Saturday, 12 July 2014

"Full-On Violence". Paula Bennett and a culture of victim blaming

I don't want to have to read Paula Bennett's thoughts on domestic violence again. I don't want to have her words in my head as she denies the existence of rape culture, lays the issues of child poverty back on the parents and backs up the men in her Government who so badly let down Tania Billingsley over her sexual assualt (let's stop calling it the "diplomatic case" or somesuch nonsense, can we? It's not about diplomacy, it's about attempted rape). But I'm reading the transcript of her interview with The Nation where she says all these things and trying hard to understand how a woman with so much power to change things for the better can, in one short interview, sweep so many of our social ills off the table as casually as a toddler overturns their plate.
A real woman of the people.

Her comments on poverty in this country are outrageous, her refusal to discuss Billingsley's complaints against her government revealing if not surprising, and I could write volumes on both, but it is necessary to focus.

Yeah but we can only report if it’s happening.
Yeah but some of them are not actually full on violence that I think it makes it sound like. At the moment we can see incidences where there is some.

Full on violence. Full. On. Violence.

I am reminded, horribly, of the traditional damaging adage that sticks and stones (and fists and belts and feet) can break your bones (and blacken your eyes and throttle you and bruise your organs) but names can never hurt you (in the ways that look shocking on poster campaigns). A view espoused by a representative of the legal system, no less. (see my previous article about NetHui)

This is the culture that we live in.

NZ stats: source
It ties in with rape culture, with misogyny, with our inability to address the need for our mental health to be as protected as our physical health.

The discussion of rape culture has opened a rich vein of horror and denial from a lot of men who argue that they, nor their friends, ever raped anyone. They'd never make a rape joke. That to point out rape culture is a hysterical overreaction by "Feminazis" who hate men. We're making it up.

This is the argument that creates "full-on violence". If it's not within a narrow definition written by those unaffected then it isn't legitimate. It's not a real problem.

These men who ask me why I hate 50% of New Zealand's population miss the point. It's not about suggesting that all men are rapists. That all domestic violence is the beatings, the rapes, the thrown punches. That the only violence is physical violation.

It negates the violation of our minds, of our selves.

Rape culture is not that all men are rapists. It's the culture that makes the act of rape the fault of the victim. Nobody ever, ever, asks to be raped. No woman ever looked at her wardrobe on a Saturday night and wondered which skirt would create the greatest invitation to strangers to violate her. No man ever went on a date and had a few drinks in the hope his potential partner would sexually assault him without his consent. Ever.

Every time you add a caveat of "What did the victim do..." you are promoting a culture that condones rape as an understandable response to the victim. Every time you critique a victim's dress, actions, self, you are taking the responsibility for a violent action away from the perpetrator.

You are, consciously or not, saying that the rape was understandable. By blaming the victim you are excusing the perpetrator.

So it is with "Full-on violence". We create a culture where the realities of those assaulted, living in fear, looking for a way out, are negated.

But those statistics that have been talked about this week, 1 in 3 women suffering from intimate partner violence and between 2000 and 2010 the highest levels of intimate partner violence in the OECD in New Zealand. Doesn’t that suggest that there is a degree of apathy towards the problem?
No I don’t think so. I think what we do in New Zealand is we report more than any other country. So actually some of those that are being reported are incidences that haven’t even led to violence.

Partner violence is only legitimate if it is physical violence. The emotional control some partners exert over their spouses isn't "real". The threats of violence, the curled fingers, the barked orders, they're not "full-on" enough for those who've never experienced them to really appreciate. And they don't want to, for the most part. Because, like rape culture, it's too omnipresent, too close. To speak out against it is to make us shuffle in our seats, fumble at our phones, look anywhere except at the people we respect and love in our lives to the aspects we might not like. To look at ourselves.

No wonder it's the victim's fault. They're easier to blame. Easier to silence.

Which leads to my final point. About the value of our mental and emotional health. That a beating is more legitimate, more full-on, than a lifetime of death by a thousand paper-cut words. Our emotional and mental wellbeing is not important because it can't be seen, and we are nothing if not what we are to look at. Live in fear of assault? Toughen up. Spend sleepless nights staring at dark ceilings next to someone who told you to eat outside because the sight of you nourishing yourself disgusts him? Come back to us when he hits you.

Until we peel back the veneer to see what violence in our culture actually is, that sticks and stones will break our bones, but the names and blame will suffocate us if we don't do it to ourselves first, then we will continue to live in a society of rape culture, where the only indefensible violence is "full-on" and where we will continue to be threatened and belittled when we overcome our fears to say otherwise.

I don't want to live in that culture. And neither should you.

Friday, 11 July 2014

Nethui, Trolls and the time I swore at a judge.

I missed Nethui's second day because Real Life intervened (I regret nothing) but today I was back with a hiss and a roar and WHAT a day to be roaring.

There's a lot I could discuss about the various workshops I attended and the wonderful people I met (and the reuben sandwich I ate at Federal Deli- I could talk that up for a long time) but instead I'll skip right to the meat. Enter the trolls.
Seriously. You owe it to yourself.

I wasn't even going to go to the session on Trolling. I wanted to keep this as professional development, so after an excellent session on gender issues I found myself in a session on education that somehow managed to be talking about everything other than what I was interested in, and after twenty minutes of reading the twitterfeed from the troll room I made my excuses and left.
You know when you walk into something late and you can hear pretty much every word that's already been said, just from the atmosphere in the room? NZ4 at Skycity had that. It was an oppressive heaviness in the air that felt like walking into a wall. I took a seat at the back and got listening, a huge double screen showing the twitterfeed in real time.

The conversation was fast-moving and had a snark-factor that made it clear that the people in the room who didn't take trolling seriously were being louder than the ones who do. 
The feed and the spoken words were not matching up, much to the obvious discomfort of the facilitator who was battling hard against a weirdly hostile group. 
It was not, by any stretch of the imagination, a safe space. I gave up on being nice and took the mic after a couple of comfy-looking white guys agreed with each other on the joys of playing "Devil's advocate". It was time to stand up.

I'm not going to repeat myself verbatim, because too adrenalined, too fast-speaking, but my point was this, once I'd told them to stick their "Devil's advocacy up your arse"

If you are in a position of privilege, you are arguing purely from an intellectual standpoint. You can be as difficult and contrary as you like because at the end of the discussion, you have not been directly affected. But the person you're arguing against? It's not just an intellectual discussion. It is a judgement on who they are. It goes to the core of their being. These discussions are triggering. They are emotional. They are draining. And for you to joke about the joys of devilish advocacy shows your lack of empathy and understanding of the issues that you are advocating against. That's what trolling is to us. It's an attack on our selfhood, our experiences. And you should knock it the hell off.

 There was a bit more to it. I got personal. I talked about me. I  got a round of applause though, and there seemed to be a shift in mood. A swing away from the self-congratulatory types and not before time. I thought I was done, and started thinking about how I was going to write this down.

Then THIS GUY happened. Old white man, a few rows in front, who trotted out....

"Maybe it's just my generation, but in my opinion "Sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me"...."

If I'd stood up harder I'd have literally hit the roof instead of just figuratively. Mic in hand, already switched on.....

"With all due respect I think your opinion is horseshit."

I COULD HAVE MIC DROPPED RIGHT THERE AND IT WOULD HAVE BEEN AWESOME YOU GUYS. But instead I went all-out. Again, not verbatim, but....

Saying that words have no power to damage is to disregard the experiences of marginalised, oppressed and abused people of every age, gender and colour. It disregards the huge emotional, mental and social damage done by verbal abuse in relationships, the classroom, the street. Ask many victims of domestic violence and they will tell you that the bruises will heal but the put-downs, the erosion of self-esteem, the insults take years, a lifetime even, to recover from. Some never do. Children attempt suicide over "just words". To sit there and tell this room that words have no power shows the casualness and disregard with which you clearly use yours.

I sat down, heart going like I'd collapsed over the finish line to some race I didn't know I was running. Mercifully, the time bell went and we were done.

 I felt like I'd shrunk. Like I'd yelled into space and I was waiting for space to yell back, to tell me to shut the hell up. I was waiting for violence, I now realise. Curled up against the punishment for arguing with my societal "betters". It's hard to shrug off that feeling you shouldn't argue in public, even when you're sure you're right. It's still hard.

"....and you didn't even say "Your honour""
What I got was more shoulder-pats, thank yous and affirmations of my words than I had ever thought I deserved. My phone went bananas as people messaged me with thumbs-ups and likes and positivity. The twitterfeed petered out, a few critical of my language (yeah, I could have been more polite, but it's hard being the one always having to take the high ground in order to be heard),  lots of support from others. I decamped to a nearby cafe for a sandwich and a debrief with a couple of wonderful, engaging people from my many nights on twitter talking about these things. It was there that I found out that Mr. Sticks and Stones was in fact Judge David Harvey, international expert on online legal issues. And I called him out in front of a packed room with an international live stream. There's something you don't get to do every day.
 I'm still processing how I feel about all this. Recently, I have felt safe enough and found the courage to speak out about issues of violence against women, politics and abuse both online and in real life platforms and it has been one of the most rewarding, though challenging, things I have ever done. I have had to come out as a victim of abuse, of assault, to people who see arguing the personal experience of others as a fun thing to do of an evening. I have laid myself bare in public in an attempt to make people see the culture we really live in, as opposed to the one we kid ourselves we inhabit. I speak out because I have met too many people who are never heard, never believed, never given any chance to talk without interruption and if through throwing myself out like this I can force out some space for other people to speak freely and tell their stories then the trolling, the insults and the dismissal will have been worth it.
So Matt Bellamy is me, and the hole is Twitter. Every. Damn. Day.

As ever, I like to do more than just reflect but move things forward. If you were there, if you were following, if you're just reading this for whatever reason, then please, please bear in mind the following. It'd be great.

  • The person talking about their personal experience, especially if it is unpleasant, is doing so for a reason. It is not easy to relate these experiences, especially in public. Please listen with respect and without interruption. Do not press for more details, interject or object. 
  • Like playing "Devil's Advocate"? Think about the position you are arguing for. Who are you arguing against? Why do you feel the need to do that? If you are DAing with someone who's clearly uncomfortable with your line of argument, knock it the hell off. One man who read and commented extremely negatively on my article on rape culture admitted he wasn't interested in the issue of partner violence at all, he just wanted "to make a point". Not interested in the topic? Then listen or bugger off. 
  • Just because a topic is being discussed does not mean another issues does not exist. Talking about violence against women DOES NOT mean that those discussing it are saying partner violence against men does not exist, or that partner violence does not exist in GLBT relationships. It just means that violence against women is being discussed. Don't want to discuss it? Go away. Want to talk about the violence men suffer? THAT'S A DIFFERENT (if related) CONVERSATION. 
  • When you interject a conversation about minority issues with "what about the men/white people/straight people" then you actually just need to go away as you are trolling and you know it
  • It is NOT the job of the people having the conversation to educate you. Don't understand something? Google it for goodness' sake. In the time it takes for you to derail the conversation with your questions, you'd have found it out yourself already. 
I'm a white person so I have that privilege. I confess that there have been times when a person of colour has made a statement about white people and I have felt that rush of "But I'm not like that!" I've had to work to keep my damn mouth shut. It's hard to confront the negativity with which the group(s) you belong to are viewed by others who don't have your privilege, but if you want to be a decent person you have to deal with that discomfort and learn from it. Compared to living in fear of ridicule, hate and violence I'd say you/me get off extremely lightly. It's the least we can do to shut the hell up and listen instead of just listening to ourselves tell everyone else there is no problem.

If we're ever going to fix the ills we live with, we first have to acknowledge they exist.

Thanks to everyone who supported me to speak out today, and every day. You're all pretty amazing.

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Nethui Day One: The Youth Forum

For the rest of the week I'll be at Nethui 2014, a huge conference addressing the internet and pretty much everything to do with it that isn't cat GIFs (OK, there are some of those as well). I'm here because twitter told me to and I was curious about meeting some of the authors behind the 140-character snippets that keep me from doing more productive things with my time.

The first day had a forum around young people and the internet and I wound up spending my entire time there. It's been a fascinating experience, sharing my ideas as an educator with people who come from an absolute galaxy of backgrounds and sectors. I've spent most of the day with some other teachers who are keen enough that they also gave up their holidays and money to attend, Youthline, and the IT sector (only teachers call it ICT. For shame)
The key ideas that have fallen out of the tree for me to take away and reflect on aren't anything new, but it's been fascinating and sometimes challenging to bounce them off others who've not been a classroom since they were 16.

Anonymity Vs digital presence: There's a real drive to keep things anonymous on the internet. I don't use my real surname on facebook or twitter, I mention no locations or dates. But in doing so, are we creating an artificial division between our offline and online presence? Why this need to hide our names from what for many people are an integral part of their everyday lives? In creating this division are we giving people licence to be abusive, to troll, because it divorces the online from the offline? I've often thought about "outing" myself on twitter and on here, but I'm not quite ready to make that step. It's an interesting idea.
21st Century learning and the "real world": A lot of the discussion was around improving digital literacy in schools and giving young people the skills to navigate social media, as well as "futureproofing" education. This was where I got all hand-wavy and noisy because if there's one thing I struggle with, it's the idea of teaching in a 21st century learning environment, where I'm expected to grow young people into critical thinkers who learn in an authentic and relevant context, and yet these kids will stand or fall based on their results in an exam that wouldn't sound out of place in a Dickens novel.
This got very interesting in the afternoon as the discussion of "futureproofing" young people to be prepared for jobs we can't even think of came up. Myself and other teachers in the room made a strong case that we need to move away from content-based learning towards skills/thinking based learning and giving young people the tools to learn whatever they need or want to. Then came a discussion about "core subjects" and asking if programming should be compulsory.
 This gave rise to a bit of an interesting discussion at our table as there was a strong argument put forward that programming absolutely needs to be included, with the counter-argument that we need less standardised subjects, not more. It was an interesting discussion and then this tweet from someone in the room pinged up:
 Now I appreciate that a tweet is a tweet but this bothered me. I'm not an IT professional. I know my way around a laptop, I know how to use the internet and I like to think I'm a reasonable person online. But I would never claim to know the ins and out of the IT industry, not even close. There seems to be a misconception that teachers are expected to be experts in every field that they move in, even though we as educators teach our students that it's OK to not know things if you're willing to learn. In fact, that's why I'm spending my holidays here! It made me reflect on how teachers are viewed and what we can do to change that view. It's easy as a teacher to forget that the real world/chalkface gap works both ways.

Lots to take away from today, tomorrow I am speaking at the morning hui to the entire conference about what we discussed at the youth forum. Bring it.

ADDITIONAL: Nat and I actually talked about this later, and the need for teachers to upskill in what are the needs of all industries these days, not just IT. It's a valid, if troubling point and it's made me think about just how institutionalised I have become since leaving the private sector over nine(!) years ago. It doesn't help that we as teachers find it difficult to listen to constructive criticism as we're so used to criticism of the destructive kind. It's also my fault for taking a generic comment a bit personally!

So thanks to Nat for engaging with me on this, one of the things I have loved about Nethui was the opportunity for open discussion in a way that remained respectful and positive even when viewpoints differed or misunderstandings were had.

Imagine if we could do that everywhere...

Saturday, 5 July 2014

Party Politics and Pig Wrestling

As you're probably aware if you've read anything beyond the name of this blog, I'm a lefty. I do union stuff. I voted Scottish Socialist once. I'm a member of the Green party and I've marched up and down Queen Street (once both on the same day!) for various issues like fairer pay, better conditions, and the right for New Zealanders not to be spied on.

I am left-wing because I have a strong sense of social justice and I believe in things like free universal healthcare, education and a benefits system that takes care of everyone in my society. I vote for parties that promise action on climate change, poverty and tackling social ills. I am in a comfortably well-paid job yet I would rather be taxed more in order to see those further down the ladder get the help they need.

For some people, identifying with a political party or ideology suggests that you become absolutely incapable of seeing the good in any other party whose ideals do not match your own. It doesn't help when the opposition stand for the most part for everything you're against, and actively seem to hate everybody who isn't them.

However, I personally will stand and applaud any politician, regardless of stripe, who has a flash of common sense and says something I agree with. Maurice Williamson's much-youtubed "Gay rainbow" speech at the final reading of the Marriage Equality Bill? Loved it, almost as much as National's Chris Auchinvole's less bombastic but equally poignant and funny speech (please have a listen, it's a thing of beauty). Incidentally, Auchinvole was on the select committee when I gave my oral submission on the bill and I found him to be sensitive to the submitters, thoughtful in his questions and a credit to the political process.When Nick Smith dropped the Fjordland monorail project, I actually punched the air with joy. I'd have bought the man a pint.

But when the Justice minister disregards a major report on domestic violence's findings, then takes a selfie at a fight night and tweets about how none of the men there are "ashamed to be men", it's hard to like. When the PM describes the groundbreaking speech on DV by the leader of the opposition as "silly", it's difficult to see that party as fighting for my interests. When the education minister supports charter schools, larger class sizes and more testing, it's a challenge to think of the opposition as anything more than complete bastards.

However, despite their best efforts I shall continue to try to focus on policies not personalities, and politics not parties, because otherwise I'm just failing to take the advice of George Bernard Shaw: "I learned long ago, never to wrestle with a pig. You get dirty, and besides, the pig likes it."

Not All Men (but enough of them)

On Friday night there erupted a political twitterstorm that raged through New Zealand's various bloggers, twitter users and media types like a self-righteous fire. David Cunliffe, leader of the Labour party, made a comment that in the context of his speech on domestic violence and violence against women (DV/VAW) was profound and moving but when reduced to five words (thanks, New Zealand Herald!) it made him sound like an idiot.

The storm erupted after our glorious leader and sometime beer-pong-playing friend of the minorities John Key said that he thought the speech was "silly" and then trotted out the three words guaranteed to raise the hatred levels of DV/VAW campaigners everywhere, "Not all men..." and thus the firestorm was sparked.

I'm not going to report on the firestorm, we're still dousing the last few embers and surveying the wreckage but instead explain why I personally felt it worth my Friday evening to argue, be insulted and end up an emotional wreck when what I should have been doing is drinking lemon lime and bitters at a party up in town.

As someone who has experienced both abuse as a child and partner violence as an adult, this matters to me on a very deep level. It matters to have a man who is in power recognise the part all men play in making a hostile environment for women. I am around 90kg, I lift weights for fun and I can outrun most people but I still have to tell myself to keep calm, fists bunched in pockets, when I walk to my car late at night through underlit streets. I am a 31 year old jeans-wearing scruff but I still have to put up with strange men assessing my fuckability, rapeability, molestability if I dare to go out on my own in some places. Online, my appearance is picked apart and insulted when discussing topics lightyears away from how I wear my hair. I have the most beautiful, wonderful men in my life as friends but I have listened to them talk about women in the most derogatory terms and it creates a knot of fear and distrust in my stomach because how do I speak out to my friends and tell them how they hurt me? Do they use that language to describe me when I'm not there?

Just sayin' John.
Key's rebuff that "Not all men" ignores the innate climate of distrust that we women live with every day. We live in a society that considers the only "real" rape to be one committed by a hooded stranger lurking in a bush, and condemns us for any perceived lack of constant vigilance against these extremely rare monsters, whilst ignoring the actions of loving husbands, partners, fathers and sons who rape us and beat us and make us feel worthless whilst telling us we should be grateful they're in our lives at all. We're expected to be fearful of strange men when we leave our homes, because should we be attacked our every action in defence or ourselves will be judged, yet we also know to be wary of the ones we allow over our threshold. We hear you say to your mates about how you raped that test you sat or how you'd fuck the air out of that waitress and we sit with averted gaze and ask ourselves through what lens are you looking at us?

Every man who wants to defend the stance of "Not all men" needs to first reflect on the part he plays in this culture. When your mates down the pub are loudly making jokes about rape, are you silent? Do you join in with the laughing? Unless you are actively calling them out on their behaviour, then you're part of the problem. Be mindful of yourself and how you are viewed by women. Be the one to cross the road, press for your floor in the lift first, take up less space on the bus. Until every man makes the effort to make this country a place where women can walk to the shops after dark without fear, then we will continue to see you all as a potential threat until proven otherwise.

That is why so many women on Friday stood up and applauded that speech. That is why so many women argued to the point of exhaustion against men who assume that just because they don't actively beat up their partner that this issue does not concern them. We argued and we shared despite the pain and the frustration because tomorrow, the men playing devil's advocate and arguing that they never hurt anyone will wake up as normal, whereas we women will wake up in a world where we still feel the need to walk to our cars with our keys gripped between our fingers.

If you truly are one of those good men, then you should not have found Cunliffe's words a threat to your selfdom. The fact so many of you did spoke volumes to those of us who were listening.You want us to believe that #notallmen? Here is your chance to prove it to us.

Want to help? Almost all assistance for women in violent relationships and support for victims of sexual assault is reliant on public support. Please consider donating your money, time or much-needed items. This is just a small selection of the many organisations working tirelessly in NZ to make life safer for all women. 

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Boys will be boys and politicians will be idiots

Following on from my previous post I'd like to extend a massive thank you to the MP from Mangere Su'a William Sio for explaining the issue of knife violence in south Auckland by saying that boys will be boys. Really.
Thank you Mr. Sio for starting the conversation that we need to have about our young men (there's a conversation that needs to be had about our young women as well, and one about our fa'afafine and trans* youth, but one boundary at a time). Through your comments, the media are now asking experts about what it means to be a boy (who, we are assured, will continue to be a boy). They are now discussing machismo in a way that never would have happened if you'd kept your damaging, shortsighted opinion to yourself.

He's done some good stuff. Really. Just.....not today.
Here's what "boys will be boys" means, Mr. Sio. Boys will be boys says men can't help themselves and it's a woman's fault when she's raped. Boys will be boys apologises for the harassment that almost all women and girls face every time they step out of their front door (see @everydaysexism if you still have a shred of belief in humanity left, you won't for long). Boys will be boys means that bullying is tolerated to the point of complicity in our schools and workplaces. Boys will be boys makes freaks and victims of our queer, trans* and otherwise "unmanly" young men who may be boys but just not the right sort for this swaggering statement that drips with contempt and braggadocio. Boys will be boys smothers the right of our young men to be honest and open about any feeling that can't be displayed with a raised voice or a fist.
We have created a culture that excuses the worst excesses of testosterone whilst demanding that our young men abide by the constraints of those excesses. We pillory and mock those young men who seek to live in a way that doesn't fit this straitjacket, and then wonder why they lash out when things are tough.
Stop pigeonholing. Stop stifling. Stop marginalising.

Boys will be boys Mr. Sio, but until we as a society address and change what it means to be a boy then your tautology will be nothing more than an excuse for violence. Of all the things you could have said to the community about these dreadful incidents, I can't think of anything less helpful. I hope you use this as an opportunity to open up the discussion about the young men you represent.

Your electorate will be watching.

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

We need to talk about weapons

Today has been an upsetting one for education and south Auckland.
This morning two pre-teens at a private school got in a fight that left one of them in intensive care with stab wounds from a pair of scissors. The afternoon, two teenagers at a large south Auckland campus were also treated for stab wounds in an incident police say is unrelated to this morning's violence.
I come from a culture where knife crime is endemic. Social workers used to come into classes I taught to talk to 14 year olds about the consequences of carrying knives. In my home town, nearly all of my male peers have been at least threatened with a blade, some on multiple occasions. The penalties for carrying knives in public without good reason are severe. In the classroom, knives for practical use were unheard of, and any dissection required hawk-like vigilance.
Weapons amnesty, Glasgow.

So when I came to New Zealand to find sharp knives delivered with science practical orders, scissors left out in classrooms, and kids allowed to bring their own little retractable blades for cutting paper, I didn't know where to put myself. It seemed a recipe for disaster and led to some amusing-in-retrospect showdowns between myself and bemused kids. Over time I've come to appreciate the higher trust we have in our children and the behaviour with which our young people repay that trust.
Today's incidents have therefore left me rather shaken, my cosy antipodean worldview turned, in more ways than one, upside down. We teachers strive to make our schools safe havens for our young people, in some cases the only safe haven they have. Schools in NZ lack the security fencing, weapons-amnesty bins and police officers that I've seen in some schools in London and elsewhere, because we trust that our schools are free from weapons and provide an environment where young people feel safe enough not to need one.

Ad campaigns you never want to see.
There is a huge discussion that needs to happen now in schools and communities about whether this idyll is real or if there's been something fundamental that we've missed. We need to think and talk and discuss with our communities and whanau why these young people decided to settle their arguments with weapons rather than words. We need to ask where this need to arm themselves came from, why their anger has become such that it needs a sharp edge. It needs to be a discussion that is sensitive to the needs of the cultures of those communities, whilst not becoming another lazy "That's just south Auckland for you" hard pass. We can't afford to pass it off as isolated coincidence, and we can't afford to turn our noses up because of the postcode these schools find themselves in.

Am I overreacting? Possibly, but I'd rather schools and communities took today as a chance to have some real talk and thought about how they can support their young men and women, than end up with our own version of the London fortress schools.

Friday, 20 June 2014

John Key and the Ordinary Kiwi Bloke

It occurred to me today, listening to Radio New Zealand's Checkpoint and yet another vile National cabinet member ejaculate smugness over whatever pointless bullshit has been deemed Important by the media this hour, that John Key makes me genuinely concerned for the emotional wellbeing of "ordinary" New Zealanders. You know, the only ones politicians care about.

The "ordinary" New Zealander, from what I can gather, is straight, white, male, aged between 25 and 50, follows the All Blacks and the America's Cup, drinks domestic beer and likes his meat to be quality cuts and barbecued. He might even let the missus man the grill, because he's a modern Kiwi Bloke.

He also, if I understand Big John correctly, suffers from dreadful self-esteem and has some horrible toxic relationships that should by rights result in therapy or at the very least an intervention.

John Key's popularity would appear to hinge on his "ordinariness", his "blokeyness". He's like a mate, isn't he? He doesn't waste time talking to those leftie eggheads on RadioNZ, he's talking to the Morning Rumble about how pleased he is that Dan Carter's coming off sabbatical! He pulls derpface in selfies with young voters! He plays beer pong with acceptable homos at their annual funfair! He even bought a samosa at the Diwali festival! Man of the people!

If his popularity stems from the notion that he's a mate you could have a beer with, then you can extrapolate the friendships the Ordinary Kiwi Bloke has. And they are horrible.

Apparently, it's fine to put stuff your mate owns already up for sale, sell it back to your mates, then pocket the profits (what DID happen to all that money from asset sales, anyway? It must have been important if you had to FIRE SALE AIR NEW ZEALAND), if you also appear on Coast FM mid-morning to talk about how well our boys played against Australia.

If my mate decided to take away my access to adult education classes, it'd take a bit more than joking about gay red shirts to make me invite them over to my house again.

The "Regular Kiwi Bloke" seems to have friends who think it's OK to shit all over their front gardens, or sell those front gardens off as parking space to the global equivalent of a biker gang and then pocket the money, and they'll forgive them as long as those friends can sympathise when a yacht (paid for with the profits from all those oil-leaking Harleys tearing up your cuttygrass, incidentally), loses out to a yacht paid for by a different millionaire who is evil because he DOESN'T watch Outrageous Fortune.

If your friends talk to you with the same level of contempt that's shown to the electorate by Key, English et al, then I have some bad news for you. THEY ARE NOT YOUR FRIENDS. They are just hanging out with you to see what they can mooch off you.

I don't want my politicians to be my friends. I don't want to know their opinions of Game of Thrones, roller derby or where they are going for their summer holidays (especially if it's their fucking holiday home in Hawaii). I want to know their opinions on child poverty, education and healthcare. I can live with them not wanting to play beer pong with me if they will actively engage on issues a bit more pressing than Richie McCaw.

We need to stop being placated with trivial mateyness and start holding these people to account.

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Your Snark is Problematic: NZ Politics and Voter Apathy

This is not a blog about David Cunliffe. It's not about Chinese businessmen, immigration letters or phone calls to police.

It's not about German multimillionaires flying MPs on amnesiac flights to mansions. It's not about Team New Zealand. It's not about the "Nasty Party", expensive jackets and powdered milk sitting on docks.

It's about apathy.

The only excuse you have for not remembering flying in one of these is if you are unconscious and being flown to hospital
It's about the white, middle-class and middle-aged complaint that "the youth" aren't interested in voting. It's the bewildered look in the eyes of politicians and journalists as they list poor voter turnout stats and wring hands about why aren't brown people, poor people, young people going to the polls. It's that faux-anger about "Well, why don't YOU run for office then?" when those who fail to vote point out that they have no voice and what is democracy without representation?

The handwringers are missing the point.

We watch the politicians as they tear phantasmic strips of trustworthiness off each other over letters that most of us would regard as junk mail. We listen to them sit dewy-eyed in the witness stands as they fail to recollect taking methods of transport most of us will never see up close, unless we become a traffic statistic somewhere picturesque. We grit our teeth as they talk about how there's "no money" to fund breakfast clubs in our poorest areas, while shrugging their shoulders as yet another thousand manufacturing jobs go to the wall. We facepalm as they talk about the economic benefits of funding a bunch of rich white guys to race a FUCKING YACHT against another group of rich white guys, whilst quibbling over the cost of making healthcare accessible to all, in a country with the highest rates of rheumatic fever in the developed world.

Cost to taxpayer: $26million

We see all this, and wonder why the hell we should bother with any of you.

You want to improve voter turnout? Be someone worth voting for.

Government grant to KidsCan for free breakfasts in D1-4 schools: $150,000
I dare you.

Stop with the grubby snarking in the House. TURN UP TO PARLIAMENT AND DO YOUR JOB. some of you have an attendance rate that would get us fired from our places of work, if we're lucky enough to have one. Look at the issues that actually matter. Do I care about some dinner some woman with a tinplate haircut attended with some chairman? Not really. I do care that every column inch dedicated to her hors-d'oeuvres is a column inch that's not asking you how you're going to ensure that every Maori boy gets an equal shot at education as the snottiest Takapuna Grammar girl. I want to see you pull your tongue out from between the cheeks of the investors who give no regard for either our tangata or our whenua (and definitely not for our tangata whenua) and instead get your hands dirty actually trying to make life better for everyone in your electorate, not just the ones who give anonymous cheques.

You can be a rich old white man and still have something worthwhile to say, if for once you stopped talking exclusively to other rich old white men.

There's fewer of them out there than you think.

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Not for your convenience: Professional Development, Holidays, and what schools are actually for

For those of you who haven't met him, let me introduce you to the English shadow spokesman for education, Tristram Hunt (a man who, as my UK counterpart once said, is in grave danger of becoming his own rhyming slang). Now young Tristram has one job as long as his party are not in power, and that job is to not act like the current education minister, a bottom-feeding polyp by name of Michael Gove. That's it. Don't be like the most hated man in education, and you'll find that a huge voting block swings behind you.

"Yummy mummies love Sherlock, don't they?"

So, what has the young Hunt done? He's looked at a labour sector rife with teachers suffering from stress and long hours, of children under intense pressure to pass archaic and confusing assessments, at the dismantling of public education in favour of "free" schools, and decided to take a swipe at.....

Professional Development.

Parents, according to this man who has clearly never developed in any way, let alone professionally, are "baffled" about why a group of postgraduates in a professional career may occasionally need time for staff training. This pronouncement was backed by a handwringing helicopter spokesmum from website Netmums (note, not mumsnet, which carries more political clout than most print newspapers) who said that staff-only days are "Awkward" for parents (note, not caregivers. If you're not the parent then clearly you don't need representation at this level). She went on to say that she was "suspicious" of the timing of staff only days, as they are usually after holidays or weekends.
We do so little work as it is, let's add in some extra days for skiving!

Where to start with this torrent of patronising bollocks?
Dear Netmums, real mums, politicians and journalists looking to give something else a kicking now Judith Collins and the Maori party are old hat: Schools do not exist for your convenience.
Schools are not office-hour holding pens so you don't need to pay for childcare for 40 weeks of the year. Teachers are not babysitters with diplomas whose sole role is to keep little Foccacia and Mumford out of your hair while you work on your career in marketing. The education system does not exist for your convenience.
Our role is to educate your child. To socialise them, to give them the skills they need to operate in the same society that you are busy working in. How well this is done is a discussion for another time, but that is at the core of what we do. In order for us to do that effectively, sometimes we need to have training to improve our performance. You don't stand outside your local opticians that's closed for staff training on Wednesday mornings, banging on the glass demanding that you either be let in or that they post up exactly what is happening in there, as it's "awkward" for you not to pick up some contact lens solution at that moment.

Of course, if working class kids were allowed to work, then all these inconveniences would disappear!
Same goes for holidays. You may be a successful 35 year old careerist who never gets tired ever, but your six year old, who is learning the fundamentals of reading, of becoming a person, does. They need that time out of class to be kids, to absorb and reflect on what they've learned over the previous eleven weeks. It's not always about your convenience, it's about (you guessed it) the needs of the children who are ultimately the most important people in all this, and incidentally the ones who are talked about the least.
Now I'm not saying that holidays and staff only days aren't a pain in the arse for caregivers. But to hear politicians promote resentment at teachers for wanting to improve their teaching, and education ministers attempt to legislate longer terms and hours to better suit working parents, shows just how little regard they hold teachers and the education system in. Perhaps instead of attacking teachers, netmums and their ilk need to consider the societal conditions that have led to them require so much childcare in the first place.

Thursday, 27 March 2014

Powerless at the Chalkface

Teachers, don't we get a sweet deal. Our short hours. Our long holidays. Our glorified, overpaid babysitting job, when kids pretty much teach themselves all that mickey-mouse shit these days anyway, not like the real subjects kids used to learn. The odious nonsense about teaching, a career so singled-out for media scorn and political hacky-sacking, is so pervasive that we teachers even believe it ourselves. We buy in to the idea that we should be grateful to have our jobs, and wake up every morning with a smile on our faces and a song in our hearts, thankful that we have such a gentle, not-even-a-real-job career that pays enough that usually we only need the one job.

We look like this just before we burst into song, you know
As anyone who knows anything about human nature might surmise, this attitude causes problems when it butts up against the realities of the modern chalkface. We are told in the gaslighting style of an abusive partner that our jobs are easy, that we're slackers, that we're letting the side down. While this constant stream of ego-mashing abuse is whispered in our ears, we're given yet more chores to perform, given new rules often without being told fully what they are till they're broken, have targets set higher and further away than make sense or are feasible (because everyone can be above average, right?). Every so often, we are paraded in front of unfeeling strangers who judge us on nothing beyond a quick leer and a ticked box.
"The children seemed to act unnaturally when we were all in the room. Poor classroom management!"
All the while, we are told to say yes. To be compliant. Your student's parents can only make a 7pm meeting? Then you must say yes, and sit alone in a silent classroom for parents who may or may not come to a ten minute chat about results they've already seen. The government decides to completely change their focus so everything you've worked on creating and resourcing before is now useless? Smile, nod and get back to that drawing board, often late at night once your kids are in bed.
We are made to guilty for being human beings outside the classroom. A day off is not taken lightly, our sick days and illnesses carefully weighed up against the feeling of letting our classes and our colleagues down. Relief work is set late at night with splitting headaches or between frantic trips to the toilet, and often the decision is made to just go in anyway. I once broke my ankle and was frantically texting my relief for the next day as they wheeled me into X-ray. Even high on morphine the shame of taking a sick day with chores undone was too great.
"...and year 12 should do page....AAAAAARGH!"

We're denied time to to attend weddings, funerals, life events of those we love, because much as we try, sometimes real life and externally-set holidays do not always synchronise. We can be refused unpaid leave for no reason at all, despite our reasons being the most joyous, the most humanly valid. Hindu? No unpaid day at home with your family to prepare Diwali's feast for you, no matter how many of your colleagues offer to step up. Daughter arriving home for the first time in years? Hope that flight gets in outside of school hours or she'll be taking a taxi home while you try to concentrate on teaching 8C how to draw graphs.

Your ancient celebration of light is too foreign, no day off for you!

 In a world that increasingly seeks to divorce the demands of work from the basic human need to raise children, those who are told to raise them in your absence are treated with a level of professional and social disdain that makes it a wonder we're trusted with children at all. This discordant, manipulative relationship between teacher and system leaves us bewildered, exhausted, and ready not so much for divorce as a midnight flight to freedom.

"At least in the private sector we'll be considered hardworking!"
 After nearly a decade wielding a whiteboard marker, I am nearly done. Not with the profession, to which I have a burning desire to keep doing until I'm no longer enjoying the thrill of helping young people learn new things, but with the culture. I'm done with acting like my job is worth more than my mental wellbeing. I'm done with putting the capricious demands of ministers and committees ahead of the needs of the students I work with.

I'm done with saying yes.

Monday, 3 February 2014

Only white people get jobs? Representation in career advice

Today at work my students were investigating possible careers in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM), something that's a bit of a buzzacronym in employment and political circles. The class of 14 year olds were taking the Career Quest questionnaire on the government's careers advice website. The questionnaire is not dissimilar to the old pencil-and-cross-out-the-answer careers advice sheet I did half a lifetime ago, though this one was all flash graphics and instant choose-your-own-future. Each of the 78 questions were on a separate web page can came with three photographs to illustrate the possible jobs the question was asking about. So far, so pretty.
Google image search "doctor" on first page. Photo description "Happy afro doctor portrait". Er.

I was talking to a group of girls who were taking the quiz when I noticed something. Every person in every photo was white. White man in hard hat. White women at computer. White person in labcoat. I asked the girls if they'd noticed any people in the photographs who weren't white. They said they hadn't, and I asked them to let me know when they did.

A few minutes later, this absolute gem of an observation was made.

"Miss, miss! I found a brown person! They're sitting being spoken to by a white person!"
Google image search "manager photo Asian". Guess what you get if you only use the first two words

The students were righteously concerned that in a quiz designed for young New Zealanders to choose a possible career path, people of colour did not seem to be represented in any of the possible careers. "Are we not supposed to have a career then miss?" was the half-joking question another asked me.

Having done the questionnaire myself, I did a little breakdown of representation. I tallied up the number of Asian (including Indian), Māori/Pasifika, and other people of colour actually carrying out a job. Customers, students and patients were not included. If I was in any doubt then I counted it as a positive ID. I appreciate that my labels are extremely broad and problematic in themselves but I beg understanding for the purposes of this quick and dirty research.
Google search "stock photo teacher". First page!

The results were depressing.

Of a total of 234 photographs in the quiz....

7 showed Asian people

16 showed Māori/Pasifika people

3 showed people of colour

There were more photos of inanimate objects than black people. 

No photos showing people with disabilities.

I am a forgiving sort and will assume that this whitewashing of the NZ workforce was the result of error, rather than a deliberate attempt to make it look like only white people get jobs. However, we live in a country where, according to the last census, three quarters of the country identify as white/pakeha, just under 15% as Māori and nearly 12% as Asian. Hardly proportional.
"Stock photos disabled". First photo showing a person in a wheelchair not being pushed by an able-bodied person. Or alone looking sad.

If you're reading this thinking "So what? It's a quiz on a website", then think about who it's aimed at. Think about the state-supported drip-feed that subtly reinforces that only white people are employable, that every kid who is thinking of their future sees on page after page the same stereotype.

I was going to write to careers NZ to point this out, but seeing as my pack of 14 year olds are keen to exercise their right to call this stuff out, I'm going to let them do it. They're bound to do a far better job than me anyway, after all, they're the ones not being represented....

Sunday, 2 February 2014

Do U even twitter bro?

New Zealand commercial radio is a strange and lawless place. Our Prime minister adores it and is far more likely to be answering questions about whether he prefers vegemite or marmite on a classic hits breakfast show than he is discussing charter schools on our chronically underfunded yet vaguely intelligent public broadcast news programs. Breakfast shows offer listeners the chance to win divorces, wives (not at the same time) and drivetime noodleheads appear in Pride parades after losing bets on-air. As you can imagine many of these professional journalists have their own twitter accounts, and I enjoy not following any of them on my timeline.

This evening, a young purveyor of opinion by name of Polly Gillespie, whose twitter bio invites us to listen to her on the breakfast show on ZM, as well as her columns in that august organ Women's Day, tweeted
Now, twitter is a strange and terrible beast. You only have 140 characters to get across your thought. This thought, hashtag and all, looks racist. If I need to unpack why then you're probably reading the wrong blog.

Naturally, the idea of someone hating on Asians wishing to visit New Zealand's most famous beach that isn't ninety miles long being espoused by a national radio presenter is rather concerning and I could help but wonder what her employers ZM and Women's Day might think about this. The more I read her feed however, the righteous leftie anger turned to a kind of pitying rage. When called on her missive by the twitter populace, her responses ranged from:

(apparently tweeting racist things is fine if you're a fan of reality TV)

(because the best way to react when being called out is with smilies and referring to social media buttons as twins)

(because calling out racism makes you creepy weirdo. Like that Mandela guy)

Over the course of many emoticons, kisses and indignation later it transpired that our heroine had been watching Piha Rescue and was concerned about the perceived high number of Asian people who seemed to need rescuing on the show. Her tweet was actually a suggestion that all visitors to our shores should be properly educated in surf safety lest they require the services of the brave men and women of Surf Rescue.
This fascinates me because the woman is a professional journalist. Regardless of how quality you may consider those outlets to be, she has at some point I am sure attended at least a couple of night classes on writing things and then saying them out loud to people. Surely, surely at some point the idea that using something like twitter to make a comment that absolutely does not work out of context (and barely works within it if I'm honest, but I'm trying to be nice) was discussed and it was explained why it would be phenomenally stupid to do so?

As I type this Ms Gillespie (Wife, mummy, dork) is describing her detractors as "crazy" (oh dear) and retweeting all the other watchers of Piha Rescue who, like, totally got what she meant. At present neither ZM or Women's Day haven't said whether they think their star presenter/columnist is actually very racist, or only slightly racist and very naive, but I'd hope they'd at least be having a please explain meeting tomorrow morning.

There's a lesson here for all of us, regardless of whether we earn our crust being a professional minor celeb or merely use twitter to post pictures of cats. Your 140 characters ARE your context. If you don't want to sound like a racist, don't write something that looks racist.

Thursday, 30 January 2014

Collins, Turei and Racism

Ugh, you can tell we're in an election year. The cellophane is barely off the new stationery for the term before the bitter fighting and mudslinging between parties and politicians begins. National, bless them, have decided that the electorate are shallow enough to vote based on character digs rather than policies and so Judith Collins' vicious little takedown of Green co-leader Metiria Turei this week comes as no surprise, as does John Key leaping to her defence.

A professional. Dressed professionally.

The #nzpol hashtag is alive with this so feel free to check it out if you care enough but the main point I take from all this is that Judith, you are a racist.

There you go sweetheart, this is a callout.

Your insinuation that a Maori woman cannot speak for people in poverty dressed as a professional politician is a twofold slap in the face. If Turei turned up in jandals and cutoffs you and your bitter pointy-shouldered cronies would cackle and point in your contempt for someone not taking their role seriously. You would dismiss her out of hand. If Turei, a former lawyer and advocate for beneficiaries, dares to dress in the clothes of a professional in a country that clings to European standards of formality, then you label her a hypocrite as since when did anyone currently successful ever understand the realities of poverty? The suggestion that a Maori woman should not get ideas above her station is subtle, but there. (It also smacks of a classist assumption that people in poverty are somehow "other" but that's a whole other post.) Her follow-up patronising comments to Turei after being called out is classic privilege. Put someone down, then suggest the wounded party is just oversensitive. "A sensitive little sausage" Judith? This is really how you publicly address another MP?

It is hard enough for a woman in politics to be taken seriously, as Jacinda Ardern's recent comments on the sexism she's faced as an MP testify, without facing the intersectionality of being Maori and female. The fact she's currently popular with media and public is the final provocation for a party that thrives on holding down others to benefit the minority of business cronies and schoolboy networkers. Judith's open admiration for that odious pit of despair and hatred that is Whaleoil (no, I'm not linking) should speak volumes all by itself.

The election is strongly rumoured to be held in September, giving us another seven months of backbiting and personal grudges. One would hope that voters consider what qualities they want in the people who represent them. Are racism and the gleeful snarking at others really the traits we think represent us best?

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Tantric Misogyny: or, how I learned to stop worrying and love the yoni

You know you’ve done some damage when you’re the person in the room who all eyes turn to when the speaker says “I’m probably going to get a lot of anger on Facebook for this”. Nah bro, facebook’s far too restrictive a medium for that.

The redoubtable @rabblearouser of Crevice Canyon, Filthy Queer and Filthy Gorgeousness fame alerted me to a seminar called “Expanding Women’s Sexuality”, hosted by the Australian “Tantric sex, relationship and orgasm coach” Andrew Barnes. The four hour (!) class promised such wonders as “Identifying blocks to orgasm”, “Understanding full body orgasm” and “Learning about the suppression of female sexuality”. She was going, and was looking for a wingman. Four hours of being told about my body by some straight cis dude? Challenge accepted.

Now, despite appearances I have on occasion had a high tolerance for esoteric thinking. I’ve been on yogic retreats, meditation courses and even went vegan for a month (well, two weeks). However, I’ve found that I can put up a certain amount of discussion about expanded thinking and higher consciousness only so far, before my “Show me the science!” klaxon starts going and I become That audience member. Yeah, THAT one. And so it proved.

Actual t-shirt that I own.
The seminar was held in a place that had more incense than chairs (for $40 they could have at least given us some seats, but then that’s just me), and had an audience that was exactly who you’d expect at something like this. The first 45 minutes or so were, I grant you, quite interesting. Anatomy’s an interesting subject and learning about the history of the G-Spot, the true size and location of the clitoris and the role of the female prostate was definitely note-worthy (though I found myself sneakily fact-checking a few times)
G spot: doing it wrong

The first signs that the cosmic wavelengths weren’t fully aligned came right before the intermission, when Barnes ascertained that women can’t/won’t have orgasms unless they’re willing to do so. This struck me as problematic in the way that all statements about what women’s bodies can and can’t do that are made by men tend to be. One hesitates to chuck around phrases like “rape apology” in such instances but it’s certainly on the spectrum that includes “legitimate rape” and women being magically able to prevent pregnancy. Possibly through prayer.

After a frankly depressing half-time spread of a couple of squares of chocolate and some pineapple (guys, for $40 a ticket and FOUR HOURS I would like a chair, decent snacks and a hot drink minimum), we got stuck into emotional and energetic stuff. Clearly I am not this type of thing’s target audience as I was frequently lost amongst mentions of higher vibrational frequencies (nothing to do with Hitachi Magic Wands oddly enough) and my cervix harbouring not only my past painful memories but those of my parents and grandparents as well (the actual fuck, people). My SCIENCE, BITCHES radar was getting ever more urgent (“cancer is caused by emotional blockage! I can make women orgasm with my brain!”) when finally the alarms got tripped and it all went to hell.

You ready for this?


What the fuck.

Like, what just happened.

I’d already got the hard looks when I asked for a citation on the idea that living in an adopted family that has a history of a genetic condition will cause that to manifest in the adopted child, but this was The Moment. It not so much ripped through my (not-quite) willing suspension of disbelief as shredded it, set it on fire and flung it over a fucking rainbow.

I was polite. I pointed out that yes, things were better for women now (I appreciate the generalisation here but this was not the audience) but, as a cisgendered male, he was talking from a position of male privilege and was in no way qualified to tell women about their experiences of sexism or describe it to us. I was respectful. I didn’t call him names. His response?

“What’s a cis…….”

Oh my. A sex expert who had to have the term cisgendered explained to him. Who had clearly never butted up against the term “privilege” in his career. However, it was the audience comments that really made me despair for humanity. One woman said that she didn’t know what I was talking about, that she’d never experienced any sexism in her everyday and didn’t see any examples of sexism or misogyny (not that she used that word) in the media. The old man (also a tantric massage dudebro) who suggested some esoteric rubbish that seemed to boil down to sexism being a construct of people too shallow to rise above it and not let it affect them.

Victim blaming just got taken to a whole new plane (literally). I’ve got into some vicious bunfights with misogynists before but this was breathtaking. Then came the suggestion that women in violent relationships, sufferers of rape, domestic violence and the other evils that stalk our world are the result of women not being allowed to wank more as kids and that if we were all vibrating at a higher frequency then these things could be avoided. Quite a few people in the audience seemed uncomfortable with this (no, really?), prompting his little Facebook nod to the women with the enthusiastic hair. That it was all done with that mansplaining, there-thereness of someone who truly seemed to believe that the heavy-lifting towards a more equal society just needed us all to be a little more masturbatory made me want to throw a brick through the window of every bro who asked me to suck his dick in public, at every shop selling me my own body packaged up and distorted to the point of unrecognisability, at the face of every man who said “who me” when a young girl’s trembling finger pointed them out of a line up. I was shaking.
Then it was over, bar a few more plugs for his book about genitals (that compares them to flowers. Unless you are Georgia O’Keefe you’re not allowed to do that. Ever.), a massively off-putting discussion about his tantric sex workshop this weekend (which reminds me, I never did ask if performing “yoni massage” for money made him a sex worker and if so, how did that square with Australian law?) and an attempt to garner email addresses for future seminar alerts.

I listened to Black Sabbath all the way home and narrowly avoided rage-buying cigarettes.

You can dress up your misogyny in as many colourful pashminas and yonis and reverberations as you like. It’s still misogyny, and it’s rotten.