Pretty little things

Jacinda Ardern

Jacinda Ardern

Jacinda Ardern MP is a smart, able, accomplished adult woman.  She’s been an MP since November 2008, and she’s very, very highly regarded, as shown by this poll rating her as a potential leader of the opposition and/or prime minister, along with parliamentary heavy weights such as Annette King, Grant Robertson and Winston Peters.

On national TV, she was described as a “pretty little thing”.

There are so very many things wrong with that. I discussed some of them on Radio NZ’s The Panel yesterday afternoon.

Discussion on The Panel about “pretty little thing” – 2’53”

The biggest problem to me is that it is such a dismissive phrase. It treats an adult woman as a mere decoration, and as a child.

Jacinda Ardern on the cover of Next magazine

Jacinda Ardern on the cover of Next magazine

But, some people say, surely Ms Ardern invites this type of comment. After all, she appears all frocked up in women’s magazines. She’s putting herself out there, so what does she expect?

No, she hasn’t invited comments like this. If you bother to read the articles behind the pictures, then you will see that Ardern uses the articles to make a series of points about what she values, what she wants to see happening in New Zealand society, women in the workforce, women in politics, what she hopes to achieve. And by appearing in women’s magazines, she connects with a whole group of people who may not read the Serious Journals That Men Read Which Are Therefore The Most Important Ways of Communicating.

Even that phrase, “women’s magazines” is dismissive. It says that women are a special interest group, and that the default public person is either male, or a best disembodied and genderless.

Those “women’s magazines” are in fact very important avenues for discussion and discourse. They are gossip in the best sense of the word, passing on information and ideas, exchanging views, connecting with a community. Women connect with each other through them, get and pass on information, in an environment of equals. By working with women’s magazines, Jacinda Ardern is making a big effort to connect with a much wider community than just the standard political circles.

But even if Jacinda invites comment on her appearance, the phrase used to describe Ardern is wrong. Not because it focuses on appearance, but because it treats her as a child. And that’s an age old strategy for making sure that women are treated as not important in public discourse.

One final point: I’m deeply uncomfortable with the phrase, “isn’t she inviting it?” The resonances should be very, very disturbing to anyone who is commenting on this issue.

Les Chuchoteuses

Les Chuchoteuses. Source: Wikimedia Commons

The world’s highest paid TV actors: take a wild guess about gender balance

Big Bang Theory cast. Image source: Wikimedia Commons

Big Bang Theory cast.
Image source: Wikimedia Commons

There’s a list out today of the world’s 15 highest paid tv actors.

Big Bang Theory actors are the world’s highest paid television stars in 2015

Before you take a look at the list, take a really wild, out there guess about the gender balance in that list. 50:50 male female?

Knowing what you do already about pay equity and gender pay gaps, perhaps you’ll go for something a little more skewed in favour of men. 75:25 male female? Maybe even 80:20?

Well, thank you for playing.  Those of you who guessed 100:0 are right.

1. Jim Parsons – $US29 million – male

2. Johnny Galecki – $US27 million – male

3. Mark Harmon – $US20 million – male

4. Simon Helberg – $US20 million – male

5. Kunal Nayyar – $US20 million – male

6. Ashton Kutcher – $US20 million – male

7. Jon Cryer – $US15 million – male

8. Ray Romano – $US15 million – male

9. Patrick Dempsey – $US12 million – male

10. Simon Baker – $US12 million – male

11. Ty Burrell – $US11.5 million – male

12. Jesse Tyler Ferguson – $US11 million – male

13. Ed O’Neill – $US10.5 million – male

14. Eric Stonestreet – $US10.5 million – male

15. Kevin Spacey – $US9.5 million – male

All four main male characters from Big Bang Theory are on the list, but not Kaley Cuoco.

I’m guessing that may be a problem with the way the list was constructed, because reports have said that Ms Cuoco is paid over $1million an episode, like her male co-stars.

But that’s the other problem with the list. If it’s inaccurate, then it’s helping to reinforce the idea that women are worth less than men.

Grump grump grump.

A couple of points about Rachel Smalley and diversity in prime time news

Rachel Smalley is copping a lot of flak for pointing out what should be obvious: our prime time news shows on both radio and tv are dominated by white men. They’re all perfectly good broadcasters, and some of them are even excellent broadcasters, and at least one of them has recently been annointed as St Broadcaster by the NZ public. Even so, they are overwhelmingly, white men.

Smalley has been roundly castigated for daring to point this out, and people have leapt in to say that there are plenty of women in broadcasting and that most of these men report to female bosses. See for example, Tim Watkins at Pundit: On Smalley: a bit of back and forth.

Of those that I know or have worked with, they’ve all had women bosses. And that’s a key point that’s worth noting in this debate that is very different from the newsrooms of a generation ago. There are probably other examples, but as much as I know: Guyon has been produced by Maryanne Ahern, John by Pip Keane, Larry by Melita Tull and Paul by Sarah Bristow. Duncan has worked for Linda Clark. It was Carol Hirschfeld who hired Campbell last week. As much as the marketing sometimes belies this, news and current affairs is not just about the host.

Watkins is right: current affairs is not just about the host. Nevertheless, the host is the front person for a show. And when you have white men as the front person for so many shows, it helps to create a mindset about who is worthy of presenting the news, who is entitled to comment on it, whose opinions matter, who are the serious people that we ought to listen to and trust. Overwhelmingly, it’s not women. And no matter how much work women are doing in the backroom, out the front it’s all about the men.

That’s a harmful message to about who is worth listening to. It’s no wonder that women are so under represented in our Parliament and around our board tables, when the people who are valorised and lauded and given frontline roles are men, and women in public and senior roles are exceptions.

Of course, where there’s a controversy, there’s an on-line poll. Here’s the ever-reliable NZ Herald’s poll.

On-line poll

On-line poll

Take a look at the possible answers on that poll.  Yes, it’s a good idea to have a discussion about representation during Prime Time vs no, broadcasters should be chosen on merit along vs I’m not sure.

So much to read into that second response!  First up, it’s not even worth having a discussion about representation.  Second, it’s all about merit and that’s all that matters.

But there’s the rub.  Is the way that we measure merit gendered?  (This is a trick question.)

Anyone who has ever read any feminist analysis knows the results of endless studies: yes, the way we measure merit is indeed gendered, and we tend to equate merit with being male, and being a white male at that.

Heaven knows how merit in broadcasting is measured. If it was by ratings alone, Paul Henry would be off the air already. But I’m guessing that the way we measure merit in broadcasting is as heavily gendered as other fields.

And the results of that on-line poll. Totally unsurprising. Most people (64%) don’t even want to have the discussion.

On-line poll results

On-line poll results

We’ve got a long way to go.

In the meantime, I’m willing to lay good odds that Rachel Smalley is getting some nasty e-mail over her daring to voice this opinion. Do send her a message of support, for having the courage to speak out on this.

Down Under Feminists Carnival #86

dufclogoKia ora! Welcome to the 86th Down Under Feminists Carnival. This carnival has been running for over seven years now, and I’ve hosted it three times before. This fourth time around, I’ve been delighted to find some of my old friends still blogging and still engaged in feminist writing, delighted to find some old friends in new incarnations, and delighted to find some voices that are new to me.

First up, a call out to Muslim women in Australia to participate in a research project.

Notable women

At Hoyden about Town, tigtog remembers Joan Kirner, the first female premier in Australia: Vale Joan Kirner

At Histories of Emotion, Julie writes about a performance of Hildegard of Bingen’s Ordo Virtutem in Canberra, in ‘Arousing sluggish souls’: Hildegard of Bingen and the Ordo Virtutum.


Exactly who is Tony Abbott promising to keep safe? No Place For Sheep has an idea, and it doesn’t include women.

Women know this. We are never safe. And the biggest threat to our safety is not ISIS, or terrorism of any kind, but the other humans who share our lives. Will Abbott, our ministerial saviour, call on every fibre of his being to keep us safe from them?

More from No Place for Sheep, on Rudd, Gillard, Abbott, Women, Sex Why?

Women cannot do that, for christ’s sake. Men can coup. Women can only be behind the man who coups.

At Rantings of an Aboriginal Feminist, Celeste Liddle gives us her full speech to the Constitutional Recognition Debate.

I believe that a transformative approach when it comes to Indigenous Affairs is long overdue in this country. Australia has a lot to gain from a more educated and collaborative relationship with the First Peoples of this great landmass. The statistics highlighting our disadvantage as a people, year in and year out, prove that things cannot continue the way that they are. We cannot continue to turn a blind eye to the life expectancy gap, the incarceration rates, infant mortality rates. We cannot continue to deny land rights. We need to strive to achieve a more equitable future.

Later on, Celeste writes about the ways she has been represented and misrepresented in a complex discussion about representation among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

Sexual harassment

Jane Young writes at Pundit about the Canadian general and his wretched excuses for sexual harassment.

Ever wondered why sexual harassment is alive and well in the armed forces?

The Chief of the Canadian Defence Staff Gen. Tom Lawson seems to know, but once the full horror of his explanation was pointed out to him, he quickly apologized…sort of.

The man in charge says there is sexual harassment in the armed forces because people are “biologically wired in a certain way”.

Reproductive rights

Right to Life is attacking access to abortion again in New Zealand, trying to whittle away at our limited rights to have control over our own bodies yet again. Alison McCulloch describes what’s happening on the Abortion Law Reform Association of NZ blog: Abortion access goes back to court.

Violence against women

At The Hand Mirror, Julie writes about the pervasiveness of violence, even in places that ought to be full of tender, nurturing care.

On Feminist Frequency, Amy writes about the costs and ripples and far reaching impacts of domestic violence.

From the centre of a violent act is the ripple of physical, mental, social or economic strain, lives under duress and generations caught in the repercussions and cycles of violence. … I estimate a global wall of remembrance of those women dead by a violent male hand to stretch far beyond the lives of soldiers lost in conventional state run wars.

Parenting while feminist

I’m loving Boganette’s new blog, Emily Writes. I especially recommend it for parents of young children, and for everyone one else too. In Not even close to perfect she writes about not being a perfect parent all the time.

I managed to get both kids to sleep at the same time today. It’s difficult to describe just how great I felt at this momentous achievement. I am guessing (obviously, I mean look at me) that it feels exactly the same when you reach the summit of Mount Everest. Euphoric. Slightly out of breath. Sweaty.

I was so smug about it I felt like I deserved a glass of wine – but I didn’t have one since it was only 1pm and even though it has been a hard week I can’t quite justify 1pm wine. Maybe tomorrow.

Public spaces

Women still (still!) have to defend their having a space of their own. The University of Queensland’s Women’s Collective writes about why they need a space of their own.

We see the Women’s Room as a place to escape from unwanted cat calls and advances by men – a place to exist in peace and quiet that isn’t a toilet cubicle. It certainly isn’t a “a breeding ground of misandry” or whatever other bizarre misconceptions people might have about it (it might be hard to grasp, but not everything women do is centred on men…)

Friend of Marilyn writes about fat women in photographs.

It took a year of having a photograph of a naked fat body hanging on my wall before I learned to not be disgusted by the image; another couple of months to acknowledge the curves, and the softness. And another before I arrived at a place of appreciation for the beauty. Now I love fat bodies, including my own.

Gender, sex and sexuality

In the news recently, arguments that the easy availability of porn is shaping young people’s sexuality, especially young men’s sexuality, in worrying ways. No Place for Sheep responds that porn is a symptom, not a cause.

What struck me most forcibly about the role of pornography in this impoverished notion of sexuality is that it is a symptom, not a cause, and what it is a symptom of is the entitlement some human beings feel they have to use and abuse the bodies of other human beings for their own gratification.

At The Hand Mirror, LudditeJourno rejects Elinor Burkett’s analysis of Caitlyn Jenner’s appearance in Call me feminist, but not the Burkett kind

Ms Burkett’s version of who counts as a woman is little more than old school transmisogyny, with the smattering of race, class and sexuality privilege that feminism has always wrestled with.

Brocklesnitch writes about getting a letter of acceptance into Hogwarts. Oops. Homosexuality.

i knew that one of my main tasks ahead would be to learn how to promote sexuality, and how to turn as many people queer as possible. It would bring with it a deep and satisfying emotional satisfaction knowing that i had the power to lead people away from a life of heterosexuality.

The Fat Heffalump responds to a bloke who is really sorry, but he just doesn’t find fat women attractive.

There are plenty of men who value us and treat us as their equals, not living sex dolls. If you want to expand your options for a relationship, try improving yourself, not demanding others perform for you.

Women and work

Kate at Things we hold dear laments and rages as yet another woman is driven out of academic science.

She has been failed by those whose positions within her institution mean that they are responsible for the pastoral care of staff. … She is not leaving science, but she is leaving academia, and academia’s culture is fully culpable for this.

Stephanie writes about the sexism that is still rampant in our assumptions about paid work at Boots Theory.

It’s 2015, and we’re constantly told that sexism is over, feminism has had its day, and would you nagging witches please just simmer down already?
And then this happens:
An Auckland mother was told that having her kids in daycare could affect her job prospects because she would need too many sick days to care for them.


Jessica Hammond defies the patriarchy and (drum roll please…) stops shaving her armpits.

The thing that fascinates and baffles me is that – at least in my little corner of the world – a woman having the default state of armpit hair is seen as a political statement; it baffles me that it is even remotely noteworthy.

Personal dilemmas

The Scarlett Woman worries about crossing lines in blogging and memoirs in Writing about Taylor Swift ruined my friendship.

Popular culture

Chelle Walmsley review Mad Max: Fury Road at The Ruminator.

It’s always felt like an action movie couldn’t be made without at least a fair dollop of casual sexism. It wasn’t until the MRAs (Men’s Rights Activists) started banging on about this latest installment of the Mad Max franchise that my interest was piqued enough to go out of curiosity and because it pleased me that the mere act of me seeing a movie and enjoying it might really piss those bastards off. Just to rub salt in the wound, I’ve been to see it twice now.

But… as No Award points out, there’s a hell of a lot of appropriation in Mad Max: Appropriation Road.

Quokka, forgive me if this is getting repetitive but this is an Australian movie that’s telling an Indigenous narrative without Indigenous actors or characters.

At Flaming Moth, Anna writes about Shakespeare’s Aptronymic Ingénues.

Instead of the insipid naïfs who usually inhabit this role [Miranda], I would dearly love to see a properly bookish Miranda on stage, the product of years of careful tutoring in logic, philosophy and alchemy.

The fabulous ladies of No Award deconstruct Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries.

The very best thing about Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries is how there are so many ladies, and they all are awesome and they mostly support one another. Mac is awesome, and there’s so much time spent at the Women’s helping ladies. Dot catapults into a life of awesomeness by helping out some ladies, pretending to be up the duff. Jane is so great. Ladies, ladies, ladies.

For some light relief, Dimsie has gone back, back, back to the the 1970s, and she’s blogging the early episodes of Coronation Street. Check it out – Coronation Street of old: watching a decades old soap opera so you don’t have to.

Many thanks to the people who sent me links for the carnival, and to all the fabulous women writing feminism.

Ka kite ano.

Thank you for playing, but you’re wrong!

My university has an on-going series of quirky ads, presenting young people as innovative and fresh-thinking and deeply interested in ideas and technology and science and study. Some of the creative material puzzles me a little, but I figure I’m not really the target demographic.

The latest ad features a young woman walking on water.


I love it. The young woman in the ad is Catherine Cater, a Massey university student. She looks like so many of the young women I see around campus. Happy, confident, focused on their own work, doing some extraordinary things. In the ad, Catherine is very much absorbed in what she is doing. She looks reflective, and deeply engaged. She is not there as decoration to sell something: she is there as an active part of the narrative about the university.

But of course, there’s someone who thinks that the ad is a travesty.

She came to me as if in a dream. She was beckoning and calling to me like a pixie vixen, tempting me to move away from the House of Waikato. She wanted me to surrender and be with her kind. But where was she from? Was she real? A fantasy? A sorcerer’s trick? What game was she on and how could mere mortals play?

She was tempting and titillating. She was feminine and full of grace. She appeared to be from the House of Massey and she was perfect.

My fairy queen appeared as a deity, an academic goddess, the perfect maiden of Massey. She is the temptress. And I was caught by her charms.

Without saying so in as many words, it’s clear that the writer thinks that this ad is sexist, and that it’s all about using sex to sell Massey. He carries on to worry about the way that universities advertise themselves, but it’s curious that he’s only chosen to engage with this advertising campaign now, when it has been running since sometime last year (as far as I can recall).

So, thank you for playing, sir! But YOU”RE OUT!

The writer has totally eliminated the young woman in the ad from his analysis, and dreamed up a fantasy woman instead. Where I see a young woman who is doing exactly what we hope young women will do, that is, focus on their own hopes and dreams, focus on the extraordinary things that they can achieve, focus on achievement, the writer turns her into some kind of sexual object. The objectification going on here is done entirely by the writer. From the writing, it seems that the only way he can react to the young woman is by casting her in a sexual way. He focuses entirely on her as a sexual object, in a way that I think is well beyond the image in the advertisement.

The only problem here is the writer.

Catherine Cater herself puts it so well.

University is evolving, students are changing, and perhaps if you were to step away from the games you seem to enjoy – judging by your use of language – you yourself would see that too. But what would I know? I’m just a stereotypical ‘hot chick’ with no real intelligence and use besides marketing ploys, why would my opinion matter?,” she wrote.

Your aim was to call Massey out on a sexist ad, but in doing so have shown your views to be outdated and sexist all on their own.

For the record, I’ve written this post entirely on my own, my employer has nothing to do with it, and I was only alerted to the opinion piece because a story about it popped up in the local newspaper: Massey University’s new “I am” ad sparks debate. That is where I found Catherine Cater’s own defence of the ads.

Mother’s Day, 2015

I was on Radio NZ Nights a week or two ago, talking feminism and motherhood. You can listen to the podcast here: RNZ Nights – Feminism and Motherhood.

Often mothers feel that there isn’t a place for them in feminism. I think that’s a mistaken view, although it’s an understandable one. If feminism is about making choices, then motherhood does tend to run you slap bang into traditional gender roles, and suddenly there are no possible choices for you to make. So “choice” feminism simply has nothing to say to you.

But there is so much feminist stuff to say about motherhood.

For starters, we have a weird conversation about motherhood in our culture. On the one hand, all the rhetoric tells us that mothers are valued and that their role is the most important role a woman can have, but on the other, there is often very little support for mothers (oh for flexible work, and readily available childcare, and financial support, and easy access to healthcare, and employers who understand that schools are on holiday for 10 weeks of the year, and support for breastfeeding, and…).

On top of that, mothers are constantly judged. Then judged some more. Damned if you do go back to work (you’re selfish) and damned if you don’t (you’re a bludger and every bit of support for you and your children is taken out of the hides of hardworking taxpayers). But of course, you “chose” to be a mother, or you “chose” to work, so best you just live with your choices!

Then there’s all the issues around childcare and housework. Women still seem to end up doing far more of these everyday tasks, even when both parents are working. And if fathers do take on some of the childcare, then they’re praised for it. Or praised for “babysitting” their kids.

On the other hand, I’ve heard fathers being criticised for staying at home with the kids, and I know that fathers who take on the primary caregiving role often feel isolated and very much unwanted at playgroups and schools. As ever, patriarchy harms men too… Oh for a world in gender roles didn’t constrain us so much.

So when it comes to Mother’s Day, well, it’s lovely to have a cup of coffee in bed, and to spend some time with my beautiful daughters, and talking to my wonderful mum. But that’s very much an individual thing, something that happens between me and my mum, and me and my daughters. But when we look at our wider society, we see that there’s so much work still to do around motherhood and parenting and valuing women’s work, and valuing women. And the nominal respect we show for mothers on Mother’s Day makes me feel angry. It’s all buy mum this, and make her feel nice for just one day, and let’s pretend that we really do care about mothers and mothering, but we’re not actually going to do anything about it.

Marama Davidson puts it well.

When all mothers are truly valued as integral and essential parts of our economy, our politics, our workforce, our families and our society. …….until then the people pushing the mother damning agendas that we see today should all step down from any delight they take on Mother’s Day. Have you no shame?!

Finally, on Mother’s Day, remember that there are women who long to be mothers but for one reason and another, do not have children, and there are women who have lost children, and people who have lost their mothers. For so many of us, this can be a lovely family day, but for others, it can be very sad.

As for me today, it was a busy start to the day with eight or so extra teenagers in the house this morning, sleeping over after the after-ball party. I got up early to unstack the dishwasher and get breakfast set up, only to find that my lovely youngest daughter had gotten up already and organised everything already, and made a large pot of coffee to boot. And now that the extra teenagers have all departed, and the house is quiet, my three girls are making dinner for me.

The really nice thing is that my girls often do this sort of thing. They look after me all the time, not just on Mother’s Day. I am so very blessed to have these beautiful children.

To finish off – my favourite feminist parenting blog is Blue Milk, written by Andie Fox. I recommend it. I’m also enjoying Boganette’s Mama said. If you are one of the three people in the world who haven’t read her opening post yet, then I suggest you pop on over there now to read it: I am grateful, now f*#k off. Be warned: Boganette’s post is full of swearing. If you prefer to avoid the swearing, then here’s a version that she put up with the swearing removed: I am grateful and….

1080 and threatening babies

When I was campaigning, I came across a few people who opposed the use of 1080 poison. Their reasons varied: some thought that possums were darling creatures who did no harm, others wanted their dogs to be safe in the bush, still others argued that the bush fell silent after 1080 drops. They all wanted to know what I thought about using 1080 to control possums and other introduced pests.

“I follow the science,” was my standard reply. And the science is very very clear: 1080 is very effective with respect to controlling possums and other pests, and it does minimal harm.

There is scads of actual research supporting this conclusion. Not anecdotes, not hunters’ tales, but scientific research, conducted using standard scientific protocols. And the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment backs the use of 1080. If the evidence changes, and by that, I mean that if the *scientific* evidence changes, then I will change my mind about using 1080. But until then, it’s the best weapon we’ve got against possums and other pests that are decimating our native bush and wildlife.

So when some nasty person, or group of people, threatens to poison babies because they don’t like 1080, then like most New Zealanders, I’m outraged. It is never right to threaten babies in order to make a political point.

More than that, I’m sad and angry for the parents who are trying to do their best for their children. Feeding my babies was a lovely time for us, most of the time. It was about cuddles and talking and eye contact and cherishing my littlies, even in the turmoil of trying to manage twins. Moments of tenderness and love for us.

How many parents are now upset and worried because some fool thinks it’s okay to threaten babies. There are so many things wrong with this action, but the one that is biting deep for me is this robbing parents of moments of joy and tenderness with their children.

As I tweeted yesterday, I think that the anti-1080 lobby in New Zealand will have lost a lot of its supporters now.