Sunday, 7 July 2013

Cheering with the man fans

When the great Audre Lorde said there is no such thing as a single issue, because we don't lead single issue lives, she didn't have New Zealand's current debates run by (straight, white, cis, able-bodied) man fans.

But as nearly always, even more than twenty years after her far-too-early death, her words are applicable.  The moment some in the Labour Party suggested that there need to be structural measures to combat structural sexist discrimination in politics, all hell broke loose.  Despite how modest the suggestions were - that some electorates could decide their Labour candidate from amongst women members - the fallout has been huge.

I stopped reading, I'll be honest.  The framing of the issue, almost immediately, as a "man ban" told me all I needed to know - we were going to pretend that there was a level playing field for everyone in Aotearoa.  And that what we acheive in life is based only on Merit©.

This is one of the great colonising myths, the great sexist myths, the great myths of anyone who wants to pretend discrimination and oppression are just unfortunate circumstances, or maybe even - whisper it - possibly the fault of the group complaining.  It's much easier, always, to blame the victim than it is to pay attention to those benefiting.

Somewhat depressingly, it's too obvious to point out the hundreds of male political representatives New Zealand's parliament who completely lack Merit©.  So I won't bother.  Though John Banks will always hold a special place in my heart, for so many reasons.

The discussion about Merit© should have been immediately dismissed as the absolute nonsense it is, by people who believe in challenging inequality anyway.  How can we possibly say that has been the sole criteria by which parliamentarians have been selected?  Wouldn't there be equal numbers of women and men? 

No, the fault lines of this issue can be seen in what else the man fan cheerleaders bring up.

I've seen commentators arguing if we allow quotas for women, where will it end?  Those pesky gays and Māori will be wanting their own quotas before too long, won't they?  (Let's not even go there on the fraught colonial history around Māori representation in general electorates.  We might have to call it, oh, Māori bans?)

I've seen right wing commentators making jokes about how difficult it will be to tell Labour women apart from male candidates.  This isn't, sadly, a celebration of the beauties of gender diversity.

I've seen left-wing men making transphobic jokes about not being prepared to transition for their seat.

And then there is Merit©.  Coming up over and over again.

The sad thing is, it's not just the (straight, white, cis, able-bodied) man fans coming up with this.  It's people who really should know better.  Come on New Zealanders who believe in ending discrimination and oppression.  We're never going to do this, on any issue, without making structural changes.  Be brave enough to say that and call this "man ban" crap out for what it is - excuses for believing women are somehow worth less than men.


Anonymous said...

I think you are wrong. This means that in an age where equality exists because its legally enforceable women still, even in a liberal political party, can't get a role on merit. I think that's absurd and demeans women as less than capable of holding their own and demeans men as being too thick to see merit. Maybe there are other reasons why women are not yet 50% of labour but its close and growing so just let it evolve. It will get there and stay there. Force it and mainstream votes (which they will need to be effective) for the liberal voice will be lost. It not necessarily my voice but who am I to say the strident voices of social change, some of which I disagree with, should not be heard.


ChundaMars said...

I see where both sides come from in this, and I'm really undecided on what I think. It's foolish to think that each and every Member of Parliament is in there based solely on merit, but I also can see why many women MPs aren't supportive of quotas, as they feel it may demean their accomplishments.
One thing I am interested to know is why 50% is the magic number we're aiming for here: shouldn't it, for practical purposes, be something less? If women were to make up over 50% of MPs one day, do we then institute quotas for men? And on reaching 50%, do we declare job done, finished, sexism conquered in the Beehive? Arbitrary numbers like this detract from the real (much more difficult) fight of changing our culture. I appreciate why some may think them necessary but I also think they can have negative impacts on the movement too.
Anyway, as I say, not sure where I stand on this one, so apologies if this is a bit rambling!

Hugh said...

@Chunda: It seems pretty uncontroversial that the goal we should be aiming for is a Parliament that is representative of the population it claims to represent, not just in terms of gender but race, religion and sexuality.

We are actually already there in terms of race (thanks MMP) and either close or already there in terms of sexuality. But is the idea that women should be in parliament in the same numbers that they are in the general populace so controversial?

People who oppose this need to realise that, while it may be a blunt instrument in that it represents a flat-out ban, its use is intended to be very limited. It's not about Labour's central office telling local branches that they must select a woman, it's about allowing local branches to make that choice.

The only problem I see is one that Queen of Thorns pointed out on the Dim Post, that in a close contest between a male and female candidate, the branch might chose to institute the ban as a way to exclude the male. But I think that's a pretty small risk.

(But LJ, I have to say, if you're really as shocked as you say that ostensibly progressive people would oppose that, I wonder which country's politics you've been commenting and reporting on all these years, because it's clearly not New Zealand)

LudditeJourno said...

Haha Hugh - not shocked, disappointed. Particularly at how quickly the framing of Merit and man ban became used, when in my opinion it should be possible to argue for dismantling structural oppression if you believe in equity.

Brett Dale said...

Forgive me if I have read the proposed law wrong, but if the Labour party decides only to pick female candidates in a certain electorate and for argument sake a Polynesian man wanted to run, couldn't a case be made that Labour is guilty of white privilege?

Armchair Critic said...

My take on framing the issue:.
The "House of Representatives" should be "representative". By definition. When it comes to equal representative of men and women, it is not representative.
Before any parties, or the supporters thereof, start blathering on about "man-bans", they should be asked what their party is doing to make the House of Representatives, well, representative. Then those parties can be judged on their efforts, methods and achievements.

LudditeJourno said...

Brett, I think your question would need to be looked at over all electorates. So if Labour was not selecting Pacifica or Maori men in representative numbers then there would be a problem - but in one electorate? I'd be more interested in asking, again, how over-represented white men were overall. Labour are probably stronger on representation of people of colour than other parties though, I'm guessing.
Armchair Critic - yeah - I find the "oh it's just naive politics" stuff so irritating when there are strong anti-sexist ways to talk about this. Your example is perfect.

Brett Dale said...


I dont know the numbers, but I would think that Labour would be the one party that didn't need a policy such as this.

Hugh said...

"Before any parties, or the supporters thereof, start blathering on about "man-bans", they should be asked what their party is doing to make the House of Representatives, well, representative."

This is a tricky one. There's ostensibly nothing wrong with a party that only sets out to represent a certain sector of NZ society (e.g. Maori, LGBT people, Asian-New Zealanders, etc etc). While many parties do aspire to represent all sectors of NZ society (particularly Labour and National, but also the Greens and NZ First) it seems fair to ask the Maori Party (for example) what they are doing to make Parliament representative of NZ's Indian-NZer population, when that is not their party's goal.

Anonymous said...

The idea of enforcing a percentile of people in any industry to be of any gender is utterly morally corrupt.

Shouldnt people get into parliament (or wherever) based on their qualifications and CV? I dont want to see some woman get into parliament over someone who was better for the job just because shes a women. And on the other side of the coin, i dont want to see a man get in just because hes a man, and party X has lots of women.

Instead, lets 'Groom' people for those positions in equality.
Lets have 5 men and 5 women being trained and given the same opportunities for a role.

Lets have selection of a position made by men and women fairly. Not done by the need to meet some silly self imposed number system.

And in all honestly, men and women arent always suited for the same kind of jobs, simply because of scientific factors pertaining to our gender.
Men tend to build muscle more easily, and are generally less affected by violence. Thus, they make good soldiers, loggers, construction workers.
That isnt to say women cant join the army and succeed.

And likewise, Women tend to be more meticulous, careful, detail oriented and more interested in social things. Thus they tend to do very well as diplomats, envoys, sewers, seamstressess and prime ministers.
That isnt to say men cant do any of those either.

But we cant appoint people to roles just because of thier gener. Equality means everyone gets a fair shot, and whoever is best for the role
should take it.