Reaction to RoastBusters

November 15, 2013

It’s all over the media, here in NZ and apparently all over the world.

I’m exhausted. I’m disillusioned and I’m depressed about it.

Why?

Because for me, as for too many women, it’s personal. I’m a rape survivor, and the first time I was raped I was only 13.

I like to approach all problems with logic. And I always want change. I want to live in a world where the young girls approaching 13 that I know (I have a child who is 12) will not have to live with what I live with. I believe that change is possible, that we can live in a more civilised community. To believe otherwise is too depressing.

I like to participate sometimes on community forums. Usually I stay in the safer women dominated spaces, those for mothers. We talk about issues that affect our lives as mothers and it’s mostly comforting and inclusive and it feels good.

Except this week nothing online feels good.

I am dismayed at the mainstream reactions I see to the RoastBusters case. The questioning of the victims and the scarcity of questioning the perpetrators. Why were the girls drinking? Why did their parents let them out so late at night to parties with alcohol? The accusation that those girls should have been more sensible, and they would not have been raped.

I’m sick of it. And here’s why.

There is nothing women can do to stop being raped. Apart from never be in the presence of a rapist. Unfortunately most rapists don’t wear signs on their heads. So they’re hard to avoid. The elderly lady recently in NZ who was raped in broad daylight outside her home, emptying her letterbox, could not have done anything to avoid being raped except…. maybe never go outside? Another recent case in NZ another elderly lady raped in her own bed is told by idiots online she should have locked her door.

There is everything men can do to stop raping women, and there is so much the majority of men who are good men and who do not rape can do to encourage a safer environment for the women around them.

Don’t accept rape humour. For the woman sitting next to you it may be an extremely uncomfortable moment, but she’ll smile and try to not let anyone know. Rape is not a joke. I never laughed about the several times I was raped, and I’m figuring I never will.

Teach our young what consent looks like, boys and girls. Consent requires the active and free “yes” of all genders, at all time, during any sexual encounter. Very simple really.

Teach real respect for others as human beings. Teach empathy.

Don’t engage in victim blaming discussion. Saying “it’s just commonsense” is a cop out. Telling women what we should to to stop being raped is not going to stop rape. Ever. And we know already. It wouldn’t have helped either of the elderly ladies mentioned above, it wouldn’t have helped me as a child of 13. What it does do though is makes rape survivors understand they need to keep their experiences hidden because if we bring them to light our behaviours will be questioned in minute detail, or it will be assumed that we are lying. What it does do is push half the population to live in fear of being raped by the other half, and push half the population into understanding that their movements, behaviours and dress must be limited in a way that the other half does not have to do. It limits our freedom to be ourselves.

The most depressing thing about this week is the focus on what women should do to avoid rape, and the lack of focus on what it is in our wider society that we can change to make rape rare or even (shock horror!) stop it completely.

Apparently there are a few societies worldwide in which rape is rare: Ashanti, Mbuti, Mongo, Tuareg, Gond, Mongols, Lakher, Cuna and Jivaro. Now I am no expert on cultures, I’m a biologist not an anthropologist. But if even one of the societies listed really is one where rape is rare then that proves a point. It proves that it is possible to create a society where rape is rare. And that is a society I think we should all aim to achieve.

But I have been told that I’m dreaming. Rape is always going to happen and I’d better take steps to avoid it. That these societies are not / cannot really be rape free or rape rare. It’s not possible.

The only answer I have to that is dismay, and an understanding that if that is the way most New Zealanders think then they’re right. We will never achieve it.

And one final point in this long rant. The reason I think why this is is because it makes many men uncomfortable. Men in NZ frame our social discourse, and it is men who do the vast majority of raping of women, children and to a lesser extent other men. To point out to men that it is from within their half of the population which rapes makes them uncomfortable, apparently it is misandry to point out this simple fact.

Now if you’re a man reading the above paragraph, read it again. Notice that NOWHERE do I say all men are rapists. I understand that the majority of men are not rapists. But I also know that most rapists are men.

Grow up guys. Put on your big boy pants and help us out here. We are well aware that most men don’t rape, but if you’re not part of the solution you’re part of the problem.

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Again Paula Bennett moves into very dangerous territory suggesting the government wants the ability to issue court orders preventing some people from having children. She stops just short of calling for mandatory sterilisation of citizens. Just.

As in the case of offering free contraception to women and their daughters on benefits, this proposed change does not change how the government acts in reality. Currently the government already removes babies just after birth or at birth from some citizens; 148 in 2011 and 177 in 2010. Simply telling people “don’t have more children” and offering contraception will not prevent births and so the government would be left with… removing the babies at birth. Which it already does.

This again begs the question; if this proposed change will not change government actions towards these same people, then why the proposed change at all?

One answer which fits logically is that it seeks to legalise government involvement in citizens reproductive rights. Once government is legally allowed to tell us whom among us will be allowed to have children, and who cannot, the next step is to enforce this difference through forced sterilsation.

“First they came for the communists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist.

Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Jew.

Then they came for me
and there was no one left to speak out for me.”

– this quote is attributed to Martin Niemöller, a German who originally supported Hitlers rise to power.

My main reason for opposition to this policy is it allows government to go where no government should ever go. I agree that people who have abused and killed their children should certainly not have more children, but the state already does remove such children from their parents.

Our economic system has for generations now created inequality. The wealth gap is growing ever greater and will continue to do so as long as our money is based upon interest bearing debt. This is the logical outcome.

If a society allows a growing number of it’s population to be impoverished and excluded from wider society this will breed resentment and a higher crime rate among the disadvantaged. It breeds an “underbelly” in society. Left for too long, anything of three generations or longer, and this underbelly becomes entrenched.

The answer as the wealth gap grows is not to penalise and control the poorest citizens. The cause of the problem will not be solved by doing this, it will only allow society to slide towards dictatorship.

The answer is to address the underlying cause of inequality which is the very structure of how our money works. I have written about this extensively, see the category on this blog “money and the economy”.

A restructuring of the economy to allow near or full employment would allow all citizens to participate fully. It would all but eliminate child poverty and allow the poorest of parents to provide for their children with a decent weeks work. Once the poorest members of society can provide all of the necessities for their families then most of them would do so. Crime would reduce, education participation would increase. Not all problems would be solved, some are too far entrenched in behaviours over generations to be reversed so simply, but the state could then have funds to focus on support and assistance for parents.

Just as it takes three generations at minimum to entrench disadvantage, it would take three generations at minimum to reverse the problem.

I would much rather live in a society which seeks to address the causes of our problems rather than uses knee jerk reactions to the symptoms of our problems. I would much rather live in a society which cares for and supports parents than one which punishes us when we get it wrong and constantly judges us on our performance… oh wait, that’s the society I live in.

The National Government of New Zealand is offering free birth control to all beneficiaries says the New Zealand Herald. But the headline should more accurately read “free birth control for the poorest women in New Zealand on benefits”. Not all beneficiaries. Because in all the angst over those lazy welfare bludgers having lots of babies to stay on benefits for their whole lives, the targets of this particular policy have been poorly identified. And it’s not men.

Where is the companion policy of giving out sex education and free condoms to all men on unemployment benefits? It takes two human beings, a male and a female, to create a baby. Last time I looked.

On the surface this policy does look like common sense. It seems pretty obvious that people who find themselves on a benefit would be making very poor life choices to conceive and carry to term another child. However, there are aspects to this policy which feel disturbing and wrong. I’ll try to outline this.

The policy is directed only at women, not men. This highlights the target of the National Party’s vitriol, women. Keep those pesky women in line, preferably in the kitchen.

Women on benefits already have access to either free or dirt cheap, and easily available, contraception. I live in a small town in NZ (population less than 2,000) and my birth control costs me $15 every five years. That’s it. And it’s just down the road. For most Kiwis this is pretty typical. So women on benefits have access to very cheap medical care, reasonably accessible, and can discuss their birth control options with their doctor. So if this policy is not making the situation of access to affordable birth control much different, it must be about something else. That something else is I think control of women and pandering to the middle class “can’t-feed-don’t-breed” brigade.

By implementing this policy National allow WINZ staff (that’s welfare office staff) to have conversations with poor women (again, not the men!) about their birth control methods. And furthermore it allows WINZ staff, who have zero medical training or qualifications, to advocate one of two long term birth control methods (IUD or implants) to women.

You can bet that this policy introduced as “voluntary” will be anything but. The power imbalance between WINZ staff and beneficiaries is huge. When a WINZ staff member discusses birth control with a beneficiary there will be an element of coercion. I would not be at all surprised if the government introduces penalties to women on benefits who do not use an IUD or an implant. That’s the next step.

Finally, the only professional who should be having a conversation with poor women about their birth control is a medical professional. Not a welfare officer. Ever. Allowing the government to intrude into peoples reproductive choices in this manner is stepping very far over a line.

This policy is hailed by many middle class people as only common sense, and aren’t all those beneficiaries only lazy bludgers and they shouldn’t be having more children anyway. But there for the grace of god go I. Those who judge others harshly look harsh and nasty. It’s really a horrible trait in human beings, and I’m dismayed so many New Zealanders do it. If we allow the government to intrude in this way into womens’ lives we allow them to intrude into someone else’s life. We could be next. What other “common sense” policy will they come up with next? This is how facism starts, and we need to be aware of it and fight it even at the beginning.

Finally, the problem with assuming that we can reduce the number of children in beneficiary households by only giving their mothers long term contraception options is short sighted. This viewpoint makes some silly assumptions:
1. All contraception is 100% safe and effective, those children born to beneficiaries could not have possibly been conceived if their mothers used contraception.
2. At the time of conception each parent knows exactly what their financial situation will be when that child is born, their financial situation would never deteriorate over time.
3. Abortion for economic reasons is freely available, accessible and affordable for all women.

Clearly NONE of these three points is correct.

Although I agree that people receiving government benefits should not have more children while they are on those benefits, this policy is wrong and misguided. It feels nasty, short sighted, dishonest and unnecessarily intrusive. If we allow and condone it we allow this government to go where no government should go, into poor (and overwhelmingly brown) women’s wombs. And that’s just not okay.

Women Are Not Logical?

April 30, 2010

I actually had an old guy tell me that recently. He seems to be still living in a Harry Enfield type of 1950’s world.

His evidence? Women make up almost none of the world’s top 100 chess players. Chess is a game of logic and strategy. Therefore men are better at logic and strategy and women are lacking in this area.

To add insult to injury he added that women are better bridge players than men. Bridge requires cunning and manipulation. Therefore women are cunning and manipulative.

He told me this a the local club as we were having a drink after a nice game of bowls. He told me this in an almost confrontational manner. I thought he was actually quite rude, but like a person who jumps a queue right in front of you it seemed to be difficult to believe he could be that rude at the time. Or was it that a queue jumper would be called out more quickly and insulting women for simply being female is an acceptable sport?

So I looked up women and chess online to see what explanations I could find, to look into this further. I discovered that there are many and varied reasons for women not being represented amongst top chess players in proportion to their numbers in the population.

Chess is not seen as a female game to play. At least not competitively. Parents, teachers, friends and family may think a girl who wants to play chess at a high level as odd.

If girls do show promise as competitive chess players they must invest a lot of time into the game with many trips away from home for competition. What parent would let their teenage daughter go away from home repeatedly for competition with a group of teenage boys and chaperoned most likely by a man they don’t know? Seriously? If the girl is still keen she’s up against some very heavy resistance right there. She also may feel somewhat uncomfortable with the situation.

These seemed to be the most logical explanations I found for the dearth of women amongst the worlds top chess players.

If we follow the old guy’s logic then we must also conclude that people with brown skin in my country; Maori and PI mostly, are less capable academically because  proportional to their numbers in our population they achieve less high school passes than Pakeha. To say such a stupid thing is obviously racist, and uses the same faulty logic.

I must use logic to do what I do professionally. I have a science degree. When this was pointed out to him he replied with a very patronising “I’m sure you think so dear”. Oh well. I guess I’ll just realise I’m actually not logical enough to do what I do and leave it alone.

You may wonder why I bother blogging about this seemingly irrelevant incident. I write about it because it is a small illustration of the idiotic and offensive attitudes women must face still today. It’s a small example of sexism alive and kicking and illustrates the kind of dumb attitudes and rude behaviour we all need to open our eyes to and publicly challenge if we are to move to a friendlier and more just society. I love Harry Enfield and I think this clip uses humour to illustrate my point nicely. Being on the receiving end of public rudeness however is not funny (okay, maybe a little in retrospect).

So if you see a woman on the receiving end of such stupid rudeness go to her aid. She’s probably feeling very uncomfortable and may only come up with the right words of reply several hours later. I think it’s a shared community effort that’s required to confront and eliminate such horrible attitudes.

Weird Advert

December 4, 2009

When I watched this advert for Method cleaning products, I initially had two responses.

My first response was ‘ick!’. Immediately after that my second response was ‘what dickhead thought this dumb ad was good to sell to their target market: women?’

Judging by many comments in the blogosphere about this advert, I’m not the only woman who thinks it’s icky. I’m not the only woman who will assiduously avoid Method products as a result of this ad. I’m exactly their target market and this ad turned me off buying their products. That’s not a good way to spend advertising revenue Method.

Surely the first thing advertisers need to do is to understand their target market. Talk to them. Find out what makes them laugh, find out what makes them buy. It seems that the boys (?) who put this one together did not get much further than thinking that this ad would push buttons of their target market. Exactly what reactions they expect from those pushed buttons does not seem to have been understood at all.

I have a sense of humour, really I do. I just don’t find this ad funny at all. I fail to see what is funny about a woman, naked, cowering in her bathtub trying to have a shower to get ready for work and having a bunch of male voices make sexually suggestive leering comments at her naked body. That’s not funny at all. Trying to make an abusive situation funny is not even clever black humour. It’s just lame (at best). There’s nothing funny about normalizing sexual harassment which is what happens when adverts like this appear in the public realm.

What do you think?

baby

This article in this mornings New Zealand Herald, and blog reply, misses an important point.

Michel Odent, a ‘childbirth specialist’ tells us that birth would be so much easier if men, both doctors and fathers, were not present during labour, with his focus on the presence or absence of fathers. We are told this is because labouring women sense the anxiety of their male partners and become nervous. This nervousness upsets hormones, and slows labour. While this seems logical, and if the men present are not helpful and supportive, then it surely could be a hindrance to labour. However, it is the focus on fathers presence that is problematic in both the original article and the blog reply.

The masculinisation of the birth environment is more about male doctors and specialists than fathers being present. The cesarean rate, which is relatively high in New Zealand, is more about the medicalisation of birth driven by a largely male dominated medical system. The usual story goes something like this: labouring woman enters hospital, monitoring equipment is strapped to her and she is left alone for some time. The use of monitoring equipment has been shown to increase cesarean rates. Monitoring equipment hinders movement and is not supportive of labour, it is unnecessarily intrusive. With pain relief, gas is followed by pethidine, followed by an epidural. By the time she has to push, when the epidural wears off, she has built up no natural reserves of endorphins to help cope with strong contractions. If the epidural has not worn off, she may be able to push enough to allow a forceps delivery. If not, a cesarean may be called for.

The very male environment and medicalisation of labour, as Odent says the ‘industrialisation of labour’ probably has a lot more to do with difficulties in childbirth than a father’s presence. For many women, the presence of a support person who knows their needs and wants and is able to speak for them when they are at in a very vulnerable position is to be encouraged (if that’s what the woman wants). To blame difficult labours on fathers being present seems somehow like an attempt to remove support for women in labour, and leave them further to the mercy of Odent’s ‘industraialised labour’.

The article even goes so far as to insinuate that it is all womens fault anyway, because they are the ones forcing men to attend during labour and birth, with Mary Newburn of the UK’s National Childbirth Trust stating “There’s such a feeling among women that ‘you got me into this, I have carried the baby for nine months and now I have to go through labour and birth, so the least you can do is be with me, and if you feel a bit squeamish, then tough’ “.

Further, we are told that men witnessing childbirth can ruin sexual attraction between couples and lead to divorce. Men may go of and play golf and computer games, to avoid their reality. This probably has more to do with the problems of a nuclear family than men’s presence during childbirth! And if that’s how men are behaving, they really need to put on some big boy pants and grow up.

At the end of the day it is the woman’s needs during labour that must be paramount. It is she after all who has to do the work (it’s called labour for a good reason). If she wants the support of the father, she should have it. If she wants the doctors to stop fussing and monitoring and actually help rather than hinder, they should.

This article is problematic in the insinuation that it is women (and to some degree, their partners) wanting fathers present during childbirth that has led to problems of masculinisation of the process. No where in this article is the issue of the male dominated and technology dominated medicalisation of childbirth given any weight or mention.

Facebook Feminist

October 18, 2009

The number one feminist group on facebook is ‘feminist’ with over 2,000 members. Because younger women are more likely to use facebook, it could be fair to say that this could prove to be a valuable platform for young women and men to discuss ideas on feminism, and a platform from which to organise. Except it’s not, and never will be.

The biggest problem feminist on facebook seems to have is trolls. Trolls who post ridiculous discussion topics as ‘women must obey and be told what to do and when to do it’ and ‘women don’t deserve rights’. This would be laughable and easily shrugged off for older more secure feminists, but it gets more than annoying when admins are very slow to remove such posts. Trolls repeatedly derail discussion topics, and if not directly abusive their posts are not removed by admins.

And this post by an admin: ‘petiti0n for mens equal rights as a feminist also looking out for womens rights’ really takes the cake.

So, apparently women need to look out for mens equal rights as well as fight their own battle for equality. Poor disadvantaged men. They really need our help.

Why does this bother me so? Because sites like feministe will not be the first port of call for young women beginning to think critically about issues affecting women. Facebook feminist group is way more likely. And that is sad.

Sexism Rant…

September 21, 2009

girlpower

Here’s my rant, for what it’s worth (it feels SOOO good to get this one out there!)

I went to a political public meeting a while ago. The room was big, and packed. People crowded just inside the door. I guessed about half the citizens were women, half men. Most older, white, but that’s another story. When the politician finally let the people speak, the first 5 speakers were men. Of the next 10, only 4 were women. Maybe older women don’t feel as comfortable in public speaking as men? I dunno, but it really pissed me off. I don’t think many people present noticed.

When the local paper covered the meeting (front page stuff this was), 6 speakers were photographed and mentioned. ALL were male. No women’s voices heard at all. Now that REALLY pisses me off!

Some time ago I did a post-grad diploma. A girlfriend and I decided to check out a claim that men interrupt women more often than vice versa. We carefully recorded who spoke, who interrupted who, over a week. There were more women than men in this class, a lot of time we were in discussion. We thought, surely, the women should dominate the discussion? Being that there were more of them? No. Despite being less than half, the men dominated the discussion more than half the time. And they interrupted almost twice as often as women. This seriously pisses me off!

So, next time you are in mixed company check out who dominates the conversation. If people are interrupting, who is interrupting who?

One last thing that really pisses me off. People saying ‘get over it’ as if now laws are in place everything is just hunky dory and what-the hell-are-all-those-silly-women-complaining-about. If you are a white middle class male, you have not experienced sexism and probably not racism. So please, just listen when we try to explain what it’s like. It’s still alive and kicking. That’s what we’re trying to tell you.

The first time I went overseas, I went to Hong Kong. Amongst the general culture shock, I (as a white person) experienced racism for the first time. What an eye opener that was!  Until that day, I had no experience of racism and could not really comprehend it. I still cannot comprehend how it is to live with it all your life.

Women wanting equal rights, and an end to sexism, does not preclude men fighting for better treatment (like end to circumcision) at all. We’re talking about sexism here guys. If you have issues that affect men, that is a separate issue and don’t expect us to fight those for you too in order for our fight to be validated.

Women and Surfing

September 15, 2009

clean at waipu cove

The surfing world is male centered and dominated.

I’m a surfer. And I’m a woman. This should not cause any conflict, it doesn’t in itself, it only causes conflict for me when I encounter the ‘surfing world’.

Here’s what I mean. A quick perusal of top news stories today from google reveals… a story about a possible breakaway tour which of course is all about mens surfing and has nothing to do with any women surfing, a pic of a dog surfing for chrissakes, and one of the top articles on my search has a woman, but she’s not even a surfer and the article of course has to have a picture of her in a bikini (airbrushed to hell) and a comment on how hot she is (because if she wasn’t she would probably not warrant mention in the media). This is quite typical. And if you can find articles about women surfing out there, it will have to repeatedly point out that it is WOMEN’s surfing, as the absence of a mention of gender in the surfing world defaults to the male status quo.

Surfing magazines and sites are the worst, and the biggest reason for my conflict as a surfer. Top two surfer mag and surfline have the typical masculine look of surfing mags, online and print. To be fair, surfer mag does have a pic of an actual girl, actually surfing, on its front page. One pic. However, the only pics of women I can see on surfline are babes in bikinis. Not surfing.

When I began surfing I was completely naive to all of this. I simply wanted to surf and enjoyed catching waves. When I got a little better, and surfed more often, I began to check out the occasional surfer mag. I actually may have purchased one. Or two. I was so very quickly turned off, and so very obviously excluded, that it really put me off the surfing culture.

There is very little space in surfing culture for women and girls here in New Zealand. This male dominated, with girls as eye candy, surfing media, has an impact on me as a woman surfer. When I’m out the back, watching the waves, I am anxious to some degree of the men around me. I feel like I don’t fit in, I am encroaching in their territory. When I was a beginner surfer I was so anxious I would even avoid them to the point of avoiding waves.

Now I’ve been surfing for about 5 years and I live at my favourite spot I don’t let them get between me and the waves. I have had a few occasions where I have caught a wave only to almost have a collision, with the guy telling me something along the lines of ‘I didn’t think you were going to get that one’. Why? Because I’m a woman? I always wonder.