G. Pepine, C., et al. (2007). Symptom presentation of women with acute coronary syndromes: Myth vs reality. Archives of Internal Medicine, 167 (22) (2007), pp. 2405–2413
Davidson, P. M., Mitchell, J. A., DiGiacomo, M., Inglis, S. C., Newton, P. J., Harman, J., & Daly, J. (2012). Cardiovascular disease in women: Implications for improving health outcomes. Collegian, 195-13. doi:10.1016/j.colegn.2011.12.001
Guillemin, (2004). Heart disease and mid-age women: Focusing on gender and age. Health Sociology Review, 13 (1) (2004), pp. 7–13
Hammond, J. Salamonson, Y. Davidson, P. Everett, B. Andrew, S., (2007). Why do women underestimate the risk of cardiac disease? A literature review. Australian Critical Care, 20 (2) (2007), pp. 53–59
Murabito, J. M., (1995). Women and cardiovascular disease: Contributions from the Framingham Heart Study. Journal of the American Medical Women's Association, 50 (2) (1995), p. 55
Nau, D. Ellis, J. Kline-Rogers, E. Mallya, U. Eagle, K. Erickson, S. (2005). Gender and perceived severity of cardiac disease: Evidence that women are tougher. The American Journal of Medicine, 118 (11) (2005), pp. 1256–1261
O’Donnell, S. Condell, C. Begley, T. Fitzgerald, (2006). Prehospital care pathway delays: Gender and myocardial infarction. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 53 (3) (2006), pp. 268–276
Pope, J., Aufderheide, R. Ruthazer, R. Woolard, J. Feldman, J. Beshansky, et al. (2000). Missed diagnoses of acute cardiac ischemia in the emergency department. New England Journal of Medicine, 342 (16) (2000), pp. 1163–1170
Spurgeon, D., (2007). Gender gap persists in treatment of Canadians after heart attack. BMJ (Clinical Reseach Ed), 334 (7588) (2007), p. 280

Monday, 15 February 2016

The problem is low pay, not family size

In recent public debate about child poverty blame has been laid once again on parents having too many children.  Correspondents and opinion piece writers have stated or implied that more than two children is too many.  When did we decide that having three kids constitutes a large family? 

In the whole of human history there has been a massive period of time with average family sizes of more than three children born to one couple.  In many countries in the world now women are likely to have more than two children over the course of their fertile years, indeed the world average fertility rate is a bit over 2.5 on all three measures Wikipedia uses.  is it unreasonable to expect to be able to have three children and be able to get by in Aotearoa New Zealand, a comparatively well-off place to live?

Those who blame family size for child poverty have been rebutted on the statistics already by such as the Child Poverty Action Group, who have as their mandate research and advocacy to reduce child poverty and would I have no doubt promote reductions in family sizes if that really were a key driver. 

What the family size argument seems to boil down to is pretending that you know more about someone else’s life than they know about it themselves.  Second guessing the life choices of others is an impossible game, even with the benefit of hindsight.

There could be many reasons why people have more than two children (or indeed any children, one child, or no children).  Maybe there was a contraceptive failure, or cultural pressure to have a big family, or a desire to have children of different sexes, or they had the financial resources at the time of conception, or any range of other reasons that are theirs and not yours or mine.

By stating bluntly “if you can’t feed then don’t breed” a series of unhelpful assumptions are made, including that people’s financial situations don’t change over time, or at least don’t get worse.  In an age of uncertainty around employment, the future of work, rapidly changing technology and industries, this seems a naïve assumption to make. In decades gone by how many people, young women in particular, took typing at school before we saw the rise of the personal computer and the demise of the typing pool? 

It is equally impossible for a couple or an individual to accurately foresee how much each child will add to their outgoings.  Will this child have additional health needs, a disability, or be one of twins?  Will we have to move to different housing because of particular needs this child has, housing that is more expensive and creates more transport expenses too? 

Finally not all children are planned at the point of conception.  Contraception does fail, and is not easily available and socially acceptable to all.  In New Zealand Abortions are legally allowed only for medical risk to the physical or mental health of the pregnant person, not for economic reasons.   Those advocating for the termination of pregnancies which are going to put financial pressure on a parent, based on projected income, should think carefully, not least because an abortion on such grounds would be against the current law.

The key driver of child poverty is not too many children but too little money; low incomes, whether it be from paid employment or social welfare or a combination of both.

It's not that long ago that most people in this country could expect a reasonable standard of living for their family based on the income of one full time worker, even with three or more children in the household.  In 2012 the Herald published statistics on median income levels across Auckland.  The area I live in and represent, Puketapapa (Mt Roskill), had the 18th lowest median income in the Herald's stats, despite having a lower percentage of people on benefits (10.5%) than many of the suburbs higher up.   This gap is not about the choices of individuals, it is about a system that distributes wealth in a way that is wrong.  We simply must lift incomes.  We do that by investing in education, in infrastructure, in social welfare, in job creation, in innovation, in pay equity and, crucially, paying at least a living wage.  Focusing on procreation is a distraction, not a solution.

NB:  This post is a rewrite and update of an earlier one I wrote about four years ago on the same topic.  I submitted it to the Herald but they declined to publish it.  Special thanks to Deborah Russell for editing.

Thursday, 4 February 2016

Content Warning Rape Culture

I've very carefully been avoiding reading any detail about the pro-rape Return of Kings hate group.  I'm sure there are lots of other people doing the same.  Too hard, too awful, too difficult to do while being functional in daily life.  So what I have to offer is probably not as useful or considered as many of the other excellent pieces of writing I've been turning away from.

What I want to mention is how when something like this sparkles and shines above the normally opaque surface of rape culture, above the grime and darkness of everyday attitudes toward women that enable most rape, and sexism, we go for it instantly, dispose of it vigorously and then, for some, rest, reassured that we did our bit.

It's good that we respond to these overt threats, that we call them out as unacceptable.  We should do that.  I'm particularly heartened to see men strongly rejecting pro-rape views, alongside many of marginalised genders.   There are peaceful anti-misogyny rallies happening in Auckland and Wellington this weekend, for a public show of opposition, and it is great to see these continue in broader rejection of rape culture now that the Return of Kings public meet-ups have been cancelled.

The very idea of anyone being "pro-rape" reminded me of the (probably apocryphal but nonetheless) chilling jus primae noctis or Right of the First Night.  For those not keen to follow the link (which is a Wikipedia article) the general idea is that the feudal lord gets to rape new brides on their wedding night, before the marriage can actually be consummated with the new husband.  This has come up as a practice in Game of Thrones, and appears not to have been an actual codified right as such, but it does seem very aligned with long standing views of women as the property of men, and the exercise of power over other men by damaging or claiming such property.

Think, if you will, of modern cults in which the leader is entitled to rape any girl or woman they wish, and it is to be seen as an honour by the victim and her family.    Consider the practice of slut-shaming, and how women are valued by their sexual attractiveness while simultaneously judged for enjoying sex, particularly sex outside the bounds of holy monogamous matrimony, as if sex were something not just for men.  Reflect on the threats of rape directed at women who speak out online, or do not comply with instructions from men in their lives; for me the most terrifying moment of the whole of Firefly/Serenity is when Jubal Early threatens to rape Kaylee (note, he then goes on to use a threat to rape Kaylee to gain power over a male character too).

Imagine what it is to live your everyday life knowing that someone you interact with holds the view that you are available to be raped by them at any time.  That shouldn't be too hard for many people, as it is not a million miles from the Schrodinger's Rapist reality for pretty much anyone of a marginalised gender and/or sexuality.

So as we oppose Return of Kings, their hate and their wrongness and their fear, let us also look beyond them in their shiny coat of misogyny to the darkness behind.  That darkness is harder to see, harder to make visible to everyone else, harder to clean away, but still we should scrub at it.  It is built of years and years of rape culture based on the inferiority of women, of pretty much anyone who isn't in the traditionally powerful demographic of a society.  Layers are created from rape jokes, specks added by #EverydaySexism such as "male nurse" and "lady driver", larger blobs slathered on by discrimination that still keeps many out of the professions they would seek on the basis of their genitalia.

We chip off the sparkle of Return of Kings, and we keep chipping, keep scrubbing, keep cleaning, until it is all gone.

Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Divorcing equality

Let's say a newspaper writes a beat up story about a flat advert about a household asking for heterosexual people not to apply.  The article subtly ridicules all the ways the flatmates self-described themselves through the liberal use of quote marks:
It was for a four-bedroom house in the suburb of Newtown, which the existing flatmates described as a "queer, transgender, vegetarian household".
They described themselves as two "feminist/politically switched on adults"......
The Human Rights Commission gets the chance to respond.  It's not unreasonable to expect they might raise the persistent discrimination sexuality and gender diverse people experience in housing.  Like the facts around how vulnerable our young people are, when families reject our sexual or gender identity, and we have to find housing before we're actually ready to be independent.  Or the complete lack of safety for anyone who isn't a cis man in our homeless shelters - we have too few options for homeless women, queer or not, and no options for people who don't fit gender norms/are non-binary. 

Or what happens to us when we rock up to apply for a flat, and the person renting it realises we are not straight, or we are trans, and suddenly the room or house isn't available anymore.  Add being Maori or from any visible ethnic minority to that and you've got an even smaller pool to choose from.

Or what about when we find a flat, and it's ok, they even know we're queer - but then we get a similar gender lover, and suddenly people don't actually talk to us properly anymore? 

These are all overtish - rarely will we be told any of this is about being queer or trans or brown - but we know.  There's also all the covert stuff when you live with homophobic, biphobic or transphobic people.  The inability to have ordinary conversations about your experiences, because those people don't want to hear or don't understand or when you try talking, they are glazed over, bored, because it's not their experience and they don't really care.  The failure to acknowledge significant pain points, like the way your family treat you at Christmas or the hoops you have to jump through to get the hormones or medication you need to be recognised as who you are.

See, I EXPECT our Human Rights Commission to have heard those stories, because they monitor discrimination in this country.  They held a Transgender Inquiry in 2008 which said about housing:
"The Inquiry heard that finding a home was not always easy for trans people.  Those who transitioned as young adults were usually dependent on shared rental accomodation, particularly in flatting situations.  Social marginalisation and negative attitudes towards transpeople affects access to shared accomodation.  A trans woman told of being offered a room in a flat but was later turned away when the other tenants realised she was trans.  One trans man described the stress of boarding in a large house where flatmates continually harassed him by referring to him as "she"."
But instead the Human Rights Commission gave a weak waffling response about how we didn't want to live in a country with prejudice, whether that was saying "No straight people" or "No gay people".

The fact the HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION doesn't understand structural discrimination is terrifying.  Because guess what - straight people can live everywhere else in the whole world almost - the fact that a couple of queer trans peeps in the lovely suburb of Newtown want to feel safe at home doesn't restrict straight people's housing options.

It kind of gets worse, with once again, our more mainstream Rainbow community organisations not knowing how to deal with talking about marginalisation, safety and discrimination.  There is no story here apart from the fact that queer and trans people must have the right, in an incredibly discriminatory housing context in Aotearoa New Zealand, to develop homes which feel safe for us.  And the Human Rights Commission and every single Rainbow organisation commenting on this should be saying that.

Because home is where we go to recover from the world.  It's where we most need to feel safe, to feel seen, to know how we are is just fine.  It's where, if we're talking psychologically, we need to be able to sleep without fear and rest from how we are treated on the streets, at work, in study, whenever we try to access anything we need.  All of those experiences can be more difficult for trans and queer people.

Marriage equality has dulled our senses, drugged our supposed protections, shifted the focus from most queer and trans people's experiences - particularly those of us who are poor, not white, disabled and/or less able or have less desire to fit in.  Expect no less than rage from those of us who never wanted to get married in the first place - it's time for the Rainbow community to divorce this unhealthy relationship with "equality" and start dating around.

Thursday, 14 January 2016

Bowie's Entitlement and grief

At first, I can't quite believe it.  No.  Please, please, no.

David Bowie is dead.  Facebook is grieving.  Gradually, numbly, I realise it's true.

I heard the first song about sex and relationships that I fully saw myself in when he sang:
"Well, Annie's pretty neat, she always eats her meat
Joe is awful strong, bet your life he's putting us on 
Oh lordy, oh lordy, you know I need some loving
Oh move me, touch me
John, I'm only dancing
She turns me on, but I'm only dancing"
As a teenager, I had crushes on Prince, Billy Bragg and Paul Weller.  Sexual crushes.  I watched my boyfriend's shoulders moving under his shirt and wanted to touch him, every time. But I had no language for my breathlessness when I watched the wicket-keeper in my schoolgirl cricket team run, legs rippling, floating with muscular grace.  No language to describe why I wanted to look at the basketball centre while she sassed her opposing player and split the court with the right pass.

I'd heard of lesbians, and a couple of times I worried at the word, turning it over at night, wondering and wondering if the butterflies I felt while instinctively hiding my sportsgirl crushes from team mates counted?  Ultimately, I didn't see how they could, when I swooned over the boy in class who answered all the calculus questions, or the boy who visited me at work just so we could gaze at each other and smile.

David Bowie was a tipping point.  I played John, I'm Only Dancing thousands of times in my mid and late teens, so often I've daydreamed all the characters into authenticity.  It's my very own bisexual film, where my attractions make sense and might create tricky dilemmas at times, but no more so than any other person navigating the world of sexy humans.

It's no secret people who break sexuality and gender rules and norms revere David Bowie.  He showed us different ways to be, confirmed our feelings and dreams and imaginings.  He was on television and on the radio and people - not just us - thought he was magnificent and beautiful and close to genius at times.  That's really why he mattered I think, he showed us and everyone else that how we were was sparklingly, glitteringly just fucking fine.  We could all be heroes.

I look back now at myself in my mid-teens and see the intense pain, isolation and fear that sexuality held for me, because I just did not fit in. He helped change that, by smashing what fitting in meant.

David Bowie is dead.  I am shell-shocked with grief. 

At first, I can't quite believe it.  No.  Please, please, no.

There's a link to an article describing David Bowie being sexual with early teenage girls when he was in his twenties.  I click and read it quickly, sinking.  Feel sick.  I know it's true, feel the young woman's description of a social context in which rich, powerful, adored and very attractive famous men were being rewarded by sexual access to 13 year olds rings true in all the ways I understand rape culture. 

I accept, completely, that and probably other young women's descriptions of those times. Being seduced by rich, powerful, adored and very attractive famous men when you're 13 might well be alluring.  Being wanted by one of the most lusted after men on the planet?  What does that make you?  It's possible to read Lori Maddox's account of Bowie's behaviour and both hold him accountable and believe her when she says that situation has not left scars for her.

I also expect there may well be other young women (and possibly young men and gender diverse people) who might describe and have experienced similar events quite differently.  We're unlikely to hear from them of course - would you jump into this media circus now to describe sexual assault by David Bowie?

The problem with this situation is his behaviour, not hers.  He was the adult who could have smiled at the gorgeous girls and young women falling at his feet, and paid for a cab to take them home before going to find himself a consenting adult closer to his own age.  I can't imagine it would have been difficult.

When we talk about cultural enablers to sexual violence - rape culture - this is what we mean.  It's so easy to think you are entitled to sex, regardless of what other partners want, that you start to believe it.  You can do sexual things with whoever you want, because everyone around you thinks that's fine.  The social values around Bowie and his buddies told him that rich people can have whatever they want,  white people can have whatever they want, famous people can have whatever they want and men can have whatever they want.  Let's call it Bowie's Entitlement.

I've had crushes on many people with power over me.  Teachers, lecturers, managers, captains.  I've dealt with being propositioned with many people I've had power over.  Participants in programmes, people I've coached, much younger people.   Sometimes I've been attracted to those people too.

But the fundamental assessment - in this encounter, is consent meaningful - has meant I've erred, always, on the side of do no harm.  To be honest, it's not even been a conflict, because of my slavish devotion to meaningful participation in all things sexual by everyone involved.

David Bowie got a free pass for sexual behaviour that even at the time constituted statutory rape because he was rich, white, famous and male.  I'm not sure how helpful it is to just blame him for his failure to be a safe adult in the social context Lori Maddox is describing.  It's changed forever how I will remember him, and for that I grieve.  I'm never going to be able to celebrate him without considering his part in rape culture again.  I wish he had made different choices, had found ways to resist the cultural norms around him telling him he could do whatever the hell he wanted.

But I wish, even more, that those social contexts which make meaningful consent unlikely if not impossible, were under constant scrutiny, and that we all took them apart, together.  And I wish too, that I could say that such things don't happen now because Bowie's Entitlement was dead.

Friday, 6 November 2015

Parts of the Job Part 1 - Decision-making meetings (Nominate 2016)

Part of the series Nominate 2016, hoping to open up local government a bit so y'all will at least think about running in 2016.  

There are many parts to the role of an elected member in local government in Aotearoa New Zealand, and I hope to get through the ones I consider most important over time.  First up I'm going to focus on what is sometimes referred to as "the shop front" - decision-making meetings.

Skills you need to be effective:
As you read through this list don't be put off.  You will likely already do a lot of this in other contexts (I'll suggest some in brackets) and if not then with commitment and application you can learn much of it.  These aren't ranked numerically, the numbers are more for discussion reference if you want me or others to expand on that point.

  1. Listening (bet you do that lots already)
  2. Reading (you're doing that now!)
  3. Analysing and thinking critically (the best analogy I have come up with is spotting plot holes.  If you are the kind of person who notices them, and is at least a bit irked, then you can probably do this already)
  4. Asking good questions, and good follow-up questions (what a good question is will depend a bit on context - but in this case I'm talking about asking questions to enlighten you and others in the room, not to score points, but to progress the discussion.  You will likely already do this a lot in low level conflict resolution, eg with family members: "I heard you say you don't like it when I fart in bed, does that mean you also don't like it when I burp in bed?"  "Hmmm, what about if I did it silently?")
  5. Controlling your own reactions (Not to the point of being a mask, but enough that you don't butt in or derail things.  Just like any family gathering really, or parenting, or probably some of the meetings you go to in other contexts)
  6. Actually wanting to do this, or at least being able to pretend that you want to (people can tell really easily if you don't want to be there and that's not really good enough for democracy imho, see also Fairey's Theory of Awesomeness.  You don't have to love every minute but you need to be into it enough to do it properly)
  7. Verbally articulate your views honestly, clearly, succintly (another one you do a lot in writing already especially if you spend much time on Twitter, a five minute opportunity to state your opinion seems excessive after 140 characters!  And this is something you can learn to get better at too, starting with writing up what you want to say, practicising [which I do in the car and the shower often].  To start with it is enough to be able to say, before the actual vote, "I will be voting this way because X" and you can totally do that.)
  8. Debate, somewhat.  (This is the scariest one for most people, but the reality of standing orders [the rules for the meetings] is that the kind of cut and thrust back and forth debate people imagine is actually quite rare.  Usually it is more a case of putting forward your views [as in 7] and then others may put forward opposing ones, and then sometimes you get a chance to reply [which is like updating your 7] but often you don't during the meeting itself.  A lot of debate happens through other forums which is both a plus [allows for less formality, more reconsideration of positions, time to come back to it after thinking and getting more information] and a minus [not always transparent to the public as it ought to be])
  9. Vote.  (Either raising your voice to say a single word at the appropriate moment, or indicating by hand or on a ballot - you do that for reality TV, you do that for the general election, you have totally got this one already).
There are other skills I could mention too that make the work at decision-making meetings effective away from that table, but I'll cover those elsewhere in the series.  

Names for decision-making meetings:

  • Business meetings
  • Public meetings (not to be confused with actual public meetings, ie meetings called by someone / some group to discuss X and not usually empowered to make formal decisions)
  • Board meetings (eg Community Board, Local Board, District Health Board, Board of Trustees)
  • Council meetings
  • Committee meetings (eg Auckland Development Committee, Funding Grants Committee)
  • Monthly meetings (although some bodies meet more or less frequently so might call them something else that reflects time frame)
  • Committee of the Whole (aka COWs, yes COWs - usually a committee that includes all the elected members of an authority, not a subset)
  • Governing Body meeting

Don't let the plethora of names put you off.  In Local Government these meetings generally follow similar formats even if they have different names, and some of them will be the exact same meeting referred to slightly differently by different people, eg all of the above bullet points could be used to describe the Puketapapa Local Board decision-making meetings, except for the last one.  

Time commitment:
This varies greatly from body to body.  It is the key thing you need to be able to commit to doing most if not all of the time, so you need to suss it out carefully.  For the Board I'm on we usually meet one evening per month for up to four hours.  Occasionally we have gone longer, usually we go between three and four hours. 

I advise checking out some of the minutes from the body you are considering running for to get a sense of how often they meet and how long the meetings go for.  Going to these is absolutely crucial; you are a human being, so don't think you have to be at every minute of every one, but going in you should be looking to try, and to either actively want to or be prepared to.  More about my views on how politicians aren't robots when it comes to decision-making meetings here (2011 post).

Format and culture of the meetings:
Again this will vary.  My observations to date (almost exclusively in Auckland) have been that they are reasonably formal, ie there will be someone chairing and they will have a set of rules they run the meeting by (sometimes needing to check with staff for what is and isn't in the rules), often people will not use first names or use titles (Member Smith, Councillor Henare, Your Worship), there will be a place for the decision-makers and their staff and another place for everyone else, those kinds of things.  Most other parts of the role run less formally, some much less formally, than this bit.  

The culture is set by the group, and led by the person chairing to a certain extent.  These are things you can work on consciously away from the meetings themselves too, so how you start doesn't have to be how things always are.  And how they are now, if you go watch one (which is a good idea) isn't necessarily how they might be with different people at the table.  You'd be surprised how much even changing one or two people can change things.  

The format of the meetings is laid out in the standing orders (rules) for that body.  Items covered will include (not necessarily in this order but often):
  • Welcome - sometimes a prayer or message to start the meeting, sometimes just literally "welcome"
  • Introductions - usually part of the welcome, letting those watching know who is at the decision-making table very briefly by name and role
  • Apologies - who isn't there and why - this is usually voted on for accepting or not (and usually accepted)
  • Minutes of previous meeting - in some bodies this will involve scrutinising the past minutes to find any errors, but in local government that is done away from the table before the meeting, so this is usually v quickly accepted too
  • Public input - there are a number of formats for this:
    • Petitions - actual presentation of an actual petition, with signatures and stuff
    • Deputations - longish presentation allowed, followed by questions and sometimes discussion
    • Public forum - short presentation allowed, followed by questions and sometimes discussion
  • Elected member reports - there are lots of different approaches to doing this, some bodies don't do them at all, others do written ones, some allow resolutions (decisions to be voted on), many are verbal updates.  In another post I'll write about how I do it, and other stuff I've seen, as I see this as an important part of the democratic part of the role, but be aware YMMV greatly.
  • Notices of Motion - these are motions (resolutions) that have come directly from elected members and are usually to get a decision on a political matter.  Notices of Motion I have done included seeking a Board position on the Sky City Convention Centre deal, Living Wage and strongly supporting local board input to resource consenting.  Lots of people don't seem to use these much.
  • Agenda reports - these are written by staff (council officers) who are subject matter experts and generally give information and advice and then state recommendations (proposed resolutions/motions) for the decision-makers to debate, change and vote on.  This will form the bulk of the meeting items.  Some items will come up every month (eg we get a montly report from Auckland Transport), others on a regular cycle (six monthly update from Panuku Development Auckland, annual parks renewals work programme), and some in response to earlier resolutions asking for that report so you can then make some formal decisions on a matter.  Check out some agendas to get an idea - sometimes the longest reports actually have the short decisions as they will be providing a lot of background information or updates that don't require political input.  You get good at working out what you do and don't need to read closely.
  • Administrative items - these will vary from body to body, but may include accepting workshop records (who was there, topics discussed), noting when the next meeting will be, passing the progress of the list of resolutions or action items from past meetings.
  • Confidential items - these will usually be at the end of a meeting (for practicality) and may involve commercial sensitivity but most commonly so far in my experience they have been about giving input on things that can't be discussed publicly yet (because the price would go up, or someone might demolish a building, or there is a legal issue).  This is sometimes referred to as "in committee".
For more information on how these can work the body involved will have past minutes and agendas up online.  For example the Auckland Council ones are here (don't be dismayed if things take a while to load, that's not unusual!).

Decision-making meetings are the shop front of the job, not the only important part but definitely one of the most important parts.  You need to be committed to doing them.  Pretty much all the skills you will need to start with are transferable, ie you probably already have them in other parts of your life, eg parenting, other paid work, voluntary commitments.  Don't be scared of this bit, you can do it!