Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Is this a totally stupid idea?

From Don Brash:

"I've added a possibly outrageous suggestion that we provide free contraception to women between the ages of 16 and 30 on a doctor's prescription, on the grounds it might appeal to women, and could well be 'self-funding' in terms of a reduction of DPB disbursements. Is this a totally stupid idea?"

I think it's rather hilarious is that he think it 'might' appeal to women. There are such things as feminist movements, they do have demands - you don't actually have to think that hard, or care that much to figure out some policy that might appeal to women.

Although maybe he's right, since if this had been policy, the the 16-30 age limit would have made me really fucking angry.

I think I'd be happier about him being out of a job, if the new deputy leader of the National Party doesn't believe in women having control of their reproduction - even if it saves money.

Guest Post from Tonga: Soldiers and cops wherever you go

Nuku’alofa/Pangaimotu – The city centre of Nuku’alofa has been completely closed off after last Thursday’s riots. Military checkpoints have been set up on every intersection. Only people who work and/or live inside that part of town are let in. Journalists can get a special pass which gives them access to the part of town where most buildings are damaged but unfortunately we have not been able to get media accreditations yet. There are close to 20 of these roadblocks in town.

Checkpoints: To film or not to film?
We went for a walk to film and photograph the soldiers on Friday evening. While we were told not to film or take photos by a group of Tongan soldiers at one intersection, others were quite happy to be filmed and some were prepared to talk, too. A Tongan soldier said his gun is an M16. “We check all the vehicles because they go into the political centre. We scan every vehicle for weapons.”

At the next checkpoint two Australian soldiers were walking towards us while we were filming and taking photographs. They were both carrying big weapons (I’m not an expert, but they looked like machineguns to me – see photo). We were standing in the middle of the road on a roundabout and were filming. When they spotted us they yelled “Stop it, stop!” The sight of two heavily armed soldiers was rather scary. It turned out they were just on going to the diary to get some snacks (carrying huge weapons!).

”Maintaining the peace” – again and again and again
At the checkpoint outside the broken satellite dishes, an Australian soldier was keen to talk on camera. His grandparents are Tongan and he speaks the language. “I represent the Australian Defence Force (ADF). We’re just here to support and provide aid to the Tongan Defence Service (TDS) and also to restore peace. The army is going through some trouble in Tonga.” When I asked him what the reaction from ordinary Tongan’s has been like he said: “The public has been good. Every car that goes past, they wave, they’re happy. When they smile at us we smile at them. They always come past and give us food. I feel the spirit out the normal public is very positive. Not one single negative report at all.” Are you on the side of democracy? “No sides, we are just here to support the Tongan Defence Service.” He then started waving to people and talking to them as they drove past. By that time we hade been at that checkpoint for around five minutes and dozens of cars went past – none of them had waved. This soldier seemed to be unaware that the pro-democracy movement does not want the troops in Tonga. He said he has no opinion on democracy in Tonga. This is his very first trip to Tonga. He has “served for his country” overseas before – in Iraq.

On Saturday, a Tongan soldier told us we were not allowed to film and take photos, put his hand over our camera and told us to go away. Back at the Broadcasting checkpoint, we were offered food and we film an Australian soldier and a few Tongan soldiers watching rugby. Four Australian and three Tongan soldiers were hanging out at the next checkpoint. We wanted to take some photos and film a little. After waiting for a few minutes for a reply we were told we can film one ADF and one TDS “working together” (which constituted of standing next to each other doing nothing). We were not to take photos of ADF troops behind who were carrying machine guns. So can you tell me what you are doing here? (shakes his head) ”Sorry no” (The Australian soldier in charge said: ”Just give them your normal spin, what we were told to say”) What’s the normal spin? “Uhm, we are here to keeping the peace pretty much.” How is the peace going theses days? “Pretty peaceful.”

Pangaitapu: Team Blue goes for a swim
Just off Nuku’alofa lies Pangaitapu, a small island with amazing beaches. We jumped on a small boat in which a large group of white men were already sitting. They turned out to be NZ police officers who spent their Sunday drinking beer and getting a tan. They said 47 NZ cops are now in Nuku’alofa (which is a larger NZ police/civilian ratio than in Aotearoa!). They come from all across the country and many of them have previously been overseas (Solomon Islands, Thailand etc.). Some arrived with the airforce on Saturday while other caught a commercial plane a few days later. A new contingent of NZ police has just arrived and they were sent to church “to get the people onside”.

Burning and looting
Back in Nuku’alofa we saw more destroyed buildings outside the city centre. ‘Lily’s Chinese Restaurant’ was completely destroyed and so was the ‘Chinatown Hotel’. A NZ firefighter, who spent his day off with the NZ cops, said that the fires were lit with petrol and that they spread to surrounding buildings. The main targets outside the city centre were dairies, hotels, banks and Tonfon. We talked to some people in the street who described last week’s looting. “People were trashing the shop and walking out with everything. Fanta, VB. The police was just standing here doing nothing. […] The government is full of lies. The King is a liar.”

”Everything is great!”
A SUV pulled over with two ADF soldiers sitting in it. One of them introduced himself as Al Green, the Public Affairs Officers (he has been to Iraq, Afghanistan, Timor, Bougainville and Cambodia – a well traveled chap). “Everything is great. It’s nice and quiet. So all we try to do is keep the peace.” What kind of jobs does the ADF do? “All our jobs are joint patrols with Tongans and helping them out at checkpoints. Our patrols are all about maintaining goodwill and relationships. Our objective is to make sure everything keeps peaceful. […] Basically, we have enough power to maintain peace on the streets.” Are your guns loaded? “Yeah, we’ve got live rounds. I mean, that’s just the standard. We have to able to protect ourselves.” What are your thoughts on politics? “Our view is not be involved in the politics but to make sure peace is maintained on the streets so that Tongans can solve their own problems.” What would you say to people who say that coming here in the first place is getting involved with politics? “That’s outside my scope. Our agenda is just to maintain peace.” He thought he was not educated enough on Tongan culture to have a view himself on democracy. But if we wanted to talk politics he will try and organise for us to interview Major Jim Hammett.

”Having consistent messages which are accurate”
“This is very good PR training for me, you know” said Al Green when talking to us. “Curly questions. You guys should come and work for our media awareness. (Laughs) Exercises.” So you are trained to give those answers? “Well, to be honest mate, we have talking points that allow us to give a consistent message right through defence. Because, uhm, that’s the accurate reason. Those reasons are set to why we are here so everyone is very clear of their purpose. And if you didn’t have that consistent communication you’d be just saying… You lose your entire sense of consistency within your organisation. I mean Greenpeace probably work exactly the same way.”

So, the ADF is in Tonga to keep the peace and support the TDS. Got that message?

text: smush
From indymedia

Sunday, November 26, 2006


There was one discordant note to the Reclaim the Night march I went to last Thursday. The organisers had done a really good job of planning the after party. There was food, and a space for a debrief, as well as performers and a party.

My problem was that the bar was on two levels, and the food and debrief part of the after-party was up a steep flight of stairs.

I say 'my problem' of course it wasn't actually my problem. My legs take me up and downstairs with relative ease - and I jumped straight in to help set-up the food. It wasn't even really a problem for my friend Betsy, although stairs are an obstacle for her.

The women for whom that flight of stairs would have been a problem weren't there in the first place.

I've been struggling with accessibility in activist movements, and where my limits are, for as long as I've been an activist. Most groups I know aren't in a financial position where they can pay to hire space, so we meet wherever we can get a free room. Sometimes, but not always, that's been accessible. Sometimes, but not always, I've objected.

But I'm limited when arguing for accessible spaces, because I know it's not arguments that convinced me, it's experience. It's because for years my friend Betsy couldn't walk up a flight of stairs. Where we went for coffee, where we went for a drink, where we went to the movies, where we bought CDs, whose flat we met up at - these decisions were all influenced by the number of steps in front of the building. I see a set of steps and part of me notices it as an obstacle.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Guest Post from Tonga: Revoluntionary Not Evolutionary

Two friends of mine have gone to Tonga for Indymedia. I'm going to be posting their reports. Smush wrote the words and Sln took the pictures.

Nuku’alofa (Tonga) – We, two indymedia (www.indymedia.org.nz) activists, arrived at Fua’amato International Airport early on Friday morning from Aotearoa. After leaving the plane we had to walk to the arrival hall past three Tongan soldiers, two of which were carrying large rifles and the other a hand gun. A police officer walked around with his dog while people where waiting at the immigration desks. More members of the Tongan Defense Force (TDF), armed and in camouflage gear, stood around in the arrival hall. On our way into town we past a military checkpoint at the turn-off to the airport. They didn’t pull us over and we drove the 20kms into the city.
Click on image for a larger version

Tonfön destroyed
In the morning we made contact with members of the Friendly Island Human Rights and Democracy Movement (FIHRDM) and arranged to meet up later. In the interim we went for a two hour walk through Nuku’alofa. On our way towards the city we came across a building which was completely destroyed from Thursday’s fires. It was the headquarters of Tonfön, a telecommunication company owned by the royal family.

Just before entering the city centre, across from the Royal Tombs, a military checkpoint is set up. In fact, the whole city centre is cordoned off by roadblocks on every street. Only people who work or live inside the area can enter. You have to be on a list in order to pass. Each checkpoint constitutes off a set of barricades to stop cars with spikes on the ground. There are between two and eight soldiers on guard at each checkpoint. The bigger checkpoints have Tongan and Australian soldiers. The Australian soldiers moved into town on Saturday for guard duty. We counted approximately 12 roadblocks in central Nuku’alofa. The Tongan TV station, which is out of the city centre, is also closed by army personnel of which two are from Australia. “We do what the Tongan government tells us” said one of them.

NZ is investigating
We came across two NZ police officers and one NZ firefighter who were busy investigating ‘arson crimes’. They told us that there are two teams, made up of one firefighter, one police photographer and two investigators (all from New Zealand) along with Tongan police, operating at the moment. “We are here to help to assist the Tongan police” said a NZ police officer.

We then had the opportunity to interview five people who are involved in the democracy movement: Finau Tutone, an organiser with the Friendly Island Teachers Association; Akenete T. Lauti, the director of FIHRDM; 'Akilisi Pohiva and Leopolo Taonesila, both Members of Parliament (two of the nine representatives elected by the people – in a parliament of 30); and Tevita Tui Uata of the National Tongan Business Association.

Very quick summary:
Finau talked about last year’s strike and the connection between the trade union movement and the pro-democracy movement. He said the system needs to change in Tonga. Akenete informed us about the FIHRDM’s activities. They organise workshops and meeting to educate people on human rights issues. While she advocates for non-violence, she does not blame the people but the Government for Thursday’s riots. 'Akilisi put the movement into a historical context and talked about the progress, or lack of, made inside parliament. Leopolo is one of only two women in parliament (the other one being the Minister of Justice – appointed by the King). She only started to get involved in politics last year when she was elected to parliament as a people’s representative from an outer island. Tevita, who has been blamed for the riots, thinks that representative democracy will get Tonga out of a system that only works for 1% of the population. He was strongly opposed to Tonga joining the World Trade Organisation and says that the wealth needs to be shared more equally among the people.

NZ/OZ soldiers – get out (or “enjoy your holiday”)!
With the exception of Tevita, all of the people we spoke to either do not see the point of the New Zealand and Australian troops’ presence or see them as supporters of the autocratic system. Either way, they want them out of Tonga. The NZ soldiers are not to be seen in Nuku’alofa (they are still somewhere at the airport) and the Australian troops do not seem to do much at all except for sitting around at checkpoints with big guns. Pro-democracy advocates are very critical of NZ support for the government. They say the NZ government should be neutral and not send soldiers to support the system.

Revolutionary not Evolutionary
Many shops have slogans painted on them. Across from the market, someone wrote “THE NU FACE OF YOUTH REBELLION” and “REVOLUTIONARY NOT EVOLUTIONARY” on a burnt-out shop. Other slogans are “Freedomfighter”, “Fight the Power”, “Democracy not Hypocrisy”, “You had it coming” and “Fuck Prime Minister”. Many of them are signed by ‘Ezekiel’.

Police checkpoints
The police have set up two checkpoints on both sides of town. They pull most cars over and search the boot. We were told they are looking for weapons and stolen goods. They say it is illegal for people to carry weapons and they claim to have confiscated eight .22 riffles over the last few days.

Army guards the King’s residence
We walked to the King’s mansion which is guarded by four Tongan soldiers. The huge house is around 300 meters off the road. While taking photos a black SUV left the premises and the gate was opened for a few seconds. One of the soldiers was prepared to say a few words on camera. He said he does not want democracy in Tonga, he wants peace.

Marching band practice
On our way back into town we stopped at a high-school where a marching band was practicing. Over 50 young men were playing in the band which includes tubas, trombones, trumpets and a percussion section. Everybody is incredibly welcoming and keen to talk about politics. Everybody we talk to wants change here in Tonga. People are sick and tired of living in this system where 1% of the population lives in luxury on the expense of everybody else.

'Mutually Abusive'

There's a fallacy that abuse about individual acts, and that you can measure the abusiveness of a relationship by tallying what people did to each other.

This ignores a basic truth about abuse, which is that you can't abuse someone unless you have power over them.

The academic version of this fallacy has been doing the rounds in New Zealand. It's being promoted by men who are terribly upset that there's even one day a year where men are expectedto take a stand against Violence Against Women. This coverage from the New Zealand Herald is fairly typical:

Professor David Fergusson and Associate Professor Richie Poulton said their respective long-term studies of people born in Christchurch and Dunedin in the 1970s showed that most domestic violence was mutual.

"In a high proportion of these couples, we are seeing mutual fighting. It's brawling," said Professor Fergusson.

In contrast, the commission is backing White Ribbon Day on November 25, which asks men to wear a white ribbon to show that they do not condone "men's violence towards women".

These men's views of domestic violence and abuse are limited by the tool they used to measure it. Both studies used the Conflict Tactic Scale (CTS), a scale that measures individual 'hits', and the people who designed the scale have specifically rejected its use to compare men's and women's violence. I'm not going to argue the academics of the CTS Ampersand did a very good job of this and Trish Wilson has a page of links. I want to make my point in a more basic way and I'm going to start with a really obvious example.

One of the questions the interviewees are asked is if a partner had ever: "Called you fat, ugly, or unattractive." They seem to believe that statement is ungendered - it is equally abusive if a man says it to a woman as it would be if a woman said it to a man. To me, that is so unrealistic to be almost surreal.

I have known several couples where a woman does make comments about her male partner's size (usually in the context of them both getting more exercise or eating differently). I have a problem with those conversations, and would rather not be around them, but the women are not being abusive, psychologically agressive, or exercising any form of power (in fact it's usually tied to the idea that women are responsible for their partner's health). Whereas, I was at a pub six years ago with a couple I didn't really know, and I can still work up rage at the man for telling his partner not to eat particular fries, because they were 'fat sticks'.

Women are not set up to be the judge of men's appearance, and their self-worth, so most women who comment about their male partner's appearance are usually not exercising power. Whereas, men are given that power, and so such comments are far more likely to be abusive.

Obviously, there are many factors that could change this dynamic and non-heteroseuxal relationships would obviously have a completely different dynamic. But that doesn't stop that question being a really useless way of measuring psychological agression.

I'd go further, I'd say other acts on the CTS list take different meaning depending on the power within the relationship. Let's imagine a couple in a heterosexual relationship who are having an argument and in the course of this argument the man hits the woman. He doesn't hurt her, but he's stronger than her. This could be an assertion of power: "I could have hurt you, but I didn't. No-one would believe that I hit you, no one would care if they did. Everyone knows that it's wrong to hit your girlfriend, but I can hit you."

Now let us reverse the situation this time the woman hits the man. In this context hitting him could be a statement of powerlessness: "I can't stop you, I can't hurt you, I can't do anything to make this stop."

I'm not saying that everytime a man hits a woman it means something similar to my first example, and every time a woman hits a man it means something similar to my second example. What I am saying is that the meaning (and abusiveness) of individual actions is found within the power dynamic of that relationship, and in our society power dynamics within heterosexual relationships are going to be gendered.

Unfortunately it's not just researchers who believe that you measure abuse by examining individual actions. I've found the idea all too common about people who are confronted with abusive relationships among their friends. Rather than looking at the power dynamic involved in an abusive relationship, I've seen people too easily slip into the classification of 'mutually abusive relationship' or 'fucked-up situation'.

Power within a relationship isn't a zero sum game - both parties can have, and misuse, lots of power against each other. I'm not arguing that mutually abusive relationships don't exist, but that no-one should come to the conclusion that an individual relationship is mutually abusive without thinking about the power involved first.

'Mutually abusive relationship' as the default setting creates the idea of a perfect victim. If anyone who fights back is in a 'mutually abusive relationship, then the only way you are entitled to support is if you don't fight back. But if you react to the abuse, physically defend yourself, act jealous or fucked up by what's happened to you, then you don't deserve support, and people around can wash their hands and walks away from what they term a mutually abusive relationship.

As a feminist, as a human being, it is my duty and my desire, to support the powerless against the powerful, and to not wash my hands of women who fight back.

Friday, November 24, 2006

It is our right

We had a Reclaim the Night March last night. It was a truly awesome experience, and just so powerful to have so many women working together at dusk. We were doing some really great chanting. It was wonderful to see so many women I knew there, and so many women I didn't. Reclaim the Night is the only regular feminist action in Wellington, and there were several generations of women together that night.

Too many women I knew were survivors of rape and violence, it was amazing to stand there and honour their strength in speaking about their experiences. I know there were women there who do not have the support that would allow them to speak about their experiences, and that is our failure..

As I've written I do have real problems with the 'reclaim the night' concept:

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

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

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

I'm sure that almost everyone on that march would have agreed with me. But everything about the march fed the idea that it was stranger danger that we had to be afraid of. It took quite a considerable effort for us to change the chant "What do we want" "Safe Streets" to "What do we want" "Safe streets and homes". Nothing about that march would have challenged or expanded anyone's idea of what rape was and where it happened.

The best bit was that my friend Rowan felt strong enough to carry her "Pro-feminist and Gender Queer" placard. She didn't want to carry it herself, so a bunch of people carried it with her - I was really happy that she got to say her thing.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Fighting and Winning

The struggle in Oaxaca is still on-going. Brownfemipower has a great update of what's going on now. There was a women's march in Oaxaca, on the 19th November:

More excellent photos can be found here.

For people with better Spanish than me Indymedia Mexico would be a very good resource for more information. For non-Spanish speakers like me there are some really interesting articles on NYC indymedia and Narco News

The Houston Janitors, who I wrote about a week ago, have won a collective contract, which has significant pay-increses, more hours, health insurance and paid holidays. You can read more about the deal here. As a New Zealand union organiser I was impressed at how many important gains they'd made, but also shocked that low-wage workers had to go on strike to get paid holidays and health-care.

Sunday, November 19, 2006


The New Zealand government has sent troops to Tonga to prop up the Monarchy, and help squash pro-democracy protests. Agitation against the current situation in Tonga has been growing, there was a huge public service strike last year, and the pro-democracy movement is getting bigger and more organised. The monarchy control the economy of Tonga as well as it's political life, the royal family own many of the companies that control essential industries.

The Tongan parliament planned to stop sitting for the year without debating proposals for reform, so they would have to wait until next year. There were huge protests against this and they were ignored. As people realised that they were being ignored pro-democracy supporters started destorying the property of the government and the royal family. The government has declared martial law, and Australia and New Zealand have sent troops to Tonga to support the current government.

I don't know enough about the situation right this second to make informed comment, but I wanted to make it clear that I support the pro-democracy movement in Tonga, and the riots doesn't change that at all.

The Sunday Star Times has a really good article:

Dr Sitiveni Halapua, co-author of an official report on political change in the kingdom, warned in January that the kingdom was slipping into violence. In Auckland yesterday he told the Sunday Star-Times "very serious problems lie ahead", and called for Prime Minister Fred Sevele to stand down.

A joint contingent of New Zealand and Australian troops flew into Tonga yesterday at Sevele's request. It includes 62 New Zealand Defence Force personnel plus police and other government staff.

Halapua said Tonga was proud of never having been colonised, and that Sevele, who is royally appointed, had made a serious mistake by inviting foreign forces in.

"That says a lot about him and his government. He knows very well that people don't have confidence in him any more. In other different governments, they would step down," he said.

"If Australia and New Zealand police and army are there to prop up the government, they are propping the government up against everybody else. It's not just the pro-democracy (protesters)."

Halapua said there was a belief among some some people in Nuku'alofa that the New Zealand and Australian forces were coming "to make people afraid and to support the government".

New Zealand indymedia is also doing really good coverage - I'd recommend their latest feature - which also links to some important back story.

The Wind that Shakes the Barley

I ran into a couple of friends after they'd been to see The Wind that Shakes the Barley and they described it as a great movie, very harrowing. This seemed to me to be a good reason to avoid it - I'm actually fine not being harrowed.

I hadn't even meant to go and see it, my friend Josie and I had planned to go see The Devil Wears Prada, guarateened to annoy - not harrow. But due to a minor case of cashlessness we were both suffering from we missed it, so we decided to give Ken Loach's movie a go instead. It is an incredible movie, I definately recommend it, even though 'harrowing' isn't a bad description.

This isn't exactly a review, more a discussion of the things that I thought about after watching this movie. I don't so much review movies as dissect them - a habit that some people find annoying (but I'm not quite sure what the fun in movies are if you can't discuss the portrayl of gender roles for an hour afterwards). Despite not being a review there are spoilers - so stay away if you don't like that sort of stuff(and you should go because it's good - but take tissues, because it's really, really sad).

The Wind that Shakes the Barley is set in Ireland in 1920, a land which was under British occupation. The main character is a doctor who is about to travel to England, because he's got a job in a big hospital. His friends ask him to stay to help fight the British, particularly after the British army brutually murder one of their friends. He refuses, until a relatively minor incident at the railway station as he's leaving that changes his mind.

It's odd, watching a guerilla army operate on rolling green hills with unwieldy rifles. I'm not used to watching people fight in suits, with vests, watch chains - and an array of slightly ridiculous hats. The film is obviously, at least partly, a comment on current occupations. I think that part of what gives that comment its power is this dissonance. Period movies have a whole set of expectations - and generally it doesn't involve ambushing soldiers to steal their weapons. We also have a whole lot of expectations about war movies, which generally make it very difficult to say anything worth saying about war.

But we don't have any preconceptions, filmic or otherwise, about 1920s Ireland (and I'm sure I wasn't the only audience member who knew very little about 1920s Ireland). So I think people are much more likely to accept the arguments about the necessity of resistance than they would if the film was set in Iraq, or even Vietnam. Partly that's just plain racism - but it's about the fact the movie is set in the past.

The weakest part of the film was the love story, whereby the main character falls in love with the only female character who does anything.* Don't get me wrong I loved Sinnead (the woman in question) - the actress did a great job with an under-written role. But the narrative they told was extremely problematic from a feminist perspective (see I told you we'd get to gender roles).

I don't have a problem with movies that depict homosocial realities. In some times and places women and men live largely seperate lives. Even when women and men live a more integrated life (as I imagine they would in rural Ireland - seperate spheres is not an ideology that particularly suits rural living) it is not exactly stretching the imagination to believe that men exclude women from some activities and consign them to others.** If movies about the past and present want to explore reality they need to depict worlds. But, it is so easy to tell those stories in a way that centralises men's experiences, and minimises women's experiences.

I would have actually had no problem with the portrayal of women in The Wind That Shakes The Barley if Sinnead and Damien had never got together (or had been together from the beginning). We did get to see glimpses of women's world - and the work that they were doing. If we'd left it at that then the movie would have been implying that women existed in their own world.

Part of the problem is that the woman Damien was interested in was the woman who was doing everything - delivering messages, bringing them guns, running the court. Rather than implying that there was a network of women parallel to the network of men they showed, this implied that there was one really keen woman, who was almost as useful as the men. More importantly Sinnead was one of the four most central characters in the film, and yet she has no agency, she makes no choices, and she never voices an opinion that is seperate from Damien's.

Of course, I'd be the first to admit that their romance made the movie much more powerful. But if the filmmakers wanted the scene at the end where Teddy tells Sinnead (and it was certainly where the tears that were running down my cheeks bcame sobs), then they should have earned it. They should have made her a person, and shown her world as well as his. Otherwise they are perpetuating the idea that women are just there to serve men.

So having got the gender politics out of the way, I do want to say something about the actual plot of the movie - because it's left me thinking about guerilla warfare ever since.

Chris, the youngest member of their group (I'd say he was between 14 and 16), works as a farm labourer on an English land-owners property. The land-owner figures out what's going on and gets Chris to talk about the group. This leads to everyone being captured by the English soldiers, while most of them escape from the prison, three don't and these three are eventually shot.

When they discover where the information had come from they kidnap the English land-owner and tell Chris to come with them. Damien receives orders to shoot both the English land-owner and Chris, and he does.

I've been thinking a lot about my reaction to this. While I was watching the movie I actively wanted them to shoot the English land-owner, and I have absolutely no problems at all with them having done so. But I was, and am, extremely angry that they shot Chris.

In many ways I feel really uncomfortable writing about these issues, because they're so beyond anything I know anything about. I believe people have a right to self-defence, that if you're being attacked you have a right to fight back. I also believe that for self-defence to be effective it has to be organised (just like any other form of action). I'm generally going to be on the side of the guerilla army. But I have absolutely no knowledge of what that actually means.

I was really angry when they shot Chris, not just because they were shooting a teenager who was on their side, but because from the narrative the leadership were setting him up for failure. He was a teenager working on an English land-owner's estate, and the land-owner who knew where his family was. He should not have had any information that could do them any damage. There was no need for him to know where the forces were camped out.

They had let this boy take part in an ambush for which there would clearly be reprisals, but, from his stammering answer when asked where he was that afternoon, they hadn't even discussed what he should do if someone suspected him. They hadn't given him any of the tools that you need in that situation and were killing him for failing.

I think that if the stakes are so high that someone might die as a result of leaked information, then those in leadership positions have to be really careful about who knows that information. I would blame whoever let Chris know where they were staying, and whoever let him be part of the action, without teaching him what he needed to know (ie there's more to fighting a guerilla war that where to find cover) for the deaths of the three men who were captured.

That's a bit of a cop-out, because it allows me not to look at the more serious issues around how collaborators and spies are treated by a resistance army. That's where my ignorance comes in, I really don't know enough about those sorts of wars to write rules about where the line falls between the land-owner and Chris. So I feel kind of silly trying to make pronouncements.

But the more I think about it, the more I think the killing of Chris was indefensible. Not just for the practical reasons (and I think the movie would have been tighter if the set-up had bee more ambiguous), but because of an argument I'm sort of stealing off Howard Zinn.***

As you may already know the Irish nationalist movement got sold out by its leaders, obviously part of this was the creation of Northern Ireland, but for our characters it was more than that. Some of the characters were not just fighting for independence, they're fighting for socialism.

The film ends with Damien being shot. His executation was ordered by Teddy, the leader who ordered Damien to shoot Chris. The night before Teddy offers Damien amnesty if Damien tells Teddy where the weapons cache is, and Damien says that he shot Chris, who he'd known since he was a boy - to give up would be to make that meaningless.

The thing is that historically all movements for a better world have fizzled out, been crushed, or been sold out. That's not a reason not to try, not by any means. But it does mean that if the only way you can justify shooting a teenage boy who is on your side, is that you're creating a glorious future, then it's probably worth pausing and considering the fact that you might not.

One of the characters who stayed with me the most, wasn't ever on screen. Damien talks to Sinnead about telling Chris's mother that he had shot Chris. He tells her that Chris's mother went and got her shoes, and asked Damien to take her to where Chris was buried. They walked for six hours up into the hills till they got to the chapel. Chris's mother put flowers on Chris's grave and then told Damien to go - "I don't ever want to see you face again."

*The film does (just) pass the Mo Movie Measure - as long as you consider 'Nan' a name, when it's given to a grandmother.

** I'm a feminist historian, so I feel I need to point out that of course that it is more complicated than that. Gendered division of labour is not static, but a site of contest.

*** Howard Zinn's version of this argument is an argument for non-violence. He argues that since we never know what is going to happen it is unacceptable to kill people in the belief it will create another world. I'm not convinced by this argument as a whole - because as I said I believe in people's right to self-defence. But I do think we have to take the range of consequences into account when deciding what's OK.

Occupation Isn't Liberation

This was how Tony Blair's Al Jazeera interview was reported in the Sunday Star Times:

Prime Minister Tony Blair has admitted the Irqa war has been a disaster, in an interview on Arab TV channel al-Jazeera. Challenged that western intervention had 'so far been pretty much of a disaster', Blair said: 'It has.' But he blamed resistance by insurgents rather than failures of planning.

What he actually said was:

He added: "But you see what I say to people is 'Why is it difficult in Iraq?' It's not difficult because of some accident in planning, it's difficult because there's a deliberate strategy - al-Qaeda with Sunni insurgents on one hand, Iranian-backed elements with Shiite militias on the other - to create a situation in which the will of the majority for peace is displaced by the will of the minority for war."

I think the Sunday Star Times summary is awesome, because it points out how ridiculous Tony Blair's argument is: "There was nothing wrong with our planning, the problem was that there were some people in Iraq that didn't want to be invaded." Which is presumably something that they should have planned for.

But he's right about one thing (I promise this will be the only time I will claim Tony Blair was right) - the problem of Iraq isn't a problem of poor planning. No amount of planning would have solved the fundamental problem which is that they should have stayed the fuck out of Iraq.

Right now, when people are thinking about 'other options' it's important to say loud and long that the only solution is to end the occupation.

Isn't it good we have men to tell us what to do?

Sailorman (who occasionally comments on Alas) has an interesting new argument. He believes that the only way anyone should use the word 'rape' is to reflect the exact legal definition of where they live:

Anyone who frequents feminist blogs has seen similar claims, and more. Sometimes the claims are much more explicit: "drunk people cannot legally consent." "Any pressure means it's rape." "If you didn't want to have sex, it's rape."

In many states, those are all lies. And it's doing no favors to those women who hear them.

If only members of the women's liberation movement had had Sailorman's wisdom, imagine how much stronger we would have been there. Obviously the feminists who started discussing 'marital rape' weren't doing women any favours. Legally once , and feminists who implied otherwise were treating women like children and telling them what you think they "want to" or "should" hear " (to paraphrase the oh so wise Sailorman words).

Because it is all our fault (sorry if you've heard that before):

If a woman knew, really knew, that a threat of trying to get you fired would not support a rape conviction, would she still give in to the threat? If she knew that scared silence gives much less support for a conviction than a shouted "no!" would she still remain silent?

I actually have no words to express my anger at the first example Sailorman comes up with. I sincerely doubt that a single person who has ever been raped by her boss has considered what the rape laws in her state when she decided how hard she could resist.

I believe that a woman is raped if she's drunk, if she withdraws her consent party way through sex, or if she wanted to have sex with someone else. The law doesn't agree with me. I've already written about why I define rape in the way I do:
I define rape in the way I do to support the women who are naming their experiences, and reiterate the idea they have the right to say no to sex.

I also define rape in the way I do as a protection against men who have sex with women who don't want to have sex with them. I believe that one of the few forms of protection women have against rape is gossip - passing on information that we know about men who hurt women.

Women need to know who the men are who don't notice, or don't care, that the women they're sleeping with don't want to have sex with them. Calling those acts rape is both protection and resistance.

I still believe that, my definition about rape is about women's experiences, which is more important to me than the law.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Justice for Janitors

More than three weeks ago now, cleaners in Houston went on strike, in an attempt to get the big cleaning companies to negotiate a union contract. Most cleaners are paid on, or close to, minimum wage and don't get sick-leave, paid vacations or health insurance.

you should Read these women's stories

I'm going to quote from Idalverta Vega, not because her story is the most dramatic, but because it is one of the least.

"The children had Medicaid but they no longer qualify," says Idalverta. She was told her husband's income is too high, but says the money they make is not enough to pay for a health plan. "When my kids get sick I don't take them to the doctor and I can't take them to a dentist either. According to them we're making 'too much' but it's not true, the money is not enough--we can barely make ends meet."

Idalverta and her husband are doing their best to make sure their kids have a brighter future. "All of my kids go to school. Sometimes they're missing some supplies but we do what we can to provide them with what they need."

Idalverta's 18-year-old son would like to go to university, but the family can't afford to send him. Like many other young men and women growing up in working-class neighborhoods, he felt he had few options. "He signed up for the Army so that he can study. But they're saying he'll be shipped off to war--it makes me very nervous," she says.

Winning a good contract would mean many things for Idalverta's family. "We'd be able to live better. Someday we'd be able to buy a house. That's one of my dreams-being able to own our home."

"Everyone comes to this country searching for a better life. Many never make it -- they die on the way in the desert," says Idalverta. "We will go out and march again if it's necessary. We have to continue the struggle."

This is a vital feminist struggle, and the cleaners of Houston need your support. Houston Jantiors page has suggestions about how to Get Involved and Labourstart has an e-mail campaign.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006


I have been wanting to write about male violence within activist scenes for a number of weeks. I haven't known where to start. So I thought I'd talk a little bit about my personal experience

I feel very hesitant about these snapshots. This blog is semi-anonymous, but I am not - most people in my life know about this blog. There would be few left-wing activists in the country who couldn't find out who I was if really they wanted to. If I wrote seriously about my experience of male violence against women within the activist scenes then a lot of other people would be identifiable as well.

I'm anonyminising this up as best as I can.


New Zealand is small - travel is easy - you can have a national weekend or conference for almost anything - and we do. This weekend was one of many that I've spent in similar circumstances, speeches, workshops, and all the most interesting conversations happening in their corridors.

I was hosting a whole bunch of people in my house, because I had some space. I was working on my thesis at the time, so I didn't go out with them on the Saturday night.

I knew before I woke up that something was wrong - the house had been noisy at the wrong times and quiet at the wrong times. A man had told one of the women who was staying with me that he had no place to stay. He did have a place to stay, and he'd deliberately not been billeted with any women - but I didn't know that, and neither did the woman who invited him back. When back at my house he had tried to rape a woman who had already gone to bed.

One man heard her, got up and beat the shit out of the rapist - I've never felt more grateful to anyone in my entire life.


A friend wanted me to come to a feminist meeting, I didn't really know the people so I didn't want to come, but I did. It was being held in a woman's house - I couldn't put a face to the woman's name, but when I met her I knew that I'd seen her around.

She had two black eyes - her boyfriend had hit her. She said that they'd been play fighting and he didn't know his own strength. She said he felt terrible.

She hadn't left the house since it happened. She wanted to spend the meeting talking about the abuse we'd suffered at the hands of men.

Whenver I think of this story, often when I think of him, I feel my failure like a weight. We did what she asked that night, we talked about male violence against women. But I didn't offer her anything more. It's a kind of arrogance, to think it would have made a difference - that something I said could changed her reality.

Still I wonder what else I could have done.


Right at the time I met that woman, her boyfriend was busy using his position within the political scene to defend a rapist.

I wish I could say the two stories I have told are the only times I have had to deal with a male violence and abuse within activist scenes, but they're not. I have known too many men who claim to be fighting oppression, but exclude the women they're abusing from that fight.

I think it's fantastic whenever a woman can talk about the abuse she has experienced. But whenever it does happen a bit inside of my sinks, and feels a lot like a bowl of petunias. Because I've seen too much to expect anything, but to be disappointed by the reactions of men.

It's not the rapists, abusers, or men, that make you despair of men as a group. I know that violent men exist, and they're not all cops, or other unsavory types. I've learned, I guess every woman learns, that they may be people I know.

What leads me to despair, is the men who support, cover up, minimise and defend abusive and violent men. I've known so many men who have choosen an abusive man over the woman he abused.

I'm left with this deep sense of disease and distrust. Because too many men hear tales of abuse and rape and automatically put themselves in the place of the abuser. Everytime a man does that I feel a little bit less safe around him, I wonder a little more about his past.

Our standards are so ridiculously low, but men fail again and again. If a man who has been abusive acknowledged what he did was wrong (ideally before he was outted, but I'm beyond hoping for that), took action to change that, and didn't talk trash about the woman involved, then I'd be so shocked I'd probably stop being angry.

From men who have never abused a woman all I want right now is that they will choose a woman who has been abused over a man who abused her.

It doesn't seem like asking much, but it seems impossible to get, and what little we do get needs to be constantly fought for. So while hate is too strong, I do distrust men. I wish I didn't have to, but there's only so many times you can be surprised.

I am probably going to try and write more posts inspired by my recent experiences. It's difficult to do so without being too vague to be useful, but I've got some things to say.

Comment Moderating: If I doubt your sincere commitment to eliminating male violence against women and creating a free and equal society then I will delete your post and ban you from my blog.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month

I was driving the South Island last week, which meant I saw a lot of small towns. Small towns may have lost a lot over the last few decades, but the one thing you can be sure to find is a war memorial:

Exactly who the glorious dead would have been was made clear to me when I reached my destination. I was heading to Dunedin to pick up my sister from university, and when I got there I met all these 18 year old boys, one of them looked acted very much like my brother. I am reasonably certain that none of them will be sent to war. They will not be told lies about the glorious empire to get them to sign up; they will not conscripted into uniform; and it seems unlikely that poverty will drive them to their army. But their grandfathers and great-grandfathers weren't so lucky, and those men would have been just as funny, just as silly, just as obnoxious, just as young.

Theirs war was not the war to end all wars, and never could have been. So I'll mark this armistice day with a song from another war, a song I can rarely listen to without crying:

Dig in boys for an extended stay
Those were the final orders to come down that day
Waiting to be saved in the Philippines
You'll wait forever for the young Marines

Now I believe to be here is right
But I have to say I'm scared tonight
Crouching in this hole with a mouth full of sand
What comes first the country or the man

Look at those slanted eyes coming up over the hill
Catching us by surprise, it's time to kill or be killed

Over here, over there, it's the same everywhere
A boy cries out for his mama before he dies for his home

If only we'd meant it when we'd said "Lest We Forget"

Thursday, November 09, 2006

It's our fault - for being ignorant

The Labour government is obviously committed to doing something about the wage-gap between men and women - they've released a study. This study compares the wages in male dominated industries, such a building and painting, with wages in female dominated areas, like hairdressers and caregivers. This research does show that wages in male dominated industries and female dominated industries tend to have similar start rates, but after five years workers in male dominated industries earn over 45% more. However, the conclusion the Minister of Women's Affairs comes to is ridiculous:

I have a theory that if women knew more about the potential earnings and career opportunities in some of these trades more traditionally occupied by men, their choices might be different. We quickly realised however that there was a dearth of information about what young people earn in different trades and occupations. So the Ministry commissioned a piece of research on ‘Wages & Training Costs in Male- and Female-dominated Trade-related Occupations’ and I thought this was a good opportunity to release the findings, because I think they are relevant to any young woman making decisions about her career, something that has always been a priority for the YWCA.

If only women had realised there was a wage gape earlier sooner then we would have solved it long ago!

There are some structural reasons women don't go into male dominated industries. It's not like girls and boys emerge fully formed at 18 to decide what to do with their life. My all-girls school did not have a wood-work department or a metal-work department - there was nowhere within the school was there anywhere where you could learn these sorts of skills.

Being the only women in a male dominated situation is often an extremely unpleasant experience. One of the way men have continued to dominate the male dominated trades is to act in a hostile way to any woman who enters. I haven't personally organised in male dominated trades, but I know women who have, and women who know the female apprentices. Not everyone has a hard time of it - not every male-dominated worksite has a misogynist atmosphere, but enough do that it's not easy - and for many women the risk may not be worth the pay-out.

Knowledge is the last problem that needs to be solved. But even asking the question "why aren't more women painters?" ignores the more pressing question "why aren't caregivers paid more?". If we're going to look at the wage-gap we have to look at the low-wages

For the government to tut-tut about women only being 8% of the modern apprentices is hypocritical. When they set up the modern apprenticeship scheme it didn't cover hair-dressing, or any other traditional female trade. They could have included female trades in modern apprenticeships, but they didn't - that's the reason this scheme is male dominated.

But the bit about that speech that most enraged me is that they studied caregivers. The government is probably the funder for at least 80% of caregivers employed in this country. If they wanted to do something about the wage gap, then getting pay-equity for caregivers would actually be a really good start.

The wage-gap is complicated, I'm aware that I've only covered a few of the many ways in which sexism, misogyny, and capitalism work together to screw women over, but I'm fairly sure I've got a better grasp on it than Lianne Dalziel does.

Note on comments: I'd like the comments to focus on the reasons we don't have pay-equity and how to achieve it.

Well it worked

The jury found the former police officer not guilty of all charges.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

I love other people's elections

Other people's elections have two important elements that make them better than my own, first my emotional detachment and my intellectual detachment match. In NZ elections I know Labour sucks, and I know it's not going to matter that much, but I still end up caring, and I find that frustrating. The other thing is that other people have first past the post voting systems, which while fundamentally undemocratic, are really fun to watch.

I think it's basically the geek in me that likes elections. I suspect the part of me that decided that all X-files episodes that began with the letter 'P' were of superior quality (this was back in Season three, I make no claism f), is exactly the same part of me that loves knowing that the thing to do is watch New Hampshire 2.

Of course an election is no fun if you can't support a team. I find if you look there's always something to care about: in Britain it was the fate of Plaid Cymru,* in America it was the ballot measures, and knowing if the Democrats took back the house no-one will be able to do anything for two years.

According to CNN all states that had minimum wage increases on the ballots succeeded (often with large margins), that's far more than any New Zealand election has done. Plus the news on the abortion rights front is all good - two parental notification clauses knocked out, and the South Dakota abortion ban overturned. If they can't ban abortion in South Dakota, then that has to be a good sign.

The rest is less fun (although go Arizona for being the first state not legislate Homophobia), also I'm not sure that I believe CNN, when it says that it's covering the key ballot initiatives. I read somewhere that some state voted to investigate bringing in the death penalty. I think that's key and I don't even know what state it is.

As for the actual results, I'm generally fond of the US government not being able to do anything, really I am. I might even have the desire to kind of hope that the Democrats take the remaining two Senate seats, if I thought they might use them not to confirm people, but I don't.**

It's not that I wouldn't vote. The thing I like best about my own elections is voting. I'm reasonably pragmatic about voting, and I love making really complicated theories about the best way to use my vote (or really complicated theories about how to answer polling questions - once I was supposed to say that I was going to vote for NZ First, I can't remember why).*** It's just that they're the Democrats; they suck beyond the telling of it. There are probably even occasions where I'd vote for a Democrat in a national race (although I think in the unlikely event that I moved to America I'd make sure I lived somewhere like Mississippi or Massachusetts, so I'd never be tempted to vote for president). I can also think of circumstances that I'd be glad they won. But none of this makes them an fraction more left-wing, or an ounce less of a corporate party. I don't think it's elections that bring about meaningful change, but organising.

This election has reminded me everything I find weird about American elections. Top of the list is the fact that you use a different voting system in each part of the country, and it's elected officials who decide on the voting system.

But second is the fact that Americans vote for everything. In New Zealand all the power is totally centralised and the only thing we vote for is central government (we do occasionally vote for local government but they don't control any of the most important services such as education).

So I have a question for everyone there whose just voted for the Secretary of State in California, or their local DA or the Insurance Comptroller (what on earth is that?), what difference do you think it makes that these positions are . I imagine that mostly it wouldn't make a difference, but when would it would mean that . NZ has pretty much the same level of violent, racist, rapist cops across the country. Somewhere you have to elect the sheriff, there would be places where that would encourage violent, racist, rapist cops, and other places where it might not stop it, but it might curb it. Is that people's experience?

* Chalk that up to things you didn't know about me - I'm enough Welsh to support the Plaid (if not Welsh to reliably pronounce it).

** It sounds like the Virginia Senate race actually resembles the Tauranga Electorate race - which my friend Larry described as sexism beating racism on the day (although it sounds like racism is going to beat sexism in Virginia - isn't that special).

*** My favourite was that friends who were too principled to vote for Labour or the Greens, but wanted Winston Peters out of a job should vote for the Maori party, on the grounds that the Maori party would have an overhang so voting for then would mean that they wouldn't get any extra seats, but would make it less likely that NZ first would reach the 5% threshold. Then it was pointed out to me that voting for the Libertarianz would achieve the same result, and I was sad, because that was a really complicated bit of logic out the window.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

A remedial lesson in consent

I've already mentioned that a police officer is on trial for rape. The defence has an interesting new definition of consent:

Mr Gotlieb told a jury in Auckland District Court today that five defence witnesses would be called. He said one witness, Les Gardener, was expected to tell the court the woman suggested sex with him earlier in the evening, before she was allegedly raped by the policeman.

What is the judge doing? Why is that evidenence?

For the judges and defence lawyers out there, any woman can say no to sex. A woman can say no to sex with one man after suggesting sex with another man. I know that's a hard concept to grasp - but if you have trouble with it I'm sure I could provide a mallet.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Feminism and other stuff

I was travelling last week, and I didn't get to write about a whole lot of stuff I meant to write about. So I thought I'd put together my first link post. It's not a link farm, because I don't have that many links. Think of it more as a link lifestyle block, without the hard work of an actual farm link lifetyle blocks are in privileged areas (no this metahpor doesn't work).

First of all you should just go and read brownfemipower. She has written some amazing stuff recently, and I want to quote whole posts. But I will just content myself with two snippets, from a poem in there somewhere

a thing i’ve noticed as i’ve been shifting through pictures of oaxaca and palestine is how many women bring their purses to rallies and protests. and not just a little purse they can hook over their head and forget about, but huge ass mama purses that you know the kitchen sink is in.

and every time i see a picture of some fierce mama facing down a tank or running away from bullets, clinging to her big ass purse, i want to cry. what is in that purse? did she pack extra tylenol in case somebody needed it? are their baby wipes (cuz they come in so handy, even when the kids aren’t around!)? is there a couple of extra bottles of water (in case one of the children lost their’s?)?
Also from Why feminists must stand against government repression in Mexico:
All feminists MUST pay attention to what is happening in Oaxaca. Indigenous women are leading the way to female liberation–which means that just as their demands for access to birth control carry the same weight in their actions that their demands for access to community radio do, they are also taking the brunt of the violence liberation often brings. But thier entire community recognizes that they will never have liberation (aka community health, freedom from poverty, clean air to breath, workers rights, sexual freedom, control of the land etc) as long as the nation/state has ultimate control over what happens to their bodies and souls–or as long as violence against women is acceptable in any form.

To some good news
PARIS, Nov 3, 2006 (AFP) - Unions at Paris's main airport said Friday they plan to call for a strike over the withdrawal of security badges from scores of airport workers, mostly Muslims, denouncing it as discrimination.
This is an awesome display of solidarity from France's airport. All credit to the workers involved, but there's also a lot to be said for the constitutional right to strike.

While I was away Sophia from At the Bay wrote an excellent post about an article written by Anjum Rahman, a member of the Islamic Women's Council. The article isn't on-line so I'm quoting Sophia's transcript:

Yet that seems to me to be a circular argument. It again relates sexual violence to women's behaviour (ie their clothing - too much or too little) rather than men's behaviour. It's the same as the argument that covering up allows men to beat women without the results being visible. If that were the case, then women who dress scantily would suffer much less from domestic violence.

[...] To put hijab (covering) in the context of rape prevention is to negate its power. In reality, that is why the sheik's comments are so destructive and harmful, and why they make me so angry. For me, hijab is a position of strength, but he turns it into a position of weakness and oppression. For me, it's a personal statement of my relationship with God, but he makes it a statement about my relationship to man."

BitchPhD has an excellent about feminism, the division of labour, and a whole bunch of other things:
The second story is smaller, but bigger. In my Spanish class, there was an older woman who was returning to school. Over the course of the semester, we found things out about her: her husband was a doctor and she'd been a homemaker. He'd agreed to "let" her go to college as long as--she emphasized this--nothing changed at home. She was to continue to do all the housework and all the childcare (if memory serves, they had two school-age children) and could take classes and do homework in her spare time. I thought, of course, that this was fucking horrible, and although it was clear to me that her husband was a jerk, there was part of me that wondered why the hell she'd married him, and why she stayed married to him.

I don't remember what prompted her outburst one afternoon, but I do remember her saying, passionately and seemingly on the verge of tears, "you young girls look at me and you all think you can have it all. You think that you won't end up like me. But I'm telling you, you can't have it all. Just wait. You'll get married, and you'll think you're marrying someone who loves and supports and respects you, but that's not how it works. I know you look at me and you think I'm crazy, or you feel sorry for me, but I'm telling you: look at me and realize that this is where you'll be in twenty years."
My Mum has said that she didn't understand feminism until she had me (see I have magic powers). Although I have no children myself my feminist analysis is centred around reproduction, as much as it's centred around control of women's sexuality. I love reading personal blogs by feminist women who have children (my favourite is Raising WEG), because to me individual stories often speak really powerfully to the wider issues.

While I'm posting links I don't think I've ever linked to my favourite post ever. When I first read this I said to a friend "I want to give this to everyone I know - no I want to turn it into a protective bubble around myself so that everyone who came within 50 metres had to read and understand it." It starts with the absolutely awesome phrase "the crazy maze of eating while female" and is mostly about the problem of not replicating (and reinventing) negative attitudes towards food within supposedly feminist groups. After careful consideration I've decided this is my favourite paragraph
At the very least, I think we need some new ways of approaching the issue of food in groups, so it becomes less about the fear of food and fat, less about our personal responsibility for our health, and more about encouraging women to feel strong in our ability to make food choices with integrity.

But I really do recommend you go read the whole thing

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Get Better Work Stories

The New Zealand Police have launched a new campaign Get Better Work Stories. The thrust of this campaign is that your life is boring and a waste of time at the moment and you should rectify this by joining the police. The stories themselves are noble stories of fighting with young people, and having things thrown at you by protesters.

But they seem to have missed a few. Here are some of the 'real work stories' from the police this week:

Pepper Spray
I was called out to a party and there was a guy there we were supposed to arrest. He was coming towards me and I told him he was under arrest but he just kept walking. I thought 'no-one gets to walk past me' so I pepper sprayed him. I love this job, normal people don't get to use pepper spray when they want to be violent.

So I was called out to this party in South Auckland, and I thought to myself I haven't been able to beat up any brown people for a while, this seems like a good opportunity. So I arrested the owner of the house, handcuffed him, and beat the shit out of him in the back of the car on the way back to the police station. It was awesome, made me feel like a real man, I even got to knock him unconcious.

Four on One
I thought it was going to be a normal night - not doing anything particularly exciting. But then a mate brought someone in for driving while diqualified. We decided the only way to protect the public from people who commit this terrible time was to beat him up. Two of my friends did the actual beating up part and I got to use pepper spray - I love pepper spray.

Other uses for Handcuffs
The police force can give you great opportunities even if you're not working. I'd left my wife at home to look after the kids and was at the local, totally off my face and looking to score. I failed a couple of times, but then I pressured this woman to give me a lift home. I was obviously too drunk to drive and was all "I'm a police officer" - which worked. So I got her to the police station, hand-cuffed her and raped her, and then I did it a few more times. The best bit was my buddies covered it up for me for years.

These are just the stories that have made the news in hte last week or so. They're just the cases where police officers actions have been made public and are considered unaceptable to the police force. I've watched four police oficers jump on top of someone who wasn't resisting with one person kneeling on his head. I've seen plain-clothes police officers pull pepper spray on people without identifying themselves. I've had a police officer say to a group of women "If you get robbed attacked or raped, don't call us because we won't come." I've seen police use unreasonable force at least half the time I've seen them arrest someone. There were no serious consequences for any of the police officers I've mentioned.

I'm a political activist - when I deal with the police there are always other people around me, watching. We know the nuumbers and names of all the human rights lawyers in Wellington and all the media outlets. The police know this, and they treat us accordingly. What I've seen is nothing compared to how poor Pacific Island kids from Porirua are treated every day.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006


I've become convinced that I will know the last person on the unemployment benefit in Wellington. Over the previous few years, as they've been tightening up access to the unmployment benefit, the main effect is that people have got better about sharing tips. Political activists generally have the resources and the inclination to fight bureaucracy. I've also done union education to union members, it is clear that most people have neither the information or the energy.

Tightening up access to benefits doesn't mean that only the deserving gets them. It makes sure only those who are prepared to fight get them.

Lets look at an example of this - one of the many changes the government is currently proposing to our benefit system:

Sixteen and 17 year olds are able to access Domestic Purposes Benefit for the Care of the Sick and Infirm (DPB:CSI). In terms of long term outcomes it is preferable for young people to be engaged in education or training. The eligibility criteria will be tightened so that for 16 and 17 year olds DPB:CSI is only available when there is no other carer after consideration has been given to alternative arrangements and family circumstances.
This sounds perfectly reasonable. I'd hate the idea of a 16 or 17 year old giving full-time care to a relative, they're too young for it.

But lets see what it would mean for a 16 or 17 year old who was the only person available to care for her mother who has

The first thing that'll happen is they'll ring the contact centre, who will give them at least one piece of inaccurate information.* Then they'll get an appointment with a case manager who will either tell them that there's no problem, of course they can have the DPB, and not to worry about anything, or that there's no way that they can have the DPB because they're sixteen.

When (and if) she gets told that she can only get the DPB if she is the only person available then she will have to meet Work and Income's test. Obviously this hoop isn't set yet, but given the way most Work and Income systems work lets assume that it'll involve the discretion of the case-manager, and some documentation. We'll cut her a break here and assume that her family circumstances aren't painful - that she's OK disclosing the reason that she's the only person available to care for her mother to a perfect stranger. But she will have to find that documentation, she will have to find someone to care for her mother while she does this, she probably doesn't drive, so this all happens on public transport, and it may not be cheap.

Remember this is just the additional hoop. Even to get this point she will have had to get a medical certificate saying that her mother needs full-time care. She probably won't know about this requirement until she talks to WINZ, so that's an additional trip to the doctor (who knows where that money is coming from).

All this so a 16 year old can look after her parent full time for $175 a week.

* This (and other comments about WINZ workers) isn't supposed to be a comment on the workers at the contact centre, who have a very stressful job, but instead on the training they are provided.