Sunday, April 30, 2006

Don't ask me, I'm just a girl

I've had my fair share of trolls on my blog in the last month. IH8FEMINAZIS and Dykehater were very special types of misogynists, and I guess I was glad that they were posting on my blog, rather than out harrassing a woman in some forum where their comments couldn't be deleted.

But the straight sexism of regular commenters has started to get to me. Yes there are posters who call me fat and ugly, as the only possible response to a woman who disagree with them. But they're more straight up than the patronising men. The men who think that I don't know what I'm talking about, and just need to be told.

I've had a couple of examples. One was on the 10 Wise Ways thread. A guy called Pete wasn't content to argue with what I was saying, he had to make it about me. Not just about me, but about how he knew better than me. He talked about knowing my intentions, my meanings, and whether or not I understood what he said. He told me I had taken things personally. He told me I was a bad feminist. He asked me if I was for real (a comment I've got a few times, from male names, and I haven't been blogging that long, I know my ideas aren't exactly mainstream, but do people ask Trevor Loudon if he's for real?) I have no doubt that he wasn't trying to be sexist. He probably sees himself as an anti-sexist kind of a guy. But I don't think he would have been this arrogant, this dismissal, and this personal, if he was arguing against a man, on a non-feminist issue.

The other example is a guy called Rick. He considers me a special project. From his blog:

Oh good grief. What's happened to the Capitalism Bad blog? Maia is one of my special turn-left-right projects but how can I go on if she's shut off commenting to all but her inner circle?

Goddamnit. My comment was...
I'm sick of the patronising bullshit. I'm sick of having to constantly fight to create a space that women might feel safe commenting in. I'm sick of constantly weighing up 'is this offensive enough'.

Is it too much to ask that men treat women as human beings?


I was a little bit uncomfortable about blog against disablism day. Not the idea of the day, that fucking rocks, just some of the execution. Partly it was the day - May 1 has been May Day and international workers day for rather a long time. There are enough days without much meaning out there, we don't need to double up the meaningful ones.

I also really don't like the term disablism. I've written before about my problems with the -ism suffix. I think it's really imprecise. For me 'sexism' alone isn't descriptive enough for the word we live in, I always refer to it as sexism and misogyny. Racisim isn't enough, I use racism and colonialism (and many Americans use racism and white supremacy, but obviously New Zealand and American). It seems that we have this opportunity to describe what's going on and the -ism prefix doesn't cut it.

I'm aware that as I no longer have any impairment (and never classified myself as disabled, even when I probably was) my opinion isn't the most important. As it is I'm just going to call my post blog for disability rights.

Anyway the point of this post is to do two things, get all my ambivalence about the execution of the day out of the way, so tomorrow I can write about disability, and two I wanted to quote a kick ass post from Lady Bracknell that I found on Alas:

We have two things - and only two things - in common with one another:

1. we have some degree of physical or mental functional loss or difference (we have impairments); and
2. we are excluded from full participation in society because we have impairments (we are disabled).

We are not brave. We are not special. We are not tragic. We are not heroic. We are not “an inspiration”. We are not the Bogey Man. We are not objects of pity. And we are not the living embodiment of our impairments. You can’t predict what any one of us is going to be like just because you know someone else with the same impairment. We are people. Like you. We have the same rights that you have. We do the same things you do, but we do some of them differently.

You could join us at any time. Just by taking your eyes off the road for a split second. That’s all it takes. If that happens, will you be special? Will you be brave? Will you just sit there quietly and accept it if no-one will employ you? If you’re prevented from going where you want to go and seeing who you want to see? If no-one takes what you say seriously any more?

No? Then why should we?
Go there and read the post. Also if you have a blog join in.

What would feminist nutritional information look like

I wrote a long response to an article in a local feminist 'zine called '10 Wise Ways to Women's Wellness'. I responded the way I did because I believed that the original article was not feminist (whatever the intentions or personal beliefs of the author). I also believed that that article could hurt women who read it.

That belief didn't come in the vacuum. I've got friends who read that article. Friends who have been talking to me about how hard they struggle against using ideas about healthy food to control food, how they've fought back against eating disorder thoughts and behaviour, that they'd found reinforced by everyone around them. Other friends who I've never really talked about food with, just watched and listened, as they talk about morality and food, as they talked about food and control, talked as if eating healthily was a political act and never known how to say 'I'm really, really scared for you'.

A number of people in the comments to that thread (including the original author) said that I should have been more constructive in my criticism. I'm not sure what they were looking for, but now I'm going to write about what I think feminist nutritional advice would look like.

Actually it wouldn't be nutritional advice, it would be nutritional information. A huge part of the feminist project has been fighting against a society that does not trust women to make decisions about their lives and about their bodies. So the aim would be to give women information about the way our bodies work, and what qualities different foods have. Rather than saying 'eat this' or 'don't eat that' feminist advice would trust women to make their own decisions, based on full information.

This would also end up with much better results. Our bodies are different. I have a family history of alcoholism, heart attacks, manic-depression, and cancer (actually that's just my grandfathers), but the women have all lived to a reasonably old age. Right now I have quite good health. My priorities in terms of preventative health would be to prioritise nuturing my brain (because the old age of women in my family means that brains may die before bodies), and to avoid fibroids (because there's a lot of that in my family). Friends who have quite different family histories might want very different things.

But far more importantly feminist nutirtional information wouldn't just look at food and our bodies in isolation. Food and women's bodies are both loaded with meaning in our society. Women's bodies are there for almost everything, but the women who live in them. Food, and nuturing, are women's responsibility. We provide it, we care about it, we know about it. How women react to that differs, both on an individual basis, and depending on your class and ethnicity. Feminist nutritional information would take this into account.

So the fact that women in hetrosexual relationships usually do most of the cooking is as much an issue for feminist nutrition, as the use of hormones in factory farming. That most women hate their bodies and use food to punish themselves is as much of an issue as iron levels. The price of food is as much of an issue as the quality of that food.

Finally for nutritional information to be feminist, and just not harmful, it would need to go beyond individual women. It would have to be part of a project to fight back against everything I've described, not just a way for individual women to solve health problems they may have.

Now I work for a union, and I'm a feminist, but I wouldn't say I'm a feminist union organiser (I also don't think I'm a particularly radical union organiser). Feminist nutrition probably isn't possible as a job in the world you live in. It doesn't mean that feminists can't study nutrition, it just means that just because your a feminist and a nutritionist, doesn't make you a feminist nutritionist.

Snobbery and middle class paternalism

So there's been a little bit of a local shitstorm going down in Wellington over the last couple of days. I'm going to have to give you the run down so you can understand the point I want to make, sorry if it's a bit labyrinthine.

A small group of men have organised a peace camp to protest a possible invasion against Iran. A friend of mine went down to visit the camp, and was disturbed by the fact that the men there seemed to be talking about women as objects. He wrote an e-mail to people who might go down to the camp, just so they could bear it in mind.

So far, so sensible. Then some anonyous commenter took this e-mail and put it up in indymedia, complete with a fairly ridiculous response:

The paternalistic behaviour is obvious: I'm an organiser, and I have experience, and I have the right to tell you how to behave at this sort of event because you come from outside the sanctified political scene. Moreover, the class roots of the sexist attitudes exhibited by these organisers is completely ignored, and once again the enlightened middle class are ever present to advise the morally depraved working class of how to properly behave.
His (to take a small step, and there conclusions are) argument appears to be that objectifying women is part of working class culture, and therefore middle-class men are exhibiting 'classist'* behaviour if they call working class men on treating women like shit. The title comes from the indymedia post, but could be much better directed at the indymedia post.

I can't decide what makes me most outraged about this argument. Obviously only a priviledged little shit would say that objectifying women was part of working class culture. The idea that it is class that causes men to objectify women, rather than living in a misogynist society, is ridiculous and patronising. As if middle-class men didn't treat women like objects.

The other implication is that women don't matter. It's far more important that working class men and middle class men bond, than either stop being misogynist. It's nice to know where the priorities are.

I'm reminded of a story from the New Left in America. An SDS man was giving a talk about organising among working class communities in America. He was talking about how consciousness raising it was when he was out with these other guys and they were balling a chick together. So a woman put up her hand and said "What does it do for the conciousness of the chick?" Legend goes that a women's liberation group was started on the spot. But legend is wrong, because women were already organising.

*I've already written about the stupidity of that term here

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Employment options

I realised I hadn't been spending nearly enough time attacking the Labour party for their general evil right-wing tendancies. I'm sorry I've been distracted. I am planning on writing about immigration sometime soon. But I had to write about the government's latest benefit proposals. First a quick primer for non-New Zealanders. The main categories of benefits in New Zealand are unemployment, sickness (for those who are too sick to work), invalid (for those who have long-term health conditions that mean they're unable to work) and domestic purposes benefit (for those raising children). The unemployment benefit is work tested, and there are penalties if you don't meet certain criteria, it is also paid at a lower level than the other benefits. In 1991 the National government cut all benefits significantly and Labour has still not reversed (that doesn't have anything to do with my point, but it's kind of a reflex). Anyway onto the press release:

Comprehensive employment help will be available to all Work and Income clients regardless of their benefit type under a new case management approach launched today by Social Development and Employment Minister David Benson-Pope.
Sounds just like hugs and puppies doesn't it, isn't it nice of the government to make these services available to other categories of beneficiaries.

I don't know what they mean by 'available', when they say the new service will include: "WRK4U seminars that provide jobseekers with information on local labour market conditions, vacancies, employment services and income support entitlements and responsibilities."

There may be people who find interesting and useful information at the WRK4U seminar. It's possible that the rumours I've heard that the whole purpose of the seminar is to kill people from boredom, and therefore reduce the number of beneficiaries, are wildly exaggerated. But at the moment it's not just 'available' for those on the unemployment benefit, it's pretty much compulsory. There should be no consequences for people on the sickness benefit or the DPB (or the unemployment benefit, but that's another rant) if they avoid WINZ's 'employment services'. Otherwise the state is compelling people who have a societally recognised reason not to work in paid employment at that time to do things that the state believes will help them return to work at some future time.

Even if it's optional the hard sell on employment for the solution to everyone's needs is worrying. If you're sick you need to make decisions based on what will make you well, not what will make your case-manager happy.

There is actually a term for this and it's called 'reserve army of labour'. If unemployment is low that drives up the cost of labour. So it's useful to have a pool of people who are usually out of the labour market, but can be dragged into the labour market in time of scarcity. Women have long filled this function (and continue to do so), but I think it's a particularly classy way of treating sick and disabled people as well.

PS: The press release boasts that for the first time single parents and sick people will have "employment as an option from initial contact". So that's what my friend needed as soon as she'd finished labour, to know that employment was an option (do you know if your on the sickness benefit due to pregnancy and change over to the DPB because you give birth, they give you a weeks stand-down the week the babies born). I think people actually know how much employment is an option for them already, and the fact that they're at WINZ applying for the DPB, sickness, or invalid benefit, shows that it's not the best option.


From indymedia:

Members of the Tuwharetoa Iwi occupying land in the central North Island say they are optimistic that a proposed sale will be halted. Taurewa Marae has been established on one of the blocks currently controlled by the government body Land Corp which make up the Taurewa Sheep Station near to National Park township.

The land has been deemed surplus to government requirements and a proposal to sell the land for a development, reportedly to include luxury accommodation and a golf course, has emerged. However, residents of the marae say Land Corp officials, who recently visited the occupation, admitted the proposed sale was illegal as the land had not been first offered back to its original owners.
The land was stolen from Maori, supposedly for a military training, but it was leased as a farm instead. Landcorp, which now runs all government owned farms, has decided it doesn't need the land anymore, so is looking to sell it.

It appears they are now thinking about 'offering' it to Maori. I don't think you offer something you've stole back, you give it back.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006


There's a very interesting post by Nubian called Gender does not trump race. You should go over there and read it, she does a great job of deconstructing gender and race as interconnecting systems.

But that's not actually what I'm going to talk about. In her article Nubian said:

It is very naive and very, very 2nd wave-ish to say, “well, gender trumps race.”
I'm not an expert on the American feminist movement of the 1960s and 1970s, although I do know a bit about it. But I really don't think 'well, gender trumps race' as an argument, was a defining feature of the feminism of that time.

Nubian cross-posted this post to Alas and I resoponded there. She replied, and I'm taking this reply here, because I don't want to derail her thread:
and i realize a number of different movements were taking place, but from my understanding, most of them had a similar goal of addressing gender oppression of women

sisterhood is global slogans
lesbian seperatist feminism
radical feminism
This may be where we fundamentally disagree, because I don't think that any of these ideas, by themselves, support the argument 'gender trumps race'. Arguing that gender is important and fighting gender oppression is not arguing that it 'trumps' anything else.

The other thing I wanted to argument with, but didn't because I didn't want to derail Nubian's thread is this:
The Third Wave was coined and founded by Rebecca Walker who is half black and Alice Walker’s daughter and it’s ironic and sad that the third wave is not much less racist than the second wave.
I'm always a little surprised whenever I see anyone using the term second-wave feminism. I thought the two wave model of feminism had been so thoroughly discredited that no-one would dishonour the feminists who worked between women winning the vote and the 1960s by continuing to ignore their existance.

The term 'third-wave' makes me actively angry. Women who called themselves second-wave feminists have the excuse of ignorance. The history of women's resistance had been systemtically ignored and repressed, so it's no wonder that women in the 1960s didn't realise that there had been huge amounts of activism in the past. But part of the activism of women's liberation was rediscovering this history, which is why the term second-wave feminism stopped being a term that people used to identify themselves with. Although, unfortunately, it is still used by the media reasonably often.

To use the term third-wave willfully and knowledgely ignores the history of women's resistence (a fact that Rebecca Walker is aware of, and points out to interviewers).

Holocaust Rememberance Day

Today was Holocaust Rememberance Day (well it was probably yesterday, because Ampersand only mentioned it today, and he's a day behind me).

My best friend is the granddaughter of a Holocaust survivor. I'd like to write about her family's story, but it's not mine to share.

So instead I'll just say that there's an idea that in 1945, when World War 2 ended, that that was it. That's not what happened The effects of genocide do not just go away, they don't disappear after 10 years, they do not disappear after 60 years.

Constructing 'rape'

I went to a public lecture tonight by Joanna Bourke a historian from Britain. Her talk was called "Sexual Violence, a historical perspective: writing the rapist".

It's not the really the subject of this post, but she kicked ass when it came to dissing evolutionary psychology (she called in pernicious, which is a great word that I should use more often), and how it is fundamentally ahistorical. The strength of historical analysis is that it does allow us to examine the particular time and place in which things happen to seek an explanation. This shows us that the world can change.

She also talked quite a bit of the female perpertrator of sexual violence. I'm not going to respond to that at all, because I felt the time she had was really limited, and I'd need to see her arguments in full before I could respond.

Her talk examined the way 'the rapist' had been constructed and explained over time. I'm actually going off almost completely on a tangent in this post. In her paper she was concentrating on how rape had been explained. In particular how and why a medical explanation of rape gave way to a psychological explanation of rape (although she covered a lot of other ground as well). In doing this she talked a little bit about how rape is defined: what is called rape, and what is not. That's what I want to write about in this post.

'Rape' and unconsensual sex
In her lecture Joanna Burke was mostly discussing not the history of rape, but the history of how rape had been constructed. I think examining the history of how 'rape' has been constructed as separate from the history of nonconsesual sex, is a really important way of examining the history of power, sexuality and gender. She obviously knows a lot more about the history of non-consenual sex, which she didn't go into in this lecture, but that's also a fascinating important topic, possibly hindered by the almost impossibility of finding sources.

It seems to me that, without resistence, the definition of 'rape' will be constructed by those in power, in a way that will reinforce that power. Joanna Burke gave some really stark examples of this. Obviously the most well-known is black men 'raping' white women, a definition of rape that had very little to do with consent. Another example she gave was a phrase that was used in a lot in legal cases at the end of the 19th century "you can't sheathe your sword in a vibrating scabbard." This was really explicitly tied to class as legal texts argued that while delicately bred women might freeze when a man tried to have sex with them, lower-class women, were used to rough and tumble, and could stop rape by cross their knees. This effort to limit the defintion of rape helped define the rapist, and the rape victim (too often the rapist is defined by his victim).

What the feminist movement has done is challenged and expanded the definition of 'rape', so that it doesn't just serve the interests of those with power. But this is an unstable situation, and so we have to keep fighting to push those boundaries, and be aware that our efforts can and will be co-opted.

I see a lot of the writing feminist bloggers do on rape as being part of this project. We're saying rich boys from the OC rape, rich boys from Duke rape, and police officers rape. We're saying that rape is defined by those who have sex forced on them, not by those who force others to have sex.

All Men Are Rapists
In her lecture Joanna Burke treated this phrase uncritically. She frequently set her historical study of the construction of rape as an alternative to a claim that all men were rapists. I found this disappointing, partly because the phrase 'all men are rapists' was first used by a fictional character in Marilyn French's The Woman's Room. As far as I know it has rarely, if ever, been seriously put forward as a theoretical explanation for rape. But also because she failed to examine the idea 'all men are rapists' in its historical context (as a disclaimer it was an hour lecture, she almost certainly does this in her book, but that won't be out to next year, so her lecture is all I have to go on).

If I was studying rape historically I would examine the idea that 'all men are rapists' as part of a struggle to define what rape is.

Rape as a weapon of war
One of Joanna Burke's most pertinent points is how easily we have accepted that rape was used as a weapon of war in some contexts. The Red Army in Berlin, Bosnia, and Rwanada, were all examples that she gave of times and places where the use of rape as a weapon of war became part of the accepted discourse about that war. But, as she pointed out, despite the large amount of evidence that we have that rape is used as a weapon of war in Iraq, Iraq is not seen as a war where rape is used as a weapon. We have photos, so many photos, but evidence is not enough, because the discourse is controlled.

This is what I mean by the danger that an analysis of rape that defines all non-consensual sex as rape might be co-opted. It was feminists who put forward the analysis that rape is used as a weapon in war. But this idea will only be accepted if it's the enemy (however that is constructed) who are using that weapon. This isn't to mean we should step back from our analysis, but that we must put our efforts into places where our analysis will not be accepted, rather than focusing on areas where it would.

A story
I want to end with the story that she opened and closed her lecture with. The woman's name was not recorded, she was Vietnamese and surrounded by American soldeirs. One by one they raped her. She asked them, in English, "Why are you doing this to me?"

The point Joanna Burke was making is that we have to keep asking that question, and finding specific answers, because if we give up on answers we give up on the idea that we can stop them.

A few thoughts on the immigration proposals

I've been meaning to write about the immigration review ever since it came out, but I was a little bit distracted. Ever since then I've been rather intimidated by it. Tze Ming and Idiot/Savant have absolutely rocked the party when it came to the details of the policy and the pernicious implications of the department's suggestions. They're both going to post more, make sure you don't miss it. Their posts made me realise that the reason I didn't know what to write was because I don't know that much about immigration policy.

I've started reading the policy document and it reads exactly like any other policy document put out to consultation. Lots of meaningless drivel and making sure that the topic is so carefully defined that you get the answers you want.

They helpfully define the aims of New Zealand immigration right up the front and one of them is "ensure that New Zealand's interests are protected and advanced".

I do wonder how a country can have interests. Are they talking about the New Zealand state? Are they saying that all New Zealand citizens have the same interests when it comes to immigration? Are they identifying the interests of a certain sector of society with the interests of the country as a whole? (my money is on the last, but more about that later).

They don't explain how a country can have interests, but they do say what New Zealand's interests are when it comes to immigration policy, which is helpful:

* maintaining the safety and security of New Zealand
* generating sustainable economic growth
* establishing strong communities
* fulfilling New Zealand’s role as a good international citizen, and
* promoting international cooperation.
So lets start with those principles, and see what they actually mean

maintaining the safety and security of New Zealand
Now obviously the main thing this means is that they should be able to deport and lock-up anyone they want to deport and lock-up and never tell them why. No meddling kids should have got in the way of sending Ahmed Zaoui somewhere else.

But it's actually more of a power grab than that. They want to amend New Zealand's immigration legislation so that it states of everyone who comes here is of good health and character. They justify that desire under this clause: "Safety and security includes ensuring that non-citizens are of good health and character." So our security is guaranteed by ensuring that only people who are of good character are allowed in. If we allowed people who were only of mediocre character in then New Zealand would become insecure.

But seriously 'good character' is pretty vague, and a lot of the examples they give are discriminatory, and this is when they're trying to sell the idea. The idea is actually even more pernicious than that (yes I have used that word twice in two posts, Joana Burke used it in the talk I heard last night, and I decided I liked it):
The term “health” in immigration policy is used not only in reference to the absence of disease and the protection of public health, but also to ensure that non-citizens do not impose excessive costs through disability.
Immigration legislation is, by its existance racist, but never underestimate it's ability to discriminate and treat like shit anyone and everyone who doesn't have power. The idea that it would damage our safety and security to have people with disabilities in the country is offensive.

generating sustainable economic growth
Now this is where we get to start looking at whose interests are defined as "New Zealand's interests". The reason the immigration debate is so frustrating is that it is often argued between people who are saying "I don't want brown people here because I'm racist" and people who are saying "I may want immigration, I may not, it all depends on what's going on with my reserve army of labour."

There is very rarely a voice which looks at immigration from the point of view of people, and links the interests of workers, where ever they are, and points out that these are not the same as the interests of bosses.

establishing strong communities
If anyone can explain what they could possibly mean by this that isn't racist then they get a cookie.

The other two criteria seem mainly to be about ensuring that we don't treat refugees any worse than everyone else, and making sure New Zealanders can travel where we want to travel.

I'd quite like to know which principle sending rape survivors back to be further traumatised comes under.

My point in this rather scatter gun critique of immigration principles, is that immigration laws are set in the interests of those with power. In particular, they're there to help ensure capitalism runs smoothly. Those of us who aren't that fond of capitalism need to reject immigration laws, and recognise that we have more in common with people in other lands than we do with business owners in our own.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006


I don't understand ANZAC Day. I mean, I understand the history, I know what happened on April 25 1915. Possibly it's because I know this history that I don't understand the way we treat ANZAC Day now.

91 years ago the Australia and New Zealand Army Core was part of a failed invasion of Turkey. Over 130,000 soldiers died over the next 8 months (that's 500 people a day). For what? Well it was part of an on-going war, which historians sometimes blame on railway timetables (Germany couldn't mobilise against Russia without also mobilising against France etc.), but like most wars it was a fight over resources.

New Zealand actually benefitted from this, we became the colonial power that controlled Samoa. This resulted in a large number of Samoans dying of the flu, because our economic interests were more important than quarantine. But that's not what people talk about when it comes to ANZAC day. They don't say 'they died so we could have a colony of our own to fuck over'. They say 'they died for our freedom'. Which is just not true.

I do think we should remember the men who died at Gallipolli (some of them were only 19), and I do think we should say never again. But what we should be remembering is that those men were lied to, and led to the slaughter. We should be remembering, not that they made a sacrifice, but they were sacrificed.

But we didn't mean it when we said 'never again'. Since 1915 we've contributed troops to many other imperialist wars. At the moment New Zealand has troops in Afganistan and the Solomons. We send troops around the globe either to protect our business interests (like in the Solomons), or to promote the business interests of our allies (like Afganistan).

Monday, April 24, 2006

More on police rape and suppression orders.

Idiot/Savant sent me an article on the latest police rape case:

A former police officer extradited from Australia on historic rape and sexual abuse charges was today sent for trial in the High Court.

The man, whose name is suppressed, faces allegations from two girls, then aged between 12 and 16, comprising four counts of indecent assault and one of rape, all in Rotorua in 1980.
This, again, shows, that what happened to Louise Nicholas wasn't an isolated incident. There was a culture of rape, violence, and abuse of power amongst Rotorua cops in the 1980s (and who knows how long before, and after). It infuriates me that the courts and the media have seen these as seperate incidents.

My main problem with the way that Rickards, Schollum, and Shipton were tried was never the suppression orders (although I can understand why ). But I do think there can be real problems with suppression orders, particularly when they suppress the names of men accused of rape or sexual assault.

Eva Radich had an interesting couple of interviews about a Taranaki case. A New Plymouth doctor has been granted name suppression; he is facing 20 charges of sexual assault. The reason he has been granted name suppression because his business might be damaged if people knew these accusations were made against him.

The reason this makes me so angry is shows that the court system doesn't trust women to know what other women have said about men. It presumes to know better than us, about how we can keep ourselves safe.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

I hadn't cried

The not guilty verdict in the police rape trial came out three weeks ago. I wrote about that case; I wrote about it because I was angry. Women posted in the comment threads and e-mailed me, they told their stories.

I had not cried. I felt totally overwhelmed by what women go through, about how alone so many women are in their pain. One night I drove right past my street and down to the sea, because I was almost crying, and hoped I could let some of my sorrow out, but I couldn't.

Tonight I started reading the posts from April 18 - blog to raise awareness of sexual violence. I cried for the first time since the end of March. These posts frame telling women's stories as an act of resistance, and I cried.

I'm writing about me, I don't mean to make this about me. I just meant to say how moved I was by the strength of the women who speak out; how moved I am by the strength of the women who get up and face another day.

10 Wise Ways for Women's Wellness

That was the title of the article in Muse (a local feminist 'zine) that made me furiously angry. I believe it's anti-woman, and I have a huge problem with it being in a feminist magazine.

Activists keep on putting out really mainstream advice on nutrition, and then pretending it's radical because they use slightly different phrases (for instance if you don't want to talk about low-carbs, you can condemn wheat, or refined carbohydrates, for similar effect). There's this idea that nutritional information is hard to find. But much of the advice given in this article is also in a mainstream article, on how to keep well during your menstrual cycle, which was printed a few pages earlier in the same 'zine (I assume they were making fun of the mainstream article, but you can never be sure). You could find any of the advice (and much of the language) in Cosmo or Cleo. I would pay $100 to any woman who read that article and hadn't already heard at least 80% of the advice it contained many times.

Nutirtion appears to be one of the few areas where repeating mainstream ideas is portrayed as radical. I wouldn't think it did any harm, if I didn't think those mainstream ideas were harmful. But it's hardly a controversial idea that mainstream ideas about food and women's bodies are bad for women. I think most people would agree with me. Just a straight comparison shows that there isn't much difference between mainstream ideas and the ideas that keep popping up in feminist zines and so on. Therefore the ideas we're promoting are harmful. That's not a particularly hard bit of logic to follow. And yet...

It makes me particularly angry because knowledge about how to manage menstrual problems matters. I dealt with premenstrual depression, serious depression that would last up to two weeks and made it very difficult to cope, for three or four years. It was solved by changing my diet (I'm intolerant to dairy). My life is incomparably better now than it was before. But the advice in this article won't help any woman who is in the position I was in.

There are some truly ridiculous phrases in the article, that are begging out to be mocked, so I will oblige. But then I'll try and examine the article in more depth, and explain why I don't think it actually promotes wise ways for women's wellness.

2. Avoid Refined Carbohydrates: [...] They rapidly convert to sugar in the body which contributes to hypoglycaemia, and any excess (that is not burnt off with exercise) will turn to fat.
Well obviously food which might turn into to fat (unless you burn it off with exercise) must be avoided at all costs. Every feminist magazine should condemn food that might be turned into fat.
3. Avoid saturdated animal fat and hydrogenated oils. As well as contributing to obesity and heart disease...
Obesity and heart disease: one is medical condition that can kill you, the other is being fat. Notice which one is first placed first.
...Limit dairy products other than low-fat organic yoghurt
It's not just that she maintains a 'we must avoid evil fat' mentality, it's that she doesn't explain why. Why is low-fat organic yoghurt OK? Why isn't full-fat organic yoghurt? Will low-fat non-organic yoghurt turn you into a pumpkin? And what if you eat cheese?
4. Increase Your Essential Fatty Acid (EFA) Intake. These are the good fats...
Yes, these fats tidy their bedrooms, write to their grandmothers and look both ways before crossing the road. I would never take nutirtional advice from anyone who can't confuses food and morality.
5. Maintain a health body weight. A very low body weight will lower oestrogen levels to the point where periods may stop and bone density is reduced, increasing the risk of osteoperosis later in life. On the other hand, obesity, especially if concentrated centrally in the body, can lead to insulin resistance.
Number one this is just plain wrong. Insulin resistence is only just beginning to be understood, and while there is evidence of a correlation between body fat around the middle and insulin resistence, there is no evidence that fat around the middle causes insulin resistence.

Number 2 obesity is classified as having a Body Mass Index over 30. Obesity and fat are not synonymous, you are classified as obese even if you have a very low body-fat and lots of muscle. Presumably what she was trying to say was that you are more likely to get insulin resistence conditions if you are an apple shape as opposed to a pear shape. But that's not obesity concentrating centrally (and as I always said correlation does not prove causation).

Number 3 Advising other women to lose weight, in a feminist magazine? What the fuck ever.
6. Avoid Environmental Hormone Disruptors[...] Choosing to eat organically farmed meat, fish and poultry (including eggs) will reduce your exposure to the synthetic hormones which are conventionally used to encourage animal growth and milk production.
Whether or not we eat organically farmed meat is entirely a choice. Some of us choose to buy organically farmed meat, others choose to be too poor.

But there are other problems with the article. The author tells us to avoid aerobic exercise during menstruation without telling us why. She's also constantly warning us against excess hormones, without explaining how you'd know if you had excess hormones, and why they're are a problem.

That's the fundamental problem with the article. It reads as if the author thinks that all women's bodies are the same, and that all menstrual symptoms can be alleviated by the same behaviour.

She doesn't provide any actual information, just instructions. There's no talk about how your hormones work. Nothing concrete, just more reasons women should control different aspects of our diet.

There are huge variations in menstruation related symptoms, and not a lot is known about how they fit together and what they mean (this is at least partly because a decade or so doctors started prescribing prozac for menstrual problems, so from a medical perspective the problem is solved). For anyone who wants to try and alleviate any of their symptoms, either medically or alternatively, it's exhausting, not made any easier by the people who are trying to help you (and I'm more than willing to pass on my limited information, if anyone has any questions, because it sucks doing it by yourself).

I remember researching this, searching desperately for something, anything that could explain what was happening to me. All I would find was these long lists of things that I shouldn't eat, much like the one in this article, although most of them had salt as a forbidden food. I remember being incredibly frustrated with these lists, because they wouldn't tell you what would help what symptoms. I think, although it didn't say, that getting rid of salt was for people who got bloated round their period. I've never had that. I wouldn't necessarily be able to recognise if if I did. I didn't need to get rid of salt, but salt was included on the list, because you're supposed to eat less salt. These books all took the attitude that their goal was to perfect women's diet, rather than allievate our symptoms.

In the end I discovered how intolerant I was to dairy by accident when I got a really bad cold. About six months later my Mum found one of the books she'd bought me. It said that if you suffered pre-menstrual depression you could try and eliminate dairy. But it also said you should eliminate sugar, caffine, wheat, and a whole bunch of other things I don't even remember now. I never found the useful information because it was so crowded out with other 'useful' information.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Down with Practically Everything

Today is Blog against Hetronormativity Day. I was going to join in, but I just discovered that Hetronormativity doesn't mean quite what I think it does. It almost means what I think it did, but it's different enough that I'm just not sure what I think of it as analysis. I have some things I'd have to think through before I could agree that I thought that Hetronormativity exists, at least in the sense of that being a useful way of grouping together a set of phenomena. It seems a little silly to blog against something if you're not even convinced that it existed.

I decided to post the post I'd already written anyway. I'm writing about female friendships, and even if I'm not convinced I'm talking about heteronormativity, I think it's an interesting topic of discussion.

I have two female friends who are raising a baby together. They've never slept together. They were friends and flatmates before the baby was born, and now they're looking after him together. It's not easy, for many reasons (not least of which is the general lack of sleep and stress that comes from looking after an 8 month old), but part it is our very limited idea of the roles involved in raising a child.

A few years ago my best friend had a double hip replacement, it didn't go well. She was allergic to various pain-killers. One hip got infected. She was in hospital for five weeks, when they'd originally said she'd be in for a week to ten days. I visited her almost every day, and it's so draining to see someone you love that sick.

But a lot of people just didn't get it. She was 'just' a friend. If I'd slept with her, even if I'd only known her for a few months, my reaction would have made more sense to them. Instead I was being nice and kind.

Under the Holidays Act you get 3 days' paid bereavement leave on the death of a set of named people, parents, children, siblings, grandparents, grandchildren, spouse and spouses parents. For a friend you can get one day's paid leave if your employer accepts a bereavement.

Our society does not value, or even really recognise friendships, particularly friendships between women.

It hasn't always been like this. People have critiqued Carroll Smith-Rosenburg's 'The Female World of Love and Ritual' quite throughly since it came out, but it does show places where it was socially acceptable to value relationships with your female friendships as much as your relationship with your husband.

I don't have any solutions to this, at least not right now. While forming strong relationships with women is a fantastic thing to do, it'll make your life better, and you'll feel stronger, having them doesn't change the fact that society doesn't value them. My friends' relationship challenges ideas about what relationships can be, but it isn't easy for them.

But what I want to try and look at is why female friendships are devalued, in what context the priviledging of certain sorts of relationships happens, and who benefits.

A couple of days ago I was talking about Homosociality:

Now, homosociality is one of them 10-cent words that can take an awful long time to explain (I took something like 5 pages in my dissertation), and it's roughly the idea that men's relationships with women are secondary to men's relationships with other men, and that women are used as currency of exchange in male relationships, that women are used by men in various ways in order to negotiate their relationships with other men, etc.
I agree with this analysis. Men are supposed to put other men over women. But even with men, this isn't about valuing those friendships and relationships as individual people, but valuing men over women, becuase they are men.

Women are also supposed to put men first over other women, which means putting sexual relationships with men, over frienships with women.* I actually think most of the privilidgeing of sexual relationships in our society is about reinforcing male power. But I'd been interested in other explanations. Anyone got any.

*Obviously lesbians do subvert the underlying idea of valuing men over women. But this doesn't mean that they stop valuing sexual relationships over other relationships, this norm is particularly pervasive.

Thursday, April 20, 2006


A group of young women in Wellington have put together a feminist zine called Muse. I got a copy of the second issue today. There were some good articles, including an excellent one on Rosa Parks.

But bits of it left me with this weird annoyed feeling, and I realised, after thinking about it that this was actually the sympton of a much larger problem and it wasn't the fault of the writers of the individual articles, but a problem in the feminist movement, which seemed worth a post. (There was also one article that made me furiously angry, that I believe had no place in any feminist zine, and I may or may not write about that, depending on whether or not I calm down).

It was the most personal articles in Muse that I found so frustrating. As I was trying to think of a written response this bothered me. It seemed that every critique of the articles would become a critique of their personal life. Then I realised that that was the problem, that personal experience was being offered up as feminist analysis. And while I believe that personal experience needs to be a part of feminist analysis, it is not enough, on its own.

The problem, yet again, is the complete and utter misunderstanding of what the phrase 'the personal is political' was actually supposed to mean. I think feminists need to have a better idea of our history, the context in which ideas were developed, and what they actually mean.

The personal is political means that problems that seem personal can't be solved personally or individually, they must be addressed politically or collectively.

It is actually completely unsustainable to try and solve political problems on a personal level (it's also ineffective, but that's another rant). One of the articles actually articulates this really well, but her conclusion is one I disagree with.

The writer of 'Am I Still a Feminist' has found herself falling into more and more aspects of the traditional female role as she grew older:

But here I was. Living in domestic harmony with him. We both worked, so why was I rushing home via the shops in urgent need to get dinner on the table before he got home? And why was I putting on make-up after work, in order to sit at a dinner table?"
She thinks about this and comes to the following conclusion:
But today, I am brave enough in myself to make choices. Someimtes I want to cook the dinner, because I enjoy cooking, just as men do. [...] Sometimes I dress up a little - just as men do. I believe that making these choices and having the strength to feel comfortable with them, does not contradict my feminist values.[...]

And now I am strong enough to make choices from within, and recognise whether they are my choices - or have been imprinted upon my subconcious by patriarchal ideologies
The whole point of feminist analysis, the whole point of 'ther personal is political', is that that's not an either/or situation. The point is that it doesn't matter whether we do make dinner or don't make dinner, we can't make the choices in the same way men do, because our choices are constrained by the patriarchal ideologies that the author believes she can get rid of as an individual. Call me old-fashioned but I believe that no woman can be liberated on her own, and that we cannot find what our true choices would be in the society that we live in at the moment.

The point of feminism isn't to give you strength not to cook dinner for your partner, and it certainly isn't to give you strength to cook dinner for your partner. It's to analyse why you're the one who is supposed to make dinner in the first place, and fight back.

A follow-up of sorts

So I was thinking some more about the people I quoted and linked to yesterday, and wanted to write a little bit of a follow-up.

Make Tea Not War posted this in the comments of my last post:

You might not agree with me but I'm going to say it anyway. Of course rape is terrible and inexcusable and should be dealt with. However, I truly believe it is a minority of men who perpetuate it or think it is anyway acceptable. It is the exception not the norm and it needs to be seen in that perspective.
Of course we don't have reliable statistics. But in a survey on sexual behaviour 4.5% of men said that they had forced a woman to have sex against her will. That's the ones who admit it, and who classify it as force. To me, that is a terrifyingly high number, particularly as the actual number would be much higher than that, because large numbers of men would not classify what they did as forcing a woman to have sex with them. I do think that it is probably a minority in the sense that less than 50% of men who have forced a woman to have sex against a will. But I don't think that those who condone rape are a minority.

In particular, I think a sizeable proportion of men, and our culture as a whole, believe it's perfectly OK for a woman to have sex against her will, as long as the man doesn't use direct physical force to do it. That was what Biting Beever's post made so clear, that there are so many situations where the power imbalances mean that women can't meaningfully consent. She gives great examples, and I recommend reading the whole post. It left me with a question that I've been thinking about all day, and honestly can't answer:

Why do men have sex with women who don't want to have sex with them?

Is it because they don't know that the women don't want to have sex with them, or that they don't care? How on earth could someone who doesn't want to have sex with you be a turn-on?

I don't know how many men could say that every time they had sex the person they were having sex with also wanted to have sex. I would be surprised if it was a minority of men. I do think that the idea that it is OK to have sex with someone who doesn't want to have sex with you is a huge part of our culture's condoning of rape.

I was talking about this and a friend suggested that the underlying idea is that women don't ever want to have sex, so if a woman only sort of doesn't want to have sex, then it's totally OK to go for it. I think this is certainly the idea that is supported in mainstream culture. Most mediocre sitcoms work it into their basic premise in some way.

But the wider answer doesn't answer the question I keep coming back to. Why would you want to have sex with someone who didn't want to have sex with you? How is unwillingness sexy?

What's the same about a Lada and a fat chick?

Years ago, my brother told me a joke. It appears that this joke has been waiting in my brain until now, specifically so I could use it to illustrate the argument I'm about to discuss. Except, unfortunately, I've forgotten what sort of car the fat chick is supposed to be like, and don't know enough about cars to guess. So I put Lada in there, because they're the butt of all car jokes.

But this thought train actually starts with an AskMen article that lists 6 ways to tell your girlfriend to lose weight. Or more specifically the post that Meloukhia wrote about that article, because I don't regularly troll the AskMen boards for material.

I saw her post on the big fat carnival and wanted to reply, but she summed up my reaction in her title: "Also, splutters of incoherent rage". And the only thing I could add to the debate was threats of violence. I thought since I couldn't get it together to make an actual point I better leave it to people who could.

But then Hugo wrote an amazing post in response. In general I find that Hugo has a lot of interesting things to say, but I find it difficult to get beyond his "consistent-life ethic" way of saying that he thinks abortions are icky really bothering (well I find anyway of saying abortions are icky bothering). But what he wrote in response to that article is really worth reading, even if you have to ignore the blurb at the top. He's writing about a conversation he has with a friend of his, called Joey, about the way Joey feels about his wife gaining weight: "I feel like such an ass", he said, "but my wife's weight gain is bugging the hell out of me. I love her and don't want to hurt her -- how do I talk to her about it?"

Meloukhia has an impassioned response at her place, one that begins:
First let's start with the premise that it's your responsibility to tell your girlfriend to lose weight as though it's some sort of moral obligation. Clearly, you wouldn't want to be seen dating a fat girl, so as those pounds creep up, you've got to take decisive action...or dump her. And you wouldn't want to dump her, now would you? This premise also assumes that it's totally socially acceptable and ok to tell your partner to lose weight, albeit in oh so clever and devious ways. As a self respecting man, you've got to take a stance somewhere, right?

Though she doesn't expand on it, Meloukhia is dead on right that much of the issue here revolves less around issues of sexual desire and health and more about men's homosocial status. And this reminds me of my reaction to Joey's query. Before discussing strategies for tactfully approaching our partners about their weight, men need to cop to their real reasons for wanting their girlfriends and wives to be slender. Many men are reluctant to admit the degree to which their partner's perceived attractiveness in the eyes of other men bolsters their confidence and their sense of status. Put bluntly, having a trim girlfriend or wife boosts one's standing among one's male peers. In this culture, men are taught from an early age that being with a "hot chick" conveys real and tangible benefits in the eyes of other guys.

For many American men raised to see women as a yardstick with which to measure their own masculinity quotient, a partner's weight gain is going to be perceived as a very real threat to their own standing. We all know men who get turned on when they realize that their wives or girlfriends are objects of desire for other men. One key question we need to challenge men with: is your partner's weight gain really turning you off, or are you worried about how other men are reacting to her as a result? Do you miss being able to use other men's sexual desire as a crutch to stimulate your own libido?

Men are taught to find "hot" what other men find "hot." The whole notion of a "trophy girlfriend" is based on the reality that a great many men use female desireability to establish status with other men. And in our current cultural climate where thinness is idealized, a slender partner is almost always going to be worth more than a heavy one. For men who have not yet extricated themselves from homosocial competition, their own self-esteem and sense of intra-male status may decline in direct proportion to their girlfriend's weight gain.

Let me stress that this is absolutely not women's problem to solve! My goal is not to make women who gain weight feel bad; protecting a fragile male ego is not a woman's responsibility. The key thing men need to do is get honest about their own desire to use female desireability to establish status in the eyes of other men. And here's where pro-feminist men can do a terrific service by challenging one another and holding each other accountable for the ways in which we are tempted to use our wives and girlfriends as trophies. When I confronted Joey with this, he admitted that he still found his wife attractive -- but he was embarrassed by her when they went out with his friends. He realized that he was angry and frustrated because he was scared of what others would think, even though he still responded sexually to his spouse.
PS. The punch line is - they're both fun to ride, but you wouldn't want your mates to see you with one.

Edited to Add: I have been informed that the vehicle in this joke is actually a scooter - apparently Ladas aren't fun to ride.


The latest Carnival of Feminists is up, and it's amazing. I'm going to try and quickly write about a couple of things tonight (and I've only read about half a dozen articles).

The most challenging (that's a very loaded word, isn't it), of the ones I've read is from Feminist Reprise. She makes the links between rape and lesbian seperatism in a really straight up way.

So you already know I’m sick of sexual assault. I created those antirape designs and it was good, satisfying work, but even as I was doing it I was aware that underneath all the messages I could think of, there’s still the assumption that men care. That they care that they’re hurting us, or would if they only knew. That they care if we consent. And then I read Pinko Feminist Hellcat’s posts on the OC rape case, or I read some of the graphic stories of sexual abuse on Femivist’s Survivors’ Voices, and I realize, there’s a whole segment of the male population out there that doesn’t give a shit. When a 30-year-old man forces his penis into the mouth of a child, it’s not date rape, it’s not some necking that got out of hand. He’s not thinking she’s consenting; he doesn’t care. When three college students viciously beat and rape a woman in a houseful of people, it wasn’t because she didn’t say “no” loudly enough. When three 18-year-olds purposely drug the drink of a 16-year-old woman and violate her in every way possible with penises and objects while she’s passed out, and make a video of it, it’s not a misunderstanding. She’s an object to them, a thing to be used, and the damage to her doesn’t even matter because there will be more where she came from.

And I get to thinking how feminists have been telling these stories for more than 30 years now.* For more than 30 years we’ve been detailing the abuse that men have heaped upon us, in every fashion they’ve been able to imagine. We’ve been analyzing power structures and locating oppressions and decontextualizing sexualities, and you know what? The stories aren’t changing. For the most part, these bloggers are women of my generation, women in our 30s or younger, and we’re still being dumped on and sat on and shat on by men. None of this is women’s fault, but it seems to me we’ve managed to identify damn few alternatives. Men ought to change, clearly. Their behavior is inhumane and inhuman and unjust and unacceptable. Rape, battering, war, capitalist exploitation—they should stop doing all of this immediately.

But it doesn’t seem to me that we’re getting very far by saying, “Stop raping us! Stop it! I mean it! Stop raping us!” We know that most rapists target women they know, but we still befriend them, we still drink with them, we still let our teenagers date them, we still leave our little girls alone with them. The last time I publically suggested letting young women know the real odds**, giving them a chance to learn from our experiences and make better decisions about their own safety, I got jumped all the heck over by another feminist, accusing me of blaming women for being raped. Of course men’s violence isn’t our fault, of course they should change, of course we deserve to be safe—but has the sex class men shown any indication that they’re going to change anytime soon?
Although I could nitpick in all sorts of places in many ways that's hard to argue with. I don't agree with her solution, she argues for the creation of communities without men. I really do think that is a personal solution, and there's nothing wrong with it, as a personal solution, but it won't stop rape. But I kind of feel like I do about the Temperance movement last century - I don't think that response to violence against women would work, but I certainly haven't got any better ideas.

What Amy wrote made me think about my list of CDs for jail. In NZ prisons you're allowed 12 CDs and 12 tapes (my making this list has nothing whatsoever to do with the fact there's no maximum penalty for contempt of court - really), and I was trying to figure out what I would take. I'm quite into 40s and 50s folk music, but I decided I wouldn't take Woody Guthrie. There's this passage in Joe Klein's book, the point of the story is that Woody Guthrie was hassling a woman who had terminated a pregnancy, but in his biography of Woody Guthrie Joe Klein introduces this story by describing her as a woman who had been unsuccessful in trying to fend off Woody at a party and had an abortion. He's a folk hero, and he rapes a woman, and the point of the story wasn't even the rape, it was the fact that he was hassling her for not bringing the resulting pregnancy to term.

How come I decide I wouldn't take stuff like that with me to jail, but I listen to it now? How come just a few hours ago I was singing along to Union Maid?

But those are just my first thoughts, I'll try to post more. Go, read the whole thing. I'd also recommend Biting Bever's continuum of rape and sex, which Amy links to. I'm not sure if I agree with her use of the word 'benefit', but I think what she's saying is extremely important.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Advice needed

As you may have noticed I've got some rather nasty trolls around at the moment. How do you deal with people who have the time to post at the rate of one a minute (all in all caps of course)?

Should I switch to Haloscan for comments? Should I abandon blogger altogether? Could I manage the comments better through blogger. Or is the only blogger solution hand moderating the comments?

Monday, April 17, 2006

Sisterhood (of the travelling pants)

In the whirlwind of the last couple of weeks there are a lot of posts that have remained unwritten (for example the government's review of our immigration laws - not my favourite thing) and blogs unread. I've only just started reading some of the Carnivals that came out recently, and tonight I want to respond to (well sort of meander away from) something from the latest big fat carnival.

PegE from On The Whole was writing about Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants (the first two books in that trilogy are great by the way, the third isn't really worth it, and the movie was well worth watching, particularly Tibby & Carmen's stories, the other two actresses weren't really up to the roles, which was a shame). At the beginning of the book the girls find a pair of pants that fit them all, and make them all look fantastic, and they set about making rules about when you can wear your pants, and what you can do with them. One of the rules is "You can't call yourself fat in the pants". PegE objected

These smart, funny, talented, beautiful girls are co-creating a set of rules intended to empower them individually as well as their connections to each other. It's clear to me that in saying "you can't say you're fat in the pants" they are trying to encourage themselves to think positively about their bodies. But they (or the author of the book) screwed up. Because what that line really says is FAT IS BAD. FAT BODIES ARE BAD. LOVING YOUR BODY MEANS NOT THINKING (OR SAYING) IT'S FAT.

And that is wrong, wrong, wrong.

What's wrong with saying you're fat? Why does saying you're fat have more emotional charge than, for instance, saying you have blue eyes or blonde hair
I agree with her argument, but disagree that either the girls, or the author was wrong in what they're saying.

I think PegE's point is a really important one, the constant refrain of 'you're not fat' doesn't do one bit to make fat seem any less bad.

But I still think there's a lot to be said for stopping describing our bodies as fat.

It made me think of a clothes swap I accidentally found myself at recently. Someone was leaving town, and a few other people had bought some clothes along as well. What really got to me, is how many women made disparaging comments about their bodies without even saying anything. There's this gesture you can do where you slap both your hands on the back of your thighs, and it's really clear that what you're trying to communicate is 'aren't my thighs enormous', you don't even need to use the word 'fat'. It seemed to me that if people the clothes were too small then women would blame their bodies, only if the clothes were too big would they blame the clothes. Most of the women there would describe themselves as feminists, but the comments don't stop, the hundreds of subtle ways women can put down their body every day won't stop unless a woman makes a conscious effort to stop them, and even then they'll still go on in her head.

But I do believe that the first step would stobe to stop making any comments that are seen to be disparaging about our bodies. I think that every time we vocalised a fucked up thought pattern about our bodies to another woman we are normalising that fucked up thought process to her. I think we feed the culture that hates our bodies, and I think we do it every day. I think not saying that we look fat in the pants, or any pants is actually the first step to making the word fat back into a normal adjective.

I feel the same way about the way we talk about food, and maybe it'll be a little easier to explain what I mean there. I've written before about my belief that using moral terms to describe what we eat reinforces eating disordered attitudes and behaviour. Food is classified as 'good' (and what that means varies from social group to social group, but among people I know it usually means no fat, no dairy, no processed grains, notice that what qualifies a food as good isn't what it has nutritionally, but what it doesn't have) and 'bad'. I think this classification is the necessary first step towards eating disorder behaviour. Eating disorders are about control, and this sort of classification, which doesn't focus on nutrition, your diet as a whole, or what your body needs at any one time, is necessary for that control. Whether a particular woman tends towards keeping or losing control when it comes to food, both sets of behaviours require food to be classified as good and bad. The fact that women get constant reinforcement, from other women, about their classifications and the moral value of following these classifications upsets and depresses me (and sometimes makes me angry, but often I don't have the energy).

Most of the time when I have conversations about food with other women I find myself either biting my tongue, or arguing about everything they say, and often both. It's not that I don't have these thought patterns myself, I totally do. I've made a conscious choice not to reproduce them, not to give them weight by repeating them (I talk about these thought patters, sometimes, but that's completely different). I feel I should fight more, I should do less tongue biting and more arguing. But it's exhausting and I'm always scared that people will dismiss what I say because of how I look. I also think people would stop listening to me (because they pay me so much attention at the moment), I'd become the woman with a rant.

But I do think it would make a difference if more women made a conscious decision not to talk about food on moral terms and to start with that'd probably mean stopping talking about food at all, until you got used to it.

The same goes for our bodies the first step to creating a new way of talking about our bodies is stopping with the old way.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

My favourite rich person

I decided I liked J K Rowling when I heard she named her first daughter after Jessica Mitford. I decided she was my favourite rich person, on the grounds that she got her millions without really exploiting anyone.

Her politics are a bit iffy, I'm sure she means well, but conservative readings of Harry Potter are ususally easier to support than radical ones. In particularly the whole House Elf Liberation Front thing bugs me.

I think I'm going to forgive her for the House Elf Liberation Front (we're supposed to like Hermione, just think she's annoying, which isn't an unusual stance to take towards someone who has newly found a cause). She just posted this to her website, under miscellaneous

His bemusement at this everyday feature of female existence reminded me how strange and sick the 'fat' insult is. I mean, is 'fat' really the worst thing a human being can be? Is 'fat' worse than 'vindictive', 'jealous', 'shallow', 'vain', 'boring' or 'cruel'? Not to me; but then, you might retort, what do I know about the pressure to be skinny? I'm not in the business of being judged on my looks, what with being a writer and earning my living by using my brain...

I went to the British Book Awards that evening. After the award ceremony I bumped into a woman I hadn't seen for nearly three years. The first thing she said to me? 'You've lost a lot of weight since the last time I saw you!'

'Well,' I said, slightly nonplussed, 'the last time you saw me I'd just had a baby.'

What I felt like saying was, 'I've produced my third child and my sixth novel since I last saw you. Aren't either of those things more important, more interesting, than my size?' But no – my waist looked smaller! Forget the kid and the book: finally, something to celebrate!
I'm just happy to think how many people who need to read that will find it on her website.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

East Beasts

I left high school ten years ago, a fact that makes me very happy (a columnist in our university paper once pointed out that no matter how bad your life gets you can always reassure yourself 'it could be worse, I could be still in High School' and in my early twenties I would cheer myself up reasonably regularly with that thought). But I went to school in Wellington, so I still see girls in the blue of my old school uniform reasonably regularly (in New Zealand public schools can have uniforms and can also be single sex, my high school was single sex and it had a blue uniform).

Wellington East is the poor girls school in Wellington, or at least it was when I went there, there's been some general gentrification since then. But I started school in 1991, the year of benefit cuts and ending of the Awards, and there was a lot of poverty. People knew it as well, shopkeepers and so on, if you went
to a shop in a Blue Uniform they'd keep an extra eye on you.

I'm writing this because I was talking about high school with a guy who had recently left Rongotai (the male version of Wellington East). When I mentioned that I'd gone to Wellington East he started a chant I'd forgotten about (if I ever knew about it in the first place, paying attention to the world around me wasn't my forte in high school):

East Beasts
Thunder Thighs
Eating all the Georgie Pies
Ten years later I found it funny. But it reminded me that this is what boys, particularly those at all-boys schools, chanted at East Girls. In a way I'm impressed at how much they managed to pack into 9 words, at how many different degrading sexist and racist attitudes can be conveyed in so little time.

If you say East Beast with the right sneer it makes clear that the person you're talking to is both repulsive and beneath you, and also too sexually available.

The rest of the chant carries the repulsive theme, but makes it clear that this repulsion is about race and class. Fatness is a sign of poverty in New Zealand (as it is in most developed countries), it's also much more common amongst Maori and Pacific Islanders (who also tend to be poor). George Pies was a New Zealand fast-food chain, which was notable for being cheaper than McDonalds (it closed down a number of years ago).

That's not all, the person who chanted to me, told me that they used to chant it at McEvedy.

McEvedy Sheild is an athletics cup that the four regional all boys schools compete for. It's an all day event, and all the boys from all the schools go along to cheer on the men who complete. It was a big deal in the secondary school calendar, even at a girls school, you'd see the boys whooping around with painted faces. We were under dire warnings not to wag to go watch, although each year some girls did (which is depressing enough, if you're going to skip school please do something more interesting that watch your boyfriend run around a track).

I don't know if the person who told me that that boys from all 4 schools would do this chant in unison was exaggerating, I hope he was. But the thought of 3,000 boys chanting "East Beast, Thunder Thighs, who ate all the Georgie Pies" creeps me out. The idea that they would watch sport (that bastion of masculinity), compete with each other, but then bond over degrading women makes perfect sense in this society we live in.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Taking Turns

I did one more guest post on Alas. It was in response to a debate that had happened in the comments of another post. Amp said:

I’m reminded of how some suffragists objected to the idea of voting rights for Blacks (which effectively meant “Black men,” since no one in government at the time was proposing that Black women should have the vote), saying that it was women’s turn first (meaning white women).
Heart replied to Amp as follows:
Here’s what happened. The Fourteenth Amendment, passed during Reconstruction, granted full citizenship to former slaves and free black people. It also introduced the word “male” into the Constitution and left it up to the states to determine which of its male citizens who were 21 could vote. The Fifteenth Amendment said U.S. citizens could not be denied the right to vote on the basis of their race, color, or previous condition of servitude. The suffragists wanted *sex* included along with race, color and previous condition of servitude. The inclusion of the word “sex” would have meant both white women and black women would have the right to vote. Abolitionists, including their former friend and ally, Frederick Douglass, didn’t want to push for that. He thought there was more chance of the 15th Amendment passing if the word “sex” were omitted and that while women’s suffrage was important, it was more important that black men be given the vote.
And Sheezlebub replied:
While there were plenty of women in the movement who were anti-racist and pro-suffrage for all women, there were still plenty of women who did buy into racist bullshit, who scrambled to reassure southern racists that the number of White women with the vote would outnumber those odious Black men and keep White supremacy safe. Far from advocating for suffrage for all women, some White women in the movement were quite happy to exclude Black women. Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton got George Francis Train to be an ally–but advocated for “educated” suffrage, which excluded Blacks as it had been illegal to teach a Black person to read or to educate them. His programe was White women and THEN black men.

The National American Woman Suffrage Association not only barred Black women from attending its Altanta conference, but allowed chapters to bar Black women from joining. That’s not indicative of fighting for the rights of all women.
Now the nearest I've found to a suffragist who said that white women should be granted the vote before black men that I've been able to find is Henry Ward Beecher, he argued: "I is more important that women should vote than that the black man should vote" (black women were another matter). I don't think it was at all common that suffragists argued that women's suffrage should be passed before black suffrage. What was common was objecting to enfranchising black men, but not women (which would mean both black women and white women).

Now, to me, this was a really interesting debate (and I'm cribbing a lot from Angela Davis's Woman, Race & Class, even though I disagree with her conclusions), and had some pretty long-standing repercussions.

Immediately after the civil war Frederick Douglass was arguing that it was more important that black men got the vote than that white or black women did. He had supported the suffrage movement, and women's rights campaigners, for quite some time, but after the Civil War argued that it was more urgent that black men get the vote than women:
When women, because they are women, are dragged from their homes and hung upon lamp-posts; when their children are torn from their arms and their brains dashed upon the pavement; when they are objects of insult and outrage at every turn; when they are in danger of having their homes burnt down over their heads; when their children are not allowed to enter schools; then they will have [the same] urgency to obtain the ballot
Many prominent women suffragists disagreed with him this is Elizabeth Cady Stanton:
The representative women of the nation have done their uttermost for the last thirty years to secure freedom for the negro; and as long as he was lowest in the scale of being, we were willing to press his claims; but now, as the celestial gate to civil rights is slowly moving on its hinges, it becomes a serious question whether we had better stand aside and see 'Sambo' walk into the kingdom first. As self preservation is the first law of nature, woudl it not be wiser to keep our lamps trimmed and burning, and when the constitutional door is open, avail ourselves of the strong arm and blue uniform of the black soldeir and walk in by his side, and thus make the gap so wide that no priviledged class could ever again close it against the humblest citizen of the republic?
This is Sojourner Truth
There is a great stir about colored men getting their rights, but not a worda bout the colored women; and if colored men get their rights,a nd not colored women theirs, you see the colored men will be masters over the women, and it will be just as bad as it was before.
But so did some black men, Charles Remond (who had a long history of fighting for women's rights) said: "In an hour like this I repudiate the idea of expediency. All I ask for myself I claim for my wife and sister."

Sheezlebub is right about the racism about the women's suffrage movement, and it got even worse once the links between women's rights and anti-slavery were broken. Here is a resolution from the National American Women's Suffrage Assocation passed in the early 1890s:
Resolved. That wihtout expressing any opinion on the proper qualifications for voting, we call attention ot the significant facts that in every State there are more women who can read and write than the whole number illeiterate male voters, morew hite women who can read and write than all negro voters; more American women who can read and write than all foreign voters; so that the enfranchisement of such women would settle the vexted question of rule by illiteracy, whether of home-grown or foreign-born production.
The reason I wanted to write about this was partly to draw a distintion between white women saying they should have the vote before black people, and saying that when the franchise is being extended to black men it should also be extended towards women. But also because I think we can learn something from this past.

Before and during the civil war the struggle for women's rights and the abolitionist struggle were intertwined. There was a lot of sexism and racism in both movements, but there were a lot of people who were working on both issues, and alliances between the two causes.

I understand why Frederick Douglass, and others, believed that the vote for black men needed to be a priority. But I also understand why this was such a breach to the solidarity that had existed between the two struggles.

What seems so sad to me, with hindsight, is that the vote didn't protect black men from everything that Frederick Douglass described, in fact black male suffrage in the South didn't last very long.

So what do other people think, in what circumstances is a win more important than solidarity with another struggle? Under what circumstances is it OK to tell another struggle that your struggle is more important?

Also posted on Alas

The Invisible Hand

I voted for the Greens, reluctantly, but I did it. I don't really regret it, I have very low standards for the people I vote for, Sue Bradford's youth rates bill is enough in this case. But Frogblog is doing their best to make me change my mind. This was their comment on increased petrol prices:

Well, petrol is at a record high today, as I’m sure you are all aware, but one person welcoming the news is hybrid car dealer Stephen Pollard, who is featured in this Herald story.

David Farrar is holding this up as an example of how the invisible hand of the market always works. I’m glad to hear that he’s thinking about buying a hybrid (he could also consider a Honda Jazz like Jeanette and Sue B, which is equally efficient), but I’d like to contest his implication that the market works and that everything will come out in the wash.

He’d be correct if all the true costs of goods and services - including environmental costs, food miles, carbon impact, greenhouse emissions and so on - were included in their price, but for most consumer good this is not the case, which has allowed market forces to wreak environmental havoc.
So lets get this straight, the reason that we have pollution is because there are things we haven't privatised yet? The only reason the market doesn't work is because it doesn't take the true cost of pollution into account?

You know what I thought about when I saw that petrol went up again? It wasn't about hybrid cars, or the free-hand of the market. It was about everyone who has to drive to work (or anywhere else), and who can't afford a hybrid car, or any other sort of new car, and what a strain this would put on their budget.

Saner than I thought

You know a survey that asks 5,000 women what they think about their bodies is going to be incredibly depressing.

98% of women surveyed hate their bodies. So if you got 50 women together then one of them wouldn't hate their body (by my experience that's actually quite accurate, except I've never found the one). As well as the sheer overwhelming number of women, the strength of the language to describe women's feelings towards their body terrifies me. I've spent most of the last week hating cop rapists, and it's exhausting. Imagine being one of the 29% of women that worry about their size and shape every waking minute. Imagine hating yourself that much. It just doesn't seem sustainable to me.

I find it very tempting to make myself feel less crazy by reading this sort of stuff. My head thinks "the average British women worries about her body four times an hour! I don't even think about my body four times an hour, and about half the time I think good things about my body. See I'm sane." Or I get angry at the 87% of women who hate their thighs and 79% who hate their waists.

I don't think that's the most useful thing to take from this article. In fact I'm going to quote Carol Hanisch, in part of my on-going quest to reclaim the phrase 'the personal is political':

One of the first things we discover in these groups is that personal problems are political problems. There are no personal solutions at this time.
(exact quote found at Bitch|Lab).

The point isn't to feel superior myself, or to get annoyed with other women, but work to change the situation where hating our bodies is part of what it means to be a woman.

So Italy...

There were two Italian news stories that caught me eye in the last few days.

1. They've had an election in Italy and it's been close. Now hating Berlusconi is kind of a given. So as I was drifting to wake this morning listen to New Zealand I was sort of glad to hear that the other guy was claiming victory. This man was described as the left candidate and he said that his number 1 priority was cutting Labour costs. I wish I could say that the idea that that could be the priority of the 'left' of any country surprised me. But I'd be lying.

2. The Italian police recently captured the head of the mafia, Bernardo Provenzano. They found him by chasing his washing. The house his wife was staying in was under surveillance and for days the Italian police tracked this package across the countryside. It went in and out of various houses, until it reached the house where he was staying. It's nice to find someone so committed to dominating women that he's prepared to go to jail for it.

Thursday, April 13, 2006


As you may have noticed the comments on this website have got truly out of hand. I want to set up a space where we can have reasonable discussion, and feminists will feel safe. That wasn't happening.

While it felt a little stupid deleting comments that said things like:

Could, Maia or any of the other lesbians or homosexuals on this blog tell me why normal heterosexual men should give a damn if man hating lesbians are pack raped? None of you give a damn about fathers getting alienated from their children because of the feminazis many of them lesbians in Parliament?
Those sorts of comments are begging for mockery. But I knew if I did that my blog wouldn't be the sort of space where anyone could have a sane conversation (plus I got really bored with deleting).

So I've made a couple of changes, I've disallowed anonymous comments, so you have register with blogger. This is a bit of a pain in the ass, and I've had a lot of valuable commentators who do so anonymously. But I can't get to my blog often enough to delete all the assholes who want to post here anonymously.

The other is that I'm adopting Feministe's comment policy "My Blog, My discretion".

Jesus Fucking Christ

From NZPA:

Former Rotorua CIB chief John Dewar was committed for trial in Hamilton District Court today – but all details around the case have been suppressed.

At the end of a three-week depositions hearing, Judge Thomas Everitt ruled this afternoon that Dewar, 53, had a prime facie case to answer on four separate charges.

However, the judge continued and extended suppression orders relating to the nature of the charges and all evidence presented.

Dewar was remanded on bail to appear next month.
For those of you who haven't been following the Louise Nicholas case, John Dewar was in charge of the investigation in the 1990s and behaved in a very unprofessional manner:
The woman making the allegations, Louise Nicholas, says she sought help at the time of the incidents, but was ignored.

In 1993 she went to Rotorua police station intending to make a formal complaint, but was advised by then CIB chief Detective Inspector John Dewar not to make a written complaint.

Now she believes he manipulated her in order to protect his police colleagues.
I have no inside information on these charges whatsoever, no idea.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Second most misogynist man in Wellington

I posted a letter to the paper yesterday, but there was another letter in Monday's paper that deserves a wider readership:

Your articles about women saying 'no' to casual sex shows hypocrisy because if a United States naval ship docked in Wellington tomorrow, girls from all parts of this nation would rush down, waving their knickers, to meet marines hungry for sex.

It is no different from what happened in World War II, when Yanks and Kiwis fought among themselves in Wellington's Pigeon Park.

Kiwi women have not changed over the years. Their santimonious, hypocritical atitudes live on. They are home-grown.

I should know - I was around as a Kiwi soldier and saw it all happen
60 years is a long time to hold a grudge against all women because someone found an American soldier more attractive (and good on her, I wouldn't sleep with him either).

I'd try and explain to him that just because that it's not hypocritical to say no to casual sex with one man, and then sleep with another. But I fear it would be a waste of time.


Earlier this year I wrote about the appeal from the Mt Maunganui pack-rape case. I was equally disgusted at the Crown and defence lawyers:

The defence are appealing against the fact that rape shield laws didn't allow them to enter evidence about the woman's sexual history. These are the sorts of witnesses they want to use:
An e-mail from one statement-maker to another described the complainant as a "slapper" and described the alleged incident as "a good fun time".
Although the Crown lawyer isn't my favourite person either:
The Crown's other lawyer, Mark Zarifeh, defended remarks he had made to the jury at the end of the trial. He agreed that it would have been better if he had not said that, if the defence was to be believed, the complainant was a slut, but said it still starkly highlighted the contrast between the two sides.
The reason it was a bad idea, because even if she was a 'slut' she can still refuse to have sex with people.
I'm glad to say that particular appeal failed, and three of the men had all their appeals thrown out. One man was granted a re-trial and freed on bail because the judge didn't sum up his defence properly, which seems to me a much better grounds for an appeal than 'we didn't get to call her a slut'. The man who was granted an appeal is not one of the two men who previously had name suppression, but he has name suppression now.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Most misogynist man Wellington

I'm not guaranteeing that J Sanders is the most misogynist person in Wellington. But I sure hope he is. This is his letter to the Dominion Post about the police rape trials, my comments are in italics:

Once again we read of someone (Letters, April 4) applying today's way of thinking - the political correctness - to the events of last century.

It's a way of thinking that has no logic or justice, let alone morality.

Why pick on the morals of men who just happen to be policemen?
Possibly because the police officers raped women.
What about the morality of teachers, doctors, bus drivers and politicians?
I hate rapists no matter what profession they are. I hate cop rapists, and teacher rapists, and doctor rapists, and bus driver rapists, and politicians rapists, and activist rapists. I hate men who rape.
What about that of women who never marry but have children, each by a different man, and of couples with children but not the guts to marry?
Of course consensual sex outside marriage is a far greater problem than rape.
Feminism changed women into sluts. By embracing feminism, women lost the right to judge the morality of men
To which I quote Pat Roberston, one of my favourite commentators on feminism: "The feminist agenda is not about equal rights for women. It is about a socialist, anti-family political movement that encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism, and become lesbians."
It takes two to Tango
Given that the Tango is only ever performed consensually, it's not a particularly good metaphor for rape. Generally rape just takes one person.
Policemen are paid to deal with crime - nothing mroe nothing less. Instead of condemning the three men acquitted in the Louise Nicholas rape case, we should ask her to refund taxpayers the $14 million that was wasted because of the fantasies she has about her sexual deeds

We want our money back
This reminds me of the biblical law about getting raped in town. I guess it's a step forward that he wants to charge her, rather than stone her.

If you want to read something sane about rape check out The Maria Blog's post on a terrible advice column in the same paper.