It felt like Randerson and LaHood had reached into the farthest reaches of our conscious and unconscious minds, as though they had been the flies on the wall during every argument, every regretful or hurtful thought, and then wrote them into a script. Uncanny, unnerving and yet altogether affirming.
A guest post by Anna Coddington
(Editor/Flip That Script’s note)- “As the New Zealand Music Awards of 2016 was running, a group of women in the industry were talking. Facebook chat. We’re professionals. We have babies. We were talking, because the music industry can be an uncomfortable place for women.
The industry is simply over run by men. It’s hard to get a foot in the door, let alone a word in. It doesn’t matter whether you are an instrumentalist, a producer, a lighting-rigger, a manager, or a singer – you’re outnumbered. We’d realised that only one woman had ever won ‘Best Video’ since the awards inception, and not a single woman had been nominated since 2011 for that award.
It really is a boys club. So we were sending power vibes to Aaradhna, we hoped she would take the night out. And she did. Very calmly and succinctly, she explained that she would not accept her second award of the night for Best Urban/Hip-hop artist, as she was a singer – not a rapper (giving it to Onehunga based rappers SWIDT instead). And more importantly, she showed the award for what it was, the ‘brown musician’ award. Boom. Institutionalised racism called OUT.
So once again, the internet has blown up – because women have stuff to say. AND sometimes, these women have been brown. I know, its shocking right. Who knew women were even allowed to express their opinions at all?
Another singer who experiences being lumped together with other brown musicians is Anna Coddington. As Aaradhna was laying it down at the awards that night and we were chatting, Anna brought up another pertinent issue, one which compounds the ‘brown-blindness’ – The seeming dearth of female music critics in New Zealand. We talked at length.
Then Anna wrote this. He mihi nui ki a koe e hoa – you speak for many of us.”
‘Recently, I was part of a panel for ‘LATE at the Museum: ‘The Music Machine’, a curated evening of discussion, performance and exhibitions at the Auckland Museum. Chaired by the lovely and knowledgeable Charlotte Ryan, the other panelists were musicians Chip Matthews and James Milne, and music manager Scott MacLachlan. We were charged with discussing, basically, whether musos give a shit about what critics think.
It seemed a potentially interesting discussion so, despite my 5-month-old baby induced sleep deprivation and inability to string a sentence together at the best of times, I signed up.
It was well received, “blew up my twitter for a minnit” and we covered a lot of ground in the time available.
What’s the role of a critic these days? Do musicians care what they think? Do listeners? Are they still relevant? etc. But as the hour started winding down I got a sinking feeling as I realized the issue that I thought was the most glaring, relevant and important was not going to be raised – unless I raised it.
In the last ten or so minutes I was trying to find a way to slip it in without straight up yelling over top of my fellow panelists, but no one else seemed to be going anywhere near it. “What is it?” You say. “WHAT?!”
Do a roll call of the first names of music critics in NZ, those you can think of who are writing today. The ones that spring to mind. The “main” ones for lack of a better term. I got:
Simon, Graham, Russell, Grant, Gary, Henry, Nick, Marty, Michael…
My list was short because it’s a small country and an even smaller industry, and like I said, I’m eternally tired slash lazy. Even still – the fact that they are all male and possibly (probably) all white was striking to me. Google the term “music critic” and you’ll see 15 images of white males, then a brown male, then more white males.
White males. They are great. I have two children with one. My Dad’s one. But to note that they dominate yet another element of our industry/society/life – is it surprising? No. Is it noteworthy? Well, it certainly is to a brown female. That’s me. And many of my friends.
I realize now, it was on me to bring it up that night but I missed my chance and immediately regretted it, and it’s been eating at me ever since. Happily though, I feel like Aaradhna and her delightful refusal of the “brown person” Tui at the music awards has opened a window for this kind of sentiment to be aired….
So why didn’t I say it on the night? Other than the fact that the opportunity just didn’t present itself between one hour and five people’s opinions’- I just couldn’t see a way to come out with it and not seem like a brown female with an axe to grind. It is intimidating to be the minority in the room and speak out on a minority issue – to be “that feminist” or that brown person “claiming racism”.
The opinions of white males are as valid as anyone else’s sure, but we all listen to music. Surely the lens through which it’s analysed in the media could be a little broader.
As Aaradhna pointed out, there’s a feeling that brown musicians get lumped in together. And brown female musicians – even more so. I’ve spent my pretty low-key career being compared to my famous brown female mates Anika Moa and Bic Runga. And I do get it – there are musical similarities and our personal relationships probably encourage it a bit, plus they are great and that’s fine. But I’ve not been compared in the same way to my famous friends who are not brown or female, even where I think there are some musical similarities. I haven’t really witnessed any of NZ’s male solo artists suffer the same fate. For example Liam Finn, Connan Mockasin and Lawrence Arabia aren’t exactly occupying different musical continents but they are (rightly) celebrated as individuals even with their ongoing collaborations.
So is it really that us brown women fail to differentiate ourselves while the white men succeed? Or is it that the people publicly assessing these things are better at discerning between one group than they are the other? It’s not for me to answer those questions and they are only examples of course, but in an alternate universe where all the “main” music reviewers were female and brown (you can’t even imagine it, admit it!) I reckon things would pan out pretty differently.
Above: The Koi Boys, wrongly identified as Sol3 Mio at the awards, and the real deal, right.
We recently had a prominent female music writer who was well-respected and even (gasp) well liked by musicians. She was criticized for not being brutal enough and giving too many positive reviews. I understand that if someone is only giving out A+s all the time, that mark loses its value a bit, but that wasn’t the case. It felt a bit like saying she needed to be more man-like in her criticisms. (If she had, no doubt she would’ve been considered a bitch but that’s another essay…)
I also heard of a woman who tried to get in as a music writer for a well-known magazine but the male critic-in-residence had such a fit, the suggestion was shut down.
The problem of a lack of women’s voices being heard is of course not unique to music criticism, or to the music industry.
The tendency for everyone to gravitate to a male voice over a female voice as the voice of reason and authority is everywhere. This happens at a subconscious level where it goes unnoticed aaaallll the time.
A woman who went through broadcasting school told me that one of the first things she learned was to lower her voice in pitch. Why? Why can’t a lady sound like a lady? (And for another essay again, why not a whole slew of interesting linguistic variation in our media being taken seriously?)
For the record, we do have female music critics (listed at the end of this post). They’re just not given the platform that the male ones are. And unfortunately, as Ellen Willis says in this article,
‘Female expertise, when it appears, is repeatedly dismissed as fraudulent….. and becoming a recognized “expert” (a musician, a critic) will not save you from accusations of fakery.’
At the end of the panel discussion the lingering conclusion seemed to be that music critics don’t matter these days. Maybe they do, maybe they don’t, but I think it’s important for music to have that space in the media, as music has been so severely devalued overall, that discussing it in these public forums is helping to hold it aloft as something actually worth paying for (yes everyone- musicians like to get paid for their work).
The Spinoff adding a new music arm to their website is great and I think Henry Oliver is a great choice for editor, but I do hope they introduce a wider range of voices to the chorus of humans opining about music, because- shit do I really need to say why?
Diversity comes in all shapes, sizes, colours, genders, sexual orientations, etc. There’s a big ol’ range of humans making music and an even bigger range of people listening to it so it seems strange to have such a small range listened to for comment on it.
So here I am- a brown female grinding my axe about a thing that it seems most people don’t even notice. Not my usual vibe to jump in at length on this stuff but I’ve seen a lot of mana wāhine lately speaking up on “the issues” and I feel like not saying this in the panel was shirking my responsibility as the brown woman in the room. Because of course I was the only one who felt this way. Of course it was on me to say it. And now I have. Kia ora.’
Āmene to that, and kia ora to you Anna!
If you are interested in changing the tide, and supporting women in the industry, you can do so! Here are some of the female music writers and critics in New Zealand. We all need to know their names and work:
- Charlotte Ryan – Air NZs ‘The Pitch’
- Silke Hartung – NZ Musician
- Lydia Jenkins – formerly NZ Herald
- Vicki Anderson – The Press
- Melody Thomas – RNZ music 101
- Kirsten Johnstone – RNZ, music 101
- Yadana Saw – RNZ music 101
- Emma Smith – formerly RNZ & formerly The Listener
- Leonie Hayden – Spinoff & Mana Magazine
- Briar Lawry – RNZ ‘The Wireless’
- Eliza Beca – bFM
- Rachel Morton – RDU
- Amanda Mills – NZ Musician & Audioculture
- Aleisha Ward – Audio Culture & nzjazz.wordpress.com, NZ Musician
- Laura Dooney – Dominion Post
- Sam Vegar – NNZ Musician
- Kiran Dass – NZ Listener, NZ Herald, Sunday magazine, Sunday Star-Times, Metro, Landfall, The Wire (UK), RNZ & 95bFM
- Claire Duncan – Pantograph Punch
- Anna Loveys -NZ Musician
- Danielle Street – Undertheradar
- Ania Glowacz – Radio active & NZ Musician
- Dee Muir – NZ Musician
- Jennifer Sheilds – RDU
- Pip Ormrod – Newstalk ZB
- Ellen Falconer – RNZ
- Frances Morton – VICE/ ex Metro
- Courteney Peters – Gather & Hunt
And I know there will be more of you! Please mention yourselves/others in a comment
Their writing shines a bright light on other women in the industry, and brings a bit more justice into our world.
Ok good people. Just a short post today.
Last year Faye McNeil of MoFresh alerted me to the fact that in 2011 she had been the first woman nominated for Best Music Video for the (Vodaphone) New Zealand Music Awards since Alyx Duncan in 2006.
Faye was nominated for the video ‘Like Water’ by Ladi6
To date, 127 people have been nominated for this award, for a total of 99 videos. 11 have been women. 11/127!!!
ONE WOMAN has won in the HIStory of the awards. That was Niki Caro for Straightjacket Fits, way the hell back in 1990. Heck, there are women winning awards today, who weren’t even born then! Actual ancient HIStory. Way to role model for women today everybody.
The awards are tonight (17/11/16) however the winner for the video category has already been announced. Well done Chris Lane and Avalanche City.
But really. Let’s make sure that girls growing up today are not pushed out of technology, and let’s change the power structures and the bullshit bro-conomy that dominates the music industry. The production side of music is overwhelmingly male and does not represent our society fully.
How can we expect good stories to be shown through music, if women are hardly ever behind the camera or script, and if they are, they get ignored? I’m going to post video by each of the 11 nominees over the coming 11 days. SHARE THEM!!! And if you are a musician, find a woman to shoot your video next time. They’re awesome.
The HIStory is here:
1965 – Recorded Music NZ starts the ‘New Zealand Music Awards’.
1983 – The award for Best Music Video (best director) is created.
1985 – Debra Bustin nominated for ‘Krazy Legs’ (The Pelicans)
1988 – Janine Morell nominated – ‘Haere Mai’ (Cara Pewhairangi)
1989 – Polly Walker & Debbie Watson nominated alongside Paul Middleditch / – ‘I Feel Love’ (Fan Club)
1990 – Niki Caro wins, for ‘Straighjacket Fits’
1999 – Sima & Makerita Urale are nominated – ‘Sub Cranium Feeling’ (King Kapisi) AND Fiona Champtloup with Mark Tierney -‘Unlikely’ (NV) -‘Unlikely’ (NV)
2003 – Bic Runga nominated with Chris Graham – ‘Something Good’
2006- Alyx Duncan nominated for -“Fuji” (Minuit)
2011 – Faye McNeil (MoFresh) nominated for ‘Like Water’ (Ladi6)
2012 – 2016 Men men men men men men men! Sometimes all the same men, all the time, many times over.
So sum up – ONE WOMAN HAS WON IN THE HISTORY OF THE AWARDS!!! This is quite a bit less than 1% of the time, 0.78% actually. Are you outraged yet?
This week was a good one for my young whānau. We spent it at a kura reo (language course), run by and for the various hapū of my partner and children’s marae. We spent the days extending our Te Reo, composing mōteatea and pātere (forms of waiata) and whakataukī (proverbial sayings). As well as collecting pipi, and wrangling many, many children at the local papa rēhia (playground).
The marae was noisy, busy and happy the whole week. There was a real sense of arriving at a destination for these whānau, or at least being back on track. Fulfilling the dreams of many tīpuna who had been punished for speaking their own language, by bringing Te Reo back into the marae. Reclaiming and revitalising a culture and language that were long suppressed, and bringing life to land that was stolen, forcibly removed or sold under duress – is no mean feat. It takes decades.
One evening, after my kids were asleep, and while far too many were not, I took advantage of the wireless connection at the local motor camp. Far enough from all the haututūs, I loaded up the APRA Silver Scrolls live stream on my computer. This night has become an annual event in my living room. I was so happy when I remembered that Moana Maniapoto was being inducted into the New Zealand Music Hall of Fame that night. Rawe!
My mother in law and I sat absolutely mesmerised throughout her heart-felt and thoroughly straight shooting speech. Less than a minute in I wished I had stayed at the marae to watch this after all. All those kids ruckusing around on their mattresses needed to hear her acceptance speech.
It is an affirmation that being Māori is fantastic and a rousing call to action for everyone. Kids need both those things. And after reading and listening to a lot of media over the past week, I realise almost all New Zealanders do.
After her speech, and in between the other awards, I flicked back and forth between various news sources. I noticed my social media feeds (so news-y) were heaving with Don Brash and separatism – goodie, oh how I had missed him. I read a few articles; academic, personal blogs, Māori TV and the Spinoff about Hobsons Pledge and got the picture. Brash’s racism, ignorance and attitude momentarily indented a little corner of my over inflated bubble – but it didn’t pop it. You’re just not that sharp sorry, Don.
All week, I had been floating on a cloud of hope and vision held high by the steadfast fortitude of the many dedicated Māori who include me in their lives, share with and teach me. People who are committed to their language, their (and our shared) histories, and not the least of all, their children’s futures.
The contrast between Moana’s speech and all the rubbish about ‘one law for all’ and the appropriation of the phrase ‘he iwi tahi tātou’ couldn’t have been more stark that night. Moana has worked tirelessly in her 30 year career to advance opportunities for Māori. She sees politics and her music as inseparable. And thank goodness for that. Still, since the 90s she feels that very little has changed.
When she grew up, her people didn’t hear their own reo on the radio. Recalling this bought her to tears. Because, apparently it didn’t ‘fit the format’ – to this day there is no quota for music in Te Reo, it still doesn’t fit the format.
Music in sung Te Reo rarely gets played on mainstream radio, even when the likes of Park Jae-Sang’s Korean language ‘Gangnam Style’ single swept the country and globe. So we know it isn’t really about the language.
It’s about the culture, the people and the politics of power and greed. And if we’re being honest, the Pāhekā fear of te Ao Māori. It is about the largely unchallenged and accepted dominance of Pākehā culture in this country. Whiteness is the format, and this is what Brash really means when he says we can all be one.
Now, I’m sorry to go back to Brash for a bit. But only so we can see the connect, or more, the disconnect between his thinking and Moana’s.
He is Pāhekā, and I am Pāhekā, and as such I have a responsibility to say that I utterly disagree. To stress that he is completely misguided. To show he does not understand Te Tiriti o Waitangi, that he does not get mana motuhake, and that his followers do real damage every time they wave the separatist flag (they are the ones raising it, not Māori) and cry foul at supposed special race based treatment. Does he not understand cultural structures, and that New Zealand is entirely guided by British, Western and Pāhekā frameworks?!
For years there was scant representation of things Māori at the APRA awards – (this was the structural real race based privilege, Don) until Moana and some friends asked Mike Chunn if APRA would create a Maioha award for Te Reo Māori music content. It has been in existence since 2003. Now, I’m sure Brash can’t stand this, race based treatment! How dare they!
It is glaringly obvious that Brash denies history and doesn’t understand equality verse equity. So perhaps this image will help. Because at the top of the list of what the Hobson’s Pledgers believe is:
- All New Zealanders should be equal before the law, irrespective of when they or their ancestors arrived in New Zealand.
When one group (English/Pāhekā) not only take the vast majority of resources from another group (Māori) but actively strip a culture of its centrifugal force, its language, the playing field is completely unfair. Thus, the Maioha award is necessary all these decades after colonisation began. It is needed because Te Reo music does not get fair play. And because Te Reo is not understood by most New Zulanders. If these songs were in the mix with the other entries, they would have much less of a chance. And we would all hear less waiata Māori.
When one culture has been oppressed for over 150 years by another, the descendants of the oppressors are obligated to right the wrongs, and this is APRAs contribution. This is equity in action.
Now, on the note of most Pāhekā not bothering to learn Te Reo, ka aroha, you missed a lot during the Silver Scrolls.
The Māori world is one of eloquent speakers. What can be expressed in Te Reo is not necessarily translatable into English. Connections are made, acknowledgements are given and the love is spread at the start of speeches in Te Reo. Rarely is all this said again in English.
Rob Ruha’s acceptance speech for his second Maioha award was no exception. He spent at least the first 2/3 of talking about others, and made special note of Moana. During his tribute, he said:
“E tika ana te whakahonore i a koe i tēnei pō, i te whakahōnoretanga i a koe, e ta, kua wini katoa mātou”. “It is right that you are honored tonight, and in your honouring, my friend, we all win.” I urge you to watch his whole speech, click on the Te Reo above.
Beautiful eh. And so true.
After their parents and grandparents were stripped of their rights to a Māori identity in the eyes of the law, her peers struggled to see themselves reflected in the world around them, to see that their lives mattered. “music and the arts are not just a window to the world, but a mirror to our own”. She uplifts all Māori – and Te Reo really was the winner on the night. She has done her generation proud and has changed the course for those who follow her.
I support a Māori music commission in order to see Te Reo really hit the airwaves and stages with full force. So that more bands like Alien Weaponry have a fair shot at success. It is about putting things right, celebrating Māori, Te Reo, and ourselves in this country. So go take that race based idea Don, put it in your pipe and smoke it.
Three days a week I head to work at several early childhood centers. I love my job. I take my toddler with me on two of these days. For many parents the work and childcare balance is a weekly struggle. A juggle to meet everyone’s needs. Taking my youngest to work with me creates peace in our lives and provides stability for our children.
I have an older kid too. She’s not under my wing as much as I’d like, but that is what happens as kids get older. She is however, under the protective watch and guidance of trusted adults each day. They are all at once her teachers, our friends, our partners in politics and also part of a wider group of people who have collective philosophies and aspirations for our children. This school is small, and it meets the needs of its children as best as it possibly can. It is a real community.
These places, my work and our school, are absolute community hubs. Every other week someone new arrives, a new whānau is taken into the fold. They are eagerly welcomed with open arms. They are accepted and absorbed….whether they see it coming or not! Education centres are crucial meeting places. They bring people together, at a time when new little lives are coming into fruition. At their best, places of education should be equalizers, and they should be there for everyone. No matter what your needs are. And for the most part, schools are these things.
I say all this, because there have been two pieces of news in two days this week that have worried me greatly. As a teacher with a background in special education, with a child who requires extra learning support, I feel under-valued as a teacher, fearful for my child’s future educational possibilities and fiercely protective of her rights as a citizen and learner in this world. And I feel worried for everyone actually, for our communities who strive each day for the betterment of children.
Hekia Parata,you have stung twice. And it really hurts.
First you say that youth aged 18-21 years will get less funding, which will be reallocated to pre-schoolers. My first thought straight off the bat is that I just don’t believe you. I doubt this will happen. Well, I don’t doubt you’ll authorise funding to be taken away from those who need it, but I can’t see it going anywhere else productive. Here are the reason this makes me furious:
- Kids aged 18-21 in the education system are at a critical turning point in their lives – they are being supported so they can live as independently as possible. To live lives that are fulfilling. You know, the kind of stuff we all want and expect at the end of our schooling. These young people can be painfully aware that their peers have moved off into work or further training and education, and that they are still at school – this is hard. However, staying on may make them happier too.
- The whole idea that youth with extra learning needs can stay at school until they are 21 is because they need MORE, not less – hence the extra three years. Is this not blindingly obvious? More. Not less. Yes, littlies need early intervention too, but not at our youths’ expense.
- For many families it takes a long time to establish that their children need extra learning support – not from lack of trying either. For some families this isn’t clear until their children actually start school. So these kids could miss that early intervention and the support in the last stages. Sure, extra funding for ECE may catch more children who might otherwise fall through the gaps. But if you take my kid as an example – a child who started ECE, and then on to Kōhanga from age 2.5yrs, with a specialist teacher for ORS children as a mother, it still took us 4.5yrs to diagnose her needs- it is not always simple.
- Finally, why does it have to be one or the other? Are all children not worthy, regardless of age or stage?
Hekia is trying to make this move under the guise of a more inclusive education system in which she says there needs to be more “clear accountabilities” and “at the moment we mostly focus on and measure inputs”.
To quote Stuff – ‘This would mean schools would need to show students receiving funding had made progress in their academic achievement, which would be measured through their National Standards and NCEA results.’
Thank goodness my kid’s school refuses to drag our children through the time-consuming, unhelpful and ultimately humiliating process that is National Standards. If they did, my daughter would be WELL BELOW, all the time. Well, she ain’t below anything Hekia.
Again, a few pointers:
- National Standards compare children against each other. How fair is it for a kid with a developmental delay, or a sensory processing disorder to be pitted against a child who glides through academic learning? What does that achieve, and for whom?
- When you measure kids who don’t fit the mould with NS, they bring down the whole school’s score – by which I mean, the final NS results for a school appear lower, which puts pressure on the teachers who are already doing their best. NS are not reflective of what the teachers DO do and how individual kids progress themselves, from their own starting points. This is what matters, not how they compare to others.
- NS only measures some areas of learning, and disregards the arts, much of technology and science, and critically – social learning. Yes, these things are all inseparable from each other, but NS sure knows how to drill down to the fine points to compartmentalise learning. Some kids won’t necessarily thrive in academic subjects but that may not matter, depending on how everything else goes for them. Again. My kid would look like a failure on paper to Hekia, but she’s never seen her in centre stage.
I’m glad Labour’s Education spokesperson Chris Hipkins chimed in with some sense. ‘using those measures was “utterly uninclusive” and “bizarre”. Kids are receiving ORS funding because they have a serious impairment or physical disability. To suggest National Standards or NCEA as a way to assess their success and the quality of their education is ridiculous.’ I couldn’t agree more.
And the second sting from the Hekia machine…
She is suggesting that some children could learn entirely online from providers who are ‘COOL’. That is, a ‘Community of online Learning’. This proposed change is part of the Education (Update) Amendment Bill introduced to Parliament this week.
COOL Providers could be schools, tertiary providers or *shudder*, private industries. The former is not too far-fetched. I can imagine some schools setting up online learning for children who may do better at home, or who have a mix of on and off site learning. Tertiary education providers delivering entirely online is nothing new. But private industries?! Here are my points:
- Private industries have no place in schooling. They are out for a profit, nothing else. They may say otherwise, but they are not primarily for the benefit of children. End of story. No one can convince me otherwise.
- Hekia sells this as an effort to appease digital companies who have made it clear to the government that there are not enough school leavers entering the work force with the skills required for working in technology. Saying that technology can just teach the kids technology is like whacking kids over the head with a maths text book, or expecting children to learn to play instruments by simply watching a band play all day, or sitting in a room full of instruments. Kids need support and direction from people.
- Social connections and relationships are the most important factors in any learning. We need more people not less. More skilled teachers for all students to meet ALL needs, whether they need extra support or not. Better teacher to child ratios.
Going back to my first statements about how wonderfully immersed my family is in our children’s educations, and how important these sites of education are for us each day. They are not just places our kids go to learn. They are places for all of us. There we meet other families whose children may be on a similar path to ours. We swap notes and support each other. We up skill ourselves. Our children know there are many adults who have their backs. They know they belong somewhere, that they are a part of something that matters. That they matter. Critically, they see their parents interacting positively and meaningfully with their teachers. There are no barriers. We are teams, for the benefit of our families.
Hekia, please do not remove the funding that so many young people rely on in their final years, within the safety of their schools. It is crucial for that big step they take into the world , a world which is ultimately not made for them, that is hard enough. The more knowledge and resources they take out there with them the better, for them and for society as a whole.
Hekia, please stop side lining us teachers. We understand kids, we know about teaching and learning. It is what we do. We are professionals, we are experts. We are telling you that relationships are what matter. That connection is what supports children. It gives them confidence, courage, and companionship. These things are invaluable and National Standards doesn’t measure them. Computers can’t teach them. But communities do. Parents know who has their kids backs and who doesn’t. Don’t pull the rug out from beneath us. Make the foundations stronger instead.
Lastly, Hekia – watch this, because every kid does need a champion. Educationalist Rita Pierson breaks down the importance of relationships in learning, and life. I have lost count of how many times I have watched this and it still makes me laugh, and cry.
‘What a handsome boy, you must have lots of girlfriends…’
‘Gosh, those eyelashes are wasted on him, aren’t they!…’
‘You’ll have to get yourself a shot-gun when she gets older…’
‘He is always flirting with the blondes…’
‘I can just see them walking down the aisle now…’
We’ve all heard comments like these before. Kids are cute for sure, but before we get all weird on their beauty, there is something us adults need to talk about.
It is something that many of us do at a much higher frequency than we’d like to admit. Something we must all become vigilant in identifying and expert in addressing.
It is the imposition of adult romantic and sexual thoughts and behaviours on babies and young children. At all times completely unnecessary, entirely inappropriate and plain old yuck town.
Unfortunately we are almost all a bit guilty of it. If we don’t do it ourselves, we may laugh along with it, or we quietly and awkwardly ignore odd comments. Or, worse still, we simply don’t notice them at all, so deeply rooted are our sexualised, sexist bias’. They are hardened, internalised and ingrained.
Our silence or lack of intervention is our complicity in the ongoing sexist and often misogynistic socialisation of children. This may seem fairly broad sweeping, and could be applied to any number of shitty things adults do that limit and curb the development and opportunities of children, however, to keep our self-flagellation manageable, I’m just going to focus on what I’ll call ‘Yucky Adult Comments’ for now. The acronym is YAC. Like ew yac! That is yac! Did you just hear that yac over there…. and so on.
There are some things we should never say about or to children. When analysed, even just a tiny bit yacs don’t look too good at all. By definition all yacs are unseemly, at a minimum they are sexist, and in the extreme – they can be soft pornish. This is not an exaggeration, you’ll read what I mean later.
And yet, yacs just seems to roll off our well oiled, hetero-socialised, hyper sexualised and gender oppressed tongues. All. The. Time.
Saying or tolerating yacs is to essentially participate in the narrowing of our children’s own expressions of self, of their burgeoning identities and the intensely personal, yet very public exploration of their own genders, orientations and sexualities.
Here are some examples I have collected from a diverse group of concerned parents. They demonstrate the absurdity and grossness in all the ‘oh no you didn’t just yac did you’ glory.
‘Oh my goodness, they are just SO cute. Can’t you just see them on their first date?’ – said of any old 3-year-old girl and boy playing blocks with each other, or drawing at a table.
‘What a little tease’ – a toddler who isn’t interested in giving another child or adult a kiss or a cuddle.
‘That is how he shows he likes her’ – excusing a small boy who just hurt a small girl.
‘His eyes are a stunning blue, such a ladies man’ – yet the mother from whom these eyes are inherited is not labeled a ladies man.
‘That’s right, roll over and go straight to sleep like a good man’ – said within earshot of 9-year-old boy, who was snuggling by the fire with his 6-year-old female cousin.
‘Oh look, she’s trying to hold your hand, always hold a pretty girl’s hand when she offers’ – 1-year-olds learning to hold hands.
‘My grandson would be the perfect match for this little bubba’ – a random white middle-aged male wants to marry a 6 week old baby off to his grandson.
‘Are you wearing perfume? Is that for your boyfriend? You should be wearing lipstick so you can leave kisses on him’ – said an uncle to his 6-year-old niece. Who then teases the niece about boyfriends for weeks on end.
‘He’ll be a ladykiller one day’ – an astute observation of a beautiful boy
‘He’s a boobie man’ and ‘He knows where the action is at’ – a breastfeeding baby boy
‘Lock up your daughters!!’ a father leaves a comment below a picture of preschool aged friends (boy and girl) on a childcare website.
‘wow she is waxing down there already’ – 1 month old girl during a nappy change.WTF
The overlaying of adult assumptions of gender, or what we might think of as cute throw away remarks, or some kind of compliment in the form of yacs – have massive impacts, because children copy adults. They hear and see it all. The good and the not so good.
Children listen to what we say. They believe us. We weld a power over children greater than we know. They are extremely impressionable and they desperately want to please us. For the most part, they will do what they think we want them to do, they may even strive to be who we see them to be. They desperately want to be approved of. More specifically, they want to fit in – so they actively seek clues of how they should behave. How a boy should act, what a girl should do. What a girl or boy is. So what are the boxes we are constructing for them to live in?
This is what children understand when we yac at them.
- Gender is fixed and society defines it for you.
- Boys are active agents, girls are passive eye candy.
- Boys pursue girls and they have to put up with the attention.
- Boys and men are predators
- Boys are a ‘good bloke’ or ‘great little man’
- Girls will always be girls, small, little, ineffectual
- Heteronormativity – the assumption that boys will eventually be attracted to girls and vice versa
- Normalisation of and the acceptance of the pressure to perform, or provide physical services for others, such as hugs and kisses.
- Gender power dynamics, whereby boys just can’t control themselves when it comes to girls and helping themselves to more than their share (boys will be boys) and are naturally stronger and bolder etc. And that girls have no power so have nothing to control.
- That girls ambitions in life should be limited to looking nice, pleasing others and getting married and having babies.
- That boys purpose in life is to provide and protect (while simultaneously perusing and attacking girls – an oxymoron I’ve never understood)
- and the list goes on…..
Ok, so now we can read between the lines a bit better. But what do to when we hear these remarks and aren’t sure what to say – when it is socially awkward, which it usually is.
– ‘Oh give them a break, they are only 5 years old, plenty of time for them to make their own decisions
-‘How do you know? She might want a handsome bride when she grows up’
– ‘They don’t even know what genders they are yet, they are infants!’
– ‘No, I really don’t want to imagine that, my kid is only 18 months old, I’m happy for them to be a toddler just now’
– ‘She may well want to achieve more in life than just marriage’
– ‘Long eyelashes are for everyone’
Or just call it as it is:
– ‘Ewww, they are 3, not 18’
– ‘Don’t ever combine soft porn images with a nappy change routine’
– ‘So you really want your son to be a women beating polygamist when he grows up do you?’
Instead of all this – make it clear to our children that they don’t have to put up with unwanted attention or discrimination in any form, or anything at all that makes them feel yuck. This includes crude yacs from adults.
Let us make sure that we show our children them we love them unreservedly. Ensure that they will be accepted as whoever they are. And that whomever they love will also be cherished.
Lastly, should you feel a yac coming on, bin it and simply acknowledge whatever it is that the kids are doing, and even throw in some praise and encouragement.
‘Nice one you two, you are walking so nicely inside together while holding hands’
Me he manawa tītī!
Today, or yesterday, or every day, John Key said this:
“Obviously like any language, (Māori) is a series of words, and of course if you can understand those words, then I can understand what they’re saying”
Choice, John Key. Choice. That didn’t really make sense grammatically though did it (they or I?), but hey, talking good is not eveyone’s strength.
Sorry everyone, for kicking off a post with a quote from him-most-truly. I am going to move on reeeeaally quick, I promise.
John – love the honesty! “what they’re saying”, keep up the othering why don’t ya.”Series of words” – yeah nothing much to it really. “Any language” – nice and dismissive, with a pinch of a diminishing smirk. Te Reo Māori is just like any other language. Piece of cake. Others, them, those, not me. Not my issue. cause’ “I’m John Key, and I can understand things”, “I know words”.
Ok, like I said, moving on.
When I read or hear quotes like this, I feel really defensive. I feel offended. I feel protective. I feel disappointed and angry. BUT Ko tēnei te wiki o Te Reo Māori!!!!, so I ain’t going to let anyone, especially not John Key get me down. Here is why.
I’ve started this important week of the year, like any other Monday, at my mahi. Where I support several early childhood centres: their educators and tamariki, in learning Te Reo, in actually walking the talk with Te Tiriti o Waitangi, and just generally being amazing citizens and not racist people. They are so great. I love them. They are dedicated and hard-working. They see the importance of and value in Te Ao Māori. They are doing what we should all be doing. Having a kōrero, and seeing how amazing it is. No more excuses, enough of the blame game or defensiveness. Te Reo is choice.
I also attended a wānanga all weekend long at my big kid’s kura. Parents and teachers dedicated their weekend for their tamariki. For their kura. And it is our kura. It is a marae away from marae. It was all about their learning, and of course about their reo, the reo of the kura and wider community. People got up, one after the other, and poured their hearts out. Sharing what being Māori means to them, what Te Reo is for them, and what they have to contribute to the kura going forward. Laying down all lengths they will go to. And there are many.
It was a beautiful time. Something I will always remember. We laughed and cried, together. In Te Reo.
These wānanga are things that many kura and kōhanga do, a lot. A time where teachers and parents get together and really communicate. Where tamariki are truly at the centre of the conversation. This is the kind of thing that mainstream schools can only dream of, because of the way they are structured. Now, this post is not about education per se, but there is a lot to be learned from Māori ways of knowing and living, that everyone can learn from. I’m not saying lets all operate like a kura.
But I’m also not saying “like any language, is a series of words” either.
As I said earlier, I feel defensive when I hear people, particularly those in positions of massive influence and power, shrug off Te Reo. When they don’t pay it the due attention and respect it demands.
Actually, I’m sorry, I do need to go back to John Key now. But the following is for anyone – not just him, and it is said out of my love of Te Reo, my love for my partner and our children, my love for things Māori, and especially for my kid’s teachers – for our whānau and whānau whānui.
Every day I am in contact with the sharpest of tacks. The most willing of people. These people, myself included, are hell-bent on using Te Reo whenever we can, wherever we can. And it is not always easy. But we know its beauty and power. We love the way it sounds. The things that can be expressed in it, the knowledge that can only travel in it. Keeping a language going can be really hard mahi:
- We arrange expense babysitting, or twist an aunty’s arm so we can attend night classes in Te Reo after a long day at work.
- We attend weekly playground session in Te Reo, so the door is opened for our little ones.
- We organise BBQs and kids play dates around learning Te Reo. Creating places in our lives where we can kōrero. This is easier said than done, believe me.
- We painstakingly type, print off, cut out and stick labels on every object in our whare. In Te Reo. Because if you are learning Māori as an adult, it is hard. You need all the support you can get!
- We learn lullabies for our little ones in Te Reo.
- We compose waiata in Te Reo Rangatira.
- We petition our schools to do more in honouring the treaty.
- We seek to understand the treaty.
- We go to workshops and upskill.
- We are Māori. We are Pāhekā (only .3% though according to latest stats), we are Japanese and Spanish.
- We are women and LGBTI. We are men and children. Young and old.
- We do it in spite of. We do it as well as.
We kōrero, kōrero, kōrero. And:
I can understand what they are saying.
I really can, John. Well, I try really hard to – as a Pāhekā Nu Zulunda. And I don’t actually think you can. Understanding enough to get through a pōwhiri, or to mince another mihi at the start of a meeting does not amount to “understanding what they’re saying”.
Because, what we are saying is:
Te Reo Māori is a taonga. It is absolutely fundamental to being Māori, to this land, to history and to the future of Te Ao Māori. Arguably, there is no Ao without it. And it is in dire straights right now. You can do something about this. Me tīmata i te wiki nei!
– Fund kōhanga and kura equitably with mainstream.
– Insist, and legislate, that ALL teachers must learn Te Reo and make learning it compulsory in all schools while you are at it. Kids love it, and it is EASY for them! It opens a whole new world for them. There is nothing to be lost. Only gains to be made. Start with the tamariki. This will save the government a lot of money.
– Understand that bilingualism and multilingualism are GOOD FOR THE BLIMMIN BRAIN. And even the economy.
– And, that people can only really understand each other when they understand each others languages. There is no way that you can say that you “understand what they’re saying”. You do not. Your politics say it all.
– And finally, leave it up to them. Relinquish control. Or at least, stop suppressing the power and control that Māori already have over their lives. It is there, let it shine and prosper.
And ending on a positive note, here is an amazing blog post on super sneaky and effective ways to get your kids speaking Māori along side you. This is the future, this is the solution.
This week has been one foot in front of the other. All week. Plod plod, hurry hurry, bang crash, slam and slide. Shuffle. Each step has felt heavy and unavoidable but somehow deliberate and purposeful. Perhaps thanks to all the self talk I’ve been doing. Trying to keep it all in check. ‘It is ok to feel this way’, ‘Stop for a minute and think, ‘Take a few breaths’, ‘What really matters right now?’, and my favourite – ‘I am the adult, they are the children, I am the adult, they are the children’….it so easy to say isn’t it?
And this is just my parenting.
Thoughts have been swirling around my head, thick and hazy. Hard to get a hold of. I feel really tired. But the kids aren’t hanging off me right this second, so I have a little time to myself. They are sleeping in fact. I really love them when they are sleeping, for obvious reasons. Also, all kids are beautiful to gaze at as they sleep. Their big juicy lips, pouting. Their eyelids, crescent and peaceful. Their day is done, another is on its way. A fresh start. A clean slate. I wish adults would operate like this too. But we hold on so tightly to everything, until we are so full it hurts.
My partner and I have recently finished a parenting course. Because parenting is hard and all too often it is done in isolation. But we did this together. Along with 16 other parents who also have challenging children.
Of all the wonderful things we got out of this time, one thing really stood out to me. A gem of wisdom I think the whole world could take heed of. Something I don’t do enough of myself.
‘What you feed, grows’
In the context of parenting, it is fundamental. But it is also a principal for all to take hold of. Give attention to the behaviours you want to see. Even when they are only being displayed them 1% of the time. Even when you are so mad and bad yourself. And they are mad and bad to you. Make a big deal of the 1%, or the 15%, or the 50%. Be consistent with your attention. Ignore as much of the bad behaviour as possible, and be straight to the bone with any negative behaviour you do need to address. Practice restorative solutions. Simple and clear. Focus on what they have done, rather than them when they are off target. And really hone in on exactly what it is they did well when they are on track. As well as letting them know they are amazing and that you love them all the time.
Kids constantly seek attention and they are excellent at getting it any way they can. So give them good attention. Play with them. Celebrate them. Then, get better behaviour. It doesn’t take too long until they re-wire themselves to seek attention positively.
It makes complete sense. There are no holes to be picked in this theory. It is so solid, it isn’t even a theory, it just is. It is a simple truth: Water plants, they grow, smile at someone, they (usually) smile back, practice makes perfect, eat well, rest and cope for another day – see, all of these things. Proof.
But as always, there is a flip side – Worry too much and everything compounds, plant vegetables in the shade and they won’t thrive, only ever yell at your kids and your relationship will turn toxic, burn the candle at both ends….and so on it goes.
‘What you feed, grows’
I need to fess up here, I am a glass half full kind of person. I am very practical, I like to get things going, get things done – subsequently I focus on perceived gaps in situations. The parts that I feel are less than. I notice when things have gone wrong in my books, or if I think something should be done better, or a certain way. As a result, I often fail to see what IS already there, what HAS been done and the things that ARE working well. It is great to see the next step, but it is crucial to know what is actually already happening too.
As a society, we need to think about what we focus on. What we shine a light on. Who we give air time to. What we celebrate and who we celebrate. Because, what we feed is what will grow. We have a choice in this.
This week I’ve felt the weight of the world. There are days when it feels like everything is coming together – not in a ‘ohh, this is really coming together now’, kind of way, more of a – ‘argh there a bit and pieces of broken dreams, scary nightmares and devastating lived realities all flying around and smashing into each other, kind of a coming together. And potentially getting together, against you, despite your best efforts, kind of a way.
Like you are falling into a vortex of darkness, with said small sharp things swirling, which you are of course, deftly ducking to avoid.
Images of our awful government flash in front of my eyes as I watch my children playing, feeling frustrated that there is literally no way we can buy a house, or even hope to continue affording renting in the suburb they were born and raised in, no matter how hard we work. Angry thoughts that my friends with small babies are not fully supported to stay at home with them if they so choose. A horror at the growing number of people living in poverty in our communities, and the contempt in which the rich of this country hold them. A sense of doom when reading world news and politics.
All the while a moaning ‘why do I even bother’ bellows from somewhere deep within.
There really is a whole bunch of bad shit going down in our communities. There is no disputing this. We hear about it all the time. Sometimes I think it is all we hear about, purposefully. It is overwhelming. Bad news is disempowering. The dark spots are joining up, blocking out the light, the good, hard work people are doing. This doesn’t have to happen.
‘What you feed, grows’
How are we to counteract all the narrow-minded, hateful news reporting we are feed? How can we show each other that there are other ways? How do we raise children who are understanding of each other and respectful and celebratory of difference?
We feed what we want to grow.
In this week of heavy footsteps, another mantra of mine is:
‘People are good, and they are doing good things’
If we stop and think, if we look around and take stock. We see that people are good. Almost everyone wants to do right by each other (there sure are some bad eggs out, but I’m not talking about them right now).
People are trying really hard every where I look, in spite of what is thrown their way. This is where the focus needs to be. I’m sick of hearing about Isis attempting to take over the world and Trump wanting to build a wall. Of course we need to know and understand these things, but I want to hear more about all the amazing peace work on the ground. The grassroots – these people are the majority. Then surely there will be more hope and fewer people mindlessly nodding along to the news in their living rooms at the ‘need’ for more civilian airstrikes. Because this is what they are. It is the civilians who suffer.
Mainstream news is spun to incite more hatred, to create more power for the greedy. I don’t buy it. Muslims are not terrorists. Governments and corporations are. I want to know more about LGBTI communities in the US, and their work in dismantling decades of prejudice against them. Can this be the news please, rather than Omar Mateen?
I’m tired of hearing about lazy indigenous people (not true), instead I want to read news about all their awe-inspiring social and education initiatives – and just about them, amazing them. The Ainu of Japan and their friends at Parihaka this month for example.
And, as funny as ‘like Mike’ is, I’m tired of hearing about Mike Hosking. I want to know more about the peace hīkoi from New Plymouth to Parihaka at the moment.
We each have visions of how we hope the world will grow. But these visions are purposefully blurred in the deprivation of what should be receiving positive attention, the love, the nourishment. To the point that we stop looking up as we walk about. Instead, we look down at our tired and drudging footsteps. ‘Why bother’.
This week, I’ve been consciously looking up, looking around and taking stock. And I’ve seen people everywhere who are thinking differently, who are trying new ways of doing things, people who refuse to put their energies into vortexes of darkness, sadness and doom.
I am certain that if we all read and learn about each others successes and ideas, and just hear each others voices more often, uninterrupted by mainstream media – we would feel much more secure in the knowledge that people are good.
We would be much more likely to reach out and help each other. Much more likely to give something new a go, or to support someone else in their ventures. We would be less likely to believe that we are powerless. It is in the interests of the corrupt and powerful to lead us to this conclusion. It is not true.
The people are the majority, we have the power. We are not all our to get each other. Quite the opposite.
Stop and reflect, attend to and nourish those around you. And we will all grow.