Thursday, December 09, 2010

Julian Assange and rape myths

I don't want to write about Julian Assange or the rape charges he is facing. I don't speak Swedish, a lot of the material in English misrepresents the Swedish legal system and. I don't have time to unpack all that.

However, I need to write about the way people have been talking about these rape charges. A facebook friend (who is political enough to know better) quoted from a a Daily Mail article* "The prosecution's case has several puzzling flaws, and there is scant public evidence of rape or sexual molestation."

Most women who have been raped had little public evidence of their experience. By repeating these rape myths in defence of Julian Assanger people are attacking not just the women involved, but other women who have been raped and had their experiences dismissed. They are also contributing to a culture where rape is denied, minimised, and distorted.

Left-wing defenders of Julian Assanger have been using rape-myths over and over again (as have his right-wing defenders, although they will not be the focus of this post). I think it's both disgusting and unnecessary to uphold rape-culture to defend Julian Assanger. I want to explain why.

"There is scant public evidence of rape or sexual molestation." As opposed to what? Is the person who stated this really arguing that usually there is an abundance of public evidence of rape? It's a ludicrous statement, but a damaging one. Because while the antithesis of 'scant public evidence' sounds ridiculous when it is spelled out, it has a lot of power when it's implied: women's statements about their experiences cannot be public evidence and cannot be relied upon. "No-one will believe you" - rapists say that to women and women say that to themselves. So many of the repsonses to Assange's case give that statement more weight, more power - they tell women all over the world "No-one will believe you."

Then there's the idea that some women are unrapeable. People uphold this rape myth if they describe some characteristic of a woman - most often, but not only, that she's a sex worker - as evidence that she wasn't raped, and can't be raped. The left-wing version of this du jour appears to be that one of the accusers had connections with the CIA. But there's a problem with this women who have had contact with the CIA, even CIA agents, can be raped.

There's a huge difference between stating "She has X Y and Z connections with the CIA. If she was working for them then this may be a set up." and "She has CIA connections you know." One is making the argument - the other is constructing some women as unrapeable.

Added to this we get a re-run of the Polanski trial and an argument that what happened to these women isn't 'rape-rape'. People were running these lines, before they even knew what the charges are. The charges are actually really clear cut: he had sex with one woman while she was asleep, and he didn't stop when another woman said stop. It doesn't require a very in depth and complex understanding of consent to understand that that is rape. But there is a constant narrative that anything other than stranger rape where force is used is somehow a lesser form of rape. That narrative is really damaging to rape survivors.

But I think that defenders of Julian Assanger do the most damage when they construct a way that rape victims behave and imply that the woman involved isn't acting like a rape victim: she tweeted about him, or she seemed happy, or she saw him again.

I lose it at this point. There is no way that rape victims act - there is no way that rape victims don't act. Seriously. If you don't know this then you have no right to say a word about rape.

It does so much harm to so many women, the idea that there's a way that rape victims act. It's not just some idea that you're spinning off into cyber-space. It's something that women who are going through trauma have to struggle through - their own, and other people's expectations of how they should be behaving. And it doesn't stop - the idea of the acceptable behaviour of a rape victim gets used as a weapon again and again.

Most rape myths are about women, about attacking suvivors of rape, discrediting them trashing them - and there's been a lot of that. But some are about men John Pilger said that he had a very high regard for Julian Assange. And? The rhetorical rapist - the scary man, who no-one holds in high regard - is a weapon that is used against actual victims of rape all the time.

And what is most ridiculous about this spreading of rape myths by left-wing supporters of wikileaks is that these myths are completely unnecessary to stand in solidarity with the wikileaks project.

It is states and companies that are attacking Wikileaks and Julian Assange, not two women. It is perfectly possible to criticise the actions of prosecuters, interpol, judges and government's without invoking rape myths.

Believing the women, or at least not disbelieving the women, does not mean that you have to stop criticising the way the (in)justice system operates or decide that that wikileaks is a bad project.**

The rape myths are unnecessary, and damaging. By repeating rape myths, you give them power. Doing so doesn't just hurt the women involved, but strengthens rape culture, and makes it harder for many, many, many other rape survivors.

Stop it.

* If you must look at it yourself the link is here - but no good ever came of reading the Daily Mail.

** On the other side of this, having a feminist analysis of rape does not necessitate accepting that the (in)justice system prosecuting rape is a victory for rape culture. I think these are actually flip sides of hte same argument, and brownfemipower has made some really interesting points about the limits of posts like this one.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

In solidarity with the missing miners, their loved ones, and their communities

I have nothing else to say at the moment, but to offer my solidarity.

But Sandra from Letters from Wetville has said something that I think should be listened to:

I would like the media to piss off.

They do not need to swarm around our town, vultures in search of a product to sell on their 'news' programmes.

I too, am desperate for news of the Pike River miners. I too, checked the internet and the radio about a zillion times today, hungry for word that the rescue team can begin their job. Like everyone else in Wetville, I appreciate the messages of support from all over New Zealand, all over the world.

Go read the whole thing.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Ladies I struck a blow for the working classes:* In Praise of Robyn Malcolm

I haven't watched Outrageous Fortune for three seasons. Last night I came in half way through the finale. And I cried.

The episode was well written, everyone did a fantastic job, but a good 75% of why that episode was so powerful was Robyn Malcolm's performance as Cheryl West.

Cheryl West has always been a part of a lifetime. She is what I think about when I wish there were more strong female characters** on TV. I may like watching women kill their rapists on TV - but I'd prefer more Cheryl Wests. Women whose lives are shaped sexism and misogyny, by capitalism - by the power relationships in our society, who face the struggle with agency and strength.

Robyn Malcolm portrays Cheryl with warmth, strength and passion. But that's not why I want to praise her today. She fronted for the actors during the Hobbit dispute:

Malcolm says she has been accused of being little more than a loud-hailer. "But I really believe in this stuff. I believe in workers' rights.

"I could choose not to care. I could just very quietly not rock the boat. I am a working solo mother of two boys and I don't have a job. Outrageous Fortune has finished. I am looking for work. Would I really, in the words of Cheryl West, want to root my own industry?"

Union delegates often get attacked, but usually only by the boss. Brian Rudman made an important point about the way the women who fronted the dispute have been depicted in the media:

There they were, saying, "Tell us how long to grow our elven beards, and how hard to pull our forelocks, Sir, and we will do it. Straight after we burn those evil witches, Robyn Malcolm, Jennifer Ward-Lealand and Helen Kelly, in the public square for disturbing the tranquillity of our feudal land."


I say womenfolk, because throughout the whole battle, the patronising sexism aimed at the union side - nice gals, but out of their depth, not up to it, dupes of Aussie svengalis - has been shameful.

In fact John Barnett, executive producer of Outrageous Fortune, went several steps further than that:
"The feedback has been quite vocal and critical of them. They've been pushed into the front row and are now earning the opprobrium of the public."

He said anyone should be free to express their views but producers would be reluctant to hire them because public perception was a huge factor in casting.

John Barnett may be able to executive produce a good TV show - but he is an better Pontius Pilate. "As a producer it may be in my best interest to persecute and black-list any actress who shows an interest in collectively organise for wages and conditions. But that's not the reason I'm threatening to do so in a national newspaper - it's because the public demand it."

John Barnett is also wrong. Anyone who watched the last few episodes of Outrageous Fortune, even those with an underdeveloped sense of solidarity, is not heaping opprobrium on Robyn Malcolm, quite the opposite. Go to her facebook page if you want to join in the praises - or send some solidarity.

I will just say thank you Robyn Malcolm for Cheryl West, and more. All any of us can do is play our parts in the struggles around us - and you have been amazing.

EDITED TO ADD: In the original draft of this post I had confused James Griffin with John Barnett. I have fixed the error, and I'm very sorry for maligning James Griffin in this way.

* If you don't recognise this quote, then you haven't watched enough Outrageous Fortune. It is from the second episode - and it was the moment I decided the show was the best New Zealand television show ever.

** Gratuitous Joss linking

Monday, November 01, 2010

Wellington Local Body Elections - a follow-up

So just before the polls closed I posted my endorsements for the Wellington local body elections. A number of candidates posted on replies to my blog - most of which I found pretty amusing. Now that it's all over and Celia Wade-Brown has shown how appalling she is in record time by speaking at the "giving government cover to lower the legal protections of film-workers" rally, I thought I'd respond to two of those comments.

It was awesome to see Kerry go - the day after the announcement a friend of mine drunkenly yelled out "Kerry's gone" in a cheap malaysian restaurant, and everyone cheered back at him. In the days between the election, and the announcement that Kerry had really lost, I got some pointed comments from some friends and family members who knew I hadn't voted for mayor.

On my blog I had criticised CWB for being a greener tinged Kerry Prendergast, and not being left wing. She replied:

How about for/against a casino? for/against more road tunnels? for/against Hilton hotel on outer T? All differences between incumbent's and my vote.

So when I suggested that her economic policies were no different from Kerry's and this was all she had. This is her best demonstration of her commitment to redistribution of wealth? Or her commitment to providing services to all regardless of income? I quoted this list to people who gave me shit about not voting for her, while we were waiting for the result - and they had to concede my point.

The other candidate who posted, and the real reason that I'm writing this post(apart from getting in early having a go at our new mayor) was Iona Pannett. One of the things that I expressed lots of frustration with in my blogpost, was council candidates who were more interested in telling us about their family than their policies.

Iona Pannett objected to this:
Your criteria for voting seems a little inconsistently applied to candidates and is an interesting one for a self-declared feminist.

It was after feminist writers and thinkers who have rightly done a great deal to deconstruct the split between the public and the private, a split often upheld by male thinkers and legislators.

I don't think people should have to deny they are parents and think it important that people standing for public office are well rounded people.

Just for the record, feminists who theorised about the public and the private, had more on their mind than the importance of those running for office talking about their family. That was a campaigning trick well before the feminist movement. But I thought I'd talk a little bit more about the serious point I was making behind the jokes.

You only get a few hundred words to convey where you stand to voters in a council blurb. Many of those running throw out inanity after inanity - telling us who they are, not how they'll vote. These blurbs may seem ridiculous, but they have a purpose, a purpose Daran Ponter made clear:

My wife Vickie and I, and our two children, Crystal and Thomas, enjoy all the normal things Wellingtonians love - Saturday morning sports, mountain biking, watching a game at the stadium and occasionally sleeping in!

The purposes of the children, and the heterosexual partner, and the other mentions of family in blurbs is to scream I'M JUST LIKE YOU at the voter. Ponter is particularly specific about the voter he is just like - normal is heterosexual, middle-class and able-bodied, at minimum.

Iona Pannett made this explicit in another way in her suggestion that 'well-rounded' people make good councillors - she was just proving that she was well-rounded when she mentioned her child (I've actually known people of all metaphorical shapes with children). I find this deeply offensive I think those who don't have children, those who can't have children, and those who don't have the resources to raise their children in Lambton ward (another point Iona Pannett made sure to mention) will make just as good councillors as Iona.

If you have only a few hundred words to persuade people to vote for you, and you choose to use it to talk about your family, then what you are saying is screaming your normality is more important than telling people what you believe.

That seems like as good a reason not to vote for someone as any.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Don't let the weird nationalism break you up: thoughts on the Hobbit

She is 16 years old and she's an actress. Her friends may perform in school plays, but she is an actress - she has a job. She's in a TV show.

Today she is in wardrobe. One of the producers comes in - someone always checks the costumes. He touches her breast.

She tells her parents and her agent. They ring up the producers; they're angry. Her contract is terminated that day - breach of confidentiality - she talked about being sexually harrassed. By the next day the scripts have all been rewritten


I didn't make that up. It happened on a New Zealand film set this century.

The government is at the moment passing a law which will exclude those working in the film industry from being employees - the default position will be that they are contractors. At the moment as independent contractors actors (and others in hte film industry) can be fired at any time for any reason - they have no right of due process.

What this means is that there is nothing to stop producers firing teenage girls, because they sexually harassed them. And when there's nothing to stop people abusing power, sometimes they abuse power.

Often it's not about an individual abusing power, it's about saving money. If you can fire people for any reason they're much less likely to complain about health and safety.


At the moment (as you've probably already been told several times over the last few weeks) the conditions for actors are set out in the pink book - a non-binding agreement between Actors Equity and SPADA.

The non-binding bit is the problem - you can see how that'd be hard to enforce in an environment where someone can be fired for complaining about sexual assault.

This isn't actually something that has just happened over the Hobbit. Actors Equity have been working for years to negotiate binding wages and conditions for their members. They've tried lots of tactics some even made headlines - such as the negotiations with Outrageous Fortune. From what I've heard, the producers have thrown everything they had at keeping the union away from any form of negotiations.


Imagine if you could be fired for any reason every day you go to work. Then imagine you're asked to change your terms and conditions. Imagine you're asked to work in dangerous conditions. Imagine a boss touches your breast. Imagine worse.

At various times and places in various industries, these sorts of conditions have been really standard. The film industry is not the only industry in New Zealand where they still are, but it is a significant one.

I want people to understand how much power companies have when there is no collective bargaining, and no employment law. That's not because I think we should only stand by the actors because their conditions are appalling,but because I want people to know what they're endorsing, if they oppose the actors struggle to get a binding negotiatiation for their wages and conditions. I want people to understand how high the stakes are, and how much power the companies have now.


But this is not a story about the powerless screwing the people while the people do nothing. What is so important about the Hobbit is that the actors do have power. Outside New Zealand (including almost everywhere the Hobbit might have filmed in) the movie industry is well organised. The reason that Peter Jackson, WB and the government acted like the sky was falling in (to steal from Ian Mune) wasn't because the actors were powerless - but because the actors had organised and used their power. The threat of a global acting boycott was a real threat that they had the power to do real harm to the movie.

That is where some people who would agree with everything that I wrote in the first half of the post, lose patience and decide maybe they don't support the actors union. A lot of people have critised Actors Equity and MEAA for the way they used their power. Reading the Maps has a great post about the problems with fence sitting. I agree with him absolutely that is entirely compatible to stand in solidarity with the actors and criticise their tactics (although I also agree that only those who are knowledgable of the history of actors and unionisation beyond what has appeared in the news - I only know enough to know I don't know enough to enter the discussion). But I want to make a few more points.

My political position is that the only people to determine the actors struggle for union recognition and binding wages and conditions are the members of the actor's union.**

However, I understand that not everyone shares this position. Not everyone is a unioinist - and there is a part of the left where it is acceptable to balance and weigh things up and support the teachers because they're restrained, but think the radiographers might have gone too far, because they might hurt someone (hell there are, shamefully enough, parts of the union movement where this is acceptable). I want to unpack the implications of this balancing act in the case of the actors union.

Those who criticise AE and MEAA usually focus on the fact that the Hobbit could be moved out of the country, jeopordizing the film industry as a whole. Often they'll bolster their claims with talk about the right and wrong ways of negotiating, and how it's illegal for the company to meet with the union.**

There's something amazing about the passive voice - it can hide who is actually acting in the circumstance. The actors could not and would not have moved the Hobbit out of the country. The studio is the subject in a sentence about moving the Hobbit out of New Zealand. The studio could have agreed to meet with the actors, given them everything they demanded (which would have probably cost less than they spent flying the execs over from New York to meet John Key and see what they can get out of NZ government). They could have decided to move filming anywhere in the world. Whatever the studios decide, that's their responsibility.

To say otherwise is to support a "look what you made me do" position: don't provoke those with more power, and if you do you are responsible.

That's why it's impossible to sit on the fence in any kind of struggle where there's a power imbalance. Whether it's "I must finely examine the behaviour of those standing up to the powerful before I decide whether to support them. As if they make one mistake they are responsible for their provocative actions." Or "They appear to have lost, and therefore it should have been apparent that they would always lose and therefore I cannot support them." All this is predicated on accepting the power imbalance, and holding the actors responsible for the studio's power. The justifications people have offered for withholding their support from the actors have been grotesque.

Actors are workers, workers who at the moment gave access to neither collective bargaining, nor legal employment protections. They are organising to change that. If you stand with the bosses there's nothing I can do about that. But if you don't are your reasons for not standing with the workers really good enough?

Or you could just watch Florence Reece, who sums up the situation nicely:

* At this point someone always tries to execute a gotcha and say "well what if they were organising against women or Maori workers, . This isn't an unreasonable question - within in my lifetime unions have organised to exclude women from certain jobs. However, the point I make there is that the difference between a demand aimed at the boss and a demand made at other workers is a startlingly obvious one, and it is very easy to support the first and oppose the second.

** Which is just the kind of bullshit it takes two minutes to think through and expose. If WB can legally follow SAG minimums for American actors and MEAA minimums for Australian actors without that being price fixing. Then they can have collectively negotiated wages and conditions with their independent contractors in New Zealand. It's just that they don't want to with New Zealand actors, so they're hiding behind the law, and getting Chris Findlayson to help them out with that.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

So, this is huge

Regular readers will know that I'm a fan of television. I have in fact written an ode to television.

I have also written about the problems of television - the ways how it is produced limits what we can see

For one brief shining moment this winter I was proved utterly, utterly wrong as I watched 10 episodes of Huge.

Then I was proved right again, when they cancelled it.

But I thought I'd write about Huge anyway. For a NZ audience who probably won't have seen it - so no spoilers - just general raving about awesomeness. This is how it begins:

Huge aired on ABC Family a US cable network that I hadn’t even heard of until a few months ago, that apparently makes a TV version of 10 Things I Hate About You and sells airtime to Pat Robertson when it doesn’t have enough programming of it on. It’s set in a fat camp – where teenagers are supposed to lose weight.

So far so avoidable right? But it’s by the Winnie Holzman, the creator of My So Called Life (New Zealanders of a certain age may remember My So Called Life’s run on IceTV), and her daughter Savannah Dooley. (who I know next to nothing about, but think is unbelievably awesome – she is threatening my decade long commitment as a one-showrunner woman).

I want to explain what's so amazing about Huge, because I think it's important. It is the most closely observed show I've ever watched. This is not a show where the main character has to stab her boyfriend to save the world - this is the world we live in, or close to it.

I've always loved bangity-flash big moments on TV. But there is another way, instead of metaphors Huge delivers us the fine details of people's life.

The show appears not to take a side. For weeks the big question as I was watching it was - what is this show saying about fat? Will, played by Nikki Blonsky was fierce about not hating her body. But she was surrounding by people who normalised dieting. Where did the show stand? And it didn't appear to stand anywhere. Then at the 8th episode the kids had a weigh in and it showed, without judging, the effect that had on them. That's when I realised that standing nowhere can be a much more radical place to put the camera

Many things that are normalised in the world are shown on Huge without the appearance of judging: slut-shaming, body-hatred and adults bullying children. But in this light they appear as grotesque as they actually are.

While things that we are treated as something to be ashamed of like fat, but also asexuality, anxiety, live action role-playing, disability, queerness and many other aspets of the character, also appear differently when observed closely and without judgement. The things we're supposed to be ashamed of are not the same, so they don't appear the same on Huge. But collectively they are seen as ordinary, joyous, ok, real and a source of strength.

That is, in the end, what made Huge so beautiful.

It's been cancelled in America (because American TV executives enjoy stabbing anything that is beautiful or true to death). At the moment it is only available on youtube (or through other even less legal means), although it will come out on DVD.

I really do recommend that you watch it, and if you have older kids, show it to them. Because I think they'll probably get something they need out of it.

Friday, October 08, 2010

No More Jumping Through Hoops: A Belated Demo Report

Last Tuesday was a fabulous day for feminism in Wellington. Action for Abortion Rights organised a protest outside the Appeal Court. When we were planning the demo we were thinking about something that might only have twenty people there. Not because we didn't think people cared about abortion rights, but because we had no idea if we could find and mobilise those people.

I've been an activist for a long time, and I've organised a lot of demos. But this demo was something else. There was so much energy and enthusiasm - and so much excitement that we were able to do something about an issue which meant so much. The papers said we had 50 people at the demo - but it was easily three or four times that.

Rebecca from Mothers for Choice gave a great speech:

We have a very strong message for the Right to Life brigade – not only do you not own women’s bodies, you don’t own families. Your ilk has spoken on behalf of families for too long. Most people in most families want a decent law that means everyone who needs an abortion can get one, without having to make the kind of case necessary under current law.


My daughter is four. I hate the thought that when she is older, she would have to jump through hoops to get an abortion if she had an unwanted pregnancy. I don’t want any more women to have to do so. The time is long overdue for the law we need, and together we are going to make sure it happens.

Ally Garrett, of I'm Offended Because, lead us all in a round of chanting "Hey, Hey, Mister, Mister, Keep Your Laws off Your Sister" dedicated to Peter Carlisle. Check out her amazing blog post which explains why Peter Carlisle deserves special chants towards him. (Also she has the best blog title ever - I'm super jealous).

We also had some great speakers from Action for Abortion Rights, the Women's Studies Association, Women's National Abortion Action Committee, Abortion Law Reform Association, and young labour came out against their parties refusal to allow Steve Chadwick to put the bill in the ballot.

Then we headed to parliament - because parliament, not the courts, are responsible for the current laws.

We had chalk so people could leave messages at parliament:

The current abortion law requires that women jump through hoops to get access to abortion. Right to Life want those laws to be higher and smaller. That's why we called our demo No More Jumping Trough Hoops - and did some hoop jumping:

As an added bonus pro-life NZ recorded our demo and put it up on youtube. So even those of you who weren't there can see it. Aren't they considerate:

This was just the beginning. Things are full steam ahead in Wellington. I'm sure there just as many people in other areas who are keen to be part of the fight.

Photos of this protest come from John Darroch and Stuff.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Local election - who I'm voting for.

The time has come again where I have to try and figure out which of the various candidates for local body elections I can bear to vote for.

Here is a brief summary of my decisions - too late to do anyone else any good sorry.

I'm not opposed to voting for lizards so the wrong lizards don't get in. However, I have my limits. So I'm not voting for Mayor. I am aware that a large number of Wellingtonians will outraged by this, but I'm not convinced that Kerry Prendergast with a slight green tinge will be improvement on Kerry Prendergast. Celia Wade-Brown, the only serious contender for mayor, has made it clear that economically she is no different from Kerry Prendergast. Recently the rates burden has moved from commercial to residential - a move Celia Wade-Brown supports. A 'green' approach to local body politics, can and has been cover for privatisation and an anti-people pro-business way of working.

I would get great pleasure from Kerry losing her job, and while normally that would be enough for me too vote for her opponent, but I cannot support Celia Wade-Brown.

Lambton Ward
What's super frustrating about local body politics is how hard it is to vote for any of them, because they seem to think voters are more interested in their CV, their love of Wellington and their family, than their actual policies.

1. Stephanie Cook - She's probably the reason that I bothered to vote at all. She has a good record of being on the right side of issues - and manages not to mention her family. So I'll vote for her - even though I think making her main campaign planting fruit trees is pretty inane.

2. Marcus Ganley - He has a clear statement against privatisation in his blurb, and is equally clear about his position on water metering. I've made me feelings about the labour party known on this blog several times. But with obvious (Alick Shaw) exceptions I think you can sometimes do +worse than a Labour party candidate on a local body. They tend to be on the left of the party, and they have a basic grasp that they should pretend to be on the side of people rather than business - under like their Green party counter-parts.

3. Mark Greening - I shouldn't rank him - because he believes in engaging youth to stop Graffiti - whereas I think that Graffiti is awesome. However, he's pro-library and he doesn't support water metering, or mention his family. Plus free wi-fi.

Yep I'm super unprincipled.

I'm not ranking:

Ioana Pannett - I vote for her last time, because I hate Alick Shaw just that much. I have appreciated her work against the liquor ban. But she supports the shifted burden of rates - Green party politics are particularly suseptible to neo-liberalism on councils. Plus she mentions her kid in her bio - which is the last straw.

John Bishop - I respect that he puts in that he's business friendly, I do like to see some policies, and respect for that fact that voters might want to know where you stand. But business friendly is Maia unfriendly.

Adam Cunningham - He actually ends his profile - SO IF YOU LOVE WELLINGTON TOO - VOTE CUNNINGHAM 1 IN LAMBTON WARD - just like that all in caps. I am not ranking him Number 1 - so clearly I hate Wellington.

Michael Fowler - He goes into the third person in his bio 'most of our lives were spent in Wellington' - I assume he means him and his wife - but he hasn't even mentioned her. Or possibly he has delusions of grandeur.

Ian McKinnon - Like John Bishop I respect that he made his politics clear, but I don't share them.

Kris Price - So I almost ranked him 4th just for not mentioning his family. Buthis complete lack of politics, as opposed to urban design ideas put me off.

Wellington Regional Council
I find it super difficult to choose candidates for the Wellington Regional Council. They're very pro-business.

Paul Bruce - Just to prove that my prejudice against the Green Party is not my ruling emotion.

Judith Aitken - I suspect she's less than awesome, but she has some good policies, and activism in the women's liberation movement goes a long way with me.

Chris Lipbscombe - clearly I'm getting soft near the end of the ballot, because I voted for him even though he mentions his family.

Not voting for

Sally Barber - Her water policy sounds suspiciously like she supports water metering

Dianne Buchan - More 'business is awesome' 'look at my business experience'

Charles Finny - I would vote for most people in Wellington before I'd vote for the former CEO of the Wellington Regional Chamber of Commerce. Plus he hates bus drivers - how can anyone hate bus drivers? Bad person!

Michael Gibson - He hates trains, and writes about himself in the third person. Where do these people come from?

Chris Laidlaw - I may get soft on Labour party candidates in local government. But I draw the line at former MPs.

Terry McDavitt - Blurb is non-stop inanity.

Daran Ponter - If he'd had more actual politics I probably would have voted for him. But his material is so slimy - and he spends so much time talking about his family that I just couldn't do it.

Bill Rainer - Why do these people think we want to know about their experience rather than how they will vote?

Fran Wilde - See I have these vague warm feelings towards her, because of her role in Homosexual Law Reform, but that was almost 25 years ago, and she's pro-business.

My main criteria is choosing people who believe in fighting for the health system, and it's workers. Also avoiding anyone who might think their religious beliefs are relevant to other people's health care.

1. David Choat - I broke my very important rule and forgave him for mentioning his family - partly because I know them, but more importantly because he has policy that I agree with.

2. Margaret Faulkner - Nurses who are clear where they stand on politics are worth voting for.

3. Maureen Gillon (you may notice that I'm voting for people in alphabetical order - this is because I'm lazy). Another nurse.

4. Malakai Jiko - On my list on easy gimmes is people who have worked for Primary Health Services such as Newtown Union Health.

5. Peter Roberts - He used to work for the doctors union and the coalition for public health - I would totally have voted him higher if only his name was further up the alphabet.

6. Peter Kelly - He used the phrase 'social justice' in his list. When it comes to the Health Board it doesn't take a lot.

7. Judith Aitken - see above.

8. Russell Franklin - his heart is obviously in the right place, even though he has a dodgy past and 8 is pretty far down my list.

9. Mark Jacobs - You were inane enough that I ranked you 9 - congratulations.

Not Ranking

Elizabeth Anderson - She accepts the funding limitations, and thinks her management experience is what's important. Nope.

John Apanowicz - Management. Management. Management.

Maureen Cahill - She doesn't just mention her family - she mentions her cat.

Camilia Chin - She used to be the 'Corporate Management Reporting Accoutnant for the CCDHB' - not my priority.

Barbara Donaldson - I don't disagree "Our DHB is in trouble" I do disagree "The Board needs poeple like me with experience in governance, management and health systems."

Andrew Holmes - actually your young family don't give you perspective for visionary governance FFS.

Virginia Hope - All management speak all the time.

Helene Ritchie - I'm PREJUDICED against random CAPS.

David Scott - If you're going to advertise your christianity when you're running for the Health Board that better come with a disclaimer - "I support a woman's right to choose" or else I'm not voting for you.

Donald Urquhart-Hay - I've said it before, and I'll say it again. I saw a House of Cards at a far too impressionable age to vote for anyone called Urquhart.

Nigel Wilson - The ratio of meaningless jargons to actual words is far too high.

Jack Wood - Funnily enough when thinking about who I want to run my health system and 'international business consultant' isn't it.

Now I've done my democratic duty I'm going to bed. I'll do a report of the abortion protest tomorrow I promise.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

No More Jumping Through Hoops: Abortion Rights Demo

I've talked a lot on this blog about the problems of abortion laws in New Zealand. If you live in Wellington, you can do something about it this Tuesday.

5 October · 12:30 - 13:30
Outside Court of Appeal (Corner of Aitken & Molesworth Streets)

Right to Life is taking the Abortion Supervisory Committee to court, to try and further restrict women's access to abortion in New Zealand (I'm going to try and get to at least some of the court case, so I'll try and provide a summary soon).

Our current law requires women to jump through many hoops before they can get access to abortion. Join the demo to demand that the current law is repealed, rather than interpreted more conservatively.

All welcome - bring your friends (If you're on facebook, you can invite your friends here)

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The re-criminalising poor sex workers bill

It has another, more euphamistic name (Manukau City Council (Regulation of Prostitution in Specified Places) Bill), but what it is actually doing is re-criminalising poor sex workers.

This bill will make it an arrestable crime, punishable with a $2,000 fine, to buy or sell sex outside of a brothel in areas decided by the Manakau City Council (if it goes through it'll be the Auckland super city council).

It is specifically targeting street sex workers. Street sex workers do not generally have $2,000 to pay a fine. The fines, when they're awarded, won't have the magic power to stop someone being poor and working as a sex worker, it'll just make them poorer. It won't make street sex work disappear, it'll just make it harder, more dangerous, and more marginalised.

It'll give police officers, like Peter Govers and Nathan Connolly more power over some women. And whatever else your politics, that is reason enough to oppose this bill.

I would like to take a brief moment to draw your attention to a new reactionary tendancy on this issue within the Greens (who block voted for prostitution law reform). Two of the Green MPs voted for the bill and Russell Norman abstained (because he thought I needed another reason to hate him).

Three parties block voted (Act and National supported the attacks, the Maori party opposed them), Labour and the Greens split their votes. Nanaia Mahuta was the only woman from either of these parties to vote for criminalising poor women who work as sex workers. Now it physically pains me to say nice things about Labour and Green MPs, but I want to give credit to the feminist analysis and solidarity that those who opposed these bill showed. It shouldn't be noteworthy that women MPs voted the way they did. But the extent to which their male colleagues accepted criminalising women who were already marginalised as an acceptable side effect of protecting small businesses (as the rhetoric in defence of hte bill is all the poor shop owners whose lives are made harder by the fact that sex work happens near them), means that it is noteworthy in the context in which they're operating.

The contempt that those who voted for this bill have for sex workers comes through in the parliamentary debate. George Hawkins uses the language of 'plague' to describe street sex work - which is about as dehumanising as you can get. Others demonstrate their contempt through sneering and patronising - and claim that this bill is necessary to stop underage sex work.*

A few months ago I read this article about American criminal approaches to sex work, and I was horrified. How can anyone who stands in solidarity with women say that being criminalised in this way helps anyone?

I understand that there are nuanced feminist positions on sex work. But I don't think good feminist analysis of any kind, can possibly endorse life being made harder for poor sex workers.

* No I don't get it either. How driving street sex work underground magically stops kids from being sex workers wasn't explained.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Abortion Rights Events in Wellington

There are a couple of exciting abortion rights events in Wellington this week, which it'd be great to see lots of people at.

The first is a meeting, organised by WONAAC, to talk about abortion action:

Monday 12 September 7pm
Mezzanine floor of the public library

WONAAC (Women’s National Abortion Action Campaign) is holding a Public Meeting to discuss and take action regarding Steve Chadwick's proposed decriminalisation bill and the Right To Life vs. ASC court case on October 5-6.

Meeting is open to everyone; bring all your friends that would interested in joining the discussions and taking ACTION.

On Thursday is BE FREE an awareness/fundraising gig for abortion rights:

Watusi (6 Edward St) 7pm

Come along to Watusi to support freedom of choice for all women. Drink some tasty beverages and listen to the sweet sounds of Diana Rozz (swoon) and special guests (excite!). Free drink for the first 40 people!

Ticket price: TBC, but will be kept low, so note it on your calendars, on the mirror in lipstick, on the back of your hand, in the dust on your windowsill, and invite your friends!

Friday, September 03, 2010

What progress looks like

A minor shit-storm has blown up over on Feministe where a guest blogger called Monica posted an fat-hating rant.* I'm not going to quote any of it - it was an inane, illogical post - and the point of this post is not to refute her nonsense (she actually talks about how people need to put down the donuts - that's how unoriginal she is).

Instead I want to talk about another post on feministe that was written almost four an a half years ago. It was a better written, and more coherent. But it was also arguing that fat acceptance activists went too far, and that we needed to talk about the unhealthyness of fat.

There were 122 comments on Monica's recent post - a good 95% of which are people telling Monica exactly how ridiculous and offensive her post is.

Four and a half years ago, there were just a few of us who spoke up for even moderate fat acceptance (and if you read the comments - which I don't actually recommend - I was being embarrassingly moderate and conciliatory).

In four and a half years the number of people talking fat and politics at feministe and feministe adjacent spaces has increased exponentially. Every person who says "I'm fat and there's no shame in that", makes it a little easier for the next person.

That a few moderates has become 100 angry radicals gives me such hope, and it really shows the value of continuing to talk and fight for what I'd still prefer to call fat liberation.

*Prompted by of all things a Jezebel post - if Jezebel is too fat accepting for you I recommend you don't read my archives.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Fit to eat

If you're anything like me you would have had lots of friends liking Child Poverty Action Group recently. I was all prepared to join in, until I saw they were promoting this post with a cheerful "What are our kids eating? And what is our government doing (or not doing) to encourage them to choose an orange over an oreo?"

First it reminded me of the endless ridiculous games of substitutions that you see in women's magazines and "healthy food" (Next time you feel like eating chocolate try a tin of tuna instead). Which made me think of Sarah Haskins, swapping a six pack of beer for a fifth of whiskey:

So I was happy for a while. But when I recovered from my distraction I was still grumpy. Why should children be choosing Oreos over oranges - why can't they have both, and lots of other food as well? Why is an anti-poverty group calling on the government to promote a diet mentality among kids?

The post they linked to was called "Not Fit To Eat"* was talking about a $2.50 pack sold in a South Auckland dairy, that contained Oreos, two packets of chip like things, and an orange drink. I agree that that is not an adequate lunch, but each of the individual components, and the pack of the whole, is totally fit to eat.

What I found most ridiculous about the response to this pack, was the emphasis on how cheap it was - as if that was a bad thing (someone made their horror at this food being cheap explicit in the facebook thread). I do not understand how anyone concerned with poverty could ever have a problem with any food being cheap. I have so often heard people tutt-tutting about the fact that a litre of coke is cheaper than a litre of milk - as if it is the cheapness of the coke that is the problem.

The person who had found this pack asked the dairy owner "aren't you ashamed to be selling this?" Why is it more shameful to be selling this for $2.50 than anything else? Dairies make their money through high margins - if their is shame in their trade - surely it is selling food for more, rather than selling food for less.

You know there was a time when calories weren't as relatively cheap as they are now. Cheap calories can give people the ability to stay alive, and they're fabulous. I understand being angry at the expense of other nutrients, such as milk, vegetables, fruit, meat and whittakers dark almond chocoalte, but why is this so often discussed as if the cheapness of other fooods is the problem?

This seems to be my week to be grumpy about how people on the left talk about food and bodies.** But I think it's really important. It is totally possible to talk about food and poverty, without buying into a worldview that fetishises food and buys into an ideology that sees food in terms of morality. I really should write a grand theory post about why this is bad one of these days - but the really short reason is that one of the purposes of this ideology is to blame individuals for the effects of poverty. This is not something we can co-opt - it is something which will co-opt us.

And because no post like this would be complete without it, here is a link to the fat nutritionist's If only poor people understood nutrition.

* I think it is written by my co-blogger AnneE - so I'd be interested in hearing her perspective

** Who am I kidding, every week for at least the last five years has been my week to be grumpy about the way some people on the left talks about food and bodies.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Safer Communities Together

Years ago, I heard a story.

A young, and new, constable was posted to Rotorua in the 1980s (yeah it's not a happy story). I don't know why he became a police officer, or what he wanted to do, or anything about him or his life. What I do know is his fellow police officerswould collect the names of single mothers - vulnerable women who would be home during the day alone - knock on the door in uniform and demand sex.

The young constable didn't like this, but he couldn't stop it, or maybe he just didn't know how to stop it, or wasn't prepared to do what it would have taken to stop it. But he couldn't be around these men, knowing what they did, and having to be an accomplice. So he left the police force.

Rape and abuse of power wasn't just something Rotorua police officers did in their off time? It was something that required structural support, and structural cover up. It required a widespread mentality that women didn't matter, and other police officers had a right to abuse them.

Dave Archibald was still operating under the 'bros before hoes' mentality when he used his position as police officer to get access to information in the hope it'd help his rapists mates.

Now he is in charge of training new police officers.

I'm reasonably clear that I don't think the police can be reformed, that I think the problems that come from the sort of power that they have are unavoidable, that their job, and the job of the criminal (in)justice system is to maintain the status quo not create safer communities together (see here).

But for those of you who have some faith in the police, who think the culture of rape and abuse is extinguisable, how is that going to happen? Maybe you think our young constable would have made a good constable, that he could have made a difference, but that difference he could have made was the reaosn he couldn't stay in the police force. Those who stayed, are those who could stomach, or turn a blind eye, to what was going on, they're the people who are training new police officers and choosing who gets promoted. How can you believe in reform?

Monday, August 23, 2010

It Never Stops

I went to the Fairness at Work rally on Saturday. It was a beautiful day in Wellington, and pretty amazing to see so many people. When I first got there I spent a good ten minutes wandering round. Then I settled down to listen to the Brass Razoo solidarity band play Solidarity Forever in the sun (which is one of my all time favourite things to do).

Despite an awesome beginning, I have some reservations about the Fairness at Work approach, and different reservations about other proposals to fight back against these laws. But rather than throw my hat in the ring for that debate, I'm going to have say something I totally didn't expect to have to say.

One of the undoubted problems of the day was the sound system. You had to really try to hear what was said, and from many parts of civic square you couldn't hear a thing. However, from reports of those who heard some of the speeches, this wasn't necessarily a bad thing.

Michelle A'Court was MCing the demo.* In her very first little spiel thing she said something like this (I didn't hear it myself, I didn't hear anything more than a phrase the entire time, but this is from a friend):

So there are sausages over there. You should eat them, because I don't like skinny people.

This is a bit off topic, but I really don't like skinny people. A friend of mine is friend's with a skinny person, and she introduced us, but I knew right off I didn't want to be friends with her. I mean what would we do all day? Not eat?

So anyway eat the sausages.

Except she went on like this a lot longer than that.

You know, I wanted to go on a protest. I wanted to have my say, stand together with a whole bunch of other people. Meet up with my friends, snark on some banners and leaflets - normal protest things.

I wasn't really prepared to get my angry feminist on. I think you have to try quite hard to bring policing women's bodies into a protest about work rights, but apparently it's possible.

There are different ways I could take this post from here.

I could write about humour - and the massive gulf between humour that laughs at structures of oppression and structures that laughts with them (This is an excellent post on just that divide). To the extent to which there was a joke in what Michelle A'Court said (and I'm dubious) it was ha, ha people's bodies

Or I could write about my school friends who join facebook groups called things like "Curvy women are sexier than skinny women". Policing and judging thin women is not revolutionary, it is not a blow for fat women everywhere. It's all part of hte same project, of making sure no woman can ever feel OK about her body. Acting as if thin people can and should control their bodies (the eat a sandwich, or in this case a sausage roll school of social commentary), upholds the idea that fat people can and should control their bodies.

I could point to this story of a woman who can't afford food because the government benefits are at starvation levels. And point out that skipping meals is not always a fucking choice. Let alone something to judge people on.

But I just don't see why I should have to do any of this. I don't think a work-rights demo should be a feminist mine-field. I think the basic principle shoudl be that everyone is welcome, without any part of their bodies, their minds, their lives, being subject to ridicule or mockery.

* I loved Michelle A'Court when I was a kid. I thought video dispatch was amazing, and that she was fabulous. I have a soft spot for her even today, and have really appreciated some things she's said. She had an excellent rant about tertiary education policy on the panel recently as well. I think that makes me even more frustrated with what passed for 'comedy' at this rally.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

How dare we lose what they have won*

Here's one reason (of many) why you should go to the rallies being held aroudn the country this weekend:

1pm, Saturday 21st August
QE2 Square (bottom of Queen St, opposite Britomart)

1pm, Saturday 21st August
Civic Square

1pm, Saturday 21st August
Cathedral Square

11am, Sunday 22nd August
Assemble at Dental School, Great King Street
March to rally at the Octagon

* From Bring out the banners

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Keep On Walking Forward

A couple of weeks ago I sat in a room that was over-flowing with people who had got together to fight for abortion rights. The meeting had been spectacularly well organised. When I came back to campus the week before, there was chalking advertising the meeting, and talking about the importance of abortion rights, all over campus. It didn’t rain that week – so awesome, strong messages were there for everyone to see (you can still see a bit of the chalking, in the door to the Kirk building, just under the overbridge).

To listen to dozens of people, mostly women, mostly younger than me, explain why they thought abortion rights were important, and why they were prepared to fight for them was not something I had ever experienced, or expected to experience.

I learned about our abortion law alone, in the Alexander Turnbull Library manuscripts reading room, with no. I couldn’t work for more than three quarters of an hour at a time looking through some of those files; I’d get so angry and upset I’d need a break. I once kicked the stone that said: This Building Was Opened By Rob Muldoon. My foot hurt, and I didn’t feel any better.

I felt alone. Most people I knew didn’t even know what the law was. I didn’t think I could do anything

I was wrong. Of course I was wrong. New Zealand’s abortion laws are outrageous, and of course there was heaps of passion about this injustice. There were always people who were prepared to fight the fight – it was just we all felt isolated, and had fifty three million other things to do, so nothing changed.

It appears that the Chris Trotter and Tammy X “abortion is kind of icky and won’t somebody think of the labour party” arguments won and Steve Chadwick’s bill will not be put in the ballot at the moment. Obviously I'm disappointed and disgusted.

But after the meeting we had – I know it doesn’t matter. We can educate, agitate and organise, until we’re strong enough to overpower MPs near pathological aversion to talking about abortion.

Whether next year or next decade, we will change abortion laws. We’re going to have honest laws that do not have unnecessary toll-gates in the way of women seeking for abortion.

And when we do I will look back on Monday the 19th of July as the night that I thought: “We’re gonna win.”

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Another myth about abortion

One of the ideas that permeates the abortion debate in so many ways is that supporting abortion rights is a minority position.

You see this partly in the idea that the law is cucrently 'outdated' (which is common even among those trying to change the law) as if it reflected it's time. Chris Trotter also strongly implied it - with the idea that hundreds of thousands of decent well-meaning people were behind the law as it stands now.

This is untrue - the current abortion law was wildly unpopular when it passed. 318,820 voting aged people signed the REPEAL petition (much like it sounded a petition to repeal the restrictive abortion laws) in 13 weeks. When you think about how many CIR have struggled to get that number of signatures - let alone that percentage of the population, you will understand it was a staggeringly unpopular law.

In this thread (warning the original post makes Chris Trotter look like a hardcore supporter of a woman's right to choose) the idea that abortion is a minority position bandied about by both supporters and opponents of law change.

Gaging public opinion on abortion is always difficult - the way the questions are worded makes a huge different to the way people answer them. But support for women having access to abortion is solid, and support for denying access to abortion is not.

More importantly in the 1970s public opinion on abortion swung very quickly. There are probably many reasons for this, but the most important is that women were speaking openly about their experiences of having an abortion and claimed abortion as a right - this position quickly resonated with people.

Those who support a woman's right to choose are not a minority, and the best way to build our movement is to make sure we don't act like one.

Monday, July 12, 2010

The (non-existent) relationship between abortion law and abortion rates

In early 1978, after the current abortion law was passed, it was almost impossible to get a legal abortion in New Zealand.* The law was incredibly badly drafted - the interaction of the implementation dates of different clauses was unclear, and no-one was prepared to take a risk. Feminists responded by organising SOS - Sisters Overseas Service - so women could get abortions in Australia.

Before the new law for most New Zealand women the easiest way to get an abortion was from the Auckland Medical Aid Centre - which was challenging the law and providing abortion on demand in the first trimester, at a relatively low cost. After the new law came in it cost $500 (including the trip to Australia) - $3,000 in today's money.

And yet, by the best estimates New Zealand women had more abortions in 1978 than they had in 1977. They certainly didn't have fewer abortions.**

To be absolutely clear - when New Zealand passed what was then one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the Western world and the cost of abortion increased dramatically - the total number of abortions New Zealand women had went up.

I mention this as a response to Chris Trotter's ridiculous column:

Does Ms Chadwick not believe that 18,382 abortions are enough? Does she think there should be more? Has the existing legislation created an unfulfilled demand for abortion which her proposed private members bill seeks to satisfy?***

While it is true that restrictive abortion laws deny some women access to abortion, and I don't want to minimise those women's experiences, the vast majority of women who want an abortion in New Zealand do get one - just as they did in 1977. New Zealand's restrictive abortion laws have never had a significant impact on the abortion rate - that's not how abortion law or access works.****

I'm not an activist on this issue because I'm fighting for women to have abortions. Quinine, hot baths, knitting needles, trips to Auckland, vitamin C, menstrual extraction, trips to Australia, telling the doctors what they need to hear about their mental health - women do what needs to be done to terminate a pregnancy.

Yes women in New Zealand generally manage to jump through the hoops that have been set up (if they didn't then we would have had abortion law reform a long time ago - just like the only reason Ireland gets away with having such restrictive abortion laws is because women can go to the UK). But (and I will go into this in more detail soon) those hoops have a cost - time off work, travel, childcare and stress. A cost which has nothing to do with the reality of abortion. A cost I don't think women should have to pay.

I'm an activist on this issue, because I think women should not have to pay a penance to someone else's morality before they get access to abortion.

* A much smaller number of abortions were carried out in other hospitals, and probably provisions for illegal abortions in some places.

** The graph of women between the ages of 16-45 travelling to Australia for a period of less than 5 days has a huge spike at this time. On top of that there are details from groups such as SOS.

*** And he trots out the compromise lie - it was not a compromise - it was a complete victory for the other side - the voting record and debate demonstrates that very clearly.

**** Seriously this is abortion politics 101 - the law makes minimal difference to the rate of abortion. It doesn't matter how high the cost for an abortion is - almost all women will pay it, because the cost of a pregnancy, let alone a child, is going to be greater.

Monday, July 05, 2010


It's going to be all abortion-blogging all the time this week (at least)from me. I have a lot to say.

But before I say anything else I just want to pay tribute to the women who fought the battles - who got us here.

The abortion fight in the 1970s was intensely long and gruelling. As I was growing up I knew abortion was an option (although I wasn't aware how ridiculous the laws were). It was only an option because people fought so long and hard both before and after the law changed.

As well as those who pushed the issue forward in the 1970s, there have also been women who have kept the issue alive over the years. Particularly at ALRANZ.

I've always loved the metaphor that those of us who are fighting for a better world are each a link in the chain - and I think as we make more chain we should appreciate that which already exists.

24 weeks

It's been great to see a wide range of support of Steve Chadwick's legislation. But one area that has seen less support is the proposed time limit of 24 weeks. There are physilogical arguments about fetal pain and development and viability, but those aren't the arguments I want to make.* I want to go back to first principles.

Those who are uncertain about a 24 week time limit make arguments like Dita De Boni did in the Herald:

But there was one part of Steve's bill that had me stumped. Why is she proposing that the timeframe for abortions be moved to 24 weeks, when currently it is stated in law that no abortions can be performed on women after the 20th week of pregnancy, except to save a woman's life?
A similar issue was raised in a comment thread by Ms P
This may risk setting of some kind of comment bomb, especially in light of the comments in earlier posts:( Also, I've never been pregnant so acknowledge my ignorance about the timelines for obtaining an abortion, but 20-24 weeks seems quite advanced in the pregnancy to be accessing abortion. What do people think of the criteria listed for the bill?

There is a story that gives one answer to this question. In 2007, a woman with pre-existing heart waited 15 weeks for a heart examination once she got pregnant. In the twenty first week of her pregnancy she was told that she had heart problems. She asked for an abortion, but was told that it was too late for an abortion, as the risk of her having health problems wasn't bit enough. The baby was delivered dead by caesarean section when she was thirty weeks better, and the woman died four hours later.

The best person to make decisions about what is acceptable risk during pregnancy is the woman who is pregnant.

It's really important that people don't give into their own 'icky' response when it comes to late-term abortion. Yes the pregnancy is quite far advanced at 22 weeks - you know who knows that better than anyone else? The woman who is pregnant, has a rapidly growin fetus inside that has started moving and kicking.

Unless you are absolutely anti-abortion (and very few people are, which is why you get rape and incest exceptions in most legislation),** then you believe there should be a decision maker who weighs up the pros and cons of having an abortion - balances the life stage that the foetus is at, the risks of the procedure, and the desires of the pregnant woman. I think some people slip into wanting to be that decision maker themselves - "Well 23 weeks is very advanced. I'm not saying you can't have an abortion then, but you better have a very good reason" That's the logic that resulted in our current law - the state took the position that some abortions were necessary, but that special neutral doctors were the only people to decide whether or not an individual abortion is OK.

But it's a terrible solution. Because one of two things happen, sometimes the gatekeepers abdicate their role as gatekeepers, as Certifying Consultants have largely done in the current environement, and allow women to make their own decisions. In which case the decision-makers are just meaningless hoops, that take money, time and energy for women to jump through. Or they act as gatekeepers, and women are forced to remain pregnant, and sometimes women die.

There is a simple, elegant, solution to all this. Accept that there needs to be a decision maker who balances many different issues, including the stage of pregnancy, but agree that the best person to be that decision maker is the pregnant woman.

This is what I meant about holding the line. Dita De Boni gave a spurious argument that currently 0.5% of abortions happen after 20 weeks. Leaving aside that's because some women are denied them, should we abandon those 80 women just because they're a minority? Just because it makes it messier? Should we say - of course most women shouldn't have to use their resources to jump through administrative hoops to end a pregnancy - but if there's only a few of them why don't we just ignore them and focus on everyone else.

The core argument about abortion is the same at week 8 as it is at week 24. If you trust women to make their own decisions, then you trust women to make their own decisions at any stage in pregnancy.

* Now I should be clear that I don't actually support the 24 week limit - I believe that women are as capable of making their own decisions at week 25 as they are in week 24. I will talk later about why I can support this bill anyway, but there are some aspects of existing law that I want to discuss first.

** Except New Zealand's of course, because our MPs thought that if you could get an abortion if you were raped would lie about being raped to get an abortion.

Sunday, July 04, 2010

People who are lying about abortion law reform

So the only material we have about Steve Chadwick's proposed private members bill is one NZ Herald article. A lot of the people quoted in the article make reference to the origins of the current law - a topic I happen to know a reasonable amount about. History important for many reasons, including that some people will try and twist it to their own ends, and it helps to know the truth.

So liar the first Bernard Moran, president of Voice for Life (that's SPUC that was):

The present law is a compromise to recognise that there is an unborn child, that there is a human person involved in this procedure.
Decriminalisation would basically be saying that the human person, the child, has no value whatsoever; it's like removing an abscess or a tooth. That's a modern form of barbarism.
You see this idea repeated by quite a few different people, but it's absolutely incorrect - our current law is not a compromise. The law we have now was a total victory for misogynist anti-abortionists. The law was written and promoted by misogynist anti-abortionists David Lange and Bill Birch (respectively). None of the women in parliament voted for it. It was a horrific desperate defeat for feminists all over the country. Over 300,000 people signed a petition to repeal the law. For more than a year after the law was passed women who needed abortions flew to Australia to get them.

The current law is a savage defeat.

Then there's Phil Goff: "Labour leader Phil Goff said he hadn't given the matter much thought."

Deborah and QoT have both responded to this. But I had a slightly different reaction which was "Bullshit." In 1977 and 1978 Phil Goff was the spokesperson for Young Labour. Young Labour actively opposed the current abortion law. Phil Goff got a reasonable amount of publicity. The sort of person who goes on to become leader of the opposition, pays attention to the media coverage they get when they're 24. He has thought about abortion. He knows where he stands. He may not want to talk about abortion, but the rest is bullshit.

Holding the line

So I have lots to say about Steve Chadwick's proposed private members bill, but I want to start with the nature of abortion law.

New Zealand abortion law is appalling. Parliament is not short of people who know this, but it is short of people who are afraid to do anything about it:

Helen Clark and Phil Goff spoke out about how bad the law we have now is back when it passed, but they haven't done anything about it, since they had the power to.* Sue Bradford, Sue Kedgley, Keith Locke, Ruth Dyson, Margaret Wilson, Marianne Hobbes, Maryann Street - they were prepared to fight this battle in the 1970s, before they got into parliament, they were feminists (or feminist supporters) then. And it's not just those who are in parliament now the numbers have been there for at least the last nine years, others had their chance: Jonathan Hunt, Matt Robeson, Laila Harre, and especially Phillida Bunkle.
So the fact that Steve Chadwick has stepped up - is far more impressive than it should be.

But it's barely even a beginning. Those of us who support women's right to access abortion and make choices about our own bodies cannot just wait for those in parliament to do the right thing. Because they probably won't.

It's not just about whether Steve Chadwick's bill ever gets put in the ballot. It's about what happens next; the Herald's report makes the bill sound very solid. Not my idea of perfect abortion law - but an abortion law that will not put up barriers or demand resources from women before they can access abortion (again I'll write more about that in the next few days).

But abortion law is a strange thing - and often those making it succumb to: "Yes women have a right to access abortion, but we have to remember that abortion is icky".

As Idiot/Savant points out - the danger isn't just that this law won't get through, but that it'll get through with various hooks in it. That those who theoretically believe in a woman's right to chose will bow to the backlash, and use the 'icky' instinct as a justification. Parental notification laws are an obvious example of ways to put huge obstacles in the way for some women, but the US has so many examples of ways to make things difficult for women, while theoretically maintaining a right to abortion.

In order to get meaningful change in abortion law, that'll make a difference to women's lives, everyone involved has to hold the line. Those in parliament won't suppress their 'abortion is icky response' if the organising all comes from misogynist anti-abortionists.

Deborah suggests writing to MPs, which is a start, but only a start. We'll need to do so much more than that to make sure the MPs have no choice but to hold the line.

I think a really good start would be public meetings of those who support the proposed bill. Anyone interested in organising them?

Note for commenters: This post is not for a discussion of the morality of abortion. But a space to talk about how those of us who oppose the current law can organise.

Friday, May 07, 2010

"I've never voted Tory..."

Like many people, I've spent the last day following the British election. Indeed Victoria University's internet almost broke under the strain of the sheer number of people streaming BBC on the Guardian website. When I stopped to think about it couldn't figure out what I wanted to happen - except the spontaneous combustion of all present candidates for British Prime Minister and their predecessors. But I couldn't stop watching.

There have been many words spilt over the British election results and what they mean, with more to come. It seems a little arrogant to stake a claim to that process. But what is important to me is that the Tories could not get a majority. It's been 13 years since they were last in power, Labour has nothing to even pretend to offer, and is widely loathed. Despite this the Tories could not make it happen.

One of the things I respect most about the place I was born is its long memory and deep hatred for Margaret Thatcher and the Tories. Gary Younge summed it up brilliantly:

I don't have a phobia about Tories. That would suggest an irrational response. I hate them for a reason. For lots of reasons, actually. For the miners, apartheid, Bobby Sands, Greenham Common, selling council houses, Section 28, lining the pockets of the rich and hammering the poor – to name but a few. I hate them because they hate people I care about. As a young man Cameron looked out on the social carnage of pit closures and mass unemployment, looked at Margaret Thatcher's government and thought, these are my people. When all the debating is done, that is really all I need to know.

Coming from New Zealand where the collective political memory is goldfish like I think Britain's burning hatred is worth celebrating.

Cake is not the opposite of diet - and no diet day thoughts

So I'm reposting some of the blog posts I wrote years ago over at The Hand Mirror. This week I have felt the irritation at International No Diet Day rise slowly (mostly fueled by the facebook group), and I wanted to write a post about why it annoyed me so much. Then I realised that I've already written that post so I decided to repost it instead (i've edited quite a bit, to finish the sentances and elaborate on the ideas).

In my experience No Diet Day's are most commonly observed at Universities, and usually by eating cake, chocolate and ice-cream at a dessert evening or some such event. Sometimes, when you have an anti-feminist women's rights officer, they're observed by giving away diet coke and fruit (because International No Diet Day becomes Love Your Body day and what better way to love your body than fruit, diet coke and yoga - I really wish I was making this up, but I'm not).

My superficial criticism of No Diet Day is how easy co-opted and perverted it is. An article from ABC in Australia:

In the 936 office Drive Producer, the lovely Lynn, got up especially early to spend most of her morning baking, in order to provide her colleagues with the most delectable Pavlova and cake.

Annie Warburton and the team from Mornings spoke with Stephen Dimsey, State Manger of Life Be In It Tasmania, to get some sensible tips for those who enjoy their food but want to stay in shape.
Then later on Stephen says: "What we're saying is that whatever body shape you are, make sure you're a healthy body shape," Talk about making the kind of sense that's not; I don't think I could translate that into English if you paid me.

But I have just as much problem with the dessert based versions International No Diet Day, which are organised on campus by people who are actually feminist.

I don't think dessert is the opposite of dieting. I think to suggest that it is is to perpetuate a shallow, unhelpful understanding of the role of food in our society. Food and control are so tightly linked that the only other alternative to controlling your food intake is losing control of your food intake. You can't just 'not diet' for a day - because the gremlins in your head about food and your body will still be there - interrogating every food choice, everything you do. To suggest anything can be achieved in a day is too hide how deeply people are affected.

The opposite of dieting is actually making food about food. I know that's an uphill battle. I know the vast majority of women students are nowhere near there. But I don't think having one day a year where you're 'allowed' to eat chocolate is a step in that direction.

In the end kicking those grelins to death is an uphill battle. Whatever the state your personal set are in I don't think it makes any difference whether you eat dessert or don't eat dessert on a particular day. And I think the suggestion that you should or shouldn't deal in any particular way actually makes it harder.

What is ultimately frustrating is that my experience of dessert evenings is that after a certain point people will start talking about how gross they feel and how someone should take the food away so they'll stop eating it - it's not an anti-diet dessert evening without people completely reinforcing ideas about food and control and food and power.

If I had a time machine, and could go back in time to when International No Diet Day was invented (my mind says 1989, but I'm too lazy to look it up on Wikipedia), I would make a suggestion that rather than make it 'no diet day' - how about 'no diet-talk day?" I don't know if it would actually help (and not being so easily commodified it would be less popular). But at least it presents the response to eating disorder culture and body hatred as something that involves many steps, rather than something you can just turn off.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

He's still a police officer

It never ends:

The woman, whose name is suppressed, argued in a civil case that she had felt obliged to fulfil Mr Govers' sexual requests because of his position.

The woman had helped police spy on a methamphetamine ring in 2005. Shortly afterwards, Mr Govers took a bottle of wine to her home.

She said he told her he could help if she was in trouble, and that he knew her children were in care and her violent partner had just gone to jail.

The woman said he asked her to perform a sex act on him, but court documents show Mr Govers denies this took place.
The woman was suing Peter Govers in civil court, arguing that their relationship was a fiduciary relationship - that he had a duty to act in her best interests. The Judge ruled that no such relationship existed - but she did say that she believed that the woman's story was more likely than not correct. I'm really glad that the woman involved was told that someone believed her.

The police culture in Rotorua in the 1980s was one that enabled police officers to rape women with impunity. That's pretty much a matter of record at this point.

We're supposed to believe that it's all changed now. It's all clean - the bad apples in Rotorua rotted the whole barrel - but bad apples aren't a problem anymore.

But a police officer can have sex with someone who did not feel able to say no and remain a police officer. Govers was demoted from detective Sergeant to Senior Constable. He still has the power of arrest, the badge, the baton, and the mates.

Years ago I asked this:
For me this shows one of the fundamental problem with the police. Abuse, including rape, appears to be an inevitable result of the sort of power we give police. I know people have different analyses about how much good the police do (I come down on the side of 'none'). But even if you believe that the police do improve society, do you really believe that what happened to Louise Nicholas, Judith Garrett and countless other women is an acceptable side effect of that good?

It's not just Rotorua and it's not just the 80s.

Monday, May 03, 2010

Minor news

The paper had sat on our kitchen table for a few days. The Dominion Post is given away for free at campus and one of my flatmates brings it back to do the crossword. The headline caught my eye:

I never raped anyone, former officer tells the jury

I read stories like that, but I take a breath first:
A former Rotorua police officer denied raping a 17-year-old Rotorua teen in her flat 21 years ago but could not rule out a brief sexual encounter, a court has been told. Iosefa Fiaola told a jury in Tauranga District Court yesterday that he did not know the woman who alleged she was raped in her flat in 1989.

Then today I searched Stuff for 'Rotorua' 'Police' 'Rape'. There were lots of hits.

The jury had come back on Thursday. They had found him not guilty.

Another woman had gone to the police about being raped by Iosefa Fiaola, this article strongly implies this was the reason he left the police force.

The article I read was on page 5 or 6. When Rotorua cops stand trial for rape in the 1980s, it's barely news anymore.

I keep looking for the words, but I have so many jumbled things I could say to that. And I've said them all before, more than once.

How many people knew? Obviously lots of women knew, women who were raped, women who structured their lives around avoiding cops, women who had been warned. But none of them had the power to stop these rapists. How many police officers knew? How many lawyers? How about other men who could have stopped it? Or just men who could draw a line and say "I'm against raping women, even when my buddies do it?"

It's too big for me to comprehend, even now, even after thinking about it for years.

So I'm just going to say, again, that I believe this woman.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The state of a strange land

The story posted on Shakesville about a New Zealander who was deported from LAX has been getting some attention among New Zealand bloggers. It's a powerful tale:

I was taken to another room and given another search. This one (thankfully) did not put her hands anywhere near my groin, just my legs, arms and torso. And my shoes.

I was then taken back out to the main reception area, given a paper bag, and told to put all my valuables into it. Including my $2 mood ring, my $3 watch, and... my bootlaces. And anything else I was carrying of value - my wallet, my MP3 player, and the water and food that I had been given by the officers at LAX.

I didn't know why I had to put the bootlaces in the bag. I think that if I had asked, I would have been told that it was "for my safety". However, since I was only able to shuffle slowly around, I believe that it was a ploy to dehumanise the detainees further.

I recommend you read the whole thing.

But I want to point out that New Zealand has its own degrading, dehumanising, racist immigration system. I've watched a woman about to be deported saying goodbye to her boyfriend in a prison visiting room. For pacific island women visas can be contingent on negative pregnancy tests. If you were detained in a New Zealand prison prior to deportation (and people are) - the cold, the strip search, the lack of access to medication, the constant dehumanisation would be the same.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

And the best thing about it is they're guilty!

In Decca: The Letters of Jessica Mitford she tells a story of the 1960s. I can't remember the details of the political trial - had the defendant's been accused of . But they were found not guilty, and in the party to celebrate the result a young man stood on a table and shouted out "And the best thing about it is they're guilty."

Today the jury took just two hours to find Adrian Leason, Peter Murnane, and Sam Land not guilty of willful damage and burglary.

In April 2008, they went to the Waihopai spy base and destroyed one of the domes. Since then they have been very clear that they did damage the spy base, but they were not guilty of any crime. They had taken the action that they did to avert much greater harm, including the on-going war in Iraq.

For those interested in the exact legal details I recommend Brian Law. But it's not the legal aspects of this that I'm celebrating. It's that the Waihopai 3 maintained that they did it, and that they were right to do it, and the jury believed them.