Monthly Archives: October 2010

Friday Feminist – Martha C. Nussbaum

Cross posted

On the one hand, it seems impossible to deny that traditions, both Western and non-Western, perpetrate injustice against women in many fundamental ways, touching on some of the most central elements of a human being’s quality of life – health, education, political liberty and participation, employment, self-respect, and life itself. On the other hand, hasty judgements that a tradition in some distant part of the world is morally retrograde are familiar legacies of colonialism and imperialism and are correctly regarded with suspicion by sensitive thinkers in the contemporary world. To say that a practice endorsed by tradition is bad is to risk erring by imposing one’s own way on others, who surely have their own idea of what is right and good. To say that a practice is all right whenever local tradition endorses it as right and good is to risk erring by withholding critical judgement where real evil and oppression are surely present. To avoid the whole issue because the matter of proper judgement is so fiendishly difficult is tempting but perhaps the worse option of all. It suggests the sort of moral collapse depicted by Dante when he describes the crowd of souls who mill around in the vestibule of hell, dragging their banner now one way, now another, never willing to set it down and take a definite stand on any moral or political question. Such people, he implies, are the most despicable of all. They cannot even get into hell because they have not been willing to stand for anything in life, one way or another. To express [this] every succinctly, it is better to risk being consigned by critics to the “hell” reserved for alleged Westernizers and imperialists – however unjustified such criticism would in fact be – than to stand around in the vestibule waiting for a time when everyone will like what we are going to say. And what we are going to say is: that there are universals obligations to protect human functioning and its dignity, and that the dignity of women is equal to that of men. If that involves assault on many local traditions, both Western and non-Western, so much the better, because any tradition that denies these things is unjust. Or, as a young Bangladeshi wife said when local religious leaders threatened to break the legs of women who went to the literacy classes conducted by a local NGO (nongovernmental organization), “We do not listen to the mullahs any more. they did not give us even a quarter kilo of rice.

Martha Nussbaum, Sex and Social Justice, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999.


Cross posted

New Zealand Labour Day, 2010

Yesterday, Madame Grémont, the cleaning lady, brought Maman a bouquet of roses. … OK, I won’t go into the fact that Madame Grémont gives roses to Maman. They have the same relationship that all progressive middle-class women have with their cleaning ladies, although Maman thinks she really is the exception: a good old rose-coloured paternalistic relationship (we offer her coffee, pay her decently, never scold, pass on old clothes and broken furniture, and show an interest in her children, and in return she brings us roses and brown and beige crocheted bedspreads).

From The Elegance of the Hedgehog, by Muriel Barbery, translated by Alison Anderson, Paris: Gallic, 2006 (trans. 2008).

From time to time when we have both been working full time, or near full time, we have employed cleaners, and we have always paid them decently, ensured they have paid tea breaks, asked them to do a springclean instead of a regular clean if we are going to be away (even if we don’t need the house cleaned, the cleaner still needs her wages), tried to treat them respectfully as people who are providing a much needed service for us. Plus I have always insisted that they not clean the toilets: we can clean up our own sh*t.

Even so, this paragraph from this excellent novel hit home. All the same, I wonder what the alternative is? Should I treat people who come into my home to clean with less respect than say, tradies who come in to fix taps and drains and electrical connections and the like?

I don’t think so. I think the answer is to remember that cleaners and other workers are entitled to the full protection of the law. The quality of their employment is not dependent on an employer’s fancies, but on the conditions that have been fought for by unions, and enshrined in law. And decent employers should comply with those conditions, not because they fear the might of the law, but because they are the minimally decent way to behave with respect to other human beings.

Friday Feminist – Marilyn Frye (3)

Cross posted

The root of the word “oppression” is the element “press”. The press of the crowd; pressed into military service; to press a pair of pants; printing press; press the button. Presses are used to mold things or flatten them or reduce them in bulk, sometimes to reduce them by squeezing out the gasses or liquids in them. Something pressed is something caught between or among forces and barriers which are so related to each other that jointly they restrain, restrict or prevent the thing’s motion or mobility. Mold. Immobilize. Reduce.

The mundane experience of the oppressed provides another clue. One of the most characteristic and ubiquitous features of the world as experienced by oppressed people is the double bind – situations in which options are reduced to a very few and all of them expose one to penalty, censure or deprivation. For example, it is often a requirement upon oppressed people that we smile and be cheerful. If we comply, we signal our docility and our acquiescence in our situation. We need not, then, be taken note of. We acquiesce in being made invisible, in our occupying no space. We participate in our own erasure. On the other hand, anything but the sunniest countenance exposes us to being perceived as mean, bitter, angry or dangerous. This means, at the least, that we may be found “difficult” or unpleansant to work with, which is enough to cost one one’s livelihood; at worst, being seen as man, bitter angry or dangerous has been known to result in rape, arrest, beating and murder. One can only choose to risk one’s preferred form and rate of annihilation.

Marilyn Frye, “Oppression,” in The Politics of Reality, 1983


I feel so ashamed.

Protestors holding sign saying, "No to refugees."

Detention centre debate begins

We live in one of the richest nations in the world, and we cannot even behave with minimal decency to children whose parents have made a desperate journey to come here. Some people there wanted to offer welcome and support to these people, but most people wanted to have nothing to do with them, and certainly didn’t want to have them in their own comfortable community.

I wonder how many of these people go to church on Sunday, or send their children to church schools, where they claim to teach Christian compassion?

Update: Grog’s Gamut has an excellent post – The triumph over power, prejudice and bigotry…

To be honest, I doubt the 500 people who attended the meeting reflect the real view of most people who live in the hills. My suspicion is more than a few of those who attended the meeting don’t even live in Woodside. If Jamie Briggs wants them to be his supporters, then go for it – but he can then forego any crud about him being “a moderate”. My view is that the real majority of the residents is voiced by people such as Kim Galdigau who “said the Christian church community in the area wanted to know what it could do to help”.

Victim blaming 101

Cross posted

Gregory Meads murdered Helen Meads just four days after she said she was going to leave their marriage. Now that he has been convicted by a jury, some more information has been released. It turns out that he beat her savagely about 18 months before he killed her.

The details are in this newspaper report, and they are horrifying. The report is *triggering*.

What the Meads jury didn’t hear

But it seems that at least one police office thinks that it’s Helen Meads fault.

Detective Sergeant Rod Carpinter, the officer in charge of the murder investigation, said the case highlighted the need for people to seek help from police, Women’s Refuge or another organisation help before family violence escalated.

“Here we have a woman who has lost her life, children left without their mother and their father facing a long term of imprisonment.”

Dude, it highlights the need for Gregory Meads to stop being a violent arsehole. Gregory Meads was the man who threw the punches, Gregory Meads was the man who pulled the trigger, Gregory Meads is the man who is responsible for Helen Meads being dead, for the children being without their mother, and for their father (that would be Gregory Meads) being in jail.

Maybe it also highlights the need for police to press assault charges a little harder. I really don’t understand why Gregory Mead’s assault on Helen Meads was not prosecuted in the first place. If police had taken their responsibilities seriously, maybe Helen Meads would still be alive, and her children would still have their mother.

Enough with the victim blaming.

Guest post: Two world views

Cross posted

Adele spent a long time on The Hand Mirror, discussing what the furore around Te Papa meant for her (tahi, rua). She has put a detailed comment on my blog, describing Te Ao Taangata Whenua – the world view indigenous to Aotearoa, and how it contrasts with a Western world view. With her permission, I am posting her comment as a post.

Adele is my guest here. Please, keep any discussion courteous. If you feel tempted to hit the keyboards and shoot from the hip, could I ask you step away for a while, and think about how to phrase your comment so that it is at least civil, even if you don’t agree with her, or you find things she says difficult. I myself don’t agree with some things Adele says, but I appreciate the opportunity to learn more about Te Ao Taangata Whenua.

Kia ora, Adele!


I am not wishing to dwell too much on the actions of Te Papa except to say that their process lacked foresight. What I would like to debate, however, is the sharing of public space between opposing worldviews – joined by a Treaty recognised in principles, if not fact. I use the term worldview to denote a discussion about ideologies more so than race.

The two worldviews I speak of are, to the left, Te Ao Taangata Whenua – the worldview indigenous to Aotearoa, and to the right, The Western Tradition, the worldview of the coloniser. Te Ao Taangata Whenua is used here rather than Te Ao Maaori because this term better acknowledges the many peoples indigenous to the whenua – nations of people identified as hapuu, or Iwi. The two worldviews are opposing because their cores values are fundamentally different.

The differences became officially manifest in two versions of a singular intent towards sharing place and space -Te Tiriti o Waitangi, the indigenous account and The Treaty of Waitangi, its English counterpart. Two versions in open conflict, such that nowadays, emphasis is focussed on spirit rather than substance and on principles rather than terms.

Developing a principled approach towards sharing place and space is also contentious especially as the worldviews in co-habitation are polar opposing in bed. One connects the spiritual, natural, and human realms via whakapapa. The other has mankind at its summit, holding dominion over the natural world. The hegemonic uplifts democracy as fair and just. The marginalised finds democracy unfair to the minority opinion. Our Gods are seventy plus in number, your God is money.

Despite being incompatible bed mates, there is a covering agreement to share place and space in partnership. The abusive relationship that currently passes for partnership is a hoohaa. There is an obligation on behalf of the state to actively ensure that taangata whenua (Maaori) have and retain full exclusive and undisturbed possession of not only the language but also the culture. That obligation extends to Government agencies. This argument has nothing to do with separating church from state.

Te Ao Taangata Whenua is not sexist. Our cosmology overflows with the power of the feminine. In Te Reo, the personal pronouns and possessive personal pronouns are gender neutral – there is no differentiation by gender. The significance of women is also symbolised in the language – whare tangata, the house of humankind, whenua – means both land and afterbirth, and hapuu meaning both pregnancy and large kinship group. We all whakapapa to Papa-tuu-aa-nuku, mother Earth – in other words, our worldview has strong attachments to the matriarch.

When the western worldview arrived in Aotearoa, it bought along dis-empowered women – mere chattels to their men-folk. It arrived into the world of the savage whose stories spoke of the strength and power of women. The missionaries, in particular, were heaven sent in destroying the heathen and the matriarch. Thus, in the retelling of the stories into written form, mana waahine was rendered impotent.

Mana waahine, today, continues to rage against the oppressive nature of the western worldview – the patriarch with a holier than thou attitude. Thus mana waahine and feminism are also bedfellows in dispute. Feminism, is fathered by the patriarch, and seeks merely to gain equality with their men-folk. Mana waahine, belongs to the matriarch, and aspires to regain the power and strength that rightfully belongs to her – emanating directly from Atua.

The slow reveal

Cross posted

If Tracey Crisp’s novel, Black Dust Dancing, is characterised by the pauses and little actions of everyday life, then Kate De Goldi’s novel, The 10pm Question, is all about the slow reveal. So much so, that to tell you about some of the key points of the novel is to spoil the process of revelation. So I shall be careful about what I say here: I will reveal some, but only the necessary, and leave some for you to read for yourself. Because you ought to read this novel.

The 10pm Question is seen through the eyes of Frankie, a 12 year old boy. His life seems normal, just the everyday activities of a boy and his family, even if overlaid by his anxiety. He has responsibilities, and he worries. Constantly. Mostly, he worries about his mother.

This is the point at which you should stop reading if you plan to read this book for yourself. At this point, I’m going to give a reveal. It doesn’t ruin the plot, but I can’t write about this book without revealing why Frankie worries about his mother.

Frankie’s Mum has a mental illness. It constrains her life, and affects every member of the family, in different ways. Not in frightening ways. But in ways that push Frankie and his sister and his brother, and Uncle George.

This is where Kate De Goldi writes about mental illness so well. As I read the novel, it took me some time to realise that Frankie’s mum, Francie, has a mental illness. Bit by bit I realised that something was not quite usual with Frankie’s world. I realised that his mum was not a standard mum, and then I realised that she had a mental illness, and only after quite some time did I work out the exact nature of her illness. It was like real life, when we first assume that someone we have just met is a standard issue person, and then we realise that something is a bit unusual, and then that the person may have a mental health problem, and then, possibly, work out a little about the nature of a problem. In real life, a person’s mental illness is often a slow reveal, to themselves, and to the people around them. Kate De Goldi has mirrored this slow reveal in the way she has written this novel.

De Goldi doesn’t shy away from the difficulties of mental illness, for the person who has it, and for the people around her or him. When Frankie finally flies to his great aunts (three women of large size and large personality), the eldest aunt doesn’t try to smooth over the problems, to pretend that they don’t exist.

“Oh Frankie,” she sighed. “Isn’t it hard?”

That’s one of the things I like about this book. It doesn’t try to pretend that illness is easy, that everyone can just take the pills and be happy. Kate de Goldi’s characters cope, but there are costs for each of them too. Above all, there are costs for Francie. She has found a way of living, a way of managing, a way of being… content, even if not happy per se. But there are costs. Fancie is no super-crip. She’s just an ordinary woman, who copes as best she can with the way her life has turned out.

I also like Frankie’s perspective. He seems to me to be a thorough-going twelve year old, full of plans and rituals and speculations. It was fun to see the world through a twelve-year-old’s eyes, to see things that he didn’t, and realise that he saw things that I simply could not perceive.

You should read this book. It’s entertaining, but it’s also thought-provoking. And it is instructive. Not in the sense of being didactic, or moralistic, at all. But in the sense of revealing aspects of the way that human beings can be, with sympathy, and without judgement.

Ms Twelve read this book too, and loved it. It’s well within the reach of a perceptive twelve year old, ‘though I suspect that she will find more in it if she reads it again when she is older.