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.

Talking about male privilege

I was on Radio NZ Nights last night, talking about male privilege, and some other forms of privilege. You can listen to the discussion here: Feminism – Male Privilege.

As usual, I had sent some notes to Bryan Crump before the discussion. I started with a definition of male privilege: social, economic and political advantages or rights that a made available to men solely on the basis of their sex. For background reading, I linked to tigtog’s excellent FAQ at Finally Feminism 101: What is male privilege?.

From there we quickly got onto Barry Deutsch’s male privilege checklist: The Male Privilege Checklist. The conversation segued all over the place from there, including the usual places: women and children first on shipwrecks, the privilege of beauty, and so on.

We didn’t get to John Scalzi’s Straight White Male: The Lowest Difficulty Setting There Is, but Bryan suggested an excellent analogy. He thought that privilege is a bit like cycling with a tail wind. You don’t really notice the assistance at all: you just think that you’re peddling along at great speed.

I had been thinking about a few examples of privilege during the day, in preparation for the talk. I wanted to talk about white privilege, perhaps in connection with Peggy McIntosh’s famous white privilege checklist, but as it turned out, the topic came up in connection with a tweet from Morgan Godfrey that I had seen earlier in the day.

“Maori are bicultural by necessity, would be great if the rest of the country was too…”

I also talked about the planning that women go through about how they will walk home at night, in connection with a conference I am attending this weekend (Kiwi Foo Camp FTW!). I talked about how I had been offered accommodation in town, away from the conference venue, but in order to take it up, I would have to think through how I was going to get from the venue to my accommodation, which routes I would take, and how I could stay safe walking through a suburban street after dark. Bryan suggested that perhaps this on-going safety planning that women do is conditioned into us, in comparison to men feeling much more free to go where and when they will. I agreed that it was likely a matter of conditioning, but that didn’t take away the privilege of having that tailwind of not worrying about it.

Some other examples I had in mind but didn’t have the opportunity to mention:
– As a heterosexual woman, I enjoy the privilege of walking down the street holding my husband’s hand and not giving it a second thought, but a gay man would need to go through a process of checking his surroundings, checking who else was about, thinking about whether he and his husband were safe from attack before they could do such a thing, and possibly (probably, alas, in far too many streets in New Zealand) choose not to express their companionship by such a simple action.
– As an able bodied woman, I never, ever have to plan my routes around campus, or go around to a different entrance to a building, or ask for assistance from complete strangers to get up and down steps, whereas many disabled people have to go through these calculations every time they leave their home.

We talked a bit about privilege being a matter of context – a person can be privileged in some aspects of their lives, but not in others. That’s certainly my personal experience, and I know that many straight white men nevertheless experience real difficulty in other aspects of their lives. But really, see The Lowest Difficulty Setting.

A final note: as ever, a white person writing about white privilege and a man writing about male privilege are given far more credence than a black person or a woman writing about the same topics. As indeed, a white New Zealander talking about Pakeha privilege on Radio NZ might just be given far more credence than a Maori New Zealander talking about it…

Some more reading on privilege:
Don’t women have female privilege?
The lowest difficulty setting in action, with evidence

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Our silver wedding anniversary

Twenty-five years ago today, this is what we were doing.

Malcolm and Deborah, 20 January 1990

A friend commented that unlike unlike most brides and grooms we both look as though we know exactly what we’re doing.

The consensus of the people in the photo is that we had no idea whatsoever what we were letting ourselves in for. Back then, we were both young corporate warriors, and we had not thought of changing our directions entirely as we did just a few years later. These days, we’re both academics, I’m deeply involved in politics, and we are parents to three wonderful girls whom we adore. We’re also still quite fond of each other.

But that’s by good fortune as much as hard work. A couple of years ago, I spoke at a big family celebration for my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary. I chose my words very carefully, thinking about the nature of relationships. I pointed out that as always with a big crowd, there were people there who had been married for many years, people who had married and separated once or twice or more, people who had been involved in a succession of shorter terms relationships. Those relationships all worked for a time, and they were successful relationships. People achieved things within those relationships: careers and children and personal growth. And then sometimes, for whatever reason, relationships stopped working and the partners moved on. But they had still been successful relationships. We were there that day to celebrate one of those successful relationships, one that was still working well after 50 years. I know my parents worked hard at it, I know that there were significant ups and downs, and I suspect that times, they only stayed together through sheer bloody mindedness. For whatever reason it had happened, an enduring marriage was worth celebrating.

As my beloved husband and I are celebrating today. So far, we’re doing well. Or at least well enough, due to a mix of good luck and hard work and sheer bloody mindedness. I think that what makes the difference, for us, is that we’re each other’s best friends. We have good fun, talking, walking, sharing books, watching the same television shows and movies, being fascinated by science and history and politics, supporting each other’s projects, all together.

Here’s to the next twenty five years. And then the twenty five years after that. And then some more after that too.

(We did keep some secrets from each other before we got married. Notably, we only found out that we both really enjoy Star Trek *after* we’d said the vows.)

John Key and Middlemarch

What astonishes me is that John Key expects us to believe him, when even the nation’s leading newspapers are expressing scepticism about his honesty: one, two, three.

Watch this video of him answering questions about what he said to reporters and parliament about his contact with Cameron Slater: Key: I am not actively contacting Slater.

And now they’re starting to question his whole story around the black ops campaign his “office” ran. From this morning’s Dominion Post editorial:

This is an appeal to the professionalism of the spy agencies and the honour of Government politicians. Both have suffered terrible damage in the past few days. The report by intelligence watchdog Cheryl Gwyn destroyed the reputation of former SIS boss Warren Tucker. It showed that senior members of the prime minister’s office used grossly misleading information provided by Tucker to attack the credibility of then Opposition leader Phil Goff.

The report did not examine whether Key was involved in that smear campaign. Events now strongly suggest he was. He had to do a sudden U-turn in Parliament this week after denying any recent contact with Cameron Slater, the man who used the slanted SIS report to smear Goff. Key’s texts show a jokey relationship with Slater even though the blogger has caused his Government endless trouble. Who believes Key didn’t know about the SIS leak to Slater?

Mr Key is taking us for fools, thinking that we simply can’t detect his obfuscations and evasions.

It makes me think of a wonderful passsage in Middlemarch. A rich old man is dying, and his relatives are gathering, each determined to get the largest possible share of his estate. A young woman, Mary, is quietly caring for him, and watching the scene.

She sat tonight revolving, as she was wont, the scenes of the day, her lips often curling with amusement at the oddities to which her fancy added fresh drollery: people were so ridiculous with their illusions, carrying their fool’s caps unawares, thinking their own lies opaque while everybody else’s were transparent, making themselves exceptions to everything, as if when all the world looked yellow under a lamp they alone were rosy.

…thinking their own lies opaque while everybody else’s were transparent, making themselves exceptions to everything.

I do not understand why John Key thinks that we can’t see through his lies. Smile and wave and “I’m comfortable with that” is over.

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