Friday, 2 October 2015

Chris Brown and fairy dust

What to make of Chris Brown being so well supported by a handful of Māori women, some with history of working to prevent family violence, that he's tweeting them to say thank you?

Quite a lot, actually.  It's damn good publicity for Mr Brown to be talking about "strong women" about now, when his ability to tour the world is threatened by his use of violence towards other "strong women."  Some might say his livelihood may depend on his ability to reframe himself, since he's been banned from entering the UK, Canada and most recently, Australia.  While touring isn't the biggest money spinner for musicians these days, it's not looking good for Mr Brown, is it?

So you've beaten up your partner, been caught, hit and run another woman, been caught, beaten up male fans, been caught, threatened to kill a queer man, been caught, beaten up a man on the basketball court, been caught.  These incidents span a period of six years, most recent just last May.

Let's get this straight.  I firmly believe people can stop using abusive behaviour.  That's why I've spent nearly twenty-five years working to end gendered violence.  Violence is social behaviour that people LEARN - it's not inevitable or natural or boys being boys.  It's also not an accident, it's the logical conclusion of all the ways femininity and women are reduced to less than by dominant cultural values.   

Changing violent behaviour - and changing the ways you use power more broadly - is hard work.  It requires honesty, self-reflection, feeling the pain of causing others harm.  Listening to people you've hurt and taking responsibility for never doing that again is about the hardest process I've ever tried to participate in.  Many men who use violence don't seem to have the stomach for it.

The men we look up to matter.  They are part of what stitches together gendered violence, misogyny and sexist oppression.  Does Chris Brown teach young men to treat women, and all other genders with respect or disdain?  Is he the kind of man we want young men in Aotearoa to learn from, emulate, hold up as a role model?

Hell no.

I have no doubt that part of Tariana Turia and other high profile Māori women's support of Chris Brown is disgust at the different ways men of colour and white men are treated when it comes to using violence.  She's right about that, and not just at the immigration border.  I went to a Refuge hui once where Māori women were talking about criminalisation of Māori men, and Pākehā women were talking about not being able to get adequate police responses to white middle class male perpetrators.  I've personally seen the police not charge white men who have knifed their partners, and put their partners in hospital after beatings - even when they knew he was the perpetrator.  The reality is, whiteness is like a magic cloud of fairy dust in all kinds of ways, and when it comes to causing violence, it's the best way to avoid consequences, particularly when combined with middle class belonging. 
But the answer's not extending the white fairy dust to Chris Brown.  It's extending the calling out of the use of violence - with associated sanctions - to white entertainers too.  The flip-side of constructing men of colour as scary violent thugs - racist and damaging as this is to Black masculinities - is the invisibility of white men's violence, in all kinds of ways.  So next time the Rolling Stones tour, let's have just as much public discussion of Bill Wyman's acknowledged statutory rape and their lyrics promoting raping Black women as the publicity Mr Brown has attracted this last week or so.  That would be progress around ending gendered violence.

Friday, 11 September 2015

Fairey's Theory of Awesomeness (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.  

Fairey's Theory of Awesomeness
Some elected people think they have been elected because they are awesome.  For those who think this, all they will likely do, once elected, is continue to radiate their awesomeness.  Avoid members of Team Awesome; please don't be one and please don't vote for one.
I've noticed there are really two main kinds of people who are politicians, by which I mean elected people like me.  There are those who think they are elected because they are awesome, and those who have a broader understanding of why they are elected and what the role is.  In my opinion you do not want to vote for the former, and if you run you do not want to be the former either.  

How can you pick who is on Team Awesome?
Those on Team Awesome will of course differ in their individual practice but can often be discerned by markers such as:
  • Low attendance at meetings, briefings and the like that are part of the elected role, particularly if formal minutes are not being taken or the public are not present and/or it is a consultation process where listening and answering questions is key - why would they need to go, they already know how to be awesome!
  • Often very quick responses to public scrutiny such as angry constituent emails, but then no actual follow through on the issue raised - the very fact that they have shared their awesomeness with you by replying is sufficient!
  • A lack of detail in their reporting, or possibly even just no reporting at all - they don't need to prove their awesomeness to anyone, yo, it is self-evident.
  • Confusion between governance and management/operational and also potentially quite a removed idea of governance - their role is to be awesome, that's it!
  • Good blurb and soundbites - because of the awesomeness!
  • Inability to have a detailed dialogue about an issue beyond soundbites - detail and knowledge is for people who aren't awesome!
  • Few completed projects, few if any with much complexity - the awesomeness does not fit well with persistence and consistency, two qualities essential to getting projects done in a democratic environment, sadface.
If you think the above is acceptable once you are elected then please don't run.  This isn't what being a politican is.  For some posts I wrote much earlier (2013) on what being a politician is and can be see here and here.  I'll be revisiting that theme later in this series.

Why does it matter?
Sadly some do operate on the basis of their own awesomeness, and often times they get re-elected too, and they not only give all politicians a bad name, more importantly they fundamentally undermine what can be achieved through the democratic process.  They short change constituents by having a limited vision of the role, of what local government can achieve, and also by spending the time and resources they have access to on being awesome instead of Getting Stuff Done.  (More on what Getting Stuff Done can look like in another post!)  Often they get in the way of people who are trying to get on with the Getting Stuff Done, sometimes deliberately (especially if they are a small government advocate I have found, aka a small c conservative), sometimes accidentally by diverting attention and resources, and other times by the sheer amount of will to live they suck out of other people around them.

TLDR:  It is better to get awesome stuff done than to be seen to be awesome.  If you care about this and want to be involved in making it better then nominate, if you want to be awesome then find somewhere else to do that please. 

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

This isn't trolling, this is abuse

Anita Sarkeesian is a brave woman who speaks out about the misogyny of video games and the abuse directed at her as a result.

"Women are much more likely to be harassed in online spaces than men, and the harassment is much more likely to be sexually violent. A 2006 study by the University of Maryland found that when the gender of a username appears to be female, the user is 25 times more likely to experience harassment. That same study found that those female-sounding usernames averaged 163 threatening or sexually explicit messages a day."

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Nominate 2016 - A series of posts encouraging you to run for local government

Hello there folks,
I am intending to write a series of posts about local government politics, with the aim of enlightening and also encouraging people, particularly the kind of people who read this blog, to run for the 2016 local government elections.

Why?  Well it is a great opportunity to work with others to make change in your community and your region.  Yes it can be incredibly frustrating, and not everyone is suited to the work.  I'm hoping that through writing this series you'll get a sense not only of what is possible to achieve in local government if you are elected but also if you don't run but are interested in making local change working alongside those who do.  There should be some helpful bits that will assist with assessing candidates for your own 2016 votes as well.

Why now?  Because even though the voting doesn't happen until September/October 2016 if you are going to run it's a good idea to start thinking about that now.  I don't know a lot about the tickets (groups of candidates usually with common policies) in areas outside Auckland (and even in some parts of Auckland), but I do know that many will be turning their minds to who to ask to run for them next year now and over the next few months.  One ticket in Auckland is selecting their candidates shortly! (the Labour team for the Henderson Massey Local Board).  While you may not need to make a definite decision about running until as late as July 2016, if you want a good shot at getting elected then a bit of time put in now and over the rest of this year is a good idea.  Not a lot of time, mind, just a bit!

Why run?  I'll go into that in more detail in a future post.  At this point what I want to say is that I never imagined I would be a local government politician - this was an accidental career change for me - and I had no idea of the potential of the role and what councils can achieve, alongside the community, if they have elected people who operate with respect, vision and principles rooted in democracy and embracing the possible (rather than the small c conservatism that seems to dominate much local government thinking and makes change really hard).

Put briefly I am a relative rarity in local government (under 50, a woman, with young children, openly feminist and left of centre); I want to see more people like me running, and even more people who aren't a bit like me running.  We desperately need diversity at the table, not least because that will result in better decision-making and new ideas.

This post will serve as an overview of the series and also an index - I'll put links to new posts up here as they go up.

I hope this series turns out to be useful, and I'm very open to suggestions for topics (I have canvassed social media and have a long list of suggestions now but feel free to add more in comments or through my other available means.)


Take Back the Night - AKL - 28th Aug

What:  Take Back the Night
When:  7:00pm, Friday 28 August 2015
Where:  Meet Corner of Symonds St and Alfred St, Auckland Central

The march will conclude with a rally in Aotea Square with awesome speakers, poetry and music.
This year as we celebrate our communities coming together to reclaim our right to walk our city at night - indeed all the time - without fear, we are mindful that the Law Commission's report on sexual violence trials is due to be released in September. Let's bring the issue of sexual violence and rape culture to the forefront!

Organised by Auckland Feminist Action.

Monday, 10 August 2015

Biphobia and Radio New Zealand

Dear Radio New Zealand,

Thank you for investigating the impact of marriage equality on sexuality and gender diverse communities (which I’m going to call “queer”) in your recent news article.  It’s most welcome to have ongoing attention to the ways in which discrimination and oppression are experienced by queer people in Aotearoa.

Many of the speakers were interesting, thoughtful and eloquent.  I particularly enjoyed hearing from Ngahuia Te Awekotuku and Elizabeth Kerekere as centring takatāpui experience should be part of any conversation of queer rights in Aotearoa.  And I loved the use of “queer” as an umbrella term by Radio NZ, though I know it's a contested term.

I missed any acknowledgment of issues for intersex people, particularly when Aotearoa is the home of one of the most internationally respect intersex human rights advocates in Mani Mitchell. Intersex people face unwanted and intrusive health practices throughout their lives as a result of binary understandings of sex. These things have been completely unaddressed by marriage equality.

I also missed any investigation of changes for queer Asian and Pacifica peoples, since in all those communities, queer activists raised issues and pushed MPs to vote in support of queer rights, with varying degrees of success. I wondered what, if anything, those conversations have opened up for queer people in those communities.

The concern I'm best placed to speak to though, as a Pākehā cis bisexual woman, relates to the biphobia and bi-erasure in the article. From the very first sentence in both the news story and the podcast, we were told queer rights were about “gay, lesbian and transgender individuals.” But bisexual people were not just absent, like intersex people and queer Asian and Pacifica peoples, we were completely erased. The “B” in LGBTIQ is too often silent, but this article took it to new levels.

You said:
"A study published by University of Auckland researchers last year found one in five same-sex attracted youth had attempted suicide in the past year - a rate five times higher than their straight counterparts.  Nearly half had thought about killing themselves, and just short of 60% had self harmed."
FALSE: That study is about same and both-sex attracted young people.  Bisexual people are explicitly included.

You mentioned in the podcast that international research shows homophobia is experienced by “gay and lesbian” sportspeople in Aotearoa.

FALSE: That study is about bisexual, lesbian and gay sportspeople.  Bisexual people are explicitly included.

The article referred to marriage equality repeatedly as same-sex marriage. This invisibilises both bisexual and trans people. There were gains for some trans people from this legislation, because for some it meant marriages that had been legal before transitioning but not after can now be legally recognized. And for bisexual people who have been able to marry different gender partners but not similar gender partners, this was a significant gain, and one which our submissions often explicitly discussed. "Marriage Equality" as a phrase in Aotearoa was about making sure this issue did not hide queer community people who do not identify as lesbian or gay. 

The word bisexual was not mentioned once. The word biphobia was not mentioned once. I understand both were used by at least one of the people you interviewed, but this was edited out.  Just like bisexual people.

You might not be sure why this matters, I guess.  So let me tell you.

Biphobia and bi-erasure mean bisexual people have the poorest mental health outcomes of all sexualities, and we hold onto those poor mental health outcomes for longer, because when lesbians and gay men get older and find community, that can be protective for mental health. That’s not always true for bisexual people.

Biphobia and bi-erasure also mean bisexual people have the highest rates of substance misuse of all sexualities. We use alcohol and drugs differently, and in more problematic ways.

Biphobia and bi-erasure mean bisexual people have the highest rates of sexual and partner violence of all sexualities.  This is true for bisexual women and bisexual men. We are targeted for violence because of our gender and sexuality identity, and biphobic attitudes often form part of partner violence for us.

Biphobia and bi-erasure often make queer spaces very uncomfortable for bisexual people, and this impacts on our health and wellbeing.

None of these vulnerabilities – unlikely to be impacted much if at all by marriage equality – have anything to do with what it means to acknowledge attractions and loves for more than one gender. They are to do with the ways bisexual lives are invisibilised and stereotyped in mainstream culture.

Please do this better next time. Bisexual people have been active in campaigning for and writing rights based legislation for queer people in Aotearoa for decades. We deserve to be included and have our distinct issues treated with respect.

Yours truly,

UPDATE: 11 August 2015.  The response received from Radio NZ said:

Thanks for your feedback.  I absolutely take your point and will pass on your message to my editor - as a broadcaster you'll understand we're constantly trying to get our scripts as tight as possible but I see the issue of erasure apparent here. I've taken it on board, and will ensure to be more inclusive and clearer in the future. Again, I do appreciate the feedback, as it really makes a huge difference in how I tell stories and explore issues going forward.
I asked if they could edit the online print story to include the word bisexual where it's appropriate (which they have done) and note the erasure and omission at the end as a problem (which they have not done).  The journalist concerned was gracious and has reiterated that they intend to approach queer stories differently in the future.  I hope that's what ends up happening. 

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Dom Harvey is a coward.

There has been a lot of back and forth about the stupidity of Dom Harvey taking still frames of a woman dancing in order to get a photo of her knickers/three pairs of stockings/leotard.
First things first. Most performers don’t get to choose their costumes. If they do try to, they get labeled difficult. Any performer knows this. So slut shaming someone for an outfit they don’t chose is a pretty low hit.
Secondly, in order to see ANYTHING of a smutty level in a dance outfit there would have to be a serious malfunction. When I was dancing I wore a g string, then my skin tone tights, then my costume undies, then, then fishnets or costume tights, then my leotard or skirt. Sorry to ruin the day of the losers responsible for this being an actual thing on google search

But you aren’t gonna see anything, no matter how much time you waste re watching and freezing shots to take pics. Creep.
My next point has not been covered yet as far as I can see. There has been a lot of discussion about what is and isn’t funny and who is and isn’t public property, and what parts of a woman’s body are and aren't ok to view if it is already “out there”. But there has been no mention of the cowardice involved.
Cowardice? What? This was a quick joke. He picked the only obvious target right?
 She was the only appropriate target... the only woman wearing a dress short enough to catch a glimpse of her knickers as she executed a lift or jump. The only person who would be suitable for this “Joke”.
Well GOLLY. If only there was a woman there dancing incredibly with her legs in the air in a similar fashion on the same show, on that same night. A woman with media power, a woman with the power to change people’s careers because she is well connected. A woman who if she didn’t like the joke could really mess with Dom Harvey’s future. A woman with the Queen’s service medal.

If only such a woman existed, Dom Harvey could have used her as his target and proved his claims of humor, punching up, and showing that he takes the mickey out of everyone, no matter how powerful. If only there were such a woman, the joke might work. It wouldn’t be a pathetic little perve taking the mickey out of a woman who has so little control out of her image that this may be the one thing she is remembered for.
If he had used Candy, the joke still wouldn’t be a good one, it would still be creepy as hell. But if she has the power to respond without the entirety of New Zealand media shitting on her, that would be a start right??

Pity there was no other woman he could have chosen… then people might have noticed what a coward he was.

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

In the half-light

My third child is six weeks old today.  For almost all of that time he and I have been living in a kind of dim twilight world, half-lit and full of unusual faint noises, as we navigated the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) together.  We started out in Level 3, the most acute level of care, travelled across the ward to Level 2 for a few days, and then finally to Level 1, the Parent Infant Nursery.  I was discharged from neighbouring Ward 96 at Day 7, and baby came home late last week.

For those who haven't been to NICU, which will be most people, it's something of a shock, or at least it was to me.  Not only are the lights dim and the noises somewhat muffled, there are medical machines everywhere, including empty incubators cluttering the corridors at times.  Pings and beeps and whooshing noises in the more intensive rooms, rushes of laughing chatter amongst nurses and parents sporadically in others, loud alarms that catch you unawares occasionally.  It's like an old-fashioned library but with a few babies instead of many books.  You expect to be shushed at any moment.

The outcome for our whanau has been good.  Baby (nicknamed Early) decided to come eight weeks ahead of schedule (well seven ahead of mine, but that's a story for another time) and so he needed to cook for a bit longer basically.  The care and support we received astonished me, not just for the medical needs of my child but also for my health and wellbeing, mentally and physically.  I have come away very much wishing that every parent, new or experienced, could access this level of support for a period after birth if they wanted to; a lactation consultant checking in with all the breastfeederers every few days, friendly reminders that you could go eat lunch while a nurse watched over your child, help learning to do what they call "the cares" (take temperature, change nappy, top and tail wash, followed by a tube feed and later on breastfeeds), practical support with bathing these tiny creatures, comfy chairs that you could nap in, social worker and mental health workers available to come and have a chat.

Despite the excellent level of care and support coming home has very much felt like emerging from a long dream; not quite a nightmare, for us anyway, but not the kind of dream you'd really enjoy and lie in bed wishing you could dive back into.  The people who live in the half-light of NICU are of three kinds; exhausted stressed parents spending as many hours as they can at the cot-side while juggling everything else in life, efficient calm medical staff effectively going about their work, visitors who are only in the library to browse a little while and feel very much like interlopers.

There is an odd kind of camaraderie amongst the parents, I found.  Introductions are about baby names, gestation at birth, and how long you've been Here (ie in NICU).  It was days before I found out the name of a neighbouring mother in Level 1, and in the end I worked out the trick is to read their names on the bottles of milk in the fridge - every baby has stacks of sticky labels BABY OF LAST NAME, FIRST NAME that go on everything.  It sometimes felt like I had some extra status because my baby had been in Level 3 (the most acute level of care) and had come earlier than most (at almost 32 weeks).  People are careful not to ask too many questions about the health of the baby; no one wants bad news and there's always someone worse off than you.

I recognised a Level 1 mother by the toenails I had spied through a door in Level 2 - I remembered because they had taken all of my nail polish off before the emergency c-section but she still had hers and I wondered why (because acrylics I found out later).  Four of us in Room 18 bonded over weigh ins and hopes to graduate to the parent room (where you stay overnight with your baby) before going home.  We've arranged to keep in touch.

Now that we are home, and the sunlight comes through the windows in every room, my strongest memory is of the first room Early was in - Room 2 in Level 3.  Warm, dim, quiet.  Ratio of one or two nurses to each baby.  The gentle pings of oxygen saturation alarms.  Sitting in the lazy-boy staring at my impossibly small child through the incubator plastic, too dazed by drugs and the circumstances to do more than pat him from time to time, and sometimes only brave enough to pat the incubator as I dropped off pumped milk.  The incredible kindness of the nurses and staff.  The sense that the baby in the neighbouring room had it much much worse.  Waiting for bad news that didn't come, and feeling lucky and grateful and humbled.

I hope you never have to go to NICU.  I wish I hadn't.  And I am very very glad it exists.

Monday, 13 July 2015

If you're saying the same kinds of things as Paul Henry, you should probably stop talking

Remember when Paul Henry wasn't sure if our Governor General was enough of a New Zealander? He wanted someone who "looked" and "sounded" "more of a New Zealander" than Anand Satyanand.

Remember when New Zealand Police prosecuted New Zealand citizens as overstayers because their names sounded Polynesian or they looked brown, even though most overstayers were from the UK and Australia?

Well, we have the latest installment of You're Not A Real New Zealander Unless You're White, from the party that brought us the dawn raids, with Phil Twyford able to tell from last names whether or not people belong here.  This time it's Chinese people that are targeted, and as Keith Ng has already pointed out, Winston Peters couldn't have said it better.

Whiteness is like a magic card that gets you into all the best places.  Sure, it impacts on people differently, but it makes any other area of your life where you might be missing out easier, automatically.

I lived in the UK for 12 years, courtesy of a Scottish grandmother and a friendly (to me) immigration system.  I was always at home there - despite not being from there - until I opened my mouth and my kiwi vowels pierced the stiff upper lips of those nearby.  Whiteness travels well, even for bogan queer girls.

Someone with a "Chinese" last name might have been here since 1860.  When will they be allowed to say they belong?  When will Phil Twyford be ok with them becoming a homeowner?

Alongside the vicious racist dog whistling of Twyford, there's the complete idiocy of blaming the lack of housing in Auckland on an ethnic minority, rather than on the greed of those profiteering from our ridiculous, out-dated property laws.  You know who should be an easy target, Labour, when it comes to Auckland housing being inequitable?  You know who you should be able to ask questions about, when we have some New Zealanders living in housing so awful it's making them sick, or so cold it's killing them?

People making sure there's no such thing as a capital gains tax, while they rake in their dosh each week from multiple, million dollar properties, just because our economic systems make it possible.  It's not racist dog whistling you need, it's whistle blowing on the Richwhites

Thursday, 9 July 2015

The evolution of Male Chauvinist Pig to SPERM

Content note: explicit discussion of violence against women, violent misogyny and rape culture.

They call themselves "men's rights activists," and we've let them get away with it.  They have been clever, using language of "rights" and liberal ideas of equality, all the while demonising women and reinforcing sexist oppression.  A Voice for Men, Masculinist Evolution New Zealand (MENZ), the New Zealand Equality Education Foundation and the Union of Fathers have stolen liberatory language while they work on restoring men to their rightful place as top of the heap.

It's about time feminists called this out.  Second wave feminists in the 1960s and 1970s called sexists male chauvinist pigs.  They didn't let MCPs define the terms.

This international "men's rights" movement includes "activists" celebrating domestic violence murders as men fighting back.

Then there is A Voice for Men and their take on fathering daughters:
The night winds on, with discussion of rape and the smothering of penises, the sorrows of false accusations and the narcissism of young girls. A sore point for Factory, who has two daughters, who, like young women everywhere, he says, compete for the most exaggerated rape claim. It is, he says, a status thing. When one of his daughters came home one night and said she’d been raped, he said, "Are you fucking kidding me?" Sitting with us, he hikes his voice up to a falsetto in imitation: " ’Oh, I just got raped.’ " He laughs. There’s a moment of silence. A bridge too far? "I told her if she pressed charges, I’d disown her."
Elam, whose attention has drifted, grins through his beard. "That’s good fathering," he says."
Here in New Zealand MENZ help men to avoid protection orders for domestic violence and tell you what to do if you're accused of rape.  The face of MENZ is John Potter, convicted child sexual abuser.  Posts and comments on the page are Misogyny 101.

Let's call these male chauvinist pigs, with all-new equality lingo, what they are.  Sexist Protectors of Extra Rights for Men.   

SPERMs have many concerns, what with all the feminism.  Recently they got worried about Mad Max and Hollywood being unfair on men.  I'm just going to leave this here, thanks Human Rights Commission.

Increasingly though, the focus of SPERMs is domestic and sexual violence.  They argue men are just as likely to be victims as women, and women are just as likely to be perpetrators as men. 

This argument is well-advanced in Aotearoa, and while MENZ and John Potter may seem fringe, SPERM academics like David Fergusson and MSD's new Chief Science Advisor Richie Poulton who focus on undermining "ideological" approaches to gendered violence, do not.  Nor do the regular deluge of emails from other SPERMs to policy analysts inside government.

Fergusson and Poulton have been arguing for years - with super approving commentary at MENZ and elsewhere - that women are as violent as men, based on research which uses the Conflict Tactics Scale.  I stab you, you push me away, we've been equally violent.  The CTS has been heavily critiqued for missing self-defense, not addressing context like whether or not you're afraid, and not measuring sexual violence in relationships.

Fergusson and Poulton can't explain the gender differences in hospital admissions, rates of seeking protection orders, rates of reporting to the Police, numbers of families in Refuges.  Even they haven't been able to pretend sexual violence is gender neutral.

I do not wish to pretend that men never experience domestic or sexual violence.  There's good evidence that boys are targeted for sexual abuse at previously unsuspected rates,  if not at the same rates as girls.  And with emerging data showing high rates of victimisation for trans* and intersex people, acknowledging diverse experiences of violence is vital.  

But saying violence is always an awful thing - whatever your gender identity - is not the same as pretending it happens at the same rates across gender.  SPERMs are not happy with acknowledging male victims exist; they need them to exist equally with female victims.  And they need female perpetrators to exist equally with male perpetrators.  Contrary to evidence.

New Zealand's Family Violence Death Review from 2013 tells us that in 55 cases of violence which led to death:
  • 51 deaths were of female victims of men's violence; 1 death was of a male victim of women's violence; 3 deaths were new male partners killed by ex-male partners
  • 53 murders were committed by abusive men; 2 murders were committed by abusive women, one of a male partner, one of a female partner
It will be very interesting to see whether Richie Poulton's ideological influence at MSD leads to a degendering of domestic and sexual violence.  Will he try to further SPERM positions like encouraging female victims into counselling with men using violence and removing state supports for women leaving violent relationships?  How will funding for groups working with male survivors increase?

One area he's likely to attack - because SPERMs hate it - is the White Ribbon Campaign, which focuses on ending men's violence towards women.  White Ribbon commemorates 14 murders by a male engineering student who killed women on a course he missed out on in Montreal in 1991.  Male Survivors of Sexual Abuse Trust, Family First and MENZ all come out swinging on this one, pretty much every year.  They actively campaign to stop others participating - one comment on the MENZ link above explains how they stopped New Zealand Courts displaying any White Ribbon materials.  They argue the White Ribbon campaign should be about male victims too, despite how insulting that would be to the 14 murdered women the campaign honours.

One final note.  I've trained close to 50 sexual violence prevention practitioners in New Zealand over the last few years, with nearly an even gender split.  The vast majority of the men doing that work understand gendered dynamics well, and are constantly looking for new ways to encourage other men to behave in respectful, playful and equity based ways when they are sexual with other people, and to intervene if they see men around them supporting violence.

Just one SPERM in that time is probably pretty good going, though I still worry about the damage he may be doing with the young people he works with.   Our training included how to facilitate a session on "Blurred Lines" to encourage conversation about gender norms.  The vicious misogyny of this song, when you actually read the lyrics, is difficult to miss.  The SPERM was most concerned about these lyrics:
"So, hit me up when you pass through
I'll give you something big enough to tear your ass in two"
He was worried that young men who don't have big enough penises to "tear asses in two" would not feel masculine enough.  This SPERM was thinking like a rapist.

"Men's rights activists" are not fighting for rights and equality.  I'm sick of being polite about them, using their language and having to re-prove, over and over again, that sexist oppression exists.  Sexist Protectors of Extra Rights for Men want to always be the centre of attention, setting all the rules, having all their needs met, being the only voices heard.  Enough.  Let's take it back.

For the first time, I am closing comments on a post.  I've been the target of SPERMs in New Zealand before, and while I can't control what they write about me on their own sites, I'm choosing not to allow that here, for this post.  Apologies to all our fabulous readers who would no doubt enjoy discussing and debating the issues above.

Tuesday, 30 June 2015


Recently I've been spending a lot of time on the 9th floor of Auckland City Hospital - Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) is currently the temporary home of my third child, born three weeks ago today.*  Even here, perhaps especially here given the stress of it all, there is violence against women perpetrated by men.

When Early first arrived I was admitted to Ward 96 and he was in nearby Ward 92.  There is a security door between the two wards, which requires a swipe card and only the mothers of babies in Ward 92, who are themselves in Ward 96, are allowed the cards.  Any visitors to my baby were only allowed in, one at a time, with me or the baby's father.  It seemed a bit over the top, until it became apparent that there was a mother and baby in the wards who had a father attempting to visit despite her strong desire for him not to do so.  To keep her safe, and the babies, hers and ours, it was necessary to be super vigilant about that door between Ward 96 and Ward 92, and no doubt at reception for NICU proper, because even here, even in the newborn ward of a hospital, there was a threat of violence.

Then there was this very sad sad story in Whangarei, unfolding at the same time that we were all guarding that door on the 9th floor:
Rachal, 20, died in Whangarei Hospital on June 10 after suffering a severe asthma attack at home. She was eight-and-a-half months pregnant. Her baby was delivered by caesarean section while she was in a coma, but he died in Starship the following day. He was named Robert....Rachal was in the care of the Dingwall Trust, a care and protection facility in Papatoetoe, South Auckland, from nine until she turned 17.The trust's director, Tracie Shipton, says staff had serious concerns about what would happen to Rachal if she returned home. It was also feared she wouldn't get the medical treatment she needed for her asthma and eczema.
The violence is real, the threat is real; it happens everywhere even if we don't see it.  There is a lot of talk about terrorism, focused on the international scene, but it seems to me that so much terror, so much fear and harm, is in everyday lives because of men who hate women, men who abuse women. 
 At the root of most of the recent mass murders we have seen has been a man (or a group of men) who do not see women as full humans; Dylann Roof (Charleston, USA) reckoned he was protecting white women from rape by black men, yet the people he shot dead were mostly black women, and his extreme racism seems to have been coupled with an incredibly patriarchal (at best) attitude to females; Man Haron Monis (Sydney, Australia) had a history of violence against women which, had it been addressed, may have averted the Lindt Cafe siege; Anders Breivik (Norway) blamed feminism for eroding the culture of Europe and advocated for a resurgence of patriarchy; Jody Hunt (West Virginia, USA) killed his ex-girlfriend first; Elliot Rodger (California, USA) specifically drove to a sorority house for his second batch of killings, to punish women in general for rejecting him.  
We cannot properly address and eliminate violence against women until we address and eliminate sexism.  Until we can create a society where women are equal, both in perception and reality, we will not stop all these deaths, assaults and rapes.  And we have to at least try.

*  Baby and I are both doing well thanks, just arrived v early for no discernable reason. 

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Call me feminist, but not the Burkett kind

My Facebook stream is full of feminism, queer activism, commentary on racism and funny stories about what my friends are eating/watching/doing with their children.  Just like everyone else's, I expect.  Yesterday Elinor Burkett's exploration of what makes a woman, written in response to Caitlyn Jenner saying her brain is female, got a few mentions - from people both for and against her description of trans activism and feminism on a collision course.  Her essential (pun intended) argument is this - that when trans people call on essential ideas of gender, they set back women's liberation fights of decades. 

Jaclyn Friedman has responded, and covered many points I'd otherwise be making.
I’m not privy to the Trans agenda, but I’m willing to bet that we also hear the “gendered brain” argument for reasons both legal and cultural, because like it or not (and I don’t), it’s a lot easier to demand freedom from discrimination and violence with the “I can’t help it” argument than it is with the “it’s none of your damn business” argument. The “born this way” talking point has been extremely effective for the modern gay and lesbian establishment.
This argument is problematic in terms of sexuality too.  Arguing "we can't help it" is not a recipe for honouring the complexity of gender or sexuality.  Of course there are genetic, biological things going on - complex things, like the fact there are a hell of a lot more intersex people out there than we recognize.  And of course the social world, our environment, determines how we express and understand our gender.  Do we really not get this by now?  I'm with Jaclyn Friedman - go read Julie Serano if you're strugging.

I'd have more respect for Elinor Burkett's critique if she'd engaged with Ms Serano's ideas about gender than dismantled those of Ms Jenner.  Ms Jenner is not representative of the vast majority of trans women; does not come from a place of having supported or worked with or researched transfeminine lives.  She has access to mainstream media - which includes being exploited and sexualised in ways other women should be quite familiar with - because she is rich and famous.  That's all.

And the response of trans and gender diverse peeps to that sexualisation was immediate, on point and fabulous.  Fake Vanity Fair covers with all kinds of people asking the world to call them by their name.  About as feminist as you can get.

I'm also struggling with Elinor Burkett's essentialising of female experience, to well, her own.  She says about trans women:
They haven’t suffered through business meetings with men talking to their breasts or woken up after sex terrified they’d forgotten to take their birth control pills the day before. They haven’t had to cope with the onset of their periods in the middle of a crowded subway, the humiliation of discovering that their male work partners’ checks were far larger than theirs, or the fear of being too weak to ward off rapists.
Of course trans women with sizeable breasts will have suffered through sexist men ogling them.  Why wouldn't they?  Not worrying about birth control pills?  You might be any kind of woman who cannot get pregnant, or any kind of woman who doesn't have the kind of sex that can get you pregnant.  You know who don't deal with periods on subways?  Women who don't get periods (anymore), or women who never ride the subway because they are rich.  I'm not sure where Ms Burkett gets the idea that trans women are raking in the dosh - and suspect, as with other women, that this will be heavily raced - but our research here in Aotearoa tells a very different story, of cissexism and transmisogny leaving trans peeps in poverty.

The last point is particularly tricky, and perhaps most illustrates Ms Burkett's problematic approach.  Feminists need to expand our understandings of gendered violence to include the increasingly obvious fact that trans people, particularly trans women, are experiencing horrific rates of sexual and domestic violence.  If feminists working in these areas cannot do that, our analysis is flawed.  It's not really so hard - because it's still about gender and power - we just need to stop the simplistic essentialising that Ms Burkett's piece, despite her protestations, is guilty of repeating. 

There are issues for feminism to consider in terms of trans activists smashing gender and sex binaries.  While it is important not to lose sight of this as a liberatory process for all genders, for those of us who do not sit at the top of the gender tree we are facing complex, entrenched sites of sexist and cissexist power over in every area of our lives.  Liberal "men are oppressed too" approaches are not the answer here, much as men need to find ways to dismantle the impacts of toxic masculinity on themselves as well as on others around them.

But if our feminism is about dismantling power over, then the questions being posed should be positive, should help us have a more nuanced and complex understanding of gender and power.  Just as paying attention, in Ms Burkett's quote above, to her essentialising about fertility status, age, sexuality, race and class helps us have a more nuanced and complex understanding of gender and power.  Ms Burkett's version of who counts as a woman is little more than old school transmisogyny, with the smattering of race, class and sexuality privilege that feminism has always wrestled with.

Thursday, 28 May 2015

Stick and stones may break my bones, but verbal banter haunts me

It's fair to say Andy Haden and I have different views on the world, sharing only an enjoyment of the athletic.  But when he described high levels of fear of homophobia from lesbian, gay and bisexual sportspeople in New Zealand as a problem that "doesn't really exist" because it's just about "verbal banter" I found myself unable to respond until now.

Out in the Fields talked to 9,500 sportspeople in New Zealand, the UK, Ireland, Canada and Australia.  The headline results - that queer people play sport, but find it unwelcoming - is not major news.  The fact that 78% of New Zealand athletes had witnessed or experienced homophobia in sport is also unsurprising.  More gay men in New Zealand (not sure about bisexual men) don't play sports because of early negative experiences than queer men in other places.  And while our homophobic assaults of queer athletes are lower than other places, one in six gay men (again, bi men have disappeared) have been physically assaulted here.

It's taken me a while to write about this, because it's my story too.  Women's sport is easily the site of the most queer-hating set of experiences I've had, and perversely, at times the most queer affirming.


When I was 16, I made the Wellington Women's Under 20 Cricket Team.  I chased the ball hard and I was thrilled to make the team since I wasn't very good.  When I came back with my new Wellington jumper on, I was full of pride.

"Did she try and touch you?"  my teammates asked.  I didn't know what they meant.  Gradually it dawned on me, after other questions, that the woman doling out the jumpers was in a relationship with a woman, and the other girls in my team thought she might be trying to grope us.  It didn't make much sense to me; I was tiny, very pre-pubescent, and far more interested in playing the perfect cover drive than being sexual with anyone.  The key protagonists in this questioning have all been in relationships with women as adults.

When I was 17, I made my first full Wellington team and went away to tournament.  Our coach held a competition every night - we had to vote on the ugliest player in the other team.  He also warned us, repeatedly, about the lezzies who might try and "turn us".  The two things became combined, and most of the team participated.  No one in our team was out, though several players later had relationships with women.  I didn't take part, but nor did I challenge it.

When I was 18, I came out as bisexual, everywhere.  I'd also by this time, grown a bit, gone through puberty, and was quite a lot better at cricket.  I was in the New Zealand Under 20 team and captained the Wellington Under 20 team to our second year as national champs.

Then I was dropped as captain.  The woman replacing me led us to placing eighth of eight teams.  The gossip on the field was my shaved head was the problem, and not the image Wellington wanted. 

Aged 19, I'm asked to coach the Wellington Secondary Schoolgirls team.  They play wonderful cricket, beating every team they play.  Their team is full of homophobic abuse, and before the first game I ask the whole team if they want to play for New Zealand.  They all do.  I tell them that if that's the case, they need to change the way they talk about lesbians and bisexual women, since they will have queer teammates and captains.  The (straight) captain and (straight) vice captain take this on, stop the homophobic bullying, and three of the team come out.  One goes on to set up the first queer support group in a secondary school, and many play top representative cricket - including two for New Zealand - for years.

On tour with the New Zealand Under 23 team.  Our coach is a woman in a relationship with another woman, so there is no homophobic bullying, but I am the only out woman in the team.  In one game, a group of queer fans cheer us on enthusiastically, and when we walk off the field one runs up and kisses me and says "thank you."  Everyone, including our coach, pretends it hasn't happened.  Years later, another four women in that team have come out.

I'm away with my first-class team, and I'm sharing a room with another player I know is the captain's partner, despite the fact they are not out.  The first night she tells me she might hang out in the captain's room for a bit.  I tell her I don't mind if she wants to stay there, and that I won't tell anyone.  She spends the tournament with her partner at night.  A year later, they tell me they have hidden their relationship for 15 years because they believed it would stop them playing international cricket.  They come out to everyone else in the team that year.

I'm bowling, in the nets.  The coach of the Wellington team tells me as I run in: "the problem with women's cricket is, too many hairy-legged dykes play it."

I say, "actually, I wish there were more hairy-legged queer women playing."  I bowl another off-spinner. This is the same man, in his late twenties, that I carry a very drunk schoolgirl away from a year later, after he's pulled her into his bedroom at a party.  His teammate who helps agrees with me that we've stopped a rape.

My first-class team is batting, and we're talking about a high-profile television announcer who has just come out as bisexual.  "She looks bisexual," says our coach.  "What does looking bisexual mean?" I scoff at him.  "Do I look bisexual?"  I'm still shaving my head.

"Yes", he says aggressively.  "Do I look bisexual?" says another teammate, a Māori woman with long hair, who's been bringing her girlfriend to every game.

"Yes", he says, a bit more quietly.  "Do I look bisexual?" says another teammate (the Secondary Schools vice-captain from incident above).  She's blonde, petite, very conventionally femininely attractive.

"No", he says, horrified.  "Are you......?"  She refuses to answer.  He puts away his homophobia and biphobia.  It's after this incident that the couple above come out to the whole team.

These are some of the highlights, off the top of my head.  The coaches I'm mentioning are different men.  I love sport, and I played serious representative cricket for more than 15 years, both here and in England.  The teams that were safe from homophobia and biphobia were only that way when women in positions of power made them so, by coming out, and by challenging homophobic and biphobic bullying and abuse.  It's not linear progress either - in my last season of senior cricket in Wellington, not that long ago, homophobic abuse from men in the club was ever-present.  At the prizegiving that year, a drunk player grabbed his bits and told many of my teammates they just needed a good fuck.  They were intimidated enough to leave the public event.

So, dear Andy, you can dismiss homophobia and biphobia stopping queer athletes playing sport, or making us feel scared when we do as "verbal banter" if you like.  But you're wrong.  Sport is almost like the final frontier - it's ok to be racist, sexist and homophobic there in ways that are legally challengeable if they happen in other places.  It's about time New Zealand sports codes made it clear how much they care about their queer athletes.  We deserve to feel safe while we play.