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!
(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:
My list was short because it’s a small country and an even smaller industry, and like I said, I’m eternally tired slash lazy. Even still – the fact that they are all male and possibly (probably) all white was striking to me. Google the term “music critic” and you’ll see 15 images of white males, then a brown male, then more white males.
White males. They are great. I have two children with one. My Dad’s one. But to note that they dominate yet another element of our industry/society/life – is it surprising? No. Is it noteworthy? Well, it certainly is to a brown female. That’s me. And many of my friends.
I realize now, it was on me to bring it up that night but I missed my chance and immediately regretted it, and it’s been eating at me ever since. Happily though, I feel like Aaradhna and her delightful refusal of the “brown person” Tui at the music awards has opened a window for this kind of sentiment to be aired….
So why didn’t I say it on the night? Other than the fact that the opportunity just didn’t present itself between one hour and five people’s opinions’- I just couldn’t see a way to come out with it and not seem like a brown female with an axe to grind. It is intimidating to be the minority in the room and speak out on a minority issue – to be “that feminist” or that brown person “claiming racism”.
The opinions of white males are as valid as anyone else’s sure, but we all listen to music. Surely the lens through which it’s analysed in the media could be a little broader.
As Aaradhna pointed out, there’s a feeling that brown musicians get lumped in together. And brown female musicians – even more so. I’ve spent my pretty low-key career being compared to my famous brown female mates Anika Moa and Bic Runga. And I do get it – there are musical similarities and our personal relationships probably encourage it a bit, plus they are great and that’s fine. But I’ve not been compared in the same way to my famous friends who are not brown or female, even where I think there are some musical similarities. I haven’t really witnessed any of NZ’s male solo artists suffer the same fate. For example Liam Finn, Connan Mockasin and Lawrence Arabia aren’t exactly occupying different musical continents but they are (rightly) celebrated as individuals even with their ongoing collaborations.
So is it really that us brown women fail to differentiate ourselves while the white men succeed? Or is it that the people publicly assessing these things are better at discerning between one group than they are the other? It’s not for me to answer those questions and they are only examples of course, but in an alternate universe where all the “main” music reviewers were female and brown (you can’t even imagine it, admit it!) I reckon things would pan out pretty differently.
Above: The Koi Boys, wrongly identified as Sol3 Mio at the awards, and the real deal, right.
We recently had a prominent female music writer who was well-respected and even (gasp) well liked by musicians. She was criticized for not being brutal enough and giving too many positive reviews. I understand that if someone is only giving out A+s all the time, that mark loses its value a bit, but that wasn’t the case. It felt a bit like saying she needed to be more man-like in her criticisms. (If she had, no doubt she would’ve been considered a bitch but that’s another essay…)
I also heard of a woman who tried to get in as a music writer for a well-known magazine but the male critic-in-residence had such a fit, the suggestion was shut down.
The problem of a lack of women’s voices being heard is of course not unique to music criticism, or to the music industry.
The tendency for everyone to gravitate to a male voice over a female voice as the voice of reason and authority is everywhere. This happens at a subconscious level where it goes unnoticed aaaallll the time.
A woman who went through broadcasting school told me that one of the first things she learned was to lower her voice in pitch. Why? Why can’t a lady sound like a lady? (And for another essay again, why not a whole slew of interesting linguistic variation in our media being taken seriously?)
For the record, we do have female music critics (listed at the end of this post). They’re just not given the platform that the male ones are. And unfortunately, as Ellen Willis says in this article,
‘Female expertise, when it appears, is repeatedly dismissed as fraudulent….. and becoming a recognized “expert” (a musician, a critic) will not save you from accusations of fakery.’
At the end of the panel discussion the lingering conclusion seemed to be that music critics don’t matter these days. Maybe they do, maybe they don’t, but I think it’s important for music to have that space in the media, as music has been so severely devalued overall, that discussing it in these public forums is helping to hold it aloft as something actually worth paying for (yes everyone- musicians like to get paid for their work).
The Spinoff adding a new music arm to their website is great and I think Henry Oliver is a great choice for editor, but I do hope they introduce a wider range of voices to the chorus of humans opining about music, because- shit do I really need to say why?
Diversity comes in all shapes, sizes, colours, genders, sexual orientations, etc. There’s a big ol’ range of humans making music and an even bigger range of people listening to it so it seems strange to have such a small range listened to for comment on it.
So here I am- a brown female grinding my axe about a thing that it seems most people don’t even notice. Not my usual vibe to jump in at length on this stuff but I’ve seen a lot of mana wāhine lately speaking up on “the issues” and I feel like not saying this in the panel was shirking my responsibility as the brown woman in the room. Because of course I was the only one who felt this way. Of course it was on me to say it. And now I have. Kia ora.’
Āmene to that, and kia ora to you Anna!
If you are interested in changing the tide, and supporting women in the industry, you can do so! Here are some of the female music writers and critics in New Zealand. We all need to know their names and work:
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.
Three days a week I head to work at several early childhood centers. I love my job. I take my toddler with me on two of these days. For many parents the work and childcare balance is a weekly struggle. A juggle to meet everyone’s needs. Taking my youngest to work with me creates peace in our lives and provides stability for our children.
I have an older kid too. She’s not under my wing as much as I’d like, but that is what happens as kids get older. She is however, under the protective watch and guidance of trusted adults each day. They are all at once her teachers, our friends, our partners in politics and also part of a wider group of people who have collective philosophies and aspirations for our children. This school is small, and it meets the needs of its children as best as it possibly can. It is a real community.
These places, my work and our school, are absolute community hubs. Every other week someone new arrives, a new whānau is taken into the fold. They are eagerly welcomed with open arms. They are accepted and absorbed….whether they see it coming or not! Education centres are crucial meeting places. They bring people together, at a time when new little lives are coming into fruition. At their best, places of education should be equalizers, and they should be there for everyone. No matter what your needs are. And for the most part, schools are these things.
I say all this, because there have been two pieces of news in two days this week that have worried me greatly. As a teacher with a background in special education, with a child who requires extra learning support, I feel under-valued as a teacher, fearful for my child’s future educational possibilities and fiercely protective of her rights as a citizen and learner in this world. And I feel worried for everyone actually, for our communities who strive each day for the betterment of children.
Hekia Parata,you have stung twice. And it really hurts.
Kids aged 18-21 in the education system are at a critical turning point in their lives – they are being supported so they can live as independently as possible. To live lives that are fulfilling. You know, the kind of stuff we all want and expect at the end of our schooling. These young people can be painfully aware that their peers have moved off into work or further training and education, and that they are still at school – this is hard. However, staying on may make them happier too.
The whole idea that youth with extra learning needs can stay at school until they are 21 is because they need MORE, not less – hence the extra three years. Is this not blindingly obvious? More. Not less. Yes, littlies need early intervention too, but not at our youths’ expense.
For many families it takes a long time to establish that their children need extra learning support – not from lack of trying either. For some families this isn’t clear until their children actually start school. So these kids could miss that early intervention and the support in the last stages. Sure, extra funding for ECE may catch more children who might otherwise fall through the gaps. But if you take my kid as an example – a child who started ECE, and then on to Kōhanga from age 2.5yrs, with a specialist teacher for ORS children as a mother, it still took us 4.5yrs to diagnose her needs- it is not always simple.
Finally, why does it have to be one or the other? Are all children not worthy, regardless of age or stage?
Hekia is trying to make this move under the guise of a more inclusive education system in which she says there needs to be more “clear accountabilities” and “at the moment we mostly focus on and measure inputs”.
To quote Stuff – ‘This would mean schools would need to show students receiving funding had made progress in their academic achievement, which would be measured through their National Standards and NCEA results.’
Thank goodness my kid’s school refuses to drag our children through the time-consuming, unhelpful and ultimately humiliating process that is National Standards. If they did, my daughter would be WELL BELOW, all the time. Well, she ain’t below anything Hekia.
Again, a few pointers:
National Standards compare children against each other. How fair is it for a kid with a developmental delay, or a sensory processing disorder to be pitted against a child who glides through academic learning? What does that achieve, and for whom?
When you measure kids who don’t fit the mould with NS, they bring down the whole school’s score – by which I mean, the final NS results for a school appear lower, which puts pressure on the teachers who are already doing their best. NS are not reflective of what the teachers DO do and how individual kids progress themselves, from their own starting points. This is what matters, not how they compare to others.
NS only measures some areas of learning, and disregards the arts, much of technology and science, and critically – social learning. Yes, these things are all inseparable from each other, but NS sure knows how to drill down to the fine points to compartmentalise learning. Some kids won’t necessarily thrive in academic subjects but that may not matter, depending on how everything else goes for them. Again. My kid would look like a failure on paper to Hekia, but she’s never seen her in centre stage.
I’m glad Labour’s Education spokesperson Chris Hipkins chimed in with some sense. ‘using those measures was “utterly uninclusive” and “bizarre”. Kids are receiving ORS funding because they have a serious impairment or physical disability. To suggest National Standards or NCEA as a way to assess their success and the quality of their education is ridiculous.’ I couldn’t agree more.
COOL Providers could be schools, tertiary providers or *shudder*, private industries. The former is not too far-fetched. I can imagine some schools setting up online learning for children who may do better at home, or who have a mix of on and off site learning. Tertiary education providers delivering entirely online is nothing new. But private industries?! Here are my points:
Private industries have no place in schooling. They are out for a profit, nothing else. They may say otherwise, but they are not primarily for the benefit of children. End of story. No one can convince me otherwise.
Hekia sells this as an effort to appease digital companies who have made it clear to the government that there are not enough school leavers entering the work force with the skills required for working in technology. Saying that technology can just teach the kids technology is like whacking kids over the head with a maths text book, or expecting children to learn to play instruments by simply watching a band play all day, or sitting in a room full of instruments. Kids need support and direction from people.
Social connections and relationships are the most important factors in any learning. We need more people not less. More skilled teachers for all students to meet ALL needs, whether they need extra support or not. Better teacher to child ratios.
Going back to my first statements about how wonderfully immersed my family is in our children’s educations, and how important these sites of education are for us each day. They are not just places our kids go to learn. They are places for all of us. There we meet other families whose children may be on a similar path to ours. We swap notes and support each other. We up skill ourselves. Our children know there are many adults who have their backs. They know they belong somewhere, that they are a part of something that matters. That they matter. Critically, they see their parents interacting positively and meaningfully with their teachers. There are no barriers. We are teams, for the benefit of our families.
Hekia, please do not remove the funding that so many young people rely on in their final years, within the safety of their schools. It is crucial for that big step they take into the world , a world which is ultimately not made for them, that is hard enough. The more knowledge and resources they take out there with them the better, for them and for society as a whole.
Hekia, please stop side lining us teachers. We understand kids, we know about teaching and learning. It is what we do. We are professionals, we are experts. We are telling you that relationships are what matter. That connection is what supports children. It gives them confidence, courage, and companionship. These things are invaluable and National Standards doesn’t measure them. Computers can’t teach them. But communities do. Parents know who has their kids backs and who doesn’t. Don’t pull the rug out from beneath us. Make the foundations stronger instead.
Lastly, Hekia – watch this, because every kid does need a champion. Educationalist Rita Pierson breaks down the importance of relationships in learning, and life. I have lost count of how many times I have watched this and it still makes me laugh, and cry.
‘What a handsome boy, you must have lots of girlfriends…’
‘Gosh, those eyelashes are wasted on him, aren’t they!…’
‘You’ll have to get yourself a shot-gun when she gets older…’
‘He is always flirting with the blondes…’
‘I can just see them walking down the aisle now…’
We’ve all heard comments like these before. Kids are cute for sure, but before we get all weird on their beauty, there is something us adults need to talk about.
It is something that many of us do at a much higher frequency than we’d like to admit. Something we must all become vigilant in identifying and expert in addressing.
It is the imposition of adult romantic and sexual thoughts and behaviours on babies and young children. At all times completely unnecessary, entirely inappropriate and plain old yuck town.
Unfortunately we are almost all a bit guilty of it. If we don’t do it ourselves, we may laugh along with it, or we quietly and awkwardly ignore odd comments. Or, worse still, we simply don’t notice them at all, so deeply rooted are our sexualised, sexist bias’. They are hardened, internalised and ingrained.
Our silence or lack of intervention is our complicity in the ongoing sexist and often misogynistic socialisation of children. This may seem fairly broad sweeping, and could be applied to any number of shitty things adults do that limit and curb the development and opportunities of children, however, to keep our self-flagellation manageable, I’m just going to focus on what I’ll call ‘Yucky Adult Comments’ for now. The acronym is YAC. Like ew yac! That is yac! Did you just hear that yac over there…. and so on.
There are some things we should never say about or to children. When analysed, even just a tiny bit yacs don’t look too good at all. By definition all yacs are unseemly, at a minimum they are sexist, and in the extreme – they can be soft pornish. This is not an exaggeration, you’ll read what I mean later.
And yet, yacs just seems to roll off our well oiled, hetero-socialised, hyper sexualised and gender oppressed tongues. All. The. Time.
Saying or tolerating yacs is to essentially participate in the narrowing of our children’s own expressions of self, of their burgeoning identities and the intensely personal, yet very public exploration of their own genders, orientations and sexualities.
Here are some examples I have collected from a diverse group of concerned parents. They demonstrate the absurdity and grossness in all the ‘oh no you didn’t just yac did you’ glory.
‘Oh my goodness, they are just SO cute. Can’t you just see them on their first date?’ – said of any old 3-year-old girl and boy playing blocks with each other, or drawing at a table.
‘What a little tease’ – a toddler who isn’t interested in giving another child or adult a kiss or a cuddle.
‘That is how he shows he likes her’ – excusing a small boy who just hurt a small girl.
‘His eyes are a stunning blue, such a ladies man’ – yet the mother from whom these eyes are inherited is not labeled a ladies man.
‘That’s right, roll over and go straight to sleep like a good man’ – said within earshot of 9-year-old boy, who was snuggling by the fire with his 6-year-old female cousin.
‘Oh look, she’s trying to hold your hand, always hold a pretty girl’s hand when she offers’ – 1-year-olds learning to hold hands.
‘My grandson would be the perfect match for this little bubba’ – a random white middle-aged male wants to marry a 6 week old baby off to his grandson.
‘Are you wearing perfume? Is that for your boyfriend? You should be wearing lipstick so you can leave kisses on him’ – said an uncle to his 6-year-old niece. Who then teases the niece about boyfriends for weeks on end.
‘He’ll be a ladykiller one day’ – an astute observation of a beautiful boy
‘He’s a boobie man’ and ‘He knows where the action is at’ – a breastfeeding baby boy
‘Lock up your daughters!!’ a father leaves a comment below a picture of preschool aged friends (boy and girl) on a childcare website.
‘wow she is waxing down there already’ – 1 month old girl during a nappy change.WTF
‘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’
Today, or yesterday, or every day, John Key said this:
“Obviously like any language, (Māori) is a series of words, and of course if you can understand those words, then I can understand what they’re saying”
Choice, John Key. Choice. That didn’t really make sense grammatically though did it (they or I?), but hey, talking good is not eveyone’s strength.
Sorry everyone, for kicking off a post with a quote from him-most-truly. I am going to move on reeeeaally quick, I promise.
John – love the honesty! “what they’re saying”, keep up the othering why don’t ya.”Series of words” – yeah nothing much to it really. “Any language” – nice and dismissive, with a pinch of a diminishing smirk. Te Reo Māori is just like any other language. Piece of cake. Others, them, those, not me. Not my issue. cause’ “I’m John Key, and I can understand things”, “I know words”.
Ok, like I said, moving on.
When I read or hear quotes like this, I feel really defensive. I feel offended. I feel protective. I feel disappointed and angry. BUT Ko tēnei te wiki o Te Reo Māori!!!!, so I ain’t going to let anyone, especially not John Key get me down. Here is why.
I’ve started this important week of the year, like any other Monday, at my mahi. Where I support several early childhood centres: their educators and tamariki, in learning Te Reo, in actually walking the talk with Te Tiriti o Waitangi, and just generally being amazing citizens and not racist people. They are so great. I love them. They are dedicated and hard-working. They see the importance of and value in Te Ao Māori. They are doing what we should all be doing. Having a kōrero, and seeing how amazing it is. No more excuses, enough of the blame game or defensiveness. Te Reo is choice.
I also attended a wānanga all weekend long at my big kid’s kura. Parents and teachers dedicated their weekend for their tamariki. For their kura. And it is our kura. It is a marae away from marae. It was all about their learning, and of course about their reo, the reo of the kura and wider community. People got up, one after the other, and poured their hearts out. Sharing what being Māori means to them, what Te Reo is for them, and what they have to contribute to the kura going forward. Laying down all lengths they will go to. And there are many.
It was a beautiful time. Something I will always remember. We laughed and cried, together. In Te Reo.
These wānanga are things that many kura and kōhanga do, a lot. A time where teachers and parents get together and really communicate. Where tamariki are truly at the centre of the conversation. This is the kind of thing that mainstream schools can only dream of, because of the way they are structured. Now, this post is not about education per se, but there is a lot to be learned from Māori ways of knowing and living, that everyone can learn from. I’m not saying lets all operate like a kura.
But I’m also not saying “like any language, is a series of words” either.
As I said earlier, I feel defensive when I hear people, particularly those in positions of massive influence and power, shrug off Te Reo. When they don’t pay it the due attention and respect it demands.
Actually, I’m sorry, I do need to go back to John Key now. But the following is for anyone – not just him, and it is said out of my love of Te Reo, my love for my partner and our children, my love for things Māori, and especially for my kid’s teachers – for our whānau and whānau whānui.
020910. snl-features. photo. rakesh krishnan. te kohanga reo kakariki, glen eden. second photo – children get to do a whole lot of activities like growing their own fruit and vegetables. publication wel. publication date 03/09/10. 02-AUK-kohanga1.
Every day I am in contact with the sharpest of tacks. The most willing of people. These people, myself included, are hell-bent on using Te Reo whenever we can, wherever we can. And it is not always easy. But we know its beauty and power. We love the way it sounds. The things that can be expressed in it, the knowledge that can only travel in it. Keeping a language going can be really hard mahi:
We arrange expense babysitting, or twist an aunty’s arm so we can attend night classes in Te Reo after a long day at work.
We attend weekly playground session in Te Reo, so the door is opened for our little ones.
We organise BBQs and kids play dates around learning Te Reo. Creating places in our lives where we can kōrero. This is easier said than done, believe me.
We painstakingly type, print off, cut out and stick labels on every object in our whare. In Te Reo. Because if you are learning Māori as an adult, it is hard. You need all the support you can get!
We learn lullabies for our little ones in Te Reo.
We compose waiata in Te Reo Rangatira.
We petition our schools to do more in honouring the treaty.
We seek to understand the treaty.
We go to workshops and upskill.
We are Māori. We are Pāhekā (only .3% though according to latest stats), we are Japanese and Spanish.
We are women and LGBTI. We are men and children. Young and old.
We do it in spite of. We do it as well as.
We kōrero, kōrero, kōrero. And:
I can understand what they are saying.
I really can, John. Well, I try really hard to – as a Pāhekā Nu Zulunda. And I don’t actually think you can. Understanding enough to get through a pōwhiri, or to mince another mihi at the start of a meeting does not amount to “understanding what they’re saying”.
Because, what we are saying is:
Te Reo Māori is a taonga. It is absolutely fundamental to being Māori, to this land, to history and to the future of Te Ao Māori. Arguably, there is no Ao without it. And it is in dire straights right now. You can do something about this. Me tīmata i te wiki nei!
– Fund kōhanga and kura equitably with mainstream.
– Insist, and legislate, that ALL teachers must learn Te Reo and make learning it compulsory in all schools while you are at it. Kids love it, and it is EASY for them! It opens a whole new world for them. There is nothing to be lost. Only gains to be made. Start with the tamariki. This will save the government a lot of money.
– Understand that bilingualism and multilingualism are GOOD FOR THE BLIMMIN BRAIN. And even the economy.
– And, that people can only really understand each other when they understand each others languages. There is no way that you can say that you “understand what they’re saying”. You do not. Your politics say it all.
– And finally, leave it up to them. Relinquish control. Or at least, stop suppressing the power and control that Māori already have over their lives. It is there, let it shine and prosper.
And ending on a positive note, here is an amazing blog post on super sneaky and effective ways to get your kids speaking Māori along side you. This is the future, this is the solution.