Sunday, January 28, 2007

No Work For the Dole

In more breaking news - the Maori party suck:

It should be compulsory for all unemployed beneficiaries to be placed on work-for-the-dole or training schemes, Maori Party co-leaders say.

They believe that sort of action is needed to attack entrenched attitudes of state dependency.

Tze Ming is on it.

Update I have decided to disallow comments on this post, because I can't keep on top on the racism and hatred of unemployed people.

I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore

Today I was at a community house for local activists/radicals/anarchists and found this sticker posted underneath by the water dispenser:

Surgeon General's Warning:
Consumption of soft drink bevarages may result in
Rotten teeth, diabetes, obesity, malnutrition, osteoporosis, & Cancer

Well it wasn't exactly like that, because it was all in caps.

I took it down, and tomorrow I'm going to leave this in its place:

To the person who put up that sticker, and everyone else who couldn't be bothered to take it down.

I have gotten tired of taking down messages that reinforce mainstream ideas about food and bodies. Rather than just removing that sticker, I am going to explain why I find it problematic - in the hope that one day peopel will stop putting such messages up - or at least other people will take them down before I see them.

1. I have no idea why you thought this message is necessary. Presumably you believe that there are people out there who have been deprived of the information that soft-drinks can lead to rotten teeth, and there only way of accessing this information is through alternative chanels. We obviously live in very different worlds.

2. Telling people that they shouldn't eat a particular food because they might get fat, is about as un-radical message as you can find. I'm not even going to go there, you should know better.

3. As activisits we should be focusing on health collectively rather than individually. We challenge the system of unemployment rather than blaming people for not getting a job. Surely we should challenge the system of food production rather than blaming people for getting sick

4. Think for a second about people who have the diseases listed - would you really be ok with someone with rotten teeth reading that? Are you even aware about the link between rotten teeth and poverty? Is this just another way of making sure that only middle-class alternative types feel comfortable in this space?

So lets stop with the moralistic bullshit around food. Let's treat food politically or ignore it. Repeating mainstream messages is not an option.

PS: Surgeon General? Can we please stick to the bureaucrats we are actually inflicted, without borrowing other people's.

Saturday, January 27, 2007


Sage, of Persephone's Box, tagged me with a a meme - the idea was to steal a letter to MPs she'd written about stopping violence against women and encourage people to send it in. She had specific proposals, some of which I disagree with (really against longer prison sentances), but most of which were important steps.

I can't take up Sage's tag, because I don't have any faith that anything Sage suggests will make a difference, and I don't have suggestions of my own.

My great grandmother was a temperance activist. From what I know of her life, I'm fairly sure that as well as being a morality statement, she took this position because of the violence she had seen.

I think she was wrong; history strongly implies restricting legal access to liquor. But sometimes, when I'm yet again overwhelmed out how little I can do about violence against women, even among the people I know, and the enormity of the problem - I'm not so sure.

At least she suggested a solution. Everything I can think of that would make a difference, is so vague, so insurmountably large, that I never know where to start.

I don't like this; it's not my style. I tend to believe I know how to make change and I like fighting for a better society. But I just don't know how women can change a world that doesn't believe we are people.

PS I'd like to say a special fuck you to the World Socialist Webiste whose review of Volver said this:

Even Volver, which is one of his lighter works, touches on a range of painful personal themes—the loss of a loved one, marital infidelity, financial difficulty, etc., but from a far too comfortable angle and with a tidy resolution that tends to trivialize the events.
I don't know much about that movie, but I do know that child abuse, and an abusive husband play a central role in the plot. While it's rare to see such blatent disregard of the politics of violence against women, the attitude behind it is far commoner than I can cope with among left-wing circles.

*That state in tag where you cross your fingers and can't be tagged - may have a different name where you come from.

Review: Shortbus

I went to see Short Bus tonight. There are a lot of good things you could say about this movie. It's got lots of lovely and real moments, humour and wit, and, most importantly, it shows people having sex. Not just soft lighting and fading to black, but people having sex in a way that an actual person might actually have sex.

I'm not going to say any of these things, instead I'm going to explore why, despite these features, the movie left me cold.

The most obvious reason was that there was just too much non-consensual sexual activity for me. A professional dominatrix has sexual contact with a man who repeatedly steps over her boundaries, and she can't afford to enforce those boundaries. A stalker stalks a couple for two years, and culminates this in touching one member of the couple sexually when he is passed out. The climax of both the major plots involve scenes with sexual contact that is clearly non-consensual.

I don't have a problem with movies depicting non-consesual sex. What I need is for a movie that depicts non-consensual sex to take that seriously. To give the viewer space to be creeped out. I need to know that the director also believes that non-consensual sex is a problem, or else I can't play in his world. I can't switch from creepy non-consensual sex scene to happy orgy party scene, where one woman's orgasm restores power to a city.

Shortbus sold itself, both during the movie itself and through publicity, as a broad view of life and sex. I think if I hadn't thought of the movie like that I would have enjoyed it a lot more, becuase my other problem was what a limited world the movie showed.

Partly it was limited in the way films set in Manhattan are so often limited. Ridiculously rich people are meant to stand for us all. I realised while watching that I'm prejudiced against Manhattan movies, or at least that subset of Manhattan movies that believe that by showing us Manhattan they are showing us the world. If what I've been told is true, then if you can afford an apartment that looks spacious in Manhattan, then you have a reasonably to very high income.

But it was more than that, the extras in the scenes set in the club were remarkably similar for a movie that was supposed to show us a broad section of human experience. They were almost all young, conventionally attractive and white. The exceptions were tokenised to an extent that felt insulting. The old man wasn't just an old man who might enjoy sex like everyone else, he was also the only old person in the building (and as a side-note I don't think he deserved any forgiveness or absolution). The non-white characters were given pointed roles (one of the main characters or one of the few lesbians who was shown twice), which presumably was meant to make us forget how few of them there were. There were two fat people in there, but both were meant to show how weird and freakish this club was, and didn't actually do anything (because that would be too much).

I discussed all this, as we were walking home afterwards. We agreed on the points I mentioned above, But my friends felt they had gained something from this movie, and many people gave it rave reviews. I understand why. We're so deprived of anything resembling real images of sex and sexuality, that for so many of us a step in the right direction is really important.

I'm not sure that any movie can take the weight that the director and marketers tried to give this one. If films acknowledge sex as a part of our life then this could be a movie about a sex therapist, a depressed man, and the people they meet. But they don't, and it's not. I'm not saying you shouldn't see it, because movies like it are rare - but we deserve better.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Bought and sold

The more I read about 'health' research, the more sceptical I am of any edict about diet or lifestyle. It starts by doubting the headlines (housework prevents cancer), then you read the articles and get sceptical of science journalism. So far you're only blaming the messengers. But then you go on the internet and find the articles the press-releases are based on, and they don't prove anything. It's when you read the articles in their entirety, and see badly designed study after badly designed study, which don't prove anything, despite what their authors claim. Theoretically journal articles are supposed to be refereed to ensure that they actually prove what they say they prove. As articles that clearly don't prove what their authors claim are allowed through this process, why do we believe any of it?

And yet, I was still surprised to read an article arguing that a diet high in saturated fat did not make people more prone to heard disease.

Malcolm Kendrick appears to be making two claims: that there's no evidence that a diet high in saturated fat causes elevated cholesterol, and that there's no proof that elevated cholesterol levels leads to an increase risk of heart disease, or death. Read the article yourself - I'm sure you'll hear more about it - he's got a book coming out (the parts about cholesterol lowering drugs are particularly interesting).

I'm not saying I believe Malcolm Kendrick - necessarily. In fact I make it a matter of principle to disbelieve everything in the Daily Mail. There's some really bad logic in the article (almost all foods on saturated fats were rationed in the UK during and post-war, but the level of heart-disease doubled - this is supposed to be evidence that there is no link between heart disease and saturated fats. Unless there was more than one risk factor for heart disease). I wouldn't be surprised of Dr Kendrick, or others doing this research had some connection with the meat and dairy industry (if you were part of the meat industry wouldn't you pay him?)

But at this point everyone is being paid by someone. Food is manufactured for a profit, as is food advice. Malcolm Kendrick gives the examples of the 9 memeber panel that decided to lower the recommended cholesterol level - 8 had ties to the pharmaceutical compnaies that produce cholesterol lowering drugs.

The ridiculous nature of nutritional advice can be seen when the anti-carb people fight the anti-fat people. Each side is very good at demonstrating why it's a bad idea to demosing an entire food-group, but the argument behind this isn't that demonising a food group is probably a bad idea, but that we need to eliminate the right food group (and I'm sure the anti-carb people are funded by industries that are high fat, and vice versa).

We have a puritanical attitude towards food. The idea that virtue will be rewarded, and that virtue is the elimination of pleasure, and the quest towards perfection, describe most mainstream conversation about food (and as a political activist I must point out far too much non-mainstream discussion as well). This fits in well with the needs of our food producers (which is for us to buy their products, in case you were wondering). Meat producers can make you feel virtuous when people are worrying about carbohyrate, bread produceers when people are worrying about fat. The people who make chocolate, donuts, and deep fried potatoes know that these ideas of sin and virtue serve their intersts as much as anyone else's - because it's only within that context that people can transgress by eating.

At this stage willing to believe that it's dangerous to smoke, and eat arsenic - but it appears that we've got to take everything else of faith. Personally I've got other things I'd rather spend energy believing in.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

What we've lost

Blog for Choice day has come and gone, and there's a lot of great posts. I'm very excited that a lot of feminists have taken this opportunity to interogate and question the usefulnes of 'choice' as a slogan, goal, or analysis. I have lots of ideas about this, and hopefully I'll get round to writing about some of them soon, but in the meantime, I wanted to write about one tiny corner of those issues.

When abortion battles were fought and won (or lost, in New Zealand's case - but we won the wore), they weren't fought using the term 'pro-choice'.

The feminist slogan was: "A woman's right to choose"

The most obvious thing we've lost in the compacting of the slogan to a label is the woman. The feminist slogan put women at the centre of our argument.

The term pro-choice, also steps back from demanding our rights, and phrasing those rights as anything which interferes with making the choices we wish to make. I believe that charging women fees for abortion interferes with her right to choose, just as surely as making her get her abortion signed off by two doctors.

The phrase pro-choice is too wishy-washy, too vague, and too open to the idea that it's the ability to choose that matters, rather than the quality of the options. The choice between continuing and unwanted pregnancy or working as a prostitute to pay for an abortion is a choice some women have to make, in places where abortion isn't funded by the state. That doesn't mean I'm for that choice. Other women have to have abortions because they can't afford the time off work that would come with pregnancy. Again I'm not pro-that choice. As a feminist part of what I want is to ensure that women don't have to spend their lives choosing between two shitty options.* In the meantime I will fight to ensure that women themselves are able to decide which shitty option they think is better, but that's not my end-goal.

So maybe I'm not pro-choice after-all - I think I'll ditch the short-hand - waste the extra syllables and make sure I always say that I believe in a woman's right to choose.

* I'm not saying (and don't believe) that abortion is always a shitty option, but that it can be, for some women under some circumstances.

Monday, January 22, 2007

I'm pro-choice because...

Today is the 34th anniversary of Roe vs. Wade, and also blog for choice day.* The topic is supposed to be 'why am I pro-choice'. It seems a little trite, I'm pro-choice because I believe women are people, I'm pro-choice because I want to decide when I have a child, I'm pro-choice because I have two younger sisters, I'm pro-choice because I trust other women to make choices about their own lives, I'm pro-choice because sex should be awesome, I'm pro-choice because of all the women who have died and are dying from illegal abortions, I'm pro-choice because of all the women who have died and are dying because they couldn't get an illegal abortion, I'm pro-choice because parenting is a hard important job and must be voluntary, I'm pro-choice because I know how hard women fought in New Zealand to ensure women would have access to abortion.

It probably says a lot about my life that, for me, those things go without saying. I have met with people who oppose abortion and regarded them as slightly quaint (or hated them passionately depending on the circumstances).** I got over a guy I'd had a crush on for way too long when I discovered he wasn't pro-choice enough for me.

What I want to say about abortion isn't anything to do with what I think the laws should be.*** There have been two things I've written about frequently on this blog the first that access is as important as rights and that the right to choose has to also include the right to continue the pregnancy.

Brownfemipower has some great posts about the US National Advocates for Pregnant Women conference (which she's at at the moment). What they really made me think about is how much abortion is normally treated as a stand-alone issue, and how counter-productive that is.

It's all pretty irrelevant in New Zealand; I'd guess we have more women fighting other reproductive issues (social welfare, medical care, women in prisons, violence against women) than abortion. But if I wanted to change that, if I had the energy to start fighting back then I would try and work with people who didn't just want to focus on abortion laws (although our abortion laws are a piece of shit and I will not rest till I have danced on the grave of every man who voted for them), but saw that almost all issues that effect women's lives, effect reproduction. We won't be able to make meaningful choices until we create a very different world.

*I must confess to finding this a tad annoying - abortion rights don't begin and end in the US, but you get used to it.

**I once had a half hour argument about abortion on a peace vigil with an ex-nun.

*** Although for the record I'm really hard case about abortion law and don't accept any legal restrictions for any reason, don't ever think it's anyone's business but the woman whose making the decision, and think that if you don't like decisions people are making to terminate their pregnancies you should change the conditions under which they make the decision, rather than tut-tut about the decision itself.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Dude you kissed a girl

The first episode of Ugly Betty aired in New Zealand a couple of days ago. My short review is that it looks awesome (although the ending was way too pat, and if the point is supposed to be that if you're smart you can succeed I will stop watching).*

One aspect bothered me, and that was the part of Betty's presumed to be gay cousin - Justin. He wanted to watch fashion TV, and was slightly effiminate, and I suspect that from this the audience was supposed to deduce the sexuality of a 10 year old.**

It probably didn't help that immediately after watching Ugly Betty I watched a few episodes of Arrested Development.*** In this show there is also a character that the audience is supposed to believe is gay, based on a general sexual awkwardness and a feeling of oddness. I've been bothered by this particular trope ever since Andrew in Buffy.

I find the idea that we can deduce someone's sexuality from their gender conformity, or anything else besides their sexual desires, is completely regressive.

I don't think it's a coincidence that these characters are always men. A woman who acted and dressed butch, and whose sexuality was uncertain wouldn't be amusing, she'd be pathetic. The joke (such as it is) is dependent on a society that views feminine traits as inferior in general and inexplicable in men.

For all the fancy dressing (and all these shows are in some ways progressive or alternative) these characters are basically more gender policing.

I would actually like to see a male character who gave off all sorts of effeminate vibes was sexually attracted to women, or reveal that a character who behaved in typically masculine ways was in fact in the closet.****

* I also saw America Ferrar's golden globe acceptance speech, where she said "It's such an honor to play a role that I hear from young girls on a daily basis how it makes them feel worthy and lovable and they have more to offer the world than they thought." I believe her, but do want to pont out what a sad inditement on the world that is.

** I've only seen the first episode so I could be wrong and I'm sure people will let me know in the comments if I am.

** Also awesome, don't get me wrong. I keep on having a new favourite joke, for a long time it was the fact that none of the family could tell any Latino people apart, then there was the Atkins diet episode, but my new favourite is "they won't do anything to me, it's shoplifting and I'm white."

**** Of course on Buffy this happened with the Larry character, and it was great. Except the actor was a Christian homophobe and they killed him off.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

We are now involved in a serious revolution

January 15th is Martin Luther King day in America. I think that he deserves better. Like Rosa Parks he has become a safe symbol, of what was certainly not a safe movement, and he got more radical, not less, as he got older. I was glad to see Idiot/Savant giving voice to some of Martin Luther King's more radical ideas.

But, as I've said before, I think it's important to remember that the movement was much wider than one great orator.* So I'm not going to quote Martin Luther King's "I have a Dream Speech" - instead I'm going to write about another speech that was to have been given at the March on Washington.

John Lewis gave the speech for the Student Non-Violent Co-Ordinating Committee that day. He had written an angry speech, that criticised the governemnt, and didn't preach patience. Other organisers put immense pressure on him to remove the more radical portions of his speech. He gave into that pressure, and the speech he gave is available here

This is the speech he was to have given:

We march today for jobs and freedom, but we have nothing to be proud of. For hundreds and thousands of our brothers are not here. They have no money for their transportation, for they are receiving starvation wages—or no wages at all.

In good conscience, we cannot support the administration's civil rights bill; for it is too little, and too late. There's not one thing in the bill that will protect our people from police brutality.

This bill will not protect young children and old women from police dogs and fire hoses, for engaging in peaceful demonstrations. This bill will not protect the citizens in Danvllle, Virginia, who must live in constant fear in a police state. This bill will not protect the hundreds of people who have been arrested on trumped-up charges. What about the three young men in Americas, Georgia, who face the death penalty for engaging in peaceful protest?

The voting section of this bill will not help thousands of black citizens who want to vote. It will not help the citizens of Mississippi, of Alabama, and Georgia, who are qualified to vote, but lack a sixth grade education, ‘ One man, one vote’ is the African cry. It is ours, too. (It must be ours.)

People have been forced to leave their homes because they dared to exercise their right to resister to vote. What is in the bill that will protect the homeless and starving people of this nation? What is there in this bill to insure the equality of a maid who earns $5 a week in the home of a family whose income is $100,000 a year?

For the first time in 100 years this nation is being awakened to the fact that segregation is evil and that it must be destroyed in all forms. Your presence today proves that you have been aroused to the point of action.

We are now involved in a serious revolution. This nation is still a place of cheap political leaders who build their career on immoral compromises and ally themselves with open forms of political, economic and social exploitation. What political leader here can stand up and say ‘My party is the party of principles­Ľ▓ü? The party of Kennedy is also the party of Eastland. The party of Javits is also the party of Goldwater. Where is our party?

In some parts of the South we work in the fields from sun-up to sun-down for $12 a week. In Albany, Georgia, nine of our leaders have been indicted not by Dixicrats but by the Federal Government for peaceful, protest. But what did the Federal Government do when Albany's Deputy Sheriff beat Attorney C. B. Kine and left him half dead? What did the Federal Government do when local police officials kicked and assaulted the pregnant wife of Slater King, and she lost her baby?

It seems to me that the Albany indictment is part of a conspiracy on the part of the Federal Government and local politicians in the interest of expediency.

Moreover, we have learned—and you—should know—since we are here for Jobs and Freedom—that within the past ten days a spokesmen for the Administration appeared in a secret session before the committee that's writing the civil-rights bill and opposed and has almost killed a provision that would have guaranteed in voting suits, for the first time, a fair federal district judge. And, I might add, this Admistration's bill or any other civil rights bill—as the 1960 civil-rights act—will be totally worthless when administered by racist judges, many of whom have been consistently appointed by President Kennedy.

I want to know, which side is the Federal Government on?

The revolution is at hand, and we must free ourselves of the chains of political and economic slavery. The non-violent revolution is saying, ‘We will not wait for the courts to act, for we have been waiting for hundreds of years. We will not wait for the President, the Justice Department, nor Congress, but we will take matters into our own hands and create a source of power, outside of any national structure that could and would assure us a victory.’ To those who have said, ‘Be patient and wait’, we must say that, ‘Patience is a dirty and nasty word’. We cannot be patient, we do not want to be free gradually, we want our freedom, and we want it now. We cannot depend on any political party, for both the Democrats and the Republicans have betrayed the basic principles of the Declaration of Independence.

We all recognize the fact that if any radical social, political and economic changes are to take place in our society, the people, the masses, must bring them about. In the struggle we must seek more than more civil rights; we must work for the community love, peace, and true brotherhood. Our minds, souls, and hearts cannot rest until freedom and justice exist for all the people.

The revolution is a serious one, Mr. Kennedy is trying to take the revolution out of the street and put it in the courts. Listen Mr. Kennedy, Listen Mr. Congressmen, Listen fellow citizens, the black masses are on the march for jobs and freedom, and we must say to the politicians that there won't be a ‘cooling-off’ period.

All of us must get in the revolution. Get in and stay in the streets of every city, every village, and every hamlet of this nation, until true Freedom comes, until the revolution is complete. In the Delta of Mississippi, in southwest Georgia, in Alabama, Harlem, Chicago, Detroit, Philadelphia and all over this nation. The black masses are on the march!

We won't stop now. All of the forces of Eastland, Barnett, Wallace, and Thurmond won't stop this revolution. The time will come when we will not confine our marching to Washington. We will march through the South, through the Heart of Dixie, the way Sherman did. We shall pursue our own ‘scorched earth’ policy and burn Jim Crow to the ground—non-violently. We shall fragment the South into a thousand pieces and put them back together in the image of democracy. We will make the action of the past few months look petty. And I say to you , WAKE UP AMERICA!

* To be fair in most mainstream portrayals of the civil rights movmenet the great orator has a tired side-kick and an angry opposite.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Behaviour that works

I recently wrote a post which included reference to a scenario from a NZ rape crisis schools education programme:

Jo is a Year 13 Student at XX High School. She is at a party on a Saturday night. Jared is going to be there and she’s been trying to hook up with him for awhile. She’s wearing a short skirt, boots, and a low cut top –she’s sure to catch his attention –She looks great. Jo and her friends drink a few bottles of wine before they get to the party and she feels pretty drunk by the time they arrive. At the party she starts talking with Jared, he asks if she wants to go up to one of the bedrooms –they walk up the stairs followed by comments from Jared’s mates as they close the door.

In the room they start kissing, and Jared is putting his hands up her top and down her pants, she likes it and starts touching Jared. Jared then takes off his pants and hers. Jo starts to feel uncomfortable and pulls back a bit, and pulls her underwear back up. She doesn’t want to have sex with Jared but doesn’t know how to stop it. Everyone at the party thinks they’re having sex, and she doesn’t want Jared to think she’s tight. Jared pulls her knickers back down and they have sex.

I deleted a comment from that thread, but I've decided it illustrates a point rather well, so I'm going to write a post about it:

what is of concern is that one can get the impression that women reward such behaviour as opposed to punishing it. a lot of men claim that it does work (and presumably they wouldn't if it didn't). Ie you proceed assumiong you have consent to avoid asking for it and opening the door to rejection.

This is actually a reasonably common argument when people discuss consent. You let a thread go on long enough and some man will make some sort of argument that boils down to: "men who don't seek consent get more sex than men who do, women shouldn't let that happen."

Now I've no idea if the premise is correct. How would you know if men who ignore consent have more sex than men who seek consent? But the argument reveals some really disturbing thought patterns.

The first is that men are only motivated by their dicks, and so must be trained, much in the way you would train a dog. Women can control men by depriving them of doggie treats and if they don't do so then it's inevitable that men will continue to poo on the carpet and ignore consent.

Now we're just going to stop for a second and put the blame for rape where it belongs - on men who rape. Of course the moment we do that the argument falls apart. Women should not have to centre their sexual actions around discouraging men from raping.

I want people to think a little bit about what it would mean for women to centre their sexual actions around encouraging men to seek consent. Women who freeze or disassociate because of past sexual abuse would have to stop. Women who don't have a language to describe consent would have to learn. Women who have learned that their sexual role is to please men would have to unlearn. Women would have to ignore almost everything mainstream society tells us about sex.

I'm not saying that many of those changes aren't desirable, but you can't make that change in the hope that men will stop hurting you. It's not claiming your sexuality as your own if you're doing it to stop men raping.

The other disturbing aspect to this comment was also common on other on-line discussions of these scenarios. Here's an example from Anarchia

Well that makes it harder. About a hair harder. She didn’t consent, so it’s rape. What should happen next is going to depend on things we weren’t told in the story.

It's really common on discussions on rape scenarios for people to switch straight from a discussion about whether or not it's consent, to a discussion about consequences. Sometimes people start talking about whether or not someone should be prosecuted, sometimes people are implying that the repercussions should be that the guy doesn't get sex.

What seems missing from this is any idea that women are people, and the reason you shouldn't have sex with someone when you don't know if she really wants to have sex with you is because you could really hurt her. To be honest I don't care about rapists and what happens to them, I just want them to stop.* Even if I supported the justice system in any form (and I really don't) I know that they're never going to catch and convict every rapist. I know that the only way we can stop rape is by convincing men that women are people, and our desires are as important as their desires, and our right to our bodies is more important than mens' rights to our bodies.**

Every time someone skips straight to ensuring there are consequences to rape they're implying that they think it's more likely that we can catch and convict every rapist, than we can change men's minds. That belief depresses the hell out of me.

* I'm fairly certain that the only rapist I've ever argued should go to jail is Clint Rickards.

** I can't put into words how much this sentence scares and depresses me.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

'Miss Lightman was howled down'*

I've just finished Women Workers and the Trade Union Movement, by Sara Boston. It covers women in the trade unions (I know, what a surprise) in Britain in the late 19th century, and most of the 20th.

I really enjoyed reading it - it is so amazing to discover what people had been able to achieve by working together - these huge strikes and victories.

But my main feeling while reading the book was anger - over and over again women workers were being sold out by their male comrades. Men would complain that having women workers on a lower rate undercut their wages, and instead of getting pay equity and a rate for the job they'd try and keep women out. Sexism and misogyny was so deeply ingrained that male workers and trade unionists would act against their own best interests as workers in order to maintain their power over women.

Don't get me wrong there were some really great examples of solidarity, and strength across gender lines, but not enough.

On the left, one of the most annoying arguments you hear is that if women (or anyone else) organise separately then it'll 'divide the working class'. If people paid any attention to history they'd realise it wasn't the women organising against sexism that were dividing the working class - it was the sexism and misogyny of men.\

* She had the audacity to suggest equal pay at a National Union of Women Teachers conference

Is it really that difficult a concept?

It sometimes feels exhausting and overwhelming to have to tell people over and over again that sex without consent is rape. So it was nice to see that Asher had got to the latest bit of reactionary bullshit first.

What depresses me most is that the social standard of rape seems to be somewhat lower than the legal standard. The insane responses Asher is quoting are in response to a Rape Crisis Education - an effort to raise the social standard for rape among young people.

God forbid we should teach young men only to have sex with people who want to have sex with them.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Review: Children Of Men (reasonably spoiler-free)

Children of Men is a distopian movie, about a world where no woman has given birth for 18 years. It contains the most powerful scene I've ever seen on film. Kee, a young black woman is going into labour on a bus at the entrance way of a refugee camp. We're watching her fighting the contractions and out the window we see refugees being tortured by the police.

What made this sequence so powerful was not that it showed us a distopian future, but that it showed us our distopian present. The images of refugees who are selected as dangerous at the entrance to the campis deliberately evocative of photos we've all seen from Abu Grahib. The camp they then enter is Gaza with British signage. The most potent political comment, in this amazingly political film, was the message refugees heard as they entered the hell-hole of a refugee camp: "Do not support terrorism, we are here to help you."

The set, and the world-creation, is truly remarkable in its detail, and there's barely a frame that doesn't contain information about the world of the film, and criticism of our world.

What makes Children of Men's critique of our world so radical and thorough- is it takes the world that is usually hidden from those of us who live comfortably, the experiences of Iraqis, palestinians, illegal immigrants and so on, and makes it the centre-piece of Britain's future. Our government's are as racist and as brutal as the world, but at the moment they can hide it from a good portion of their population.

I did have a minor problem with the movie, and that was it's characters - or lack thereof. It is a really sign of the quality of the movie that the fact that the major characters are completely unmemorable is a minor problem rather than a reason to demand my money back. While some of the minor characters were well drawn, the main characters - particularly Theo and Kee very under-developed. This was probably a deliberate choice, which would have worked better if they hadn't given Theo a back-story from cliche hell (guess what? It involves a girl).

One of the reasons that the movie can sustain characters who don't hold your interest, is because it is incredibly well-paced. Like Theo we are taken, a little bit reluctantly, along a series of events we have no control over, and we don't know what's coming next. I get very jumpy in action movies (actually I got jumpy in Happy Feet), and my friend Betsy grabbed my hand to reassure me that it was OK. Then, once they reached the refugee camp I grabbed her hand, and it turns out that we really needed that.

Children of Men is full of horrors, but it does offer us hope. I may write more about it's politics of change. But for me, the hope didn't come from the Human Project, a For me, the hope wasn't about the group that Kee was trying to reach - an organisation we knew nothing about. The hope came from watching people who kept fighting for a better world, even though they had no reason to believe that anyone would be alive to live in it.

I do recommend this movie, it is an astonishing piece of film-making. It wouldn't have stayed with me so much, if it wasn't real. We must fight for a world where women don't have to give birth in these situations.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Hating your body is for losers*

I think it was a New Year's Day party that my parents were holding; I would have been thirteen or fourteen. It was near the end of the party and all my mothers' closest friends were talking, trying to get up the energy to round up their kids and leave. One of the women started explained this great diet she was about to go on and even though it was fifteen years ago I can still remeber the details she described. But what I remember more was noticing other people's reactions. None of the men cared about the conversation, and my little sisters and their friends just kept on playing, but every single woman in the room was treating this as important information that deserved respect. Then I noticed that I was paying attention to the conversation - did this mean I was a woman?

Jill, from Feministe wrote a really good post on the proposal to print children's BMI on their report. It's not her argument that I want to respond to (although I agreed with 99% of it), but the position from which she wrote. She starts: "When I was in elementary school, we had annual weigh-ins. I dreaded weigh-in day more than just about any other day of the year." and continues:

From there, I spent most of my life engaging in restrictive eating behaviors, and volleying back and forth between extremes of “being skinny will make me happy and so therefore I’m only going to consume 800 calories a day” and “this is ridiculous, I’m a feminist and I’m not going to buy into this shit, so I’m going to eat whatever I want, even if that means binging and gaining 10 pounds in a single month” (that’s where I was at last month, and now I’m miserable). Even at 23, I still feel completely out of control when it comes to my weight, and I still go back and forth between a desire to be thin and an ideology which conflicts with that desire.

What I think is so important in what Jill wrote is that for many women feminism does not solve our relationship between food and our bodies, it just helps name the problems. It's also a lot easier to talk about food and body politics in the abstract, which can leave everyone feeling that they're a bad feminist for not figuring this stuff by themselves.

A lot of women on this heartbreaking, rage-inducing, thread that piny also talked about the conflict between feminist and their feelings about their body. Or go further, that feminist analysis just adds a level of guilt to what they're doing, that they should be strong enough and smart enough not to let this society get to us.

Which is bullshit, we do the best that we can, but none of us are strong enough and smart enough to deal with all of this on our own. (I say all of this deliberately, because I think body and food issues are about society's image of women, but they're also about so much more. They're about control and losing control. They're a way of conforming with what women should be, and a way of resisting.)

If we're going to do anything that allows us to take up space, we're going to have to do it together.

As a feminist, that much is clear. I'm just not sure what I do with this anaylsis; what it means for the way I talk to other women. I am reaching breaking point in terms of listening to the female dialogue around food and our bodies that exists among the women I know. If I never again hear someone insult her body, or what I'm eating, it'll be way too soon. I don't want to listen anymore for me, and I don't want that to be around for other women to hear.

That doesn't get me anywhere much. Being comparatively noisy about the fact that I think the common discourse about food and our bodies is really fucked up makes that noise a little quieter when I'm around. Which is great for me, but it doesn't help build anything new.

But I'm not sure we can build anything new within this environment. I've seen how activists can make mainstream diet advice look alternative. It's a hegemony so perfect that we can't say anything about food and our bodies that doesn't reinforce the status quo.

More than that, I don't know how to have this conversation without hurting other women, without hurting myself. I've been told that the reason I hold the views I do is because of my size, so challenging a woman who is smaller than me on what she says feels really risky. Food and our bodies are systems that are left to women to police, which works only too well to give us extraordinary power over each other.

I write about collective action, but I don't know how to get there on this issue. I don't even know how to get from where we are now to a point where we can have the conversation that would help us take the next step.

I'm still angry with the women who were at the party that day (feminists all). I'm angry that their feminism didn't even stop them hating their bodies in front of us. I want the generation of feminists I am part of to at least recognise the harm we could do to our daughters (and each other). But I want to go further than that, I want to find a way to stop the harm we do to ourselves, and I don't know how to do that. I'm worried that if we start by asking that women stop degrading themselves and the foods that nuture us, we'll never get any further, because we'll just drive those thoughts underground.

* From a commenter on feministe

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Dear Sunday Star Times

I know you don't pretend to be a quality newspaper. Your ideal front page would be a violent criminal recently paroled who broke into a politician's house and held their mistress hostage. You routinuely publish the most ridiculous nonsense and call it news.

I don't buy you regularly, in fact the only reason I bought you today was because I didn't have any cash and I was on my way to the vege market. But we go back a long way, when I was a little girl and you were still the Sunday Times, I used to read the kids page, and try the scavenger hunt every summer (I never succeeded). When I was a few years older I'd use your columnist, Frank Haden, as a litmus, test - if I agreed with two of his columns in a row, I'd obviously lost my political understanding all together.

So I reget to inform you that I will never be buying your paper again. I will do without Findlay McDonald, and your fashion spread (it's nice to know whether people are wearing really ugly skirts because they're fashion victims or because they're cooler than I am). It's partly that you ran a full-page add for Voice for Life (previously the New Zealand society for the protection of the unborn child). But it's also the add you ran, it starts:

A woman's right to know about: the medical evidence indicating their could be links between abortion and breast cancer
You are lying to your readers for money (I am well aware that this article meets your reporting standards for scientific matters - but at least then the problem stems from incopetence rather than selling the truth). I'd suggest that you try oneof these sites, but scientific literacy isn't your strong point. So try this:
There is no evidence supporting a causal link between induced abortion and subsequent development of breast cancer, according to a committee opinion issued today by The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG). ACOG's opinion is in agreement with the conclusion reached at the National Cancer Institute's Early Reproductive Events and Breast Cancer Workshop, which met in March 2003.

ACOG's review of the research on a link between abortion and later development of breast cancer concluded that studies on the issue were inconsistent and difficult to interpret, mainly due to study design flaws. Some studies showed either a significant decrease in breast cancer risk after abortion or found no effect. The most recent studies from China, the United Kingdom, and the US found no effect of induced abortion on breast cancer risk.
I shouldn't be suprised that you preach reaction and misogyny and call it feminism (after all that's kind of Rosemary McLeod's speciality). But I have had my fill, and I'm not paying $2 for the pleasure.

Yours sincerley


Thursday, January 04, 2007

Places to go

Aotearoa Indymedia has a great end of year summary. It's a good summary what's being going on around the country - and further afield last year. The only criticism I'd make is they left out the excellent series of posts from Tonga. It still shows that Aotearoa indymedia is more than chicken liberation.

Mark Lillico, a Wellington human rights lawyer, has started a blog. So far he's written about the prison system, particularly the death of Liam Ashley (an event I couldn't write about it, I found it so depressing). He specifically mentions human rights when it comes to prisons, immigration, and criminal law (which are all important issues that don't get discussed enough). Plus he's defended heaps of my friends (and go them off).

New Comment Policy

I've had a hard time figuring a comment policy that works for me, so have so far stuck with the random deleting of unbelievably obnoxious comments. That's no longer works for me, it doesn't create a space that welcomes the sort of discussion I am looking for.

If I was going to sum up my politics in half a sentence it'd would be: the fight for liberation of the powerless against the powerful.

Although I don't think my blog has a grand political purpose, and my motives for writing are primarily self fulfilment (I see my day-to-day activism as being the way I take part in that fight), I want conversations on my blog to be primarily about how we achieve that goal, not the legitimacy of that goal.

Too often the conversations that were happening in my comment section were ones that I didn't want to read.

So from now on the comment space is for people who believe in the fight for liberation of the powerless against the powerful. Anyone else is here on sufferance, you're welcome to contribute, but remember that this space was not for you. If I believe that what you are saying is getting in the way of the conversation I want to have I will delete your comments and may ban you.*

In the past I've also had a hard time keeping track of who is banned and who isn't. So I'll also start a list of who I have banned in this post.

Questions? Comments?

* If you don't know who the powerless and powerful are then you are also here on sufferance. If who you think is powerless bears little resemblance to the actual world then you are definitely here on sufferance (hint: men, white people, and capitalists are not particularly powerless).

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Maia vs WINZ: the call-centre

In order to prove that I am in fact looking for work my job-seeker agreement said that I would phone WINZ every Wednesday for six weeks, from the third of January. Incidentally I shouldn't have signed this job-seeker agreement, I was so relieved that I'd talked him out of a course, that I didn't say that I would think the job-seeker agreement over before signing it. At the moment WINZ can't force you to do anything until your benefit starts, although that's going to change.

I also had to find out some really basic information (such as when my benefit was going to start). When I went in last week my case manager didn't actually get to that stage before he sent me away. He said he'd leave a message on my phone, and hasn't so far.

So today I got to deal with that font of inaccurate information the call centre (they once sent me on a seminar about starting a benefit when I wanted an accommodation supplement).

This pleasant experience started to the soothing tone of Bic Runga. I'm convinced that every government department was issued a copy of Nature's Best to play while people were on hold, and stern instructions not to play the stimulating tracks.

I started on the job-hunt information. So I told them that I'd contact four employers and that none of them were open because it was the third of January and New Zealand in general, and Wellington in particular, is dead in January. That I'd checked Saturday's paper and there had been just a page and a half of jobs and that this was probably attributable to the same reason. The contact centre worker wrote this in, and then asked me what I was going to do next week - and we agreed that it'd be the same thing, but probably with better results.

I'm glad I had that support in my job hunt.

They couldn't help me in my quest to find out what was going on with my benefit (except that the two other times I'd already called to try and find out weren't on the system), but they put me through to my case-manager, but he didn't answer his phone.

So I'm none the wiser. I still don't know when my stand-down period begins or how much money I'll be getting. My calculation is a start date of 12th of January (first payment 19th of January) and $266.32 a week (including accomodation supplement, but without the possible disability allowance and TAS) - as soon as I hear what the actual rates are I'll let you know if my calculations were accurate.

I actually saw my case manager go to the dairy as I walked past WINZ today, but I didn't take this opportunity to ask him what was going on. I figured it's very rare that stalking your case manager is going to improve things.

Monday, January 01, 2007

2006 a retrospective

I thought I'd do a proper retrospective, with my favourite post from each month. It's been a funny year for me; I think it shows in my writing. I had two months of insanely intense activism, so that I couldn't think about anything else (see March and September below). But those months almost threw the rest of the year out of balance - I know I did a lot but it's hard to see every other month as anything but empty.

January Why I call Myself a Feminist and don't qualify that statement:

There's an interesting discussion on Alas: 'Is The Oppression of Women The Root Of All Oppressions?' Now I've given my response to that argument in the comments (Short Answer: Don't know, don't care. Slightly Longer Answer: Will you shut up with comparing black men to white women already; I'm glad that the rest of us have learned a bit from the 19th Century), but I thought I'd take this opportunity to write a little about why I just call myself a feminist, and don't put anything before or after it.
I wasn't that into any of my posts in January last year, but this post outlined some of my ideas about feminism quite nicely. I wanted to include this post, just because I liked the pull quote I would have used:
I'm finding it really hard to believe that there's anywhere in America or New Zealand where a teenage girl is sitting thinking "I really want to know what the low-fat alternative to ice cream is, but I just don't know where to find that information."

February Being Purple:
Maybe that's not even what I mean - maybe I mean: the experience of being fat is part of being a woman in the society I live in - whatever size you are.
This was the first post where I wrote about something that was hard for me, something I still don't do enough (if anyone - except my friend Besty) can identify where the title of this post comes from I'll write a post on the topic of your choosing, but your guesses in the comments).

March I Believe Louise Nicholas:
The jury has found Brad Shipton, Clint Rickards, and Bob Schollum not guilty of raping Louise Nicholas.


Obviously some members of the jury believed Louise Nicholas, or else the deliberations wouldn't have taken this long. I pay tribute to them, and wish they could have had the evidence that would have convinced the rest.
The post that is there now isn't actually the post that I'm talking about - read this for an explanation.

April East Beasts:
I was talking about high school with a guy who had recently left Rongotai (the male version of my Wellington East). When I mentioned that I'd gone to Wellington East he started a chant I'd forgotten about (if I ever knew about it in the first place, paying attention to the world around me wasn't my forte in high school):

East Beasts
Thunder Thighs
Eating all the Georgie Pies

Ten years later I found it funny. But it reminded me that this is what boys, particularly those at all-boys schools, chanted at East Girls. In a way I'm impressed at how much they managed to pack into 9 words, at how many different degrading sexist and racist attitudes can be conveyed in so little time.
The first moral of this story is don't send your sons to all boys schools.

May Geeking Out This was mostly a list of my top 5 most feminist, and top 5 least feminist episodes of Buffy:
3. Lullaby Ok I know this is actually an Angel episode, but it flew from one franchise to another powered on nothing but it's own misogyny, so I had to include it. The plot is that Darla is pregnant with Angel's child, and having a good human being inside her has stopped her from being evil. It looks like the child will not survive giving birth so Darla stakes her (evil) self in order that her (good) child can live.

I watched this episode with my friend Betsy and said "wow everyone who had anything to do with this episode must have hated women with a firey passion."
I enjoyed writing this post more than is healthy.

June Women are Really neat People:
I think there is some danger that this sort of analysis leads to the sort of paralysis that comes when feminists talk as if 'choice' was the most important thing for women. I used the word 'actions' rather than 'choices' in this post, and I've did that deliberately. To me the point of feminism isn't to give women choices, but to make sure that we don't have to make them. We don't have to be virgins or whores, or career women or housewives. We have to make shitty choices every single day - for me the point of feminism isn't to celebrate shitty choices, but make sure we don't have to choose.
This was my piece about Carol Hanisch's article The Personal Is Political, as I'd said earlier in the year:
Before I go any further, I have to interrupt our regular programming with some words from the rant department. The phrase is "The Personal is Political" not "The Political is Personal." There's a really important difference there, and it gets lost (although to be fair less lost in the feminist blogsphere than it does among hippy types).

The feminist revelation wasn't supposed to be that by buying fair-trade coffee, not shaving your legs, going braless, having lots of sex, charting your fertility, boycotting tobacco companies, dumpster diving, dressing butch, dressing femme, not doing the dishes, vacuuming the floor, boycotting Domino's, working as a lawyer, raising children, or whatever other individual decision you made, could change the world. These decisions are all fine decisions but they're not political actions and they're not going to change anything.

What women's liberation was saying was that things we experience as individual problems: sexual harrassment, unwanted pregnancy, body hatred, unconcensual sex, domestic violence, depression, housework and so many other parts of being a woman, were actually political problems. They weren't just things individuals were experiencing and they weren't things individuals could fight - they had to be fought collectively. Almost the exact opposite of what the phrase is so often reduced to now.

Every time I hear that phrase so bastardised, so trivialised, and so misrepresented I imagine the members of those early women's liberation groups turning in their graves - and most of them aren't even dead yet.

July 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.
This was the post that made my friend's baby (known as the frog) pitied by right-wing men all over New Zealand. The thought that there was a little boy out there that was being raised by women who didn't want him to rape anyone, terrified them (yeah I wish I was kidding).

August Motherhood
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.
The more I think about it, the more I write about, the more I realise how central my analysis of reprdouction is to my feminism.

September My favourite post was definately Take it Easy but Take it:

But out at Ford, here's what they found,
And out at UPS, here's what they found,
And out at Stagecoach, here's what they found,
And down at Progressive, here's what they found:
That if you don't let the red-baiting break you up,
And if you don't let the racism,
And if you don't let the sexism break you up,
And if you don't let homophobia break you up,
And if you don't let red-baiting break you up,

You'll win

Obviously more for the sentiment than the content - that was the day we won the lockout (I think my favourite post of any substance is my post on Section 59, it was one of those issues where the debate was infuriating me, even though I was very firmly on one side).

October I'm not even going to touch the 'oh my god she's had sex' subtext:
Look I'm a middle-class white girl, I find the idea of having a baby before I'm economically and socially secure terrifying, but I get to think that one day I will be economically and socially secure. Not everyone grows up with those set of assumptions about their life, and if you don't have those assumptions your feelings about pregnancy and motherhoood are going to be qutie different.

The response to Keisha Castle-Hughes's pregnancy in the New Zealand media infuriated me.

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

As a feminist, as a human being, it is my duty and my desire, to support the powerless against the powerful, and to not wash my hands of women who fight back.
My favourite posts are the ones where I can bring together personal experience and link it to a wider debate. A lot of my posts about violence against women recently have been based on what I've seen among people I know.

December Maia vs Winz: wrk4u:

The whole thing was in essence creating opportunities to shove people down the cracks. What makes me so angry is that it won't be the people who need the benefit least who don't get the benefit under this system, it'll be the people who need it most. I'm fairly certain that I'll get the benefit, and I'm also fairly certain that the woman sitting next to me, who'd been on the student allowance and was wearing a Gucci bracelet, will too. But the guy who'd been on the independent youth benefit and didn't have a passport or a birth certificate, he probably won't.
This has definately been a year of beneficiary bashing in New Zealand and I've written a bit about it, but you can't quite comprehend the complete distance between WINZ-land and reality until you experience it first hand.

Onwards and upwards, I start 2007 unemployed, wondering what to do next with my life, and with a shockingly tidy house.