Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Understanding and Insight

I first learned about Living Below the Line at the Wellington Candidates Meeting - it was not auspicious introduction. James Shaw mentioned that he was doing it and therefore he wouldn't be putting on weight to look like the other Wellington Central candidates; the audience laughed in that way people do when you mention fatness - there doesn't need to be an actual joke. And I sat at the back rolling my eyes - "because obviously there is no correlation between poverty and fatness in New Zealand."

"Living Below the Line" is a five day challenge where people live on $2.25 a day, with the purpose of both raising money and awareness. Apparently: "it allows thousands of people in New Zealand to better understand the daily challenges faced by those trapped in the cycle of extreme poverty"

This 'understanding' is facilitated through a completely arbitrary set of rules: you're not allowed to accept anything free, you must include the cost of a whole packet of anything you use a bit of, you don't have to count the travel to get food, you don't have to worry about the cost of cooking fuel, and you can use whatever fancy pants equipment you've got in your kitchen.

I find everything about it, the rules, the blogposts, the tweets, horrific and offensive on a very fundamental level.

Poverty is not a fucking game.

Poverty does not have rules except you have to do it again tomorrow. Poverty is not new or exciting. Poverty is not neatly quarantined to one area of your life. Poverty is not something you can control with neatly defined parameters. And it does not come with prizes.

If people want to use stupid gimmicks to fundraise then I'm probably not going to both writing a blogpost about it. But to pretend that this highly structured game will promote insight or understanding is an insult to the women and men (but mostly women) who have to feed themselves and other people with inadequate resources year in and year out.

Monday, August 15, 2011

The cost of being a woman in public

Felicity Perry has talked to both Stuff and Nine to Noon about her experience on the Independent Youth Benefit. This is one of the benefits that National is planning to target with its latest scheme to pathologise young people.

David Farrer wrote a post about her (I'm not linking to it). In the comments thread someone posted her cellphone number. In that thread she has been repeatedly denigrated. She has also been harassed by phone.

She told a small part of her life story. Of her experiences on the Independent Youth Benefit, and what these policies would have meant for her. Her experience was not the experience of MPs, businessmen and international financial traders. It was not enough for those who disagreed her to denigrate her and attack her legitimacy to speak; they also had to harass her personally and extract a toll from her for what she'd said.


On Friday's New Zealand Next Top Model the contestants were given a "Pacific Blue Courtesy Challenge". They had actors making life hard for the contestants, and this included an actor playing a papparazzi. The fake papparazzi took a picture of one of the contestants, Aroha, in her underwear when she was getting out of the taxi, and when she tried to get away from them she was the most assertive.

Aroha was deemed to fail the "courtesy challenge" and kicked off the show.

She was blamed both for being harassed, blamed for her harassers success, and blamed for fighting back.


Drawing attention to misogyny on either kiwiblog or New Zealand's Next Top Model, is kind of like talking about the wetness of the sea. Women's bodies and lives are treated as public property, and these are just two of an ocean of examples. But as well as being examples they normalise it. NZTM is fun Friday night entertainment, and the huge number of tampon adds on TV3 OnDemand makes it very clear whose its ideas of what it means to be a woman are for. While Kiwiblog is happy to exact a cost for stating opposing views - a cost that'll be higher for those who are more marginalised.

So my opposing narrative is to offer solidarity to Aroha and Felicity. To applaud their strength and resistance. To offer the same to other women who are experiencing variations of the same horrible harassment, whose lives and bodies are treated as public property, and who are penalised for any difference with what the viewer expects.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Wellington Central: Abortion and other matters

In general, I don't think Meet the Candidates forums are particularly useful. It's fun to say to James Shaw (Wgtn Central Green Candidate) "I won't vote for the Greens because Russell Norman said that Louise Nicholas had consensual sex with Clint Rickards", but not an hour and a half of my life fun. Anyone who cares enough to go to a Meet the Candidate forum probably already knows where the parties stand. However, there is one thing you can learn at a meet the candidates meeting that it is very hard to learn anywhere else - and that's candidates' position on 'conscience' issues.

Like abortion.

So when Victoria University had a meet the candidates forum, this seemed like an excellent opportunity to figure out where Wellington Central candidates (many of whom end up deciding things for the rest of us) stand on abortion.

I thought a bit about how to phrase it. Give them an inch wiggle room and they'll not answer your question at all - one person asked about child poverty and whether they would commit to raising benefit rates - and Grant Robertson waxed very lyrical about the evils of child poverty and didn't mention benefits at all. So I made it very focused on law change.

Grant Robertson emphasised that he was pro-choice and that he thought the law should be changed.

James Shaw just said ditto.

Then the New Zealand First candidate and the United Future candidate agreed as well. The United Future candidate said that UF was pro-choice - which may surprise Peter Dunne, although at this point who knows.

Then came Paul Foster-Bell, the National party candidate. He began with a long spiel about how every abortion is a failure, and then said that he supported a woman's right to choose.

It was neat that he got shit for this response on twitter. Although I was more interested in the second part of his response than the first. Obviously ideas like that are ridiculous and should be challenged. But when it comes to MPs, I'm much more focused. They can believe that abortion angers the Wombles, but pleases the Fraggles if they like. I care how they're going to vote.

Although I was interested in why he thought we cared that he thought abortion was a failure. I had asked for his position on the law, not I understand why the Nats run liberal candidates in Wellington Central - but of all the places to


The debate as a whole was one of the most male dominated events I've been to for a while. All the candidates were men, and James Shaw introduced two other local Green candidates who were also men. The chair was a man, and I'm pretty sure that only one woman asked a question. This did not reflect the audience. No-one appeared to notice.

It feels almost cruel, in events like this, to pick on the candidates from the smaller parties. For some reasons candidates from smaller parties which are trying to portray themselves as middle of the road are always much, much, weirder than anyone else.

So I'm not going to say anything about the United Future candidate, although he was hilarious - because he was just some guy who said yes when asked. Is that any reason that he should be mocked on feminist blogs for going along to a student focused election forum and talking about hunting and fishing?

But I am going to say that Ben the NZFirst candidate who said that there never used to be child poverty in New Zealand and blamed current poverty on poor parenting is as ignorant as his politics are terrible.

Apart from that I hate them all (although Grant Robertson almost got me appreciating him when he argued with Ben's ideas about child poverty - which just made me hate him more).