Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Abortion Access in New Zealand

As I've said before, abortion law in New Zealand is an awful mess and I have a life-long goal to dance on the grave of every man who voted for it. But abortion practice, at least in the major cities, is better than in many countries that have laws that are based on women's rights. The main reason for this is a public health system which pays for abortions.

But I want to talk about the inequalities in abortion system, and I thought I'd start with the geographical inequalities. This is a map of New Zealand's provision of first-trimester abortion services*:

The black dots are towns where you can get abortion services - the colour blocks are areas where those abortion clinics, or hospitals serve. The way the health system works the if a District Health Board (DHB) doesn't wish to provide a service itself (and there are two DHBs with no hospitals licensed to perform abortion in the area - presumably on general grounds of ickiness) then you purchase it from somewhere else. So unless you're prepared to pay both for the abortion and the trip to Auckland to go to the only private abortion clinic in New Zealand, you go where your DHB sends you. So, despite the fact that the people of Dannivirke are far closer to Hastings than they are to Wellington, they have to make the 4 hour drive to Wellington and back to have terminations (probably twice, because it usually takes two appointments - more on that later).

Incidentally just because these places do provide abortions doesn't mean that you'd necessarily want to go there - New Plymouth hospital only performs abortions under general anesthetic, that sounds like a great starting point for health care.

The white dots are hospitals that are fully liscened to perform abortions, but choose not to (there are other hospitals that could provide abortions and don't, but they're part of the same urban area). There are DHBs that have registered as providers of abortions under the Act, but only want to perform abortions to deserving women (and in some cases, they don't actually want to perform abortions at all). Christchurch is a seven and a half hour drive from Invercargill, but the people who run the Southland DHB think that that's a pefectly reasonable distance to travel for an abortion.

It's not just the DHBs' fault (although there's plenty of blame to spread around), the legislation says that every abortion must be signed off by two certifying consultants. This means that to run a useful abortion service you have to be able to have two certifying consultants on hand.

The current situation is awful, and puts women in a position of real hardship. The West Coast DHB only provides help travelling to Christchurch if a woman has a community services card. If you live with flat-mates and work full-time, even if you're only on the minimum wage, you're not eligible for a community services card. So women with minimum wage jobs have to find the money to make it from the West Coast over to Christchurch (although they should be able to get help from Work and Income).

* This information from this post came from this website.


I've been meaning to write about East Timor for a number of weeks now. But I just haven't had the time to do the research on what is happeneing in East Timor at the moment. So instead I thought I'd write about something I did know a little bit about - the New Zealand left's response to the East Timor referendum back in 1999.

This was actually the post I was meaning to write, before New Zealand sent troops to East Timor again. I found this discussion really interesting and wanted to explore where I stood.

I'll give a brief history for those who don't feel like reading a indymedia page with 100 comments. In 1974 Indonesia invaded East Timor (this was just after the Portugese withdrew and East Timor declared itself independent). This was an important issue for the New Zealand left. I went on free East Timor demonstrations as a child (I also learnt to play Gamelan at the Indonesian embassy - but that was another story). There were people who were doing a lot of solidarity work in East Timor, they had a wide variety of contacts, and they'd worked on this issue for years. Then, in 1999 there was a UN sponsored referendum. I had a friend who went to East Timor as an observer in that referendum and the result was endorsement of East Timor's independence. Then the Indonesian army fought back, they sent militia over the border. Everyone I knew who any contacts in East Timor was really afraid for them, and certain that the East Timorese wouldn't be able to defend themselves from the East Timor military.

There were solidarity protests in that time. I didn't go to the organising meetings myself, but I remember hearing about the debates about the line. Eventually Australia and New Zealand forces went in to oppose the East Timor. It was clear to everyone who knew anything that the reason they did this was the East Timorese oil and gas reserves. It's very rare for troops to be sent anywhere unless there isn't some sort of economic advantage to it (or a perceived advantage to it, I don't think Iraq has worked out quite like how they planned). There were those who opposed New Zealand sending troops, on the grounds that there are many really good reasons for left-wing people to oppose New Zealand troops being (most of them come under the heading 'imperialism'*).

On the other hand the people who had spent the most time on the issue, who had the most - they all supported New Zealand troops going into East Timor (and a lot of these people had quite a long list of radical credentials). The reason they supported them was because that's what their contacts in East Timor were demanding.

I didn't pay much attention to the debate at the time. I was finishing Honours, I had heaps of essays to write. I went on the demonstration, and I didn't think anyone in New Zealand, Indonesia and East Timor cared whether I was chanting for Indonesian troops to get out or New Zealand troops to get in. I've thought it about recently - what position I'd take now, and what implication it has on other interventions in the pacific.

The local peace group's slogan is "peace with justice and self-determination". I think self-determination is important, and if you can't have self-determination in struggle then where can you have it. I think those involved in a liberation struggle should be able to choose between selling off their resources to rich and powerful resources and being slaughtered.

But I don't believe solidarity and self-determination mean that those in other countries need to suspend all judgements, I think we still have to make up our own minds. I think it would be a bad idea for a solidarity group to put up a demand that had no support in it's country of origin. But I think if you disagree with what you understand to be the demands of the liberation movements that you are supporting, then you have the right - actually the obligation - to stay silent.

If New Zealand was going to go into East Timor it wasn't going to go in because the East Timorese people called for it, or because the 300 people march in Wellington asked us to. They were going to go in because America said so and because it was in our economic interests. Given that I think calling for New Zealand troops to go in creates an illusion and a false impression of the role in New Zealand's troops.

I understand why those who were in contact with people in East Timor supported New Zealand troops. But I think they were wrong if they believed that the call to send troops would make any difference to anything, but the way New Zealand troops were perceived. My analysis of New Zealand's role in the pacific means that I don't support New Zealand troops being sent anywhere in response to things humans do.

*There was an argument on indymedia that Indonesia's invasion of East Timor wasn't imperialist - if there's any Marxist who reads this blog who could explain why I'd appreciate it - it'd save me reading Lenin.**

**I'm not going to read Lenin even if you don't explain it to me, so don't hold out on me on the grounds it might lead me to educate myself.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Undigested and Unassimilated

I don't have the energy to write much tonight, but reader Simeon sent me an amusing link:I don't know if it's genuine, but it certainly looks real enough. When I was at University I did some research into New Zealand women's magazines of the 1920s and 1930s - and there was plenty of advice for the skinny. I'm not entirely certain when it would be though - I'm not very good at picking fashions by decade, and 50 cents seems to me to be a lot of money, in any of the possible decades it could be from (yes I'm geeky about history, even when I don't have the information to sustain this geekiness).

I don't wish to return to those days - I don't think that the solution is that thin people should be told to be fatter. I just think it's a useful way of showing that our ideas of health and beauty are ideas that a constructed, and ideas that apply to a very specific place and time.

Sunday, May 28, 2006


Somewhere at the end of 2001 or the beginning of 2002 I started suffering from really serious pre-menstrual symptoms. It wasn't the symptoms of jokes and sitcoms. I wasn't particularly moody. I was just deppressed and absent-minded and my brain wouldn't work properly. I felt like I was walking through treacle, I couldn't focus, and in quite a literal way that I was hopeless - I had no hope. Even when I knew that soon it would be over, I didn't quite believe it would ever end.

It wasn't just the symptoms themselves, it was the length of time they lasted for. Usually I'd get between 10 and two weeks of symptoms, and the symptoms would get worse as the month went on. I was losing half my life, and living the rest distorted while I waited. About half way through last year I stoppped eating dairy products (I've had symptoms of intolerance since I was a child, and thought I should see what happened if I stopped eatng them altogether). I haven't had any symptoms since. I'm still sort of in shock over this - I was so used to my life being hobbled, that I haven't quite learned what it means to be well.

I find it really hard to read material about pre-menstrual syndrome, particularly that from a feminist perspective. Unless it begins "Pre-menstrual problems can be horribly severe and hard to deal with" I get angry, because I feel like they're denying my experience. You sometimes get feminist material that links pre-menstrual symptoms with feelings of shame about menstruation and it makes me realy angry.

I am actually going somewhere with this. I've been following a couple of impassioned feminist debates about bodies oer the last few days. One started on Alas where guest poster Rachel S said I want my period, at least until menopause Amanda at Pandagon replied Natural vs. unnatural is a cover to romanticize oppression. I tend to agree with Amanda's arguments more, even though I'm too scared of my hormones to as much as touch a packet of pills. But it's actually the discussion that interested me, and how many people, on both sides of the argument, had had exactly the same reaction I do, when people suggest PMS is all in women's heads.

The other debate was one I've already written about. Chris Clarke and Zuzu. Most of the debate happened at Feministe - and I think Chris Clarke hit the point reasonably early on with this comment

I would like it if we all had the feeling that our individual experiences were considered to be valid.
The problem when it comes to discussing the politics of our bodies, is that there is nothing which is more personal, there is no other issue where experiences are more central to our analysis, there is no other issue that is centred as much in our 'self'.

What this means is that it is incredibly easy to discuss issues about our bodies that invalidate other people's experience. It's so easy for to read a statement about our personal experience as a political statement or a political statement as speaking for everyone.

I would go further than Chris and say any political action around our bodies depends on us talking about the political issues in a way that ensured no-one felt their experience was invalidated. I'm just not sure how to do that.

I have some ideas - precise writing and generous reading is probably a starting point. But I'm not sure it's enough. How can we write about bodies in a way that respects difference but still has political meaning?

EDITED: I want to add a caveat about my pre-menstrual symptoms - I don't want to give other people false hope, or give them another reason to beat themselves up about what they eat. I've had symptoms of a dairy intolerance since I was less than 3 years old, I stopped drinking milk when I was 5. I've no idea if other people would find stopping dairy products helpful. I worry, a lot, about giving women another list of ways they should be controlling their food intake.

Why I don't think I'm part of a fat acceptance movement

There's quite a few different things I want to say about this discussion on feministe. But first I want to go off, sort of on a tangent. In her post Zuzu said:

Some of the reaction to the “pre-pregnant” guidelines by people in the fat acceptance movement focused on the granting that all the guidelines in themselves were fine, including maintaining a healthy weight, but the idea of only addressing them because of potential pregnancy was infuriating. The reaction was one of outrage that the notion of a “healthy weight” should be accepted, not one of outrage that any health advice should focus on reproductive potential.
I had criticised the idea that doctors should tell women to maintain a 'healthy weight', and the use of the term 'healthy weight' unquestioned. But I thought Zuzu must have been talking about someone else, since I'm not a member of any fat acceptance movement. I idly wondered who else had said it, made a half ass attempt to find who it might have been (this actually just involved checking big fat blog). But then, later in the discussion, Zuzu indicated that it was me she was talking about. I was surprised that she had given me a label that I had never taken. But also surprised at the label itself - which just seems irrelevant and innacurate to me.

In part it's the word 'movement'. Three times in my life I've felt part of a movement, when I was involved in student protests against the privatisation of education in 1997 and 1998, the anti-globalisation protests of 2000 and 2001, and the anti-war protests of 2003. They felt big and they felt like I was part of something much larger than myself, sometimes even much larger than the people I know.

Even so I'd hesitate before I'd call anything that's happened in New Zealand over the last 10 years a movement. We've had large protests, but they haven't been part of sustained organising. There hasn't been that much education - we haven't been radicalising people and we haven't been growing.

What I write on my blog, that has nothing to do with movements. I'm one person alone, late at night trying to figure out what I think. I do think it has a purpose, and I love doing it. But writing certain ideas on my blog doesn't make me part of a movement that may (or by my definition probably isn't) happening in another country. There is no fat acceptance movement in New Zealand, therefore I can't be part of it, even if I wanted to.

Fat acceptance?

The word 'acceptance' means nothing to me. It just reminds me of a conversation I was once having with a friend of mine where he talked about 'tolerating people' - and pointed out how patronising that is, what a low standard tolerance is. I don't want acceptance; I want transformation.

More specifically these are some of the things I want:
  • To never again sit at the bus stop and see a 10 year old girl, who is skinny in the way only a 10 year old girl can be, talk about how fat she is, and how she needs to lose weight
  • To go a week without hearing any woman I know and care about making a moralistic comments about food.
  • Not to have to worry about where almost all my female friends are on the eating disorder spectrum, and whether what I might say could make things worse.
  • To be able to talk about longevity and quality of life in a way that doesn't reinforce the ideas being promoted by those in power.
  • To live in a culture where food is something that nutures us - but is not burdened with all the power women don't have.
  • Not to be bombarded with images of women that are constructed to try and sell me stuff by making me feel bad about myself (the Dove campaign for Real Beauty is first up against the wall - as it is it may just cause me to ram a bus with my car in my fury).
  • Not to live in an eating-disordered culture
  • To live in my body, not some object that I'm supposed to be carry around for men's pleasure and convenience.
  • To live in a society where women are treated as people.
  • To live in a world that is built in way that acknowledges that people's bodies are different, and allows people with all sorts of different bodies to enjoy the same freedom.
  • To live in a society where food is created for nutrition not profit. To be able to get good nutritious food whenever I want it.
  • To live in a world where everyone always has enough good nutritious food to eat.
  • To live in a society where my useful work is part of my life and where people don't have to work a ridiculous number of hours a week to survive.
  • An end to capitalism.
Oh and to meet Joss Whedon.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

In defence of Infanticide

A friend once told me a story about arguing about abortion with someone she got a hitching lift with. They went up and down, covering all sorts of ground, that's probably familiar to most people who read this blog. The guy thought he was getting somewhere with the argument and said "I just think that birth is a really arbitrary dividing line." an she replied "I agree." Which is when they realised that they probably weren't going to get anywhere.

I thought I'd expand on my previous post on infanticide, and give the people over at Capitalism Great something to do.

The feminist work I find most powerful is almost entirely written by feminist historians. That's probably not that surprising, since history is my passion. What I love about feminist history is it allows us to see women's lives, not as something fixed and inevitable, but something that changes over time. It allows us to explore both agency and oppression.

Linda Gordon's Woman's Boday, Woman's Right: A Social History of Birth Control in America is a great example of that.

Because of the different interest of men and women in the practice of birth control, differences in birth-control techniques have social significance. Som techniques are more amenable than others to being used independently and even secretly by women; some given full control to men; others are more likely to be used cooperatively[....] For example, a list of the types of birth control might look like this: infanticide; abortion; sterilizing surgery; withdrawal by the male (coitus interruptus); melting suppositories designed to form an impenetrable coating over the cervix, diaphragms caps and other devices which are inserted into the vagina over the cervix and withdrawn after intercourse, intrauterine devices; internal medicines - potions or pills; douching and other forms of action after intercourse designed to kill or drive out the sperm; condoms; and varieties of the rhythm methods, based on calculating the woman's fertile period and abstaining from intercourse during it.
When look at the history of birth control she looks at infanticide as a form of birth control like any other and explores why it is used more commonly in some times and places than others. She shows why in pre-industrial societies infanticide was often the main form of birth control. Women did leave their newborn, and doing so was a matter of survival. As she says "If infanticide is not suitable in today's societies, it is because we have found better methods of birth control, not because we are morally superiod."

I see why women in different times and places used infanticide as a form of birth-control. I don't think it was because they were morally deficient, or because they cared about children any less.

I think it would be a hideous form of birth-control, because you would still have to go through the stress and danger of nine months of pregnancy. Infanticide was also often controlled by men - and regulated according to the economic needs of society. I'm angry for all the women who had to leave their girl babies to die. I'm so glad that I have more choices open to me, and I know that the reason I do is because previous generations women have organised so that I actually have choices when it comes to getting pregnant.

But if a woman feels like she has no other choice but to wrap her baby up in a rubbish bag, I'm still on her side and will not judge her. I think the mother is more important than a new-born baby.

That's not to say it's a good thing - of course I don't. I don't think a woman should ever feel like her only choice is to abandon the baby in a place where it has no hope of survival. I think ensuring every woman has other options is far more important, far more useful, than pointing the finger, and pressing charges against any woman.

I'll leave you with the story of another woman who was charged with killing her baby:
Fifteen-year-old Mary Turlot, for instance, working as a domestic for a well-to-do farm family in Warren County, New York, became pregnant by the son; her pregnancy discovered, she was discharged.

Friday, May 26, 2006

The sincerest form of something...

So a guy in America has formed a blog called Capitalism Great; Tree There to be Cut Down as a Natural Resource. Dean Swift sees three types of post on his new blog:

* direct replies to CBTP with quotes and what not
* dissenting views to those presented on CBTP
* atirical original posts (but not mean spiritied) written in the same style as CBTP
He's currently challenging people to reply to my position on the student who gave birth and abandoned the baby (don't worry I'm going to post a far more radical post on the subject - it'd be better if you waited and replied to that).

I'm kind of astonished that anyone thinks a radical, with very little power, on the other side of the world is the most important use of their time. There are days when I'm not even that interested in what I have to say. But I'm glad it's serving some sort of purpose.

I'd like to invite all the annoying men who want to talk trash about rape survivors, or women in general, or act surprised that there's anyone to the left of the labour/democrat party, or tell me how to post, or who get grumpy when I delete their posts, to go over there and reply to me in a way that won't bother me. I'm sure Dean would love to hear from you.

Root Causes

Chris Clarke from Creek Running North wrote a really interesting post about his view on the politics of fat.

What I prefer instead is the notion of fat people’s liberation, addressing the social constructs that induce obesity in people like me, and providing ways to correct or counteract them. And if those methods also liberate some of us from obesity itself, so much the better. For me, accepting the blandishments of some in the Fat Acceptance Movement means accepting the damage that is done to me, and others like me, as inevitable and beyond criticism, and that I cannot do.
Zuzu from Feministe responded to his posts, and made a more explicit argument:
The reaction was one of outrage that the notion of a “healthy weight” should be accepted, not one of outrage that any health advice should focus on reproductive potential. But that outrage (and even the outrage over being treated as vessels waiting to be filled by a baby) was somewhat misplaced, and prevented the kind of examination of the root causes of health issues that Chris describes above and that Sheelzebub addressed here
I disagree entirely. While it is certainly possible that some, many or even most people who argue that weight is not an independent factor when it comes to health ignore root causes that effect people's longevity and quality of life. But that doesn't mean that there is any inherent relationship between the two. It is perfectly possible to argue that weight is not an independent variable for health, and look at structural issues around food and exercise (which is what zuzu was talked about in all her examples).

I realised this when I went to look back over the posts I'd written about weight, longevity and quality of life. It turns out that almost every single one of them addresses what I see as the structural reasons behind health problems, and what I see as the solutions.

In my criticism of the Green Party's food policy I argued:
Their entire policy is based on the idea that problems with food and diet are individual problems, and if people had more information then it'd all be great. This is bullshit, the problems with our food and diet are created because food is made for profit, not for nutritional value - individual choices aren't going to change that.
In my criticism of a proposal to tax fat people more I argued:
If the government wanted to ensure that people were more active more there are a number of things they could do: provide free exercise facilities, offer free public transport, and most importantly legislate for a shorter working week (I actually like the tone of the Push Play campaign, but it doesn't address any of the structural reasons people don't exercise, starting with the fact that exercise has become a commodity).
When I was talking about the obesity epidemic as a moral panic I had this to say:
But I have some much better ideas, ones that would actually work. So here's my list of proposals which would actually help kids get better nutrition:
  • Give their parents more money
  • Give their parents more time
  • Provide nutritous breakfasts and lunches in schools
  • Socialise food production and make it for nutritious value not profit
Here's my list of proposals that would help kids get more exercise:
  • Don't give them any homework, so they have time to play after school
  • Make entry to swimming pools free
  • Provide free public transport, so that kids have mobility and independence
  • Build more parks, and put wild areas for exploring in them
  • Stop trying to create panic around law and order to win elections, so people feel safe
  • Not create a whole in the ozone layer which means that it's often dangerous to be outdoors
  • Give their parents more time
In the very post where I criticsed the use of the phrase 'healthy weight' I said:
The biggest risks to us usually have absolutely nothing to do with what we choose to do as invidually, but the way our society is organised - poverty, food production, pollution, workplaces, housing standards and so on.
It appears that I can't write about these issues without talking about root causes.

PS since this is almost a greatest hits guide - I'm also quite fond of my analysis of feminist nutritional advice and my recent post about food under capitalism.


From The Herald:

The three men acquitted of the rape of Louise Nicholas face another trial this year in relation to alleged sexual offending against another woman.

Assistant Police Commissioner Clinton John Tukotahi Rickards and former police officers Bradley Keith Shipton and Robert Francis Schollum are alleged to have committed the crimes during the 1980s.
I've known about this for a while. I'm immensely relieved that the charges are still going ahead.

I'll have more to say tomorrow, but right now I just want to say that that I believe Louise Nicholas, and every other woman who says she was raped by these men. I believe that Brad Shipton, Bob Schollum and Clint Rickards are rapists. I believe they systematically abused their power while they were in the police force, and I don't think they're alone.

I also want to pay tribute to the woman who brought this complaint. Louise Nicholas was put on trial in court, and in the media. I am awed by the strength of someone who saw what Lousie Nicholas went through, and was still prepared to keep fighting. I hope she gets justice.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Kathryn Ryan

I've decided I like her.

I still find her lack of opinion slightly unnerving. It often results in her being overly focused on politics as a game, and not on the issues. When she interviewed the father's rights movement the other day I felt she spent rather a lot of time focusing on how the protest would be perceived.

But her interviews on Tasers were interesting and revealing. I thought she managed to have an opinion and provide information at the same time - she lets her guests talk. Plus it wasn't an issue that wouldn't have appealed to Linda Clark's middle-class liberalism,

Also she replaced Peter Harris with Laila Harre and Jon Gadsby with Michelle A'Court. Both of which are steps to the left, and steps away from 'unbelievably annoying'.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

That'll help

On Saturday a 20 year old international student was admitted to hospital with internal bleeding after giving birth. She did not have a baby with her. The hospital alerted the police, and the police found a dead baby.

This afternoon she was charged with manslaughter, by failing to provide the necessaties of life.

OK I can't even respond to that fact with any kind of coherence. Charging that woman with manslaughter is just about the stupidest and least helpful thing anyone could do in that situation.

For more background read these posts on Interesting Times

Monday, May 22, 2006


I've written a lot about the politics of the way food is discussed, but very little about the politics of food. I think to understand 'the obesity epidemic' you have to understand the politics of food as well as the politics of the discourse around food (yes I used the word 'discourse' in my first paragraph - I imagine it'll be a long post).

So far when I've been talking about the discourse around food I've generally been talking about individual foods and how they're discussed. In this post I'm going to talk more about diet. Just to be clear in this post when I say 'diet' I don't mean weight-loss diets, but the sum total of what we eat from week to week.

There are a number of assumptions that underpin 'the obesity epidemic' - one of which is that our diet has got worse over the last 50 years. Some people, such as the chair of Fight the Obesity Epdiemic, believe that our diet has got worse since the depression, since in the 1930s people grew their own vegetables. But I'll give most people who promote 'the obesity epidemic' the benefit of the doubt and assume that they don't think we'd be in better health if we died of starvation.

It was a reasonably standard article on obesity in the Dominon Post that made me question this assumption:

It's not difficult to see why obesity is becoming such a problem. We no longer walk or exercise nearly as much as we used to and our eating habits have deteriorated
. What did people eat in New Zealand 50 years ago? Would it past muster with those who hark back to a golden era.

To answer this question I turned to Towards Tomorrow: A Guide for the New Zealand Homemaker, an economics school text book published in 1968. Here's what it had to say about fat:
The fats used in the average New zealand diet are butter, bacon fat, dripping and lard.
and meat:
Meat is the protein food most used in New Zealand and we are among the world's greatest meat eaters because our country is so agriculturally rich. Many overseas visitors are surprised to find that meat is often included in every meal of the day.

Poultry has grown in popularity over recent years. Like meat it is a complete protein, but it is mroe expensive than meat. (There is alarm at the use of hormones to develop birds rapidly because these hormones could affect humans.) Poultry is a delicious 'special occasion' food.
So 40 years ago the New Zealand diet included red meat 2-3 times a day, and most cooking was done in animal fat.

My first thought was that either people are lying to us about what a healthy diet is, or our diet has improved considerably since the 1960s.* My second thought is that the main problem is that it's ridiculous to talk about 'the New Zealand' diet. For discussion of diet to have any meaning at all, we have to look at class, and how the amount of money you have has effects your diet.

In our society we don't make food for nutritional value, we don't make food to nuture us, we don't make food to promote long life and we don't make food to fee ourselves.

We make food to make a profit.

Every decision those producing food make about what goes into that food (starting way back at the genetically modified soy-bean seed, to when soya-oil ends up in a low-fat biscuit substitute) is made based on the need to make a profit. Nutrition is generally only a consideration into whether or not food makes a profit if the government has legislated about the nutirtional content of certain foods, or if it can help sell the product (more on this later).

There have been changes in food over the last 50 years, and those changes have been driven by the food industry's requirement to make a profit. I may be wrong, and I'm happy to discuss this with people who know more (or less) than me, but I think the most important change has been that calories have gotten cheaper, but other nutrition have gotten more expensive.** To give a really basic example, if the amount of vitamin C in an apple has halved, then even if apples have gone down in price a 1/3 vitamin C is more expensive.

That's why I hate Sue Kedgeley, and the Greens soft-drink charge so much. The solution to the change in our diets can't be to try and drive the price of calories back up, rather than try and bring the price of nutrients down.

This is a long, and kind of rambling post. I had a lot more to say, but this is a start, I'll try and expand on some of these posts in the next few days. I refuse to join into the current discourse on food for a reason, because I think it misses the problem. I think everytime we talk about 'healthy' food we're just creating another way they can sell things for us.

I think the any problems with food in our society can only be solved if we go attack the cause of the problem. The profit motive.

*This may or may not be true, I'm not hear to police individual debates on the value of different sorts of food. On an individual level I suspect part of the problem with talking about the dangers of one item of food in your diet, as it's not what you take out of your diet, but what you substitute it with, that makes a difference to your longevity and quality of life.

**I should go to bed, but there's a whole lot more detail in what this means, I'll write it up tomorrow.

Is lack of logic a health problem?

There was a long (stupid) article about obesity in the Dominion Post on Saturday. I'm going to write a long reply. But first I wanted to make a really basic point. The article opened by talking about a 2004 Ministry of Health study into the most common causes of death in New Zealand:

Diet and insufficent phsyical activity were considered responsible for nearly 11,000 deaths in 1997 (the year studied), nearly 40 per cent of all deaths.
Then the article went on to say this:
A ministry report made public this week reveals mroe than half of Kiwis are too heavy. Thirty-four per cent older than 15 are overweight and 20 per cent obese. Health Minister Pete Hodgson calls the obesity epidemic 'the greatest public health challenge facing New Zealand'.
OK here's the thing - there isn't actually any connection between those two sets of facts. If diet and inactivity account for 40% of the deaths, then how can obesity be greatest public health challenge facing New Zealand? The two are not synonymous.

Because here's the thing (and I'm going to explain it very simple, because many seemingly intelligent people don't seem to get it). If our diet and lack of exercise is killing us (and more on that later), then the problem is not one of size. It's a problem of diet and lack of exercise.

If instead of focusing on diet and exercise you encourage people to prioritise weight loss, then you won't get an improvement in diet and exercise. There are an awful lot of ways you can try and lose weight that will hurt your body. Most of them won't result in permanent weight loss, and instead a yo-yo cycle, with each weight-loss attempt doing more damage to your body.

Well if he's influencing the next generation of men, then we've got nothing to worry about

There's a reasonably interesting article about sex education in the Sunday Star Times about sex education (I was shocked too, I ususally just buy it to make fun of the expensive clothes). But some of it was pretty scary. There was a boys school that forwarded an information pack on STI to the local girls schools, because boys don't need to worry about that sort of thing.

Rector Tim O'Connor from Palmerston North Boys High School has this to say about consent

They also need to be mindful that they are not putting themselves in an environment where they could be accused of date rape
Pesky accusations are obviously the main thing boys need to worry about when they're having non-consensaul sex.

In a way it's a step forward. The reason I laid a complaint was the hope that just one guy would be careful around women, in case he runs into another angry bitch. But I just wish men could tell other men to treat women as people because we are people.

Fetus worship

The headline reads: Pregnant women urged to halve work hours. The study says that women that worked more than 32 hours a week in a high stress job gave birth to children with a lower birth rate. The Scientists recommend that women in high stress jobs shouldn't work more than 24 hours a week while pregnant.

Well that solves that problem doesn't it. Women who are pregnant should be organising their life around the pregnancy anyway, employers are very flexible about what hours people work, we have a generous welfare system that would make working less during pregnancy possible and there is extensive help for those women who work 24 hours raising other children during pregnancy, the only thing missing was a scientists recommendation.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Indecent Assault

So I went to the police today and laid a formal complaint. The police were very polite, and appeared to take it reasonably seriously. They would have obviously preferred it if I didn't lay a complaint. But they recognised that I was reasonably determined and responded accordingly. The man committed an indecent assault, which should scare him, if they ever find him.

I still feel that there are serious political problems with going to the police in the way that I did, and I thought I'd explore them in a little more detail.

The more simple reason is that I know that the only reason they listened to me was because I was white, middle-class, well-educated, and reasonably forceful. If my complaint was much more serious, but I didn't have those qualities, I'm sure they could have behaved much worse.

I also had the confidence that comes from the fact that he was a stranger, and this lessened the chance that laying a complaint would give them power over me. He wasn't just a stranger, I was sober anddressed in jeans and a polar fleece when he assaulted me. I knew that laying a complaint wasn't going to be a nasty experience for me.

While this sucks, I don't think it's a particularly good reason not to make a complaint. In this situation, having a complaint to the police taken seriously is a result of prviledge, but it's not a particularly personal benefit. I don't gain at someone else's expense because I'd be taken seriously.

If anything I felt more compelled to make a complaint, because I knew I'd be taken seriously. The next woman's body that man considered his property may not have the same options I do. If there was a tiny chance that by laying a complaint against him I could scare him into respecting women's bodies, then I felt I should take it. Precisely because so many woman's complaints wouldn't be taken seriously.

My other, more serious, concern was my analysis of police's role in society. I don't see the police as a benign (let alone positive) force in society. I am opposed to both the economic system and the state and the police's main role is to enforce both of these.

I don't think that means that I'm a hypocrite for going to the police in all circumstances. If I had to report a burglary to the police to claim it on insurance, then I would. But under those circumstances I'd probably hope they didn't catch the burglar. I don't think that having an analysis that is critical of the way the police operates doesn't mean that you can't have a utilitarian view of the ways in which they might be useful to you.

But there's a huge difference between reporting a bulgulary to the police, because you'd get something out of it, and trying to get the police to convey a particular message to another person.

The problem is, when it comes to violence against women, we have so few options. Traditionally there are four ways women can respond to violence:

1. Do nothing
2. Get your male friends to hurt or threaten the guy who was
3. Go to the police
4. Tell other female friends

2. wasn't an option since there were no male friends around (and I suspect if I'd had a male friend to hand the guy wouldn't have slapped me as I would have been another man's property). There have been times that I have been very appreciative of other men's intervention. But as a strategy this just makes me feel icky. If we're going to fight violence against women in a way that upholds ideas of women belonging to men, I'd rather my friends weren't the ones doing the upholding actually.

In my experience 4. is the least supported. It's also the only one that doesn't reinforce male power. Even among supposed politically aware people I've heard a lot of disparaging comments about gossip.

I know women who could have been kept safe if people had gossiped just a little bit harder. I know a woman who was kept safe, because other women did gossip. I make no apology for spreading any information I hear about violent men. It's the strongest form of protection we've got. Sure it's not enough but it's a start.

Any stronger form of resistance to male violence would start with women talking to each other. But unfortunately it wasn't an option in this case. I didn't know his name, or how to find him.

So my options were to do nothing or to go to the police. I don't know if going to the police will have any affect at all, let alone the effect I want. I don't know if scaring someone makes them less likely to hit women. But I don't think it'll make anything worse, so I don't regret doing it.

Saturday, May 20, 2006


The Maria Blog has a really interesting post about pornography.

At the time, within leftish feminist circles, there was a clear distinction made (or at least debated) between erotica and pornography and WAP was definitely pro-erotica and anti-pornography. Talking to a few younger women recently this distinction seems to have been almost entirely lost.

I think the distinction is useful and powerful. If all images or depictions of sex and sexuality are lumped under the title of pornography then everyone who challenges any of those images or depictions are also lumped together. So a homophobic christian objecting to a picture of two naked women kissing is lumped in with someone who objects to an image of a woman with a knife being pushed into her vagina. Or someone upset by an erect penis is lumped in with someone upset by picture of a woman dressed in pigtails and in a school uniform surrounded by a group of older men. Or someone morally disturbed by consensual threesomes is the same as someone disturbed by the endless repetition of women shown always with her legs apart, always on her back, always skinny with large breasts. All of us can be dismissed as prudish and uptight and anti-sex.
I know I write a lot about language. I also know that the pornography debate within feminism is a substantive one, and language isn't the major thing that divides people. But reading what Maria wrote, I do think language is part of the problem. Maria uses the word pornography in a very specific way:
The analysis I hold to is that pornography is stuff which depicts sex and sexuality and that involves a power imbalance or objectification. This can be through the eroticisation of pain or the eroticisation of lack of consent. Or it can be through focussing on a particular aspect of a woman's body, and objectifying a part of a woman. Or through promoting the idea that when women say no they mean yes, or promoting the idea that children want adult sexual attention.
But the thing is that's fine, but there are actually very few people who use the word 'pornography' in the same way Maria does.

Of course you can use a word to mean whatever you want it to mean (you just have to pay them extra), but I think we're fighting an up-hill battle if we're trying to redefine a word, as well as win the argument. Words have meanings and resonances, and you can use a word specifically as you like, but it doesn't mean anything unless the people you are talking to have the same specific understanding.

I think there is another way we could talk about sexually explicit material, and that is name what we object to, and not expect the word pornography to do the work for us. When you say pornography most people think of anything with nudity. So a debate over pornography quickly becomes an all or nothing venture about sexually explicit material. It doesn't become a debate about sexism, misogyny or objectication.

Pressing Charges

It had been a nice evening. I hung out with my friends at a pot-luck dinner, and then went to visit another friend. I was happy, relaxed and heading home, but I made a mistake.

You see there was a Hurricanes game. Not just any Hurricanes games, but a semi-final. I have a rule about going to town when there's been a rugby match. The rule is don't do it.

But I went to a petrol station, it wasn't quite in town, but it was definately on the edge of town. It also had an open McDonalds attached, so it was pretty busy. I was waiting at the counter, mostly ignoring the very drunk guys next to me. One of them was threatening to call the police if their problem wasn't fixed (it may have had something to do with a phone card). They appeared to be done, but they weren't going anywhere. So I asked them if they were done. The guy who had been yelling at petrol attendant said he had, and kind of moved over.

Then he slapped me on the ass.

I turned to him and said "Don't fucking hit me." He replied "You're an angry bitch." After that I asked for his name and he very inexpertly gave me a fake name and offered to pay for my food. I walked out angry; I walked out furious.

Just today I was reading Biting Beever's post about what had happened to her in a petrol station.

Obviously it's not the first time a man's hit me on the ass non-consentually.

Why do I live in a world where the first word in that sentance is obviously? I'm sick of living a world where my body is an object for other people to enjoy. That man saw a womanand believed that my body was his to do whatever he felt like. I'm terrified of what else he would do, how he would act in other circumstances.

I want to do something more.

I don't really know what. I could lay a complaint with the police. I'm not particularly fond of the police, but it's the only way I could find him.

What do other people think? Is it worth the effort? Is it OK to involve the police given that I hate them?

Friday, May 19, 2006


Jill responded to my questioning of the way she used the phrase 'healthy weight'. I thought I'd take the opportunity to expand on my comments (because I'm ususally so brief with what I say).

I actually have two objections to the use of the term 'healthy weight'. One is that I don't think there's sufficent evidence that weight is an independent variable when it comes to longevity and the functioning of the body. The other is that even if weight was a good independent variable I think that using the term 'healthy weight' is hugely problematic. So this is going to be a post in two parts.

Weight as an independent variable
I actually think that Jill makes the point about the problem of treating weight as an independent variable in her comment.

Weight and health do not directly correlate. But at the extremes, weight does weigh on your health, whether one is anorexic or morbidly obese.
What's interesting is that Anorexia is not a weight category, it's a mental illness and a set of behaviours. To say that anorexia does damage to your health is not a statement about size. You can have two women of exactly the same size, one of whom is damaging her health, the other whose not.

Now maybe being very skinny is an independent variable for a shorter life-span, certainly if you were living in times of famine it probably would be. But right now, in our society, we don't have actually know what relationship there is between being very small and having health problems. For example thin women are more prone to osteoperosis, but we don't know whether this is because lack of body fat causes osteoperosis, or that the behaviour that many women use to maintain their small figure causes osteoperosis.

I think the same analysis holds at the end of the spectrum. The correlation between being very heavy and increased death rates is regularly overplayed (in America by numbers with 6 figures in them). But even so correlation does not prove causation. Does weight gain cause illnesses, are there illnesses that cause weight-gain, or are both illnesses and weight-gain caused by a third factor (say poverty)? Until we have the answers to those questions we can't say that weight is an independent variable to our health. If we don't know that weight is an independent variable to our health then it is ridiculous to talk about 'maintaining a healthy weight'.

The word 'healthy'
Even if the evidence came in tomorrow that weight did definately cause health problems if you were at the extreme end of the spectrum, I'd stil be uncomfortable with feminists using the phrase 'healthy weight'.

We live in a world where eating disordered behaviour is frequently promoted as healthy. There are magazines here called 'healthy living' that are weight loss from start to finish and I've never seen a 'healthy food' section of a supermarket that wasn't entire diet products. Among middle-class circles in particular, where it's considered a little crass to talk about trying to lose weight, exactly the same conversations take place under the rubric of 'health' (I have a friend who comes from a more working-class background, and doesn't know the code, and she was mocked for talking about trying to lose weight - but if she'd talked about exactly the same behaviour in terms of health, it would have been completely acceptable).

I don't think we can ignore the fact that our society treats the phrase 'healthy' as if it is a synonym for 'thinner'.

I'd actually go a little further and question the usefulness of the word 'healthy' in most circumstances. Historically the word 'healthy' has been applied to many different behaviours, quite a few of which weren't going to promote your longevity (getting a tan, for example). The word 'healthy' ususally has nothing to do with promoting, and much more to do with promoting certain behaviours, ususally linked to some forms of social control.

Think about the ways people are most likely to use healthy - they'll say someone looks healthy, that food is healthy, and exercise is healthy. Most of the time what they're talk about has very little to do with vitality and longevity.

If someone says 'wow she looks healthy' then sometimes that means "great her eating disorder might not kill her", and most the time it means "She's lost weight, but it might be impolite to say so, so instead I will use an ingenious code that no-one will be able to crack." But It's not just someone's overall body shape that people describe as 'healthy'. We have healthy nails, healthy hair, healthy skin. Lets pause for a moment about the ridiculousness of describing dead cells as 'healthy'. When they're describing someone's appearance people ususally use the word 'healthy' in a way that has nothing to do with living long and prospering.

before about how problematic I find using the term 'healthy' when it comes to food. But the same is true when calling exercise healthy. I've heard people describe exercise as healthy, even when it was damaging the body of the person who was doing.

This is all part of a wider problem, because the term healthy is usually only applied to individual behaviours, not structural problems. The biggest risks to us usually have absolutely nothing to do with what we choose to do as invidually, but the way our society is organised - poverty, food production, pollution, workplaces, housing standards and so on.

Some people who are fighting for structural change try and use the word 'healthy' to work for them - 'healthy workplaces' and 'healthy homes' are two examples. But actually I don't think this is particularly wise tactic. Lets name what we want from workplaces (that they don't kill us) and homes (that they're designed by people who remember that winter comes every year), rather than hide behind vague, nice sounding rhetoric.

Because fundamentally that's the problem with the word 'healthy' it's a very non-specific, but at the same time it is commonly used to mean something specific, which means you cannot use it, without it having another layer of meaning.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Geeking Out

I have a friend who has DVDs of The West Wing, and I borrowed them because I was feeling nostalgic.

They're really bad. I mean I'm really nostalgic about the characters, and I'm into the early Josh/Donna moments (my dirty secret is that I'm a total 'shipper), but the politics sucks. I don't just mean that the politics on the show sucks - because that's nothing if not realistic. But the politics of the show are awful, in particular when women are treated like shit it is portrayed as if it's romantic. And lets not even get into the nationalism, because it makes me want to throw-up.

But despite the terribleness, watching The West Wing makes me sad. I miss having a TV show to watch. I miss looking forward to Monday (or Thursday, or whatever). I miss that feeling of rightness that you get from a great episode when character and theme comes together in a way that only works if you know and love the people on the show.

It's all Joss's fault.

I keep on hearing about these shows other people watch and enjoy: House and Veronica Mars have rather large fan-bases. But every time I've watched House I just can't handle the misogyny, and the way the only female character is treated (as a weak girl). Veronica Mars doesn't have any female friends, I'd rather watch a show about men than a show about a woman without any female friends.

No Joss has set too high standards, he has shown that a show can be really good, and not offend me every second of the day. And I can no longer watch the rest of the crap.

So in honour of the greatness of Joss I've made a list of the top 5 most feminist episodes of Buffy, and just to show I've realised it wasn't all destroying phalluses and overturning stereotypes I've also listed the top 5 least feminist episodes of Buffy.

Now my defintition of feminist is actually quite specific. I believe the ideal for feminist art is to tell the truth about women's lives and then to explore the ways that women can change those situations if they work together. Now Buffy never did that all in one episode, but the episodes I list covered up those different angles pretty well.

5 Most Feminist Episodes of Buffy

5. The Witch: Now I think Buffy has a lot of problems as it comes to body image issues. But this episode manages to capture some of the relationships between mothers, daughters and food, so perfectly. The mother who takes control of her daughter's body in order to relive her youth - well it's not really a metaphor.

4. Innocence: "I designed this show to be a feminist show, not a polemic, but a straight out feminist show. The moment where she kicks him in the balls is very important, very primal" OK that's from memory - but it's Joss on the Innocence commentary. To me the feminism here is very simple, it says women's lives, and the way men treat them, are important, it says we're worth fighting for. It also says that we're strong enough to win.

3. I Was Made to Love You: It's not the only episode where the misogyny of our society is represented in robot form, but I think it's the best. It does an amazing job of showing the world-view of men who view women as objects created to please them, and it also demonstrated how much those ideas are part of our everyday culture. The end where Buffy stays with April as she her batteries wind down is really beautiful.

2. Anne: Most people really don't like this episode, and I can see why, subtlety is not it's strong point. But I really love it, and I think the reason I really love it is the strength and resonance of the politics. Buffy ran away, and has spent her time in Los Angeles losing herself - she calls herself Anne. The scene where the guy she's waitressing on hits her on the ass, and there's nothing she can do, works for me on so many levels. On the most basic level it's an experience that too many women have to put up with everyday. In terms of the story it shows how much Buffy had to loose herself in order to survive.

Then another woman comes to her for help, and she reluctantly engages with the world. This leads her to a succesful slave revolt under a hammer and sickle (this is definately the nearest Buffy came to socialist feminism). She starts by reasserting who she is: "I'm Buffy, the vampire slayer, and you are?" and reclaims her strength. She doesn't do any of this as an individual, she does it with Lily, and as they fight together, they both grow stronger.

Probably it's also true that the idea of only being able to find yourself, and fight for yourself when you're fighting for other people resonates really strongly with me (then there's the Gandhi joke, which is probably my all-time favourite Buffy joke).

1. Restless: Joss uses the dreams in this episode to comment on ideas about gender pretty consistently, which makes it one of the most interesting to analyse from a feminist perspective ("lets make a fort" "I'll get the cushions"). In commenting on gender I think the show reasserts a really important idea, which is that it's entirely consistent for women to value traditionally feminine things, and for fight for access to what has traditionally masculine.

To me, that's what Buffy's speech to the first slayer brings to mind: "I walk. I talk. I shop. I sneeze. I'm gonna be a fireman when the floods roll back. There's trees in the desert since you moved out. And I don't sleep on a bed of bones. Now give me back my friends."

Honourary Mention: Chosen - It was really hard not including this episode in the top 5. The shot where the girl in the trailer stands up is my favourite shot of all time, and it makes me cry every time I see it (I'm kind of tearing up just thinking about). From the beginning of the episode where Buffy cuts the misogynist creep in half through his balls, to the cookie dough speech which points out that a women's destiny isn't in her boyfriend, to the sharing of the power, to the end where she gets to be happy and imagine a life with potential, most of this episode is an amazing fulfilment of everything that made this show so special for me.


You can reasonably read this episode to believe that Buffy has sex with the man who tried to rape her. She then tells him he loves her, and he tells her she's wrong about her feelings, just before he heroically burns up to save the world (if only he'd actually died). Not so much with the feminism there.

5 Least Feminist episodes of Buffy

5. Reptile Boy If you go to frat parties and drink then they'll drug you and sacrifice you to their Gods. A reasonably true representation of reality, possibly. But this reality is only worth repeating if you're also making sure you say that it's not the woman's fault for 'getting into that sitaution'.

4. Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered It's OK to make people be sexual with you without their consent, as long as you don't have sex with them (in fact not having sex with them makes you noble) and there are wacky hijinks.

3. Lullaby Ok I know this is actually an Angel episode, but it flew from one franchise to another powered on nothing but it's own misogyny, so I had to include it. The plot is that Darla is pregnant with Angel's child, and having a good human being inside her has stopped her from being evil. It looks like the child will not survive giving birth so Darla stakes her (evil) self in order that her (good) child can live.

I watched this episode with my friend Betsy and said "wow everyone who had anything to do with this episode must have hated women with a firey passion."

2. Some Season Seven Episode I don't know which season 7 episode Buffy started being all "I don't care that he tried to rape me, because he has a soul now", and don't care enough to find out. But here's the thing Buffy writers: if your show is to have any meaning it must have emotional resonance (and rocket launchers). I can't think of anything in the real world that would resemble the way this whole plot line was done that wouldn't be a deeply unfeminist.

1. Seeing Red I think this is one of the stronger episodes of season 6, and if every episode of Buffy that came after it disappeared from existence then I wouldn't have a problem with it. But they had a rape plot entirely for the effect it would have on the rapist. It's the sort of feminism that's not.

I'm sure I have many readers who also have opinions on feminism and Buffy - what are your best and worst?

Feminist Credentials

Now I've read a couple of things from feminist blogs that surprised me recently. I was reading an excellent article by Jill from Feministe about health professionals that treat all women as pre-pregnant,* and I came across this sentance:

Now, I’m all for encouraging these behaviors simply because they’re healthy. It’s better for people not to smoke, to control their diabetes and asthma, to maintain a healthy weight, and to take vitamins.
Now I imagine most regular readers will know which word was like a red flag to a bull. I don't believe that there's such a thing as a 'healthy weight'. But even if I did, I wouldn't use the term 'healthy weight', because I believe it reinforces the ideas of our eating disordered society. I believe that talking about women having a 'healthy weight' is anti-woman.

Now I don't know if Jill agrees with some, all, or none of this analysis. I'd like to have a discussion with her about it. But I wouldn't dream of questioning her commitment to women, or feminism. I know she's a feminist, it's just her analysis sometimes differs from mine.

On the other hand I do want to question whether or not Hugo Schwyzer is actually a feminist. Not just because he's a man, I'm kind of agnostic about male feminists, but because of what he has said and does. He has mentioned that he rejoices when anti-abortion laws are passed, and gives money to organisations that work to restrict abortions laws. I don't believe women who work to restrict other women's access to abortion can be called feminists, let alone men who do the same. This view was confirmed when he wrote about how he felt about women taking men's last name:
Perhaps for excellent reasons, I always sensed that none of my previous wives fully trusted me. It's deeply unfeminist of me to acknowledge this, I realize, but I couldn't help but interpret their reluctance to take my name as a symbol of a lack of complete commitment to our marriage.
It is deeply unfeminist - and there comes a stage where if you're acting in an unfeminist way you stop being a feminist.

I agree that feminism is a large tent, but even with the largest tent canvas eventually hits grass. I think discussing at what point that might be is actually an important part of feminism. For the record I think Hugo and Cathy are both outside the tent, because they work to restrict women's choices.

*This gets occasional coverage in the New Zealand media as well. Mostly through suggestions that no woman should ever drink because she might get pregnant. Jill is exactly right that suggesting women base their health decisions around the fact that they may get pregnant is a pretty obvious example of believing that a woman is not actually a person.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

A stupid fucking moron

I haven't been writing much recently. There are no big reasons, I just haven't had enough energy to write the long thought out posts I've planned, and no inspiration to write short posts reacting to events. Luckily the lack of inspiration ended when I read the paper today. New Zealand has a public health system, and there's been some controversy recently about waiting lists. Bill Lambert has an interesting solution:

Since 1977, when the current abortion laws were passed, the number of state-funded, certified abortions can be conservatively estimated at more than 400,000, resulting in our negative birth rate. The actual cost to the health system can be estimated at more than $250 million.
Ok can anyone pick out the rather

The New Zealand health system pays for abortions, it also pays for all pre-natal care and any costs of child-birth (and education, and health care for children and so on, but we'll leave them for now). If a pregnant woman doesn't have an abortion then she will give birth (a fact I think you could only ever have to point out to a man). Abortion would never cost the state more than bringing the pregnant to term you stupid fucking moron.

To make it worse he voted for the Contraception, Sterilisation and Abortion Act, and I have a lifelong vendetta against every single one of the men who did that. When I'm old I'm going to spend summer touring the country dancing on their gravees.


I don't follow South American politics as much as I should. I've already written about how little I knew about Chavez before America tried to depose him. There are a number of other South American countries that have leaders are called left-wing. Some of them aren't so much. The recently elected leader of Chile started by comitting herself to structural readjustment, which is about as left-wing as the fourth labour government.

But I'm prepared to acknowledge that the nationalisation of extractive industries is actually left-wing. Evo Maroles has instructed the army to occupy oil and gas reserves so that the companies will re-negotiate. I know a little about negotiations, that sounds like a good way of negotiating.

"It's been up and down," says José López, a Santa Cruz native. "For the first 100 days of his rule, Evo didn't do the things he said he would. But this was much better. Now everyone is behind him again."

Such was the swing of popular support behind Mr Morales this week that a general strike planned for Thursday in the Santa Cruz region was called off.
It sounds like he was driven to it. So I pay tribute to all those who organised to make this a reality.

Women's Work

On the thread of my mother's Day post Psycho Milt asked a question:

So, is raising children women's work or not? I always supported what I thought was the feminist argument, that raising children doesn't require gender specialisation once it gets beyond breastfeeding, so that's what we should be aiming for. This post seems to suggest otherwise.
That was not my intention.

There are some parts of child rearing that are women's work by biology. Taking a embryo and making a baby is work, so is breast-feeding. The fact that neither of these activities is valued and often women are penalised for partaking them, is really fucking sexist.

After that it's entirely true that either men or women could raise children. When I talk of the work of raising children as women's work I am using the term descriptively, it is work that is almost entirely done by women. It is because that work is done by women (or possibly because women do this work that they get devalued, I suspect it's a chicken/egg situation).

I think there's nothing inconsistent in demanding that women's work be valued, and demanding that not just women do it.

Monday, May 15, 2006

A few links

I've written about Post Secret before. People send in their secrets on a postcard, and each week the website owner puts up new postcards (US time). They're usually beautiful, and heart-breaking, and sometimes strange. But this week was a mother's day issue, and they are even more heart-breaking than usual. There are postcards from mothers and postcards from children; there are postcards of joy and postcards of pain. They're really beautiful and they make me cry. Together they make an important and powerful statement about the reality of mothering now.

I do a lot of driving for work, so I listen to National Radio (currently undecided on Kathryn Ryan, but I like her voice and the fact that she's not a Linda Clark style middle-class liberal). Today I just happened to hear an amazing interview on Checkpoint. Susan Burdett was raped a murdered a dozen a year ago. The inteview was with her brother. He talks about how he stopped seeking revenge. I'm not even religious and I'm praying that nothing like that ever happens to anyone I love, but if they did I hope that I can find a similar sort of peace.

Lastly a link from Interesting Times - I'm so happy to see another New Zealand feminist blogger. She ties together a whole lot of fascinating threads on the way immigration laws affect women.

The first thing this topic made me think of though was the Sri Lankan teenager (unnamed in the media) who sought asylum in New Zealand with her grandmother after suffering sexual abuse at the hands of several relatives. There were a series of scandal and screw-ups around the case, including the immigration minister obtaining - and publicising - legally priviliged information and losing her job. She ended up being deported. What I can honestly say was one of the most harrowing images I've seen was her been pushed in a wheelchair across the airport, sedated and handcuffed. She was, of course, vindicated.

There isn't really a conclusion to this post; obviously immigration controls reinforce the status quo, and that works against women. I'm not sure whether immigration controls are by definition sexist - though in practice that is definitely how they work out. I can say, though, with complete confidence, that women can only be liberated in a world where everyone has freedom - and that includes freedom of movement.
Go read the whole thing.

Rather than breakfast in bed

For the last few weeks retailers have been urging us to show how much we love our mothers. Show it with flowers, show it with books, show it with irons, show it with cookwear, show it with anything that's for sale really.

Just as long as you don't show how much you love your mother by demanding that the work of raising children be valued in our society, rather than treated as a duty, or a hobby.

Every single person who reads this blog (and quite a few people who don't) have benefitted from other people putting the time and energy required to turn an embryo into an adult. Everyone who has ever made money off other people's backs, benefits from the fact that unless women give birth to children and then raise them, there aren't any children to exploit.

The vital work that women do is ignored, apart for a yearly call for breakfast in bed. Instead mother's are attacked simultaneously for not staying at home with their children and not being in the paid workforce. Women on the DPB are treated as if there's some huge crime to trying to raise a child without a man. The Prime Minister believes mother's aren't doing enough for our productivity, and the leader of the opposition believes that once you go on a benefit, any subsequent children you may have won't actually take any additional time or resources to raise.

The attitude that women's work isn't work benefits capitalism, and it benefits men.

The solution? The same old organising/resisting/overthrowing capitalism stuff. But today I'll just stick to paying tribute to my Mum - whose on the other side of the world right now. When I was born she was two years younger than I am now.

One of the things that scares me so much about being a parent is how individualised it is, and because it restricts your movement, parenting can also be really isolating. Mum says she didn't feel that isolated (she did feel as if what she was doing wasn't valued). I guess that's because most of the time my she had good support networks that she built with other women. But she had to build them twice, because when we moved to New Zealand she was pregnant with my little sister, I was 5 and my little brother was 2.

I'd write more about her, but it's not my story, and she's more than capable of writing it for herself. So I just want to say that I love her and I think she did a pretty good job.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Nothing says 'no war' like chocolates, flowers and blenders

Last week I was talking to Maria about mother's day, and what I was going to write about. She told me the origins of Mother's Day in America. The origin of mother's Day is in a poem by Julia Howe: the mother's day proclamation:

Arise, then, women of this day!
Arise, all women who have hearts,
Whether our baptism be of water or of tears!

Say firmly:
"We will not have great questions decided by irrelevant agencies,
Our husbands will not come to us, reeking with carnage, for caresses and applause.
Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn
All that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience.
We, the women of one country, will be too tender of those of another country
To allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs."
Mother's Day was started by a suffragist, abolitionist, pacifist, as an internationalist call to end war (although oddly enough she also wrote the Battle Hymn of the Republic).

When Maria told me all this I thought it was cool but irrelevant. Mother's Day is celebrated on different days all over the world and I thought we had our mother's day at a different time from America. So while it was a cool story, it wasn't much

I was wrong, we celebrate mother's day the second Sunday in May - same as America. Which means anything you have done for your mother today is part of the fight against war.

Seismic activity

Last night I had a fun game of 'Death is Not an Option' with the Michael Hill Jewller catalogue. For those of you not familiar with the game it usually works by proposing two people (say Roger Douglas and Ruth Richardson) and you have to say which of the two you'd have sex with - if death wasn't an option.

The Michael Hill Jeweller catalogue variation is that you have to say which item of jewellry you would wear, if death wasn't an option. You can play along at home because the catalogue is on their website. We had group consensus on the ugliness of gold and spent a long time bitching about general ugliness. Although we knew that gold wasn't just ugly jewellry, one of my friends had gold injections for her arthritis (they didn't help).

I've thought a lot about Todd Russell and Brant Webb in the last few weeks. I had those fleeting nightmarish thoughts about them never getting out. I almost cried when they were released . It wasn't till we were making fun of the jewelry that I realised I hadn't thought a lot about why they were down there. What their employers, and the market their employers sell on, thought was risking seismic activity for.

When Todd Russel asked for a newspaper to be sent down, so he could look for a new job, everyone thought that showed he wasn't losing his sense of humour.

But it's not really a joke.

The company that ran that mine killed Larry Knight, it could have killed more of the people who work there. But without that mine the town is dead. What kind of a choice is that? How can we accept an economic system that insists workers buy their town's survival with their own death?

Saturday, May 13, 2006


When I was writing the post about Jacob Zuma there was a place where I just couldn't figure out what word I was looking for:

This isn't rare, there is a long history of men in left-wing political movements (of many different sorts) claiming to believe in equality and raping women.

There are men who believe that women are objects, rather than human beings. There are many, many more men who won't challenge those men's beliefs. How can we create any kind of movement under those circumstances?"
See there, I didn't describe what I meant, except in the vaguest kind of way. I couldn't think of a term, and I thought hard. Everything was too wooly, or too specific. I was so frustrated that I didn't have a term to describe the sort of movements I was trying to write about.

Then, two days later, I realised I knew exactly the word that was missing - liberation.

So what I meant to say was: How can men and women join together in liberation struggles when so many men won't treat women like people?

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Our Lives are different than other people's

The thing about the internet is that you get a window into other people's lives. It's just sometimes these lives are very strange. I was looking at baby clothes on trade-me with a friend and found an auction for Christian Dior Baby mittens scarf and beanie. I'm still disturbed that there are people who buy Christian Dior for their baby. Apparently very expensive baby clothes look like this:Weird - but not worth writing a post about. The reason I wrote about it was the explanation the woman selling it gave:

My goodness. I can't believe I'm selling this. Actually, I'm kind of hoping it won't meet reserve and won't sell, then I will definitely keep it! My husband thinks his son will grow up 'less of a man' if I dress him in Christian Dior - he'd prefer him in a black singlet, swandri, stubbies & gumboots I think - oh dear :(

I agreed to list this, and if I can get back enough of what I paid for it, then I'd sell it. Otherwise my wee baby will be wearing it for sure!! The price of 24 pounds (approx $75NZD) is still on the label...and this is just for the mittens!
After reading that I ended up wanting the woman not to be able to get her money back, and for the baby to get to wear the mittens that'll make him less of a man.

No Diet Day

Sometime last week was International No Diet Day, whatever day of the week May 6th was. In my experience No Diet Day's are most commonly observed at Universities, and usually by eating cake, chocolate and ice-cream. I forgot it at

While that's not quite so bad as marking no diet day by giving away diet coke and fruit (it's what happens when you have an anti-feminist women's rights officer). I'm not at all convinced that it's useful. Unfortunately, for so many women (and I'm certainly not exempt) the opposite of dieting is bingeing. Food and control are so tightly linked that the only other alternative to controlling your food intake is losing control of your food intake.

The opposite of dieting is actually making food about food. I know that's an uphill battle. I know the vast majority of women students are nowhere near there. But I don't think having one day a year where you're 'allowed' to eat chocolate is a step in that direction.

I also think No Diet Day, as currently marked, can very easily be commodified (and sponsored by food manufacturers) and removed of it's political meaning.

I've got a really good example of this, with an article from ABC in Australia:

In the 936 office Drive Producer, the lovely Lynn, got up especially early to spend most of her morning baking, in order to provide her colleagues with the most delectable Pavlova and cake.

Annie Warburton and the team from Mornings spoke with Stephen Dimsey, State Manger of Life Be In It Tasmania, to get some sensible tips for those who enjoy their food but want to stay in shape.
Then later on Stephen says: "What we're saying is that whatever body shape you are, make sure you're a healthy body shape," Talk about making the kind of sense that's not; I don't think I could translate that into English if you paid me.

I would like to suggest that women (and men) could make every day No Diet Day, by stopping talking about food in a moralistic way, and stopping making deogatory comments about your body.

While I know for a lot of people that wouldn't stop the way you feel about food and your body, stopping reinforcing that mindset is an important first step.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Jacob Zuma

Nuclear weapons was the first political issue I ever cared about. It's no surprise that nuclear weapons terrified me, as a young child living in Britain in the early 1980s. We moved to New Zealand in 1983 and in our first letter back to our relatives we list the things we like and don't like about New Zealand. At age 5 no nuclear weapons was second on my list

But the second political issue I ever cared about was apartheid.* Obviously we weren't in New Zealand for The Tour. But we went on anti-apartheid protests, and I understood what was going on for a very early age. We sang 'Free Nelson Mandela' (and my Dad would usually add 'with every world leader sold') - I knew what ANC stood for.

I know it hasn't stood for that for a very long time (if it ever did stand for what 8 year old me, imagined it stood for). I know that the ANC are now doing the capitalists' work.

I've been an activist for years. I know that men rape women within political movements. I know that it doesn't matter how much they talk about solidarity, there are men who abuse the power that they have.

I'm still surprised, even though I shouldn't be. I was surprised, disgusted, sickened, upset and angry, at the rape trial of Jacob Zuma. He was acquitted; they always are.

Jacob Zuma is a powerful member of the ANC - he used to be deputy president. Last year he raped a 31 year old woman, a family friend who was more than half his age.

The trial sounds hideous, and familiar. She was put on trial and her sexual history, including other times she had been raped, was put into evidence. When Zuma took the stand he argued that she consented by wearing a knee-length skirt and complaining that she didn't have a boyfriend:

She had never in the past come to my house dressed in a skirt. Including times when I was living in Pretoria. When she came to me in a skirt after those talks I referred to earlier on, well, it told me something.
The judge, well the judge is a misogynist asshole, who said that she didn't act as rape victims should.

Like I said, any illusions I had about the ANC were broken long ago. But this raises a much wider issue. The woman who raised the complaint was twice raped by ANC members in exile, when she was just 13.

This isn't rare, there is a long history of men in left-wing political movements (of many different sorts) claiming to believe in equality and raping women.

There are men who believe that women are objects, rather than human beings. There are many, many more men who won't challenge those men's beliefs. How can we create any kind of movement under those circumstances?

If you want to know more about the case Black Looks has more on the subject. You should also check out One in Nine an awesome website of the group that was set up to support the accuser:
The One in Nine Campaign was launched in February 2006. The purpose of the campaign is to ensure that the courage and action of Khwezi, the woman who has filed a rape charge against the former Deputy President of South Africa, Jacob Zuma, is affirmed and supported through direct action, the mass media and through strengthening the level of debate and analysis in society of the gender dimensions of the case.
* Margaret Thatcher came into power the year after I was born, so for almost all of my life I've lived in countries dominated by neo-liberal reforms. It's interesting that the two issues I knew most about politically as a child were mostly about things happening in other countries. I know my parents were aware of, and attended protests about, other issues. But there is probably a wider point to be made about the political focus in the 1980s - another time.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

My favourite 10 posts of the first six months

I promise this is the end of my orgy of self-indulgance and congratulation to celebrate that I had a 6 month anniversary three months ago.

Margaret Thatcher: Feminist of the Day?

Conclusion: Margaret Thatcher, Milk Snatcher, probably did more to harm women in Britain in the 1980s than anyone else – she ain’t no feminist. Try these women, or these women instead.
This was my first post ever and I started as I meant to go on. If it comes as any surprise that the answer was 'No' you haven't been paying attention.

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

I'm not going to write about how fucking depressing the sexism from men on the left is, nor am I going to focus on how there's no way the workers can unite when some men refuse to believe that women are people.
Fighting the misogyny and sexism on the left are really important to me. Part of that is not letting people get away with bullshit.

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

16 Reasongs Green Party Food Policy Sucks
I'm a firm believer in attacking the Green Party, it's not as important as attacking the Labour party, but it needs to be done (I also made some important points, just if you were wondering).

People racism, media racism and political racism
I guess everyone has read the stories. The guys chanting 'We grew here, you flew here'. The woman's whose head scarf was pulled of and used as a trophy. What I hadn't realised until I started paying attention was how organised and planned it was. People sent around text messages calling for Leb and Wog bashing day, which was why there were 5,000 young men on a beach getting drunk and being a mob.

Some of them were neo-nazis, but many were not, at least in the organised sense. That young working-class white men blame their problems on non-white people, is a sign of how much the left has failed. But it didn't happen in a vacuum.
I really hated the mainstream media coverage of the riots in Australia last year. This is the most current events focused of my favourite posts, and I think it's strength comes from the fact that I'm talking about something really specific.

In which I descend to previously unseen levels of geekiness
What I adore about Kaylee, as a character, is that she completely ignores any sort of gender stereotypes, she's a mechanic, she's girly, she really into sex, she's innocent, and when she wants a pretty dress it is quite possibly the ugliest pretty dress you've ever seen - but you love her for it. I don't actually think that an individual character in a story can be feminist (except in the sense the character might identify as a feminist), but if they could it would be Kaylee.
This was my first post that was linked to widely, so I loved the upsurge of traffic I saw. But mostly I just really like writing about politics and the television shows I love.

Being Purple and Personal and Political
I don't think the experience of being fat is worse for women; I think the experience of being fat is qualitatively different for women.

Maybe that's not even what I mean - maybe I mean: the experience of being fat is part of being a woman in the society I live in - whatever size you are.
These were the first posts that I felt brave enough to put some of my analysis about bodies and feminism in the context of my own life. I also explain why I think it's improtant to discuss it in that context. Oh and also:
Before I go any further, I have to interrupt our regular programming with some words from the rant department. The phrase is "The Personal is Political" not "The Political is Personal." There's a really important difference there, and it gets lost (although to be fair less lost in the feminist blogsphere than it does among hippy types).

The feminist revelation wasn't supposed to be that by buying fair-trade coffee, not shaving your legs, going braless, having lots of sex, charting your fertility, boycotting tobacco companies, dumpster diving, dressing butch, dressing femme, not doing the dishes, vacuuming the floor, boycotting Domino's, working as a lawyer, raising children, or whatever other individual decision you made, could change the world. These decisions are all fine decisions but they're not political actions and they're not going to change anything.

What women's liberation was saying was that things we experience as individual problems: sexual harrassment, unwanted pregnancy, body hatred, unconcensual sex, domestic violence, depression, housework and so many other parts of being a woman, were actually political problems. They weren't just things individuals were experiencing and they weren't things individuals could fight - they had to be fought collectively. Almost the exact opposite of what the phrase is so often reduced to now.
10 Worst New Zealanders
Peter Fraser Labour Prime Minister 1940-1949: I think he'd earn this just by being jailed for sedition for criticising conscription during World War One, and then jailing conscientious objectors in World War One, who went on to jail conscientious objectors in World War Two. "That war was a nasty imperialist war, but this war is hugs and puppies."

But he was also New Zealand's representative to the United Nations, where we advocated putting a man's right to a family wage into the declaration of human rights. He thought paying women less than men was a human right.
It was a fun list to write - hating on people is very satisfying. I should have included Massey though.

Today's blog post is brought to you by the letter E
So here are the reasons I hate the word 'empowerment'.

1. It sounds, really, really smurfy, even if I was OK with the concept I'd want a word that sounded less like a bunch of hippies sitting round a meadows humming to express it.
I like writing about language, and the importance of precise language. Plus I find the term 'empower' unempowering.

I believe Louise Nicholas - it won't make any sense to anyone who hasn't read read the earlier version. But a little more explanation is available here: I believe that Clint Rickards, Bob Schollum and Brad Shipton are rapists

There are lots of posts I missed out (confession I wanted to include I'm Maintaing mostly because its title is absolutely hilarious when you know it's a reference to one of the greatest movies of all time). I probably would have included a very different set of 10 posts another day. But that'll do for now.