No matter how much it tries to backpedal and reframe and rephrase, no matter how many soft words it puts around the conversation, the fact remains that this government, in the person of Paula Bennett, Minister of Social Welfare, has advocated adopting some sort of policy to prevent some women from having more babies. That’s the plain meaning of Paula Bennett’s words yesterday.
They scare the hell out of me.
What they suggest is a government that is happy to control women and to control women’s bodies. At present they only want to do it to “bad” mothers, people who have killed their children, or abused them so badly that the children have been taken away from them, or people who form new relationships with “bad” men who then abuse and sometimes kill their stepchildren. It’s all being done in the name of saving the children.
Of course we want to save children from harm, and of course, we can save them from immediate harm by ensuring they are not vulnerable to abusers, and of course, the easiest way to do that is to take the children away from the abusers, or scarily, to stop abusers from having children in the first place.
Therein lies the problem. This is the easy solution. The hard solution would involve trying to work out why people abuse and kill children. The thing is, we already have a fair idea about that. Aside from psychosis and revenge, it turns out that most killings occur when parents are down and out, when they have no hope and no resources, when they have given up, or been given up on, any hope of a life integrated into the structure of a community. A quick search on Google would have told Paula Bennett that. Reducing the number of children who are abused or killed won’t be easy. It will involve working closely with women and with families, helping women to become independent, ensuring that they live in meaningful and supportive communities, that they have secure incomes, that they can look after themselves and their children, trying to ensure that they are not under such stress and feel so hopeless that they take out all their problems on their children. But that would be hard work, and it would cost money. Much easier just to opt for the big stick of sanctions. This is a policy that fits all too comfortably with National’s policy on getting beneficiary mums and their daughters to use long term contraceptives.
In the name of pragmatism, and easiness, this government takes the shortcut of asserting control over women’s bodies.
What next? Is the government going to suggest that women on the DPB should be sterilised? Maybe women who drink while pregnant will have their babies removed at birth. Perhaps if you have a student loan, government will tell you that it isn’t wise to have children now, and it will “help” you to avoid having any.
And that’s exactly where the danger lies in this sort of policy that attempts to control women’s bodies. Today it’s women who harm, or allow harm to come to, their children. Who is it going to be tomorrow?
And that’s why, liberal dudes, I am so tired of hearing you say that this is all just a distraction. My bodily autonomy is at stake here, and you tell me that I should get to the back of the queue, because it’s just a minor matter, designed to get people to take their eye off the government’s woes in other areas. Because at the end of the day, women’s rights are always tradeable.
Thank you so very much.
And let’s not forget the racism underpinning this. We know that killing and abuse of children (‘though not sexual abuse, which seems to be classless) is much more common among the least privileged socio-economic groups, and we know that socio-economic groups are highly race marked in New Zealand. This is another move towards stigmatising people with brown skins, and controlling them, and worst of all, taking away their children. And we all know how well that kind of policy has worked in the past.
Update: One of those liberal dudes has since posted on the matter: A rancid style of politics. I think he’s right about the convenience of Bennett’s announcement. Many thanks for your post, I/S.
The NZ Herald is running a story about women dieting and ruining their future chances of having babies. So much to unpack in it, but I’m short of time this morning. Instead of any in-depth analysis, take a look at the picture the subbies chose to run with the story.
I think that’s a picture of a pregnant woman. Disembodied of course, because we wouldn’t want to focus on actual women when we’re busy policing bodies. But I just can’t get my head around the picture at all. Is she supposed to be dieting? Or not? She can’t be illustrating the point of the story i.e. that women who diet too hard can’t get pregnant, because actually, she is pregnant.
Predictably, there’s nothing in the story about the pressures that ensure that women feel they must diet and stay skinny. It’s all the fault of the individual women, of course.
The New Zealand Herald contacted me yesterday, wanting a comment on this invitation being sent out by Te Papa (the New Zealand national museum).
Te Papa storeroom tours
A behind the scenes tour of Te Papa’s collection stores and collection management systems
Te Papa, 10:30am- 2:30pm, Friday 5th November 2010
Places are limited to 7 people
A chance for Local regional museums to visit various Te Papa store rooms and meet the collection managers of:
- The Taonga Māori collection – Lisa Ward, Moana Parata, Noel Osborne
- Photography and new media – Anita Hogan
- Works on paper – Tony Mackle
- Textiles – Tania Walters
Conditions of the tour:
* No photographs are to be taken of the taonga, however some images can be made available.
* There is to be no kai (food or drink) taken into the collection rooms.
* Wahine who are either hapü (pregnant) or mate wähine (menstruating) are welcome to visit at another time that is convenient for them.
* We start our visits with karakia and invite our manuhiri to participate.
Who is it for?
- This tour is for representatives from small museums, art galleries, heritage organisations, the arts and cultural sector or iwi organisations.
(I’ve edited the layout and fonts and so on, to fit on the screen, and the emphasis is mine.)
The Herald reporter suggested that I might have something to say about the practice of excluding menstruating and pregnant women being sexist and archaic. However, I didn’t. I sent back these three quotes.
It’s fair enough to respect cultural protocols, but maybe Te Papa could say that, instead of their mealy-mouthed request for pregnant and menstruating women to come back at a time that “is convenient for them.” I’m perfectly able to function when I’ve got my period or when I’m pregnant. It’s far more inconvenient to have to make special arrangements to come back at another time.
I don’t understand why a secular institution, funded by public money in a secular state, is imposing religious and cultural values on people. It’s fair enough for people to engage in their own cultural practices where those practices don’t harm others, but the state shouldn’t be imposing those practices on other people.
It’s up to Maori to work out if and how and when cultural practices should change for Maori, within the traditional freedoms of liberal democracies. If it is important to Maori people that pregnant and menstruating women aren’t included in the tour, then maybe the tour shouldn’t take place at all.
The story appeared in the New Zealand Herald this morning:
It’s interesting to see which of my quotes was used in the story, and how it was used.
Stuff also has a story about the invitation. They contacted Boganette for comment.
Australian wine makers don’t want to put “ugly” health warnings on bottles of wine. They’ve made a submission to the federal government, arguing that they shouldn’t have to use warning labels, because they are ugly, and ineffective in any case.
It is quite unclear how the addition of a warning label will somehow stop an idiot getting in their car and driving whilst intoxicated.
But they are, of course, reasonable people. So in their submission, they offer a trade-off. While they are not prepared to uglify their bottles, they are quite happy to police women.
WINEMAKERS have offered to label bottles with a don’t-drink-during-pregnancy logo…
Winemakers Federation chief executive Stephen Strachan yesterday said the industry had volunteered to start using the pregnancy logo. “At best, it can raise awareness but it doesn’t do anything in relation to behaviour.”
The logo they have offered up is a silhouette of a pregnant woman, holding a wine glass. Looking at the silhouette, and assuming that this is a singleton pregnancy, I’d guess that the woman is about seven or eight months pregnant. She is of course, slim. The standard “No” symbol, a red circle with a red bar, is stamped across the silhouette.*
Because it’s always just fine to police pregnant women.
See Blue Milk for some excellent posts about policing women during pregnancy:
- Whenever people start talking about the “unborn child”
- Compare and contrast
… and see Lauredhel’s excellent post about the (non) science behind all the scary tales about alcohol that are peddled to pregnant women:
Bad science on booze in pregnancy: Women infantilised with absolutist messages
*I’m sorry about the low image quality. It was taken from the dead-tree version of The Australian, using my camera.