Long post. Go get a coffee, or a wine, depending on whether the sun is over the yard arm, then settle down to read it.
I agree with Che that:
System is a place that actively seeks to highlight and discuss difference.
The trouble is, it doesn’t achieve that. There’s a difference between the ideals, and the reality.
For example, the line-up of writers is pretty much white and male. If you look at the list of nine regular writers, you will see (before Tze Ming Mok’s much lamented departure) six men, three women, seven white NZers, two writers who are New Zealanders of Asian descent. Since Tze Ming Mok’s departure, another man (also white) has been invited to join.
(You will notice that those numbers don’t add up to nine. That’s because people can fall into more than one grouping. That word ‘white’ is also problematic. I’m as white as they come – 6th generation NZ but Scots, Irish and English descent to the hilt, with a little Swiss thrown in just for fun. I prefer to describe myself as Pakeha, but I don’t know where that term leaves NZers who are not white, not Maori, not PI, but not anything else either. Like NZers of Chinese descent – are they Pakeha too? I don’t know. And I don’t want to impose identity on anyone else in any case.)
So far so good. There’s not many women writing, but at least there are three on the list, and 33% representation (difficult word – more on that later) is better than the NZ parliament achieves. Two non-white NZers out of nine is not bad at all, but it would be nice to hear from Maori and Pacific Island NZers too.
But to get back to the women, since that’s my main concern. I love Jolisa Gracewood’s writing, but we don’t hear from her very often. I enjoy Fiona Rae’s writing too, ‘though I don’t get to see much TV, so often enough her comments on TV programs don’t mean anything much to me.
But we hear hardly anything from these women. So like it or not, even if the ideal is that there are women writing on Public Address, the reality is that the voices most frequently heard, and indeed dominantly heard, are white male voices. And let me be clear about this…. I love reading the Davids (Haywood and Slack). Dr Haywood in particular has given me some laugh-out-loud moments (this piece is brilliant) and some moments of real fellow feeling – a sleeping baby is a beautiful baby– scroll to the bottom of the page. I enjoy Damian Christie’s work too. I haven’t been reading his pieces from Afghanistan, which is my loss, but I have been a bit bound up with my own current transitoriness. I read Graham Reid’s posts, but contemporary music doesn’t do it for me – I’m a classical kind of woman. Keith Ng’s writing is good too, provocative, making me think, and interesting. I like the way that he goes in for some good, plain analysis and fact finding – comparative tax rates, anyone?
I have been reading Russell Brown since 1999, and I look forward to reading his pieces. I don’t always, but nevertheless nearly always, pretty much agree with what he says (we probably have some differences of opinion with respect to the current government and some of its legislation, and various other things). I have also appreciated the way that he has told people who were being gratuitously offensive, on occasion to me personally, and to other people, both male and female, to pull their heads in. I have heard the word ‘avuncular’ applied to Russell Brown. That seems fair enough to me… ‘though I guess that might depend on the quality of your uncles (my seven uncles are a pretty good bunch of people, on the whole).
My friend Che Tibby used to write for Public Address. We met through Public Address – he wrote his first post there, and I e-mailed him immediately, because as it turns out, we wrote our doctoral theses in pretty much the same area, ‘though mine is more theoretical and his is more applied. He has referred to me, in private, as his oldest commenter. I took this to be a reference to being FIRST, rather than being middle aged…. ‘though he hasn’t clarified that (yet). Whatever. I enjoyed his writing, and I still do, and the duck confit that he and his partner cooked for me was superb. As was the terrine.
So this is not a complaint about the men writing on Public Address. It’s just that, in practice, PAS is monosexual, and pretty much monochrome.
You might think this is not so much of a problem. Women still get represented, even if not very much.
But here’s where I go back to the issue of representation. Anne Phillips, a political philosopher / political scientist, writes about the ‘politics of presence’. She argues that in order for people’s views and needs to be adequately addressed, those people need to be present in decision making bodies.
There’s a nice, practical example of this from NZ politics. Recall that two or three years ago, Helen Clark suggested that given that there was a shortage of skilled workers, and given that women wanted to work, then what we needed, as a nation, was dawn to dusk childcare at schools. This would enable women to work, or to work more.
There was an uproar. Plenty of women pointed out that they didn’t want to work, or to work more. They wanted to spend time with their children, being parents. They wanted flexible work, so they could take time out during school holidays, or look after sick children, or go on school trips.
Helen Clark, and her advisers, got it badly wrong. As we all know, Helen Clark has often been castigated for not having had children, and for being surrounded by advisers who have not had children, or if they have had children, have had a wife at home who has taken care of the children.
I find that criticism of Helen Clark deeply offensive. If a woman decides not to have children, then that’s her decision, and hers alone. And the same applies to men.
But… it’s very important that people who don’t have day-to-day responsibility for children, to talk to people who do. That’s when they can find out what matters to parents, what would make a difference to them, what parents really want when it comes to child care. Because there were no parents present in Helen Clark’s corps of advisors, or at least, no parents who had day-to-day responsibility for their children, she blundered when it came to working out what would make the difference with respect to women and work.
That’s the kind of difference that the politics of presence makes. Simply by being present, by letting other people know how things really are experienced by women / Maori / Pacific Islanders / immigrants / LGBT / rural people / disabled people and so on, the quality of policy analysis, policy consideration, political analysis, political decision making, and so on, improves.
I think that Public Address System suffers simply because women are not well represented there. The lack of representation from women continues in the comments – women are simply not there to nearly the same extent that men are. And I think that without women writing posts, more and more women will feel that PAS is not a place for them. They don’t need to be feminist posts per se, at all, nor posts deliberately couched as a woman’s perspective. I would find that incredibly patronising, and yeechy – back to the 1950s with women’s pages in the newspaper comprised of recipes, knitting patterns, and housekeeping tips.
Simply, for PAS to live up to its ideals, then there needs to be a greater presence of women.
I like Public Address System. I was reading when Public Address started, ‘though for the life of me I can’t find the very first ‘Public Address’ post, c/f the very last Hard News post. If you go back to the day that Public Address System started, you will find that my comment is the sixth one posted. Fantastic, I thought. At last, a blog / forum where left wing views and different views won’t be derided. A place which is just a bit better than the real world. And indeed, that was the goal when PAS was announced over a year ago now.
I’m keen to expand the pool of people engaged in online discussion and I think an atmosphere of respect is vital to that aim.
Has PAS met that ideal? Has it expanded the pool of people engaged in online discussion?
Between the idea
And the reality
Between the motion
And the act
Falls the Shadow
Between the conception
And the creation
Between the emotion
And the response
Falls the Shadow
Between the desire
And the spasm
Between the potency
And the existence
Between the essence
And the descent
Falls the Shadow
A very grim note, and really far, far more grim than is needed. It just seemed so.. apposite.
I do not think that PAS, its writers and its contributers, are hollow men. I think that many of the people there espouse inclusive views. I suspect that many of them are at least sympathetic to the ideals of feminism (bearing in mind that feminism does not equal radical lesbian separatism, ‘though that may be a form of feminism – most feminism works on the idea that men and women are fundamentally of equal worth). However, it’s very hard to espouse such an ideal and to live up to it, day by day, moment by moment. I think that it has become that much harder for PAS to welcome women on equal terms, as women, not as women who are as good as or just like men, now that Tze Ming Mok has gone.
I have couched this post in terms of women. I have been trying to write this from a feminist perspective. I know that Tze Ming Mok’s views were written not just from a feminist perspective, but from the perspective of someone who was not a white New Zealander. I think that most of what I have written here could be written from the perspective of someone who was a member of an ethnic minority group. I don’t want to put my words into someone else’s mouth, but I do think that the same politics of presence would apply.
Russell Brown has said that he is looking to expand the complement of people writing for Public Address. I’m looking forward to seeing who he finds. I hope he finds someone, or two, or three, who will give the regular readers and commenters there a jolt.