Women and social power.



The power of women’s social connections, and the patriarchy that undermines them.


If a year is defined as beginning or ending with LitCrawl. Then I am in the middle of the year and missing LitCrawl. Last year I was with Gem Wilder, Thalia Kehoe Rowden, Holly Walker and Emily Writes, to discuss the life-giving, sane-making friendships that keep mothers afloat. I stood and spoke about how much I feared women and mothers in their 30s, or more to the point, becoming one.

When I turned twenty four I freaked out.

Thinking I was on some kind of downwards slide towards to obsolescence. Twenty four years old.

I became really driven to achieve all the things, by the time I turned 30 as if life would end then. I did all those things, and life went on.

I was so ageist. I looked down on women in their 30s and 40s, I really didn’t want to become one of them.

I saw them around the city, in groups, having loud fun. I thought they looked desperate for some reason. I felt embarrassed for them.

Despite having just finished an honours degree in Gender and Women’s studies, I had internalised the rule of women’s worth being limited to that of her physical self at such a base level.

Although I knew otherwise, intellectually, of the worth and value of women. I also knew society doesn’t value women as they age.

I’m not sure why I felt this so deeply and suddenly at twenty four, becoming gripped by an urgency to fucken do something with myself. Before there was no other use for me.

But there was another aspect to my disdain of groups of women in their early 30s. Of why I didn’t want to be an ‘aging’ woman who danced with her girlfriends at the front of a gig after a few wines, or who ranted and laughed at restaurant tables with her besties. What a positive twenty four year old, right? Such a pessimistic patriarchally internalised negative young person.

I did have an inkling at the time of what was happening. And I definitely now know. I had absorbed the message that women’s friendships are frivolous, flimsy, directionless-gossip-gangs. Basically that connections between women are of little worth.

A crucial and effective trick of the patriarchy. Ensure women see no point in collaborating, networking, or socialising together.  

Keep the women separate, keep the women down.

However, since becoming a woman with friends who are almost exclusively other women in their 30s with children, I’ve reflected on my past attitude.

My gossip gang doesn’t get up to the front at gigs much, logistics are hard. But we are very organised. We work hard to meet up, we have agenda items. We relax where we can. We talk a lot.

Why was I worried about this happening? Why did I resist it for so long? IT IS THE BEST. It is now the one thing that keeps all the other things together. The social glue. The emotional network system.

How is it possible that people, in this case women, are successfully lead to believe that the one thing they may need the most, one of the most fundamental and base of needs, that of supportive human connection, is unnecessary. Perhaps bad even?

Well, before I started kindy, I had learned that boys did the fun things. I requested short hair, I put toilet paper down my pants to create the appearance a little penis. So I could do the fun things, like climb trees.

I knew early on, that in order to do the things I wanted to do, I had to either be a tomboy, or roll with the boys. This was my childhood. I actively avoided anything girlie or girl gangy.

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I followed my sister to an all-girls high school. Mine was a jocky sports and arts-driven school. The sporty kids ruled the roost. I wasn’t quite sporty enough and I couldn’t be bothered finding a place in that crowd.

I found a few new friends and retreated to the art and music rooms before and after school as well as during morning teas and lunch. School was pretty good to me.

Our school had a reciprocal relationship with the local boys school. We called on each other for productions, orchestras, choirs.

Consequently, there were frequent meet-ups between the music and arts crowds of both schools. I had a few great girl friends at high school, but this is when I found my people. The art-music boys at the school down the road. I spent my afternoons and weekends with them.

I looked down on the majority of girls at my school, with their adherence to social displays of femininity. I hated the cattiness, the clambering for top position. I began to devalue female friendships generally and neglected my own.

I believed that all girls did was gossip. I didn’t have time for that. But the boys I hung out with, although much more in touch with their emotional selves than many others, didn’t really talk. I had years of thoughts and problems, clanking around in my own mind, not voicing them, not bouncing them off anyone.

Of course I wasn’t aware this was happening. But it I’m sure it contributed to getting sick for a while. Depressed and medicated at 16, surrounded by fun, but mumbling and stinking boys.

But I couldn’t and wouldn’t do anything perceived as girly either. I didn’t want the stereotypes and threw the baby out with the bath water.

In my determination to not be a stereotypical ‘dumb-netball-playing-blonde’ (I have always been naturally blonde, and was frequently reminded of it), and wanting to do the exciting stuff. I missed all the kids who were quietly talking. They were there. I know this now.

I had internalised sexist and misogynistic messages so deeply, that I was hostile to my girl peers in order to maintain a sense of value in myself. If I could be a ‘better’ girl, less adherent to devalued female stereotypes, if I could be more assertive and confident in boy’s spaces – while also remaining attractive to them, then I could see myself as worthwhile without having to acknowledge and address the real effects of sexism and patriarchy in my life.

If I ascribed devalued gender stereotypes to other girls, ‘the netball playing gossips’, I could assure my own place in the hierarchy without challenging the place and structure of girls and women’s value and worth in society at large.

This attitude carried on in my twenties.

I think I speak for many mothers when I say that the gravity of patriarchy really struck when I had kids. I realised that most men don’t talk much. That women do. That women do all the things, including emotional labour. 

What I had previously written off as gossip, was in fact slur for ‘discussion of the deepest and highest order, practical advice, support giving, affirmation, checking in, emotional fucken labour of love’. Nurturing.

And a bloody good time.

Sure, it probably wasn’t as sophisticated and helpful at high school, but I’m sure it would have been alright.

But as a teenager, I just really didn’t want to be a lesser human.

I decided that aligning myself with boys and highlighting my masculine traits was the way to go. Because, who is more worthless than a teenage girl?  

So to teenage girl of my past and twenty four year old Jessie. It is ok to be a woman. It is wonderful in fact. If I could have whispered this in my own ear, I would have.

‘They are trying to keep you all apart now, so you are less powerful later. Gang up sweet girls, gang up now. Get your gossip on.’

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Soft ‘n’ Hard…an expose of modern heteros

Barbarian Productions’ Jo Randerson and Thomas LaHood are partners in theatre and life. And this week they are back at Bats Theatre in Wellington. It’s been a fast few months since Soft ‘n’ Hard’s first sold out season at the end of 2017. Many missed out and demanded the show’s return.

Notoriously hard working and keenly perceptive, these commentators of society’s deepest binding threads, take us on a journey of the ubiquitous and fraught western heterosexual relationship.

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Drawing on their many astute observations and no doubt their own relationship, Randerson and LaHood carefully tease out the various iterations of gendered themes within such relationships.

When I first saw the show in 2017, I was amazed (and thankful) at the way that Soft ‘n’ Hard managed to put what are often indescribable and difficult to exemplify experiences – into plain, relatable and hilarious scenarios on stage.

The set and production are minimalist, the music impeccable. They are universal to the subject matter. Set against a backdrop of bold glamorous yellow, the ‘fabric of society’, we journey from amoeba like states to courtship and long term relationship status. High heel shoes, an arm chair and a handful of other props orientate us. Scenes from the 1950s household to the modern day are explored from both perspectives. The body language and discourse of emotional and mental labour are constantly present and build to explosion.

The Man literally disappears during the show, many many times. Stuck on stage and frustrated, we are privy to the exasperated exhalations of the Woman, driven to the edge, who must not get angry or break the mould. This is her time to speak though. Is it her space. And she is heard.

At times the crowd is visibly tense, perhaps uncomfortable with how familiar the conversations and arguments are to their own lives. Moments when those around me literally held their breath, before breaking into tears of laughter, finally able to see the ridiculousness of the situation. Debates of tone-policing (‘Oh, it’s how I say it is it?!); the Woman desperate to show how mental labour squashes her very existence; the oblivious not-all-men guy, wounded and confused, gazing at himself in the mirror for what could be hours.

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For those who identify as hetero/cis, and often times for those who don’t, these characters reflect us. Whether we are in heterosexual relationships or not, we see those expectations between men and women more broadly, filled and resisted on stage. The dynamics so familiar and frequent are opened up, illuminated and left hanging in the air for us to pick up and discuss.

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.

‘Masculine’ – Him; protective, hard working, wilfully ignorant and absent, toxic, hurt and hurtful, introspective and evolving. ‘Feminine’ – Her;  extremely hard working, curtailed, unseen, unheard, frustrated, powerful, groundbreaking and eventually  – giving no fucks.

From the heights of politics, to the dirty and sweaty backstages of concerts, our society is now largely accustomed to, if not becoming comfortable with feminism being discussed. It is now almost expected territory to traverse in many situations from workplaces to dinner tables. And what better setting to reflect how far we’ve come and how far we’ve yet to travel, than in a rollickingly funny theatre show.

Catch them if you can at Bats Theatre:

Fri 16 Feb at 8pm
Sat 17 Feb at 4pm
Sat 17 Feb at 8pm

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Women: mothers, sisters, aunties, and grandmothers. Here is your ‘not to do list’ this silly season.

I’ve always wondered what would happen if the list went more like this:

NOT to do today/this week:

  1. Don’t Book tickets for the holiday
  2. Don’t  Find a holiday house/book a camping spot
  3. Don’t  Find a house sitter/cat feeder
  4. Don’t  Arrange a friend’s house to stay at
  5. Don’t  Think about what presents other people may like
  6. Don’t  Play Father Christmas
  7. Don’t  Think about Christmas dinner/food
  8. Don’t Pick up the prescriptions
  9. Don’t Buy any sunscreen or insect repellent
  10. Don’t Drop the library books back
  11. Don’t Remember who is gluten-free and who has a nut allergy
  12. Don’t Get the teacher a present
  13. Don’t Send Christmas cards/emails
  14. Don’t Be kind and considerate
  15. Don’t Think of others
  16. Don’t Drive yourself batty
  17. Don’t Run around after everyone else
  18. Don’t Be taken for granted
  19. Don’t GIVE A SHIT
  20. but actually, DO GIVE A SHIT
  21. DO push back against the patriarchy this silly season.
  22. And don’t listen to me either – pretty sure women are tired of being told what to do. And because ya’ll can do what you like. But let’s not take each other for granted by assuming certain behaviours from each other, or certain roles to be played this Christmas – based on gender.
  23. Doesn’t the word don’t look odd now.

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It is not a women’s job. We are not natural at it. We don’t necessarily ‘like it’. Social conditioning is a thing.

Women (girls) are taught to run events and functions, and men (boys) are taught to enjoy them. Christmas is no exception. Christmas is the peak. Sure, everyone needs to chill out more on Christmas. To slow down, pull back on the consumerism, and to just have fun times with friends and family. But everyone has to eat, and everyone has to get together in the first place – and those things require careful, considered planning. Logistics are hard work.

Emotional labour and home-based work is for everyone. See, aren’t women sharing and caring?

Men and women can do anything and everything. And in case the load isn’t evenly shared in your household on the big day: When push comes to shove, just step outside with all the other women in the house. Have a chat, have a smoke (if you do), have a beer (if you do). Or just take long and deep breaths. See what happens.

And if you are an active man in the lead up to, and on Christmas Day – every year. Keep up the good work and spread the good gospel.

Merry-Cynical-Christmas from Flip That Script.

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Can someone please get this for me. I will wear it year round.

What I really wanted to say about music criticism in Aotearoa…

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.

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Actors, not musicians, but you get the idea.

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.

pjimage2Above: 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

Here is another comprehensive list of women from all over the world, who write about music!

Their writing shines a bright light on other women in the industry, and brings a bit more justice into our world.

Only 1 woman has ever won ‘Best Video’ at the NZ music awards. In 1990.

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 and LadiFaye 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?

Let the children play. Don’t let yucky adult comments get in the way.

‘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.

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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

‘you’ve pulled mate!’ – A father cheering on his boy toddler who has made friends with a similar aged girl in a hospital waiting room.
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So, perhaps some of us are feeling a bit grossed out by ourselves now or worried about some things we’ve said or smiled at during playgroup this morning.  Maybe your mum said it, your brother, a boss or someone in a shop, or maybe you said it! Yacs made by people we know and love, and people we’ve don’t know from a bar of soap. Yacs made by ourselves. Yac.
But why do we do it? We don’t mean to be creepy. We love kids!
Here is my postulation. We want to tell other people how we feel about babies and kids. We want to show our friends how much we love their children. Or we want to make friends with another parent at the park, and commenting on your children playing together seems like a good way in.
I totally get it, we love them, they are incredible. Somehow us people are able to create beings much more than the sum of our own parts. We are so excited for them. We are hopeful about their futures. About the parts of our own lives that will move forward with them. It can be hard not to get ahead of ourselves, of themselves. Imagining, planning and plotting even – the next day, the following month, their first day at college, their first love.
But, we need to stop interfering with how their selves develop, how their personal identities form. And we certainly don’t need to get involved in how their romantic and sexual interests in other people develop as they grow. This is not our business.

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.

Try these:

– ‘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’

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What you feed, grows

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).

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Philly Pride Parade 2015

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.

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Māori teach Ainu the ‘Te Ataarangi’ method of language learning, June 2016

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.

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New Plymouth mayor Andrew Judd is back by his supporters as they hīkoi to Parihaka.

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.