Tuesday, March 27, 2012

A likely feminist

I don't think Tulisa Contostavlos is a household name in New Zealand.  Certainly the only reason that I'd heard of her is because I spent last winter developing a my knowledge of British comedians, discovered the awesomeness that is Simon Amstell and watched a lot of Never Mind the Buzzcocks.  For those who don't know she was part of a British group called N-Dubz, she judged British X-factor, and she's about to release a solo album.

And it turns out that she's awesome. Recently, a scum-bag ex-boyfriend of hers released a sex-tape.  Horrifically, this is an occupational hazard for women like Tulisa.  And if they have a scumbag ex-boyfriend prepared to release a sex-tape, young female celebrities are trapped in a web of victim-blaming, slut-shaming, judgement.  Women in her position have had their careers threatened, and been forced to offer ridiculous 'apologies' to keep their job.  It is very difficult for the young women caught in this web of judgement to respond to it without reinforcing some of the ideas they're being attacked with.

Tulisa didn't respond with a press statement forced by her management or employers, but with another video - where she is straight up, direct and refuses to be shamed by toxic ideas about women's sexuality:


Just go watch the whole thing.


My appreciation for this awesome video was slightly marred because I learned about it in this article from the guardian website.  Because the author is not content in celebrating Tulisa's response.  She also emphasises how 'unlikely' it is that Tulisa would provide a feminist response.

Tulisa  has talked really explicitly about being in an abusive relationship as a teenager and the effect that had on her well-being.  I'm just looking at interviews linked on wikipedia and she is very explicit about misogyny and the effect that it has had on her life.  And yet the article doesn't even feel the need to explain or justify why she thinks Tulisa is an 'unlikely' feminist.

Because when a commissioning editor at the Observer describes Tulisa as an 'unlikely' feminist - the subtext is pretty close to being text. It would be uncouth to be explicit about the class-differences which underly the author's supposed surprise.  After all this is Britain and you can hear Tulisa's voice - and on the guardian website no more explanation than that is needed.

I think it's really important to make the subterranean explicit.  That's the only way to recognise these off hand lines  as an effort to claim feminism as the exclusive property of middle-class women. This is both an assumption of what feminism is, an expression of what the author wants it to be, and act of maintaining those borders; for the author feminism is a movement that only recognises middle-class women's expression of their experiences, and allows people to be shocked when working-class women express themselves at all.

The best response of course, is to watch Tulisa's video again and say that there's nothing unlikely or surprising about it.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Junk Science that supports 'Health at Every Size' is still Junk Science

A few months back, over at Big Fat Blog there was a report on this study.  The study was basically examining four 'healthy' habits (moderate drinking, not smoking, 'exercising' and eating 5 plus fruit and vegetables) and the BMI, and then doing an analysis of risk of death.  DeeLeigh from BFB summarised its findings like this:

Two things really jump out at me. First, the more healthy habits we have, the more our life expectancy matches the life expectancy of thin people with the same habits. When we've got all four, the gap is pretty much closed. Second, it's only the fat people with no healthy habits who have a dramatically reduced life expectancy in comparison to thinner people.

This is a strong confirmation of what HAES advocates have been saying for years
It's bullshit.  Of course it's bullshit.  This study has exactly the same errors as all the other studies which people on fat acceptance blogs have picked apart and chanted "Correlation does not prove causation" at.  The most glaring of which is (as always) that it does not control for class. You cannot say anything meaningful about people's bodies or lives if you don't take into account the way resources are distributed in society.

I've always felt slightly uncomfortable about the way scientific studies are used for the cause of fat acceptance. I've always felt it conceded too much ground - by spending lots of energy arguing that fat isn't necessarily unhealthy, we're conceding the conclusion that if fat was healthy fat hatred would be justified.   But I can see that given the amount of junk-fat-hating masquerading as science there is out there debunking is useful work.  But if debunking is going to work as a persuasive factor, or (more importantly in my opinion) a way of figuring out how the world works, then people engaging with scientific studies have to be absolutely disciplined and committed to engaging with the literature as it is.  Just reposting one article that agrees with your pre-conceived views without engaging with the critical thinking that you would if it disagreed undermines that project.


That blog post was the first thing that came to my mind when I read the post and skimmed the article. But then I read the article in more detail and I became outraged on a whole new level.  Because in the article itself they provide how they'd defined exercise:
Level of physical activity was determined according to the frequency of participation in leisure-time physical activities within the previous month.
 There is no justification for this definition in the article.*

I actually lose it at this point and can't form any coherent thoughts.  You can't measure a subset or something a pretend you've measured the whole thing.  You can't claim to do one thing, when you're actually doing something else.  You can't just wave away the word 'leisure-time' as if it doesn't exist.  Except apparently you can - in a peer-reviewed journal.

I want to know how wide-spread this is? How often in peer-reviewed articles, advice given to doctors, information passed on to us all have they told us that 'exercise' has a particular effect when they've measured 'leisure-time exercise'.

I was vaguely aware that workplace exercise did not quite fit the chirpy model put about in videos like this one.  Partly I just knew this from studying the history of work - work that requires exercise wears bodies out - it's nothing like the experience of exercise that people get from the gym (this article about working in a warehouse for internet shopping is an important reminder that there are now new forms of work that require body destroying exercise).

The most obvious point we come against is class (they also, surprise surprise didn't control for Socio-economic status in this article).  Are articles about leisure-time exercise actually measuring the effect leisure time that you can use for yourself?    The experience of physical activity as part of paid work is qualatatively different from leisure time physical activity - when you're in paid work that you're going to have to do day in day out, you have to conserve energy and conserve your body.  Also people who can do leisure-time physical activity probably aren't facing body-destroying physical labour in their jobs.  

this article has long fascinated me (warning Ben Goldacre is a fat-hating douche at the beginning).  It tells of a study of hotel cleaners, many of whom described themselves as doing no exercise (which shows how deeply the false equivalency of leisure-time exercise and exercise has worked into people's self-defintion).  In one hotel they told the workers specifically that the work cleaners were doing (which is after all hard physical labour) was exactly the sort of exercise that doctors recommend.  The group who were told that saw all sorts of health benefits over the next month.  But the question that I've always wondered is - why didn't they see themselves as doing exercise?

I was recently hanging round with a five-year old who is always running around like a young spider-monkey and she was talking to herself about 'exercise' and describing some of the things she was doing as 'exercise' - and it was clear that she'd just started school and been told about the importance of exercise and she was trying to figure out what 'exercise' was - what part of her constantly moving around counted.  Because 'exercise' is not quite synonymous with physical movement - and a five year old need to figure that out - even if peer-reviewed journals only tell us so in their methodology section.

* There may some justifications in the articles that are cited, but I couldn't access any of the cited articles in the relevant section.  I'd love to hear from people who can if there is a justification if you follow the references.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

This ain't a court of justice son

Kim from He Hōaka has written an amazing post about justice and Operation 8.

In his keynote address to the Māori criminal justice colloquium in 2008, Moana Jackson described justice as a system which helps us deal with wrong by re-enforcing what is right, which helps us deal with hurt by dealing with those who are hurt, by helping us deal with injustice by re-defining what is injustice and what is just in our terms. Such a system is focused on avoiding and putting right social harm. It is a definition which makes sense to me. 

If we use this definition to look at what happened on and since October 15, 2007, it is clear that one party is responsible for social harm (eg, from the Herald). On October 15, police smashed their way into houses around the country, and attempted to terrify everyone they found—shouting, pointing guns, holding people captive. They blockaded an entire community, stopping and searching cars, photographing occupants, all at gun point. All of this was indiscriminate, children and adults were targeted. Around 20 people were taken and held for a month. Since then, police have harassed those who were arrested, through the courts with ridiculous bail restrictions, and also on the streets. Governments have allowed and defended this behaviour; for example, Helen Clark used the media to say those arrested were guilty before charges had even been laid ( PM: activists trained to use napalm), while John Key “says there is no need for an inquiry into how police and the Crown handled the Te Urewera raids case” (Te Urewera trial cost). As recently as three weeks ago, while the Operation 8 trial was in the news, the police were still harassing the people of Ruātoki (Residents terrorised after police raid wrong house), and were lucky not to seriously hurt anyone. 

Of all the evidence that was presented in the media and in court, culled from hundreds of thousands of pages of evidence collected, there is only one example of anyone other than the Crown causing harm to others (Apology followed shots). Four and a half years of harassment and vilification of those arrested, their whānau, the residents of Ruātoki, and Ngāi Tūhoe in general, does nothing to fix that harm. 
 Go read her whole post

I think I'm going to wait until it's really all over (probably sentencing on May the 24th) to say anything more.  I'm not sure if I even have anything more to say (I stole the title of this post from a friend's facebook post)- it's been a long four and a half years (and six days).

Friday, March 09, 2012

Now you've come to the hardest time

While the details of the Ports of Auckland dispute get a bit complicated - at its core it is incredibly simple. The union isn't making demands for better wages and conditions (and I'd support them if they did).  The Port, as the employer, demanded massive changes aimed at casualising the workforce.  The union refused to 

Casualisation is a serious threat to workers' income - not knowing how many hours you're going to work each week . As this video demonstrates it also has a huge impact on workers lives.  One of the conditions port workers are trying to hold onto is the right to have one weekend off in three.

But from the employers point of view it's also about power - the employer has far more power over a casualised work-force than they do with a permanent one.   

The actions of Ports of Auckland are not just a threat to port workers.  If Ports of Auckland win, then more employers will follow.  Secure hours are one of the most basic and important work conditions.

It's not over.  In shipping time is money (that's why those in charge of the Rena charted a quicker course).  There's six weeks until the redundancies can actually happen legally and all sorts of industrial action that can happen before then. And after that they'll still need people to work the port - and if they can't get scabs the containers.  

So support and solidarity are incredibly important, not just for the wharfies, but for all our jobs.  The union's campaign site is saveourport.com


Ports of Auckland are not the only major industrial action at the moment.  AFFCO (owned by the Talleys family) has locked out meatworkers across the country, they're also demanding casualisation and a roll back of wages and conditions.  Oceania rest home workers have been on  strike seeking a  pay increase (the companies offer is currently zero for the first year).

At CMP meatworkes union withstood the company's demands for lower wages and casualisation.  They received huge solidarity and support.  The employers may be on the rampage, but they can be resisted - together.