Tag Archives: Patriarchy

A little bit of luck

Cross posted

Chris Trotter’s most recent column is a dispiriting analysis of why cost-cutting, beneficiary-bashing, privilege-defending prime minister John Key somehow remains so popular: it’s because he’s so ordinary, just another Kiwi bloke who is happy to drink his beer from the bottle and weild the tongs at a barbie Even his extraordinary wealth doesn’t upset New Zealanders: being rich is fine provided it’s not inherited wealth, and it’s not flaunted, not displayed in a way that implies that other people are lesser beings. There’s no Remmers snootiness about John Key. He’s pragmatic rather than being a thinker, and it’s a damned fine thing that he doesn’t seem to read great literature, or enjoy Beethoven’s string quartets, or heaven forbid, try to engage in any sort of intellectual life. We don’t want any smart people around here, thank you very much.

I think Trotter is on the money when he says that New Zealanders prefer modest heroes: one of the reasons New Zealanders admired Sir Edmund Hillary so much was his modesty about his achievements. John Key does seem like the chap next door, just an ordinary bloke getting on with the job. Personally, I’d rather that we had some intellectual heft on the 9th floor of the Beehive, and in ministerial offices, along with the nice chap demeanour, and frankly, I’d prefer a country where being smart and well-educated and prepared to talk about policy and ideas isn’t regarded as a social solecism, but evidently, I’m in a minority on that one. (The evidence would be John Key’s continuing popularity.)

Where Trotter nails it is with this sentence about the way New Zealanders regard John Key.

Strangely, we don’t seem to mind if our leaders are richer than we are. Money, after all, is a wonderfully democratic thing. With sufficient hard work (and just a little bit of luck) just about anybody can become rich.

Just a little bit of luck…

It takes more than just a little bit of luck to become very wealthy. It takes a whole damn truck and semi-trailer of luck to become wealthy. Let’s count the little bits of luck that John Key has had.

First of all, there’s the luck of being born with a white skin. John Key has never had to experience walking into a shop and being regarded with suspicion just because his skin is the wrong colour. Then there’s the luck of being born male – he doesn’t have to justify his pursuit of career at the expense of having children, or carefully plan childcare if he wants to do a full-time job. Nor has he constantly had to calculate whether he is phsyically safe when he walks down a street, or has a few too many drinks. He was born able-bodied: no having to negotiate all the barriers that society places in the way of people with physical disabilities, from cars parked over kerbs and pavements, to lack of toilet facilities, to public places that are accessible only through a back door right round the back of the building, to work patterns that demand 10 hours phsyical effort a day, to… the list is endless. He was born with sufficient neural connections across his corpus callosum, so that he is a quick and able thinker, able to grasp difficult concepts quickly and easily. When his family was impoverished during his childhood, because his father died, there was a good quality state house available for him to grow up in, providing him with security. He had the extraordinary good luck to be born to a mother who made it easy for him to get through school and university, who assumed that her children would pursue higher education. He had the good luck to go through university at a time when only a small proportion of New Zealand’s population did so, which meant that the government funded virtually all the tuition and living costs for students – no student loans for him. And so it goes. John Key is an extraordinarily lucky man.

Let me be quite clear: it is not John Key’s “fault” that he was born lucky, any more than for example, it was Kiri Te Kanawa’s “fault” for being born with an extraordinarily beautiful singing voice. It is just a piece of extraordinarily good luck. I do not doubt that John Key has also worked very, very hard. But one person can work hard all his life, putting in extra hours, doing his best to earn a good income and support himself, and still end up at retirement age with not much more than the old age pension to live on. Another will work hard all his life, but because he has been born lucky, because he is in the right place at the right time, he will become incredibly wealthy.

What Trotter points to in this paragraph is the collective delusion that New Zealanders buy into, that being wealthy is a reward for hard work, and that if only the rest of us worked that hard, we too could be wealthy. Far from being a column in praise of John Key (pace the standard cheerleaders on the right), Trotter has given us an exposé of the way we delude ourselves about our prime minister, about the nature of achievement, and about how we regard success in this country. I recommend it.

Leopards… spots… Chris Trotter redux

Cross posted

In July 2010, NZ “left wing” political commentator Chris(opher) Trotter wrote this in respect of Labour MP Steve Chadwick’s proposed abortion law reform bill.

The first question I’d like to ask Labour list MP Steve Chadwick is: “Why now?” What’s convinced her that the time is right to reopen the abortion debate? What ill-omened denizen of the current political environment has told her that this is the moment to introduce a members bill permitting abortion-on-demand up to the 24th week of pregnancy?

I would really, really like to know who it was. Because, try as I may, I’m finding it really difficult to make the cost/benefit analysis come out in Ms Chadwick’s, her party’s, or even her gender’s favour.

Dominion Post, 9 July 2010

In other words…. “No no no! Even though I agree with a woman’s right to choose, now is just not the right time for it, because it’s BAAAAAADDD for the Left.”

In November 2010, Chris Trotter wrote this in respect of Matt McCarten’s candidacy in the Mana by-election.

When Matt McCarten told me he was thinking of putting his name forward for the Mana by-election, I shuddered inwardly. … The political analyst in me pursed his lips and shook his head.

“With the Labour Party moving steadily to the Left,” he intoned disapprovingly, “this is precisely the wrong time to challenge Goff’s hand-picked candidate in an important by-election in one of the party’s safest seats.”

Then I caught the gleam in Matt’s eye, and I told my inner political analyst to go stick his objections where the sun don’t shine.

Because if being on the Left means waiting for the “right time” to fight for your principles, then, as the hero of Howard Spring’s wonderful political novel, Fame Is The Spur, discovered, when the fight comes to you, the bright sword of principle can no longer be drawn. Through all those years, while you were waiting for the “right time”, the sword’s blade was rusting fast to the scabbard.

Dominion Post, 12 November 2010.

So on the one hand, even though The Left holds principles dear, it must be pragmatic, but on the other, to hell with pragmatism: The Left should hold fast to its principles.

Guess what the difference is between the two cases….

Update: Chris Trotter has left a comment over at The Hand Mirror, where I cross-posted this. Chris Trotter’s comment.

I believe that’s what you call “a fair cop”.

Guilty as charged.

Good on him.

200 years later, and we’re still making the same case

Cross posted

The excellent Blue Milk has posted a quote from Andrea O’Reilly, in which Professor Reilly questions the nature of our arguments around improving the status and practice of motherhood.

While I do believe that empowered mothers are more effective mothers and that anti-sexist childrearing and maternal activism are worthwhile aims, I still wonder and worry why the rhetoric of rationalization has become the strategy of choice among feminist activists and scholars today and why our campaigns for social change centre on children, and not ourselves as mothers. Why can we not simply demand that motherhood be made better for mothers themselves?

Click through to read the whole quote.

Professor O’Reilly acknowledges that as a matter of rhetorical strategy, it may be a good idea to emphasise that making things better for mothers will make things better for children. But why, she asks, can we not just make things better for mothers, for their own sake?

It’s a good question, but one that can be discussed over at Blue Milk’s place. I want to tell you about the resonance I heard in Professor O’Reilly’s writing. It’s a resonance with Mary Wollstonecraft. In her A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, published in 1792, Wollstonecraft argues that men and women are of the same kind, that although there may be differences between them, they are differences of degree, not kind, and that if that is the case, then women have a right to be educated, just as much as men do. That is, she argues for women’s right to education on the basis of principle.

But she also argues:

Do passive indolent women make the best wives? Confining our discussion to the present moment of existence, let us see how such weak creatures perform their part? Do the women who, by the attainment of a few superficial accomplishments, have strengthened the prevailing prejudice, merely contribute to the happiness of their husbands? Do they display their charms merely to amuse them? And have women, who have early imbibed notions of passive obedience, sufficient character to manage a family or educate children?

But these littlenesses would not degrade their character, if women were led to respect themselves, if political and moral subjects were opened to them; and, I will venture to affirm, that this is the only way to make them properly attentive to their domestic duties.

But it is vain to expect the present race of weak mothers either to take that reasonable care of a child’s body, which is necessary to lay the foundation of a good constitution, supposing that it do not suffer for the sins of its fathers;b or, to manage its temper so judiciously that the child will not have, as it grows up, to throw off all that its mother, its first instructor, directly or indirectly taught; and unless the mind have uncommon vigour, womanish follies will stick to the character throughout life. The weakness of the mother will be visited on the children!

In public schools women, to guard against the errors of ignorance, should be taught the elements of anatomy and medicine, not only to enable them to take proper care of their own health, but to make them rational nurses of their infants, parents, and husbands;

Besides, by the exercise of their bodies and minds women would acquire that mental activity so necessary in the maternal character, united with the fortitude that distinguishes steadiness of conduct from the obstinate perverseness of weakness.

Arguments from pragmatism have a long history in feminist thinking.

Yes, I know that patriarchy harms men too, and that in slowly, slowly, knocking away the patriarchal structures that oppress women, we create a better world for everyone. But as Andrea O’Reilly says, and as Wollstonecraft argues in other places, wouldn’t it be good for women to be educated, for women’s work to be valued, just because women deserve it, for themselves.

La plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose

IN the Catholic church, it seems that it has long been a sin to expose evil doing by priests.

MacKillop exposed paedophile priest

MARY MacKILLOP was excommunicated from the Catholic Church partly as revenge for helping to expose the paedophilia of a South Australian priest, a new documentary about the life of the controversial sister claims.

It brings to mind the horrid story from March last year, when a nine year old child was raped and became pregnant. Her mother and a doctor arranged an abortion. The Catholic church excommunicated the mother and the doctor, but not the rapist.

It seems that it’s always right to cover up evil in the Catholic church.

“Out of touch” doesn’t quite capture it

Earlier this year I wrote a fair amount about the Catholic church, and more particularly, the Vatican, and its astonishing failings with respect to priests who raped children (one, two, three, four). But then I laid off, for various reasons, mostly to do with some of my best friends and all. As it turns out, my friends who are members of the church feel wretched and angry about it: wretched because by implication, they support the church, and angry because they feel that their church is being taken from them by a group of men who are entrenched in positions of privilege and wealth in the Vatican. Moreover, most of my friends who are Catholic live in New Zealand, where my understanding (somewhat untutored) is that the church has not tried to cover up, and has worked hard to hold priests responsible for their crimes.

For a long time, the Vatican has tried to avoid responsibility for child-raping priests, and has worked hard to distance Joseph Ratzinger, who likes to be known as His Holiness Benedict XVI, from complicity in cover-ups. It wasn’t Ratty who moved priests on, and neglected to hand them over to civil authorities, or so they said. But that is wearing thinner and thinner. Given the great uncovering that is going on in Catholic churches all over the world, and especially in Western countries, I’m sure that it’s only a matter of time before he is found to have very dirty hands indeed. Moreover, his failure to hold priests and bishops responsible continues. Not only is Cardinal Law, formerly of Boston, and now of the Vatican, still sitting pretty in a sinecure in Rome from whence Ratty refuses to dislodge him to face a grand jury back in the USA, but now he won’t even accept resignations from bishops who have been shown to have failed in their duties.

Vatican rejects resignations of 2 Dublin bishops and Vatican rejects resignations of Irish bishops over child sex abuse scandal

Ratzinger seems to be a most unholy man. Refusing these resignations is extraordinary: it is a tacit endorsement of the bishops’ efforts to cover up the crimes of child rapists who were harboured by the church. It’s a slap in the face for Diarmuid Martin, the archbishop of Dublin, who is trying to clean up the diocese. I’ve no doubt that there is a great deal more he could do, like selling some of the church’s property in order to pay compensation to victims. But no he must be wondering why he should bother, if the man who increasingly seems to be at the centre of the evil will not even accept mea culpas from those who did wrong. And it’s a covert wink and nod to other bishops around the world. “Don’t worry,” Ratty is saying. “I’ll look after you.”

What is Ratty trying to cover up?

And ignorant too!

New Zealand Prime Minister John Key made a stupid and offensive joke about Tuhoe. For non-New Zealand readers, Tuhoe are a Maori iwi, or tribe, who never signed Te Tiriti o Waitangi.

Here’s what John Key said.

“The good news is that I was having dinner with Ngati Porou as opposed to their neighbouring iwi which is Tuhoe, in which case I would have been dinner, which wouldn’t have been quite so attractive,” he said.

From: PM slammed for cannibalism comment, in the New Zealand Herald

It’s racism, simple and nasty, and absolutely unacceptable from anyone, let alone the Prime Minister.

And John Key has come up with an apology.

It was just a joke and sorry if anyone was offended.

Good grief. The “apology” is not an apology at all. It’s all a mistake, and no one understands his sense of humour, and why don’t you just smile and wave a bit more, John Key, instead of leading the nation.

Not only is his “apology” inane, but it’s ignorant too. Check out what he actually said.

Ahh look, it was a light-hearted joke, a bit of self-deprecating humour, but if anyone is offended, then I deeply apologise.

Prime Minister, not only do you need to learn how to make a proper apology (hint: don’t pretend it was all a joke, and have the guts to recognise that you actually were offensive), but you need to learn what “self-deprecating” means.

Let me google that for you.

“Tending to undervalue oneself and one’s abilities.”
“conscious of your own shortcomings”
“belittling or undervaluing oneself; excessively modest.”

I don’t see anything self-deprecating about the alleged humour at all. I can’t see that John Key was undervaluing himself, or being conscious of his own shortcomings, or being excessively modest.

All he was doing was making a cheap, racist, crack. And his “apology” simply demonstrates his ignorance.

Hating on teh wiminz and teh gayz

Former Labour MP, John “front bum” Tamihere really doesn’t like women. And gays. Apparently it’s the women’s faction and the gay faction in the Labour party who are writing the party’s policies these days, and this is a bad thing.

By default, Labour’s politics are now determined by its well-organised factions – the women’s and gay divisions of the party.

It has drafted in a number of MPs who have studied poverty and the working class but have never come from those areas of difficulty.

The party, as a consequence, no longer had a robust debate and a wonderful test of the conflict of ideas required to shape answers for such questions as, “What do we stand for, who are we, and how are we going to apply what we stand for?”

What a stunning piece of analysis! One which completely ignores the demographics of the NZ Labour party hierarchy, which would be overwhelmingly heterosexual, and largely male. Of course there are more women and gay people in the Labour party hierarchy compared to say, the National party hierarchy, but that’s because the Labour party has always been more hospitable to marginalised people than the National party. (‘Though that’s not saying a lot.) Even so, the leader, the president, the finance spokesperson in the Labour party are all white, married men. The positions of power in the party are held by white married men. I’m thinking that they probably have quite an influence on policy.

Here’s some news for you, John. These days, women are allowed to vote. These days, gays and lesbians don’t have to disguise themselves behind a front of heterosexuality. To be sure, there’s a long way to go in terms of accepting gay and lesbian and queer and trans and bisexual people as they are, but in New Zealand and in many other countries around the world, it is much more possible for people who are not part of the straight norm to be out, in public, and (this is a shocker, John – you may find it hard to cope) even in public office.

The NZ Labour party is going through a period of re-negotiating an understanding of itself, working out new ways to serve New Zealand. Noticeably, it wants to do the best for all New Zealanders, not just those who are deemed fit by the mindset of mid-twentieth century power structures. That means that women and gay people get to have a say too. What is so bad about that?

Thank goodness John Tamihere is no longer in power, and his only platform is a newspaper column and talk-back radio, with its reach of hundreds.