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!

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.