Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Guest post: We’re all lesbians now: undermining powerful women

Here is a thought-provoking (not to mention well-researched!) guest post from frequent commenter Carol. We asked her to expand on some comments she made over at Kiwipolitico a while back, and she really went the miles kilometres for us, including reading some of an Ian Wishart book. Thanks so much Carol, it's great to have such an informed post on this topic!

I have grave concerns about the way the term "lesbian" was mobilized within overt and whispered right wing attacks on Helen Clark's leadership of the NZ government. This is indicative of ways in which senior women politicians continued to be undermined by drawing on historical gendered and sexualized stereotypes.

The issue of Helen Clark's sexuality is complex as indicated by Anita in her recent post. Anita highlights the dishonesty attached to the whispering campaign against Clark:
John Key never actually called Helen Clark a "heartless childless lesbian bitch", instead he arranged for enough other people to say it so that he only needed to nod slightly and the attack was made but his hands remained clean.
Anita also touched on the way it perpetuates negativity towards lesbians:
If being called a lesbian is a political attack what does that mean for women who actually are lesbians?
As an aging leftie, lesbian and feminist, I have, through several decades, had substantial first hand experience of debilitating homophobia and heterosexism in NZ and the UK. At times ignorance, prejudice, discrimination and/or outright bigotry has been incorporated within sexism and misogyny.

Consequently, while being critical of some of the policies and practices of the Clark government (such as those to do with Maori issues and its perpetuation of some neoliberal policies), I felt positively about the way Helen Clark's stint as PM marked a step forward for the left, for women, and for some of the policies significant for LGBT people. Increasingly, however, I have been disturbed by the widespread circulation of attacks on HC, in the media, in parliament, on talkback and in the blogosphere.

The most disquieting aspect is the negative coding of lesbian sexuality, which also incorporated an undercurrent of sexism, subsumed within a "communist, lesbian, feminazi, dictator" discourse. This seems to draw on and conflate long-held stereotypes which demonise powerful women, often characterizing them as dangerous lesbians. Such a mix has also been incorporated in gossip and rumour concerning at least one or two of the most powerful women in the contemporary western world. These are women who, like Clark fall outside what is considered by many as the accepted norm of wife and mother within a monogamous heterosexual marriage – try typing "lesbian" + "Condaleeza Rice" or "Hillary Clinton" into a google web search.

The connotations of the discourse, as related to Clark, have usefully been identified by Lewis Stoddart, in his analysis of talk on Banks and Perrigo's talkback radio show The First Edition.

Stoddard refers to this as the "communist lesbian dictator" discourse, that incorporated the concept of "feminazi" often conflated into the archetype of the violent, anti-human "nanny state". Clark is attacked as "an evil inhuman [man-hating] 'bitch' who must be 'beaten back', because she is characterized as being part of an 'unholy alliance of socialist lefties, militant feminists and Islamic radicals'". In this discourse, "Clark's notional sexuality was entirely geared toward the domination of men." This was linked to her alleged ruthless ambition for political power, which was "the root of Nanny State's sexuality: her 'source of orgasm was power-lust'". In contrast male political ambition is viewed positively, as seen in the myth-making around John key's state house up-bringing, and child-hood desire to be PM.

Stoddard states that "the fundamental basis of Clark's symbolic promotion from woman to feminazi was to be found in her status as a powerful woman." The term "communist" was used in the talk-back chat to imply "conspiracy" in opposition to free enterprise. This conspiracy was characterized as working in the interest of special interest groups, especially Islamofascists, feminazi man-haters and welfare no-hopers while ignoring the concerns of ordinary NZ battlers. This discourse was further supported by the characterisation of Clark and her government as irredeemably corrupt.

The "lesbian" element powerfully supported this discourse through associations with dishonesty and a secret agenda. This use of sexuality draws on negative stereotypes of a powerful autononomous sexuality, that rejects men and women's traditional feminine roles, and is "unnatural, abnormal and perilous", often associated with witches, and ball-breaking bitches (as in a "coven of left-wing witches").

Stoddard's paper deals with the discourse as articulated in talkback. Ian Wishart's Absolute Power re-constructs largely the same discourse to the one Stoddard identified. The chapters on Clark and her husband's sexuality are part of a sophisticated attempt to provide evidence for Clark presiding over the most corrupt government in New Zealand's history.

A substantial part of the book is devoted to linking the alleged extreme corruption to the evidence for Clark being lesbian, and her relationship with Peter Davis as a cynical, politically-motivated sham.

However, the evidence used to substantiate these claims is largely contingent and circumstantial. It often relies on guilt by association and underlying assumptions, which are incorporated into arguments that conflate feminist critiques with man-hating. It seems to aim to support the notion of Clark as a ruthless, ambitious, lesbian feminazi, relying on the sheer amount of sources drawn on, aided by very slanted use of language, and related underlying assumptions, rather than through a balanced analysis of the evidence or a clearly applied line of argument.

The attacks on Clark's sexuality seem to have begun within the Labour Party and/or its supporters. But it was then right-wingers who honed it into a more sophisticated discourse that linked the demonization of female power with the alleged corruption and abuse of power associated with communist regimes, and by extension the left in general.

Wishart is correct to claim that the lesbian slurs of Clark began with the left, though I disagree that it was first put into the public sphere by Edwards in his biography of Clark. According to David Leser, this slur originated with Mike Moore's supporters in the Clark-Moore struggle for Labour Party leadership in 1993 The Edwards book strategically tackles these semi-covert slurs head-on, rather than try to deal with it in the borderland space between public and private, occupied by back-room whispering and political campaign heckles.

Wishart ignores and/or does not accept that there are issues of power imbalance for women and LGBT politicians. This imbalance creates extra strategic problems for senior women and/or LGBT politicians, which can sometimes result in them being contradictory. Wishart also seems to promote a fairly rigid classification for sexuality, in which Clark is either lesbian and devious, or in a conventional heterosexual relationship.

Wishart's contingency is evident in the rather slippery ways he refers to the issue of Clark's sexuality. He first says he will present the evidence concerning her sexuality, but isn't going to state whether she is gay or not. Actually he will be on dicey ground if he did make such a statement as he doesn't present any conclusive evidence for it. He says that "if" Clark is gay, the issue is of importance because a politician who lies about their private life will lie in their political operations. It is a question of trust, corruption and the hidden agenda. Yet the evidence assumes that if Clark is not in a conventional heterosexual relationship she must be gay, and that the evidence strongly points to this. He provides evidence for this through Clark's close associations with lesbians like Heather Simpson.

The evidence that Wishart cites for the trust issue, is located within writings on legal ethics, is not supported any substantial evidence of human behavour, and is strongly contested by others. The key issue, as outlined by Wishhart is that a politican who lies about their sexuality or other aspects of their private life, will lie in the political sphere. However, many contest such an equation. For instance Daniel J. Solvove argues that we all present a different version of ourselves in private from the version we present in public.

Furthermore, such critics also argue that, for people who are marginalized, the pressure to lie, in order to survive in public contexts is very strong, because disclosure can lead to irrational responses. For me, homophobia could be such an irrational response.

Wishart characterises Clark's "social engineering" through her support of such bills as the Civil Union Bill, The Care of Children Act, “smacking outlawed”, etc, as evidence of her trying to promote her twisted, "almost pathological" values onto the public and thereby deprive them of choice. He uses (what he calls) a 'Freudian' analysis of Clark's rebellion against her right wing parents, as though there was no legitimacy to her left-wing views that drove this rebellion.

Yet her support of the Civil Union Bill, is not contradictory or “pathological”, but in keeping with her left-wing commitment to social justice. Furthermore, while in fact not depriving those committed to conventional marriage and nuclear families, the Civil Union law is aimed at removing the need for anyone to have to lie about the personal lives by making such relationships more acceptable. LGBT closeting is a result of the aggressive dominance of strongly gendered heterosexuality. This is a result of the way society has been constructed (or 'engineered') in the interests of the most dominant players over many centuries, ie heterosexual men. "Social engineering" merely gives the idea of social construction a negative slant.

Wishart's argument fails to acknowledge the fluidity of many people's sexuality, and the diversity of many of our relationships. This is evident in the way he uses quotes from Simone de Beauvoir (a favourite of Clark's) to support the unnaturalness of Clark's sexuality, and evidence of an anti-marriage, feminist agenda..

He quotes fairly extensively from de Beauvoir, but this is also associative and circumstantial. In the 1970s de Beauvoir was popular with feminists, hetersosexual, lesbian and bi, and what they took from it probably differed vastly amongst women. Furthermore, de Beauvoir was seen by many women as embodying the best kind of egalitarian sexual-emotional relationship with Sartre. Later disclosures about the lives of these two influential French philosophers have been received critically by many feminists, who, contrary to Wishart's interpretation, see de Beauvoir as having been in Sartre's shadow, and/or manipulated by him. Others focus more on de Beauvoir's bisexuality. Either way, she epitomizes either a non-normative heterosexuality, or a bisexuality that Wishart's analysis cannot accommodate.

Furthermore, Wishart compounds his use of the de Beauvoir quotes by reference to other 'evidence' for (unnatural, lesbian) Clark being a man-hater. For instance he quotes Clark's critical comments about Roger Douglas and Richard Prebble. She says she finds Douglas loathsome and sexist, while she also characterises Prebble, and a lot of male discourse within the Beehive, as sexist. There is no evidence in these statements of Clark hating men in general, only her criticism of sexism, and her strong dislike of a couple of individual males.

Wishart's book seems to be the most comprehensive attempt to provide evidence of HC's deviant sexuality, linked with the analysis of other issues that are part of the case for the Clark government being the most corrupt NZ has ever had (paintergate, Doone, Benson-Pope, Owen Glenn etc).

As evidence linking the sexuality issue with that of Clark as alleged dictator, Wishart quotes a visitor to NZ as having been told by many Kiwis that they believe Clark is a lesbian, but they say it with fear that apparently renders them, according to the Aussie visitor, “too terrified to discuss this charade rationally”. Perhaps the irrationality is that they don't have certain evidence and that in fact their claims are slanderous. However, it hasn't stopped many bloggers, talk back radio callers or many blog commenters from making such claims.

The Clark government had its faults, but it did make important gains for LGBT people, while taking nothing away from those who are, or wish to be, part of monogamous, heterosexual nuclear families and marriages. The use of the lesbian slur to undermine Clark, is part of a widespread pattern of demonizing powerful women. Why was it so necessary for right wingers to add this element of homophobia, and associated sexism, to their attacks on the policies and practices of the Clark government?

26 comments:

Anna said...

Bravo Carol - thoroughly enjoyed reading this.

I get so annoyed with the paper-thin veneer of accepting women and GLBT people that some righties like to put up. There seems to be an understanding that you have to pay lip service to equality and so on when you're speaking publicly, but behind closed doors, you don't need to take this kind of stuff seriously. You can snigger as much as you like - and if innuendo and rumour-mongering damage a person, serves them right for being 'odd'.

It all shows up the individualistic rhetoric of the right to be completely hollow - equal treatment for everyone unless they're a lesbian/women/something else we don't like, in which case we'll use this an excuse for not treating them seriously.

Worryingly, though, I've heard feminists buy into this from time to time, but saying things like, 'I'm a feminist, but I've got a sense of humour and I'm not a lesbian, you know'. We can't get drawn into defending people from from accusations that they are gay, but keep on insisting that people can be gay, straight, or whatever they bloody well like, regardless of what Ian Wishart thinks about it.

Anonymous said...

Yes Carol, people do use all sorts of name calling to demonise there opponents, and some people have a problem with lesbians so see this label as an effective insult, other have a problem with men in general, and label men with some perceived shortcoming as being a "typical male", capitalists are labelled "greedies" etc etc. boo hoo hoo, get over it.

Andrew W

Anna said...

Good call, Andrew. Homophobia causes teenagers to commit suicide at a horrific rate, but don't worry yourself about that. Let's get over it.

Anonymous said...

Anna,we're talking about such attacks on female politicians who aren't lesbians, not homophobic attacks on teenagers, nice attempt at confusing two seperate issues though.

Another problem I have is with Carol's attack on Key, it's nothing other than the type of whisper smear attack that she herself condemns. Equivalent to me trying to smear Carol by saying that she orchestrates other Lesbians to claim that "all men are rapists"

No evidence, but hey, mud sticks.

Andrew W

Anna said...

For crying out loud, Andrew - do you really think when gay teens hear high profile people being mocked for being gay it makes them feel good about themselves? If you look at research into gay teenagers, you'll find that homophobia of all sorts is a big factor in young people concealing their identities and becoming depressed.

You might remember Young Nats yelling 'childless lesbo' at Helen Clark during the election campaign. Do you remember John Key asking them to stop making homophobic slurs? I don't.

Anonymous said...

Anna, are you suggesting that hearing such attacks on, eg, Helen Clark, is causing teens to become depressed or suicide?? In doing so I think you're insulting teens that have to deal with homophobia by belittling the problems they face in their own lives, it's the stresses in peoples personal lives that cause depression. Again, I think you're trying to tie two seperate issues together to score points.
I know nothing about the Young Nats yelling abuse at Helen, so I'm hardly likely to know if JK chastised them for it.
I don't imagine HC takes any more notice of what the Young Nats say than I do.

Andrew W

Anna said...

Andrew, I'm suggesting that a climate of homophobia makes gay people feel bad about themselves. Just like a climate of racism makes people of certain ethnicities feel bad about themselves. (I assume you wouldn't defend the use of racist insults against public figures?)

There's a vast amount of research on the effects of homophobia on people of various ages - have a look. With respect, I don't think you have much insight into what it's like being a young person in an environment of homophobia. You won't find many gay people of any age who feel positive when they see other people being ridiculed for being gay. It reminds them that many people simply won't accept them, and makes them feel they have to conceal who they are or face mockery.

Whether Helen Clark personally cared about the homophobic slurs is not the point. The point is that people shouldn't behave like dickheads, and others shouldn't make excuses for it.

Anonymous said...

Firstly, I see I owe Carol an apology, it wasn't her that originally suggested Key was orchestrating a lesbian smear campaign against Clack, she was quoting you Anna.

I also noticed that in your article that Carol linked to, you hoped that Labour didn't resort to similar smears, my recollection is that they did, in the form of Mike Williams and others trying to smear JK, supposedly with Clark in this case pretending not to be involved.

I agree that people who conduct smear campaigns such as the one against Clark (and Key) are dickheads Anna, but, my point is that they are a reality of politics, and there's not much point crying over them months later.

I like to think that what people say in conducting smears reflects more on them than their target, and I think that's often the way the public sees it too, and I think in the case of an attack using racist insults against a public figure, that that would usually be the case.

It's worth considering whether or not there was any benefit to National in questioning Clark's sexuality, especially when you consider how many openly gay MP's we've had in parliament in resent years, my observation is that whether or not they've been successful has come down to their abilities as politicians, I'm sure that the results of the last election had nothing to do with claims about Clarks sexual orientation.

Andrew W

notafeminist said...

Homophobia in every way, shape and form is damaging to young teengers, fyi. Especially in the media.

But ho hum, who am I to dare demand sensitivity from male privilege.

Carol said...

Thanks for all your responses, Anna, which mostly I agree with.

Andrew, I don't have a lot of confidence that you've read my post that closely. The person quoted with the Key comment was Anita at Kiwipolitico, not Anna.

I don't think that Key orchestrated the "communist lesbian dictator" attacks on Clark, but I do think he played to them, and benefitted from them. I also think it had some impact on the election, but I don't know how much. For instance Key's first TV appearance after becoming leader of the Nats was with his wife, and his TV election promo included references to him being a father. These operated as dog whistles differentiating Key from Clark in relation to the whispering campaign about her. This enabled Key to look like he was conducting a positive campaign by linking to, but distancing himself from the background smear campaign. Labour's ineffectual attempts to respond by negative attacks on Key, were much less of a smear on Key's personal life, and more directly related to the skills he claimed to bring to NZ politics.

I do think it speaks volumes that the National Party leadership never explicitly distanced themselves from the widespread anti-Clark, lesbian smears.

I agree also with Anna and notafemininist about the damage caused to teenagers by homophobia (which the anti-Clark discourse reinforced). There was a good item on Nat Rad 9-to-noon yesterday - interviews with teenagers who'd been subjected to homophobic bullying.

Carol said...

On one of the main points of my post above, the use of lesbophobia to undermine powerful women: Anna, your first comment above reminded me of something Adrienne Rich wrote a couple of decades back. As I recall, she said that there had been widespread use of lesbian smears, or fears of being labelled lesbian to keep women in a subordinate role. As evidence for this she provided a list that showed the similarities between sexism and anti-lesbian discourse - at least that's how I remember it.

I think that, inspite of major advances in women entering into more public roles, including in senior political positions and diverse occupations, there remains a bit of regressive linkage between traditional female roles and traditional forms of heterosexuality. And this causes major contradictions for women in positions of power.

i'm not quite sure if you were implying Wishart is anti-gay, Anna. Anyway, he claims to not be anti-gay, supporting this by saying he is very positive towards gay people he associates with at work etc. I have no idea what about what Wishart's attidues to or thoughts about LGBT people. My criticism of the arguments and evidence as put forward in his book, which in sum, plays to and reinforces lesbophobia in conjunction with slurs on feminism.

I think it highly likely that Wishart could relate positively with LGBT people on a face-to-face level, while drawing on and reinforcing homophobic discourse in his activities in the political and journalistic spheres. This is in keeping with the social research that I referred to in my initial post: ie that people behaviour and/or expressed attitudes can differ according to context, and at times we can be contradictory. It's not so much deliberately lying, as a human tendency to adapt to social context.

Carol said...

I have no idea what about what Wishart's attidues to or thoughts about LGBT people. My criticism of the arguments and evidence as put forward in his book, which in sum, plays to and reinforces lesbophobia in conjunction with slurs on feminism.
Ahh... the above could have been written better:

I have no idea of Wishart's attitudes towoards or thoughts about LGBT people. My criticism is of the arguments and evidence as put forward in his book, which in sum, plays to and reinforces lesbophobia in conjunction with slurs on feminism.

Anna said...

I don't think Key orchestrated a smear against Clark at all. I just don't think he acted against those in his own party who used homophobic slurs against Clark.

Anonymous said...

Hi Carol, OK, now I have to apologies to Anna. Sorry Anna.

I don't think you can fairly draw the conclusion that the "Key as a family man" angle of the campaign was an attack on Clark's sexuality. The wife and family angle in politics is widly used, even when Clark isn't involved. You could argue that it did contrast Key as a parent with Clark not being a parent, but I think that's a reasonable stratagy that's got nothing to do with questions over her sexuality.

The attacks on Key weren't questioning his "skills" but his integrity.

I don't dispute the pain homophobic bullying does cause, in fact I've emphasised that it's by far the worst form of homophobia teens suffer, so I dispute notafemanist's claim that it's "especially" homophobia in the media that's harmful. I think there's actually very little homophobia seen in the MSM.

Regarding the National leadership not distancing themselves from the smears, (I'm not sure they were that widespread, they weren't covered to any extent in the MSM, as has been said, it was "whispering") I would have been surprised if they had taken their supporters to task, it's rare that turning on your own is a profitable strategy in politics, mind you, if it had been widely covered in the MSM Key may well have been forced to address it in the way you describe, as McCain was forced to distance himself from the "Obama is a Muslim" claims. Perhaps Labour should have publicly challenged Key on the issue, it could have been effective at putting him onto the back foot.

notafemanist, what's this about: "But ho hum, who am I to dare demand sensitivity from male privilege." Is that your way of saying that, while your notafemanist, you are sexist?

Andrew W

Anna said...

That's OK Andrew. We were talking at cross purposes.

I think that the wife and family thing (borrowed from overseas politics) does reinforce the idea that a particular form of family is better than other forms (whether they be solo-parent headed, rainbow, etc). I was actually quite surprised to see Key doing it - although, to give credit where it's due, I don't think Key was intending to buy into all the connotations the nuclear family has in US politics. For example, he talked quite proudly about his daughter's fashion interests (which wouldn't exactly appeal to some conservative voters), and how she picked her own outfit for election night. It's a small thing - but it contrasts with the fierce scrutiny and expectations that US political figures will control their kids' (esp daughters') behaviour. I'm thinking of the attention Sarah Palin got for having a young, unwed mother as a daughter.

Carol, you're a much nicer person than I am for giving Wishart the benefit of the doubt. I think that if he really cared about how GLBT get on in our society, he wouldn't imply that someone's failure to declare their sexuality (as they might their criminal convictions) reflects on their integrity. There are a lot of reasons why people might not choose to announce that they're gay - mostly to do with the career-damaging and soul-destroying implications of homophobia.

investigate said...

At the risk of gatecrashing a useful debate, I just want to clarify a couple of things.

Anna, you wrote:
"Carol, you're a much nicer person than I am for giving Wishart the benefit of the doubt. I think that if he really cared about how GLBT get on in our society, he wouldn't imply that someone's failure to declare their sexuality (as they might their criminal convictions) reflects on their integrity."

This goes to something raised higher up the thread. I'm not discounting that Clark may have had valid reasons vis a vis homophobia back in 1981 (if in fact she is GLBT, and that's not proven).

However, it is one thing to live with an internal Labour Party whispering campaign, it is another to get married purely for political reasons in order to attract votes from the wider public. That's kind of like nailing your spouse to your mast as a symbolic flag.

I was in a de-facto relationship in the early 80s, so I'm not convinced by the "world was so conservative" line that appears in Edwards' book.

To this extent, the analysis of Clark's private life I undertook was for the purposes of deconstructing some of the deliberate mythology around her, rather than substituting it with a different mythology.

That's why I wasn't interested in other possible dimensions (was she bisexual, asexual, non-heteronormative? Who cares, that was irrelevant to the issue of establishing what she wasn't.)

And what she wasn't was the ordinary husband/wife stereotype that she projected to garner votes.

Taken on its own, it's not so significant. As a backbencher, probably irrelevant to all but the voters in her electorate.

As Prime Minister of a government with a massive (rightly or wrongly) social agenda, who Helen Clark is and what she believes does become relevant.

And when you factor in dishonesty in a number of other areas (paintings, Doone, speeding etc), it becomes another point of evidence in regards to honest character.

And honesty in political leaders, like it or lump it, is entirely valid for public discourse and dissection.

Besides, with Edwards/Clark having carefully constructed a mythology in "Helen" that I proved was factually not true, and pushed the sexuality line well into the public domain, I could hardly claim to write biography on the Clark years without addressing the topic head on.

Concentrating on this as an attack on GLBT generally is obtuse and unfair. She wasn't just anyone, she was a Prime Minister who campaigned on honesty and integrity. Anything going to those issues is relevant.

Anna said...

I'm not particularly enamoured of Helen Clark, and don't feel much urge to defend her.

However, if you speculate about someone's sexuality, you're speculating about something that they, not you, are the decider of. You're also speculating about their relationship and intimate feelings towards their partner, of which you have no knowledge.

How many people would like to have their marriage vows scrutinised for their genuineness? How do you assess genuineness without making judgements about what 'normal' relationships and sexual activity look like? If I go through a phase of not feeling like having sex with my partner, does that mean my attraction to him is dubious, I am potentially a lesbian, my relationship is a sham and therefore I am a dishonest person?

Speculating that someone is a closet gay is just projecting onto them your own idea of what gay people feel and how they ought to behave. People's sexuality and attractions can change over their lifetimes, and don't necessarily fit into other people's neat categorisations. For example, a friend of mine considers herself straight, but occasionally sleeps with women because she likes it. Presumably, from your viewpoint, that would make her dishonest - but she just doesn't share your definition, and reserves the right to label herself.

Helen Clark's sexual feelings, and how she chooses to express them, are entirely up to her. The public has absolutely no interest in them whatsoever.

investigate said...

Anna, I appreciate what you are trying to say, but I think you are missing my point.

Helen Clark is not "anyone". She was a public figure who sought public election, who gained an enormous wage and who wielded enormous power.

As part of that contract with the electorate, she sacrifices much of her right to privacy, even in the areas you raised.

Let me give you the flip side of the coin.

Suppose a Labour Party prime minister is elected in the future who is championed as a hero of the workers. But suppose also that he is a secret fundamentalist religious observer whose personal goals include changing New Zealand society to make it more of a fit with his own view of the world.

Stay with me for a moment, because this is the exact appeal raised by Carol, that Helen Clark was motivated by her own deeply held beliefs.

Now, suppose this new Labour Prime Minister absolutely turned the tables on society after being elected, but never admitted to being a fundamentalist and pointed to a liberal partner and liberal friends.

He chose not to be defined as a fundamentalist during his quest for power, because that's not how he sees himself. He simply thinks he's doing the right thing. And what right does society have to pigeonhole him anyway, he thinks.

If he has done nothing illegal, and nothing immoral, and we all have a right under the Bill of Rights to our own private religious beliefs, can anyone explain to me whether it would be legitimate for a newspaper to publish a story revealing his fundamentalist beliefs?

Are voters entited to know?

Anna said...

Having a sexuality is simply not the same as having a covert political agenda. Suggesting otherwise implies you have a dim view of gay people. They're just not that sinister.

I don't see that any person, important or otherwise, is obliged to declare their sexuality, or what would be served by it if they did. The sexuality of a leader is really only of relevance to those people who wish to draw negative conclusions about it. A person with a queer-positive attitude won't feel in any way agrieved about not being informed.

There are a great many details of Helen Clark's life that she probably hasn't seen fit to reveal to the public. Jenny Shipley didn't reveal until after her PMship that she'd had depression. Does this make her dishonest?

Julie said...

Slightly related point the UK Court of Appeal has declared homophobic abuse unlawful even if the target of it is straight. Eagle-eyed readers may note a certain Grant Dexter as the first comment up there, who was remarkable for his tenacious appearances on PASystem a while back.

AWicken said...

Reservations I tend to have about the integrity of someone married for decades (even if it is minutely theoretically possible that it is some sort of social camouflage) are significantly lower than the reservations I have about the integrity and motives of people who think the state or basis of other people's marriages are of any public interest at all, political figure or not.

The contempt is also increased when a non-victimising sexuality is also deemed to be of public interest. Exponentially when suppositions are based on rumour and innuendo.

grrr. I'm getting out of here.

notafeminist said...

Andrew: what I meant - and this has been brought up on this blog before - is that 'getting over it' is an idea that stems from the ability to get over it, which is much easier for a person in a privileged position to do; you therefore mistake your ability to get over being called a lesbian as a diminishing term for some kind of nouse, when actually it's quite simply male privilege. You will never be called a lesbian for being a woman trying to attain power.

(If you are thinking of the "female privilege exists too" rebuttal, please do not go there; I'd rather you read Feminism 101 at shakespearessister.blogspot.com)

This post is excellent, btw, Carol. I've very much enjoyed how thorough you've been.

Anonymous said...

notafeminist,
After reading the article you refer to all I can say is that from begining to end all it is is an attempt by a feminist to rationalise her own dislike of men, it's a rant that uses the sexism displayed by men to justify her own sexism.

Andrew W

Carol said...

Some responses to some points made above:

1.The honesty thing. Any accusation of, or argument for dishonesty in political activities by a politician, should stand or fall on the evidence for that specific incidence of dishonesty, and not be inferred by dishonesty in the politician’s private life.

2. I don’t see Clark’s getting married as evidence of corruption or some hidden agenda, but more as a compromise with ideals: the sort of compromise that politicians make pretty regularly to make themselves look more electable. The relationship between Clark and Davis pre-existed the marriage. Yet in Absolute Power, talk of their “marriage of convenience” also seems to imply that the relationship is one of convenience.

Furthermore, Clark’s marriage still continues to look fairly unconventional and, judging by a lot of the rumours, to many in the public as well. Clark said at the time the Civil Union Bill went through parliament, that she would have preferred a Civil Union if it had been available at the time she got married.

3. The marriage compromise does not indicate any deception related to policies, unlike the National Party’s election campaign, in which they gave the impression that they wouldn’t privatise ACC in any way. And yet government seems to be heading that way, as posted by Idiot/Savant yesterday:

http://norightturn.blogspot.com/2009/03/nationals-push-for-acc-privatisation.html

– looks more like evidence of an election campaign disguising some hidden policy agenda to me than Clark’s marriage.

4. When the Clark-Edwards book raised the issue of the vicious lesbian smear, it was already well out there. IMO the book was just attempting the deal with it in a fairly usual way for political strategists.

Julie said...

Great to see this excellent post attracting so many comments (and lots of hits behind the scenes too).

Is Andrew W the same commenter as AWicken? I'm confused...

investigate said...

Carol, you wrote:

"1.The honesty thing. Any accusation of, or argument for dishonesty in political activities by a politician, should stand or fall on the evidence for that specific incidence of dishonesty, and not be inferred by dishonesty in the politician’s private life.

That's your opinion, and you are entitled to it, but there are many ethicists who disagree and I cited some. I found they support the idea that the fundamental issue of a public's right to know how their leaders think, what they believe and who they really are, outweighs the common right to privacy.

It does come down to how much privacy elected public figures have an entitlement to, especially when they are seeking a taxpayer salary and the power to make laws.

In a court case, issues of character or dishonesty in other spheres of life are referred to as "similar fact" evidence and are admissible. I don't see why a prime minister should be shielded.

I don't think I did query the integrity of the Clark/Davis relationship. There is genuine affection and friendship.

What I queried was Clark, having opined heavily on the evils of marriage, effectively swallowing a dead rat to gain power.

To me, that goes to character, will-power and personality and, of course, honesty.

Having said all that, I think yours was a good post, and worth debating. I'll clear off and leave you all in peace.