Thursday, August 31, 2006

Ensuring that girls have a great start to life

More bad news in the obesity epidemic: girls who are overweight in their early school years are likely to achieve less academically than their peers later in life, new research shows.
When it comes to the 'obesity epidemic' the Press can't get through the lead paragraph without lying. Luckily the research was available for free on-line, so we can see what a shitty job the The Press did of reporting the research (and also see how frustrating myopic the researchers are).

The research didn't show anything like that - it showed that girls who were not classified as overweight at age five, but were classified as overweight at age nine had lower test scores, more internalised behaviour problems and more externalised behaviour problems. Girls who were classified as overweight about both 5 and 8 had similar test scores and externalised behaviour problems as those who were never classified as overweight. The only correlation for boys was that if they were overweight they had fewer externalised behaviour problems (I guess that's scientist speak for they were nicer).

The researchers pointed out that even the difference they did identify was not that significant - for example the education of the mother had 2 to 3 times as much effect on tests and behaviour as did whether or not girls became overweight. But they concluded with this:
The good news is that some recent school-based strategies have been shown to be effective in reducing overweight, particularly among girls.35, 15 Our study suggests that these school-based programs may have broader effects on school outcomes more generally by reducing overweight in the early years.
OK lets be really fucking clear, any correlation between a negative outcome and higher weight that effects girls and not boys won't have jackshit to do with the weight itself.

I can't believe that researchers can seriously suggest 'being overweight makes people feel bad about themselves, lets make sure we fight obesity'.

The best thing we can do for those girls is stop teaching them to hate their bodies. The fact that this was reported is bad news in the obesity epidemic - rather than bad news for the "obesity epidemic" - shows the refusal to look at the damage that's being done to young girls. It terrifies me that another generation of girls is being taught not to take up space as I write this article, and they're being taught it at an even earlier age than my generation was.

I'm going to end with a letter a mother wrote to Penlope Leach (from the book Baby & Child) asking if she's doing the right thing for her 'over-weight' daughter. I want you to try and guess what age the daughter is:
Unfortunately, though, she also takes after me in a tendancy to put on weight. I've fought this all my life and I'm determined that she shouldn't face the same battles. At home we just don't have fattening foods in the house. She already knows the danger foods and when she asks for something like chocolate or ice cream at the supermarket I show her the 'light' versions and we get those. When she goes out, though, other people try to sabotage our efforts, and not only people who mean to be kind and give her 'treats' either. A teacher at her nursery school insists she has the ordinary snack.
This particular child is four, and the age at which girls get treated like this is only getting younger.

But at least they're protected from the dangers associated with being over weight.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

I hate him

Three 14 year old girls were drunk in Ashburton, when they met up with a 35 year old man. When one of them passed out he put her in the recovery position - then he gave some pot to the remaining girls and raped one of them.

This post isn't about that, this post isn't even about the fact that a jury wouldn't convict him of rape. No this is about the comments Judge Stephen Erber made during sentancing:

"They were silly, vulnerable and very drunk and the major complainant was clearly flirtatious," he said.

"This girl was partly the author of her own misfortune. She managed to get herself drunk.

"She was clearly making up to other men, or boys. This is a clear example of juvenile binge drinking.

That's not even the worst of it - I've Judge before, this isn't the first time he's said vile things about a woman who has been raped. He'll sit on another rape trial, sometime soon, he'll have another opportunity to victim blame, he'll have another experience to make another woman's life just that much worse.

NoteI will have zero tolerance for rape apologists in the comments. I will delete the post and ban your from my blog.

'If we are to build a mass movement we must recognize that no individual decision, like rejecting consumption, can liberate us.'

I always have problems with the 'what sort of feminist are you?' discussions. It pisses me off that the form these phrases take 'anarcha-feminism', 'socialist feminism' 'liberal feminism' implies that feminism needs help ('liberal' is the adjective modifying the noun 'feminism'). But more importantly the feminist writing that I agree the most with is from the women's liberation movement. I sometimes get a bit embarassed by this - there's been very complex bodies of theory developed since the late 1960s/early 1970s, surely it's simplistic to prefer the ecstatically written, rapidly mimeographed writing of women who were finding their voices 40 years ago? But the women of the women's liberation movement, with their background in radical politics, focus on organising, and their eyes on total change, make sense to me in a way that very little else does. I'm not really talking about individual issues, I think the analysis of lots of issues have developed a lot in the last 40 years, but a vision of what being a feminist means, and what a feminist movement should be.

But whenever I doubt that I'm all about women's liberation, I find another article from that time that sums exactly what I'm trying to say (this one thanks to Bitch|Lab. Ellen Willis wrote a fantastic article about the problems with consumerist politics. It starts:

If white radicals are serious about revolution, they are going to have to discard a lot of bullshit ideology created by and for educated white middle-class males. A good example of what has to go is the popular theory of consumerism.

As expounded by many leftist thinkers, notably Marcuse, this theory maintains that consumers are psychically manipulated by the mass media to crave more and more consumer goods, and thus power an economy that depends on constantly expanding sales. The theory is said to be particularly applicable to women, for women do most of the actual buying, their consumption is often directly related to their oppression (e.g. makeup, soap flakes), and they are a special target of advertisers. According to this view, the society defines women as consumers, and the purpose of the prevailing media image of women as passive sexual objects is to sell products. It follows that the beneficiaries of this depreciation of women are not men but the corporate power structure.

First of all, there is nothing inherently wrong with consumption. Shopping and consuming are enjoyable human activities and the marketplace has been a center of social life for thousands of years.

The locus of oppression resides in the production function: people have no control over which commodities are produced (or services performed), in what amounts, under what conditions, or how these commodities are distributed. Corporations make these decisions and base them solely on their profit potential.

As it is, the profusion of commodities is a genuine and powerful compensation for oppression. It is a bribe, but like all bribes it offers concrete benefits—in the average American’s case, a degree of physical comfort unparalleled in history. Under present conditions, people are preoccupied with consumer goods not because they are brainwashed but because buying is the one pleasurable activity not only permitted but actively encouraged by our rulers. The pleasure of eating an ice cream cone may be minor compared to the pleasure of meaningful, autonomous work, but the former is easily available and the latter is not. A poor family would undoubtedly rather have a decent apartment than a new TV, but since they are unlikely to get the apartment, what is to be gained by not getting the TV?
and it ends
Furthermore, the consumerism line allows Movement men to avoid recognizing that they exploit women by attributing women’s oppression solely to capitalism. It fits neatly into already existing radical theory and concerns, saving the Movement the trouble of tackling the real problems of women’s liberation. And it retards the struggle against male supremacy by dividing women. Just as in the male movement, the belief in consumerism encourages radical women to patronize and put down other women for trying to survive as best they can, and maintains individualist illusions.

If we are to build a mass movement we must recognize that no individual decision, like rejecting consumption, can liberate us. We must stop arguing about whose life style is better (and secretly believing ours is) and tend to the task of collectively fighting our own oppression and the ways in which we oppress others. When we create a political alternative to sexism, racism, and capitalism, the consumer problem, if it is a problem, will take care of itself.

Dance then where ever you may be

Asher's written a really interesting post about religion in schools:

In the school assemblies, the whole school was to stand and recite the Lord’s prayer. This was lead by the head prefect - at the time I thought it was just a quirk, but now it seems that it may have been to get around the laws regarding prayer in schools. Additionally, we would sing one or two hymns, always of a Christian nature. In the year level assemblies neither of these occurred, but once every term or two we would be addressed by a “guest speaker” - a Christian who would discuss Jesus with us, and hand out free copies of the Christian Bible at the end of the assembly.

In the school assemblies, the pressure on all the students to recite the Lord’s prayer was intense. If you stood silent, the teachers would stare intensely at you, making sure you knew they disapproved. On a couple of occasions, I was actually confronted by teachers demanding to know why I wasn’t reciting the prayer with the rest of the school! In addition, the intense peer pressure that always exists at high school from the other students was ever present in this case.
I went to Wellington East, an all girls school just up the road from Wellington College. Unlike Wellington College it's not a rich school. But, like Wellington College, it had religious assemblies. We said the Lord's Prayer, and sang songs - which were hymns about half the time, sometimes there'd be a reading from the bible.

I think the pressure put on Asher is apalling, but that wasn't my experience at all. I never felt any pressure to say the prayer, or sing hymns, sometimes I did - sometimes I didn't. There were no dirty looks from teachers - lots of teachers didn't say the prayers either.

Sometime in my fourth form I did get a dirty look, but it was from another student. You see I was sick of the fact that all the hymns constantly referred to God as 'he' - so I'd taken to changing around the pro-nouns around. Unfortunately my theology wasn't quite as advanced as my feminist principles and most of the songs turned out to be about Jesus rather than about God, so I'd be singing "and I'll lead you all, wherever you may be, and I'll lead you all in the dance said she."

A Christian girl sitting near me wasn't partciularly happy with that.

I think what happened to Asher at school was indefensible (although I do think that Wellington College is a terrible, no good, very bad, school, and wouldn't expect any better). But I'm not convinced the problem was just the religion.

We didn't just sing hymns at assembly at my school - we also sang songs. Since I was at school on the suffrage centenary we learned to sing the excellent Bread and Roses. It probably shouldn't surprise people that I have no problem with singing a socialist, feminist song, but other people might have.* I'm sure if people hadn't wanted to sing Bread and Roses that would have been fine, but I think it would be as bad to pressure kids to sing Bread and Roses as it would be to pressure them to sing The Lords Prayer (which I can still do). To say that the only place in school that kids should have a right to opt out is around religious ideas, seems to me to be problematic, and priviledging religious belief over other kinds of principles.

* Probably very few, at my school - but it's the principle of the thing.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006


There's been a 'study' done of New Zealanders attitudes to - well see for yourself:

Eighty three per cent of respondents approved of married woman working full-time before they have children but only 2 per cent approve of full-time work when women have children under school age.

Approval is higher (30 per cent) for mothers of young children working part-time and increases to 14 per cent for women working full-time after the youngest child starts school.
17 per cent of people don't approve of women working after they get married? Where did they find these people? Because any answer but the 1930s scares me muchly.

Since when is 30 per cent a high level of approval for mothers of young children working part time? Do 86 per cent of New Zealanders disapprove of women working full-time if they have school aged kids? Did anyone ask about men? This is all some kind of weird hoax right?

And most importantly where the hell do people get off thinking it's any of their business. Who asks questions that pre-suppose that people have a right to pass that sort of judgement?

Oh and less than 50% of people think men should do more housework.

There are a lot of really serious critiques I could make about this sort of research (it doesn't actually make any sense- far more than 2% of mothers with pre-school children work - the dissonance betwen reality and stated opinions is insane). Alternatively I could self-combust with my own fury (I don't think I will, it was touch and go for a while there). But instead I think I'll use those figures as a launching pad for a the discussion on motherhood that I've been meaning to write for some time.

But before I do you must go read Liz Conor's post on the subject - if you didn't click on that link last time I posted on the subject, you must now. It says everything I'm trying to say but better (I considered just not writing my post, but if we all had to stop writing when other people said it better there'd be no internet).

I think the starting point for any feminist analysis of child-rearing, and the way that it affects women is to look at how it is done in our society (which in my case means New Zealand):

1. The vast majority of reproductive work is done by women and is treated as women's responsibility. I don't expect there are that many people who would argue for that, even without the nonsense I just quoted.*

2. The majority of child-rearing work is done in isolation, and is usually one person's responsibility (best case scenario it's two). While there are lots of exceptions to the isolation issue - school is the biggest, commodified child-care is another, people also make informal arrangements - that is still the assumption under which we organise our society - and

3 Child-rearing is not resourced collectively - costs (both in terms of money and in terms of time) of raising children are mostly met by the parents.

4. Child-rearing is work, and absolutely essential work at that. The requirements of societies in general, and capitalism in particular is for new people, new people require a shit-load of work.

Now I think these are the four most important facts about child-rearing in our society, it should come as no surprise that they're all very bad things. Together they make child-rearing incredibly stressful work that isn't rewarded or respected. There are very few formal support networks available to anyone who is parenting, and if you're going to get any relief you have to organise it yourself (no calling in sick, certainly no annual leave). Many public spaces are not child-friendly (particularly young children), which severely restricts the lives of women who are the vast majority of primary caregivers.

These are important feminist issues - it's women who suffer, because of the way child-rearing is raised in our society. Most women will be directly affected by society's attitude towards child-rearing at some stage in their life.

I think 99.999% of feminists would agree that #1 needs to change, and that it must always be the starting (I get driven so batty by writers - mostly Marxists and Marxist feminists - who manage to write a whole bunch of stuff about how they need to change child-rearing without mentioning the work that men aren't doing). But I really don't believe that men doing half the child-rearing would be enough.

Until we acknowledge that caring for children is work - and restructure our society accordingly - women are going to continue to be screwed over by the double shift. I'm not suggesting it can be done under capitalism (I don't believe it can). But I think we can fight for changes in the right direction - anything that makes it easier for parents, that makes space more accesible for parents, that offers more support for parents, and makes child-rearing more a collective responsibility, will make women's lives better.

Monday, August 28, 2006

All Stick Together Now

I've been following the Distribution Workers strike all weekend, and hearing fantastic stories from the picket lines. But the company has escalated and locked the workers out. It's really important that we win this battle - the distribution workers currently have different rates at all four sites, and are fighting for a national agreement. The Employer has locked them out until they drop their claim for a national agreement.

We would appreciate any financial and moral support that can be given to these low paid workers who are trying to negotiate a single national agreement to close the gap of up to $2.50 an hour between the sites.

Please send you pledges of financial assistance and your messages of support to Laila Harré on

Picket lines are in place as follows – please spend some time with the workers there:

· Auckland 80 Favona Rd Mangere (24 hours)
· Palmerston North Supply Chain on the corner of Mako mako Rd and Mihaere Dr
· Christchurch Supply Chains on Shands Rd and Columbo St
You can also deposit money directly at 02-0200-0217968-00 with the reference “Supply Chain” (check out the official press release)

Keep an eye out for indymedia and Shelf Respect for updates(I still can't decide whether I love or hate that pun).

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Bedrock values

I can feel I'm going to have to stop writing about the stupid things Bob Clarkson says, because it's just too easy:

"I've got nothing against homosexuals and lesbians as long as they're doing it in their own house, but if you try to ram it down my throat, look out,"
I actually agree with him - I don't want anyone rammed down with my throat. Anyone anywhere near my throat, hell anyone past my lips, better damn well be there consensually.

The big question is this:
Chris Finlayson, National's only gay MP, said he agreed with everything Clarkson had said.
Ironic? Snarky? Genuine? Or does he not even know anymore?


The National party believes that the bedrock values of this country are religious and personal freedom and sexual equality.* One of their MPs, Bob Clarkson said that "Muslims who wore burqas because of deeply held beliefs should "go back to Islam or Iraq".**

Does this strike anyone else possibly a little bit problematic, maybe even slightly contradictory.

*Michelle A'Court was great on Kathryn Ryan the week after this came out - she wasn't sure that sexual equality was a bedrock value of this country given our history - rather it was a balcony added on recently when we came into a little money.

** It's a good thing that knowledge isn't one of this country's bedrock values. Leaving aside the location of 'Islam' - Iraq is hardly the epicentre of Burqa wearing.

Saturday, August 26, 2006


Over the last couple of posts I've been using the some of the issues raised in the feminist debate about prostitution to talk about larger concepts (whenever I feel the urge to talk about false dichotomies I feel that I've probably gone too abstract). There's one more idea I want to explore a little more thoroughly and that's the idea of agency. Agency is a very important concept for leftist historians. Anyone who wants to primarily study people whose lives are limited by those with power is going to pay particular attention to the ways people make choices despite the limitations and resist that power.

There are lots of feminists who in some ways agree with my analysis of the limits of free choice in our society. Twisty", for example, has argued that women can't freely choose blow-jobs, rice crackers, small handbags, or high heels. But it seems to me that she's talking about it on an individual level, that no individual woman can experience the choices to do any of those things as free, and if they do they're deluding themselves. To me that's totally reactive.

I generally believe that women make the best decision out of the options they've got. People who choose prostitution, or a tiny hand-bag, have genuine reasons to do so - they're not just deluded by the patriarchy. If a woman makes a decision that makes no sense to me, I don't assume she's horribly anti-feminist, I assume that there are limits on her options that I can't see.

To me, that is agency - making the best decision among a set of limited options.

The next question is how should we use our agency? When is it OK to judge the decisions that other women make? At what stage can we turn to another woman and say 'what you are doing is hurting the feminist cause?' Punk Ass Marc made the case that prostiution crossed that line:

I would still argue that women who choose to be prostitutes hinder feminism’s objectives because their work reinforces the ideas behind sexism and gender discrimination.
I'm going to start by saying the idea that some women choose prositution and others don't is extremely odd to me. All women choose prostitution from a limited set of options, and most women have some sort of choice. The desire (often on both sides of the feminist prostitution debate) to make a grand distinction between street prostitutes and escorts troubles me. In particular the argument that it's OK if some women do sell their bodies, because they have no choice, but feminists shouldn't, seems incredibly patronising.

But more importantly, even if I thought individual women selling their bodies reiforced sexism and gender discrimination (and I don't) I don't think that means that we should say that prostitutes are hindering feminist objectives. Modelling, nursing, mothering, writing for women's magazines, cleaning - these are all roles which when women take them up reinforce ideas of our sexist society - that doesn't mean I'm going to judge another woman for deciding that one of those roles is the best for her, at that time. I don't think feminism is about individual sacrifice - I think it is about working together to change the circumstances that we live under.

There are circumstances where I do think feminists owe other women. The first is in the way they treat other women. I think it's very important that we try not to police other women to confirm to the norms set by our sexist and misogynist society (I've written a bit about this.

I also think that you're not a feminist if you abuse the power you have over other women. If you're an employer or a law-maker (to give a couple of examples) you have actual power over people's lives, if you use your power and make other women's lives worse then you're not my sister.

Apart from that I think we need to leave individual decisions to individuals, as what we do individually cannot challenge power structures. We can make our change when we work together - drops of water turn a mill - singly none.

NOTE: I've decided to follow Amp's lead and have some comments feminists and pro-feminists only. It's hopeless to try and explore feminist ideas in a comment thread when you're trying to make room for yourself around anti-feminist commenters who don't agree with basic tennants.

Commenting on this thread is only open to feminists and pro-feminists.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Agency, coercion, consent and shades of grey

I realised, as I wrote about prostitution yesterday, that I didn't have the words I needed to say what I was trying to say. I was making too few words do too much work. In particular I found it very difficult communicate what I meant about coercion and non-consent.

I don't think you can have shades of consent. I think there are different kinds of coercion and really like Biting Beever's post on the continuum between rape and sex . But I think even the tiniest bit of coercion makes sex non-consensual (I'm sure if I knew more about chemistry I'd have the perfect metaphor, some solution that as soon as it gets drop of anything else in it isn't that solution anymore? I don't know - but you get the picture). I'm really uncomfortable talking about degrees of non-consent, because it quickly becomes a case of people judging which women's experiences were worse.

But yesterday I wasn't talking about women's experience. I wasn't arguing that all women experience prostitution as coercive, I was analysing prostitution on a structural level. I should have made that distinction more clear. When you're talking structurally, rather than individually, it becomes much easier to talks about types of coercion, and levels of choice.

You can't give meaningful consent to anything, unless you can also say no. This is a pretty basic, and important feminist idea. I also think it's a continuum, the less people are able to say now the less they can meaningfully say yes. To give a trivial example in Form Two everyone in my sister's class got mini-skirts. My sister was not a mini-skirt girl, and she held out for a while. But, eventually she gave in and bought a mini-skirt and felt shit about herself for doing so. I'm sure there were girls in her class who loved the mini-skirts, who liked feeling cool and grown-up. But on a structural level I think it's important to analyse the pressure they were under to buy mini-skirts and if my sister couldn't say 'no' to a mini-skirt, then could anyone else say 'yes'?

To me, this isn't an argument about 'false consciousness'. I'm not saying that individual women are wrong to wear make-up, or to feel like they make a free choice to wear make-up. I'm saying when you take a step-up from that individual level it is possible to say structurally that a group of people are experiencing coercion to do a certain thing, even the members of that group who actually want to do that thing.

The vast majoirty of people don't have enough money to live on unless they work (or get some kind of government support). This means that a structural analysis of most monetary transactions would reveal that there is some level of coercion going on. As I said in my last post that doesn't mean that we can't like the things that we do for money - I love my job - but my individual feelings about my job doesn't change the fact that structurally people like me need jobs. If my job was terrible, if my boss was a bully (not that that ever happens in the union movment :cough:), my ability to leave would be severely limited by my need to eat. The same goes for prostitution, our need for money means that it is always coerced sex.

When it comes to the things we do for money most people have a choice about what work they do (and some people have far more choice than others). That's where our agency comes in - the fact that there is coercion present doesn't mean we have no free-will, just that the choices we can make are severely limited.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

The smart thing to do would be not to enter this debate

I have a crush on John Campbell* - I think that's pretty much compulsory for women of my demographic. But I'm seldom home to watch his show (which probably plays a part in maintaining my crush - I've seen enough adds for features on 'fair-trade' coffee to know that he'd annoy me a lot if I watched him every day), I did happen to catch the end of it the other night when he was talking about the Boobs on Bikes parade. I was really impressed than rather than make it a moralistic debate, they had a debate about objectification. I have no objection to topless women, some of my best friends have been arrested for walking topless down Queen St, but I do have a problem with women's bodies being treated as objects. This parade was advertising some sexual expo.

I've read few feminist posts about prostitution recently, and it reminded me . I think punk ass marc is right at least part of the problem is the assumptions people make. I usually find myself terribly frustrated by both sides of any prostitution debate.

In some senses my analysis of prostitution is pretty similar to what is seen as the standard radical feminist analysis. I believe that prostitution is a form of rape, because it is sex that is only consented to because of economic coercion. I am deeply disturbed and angry that there are men who have no problem buying women (or men) and forcing them to have sex.

I also think that by its very nature sex industry objectifies and commodifies bodies. That shouldn't be particularly controversial, given a reasonably standard definition of object and commodity. I don't believe a body should ever be an object or a commodity, and I believe you can't buy or sell any form of sex without making bodies objects and commodities.

My analysis doesn't change whether we're talking street prostitution or working in a high-class brothel. The friends I've had who have worked as prostitutes were theoretically working in the best conditions possible - they were highly paid, they had the ability to refuse clients, and the environment they were working in was relatively safe. I don't know if they see that work as rape. But even if they don't it still fits my definition of coerced sex.

But I fully supported New Zealand's legalisation of prostitutes. It makes me really angry when feminists blame prostitutes for upholding a particular world-view - my analysis is of prostitution not of prostitutes.

I don't think it's my analysis of prostiution that is different from what is seen as the standard radical feminist analysis. It's my analysis of work.

My analysis of econmic coercion doesn't just apply to sex work. I believe coercion is involved every time someone exchanges their labour for money.** I love my job, it is meaningful and fulfilling. But that doesn't stop my job being economic coercion. I think people can have a wide range of experiences of work and still the underlying reality is that work under a capitalist system is coercion and exploitation.

* I know not everyone who reads this blog lives in New Zealand. John Campbell has a half-hour current affairs show each night. I think I'd describe him to Americans as a non-comedic, more left-wing, Jon Stewart. Do other New Zealanders think that's a reasonable description? I can't think of a comparison for anywhere else so if you're not from NZ or America you'll just have to use your imagination.

** Note to the right-wing commenters: this is a thread for discussing prostitution. If you want to tell me that I'm wrong and the employer/employee relationship is one free from coercion and instead all hugs and puppies then wait. I promise I'll give you a thread where you can argue about that sometime soon.

Unions, Labour, and unions and Labour

1. The 90 day bill will not become law. It's been great that workers have mobilised around this issue. The work by the CTU Runanga was particularly important. I still think it's a real fucking shame that this work didn't go into fighting to get something better, rather than just to stop things gettin worse. But fighting and winning is nothing to be sniffed at.

2. Snap wrote an excellent post about David Benson Pope's stupid cookbook for beneficiaries. In case anyone missed it in 1991 benefits were cut so low that they were no longer enough to live on (my understanding is that the food component of benefit levels was calculated by getting a nutritionist to get an absolute minimum food budget and then cut it by 25%). So any problems beneficiaries have at making ends meet are problems with the benefits, not problems with the beneficiaries.

3. Crazy conspiracy theories aren't really my cup of tea, so I don't usually read Investigate. But if you're interested in the union movement it's well worth having a look at the piece they wrote about the Service and Food Workers Union. As far as I know it's as accurate as it is damning (or as it is homophobic - Ian Wishart is such a pillock, even when he's an accurate pillock). Unlike Len Richards I don't believe that it's either natural or good for unions to support parties in power that attack workers. Darien Fenton and Lisa Eldret's abuse of their power is scandalous. But so is the amount of electioneering done by the SFWU (and the EPMU, and many of the state sector unions). Union members were told that voting was the most important workplace decision they would ever make. Political action is no substitute for collective action, and any union that pretends that it is is doing a huge disservice to its members.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006


I've been meaning to write about feminism and motherhood, since recent discussion on various feminist blogs pissed me off. Then Amp did one of his excellent link farm posts.

I've decided I want to be Liz Conor when I grow up (and I hadn't even heard of her yesterday). Her post about being a mother is the best post I've ever read on any blog:

It is

(these 2 words were as many as I was able to write without being interrupted by my children. What does it take for a mother to work? In this article I’m going to show what it took for me, the most accommodated mother I know. Rather than adhere to the prevailing demand on mothers, particularly working mothers, to pretend their children are not there, and to be closet mothers, instead I will write in my children whenever they stop me from working. It won’t be sequential because of redrafting. Here the interruption was Hattie, my 3 and a half-year-old, finishing on the toilet, wanting me wipe her bottom, help her into her bath and give her the orange duck).
I'll still write the post I've been thinking about - if people stopped writing because someone else had already said it better this internet would be pretty empty. But you should go read Liz Conor's post - read it now, it really is that good.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

All the workers might walk out on you

The clothing workers at Cambridge Suits went on strike today. It is so great to see these women standing up Clothing workers used to have parity with fitters and turners, now they have to fight to keep start rates above the minimum wage. The workers at Cambridge are fighting for a decent pay-rise, but also fighting against claw-backs from the company, it wants to take away service leave and institute a second shut-down period.

If you saw China Blue, you shouldn't sit back and think how much greater we are in New Zealand. While the minimum conditions are better, petty, mean, penny-pinching, and stealing from the workers is common among New Zealand bosses as well.

I think Monica, a site delegate says it best:

I stood up at the union meeting and told the younger workers that I would be retiring in three years. I’ve never been on strike before but I told them now was the time to strike, that it’s their life and their future. That’s when they stood up and agreed that it was better to do something to wake the company up rather than to keep waking up without earning enough to survive.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Fair and balanced

Olaf Wiig, the New Zealand camerman kidnapped in Gaza, and wife of Anita McNaught, has got a lot of news coverage, as you'd expect. But the thing that interested me most was that he'd been working for Fox News. I'm not the only person who was surprised that such a decent person (as he appears to be), would work for such an outfit. On Nine to Noon last week Olaf Wiig's brother was explaining that it was Olaf Wiig's passion for the underdog, and love for telling people's stories , and Kathryn Ryan replied "well why was he working for Fox News?"*

Reading the Maps asks whether Olaf Wiig was a legitimate targets:

Wiig's kidnappers have been characterised as either fanatical extremists or simple criminals by most of the media, but could the inhabitants of Gaza have a legitimate case against Faux news, which has always acted as an attack dog for the most extreme part of the US and Israeli political establishments, and which has provided its audiences with an unceasingly hostile coverage of the plight of the Palestinian people? Only last week two senior producers for Fox News resigned from their jobs over the network's coverage of Middle East events, telling Murdoch and his mates that 'Not only are you an instrument of the Bush White House, and Israeli propaganda, you are warmongers with no sense of decency, nor professionalism.'
There had been no suggestion that these two reporters were targetted because of the station they worked for. But, I see Scott's point - Britain and America have bombed Al Jazera in Iraq and Afghanistan, and discussed bombing its headquarters. Fox news is a far more legitimate target than Al Jazera. If the people of Gaza could attack Fox news headquarters I think that could be a legitimate target. But I wouldn't extend this out to those who work for Fox. Too often I have seen people blame workers, rather than bosses, for the distruction businesses create.

But personally I'd disagree with waging war on any part of Fox news (although Dennis Potter once said that he'd cheerfully shoot Rupert Murdoch, and it's a little bit of a shame he had so much television to write before he died that he didn't get a chance). My views on violent resistance are complicated (I believe in people's write to self-defence, but I'm a little fuzzy on what I mean by that), but one of my bottom lines is that I think that violent resistance is justifiable only if there is to be some chance that it's going to make a difference. Bombing a news network would just make them angrier.

*It's possible that the insult wasn't that obvious, but Kathryn Ryan certainly implied that working for Fox News wasn't the job for anyone who believed in the underdog.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Silence as a starting point

Piny has a really interesting post about what men could do to help women who with eating disorders. Piny has had an eating disorder and I thought his list was great:

Model comfortable eating.
Calm down
Do not overcompensate for your friends’ self-hatred.
Do not allow your friends to tear themselves down in your presence.
Shut the fuck up about your own body issues.

I think the most important idea that I'd add was a similar instruction to shut the fuck up about food. It's is so easy to reinforce eating disordered ideas of controlling what you eat. I'm often amazed at how easy it is for men not to understand this - to use really powerful words casually as if they had no weight or meaning.

I would also take piny's ideas wider. I have known a woman whose anorexia drove her to the verge of death, I have known some women who were damaging their body they were eating so little, and I have known many women whose relationship with food was dysfunctional and damaging.* Eating disorders are not an on/off state, not something that you accuse someone of having, but a continuum of behaviours that huge numbers of women use as a coping mechanism at some time or another, and many women can't escape from. I think the suggestions that piny makes (and the commenters on that thread), could and should be standard steps that pro-feminist men take to try and lessen the damage they do to the women around them.

It gets more complicated when I think about the way feminist women should try and lessen the damage they do. The reason I think it's so important that people stop talking about food, is that everyone I have ever known on the anorexia continuum has talked a lot about food, particularly food and morality and food and control. I have come to believe that, at least in the mild end of the continuum, talking about food plays an important role in maintaining both an anorexic mind-set and anorexic behaviour.

I do believe that stopping talking about food in a destructive way is one of the most important ways women can help women who are on the eating disordered spectrum (and often also themselves). But controlling food isn't a survival mechianism I need, or have been trapped into. It breaks my heart to see women I like and respect reinforcing such destructive patterns. I get angry and upset, I snark, I roll my eyes, I bitch and complain - and none of these are particularly useful reactions. But while a woman lives in an eating disordered world, asking her to get out of that world because of the damage she is doing to other women, probably isn't particularly productive. She needs to stop doing it because of the damage she's doing to herself - and that's a really uphill battle.

Unfortunately this means that there are always more women to reinforce and help maintain each others dysfunctional and destructive attitudes towards food. The good news is I do know women who have managed to move away from an anorexic mind-set, and are now one less voice reinforcing the idea that controlling food is normal and necessary. Their strength awes me.

* I even know a woman who has a relationship with food that isn't completely dysfunctional.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Their problem is that they're not white enough

The Dominion post has declared it annoying reporting on academic studies week:

Maori and Pacific Island children need to be taught to ask questions to improve their skills in maths, says Massey University lecturer and researcher Bobbie Hunter.

She said there was widespread concern about the lower level of numeracy in Maori and Pacific Island children compared to their Asian and European peers.

"It is recognised among teachers that this group of children does not ask questions or argue a point.

"We need to teach them to do what European children do automatically."
It's not that the teachers are doing anything wrong in schools. The reason Maori and Pacific Island kids aren't doing so well is their own faul - they're not enough like Pakeha kids.

I think there is an important point buried in there - all students should be taught to question and argue in primary school and secondary school. It's ridiculous to say questioning comes naturally to any ethnicity (particularly as she's a secondary school teacher - there's a lot of shaping of what kids do naturally by the time they get to high-school) and I think she ignores the role racism from teachers plays in shaping students behaviour. I went to an multi-cultural, reasonably low-income high school and I was the middle class white girl who asked a lot of questions (one of my maths teachers actually told me I took up too much of his time - but he was an asshole - and wasn't interested in developing anyone else questioning him in my place - just wanted us all to shut the hell up). I know I wasn't 'naturally' any more questioning or curious than the other girls in my class - it's just that I was more comfortable in an the class-room setting, and knew how to ask my questions in a way that would get rewarded by my teachers.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006


All 306 British first world war soldiers executed for desertion or cowardice are to be pardoned, Des Browne, the defence secretary, will announce today.
To the extent that this gives families some comfort this is a good move, but it's completely the wrong way round.

The British government should be the ones seeking a pardon. They should start by seeking a pardon for soldeirs who were shot for desertion or corwardice, and then move on to everyone else who was shot by their superiors during the war, and every conscientious objector who was punished for his beliefs.

I would suggest they also seek a pardon for every soldier who was sent to his death over the top of those awful trenches, and every soldier who was wounded. Every person who served at that front in those four years, and for the lies and force the government used to get them there.

Then the government can seek a pardon for those who were affected by the death, injury of those men. The children who never knew their Dad, the women who looked after their shell-shocked husbands, the women who suffered at the hands of men who had been damaged by that war.

Once they'd done that the British government could start seeking the pardon of those outside of Britain - it'd be quite a long list.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Shut up Sue Kedgley*

Ever since I've started this blog I've developed a secret suspision that journalists sometimes write articles specifically to piss me off. You may think that that's a ridiculous (and ridiculously arrogant) thing to say. But just look at what they had in the Dominion Post today:

Despite regular exposure to healthy messages at school, many children were getting mixed messages at home, a new study suggests.

Massey University PhD student Jacinta Hawkins[*] found that some parents needed to go back to school for school-based healthy eating programmes to work.

During studies of four low decile Auckland schools she found some teachers saw it as a challenge getting the healthy eating message across when children went home. Teachers felt educating parents was beyond the call of duty of schools.

"There are a lot of parents doing a really good job but there are others who the message isn't reaching," Ms Hawkins said.

"It is sad to think it's because they simply don't know any better."
My first issue with this sort of article is that it always acts as if the worst possible outcome from any diet is getting fat. It ignores the problems that are created by not getting enough of all the nutrients you need, and any increased risks associated with particular food products except getting larger.

But in this article I could barely get up any sort of anger about that, because the anti-poor people subtext was rapidly become text. You consistently see this argument in any discussion about food - that the only reason people living in poverty eat the way they do is because they're ignorant. It's not people in poverty's fault that nutritious food is often more expensive than food that is low in nutrients (it's the food manufacturers fault - and capitalism's).

So shut up with you 'messages' bullshit and provide free breakfast and lunch in schools.

* This is what Sue Kedgley had to say about the topic "It is true that many parents are simply unaware of the problems with what they are feeding their children." Well quite, if only they knew, like Sue Kedgley, where to get the best organic produce, and that sushi is so much healthier than fish and chips then all those low decide parents would be fine.

** The researcher in question isn't a scietist or an educator, but a marketing communications researcher - just the sort of people we want to run our education system, or possibly our social welfare program - it's not entirely clear what's being proposed.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Talking about my generation

I started university in 1996 - all ready to go on some protests. The first protest of the year was a protest against fees (university had been free in New Zealand until 1989), and it was tiny 60 people - so small it was embarassing to attempt to march with that few people. The next edition of the student paper had a headline saying 'You are Pathetic'.

18 months later 75 Victoria University students were arrested on the steps of parliament, protesting the privatisation of education - a week after that there was a march of nearly 2,000 people.

I tell this story as a response to the Sunday Star Times article about the lack of activism among 'Generation Y'. I loathe trend stories at the best of times - they're so meaningless - you get half a dozen people and let them tell their life stories and call it a trend. You can always find half a dozen people of any life group and you can make a trend. In Paris 1968 (or over the last twelve months) I'm sure you could have found half a dozen apathetic young people.

I believe there are often structural reasons behind the rise and fall of political movements, but to reduce this down to 'generations' is lazy, innaccurate and banal. But that wasn't what I found most annoying about the article (which was a reasonably good article of its type - and I think did a good job of presenting more complicated explanation, even if it used the ridiculous generation frame).

Throughout the article individual action - such as buying fairtrade coffee - was conflated with collective action - such as going on a protest. I was most shocked when these ideas came not just from the journalists but from people involved in protests - even Joe Carolan - who comes from the socialist workers (it's supposed to be anarchists who are attracted to that particular brand of lame pseudo-protest).

I think individual action is a useless form of protest, because it's only through collectivity that we have any power. But that's not the only problem - not buying clothes made in China, or buying fair trade whatever isn't just uselss - it also frames political action as something you do for other people. I actually ended up agreeing with one of the apathetic people they interviewed when he said - I might get involved if I thought there was something in it for me. If people believe that the only reason you paticipate in poltical protests is personal goodness then we're all screwed.

I've been involved in organising protests for 9 years now - and it's not something I do for other people. That's not just because it's incredibly fucking rewarding - working together with other people to change things is easily the most meaningful thing I have ever done. It has helped me found strength and skill I didn't know I have, an. It's also because I want to live in a better world. The sort of world I want to create would be better for people in New Zealand, as well as people in Africa. But most importantly I think the fate of everyone in this world without power is intertwined. Yesterday morning I went to a picket to suppot striking supermarket workers, and a vigil in solidarity with the people of Lebanon. I went on these pickets for a number of reasons, but because I believe all these struggles are related - so it matters to me in a practical way if other people win.

Friday, August 11, 2006

You should learn not to make personal remarks

Last night I was having a conversation with Betsy*, which began with me kvetching about people who comment on what I'm eating, and ended up as a general analysis of the way people comment on things that are none of their business. This made me think about the posts on Spanblather and No Right Turn about pressure to have children.

There is a huge annoyance factor of having people comment on stuff that is none of their business. There's really no good response - because if you tell them they're being rude then you're the problem. Also the more annoying you find it the harder it is to say anything without being snippy and making it A Problem.** Plus there's simply a matter of gaging a relationship - as a rule of thumb unless you know someone well enough that you know how they feel about you commenting on their lives - then it's a good idea shut the fuck up.

But that's not actually what I wanted to blog about. It's the policing aspect of this I can't stand, because whether or not people know it, whether or not they see themselves as above those sorts of things the eternal questions about why people live their lives differently are policing behaviour. They are only applied to choices that are not acceptable.

So I'm going to start fighting harder - I'm going to watch what I say, and consider running interferance for other people, and for myself worry less that someone might think I'm annoyed by them, and more about the fact that I am annoyed by them.

* This is my new pseudonym for my best friend. I decided it wasn't fair if only the Frog had a pseudonym. It comes from the best movie of all time, of course.

** Which isn't always a bad thingthe other day I walked out of the room on someone for making the relatively for saying 'there's nothing healthy about a corn-chip (it was at a party and I suspect he didn't notice, but it made me feel better). I'm thinking of instituting a no tolerance bubble for any comments about what I'm eating that are derogatory, unless the person is using I-statements. Then I'm going to extend it out till everyone learns that their food experiences aren't universal and that it's really not worth using the word 'healthy' to describe food around me, because they will be there for days.

Thursday, August 10, 2006


Sage gave me a nice excuse to talk about books, rather than anything mroe depressing, so I thought I'd take it.

1. One book that changed your life?

I'm really going to have to do two books - Hons and Rebels by Jessica Mitford and Metamagical Themas by Douglas Hofstadter. I read them both in the middle of 1997, and I became politically active shortly after. I'd always gone on protests, and was thinking quite a lot about politics in the first half of that year (I had my feminist click a few months earlier) but I didn't actually gone to meetings or done any organising work.

It should be relatively obvious why Jessica Mitford's life story would lead a 19 year old girl to think that political activism was the greatest thing ever (although she never did any actual organising till she got to America), the role of Metamagical Themas is a little more mysterious. It's a collection of Scientific American columns by Douglas Hoftsadter, which covered a strange array of topics - from Rubick's Cube to nuclear war. I loved it, still do, it's exactly the sort of applied philosophy that I find interesting and stimulating without being wanky (which was what always turned me off university philosophy). The last four or five columns he argues, very persuasively, that not freeloading, and trying to create change, is the only rational choice. Now I find those sections some of the least satisfying of the book, because he focuses on individuals acting seperately - whereas I think collective action is the only way we have strength. But then they were the push I need to overcome my shyness and realise I had something to offer.

2. One book you have read more than once?

See I think I'd find it easier to name a book I'd read only once, than books I'd read more than once. I re-read almost anything I own and at the strangest times I decide that what I really need to do right that second is re-read every Swallows and Amazons book.

But I'm going to go with Tamora Pierce's In the Hand of the Goddess as the book I re-read most obsessively as a teenager, and which resonated and reassured me in ways I still don't understand. It's strange in theory I don't think the idea of a single feminist warrior but two of the stories that have been most important to me have been stories of solitary women warriors.

3. One book you would want on a desert island?

I always have problems with desert island lists - I overthink them. Like when I come up with lists of desert island songs I start with Dar Williams 'As Cool As I Am', but almost all the other songs I like are love songs or songs of struggle - I do kind of wonder if I'd want songs about those particular subjects when there's no chance I'd ever see anyone else ever again.

But I think right now I'd take Decca: The Letters of Jessica Mitford - because it's 700 pages long and I haven't read it yet. Plus I think letters would be quite good for a desert island - I imagine I'd have quite a short attention span if I was that alone.

4. One book that made you laugh?

"But Mr Dent, the plans have been available in the local planning office for the last nine month."

"Oh yes, well as soon as I heard I went straight round to see them, yesterday afternoon. You hadn't exactly gone out of your way to call attention to them had you? I mean like actually telling anybody or anything."

"But the plans were on display ..."

"On display? I eventually had to go down to the cellar to find them."

"That's the display department."

"With a torch."

"Ah, well the lights had probably gone."

"So had the stairs."

"But look, you found the notice didn't you?"

"Yes," said Arthur, "yes I did. It was on display in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying Beware of the Leopard."
I'm still sad Douglas Adams died at such a young age.

5. One book that made you cry?

How can I just choose one book that made me cry? I ususally feel a little bit disappointed if fiction I read doesn't make me cry. But I'm going to go with Back Home because I love Michelle Magorian, and World War II books have always been a staple of random crying (not just the books it's a rare day when I can listen to Everywhere without crying).

6. One book you wish had been written?

I love autobiographies and memoirs - I love finding out how people live, and the sense and meaning they give to their lives. I also believe that every person's life story has something of value to those who prepare to look, and I think autobiographies and memoirs uphold that idea. I can think of dozens of people who I wish had written autobiographies - but I'm going to go with Fannie Lou Hamer - I'd like to hear her story about not putting up with no two seats.

7. One book you wish had never been written?

Just one? I think you can make an argument for any and all religious texts and any self-help book, plus The Mayor of Casterbridge because I had to read that in seventh form and I couldn't have cared less about the fall of old men if I'd tried for a week. But I'm going to go with a pretty random choice: The Best Little Girl in the World - because no matter how well-meaning the author books about anorexia promote disordered eating in female readers.

8. One book you are currently reading?

My sister went to America (the land of cheap books), and I got her to bring back Katha Pollitt's Virginity or Death, Susan Brownmiller's In Our Time: Memoir of a Revolution and Barbara Kingsolver's Holding the Line: Women in the Great Arizona Mine Strike of 1983.

I've just finished Virginity or Death and begun In Our Time (I'm saving Hold that Line till last, because that's the one I'm most excited about). I haven't read enough to tell you much about it (and I've never actually read Against Our Will - the problem with ground breaking books is that they never seem particularly original once everyone's accepted the ideas), but I'm really looking forward to reading it.

9. One book you have been meaning to read?

Robert Fisk's The Great War for Civilisations. I started reading it in the first chapters, the one about Iran I dreamt that Iranian soldeirs were invading my house and that I had to run away from them (which I did - I have a tendancy to sleep walk or more accurately sleep run). After that I stopped reading it and that night dreamt that Midwives were trying to blow up my house (I'm sure my subconcious was telling me not to fuck with it and I could remove all material but it was going to make sure I resolved my issues by running around in my sleep). I feel I should get back to it, particularly now.

10. Now tag five people.

I'm not sure what the etiquette of this sort of thing is, but it'd be cool if Span, Sofiya Idiot/Savant and Maria wanted to do it.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Notes on Comments

1. I've allowed anonymous comments again. I had to turn off anonymous comments during the police rape case - if for no other reason than the confusion that is caused when there are 20 different people called anonymous all disagreeing with each other (I was also getting a lot of spam). I will be more inclined to delete obnoxious anonymous comments than obnoxious named comments. But some of my favourite commentators have stopped posting since I turned off anonymous commenting, and I'm hoping they'll come back.

2. I'm not necessarily planning on posting a lot on Israel's invasion of Lebanon (although possibly writing about Gaza right now might be a good idea, because the excitement of a new war seems to have meant that it has slipped right off the radar), but I thought I should warn people that anyone who uses the "Jews" instead of Israelis will have their comments deleted (and possibly be banned). The only people who have any interest in conflating Israelis and Jews are Anti-Semites and Zionists. I'm not willing to host the myths that uphold either of those ideologies on this blog.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Now everyone can join in the fun

Over the last week Jill Ovens election to the SFWU Northern regional secretary position, and her membership of the Labour Party, has been fiercly debated by the the sections of the New Zealand left that care about those sorts of things. Over the last few days the debate has gone public, with both the Dominion Post and the NZ Herald reporting on it.

The short version is that Jill Ovens had played a variety of leadership roles within the Alliance party. She has been both co-leader and president over the last few years. She stepped down from her role as president at the beginning of this year to concentrate on running as the Northern Secretary of the Service and Food Workers Union. This union had been run by Darien Fenton - a Labour party hack who is so destructive in the union movement that I almost voted Labour to try and increase the chances of her getting into parliament (she got into parliament on the Labour party list). Jill was running against Lisa Eldret - who had been well groomed by Darien Fenton in the fine arts of maintaining your power. That Jill won was a victory and a shock. That Jill decided that she had to join the Labour party to do so, was equally shocking to me. The way she has defended that decision pretty much destroys and left-wing credentials she may have had.

The thing that disturbed me most was this statement:

Our campaign involved ordinary union delegates phoning other delegates who would be attending the conference. They don't have the sophisticated political arguments of people from the "Left" like yourselves. They are cleaners, caregivers and hospital orderlies who are loyal to Labour, who believe that if the union is not affiliated to Labour and their regional secretary is "not Labour", they won't get a pay rise because they depend on Government funding to get one. This is what they were told by my opponents.
By joining Labour Jill has supported this idea - the basic tenant of right-wing unionism anywhere - don't fight for stuff, wait for it to be given to you. It's not just bad politics - it's obviously untrue. The biggest victory for a public sector union was won by the Nurses - which was being led by Laila Harre - who never joined the Labour party.

I can understand that Jill felt the need to neutralise the idea that rights are given not won - but she had ideas and history that she could have fought this with. She didn't have to give in.

This matters because the Labour party has huge, and damaging influence in the union movement.* The energy and resources that go into supporting the Labour party are energy and resources that don't go into the movement. The fact that the union movement chooses not to fight battles agains the Labour government has meant that it hasn't been able to use the extra muscle margainly better legislation gives it, and it's only through fighting that we get stronger.

* Not incidentally, the other way round, any influence the union movement might once have had within Labour is long gone. The Labour party stalwarts in unions promote the Labour party position to the union movement, not the other way round.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Peace Keeping?

This fucking war makes me so angry.* I didn't actually think anything could make me madder than a temporary cease-fire specifically so that the Israeli government could say that all the civilians had left Southern Lebanon on the non-existant roads and bridges (when they pretend there are no civilians it becomes all the better to bomb you with).** But I was wrong.

They want to put a peace-keeping force in Southern Lebanon. What the fuck? If you actually want to keep the peace you don't put peace-keepers where the bombs are falling, you put peace-keepers in the place that is sending the bombs. That's where the peace is being broken.

The proposed troops won't be peace-keeping troops, they will be doing Israel's work for it.

* I think the first sign that the stupidity and ridiculousness of this war would be worthy of Peter Sellars was the fact that some aid agency had manage to get an add collecting money for the civilians of Lebanon withing about 36 hours of the bombing starting - as my Mum said "don't ask us, ask the fucking Israelis"

** And every time anyone from Israel talked about everyone in Southern Lebanon supporting Hizbollah I thought 'well they are now'. Jesus fucking Christ there's nothing more likely to gain support for resistance fighters than bombing the fuck out of a country.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Strong and warm and wild and free

Jody at Raising WEG has triplet four year olds, and her blog is probably favourite blog that mostly uses the author's experience as a starting point (which is generally the type of blog I like to read the most, which is funny, because it's not what I write). She just wrote a great post about the ways in which she hopes her girls will experience their sexuality. You should go read it, because I don't have one baby, let alone triplets, so this post is going to vear rapidly off into my own tangent. Jody prefaced her discussion with a referance to other ideas about sexuality for girls:

Right around here, I wanted to link to a long discussion I read (possibly on Feministe) in which many commentators defended today's fashion choices by teenage girls, and rebuffed those who would criticize girls' clothing as anti-feminist folks who want to deny girls their sexual freedom. But I can't find it. You'll just have to trust me that it's there. Somewhere. The main argument: girls are sexual beings, their clothing choices reflect their awakening sexual selves, and anyone who critiques their choices is anti-feminist.
What I find so deeply disturbing about that argument is that it reduces women's sexuality to a performance art. We express our sexuality not through our desires, words or actions, but our appearance.

This explains why it's only women who express 'sexuality' through clothing. Men express sexuality through what they do - they have sexual agency. Women aren't supposed to have sexual agency - they're objects for male desire - so the only way to express sexuality is passively.

The idea that women express their sexuality through what they look like is a pretty deeply ingrained idea in our culture. To the extent that I think many (most? fucked if I know) women do experience at least part of their sexuality through their appearance and their ability to attract male attention. Covering ourselves up isn't really a solution. When I was a teenager I didn't dress to attract attention, because I didn't believe anyone could ever be attracted to me. I did experience a form of power when I realised that I could dress sexy (I still own, and treasure, the first top that I ever thought looked good on me). The problem is that no matter how women and girls dress they're still dressing in a world that sees their appearance as their main way of expressing themselves sexually.

I don't think any good comes of telling a woman that they're experiencing their sexuality 'wrong' or upholding the patriarchy with their cleavage. But I do think that we have to be careful not to reinforce the idea that women's main outlet for sexuality is through their appearance. In fact we need to go further and fight that idea, until women and girls experience their sexuality as something that is first and foremost for them.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

1981: Patu


I went to see Patu! last night, the documentary about the resistence to the Springbok tour. I feel mean talking about it - because getting hold of a copy - particularly the copy we watched is very hard (the rights are all tied up, but hopefully it will become more widely available), but if you can get your hands on a copy then do it now. It is a great documentary, and certainly my favourite New Zealand film.

Of course the ideal thing to do is watch it with a group of people who will get into it with you. I didn't actually join in the chants while I was watching the movie, but I came pretty close - and there was lots of cheering (and some hissing - Donna Awatere makes an appearance).

One point the movie made really well, was how much work a movement like that requires a huge amount of work. There's a fantastic scene in the Auckland office where they're creating and folding leaflets (on a gestetner! I am aware that technology is a godsend for activists) they talked about having distributed 100,000 leaflets that day. In some way the footage before the Springboks arrived was my favourite, because it's that organising work that I admire and value. There were lots of signs about what a vibrant movement the anti-tour movement was - the big ones for me was the kids. There were heaps of kids all over the place early in the movie. Any movement that excludes children also excludes parents (at least mothers) - to me the kids showed the depth of the movement.

The other main thing that I thought while watching the movie, was that I didn't really understand the tactics. Lines of protesters kept walking into police batons, and I couldn't figure out why. I can understand why you would stay still for that violence if there was something to defend (if they'd tried to attack on the field in Hamilton, for example), but most of the time protesters were attacking with tactics that would never win. I didn't understand that. I couldn't help but worry about people - PTSD was a lot less understood 25 years ago, and I don't imagine there would have been many avenues to get help anyway.

Beg, borrow or steal a copy I tell you.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Life stories

I went to see Death (and Love) in Gaza tonight. It's a play, written by New Zealander Paul Maunder, based on the life and writing of Rachel Corrie the young American activist who got run over by a bulldozer in Israel.

It didn't work for me as a play, and it didn't work for me politically, because it didn't work as a play. A rather major problem was the '(and love)' part - because I'm damn picky about love stories that interest me.*

Part of the problem was that the play had started from the e-mails she'd written home. E-mails are not written to be spoken, and e-mails that you write to your parents are not going to necessarily convey the interesting bits of your life.** The play didn't give us an idea of who these people were, beyond their political statements (which was also part of my fundamental political objection to the play - which was it was rather short of palestinian characters).

I think political plays need to start with the characters. I don't just mean that because all plays should start with the characters. I think it's extra important, that if you are trying to make a point about the way the world works, that you do it with people who feel real and interesting. I think political narratives work best when they're not actually about politics - where the narrative comes from somewhere else - I guess it's a version of show not tell.

But this is related to another belief I have - I think our politics has to start from people - actual people and the lives they live in all their messy complicatedness. I do believe that you could tell any woman's life story as a feminist story, any person's life-story as a story about capitalism. I think the lives of my grandparents and great-grandparents are all political stories.

The play I saw tonight portrayed the workers in the International Solidarity Movement, and the palestinian people as noble. I'm sure they were and are. But humanity is so much more important to me than nobility, both in politics and in stories.

*If I'm going to be on the side of any love story I want to know what they love about each other, and I want those qualities to be things that they value about themselves. I don't need it spelled out - to me that can be shown just by two people laughing together - but I need to have a reason to believe these people should be together, a reason to believe they're good together. I have no problem watching love stories where I don't like the couple, but only if the narrative still works.

** It occured to me if someone was going to write a play based on my writing they'd base it on this blog - which kind of makes the point. My writing isn't who I am. Last night I cried in the bath - much earlier in the day a friend said something that resonated with my experience. I could make an excellent political point out of this - it'd make a great blog post. But I'm not going to write about it because it's raw and real.

Right to choose

A New Zealand Idol contestant has been kicked off the show for being pregnant:

"The decision was not taken lightly but the producers and the network feel that it is the responsible thing to do," a spokeswoman for the show's producers, South Pacific Pictures, said. "NZ Idol can be an intense experience and we do not wish to cause undue stress to Georgina and her unborn child."
This is patently ridiculous. Women have been pregnant and given birth under far more stressful conditions than those required in New Zealand Idol. The idea that the producers of a television show have a better idea what the best conditions for a pregnant woman would be, rather than a woman herself and doctors if necessary, is absurd. I also find the idea that other people should make choices about women do about their lives, just because that woman is pregnant really offensive.

But I actually have another, more fundamental concern, with this attitude. To me the right to choose also includes the ability to choose to continue a pregnancy and give birth to a baby. Anika Moa talks about being put under huge amounts of pressure to abort her pregnancy when she was 19, and just starting out in the industry - a decision she regrets now.

Public life is set up with the assumption that people participating won't have primary responsibility for childcare. This is incredibly anti-woman and extremely restrictive for women who do have children. A huge part of what I'm fighting for, as a feminist, is ending the notion of a 'private sphere' the idea that child-rearing is an individuals (usually a woman's) primary responsiblity, and that you have to choose between that role and any other role that you want to take.