On separate swimming hours for women

Hamilton City Council is proposing that up to three hours a week be set aside at one of its community swimming pools for a women-only session.

Man ban at public pool

And the response is…. predictable. Start with the headline, with its overtones of “Begone, ye wicked men!” It’s designed to elicit a negative response.

Then there the usual “PC gone mad” trope.

…the proposal was concerning and represented “separatist thinking”.

Excluding ratepayers from public facilities based on their gender was “political correctness going too far”.

“If we are going to do this for women, what about all the shy men among us. Can we have a couple of hours free from women?”

I’ve gotten very tired of the “PC gone made” trope. I’d like to know exactly what the speaker thinks is wrong with the proposal, and his reasons for thinking it’s wrong. Perhaps he’s concerned that it will lead to divisions in the community. Perhaps he’s concerned that it means that some people will miss out on swimming altogether because they are not able to use a particular facility at a particular time. If he had spelled out his concerns, instead of waving his hands in the air and saying, “PC gone mad”, then at least we would have the beginnings of a conversation.

Of course, it could be that the speaker *did* specify some of those concerns, and they just didn’t get reported.

And, Kiwiblog is onto it. DON’T READ THE COMMENTS. Really, just don’t. (‘Though there are a few people in there fighting the overwhelming tide of, you guessed it, “PC gone mad”.)

How much better to think of this from the point of view of what the community needs. Hamilton is a diverse community, and it includes people from cultures where women traditionally wear loose garments and cover their heads, as well as women who have left countries which are not as peaceful as New Zealand is. Many of these women might like to swim, and would benefit from learning to swim, but do not want to wear the form fitting and really rather revealing clothing that New Zealanders usually wear when swimming.

It’s all very well to say that women should just adapt and fit in and get on with it. The net effect will be to exclude these women from swimming altogether, all for want of a little flexibility. Setting aside this time means that Hamilton City Council is working towards providing for the needs of *all* the members of its community. More to the point, there are plenty of other swimming facilities in the city. No one is going to miss out on swimming, or on swimming at a particular time (there are other venues), or on swimming at a particular place (there are other times).

If we are to live in a tolerant and inclusive society, then we need to find ways to accommodate difference. Yes, there are some differences we must not tolerate (forced marriages and clitoredectomy performed on people who have not consented come to mind, and no doubt there are others). This is a difference that a society can tolerate, and ought to tolerate, on the grounds of being inclusive.

And a big shout out to my lovely friend Anjum Rahman for making the case for setting aside a few hours to allow women to swim only in the company of other women.

So what could Seth McFarlane have sung about, and actually been funny?

Apparently we are supposed to excuse Seth McFarlane’s misogyny and racism on the grounds that he was being funny, and sending up Hollywood stereotypes, and it was edgy and really we should admire him for being so transgressive.

Here’s what Echidne of the Snakes had to say about his monumental fail.

I think MacFarlane wanted to shock. That’s why the built-in false-angry reactions by a few of the women mentioned in the song. We are supposed to admire his gall at shocking those famous actors and being naughty while doing so. Except that jokes about boobs or talking about boobs or pictures about boobs are not shocking. They are boringly universal and impossible to avoid on the Internet. There’s nothing subversive about such jokes. Indeed, they are as traditional as white sliced bread and Miracle Whip.

So what would something really subversive and transgressive look like at the Oscars? Something that really set out to subvert the dominant structures, and speak truth to power?

There is so much material. Here’s a suggestion. What about a song based on the Bechdel test? As it turns out, just three of the nine pictures nominated for best picture at the 2013 Oscars pass the Bechdel test, and even then, some of those three movies only scrape in by meeting the technical requirements of the test. And those standards aren’t even very high: all a movie needs to do to pass the test is to have two or more female characters, who have names, who have a conversation, that is not about a man.

I can imagine a great routine based on parodying movies that don’t pass the Bechdel test. And I can imagine senior movie makers squirming in their seats as they are called out for their on-going insistence that women don’t matter, or that they only matter as accessories to men. That would be speaking truth to power.

And you could run a similar routine with respect to people of colour in Hollywood movies. That would be very telling indeed. How many mainstream Hollywood films have characters played by people of colour, with names, who have a conversation, that is not about a white person. Even The Help struggles to pass this one.

Of course, you would have to do a bit of thinking, and a bit of research, to carry these routines off. And you would be in danger of offending people who have power in the industry you work in. But that would be truly subversive and edgy humour.

Also, before you say, “Can’t you take a joke?”, the answer is, as I said to my lovely friend Megan, “Yes. I can. But this wasn’t a joke.” There’s a reason why “Can’t you take a joke?” is the centre block in anti-feminist bingo.

Taniwha and belief

In a curiously timed release, the National Party has let us know that Labour Party leader David Shearer thinks that taniwha ought to be respected. Oh ha ha ha, isn’t he silly, etc.

The usual suspects are coming up with two lines of criticism. First, it’s absurd to believe in taniwha, and second, how come we aren’t allowed to be rude about belief in taniwha when we ridicule Christian belief all the time.

The fist criticism conflates two sets of attitudes about taniwha. One can believe in taniwha, or one can respect, or at least tolerate, other people’s belief in taniwha. Personally, I don’t believe in taniwha, or elves, or the Norse gods, or the Christian god, or all sorts of other things, but I can see that other people believe in these entities, and even more than that, that they order their lives by reference to their beliefs. So while I may not believe their belief, I’m prepared to tolerate it, to the extent that it doesn’t cause harm. That’s a fairly standard move in liberal thinking.

I’ll even go a step further than that. When it comes to many indigenous beliefs, I’ll take the view that if there is a legend or a belief about spirits, or monsters, or blessings, or whatever, then it may actually encode other important knowledge, such as hidden water currents, or seasons of the year, or degrees of genetic relationship that lead to appalling birth defects, or whatever. So there is good reason for the belief, even if the way that the reason is communicated can seem very odd to someone from a different cultural background.

Or those beliefs may encode important information about who has guardianship duties, or property rights, or ethical duties, within a particular land area, or cultural grouping, or whatever. The beliefs are a way of structuring lives. And as such, they need to be respected.

So when David Shearer says that he respects belief in taniwha, he is doing exactly what a clear thinking liberal ought to do – acknowledging the reality of the belief, and its importance, even though it may not be a belief he holds himself. It’s a straightforward difference between believing a belief, and respecting a belief, and any liberal thinker, or indeed any thinking person ought to be able to grasp the difference.

So much for the first claim.

But what about the second claim, that Maori beliefs are sacrosanct, while Christian beliefs are ridiculed?

This is simply not true. Maori beliefs are routinely trampled over in this country. Witness the current furore over taniwha.

And we pay a huge amount of respect to Christian beliefs. Christian leaders are invited to pray at our festivals, such as at Anzac Day ceremonies, we structure our work week around the Christian holy day (Sunday), we have public holidays for the two major Christian festivals of Christmas and Easter, our parliamentary sessions open with a prayer to the Christian god. If this is not respect for Christian beliefs, I don’t know what is.

David Shearer has got this one exactly right.

Liberal dudes: stop telling me being worried about my bodily autonomy is a “distraction”

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.

And a genuine thank you to @gtiso, and again.

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.

What happened to Tuhoe

Children of the Mist: the struggle of the Tuhoe people

1866 – Crown seizes the most fertile Tuhoe land, cutting off their access to the coast.

1868 – Maori leader Te Kooti and his followers begin what historian Michael King called “the most effective guerrilla war ever waged in this country”. Te Kooti kills about 30 Europeans and at least 20 Maori men, women and children in raids on Poverty Bay settlements.

1869 to 1872 – Government unleashes a “scorched earth” policy against Tuhoe, who shelter Te Kooti and refuse to hand him over.

1872 – Tuhoe chiefs make a decision to close their land off from outsiders.

1896 – Premier Richard Seddon draws up the Urewera District Native Reserve Act, recognising Tuhoe’s autonomy.

1896 to 1901 – Twenty–three per cent of the Tuhoe population die from a combination of disease, extreme frosts, crop failures and famine.

1907 – Pacifist leader Rua Kenana establishes a “City of God” for around 600, deep within the Ureweras. Trade, agriculture, banking and mining were part of his plan.

1916 – Fifty–seven police constables arrest Kenana at Maungapohatu in the Ureweras. Kenana is unarmed but a gunfight ensues and two Tuhoe are killed. Kenana taken to Auckland and tried for sedition. He is found guilty of a “moral” resistance to arrest and sentenced to hard labour and 18 months’ imprisonment.

1921 – Crown imposes costs of building rural highways through Te Urewera on Tuhoe, who are forced to pay in land.

1922 – Urewera District Native Reserve Act is repealed.

1954 – Crown establishes Te Urewera National Park.