Friday, 18 April 2014

Movies, feminism and postfeminism

So, a confession: I've never really liked biographical movies about women I otherwise admire. I'm not entirely sure why - there's something about the cliches they indulge in, the Hollywood-isation. (She lapses into total vagueness revealing, yet again, that she actually don't know much about movies or how to analyse them.) Not long ago, I read a book by a woman I know, Te Whanganui-a-tara/Wellington-based scholar, Bronwyn Polaschek, about bio-pics of women. The book was based on Bronwyn's doctoral thesis and I was thinking of reviewing it. But because of above-mentioned inadequacies, I didn't think I could do it justice. Instead, I decided to do a Q&A by email with Bronwyn to post here for anyone who might be interested in some seriously serious film criticism, analysis, discussion. So, here goes: 

The Postfeminist Biopic: Narrating the Lives of Plath, Kahlo, Woolf and Austen
By Bronwyn Polaschek. Palgrave/Macmillan 2013.

Q: In your book, you argue there’s a specific category of biopic that should be considered “postfeminist”. But you acknowledge that the word “postfeminist” itself is one people disagree on. The way you prefer to understand it is as an “epistemological shift”. By that I take you to mean, among other things, that postfeminism isn’t just a backlash against feminism or somehow “after” feminism, but is its own thing. As you put it in the intro to your book, it is an “intersection of feminism with postmodernism, poststructuralism and post-colonialism”. (Let’s not try to define all those contested words for now!) Or, to put it yet another way, postfeminism doesn’t just challenge the things the so-called “second wave” feminists were challenging, it also challenges the “second wave” itself, which I think everyone agrees needed to happen. In terms of movies, then, these are biopics that clearly contain feminist elements, but also much more than that including some critique of those elements, and as such they really do demand their own category, a category you’re calling the “postfeminist biopic”. What made you begin to think that calling or categorising these movies – and the ones you look at primarily are Sylvia, Frida, The Hours and Becoming Jane – as postfeminist (rather than, say, just “feminist”) was necessary?

A: I started with the films. They seemed interesting to me, but I wasn’t sure what I had to say about them, or whether they were linked in any particular way. As I worked through the scholarly literature, I found certain theoretical tools were useful to me in thinking about the films (like, Laura Mulvey’s idea of the male gaze or ideas from feminist film critics about the symbolism of windows, or the effect of the voiceover etc) but I also found the pessimism in much of this material didn’t accord with the vibrancy and intensity of the films themselves. I also felt that many aspects of the films were not captured by applying a feminist lens, including elements that were internally contradictory. Coming across the less well known definition of postfeminism that I use was exciting because it provided a way to make sense of the films, and to see the links between them and with other films being released around the same time. I found I was able to articulate the distinctive features of these films, what separates them from earlier biopics about women. So, to answer your question, it was a long process before I realised the category was ‘necessary’, but when I found it my disparate arguments seemed to fall in line. I started with the material, but had to look to find the right theoretical tools to make sense of it.

Thursday, 17 April 2014

Photographic proof

Deborah asked for a picture of my bicycle, after I wrote about it, and there is now one in existence which even includes me riding it along Mt Albert Rd, thanks to a dear friend who drove past me and spied an opportunity to snap me.

Name suggestions welcome :-)

Monday, 7 April 2014

71st Down Under Feminists Carnival

Blogging goodness galore at the 71st Down Under Feminists Carnival, hosted this month by Rebecca at bluebec.

Many thanks to whoever nominated some of our posts :-)

Make with the clicky!

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

The Role of the Rule of Law and Access to Justice in Development

Last night I was excited to go and see Helen Clark speak at the University of Auckland on the Role of the Rule of Law and Access to Justice in Development. I made copious notes, and tried my hardest to keep up and live-tweet key points for people who would have loved to have been there but couldn’t make it.
For a full transcript of her talk, please go to the UNDP website link here.
But in the interests of those who wish to just get the gist of things, I have summarised main points
The tone of the talk was very relaxed, and it may have been me projecting what I wanted onto the evening, but it seemed as though Helen was enjoying being at home, talking to a group of people interested and positive about the future. The talk was definitely targeted at raising the interest and profile of what the UNDP does to those who work in and around human rights law in NZ. She pointed out that UNDP is a development agency, and doesn’t have a monitoring role in human rights and international law. (Something I wasn’t aware of). UNDP work on poverty eradication and human development, defined as a process of “enlarging people’s choices, freedoms, and capabilities to lead lives they value.”

A key part of people’s vulnerability is that they live without the protections of the law, and this limits their choices and freedoms and opens them up to a range of abuses.   “The rule of law and a well-functioning justice sector support such growth and development, by, for example defining property and tenure rights, enabling contracts to be enforced and disputes settled, and tackling corruption.”

Helen Clark pointed out that the previous UNDP goals were of broader strokes and despite significant progress on achieving the Millennium development goals, poor and marginalized people continue to “face significant obstacles to empowerment and human development”.  A pivotal lesson learned has been that “weak governance, ineffective or unfair justice systems, security institutions which do not serve their people, and lack of stability are all barriers to development progress.”
She referenced that the Commission on the Legal Empowerment of the Poor noted in its 2008 report that marginalized groups often depend on informal employment for their livelihoods and informal housing for their habitat. They often lack legal identity and access to justice. The Commission's final report argued that: "a process of systemic change through which the poor and excluded become able to use the law, the legal system, and legal services to protect and advance their rights and interests as citizens" is essential for social justice and equity.
"An honest and responsive government" is ranked as fourth of the sixteen priorities, with more than half of all participants ranking it in their top six priorities.
She gave examples for how the rule of law and access to justice can be advanced through practical development work and they were fascinating – again, I would highly recommend reading her speech, I am just giving the answers without any of the interesting scenarios and examples.
·          Supporting countries to remove specific barriers to access to justice and to reach underserved communities.
·          Building responsive and inclusive justice and security systems
·          Support for National Human Rights Machinery
·          Supporting Transitional Justice arrangements in countries emerging from conflict or otherwise in transition
·          Expanding citizen security
·          Meeting the specific needs of women and girls
·          The Role of the Rule of Law and Access to Justice in Sustainable Natural Resource Management - justice systems have a key role to play in ensuring environmental sustainability

The examples given in how these above ideas can be practically applied were fascinating; setting up remote mobile legal centres, getting more women into police and justice roles, setting up legitimate work places for young people to give them an alternative to working for corrupt/dangerous employers. The list goes on…
The question section was interesting, when Helen could speak off the cuff about what the UNDP staff do and how she sees her role. Some key points from these were:
Entry level qualification to work for the UN is a master’s degree, and be prepared to go to the less popular places!
Be prepared to take the tough assignments – they are a ladder to rewarding experiences and a career with the UNDP
There is not a week goes by without UNDP staff somewhere struggling with harrowing experiences. They are frequently under attack in some areas.
If someone is prepared to take their own life in order to kill you, your prospects really aren’t good.
Lots of developing countries slip under the radar; they aren’t as “marketable” for donations.
When she leaves, she would like to see the UNDP established as the partner of choice because they are good at what they do.
In conclusion to my write up on the evening, a lovely thing she said which really seemed to resonate with the room was “You do this job to make a difference, and to make a difference you need to inspire people working around the world.”
I hope this helps summarise the evening for those of you who would have liked to have been there.

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

On her bike

For a bit of 2012 and most of 2013 I borrowed the Auckland Frocks on Bike bike to see if I could get around on two pedals.  I've written about that experience here.  In November last year I decided I'd been dipping my toes in for long enough and invested in a bike, complete with basket, bike lock, rear rack, and good intentions galore.  My mum gave me The World's Largest Bike Bell.  I decorated the basket with some flowers from a broken plastic lei.

It's actually going well.  I have worked out I have poor balance (I fall off quite a bit, have trouble with take off too), and that's not all that likely to go away.  I'm also rather scared of going fast, so I use the brakes a lot going downhill.  People smile at me more when I have the basket on, and it's quite delightful to be able to get around my suburb and a bit further afield and say hello to those I meet on the street; something I could never do in a car.

What I've worked out is that when I cycle I feel I am a part of the neighbourhood I'm moving through, with all my senses, as opposed to being separated from it by the steel and glass shell of a car.  And that's a good feeling.

Cycling has become an important part of my self-care regime, along with nice-smelling stuff from Lush, visits to Savemart, a daily dose of anti-depressants, cuddles from young children of my acquiantance, reading novels, naps, eating cake, a monthly visit to a psychotherapist, and saying a cheery hello to people on the street.

At Suffrage Day last year my colleague and friend Pippa Coom, deputy chair of the Waitemata Local Board, spoke at Khartoum Place about what a bicycle meant to women in the 1800s; freedom.  I must admit I initiatlly thought that was a bit OTT, but on reflection I can feel that freedom whenever I ride.  For me it's a very different freedom from that of my foremothers and -sisters, but still it is freedom that is meaningful to me now.  Freedom from relying heavily on oil, freedom from traffic, freedom from being shackled to using roads to get around (cycleways through parks FTW!), freedom to experience the city around me directly.  Freedom to park for free, and get some sneaky inadvertent exercise, and get more sun, and ring a bell at people with good reason.

I'm not in this for health, although cycling does help me feel better.  I'm not in it to save the planet, because I know I can't do that on my own however much I can set an example.  I'm not in it to save money, appreciated consequence though that is.   I'm in it because in my current circumstances it is simply the best way for me to get around most of the time, and it helps me to feel well.

The bike I was previously borrowing felt like it acquired a name after a while (Bertie), but I haven't taken the step with the new one yet.  I've thought about Decca, and Agnes, and Ingrid, but I'm open to your suggestions.  Bruiser or Freedom seem more appropriate some days!  Feel free to leave your ideas in comments.

Monday, 24 March 2014

Guestie: We are all human beings that live on the exact same planet

This guest post has been submitted and written by an Auckland high school student, chelsea_makita.  She wrote it for a short essay for school and was encouraged to seek a wider audience for it by her teacher.

Why is it that people who are gay get treated differently? Well I think this is simply because of the fact that people don't understand how much they may be in love with a person. Whether it is someone with the same gender as yourself or different, everyone should be treated fairly and equally. From my point of view,  there is no difference. We are all human beings that live on the exact same planet. I think that people who are glad to be different are the ones that make our world, a proud and beautiful place to be.

Many people don't understand why some people are gay. They’re happy being who they are. They find it hilarious when two people with the same gender walk past holding hands. Do they really find it funny? or is it that they’re just trying to put people down? To be honest, it’s none of their business what is going on through other people’s lives.

This subject is a bit like racism, except it’s not based on coloured skin. People who have dark skin or light skin were born that way. It was god’s gift for them. Yes, they may not look the same, but who cares? The main thing is that they’re happy for who they are and where they come from. I don't think it’s fair that human beings who are different are treated the way they are.

Just imagine, if you were in their shoes, how would you feel getting called names? Don't forget that they have feelings too. Recently, one of my friend’s cousins committed suicide because she was getting bullied for going out with a person who walked like a girl, talked like a girl and even looked like one. I think if you're proud of your relationship and the person you are with, then there’s no reason to be ashamed of who you are.

We human beings are all the same. We choose who we want to be. Just because some people make choices that you may think is weird, that doesn't give you the right to act like a total bully towards them. Finally, I am proud to say that I stand up for people who are gay.

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

The fundamentally anti-women notion at the heart of anti-abortion campaigns laid bare

Content warning:  This is a post about the tactics of an anti-abortion campaign currently underway, the arguments they make, and as such will include some unpleasantness.  I'm just going to turn off comments on my posts about abortion at the moment because I don't have time to monitor a comment thread and some people won't respect the rules.  If you want to tell me something in particular as a result of this post then you can email us or tweet me @juliefairey.


I blogged last week about the paradox of Choose Life, a new campaign (launched for Lent donchaknow) aimed at pressuring and intimidating people seeking an abortion (but it's your choice, honest), and ultimately wanting to have forced pregnancies, rather than allow anyone to terminate.

Well today we have the people who are supporting this contradiction positively bragging about enabling someone to harass their pregnant partner, who was seeking an abortion at a clinic in Auckland, to the point where the police were called twice.

Let's be clear; this example shows us precisely what the opposition to abortion are all about: denying those with uteruses power over their own bodies, and encouraging those who aren't pregnant to hold sway over those who are.  Most of the time that is going to be a woman disempowered, harassed, upset, abused, and a man taking power, harassing, hectoring, abusing.  And that is fundamentally anti-women.

The 40 Days For Life crew have the gall to argue, in the above linked  post, that:

  • Men should step up and speak out about abortion, especially "post-abortive men".  First up you need to understand that "post-abortive men" are not chaps who were going to mail a letter but then decided not to.  Then you need to ignore the fact that the Go To Anti Abortion Media Commentariat in our country are (both) male (Ken Orr and Bob McCroskrie for those following along at home). Finally please do deny the really rather undeniable biological fact that if men get to decide about abortions then that would mean that in most cases the actual pregnant person doesn't get to decide about continuing their own pregnancy.  And I rather suspect that those who are anti-abortion aren't keen on giving men who do get pregnant a say either.
  • Abortion allows the objectification of women, and no doubt without it we would all be living in a feminist paradise in which women ate chocolates constantly while men served their every whim, in recognition of their divine role as wombs, or something.  I rather doubt the feminist commitment of a group whose main campaign is in favour of forced pregnancy.
  • They helped a "distraught father."  To harass a distraught, and pregnant, mother, if you follow their line of argument.  Oh good, that'll help everybody involved, except that it won't.  How about instead of saying "think about the father, think about the baby!!11!!" it was "think about that pregnant person, that human being who is likely in a tricky spot and deserves some compassion and some respect."
In the specific instance linked we don't know a whole lot about the circumstances, and what we do is based on a rather subjective source.  But statistics tell us that at least half of all terminations each year are the result of contraceptive failure.  Chances are that the harasser in this situation had sex not intending to have a child as a result, and was possibly actively involved in undertaking contraceptive efforts to ensure that.  

Even if that weren't the case he doesn't have a right to force someone else to continue a pregnancy, give birth, become a parent or expand their family further.  The conversation seems to go "If you want to go through with this pregnancy then you can do it yourself" followed by "I would if I could, but I can't, so I won't, but you should".  No one should be able to force someone to continue a pregnancy they don't want to continue; no one.  The only person who can ultimately decide whether or not to continue a pregnancy is the person who is pregnant.  They can seek advice from anyone they like, but it should be their decision.

In a culture that shames women for having sex, having bodies, having abortions, using contraception, being sexy, not being sexy, and much much more, anti-abortion campaigners actively increase the possibility that pregnancy can cause distress and mental ill health.  By praying outside clinics, displaying anti-abortion signs, encouraging people opposed to abortion (either in general or in a specific case) to pressure others, Choose Life and their ilk are intimidating and harming people who are already vulnerable.  It's hateful and cruel and I wish they would stop.

Thursday, 13 March 2014

"Choose Life" is not about choice; it's about force

There's a new campaign by one of my least favourite lobby groups (Family First in case you were wondering), which is encouraging people to wear special pink and blue ribbons to say "Choose Life," by which they mean don't have abortions.

The use of the word "choose" implies that Family First is asking people to make a choice.  But in fact what they actually want to do is take away the very choice they are supposedly promoting.


Me too.

It's like this.

Family First are anti-abortion.  The code they most commonly use for this is something along the lines of supporting the rights of the unborn child, but no make no bones about it, they are opposed to abortion.

Family First are asking people to wear dinky ribbons in boringly gender-referenced colours (never mind that some people aren't girls or boys, or that pink ribbons are already very widely associated with breast cancer support).  Everybody say "awwwwww", cute widdle ribbons in baby colours!

Family First's ribbons are worn as a symbol that you want people to not have abortions.

Family First want to remove the current (flawed, fettered, and not autonomous) right to choose an abortion.

Family First want to take away any ability to "choose life" and instead are keen to force people to continue pregnancies when they don't want to.

In effect what they want to do is force you to choose life.  Not much of a choice is it?

Edited to add:  I've turned off and hidden comments.  I don't have time to moderate these posts and while there are some good comments the bad ones are annoying and I just can't be bothered.  If you particularly want me to know something then you can easily find me on email, twitter or Facebook.

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Pregnant and Headless

Or: Pregnant, Headless, Thin, White and Definitely Middle Class. 
Or: (In the language of Stockphotoland) “Headless Person Holding On to Exposed Pregnant Belly While Wearing Tight Top.” 
Or: In which I investigate the rise of stock photography in online "news" and the made-for-marketing "society" it reflects. 
Or: How Click-Bait Narrows Our Horizons 
Or: My Adventures in Stockphotoland

Intro: A Festival of Torsos

I started thinking about stock photography representations in online news, and of women in particular, a couple of years ago after noticing how many articles about reproductive health issues on the two main commercial news web sites (, owned by APN and, owned by Fairfax) were illustrated by stock images of very pregnant torsos – whether those torsos were relevant to the article or not. Some weeks, it seems like there was a pregnant-torso-worthy story almost every day. Here's a selection:

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

The public speech of women

Here's a brilliant piece by classical historian Mary Beard on the long history of silencing women, from Homer to Internet trolls, and the need to end it.

The Oscars and violence against women

Number of nominees for best director who offered their support and friendship to a man after he was arrested for raping a 13 year old girl: 3 (Alexander Payne, Martin Scorsese, Alfonso Cuarón)

Number of winners who thanked men who have abused women: 1 (Cate Blanchett thanking Woody Allen)

Number of Oscar winners who offered their support and friendship to a man after he was arrested for raping a 13 year old girl: 2 (Alfonso Cuarón, Paolo Sorrentino

Number of nominees for best supporting actor who broke their girlfriend's nose: 1 (Michael Fassbender)

Number of nominees for best supporting actor who  have raped multiple women: 1 (Jared Leto)

Number of nominees for best adapted screenplay who have sexually assaulted their relatives: 2 (Woody Allen, David O. Russell)

And that's without the men who were rumoured to have been violent towards their partners but I can't find a link (Bradley Cooper), the abusive men who presented (Bill Murray) or the many many men who were more successful in silencing their victims.  Woody Allen's abuse is most well known and his nomination was still applauded.  So many in the industry have answered Dylan Farrow's question: "What if it had been your child, Cate Blanchett? Louis CK? Alec Baldwin? What if it had been you, Emma Stone? Or you, Scarlett Johansson? You knew me when I was a little girl, Diane Keaton. Have you forgotten me?" with a shrug.

Hollywood is not exceptional - actors and directors are not exceptionally violent, or exceptionally prone to rape apology.  The same level of violence against women has been present in the social circles I have moved in, and the industries I have worked in.  There are generally fewer awards, and sparkly loaned jewellery outside of Hollywood - but the process whereby abusers are supported and accepted, and survivors are silenced and ignored is the same.

I would like less celebration of Woody Allen, Michael Fassbender, Jared Leto, David Russell and Roman Polanski.  I would like the rape apologia of Alfonso Cuarón, Alexander Payne, Martin Scorsese and Whoopi Goldberg (another presenter) to matter. But beyond Hollywood I'd like more people to think how not to be Cate Blanchett, how not to applaud abusive men, how not to cover up what they did.

Monday, 24 February 2014

Words are like weapons, they wound sometimes

"Sticks and stones may break your bones but names will never hurt you."

Not so.

Time after time we see this, people who suffer, and seeing no other way to end their suffering, end their lives.  Charlotte Dawson is the recent high profile case, and there will be likely be many that go unreported in Aotearoa NZ this week alone.

And so often it comes back to the sometimes thoughtless, oft-times callous, many times deliberate ways in which we wound each other with words.

For those who have not had the experience of a mental illness which magnifies the slights of others inside your head until they echo around and around with no way out, well it is a hard thing to understand I suppose.

But please be assured that the little mean cutting things we sometimes say to each other can contribute to serious blood loss, in the mental health sense, for some.

In all the sharing around Dawson's death, this is the best link I've seen - genuinely useful both for those with depression and those around them.  Despite having depression for over a decade myself I never made the clutter connection until reading it yesterday.

Let's be a little kinder to each other, or at least try.

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

One way doors - will they keep us safe?

Recently as part of my local government work I've been thinking about and discussing what Auckland's "Local Alcohol Policy" might look like.  This is a new initiative, under legislation that came into effect in late 2013, which means each local council can determine a Local Alcohol Policy for their community which determines hours of operation, location, density, and additional conditions.

One of the areas of debate that came up in a workshop I was at on Friday was the usefulness, or otherwise of one way doors.  The concept is that after a certain time (say 1am) you would have to stay in the venue you are in until the cut off time for alcohol purchase (say 3am).  If you left a venue after the one way door closed, so to speak, you would not be able to get into another one.

Now on the one hand this will minimise the bar hopping that happens when people are getting drunker towards the end of the night, hopefully minimise street scuffles, and mean that when people are at their drunkest they are in a stable environment.

But what if the venue you are in when the one way door shuts isn't safe?  Or becomes unsafe?  What if you are harassed, assaulted, have your drink spiked, abused?  If you leave that is the end of your night.  If you stay you remain at risk.  Especially if the venue isn't interested in looking out for you.

Feedback most welcome in comments, thanks :)

Saturday, 15 February 2014

Not even one woman?

From Stuff news:
"The first New Zealand writers to be chosen in a new initiative to celebrate and acknowledge literary success have been announced.
Owen Marshall, Damien Wilkins, Ted Dawe and Martin Edmond are this year's New Zealand Society of Authors (NZSA) honorary literary fellows.
They were recognised for their outstanding literary achievements in an inaugural Waitangi Day honours list, the society said."
Last time I looked, there were plenty of women as well as men in the "outstanding writers" category. Is this a kind of post-Catton backlash, I wonder? Imagine the outcry if four women had been chosen.

Saturday, 8 February 2014

I believe Dylan Farrow

I believe Dylan Farrow.

Almost every time I am going to believe the victim rather than accused, when it comes to matters of rape, sexual abuse, abuse of power, and the like.  I think it's important to redress the massive power imbalance in these cases by giving more weight to the voice, the story, the experiences of the victim.  I believe Louise Nicholas too.

I understand that the way the justice system works is different.  Due to the presumption of innocence, currently it seems impossible to give anything approaching equal weight to victim and accused.  Ironically, what does serve to provide some balance are other prejudices coming in to play.  The version of the victim will be considered more believable if they are cis female, white, "presentable", middle-class, virginal/married to someone other than the accused, acted in accepted ways before, during and after being assaulted/abused.  The version of the accused will be discounted in part or whole if cis male, physically powerful, brown, a stranger to the victim, poor, shown to be non-vanilla in sexual preferences and practices.

I can form a different opinion from the verdicts the justice system produces.  I can make up my own mind.  It has no consequences for the legal outcomes if I do.

But, if I can express my belief in the victim and their story in a way they become aware of, or other victims and survivors become aware, then I'm hopeful I'm expressing some solidarity, some support, for them.  That in some small way I am helping to redress the tilt the justice system applies, on a social level if not a legal one.

Comment direction:  I am not interested in debating my central premise here in the comments below, as I believe that could be very harmful to readers.  I'll be deleting comments that denigrate victims, propose that the accused in these cases is the underdog, anything like that.  I am interested in discussion of how we make the justice system fairer in these contexts, up against the (important) presumption of innocence of the accused, and I have no easy answers on that.

Thursday, 6 February 2014

How Savemart changed my life

Clothes shopping used to be something I was crap at.  Looking, fine, but actually trying stuff on and making a decision?  Not so good.  The stakes just seemed so high, given that I usually didn't have much spare money and I'm very aware that I'm not necessarily a good judge of what suits me; when I look in the mirror, like so many other people, what I see is perforated with body-image baggage, some mine, some my mother's, a fair bit from Barbie, most from the media images I see All. The. Time.  

Not to mention my insidious fear of shop assistants in clothing shops.  Why do they always look so put together, and intriguingly edgy, and effortless, when I had to really think about what to wear and then ended up going for the safe option every time? I completely understand why Tina Fey so often wears a lovely dress in the same shade of blue to awards shows.

The first time I walked into the Onehunga Savemart I was intimidated.  So many clothes!  Then I noticed that the people who worked there were all in red t-shirts and jeans, the changing rooms were pretty beaten up, and the floor was uneven.  There were trolleys to put your finds in, masses of clothes of a million different types (really), books, more jeans than you would get at a Jeans West. My kind of place!  No one was going to judge me for what I picked off the rack or tried on, no one was going to try to sell me something, it was oddly peaceful and restful, because there is so little interaction between any of the people there.  Which is probably a bit sad for some people, but for me was rather nice.  

I think the first time I didn't even try anything on.  I suspect I bought a handbag - I've gone from having two "grown-up" handbags, both given to me by my mother, to rather a lot more, all from Savemart and all cheap as chips.  I vowed to return, with more time (I can never go for less than 2 hours) and an open mind.  

My fledgling op shopping confidence from my student days has returned, now with more faith in my body that has produced two children and I've come to feel more comfortable in.  Sure, there's heaps of dross, but also some amazing gems.  The best thing I've ever seen was a Vera Wang wedding dress for $60.  I didn't buy it, not being in need of a wedding dress, and I guess it might have been a fake, but it was in great condition.  My best buys to date have been wool jackets - I have little shoulders and seem to benefit from the cast offs of others who discover their new jacket is too tight.  

To start with I was still very harsh on myself, rejecting almost everything I tried on.  But the prices were so low (I often look at the "designer" stuff which can sometimes be as much as $60, but most of the rest is $10 or less) that the risk for me in grabbing something and finding out later I didn't have the confidence to wear it was almost eliminated.  I tried on stuff for fun, stuff I couldn't imagine ever having an occasion to wear, but what the hell, I probably wouldn't buy it, and there was always the chance it could be great.  My trolley got fuller, I worked out a system for myself of how to most efficiently try on masses of clothes while respecting the three items in the changing room limit, and I bought more handbags.

I started to take an interest in putting an outfit together (with a handbag of course), rather than only feeling comfortable in an ensemble put together by a shop assistant for me.  I clashed colours, ignored rules ("blue and green shouldn't be seen", whatevs), and started to value my body for what it does for me, not how it looks.  Clothes have become an expression of my personality, rather than a way to hide.  If something doesn't end up looking right after I get it home or wear it a few times, whether it be the fit or the colour or the style, then it goes back in the donation bin, having cost me often less than a hot chocolate.  If I find a better red shirt or green handbag then the lesser one gets handed on too.  

I have found my attitude has changed from "my body's wrong for this" to "that 's too big/tight/bright/dreary"; the blame shifted from me, my body, to the clothing instead.  This may seem like a very simple thing to many, but for me it was a revelation; it's the clothes that don't fit, not my body.

And that's how Savemart has changed my life.  

Once a month or so I try to shoe horn in a few hours to visit the Savemart in Onehunga, New Lynn or Northcote (I hope to venture to Manukau sometime soon) for a fix.  Sometimes I buy nothing (maybe a handbag) but usually I come home with something I'm excited to wear.  It's a long way from my teens when I wore black constantly not because I was a goth (that would require learning how to do make-up and potentially standing out) but because I wanted someone to ask me if I wore black all the time because of Dinky Bossetti (no one ever did).  

And I also own more handbags than I ever thought I could.  

Monday, 27 January 2014

Guestie: Being Brilliant in the Classroom

Many thanks to an anonymous teacher who emailed this in.

Teachers often bemoan a lack of funding for education.
Yet I suspect I'm not the only teacher feeling deeply uneasy about the $359 million the government is planning to spend in education over the next four years. 
For teachers to complain of such an huge investment seems at best ungrateful and at worst, a confirmation of every stereotype of the unionised teacher out there: unwilling to compromise, stubborn and arrogant.
After all, why are we paying our worst teachers the same as our very best?
And there in lies the deep ideological divide between many in the teaching profession and the government. 
Because underpinning the initiative of lead teachers, change principals is a philosophy that talent is something innate which needs to be recognised and rewarded rather than something that is constantly being developed and nurtured.
It strikes me as odd that when it comes to our kids the government has embraced the vision that all children can learn. That it's s  a matter of good teaching that will, to borrow a talking point, ensure five out of five kids are achieving.
Yet when it comes to managing those entrusted with educating our kids, talent is in short supply. 
Good teachers need titles to make change and in the words of the Prime Minster "we are going to pay them more to get it."
To me this isn't good enough.
We should want expert teachers in front of all our kids and that's what we should paying to get.
Fortunately most teachers will quite happily admit that they themselves are still learning. More importantly, teachers will learn from anyone be it a 1st year teacher, an  internationally renowned expert and most importantly their students. Teachers know that what works for one group of kids will not automatically transfer to another.
Just as each kid has their own personality so too each class and school. The danger in paying to get results from super teachers is that it assumes the process of teaching and learning can be standardised - follow what the expert teacher to get results - when it needs to be personalised.
I know I'm not the only teacher who has taken an idea from an expert at a conference or a classroom observation and tried to implement it in class only to have it fail miserably. But then I adjust a few things and make the idea work for my learners or I try a new approach. Yes expertise is important but  just as important is that teachers know how to tweak best practice to fit the needs of the kids in my class.
It's what the New Zealand curriculum calls teaching as inquiry and what high achieving systems  strive for - all teachers need to be experts in how their students learn. 
On a more structural level teachers as a professional acutely feel the effects of income inequality in New Zealand. Even at the high decile school I worked at there were teachers dipping into their own funds for food, trips and schools. 
Throwing millions into establishing an executive level of educators won't help the 11 year old in tears because there are holes in their shoes and no money in the house until payday.
Yes teaching quality is the biggest in-school factor in, to borrow another sound byte, lifting student achievement. However it is those out of school factors, having enough food to eat, secure housing to avoid transience as well as sickness and above all a feeling of love and belonging which  have a far greater impact on our kids' learning. 
I'm sure my rant might easily be construed as jealousy - if I'm not going to get recognised and rewarded then no one else should.
However I don't actually have any skin in the game as I no longer teach in New Zealand. 
Would this announcement be enough to lure me home in the next few years?
While my prime motive for moving overseas is for travel, the support and resources I now enjoy are well beyond what the education system in New Zealand is resourced to provide. There is more admin support, specialist help, a smaller class and more release time. I am still as busy as I ever was back home however I am now far more focused on teaching and learning.
Because while money is important, the most important resource for teachers is their time.
Rather than injecting a few thousand super teachers into our education system how about focusing on ensuring that every teacher and more importantly every child is supported to be brilliant in the classroom?

Thursday, 16 January 2014

some help please

so last year, we had a national day of action against rape culture.  there was a great turnout, and i thought that some of the discussion that happened around it were really useful.  some were pretty frustrating, others were distressing, but on the whole, it seemed like some progress has been made in getting people to understand what rape culture is about and the need to challenge it.

in hamilton, we followed up the march with a public meeting which was quite well attended (over 70 people is really good for hamilton!).  again, there was a feeling that people wanted to take further action, to keep working on challenging that culture & to raise awareness.  and that was really heartening.

our first project for 2014 is having something put into student orientation packs for the university.  we've decided on 3B1 notebooks, with stickers on the front and back - mostly because it's cheap but hopefully effective.

we're now looking at messaging to put on the stickers, and this where i'd really appreciate some help.  i've emailed some people who work in the field & i hope to get some responses in the next few days.  i thought it wouldn't hurt to ask our readers as well, as to what kind of messaging would resonate with young people.  would appreciate your ideas.

while i'm writing, i thought i'd write about the DJ in wellington who made certain racist remarks about indians. as expected, there has been general outrage at the comments.  and i don't disagree with that, they were pretty nasty and unacceptable.  indians aren't any worse or better than anyone else when it comes to groping and inappropriate behaviour at nightclubs or anywhere else.  i'd say it was a pretty common problem across the world.

but in amongst all of the discussion, there was very little talk about the actual harassment and behaviour that goes on in many venues across the country, and by people of all races.  what i didn't see was people talking about the need for venues to have written sexual harassment policies and to enforce them.  any patron or staff members should be able to take a complaint to the venue, there should be an investigation and that should be the basis of anyone being banned. obviously this is work.  and it's much easier to make stereotypical assumptions and ban a whole class of people, rather than taking the time to investigate individual cases.

but i suspect it wouldn't be a whole lot of work.  once a place had gained a good reputation in terms of protecting it's patrons from harassment, people would be much less likely to carry on that kind of behaviour.

it's not like there's no problem with sexual harassment & rape culture when it comes to indians.  just like there is with all communities.  as i wrote in a post last year, we need to start having this conversation across various cultures

the wellington "community leader" who went to talk to the DJ is a facebook friend of mine, and he seems to have had a very productive conversation with some positive outcomes.  which is what i expected because he's a great person.  i just hope that part of the outcomes includes discussions about rape culture and issues of harassment.  because that definitely needs to be part of the conversation & i expect that community leaders in the indian community are really well placed to do that.

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

some summer reading

happy new year everyone.  while many of us are getting a much-needed break over this time, i'm always mindful of those who don't get a break or those whose break isn't the joyful, carefree time that many of us expect.  hoping things go well for all of you.

being one of those lucky enough to get a decent break, i've had time to read & watch some interesting things, so here's a round-up.

if you haven't heard of sheryl sandberg's "lean in", then here's a review worth reading. one of the main criticisms of the book is that it posits the solution to equality for women in the workplace lies in individual action, ie in individual women changing the way they do things. it's a neo-liberal interpretation of feminism that ignores structural & cultural issues, and assumes that what worked for her will work for all women in the workplace. in that context, here's some research showing the structural issues which ms sandberg has completely failed to address:

Meanwhile, the Conference Board of Canada has found that an "unconscious bias" leads companies to underestimate and overlook young women employees. The study results demonstrate that only 45 per cent of young women are likely to be identified as "high potential" compared to 53 per cent of their male peers, even though 74 per cent of young women display the characteristics of "high performers" compared to only 66 per cent of their male peers.


The Lean In zeitgeist says individual women can take personal responsibility for failure and act to achieve success. Meanwhile, recent research says there is an unconscious bias in corporate Canada that prevents equally qualified women from attaining the same level of success as men, and even more concerning, that senior execs remain unconcerned.

i'd really recommend reading the whole article.  the research is particularly interesting in light of earlier research which debunks the myth that women get paid less because they don't ask for raises as aggressively as men do:

Our recent Catalyst report, The Myth of the Ideal Worker , reveals that women do ask for raises and promotions. They just don’t get as much in return

The research focused on career paths of high-potential men and women, drawing on thousands of MBA graduates from top schools around the world. Catalyst found that, among those who had moved on from their first post-MBA job, there was no significant difference in the proportion of women and men who asked for increased compensation or a higher position.

Yet the rewards were different.

all of which shows that when the problems are structural, the solutions need to be structural & political as well.

i'm not always a fan of stephen colbert, but he does do some great stuff.  i found the work of ameena matthews really inspiring, so recommend this clip.

i love the writing of sady doyle, and this review of the movie "her" is spot on in its analysis:

Feminists have spent decades trying to explain concepts like “objectification”—the reduction of a person to a tool for another person's gratification or use, typically sexual—and now, as a reward for all our hard work, we’re faced with a “Movie of the Year” in which the ideal woman is, literally, an object. An object that, it is promised, will “listen to you and understand you” and have a personality designed explicitly around your needs. Theodore picks the system up, seemingly both intrigued by the promise of companionship and interested in the OS's mundane usefulness, but when he turns the system on and adjusts his preferred user settings to “female,” out comes a charming personality that is complex enough to be indistinguishable from a person.

And she's just dying to do some chores for him. Samantha cleans up Theodore’s inbox, copyedits his writing, books his reservations at restaurants, gets him out of bed in the morning, helps him win video games, provides him with what is essentially phone sex, listens to his problems and even secures him a book deal. Yet we’re too busy praising all the wounded male vulnerability to notice the male control.

again, i really recommend reading the whole thing, which raises issues of consent & agency as well as control.

via hoyden about town, i found this article on internet linguistics really interesting.  it's quite long, but worth the read.  i'm one who finds pedantry in following rules of grammar & spelling generally annoying and limiting (which you can probably tell from the lack of capitals), especially as it can often mask an intellectual elitism that is silencing of others who aren't so proficient in expressing themselves but nonetheless have worthwhile things to say.

so the analysis resonated with me. and i also liked this bit:

However, what I find most fascinating about the Internet Language is that it is making language less, not more, gendered. Men and women on the Internet use many of the same tropes, enthusiasm markers and emphasizers in order to communicate. In the world of blogging and Internet writing, women are the creators of language. It is a realm in which women are not being socialized with already existing language but are doing the work of socializing and creating a community. Women dominate every important social media platform. Women outnumber men on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest and account for 72% of all social media users. On Tumblr, where the number of men and women is roughly equal, women dominate the conversation.

here is the comment i made on facebook in regards to this: it's especially interesting because a few years back, there were all these conversations by guys on the internet about "where are all the women political bloggers?". and we were like "we're right here, writing about political stuff, stuff like breastfeeding in public, rape culture, access to childcare etc etc". and the guys said "but, but, but that's not politics". when we said "actually, yes it is & that's why feminists say the personal is political", the guys were all "well, it's not 'hard' politics, so it doesn't count". [it was incredibly frustrating that they chose to define politics in a way that conveniently excluded most of the things women bloggers were writing about, then continued to ask where the women political bloggers were.] in that context, it's good to know that [women are] here, we're having all sorts of important conversations including the shaping of how language develops online. perhaps we won't be seen as invisible or unimportant any more. (a huge helping of "yeah right" would probably be too cynical at this point).

this piece makes the case for giving money to people suffering from poverty and homelessness. how often do we hear right-wingers say "throwing money at the problem won't solve it". well actually, it does:

A year after the experiment had started, eleven out of thirteen had a roof above their heads. They accepted accommodation, enrolled in education, learnt how to cook, got treatment for drug use, visited their families and made plans for the future. ‘I loved the cold weather,’ one of them remembers. ‘Now I hate it.’ After decades of authorities’ fruitless pushing, pulling, fines and persecution, eleven notorious vagrants finally moved off the streets.

Costs? 50,000 pounds a year, including the wages of the aid workers. In addition to giving eleven individuals another shot at life, the project had saved money by a factor of at least 7.

Even The Economist concluded:

‘The most efficient way to spend money on the homeless might be to give it to them.’

finally, really worth reading is this woman's experience of working on the US drone programme:

It's also important for the public to grasp that there are human beings operating and analysing intelligence these UAVs. I know because I was one of them, and nothing can prepare you for an almost daily routine of flying combat aerial surveillance missions over a war zone. UAV proponents claim that troops who do this kind of work are not affected by observing this combat because they are never directly in danger physically.

But here's the thing: I may not have been on the ground in Afghanistan, but I watched parts of the conflict in great detail on a screen for days on end. I know the feeling you experience when you see someone die. Horrifying barely covers it. And when you are exposed to it over and over again it becomes like a small video, embedded in your head, forever on repeat, causing psychological pain and suffering that many people will hopefully never experience. UAV troops are victim to not only the haunting memories of this work that they carry with them, but also the guilt of always being a little unsure of how accurate their confirmations of weapons or identification of hostile individuals were.

again, please click through to read the whole piece.

Friday, 13 December 2013

The Hand Mirror and Trans People

On another thread Lash of Thantos said "Speaking of keeping up momentum, I see according to your comments policy this site is still not a safe space for trans people."  At Lash's request I've opened up a thread to discuss these issues.

Unfortunately I'm under rather a ridiculous amount of stress at the moment - and so may not be able to participate in the conversation until things get a little bit easier at the end of next week, although I will try to (I don't know about other THM bloggers - although this is often a difficult time of year for people).
I do want to respond just briefly on the structure of our comments policy - I don't believe it's up to us to declare that THM is a safe-space. So THM comment policy is not supposed to in anyway be a commentary about whether this site is or is not a safe-space - it is a statement of our intentions and an acknowledgement of ways which we have failed those intentions in the past.  I welcome any discussion on experiences of trans people at THM, and thank those who are willing to give feedback for their generosity.