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 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


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: 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 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.