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.
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.’
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.
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.
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.
I wasn’t going to wade into the debate around Te Reo Māori in schools. The argument shouldn’t even exist. But then I saw this video, and decided to write a note of support for those who understand the value, the necessity, the rich taonga that is Te Reo Māori.
The video has been shared 11,942 times and ‘liked’ 14,000 times in this facebook post alone. That’s a lot of enthusiastic loving.
Te Hātea Kapahaka group from Te Tai Tokerau (Northland) stand in a Sicilian Church in Italy and sing their hearts out. It made my heart explode. I have no idea when they sung it, but that is beside the point.
It comes as no surprise to me that someone has carefully and beautifully translated this Leonard Cohen classic (Hareruia aka’Halleluah’) into Te Reo. If you can understand Māori, you’ll hear how well it is done. The arrangement is breath-taking.
And there is more to this waiata than beautiful words and a clever harmonies. They stand and sing to pay their respects to the Sicilian people, to the different cultures around them, to the church they are in and to their own people. They stand in acknowledgement and awe of the religion they are interacting with, and they do it all in Te Reo. It is hard to explain just how intricately linked Te Reo and tikanga are (put simply – the correct way/s of doing things). You cannot have one without the other. They could not have done this in English.
When people whine about why they shouldn’t have to learn Te Reo. I mostly ignore them. Because their standpoints are not worth the time it would take to have a really frustrating and dead-end conversation. But inside, it hurts.
It hurts because Māori is beautiful. It is powerful. It is central to Māori culture. Just like all languages are. Cultures simply cannot operate without their own languages. Whether it is New Zealand English (yes, there is more than one kind of English, including ‘street English’…languages grow and evolve – youse people gotta understand this’), NZ Sign Language or computer programming speak. All systems of knowing and being, express themselves differently. Concepts are not universal. Only so much can be translated.
It also hurts because my partner and I go to great lengths to ensure that Te Reo Māori is our kids first language. It is hard work. There are only so many schools that offer bilingual education, and a few Kura Kaupapa in each main centre. Building your networks of Reo Māori speaking people takes time and effort. But it is worth it. We wish it wasn’t so hard.
But the crux of the matter is understanding each other. Even if our ‘collect-nationwide bunch-of-beautiful-kids’ don’t all go on to speak fluent Te Reo, and to have daily interactions with it, they will learn about Te Ao Māori – about tikanga Māori.
To understand each other, to afford each other the respect we all need, we have to know how different cultures are constructed, and this is done though language.
Those who harp on about the ‘racism’ of forcing 5 year olds to learn Māori, appear oblivious to the fact that the Te Reo is a national language, and no one cries foul that all our children are FORCED to speak English. The double standards go on and on.
I can’t be bothered arguing with old stuck in their ways bigots. It’s too late for them. Better to put our energies into the people who are going to change the way this country talks.
Leave it up to the educationalists, the neurologists, the linguists, the people who give a shit about other people. But for goodness sake, leave the decisions about how it rolls out up to Māori (because it IS going to happen). Give the power back. Once you start to learn, you come to know just what a formidible bunch Te Reo Māori teachers are. They are among the most effective, motivated and passionate teachers in existance!
And heck – if you can speak English and want to speak English only, good on you – knock your self out. If you are a grown person, no one is suggesting you must also learn Māori. Don’t sweat it.
Kids however, love learning anything new. And they do so with ease. They’ll learn as many languages as you can consistently speak to them. Happily.
I am a New Entrant teacher, and yesterday I taught my little 5 year olds three new waiata, and by the end of the day (their first day at school), they could name all their fingers and toes in Te Reo. Many adults struggle to do this in English.
Kōnui, kōroa, māpere, mānawa, kōiti – ko ēnei ngā matimati!
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:
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.
‘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
‘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.
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.
– ‘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’
Everyone views the world through their own particular lenses, which are constructed by their many personal experiences and understandings of the world. My world is viewed through gender and inequality radar-goggles.There is a fair amount to see through these goggles at the moment.
The capitalist-patriarchal world we live in only serves a few – that is: all men and especially middle and upper class white men.
Power is concentrated at levels never seen before, entirely avoidable poverty is rampant, environments world over are sacrificed for momentary whims of ‘modern living’ and monetary greed. Women and their children are found at the bottom of the heap – time and time again. This is a major concern of mine. Because, I am a women. I have children. And 51% of the world are women (or however they identify themselves to be, by this I mean not cis-male). Believe it or not, we were all children once. Also, many of us are likely to have children ourselves.
Then, and this is where it gets wild, children become adults, and that is how humans make more humans. Thus we should all be concerned. We should all be feminist.
Still I’m really confused as to why some people don’t identify as feminist, or reject the need for or notion of feminism completely. Far too many people just opt out. Either because they can or because they do not know (we don’t know until we know, right?). Dangerously, for those who ‘can’ it is because they are not directly effected by the ills of the world, by oppression or injustice, or at least they think they aren’t. Patriarchy is designed in their favour, or mabye they choose to ignore it?
I don’t know all the reasons that people find feminism a hard pill to swallow. But one thing I know for sure is the media and our own systems, such as the education system, mislead us. We are raised to believe that, at least in the western world, or the ‘developed’ world, we are now all equal. There is a woman CEO, and Helen Clark might be the UN something a rather. Naaw, that is just so nice. I’ve only just heard the news. I’ll stop all my whingeing now. JUST KIDDDDDDDING. Check our history…..we have come a long way, yes, but there is a long road still to march.
Now, some people don’t identify as feminist and fight capitalism and patriarchy because they are far to busy SURVIVING. Kind of hard to figure out why you are living in a rubbish dump with your children, if you actually live on the scraps of humanity. Or why, despite your absolute best efforts, and the hardest of work, you are still living in a car in New Zealand. There are simply more important and urgent things to do. The oppressed are just that. Oppressed. It is really hard to fight back, or to even know that there is a struggle going on, if your immediate, base human needs are not being met. This is how capitalism and patriarchy are designed. This is how it works. Power and resources to the few, scraps for everyone else, and if anyone complains, chuck em’ a bone. Or shut them up completely (round up the activitists, throw away the key!)
Here are a few other ideas I have as to why people avoid feminism.
They think it makes them seem aggressive or unattractive
They think they have a good lot in life, and that everyone just needs to try their best to achieve freedom/equality/equity and so on
OR they don’t understand the language used in feminist or political discussion
Now, this is where I want to Flip the Script. Language is a massive barrier for so many people. Illiteracy is a massive problem in shutting millions out of the conversation (and must be the subject of another post entirely). Even if you are literate – language can remain an obstacle. I know this from discussions with friends about feminism. The blank stares and replies of ‘ahhh’ say it all. I am sorry if I ever contribute to this, I’m sure I do. I said cis-male in the third paragraph for goodness sake.
I want to remedy this, and collaborate with you all.
Here is an absolutely non-exhaustive list of some amazing vocabulary that I believe we all need to wrap our brains and tongues around. It is collated from the ideas of many feminists, and not necessarily always my own – it is a moving beast. Please, hit me back in the comments if you would like to add to this list. It was first published by Freerange Press in 2015…. you can download the journal it first appeared in, at the same time as making a $5 donation to the Women’s Refugee. Win win!
Say what? Feminist, queer and revolutionary vocabulary
Some say it is about the equality or equity of the sexes, but when ‘sex’ isn’t that simple – and there is more than ‘man’ and ‘woman’ in this world – you see that feminism is rather complex! It is a movement and analysis that recognises the inseparable combinations that exist between patriarchy, cis-male (“status quo-male”) privilege, capitalism, homophobia and white privilege to name a few. It is the knowledge that these combinations form political, social and economic power structures, which create injustices for and oppress non cis-male people. Feminism is a lens in which to view and understand the world – a vehicle for change.
Patriarchy describes male-dominated power structures, which permeate throughout organised society, in political systems as well as in individual relationships. It is systemic bias against women and non cis-male people. Patriarchy can be recognised as the intuitions and companies that are run in the majority by men that mostly benefit men; where taking maternity leave or breastfeeding a baby at work is a problem; where being a transsexual makes using the toilets an issue. Patriarchy is also a family group or community controlled by powerful men – fathers and grandfathers who give more privilege to boys and men in that group.
Patriarchy is a world that benefits cis-men over everyone else. Patriarchy describes male-dominated power structures, which permeate throughout organised society, in political systems as well as in individual relationships. It is systemic bias against women and non cis-male people. Patriarchy can be recognised as the intuitions and companies that are run in the majority by men that mostly benefit men; where taking maternity leave or breastfeeding a baby at work is a problem; where being a transsexual makes using the toilets an issue. Patriarchy is also a family group or community controlled by powerful men – fathers and grandfathers who give more privilege to boys and men in that group. Patriarchy is a world that benefits cis-men over everyone else.
Gender essentialism is such a commonly held belief that most people wouldn’t know they hold it. It drives many unconscious behaviours and forms the basis of most patriarchal, misogynistic and sexist actions, arguments and discussions. It is the basic idea that men and women act in inherently different ways and as such have different options in life because of intrinsic biological differences between the genders.
Gender essentialism often excuses gender-based oppressions and discriminations in societies, such as what roles parents play, what jobs people hold, expectations held of each other and skill bases. Gender essentialism simultaneously reinforces gender stereotypes, while being informed by them. Gender essentialism relies on the perpetuation of a binary, polarised world, free of ambiguity, where two neat tidy genders exist and know their place in the world.
‘Cis’ (pronounced ‘sis’) is Latin for ‘on the side of’ and is the antonym to ‘trans’ meaning ‘on the other side/across from’. Cis-male and cis-female people are those who feel there is a match between their assigned birth sex and the gender they feel themselves to be, in contrast to transsexual people. The term was created so cis-men and cis-women aren’t seen as the normal standard from which everyone else deviates, whereby people such as transsexuals and LBGTIQ would be viewed as abnormal.
LGBT – LGBTI – LGBTIQ – These initials mean ‘Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender/sexual, Intersex, Queer’, and represent the diversity in sexualities, genders and cultures that are subject to discrimination, persecution and violence globally. They can also be used to refer to someone who is non-heterosexual/cis-gendered.
To quote Mani Mitchell: ‘Intersex is a medical umbrella term used for a variety of conditions in which a person is born with a reproductive or sexual anatomy that doesn’t seem to fit the typical definitions of female or male.’
A dislike, ingrained prejudice and/or contempt of women which can manifest in numerous ways, including sexual discrimination, violence against women and the sexual objectification of women.
Oppressed, repressed or suppressed?
To oppress is to keep a person or group powerless by unjust force or authority. To repressis to hold back by coercion, or hold down by force. Suppression meansto put an end to, to inhibit, andto keep from being revealed (knowledge or recognition for example). These are some of patriarchy’s best-prized tools in the power tool kit.
The unjust or prejudicial treatment of different groups of people, usually based on the grounds of race, age, or sex or sexuality.
First wave feminism
Feminism initially emerged from the Western world to the backdrop of the age of the Enlightenment (1650s – 1780s) when analysis, reason and the individualistic thinking of philosophers and scientists challenged traditional authorities of the Church and Throne. Debates around women, colonialism and slavery abound, however women were almost entirely kept from the table, creating a pro-male movement. Then came the intense industrialisation of the West in the 1800s, starting in Europe. For women this meant further burden in addition to childbearing and mammoth Victorian work loads running small holdings and households; women and children now also worked in factories and businesses, but had none of the rights afforded to men to safeguard their working conditions, politics of the day or land and sexual rights.
Fed up with their lot, women of the Commonwealth and America demanded change. The defining struggle for the first wave was women winning the battle for the vote. The suffragette movement officially started in America at the Seneca Falls Convention, 1848, but New Zealand was the first country where all women could vote in 1893, followed by America in 1920 and Britain in 1928. This was feminism by and for the white middle and upper-class women and their families. For this reason the second wave was born.
Second wave feminism
Loosely framed by the civil rights movement and anti-Vietnam War protests of the 1960s through to the neoliberal politics of the 1980s and 1990s, the second wave sought emancipation and equality for women on the basis of economics, sexuality and politics. There was a growing recognition of the multiple oppressions and battles that women faced in this wave. Where black women, lesbian women and indigenous women from all around the world had been left out of the equation, there was now some representation for them in feminism. Connections were made between broad political structures such as capitalism, war, patriarchy and heteronormativity, as well as the roles of women as wives and mothers. Sex and gender were differentiated as a biological base and social constructs. Sexuality and reproductive rights became central issues. The women’s struggle was associated with the class struggle, the personal was now political, and everyone was invited to bang a drum on the march.
Third wave feminism
Although many legal and institutional rights had now been granted to women as a result of the second wave, the 1990s children of the second wave feminists had something else to say. Informed by post-colonial and post-modern thinking, they wanted changes in media representation of women and of gender stereotyping. The focus shifted from what was good for all women, based on the personal being political, to ‘micro-politics’, where women were encouraged to use their own personal identities to define what being a feminist meant to them. A woman could wear lipstick and high heels, run a boardroom and still be a feminist. Language such as ‘slut’ and ‘bitch’, deemed misogynistic in the second wave, was reclaimed in order to suffocate sexist language.
The fourth wave
Has it arrived and when? It is differentiated from its predecessors by its use of the internet. The fourth wave’s creation-in-action is evidenced online in forums, blogs, social media and clicktavism causes. The third wave’s increasing intersectionality has brought all sorts of individuals and groups into the frame and to the screen. There is no one experience, no one feminism. However, the fourth wave also looks back to the second to inform its arguments about the state of the world, a world controlled by patriarchal capitalists and run by the West, taking into account issues such as climate change, severe poverty and systemic racism.
Intersectionality describes the ways in which oppressive institutions (racism, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia, classism, ageism etc.) are all interconnected and cannot be seen, challenged or unravelled separately. This concept first came from Kimberlé Crenshaw in 1989, and helps us to understand the complexities of individual experience and systemic oppressions.
For as many women as there are in the world, there are arguably as many feminisms. Check them out sometime! Eco-feminism, Marxist, socialist, mana wahine, radical, liberal, post-modern, post-structural, anarcha-fem, new age, black, womanist, separatist, cultural, lesbian, Chicana, standpoint, libertarian……feminism to name a few.
Heteronormativity are the actions of a gender essentialist’s ideal world, one in which men and women fall into distinct categories with clear roles and expectations, where heterosexuality is the norm reinforced in power structures such as legislation and the media.
Attitudes, bias and discriminations that favour opposite sex relationships and heteronormativity. It is based on the presumption that people are heterosexual – the expected ‘superior’ norm.
The powerful combination of a heterosexual bias society run by a patriarchy. Most nation-states and ruling classes could be described as such. From America to Saudi Arabia, from New Zealand to Indonesia. Where straight men rule the roost.
Where people socialise with their own gender most of the time, or in certain situations such as work or sports teams. Homosocialisation reinforces gender stereotypes, gender roles, gendered division of time, education and work. It is self-perpetuating.
An acronym for Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminist. Feminists who state that trans-women aren’t really women, thinking the only women are those born with a vagina and XX chromosomes. Gender essentialists through and through.
Sex Worker Exclusionary Radical Feminism, which opposes women’s participation in prostitution and pornography. Swerfs sometimes and often unintentionally, do not include sex-workers in conversations and debate.
An internet troll/trolling
Someone who finds pleasure in seeking opportunities to disrupt and derail discussions and debates in online forums, blogs and social media. For the fun of pointless argument, and sometimes more sinisterly, to meaninglessly detract attention from important conversations.
When the audience is constructed from the perspective of heterosexual men. The male gaze is so powerful in media that it now dictates the content of most mainstream films, TV, music videos and advertisements. Men are situated as the watchers, women as watched; men active, women passive. Buy the product, get the girl or be the girl. Think car ads, female roles in action films, central-main characters on TV and superheros.
Rape culture as a term is designed to show the ways in which society blames victims of sexual assault and normalises male sexual violence. It is a culture that encourages boys and men to be macho and aggressive, and girls and women to be submissive and compliant. A society that allows a quarter of women and girls to be raped or sexually assaulted, and 1/6 of men and boys. Where 3 per cent of rapists are jailed after just 6 per cent of rapes and assaults are ever reported. A social culture in which rape jokes and cat calls are heard and normalised, where the male gaze pervades pop music and the visual arts. Where children are sexualised by clothing and toy companies. Rape culture has implications for all and is everyone’s issue regardless of gender.
Language subtly, and often unconsciously, perpetuates the status quo. It reinforces power structures. The words we choose can expose our underlying value systems, beliefs and assumptions. Listening to Radio New Zealand this time last week, I heard a cracker: a very exposing choice of words indeed. To me, it exemplifies how White-New Zealand positions itself as the norm, daily.
Now, before we get into examining the cracker, rewind a bit, to understand the backdrop. Who could have failed to notice the Mayor of New Plymouth last week – Andrew Judd. I hope everyone in Aotearoa has. Andrew, you are truly a lightbeamer.
In my last post, I’m not in your shitty Club, I’m a lightbeamer, I discuss the awkward moment when you decide whether or not to call someone out for their shitty behaviour. Kia ora Andrew for using your platform of power and privilege for others, by calling out not only the racism around you, but in your own life.
For anyone who hasn’t noticed him: Judd announced he will not stand again for re-election in New Plymouth’s mayoralty as a direct result of the abuses he has suffered at the hands of fizzing (spitting, Nazi-attired, name calling, ranty-letter writing) racists. All because of supporting Māori in his district. This last sentence sums it up. Māori constituents in his district. ie, the people for whom he is a mayor, people who may have voted for him, people who’s taxes pay his way. People who are people. You know, the ones who get representation in local body government. He understands that being a mayor means – being everyone’s mayor. Listening to, and attending to the needs of all. Lightbulb moment.
Thanks for reading on, back to the cracker you’ve been waiting for. On Tuesday May 10th, minutes before Radio New Zealand’s Checkpoint asked if we are a racist country, Mike Williams (former Labour Party President) sat on Jim Mora’s RNZ afternoon panel, to discuss among other things, Māori seats in government. Renown for its dearth of colour and lack of gender diversity, the panel perspective was never going to be broad. This discussion was in relation to Judd’s New Plymouth experience.
Later, during Checkpoint, John Campbell could have answered his own question with Mike’s comment.
Because, Mike said:
“I am in actually in favour of the Māori electorates for rather an odd reason, I think they have proven a great safety valve, and, when we’ve had near revolutionary situations over the foreshore and seabed act, all of that explosive force has gone into politics, but I’d also say that Māori are only slowly integrating into our political system. You have a look at the Māori seats and the average turn out in the general seats which are predominately European, is pushing 80% in the Māori electorates it’s just 50%, so I think the fate is very largely in their own hands.”
Ok – great you are in favour, but um, a few things…. Lets break it down.
‘our political system’? The 1840 Treaty of Waitangi and the subsequent 1952 New Zealand Constitution Act which paved the way for Representative Government – was supposed to be all about two peoples coming together. So, who do you mean Mike, when you say ‘our’ political system. You’ve excluded Māori already in your comment…. But, I guess White-New Zealand often say ‘our’ in the sense that the political system has always been set up to serve their/our purposes. Yay for us! A good start.
‘slowly integrating’. Hmm. I didn’t realise this was still the aim. That Māori are some how ‘over there’ and we are ‘here’ – wherever here and there are. And that they need to come over and blend in more. Policies of assimilation are more of a 1930s kind of a thing, Mike.
‘near revolutionary situations’ So, the only way to rein em’ in is with a few representative seats? Keep em’ quite, keep em’ happy kind of thing? I prefer revolution myself.
‘fate is very largely in their own hands’ -pull up your socks now Tāngata Māori! Dust your hands off Pāhekā. As if the deal Māori get has got nothing to do with the political system and social structures?!….made by and large for White-New Zealand. Face palm.
Sorry to pick on you, Mike – but you provided such good fodder. I don’t mean to make so many presumptions about you either. I don’t know your whakapapa. I’m Pāhekā by the way. But whoever you are, your words certainly came across a certain way:
Now back to Andrew: Every group of people have different needs. Judd recognised this and worked with it. He understands that equality only comes of equity. He has learned a lot, he has changed. Bravo. Perhaps his fizzing mates (and Mike Williams) could do with a language lesson in order to get them on board. Pictures always help me learn, so here is an image I REALLY like. It explains equity far better than I ever could with words.
I think the most important thing to note from the Judd saga is that we have a long way to go. That there are some extremely icky pockets of hatred and fear in our society, which are perpetuated by off the cuff, casual comments like Mike Williams’ – I understand it was a brief conversation on the panel, but it was telling. For non-Māori, this requires a deep inner-reflection. Andrew has done this already. Many of us Pākehā and Tau iwi(go look it up) can relate to the following. I relate in a slightly different way, which I’ll elaborate on after Andrew:
There was a silly routine as kids when, if you touched somebody that you thought had maggots, you’d run around and touch someone else and say: “I’m fans.” Meaning, I’m free of the maggots. Then they’d have to touch someone else to get rid of the maggots. And I distinctly remember doing that to a little Māori girl at school. And I think back now: “How horribly, horribly cruel. How hard that must have been for that little girl.”
Yet we thought that game was fun. I reflect on those times now and I can see that’s definitely where it all started. And, from that point on, it gets reinforced by never having to engage — and never having to see the consequence of those actions. Never knowing how that would have affected her in her life.
And, here is my contribution: I have a memory of myself as a 9-year-old in 1994, which shows the power of language yet again. Imagine a suburban Christchurch school. To assist your mental picture, I recall only 1 or 2 visibly Māori whānau and 1 Chinese child during my time at school. Oh, the diversity.
It was a rainy day, we were all making a fantastic mess of the class before the teacher had even finished her morning coffee. We were running around shouting ‘if your feet touch the floor you are a lesbian’. Oh dang, no one wanted to be a lesbian (never-mind none of us knew what the word meant), so there we were, a bunch of 9-year-olds desperately looking for a chair or desk to jump up on. Heaven forbid we were pulled down into the murky depths of the lesbian floor of Room 8.
As Andrew said this stuff has consequences. We were only 9, but one of us heard ‘lesbian’ said in a negative light somewhere by someone. Adults: watch your language.
Not long after this, the mother of a kid in my class came out as lesbian – they are still our close family friends. I now understood the word, and felt a massive shame at my activity a week or so earlier. I hoped like hell that the outburst of jumping on chairs had nothing to do with my family friend’s reality. I’m sure he knows.
The ripples of ‘maggots’ and ‘lesbian engulfing carpets’ have far-reaching effects. This is where it all begins. The sidelining, the slandering, the oppression of people who are not you. The embedding of attitudes that kids carry into adulthood. Into spheres where they have real power to affect change for good or bad.
It is us adults who are responsible for change in societal attitudes. Responsible in seeing that our children do not grow up with the same prejudices we did. So, Mike Williams, be careful with your language.
Now, one last thing before I go. I have a fairly big bone to pick (surprise, surprise) with the way this news story has played out. Because it has all been said before. Many, many times before. That New Zealand has problems with racism, to the tune of thousands marching in our streets during the 1975 Māori Land Rights hīkoi for example, and all the other times anyone but a Pāhekā has stood up and has said something ain’t right! I won’t bore you with a list. We all know Aotearoa has a long history of grass-roots protest movements. Especially when it comes to colonisation and it’s disproportionately negative effects on Māori.
So why are we only asking now, “Does NZ have a problem with anti-Māori racism?” It would seem that we need things whitesplained to us. Or at least the fabled ‘middle Zealand’ do.
The people take a stand
1975 Whenua Hīkoi arriving in Wellington
Kind of hard to ignore
Whina Cooper leads the charge
Eva Rickard 1978 Raglan Golf course
Prophets of Parihaka
Why is it that other people in Judd’s immediate rohe (go look it up) can stand up time again time again and not be heard enough? Parihaka are just next door and Eva Rickard was in Raglan a few hundred kilometers north. Yes, these Māori were heard to an extent over the course of a century – there have been some policy and attitudinal changes. Still, there is great need for a much more seismic shift. More listening to the voices that must be heard. Allowing them to dictate the work to be done in order to make changes. Step down from the pedestal White-New Zealand. Let us move on from ‘consultation at the table’. It is time to realise WE are sitting at their tēpu, and no one really invited us. Ouch. I’ve said enough. The Non-Plastic Māori lays it down real good and proper here.