Sunday, July 30, 2006

Days like these

I keep on thinking of posts I could write about the war Israel's assault on Lebanon. The headlines are full of stories that would make good blog posts. Even though I don't have the information or time to write anything useful or worthwhile, there is plenty of material just pointing out the hypocricy and ridiculousness of what we're presented in the news.

I usually like writing that sort of post, you get to be wry and amusing, and you don't have to do that much, because the facts do all the work. But I can't write them about this - not with the dead bodies piling up. All I can do is send you somewhere which does have useful information - including things you can do. Because writing in blogs is not enough.


Span has written a fantastic post about knowing men who have raped:

But I can think of two men that I have been friends with over the years who I know for sure either raped or had to be stopped from raping. One started penetrating his girlfriend after she said no. When she protested further he did stop, but he never should have started. The other told me himself that he had to be pulled off a young woman once when he was drunk. In both of these cases never were the words rape uttered between us.

The first of these incidents (amongst other things) soured the friendship slowly but surely and I no longer see this man, and have no desire to. It wasn't really until a few years later, when I was running date-rape awareness seminars in hostels, that I put the pieces together and recognised his act as what it was - rape.

In the case of the second we are still friends. I turn my brain away from it as it is too horrible to think about, that he might have raped if he hadn't been stopped. And that he has never thought about it as attempted rape. And that there are probably many many other men I know who have similar stories to these two, in their sexual histories somewhere.
I've known men that I knew had raped women, and men that I suspected. Every story I've heard involved the word 'rape' and most of them came second hand - and I'm graetful for that (I think that's somewhere near the definition of a small mercy). Because I don't particularly want to have a conversation where I tell a man I know that I think they raped someone, and I would hate to be the person who didn't say anything.

I'm not naieve enough to believe that the men that I know have raped someone are the only rapists among my friends and acquaitances. When the verdict came in from the police rape case one of my friends was told by a man she knew that he was scared of what she was doing, because he'd had a lot of drunken sex when he was at high school - and he was worried that a woman would say that he raped her. I'm terrified of men who are scared of women accusing them of rape. I think it's an acknowledgement that they're aware that not all the sex they've had was consensual.

I can imagine having some sympathy for young men, in theory. They're told that women's wants, women's needs don't matter, they're told that no means yes, they're told that rape is a stranger in a dark ally, and they're told they're entitled to sex. It shouldn't be surprising that some men believe this. Obviously that doesn't make them any less responsible for their actions, but I do hope that some men come back from that. That some men come to care that women are people. I think men who did that could be useful in the fight against rape. I imagine that many teenage boys would listen to men more than they'd listen to women.

It's just that I've never known any men like that. The men I've known who have had it pointed out to them that they had raped a woman have reacted with entitlement, and attacked the woman they raped. Everything they did made it clear to me that they had raped women and would do it again. I think the minimum starting point to stop being a rapist and start being a person is admitting that you had raped women and taking responsibility for the harm that they'd caused.

I've been able to cut contact with all the men I've known who have raped women. I don't know under what circumstances I wouldn't do that. I suspect it probably would have more to do with the ease with which they could be excised from my life, than anything that they'd done, which isn't a particularly comforting realisation.

1981: Molesworth St

A few years back I was protesting one of America's wars (at this stage they have started to run together). We met at the cenotaph and were heading up to the American embassy - so we headed up . It was near dusk and I heard more than one person say 'Remember Molesworth St' - in the sing-song tone that particular chant is rendered. I found it distinctly unnerving

For those of you for whom the phrases 'the tour' 'the field at Hamilton' and 'Molesworth st' mean nothing, I'll provide some facts. In 1981 the South African rugby team came to New Zealand, breaking an international supporting boycott, which New Zealand had signed up to. Muldoon, the New Zealand Prime Minister of the time, was a misogynist, racist, homophobic, fuckwit of a man and he refused to stop the tour. In New Zealand the 1970s had been a decade of protest and mobilisation, and there were many, many people, who were prepared to fight the Springboks presence here with everything they had.

I think a lot of the questions about 'why?' haven't been answered yet, and while everyone from the Listener down is prepared to give the simplistic answer (it was a generation gap, it was town vs. country, it was all about hating Muldoon), actual research will be needed to provide the actual answers. But it is indisputable that there were a lot of New Zealanders who cared passionately about stopping this particular rugby tour.

One of the things that impresses me most about the anti-tour movement is their stamina - the Sprinboks were in the country for six weeks and at least in Wellington there were bi-weekly big protests, with meetings, advertising, and all the other stuff people have going on as well. I can imagine how exhausting, how unrelenting that would have been, particularly in days when you couldn't advertise anything by e-mail or text message.

So the night the All Blacks played Taranaki in New Plymouth 2,000 people met at parliament in Wellington. They were going to the South African embassy (there are a lot of Embassies in Thorndon) and walked up Molesworth St. The police drew a line and pulled out the batons - a 16 year old girl was hit on the head 5 times, for wanting to march up the street.

The police's role upholding the power of the state was pretty stark during the tour. Geoff Chapple tells of one police officer on that baton line taking down then baton and telling the protester 'I wish I wasn't here. I don't want to be here.' There are always individuals who maintain some sense of self and decency, even in a structure which is designed to take that from them. But the police iin general knew which side they were on - and were prepared to use batons to the head on teenagers walking up the street.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Democracy has broken out in the union movement

Rumour has it that that was how a usually politic (to the point of boringness) union official responded to Laila Harre beating Mike Jackson in the first round vote for the position of National Secretary of the NDU. The news that Jill Ovens beat Lisa Eldret to the position of Northern Secretary has provoked a similar sort of reaction among similar circumstances. Both times the incumbent used all the power of their position (and then some), to try and

I'm delighted that a challenger can beat an incumbent within the union movement, but I'm not sure that that's quite the same as democracy. Obviously, I'm also pleased that both the eventual victors were more left-wing, more competent and more principled than the people they challenged (although admittedly that's not a particularly high standard on any count). That doesn't mean that either of those unions have become fantastically more democractic because of those victories.

One of the big debates among left-wing groups is what is the more truly democratic way to make decisions. To generalise hugely anarchists tend to prefer concensus decision making and communists tend to prefer voting. As I tend to do in these situations I agree with the criticisms both groups make of each other.

I think that concensus decision making is usually the best form of decision making for action-based groups that involve people from a lot of different backgrounds (although I speak from experience when I say I would rather wax my legs than design a poster or decide a slogan by consensus - well I've never waxed my legs, but it sounds like it'd be painful) - there's no point in going on a simple majority rules basis if people don't have a commitment to the group and a willingness to carry out decisions if they lose the vote. I have no problem with voting in a situation where there are only two options, a decision has to be made and people have committed to a majority rules decision making basis (as in a ratification vote or a strike vote). But I do know that both consensus decision making and voting can be pretty easily manipulated - and they're most easily manipulated when a select group of people control the flow of information.

But the decisions I have most experience of, and appear to me to work in a reasonably democractic way, are relatively simple decisions, either single decisions, or a larger group of decision made by a reasonably small group of people. The questions that are made when it comes to running a union are generally a lot more complicated. I can see roles for voting and roles for consensus, roles for elected, recallable delegates, and roles for direct decision making. But I do know that a truly meaningfully, democratic organistion would not look the way unions look now. The most meaningful indicator of whether or not an organisation (or country) is democratic is not the form used to make decisions, but the level of participation and knowledge. While unions are very democratic by our society's standards, they're not democratic by mine, because all the theoretically democratic structures in the world don't help without participation.

I don't expect either Laila or Jill to change that, I don't think we can expect leaders to just give democracy.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

At night we walk into our houses and burn

Recently there's been an on-going discussions about sex among feminist bloggers. It started with a debate on blow-jobs, and kind of continued through various different permutations, the most stark of which was tekanji's post calling for a truce in the 'sex wars' ending up in a heated argument about prostitution.

There's a lot I could say, a lot of different things I may respond to, in a round about kind of way, over the next few weeks. It all feels a bit strange to me. I don't think there are enough New Zealand feminists to have sex wars. Even when people disagree (and there were feminists who opposed prostitution law reform) we don't have enough troops for two seperate armies, and we couldn't afford the casulties.

But we do have discussions about sexuality, and I see the same idea among feminists I know as I have seen on blogs. I think Punk Ass Marc expressed one such idea most clearly

The same is true for guys. I can say “men suck” all day, and I can’t possibly add to the oppression of men, because such a thing as oppressing “men” isn’t really possible. Once it is, then that language ceases to attack the power stranglehold of a ruling class and starts to be trouble.


And while it isn’t a perfect analogy, I think there’s a strong argument to be made that submissive feminine acts and qualities are every bit as protected as the rich/white/males out there — and that’s because those men are the ones protecting them.
He was quickly critiqued on many different fronts by feminists who had more of a clue than he did. I understand why he wrote this, and I think I understand what he was trying to say. But I think he's completely, utterly wrong.

I think the idea that some forms of female sexuality match what men want, and are therefore more acceptable - even protected, is one that makes sense, on the face of it. But I think it completely misses the point of the way female sexuality is framed in our society. It's not particular sexual acts that are protected, but women meeting men's needs. A sex act that is protected when done to meet men's needs, is not the same act when it comes from women's genuine desire.

When I talk about genuine desire I'm not trying to imagine what our sexuality would be like in a free and equal society, I think that's impossible to know. I mean something much more simple - knowing, and being able to communicate, what you want for yourself.*

I think that's actually the problem with this whole discourse - there's a pretty effective version of divide and rule being played. Many women feel that their sexuality, their desires, are not OK, and they have to fight for them. But just because your desires are unacceptable, doesn't mean that other women's desires are acceptable. Having virgin and whore as your two options is supposed to make women who have no sex feel shit, women who have lots of sex feel like shit, and women who fall somewhere in between also feel like shit.

During these supposedly feminist discussions about sex you do frequently see women telling other women 'your sexuality isn't under attack'. I don't think this is true, I don't think any women's sexuality is free from attack, because I don't think it's OK for women to have seuxality independent of men's needs. I know that the way I feel about sex, and experience my sexuality and my desires, is not OK in this society. But I try to fight the feeling that other women have it easier, because I don't really know what it's like to walk in their shoes. I certainly don't think it's OK to tell another woman that her sexuality isn't under attack - particularly not if she feels that she needs to fight for it.

I feel like this post needs to end with a disclaimer. I've no idea if anything I've said is right. All I know about is me, my friends, and what other women have chosen to share in writing. Maybe there are women who find everything about their sexuality accepted and easy to navigate. I certainly don't want to imply that it isn't harder for some women than others. But I think if we started from the position that any sexuality a woman feels, experiences and communicates that is based on genuine desires, as opposed to male needs, challenges our socitey's views of women, then the divide and rule tactics would be less likely to work.

* I'm not trying to say that hetrosexual women's desires aren't or can't be partly about mutuality and pleasing their partners. For many women there is over-lap between your own desires and meeting other people's needs. But I think my point, that women's own desires aren't acceptable, still stands.

Can't fool me

Picket-lines today:

Workers at a Rotorua timber mill have walked off the job for 24 hours, to protest the company's pay offer. They're going for 5% this year - given the level of inflation that's barely a pay-rise at all. The company wants to give them a 3 year deal. It sounds like this is just the beginning of their negotiations. Saw mill workers are generally in quite a strong position to negotiate, if they're well organised, so it's really important that they use their strength.

The writers on 'America's Next Top Model' have gone on strike. You may wonder what the writers do on a reality television show, but it takes a lot of work to turn a whole bunch of raw footage into a coherent narrative about talking to ferns, red bull and museli bars. The twelve writers on the show are unanimous about seeking representation, and one of their main demands is health insurance(currently one writer has to pay $600 a month for health insurance). If you want to know more TWoP has an excellent interview with one of the striking writers. What these writers are doing is unprecedented, and it's a huge step forward for organising an unorganised industry.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

1981: Hamilton

I was having coffee (and by having coffee I mean herbal tea) with friend (and occasional commenter) Betsy, and a friends of ours, who are also a couple. We were nattering away about various random stuff and The Tour came up. The coversation went something like this:

Male half of the couple: Go on tell them, you know you want to know.

Female half of the couple: I was on the field in Hamilton

Me and Betsy: OH MY GOD!

Being on the field in Hamilton is easily the Woodstock of the New Zealand left (except as far as I know everyone who says they were on the field was actually there). It was direct, collective action, and it was successful in about as prominent a way as you can be - on international television.

Today's the 25th anniversary of stopping that game. A good time to salute those who managed to stop the match, particularly the people who made it onto the field.

For those of you who have little to no idea what I'm talking about I explain here.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

1981: Day of Shame

I don't know if they deliberately scheduled tonight's All Black Springbok match on the 25th Anniversary of the first match of the tour. I doubt it, there wouldn't be a weekend this winter that wasn't the anniversary of something (they don't have a game in Hamilton - which I think is in good taste - although more on that later).

I'm going to take advantage of this anniversary to do a little bit of history writing. Hamilton, Molesworth St and the Tests at least, I may decide to cover some other events, and write some analysis as well as recalling events, we'll see how we go.

Poverty Bays vs. South Africa was the day that the sport boycott was officially broken. The protests in Gisbourne weren't that big - I imagine 500 people is a large march by Gisborne standards, but given people travelled from outside it was a tiny fraction of the Gisborne population. The protests were larger away from the match, 600 in Dunedin, 1,500 in Auckland, 3,000 in Christchurch.

In Wellington, my hometown, there were 5,000 people on the streets the day the sports boycott was broken. They blockaded the National party headquarters (often a worthy goal), and marched on parliament. I know how 5,000 people fills Wellington's streets - that was their beginning.

Friday, July 21, 2006

PMS as a feminist issue

The Happy Feminist has a really good post called Pre-Menstrual Syndrome: a Confusing Springboard to Prejudice. She does a really good job of out-lining some of the politics of the way PMS is issues involved, but to me it's clear it's from the perspective of someone who has never had serious symptoms before or during menstruation. I wanted to write a little bit from the perspective of someone who has had both mild and severe symptoms at various stages of my life.

Most of The Happy Feminist's points are about the number of women who don't have pre-menstrual symptoms as the media portrays them. I understand why a lot of feminist analysis of premenstrual problems emphasise on the fact that many women don't have any symptoms associated with menstruation, and the majority don't have severe symptoms. PMS is often used as an excuse to discriminate against women. But I feel that this defence often gives up too much ground, it feels like conceding that discrimination against people who are suffering from severe symptoms would be reasonable, and that nothing can be done for those who have symptoms.

Most jokes about premenstrual symptoms are referring to psychological symptoms, not physical ones. I don't have severe physical symptoms myself, but I did have severe and unrelenting psychological symptoms for 3 or 4 years. Depression, Anxiety, absent-mindedness, and dizzyness would last one week out of four if I was lucky and two weeks out of four if I wasn't.

It's difficult to have a medical condition which is fodder for mediocre comedians everywhere. It's hard when your friends are telling jokes about it. It's harder still when no-one can tell that you have it, because you're certainly not going to tell them after they've made some stupid joke. The derision with which PMS is treated makes it that much harder to live with.

And live with it we have to, individual women have to learn to deal with whatever symptoms they have pretty much alone. There's often sympathy from other women, and some women may get support from men, but generally you're the one with the symptoms and the point is to make sure that they don't bother anyone else. This is true on both a structural level - 5 days sick leave doesn't go very far divided by 12, but also on an individual level. I was barely functioning up to half my life, but I worked so hard to make sure that that no-one else would notice. That's the point of most of the jokes, of course, making fun of women who dare to let menstruation get in the way of men's lives.

Then there's the medical problem with PMS, which is that no-one seems to give a shit. I once had a doctor tell me that there used to be quite a lot of interest in PMS, but then they found out that Prozac worked, so they stopped bothering (I only wish I was exaggerating). No looking at the root causes, no attempt to turn it from a syndrome into something we actually understand and can dilineate - once a drug company was making some money out of it that solves that problem.

I think it's fantastic that some people can make things easier by taking the pill, and others can make things easier by taking prozac. I found the root cause to my problems (it was dairy products - I'd been intolerant for years and I hadn't known it), but I did it by myself. I read many different books, I tried many different things, and finally stumbled on something that worked. That's not good enough, we need to find out what's going on and how we can change it.

PMS needs to be treated like any other medical condition or disability - and all medical conditions and disabilities should be treated better. There needs to be support and resources for people whose bodies don't work the same way every day of the month, until we can find out why it happens, and how to stop it.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

A great day for the union movement?

Yesterday I didn't think I was going to be able to attend the rally against Wayne Mapp's 90 day bill. I was pretty sick and I said to anyone who listened "I'll be damned if I'm going to damage my help to turn up EPMU's stupid pro-Labour rally." But this morning I was feeling much better, so I thought I'd better show. I'm really glad that I did, since it wasn't nearly as bad as I thought it was going to be (this probably has something to do with the fact that I had extremely low expectations - don't knock them).

There were probably between 1000 and 2000 people there. Numbers often look small on parliament, so it's hard to tell. There's already a couple of good reports up on indymedia.

The highlight for me came from Choir, Choir Pants on Fire (who I often find too pro-labour). I'm a sucker for union songs, and generally think our movements could do with a bit more singing. They had written a 90 day bill specific version of Holly Near's Singing for Our Lvies. They'd kept the verse 'we're gay and straight together'. This may not have been a direct response to Rosemary McLeod's extremly homophobic opinion piece on the weekend,* but it felt good to be singing it.

The highlight of the speeches was definately the lack of Labour party MPs. Also no-one actually told us to vote Labour, and while there was an awful lot of talk about how evil National is working in the union movement you learn to appreciate the little things.

I'm always astonished that the president of the CTU speaks to rallies in exactly the same way he would talk to a press-conference or give a submission to a select committee, even the content was the same. Laila Harre got a lot of bonus points from me for mentioning youth rates, and also at least trying to make a speech to a rally. The Australian unionist was pretty good at oratory, but I didn't listen to what he was saying (in fact the only reason I listened to the speeches at all was so I could write about them on my blog - so I hope you appreciate it).

Andrew Little proclaimed it a great day for the union movement - I think 'great' is overstating it. But I do think taking collective action is important - and I think it's fantastic that they managed to get so many people out. Even if it wasn't great, I'd say it was a better day than the union movement had had in a while.

* For some reason I'm really tempted to misquote Buffy in response to that article: "No the fact that Labour's anti-worker makes them anti-worker, the legislation just makes them look purple"

Two thoughts about the middle east

1. Why is all the attention on the people from Western countries who are trying to get out of Lebanon, rather than the Lebanese people who are stuck there?

2. So shall we assume because everyone's reporting on the shiny new war, that everything got fixed in Gaza while no-one was looking? Yeah I thought not.

Police Reporting

Two interesting bits of information from the South Island police force.

1. A West Coast police officer used a search warrant to get his girlfriend's cell phone records, because he was convinced she was having an affair. He has just been sentanced to 300 hours community service. "Inspector Vern Morris says the sentence is fair, but the loss of a good officer is disappointing." A good officer?

2. The National Party has leaked another police memo:

The latest memo orders staff to stop focussing on drug and dishonesty offences, and deliver a minimim of two traffic notices each shift.
This seems like an entirely reasonable reprioritisation to me. If the police have to do something I'd rather they were out on the highway than harassing poor people, which is what drug and dishonest offences actually amount to (rich people's dishonesty offences are called fraud and are treated entirely differently).

Your money or your life

The vaccine for the human papillomavirus was approved for use in New Zealand today on the grounds that it is both effective and safe. Most people probably know by now that HPV is a STD and it causes cervical cancer. Obviously this vaccine is a huge step forward for women's health (and men's too HPV also causes penile cancer).

But there are a couple of big questions around it, the first is cost. The vaccine will be available from September, but it'll cost $400. It can be publicly funded if it is on the National Immunisation Schedule.* But getting a vaccine on the scheduleis a process that takes at least a year. They don't expect that will happen before 2008. I don't know how many women will become infected with HPV between now and then, but it'll be too many. I believe that this vaccination should be offered to women, free of charge, as soon as it is available in New Zealand.

I'm also really unclear about how and whether they'll offer the vaccine to women who are already sexually active (obviously I have a vested interest in this). Ideally they'll offer the test for HPV to all women, and the vaccination to those who don't already have the disease. But I suspect they're too cheap to do that. If they can't do that they should offer the vaccine, for free, for every woman who wants it. Even if there's a 90% chance that I already have the virus it seems worthwhile to get the vaccine.

So far we haven't had any moralistic jumping up and down about how this will encourage children to have sex (thank God). But I do think that it's important that there's a way that girls whose parents refuse them permission for the vaccine can get vaccinated, ideally at the same time at everyone else, but failing that the vaccine cannot just be funded at one age. Because then women whose parents are reactionary fucks will have to fork out $400 for protection that everyone else gets to take for granted.

Edited to add: Hexyhex has let me know that you can't really test for HPV, my position is that the government should then make the vaccine available to anyone who wants it.

*I was looking at the National Immunisation handbook, and it's quite interesting. It convinced me to vaccinate any hypothetical children with all the vaccines included, but it also said a lot about medical research. Like this: "A primary course of Hib-OMP at two and four months of age and a booster dose at 12 months had an efficacy of 100 percent in 2588 Navajo children less than 15 months of age, who had received either one or two doses." - we wouldn't want to use white children as guinea pigs.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Why I don't blame the patriarchy

I've written before about the importance of the language we use. Words have direct meanings and they have resonances, and we need to make sure that these match what we're trying to say. In particular, I think the more precise our language is, the better we can communicate our ideas.

I try really hard not to use the word 'patriarchy' on this blog, because I don't know what it means. When a woman, or a man, talks about 'the patriarchy' it doesn't tell me anything about how they think the world works, or how men's power over women is maintained.

Instead of 'patriarchy' I tend to say 'sexist and misogynist society' - which isn't much more precise, but has the advantage of not sounding as though I'm describing a system that everyone understands how it's work. That's why I think 'patriarchy' is particularly difficult word - it sounds as if it's describing a quite precise system, but for all I know everyone who used the word could be meaning something slightly different.

This is of course part of a wider problem for feminism, I don't think any feminist, or feminist theory, has a complete and coherent explanation or how men's power over women is maintained. But I think the most important thing we can do is meet that problem head on, keep on thinking about, writing about, and analysing the world we live in. We need to find the precise words to describe all that, not rely on imprecise words to do our work for us.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Something to Say

There's been an interesting conversation going on about the fact that very few political bloggers had written about the terrorism in Mumbai, at least in New Zealand.*

I think it's both a useful question, and an extremely frustrating one. Span and Russell Brown, but the question 'why isn't anyone writing about the bombing in Mumbai', can't be answered by 100 good reasons why not. The question is more 'so why is did everyone write about the bombing in London'?

Sitting down each day to write about anything which you have something to say shows each of our priorities in a pretty stark way. For me, the challenge is not just to write about things that I know a lot about (feminism & Joss Whedon), but also to speak about areas (I am going to write a follow-up post about immigration, hopefully tomorrow).

Before I started writing here, I wondered why New Zealand blogs were so parochial and only wrote about New Zealand issues. Once I started writing I felt the need to talk about what was happening here - where I lived - because no one else was going to. I go back and forwards on this, but generally the more I write about New Zealand the more I'm talking about concrete realities, and the less I'm talking about abstract ideas.

I still have nothing to say about the bombing in Mumbai - and I don't think I ever would - writing about terrorism just isn't something that interests me. But I think every blogger who thinks that a death in Mumbai is as important as a death in London could work a little bit at what they say. I'm going to try and write about what I don't know, as well as what I know.

* Now to me that seems some inordinate length of time ago there's been wars, earthquakes, tsunamis and the news making us feel like people get murdered in bizarre ways every week. But the fact that it can feel like a long time ago is part of the problem

Post Secret

I've linked to the Post Secret site before. But this week's postcards are particularly moving so I thought I'd remind everyone they're out there. The juxtaposition of the second and third postcard is powerful because it hints of hope.

And the person who e-mailed in "I believe you" is my hero of the day.

I've long thought that telling the truth about women's lives was a feminist act, and I've usually taken that further - that telling the truth about anyone's life is an act of resistance. It's not enough, not by itself, but it's often an important starting point. Each week Post Secret confirms my belief.

Friend of the blog and occasional commenter Betsy gave me a copy of the post-secret book for my birthday. It's everything you'd expect. For some reason the one that's stayed with me is the young person who wrote in: "When my parents went away I trashed the house, so they'd think I had friends." Go get a copy of the book out of your library - or borrow mine.

Monday, July 17, 2006

That liver could have gone to a white person!

It was the front-page article and the headline read: Illegal immigrant gets $500,000 liver transplant and the sting said "A Pacific Island overstayer will not pay a cent towards a half-million dollar hospital bill after the government granted her permanent residency." The story is een important enough to be granted it's own logo 'Migrant Health Crisis'.*

The Sunday Star Time isn't racist you see, it's just worried:

"The money we spend on these people is money we cannot spent on New Zealand residents or citizens," Crombie said.
But lets look at the woman involved in the lead story in just a little bit more detail. She moved to New Zealand in 1998 and worked in a Tomato packhouse in South Auckland. Now my rant about employers and immigration will have to wait for anohter day, but today I'll just point out she was working here for 4 years before she got sick, and that the extent to which her employment complied with New Zealand employment and tax law was almost certainly up to her employer, rather than something she could control.

She went into liver failure while she was pregnant, but she didn't go to a doctor until she was 7 months pregnant, because she was worried about being an illegal immigrant. The liver failure was a result of undetected hepatitis B.

Did you get that - if she had gone to the doctor earlier she wouldn't have had liver failure. The reason her health care ended up costing so much money was not because we're too generous with health care to illegal immigrants, but because we're too stingy.** If this woman had had access to health care throughout the time she was working in New Zealand she wouldn't be sick now. That she was too scared to go to the doctor is an indictment on our immigration system.

I am going to write more about immigration. The current debate appears to be limited to either Winston Peters style frothing at the mouth, or defending immigration because business needs workers. There seems to be no room in the debate for those of us for who believe in immigration from a left-win, anti-racist perspective. Which makes it all the more important that those of us who hold that view speak it as loudly as we can.

* I have a kind of fascination/pity for the people who design logos for news stories. It seems to me that it'd be a truly soul-destroying job. One news channel's logo for the death of the twins in South Auckland recently was a hospital bed with two dummies on it - tasteful.

** This is obviously a problem among all poor people, not just illegal immigrants. Charging for doctor's visits in a publicly funded health service is ridiculous, and not just because I don't believe in paying for health care. Primary health care is the most effective way of spending health dollars, and yet it is the area where there is the biggest

Sunday, July 16, 2006

This isn't Chess

I made a resolution, a few months back, not to write unless I had something to say. I decided not to give into the pressure to write about something just because it was happening. What this means is that I'm not going to write a lot about Israel and Palestine. I'll link to stuff I think are interesting or useful, but my thoughts aren't necessarily that original.

But today I've got something to say, although it's more about the way the conflict is discussed than the conflict itself. I've been reading a lot of liberal blogs that treat Israel and Palestine as two equivalent sides that need to be evaluated equally. (most recently - talking about Lebanon as well as Palestine - at Feministe and No Right Turn but it's not rare). Israel is occupying Palestine. They're not playing tennis, or in a a political debate, or anywhere else where you can write process stories and evaluate the moves of the two sides as if they're playing the same game.

The Viet Cong and the US government, GAM (the free Acheh movement) and the Indonesian government, the ANC and the South African government, the Nazi government and the French resistance - take whatever position you want on these struggles, but you have to acknowledge that the two parties are different. To treat the Israeli government and army as equivalent to any party in Palestine is to ignore that Palestine is under occupation.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

The Frog

I thought it was time my friend's baby had an official nickname - so in the future I am going to call him the frog.

I told the frog that men all over the internet were feeling sorry for him and he laughed hysterically. Although that probably had more to do the fact that he was playing with a cellphone than anything I said (he loves playing with cellphones and computers - I think he wants to be a grown-up).

My post about the frog got a lot of attention, Span has summarised it so I don't have to. I thought about ignoring the furore, but there are two ideas, that almost every right-wing male blogger who wrote about this made, that I thought it might be useful to clarify.

There have been a lot of men who have implied that my worries about what will happen to the frog are my primary, or first thoughts about him, or change the way I look at him. I suspect most of those men haven't spent that much time around 11 month old babies. Here are some of the most frequent thoughts I have about the frog:

'You're just the most cleverest baby that ever was.'
'You've established that the gravity works, so do all the frozen peas need to go on the floor?'
'You want to read 'the very hungry caterpillar' again?'
'Shit I need to tie my hair back.'
'oh no horrid o'clock, what will we do?'

The ridiculousness of the way they overplayed my worries for the frog in an attempt to discredit what I said isn't that a big deal. What is more worrying is that the men who have written about my post have implied that rape is a rare crime. They have compared being afraid that a boy will grow up and rape to being afraid that a woman will commit infanticide.

It should be no surprise that right-wing men have no idea how many men rape women. It's not a tiny percentage, and it's many order of magnitude larger than women who kill their babies. For example 4.5% of American men going to college admitted forcing a woman to have sex with them when that woman didn't want to have sex. That's one in twenty men at university who will admit to having already raped a woman. Then there are the men who don't admit it, or who don't count what they did as force, or think that silence means consent, or that if she's passed out it's fine. Studies show that somewhere between 20% of 60% of men say that they would force a woman to have sex with them, if they knew that there wouldn't be any consequences (the variation depends on how the questions are phrased).

I don't want the frog to be part of that group. I want him to only have sex with people who don't just consent to sex, but actively want sex. I know that if we lived in a world where women were valued, and our desires were considered to be important as men, I wouldn't need to worry about that. I know that if the only influences on the frog were the people around him now then he would always respect the desires of the women who he is having sex with (if he's having sex with women). I'm worried about how the rest of the world will change that.

In the comments thread it was clear that I wasn't the only woman who had this fear. Flea has already written about it, much more eloquently than I ever could. I recommend you read her post.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Days like these

The government has recently released an important report: New Zealand Living Standards 2004. Katherine Ryan did an excellent job this morning, not letting up on the minister for social welfare on the fact beneficiaries were getting poorer (and he really didn't want to talk about it), I recommend you listen to it (Sue Bradford gets minus points for mentioning an individual family who have already been used by far too many politicians). National's welfare spokesperson blamed the welfare system for hardship among beneficiaries. Taking away money from people is a well known way to lessen hardship.

The jist of the report was that more people are living in extreme hardship and that there is more hardship among Maori, Pacific Islanders, solo parents and those on income tested benefits. I'm not surprised by this, but I am angry.

I struggle with things to say that won't be banal - poverty sucks. I've thought about writing about some of the people they know, and how the grinding poverty of low-income families wore them down, but those are not my stories to tell.

But 1 in 25 New Zealanders don't have warm bedding. Forget insulated houses, forget heated rooms, forget a draft free house, forget curtains, there are people who can't afford enough blankets to keep them warm at night. There are far more people who can't afford a warm jacket, or shoes that keep out the rain. It's cold, wet and windy, and people are dying. This is supposed to be as good as it gets for the poor, a third-term labour government, there's no way the parliamentary system is going to deliver much more than this - increasing hardship and gaps betweeen the rich and the poor. Wearing badges is not enough - we need to organise and fight back.

The mind boggles

So imagine for a minute that you're anti-abortion. You're wandering around the internets as happy as you can be when you come across an article where a woman didn't just argue for her right to abortion, but said how excited she was to have an abortion:

I know, I know, I've heard all the arguments: Abortion stops a beating heart. It's a child, not a choice. Every life is precious. Well, I don't care what the pro-lifers say... I am totally psyched for this abortion!
Isn't that shocking? Wouldn't you just run to your blog as quickly as can be to condemn this woman, and the many other women like her. Not even pausing to figure out what this news website called 'The Onion' is actually about.

Pete a fine upstanding young man, who should not responsible for the fact that he's a few beads short of a rosary, did just that. He wrote not one, but two, posts attacking young Caroline Webber. Even when over 500 people had explained to him that she doesn't exist, he didn't quite get it:
First of all, who are we talking about? We are talking about a woman who supports the murder of over 3,000 babies/human beings every single day. We are talking about a woman who supports the suctioning out of brains from human beings to collapse their skulls in order to remove their dead carcases from the women who have chosen to kill their children. A woman who likely supports the killing of a fully developed 9 month old baby so that the poor mother doesn't have to buy diapers, or live with the trauma of having to raise a child.
Really make sure you check out both the comment threads as well - I didn't know there were so many different ways to laugh at someone for their own stupidity. (via BitchPhD)

Monday, July 10, 2006

Beautiful Boy

My friend has an 11 month old baby boy. When she was pregnant someone she knew was raped and we talked about the not-yet-child inside her. She didn't know whether the Frog was going to be a boy or a girl and we didn't know whether it was worse to raise a girl and be afraid that when she grew up she'd be raped, or a boy and be afriad that when he grew up he might rape someone.

Well he is a boy, and I still think about that conversation. I still want to protect him from what I'm afraid he'll grow up to be. Right now he's amazing and beautiful. He bangs on everything and anything. He snuggles into you for comfort. He made me read A Very Hungry Catepillar 3 and half times in a row once. He's a crazy, loving baby.

I'm so scared of what this world will turn him into. That's one of the things that the US soldeirs who have raped Iraqi women makes me think about. How our world in general, and the army more than anything, makes men into monsters.

At the moment we can protect him from all that. I can sing him songs of hopes and struggle and there ain't nothing can harm him. But that only works so long.

Rape and war

Heart from Women's Space has written an amazing and heartbreaking series of posts about the rape and murder of an Iraqi woman by American soldeirs. She's written everything I'd like to say if I was brave enough to spend time reading about what happened. The most important point, and the point she makes several times, that this was not the act of one sick individual, but part of a systemic culture of rape and abuse.

Please read these posts.

Rape of the Hadji Girl: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3
Rape of Iraq: Part 1, Part 2

More on Homosexual Law Reform

My friend tells a story about her grandmother who we'll call Judith. Every time the Sallies came around Judith would empty her purse into their collection bucket, she'd grown up in a religious household and respected the work they did. In 1985 she stopped - she no longer gave them a cent - and told them that the reason was because of the homosexual law reform petition.

I feel the same way, when I was on diversion I wouldn't do volunteer work for the Salvation Army. I'd never donate anything to them - although I do occasionally buy stuff from their stores if it's cheap. You lead an organised hate campaign and I'm prepared to judge you for that for far more than 20 years.

But I'm prepared to give them credit for this: apologising:

On the eve of the 20th anniversary of Homosexual Law Reform, the head of the Salvation Army has apologised to the gay and lesbian communities for the Sallies' decision to administer the petition opposing law reform.

“We regret any hurt caused to people by the process of the petition and desire to build bridges to all sections of the community,” said Commissioner Garth McKenzie, Territorial Commander for the Salvation Army in New Zealand.
I'm not going to start giving the Sallies anything, but I might feel better about buying stuff from them.

There are a few good articles about that time.

I'd also storngly recommend listening to the Radio New Zealand documentary about the law reform debate (I can't link to it, because the site is down at the moment, but it was on at 4pm today so it shouldn't be hard to find). It was a truly excellent documentary - it let voices from the past speak for themselves.

It was upsetting and disturbing though. While I've heard about the Jerry Falwell's of the world who blame everything on homosexuality - they seem a little bit unreal and elsewhere - it's unnerving to hear them talking here (even in the past). There was one man who talked about hoping that terminal AIDS patients died soon, because he believed that the more people who died of AIDS the less likely parliament was to pass the bill. I just can't understand that there are people who think like that.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Just 20?

The Homosexual Law Reform Act became law 20 years ago today:

An Act to amend the Crimes Act 1961 by removing criminal sanctions against consensual homosexual conduct between males, and by consequentially amending the law relating to consensual anal intercourse
Reading the list of people who voted against the bill makes me angry as if it wasn't 20 years ago. I'm angry at the closet cases; I'm angry at Don McKinnon (his brother has played a huge part in establishing the gay and lesbian archives); I'm angry at the supposed liberals in the National government (Ruth Richardson I'm looking at you); I'm also angry at God for finding Whetu Tiritakane Sullivan, because she was so cool and staunch during the Contraception, Sterilisation and Abortion Act debate, but then had a car crash, was found by God and changed her mind.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

A Question

The fairy Godmother of fighting sexism and misogyny has granted you one wish. You have the opportunity to rid the world of all sexist media and replace it with a media that is true, honest and treats women as people. But you have to make a choice - you have to choose between media aimed at men and boys or media aimed at women and girls. You can change the nature of pornography, video games, action movies and so on, or you can change the nature of television, romantic comedies, women's magazines, romance novels and so on.

What would you choose and why?

I can see the argument for getting rid of the media aimed at men. The feminist movement of the last forty years has shown that women are actually quite good at organising for themselves, and changing things - it's men that are the problem. Media aimed at men is all about maintaining masculinity and a sense of entitlement, and both these things are really dangerous for women.

And yet in this particular thought experiment I choose the media aimed at women every time - I never even think about it. I think it's partly because I'm exposed more to media aimed at women.

But mostly it's because I think the media aimed at women gets in the way of us working together. I'd rather spend my energy in making people without power stronger, than people with power nicer.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Hating what she's wearing

A while back there was a debate running feminist debate about the website Go Fug Yourself. I think part of the problem is that the debate was framed as a question of whether or not it was funny. Arguing about humour is a very difficult place to analyse media. I don't think there is any possibility of developing a feminist line on whether or not Go Fug Yourself is funny (for the record my position is 'maybe'). I would also never argue that feminists shouldn't read and enjoy Go Fug Yourself. As I've said I'm all for things that give us joy, and very few things produced under capitalism are going to be politically pure.

But we can't stop criticising things just because we enjoy them. Just because feminists find Go Fug Yourself funny, just because it's written by women who identify as feminists (and I'm pretty sure at least Jessica does) doesn't mean that the site is feminist - and I believe that it is the opposite.

There are some areas of the patriarchy (for want of a better word - I have to write a post about why I dislike that term) that women do the primary policing over. Making sure an oppressed group polices itself is a pretty central part to maintaining any power system. You grow up female in our society you know that women are supposed to police conformity when it comes to food, appearance and sex.

That's not to say that men don't have a role in policing all of these. Men can say "Should you be eating that?" to their girlfriends (if they want to risk the possibility that I will kill them when I develop the lazer powered eyes I've always wanted), but it's other women who will tell them how many calories, or how much carbohydrate, where to find the diet version, and to brush their teeth instead.

I think stopping policing other women's behaviour to suit our sexist and misogynist society is a vital precondition for feminists doing anything useful.

Go Fug Yourself polices other women's appearances - yes they're celebrities, but New Weekly concentrates on policing celebrities, doesn't mean it doesn't have a message for the rest of us. They did about Kelly Clarkson recently:

Now I'm not going to defend the outfit saratorially. But to say (as Go Fug Yourself did) that Kelly Clarkson should avoid wearing outfits that make her look like a pear, or that she's twenty pounds heavier, or that she should make sure that she wears clothes that are flattering. That says it's OK not to look like Keira Knightley (and don't even get me started on the way they write about women who may be suffering from eating disorders, because I'm too angry to be coherent on that), as long as you make sure you don't look any heavier. You have to make sure you 'flatter' yourself.**

The policing on Go Fug Yourself is funnier, more intelligent, and kinder than what you find in women's magazines. But that doesn't mean that the readers don't take messages from it about the way they should dress, it's still part of the work women need to stop doing about policing other women's appearance.

* I know they occasionally target men, but it's rare enough to be irrelevant. There's not a single man who gets a category for himself and they haven't fugged a man yet this month.

** I have this excellent top that looks fantastic on me - so excellent that I'm considering buying a couple more, because it comes from Pagani and it's not going to last. I never realised how loaded the term 'flattering' was until my feminist friends talked about it and refused to use that word.

Funniest line ever

I stopped watching the West Wing at the end of Season two (luckily I had Deborah to tell me how bad it was going to get). But I've been systematically rewatching the DVDs ever since I discovered a friend who had them (although my system does involve skipping all the most offensive episodes and occasionally pausing the DVD to yell at the TV). I remain over-attached to the characters, even though I loathe the politics more with each passing season.

There has been a lot of ludicrious dialogue and statements that I wanted to argue against in my blog, but I thought ranting about a cancelled TV show would probably be boring to everyone who wasn't me. But I'm currently watching 'The Stormy Present' and it's just got too ridiculous for me to ignore. In the West Wing world there are large demonstrations in Saudi Arabia and there are a whole bunch of people in the situation room talking about it and some random flunky from the army says:

They seem to be shouting anti-American slogans yet demanding democratic reforms
That is so weird, how can you be pro-democracy and anti-the US? It's not like the US has ever assisted the over-throw of a democratically elected government or anything.

So I'm going to run a competition in the comments - who can name the most democratically elected government's that the US has overthrown or attempted to overthrow. There may even be a prize.

A radical notion

The story of Christiaan Briggs (author of last straw) being arrested for seriously assaulting a British pop star, is a strange one. My first reaction was slightly different from either Idiot/Savant or David Farrar (the fact that I disagree with David Farrar shouldn't be a surprise, I think there are very few things we'd have the same first reaction on). Idiot/Savant said

It's a reminder of a fact the "hang 'em high" brigade and the rest of the baying mob screaming for harsher sentences and more brutal treatment of criminals have forgotten: crime is not solely done by a mysterious class of Others, but also by people we know - our friends, relatives, or people we have met over the net. Anyone can get get drunk and do something stupid, anyone can be a dick, anyone can find themselves in desperate circumstances, and anyone could decide that they could make more money knocking off liquor stores than we would working at McDonalds.
This is the nearest we've got to facts:
British media reports says Leeson was on his way home on a No. 29 bus after performing at a sellout gig when he confronted a man harassing his girlfriend.

The two men got off the bus together in Camden Road, north London, and Leeson was punched.
Obviously there's no way of knowing what actually happened, and what the British media are reporting and what actually happened can often be quite some way apart. So everything I'm saying is with the caveat that if the facts are different, obviously my reaction is different.

But I only wish I wasn't surprised, I only wish I could say 'that's unpossible'. I only wish that I believed that a man who is anti-imperialist, a man who fights capitalism, hell a man who linked to my blog, would therefore treat all women like human beings. I wish that among left-wing men harassing random women, or getting into macho pissing contests with other men over women, was universally recognised as unacceptable behaviour.

Any woman who has spent any time in politically active circles knows that it's not the case.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Let them eat cake

It just keeps getting worse. Yesterday it was all about ministers randomly decided that a certain number of beneficiaries in the same place was dangerous - in much the same way that more than three people makes a riot.

Now Judith Collins is in on the act, her proposal is selecting some beneficiaries and giving a third of their money directly to a supermarket and (no explanation about what they're going to do about people who don't have a car and aren't walking distance from a supermarket). She said:

It wouldn't have to be everybody who's a beneficiary, but for those who are clearly not looking after their kids in terms of being able to get them fed before they go to school, we should be looking at it.
Now leaving aside how they'd decide which beneficiaries weren't feeding their kids (you want teachers to become spies on parents? If you want teachers to take on a more social welfare role then you'll have to take other work out of them, and also consider the possibility that this wouldn't be best acheived if they were taking a punitive role). The benefit is not supposed to be enough to live on.

For anyone who missed that: the 1991 benefit cuts took the Unemployment Benefit, the Domestic Purposes Benefit and the Sickness Benefit were all cut to a level that you couldn't live on. They estimated the bare minimum required to buy enough food, and then cut it significantly. If people can't live on the benefit it's not because they're doing anything wrong.

If you want to make sure kids have breakfast then give them breakfast at school. Stop with this punitive shit and provide resources to those that need them.

Best Bag Ever

I have to show-off this beautiful bag my friends made me:

Now this is a blog with an official bag.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Benefit Clusters

I'm going to the pub with a benefit cluster tonight. Well not a whole benefit cluster, just a part of one. Three adults and a baby, and not one of them have a real job. I agree that it's a danger sign that they didn't find any rich young professionals to move into their house with a leaky roof.

I suspect that this particular benefit cluster isn't what David Benson-Pope had in mind. How many different ways can politicans and media outlets find to say: "we don't like poor brown people"?

I've found the beneficiary bashing, the Maori bashing, the blaming individuals for structural problems and suggesting punitive responses, terribly depressing. Particularly as the dog-whistle politics (and sometimes not even that - what's it called when it get so unsubtle that everyone can hear it - is that just whistle politics) seemed to be effective, and there were so many Maori who were prepared to say what Pakeha wanted to hear (I'm looking at you John Tamihere, and also you Pita Sharples). I wasn't going to write anything. I wasn't even going to link to the few beacons of sanity that I'd read. I decided that the only thing I could contribute to this discourse was not to add my oxygen to it. But it's got to the stage where the hating on brown poor people has got too much and I need to shout back.

25 Years Ago Today

One of the biggest lecture theatres at Victoria University has a sticker up the front it says "Mobilisation May 1: Stop the Tour". That sticker made me happy every single time I saw it (and mostly I saw it at 7.30am as I was leafletting lecture theatres to let students know about protests). It's been up 25 years now - the first big anti-tour mobilisation was May 1 1981. The second big mobilisation was July 3. It's been 25 years since everyone came out - Auckland to Eltham. The retrospectives have already started.

I'm going to take this opportunity to write about The Tour, and its meaning. We weren't in New Zealand in 1981, but I remember going on the protests of four years later. I remember chanting, and being out late and the excitement of getting food from a place which, in my memory, had bamboo shoots painted on the walls. As I became politically active in my own right, the history of 1981 became something I claimed and took strength from. That time means a lot to me, as an activist now, but it also has a place in our history, that I don't think is written about. I suspect a lot of the retrospectives will be too simple and smug - I want an opportunity to put a view that doesn't see the fourth labour government as the culmination of what people were fighting for.

I also don't write about the power of collective action - they stopped the game at Hamilton - one person couldn't have done that.