Saturday, December 31, 2005

More Thoughts on Serenity and Politics

Oh well, in for a penny in for a pound, once I start being geeky there's no reason to stop. I've just been reading two pages simultaneously and they've made me think interesting thoughts (or at least thoughts I find interesting). One is on the Democrats in America and how much they suck, and the other was a discussion of the politics of Serenity.

The Democrats suck article coms from a blog called 'Ecrasez l'Infame!' their tagline is even better than mine: "Dedicated to the deconstruction of the Democratic Party. The American Left may not be much, but it won't be anything at all until it ditches the Democrats." I agree with it, although I don't think it matters whether you vote for the Democrats or not (I probably wouldn't in up ticket races, although if I had to move to America I'd try and stay out of swing states so I wouldn't feel tempted). I think what's important is that we give up the pretence that they're left-wing, and criticise them from the left, regularly and in public. For the last 6 years the New Zealand left, such as it is, has largely ditched the Labour party, and I think we're stronger for it (I know, not saying much). It's relatively easy to ditch a government, it's much harder to ditch an opposition. I do think we have it easy in New Zealand - 1984 was a pretty fundamental betrayal and so people, like me, have grown up never having considered the possibility of voting Labour. I know when I was a student activist in the late 1990s we didn't let Labour in - I don't remember a Labour MP speaking at any of our rallies, for example (although I think we did have one where all sorts of politicians spoke - I remember trying to cut off Brian Donnelly in the middle of his history of the education system). We wanted free education, and Labour wasn't even pretending.

What's the relevance of all this to the politics of Serenity? As near as we can match up space politics to current politics, the main character of Serenity is a Libertarian. He wants the government out of his hair, and that's about all he wants. I've no idea about the politics of any of the other characters. I would say that it was the world, rather than the people in it, that the hordes of left-wing Joss Whedon fans respond to. For starters the world is honest about class, there are rich, and there are poor, and the rich get rich off the back of the poor. Although apart from in Jaynestown (where the power of collective action is hinted at) and the movie (which I guess comes down to fighting, and the power of knowledge) there are no solutions to those problems.

Joss Whedon and Tim Minear (who is a liberatarian) seem to have found common ground in portraying this world which reflects the reality of class, and the uselessness of government. I think both a left-wing and a right-wing reading of Firefly/Serenity is perfectly sustainable. But not any sort of view, you wouldn't get far on a religious right view of Serenity, and equally I don't think you'd get very far on a liberal-don't-rock-the-boat-Democrat reading of the Serenity. If you're going to read Serenity left-wing it has to be actual left-wing: a left-wing of class-analysis and fighting for something. I think the article I linked to explains why:

It's a commonplace of American historiography that our national narrative has been, to a very great degree, the story of a struggle between the progeny of Hamilton and those of Jefferson -- or, better yet, of Jackson. The sons and daughters of Hamilton are centralizers, promoters of Federal power, urban and mercantile elites, graduates of Ivy League universities. The progeny of Jefferson and Jackson, on the other hand, have always been the localists, the small-towners, the rough-hewn, the bootstrappers, the tobacco-chewers and whisky-drinkers. Oh, and the local squire and slaveowner -- we mustn't forget him.
Firefly and Serenity's politics are Jacksonian, they're about local people and local problems. I do think it's a problem if the Left chooses the centre over the edges. I think that left-wing politics is meaningless unless you trust people. I think the reason the American Left responds to Serenity is because they want a better option than the Democratic party and the crap that they're served up.

In which I descend to previously unseen levels of geekiness

My sister gave me a copy of the Serenity Script book for Christmas (and full credit to her, she had to buy something that geeky and then carry it down the street, which is over and above the call of duty). It turns out that there was supposed to be a Mal & Inara subplot to the movie that got eliminated, a decision I completely support.

So since I'm a geek, I thought I'd take this opportunity to discuss the gender dynamics in cross-class relationships in Firefly (well wouldn't you?). For those of you who don't know Firefly or Serenity (although left-wing, particularly feminist, blogs and Joss Whedon fandom do seem to go hand in hand) it's set on a small transport spaceship that mostly gets work smuggingly. There are two crew members who are relevant to this discussion Mal, the ship's captain, who comes from a poor outer planet and fought in the recent civil war, and Kaylee, the ship's mechanic who comes from another depressed planet, and used to work for her daddy (when he had work which wasn't often) until she went up on the ship. Simon joined the ship at the beginning of the TV series, he comes from a central planet and was very wealthy, until he became a fugitive (which is the reason he's now on the ship). Then there's Inara, who works as a companion (which is supposed to be the equivalent of a geisha - and we will be getting into that), she rents one of the ship's shuttles from Mal, to keep her business going. Throughout the TV series Kaylee & Simon and Mal & Inara were supposed to provide the sexual tension (and didn't, for me), but the relationships never got anywhere.

It wasn't until I watched the movie that I thought about Kaylee and Simon's relationship as a cross-class relationship. Because he'd come into her space, most of his markers of being from a different class (usually defined as him being proper) were more immediately about him being an outsider. Kaylee was all over Simon in the TV series, and he didn't seem to be that into her. I also got the feeling that the only reason she was into him was because he was there. There's nothing wrong with that, but it meant I didn't care if they got together. Plus Kaylee is unbelievably cool,* and I wanted her to be with someone who was really into her. Anyway, in the movie they do end up together (you mean like sex?), and I really liked it. They gave Simon a good reason why he hadn't seemed that into being with her, and when it comes down to it, I want Kaylee to have what she wants.

It was then I realised how rare it was to portray cross-class relationship where the man wasn't rescuing the woman in some way (either pygmalion like, or the way Jack rescues Rose in Titanic). In fact, to have a cross class relationship where an upper-class man comes into a working class women's world as a stranger, with no rescuing going on, is incredibly rare. In the world of movies class is just another way of exploring the power men have over women.

Partly this is because a lot of culture (particularly television) ignores class entirely. At the movies, upper middle class America is the default - anything else is a concious choice - something that needs an explanation. Movies that show people from different classes relating to each other are even rarer.

Grace Paley once said that all your characters have blood and money - that is, every fictional person (just like every actual person) has a family, or lack of family, that shapes who they are, and their life is also shaped by money, and how they get it. I really liked the fact that Firefly (unlike other Joss Whedon shows) showed people's money as well as their blood. I do think it says something that the only way you can get class on American TV (on Fox no less - but they did cancel it) is by going on a spaceship. I think it was because the 'verse was built to be economically real, that they were able to portray a cross-class relationship whose sole point wasn't to show women being rescued.

Mal & Inara are quite a different story. Throughout the show they're set up as a cross-class relationship, most obviously in 'Shindig', when her familiarity with a hoity-toity world is contrasted with his complete out of placeness. In fact I'd say the classes that Mal and Inara belong to are more complicated than the show allows. In economic terms, Mal owns a ship and makes money out of it, while all Inara has to sell is her labour power. If they are a cross-class relationship, then that's viewing class as culture, as opposed to purely economic relationships. I think if you were to transfer it to America today then Mal is a white guy from Georgia, who has managed to scrape together enough money to buy his own truck, and gets work from it, while Inara is a college educated woman (from a long line of college educated women), who works as a psychotherapist (I don't think it would transfer to New Zealand quite as well, because for all the 'two New Zealands' drivel after the election, we don't have different geograpical cultures which interact with class in the same way).

But the real conflict between Mal & Inara is based on Inara's job. Now I should start by saying I'm really sceptical about the whole high-class geisha idea. While it's true that there have been times in the past that prostitution has been highly respected, and possibly woman controlled (I'm not sure about that), those are times when the roles of women have been severely restricted. We see no signs that the roles women play in the 'verse are restricted any more than they are today - certainly not on the central planets. I don't believe that if women had the freedom to take any role they choose, they would choose dedicating their lives to pleasing men (I don't think the one woman she is with changes this argument as both her clientele, and the brothel shown in 'Heart of Gold' primarily focus on men). I don't believe that high-class, respected prostitutes would exist in a world where women had the freedom to do the same work as men. Women might still choose prostitution because they needed the money, but I don't believe someone like Inara would choose to work as a Companion if she could get the same prestige and fulfillment from other jobs.

Anyway back to Mal & Inara - Mal is contemptuous of Inara's job, and was from the very moment he met her. This is portrayed as part of the class differences. Mal comes from the outer planets, where they don't have respectable companions, only normal whores, and therefore doesn't respect the job she does. But I think it's also supposed to be part of the sexual tension - he doesn't want her sleeping with anyone else because he loves her.

But to me, the fundamental problem with their relationship is that he doesn't respect her and doesn't respect what she does. That this is shown as a sign that he's in love with her is, quite frankly, sick. It may be realistic, but that doesn't mean I have to want them to get together (and I don't). I think it's the weird class dynamic that makes their relationship so messy. Class is used as an excuse for his disrespect for her, and I have a problem with that on many, many different levels.

Inara and Mal's relationship is more interesting than Simon and Kaylee's, and I think you could tell a good story about it; I just don't think it's the simple one that the series (and in particular the script of the movie) seemed to be telling. I don't cheer for them, but they could be interesting and messy. Because they're not portrayed as interesting and messy and real, it's much easier to read their relationship as a wider statement, and I think that's where it comes up lacking.

* What I adore about Kaylee, as a character, is that she completely ignores any sort of gender stereotypes, she's a mechanic, she's girly, she really into sex, she's innocent, and when she wants a pretty dress it is quite possibly the ugliest pretty dress you've ever seen - but you love her for it. I don't actually think that an individual character in a story can be feminist (except in the sense the character might identify as a feminist), but if they could it would be Kaylee.

Friday, December 30, 2005

A Question

I once had a long discussion with a friend of mine about if there were any issues where we'd agree with George W. Bush. In the end the only thing we could come up with was 'white slavery'.

But thinking about it he supports chain gangs in prison, so he's not against white slavery. I'm thinking possibly he supports women's suffrage, although it seems a little unlikely given that women don't vote for him. The other possibility is that he believes child trafficking for the sex trade is wrong, and that's certainly a possibility.

So I thought I'd turn it out to the commenters. If you're the kind of person who disagrees with George W. Bush on everything, then I'm wondering if you can you think of anything where you might agree. It has to be a wider issue, not a specific example - I think I'd agree with him that his daughters should be free from the threat of rape, but I'm not convinced he'd widen that out to the rest of the female population.

EDITED TO ADD: I realised that the reason that I posted this immediately after the Naomi Klein quote wasn't clear to anyone who wasn't inside my head. The reason the left needs to move beyond George Bush, is because making fun of George Bush is like shooting fish in a barell with a rocket launcher. I have fundamental philosophical issues with the Democrats, and Labour and the Greens. It's easy to get distracted by the Bush's and Brash's of this world into not articulating those differences. My point was to point out the bogeyman aspect of Bush. But of course that's kind of lost when I don't say that.


I got a copy of Al Franken's "Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them" for Christmas. It's a funny and interesting book - there is something train-wreck-like about the right in America that I can always stand to hear more about. Fox News is available on Prime after midnight, and apparently it's pretty addictive.

I didn't know that much about Al Franken, I was vaguely aware that he was a liberal comedian. But what surprised me was how very partisan he was; he's a shill for the Democrats. Kind of like Jordan Carter, only funny. I find it odd that I didn't know this. I know a scary amount about American politics. How could I have missed the fact that Al Franken was part of the opposition?

And he really is, he supported the war on Iraq, he supports Israel (and argues that the reasons Neo-Cons support Israel is becaues they're Jewish and because Israel is a democracy - uh huh), he thinks that Clinton was the best invention since the Candle Snuffer (welfare reform? What welfare reform), and that Kosovo was a great war, in fact all wars are great wars as long as they happen during a Democrat Presidency. On top of that he is horribly sexist; he describes one of his students as: "Emmy Berning, an ultra-feminist with a stunny resume - and a figure to match".

I'm really curious, because I read blogs by Americans who seem reasonably intelligent and who I wouldn't insult by calling them liberal. It seems that there is a left of sorts in America, do they really let guys like Al Franken in? Do they let the Democrat party in? Naomi Klein wrote a great article on this where she argued that she became an Anyone But Bush person because of a Bush in the Box that her brother gave my Dad:

Yet Bush in a Box filled me with despair. It's not that the President is dumb, which I already knew, it's that he makes us dumb. Don't get me wrong: My brother is an exceptionally bright guy; he heads a think tank that publishes weighty policy papers on the failings of export-oriented resource extraction and the false savings of cuts to welfare. Whenever I have a question involving interest rates or currency boards, he's my first call. But Bush in a Box pretty much summarizes the level of analysis coming from the left these days. You know the line: The White House has been hijacked by a shady gang of zealots who are either insane or stupid or both. Vote Kerry and return the country to sanity.

Thursday, December 29, 2005


This is from the Dominion Post's World Section:

Diet Fad Warning
Dairy industry lobby group Dairy Australia is warning against resorting to detox diets to she extra Christmas kilograms. Dairy Australia said the latest detox diets promised instant weight loss, but there was no scientific evidence to support such claims. Dairy Australia dietician Maree Garside said that to lose weight, "exercise more, eat less and select a healthy, balanced diet consisting of foods from the main food groups, including three daily serves of dairy."
I'll make sure I only do fad diets that include lots of dairy.

Heirs of Feminism

It is possible that her capitalist solutions were only the second most offensive thing about that Linda Hirschman article. Because she began:

I found that among the educated elite, who are the logical heirs of the agenda of empowering women, feminism has largely failed in its goals.
Now there are a number of things I want to unpack around that, starting with the idea that feminism had goals about women. Feminists have goals for women, about men and society.

But even most importantly again and again Linda Hirschman acted like feminist gains were mainly held, not just by middle-class women, but by the elite. She seemed to believe that women who had had their weddings in the style section of the New York Times would be the people most likely to be reaping feminist opportunity.

I would say that these were the main achievements of the 1970s feminist movement in New Zealand:

1. A chance for financial independence from men (equal pay legislation and the DPB)
2. A chance to control when and whether you have children (it was not just abortion that feminists won access to, it was unmarried women's access to contraception as well)
3. Some protection against male violence (The situation is horribly bad now, but it was jaw-droppingly worse 30 years ago)
4. The availability of some options, besides total responsibility for your children until they started school (although the feminist demand was for free-child care, there was virtually no childcare at all available in 1970).
5. Overt sexism is illegal and less socially acceptable than it was.

To me these basic changes, not the opportunity to make partner at some fancy law-firm, is the legacy of the last feminist movement.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Possibly the biggest misuse of feminism that I've ever read

Have you ever wondered what capitalist radical feminism would look like?

Well Linda Hirschman attempts to show you. To try and summarise she says that priviledged women have tended to 'drop-out' of the work-force to look after children, and this is setting back the cause of feminism.

It's possibly what Betty Freidan might have looked like if she didn't have a bit of a red past. She'd have an interesting argument in there somewhere if she laid off with worshipping at the gods of power and status. Linda Hirschman claims the fact that priviledged women aren't working affects the rest of us because:

As for society, elites supply the labor for the decision-making classes -- the senators, the newspaper editors, the research scientists, the entrepreneurs, the policy-makers, and the policy wonks. If the ruling class is overwhelmingly male, the rulers will make mistakes that benefit males, whether from ignorance or from indifference.
I thought that particular argument had been reasonably throughoughly disproved by Margaret Thatcher.

There's been quite a go-around on this issue already on American blogs. I didn't read the original article until now, or I would have written about it earlier. I did read, and was disturbed by, a lot of the comment. For instance Ampersand went to some length to prove that the number of women who are staying at home with their children hasn't increased - as a way of disproving her argument. While I agree that it does help a debate if it reflects reality in some way, to me this begs a much larger question: Is it a failure (or rejection) of feminism if mothers are not working while raising their kids?

I say no. I say that if feminism is to have any meaning it can't take the world as it comes. Feminism can't just accept the fact that the work of reproduction is completely devalued in our society, and try to stop women doing it (or even more disturbingly try and make sure that wealthy women don't have to do it). Feminists have to fight for a world where child-rearing is valued, not just with platitudes, but with resources. They also have to fight for a world where women aren't the only people who are doing that work. These two aren't mutually exclusive - in fact I believe that one is pretty useless without the other.

In the meantime there are often no good options for women who are raising children in a heterosexual relationship. You do paid work and still have a huge amount of unpaid work to do as well, or you deal with the huge power imbalance and all the isolation of not doing paid work (or possibly you do paid work, more than your share of unpaid work, and then have the job of making sure your partner does 'his share' of unpaid work). And I do believe Linda Hirschman was right about the reason for that (even if all her conclusions were fucked); as one fighter for women's liberation once said to me 'we reached a brick wall when we realised we couldn't change men.'

Feminists may not have found a way to change men, yet. But that's no reason to give up on half the feminist project, accept the world the way it is and go after power for women instead.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Extremely Moronic Article

Now that the courts in America have saved religion from science, I think it's about time someone saved us from the scientists. Last week I read an article which was talking about research that showed that obesity was more common in poor areas, one of the scientists was quoting as saying that this showed that there was a link between where you lived and your socio-economic status.

I'm not a scientist, but maybe, just maybe, that's because poor people tend to live places where rent is cheap. I lost the article, so I couldn't rant about it last week. But luckily this week we've got just as assinine conclusions drawn from scientific research.

Apparently research in Britain and Germany has shown that the more daughters a man has the more likely he is to vote left (well Labour and Liberal Democrat, although that's the least of the problems). The Times wrote an article on this research that was both ridiculous and offensive (they start off by saying that feminists will be extremely upset and offended by this research, and then quote unnamed feminists to back up this theory).

I don't doubt the original research, as women are paid less and do more unpaid work, they're more likely to need the welfare state. But you know what, I don't think we need Darwin to explain this:

But we still need to explain why parents would vote for something that benefits their offspring rather than themselves. Here Professor Oswald invokes Darwinian theory, which is that people make decisions that are likely to beneift their children. When children prosper, their chances fo reproducing also flourish, and the genetic line is more likely to be continued
Yes, there was huge amounts of natural selection for voting habits.

Evolutionary Biologists make me want to throw in my lot with the creationists, who are at least honest about what they're doing. They don't try and hide their sexist bullshit behind anything but more sexist bullshit.

Monday, December 26, 2005


Today is the first anniversary of the Boxing Day Tsunami (so called, I presume, only in the half a dozen countries that mark Boxing Day - I wonder what everyone else calls it?)

I don't have much to say about the event itself, what can you say?

But there is one point I want to make about 'natural' disasters. We can't stop earthquakes, Tsunamis, volcanoes, hurricanes, floods, and the like (although we can make some of them more likely), but the effect they have on people isn't inevitable it depends on how we organise society. The Tsunami took hours to cross the Indian ocean; in that time people in India and Sri Lanka could have been warned of the danger and gone inland. We have the technology and the resources, we just don't use them that way.

According to Oxfam many more women than men died in the Tsunami. That's not 'natural' that's the result of a sexist and misogynist society.

Rebecca West: Feminist of Yesterday?

Rebecca West
English journalist, novelist and critic.
"I myself have never been able to find out precisely what feminism is: I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat, or a prostitute."

Apparently the Feminist of the today is Mary Quant, fashion designer. Now I understand other people classifying Margaret Thatcher as a feminist, I just vehemently disagree and would be willing to argue for as long as my opponent was still standing. I do not understand calling Mary Quant a feminist, let alone believing she should be the feminist of the day. She's a fashion designer. On the list of top-1000 professions whose sole purpose is to do the work of the patriarchy, fashion designer is near the top. So I'm not even going to write about her. But I am going to write about Rebecca West, who was feminist yesterday.

I've never liked that quote though - to me it screams a feminism of individualism, if you could say that you can't be looking at the lives of women collectively, which seems to be to be a vital starting point for any sort of feminism. That obviously wasn't her only thought on feminism, and I certainly agree with this:
Good God enlighten us! Which of these two belongs to the sterner sex - the man who sits in Whitehall all his life on a comfortable salary, or the woman who has to keep her teeth bared lest she has her meatless bone of 17s. 4d. a week snatched away from her and who has to produce the next generation on her off-days?
But I do get an impression from Rebecca West (which may be unfair), that she saw hereself as an exception, an honourary man.

Which is odd, because it seems to me that her life was shaped by society's, and indivdiual men's, attitude towards women. This is an extract from a leter to her son:
You have one grievance against me, and one only: that I did not have an abortion and kill you. This seems to me a most peculiar grievance for a man who has, I imagine, had a good deal of happiness out of his life... You can't be so hopelessly stupid that you think that I, given my particular makeup, would have chosen to have an illegitimate child. I had a love affair with HG and I loved him then as I was always to love him, on the understanding that he would not give me a child, a promise he wantonly broke simply because he wanted the panache of having a child by the infant prodigy of the day. I was appalled by the situation when it arose, and the more so by the way that HG handled it... I felt I had to make every sacrifice to compensate to you for the suffering you might undergo. It was no difficulty to make these sacrifices because I loved you very much.

Conclusion: Her political beliefs appeared to have drifted rightward as she got older, but that doesn't make what she did in the first few decades of last century any less admirable.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Capitalism's Favourite Holiday

A lot of the criticisms about Christmas focus on the fact it is a time of much consumption. I don't really have much time for an anti-consumer analysis. I don't have much time for any form of analysis that blames those without power for the problems of the world. I think any problems of 'consumerism' are capitalism's fault, not the fault of ordinary people.

But I loved the fact that the workers at Westpac went on strike and eft-pos was down two days before Christmas. I know it would have been a pain in the ass for a lot of people (and I imagine it was the retail workers who bore the brunt of it), but the idea of all that money not being spent made me giggle.

Sandra Day O'Connor: Feminist of the Day?

Sandra Day O'Connor
Supreme Court Justice
"No one learns more about a problem than the person at the bottom."

No, just no.

I'm not even going to do any research on this one. She was the swing vote on the US Supreme Court for something like 20 years. Every restriction on abortion that has been OKed by the Supreme Court has got through because she agreed with it. Waiting periods, parental notification, and all the other bullshit that has made access to abortion in America much harder than it is in NZ (where technically abortion barely legal), that's all her fault. I don't care if she spent the rest of her life organising with the women around her to fight sexism and misogyny (and she didn't), she's no feminist.

Conclusion: Clarence Thomas isn't a friend of civil rights either.

7 historical innacuracies and one fundamental character change before the opening credits

So I went to see The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe tonight.

I thought it was almost perfect. There were a few directorial decisions I could quibble with (the entrance to the wardrobe should have been more casual, and he seemed to rely on music to create the mood at times when he could have toned back the music and trusted the actors and the atmosphere) and I didn't agree with some things that were cut (I really like the white witch turning the picnic to stone, and the sequence of bringing the statutes back to life was unncessarily truncated). My little sister said 'if anything could convert me to christianity that would' - I wouldn't go that far, but it was pretty cool.

So I'm sorry to disappoint people and not deliver on my promised political analysis. But right now all I can say is that Tilda Swanton was fantastic, and Lucy was almost as good if she had been played by me (if you'd given me a magic lamp aged 7 I probably would have wished to be in a movie version of Narnia).

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Christmas Cheer

Everyone should read the excellent Don Franks poem on indymedia. It's a heart warming tale of workers getting screwed over:

Quoth Ruth, the Workhouse Overseer, "Some time in 2008
you might or might not get 12 an hour, unless the boss says wait
Your future rise depends on things called ECONOMIC CONDITIONS
- that’s stuff too hard to understand at checkouts or City missions"

"Fine, fine" said Ross, "Whatever you say -it’s a step in the right direction.
We appreciate don’t we paupers, crumbs, each year ‘till the resurrection?"

"Hang on there just a minute Ross", a recalcitrant inmate muttered
"How about we tell them fuck these crumbs and have fresh baked bread that’s buttered?"
Bread just the same as the lady has and you and Ruth for that matter?"
"Don’t listen to that old prick" said Ross "He’s as mad as a bloody hatter"

And so the paupers one more time told the madman where to go
And sang the great ladies praises as her carriage swept off in the snow.
And a merry Christmas was had in two oh five and six and seven
While a High Wage High Skill Economy
awaited them all in heaven.
Yay for the recalcitrancy (which may or may not be a word).

Mary Ritter Beard: Feminist of the Day?

Mary Ritter Beard
Historian, writer
"The dogma of woman's complete historical subjection to men must be rated as one of the most fantastic myths ever created by the human mind."

As I've said before, the starting point for my feminism was the women's history, and Mary Beard was working on women's history about 55 years before anyone else.

What I particularly love is that she didn't just focus on women's oppression, she also talked about women's agency. Now you can tell I'm a feminist historian because I'm inclined to rant about agency at short notice. But to me it's really important that we don't just look at how people suffered, but how they resisted, because as soon as you start looking at history you see that people do resist, and this resistance shapes the world.

But she wasn't just a historian (the best radical historians never are), she was a member of a number of suffrage groups and she was an organiser for the National Women's Trade Union League. She was a member for the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, and opposed World War II, which was pretty far sighted for someone who was passionately anti-fascist (it's possible that she was line following - although you'd think if she'd changed her mind once Germany invaded Russia that would have been mentioned - there's nothing about her having ever been in anything I've read).

Conclusion: Easily one of my heroines, and that was before I knew anything about her life. Go and read her books, learn more about her, our past matters.

I want to live in Russell Brown's world

There was a surpsingly large article about sexist advertising in the Sunday Star Times. The argument appeared to me to be: "Guess what sexist advertising didn't end in the 1970s, isn't that weird".

Now I thought the article was pretty lame and lacking in analysis myself (although good on NZUSA for raising these issues), but not quite as lacking in analysis as Russell Brown's response. He apparently doesn't believe that showing overwhelmingly in the domestic role, caring for men, is sexist. He also believes that men are more often portrayed in a derogatory way than women in advertisements. I agree that more advertisements are aimed at women than men, but that's no bonus often means those ads aim to make women feel shitty enough to buy something they don't need (see the recent discussion on photo retouching).

Now my ability to argue about sexist TV advertising is somewhat limited becuase I don't watch much television (this isn't a political stand - I love television, it's just that I'm never home and there are no Joss Whedon shows on at the moment). But I promise to watch an entire ad break sometime during the Christmas holidays, and analyse the gender stereotypes in each advertisement, for those who have the luxury of believing these things don't matter.

The print advertisements I see are more than enough though. I've already touched on the fact that beer drinkers are apparently terrified that women might drink their beer, because men wouldn't possibly drink a beer that had girl germs on it. I've never seen a beer ad that didn't have a big 'girls keep out' sign on the club house door. Often it's worse than that - there have been Tui billboards that have almost driven me to accidents, in my hand-waving and ranting to anyone who happens to be in the car with me (the Hutt road became a lot safer when they removed the 'leave it natural - it's way better' billboard).

Then there was that Yellow Pages ad that I needed explaining to me:
-> Florists
-> Florists
-> Florists
-> Florists
-> Escort Agencies

Two Things I Don't Know That Much About

The WTO Ministerial in Hong Kong recently concluded, and I've been avoiding writing about it, mainly becuase it's hot and it would involve doing too much research. But I did want to make a point based on something I heard a some NGO saying a while back (it was probably Oxfam) "A good result would be better than no result for poor countries, but a bad result would be worse."

Even if you accept the idea that an end to agricultural subsidies will save the world's poor (and I don't), the WTO is incapable of delivering a good deal for poor countries, let alone poor people. New Zealand may have given up its tarriffs for reasons of ideological purity for very little, but the countries with real power won't.

Bolivia has a new President and he is describing himself as Washington's worst nightmare - which is a good start. I'm not convinced by representative democracy, but it's a good start (of course it could end like it did in Chile on September 11).

Talking of coups in South America, I was out of NZ for the coup in Venezula, and didn't have access to my normal channels of information, but I did get CNN. I was desperately confused, because there was a general strike agains the president, which should mean I was on the side of the coup, but then Washington was praising the coup - so I was obviously against it.

I was so glad when I found the answers to all my questions on the internet, magical thing that it is.

Most Disturbing Game Ever

If you feel like being really disturbed (and who doesn't), there are couple of websites where photo retouchers show how very good they are at their craft. And they're excellent - particularly if you think ever woman should look like a barbie doll. See Alicia Keys get blanded up, ensure those unslightly hips disappear, turn skin into plastic, make those flat stomachs concave, and ensure that breasts can always get bigger.

Via Feministe, and thanks to the Swedish government we also have a special website to show just how much work goes into retouching those cover shots.. This one is excellent, because you can look her body bit by bit (because our bodies are just collections of objects, hair, eyes, waist, etc) and turn the retouching off and on as you wish (the breasts one is particularly funny).

So playing pulsating flesh with someone's photo retouched breasts is really amusing - but it's also unbelievably disturbing. The primary revenue stream for magazines like Cleo & Girlfriend is not their readers, but advertisers. This means their purpose is to deliver eyeballs to advertisments and ensure that the brain behind those eyeballs will want to buy what's being sold. The role these retouched photos in that process is quite obvious, most of the products sold in these magazines are completely useless, and women will only buy them if they feel like shit about themselves.

These pictures don't just reveal our societies completely terrifying attitude towards women's bodies, they shape it.

Unions 101: Some Thoughts on the New York Transit Strike

The current New York Transit strike has got considerable international attention. So I thought I'd write about the people who the mayor of New York called thugs.

It's a pretty damn cool strike. First of all it's illegal, the Union will be fined a million dollars a day for the strike, and each worker will lose two days pay for each day they strike. I don't know a single New Zealand union that would do that (I certainly haven't heard of any illegal strikes in New Zealand since I've been an aware of that sort of thing).

The main issue seems to be that the MTA is trying to claw-back conditions relating to retirement, so that workers would have to pay 6% of their salary for the first 10 years to get retirement benefits. What is just amazing is that they'd grandparent the current wages and conditions. So the workers are going on strike, and facing huge penalties, to ensure that everyone else after them will have what they've got now. Protests like this give me the hope that fuels my activism.

Now I read a few American feminist blogs, and some of them have been writing about the strike. What has disturbed me is how many of the commenters, who seem to consider themselves lefties, have been judging the union, discussing what a living wage in New York would be, whether or not a retirement age of 55 is fair and reasonable, and blaming the striking workers for the chaos caused for New York.

It's not up to us, because we don't work there. Union decisions are (or should be) made by the members, because it's their lives that are at stake. If people are prepared to fight for better wages and conditions then anyone who has any left-wing credentials, must support them unconditionally (I can think of some reasonable exceptions, but - because it's cold - is not one of them).

Some of the commenters are even comparing the amount transit workers are paid to the amount teachers are paid. It doesn't work like that under capitalism you don't get paid what you deserve (and I don't necessarily think teachers deserve less than MTA workers, but that's another issue), you get paid the lowest possible amount they can get away with paying you. If you're in a well organised industry then you may be able to get what seems like quite a lot. That's a good thing for the rest of us.

Minimum Wage

I've been antsy all week waiting for the Minimum Wage order to be released. Almost everyone I organise is close enough to the minimum wage for it to make a difference whether the increase is 50 cents or 75 cents.

The 75 cent increase is still only $10.25, which is completely inadequate. Labour did nothing about Youth Rates (which rather surprised me, if they were smart they'd take the wind out of Sue Bradford's sails by announcing an incredible gradual end to youth rates). 16 and 17 year olds will have a new minimum wage of $8.20 (so the gap between youth rates and adult rates has gone up from $1.90 to $2.05), and employers can still pay 15 year olds whatever they want.

Ruth Dyson was on the radio saying something about how $9.50 wasn't a lot of money so she was really pleased they could increase the minimum wage ($10.25 on the other hand is a living wage, so everyone can afford nutritious food in warm accomodation, and have plenty left over for leisure activities).

I'm with Susan Tuanui lightening strike is exactly the right response.

I do have one quibble - both with the headline for that article, and the Green's Press Release. They both describe a 75 cent increase to the minimum wage 'insulting'. I actually have a real problem with someone who earns a huge sum of money (in the case of the Green's press release) call a $30 a week pay increase insulting. I think it's important to acknowledge that $25 a week can make a real difference to someone's life. In fact I think it's by acknowledging how important those small increases are that we show how low the minimum wage is - for some people $25 a week could mean that someone can afford to buy fruit and vegetables, or just pay some more of their bills, because the current minimum wage is a poverty rate, and the new one will be as well.

I agree with every other point in both articles, but I just don't think insulting is a common reaction of someone whose pay rate is going from $9.50 to $10.25 (if it had come from someone who was on minimum wage then I'd have have no problem with it - and cheer the person who said it).

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Destroying Barbie

There was an interesting article in the Domion Post today. Unfortunately it's not on Stuff, but here's the jist:

Barbie that plastic icon of girlhood fantasy play, is routinely torutred by children, research has found.

The researchers had not intended to focus on Barbie but they were taken aback by the rejction, hatred and violence she provoked when they asked children about their feelings for the doll. Violence and torutre were repeatedly reported across age, school and gender. No other toy or brand name provoked such a response.
Now obviously this shows how smart and cool 7-11 year old girls are. There are a number of different theories given about why people might hate barbies so much, in the article possible theories suggest included: that girls are rejecting adulthood, rejecting childhood, rejecting unsafe body images, or rejecting mass-produced crap. Now I think in a lot of cases it could be any or all of these.

If I was going to offer an explanation based on my own experience with Barbie. I'd say girls are violent to her because she is an object, in a way no other toy was. I was a kid who gave personalities to everything. Toy cars would have personalities, duplo people would have distinct personalities, anything which I had more than two of had personalities. But Barbie always looked the same, and she always looked blank, so the only Barbie I ever owned (it was a present) never got a personality, and I did treat it like an object (I don't know if I was cruel to it, but I think legs did end up coming off, and there was probably some hair cutting).

This could have been a reaction to my parents; while there was no shortage of toys when I was a kid (there are four of us, which means toys start breeding in a middle class household), we were never allowed the mass marketed toys. There were no Barbies, no Strawberry Shortcakes, no My Little Pony, no Care Bears and no Cabbage Patch Kids at our place. I wasn't alone in this I had a friend who had a collection of Strawberry Shortcake figures (which all had their own personality and which we'd take around the neighbourhood in a thrilling game called 'throw the brick), and I'm pretty sure my best friend had a my little pony. But generally my friend's parents looked down on (and probably, more importantly, couldn't afford) these sorts of toys. I'd internalised this value system from a pretty early age.

But the Strawberry Shortcakes and the My Little Ponies of my friends all had personalities, and were looked after lovingly. So I do think it was the very blandness for Barbie, for me.

But I do wonder if part of the reason that the researchers sort this attitude was because: "You might expect little girls to love their Barbie and expect an imaginary love in return." (from the article). Perhaps the reason people seek explanations for girls not treating barbies like little babies is because we're supposed to nuture everything. Sometimes you just cut off barbies hair because it's fun to experiment with hair. Sometimes you pull her leg off, because you can. Sometimes Barbie gets used to stir paste for paper machie, because she's quite a good stirrer.

I think the reason Barbie, in particular, gets treated with some violence is a complicated combination of all the ideas raised in the article. But I think the reason girls treat some toys with violence, why they try to modify them, why they treat them like objects, is probably exactly the same reason boys do the same thing: because experimenting on toys is a way of learning.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Harry Potter and Women as Sexual Objects

The feminist analysis of Narnia will have to wait until Christmas Eve, because I took advantage of $9.50 movies to go see Harry Potter instead. I have the usual observations: Daniel Radcliffe is awful, Emma Watson gets worse each year, and the dress Hermionie wore to the ball was hideously ugly. Despite this I thought it was quite a good adaptation, the Goblet of Fire is my least favourite books, and this might be the best movie (which is probably damning it with faint praise).

But there was one thing I wanted to write about and that was the portrayal of the two visiting schools (which I'm too lazy to look up). I don't know if the fact that the French school was all female, and the Russian school was all male was mentioned in the books, but I certainly didn't pick up on it. But in the movie the contrast between the schools became a contrast between Masculinity and Femininity, which wasn't there at all in the books, and didn't work for me at all.

But what I found most scary, was that feminity was represented basically through sexuality. When the girls come in and do their weird little dance thing, it's basically a seduction dance (when the boys come in it's a war dance).

This really disturbed me, because it plays into the idea that sexuality is something women have, and men want. In fact it took it further, until women are defined by this sexuality, not their own sexuality, but a sexuality performed for men.

Susan Faludi: Feminist of the Day?

Susan Faludi
Writer, 1991 Pulitzer Prize Winner, feminist
"My goal is to be accused of being strident."

I read large parts of Backlash on an overnight bus trip down the North Island. It is simply a descriptive account of sexism and misogyny in America in the late 1980s, but it is spectacularly thorough. Ideology, popular culture, and the effect this had on real live women, are all covered in a very well written, very thick, book.

What stands out for me, what kept me reading through the night (apart from the fact that I can't sleep on buses) are her portraits of anti-feminists. Again and again she shows how their personal lives disprove the arguments they are making, whether it is anti-feminist women, whose speaking tours enable for them to live a life outside their own home, or anti-feminist men, whose issues become more and more apparent, she is the expert at getting people to a place where all they have to do is take a little step - and there conclusions are. Her analysis is still the first thing I think of if anyone mentions 'Fatal Attraction' or Moonlighting to me.

I really enjoyed Stiffed as well. It was a solid (if probably a little overlong), analysis of masculinity, and the role it played in our culture.

Conclusion: Not only is she a feminist, but that is the most kick-ass quote of any feminist of the day ever - I now have a goal.

Monday, December 19, 2005

A Man Named Charlie

One of my favourite songs we used to sing in primary school was the Charlie song (my favourite song was the Beep Beep song which ended with winding down the car window and shouting "Hey Buddy How Do You Get This Car Out of Second Gear"). It was a song about a man who went to ride on Boston's MTA system and paid his ten cents to get on the train, but when he tried to get off they asked for another nickel, and he didn't have it so he had to stay on the train. "And did he ever return, oh no he never returned, and his fate is still unlearned (what a pity), he may ride forever 'neath the streets of Boston, he's the man who never returned."

It was a protest song, the last verse told people to: "Fight Fare Increases, Vote for Someone O'Something, Get Charlie off the MTA." What I didn't know at the time (because I was 9) was that Someone O'Something (I think it was Walter O'Brien - but I'm not sure), was a candidate for the Progressive Party, which was redbaited, and possibly an actual Communist Party Front Group. There's more than you ever wanted to know about the song here.

This is all an introduction to the fact that New York's MTA drivers is going on strike, which is pretty exciting.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Probably the only post where I will praise the police

I write about the court system more than I expected I would. I think, particularly if you ignore the high profile cases, this is because it says a lot about what we value (and if you want to know what our 'justice' system is actually like spend a day in the district court). And I usually write about it because I'm grumpy. But in the spirit of Christmas I'm going to praise both the courts and the police (don't worry I won't make a habit of it.

Check out this article. A woman and her friend return home and find her DVD player was stolen. They spy a couple of local 'youths' in the bushes. They have no evidence that the kids took anything, but the guy hauls one of them in to a car and drive off with them. The kid objects, and they let him out, go off to the police station, where the DVD owners friend gets charged with assault and kidnapping.

They then have the arrogance to go to the paper: "Ms Evans said the charges raised the question of when it was okay to defend your own property."

I think we all have a God given right to kidnap anyone who we think has stole from us, don't you? I think there we could start with the Employers and take it from there.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

The White Witch: Feminist of the Day?

I haven't written about the Feminist of the Day for the last couple of days, because they were poets, and poets intimidate me. Ursula Le Guin is the feminist of tomorrow, and I've already written about her.

So I thought instead I'd answer a question tenor horn wrote in the forums:

this may be a bit off the radar but it has sort of been on this site before; is the narnia white witch a feminist?

this is a serious question, she was such a killer character.

(the one in the film, not the one in the book).
Now I haven't seen the movie yet (I'm aiming for Tuesday cheap night, or possibly Christmas Eve with my family), so instead I'll try and examine in what senses the White Witch could be described as feminist.

She doesn't describe herself as a feminist - I think the most useful terms are those that people choose, and that is the only test I used when I was writing about feminism academically.

But there are a number of women that I have defined as feminists who didn't use the term themselves (This isn't to say that men can't be feminists - which is a question I remain agnostic on - but that I'd never feel comfortable calling a man a feminist if he didn't actively identify as such). If I was going to try and define under what circumstances I'd do that it'd probably go something like: "A woman is a feminist if she works collectively with other women to try and change the position of women in their society." (Because I'm all about the qualifiers, I think feminists can work with men, but they must work with women).

Anyway having had a definition heavy paragraph I don't think there's any evidence in the book that the White Witch works collectively with other women to try and change the position of women in society. The dwarf and the wolf are the only characters on her side that she relates to, and they are both male. Killing Aslan was certainly collective action, and there were other women involved, but there's no evidence that it happened becuase of any sort of awareness of women's place in society.

So I don't think you can say that she was a feminist. But if you were going to go a little bit further and ask can she be read as a feminist, or can she be interpreted as a feminist character, that's when it gets interesting (it's also when I have to reassure everyone that we're not about to go into a crazy lit crit path where I start using slashes and talk about intertextuality).

Aslan's world is obviously a patriarchal one, from his whole 'war is ugly when women fight' schtick (no war is ugly full stop, you stupid Jesus-substitute), to the relationships we see in the book. As far as I can remember there's nothing which shows that the White Witches World is patriarchal. So part of what she objects to could be patriarchy. You could certainly fill in the gaps and make gender central to the battle between The White Witch and Aslan.

But I'm not sure that she could be a feminist character in the movie (which I'm going to take a guess and assume doesn't recast the battle between Aslan and the White Witch as a gender war). I think you run into the Eowyn problem (is it Eowyn I'm thinking of, that annoying woman in Lord of the Rings who was played by Miranda Otto in the movie?). I've often have guys say to me 'you'll like this movie, it has really strong female characters', which often means 'it has one woman female character who acts in a traditionally masculine way.' To recast The White Witch as a feminist, without recasting the battle as one about gender, would require her to have qualities beyond a desire for power.

I'll ponder that question and give an update once I've seen the movie.

Although for this argument I'm ignoring The Magician's Nephew, which makes it clear she's not much of a feminist, but people can change in a few thousand years, and The Magician's Nephew is one of the crappiest Narnia books.


A while back I wrote about the sexist nature of our legal definition of provocation. You can be convicted of manslaughter rather than murder if you were provoked, but it was based on an assumption that you'd killed someone the same size as you or smaller, because if you had a weapon that was premedication. There was a high-profile case about ten years ago when a woman was found guilty of murder for killing her abusive husband.

Anyway Christine King who put 50 sleeping pills in her partners food was convicted of manslaughter, and sentanced to 4 and a half years. This is what the judge said

"I accept he abused you physically, sexually and verbally," Justice Young said.

"That he took the mileage of the family car to see how far you travelled illustrates the point and I accept it occurred regularly."

Justice Young described the degree of provocation experienced by King over eight years as "at the top end of the medium range" and on the night of Roycroft's death it was "at the low end".
I'd hate to see what the top end provocation was if being abused physically, sexually, and verbally is the medium range. Although it is just possible that the judge is a sexist asshole who doesn't get it.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Not a Feminist

As I've said in my 'Feminist of the Day' posts, I believe that feminism is a broad church. If someone identifies as feminist I probably won't argue with them. Unless they're actively working to restrict women's rights, or they're in some position of power.

Well it may not be as broad as I thought, because I've just found a hard limit, and I don't even know how to describe it. Amanda at Pandagon linked to an incredibly creepy article*:

For her 17th wedding anniversay Jeanette Yarborough wanted to do something special for her husband. In addition to planning a hotel getaway for the weekend, Ms. Yarborough paid a surgeon $5,000 to reattach her hymen, making her appear to be a virgin again.

"It's the ultimate gift for the man who has everything," says Ms. Yarborough...
Then they talk to the woman who performs the surgery:
Ridgewood's Ms. Vanegas concedes her business is based on deception. But she says hymen repair is no different than other cosmetic procedures -- from waxing to Botox injections -- that women use to impress men.

"I'm a feminist," Ms. Vanegas says, "but there's a need for this and someone has to provide it."
OK, no. She's not a feminist. Her job is to perform surgery on women's vagina. The effect of this surger is to make sex more painful and unpleasant for the woman, and it is justified because the woman's partner will like it more that way (which is a whole nother category of ewwwwwwww). It's not unreasonable to assume Ms Vanegas has got choices. If she was a feminist she wouldn't be choosing to do this to other women's bodies for money.

Plus that's obviously a new definition of the word 'need' that I wasn't previously aware of.

Even though, as far as I know, we don't have any dedicated hymen reattachers in New Zealand - we've got nothing to be smug about. One of the women in my friend's prenatal class was being stiched up after giving birth and as the doctor did the last stich he turned to her partner and said 'this one's for you.'

My brain has still refused to process that story - I metaphorically cover my ears and go "I'm not listening" every time I think about it.

* This follows a trend I've noticed a lot of blaming women for 'tricking' men with cosmetic products. There have been a couple of articles that took that line in the Sunday Star Times supplement, example. I think I'll write a longer post about how yet again it shows that women can't win next time I see one.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

World Trade Organisation

As far as I know we still don't know what's going to happen (let's all chant collapse). I don't think there's any possibility of a good outcome for the people of the world from this. If there's a deal it will be a disaster for people, or rather a worse disaster, the status quo isn't that good for people)But even if we don't know what's going to happen inside, we can admire the protests (thanks Smush).

Democracy in Action

Apparently this is what Democracy looks like:

The Iraqi government imposed a three-day traffic ban, closed borders and imposed overnight curfews throughout the country.

Meanwhile important people get to vote in a completely different area from everyone else.

More on planes

As a union official there are lots of ways you can tell if you've totally and utterly sold out. But endorsement by David Farrar is definately a few of them. Another way you know is when you hire a someone from the other side to tell you how to sell your conditions to keep some of the jobs.

They've also cancelled marches that were planned for tomorrow because the company agreed to return to mediation. Because the last thing you want when you're negotiating is a show of support.

The World According to Fashion Quarterly

Acutal headline on the front of a Fashion Quarterly Magazine seen in a dairy today:

"The Female Form is Back in Fashion."

It's such a relief, I was so worried that for the last couple of decades that I was carrying around an unfashionable body. But now they tell me it's OK to be female. I'm so glad, I wouldn't want to be dowdy.

And with that I'm going for a swim, and doing happy things. Much fun though it is to rant it's summer, and there are rasberries in the Supermarket and I think I might buy some.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Who Gives a Fuck About the Harbour Bridge

A report released today revealed that awful poor parents aren't giving enough money to their children, therefore creating child poverty. South Auckland children aren't bought presents for their birthday, haven't gone over the harbour bridge, and sometimes aren't provided lunch. Obivously this is their parents fault, and we need to change these parents so they start providing a better experience for their kids.

ARGH - really don't listen Linda Clark on this she's at her worst.

The way poor parents were blamed for not providing their kids with the stuff they can't afford was appalling, but there was also a strong current of racism throughout the Linda Clark interview. The principals of local schools were saying it was a problem that South Auckland kids never left their communities to venture into the rest of the world, that the community was self-sufficient. Someone said that you could live your life in South Auckland and believe that New Zealand was a polynesian country, as if this was a problem.

Did anyone ask North Harbour kids if they'd ever been to South Auckland?

Just to be totally clear the cause of child poverty is lack of money in families. The cause of families not having enough money is capitalism. Capitalism is bad, so we should try and end it. In the meantime we should get more money to people - we could start by extending the working for families package to beneficiaries.

Jet Planes Leaving

Span and some commenters have pointed out some of the problems with the EPMU campaign against the 600 job losses.

John and Tenor Horn both pointed out the racism of the campaign. This poster is basically 'you can't trust those nasty brown people to fix our planes.'

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

March Church Terrell: Feminist of the Day

Mary Church Terrell
Lawyer, member of National American Woman Suffrage Association, writer, speaker
"Seeking no favors because of our color, nor patronage because of our needs, we knock at the bar of justice, asking an equal chance."

Mary Church Terrell was the daughter of slaves (one of whom was the son of his owner, since we were talking about the relationship between gender, sex and race - or at least I was), and fought against racism her entire life. She helped form the NAACP and was the first president of the National Association of Coloured Women. She lived long enough to lead protests to desegregate Washington in the 1950s. At the turn of the century she described the links between women's rights, and the struggle against slavery:
Thus to me this semi-centennial of the National American Woman Suffrage Association is a double jubilee, rejoicing as I do, not only in the prospective enfranchisement of my sex but in the emancipation of my race. When Ernestine Rose, Lucretia Mott, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucy Stone and Susan B. Anthony began that agitation by which colleges were opened to women and the numerous reforms inaugurated for the amelioration of their condition along all lines, their sisters who groaned in bondage had little reason to hope that these blessings would ever brighten their crushed and blighted lives, for during those days of oppression and despair, colored women were not only refused admittance to institutions of learning, but the law of the States in which the majority lived made it a crime to teach them to read. Not only could they possess no property, but even their bodies were not their own. Nothing, in short, that could degrade or brutalize the womanhood of the race was lacking in that system from which colored women then had little hope of escape. So gloomy were their prospects, so fatal the laws, so pernicious the customs, only fifty years ago.
She had to withstand a lot of racism, not just from the wider world, but within the feminist movement. The Congressional Union for Women's Suffrage wouldn't endorse black female suffrage, because they might lose the support of white women in the south (who by this time had built their campaign for suffrage on the grounds that the more white voters the better). At one stage the Congressional Union for Women's Suffrage asked Ida Wells-Barnett, the other black woman involved in the formation of the NAACP, not to march with everyone else. Unfortunately black women weren't actually women.

Conclusion: She was a feminist, but unfortunately for her it wasn't a very good time for feminism in America.

Tuesday Advice Blogging: Employer Edition

On a more cheerful note I thought I'd share some of the excellent advice on dressing for your body type provided by The Commonwealth Bank of Australia on how to dress for your body type. We've already learned how the 1960s American school system thought we should dress - now it is time for employers to have their turn.

Apparently Employees' body types only come in two types Straight and Contoured.

If you are Straight (which seems to be code for skinny) you should wear:
*Fitted Shirts
*Tailored garements
*Long-line jacket
*Less emphasis on your waist area
*Wear tops outside skirts and pants
*Choose more angular hairstyles
*Choose more angular eyewear
*Choose angular earrings

If you are contoured (by which they appear to mean fat) you should wear:
*Relaxed shirts
*Soft Panelled Skirt
*Soft Fabric shirts worn as unreconstructed jackets
*Choose hairstyles that are soft and frame the face
*Choose more rounded eyewear
*Choose rounded earrings

Maybe the bank just likes everything to match - if you're round you should wear round things, and if you're lines you should wear lines. They also want to cover up fat with as much fabric as possible - as it might offend customers.

Four More Things About the Sydney Riots

1. How's the state Labour Government react? Give itself a zillion extra powers, of course. I'm sure this will end well, with the powers only be used when necessary. They will be used in a non-discriminatory way, and they won't exacerbate things in any way.

2. Also the Australian government said that the new Labour laws would stop riots.

The Workplace Relations Minister, Kevin Andrews, said claims that the new laws would spark Paris-style riots were hysterical. He even suggested that riots would occur if Australia did not embrace the laws.

"It's well known that France still has a very rigid labour market, and it's a consequence of those rigidities and the failure to bring about some flexibility in their labour market that is a major cause of what's occurring in Paris at the present time," Mr Andrews said.
Obviously individual agreement just haven't had their opportunity to use their magic power to make people happy.

3. In another life I was a feminist historian, and once you start analysing the role gender in history, you keep doing it in the present. The most obvious point is, like the riots in France, this rioting is a male act. I wonder what happened to the partners of these men when they got home? Because there is a role women seem to be playing in these riots. There are coded, and less coded, references to attacks on women as the justification for the attacks on middle eastern men. This particular idea about the relationship between gender and race isn't exactly new, and is pretty fucking dangerous.

4. Yesterday Checkpoint's introduction to their piece about the riots started "Australia's Prime Minister John Howard is calling for ethnic and religious tolerance after racial violence erupted." How would he recognise ethnic and religious tolerance if he tripped over it? I'm surprised he could even pronounce it.

People racism, media racism, and political racism

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

Some of them were neo-nazis, but many were not, at least in the organised sense. That young working-class white men blame their problems on non-white people, is a sign of how much the left has failed. But it didn't happen in a vacuum.

Media Racism

Alan Jones a right wing talk show host incited people to attend Crenulla beach all week:

He assured his audience he "understood" why that famous text message went out and he read it right through again on air: "Come to Cronulla this weekend to take revenge. This Sunday every Aussie in the shire get down to North Cronulla to support the leb and wog bashing day …"

Daily he cautioned his listeners not to take the law into their own hands, but he warmed to those who had exactly that on their minds. On Thursday Charlie rang to suggest all junior footballers in the shire gather on the beach to support the lifesavers. "Good stuff, good stuff," said Jones.[....]

When John called on Tuesday to recommend vigilante action - "If the police can't do the job, the next tier is us" - Jones did not dissent. "Yeah. Good on you John." And when he offered a maxim his father had picked up in the war - "Shoot one, the rest will run" - Jones roared with laughter. "No, you don't play Queensberry's rules. Good on you, John."
Meanwhile tabloid journalism also spent a week setting up last weekend as a battle of the beach:
A sample of the headlines in the Sydney tabloid the Daily Telegraph, gives a flavour of the campaign. On December 6: “Fight for Cronulla: we want our beach back”. On December 7: “Gangs turn Cronulla beach into war zone”. The gangs referred to were not, of course, local surf gangs and racist groups, but rather “thugs of Middle Eastern descent”. Last Friday the Telegraph’s front page screamed, “NOT ON OUR BEACH: Cronulla police vow to defend Australian way”. Throughout the week, letters to the editor on the issue—a number of which were critical of the newspaper’s coverage—were published under the subheadings, “Let’s make it safe to go back to the water” and “Let’s unite to fight this shame on the beaches”.
The more respectable papers weren't much better. Last week the Sydney Morning Herald ran an editorial called Lets Take Back Our Beach (that's take back the beach from brown-people, not take back the beach from racist mobs). While their latest editorial basically says exactly what the rioters were saying, but using bigger words
More generally, this is a problem provoked by groups of young Lebanese men. Why do they - apparently more than youths of other ethnic groups - have such difficulty coming to terms with normal Australian life? Unemployment may be one reason - migrants from Lebanon have one of the highest jobless rates of any ethnic group. For Lebanese Muslims there is the additional alienation brought about by being members of a high-profile minority religious group, one which feels itself under threat in the current security panic. Publicity about Lebanese gang activity and sex crimes has also put the community under pressure, to the point where young men of Lebanese background feel defensive, and correspondingly aggressive, towards other Australians. This may explain - though it does not excuse - regular outbreaks of boorish behaviour which have been reported regularly, and which came to be so resented by Cronulla residents.
Or this from Andrew West:
Australia does not have a race relations problem. We have a clash of cultures and that's a big difference -- and maybe the problem is certain forms of Islam.
I wonder what he'd think would be a race relations problem, if a 5,000 strong mob attacking anyone who looks foreign isn't it.

Political Racism
This also happens in the context of an incredibly racist government. This was John Howard's reaction:
“I think it’s important that we do not rush to judgement about these events,” he declared. “I do not accept that there is underlying racism in this country ... it’s also important that we place greater emphasis on integration of people into the broader community and the avoidance of tribalism within our midst. I don’t think Australians want tribalism. They want us all to be Australians.”

Howard continued: “I think yesterday was fuelled by the always explosive combination of a large number of people at the weekend and a large amount of alcohol plus an accumulated sense of grievance, the full extent of which I don’t pretend to know.”

On the “Current Affair” television program, Howard was asked what he thought of the mob’s parading of the national flag. “Look, I would never condemn people for being proud of the Australian flag,” he replied. “I don’t care—I would never condemn people for being proud...”
I think Allan Moir cartoons nicely summed up the relationship between the Howard government and the riots:

A riot like this is the result of divide and conquer politics, and it's that underlying cause that we must respond to. Not just in Australia, but in New Zealand as well, since we're not short of the root causes.

I'd highly recommend reading the World Socialist Website's coverage on this, here and here. It's very in depth, and covers the wider issues very well. Also I found most of Morning Report's Coverage horrendous, but Linda Clark's regular interview with her Australian Correspondent was quite interesting.

No Place for a Woman

Last Sunday I happened to catch a radio documentary about the women who worked in the Eveleth Mines in the 1970s. Until then it had been a male only profession (they didn't even start hiring women since 1975), and, like many male only professions, relatively high paid work for working class people. I only caught the end of the documentary, but discovered that both the documentary and the transcript are online - it's certainly worth reading.

[The women] testified in court that buildings at the mine were full of raunchy pictures of women and filthy graffiti about the female workers. Women were groped and grabbed and punched. Men exposed themselves. They threatened women with rape. They called women at home to make obscene suggestions or threaten to hurt them. Some of the women feared for their lives; they barricaded themselves into their work areas so men couldn’t get at them. When they crossed onto company property, some women carried mace in their lunch pails or knives in their boots.
The women fought back, and when their union couldn't or wouldn't help them, they took a court case, which got filed years, 13 years after women started working in the mines, 1988. It's nice to think about this sort of thing as part of history, a time long ago and a place long forgot, but it wasn't.

In 1991 a judge thought it relevant to a sexual harrassment lawsuit to put the women involved on trial, one woman was asked:
If I’d ever had venereal disease. If I’d ever had an abortion. I mean just getting personal. Did you ever have intercourse with anyone on the job? Who did you have intercourse with? How many times? It was like, no. When they started subpoenaing women’s personal records, they found out things they shouldn’t have. That was bad. That was wrong. That was evil.
Anyway go listen to the whole documentary, or read the transcript, it's really good, and it's not just history.

Apparently Nicki Caro has made a mediocre movie about this called North Country. It might be worth a look when it comes out.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Frederick Douglass: Feminist of the Day?

Frederick Douglas
Author, suffragist, abolitionist
"Right is of no Sex - Truth is of no Color."

Frederick Douglass's history was a pretty incredible one. He grew up a slave, gained his freedom, fought as an abolitionist, was a station on the railroad, and lived to see slavery end. His abolitionism was radical, he supported slave revolts, and he didn't limit his speeches to safe topics - he was willing to criticise racism in the north, and argue for Irish independance in Britain.

He was also, for a number of years, one of the staunchest male supporters of women's rights. He attended the 1848 Seneca Falls Women's Rights Convention, and argued for the radical position to fight for women's suffrage. He signed a letter to Susan B Anthony: "Yours for the freedom of man and of woman always."

But then there's the matter of the 15th ammendment. There were a number of issue to clear up after the civil war (although most of them weren't), such as the right to vote. Frederick Douglass was one of the many people who encouraged feminists not to pursue women's suffrage during this time, as it was Negro's Hour. To me, this begs a pretty fundamental question, were all Negros Men?

There was one man, whose name I have forgotten, who said he didn't want to be able to vote until his daughters and sisters could vote with him. But Frederick Douglass didn't have to go that far. You can support an action while arguing that it didn't go far enough. He could have continued to support women's suffrage in the fifteenth amendment debate, and he certainly didn't need to argue that other people should stop that struggle.

I think the reaction of feminists like Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who opposed the 15th amendment because it didn't include women, is equally ridculous. Unfotunately what happened over the next fifty years shows that that sort of lack of solidarity can grow. What makes the whole situation really awful, is that the fifteenth amendment had slightly less force than a wet bus ticket.

Conclusion: His position on the fifteenth amendment fed into the view that unless you were a white man you were either a woman or a negro, but certainly not both. But he didamazing work for women, negros, and those who were both women and negros.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Angela Davis: Feminist of the Day

Angela Davis
Educator, writer, organizer
"Revolution is a serious thing, the most serious thing about a revolutionary's life. When one commits oneself to the struggle, it must be for a lifetime."

About half a dozen years ago I picked up a book on Angela Davis at one of those wonderful $1 a book sales. I'd heard of her before, or else I wouldn't have bought the book, but I didn't know that much about her. The book I'd bought turned out to be a radical account of her life written in about 1970, but also rush to publication job. At the end of the book she was on the run from the FBI on some pretty serious charges, and I had no idea what happened next. I later read Woman, Race & Class, written in the 1980s so I knew that she got out of it OK, but to this day I've no idea how.

Angela Davis obviously committed herself to a life of struggle, her early work with SNCC, the panthers and the Soledad brothers was just the start. I'm a feminist historian and so 'Woman, Race & Class' was like crack to me. I do need to re-read it though.

What I find most fascinating about Angela Davis is her on-going membership of the Communist Party. I know a fair bit about the communist party of America before the late 1950s, just because so many people were, or had been members. But I've no idea what it became in the 1960s. Did they continue having crazy line changes? Were they still Moscow directed? How could anyone in the early 1970s believe that Moscow was the way to go? (although come to think of it people believed a lot sillier things in the early 1970s)

I really should read her autobiography, it'd answer some of these questions.

Conclusion: Of course she's a feminist. A feminist, an activist, and a author well worth reading.

Nobodies Body but Mine

The Commonwealth Bank of Australia has released new grooming guidelines for their staff:

For Women
- When choosing stockings "avoid shiny finishes - they make your legs look larger."
- "Flesh coloured, smooth finish t-shirt bras will give you the best, most discrete look."
- "Take the time to style your hair before leaving for work in the morning."
- "Your hands do get noticed - moisturise your hands regularly."
- "Consider having unruly brows regularly waxed or plucked."

For Men
- "Trim your nose and ear hair. Hair in these areas can increase as you age and may give the impression that you are not well groomed."
- "If your hair is light in colour, grey or curly, a shine product can add lustre and help it look healthy."
- "After-shave lotions contain alcohol and can produce broken capillaries on your face (small red veins). Use eau de colognes on your body instead."
- "If you wear glasses, update them at least once a year."
How do you 'update' a pair of glasses, and why do only men have to do that?

On a practical level these guidelines make me angry for so many different reasons: they're expensive, time-consuming, sexist, and what is wrong with having big legs?

But the fundamental problem is that the Bank thinks it's buying not just workers' time, but workers' bodies. That as well as controlling what workers do in the 8 hours they're at work, they also get a say in the workers hands, hair, eye-brows and nose hair.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

How I Became a Feminist

In the latest Feminist carnival a whole bunch of women and men write about how they became feminists, and when they started to call themselves feminists. Well I'm a day late and a dollar short and

In some ways I was extremely precocious feminist. I still have my copy of the Railway Children which says "Happy 7th Birthday on the inside" and in which I had writeen RUBBISH in black felt tip pen over the paragraph near the end when the Doctor tells Peter that he must be nice to girls because they're soft and weak. I grew up in the 1980s and really believed Girls Can Do Anything, and was prepared to fight for it.

But something happened in my teens, my feminism faded. I know why, and I know I'm not alone. To middle-class girls in all-girls schools sexism and misogyny often seem far away. I was taught by some of the coolest feminists I've ever known. My school had a quilt hung in the hall that said "Me aro koe ki te hä o Hine-ahu-one. Pay heed to the dignity of Women". But it was an all women world and so feminism seemed unnecessary.

It was ridiculous, because sexism and misogyny were all around us, all the time. We didn't recognise them mostly because we were too busy using them to try and destroy each other.

So all through high school, and into my first year of university I didn't call myself a feminist. I was 18 when this changed, and I remember the change as a revelation. it wasn't of course, I must have forgotten all the small thing.

I was babysitting, I'd put the kids to bed and settled down to do the readings for one of my tutorials. I was reading women's accounts of growing up in Germany towards the end of the 19th Century. One woman was from the aristocracy, one was middle class, and the other were all working class women.

Most of the women had become involved in left-wing politics later in their life and their stories were amazing. The best of the fathers in the narratives were completely hopeless, most weren't that useful, but they survived, and fought for their brothers and sisters. I was blown away by those women and their strength. They had all fought so hard for things that I saw as so basic.

But it was still school work, so as soon as I was finished being blown away I watched a movie the kids' parents had left behind. It was called The Heidi Chronicles and I remember almost nothing about it except that it was about a woman who was involved in women's liberation, and it showed how much she'd gained but how hard it was, and how it had cost her.

My response to the stories of women's lives, both fictional and real was: "I have to call myself a feminist, I owe it to all these women who went before me, who fought so hard and gained so much to become part of that struggle."

And that was the beginning.

Friday, December 09, 2005

A feminist blogger gets her wings

The latest debate about pornography on Alas so neatly coincides with my own analysis of the topic that I decided to finally become a real feminist blogger and get involved in a debate about pornography.

Amp's post was in response to a Znet article called Pornography is a Left Issue. I like their approach - my usual line on pornography is "the problem with pornography isn't that it's seuxally explicit it's that it's fucking sexist." And I certainly agree with this

As leftists, we reject the sexism and racism that saturates contemporary mass-marketed pornography. As leftists, we reject the capitalist commodification of one of the most basic aspects of our humanity. As leftists, we reject corporate domination of media and culture. Anti-pornography feminists are not asking the left to accept a new way of looking at the world but instead are arguing for consistency in analysis and application of principles.
Amp's main critique of the article is this
Where Dines and Jensen fall down, in my opinion, is in not providing a working definition of what pornography means. The truth is, porn - like "partial birth abortion" - is one of those terms that is used so loosely, it has become impossible to be sure what any particular author means unless they explicitly define their terms.
I I think the article has a more fundamental problem. The authors ask: "Let's analyze pornography not as sex, but as media. Where would that lead?" But they don't answer that question. They refer to the sex, they don't analyse it.

I think this analysis is desperately needed, and instead the word 'pornography' is substituted. I think that you generally have more through feminist analysis of any episode of TV written by Joss Whedon than of most sexually explicit materially. In a way this makes sense, more feminists watch Buffy than would want to spend any time around mainstream pornography. I can't even handle FHM Magazine, one of my friend's flatmates left one lying around and I found the attitude towards women so repugnant that I wanted to hide it.

Sometimes I'd like to burn every bit of sexist media: Playboy, Debbie Does Dallas, Deep Throat, FHM, Cleo, Mills & Boon, Dolly, Girlfriend, Girls Gone Wild, Dawson's Creek, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. Then I'd like to weigh down David E Kelley and throw him off a bridge.

In their different ways, I have a problem with the portrayal of sex in every single one of those media listed, but I don't think it's the sex that's the problem. It's the attitude towards women. I think asking the government to regulate the content sexually explicit material, like asking the government to regulate television, is likely to be useless - mostly because I know the government is never going to be on my side.

I would like to regulate pornography on the basis of the conditions it was produced. I think Linda Lovelace should be able to block the production and distribution of Deep Throat. I would fully support that part of the McKinnon-Dworkin ordinance that allowed women to sue producers of pornography on the grounds that its production was rape (and set a very low standard for them to be successful).

But in the end I have very little use for the term pornography, it's too much like political correctness - no-one can define it by the know it when they see it. And while I do believe in analysing sexually explicit material as media and not as sex I don't want to do it, because that would mean I'd have to look at the stuff.

Kindergarten Strike

I was really disappointed that I couldn't make the Kindergarten protests yesterday - although it sounds like they did just fine without me.

I am so impressed to see teachers, of any sort, taking strike action to preserve non-contact time.

Some are Dead and Some are Living

When I was in 7th form the Beatles Anthology was shown on TV, and I began one of my obsessive fandom phases. I was really into the Beatles in general, and John Lennon in particular. If you were prepared to sit still I'd be able (which Beatle song has a sung bass line? Which song where they recording when John took Acid in the studio? Who wrote Eleanor Rigby?)

I mention this because it was twenty five years ago today that John Lennon was shot. I was two and a half at the time so I don't remember a time when he wasn't dead - but I do know that my Dad heard on the radio cycling to work, my Mum was making me a Wendy house for Christmas.

I've no idea what he would have been like if he'd lived, perhaps he'd have veered off into 'he's fucking crazy' territory, maybe he'd have always managed to stay on the eccentric side. He was all over the place politically and I don't really agree with any of it (I find the hippy-dippy-trippy and the radical chic thing equally annoying). But he wrote, and performed, some pretty awesome music, and that's the reason I decided to mark his death.

So if you've got a copy go listen to In My Life (it's on Rubber Soul, the Red album and Imagine) it's my favourite Beatles song and particularly appropriate at times like this.