Thursday, June 30, 2011

With our brothers and our sisters in many far off lands

I don't really use twitter, but every so often I get mesmerized by a hash tag. Tonight it was #J30 and #isupportthestrikes (with an occasional check out @Ed_Milliband - just to enjoy the many ways to say "fuck off"). A large chunk of British teachers and public servants are out on strike. Schools, courts and benefit centres are shut all over the place, and there are rallies and marches across the country. There are really awesome connections between struggles, with those protesting benefit cuts, joining the picket lines of the people who work in job centres.

Everytime people chant "The Workers United Will Never Be Defeated" in Wellington there are about 25 people there. I always make the same joke: "I agree with the general principle, but don't see it's application here. But when you've got more than half a million people out I think it's fully justified (although the workers aren't quite united, who is on strike and who isn't seems super complicated and doesn't make any sense to me).

The picture is from Elephant the best site I've found for live reports.

Of course Britain is not the only far off land in upheaval (The Daily Telegraph had a headline "Strikers Should Learn From Greece" - a sentiment I wholeheartedly agree with, although I suspect we mean slightly different things). It is the easiest one to find good info in a language that I speak though. I'd welcome links in the comments. libcom did have good info from Greece, but it hasn't been updated in a while.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Why is Dita De Boni wrong? Because grammar

I am only going to respond to half a sentance of Dita De Boni's ridiculous article about slutwalk, because life is too short to pay attention to the rest. She says:

I can't see the value in putting yourself out there to complete strangers as a sexual object - especially in social situations where alcohol blurs the ability of people to moderate their behaviour.

Actually I'm ignoring the second clause in the bit I quoted too - because it's stupid. And I've been a feminist blogger too long to have new ways to say "That's victim-blaming nonsense and if you don't mean to victim-blame then you should stop talking."

No the bit I'm interested tonight is the idea that you can put yourself out to strangers as a sexual object.

You can't - it's nonsense. If you are putting yourself out there you are the subject in that sentence, not it's object. This is a really important and basic point, which can very easily get lost. You can't objectify yourself - it's not possible. If you are acting then you are the subject of that action - you can't act to make yourself acted upon. Because in everything you do, even things that people suppose take away your agency, you are using your agency.

I keep saying the same thing, but getting increasingly more convoluted in saying it, because it's a really simple grammatical point.

But it's also an important political point; you can't present yourself as a sex object. Objectification is something that is done to you, it is not something you can do to yourself. Without this understanding any attempt to talk about the politics of objectification descend into gibberish.

A day of protests and babies

The weather forecast had been ominous. But it was the perfect winter day - the sky was blue, the sun was shining, the sort of day that they made up the slogan 'You can't beat Wellington on a good day' for. And I was going to protest. I had a busy protesting schedule. Youth rates at midday and then slutwalk at 2pm.

The youth rates demo was 25 people with banners and a megaphone - theoretically we were outside the National Party Headquarters, but actually we were down the road a bit, which didn't matter, because it was a Saturday, so not many of them would have been there either. A perfectly respectable way of demo-ing, but not sustainable for very long.

But I didn't have to spend any of my time concentrating on demo-ing, because I saw a friend I hadn't seen for ages, and he had his baby with him. "I'm here for you" I tell the baby. The baby responded by dropping a rattle and making sure gravity was working.

2 4 6 8

No More Youth Rates

"Technically, the fact that there isn't a minimum wage for those under the age of 16 isn't a youth rate - it's a lack of rate." Pedantry over slogans written around bad rhymes and worse - it's my favourite.

I think fighting youth rates, and demanding the same minimum wage protection for under 16s that over 16s have, is incredibly important, and there's nothing wrong with hastily called demos (I have organised enough of them in my time). But hastily organised demos are not a substitute for that fight, or even a beginning - actual fight back needs organising, not just calling together the same two dozen people to stand outside Unity Books.

The demo was mercifully short, leaving plenty of time for a between demos coffee (or ginger beer in my case - I'm not a coffee fan). We talked a bit about slut-walk - because one of the people there had never heard of it.

I had resolved to go, but the Close Up piece on Friday night had nearly made me change my mind. I'm going to leave my thoughts about the problem of 'slutwalk' as an idea for another post. But I knew, ultimately, that I had to go. As this report of two demos in one day demonstrates - I go to demos. I think standing collectively with people who are advancing a cause you agree with is important enough to over-ride any non-monumental disagreement. I went along to a CTU budget day rally where Phil Goff was speaking - the finer nuances of the politics of rape, bodies, gender, sexuality, dress and good sound bites were not going to keep me away from 'slutwalk'.

I walked up Courtney Place and down Tory St, quite astonished at the wonders of the sun. Would Slutwalk be big? One of my friends had thought over a thousand. I sort of thought he was right, but didn't want to be disappointed.

I wasn't disappointed. When I got there, the not-yet-march was spread out along several different paths - so it was multi-pronged and hard to guess at size, but it was big. I saw so many people I knew from areas of my life besides trouble-making. My ex-next door neighbour, and her no longer tiny children, someone who I'd met at a friend's wedding. And, most exhilerating for someone who makes a habit of going on protests, there were so many people I didn't know.

Then I saw Strypey.

I had made a mental list of men who shouldn't be there. He hadn't been on my list, but he should have been. I know little about how he has treated women, but I do know how he treat rapists. I've known him defend multiple rapists and abusive men. I've seen him criticise survivors of intimate abuse and those who stood with them. I couldn't believe a man who was so open about doubting women's accounts of rape would dare come to this event.

I saw some people I knew, got distracted, spent some more time being impressed at the size and adorableness of babies. And then the march was off.

I made my way to the front to do a head a head count (at this point it's become a compulsion) - and it was a fab march for counting - long and not too wide. But I knew I wouldn't be able to count everyone. I counted groups of ten up to 100, and used that first hundred to count out blocks of a hundred down the march. Not 100% reliable, but better than journalists "make up a random number about half of what it actually is." I reckon there were about 1,200 people on that march, and it was beautiful.

Then, just as I stopped counting, I saw Strypey again. I walked up to him and said "I don't think you should be here. The way you have acted as a rapist apologist, and defended abusive men. I can't believe you would come along to something like this. I don't think you should be here." As I said this I remembered the time his bullshit discussion of lying women had driven people out of the room. He didn't leave, just said "I appreciate your point of view." But I was so glad that I'd said it.

It was quite literally a slut 'walk' - as the route was pretty inaccessible for those with buggies or in wheelchairs (and possibly rollerskates - although it wouldn't surprise me if regular roller skaters have less problems with stairs than I do). The march went over the city to sea bridge, and while there were ramps it followed the steps. Then on top of that the council was doing some works on the other side of the bridge which blocked the ramp alternative to the last lot of steps. Obviously any form of march is inaccessible to many people, but steps make things inaccessible for people. Those with buggies, in wheel-chairs, or with other problems with steps had to peel off from the main group and take the bits with steps on their own (or in a small posse). In a demo that was about collective solidarity, I thought this was a real shame (an organiser's perspective is here).

The rally was up on the bridge over civic square. I heard part of the first speech, (if I inherit vast sums of money from an eccentric relative whose existence I wasn't previously aware of I'm going to buy a really good sound system and the generator to power it and provide it free for Wellington demos*) but then I went to meet a friend and after that I wasn't somewhere I could hear the speeches. Except Brooklynne Kennedy - whose speech was both audible and amazing.

As I didn't hear the speeches I don't know if anyone mentioned (or anyone knew) that the City to Sea Bridge, the very ground we were standing on, was designed by a rapist. To me that's the most important message, that rapists are not a scary other group of men, they're just men who have listened to the many messages in our society that they shouldn't take consent seriously and they're everywhere. And while I can understand why a woman brought a placard "rapists R Freaks", to me the opposite message important, rapists aren't freaks, they're the people you know, so believe people when they say they've been sexually violated.

It was an amazing day. Two of my friends have just had daughters, and the day felt like a promise to them, and all the kids I saw that day - a promise that said "we'll keep on fighting. We know this world isn't good enough. We want it to be better for you."

* The demo of October the 28th 2007, protesting against the raids and demanding bail would have always been memorable for me. But it was the most captivating rally I've ever been part of, partly because the speakers and singers were amazing, but that would have been meaningless if the sound system hadn't meant that you could hear every word.

Friday, June 24, 2011

For realsies?

So someone somewhere declared it the national week of anti-feminists shooting themselves in their feet. Alasdair Thompson has done his part, but Right to Life refuse to be out-done. They've decided to seek leave to appeal their recent Court of Appeal rout, on grounds including the following:

The legal recognition of children before birth as human beings endowed at conception by the Creator with human rights, the foundation right being a right to life.

That sounds like an argument based on firm legal footing.

I appreciate their ability to throw good money after bad. If the supreme court take the case then it seems very unlikely that they would find in Right to Life's favour - and if they don't that's more costs awarded.

But the kicker is if Right to Life did succeed in their aim and get abortions declared illegal, then all they'd do is hasten the speed of liberalisation. Almost all New Zealand MPs may be cowardly fucks when it comes to abortion, but New Zealand women need access to abortion and will make sure that we get it - that's the whole lesson from the last time they decided to try and make abortion harder to get.

Thanks Right to Life, thanks Alasdair Thompson - it's been an amusing few days.*

* I actually think the implications of what Alasdair Thompson said are not at all amusing and am in the middle of writing a post about them. But his TV3 interviews are comedy gold.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Taking up more space

Last week Anthea wrote about taking up space:

But it's much more than that. I've recognised this tendency in myself, and in others, to apologise for your size, to make yourself as small as possible. Clearly if a seat is too small for the people sitting on it, in the short term both are going to be in some discomfort and, all else being equal, it's up to both of them to absorb some of that discomfort - but it should be about just that, a mutual effort to deal with a problematic situation, not the onus being on one to not inconvenience the other.

Anthea's basic argument is one that can't be repeated enough - people's bodies are expected to fit the built environment not the other way round and that's ridiculous (and also all capitalism's fault). But what her title made me think of was something I've been meaning to write about for a while - some of the subtler ways we reinforce the idea that people can pathologise taking up space.

I don't know if it's just a verbal quirk of the people I know, but reasonably often when a friend is ranting about someone who is annoying her she'll say "he takes up so much space."*

Most of the time if I'm going to respond to something people say that bothers me I have to have a line that I use (in fact few things make me feel cooler and more high than responding to fuck-wit things people say just off the cuff). In this circumstance, if I say anything at all I say "I hate that metaphor." Most people I know who use the concept of 'space' in this way don't think of it as a metaphor, but it is.

When you use a metaphor you're making a statement not just about what you're talking about, but also what you're comparing it to.** So when people criticise someone for 'taking up space' if they mean taking up time or attention they're implying that there is a scarcity of space, and there's not. Any scarcity of space is about the way the world is organised, and we should not legitimise that organisation by policing other people's physicality, even by implication.

* The pronouns here are representative of most of the conversations, which represents the strong pressure women feel not to take up space - either physically or metaphorically.

** I have known people whose metaphors make me want to say: "OK I disagree with your metaphor and your analysis of thing B, but actually we need to stop the conversation for a while to talk about your analysis of thing A, because that's even more disturbing to me."

Thursday, June 16, 2011

School balls

When I was at high school there was one girl who was out, she was the year below me. When the school ball came a lot of girls went together (double tickets worked out cheaper than singles). But this one girl brought her girlfriend - turned out the girlfriend had been my babysitter. I found this terribly embarrassing; in that vague way I found anyone talking to me embarrassing when I was a teenager. I don't know now - because I didn't think at the time - how hard that had been from her - what reactions she had faced.

St Pats has forbidden a student from taking another boy to the school ball. I just think it's awesome that students are fighting these rules - but shit that they have to do it at such risk and cost.

There was a facebook event for people to support them, but it seems to have disappeared - I am worried that the personal cost on them for taking this stand has been high.

Which seems like a good time to remind people of the follow-up meeting for Queer the Night - we are stronger together than we are alone.

When: Thursday 16 June 7pm
Where: Trades Hall
What: Homophobia and Transphobia - how we respond.

Note: The people involved have received a lot of media attention. I've left their names out of this post deliberately any comments that name them will be deleted.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Queer the Night: Demo Report

"Are you here somewhere?"

I wasn't - I was running late - but the wording of the text was quite thrilling.

I got there just as the demo was leaving and let the people stream past me. I went backwards and forwards trying to get a handle on the size of the demo. It was more than 500 - too big to count. I did some section counting and my best guess is 600-800 people. It was fucking beautiful.

I saw my friend who had been up to her eyes in organising the demo and told her my estimate (she was expecting it - I'm a little obsessive with demo counting).

"Black, White, Gay, Straight, Love Does Not Discriminate"

"Isn't love the ultimate discrimination - saying that this person is more important than anyone else." Taking chants literally is up there with head-counts as one of my favourite things to do at demos.

"Shut up Maia"

"You've done an amazing job." I give her a hug.

It was a joyous march - you can get a sense of it here:

Two young men had brought along placards designed to insight hate rather than fight it. One said "Iran executes gay people - which side are you on?" the Other "Israel is the most gay-friendly state in the middle east." . Slowly the crowd edged away from them leaving them alone.

Later on someone gave me a flaming torch and I resisted the urge to set their placards on fire ("on careful consideration it would just bring attention to them away from everything awesome" "Yes and they'd also have a burning placard to attack you"). Although having a burning torch and not setting anything on fire is quite difficult, and I had to content myself with lighting people's ciagerettes.

I couldn't hear most of the speeches. I was down the back and megaphones are hard to hear at the best of times.

There were lots of Green party MPs, and Kevin Hague gave what sounded like a good speech. I was surprised about the lack of labour party MPs. When Jordan Carter talked about needing to vote I tried to shout out "Not for parties with MPs who accept that supporting gay rights is hating God." But I couldn't make it work in the moment, so it came out as random labour party sucks rhetoric (it's not that pithy even now).

The most powerful speeches, of course, were of people telling their own stories. Stories of hate, violence, fear - and resistance. Brooklynne's speech spelled out so amazingly how important that resistance was - and the whole event was about collective strength.

There was a girl there in her school uniform. When I was in sixth form the Evening Post printed an article stating we had a lesbian support group in our school (which I don't think even was a lesbian support group). Our principal was on Kim Hill who asked her if she'd allow satanist support group. I didn't do any work in any of my classes the next day, because we just talked about it all the time (what were the conversations even about?). At Queer the Night, those high school kids whose gender and sexuality don't conform with what they're told they should be got such a different message than anything available when I was at school.

It is appalling that Queer the Night is needed, but amazing what the organisers, and everyone there managed to create.

* I have a little bit of a demo counting obsession. I count or try to estimate pretty much every demo I go on.