Thursday, August 28, 2008

Is it just me....

Dammit - I reckon this election is shaping up to be one of the most dirrrty in ages. This is unsubstantiated and, since I've been out of the political loop for the last wee while, certainly contestable, but consider a cursory glance at the evidence:

1) Secret recordings at a National Party Cocktail party by person or persons unknown from the left. Being on the sqeamish side I'm hoping it was done right before the person concerned exited the country for an extended OE.

2) The recording and subsequent reporting of a casual suggestion from the floor at the Labour Party congress earlier this year. Instant scandal. Note the way this, coupled with the first in a string of donation scandals linked to Owen Glenn, resulted in the ill-advised offer of party president Mike Williams to resign.

3) The debacle that calls itself Winston Peters coupled with Owen Glenn's continuing embroilment in matters to do with political funding. Political philanthropy has hit the mat and looks like it won't be getting up in a hurry.

4) The revelation the National uses the odious Crosby-Textor. Nasty - just nasty. Democracy in New Zealand takes a round-house right in the eye.

5) In keeping with the CT approach, National's annoucement that it will put breast cancer treatment Herceptin on the list at Pharmac - a clear tug at our sympathies towards breasts and the women attached to them and devoid of a well-developed health policy context. Remember - a vote for National is a vote for your mum's boobs but exactly what else is still debatable.

6) Robinsod, Whaleoil (whaleoil.co.nz) - no further comment required.

7) National's apparent attempts to control editorial content at a number of APN newspapers after the Bay Report quoted John Key saying he "would love to see wages drop".

8) The Standard's continuing campaign against John Key. Solid, oh so solid and featuring such notable moments (in addition to the CT and Bay Report threads) as the "Clocks" copyright fiasco, and the observation that Bill English was the one who dobbed in Key for visiting his "batch" in Hawaii. Fran O'Sullivan's sudden arrival on the comments threads on at least two separate occasions had reasonable comedy value also.

I'm sure there's more - feel free to weigh in....

Monday, August 11, 2008

Busy...

I now have so much on, I can't decide if it's more stressful to be in continual motion or to take some time out knowing that I'm inevitably falling behind.

The projects and missed deadlines are piling up. But last night, instead of sleeping or exercising or doing laundry, or actually addressing some of the things I have to do, I went out to my flatmate's birthday karaoke, got drunker than I have in years (thanks Lynn, for the killer third 600ml of sake) and wound up with a hangover for most of today. This only served to exacerbate menstrual symptoms measuring an astounding 7.2 on my personal richter scale.

Suxville. Really.

Some of you have managed to provide much appreciated responses to my insomnia (solved for the most part by sleeping separately from the BF), so if any of you have any tips for keeping on top of myriad projects and a job while holding onto one's sanity and personal relationships, now is the time to divulge.

And yeah - avoiding blind-drunk karaoke is already on the list.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Karmic justice

I was flicking through the blogosphere this morning instead of attending to the stated reason for my absence from work (going to the bank), and I decided to take a quiz "which operating system are you". This was the result:

"You are Windows 98. You're a bit flaky, but well-liked. You don't have a great memory, but everyone seems to know you. A great person to hang out with and play some games."

Fuck me. Serves me right. A link to the original quiz:

BBspot "which operating system are you" quiz

Saturday, July 19, 2008

What dreams may come?

Why, why is it that every time I get involved with someone I end up neglecting my blog?

In the bad old days when greylynnsinglesclub was a record of the sordid activity that calls itself dating, it made sense to stop blogging when I was in a relationship because I had no desire to share the private and personal details of a genuinely intimate thing with random readers. These days the blog is a much broader rant about gender politics with snippets of what's happening leading up to the election, and there's a lot to say, a lot I don't mind saying, and yet I seem not to be.

Part of the problem is time. However I have an idea that there are some alternative explanations which bear some scrutiny.

I am the woman that sleep forgot. I'm a stupidly light sleeper and at the moment, while I become accustomed to doing this next to a large, wriggling, occasional snore-fest, everything is just slightly fally-aparty. As I type, my boyfriend (ancient but decidedly new to me) is currently comatose, having woken up, programmed his ass off for an hour, cured his own insomnia and returned to the land of nod. I, on the other hand, gave up the idea of dormancy about an hour ago when he switched on the light, having already been awake for a good 60+ minutes. I feel churlish in writing this - this is the same boyfriend who's exhausted because he graciously spent the last three nights on the sofa (his sofa) so I could get a reasonable sleep (THREE NIGHTS dear reader). But tomorrow - filled with a selection of work - is already here, and I know the rest of it is going to be crappy.

Unsurprisingly under the circumstances, weeknights typically see me arrive home after nine-plus hours of paid work in a zombified state, stare stupidly at the TV for a while, worry about all the other work that isn't getting done, lament my dropping blog stats, eat and then fall into a fitful slumber, only to repeat the cycle the next day. I hardly have the brain to read a blog let alone write one. Granted- it's not always quite this bad - but honestly! I've tried going back to my place alone, and this is definitely the sensible option, one I should make more use of, but where's the fun in that? His place means wriggling, snoring, traffic noise, and street lights, but is free of flatmates, close to work and has a fantastic shower. Plus it has him.

Light sleepers of the blogosphere - lend me your thoughts. What work-arounds to my conundrum have you discovered?

In other news, my mother had a very successful surgery and is well into the recovery phase. Just prior to going under the knife she bought herself a three-litre Skyline which is possibly more likely to shorten her life than the cancer she had removed.

And I'm now blogging occasionally at aucklandista.com after a kind invitation from Joanna. Pop over and have a look should you so desire.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Slack - I'll say!!!!


After much umming and a very long upload, you should now be able to watch, uninterrupted, the lovely David Slack talking to Drinking Liberally Auckland at London Bar last week.

Click here and let me know via email if you experience any technical difficulties.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

What's a girl to do?

God forgive me, it's been at least a week since my last post. And my presence in the blogosphere has been superceded by the watching of movies with my boyfriend and the attending of Drinking Liberally at the London Bar. And working - that thing I do for money, and the confronting news that a film I'm still attached to has been awarded an undisclosed but quite substantial sum in American dollars, while a writing project I'm working on received an offer it may or may not refuse from a highly respected publication. Score!!! Tomorrow morning sometime I hope to get a video of David Slack's turn at Drinking Liberally up on google video, and if I do you shall be the second to know about it, after the rest of the lovely organising committee.

In other news, that travesty of the democratic process that is National Party campaign strategy continues to give me a creepy feeling, and my mother is having surgery on Tuesday.

More in a bit....

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Drinking Liberally arrives in Auckland!


Drinking Liberally is having its first Auckland event next Wednesday evening (July 2nd) at 7.30 at London Bar, just off Queen St. The speaker is well known blogger/author/radio commentator/all-round-nice-guy David Slack, who will address the topic of ‘New Zealand the way you want it???’

DL events are based around a talk and discussion session and pre-supposes a left-leaning, green or progressive audience but I would imagine anyone who is sympathetic to or tolerant of these positions would also be welcome. The Auckland version is planned to recur on the fourth Wednesday of every month.

In case you missed it, New Zealand’s first Drinking Liberally events took place in Wellington with Green MP Nandor Tanczos followed up by Minister of Finance Dr Michael Cullen. Both events were liberally attended and from photos on the facebook page I'd say a good time was had by all. See the video of Michael Cullen's talk (posted at the standard) here.

I shall be heading along on Wednesday, and encourage any lefty progressive or open-minded person who likes politics, booze and drunken arguments to do likewise and see what happens.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Absence does not make the heart grow fonder

Well - I had good intentions to write a post on the abortion debate and then dithered over putting it up (but see below). The Handmirror has been busily inspecting this issue from every angle, and their blogger Julie also wrote a guest-post on the subject for The Standard which has received a remarkable number of hits. Thanks to stiff moderation the comments have been of a surprisingly high level and make for some interesting reading. It's always heartening to read progressive comments from (probably) men on the subject.

Abortion is an issue which will remain contentious and it's something that everyone who is sexually active and fertile should consider. For argument's sake I've included my own thinking on the matter below. This is not intended as an analysis of the current political situation, and certainly not as a response to the large quantity of quality writing at In a Strange Land, Ex-expat or The Handmirror, but as an example of the fact that no matter how much the issue is legislated, people are going to think, feel and act in relation to it as individuals. This is why I'm personally pro-choice, even though the idea of having an abortion myself makes me feel a bit funny.

In the meantime the rest of the blogosphere has also chugged merrily onward - Robinsod "possibly the most reviled leftwing blog commenter in New Zealand" has started up his own blog - as if contributing to Newzblog and commenting on the standard weren't enough. Robinsod's writing is one of my guilty pleasures. It's often vile but, in my view, always very smart. The new blog includes theory-heavy material that couldn't get an airing in any other forum and also the writing talents of the standard commenter Billy who is thus now able to get his own back and moderate any standardistas who venture a remark.

The Hairy Armpit, now possibly known as guttergangbang.blogspot.com, has birthed itself sometime in the last few weeks and what an amazing burst of NSFW it is. I hear that it's been taken down twice. The gender politics are hard to pin down but the sentiment seems unforced. Gak. I also notice that the Sprout has made a re-appearance round the traps - here's hoping that he (she?) starts actually blogging again.

Deborah over at In a Strange Land has rejoiced in the variety of online friendships and political contact that blogging has afforded her. I can only echo that sentiment, and add that offline I've had the pleasure of meeting six other bloggers in recent times and am always amused by the divergence between the virtual and the real, as well as how goddamn small this country is. But I'm very glad to have made their acquaintance, one and all. What a welcome return to the booze fueled arguments, those halcyon days of undergraduate mayhem - if only metaphorically.

And now - as promised - the abortion issue - a personal response:

I’ve never been particularly interested in getting into a debate on abortion. It’s something that’s philosophically almost impossible to take a defensible position on, gets used as a political football and draws investiture from groups of people I’d rather avoid. However there’s not really any getting away from the fact that abortion and its provision or lack thereof has a profound pragmatic effect both socially and for individual people. And one can’t really be a thinking or sexually active adult without having reason to consider what a personal encounter with abortion might be like.

My own position on this most contentious of issues is all about my identity as a woman and a feminist. In talking about it I’m aware that I may draw irate responses from people who think it’s morally, ethically, or philosophically untenable. And maybe it is. But it’s my position. Like many other women I’ve navigated the multifarious realities and narratives associated with abortion and have come to my own views. Like it or not, this process of making sense is happening all over the place all the time in a way that defies control by any central meta-narrative or moral paradigm. However flawed my thinking, at the end of the day the fact that I’m doing it is illustrative of the impossibility of ultimately controlling the way a woman – any woman - thinks and correspondingly chooses to act. We must each make our own way through the forest. And this is an important thing to remember.

In advance of forming any position on abortion, and without having experienced an unwanted pregnancy, I’m already pre-wired to resist the idea of decision-making in regard to my body by outside agencies. The idea that another person might decide that that most private and inviolate of body-parts, my uterus, is something I am not allowed control over is unacceptable. Yes – this means I reserve the right to interfere with my reproductive organs and to decide if they will be interfered with by an outside agency. I do that anyway through use of contraception, agreeing to pelvic exams, smears and ultra-sounds, by selecting specific sexual partners and by moderating my sexual habits.

In making this statement about bodily dominon I concede that I’m setting aside the rights of any blastocyst, embryo and foetus that would possibly become a child if any potential pregnancy of mine was left to continue uninterrupted. A lot of philosophy about what’s right to do under the circumstance of an unwanted pregnancy surrounds the rights of the “unborn child” vs the rights of the mother. I’m no philosopher, but something that I bear in mind when considering these rights is that many pregnancies terminate themselves. Not every conception becomes a baby. This cuts across the argument that we should consider anything in utero to be essentially the same as a child because nature certainly doesn’t. I also note that if the mother’s body is taken out of the equation the blastocyst/embryo/foetus is not a viable human being. A woman can’t offer it to someone else to raise, and thus, it’s none of their business what she does with it.

Historically, the criminalisation of drinking, prostitution or drug-taking has never stopped them happening, it has merely driven them underground. Likewise, although abortion has been illegal for a very long time, this indicates its prevalence rather more than the reverse. Prior to the 1977 Contraception, Sterilisation and Abortion Act, it was a criminal offence to have an abortion or cause a pregnancy to end (this was only partially mitigated by the '77 law change). The fact that the procedure was a crime didn’t stop pregnant women running the risk of prosecution and death and it didn’t stop the people who helped them abort from performing abortions. This particular option has been with us for a really long time. Women have used coat-hangers, gin, knitting needles and various personal injuries to effect it, and consequently many have died under dreadful circumstances. These women took the risk because they considered the social and pragmatic realities of having a child would be worse than the possibility of injury and death. It seems a no brainer that adequate support for women to raise children under difficult circumstances is going to have a greater effect on abortion rates than any prohibition, but the most vociferous opponents of the procedure are also usually the ones who want to reduce benefits and social welfare.

In my cruder and more sustainably informed moments I sometimes wonder what we would do if the 18,000 foetuses terminated annually in New Zealand were born here (and god knows how many extras in other places). Humanity is already the greatest pestilence this planet has ever seen. From a population perspective, abortion is acting as one of several checks, however small, on our utterly unbridled expansion.

And, when looking at row upon row of neatly packed meat in the supermarket I’m easily able to question the argument that we should avoid the termination of a pregnancy in order to avoid causing pain to an embryo or foetus. Fully-grown and sentient animals are killed as a matter of course under the most stressful and aware circumstances. For a herbivore, the smell of blood can only mean one thing – extreme danger and the presence of a predator. I’m not convinced that most pro-lifers are vegan. I’m not myself. But then, I’m not sure that the death of a sentient being in an industrial complex is more acceptable than the death of a being without memory or fear.

Before you dismiss me as a heartless cow-eater (which I am) – I tell you now that I’d be extremely reluctant to undergo an abortion myself. Dodgy ovaries and a long history of singledom mean I’m most likely to take my chances with a pregnancy and hope for the best, whether or not the circumstances are ideal. That said, if I was carrying a foetus with a terminal condition like triploidy, for example, I’m not sure I’d still take the pregnancy to term. But I can’t say for sure because (thank fucking god) I haven’t ever had to make that choice.

I can’t believe that it’s my place to say what any other woman should do if faced with an unwanted pregnancy. This is not a choice that can or really should be made for a woman by an outside party since they don’t have to bear either the baby or the consequences of having it. No one does to the same extent as the woman involved. To make abortion a philosophical or party-political issue at the expense of lived experience is farcical and unsupportable. And a grand narrative can never make one single decision the right one for all circumstances. As ex-expat pointed out recently – once an unwanted pregnancy arrives, there’s no good option. A medico-legal complex that makes it possible for any known options to be expended to get the best outcome for the people concerned is the only one that I find reasonable – because no matter whether abortion is legal, it’s going to be considered as an option anyway.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Excuse me while I lose my mind

There was a time when I would happily blog about all kinds of dating-related issues. You can read all about it by clicking on the "dating" category link (side-bar to the right). But now, despite the fact that dating inherently ends up being gender political, I've decided it's best left to one side. There are too many other issues that are deserving of our attention and care, particularly this year. That said - if you were wondering why I haven't been blogging with as much frequency as usual, it has something to do with the fact that I'm now dating someone. Apparently. I may or may not divulge more. In the meantime, wait up for my take on the abortion debate currently raging over the blogosphere and the MSM.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Hillary has yet to concede

Barack Obama is the democrats' choice to run against McCain in the American election, but as yet Hillary Rodham Clinton has yet to concede. Some debate in the States continues around whether the sexism of the media coverage of Clinton's campaign has significantly impacted her chances of selection, but the discussion is fairly anodyne (except in the blogosphere), with most MSM commentators pointing towards bad advice, her failed rhetoric of being an old hand in politics, and the times she was caught out, particularly in relation to her claims about being under sniper-fire during a visit to Bosnia.

I remain of the opinion that the very fact of Clinton running has probably caused many people in a bunch of places to change their thinking on who can participate in national politics and in what capacity. However I was sent this link to a feminist law professor blog in the States that points out that Clinton has become a lightening rod for a sustained round of misogyny, and speculates that this will now find targets in other women in the political system like Michelle Obama, Barack's wife.

Do I think this is a possible outcome? Hell yes. Do I think that Clinton shouldn't have run or that she's made the situation somehow worse? Hell no. Do I think we need to look at the issues of sexism (and racism) that raised their heads in this campaign? Abso-bloody-lutely. If I had a vote, I wouldn't give it to Clinton, but she put her head over the parapet for this and that's something we should all salute.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Flipping it around


There has been much discussion and debate about the "Lisa" ALAC ad in a variety of blogs and other fora. Sexism in the MSM continues pretty much unabated, but something which addresses rape in the way this ad does takes it beyond the usual run of boring misogynist tropes usually used for marketing. Anna McM at the hand-mirror has bravely shared her story of the night something "Lisa"-like happened to her and it's important reading for anyone with an ambivalence about what the ad is trying to say. Victim-blaming in relation to rape is pervasive - and sadly, judging from Anna's story and the comments thread at Charlotte's Crazy, it would appear that a group of people very likely to do this are the victims themselves, because this is what they imagine everyone else is doing anyway, and, looking at the content of the Lisa ad, they are perfectly justified in doing so. How brave you have to be to run the gauntlet of public opinion in claiming you've been sexually assaulted and in confronting the person responsible. It's a very rare woman who does, an even rarer one who would be 100% supported in doing so and a still rarer one who ever gets justice through the legal system.

In a striking example of administrative incompetence, Julie and Joanna's complaints to the ASA about the "Lisa" ad were dismissed even before they arrived, on the grounds that they made the same point as an earlier submission. Both posts about this situation fully illustrate that the earlier complaint was made on a different basis, which makes the ASA look truly incompetent. Anyone interested in making an additional formal submission about the ad can find a full list of posts on this issue at the handmirror which has tips and Julie's new letter of complaint which could be used as a jumping-off point.

As per suggestions made in the comments threads at the handmirror and Charlotte's Crazy (links above) it's quite illustrative to address the issue of drinking in sexual assault from a different perspective. Imagine that, like the other two ads in the ALAC series, the "Lisa" ad looks at the implications of drunkenness in relation to MALE behaviour. Men are usually the ones who perform sexual assault whether on women or on each other. An American study (I couldn't find relevant NZ studies but if you know of any please let me know) has shown that alcohol is involved in sexual assaults at least one half of the time, and that these crimes usually occur between people who don't know each other well, but who have met in a bar or similar. The most common scenario is not that of a predatory, sober, male dragging a drunk woman off into an alley as in the "Lisa" ad, but a drunk man subjecting a drunk woman to unwanted intercourse.

If I was writing an ad that actually addressed this issue head-on, I'd start with a pub situation - a group of guys getting shit-faced, a few misogynist comments bandied about in relation to the women in the bar, a focus on one guy who drunkenly hits on several different women and groups of women and gets laughed at or repelled, some piss-taking by his mates over his lack of success in scoring, and his growing aggression. A group of woman come over to the table where his mates are and start talking. Our main character is pushed into a conversation with a shy woman. Suddenly we're outside in a dark street and our character and the woman get into a taxi together as our character's mates make approving hooting noises. Inside the taxi the woman smiles uncertainly and drunkenly at our character. Suddenly we're inside a bedroom and the light is flickering - the woman is partially undressed on the bed, coughing, crying and pushing at our character, saying "please, just get off me, get off me", and our character, on top of her, is confusedly going "what?". Final shot - the ALAC banner - "It's not the drinking - it's how we're drinking".

I can't imagine a broadcaster who would screen this even though it's not even a worst-case scenario and all of the most horrible bits have been missed out. But it attempts to place responsibility for rape squarely on the shoulders of the perpetrator and address the role that binge drinking plays in sexual assault by men. It's crucial to remember in this scenario that a drunk woman behaving like a dick does not result in sexual assault. That part requires the addition of the perpetrator - almost always a man, probably drunk, and the permission/encouragement of his mates and all the people in the situation that the two people are located in. I'm not sure why ALAC decided that emphasising female vulnerability would be the most effective way of addressing this issue. Considering the way that alcohol aids and abets sexual assault through male drunkenness it seems beyond ridiculous.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

This still pisses me off










I was subjected to C4 this evening since my flatmate was channel surfing while watching (gak) America's Most Smartest Model. After a few bilious minutes of various network travesties, the new song from Maroon 5 and Rihanna (If I never see your face again) came on like a bad trip. It's a bland and oven-ready kind of a deal, no surprises, but the video really made me twitch. There's something uniquely annoying about the configuration of white guy with stubble staring into the camera as "ethic"/black girl writhes in femme-fatale garb in front of him on a sofa, on a couch, on a bed, while standing and while seated at one end of a long table, alternately making eye-contact and then looking away. Even better - the song appears to be an explicit paen to casual sex. Thematically tight. What could I possibly have to complain about?

I had such a reaction I went to youtube for a second look. On further consideration, all the usual culprits raised their heads.

Adam Levine (Mr Stubble) tends not to look at Rihanna much and instead eyeballs the camera directly. For me the general effect of this is to convey that Rihanna is somehow something he's imagining - he is "real" because he engages the watching audience - performing for us- while Rihanna is more contained in the mis-en-scene. She only once looks directly into the camera so her performance is almost exclusively for Mr Stubble - he is all she's aware of. Stubble remains master of the domain.

Rihanna does gets to look at Stubble actively, constructing him as an object of sexual desire, a place usually occupied by a woman, and also gets to be the looker - a place usually occupied by a man. However when she addresses her look to Stubble she constantly looks away again, as if inviting his return gaze - it's only when she gets it that she looks at him continuously. Her outfits and behaviour strongly connote the femme fatale - women who get to look and be actively seductive also but are, at least in Hollywood, usually ultimately punished for this destablisation of the gender order. And in fact at the end of the song Mr Stubble grabs the back of her neck and bends her head backwards with more than a suggestion of impending violence.

The MSM can sometimes feels like an ever tightening noose of gender construction from which there is no escape - and tonight is one of those occasions. The tropes described above are old-school Hollywood. Heterosexual gender relations and identities are constantly iterating, evolving memes that never become any less constrictive. It's business as usual, except that femininity is getting younger, tauter, and less lined and it's now uncontraversial for a white guy to openly acknowledge that he wants to fuck a black girl 10 years his junior.

Sigh.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Slight travelogue II

I've got to the computer too late to make much of a go of this, but as a quick and possibly to-be-expanded update: the rest of my week in the deepest South was spent in chilly but contented congress with two old friends from primary and secondary school, an old flame and my darling olds. Mum's biopsy result wasn't flash but it wasn't the end of the world either - with luck and a fair breeze (and some fairly invasive surgery) it should be readily survivable. Go preventative medicine. This is her third lucky save, which is great on one hand, but seems simply unfair on the other..

Dunedin brought the delights of the aforementioned Regent 24-hour Booksale which could easily have gone for 36 or even 48 and still have been sporting masses of rabid bargain hunters - the theatre only started clearing out after closing time and even then it seemed to be a case of a Southern sense of politeness - more than one of the staff appeared to have been on for the entire sale and looked a bit crazed.





The sale is a fund-raiser for the Regent Theatre and means there will continue to be a venue for the New Zealand International Film Festival and many other events that would otherwise have no place in the city. It's always heartening to see it going strong. The strength of numbers at the sale also affirms Dunedin's position as the Athens of the South - nearly every inhabitant appears to love books, literature, learning and the arts. And who knew grannies liked to buy books in the middle of the night? The bands I saw/heard there were great too. It's an utterly immersive experience browsing the rows to live music and getting horribly jostled by one's fellow (hu)man.

On Saturday night I saw the Sami Sisters perform at Refuel - oh so funny, so entertaining, such great music - tight harmonies, and a sound that can only be partially encapsulated by the labels 50s girl-group (not Spectre), country cross-over and alt-pop. Two guitars, a tamborine (and un-PC jokes about Hari Krishnas) and a shaker with three divine voices, one of which was able to cover Kate Bush without wavering, and a casual shtick to die for between songs. It was like a big yummy dessert - no bones, no boring bits, and slipped down incredibly easily. They were on the same flight as me back to Auckland and I had to go and express my appreciation - embarrassing but true.

In between all this I visited my friends and their baby (he was fat and cute), I talked anthropology with another friend, I was a shoulder to cry on for my bestie and I appreciated the talent of his cat which he has taught to climb the curtains. They're already looking decidedly the worse for wear. Rain fell from concrete-coloured skies and it was cold and delicious. I'm looking forward to my next visit.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

What Disney villain am I?

Well - I'm not in total agreement with this, but it's the original quiz's fault since I answered all the questions honestly. Hat tip to Dancer at the standard for a little Thursday diversion.

Which Disney Villain Are You?

You are part Ursula. You are the biggest and most powerful. Some may liken you to the business type; you drive a tough bargain, trading legs for voices. You single handedly made a whole generation distrust strangers, no matter how nice and caring they are towards "poor unfortunate souls."

You are part Lady Tremaine. You're the evil stepmother little girls have nightmares about. Hooray for you, who helped kids learn to love their birth parents and do everything possible to avoid stepparents. Next time, though, be careful not to get in between a girl and her dreams.

Find Your Character @ BrainFall.com

Monday, May 19, 2008

Slight travelogue

As a perfect coincidence my visit to the South so far has been quite literary. Before I knew Mum was having a biopsy last week I had already decided to come to Dunedin's Regent Booksale, an event I'm a huge fan of and which I haven't attended in about five years. However, unbeknownst to me when I booked the trip was the Writers and Readers Alive! Festival on in Invercargill (where my parents are domiciled), scheduled for the weekend just past. Because of this I was able to catch a lift from Dunedin with an old writer friend bound for Invercargill on Saturday, saving plane-fare and getting a free delivery of gossip, and since then I've attended three poetry readings, an open mic session, an interesting panel discussion on Otago/Southland poets and poetry and the book launch of Richard Reeve's Incontinence. (Before you judge me too harshly - Mum and Dad came to one of these events and I've also squeezed in two shopping trips and a visit to a family friend with my mother, with more to follow).

Members of the Otago Poetry Collective in attendance included Richard Reeve, Jeanne Bernhardt, Kay McKenzie Cooke, Emma Neale, David Howard, Michael Harlow, Jenny Powell and Peter Olds, in no particular order. They're all practised poetry readers/performers and for me it was a nice introduction to the work of Peter Olds and Michael Harlow who are both very established but whom I hadn't had a chance to read before. Michael in particular is a lovely reader and his work is mellifluous, simple but never predictable. A highlight was Richard Reeve's reading of a work-in-progress about a relationship between a wilding horse and sheep, possibly a treatise on what it is for two humans to be together. I was also rather enarmoured of Emma Neale's launch speech for Incontinence which was generous and incisive in its appreciation of Richard's incredible skill with form - which is, according to Emma, and in my comparatively uninformed opinion, unequalled in contemporary New Zealand poetry. The panel discussion about Otago/Southland poets concluded that poetic voices in the South are more distinctive than those in the North, possibly because of the influence of the two main writing schools (Vic's International Institute Modern Letters, and the Auckland University Master of Creative Writing) which tend to produce poets with similar flavours.

I read three of my own pieces at an open-mic event for Southland poets (I think I still count - being from Southland is not something one escapes) and received generous and thoughtful feedback from David Howard and Jeanne Bernhardt. All in all it was a great surprise experience. I remain hopeful that the week will continue kindly.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Out of towner

Apologies for the lapse in time since my last post and the brevity of this one. I've had a busy week preparing for some time off, and am currently in the South Island in the bosom of family and friends. My mum has just had a biopsy and is waiting for the results, and my bestie has just been gently let down and feels like arse - what better reason for heading into the cold than an attempt to bring cheer? I hope to blog on nevertheless....

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Presidential campaign illustrates my point


Recent-ish comments by Steve Pierson at the handmirror about the low level of female participation in the comments threads at the standard prompted me to reflect again on the issue of gendered space on the net. I was also interested to read an op-ed piece in Truthout about how having a female presidential candidate has increased female participation in the American democratic process.

As illustrated by the Truthout article, exemplars are really important to increasing the participation of individuals from groups who are under-represented, whatever the field in question. Ever noticed how you reach a point in your life where everyone you know is getting married? Or having kids? Or how children quite often end up in the same profession as one of their parents? Knowing someone who is doing something - like writing a blog for example, or publishing poetry, or film-making, or studying a tertiary degree, or going overseas (to name but a handful of examples from my own life) takes that something, whatever it is, from the realm of the imaginary into the realm of the possible. A prominent example of women on the vanguard of change - Marie Curie (scientist) was part of a highly educated, very bright family. Exemplars don't have to be the same as you - they just have to be someone you know and trust. But that said - in the arena of the internet, or where your main contact with an activity is through the mass media, being able to identify with someone doing the activity you want to participate in is very important. Mass media and even peer-to-peer communication demand that we identify with the "characters" that we come in contact with as we decode the text or film we're consuming. And it's much easier to do that with someone you can see is similar to you. Women in America are voting with their feet and getting into politics in greater numbers in the wake of Clinton's campaign.

And even though it shouldn't be necessary, exemplars can cause wider shifts in thinking about who does what. In the case of Clinton, seeing her taken seriously as a political contender (even despite the sexism of a good chunk of the political commentary surrounding her) suddenly means that the two main political parties in America can now sanction female candidates as likely to capture the vote in a way they were too conservative to do before. Male candidates were safe choices - now they're one of a growing plurality of choices.

Peer support is also hugely significant: New Zealand's first female registered doctor, Margaret Cruickshank was a twin who studied throughout her school life with her sister (a double masters graduate) and best friends with the first female medical graduate Emily Siedeberg. Suffragettes around the world worked together to get the vote. Second-wave feminism was based on shared experience and activity. The filmmakers (* * *) I most admire in New Zealand are women and I've honed most of my skills while working with another woman filmmaker.

These are disparate examples and anecdotal evidence (hey - this is a blog after all) but they do indicate that women doing something makes it possible for other women to imagine doing it. Getting back to my opening point, if the standard wants more women to comment then they should probably have more women writing. At the moment Steve is posting about 60% or more of all the pieces being run, and there are no writers who can be obviously identified as female. I assumed that all the posters were male, which is apparently not the case, but I bet I'm not the only one. Choice of topic might be an issue, and the stoushing style of interaction, coupled with some really brain-dead and/or sexist comments are not usually something that women indulge in when in more female dominated spaces. However - I'd be interested to see what would happen at the standard if there were more writers identifying themselves as women. Given all available evidence I'd be inclined to expect that the number of comments by women would increase and that this would quickly snowball, and that the change to commenting style would make it a space women would be more interested in occupying.

Whether I'm right or not remains to be seen....

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Conditions and possibilities


Last night I went to see On the Conditions and Possibilities of Helen Clark Taking me as her Young Lover, a powerpoint presentation delivered with mouth-frothing intensity by a character called Richard Meros. Given the enthusiastic reviews I'd read it was about what I'd expected - less than hoped for but still quite good. Meros' tweedy pants were cliched but charming, as were his font choices, and AndrewE would have been impressed by his reliance on image and animation over text throughout most of the powerpoint slides. Never have pie graphs been so menacing or Condy Rice so positively portrayed.

Apart from an obvious bias towards Helen Clark, the "lecture" didn't engage much in partisan politics - Rogernomics, female prime ministers and the change in New Zealand's social landscape wrought by both were presented with wit of the funny variety and the Jane Austen kind, which is to say that the presentation was, at least in many parts, an intelligent commentary on New Zealand's current social and political landscape heading into the 2008 election, coupled with sexual innuendo and personal details that made one want to cross one's legs. The delivery was, as previously indicated, delivered in a uniformly fortissimo fashion, but this suited the character and his purported carnal intentions towards Aunty Helen uncannily well. Meros did *not* break stride at any point in the proceedings.

In short - anyone who reads or writes a polly blog, enjoys tweed, makes use of powerpoint, is part of a high-school debating team or parliament, or who is, in fact, Helen Clark, should make a date to see On the Conditions and Possibilities of Helen Clark Taking Me as her Young Lover. It is not devoid of charm and may still be playing at the Classic Basement here in Auckland, although some reports indicate it finished tonight.

Actual reviews and further information here.

Monday, May 05, 2008

A visit from the parking fairies

My weekend has been interesting. So interesting I can hardly bring myself write to write about it.

The fun and games began on Saturday. I dropped friends, up from Dunedin for the Foofighters concert, to their hotel in the city and parked at the astronomically overpriced carpark next to the building. Next thing you know, some random French guy walks up to me and gives me his parking receipt - free parking till midnight. Sweet. We dropped luggage, got everyone settled and then I went to a family barbecue. So far so good.

Later on that night I came back to the hotel, picked everyone up again and headed to Skycity. The idea was that I would park there and we would all go to dinner in the Observatory up the tower.

What happened was this: I spent 20 minutes trying to find a non-existent spot in the Skycity carpark, dropped everyone off because they were, at this stage, late for their dinner reservations, and headed for the exit - sweating and with a cronking headache. I was pleased that the parking attendant didn't even try to make me pay for the priviledge of spending a fruitless half-hour wasting gas. His unhappy frown indicated that the stream of cars I could see leaving without being able to find a spot is probably a common occurrence.

I circled the adjacent blocks, impeded by pedestrians and other cars (giant SUVs primarily) and finally found a narrow parallel park on the right hand side of a one way. I was just shoe-horning myself in when a valet from the Heritage Hotel came out and volunteered to help. I was doubtful that the car would fit - it's a long-bodied liftback - but I decided to trust him. Five minutes later I was leaving my number having cracked the radiator grill on a GTO, and kicking myself.

And it just got worse. I unhappily relocated to the most expensive parking building known to man, and managed to stagger up to the Observatory - but only after driving into a pillar and damaging my own car. By the time I got to my cold entree I wanted to shoot someone. I managed to make some sort of conversation during the rest of the meal but it wasn't my best effort.

And yet - the next day I parked up at the overpriced park next to the hotel again, so I could head in and play some cards and drink some beers. And no sooner had I stepped outside the car than a woman walked up to me and gave me a parking receipt - free parking till midnight.

The GTO driver hasn't called. Yet.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Eroding freedoms?

Two things have recently got me thinking about the issue of social freedoms in relation to the current government. Yesterday No Right Turn drew attention to a piece of anti-graffiti legislation that, if passed, will allow people to be convicted for carrying materials that could be used to mark a surface (see here for the Law and Order Committee report).

A few weeks ago, AndrewE asked Helen Clark via the standard's "ask the leaders" series "I’ve always voted Labour (was even a member of the Party) but this year I’m planning on voting National as I’m very concerned by the erosions in our freedoms that have happened under your watch. Why am I wrong?" and got an answer that wasn't one: "I know of no erosions of freedoms which have occurred on our watch. Any such assertion is sheer spin from the National Party and its friends. If the writer is perchance referring to the legislation on disciplining children, he might reflect on the fact it passed through Parliament on a vote of 113:8 with the National Party voting in support of it!"

The current government has passed a substantial quantity of socially progressive legislation (I listed some of it here) but it's also passed laws that restrict social freedoms, most obviously in relation to opening political activity against the state. These include three pieces of anti-terrorism legislation. A recent example is The Suppression of Terrorism Bill 2007 (see here for a Global Peace And Justice press release) which increases grounds for arrest while protesting politically and takes its lead from US-lead policy.

While I don't believe that the EFB, for example, is going to substantially affect freedom of speech, and I'm comfortable with s59's outlawing of violence to children within the family, it's apparent that even though this government has been one of the most socially progressive we've possibly ever had, it's also certainly the most proscriptive that we've had in recent times. I'm saddened that Andrew's question wasn't used as an opportunity to address the issue of social freedoms. I suppose that would have been asking too much since no astute politician will volunteer to raise specific contentious issues if they can get away with not doing so.

Setting aside the issue of anti-terrorism, the idea that anti-graffiti legislation will soon mean carrying a spray can or a felt-tip is a criminal offence is ridiculous to me and it gives the police, (a group whose "discretion" I harbour perfectly reasonable doubts over since a gratuitous batoning incident I witnessed at close hand in 1993, augmented by Louise Nicholas's story and associated cases) far too much choice about how to enact the law. It could easily be argued that s59 gives the people in blue too much discretion also, but in reality it's much harder to police stuff that goes on inside the home unless someone actually calls them in. Anti-graffiti laws, by contrast, will probably create more necessity for police to stop and question people and assume that that they're criminals. We get deeper into territory where looking "dodgy" and being in the wrong place at the wrong time are almost crimes in themselves.

This is not to say that I'd advocate a swing to the right. National are not looking attractive as policy-makers at the moment. But, at least for me, it's time to start considering in more detail the policies of the Greens and the Maori Party. I may also cast a jaundiced eye over New Zealand First and United Future, but only because it's good to be fully informed.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Boobs on Thursdays

According to Nightline, a mall in South Auckland has a bar that drops the blackout curtains in the windows on Thursday late nights and staffs itself with topless women. The owner is a woman and she's all for it. The landlord is a man and he's all for it. The local councillor is a woman and she's scandalised and characterises the topless bit as a warm-up act for the hookers up the street. She also cites fears that children might see "breasts on display" while shopping. The topless staff were not interviewed for the story.

I'm not sure what I find worse - the sanctimony, the objectification, the hypocrisy (since when were the strip bars virtually next door to both the viaduct and density housing in central Auckland subject to the same moral outrage?) or a social system which makes all these options popular and easy. Or the telling fact that it's sort of ok to bare one's breasts in the name of commerce but probably not to be publicly identified to be doing so.

This is one aspect of gender politics I remain incredibly ambivalent about. Do we conclude that something is rotten in the state of Denmark (heh) if some women elect to be paid to be looked at partially naked and some men elect to pay for this in some way? What does it mean about the relationship between men and women more broadly? And what exactly does it say about New Zealand as a society that the women who go topless in South Auckland on Thursday nights don't appear to want to go on TV and talk about how it makes them feel to the rest of us?

Which brings me to the Danish boobs video (see commentary at kiwiblogblog - I can't find the original youtube article) - I'm so ambivalent about this piece of media that I've been unable to finish my post on it. But on the surface, I have to say it displays a healthier attitude to the human female form than we seem to be right now, even if it contains a lot of normalising discourse (young, blonde, thin, pert) about what's ok to find attractive. I guess, given that the Danish government is paying the women to remove their clothes it's not the same straight commercial relationship you see in the bar situation, but even so, there are parallels - the women are still being paid to be looked at topless.

I think it might be too late in the evening to unravel exactly what the relationships between sex, shame," the gaze" and the commodification of women's bodies in both situations are, much less where I stand on them. However, this whole mess is indicative of the fact that gender continues to be a heavily contested terrain, even if it's easier to ignore than engage with at times.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

English identifies an issue

On BFM with Mikey Havoc this morning Bill English raised as an issue the health risks associated with substandard state housing. However when Mikey asked what National planned to do about it English could only say they were looking into it.

On the back of The NZ Listener's report about dodgy referrals to private accommodation by Housing New Zealand this indicates we continue to have a serious housing problem among those on very low incomes. A serious problem that warrants serious attention.

I'm situated on the left of the political spectrum but right now my main concern with National is not their right-leaning focus but the very small amount of time left for them to actually get a massive chunk of complex policy in place before the election. What's there already seems ad hoc. As an example, National have floated the idea of creating a public television broadcaster. Who would have thought that was likely from a centre-right party? Inconsistencies like this in National's core approach indicate there is no clear vision of governance coming from within the party. I find this almost more worrying than a decisive policy move to the right. If they, once in government, start creating legislation without a clear conceptual frame, then we're going to have to wear those inconsistencies for a long time.

My other major concern is that National will get into office without a real mandate because they haven't presented enough policy for voters to be able make an informed decision about what they're likely to do once elected.

Hopefully I've either missed the boat completely or there's a monster press release in there somewhere waiting to reveal all.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Slight update on "What's in a name?"

After posting my musings on the gendered ways people (probably men) treat (probably) women in comments threads on political blogs I've had the happy experience of getting into a couple of (minor) stoushes with (probably) blokes over at the standard. I guess I spoke too soon. Still - it's never too late for a volte-face. I say "(probably) blokes" because of their names, the things they said and the aggressive way they behaved, but there's no way of knowing if my assumptions are correct, which makes the argument a bit vexed. If you really want to see the threads go here and here and sift through. The other complicating factor about comments at the standard (or any polly blog) is the fact that they tend to be interpreted according to the writers' left or right political affiliations, and in terms of stoushing, this is far more important than one's gender in terms of who's likely to support your comments and who's likely to get stuck in.

I do continue to think however, that there are online spaces in which women don't always feel comfortable to contribute. Recent second-hand reportage from bloggers I know off-line has suggested that there are women who've been forced out of their OWN internet spaces or silenced in others through intimidation from people who, if they aren't men, certainly purport to be and also seem to act that way (if anyone can be said to "act" when all they're able to do is write text). And there are definitely blogs which are openly misogynist in tone (the aforementioned whaleoil.co.nz for example) as well as blogs which address topics more usually enjoyed by a particular gender and are thusly populated.

I've also had experiences on blogs where a (probably) guy will raise an issue to do with women, I'll weigh in as a woman, but the comment thread just continues on as if I hadn't said anything. Maybe I'm just being sensitive - it's not like the fact of my being female is necessarily going to make my point interesting to the other commenters (usually the reverse in fact) - but it feels slightly weird. Has anyone else experienced something like this?

And can an internet space (of any kind, not just a blog) be "gendered"? Like - are there places you go which you consider to be "male" and spaces which are "female" or any one of a number of other types of gender? And if so - how do you know what kind of a space you're in? And how do you behave in response? And if that's all bollocks, then why? Your answers please...

(Hat-tips for the ideas in this post to: ._., Lynn, Ari, anonymous, Robert, veronica mitchell, Ruth and ex-expat. Thanks guys - you rock. Please keep coming back!)

Update to the update: The report and debate going on over at In a strange land right now have reminded me that gender is the most obvious aspect of what a friend likes to call my "identity politics" because I'm not marked out from the norm any other way. Debates about how different social identities (class, race, ethnicity) intersect just won't die and it's because there are still power differences experienced in relation to them and all kinds of other social issues tied in. If gender is less of an issue for you than another aspect of your identity while on the net it'd be great if you'd share this.

Funeral humour

This has been up at The Hand Mirror for the last few days and I'm finally getting around to linking to it. There's nothing like a cutting riposte to even the field now and again....

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Pavlova!

I see on Nightline that my old lecturer, Helen Leach, has definitively confirmed that the modern Pavlova was first "released" in a New Zealand cookbook in 1929 after the ballerina Pavlova's tour of the Antipodes. Australia apparently didn't pick up the recipe till the 30s. They might have Pharlap's heart in a jar but we retain the dessert. Sweet.





Sunday, April 27, 2008

An interim job

Greetings. Those of you who stop by with any frequency will have noticed that the posting cupboard has been a bit bare recently. This has to do with working on a funding application and a large proportion of 12+ hour days experienced in the last week. I'm working on something about the Danish boobs video at the moment and hope to have it up soon (tho not today). The politics of an MP including something like this on his website are truly fascinating, as are the gender politics actually represented in the video itself.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Colonising the net

A comment last week on my post “what’s in a name” included a link to an article written by a female gamer who plays World of Warcraft online (hat-tip: ._.). The game is populated by over 10 million players who take characters with certain powers and work their way up through the levels of the game. There is fighting, socialising and the keeping of virtual pets. I can’t say much more than this because I haven’t played it. However, I note with interest the perception inside this heavily populated virtual world that “women do not exist on the internet”. This is a direct quote from the aforementioned article and the view is substantiated by two youtube clips that a friend at work sent me, and by conversations we’ve had about his gaming life.

The gamer who wrote the article about her WoW gender alientation experiences usually plays as a male character. Ergo the other players assume she’s male. Her article includes a raft of anecdotes about being asked for pictures to prove she’s a girl, about the time she inadvertently shut down an entire gaming episode by speaking for the first time online and thus revealing her gender (we’ve been infiltrated!), and about meeting other players or going to gaming conventions and being unable to catch anyone’s eye or being talked down to by product vendors. Being a woman made her somehow abject – even in person she was treated as invisible. People she had socialised with online couldn’t handle the physical reality of her femininity. Her experiences read like a play on the t-shirt slogan “All this and brains too” but in reverse.

The article was written in 2005, aeons ago by internet standards, and yet, I wonder if things are actually any different today. Certainly comments from female bloggers on my last post would indicate that we’ve got a long way to go before people online stop assuming that an undeclared gender or a male name means someone is also physically male (I’m as guilty of this as the next person).

The default assumption of maleness is not just an online phenomenon. Think of the times you’ve assumed that “Dr Smith” refers to a man. I’ve done it. It’s an indication that we’re still living in universe that treats the unmarked case as male – that male is “normal” and anything else is a deviation from the norm. Of course, assuming “Drs” are blokes also reflects a recent time in history when doctors were much less likely to be women than men. Least we forget.

In the case of WoW the majority of players are probably still male and may always be. There is a statistical likelihood that if you’re interacting with someone in an online game, they’re not going to be a girl. However it’s the assumption that causes all the problems. This morning in conversation there was apparently something quite revolutionary for my work friend in realising that the guys he plays with in WoW might be girls. In his experience of WoW, all female characters are treated with gender suspicion – “don’t flirt with her – she’s probably a guy”. But the same is true in reverse. Don’t not flirt with him – he might be a girl?? That’s trippy. As is the thought that male ways of interacting and behaving might be appealing to women. Fighting? Ordering people about? Enacting violence? Flaming someone on a blog? Aren’t those things supposed to be the exclusive franchise of men? Revelation was written all over his face.

There have always been reasons for women to elide their gender. Writer George Eliot did it because men’s writing was taken more seriously than anything penned by a woman. Women in WoW do it because it saves them from being hit on by guys when they just want to play and be taken seriously. I do it on Trademe because I don’t want to be stiffed by someone selling a car or some other accoutrement of masculinity. I used to do it when commenting on other people’s blogs because I wanted to hide – and then I discovered the joys of being one of the boys.

Online environments can be freeing for precisely the same reasons that they’re essentially misogynist; the undeclared gender defaults to male and people assume that male names mean men IRL. As a woman with a male handle or character you can shout and burp and fight and not care about people’s feelings and not be looked at. It’s an oddly comfortable place to be. The way that women get treated may always going to be a motivation for us to assume male identities if we can pull it off. Does the net actually offer us a way to get beyond the vicissitudes of gender? Could it be possible to escape misogyny forever by becoming metaphorically male in droves?

Sadly I think not. It’s discovery that causes the problems. One slip about how attractive Johnny Depp is, or that you’re appalled by the sexism in a blog post and it’s all over.

I reckon it’s time that women in online environments really staked their claim. There are a lot of women online and open about their gender, but it sounds like there are many more out there lurking. The only thing that will change the domination of the net by male entities and the sexism that goes with them is a wholesale population of all cyberspaces by more women who are out and more importantly - proud about it. And of course who are willing to brave the sexually explicit or sexist attention they’re inevitably going to attract. It used to be that women were bad luck on boats, in need of protection, confined to the home. But we’ve somehow managed to make it into universities, operating theatres, laboratories, the voting booth, warships, submarines, trade unions, boardrooms, the Olympics, the best-seller list, the newsroom, firestations, electrical apprenticeships, private men’s clubs, the director’s chair and space. Amongst others. This is it girls – the internet – the final, final frontier.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

What's in a name?

At one time I was commenting anonymously on several political blogs. I'm now commenting exclusively as myself, and I've noticed something interesting. My old pseudonym was an abbreviation of my middle name, and could be interpreted as either male or female. On reflection, I'm pretty sure that most other readers and commenters assumed I was male. And, while it could well be my imagination, I reckon people are more polite to me as a female entity than when I was assumed to be male, and are more polite to girls in the blogosphere generally - at least when they address them directly*.

All this is a propos of nothing in particular except that it was quite nice being a fake man. I felt as though what I had to say was the most important part of any comment or interaction I had online, and no quarter was given for the fact of my being female. It was like I'd sneaked into the secret boys' club where arguing is allowed. I loved it. It gave me a taste of a world where I was finally part of the male in-crowd. However temporarily.



* Whaleoil ran a post recently that was so misogynist in tone I couldn't bring myself to comment on it. And the comments that followed were worse. Improbably. They were all written with the assurance of men who expect only to be read by other men. For a link to the original post and comments, cut and paste this: http://www.whaleoil.co.nz/?q=content/truffle-hunters-vote-labour. You've been warned.

Monday, April 14, 2008

More on Housing

This week's Listener has a follow-up to a story on serious housing problems in South Auckland. The original article profiled the appalling living conditions in two Mangere boarding houses (see here for additional commentary on the first article on Capitalism Bad, Tree Pretty). In the new piece, writer David Fisher indicates that a woman he originally interviewed has been evicted from her room in Abiru Lodge, along with her baby. This apparently happened as a direct consequence of her speaking out. Fisher goes on to describe her success in being relocated by Housing New Zealand, which happened extremely quickly due to her "unusual circumstances", presumably Fisher's involvement in the situation. He called both the Monte Cecilia Housing Trust and Housing NZ to try and get action.

Fisher was prepared to help the woman move her things from the boarding house and try to find somewhere else to stay - even at personal risk, as he was shoved and asked to leave the premises by someone claiming to represent the boarding house's majority shareholder. His decision to help the people in his article is admirable. Media-makers are responsible for taking other people's stories and putting them in service of a more over-arching narrative. We, and any company we work for, stand to gain more from the telling of these stories than the people who share them. It's an ethical imperative to give back and actively work for the change we advocate in a story and a lot of the time this is easier said than done, but Fisher has taken the opportunity presented.

However I remain extremely ambivalent about Fisher’s choice of final comments. National housing spokesman Phil Heatley is quoted claiming that housing minister Maryan Street "is more interested in hiding the problem in an election year, and in protecting the corporation, than in facing up and dealing with the causes". He invokes the concept of a "growing underclass" that John Key has "been warning us about". I'm sure that Labour wishes housing wasn't a problem being raised in an election year. The unofficial referrals by Housing New Zealand to the boarding houses in Fisher’s article are not a good look. But there's no comparison available with how things were before Labour started their first term. And I’ve seen nothing so far presented by National to suggest they'd make the provision of services like emergency housing any easier for the most vulnerable to access. Their core principle of individual responsibility means that people like the woman in Fisher's article are likely to be treated like bludgers and left to their own devices. And the gap between rich and poor got wider under the last National government. I’m seriously under-convinced that they have the policy or the desire to turn the current situation around. A left-leaning government at least has the will to do so and now, with Fisher’s article, the incentive.

It ain't called a singles club for nothin'

Picture this:

Noon on Sunday. I, being a good little girly swot, am perched on the sofa trying to compose an intelligent analysis of the housing issue updated in this week's Listener. Cue a rattling at the lock and then - in bursts my absentee flatmate. Her long blonde hair is punked up from sleep, dark roots on show, and her eyes are hidden behind a cocaine-cool set of D&G rip-offs. She looks, in short, like a low-rent (but very cool) version of Princess Superstar. As Princess stumbles across the room wearing last night's outfit and exuding a miasma of booze she announces "I'm sooo hungover. AND I slept with Emma's flatmate. And I got my period and he was humiliated because there's blood all over his white sheets. God, I think I'm still drunk - my last drink was at 6am....maybe it's a good thing you didn't come out".

Lordy. Probably. Made me smile though. Vive la revolution.

Friday, April 11, 2008

More linky love

More on gender and reproduction - I have to pass this on because it made me laugh and on a Friday that's surely a kind of justice.

Metaphors for sex

Hat-tip: l_k/l_d

Thursday, April 10, 2008

A little linky love in the gender department

Here's to the Ex-expat for yet another interesting piece about Asia, told so nicely through the lens of personal experience. And props to the Handmirror for sending a few readers over here too. You gals are the bomb, particularly your recent go at the sexism in the ALAC ads Actually she wasn't asking for it at all and It's the victim blaming, it's not how you victim blame.

I've been commenting on male fat-cowards at Still Truckin, and have to endorse the whole blog as totally worth a look if you're interested in gender politics.

And for anyone who thinks gender politics are, like, so last century, chew on this: someone in my workplace just addressed the coffee machine in the adjacent kitchen as a slut because it wouldn't give him what he wanted. There's a certain irony there, really. But that still doesn't make it endearing.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Rudd's smooth tongue

I have to admit that Kevin Rudd would be getting my vote right now were this possible - I just saw a clip of his speech about human rights abuses by China in Tibet, delivered in China, and in Chinese. And apparently local commentators thought his language was pretty good. That tricky tonality sounded alright to me, and the effort no doubt upped Rudd's general appeal, despite a message most Chinese probably found less than palatable. Nicely done mate.

For more on this try kiwiblogblog's Heavy Kevvie speaks their language.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Breaking up is hard to do

I've tried a number of posts about the vicissitudes of breaking up but I can't seem to spit them out without sounding monumentally self-pitying. Naturally, this isn't hard because it does absolutely really suck. As far as I can see, the best thing anyone can do is try not to shoot themselves in the foot till things get better (I've been sorely tempted), but getting things better is a mysterious and elusive process.

Things I've found don't particularly help: helpful advice, judgments about the other person, accusations that if you're still sad after (insert randomly assigned length of time here) then you're clearly in need of help, suggestions you should fuck/fall in love with/date someone new as soon as possible to take your mind off and getting hit on (so not there yet). There's no rule book - even if a good selection of the world seem to think there is. Until this break-up I was one of the advice-giving majority. How vividly I've seen the error of my ways. And how grateful I am that girlfriends who've been through similar scenarios have been on hand to forgive previous insensitivities on my part and reiterate that "you're going to feel like crap for ages - and you can't get out of it, so stop trying".

Oddly one other thing I've found quite helpful has been exes. I'm on fairly good terms with the majority of mine, and seeing them reminds me that it is indeed possible to get past a break-up and on to happier terms with one's previous paramours. And, inevitably, that break-ups are usually for a reason. However difficult that is to assimilate at the time.

And of course, there's the inevitable existential crises to navigate, decisions about the future to make and a whole raft of stuff that, really, I'd just as soon forget about. But after a while it takes more energy to avoid life than it does to live it. So that's what I'm doing - taking the path of least resistance and stumbling on. Is that winning? I guess it's near enough.

Monday, April 07, 2008

How cool is this??

I know I've been plugging the Standard a bit recently, but I can't resist this...at present they're running a series of posts that call for readers to put up questions for the leaders of the main parties in this election. This week's victim is none other than Helen herself.

I'm lamenting my current inability to ask a decent question. Helen Clark impresses (and even scares) the shit out of me. On a personal level I've watched with joy the growth of the creative arts and industries since Labour took office this time around, thanks in no small part to Helen being Minister of Culture and Heritage. The fact that she believes in enabling artistic and intellectual expression, that it has a value to offer New Zealand beyond what it can return financially, is such an enormous contrast to the attitude of the previous government. Artists and creatives are still a bit invisible and financially strapped but there are far more actually making a living from their art in New Zealand now than probably at any other time and I reckon that they're taken more seriously. This is a true sign of social and cultural wealth.

I also find it incredible to live in a country where the prime minister is an intellectual woman who's been engaged in politics since university and is obviously doing something she retains a great deal of passion for (and is, frankly, a lot more skilled in than most of her contemporaries). There's a lot to admire in that, even if I recognise that there must have been some interesting compromises along the way.

So - go on - think of something cool to ask Aunty Helen.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Lies, damned lies....

I had a little stab of empathy this afternoon while reading the letters page of the latest Listener. Someone in my household works at APN so I still read bits of it, even though the covers frequently make me roll my eyes (and so do a number of other things). In the letter in question, the chairman of the Otago DHB, Richard Thomson, is responding to an earlier letter (by Ian Ritchie and John Davies) which stated that there are "12,000 hospital beds and 9840 managers" and that DHBs spend 60-70% of their budgets on administration.

In his response Thomson points out that the writers have conflated administration and management in their head count, which has boosted enormously the claimed proportion of managers to beds "If I include every receptionist, telephone operator, typist, records clerk and the like as a "manager" and multiply that by 20 to scale it up to the national level, I can almost get up to his figure."

However what really prompted my sympathetic response was the information Thomson supplied about what money reserved to pay administration costs is spent on: such "optional extras" as feeding patients, paying phone and electricity bills, cleaning, laundry, computer removal and transporting Dunedin-based doctors to Invercargill for clinics. The services are essential, and the roles involved are often thankless but without both the hospital would cease to function.

Administration is also often a thankless task, and yet numerous previous work experiences have taught me that good administration is the difference between an organisation or project functioning efficiently (or at all), and falling over. Organisation of people, tasks and finance has to be done - and logically if someone isn't paid to do it, then clinicians, nurses and other healthcare professionals have to take it on. Indeed, Thomson states that clinicians were the ones who resisted a final round of admin reduction at the Otago DHB on the grounds that it would affect their ability to do their jobs optimally.

Efficient systems that reduce the time and labour required for admin are essential, but there seems to be a lot of a fetishisation of frontline healthcare professionals in discussions about healthcare. This devalues the other very essential roles involved and ignores the reality of what it takes to provide sustainable healthcare in an environment where those with medical expertise are free to practice medicine and leave as much of the rest of the deal to people with different skills.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

At the end of the tunnel

For all that I've bagged old-school print media, I was interested to see this article in the Weekend Herald about a new model for mental healthcare. Mind and Body Consultants employs people who have experienced clinical mental illness, and are now in good shape themselves, to do peer support with people who have more acute clinical illnesses.

I found the model presented really intriguing because, having had several really good friends suffer through various mental health issues, I've noticed that recovery seems to be determined to a huge extent by the ability of the person to own and manage their own experience, in spite of what other people think is normal or appropriate. In the case of my friends, medication and sympathetic healthcare were part of getting to that. However the ability to operate well day to day in an ongoing way seems to come through a strange sort of self-driven boot-straps haul up from a place of being hugely fucked to somewhere better. The person has to do it themselves, and to get there they have to somehow get their heads around the idea that they can. What could be better for that than talking weekly with a living breathing example of someone who has already made the journey?

There was a post and comments at The Standard a few weeks ago about throwing more resources at the issue of mental health and the peer support model would seem like a valid one to consider when allocating whatever pitiful cash is available. It would be nice to see something more than the ambulance at the foot of the proverbial in this country. I've seen this approach at work and in one instance it was a set-back and in the other it ended in suicide.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Family formation - a woman's prerogative?

I just finished reading the Ex-expat's blog post at the hand mirror on the SST’s article "Kiwis with empty nests"and find myself in complete accord about how annoying it is that the article focuses on the fact that WOMEN are choosing not to have kids. It brushes over the context in which decisions about having a family are made and foists responsibility for the reproduction of the body politic exclusively on women. These are ideas that should have rotted with the Arc.

As I mentioned in a previous post, I started a Masters looking at why educated women in their twenties are choosing not to have kids. The women I spoke to wanted to finish uni, be in a career, and married with their own homes before they became pregnant. And they wanted to delay getting into stable "marriage-like" relationships until they'd graduated and established themselves in a career. Ethically and morally, they believed they would be better mothers if they waited and became more stable in themselves. They mostly shared the idea that successful women don't have kids too early. Bad for them, bad for the baby. This idea did not happen in a vacuum – it’s too pervasive for that. This is a shared concept - this is about what's happening in New Zealand right now. And rather than being prompted by any idea of preferring life without children as implied by the SST article, it was motivated by wanting to have them under the best circumstances.

Waiting can be a dicey proposition of course, but this isn’t something you think about in your twenties. I can attest to the fact that it’s remarkably easy to somehow get to your mid-30s and have none of the accepted prerequisites for optimal child-bearing in place. My doctor keeps telling me I should think about it since my ovaries are not in the best shape. But since I’m not that keen and I’d prefer not to bring a child into the world when I have neither the personal nor financial resources to do it alone, it really becomes a no-brainer. Trawling the bars of Ponsonby looking for a likely casual shag who might be persuaded into a bare-back fuck or forking out for donor sperm are just not options I want to pursue, and whatever one's politics, at this point in history, a male of the species is still required for progenation. Something the SST seems to have forgotten. Where are the MEN in all this?? Why do demographers (or journalists) never ask a man why he isn't married and/or doesn’t have kids? It’s exactly as statistically likely that a man will become a father each time he has sex as it is that a woman will become a mother.

To be fair, there is a pragmatic answer to that question - it's the underlying assumptions that get to me. The biological reality of childbearing means any woman will know if she’s a mother, and so will most of the rest of the world. Parturition and nurturance are difficult to hide. And, if all children are assigned to a mother but not a father, then they don’t get counted twice. Which is handy for demographers who deal in stats. But alongside and even within the demographic information shared in the SST article is an underlying set of assumptions about motherhood, femininity, masculinity, desire and identity that are unaddressed. The article indirectly implies that women are supposed to want motherhood – it’s normative, and if we don’t, even if it’s for perfectly conventional social reasons (like “ I don’t have a husband”), somehow we’re deviant, will die alone and are also responsible for New Zealand’s failure to replace its body politic (or citizens).

Frankly, these ideas are direct from the Old Testament. It’s more than a little disturbing to find them in a broadsheet article in the cold light of a 21st Century day.

Monday, March 31, 2008

European leaders more hardline than Helen re Tibet

According to the Guardian the German Chancellor is boycotting attendance at the Olympics because of "the crackdown" by China in Tibet. The polish and Czech state leaders are also refusing to attend. This may mean France follows suit and makes the British intention to attend a more difficult one politically. Angela Merkel has has also recently met with the Dalai Lama, which has "enraged" China's leaders. An EU boycott of the games has been suggested but is not currently likely.

When compared to the stance being taken within the EU, New Zealand's hands-off approach to the situation is looking increasingly influenced by our pending freetrade agreement with China. I'd like to see a clearer position on China's human rights issues being taken by the government, even though we have limited political leverage, and even if it affects the deal. To compromise ethics over money is something I'm deeply ambivalent about.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Consumption – it’s still a disease

The doco I’m currently working on is about a sinking island. It you're interested you can discover more about it at thereoncewasanisland.com and takuufilm.blogspot.com. The film explores the trials faced by a culturally unique community as their island home slowly disintegrates due to a combination of climate change and geological factors. The island is called Takuu and it’s part of the Autonomous Region of Bougainville, which is in turn part of Papua New Guinea. We recently sponsored a translator from Takuu to come over and help us extract a bit more from the interviews that were done last year when the director was on the island, and it’s been an interesting experience hosting someone from somewhere so, well, poor.

Our translator has lived in Rabaul, which is north of Bougainville, and in PNG’s capital, Port Moresby, as well as Takuu so she’s fairly cosmopolitan, at least by PNG standards . But nevertheless she doesn’t shop, doesn’t drive, spends NZ$35 on groceries a week and hates going to the movies. You can’t buy new books in PNG (they come in with travellers who on-sell them, apparently), so borrowing them is fine with her. PNG currently has a comparatively tiny carbon footprint and this is largely because most people there just don’t have enough money to buy the volume of stuff that we do or travel as much, and so they just…don’t. I’ve begun to feel incredibly guilty (as opposed to moderately guilty) about fairly fucking ordinary things like going for coffee, buying spare Ethernet cables, owning a car, flying, using a computer with a broadband connection that doesn’t drop every time the power supply fails, continuous power, hot running water, long showers….you get the picture. I feel especially guilty when I think about how the life-style that we collectively share here pretty much demands that we consume, simply in order to participate in normal cultural and social events. I’ve been horribly poor before (by NZ standards - which is certainly relative), and I can still remember how on the outer I felt when I couldn’t afford to buy Birthday gifts, or drive to visit people outside the CBD or to the beach, or get books or new shoes or visits to the dentist (I’m still paying off a crown actually), or go to the movies or out for coffee or dinner, or to the theatre or a concert. In PNG most people don’t regularly do a lot of that stuff, or if they do they do it less or they figure out some simpler alternative, like making things. Here in uber-middle-class land we kind of have to buy goods and services just in order to socialise and be part of normal life. It’s like a particularly nasty version of peer-pressure. I never thought I’d feel so much like a vapid blonde cheerleader.

If we’re to survive peak oil, let alone the massive and fast approaching vicissitudes of climate change we’re going to have to get used to having, expecting and doing less. And when I see things from the perspective of our translator, less not only seems do-able - it also seems fair. Most people other places in the world currently do fine on it. We can too.

Satorial humour on Nightline

Was just watching an article on Nightline about tax cuts and noticed that Michael Cullen and reporter Duncan Garner were wearing the exact same jacket - a particularly natty, black, single-breasted affair with a heavy white pin-stripe. Anchor Samantha Hayes was also wearing a girly version of the same thing, but this is in no way as amusing as a straight cut between two men wearing the same outfit, while one is offering some kind of commentary on the other. Has 3's journalistic integrity been breached? I wonder if Cullen divulges grooming tips while they're in the changing rooms at Munns??

Update: evidence of previous social contact between Cullen and Garner on Stuff - it appears a crown limo might be a more convenient place to chat about fashion, at least according to Colin Espiner.