Monday, October 31, 2005

Emma Goldman: Feminist of the Day?

Emma Goldman
Feminist, Anarchist, Social Reformer
"If I can't dance to it, it's not my revolution."

Oh Emma Goldman, most misquoted feminist ever. This is the original:

At the dances I was one of the most untiring and gayest. One evening a cousin of Sasha, a young boy, took me aside. With a grave face, as if he were about to announce the death of a dear comrade, he whispered to me that it did not behoove an agitator to dance. Certainly not with such reckless abandon, anyway. It was undignified for one who was on the way to become a force in the anarchist movement. My frivolity would only hurt the Cause.

I grew furious at the impudent interference of the boy. I told him to mind his own business. I was tired of having the Cause constantly thrown into my face. I did not believe that a Cause which stood for a beautiful ideal, for anarchism, for release and freedom from convention and prejudice, should demand the denial of life and joy. I insisted that our Cause could not expect me to become a nun and that the movement would not be turned into a cloister. If it meant that, I did not want it. "I want freedom, the right to self-expression, everybody's right to beautiful, radiant things." Anarchism meant that to me, and I would live it in spite of the whole world— prisons, persecution, everything. Yes, even in spite of the condemnation of my own closest comrades I would live my beautiful ideal.
Somewhere on the internet (and my googling powers are not enough to find the article again), there is an account by the woman who is responsible for this persistant misquoting. In the late 1960s she was talking to a friend of hers who produced left-wing t-shirts or posters, or some such item, and they were saying they didn't have any women for these posters. She was doing some research on Emma Goldman at the time, so she gave him this quote. The orignal quote didn't fit on his merchandise, so he paraphrased.

This mix of mythologising and tokenism is, unfortunately, very common when it comes to Emma Goldman. She lived an amazing life, there's no doubt about it, from her work organising her follow machinists in a factory, to her opposition to World War One, to her speaking. I don't blame anyone, from Howard Zinn to friends of mine, to being interested in her, admiring her, and thinking that everyone should know about her. But she's the anarchist Rosa Luxemborg, the lone woman deemed worthy of joining the men. And I think that's a shame, because I think there are thousands of women who we can learn just as much from.

Conclusion: Go read more about her, she's really cool. Today I wrote about Emma Goldman as a t-shirt slogan (I have a similar rant about Che Guevara, but it's longer), but she is much, much, more interesting than that.

Keeping the Peace

The number of complains of sexual abuse and exploitation formally lodged against UN peacekeepers last year was more than double the number in 2003.

There are those on the soft-left who believe that the New Zealand army should be reformatted to concentrate on peacekeeping. It's seen as a way we can defend human rights, protect minorities and so on.

This does always seem terribly naieve to me. I don't actually think that decisions about which troops go where have anything to do with human rights, ever. The experience of East Timor shows that very clearly.

But there is actually another fundamental point, which rape and sexual abuse by peacekeepers makes clear. The basic assumption of 'peacekeeping' is that you can give people weapons send them into a conflict zone and trust them not to abuse that power, as long as they come from somewhere outside of the area where there's conflict. Well it doesn't work like that.

Critic and Conscience of Society

Today the Victoria University Council voted to put students' fees up 5% for some courses and 10% for others. This was accompanied by the usual round of protests from students (I've been to a few of these, it's starting to feel a little formulaic). It was all very dispiriting, but I got three things to blog about:

1. The Fee Maxima scheme does exactly what it says, it maximises fees. By setting a Fee Maxima the Labour Government is actually setting the amount that fees will go up in almost every institution. It does nothing to make tertiary education more affordable.

2. The only three councillors to vote against the fee increase were the two student representatives and the representative from the CTU. The two staff representatives present voted for the 10% fee increase, and one expressed pleasure in doing so. Every year the staff reps buy arguments that fees need to go up because of underfunding. Then every time their collective agreement needs to be negotiated staff support pay increases. It is incredibly frustrating that the workers at Victoria University can't grasp the most basic concept of solidarity: "United We Stand, Divided We Fall".

3. When I was an undergraduate the protests at fee rise time were much bigger. I don't believe there was anything special about people who started university in 1996 that made them liable to make trouble, but I think there has been an important change since then. When I first started university fees had only been in place for 6 years and the National government had won the 1990 election on the back of a promise that it would eliminate students fees (it didn't). Fees and debt both felt like something we could change then, now it feels more like going through the motions. Students who enter University in 2006 would have been two years old when fees came in and they don't remember that it could be different. What's missing now is hope, and you can't build a protest movement without it.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

What is the same about the Invasion of Iraq and the Civil Rights Movement?

They were both about oil except the Civil Rights Movement?

They were both borning movements except for the War on Iraq?

When Condoleeza Rice and Jack Straw took a three day tour of her home-town: Birmingham, Alabama No, they came up with a slightly different answer:

Mr Straw said the example of America's southern states would help to "counter this unbelievably condescending view that there is a chosen people across the world, mainly white, who are capable of enjoying democracy, and there is the rest who are only capable of living in tyranny".
So those who are opposing invading a country are saying that brown people can only enjoy tyranny while those invading a country are brining Democracy? I guess you can make words mean whatever you want them to mean as long as you pay them enough.

There are some important distinctions between the Civil Rights Movement and the Invasion of Iraq: one was a coalition of grass-roots organisations attempting to improve their own lives by challenging the power structures, the other was a state action, involving force, that has killed tens of thousands

I'll let you guess which is which, but in case I have any readers half as dense as Jack Straw I'll leave some pictures as clues.

Civil Rights Movement:

Invasion of Iraq:

I did think of a straight answer by the way: they were both inspired by God - strange God.

Betty Friedan: Feminist of the Day?

Betty Naomi Friedan
Author, Founder
"If divorce has increased by one thousand percent, don't blame the women's movement. Blame the obsolete sex roles on which our marriages were based."

One of my least favourite scene in 10 Things I Hate About You takes place in a bookstore. Heath Ledger is pursuing Julia Stiles and finds her in the feminist section. When she asks him what he's doing there he says he's lost his copy of 'Feminine Mystique', this ruse seems to work, because at the end of the scene she presents him with a copy of the book.

I can't think of a feminist book that it is less plausible that a teenage boy would own, or that would have any importance to Kat. I'm left wondering if the writer used The Feminine Mystique as a generic stand in for any feminist text, or if the inappropriateness was the point, but as the director, actors, and 99.9% of the audience didn't understand that the 0.1 of us who care about this sort of thing just get annoyed.

The Feminine Mystique is an impressive discussion of the situation of women in a particular time and place. Its research and analysis is incredibly thorough. She describes the situation women are in, and has done enough research to explain why (the answer is capitalism, by the way). The Feminine mystique resonated with enough women that its position as a book that sparked a movement isn't entirely hyperbole. But it is the analysis of one of the problems that women faced in the 1960s, it is not a programme for feminist change.

Since publishing the Feminine Mystique Betty Friedan's sisterhood has been a little spotty (to put it generously), she complained about Lesbians within NOW and later wrote a book about how the feminine mystique had been replaced by the feminist mystique.

I think too many people, including Betty Friedan herself, have treated her work as something it is not. It is not a general feminist treatise, but an analysis of a specific problem women faced.

Conclusion: Go and read The Feminine Mystique it's really interesting. It is a shame that fame doesn't agree with some people, but that shouldn't discredit the work they have done (I'm pretty sure she has a secret red past as well.)

Proposing Modesty

Yesterday I wrote about Brio, where you can find all the bad advice offered to Christian teenage girls. Well Christian teenage boys can get just as bad advice from Breakaway.

Unfortunately it doesn't have many beauty or fashion tips, but it does tell you how to go deeper into your relationship with Christ by hiking, how to skate for God, or how to be all manly and christian by giving up soft drinks for a month (no I don't get that).

To the surprise of no-one where Brio tell girls how to look pretty and wait, Breakaway tries to make Christianity the most exciting action packed adventure this side of invading a country (although mutually exclusive those two are not).

But while I found Brio just amusing, and a little sad, I found Breakaway creepy. An Immodest Proposal*:

And what’s with [girls'] clothes? Skimpy tank tops and jeans so low they reveal way too much. And sometimes these are girls in church.

That’s the kind of thing that confuses guys like 18-year-old Mike Newcomb of Butler, Pa. When he sees a girl dressed “sleazy,” the first thing he thinks is that she’s willing to jump into bed with any guy. “I know that might not be true for all girls who dress like this,” he admits, “but girls need to be careful of what they wear. It really does have an effect on what people think about them — even if it’s not true.”

I mean it makes sense, if the magazine for girls says "you are responsible for boy's sexual response" then the magazine for boys would say "girls are responsible for your sexual response".

I guess I find that creepy rather than funny because I think you're much more likely to realise that your body actually belongs to you, than that someone else's body doesn't belong to you. It's easier to fight back than give up power.

* I'm trying to figure out what the relationship was between this article and the original Modest Proposal. I'm thinking the possibiliteis are there's a snarky non-christian sub-editor at Breakaway or someone read the article and thought 'he thinks eating babies is wrong, that must be a comment on abortion', or possibly they just don't know what they're referring to.


A few days ago the 2,000th American soldier died in Iraq. I wonder what their life had been like, what they thought of the war, I wonder about their parents and family.

I wonder who the 2,000th Iraqi to die because of the American invasion was, it would have been quite some time ago now. I wonder what their life was like, what they thought of the war, I wonder about their parents and family.

I've just invited a reader to think of Iraqis who died in Iraq and Americans who died in Iraq as essentially the same, and I'm unsure if that's what I really think.

The mainstream media don't think of these deaths as the same. The wide attention given to the 2,000th American soldier to die shows that. A construction that equalises those deaths, like the one I used, is aimed at undermining the publicity that 2,000 soldiers got.

There are some really important differences though, starting with the fact that we're talking about Iraq, which means that pretty much every Iraqi has a better reason to be there than pretty much every American.

It's not just Iraqi civilians who are different from American soldiers, but the Iraqi resistance. There is a fundamental difference between defending your home and attacking someone else's.

But I think there is an important way that they are the same, everyone who dies in Iraq is dying for American imperialism. The American soldiers dying in Iraq are not the rich, they're not the powerful, they're those who have the least choices, not the most. More importantly they're not going to be the people that benefit from the invasion, they're not going to get any oil, they're not going to get any contracts, they're not going to benefit from a puppet reigme. They'd be much better off if they declared "Call it 'love' or call it 'reason' call it 'peace' or call it 'treason', but I ain't a marchin' any more." The interests of most American soldiers are actually the same as the interests of the Iraqi people: for America to get the fuck out of there.

If you're looking at the people vs. the power then all deaths in Iraq are on the side of the people, because power doesn't like to fight its own battles.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Courtney Love: Feminist of the Day

Courtney Love
"I'm not a woman, I'm a force of nature."

To which I said:


Courtney love identifies as a feminist, and I'm not going to argue with that, but I couldn't think of one reason to classify her as 'feminist of the day'. It's not that I dislike Courtney Love, the only opinion I've ever had about Courtney Love was that she was good in People vs. Larry Flynt (I'm not known for my large music collection, if you want a feminist who knows their shit when it comes to music go read Amanda).

So I did some research, and the first thing I found was a really interesting post by Margaret Cho. She was a conversation with a feminist friend of hers and the friend said that she hated Courtney Love, but when Margaret Cho asked why the friend didn't have any reason:

Why is this ok? If you are a feminist, or even if you are a woman, I don't think it is acceptable to hate another woman in the media anymore unless you have a well worked out explanation as to why, have examined all your own prejudices and can convince me that you are not just another fascist follower of fashion. I don't care if that in itself is a sexist notion, for it forces the burden of guilt on the jury's shoulders. Individually we must be called out to prove our suspicion, put words to our guilt. If you are going to triple her bail, that is the least we can do for her.

I thought this was an important enough point to quote, but it doesn't tell me what Courtenay Love could have done to be classified as feminist of the day. No it was Jillian Freeman, a Candadian Junior High student, who did that. In 1999 she wrote Ally McBeal or Riot Grrls - role models for girls?* It's a really cool essay, and you should go and read it. This was the bit that officially upgraded my 'huh' to an 'ok':

However, if you look past all this, there are still a lot of women who teach you to be yourself and to fight the male oppression, with whatever your talent is, whether it be writing, music, politics, art, acting or sports. Sometimes, however, being yourself is hard to do when you don't know who you are.

Conclusion: My favourite feminists are always going to be women who fight and women who organise, but other women need different sorts of feminists to show them that they can fight, and I'm glad they can find them.

*Your blogger does not endorse the idea, expressed in this essay, that Buffy the Vampire Slayer's Feminist politics should be classified (along with Ally McBeal and Spice Girls) as Girl Power. In fact she could go at great length about the strengths and weaknesses of the feminism portrayed on Buffy, but promises that when (not if) she decides to do that she will give plenty of warning.

Saturday Advice Blogging: Teen Guide to Homemaking Edition

My post about Brio reminded me of one of my favourite books. It's called Teen Guide to Homemaking. It's a 1961 American text book, and it's hilarious. Unlike Brio you don't need to worry about anyone being damaged by the ridiculous, because it's a 44 year old school text book, I'm sure no-one paid any attention

I think the year it was put out is one of the reasons I enjoy this book so much. I like to imagine that some of the girls who were bored and doodling in the margins while the teacher explains how to fit a girdle, were teaching themselves to perform abortions a few years later.

So I thought each Saturday I'd share a little bit of the pearls of wisdom of how to be a teen homemaker.

Being a Friend

To decide whether or not you are a good friend, answer the question in the "Friendship Check List as Sally did. Each question in it is concerned wiht some quality that others will look for in you when they choose you for a friend.

Friendship Checklist

* Do you listen attentively to what people say to you?
* Are you modest about your own accomplisments?
* Do refrain from talking about yourself most of the time?
* Do you give credit to others for their successes and achievements?
* Can you be depended upon to do what you promise?
* Are you unselfish in your relations with othe rpeople?
* Can you control your temper?
* Can you share in a conversation on such topics as sports, hobbies or current events?
* Do you refrain from being sarcastic?
* Do you refrain from contradicting or arguing with others?

(sometimes, sometimes, sometimes, yes, sometimes, sometimes, mostly, sometimes, never, and hell no)

I think I'll spend today evaluating my friends against this checklist, if some of them come up wanting I'll obviously have to rectify the situation immediately.

Anna Elizabeth Dickinson: Feminist of the Day?

Anna Elizabeth Dickinson
Orator, abolitionist, suffragette
" every intelligent and respectable person, black and white, man and woman, a ballot and a freedom of government, and...this country will stand stronger and stronger amidst the ruins of dissolving empires and falling thrones."

I have always kind of wanted to be a Quaker, this has been hampered in that I've never had a single spiritual thought, feeling or inclination. It's partly because I'd like to have that sense of history behind me and then because I watched Before Sunrise at an impressionable age and Ethan Hawke made Quaker weddings sound romantic and sexy. I do plan to become a Quaker at the first glimmering of spirituality (as long as Marian Hobbes is no longer in Wellington - worst Quaker since Richard Nixon), but it's not looking very likely.

Anyway so I'm pleased, and not surprised, to have my first Quaker feminist of the day. Quakers are a recurring feature of most protest movements over the last few centuries, particularly in America.

Anna Elizabeth Dickinson is everything you'd expect a 19th Century Quaker to be. Her father was an abolitionist, and she wrote her first article for the Liberator, an abolitionist newspaper, at the age of 13. She went on to become one of the most successful orators of the abolitionist movment while in her early 20s.

There is no doubt about her feminist creditials, and the importance of remembering her. As well as being an abolitionist, she also spoke on women's rights, prison reform, and Labour reform.

But her story is actually more interesting, and sad, than that. After the civil war her popularity waned and her speaking engagements dried up. She briefly tried to become a playwrite and actress, but was unsuccessful. Then at age 49 she was committed to a mental hospital. After a brief struggle she managed to get herself out, and committed into the care of a New York couple.

That short sentance asks so many more questions than it answers, and probably tells us more about women's lives in 19th century America, than the part where she was called America's Joan of Arc.

Had the society that she was fighting driven her crazy? Was she classified as crazy because she was fighting? Was it when she stopped fighting, when she was insignificant that she became unstable? Was she frustrated at the life she'd been denied? Was it all brain chemsitry, can we call her bipolar, like so man other brilliant figures from history?

And finally, what about all the other women, and men, who were not respected abolitionists, who were not able to get themselves out?

Conclusion: A feminist and a fighter, but also a woman in a society that hates women, unfortunately that often takes its toll.

Two things he's truly interested in

I was very serious yesterday (and didn't manage to say Labour sucks once, very bad form), so I thought I'd start off today with some old fashioned mocking. I was wondering who to mock (I've decided to resign as Shadow spokesperson for ridiculing Wayne Mapp - I don't have the time). But then Jedmunds of Pandagon comes to my rescue and reminds me of the existance of Brio Magazine. Two of the most mockable things in the world are advice given to teenage girls and religious fundamentalists, you put them both together and it's the perfect material for a lazy blogger on a Saturday morning.

Jedmunds already posted the breathless tale of Brad:

"Say your friend Brad is standing before your youth group because your youth pastor asked him to read a passage from the Bible. Brad pauses as he’s reading to make eye contact with the group, just as his speech teacher taught him to do.
The moment Brad looks up, he sees a girl wearing a tight T-shirt. Immediately, Brad’s mind is distracted from the Lord and the Bible — two things he’s truly interested in.

Brad’s able to keep going. He doesn’t let on that he’s no longer concentrating on the words coming from his mouth. But in fact, for the rest of the evening, Brad feels uncomfortable around the girl he spotted, struggling between sinful thoughts and wanting to treat her as a sister in Christ.

All because of a T-shirt? you might think. Yes — all because of a tight T-shirt that showed too much of a girl’s body."

But there's so much more. Did you want to know the Christian way to pluck your eyebrows? Did you know God wanted you to be thinner, and he believes the best way of achieving that is to find a sister in Christ to keep you accountable for your nutritional choices? Do you fall asleep with your head on you boyfriend's shoulder on the bus on the way home, are you worried about the implications this has for your soul?

I believe that women have agency, thoughts, desires, and a purpose outside of whatever functionality men can find from them. What's either amusing or depressing, depending on my mood, is that the advice in Brio isn't that much worse than what was in my friends' Dollys and Girlfriends. Sure there are a few extra references to God thrown in there, and you can't have sex without getting pregnant or an STD, but either way women's role is to please men and deny their own desires.

I was once out driving when I had to stop suddenly at a zebra crossing (I do that quite often, driving isn't necessarily my strongest point) and this school girl crossed the road carrying in a Cleo and I said to her "Oh sweetie, no don't read that, you're great just the way you are" she didn't hear me, but I don't think she needed to.

Because fundamentally I believe that women's sense of self is stronger than the efforts to squash it, so the readers of Brio & Cleo will be OK in their own ways. I'm not saying it doesn't matter, I know how hard it is to try and stop the many voices that get put in our heads, I'm just saying that girls will grow into women, no matter how hard magazines try to stop them.

Besides the only reason anyone ever reads Cleo is because they want to know about sex (and sadly looking at the tale of Brad, that might be true for Brio as well).

Friday, October 28, 2005

Stranger Danger

My last post made me think of this post from Amanda of Pandagon, where she gives some sensible anti-rape advice (my favourite is "Most rape victims know their attacker, which means that if you are talking about statistical probability, a woman should avoid men she knows and hang out with strangers"). What I find most interesting is that most anti-rape advice that will actually decrease your chances of being raped comes down to the looking like too much trouble (obviously this won't do you any good if you're in a relationship with a rapist, but if does help avoid stranger, and particularly situations where you know the guy a little bit).

So while it's OK advice, we couldn't all take it, because it relies on the rapist finding someone else who looks like less trouble than you do.

Sonette Ehers, a South African woman, has invented the 'rapex' described as an anti-rape condom. It works by embedding itself in the rapist's penis.

If in a city or a town even a few women started wearing rapexs, and men knew that they were wearing them, then it could deter them from raping any women, because they wouldn't know. A few women taking personal action against rape would make everyone safer, rather than themselves safer, because other women were more vulnerable.

Like I said I don't feel unsafe enough around strangers to put something inside vagina to make sure they won't violate me. But if I did I would, and if I decided I wanted to have consensual sex, I could always take it out (I wonder how you do get it out? It can't have a string like a tampon, because then the guy could pull it out, and you wouldn't want one of these things in your finger).

The person who invented it seemed like a pretty cool woman:

Other critics say the condom is medieval and barbaric -- an accusation Ehlers says should be directed rather at the act of rape.

"This is not about vengeance ... but the deed, that is what I hate," she said.

It reminds me of a Jacky Fleming Cartoon (bottom right).

While I'm on the topic (I have been serious today - I'll have to find someone to mock before I go out) I've been following an extremely depressing rape trial through Pinko Feminist Hellcat and OC Weekly. The short version is three rich teenagers filmed themselves raping a girl who was unconcious (possibly because they drugged her, although that could never be proved). Despite the tape the first trial resulted in a hung jury as the defence lawyer tore apart the character of the woman who had been raped, and they were only convicted on the second when the prosecutor did a little bit a remedial rape education on the jury (he got a big poster with a list of occupations on it "Nun, Sex Worker, Mother, Teacher, Stripper" read them out and said "all these women have the same rights when it comes to sexual assault). Well it turns out that these charming young men have just lost their case to be sentanced as juveniles (I believe they were 17 at the time of the rape).

I don't believe the prison system will help one bit, when these guys come out of jail, they'll still be dangerous misogynist punks, and while their belief that daddy's credit card can buy them out of anything will probably be dented a little bit, but assuming their parents still support them, they'll have money. But I'm glad they didn't get their way.


There's a Reclaim the Night March in Auckland tonight. I can't go, because I'm not in Auckland, so I thought instead I'd talk about my ambivilant feelings about reclaim the night marches.

I can understand the power of a reclaim the night march. If you've never felt safe walking the streets of the city that you live in after dark, that fundamentally limits the way you can live your life. To come together with a group of women and challenge that idea, does show the strength we have when come together. I've always felt that power on a reclaim the night march, even if I've never felt particularly afraid walking the streets at night.

Despite this, I've come to feel that Reclaim the Night marches fundamentally reinforce the very notions of rape that we're supposedly fighting against. I may know women who have been attacked by strangers when they were walking alone at night, I've never talked to anyone about that experience. I do know women who have been beaten and raped by men they know, in their homes, in the man's home, or at a friend's.

It's not the night we need to reclaim, it's our bedrooms.

I'm sure that everyone who has ever organised a reclaim march has known this, and it has been talked about at every reclaim the night march I've attended. But the form of a reclaim the night march does reinforce a very limited idea of what rape is.

Women are taught to fear the wrong things, strangers, the night, being alone. The actual danger comes from the men we know, and fear isn't going to make us any safer. Downtown Wellington and downtown Auckland are relatively safe places for women, what stops us from having the freedom men do is the fear, rather than danger, a fear that does restrict the way we live our lives. I think we should be fighting the fear of the night, and reclaiming the rest of our lives from men.

Closed Borders

Schiphol airport, Amsterdam, is Europe's fourth largest. It's so large that it has its own detention centre, which is surrounded by a 3 metre fence and barbed wire. It's where they keep people they don't want in Amsterdam (which is apparently most people, the Netherlands has some of the strictest immigration laws in Europe). People are held here until they are deported.

When a fire broke out at the detention centre it took them 3 hours to put it out. In that time 11 people burnt to death. I've no idea who these people were, why the were detained, or where they were going to be sent to. The Netherlands is in the process of deporting 26,000 failed asylym seekers. Maybe some of those 11 people had been categorised as 'not suffering enough', and were going to be sent back. Maybe some of them were drug mules who had been caught.

When I read about this, my first reaction is the absolute horror of anyone burning to death while locked up. The Guardian has the transcript of an interview with a survivor:

One detainee said the inmates had tried to raise the alarm, but were ignored by guards who told them nothing was wrong. "First they said there was no problem, and they just kept us locked up," the unidentified detainee told the Dutch TV station NOS. "Our throats started hurting. We kicked, we screamed, we rang the bell of course. And then panic broke out."

Obviously questions are gong to be asked, inquiries will be made, people will be blamed, and they'll make sure no-one burns to death while locked up at this airport ever again (until next time). But that ignores the more fundamental point which is why are poor people locked up for wanting to live somewhere else. Europe spent many centuries extracting resources, and people from every other part of the world. Now they're protecting those resources by keeping people out (while ensuring enough illegal immigrants remain to do the really nasty work, they can't complain you see - it's good for business).

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Halide Edip Adivar: Feminist of the Day

Halide Edib Adivar
Novelist, pioneer in the emancipation of women in Turkey, politician
"I was convinced that sometimes the humblest and most anonymous individual could represent the high ideal of a great nation."

Halide Edip Adivar was a pretty incredible woman. Novelist, eduactor, fighter for women's rights and the Nationalist movement in Turkey, but writing was most important to her. To me, the urge to write is central to feminism. We need to document the reality of women's lives, because so much of what is written is so wrong. I haven't read any of Halide Edip Adivar's writing, although now I want to (I keep saying that, I probably never will). And her reality would not have been the reality of all, or most, Turkish women, but it sounds like a important start.

Because she was middle-class educated, and spent time in Europe, it is tempting to compare her to Western feminists of about the same time. I think it's interesting that she divorced her husband, when he took a second wife, I'm not sure how common that was common among western feminists until much later.

Conclusion: I don't know enough about the history of Turkey to know what I think of the Nationalist movement she was involved in. But I don't think it matters, she started "Society for the Elevation of Women", she organised women, in evaluating a feminist that has to be a starting point.

Mad I tell you!

I'm a little bit worried that Shadow Minister for Ridiculing Wayne Mapp might end up being a larger role than I anticipated. When accepting the role I thought to myself 'how stupid can one person be'?

Big mistake.

On morning report today the only concrete example he could give of political correctness (GONE MAD) was of Maori spiritual values being written into legislation (the only example I could find was in the Resource Management Act, which was a 1991 piece of legislation, I guess Wayne Mapp needs to eradicate Jim Bolger, a man well known for his political correctness). So he went on at quite some length about the fact that our country was a secular nation, and that meant respecting everyone's beliefs. So Sean Plunkett says "So that means eliminating the Lord's Prayer before parliament sits." Wayne Mapp acts like someone wants

(This reminds me of earlier in the year when Trevor Mallard was appointed Minister in Charge of Making Sure Everyone Knew that Labour Can be Just as Racist as National, he started wittering on about how prayers in schools were allowed if they're in Maori but no in English. I went to a state secondary from 1991-1995 and we had prayers in English (and the school still does), we sang hymns and we had bible readings. In defence of my school we sang other songs as well, I have high school to thank for the fact that I know the words to Bread and Roses.)

Now prayers in public life is on the (relavtively short) list of issues that I can't bring myself to care for (also on that list the Monarchy, and well that's about it), but either we're a secular society or we're not. Either religion is acceptable or it's not, pick a side and stop looking like a burbling idiot on National Radio.

Now ridiculing Wayne Mapp is all too easy, kind of like shooting fish in a barrel, with a rock launcher, but (contrary to my predictions) he defined PC, as the "the minority telling the majority how to think on issues of reasonable political discorse."

There is only minority in Aotearoa that has that ability to impose their views and interests on the rest of us. It's not Maori, it's not gays, it's not transgendered people, it's not women (still not a minority), it's the rich. The whole purpose of this palava is to distract us from this fact.

If they'd wanted everybody to use it they wouldn't have called it Public Transport

The first thing Wayne Mapp did in his new role as person I make fun of? Criticise the Human Rights Commission for playing an advocacy role. What had the Human Rights Commission done that very day? Released a report on reducing barriers to disabled people using public transport.

Well I'm so relieved we have a National Spokesperson to stop the crazy politically correct idea that everyone should be able to ride on public transport.

So having fulfilled my new role as Shadow Minister for ridiculing Wayne Mapp, I will move to the substantive issue.

In Wellington they do have some kneeling buses, but on most routes they can't guarantee when they'll come. You might as well not have any at all. Who would go to the bus stop and wait on the off chance one of the buses that came in the next few hours might be able to take you to where you wanted to go (but no guarantees about getting back)? I'm pretty sure none of the trains are wheelchair accessible.

So if you have mobility problems in Wellington (not the best city in the world to have mobility problems in, that's for sure) then you better own a car or stay at home. Obiviously along with those mobility stickers there also comes magic powers against ever increasing petrol costs.

Of course there's not much to do except rant and rave, unless we re-nationalise public transport. Then as well as making public transport accessable we could make it free.

As I said here disbility isn't just abour someone's body, it's about an interaction between their body and society. The decision that someone is going to be 'disabled' when it comes to public transport is made by the transport companies, not by your body.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Frances Gage: Feminist of the Day

Frances D. Gage
Abolitionist, writer, activist
"I was born a mechanic, and made a barrel before I was ten years old. My father looked at it and said, “What a pity that you were not born a boy so that you could be good for something. Run into the house, child, and go to knitting."

I’d never heard of Frances Gage before today, but her quote, and her potted biography made her sound like my kind of woman. I find so much to admire in abolitionist, feminist women. They were breaking so many taboos just to fight against slavery, and they took the fight further.

Even though religion matters so little to me that most of the time I can’t even be bothered calling myself an atheist, I really like reading about people who were activists because of their faith. To be someone who felt like that drive came from deep within, and from without. I don’t quite understand, but it’s pretty cool.

To me to really be considered a feminist you have to fight for women, it’s not enough to be a cool woman or in your own right, or to hold feminist views and mention them occasionally, if you’re not agitating, organising, educating, resisting and the rest, then it doesn’t mean that much. I would consider any woman in the abolitionist movement feminist, because they were fighting for women.

I have a very long feminist analysis of the temperance movement – but I think I’ll save it for another Frances (Willard – in case you were wondering)

Conclusion: Abolitionist, feminist, and the quote makes her sound like Kaylee. What’s not to love?

Shadow Minister for Ridiculing Wayne Mapp

Bags me!

National has released it's cabinet line-up and declared Wayne Mapp Shadow Minister for Eradicating Political Correctness.

Apparently political correctness has run mad in this country (does anyone know why mad is the only way that political correctness ever runs? Why does it never go wild, or crazy, or just sedately walk its way through the dasies). What does this mean? They won't tell us of course, political correctness is much more useful if it isn't defined.

It's easy to laugh at Wayne Mapp, but there's a couple of reasons to make up a phenomena called political correctness, and neither of them are good for people:

1. You want to roll back a concrete gain people have made. The National reaction to bereavement leave was a classic example to this, they pretended that the Holidays Act changes gave some special category of leave to Maori people (which it didn't), and so could chalk up people getting to attend funerals of people they care about to 'political correctness'.

2. You want to distract and divide people from what is actually making their lives worse (usually capitalism).

Right now a three people on trial for ("allegedly") using their power as police officers to repeatedly rape a young woman, this woman has been struggling for two decades to get justice. The only politically correct ideologies that are damaging people living in Aotearoa are those that keep the power structures in place.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Rosa Parks inspired thoughts

I was reading No Right Turn's reprint of Rosa Park's account of refusing to give up her seat.

It suddenly occurred to me that I've no idea who the person who wanted her seat was (or actually her row of seats). She says that he never even spoke to her. I can't imagine being someone who would take a seat under those conditions, but it's funny to realise that there's someone going through life as the person who took Rosa Parks's seat.

There's a book about the 1960s called 'They Should Have Served That Cup of Coffee", which looks at all the movements that grew out of the civil rights movement. I love that phrase because it captures the strength that we get from struggle. For me, that strength is a big part of the hope that I have that we can get there.

Employed & Unemployed

In 1991 the National government's Employment Contracts Act, and benefit cuts came in hand in hand. There's a reason for this, in order to make sure that people will take jobs on the shitty conditions that employer's want to offer you need to make sure that they have to take it.

New Zealand is still feeling the effects of those polices, because they've never been reversed. It's no coincidence that the Meningitis epidemic started in the early 1990s, and we have seen a resurgence in third world diseases.

Well the Howard government is taking this further: even solo parents will lose their benefit if they turn down a job.

The Australian unions have one big advantage over us 14 years ago: they're going to fight back. And if I don't agree with a lot of them, and if they've got a crazy factional system going on, and if they're going to be weakened by those male trade unions that don't think women are people, well it doesn't matter, I'm glad they're fighting.

November 15 is the National day of action against the Howard government's proposals. There will be activity in Wellington, but if you join that activity, remember we still have some unfinished business in New Zealand.

Joan of Arc: Feminist of the Day?

Feminist of a few days ago Rosa Parks died today. I've updated her entry with some comments at the end of her long life.

Joan of Arc
Warrior, saint
"I was admonished to adopt feminine clothes; I refused, and still refuse. As for other advocations of women, there are plenty of other women to perform them."

Joan of Arc was an extraordinary woman, no doubt about it. She would not accept the limitations placed on her. She fought, wore trousers, and talked to God. She was executed for these crimes at the age of 19.

Was she a feminist? I don't think so, I believe that feminism is not about an individual extraordinary woman, but about women working collectively.

This is not a condemnation on her, she the person she was is amazing enough. We don't need to claim her as a feminist to admire what she did.

Her occupation is cracking me up: warrior, saint. It seems like an odd combination to me, but then I know very little about warriors or saints.

One more thought about nazis

A couple of days ago I read about two 13 year-old blonde twins who Pam at Pandagon described as the Olsen twins of the white pride movement. Apparently they go around singing songs about how much better white people are than anyone else. It was creepy, but I don't have anything interesting to say about it besides - creepy.

But then I was randomly looking at different New Zealand blogs and I saw that David Farrar had a different response. He posted this:

Under the headline 'What a Waste'.

The commenters seems to agree with him: "They are good looking though...", "Their parents should be ashamed of themselves. I wouldnt mind giving them both a proper seeing to!", "Of course I read that they are also 13 years old... so the idea of giving them some is a tad too early :)"

Yes it is such a waste when 13 year old blonde twins whose sole role in life should be to service men, either in fantasy, or reality, ruin that possibility.

The idea that David Farrar, or any of his cronies, might spend time around any actual flesh and blood women terrifies me.

Monday, October 24, 2005


Apparently 25 or so Nazis faced off with about 30 counter-demonstrators in Wellington on Saturday. I wasn't there, although I had been at the anti-fascist rally last Labour weekend. Apparently the anti-nazis only heard about this a little bit before hand, so it was just 30.

What I find really, really puzzling, is that at least some of the same people demonstrated in the same space as the fascists at the Labour party congress earlier this year. I had to leave that demo because I'm not comfortable being in the same space as the fascists.

I'm very ambivalent about anti-fascist organising. Actually that's not true, I think most of the anti-fascist organising that's happened in Wellington over the last year is at best a complete waste of time, for a number of reasons:

1. The members of the National Front, or the New Right, or whatever they're calling themselves now, are so far down on the list of threats to our lives that they're really not worth bothering with (if there was going to be a rise in fascism it wouldn't come from people with Nazi tattoos, it would come from the crazy religious right, or in the form of 'anti-terrorism').

2. The threat of the nazis is that they are violent thugs. There's nothing the left can do to make them less violent thugs.

3. If there was an increase in interest fascism then the reason for that would be the failure of the Labour government to deliver a real improvement in people's lives, and fascism offers them an analysis of what's going on (that is what I believe is behind the rise in popularity of the Destiny church). Standing up at fascist rallies and going "rah rah you suck" doesn't actually do anything. We need to actively offer an alternative analysis.

4. I think the fascists kind of get off on us opposing them. It validates their tiny group of people, and builds the idea that there's some kind of battle between nazis and anarchists and commies (which I think totally devalues what we're trying to do).

I understand the desire to have an opposition, and make sure that no asian or Jew, or anyone else who the Nazis happen to be hating on, walks past and thinks that this is acceptable. But fundamentally I think protest and organising are best used against people with some kind of power.

Denise Levertov: Feminist of the Day

Denise Levertov
Poet, nurse
"In city, in suburb, in forest, no way to stretch out the arms — so if you would grow, go straight up or deep down."

I was a little bit nervous when I saw that today's feminist of the day was a poet. Poets intimidate me, the concern and precision with language is not something that I share. Language, for me, is for interacting with people and trying to articulate and explore ideas, and precision isn't my thing at the best of times. So my solution is not to talk about Denise Levertov as a poet (as I have very little to contribute), but as a feminist.

For all I'm intimidated by poetry I do think it's important. I think trying to explore the reality of women's lives, in all media forms, is part of the femiist project. I think the precision, and resonance offered in poetry gives it power. Or as Denise, herself, say: "One of the obligations of the writer, and perhaps especially of the poet, is to say or sing all that he or she can, to deal with as much of the world as becomes possible to him or her in language."

But I don't believe that just observing, and trying to express women's reality, can be feminist alone. But Denise Levertov didn't just try to articulate reality, she tried to change it.

In particular, she was involved in the anti-Vietnam war movement. Now the anti-vietam war movement in America and feminism had an interesting relationship (and by interesting I mean that the misogyny in the anti-war movement was a central catalyst to the women's liberation movement). But feminism grew out of that movement for a reason, because feminism has no meaning if it doesn't include women throughout the world.

As corrupt and self-seeking politicians erode the Constitution and bring us daily closer to outright fascism, the poet is turned away from his impulse to sing, to testify in patterns of words to the miracle of life, and is driven willy-nilly to warn, to curse, to gnash the teeth of language; and at the same time, living always in the war shadow, to celebrate the courage and high spirit of all who dare to struggle, Davids to the Goliaths of capitalism (the expression of man's greed) and imperialism (the expression of man's lust for power); to celebrate the courage and tenacity of the so-called "enemy" in Southeast Asia, and of all who here at home resist the system--people like Angela Davis, Dan and Phil Berrigan, Cesar Chavez; and to declare solidarity with them and with all who share their struggle.

Yeah, what she said.

Labour Day

I feel an obligation to say something about Labour Day, but I don't have a lot to say. New Zealander's have no longer have any right to the 8 hour day, or the 40 hour week. They haven't at any time in my working life, or the working life of anyone else under the age of 30. There is no serious campaign or effort to get the 40 hour week back.

In the week running up to Labour Day OSH released a report that revealed that an industry that has received considerable public subsidies thinks nothing of 24 hour day, and that this practice has caused health and safety risks:

New Zealanders need to stop viewing Peter Jackson through rose tinted spectacles, and see the reality that this is a business where safety comes last for cost reasons.

So nothing much to celebrate, but I'm proud to say that I haven't actually done any work today, it's always a little touch and go, but I managed it.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Amatalrauf al-Sharki: Feminist of the Day?

Amatalrauf al-Sharki
Celebrity, women's rights activist
"I wanted to be me. Just me, accepted the way I was. I began to realise that the veil was just something to hold me back in life and not really for my benefit. Since then this started to rage inside me...I had become a different person."

I can't answer that question, because there's basically no on-line information about Amatalrauf al-Sharki. So her profile will have to stand as the only comment.

I'm curious


A well-known New Zealander has been charged with a date-rape.

The 72-year-old man was arrested by police yesterday morning and appeared later in Napier District Court, facing two charges of sexual violating a 29-year-old woman, indecent assault, and entering the woman's home with intent to commit a crime.

I've no reasonable guesses (ex-all black, ex-MP, I can't think of that many 72 year olds who would be well known).

But it makes me so angry that it's illegal for women to talk about the violence that prominent men do to them.

Misogyny as culture?

At the CTU conference there were three delegates from the Australian CFMEU (Construction, something, mining and something union). They're a left union, more militant than any we've got in New Zealand. But I couldn't go near one of the younger guys without him starting having a conversation, not with me, but with any other man who happened to be around me, about how women liked to be called 'love' and 'sheila', and because they have two XX chromosomes they were OK with being defined by him as the sexual other.

I'm not going to write about how fucking depressing the sexism from men on the left is, nor am I going to focus on how there's no way the workers can unite when some men refuse to believe that women are people.

As I was walking away from this conversation he said "hey I've had to listen to your culture for two days, now it's time for some of mine, love."

A while back I was having a conversation with a friend of mine. I was talking about this interview with an Iraqi woman and how depressing I found it that Iraqi women had to deal not just wiht the invasion, but with Iraqi men, and he said "I guess they feel their culture is under attack."

Culture? I don't believe the ways men treat women to control them, big or small, violent or non-violent, as a total system of organising society, or just a random statement by a drunk guy, are about culture, I believe they're about power, and we need to recognise them as such.

Every system of organising society that we have record of involves relationships of power and control. I do believe that cultures, different ways of doing things, are worth fighting for, but the power structures within them are not.

I'm not saying I'm the ultimate arbiter of what is culture, and what is power and control. But what I am saying is that we need to make the distinction.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Rosa Parks: Feminist of the Day

Rosa Louise Parks
Civil rights activist, seamstress
"I want to be treated like a human being."

Yay for Rosa Parks, the most famous sitter ever. We can celebrate her turn to be feminist of the day without reservation.

I do have some reservations with the idea of Rosa Parks. The tired seamstress who didn't want to stand, so decided to sit. Rosa Parks had thought about ending Jim Crow laws, she had attended the Highlander Folk School. Refusing to stand wasn't that rare either, just a few months earlier another young woman had got arrested for the same 'crime', but she was single parent.

I do find it vaguely ridiculous that Rosa Parks is sometimes held up as an example of what an individual can do. It wasn't because she stayed seated, it was the reaction of black people in Montgomery, that means we've heard of Rosa Parks.

Conclusion: Like I've got a bad thing to say about Rosa Parks. You have to try really hard, and be evil, to find something bad to say about the catalyst for the Montgomery Bus Boycott.

Update: Rosa Parks died October 25 2005, three days after I'd written about her as feminist of the day. She was 92.

I am really glad she lived a long life, that was hardly a forgone conclusion for a black baby born in the south in 1913.

What's really worrying me... that the National party finance spokesperson has a better grasp of the reality for workers than the union movement does:

"The PSA and the Greens now have something in common - they both know what it feels like to be shafted by the Clark/Peters Government," says National Party Finance spokesman John Key.

He is referring to the move by Helen Clark to set up a razor gang of senior ministers to cut state sector spending.

"The PSA invested heavily in a campaign against National during the election. Now it's finding out just how trustworthy its so-called mates really are.

Friday, October 21, 2005


Ampersand from Alas wrote seven very good posts in response to an anti-abortion essay by a woman with an down's syndrome child.

I guess I should start with my answer to the question raised in her essay, becuase I think it's a relatively simple one: I believe that if you want to stop women aborting down's syndrome babies, then you do that by making it easier to raise down's syndrom children. I support every woman's right to terminate any pregnancy for any reason, even if I don't agree with the reasons.

Although I don't disagree with a woman terminating a down's syndrome pregnancy, because whether or not she can raise a down's syndrome baby in her current circumstances is one only she can make.

But what interests me is the issues Ampersand raises about disability in posts 4, 5, and 6 in response to Patricia Bauer's argument that terminating pregnancies because the baby would have had down's syndrome devalues the life of down's syndrome children. Ampersand takes this question wider and explores the idea that preventing, or curing disabilities devalues those who have them.

I want to make it clear straight up that I don't think it does. I don't think Health & Safety legislation intended to stop accidents devalue the lives who have had their legs squashed and are now in wheelchairs. I don't think banning Thalilomide devalues the lives of those who were born without limbs. I don't think having your hips replaces devalues the lives of those with arthritis who haven't had their hips replaced. But I do believe that it raises some interesting questions.

Ampersand ends up asking:

The truth is, I think disabilities disable people. Is that bigoted of me?

I don't think it's bigoted, but I do think it's missing some important points.

The first is that disabilities come in many, many varities, and what's true for one sort of disability (or one person with one sort of disability), may not be true for another. Losing a sense is different from losing a limb, which is different from having your brain develop differently, which is different from suffering from a chronic degenerative disease, which is different from suffering from a mental illness. These are generally all lumped together as disabilities, but they are different and should be treated as such. In fact, if you believe that people have a right to their own bodies then they must be treated as such.

Secondly, that disability is not just a physical condition, it's the interaction between a physical condition and the society that we live in.

Now that sounds like wishy-washy touchy feely crap, even to me, so I'll try to explain what I mean. My best friend has had arthritis since she was 5. By the time I met her many of her joints were fused, and while she could walk on crutches, stairs were really difficult. Now this was a pain, because Wellington is not the flattest of cities. We'd fine that a whole lot of places that we wanted to go, from my house, to classes at school (well maybe want is the wrong word), to the movie theatre, to bars, were up a whole lot of stairs, and some of them (I'm looking at you, Embassy movie theatre) didn't have non-stair access. So it wasn't just arthritis that was making her life hard, it was the fact that shitty access was acceptable (oh and don't even get me started on the lack of disabled car parks in Wellington). If you look at it the other way, technology can seriously lessen someone's 'disability'. For example, when my friend got her car, the way she could interact with the world was completely transformed.

I think this analysis can be expanded outwards, a lot of the problems of so-called disabilities could actually solved now with a will and a different economic system. The fact that care for people with developmental differences fall so heavily on the family, that school and work are designed for 'normal' people, or even just that mass-produced products don't neccessarily suit everyone, all these could change, and would lead to people being less disabled.

I was talking about this issue with my friend with arthritis after she had gone to a seminar by some philosophy graduate student who argued that: if the technology became available, everybody would have a moral duty to genetically modify their children to ensure they had no disabilities (incidentally there's a very good season 2 X-files episode about this very topic, it's called Humbug and it was written by Darin Morgan - go watch it).

We quickly concluded that people shouldn't be allowed to write theses on anything, but particularly philosophy, till they have some grasp on the real world. The world is messy and complicated, but that's what makes it worth fighting for.

Ursula Le Guin: Feminist of the Day?

Ursula Kroeber Le Guin
Writer, teacher, scholar
"Success is somebody else’s failure. Success is the American Dream we can keep dreaming because most people in most places, including thirty million of ourselves, live wide awake in the terrible reality of poverty."

I read Left Hand of Darkness for a first year English paper, which was a bad idea. I did English all through high school and into second year, and I only ever liked two of the books I had to read (To Kill a Mocking Bird and Middlemarch).

I can't really judge The Left Hand of Darkness as fiction, but it didn't work for me as a feminist book. The genderless beings aren't really convincing, they came across as men, which probably says more about our society than it does about her writing. I'd say it was an interesting idea that didn't quite work.

I've also read The Dispossed, which was incredibly creepy. The social control was worst nightmare stuff. I think that was what she was going for, and that's what made it so interesting. A couple of my friend's occasionally call people 'propertarians' which I find quite unnerving - even in jest.

I really like her as a feminist. She had an essay in a collection of essays about women's experiences with illegal abortion. It was a really powerful book, and Ursula Le Guin's was one of favourites. She'd been relatively lucky, her parents had money and the abortionist was safe. She conveyed her experience of abortion, but also analysed the situation under which she'd had an abortion and what it meant.

Conclusion: Come on that quote is cool, she rocks, no reservations. Off to read this

Thursday, October 20, 2005

600 jobs? I'm so glad we have a worker friendly government

So you're a Labour government, you've just got back into power on the back of union movement organising. You hear that the airline you own is going to slash 600 jobs and what do you do?

Nothing, of course.

At least the company made their priorities clear; they told the shareholders then they told the workers.

I was struck by the ludicrousness by the phrase '600 jobs lost'. People write in the passive sense when they want to hide who is actually taking action. In this case it should be 600 jobs lost by Rob Fyfe (or 600 jobs lost by capitalism working in the way capitalism works). But that reveals the ridiculousness of the verb, I lose my keys, I lose my wallet, I lose my cell phone, I lose my jacket, I lose vital bits of paper, sometimes (due to everything else) I come close to losing my mind. You can't lose a job, you're not going to find it under that pile of work you haven't finished yet, or down the side in the car. Again it disguises the activity going on, the active choice that has to be made before anyone can be declared redundant to requirements.

That's a silly thing to concern myself about when you think what those 600 people are going through right now.

Nellie Letitia McClung: Feminist of the Day?

Nellie Letitia McClung
Writer, suffragette, politician, teacher
"The world is beginning to see that a woman may achieve success in other departments of life as well as marriage."

We have another of the Candian famous five here so I get a chance to discuss the issues that I only mentioned in passing yesterday.

But first I was doing a bit of research and when talking about her marriage she said that her husband insisted "I would not have to lay aside my ambitions if I married him." There's something so minimal and yet slightly sweet about a sentiment like that.

So my question of today is can I really call someone the feminist of the day if they support a war and eugenics? I was tired last night so I avoided finding out what Emily Murphy's position on eugenics & war was (it turns out she was pro-peace 1914-1915 and possibly pro war 1917-1918, she also believed in eugenics but only for poor people not brown people). So I'm glad to have an opportunity to discuss the issues properly tonight.

Nellie McClung was an enthusiastic supporter of the war. I don't understand that; I don't understand why someone who cared so passionately about women, and their lives, could ignore the world beyond their borders. I don't understand progressive politics without internationalism.

I don't blame ordinary people for supporting that war, huge resources were dedicated to making sure they did, and it was the ordinary people who suffered. But people who were supposed to be fighting for a better world? I find it harder to ignore. What they did in that war stands as part of their record. I don't believe the argument that they were 'of their time' is a particularly good excuse, Christabel Pankhurst was fighting the same fight and she saw WWI for what it was.

According to her profile in Mantioba Writers Guild:

She was an enthusiastic supporter of the war effort and the Red Cross, and in 1921 was elected to the Alberta Legislature, where she championed a host of radical measures ranging from mother's allowances, to dower rights for women, to sterilization of the mentally unfit.

While two of those are really important steps forward for women, the third devalues the others entirely to me. That's because the kind of feminism Nellie McClung believed in was based on the church, and based on women having a specific place. It's times like these that I realise how different my feminism (based as it is on baby killing and destroying capitalism) is from the women who went before me. But that doesn't stop me judging them, not on the grounds that I'm right and their wrong, but on the grounds that forced sterilisation made women's lives worse.

Conclusion: I think it's important to give tribute to the people before us who have fought and won important battles, but it's no excuse to look away from their less shining moments. I'd like to learn more about her though, try and get inside her head.


Rosita Vai won NZ Idol despite Sir Howard Morrison telling her she was too fat. That doesn't really surprise me; the whole incident could have been deliberately been planned to get her sympathy (I might have voted for her as a gesture, if I knew how).

But I wanted to unpack this incident a little bit, because it really does reveal the class and race issues behind the current obsession with fat.

This is from the Sunday Star Times:

Sir Howard said the NZ Idol episode on TV last weekend which showed Vai feasting with her family was a perfect example of the problem Polynesian and Maori people faced with obesity.

"She said herself her favourite food is corned beef and rice. She doesn't have the right image at the moment but if she is a NZ Idol, she could be in a position to advocate for all of us brown people who eat too much accelerating health issues such as diabetes."

Fat (particularly as measured in a BMI, which is all Howard Morrison could know), is not a particularly good indicator of mortality or health (whehter or not it is an indicator at all depends on what you control for). Poverty is a much better indicator of mortality and health.

Treating obesity as the cause of the health problems facing Maori and Pacific Islanders enables the actual culprit off the hook. It's not eating too much, but earning too little which causes the health problems Howard Morrison is talking about.

There's something very moral panic-y about that description of her eating with her family. Food has obviously become the thing that we can be shocked about poor people consuming, have alcohol and ciagerettes become passe?

I am shocked, shocked that her favourite food is Corned Beef and Rice. That's obviously a sign that someone's diet is a disaster and they're quickly going to die of something. Everyone's favourite food should be beansprouts & wholemeal, to set a good example to the children.

Emily Ferguson Murphy: Feminist of the Day?

Emily Ferguson Murphy
Social reformer, one of the "famous five" daughters of Canada
"I think women can save civilization. Women are persons."

We have a Canadian! From Canadia (sorry for some reason I find that endlessly amusing - I make my own fun).

Emily Murphy was one of five women, along with Irene Parlby, Nellie McClung, Louise McKinney, and Henrietta Muir Edwards, who lead a campaign for women to be defined as persons.

I'm always a little taken aback when I read about the early victories of the feminist movement, how basic the rights that they were fighting for at the turn of the century. I can't really comprehend the idea of not being a person.

The Famous 5 (they had a good name - all the best activist names have numbers in them) won their case at the Privy council in 1929 (isn't the British justice system great, aren't you glad you're living based on a common law system "persons in the matter of pains and penalties, but not in the matter of rights and privileges.")

She followed this up by trying to make sure that these new women-persons could put food in that stomach that is had been established that they owned. In particular she campaigned for a divorce law that was more equitable than "the man gets everything."

Conclusion: We're persons - who knew. Thank you Emily Murphy and the famous five, even if odds are I disagree with you on eugenics and war.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Another reason to love the new government

Peter Dunne is associate minister of privitising the health system, which obviously fills joy in the heart of all right thinking people.

That makes him associate minister in charge of women's bodies, which is almost as scary. I guess if Bill English was unsuccessful in using his position as minister of health to punish the evil sex having women, then Peter Dunne probably won't do much better - but it's a bit of a worry.

I've heard mumblings that there's an unwritten clause in Peter Dunne's deals - so Labour won't be making New Zealand's abortion law less ridiculous and hypocrtical (for those who don't know New Zealand's abortion laws were considered the most restrictive in the Western world when they were passed in 1977; they don't quite work as intended). If either side in parliament wanted a full on abortion debate we would have had one by now, but America has shown how many different ways you can fuck with women's reproductive rights without directly changing the law, so I'm nervous.

I've been vaguely folowing the supreme court stuff in America. To the surprise of no-one Harriet Miers, Bush's latest supreme court nominee, is anti-abortion and about as close to corporate America as NZCTU is to the Labour party. I'll just curl up and die from not surprisedness.

The religious right in America were opposing Harriet Miers, for reasons that seemed to amount to 'you can't trust those uppity women'. They really are batshit crazy, they can't keep their misogyny damped down long enough to get exactly what they want.

I dreamed I saw Joe Hill

So I'd like to apologise to Gertrude Elion for missing out on her as feminist of the day. I've been attending the biennial conference of the largest democratic organisation in New Zealand. This is obviously a new use of the word democratic that I hadn't previously been aware of.

I'm unsure of how much I'm prepared to write about union politics at this stage, so I will stick to the highlight of the conference.

Less than twenty four hours after Helen Clark had announced that she would be forming a government with reactionary right-wing parties, the CTU conference gave her a standing ovation. During her speech she modified the only good thing to come out of the coalition agreemnts to be "we will be a government that aspires to get a minimum wage of close to $12 by 2008."

So then she got two more standing ovations.

To make it worse, we didn't sing any union songs - the closest was them twice playing half a verse of Power in a Union before replacing it with something from Nature's Best top 30 NZ songs compilation. Apparently the only place unionists sing union songs is at funerals.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Eve Ensler: feminist of the day?

Eve Ensler
Author of the extremely influential vagina monologues, named America's Best Feminist by TIME in 2001
"I think 'vagina' is a perfectly good word. It's a gorgeous word...I made a commitment. Nothing is more important than stopping violence against women."

I have another confession to make, I've never read the Vagina Monologues or seen it performed (I really am a bad feminist). But I do believe it is an important project. One of the most important parts of feminism is telling women's stories, as our lives have been silenced and private for so long. Talking about our lives, and our bodies is an important step to reclaiming them, and was central to the women's liberation movement. In that Vagina Monologues does seem to aim to inspire more conversations between women, I respect it, and now kind of want to read it.

However, (that sounds a little ominous) according to my nice little banner she was Time named her America's best feminist in 2001. Time doesn't get a say on feminism. Well it does get a say on feminism - it's an international magazine it gets a say on whatever it wants. Most of the time what it wants to say on feminism that it's dead and apparently Ally McBeal is a post feminist heroine (in my experience what people call post-feminism is actually pre-feminism, with some extra annoyingness added in). But in order to judge what makes someone a good feminist you should have some grasp on what feminism is. New Weekly is very good at deciding whether celebrities are too thin or too fat (usually they're both), but it gets no say in who Australia's best feminist is, because they wouldn't know a feminist if they had a front page photo of one in a bikini.

Although I suspect the reason Time Magazine wouldn't recognise a feminist is that feminists have some basis in fact, unlike most Time Magazine stories.

Conclusion: Everything the mainstream media says about feminist is wrong. But Eve Ensler's still pretty cool.

Well that sucks

So the question is which is the worst bit of reactionary legislation we've got on our way and who does it come from? We'll have two categories, one for definate initiatives, and the other for the 'maybes'.

The definates (there may be some paraphrasing in here):

* An immigration review that makes sure that no Iraqis or Queers ever get inside our boarders.

* Increase the police to a level that ensures that no poor young people can ever have any fun by 2010.

* Complain a lot about the treaty process, and make it harder to achieve anything.

* Give business money

* Privatise the health service

* Make sure that prostitutes only operate in places that Peter Dunne doesn't want to go.

I think I'm most angry about the health stuff - because Labour has basically already done its best to enact Peters' immigration policy, and almost every party talked about the importance of more cops on the streets so women can feel safer, knowing that cops generally only rape people indoors.

Then there are the maybes, and these are the ones that actually make me want to cry:

* Decrease the age of criminal responsibility to 12

* Introduce income splitting

I'm unsure about the Kyoto stuff, I don't know enough about it to understand whether it would actually reduce polution, or whether it would be another consumer tax. But both Dunne and Peters bought themselves a road to service their local constituents - go pork barrel politics.

Then the only good thing to come out of all this, the introduction of a minimum wage of $12.00 by 2008, has 'if economic conditions allow' attached.

I believe right now I hate every single person in parliament.

Particularly the greens, their policy concessions are so unbelieveably lame I wonder why they bothered. They got advancements on all their most annonying and useless policies (I'm looking at you 'improving the nutritional environment' and you 'buy NZ made campaign'), and got nothing on anything which would make anyone's life any better. I might forgive them if the child poverty bullet point becomes extending the working families package to beneficiaries, but I bet it won't happen.

Control Room

I saw Control Room at the NZ Film Festival in 2004, and I love it. The people from Al Jazeera that are featured in the documentary are very funny The Bush/Rumfeld extracts are choosen for maximum irony. At the same time it's a documentary about a war, and the reality of war is brutal.

But my favourite part of Control Room was the story of the Marine in charge of communications Josh Rushing. Over the course of the movie you see his attitude change. Through his contact with people who are more critical of American foreign policy and the war, including those at Al Jazeera, he comes to question his own attitudes. He compares the way he reacts to dead Americans with the way he reacts to dead Iraqis, and comes to question his own ignorance on Palestine

"US Marine questions war while talking to Arab journalists" - it's almost too cheesy to make up. That's the thing about real life - you find hope in the weirdest places. I'm a sucker for hope - as an activist, as a historian, that's what I need to focus on to keep going.

Anyway since the movie was released Josh Rushing has gone through some interesting times. The Marines didn't much like the documentary and fired him for talking to the press. Well now, according to The Guardian he's got a job on Al Jazeera, as an on-air commentator. Add it to the reasons I wish we could get Al Jazeera here (although even if we're could I'd probably still be too cheap to pay for Sky).

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Sunday Joss Blogging: The worker will overthrow absolutism and lead the proletariat to a victorious communist revolution

So the dirty commies are Joss Whedon fans (I don't know which dirty commies by the way). I always thought Serenity's politics were an interesting mix of Joss's and Tim Minear's (Tim Minear is a Republican, and I suspect a libertarian sort at that - ewww). But I can see why it would appeal to Marxists - it is a materialist vision of the future where the economic base decides the organisational and cultural superstructure (to a ridiculous degree sometimes - I never did understand why a colonising phase of capitalism would require calico to rise again).

I maintain Buffy was more left-wing though - and not just because it was more feminist, but because there were glimpses of a solution on Buffy, and that solution was join together because we're stronger that way (and to overthrow the patriarchy through a magical scythe).

For proof that Buffy is ten times the Marxist heroine Mal ever could dream of being here is her with a hammer and sickle fighting the expropriation of surplus value in a hell dimension (I'm not making any of that up but you can only see the sickle in the picture - the hammer is in her other hand):

Mary Daly: Feminist of the Day?

Mary Daly
Writer, radical feminist
"Courage to be is the key to the revelatory power of the feminist revolution."

Great I've only been going a few days and now I have to uncover my dirty secret: I've hardly read any feminist theory. Sometimes I try - I started The Female Eunuch half a dozen times, I just can't get into it. It's not just feminist theory either - I find my eyes glazing over whenever I read theory of any sort unless I know a reasonable amount about the question they're addressing. I love reading non-fiction but only if it is has actual people with names in it.

So on to Mary Daly - having revealed that I'm completely unqualified to write about, well anything, but particularly feminism (actually I have a whole rant about the problems of over-intellectualising the feminist movement, but I'll save that for another time).

But the problem is all I know about her is she wrote "Beyond God the father". I've neve read it but I know what it looks like - it has the woman's press iron on the spine. I know she was interested in looking at spirituality, and the sexism and misogyny in religion (although I could probably have guessed that from the title).

Conclusion: Obiviously she's a feminist and her writing is important. I might just have to go borrow her book and find out more - books with irons on them are generally worth the effort.

Just as long as his conscience is clear

Dr Joseph Hassan works as a GP in Nelson, and he just sent a letter to 50 of his female patients telling them he would no longer prescribe contraception because of his religious beliefs. He also made the front page of The Press.

I'm suddenly really curious how he decided which 50 patients to send a letter to, because unless he was very part-time he would have more than 50 women patients of reproductive age. Did he go through the list trying to figure out which women were most likely to refuse the gift of fertility (his phrase not mine). Or did he choose the 50 he thought he could guilt into giving up their pills - he sounds like he was using his position as a doctor to try and get his patients to follow his religious beliefs - creep.

There are many people whittering about his right to his religious beliefs and his conscience in the article. I agree to a point, but the solution is to choose a job where the requirements are compatible with your religious beliefs. So if you have a problem prescribing contraception then don't work as a GP; go find a speciality where you won't have to deal with wicked women who want to have sex without paying the consequences.

I passionately believe that way wealth is distributed in this society is wrong. This means I stay away from jobs where part of the job is to uphold the distribution of wealth. I don't apply to be a cop, go through the training, and then raise moral objections to investigating burglaries in wealthy areas.

More seriously when doctors decide their consciences are more important than their female patients, it's the women who suffer. I had a friend who had previously found the pill helpful for her PMT. She went to a Catholic doctor, who wouldn't give my friend the pill, and gave her Prozac instead, arguing that it was better. My friend didn't react very well to the Prozac, and I've worried ever since about all the other women who go to that doctor.

But women just aren't worth as much as men

The comments in response to Frogblog's post on the increase in the pay gap has brought the ignorant out of the woodwork.

The gap between what men and women in full-time work in New Zealand are paid has increased over the last year. Last year women earned 86 cents to the male dollar, and it’s gone down to 82 cents.

Those commenting at Frogblog hadn’t got some of the basics of the statistics given (someone suggested the fact that there were more women than men on benefits might account for the difference in pay between men and women in full-time work – interesting idea that), so I thought I’d take this opportunity to rant about the pay gap between men and women. Although I won’t be responding to what was said at Frogblog’s place too directly – I’m allergic to well-off male Act voters in their twenties and thirties.

There are basically four causes of the pay gap: straight discrimination, discrimination in promotion, gender segregated jobs, and disparity of other economic responsibilities.

So starting with straight discrimination, paying men and women who are doing the same job differently. Guess what? It still happens, yes it’s illegal, if you can prove it, but it’s not illegal if you can’t prove it (and our equal pay legislation was written for a complete different employment relationship environment so it’s pretty unenforceable).

This can take a variety of forms, in one of the places I organise at women and men are given different titles when they’re doing the same jobs, and the men get the higher rate. To give a more scientific example men who work as the CEO of large charities in America are paid 27% more than women heading similar sized charities (what I think of the general pay packet size of heads of charities is another issue).

The places least likely to have direct pay discrimination are places where there’s a rate for the job: areas of the state sector where the job well defined (call centre worker, supreme court judge), workplaces with a collective agreement, and minimum wage jobs. Unfortunately the number of jobs that fall in the first two categories is declining – and the number of the last category is not a great step forward for women anywhere.

I see discrimination in promotion all the time in my work. There’s one worksite where the vast majority of workers do the same job, but there’s an opportunity for a small number of people to get training at another, more technical job. The workforce is about 66% female, and they promote probably a 4 people a year. They’ve never promoted a woman.

Another example from an NZEI organiser, less anecdotal, primary school teachers are about 75% female, while principles are only about 25% female. NZEI commissioned some research into this, thinking – as people sometimes do – that the problem was probably that women weren't applying. They found they were wrong – women were applying – they just weren’t getting the job.

There has been all sorts of research which demonstrates that women and men perform equally well at a task the man will be judged more competent. The most dramatic example is in symphony orchestras, most major have started holding auditions behind a screen. Claudia Goldin and Cecilia Rouse looked at what affect this had on women being hired, and they found that women were 50% more likely to be hired in blind auditions, than they were if those choosing could see the performer.

I think the most important difference in the pay gap is probably workforce segregation. Work in industries and occupations dominated by women is paid less than work in industries and occupations dominated by men. What’s interesting about this is that it isn’t just a fixed and historical process. More and more women have become GPs over the last twenty years or so, and as that has happened the pay and prestige of the job has gone down (disclaimer: I don’t have a source for that – I read it somewhere a long time ago and google isn’t happening – I’d be happy to be proved wrong). Information, communications and Technology, a relatively new area of employment, has male dominated areas, and female dominated areas, and guess which ones pay more?

In New Zealand, NZNO’s pay settlement was a start at fighting to change this sort of discrimination. According to the survey health and community services had one of the biggest average pay increases over the last year. I’m a little surprised and disappointed that the pay gap has gone up - I don't have any theories yet, but I'll think about it.

The answer that the right give to the pay gap is that women choose most of the differences listed above because they choose to spend less time in economic activity, and more looking after children. Even if the idea that more women look after children is an example of us all making free choice was true (and it’s not), it doesn’t matter.

I’m so fucking sick of reproduction being treated as a non-economic activity. The fact that raising children is not valued under capitalism, is part of the same discrimination that says security guards should be paid more than teacher aids that I was talking above (and a sign of how well and truly evil capitalism is). If you look at reproduction as the essential economic activity it is (and I’m not saying that that’s all it is – but capitalism couldn’t function if it didn’t get new workers), then the pay gap is even worse, because women are being paid less, but we’re doing more work than men.

If you want to know any more about the pay gap go here. Amptoons has read more than I have and has more studies, I got some of my stuff from him too.