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

That Air NZ safety video

Air New Zealand has a new safety video.  It’s part of their on-going series of alternative safety videos, which have become a core part of their image. This time, they’ve taken Sports Illustrated swimsuit models to the Cook Islands.

You can watch the video here, but do be aware that it’s classic objectification of women, with a side serve of using people from a minority ethnic group as props adding local colour.

I’ve been in the media talking about it, and it turns out that I’m not the only person raising issues with it. Pam Corkery thinks that Air NZ has gotten it all wrong, and Hilary Barry is absolutely incensed by it.

“I’m incensed. I’m absolutely incensed by the safety video.

“I think it’s highly inappropriate, sexualised, objectifies women, demeaning, it’s just appalling.

It *is* sexualised. The women are wearing the usual skimpy bikinis, and they sit and stand in sexually provocative poses. To watch the video and claim that it has no sexual content would be at best disingenuous.

And therein lies the problem.

When it comes to sexual expression, one of the key criteria is consent. If I don’t want to see the models in the swimwear edition of Sports Illustrated, then I can choose not to buy the magazine. I don’t have to participate in the objectification of women, nor in the sexual content of the magazine.

But no such choice is available to me if I have bought a flight on Air New Zealand, because I am trying to get from one place to another in the most efficient way possible. I am trapped on board the plane, wearing a seatbelt, and I can’t move anywhere else, while Air New Zealand staff urge me to watch the video. They are forcing sexual content on me without my consent.

On top of that, the Cook Islands people in the video are not exactly front and centre. They’re off to the side, a back drop for the models. Does Air New Zealand think that people from the Cook Islands are just not beautiful enough to feature in the video?

Air New Zealand, please don’t force me to watch this video on your flights. All I want to do is get from one place to another. I don’t want to have to watch sexual material, least of all sexual material that uses people from a minority ethnic group as props. I do not consent.

Abortion is a woman’s moral choice, not a crime

I have another column in the Dom Post today, and this time, I’ve written about abortion.

Abortion is a woman’s moral choice, not a crime

Why the level of surveillance? It’s because we don’t trust women to make decisions for themselves. Abortion has been treated as a matter of morality, but instead of allowing the people concerned to make moral decisions, we have insisted that they get opinions from other people first. …

When we deny women the right to make decisions about abortion for themselves, then we deny women’s autonomy. We say that women are not capable of making moral judgments, and that they are not autonomous adults.

A wall of sound: The Messiah, performed by the Bach Choir

I heard the Bach Choir of Wellington sing the Messiah on Sunday. It was wonderful. I have heard bits and pieces of the Messiah over the years, but the last time I heard the entire thing live was when I was a teenager.

The choir sang beautifully in some parts, and magnificently in others. Alto and basses were perhaps a little thin, ‘though their tone was lovely, but it seems that a few of them were missing due to illness. The four tenors held their own (tenors are very rare, and should you have a nice tenor voice and you can read music, any choir director will be only too pleased to see you), and the sopranos were lovely, especially in some of the long, held, very high notes, and extended high passages.

David Morriss was the bass soloist, and although he didn’t rage enough for my liking in “Why do the nations so furiously rage together”, he told a beautiful mystery in “Behold”, the recitative preceding “The trumpet shall sound”, which was fabulous, from both Morriss and the trumpeter. The alto and soprano soloists, Megan Hurnand and Amelia Ryman, both had beautiful moments, especially in their duet, ‘though possibly my liking for it was because I sing that piece myself. The passage I particularly remember was the second sequence from tenor singer Thomas Atkins, beginning with “All they that see Him laugh him to scorn”, and ending with “But Thou didst not leave his soul in hell”. His tone was gorgeous, but as well as beautiful notes, he told us a story, and spoke to us. Thomas Atkins is a very young man, and I think he is someone to watch for in future years.

The choir really was magnificent. In the Hallelujah Chorus, and the great Amen at the end, they produced a wall of sound, in which I could hear individual parts clearly, but the whole was enveloping. It was wonderful stuff.


As my daughters and I drove down to Wellington for the performance, I told the girls about the tradition of standing up for the Hallelujah chorus. They were looking forward to taking part in it, only to find when we looked at our programmes that “The audience is requested to remain seated for the ‘Hallelujah’ chorus.”


I know, the audience standing can be a noisy process, and it means that the sound from the choir can be muffled. But so what? A concert is a process, a joining between choir and orchestra and audience, not a display piece. I *wanted* to stand and hear the sound blasting at me, and participate in the moment with the choir, not sit passively in my seat. The choir gave a rockingly great performance of this wonderful chorus, and I wanted to leap up and shout for joy at the end of it. But at the end of the chorus, we sat tensely for a moment, before someone tentatively clapped, and then we all applauded, happily and loudly. The Hallelujah Chorus is a magnificent piece of music, and sitting quietly just doesn’t make sense. As an audience, we needed the release of standing, and then sitting. As for calling the audience back into the heart of the oratorio, the beautiful aria which follows it, “I know that my Redeemer liveth”, is enough. Asking the audience not to stand is just a bit bloody precious.

We still enjoyed the concert very much indeed. When we moved home to New Zealand, and to Greenhills*, we had in mind that Greenhills is only two hours drive from Wellington, so it is perfectly possible to go down there for a day. But we hadn’t really done so. When this concert came up, I thought that it was time to just do it. I love the Messiah, and I wanted to hear it live, so that was a good reason to go. And I have a beloved uncle who lives in Wellington, a man of loving heart and great erudition, who has inspired me since I was a small child, all the more so since I have become an adult. He was the first person to encourage me to do a PhD. I wanted to go and spend some time with him, and this concert was a wonderful way to do it. When the tenor soloist sang so beautifully, we leaned towards each other and both of us said, “Lovely”, and that made the moment even more special. In addition to those two good reasons, a dear friend of mine, a woman who has encouraged me to think and to sing, is in the choir, as a soprano, and her husband is in the tenor section. I have long wanted to hear their choir sing. Three good reasons for heading south for the day, each sufficient on their own.

In addition to all that, I spent the day with my lovely daughters, talking on the way down, sharing a picnic lunch in the Botanical Gardens, complete with the Etoile bread from Pandora that they love, talking some more on the way home. Ms Thirteen listened to the entire concert, but the Misses Ten listened to some, and read their books for the rest. We sat in the front row so that the girls could see, and it must have been somewhat disconcerting for the choir and orchestra to see them with their noses buried in their books, but at least they were there. They will absorb the music, and in years to come, they will remember this concert. Because we were sitting in the front row, I could see the celloist’s score, and watch the bass player’s bowing, and see the intricacies of the interaction between first and second violins. It made me intensely aware of the long continuo passages underpinning the melodies from the choir.

And for all the not standing, I am still buzzing with the music, and with the sensation of sound surrounding me. It was a great day out.


* I’m sure that anyone with even the smallest sense of New Zealand geography will be aware of exactly which town I refer to as Greenhills. However, Mr Google isn’t, and for reasons of employment, that’s how I want to keep it.

Reminder – submit some posts for DUFC

I’m hosting the December Down Under Feminists Carnival here. I’m hoping to get it up by Sunday 4 December, so I would be very much obliged if you would submit some posts before then. Any feminist post, broadly interpreted, by any down under blogger, also broadly interpreted, is eligible for the carnival.

The carnival submission form seems to have gotten out of sorts again, so it’s probably best to send submissions direct to me at my hotmail account. I use the handle dfr141. Or you could leave submissions in comments on this post. One link per comment would be good, or WordPress’s spaminator might devour it.

I’m especially keen to highlight posts by new bloggers, or by bloggers who haven’t been in the carnival previously. But I’m keen to hear from established bloggers too. I’m going to have a limit of two posts per blogger, so that the carnival remains manageable.

Many thanks to Bec and Chally for the links they have sent me already.

So why is it that women are the ones doing it wrong?

Cross posted

Deborah Coddington alternately infuriates me and delights me as a columnist. ‘Alternately’ is probably overstating it, but I cheered a couple of weeks back when I read this:

I’m still proud that in 1986, when Petricevic was filthy rich, I threw him out of my restaurant for being vile to waiting staff.

Source: Fiercely rich give wealthy hard workers a bad name

I was less heartened to read this:

Is there a gender pay gap in this country for people doing the same job? It seems so, according to research from the Ministry of Women’s Affairs – up to 17 per cent less than men for graduates with equivalent degrees. But the causes are complex and – women won’t want to hear this – it’s largely our fault.

To generalise, we just don’t care enough. It seems we’re not as pushy as men when it comes to negotiating pay rises. We also take years out of our careers to have children and therefore miss out on promotion.

Source: How about sticking up for yourselves… girls?

I see two problems with what Deborah Coddington is saying here. To be fair, it’s not just Ms Coddington who makes points like these. They’re common enough among those who oppose any work being done to redress pay inequity. First, women take too much time out, and second, it’s their own fault anyway because they’re not pushy enough.

The “too much time out” line is a little hard to run when the pay inequity gap starts to show up as soon as a woman graduates. There’s clearly something going on here that isn’t to do with women staying at home with babies and children.

Perhaps the ‘too much time out’ argument might have something in it 15 or 20 years down the track, when the children have gotten through to the upper years of secondary school, or headed off to start living away from family home, and the primary caregiver can expand her (sometimes his) work hours a little. That’s right. Not get a job in the first place, but expand her work hours. Most primary caregivers manage to fit in some part time work, as well as running the family. But by then, she will have fallen behind her colleagues who have been working full time for all those years, so she just doesn’t have the experience to command a higher wage.

Really? Seems to me that a woman who is working part time is staying up to date with her field, is learning how to manage workplace politics, is accumulating the experience and wisdom that merit the same salary as the people who have been there all the time. She will have had all the quality of experience needed, even if not the mind numbing quantity racked up by those who have spent every day possible at the office. Mutatis mutandis for men who stay at home.

Maybe what we need to examine is not the assumption that taking time out necessarily means that you get paid less, but the other assumption, that long term attendance in a job necessarily means that you deserve a higher salary. While we’re at it, we could also examine that assumption that time spent rearing children and running a house is a great empty void from which a person learns nothing. Speaking for myself, I have acquired some fairly polished skills in time and project management, from running a household and managing logistics for my three children, all while on a budget that at times has been very tight indeed.

We might also need to take a look at the gendered nature of childcare, and have a careful think about why it is usually women who take time out. I’ve heard plenty of people suggest that when it comes to deciding who will stay at home with the babies, the person who earns the least will. But funnily enough, for unknown reasons (I’m being sarcastic here), that person turns out to be the woman (in a run-of-the-mill heterosexual pairing, that is), and once she takes time out, her salary slips even more, so really, it just makes sense for her to continue to be the one out of the workforce and whaddyaknow, when the next baby arrives it makes even more sense and slip, slop, slide all the way down to the bottom of the income heap again.

The ‘too much time out’ argument rests on too many unexamined assumptions. So perhaps the problem is that women just aren’t aggressive enough when it comes to matching male salaries. If only they would demand as much as their male peers, all would be well.

There’s an unexamined assumption behind this one too, that the way that men do things is necessarily the best way. Perhaps it’s not the case that women are undervalued because they are not pushy enough. Perhaps what’s really happening is that men are getting overpaid, and overvalued, because they are too pushy, inflating their demands beyond the bounds of their competence. Perhaps what is needed is not so much an increase in women’s wages, as a decrease in men’s. And perhaps we need employers who are prepared to withstand the importunate demands made by those with an exaggerated sense of their worth. Funnily enough, employers who were prepared to do that might also be prepared to give more credence to the worth of women.

Whatever the reasons for the pay gap between men and women, to simply dismiss it as women’s fault because they take time out, and they don’t ask for enough, puts the blame, or the identification of a cause, on individual women, when it seems that there is probably something systemic going on. That’s the only way to explain the gap in graduates’ wages. But it’s much easier to blame individuals. If each person’s situation is her own fault, then it’s up to each individual person to fix it for herself. And that is surely much easier and cheaper for employers and government to deal with.

Just to round this post off, check out this story from the Independent: Women forced out of jobs by rising cost of childcare

You’ll be noticing who is being forced out of jobs?

Having a mammogram – not so bad, really

Cross posted

If you’re not keen on Too.Much.Information, you might prefer to avoid this post. I want to share my experience here, given that I was so scared about this, and as it turns out, unnecessarily so.

Now that I’m 45, I’m eligible for the free breast screening programme here in Aotearoa New Zealand, and my doctor’s practice nurse has been hassling reminding me politely that I should make an appointment and get one done. I finally did it, last Friday. I was very nervous about it, because the prospect of having my breasts squished between sheets of cold glass wasn’t all that appealing. As in, holy f-ck, get me out of here!

It wasn’t all that bad.

Once I made the appointment, the clinic sent me a letter explaining the process, and giving me details about where to go and where to park. Very helpful, given that it’s a stressful and scary experience, first time round. They included accessibility information: all the clinics in New Zealand have been designed to be wheelchair accessible. When I got there, I found that there was plenty of reserved parking, and car parks for people using disability stickers were right beside the door.

Once I got through the sign in and greet and wait (just 5 minutes), the radiographer who was taking my shots came and collected me, took me through to the changing room, explained that once I had taken my bra off, I could use the gown they supplied, or just put my own shirt on and slip it off once they were right ready to take the shots. She took me into the x-ray room and talked me through the process, and checked carefully about the scars I have from having had a couple of benign lumps taken out about twenty years ago.

So far so good. But the next part was what I had been dreading. The radiographer lined me up against the machine. She positioned the height very carefully, and helped me to position my breast on the plates for the first, horizontal squish. Then came the squish.

It wasn’t too bad at all. It was uncomfortable, and uncomfortable to the point of painful, but not painful to the point of crying out, or even gasping. The sensation was one of heavy pressure, and the tightest, heaviest pressure lasted only for a couple of seconds. I found I could cope very easily with it.

The horizontal squish was repeated on my other breast, and then the radiographer changed the angle of the plates so that she could take a vertical shot. The aim of this shot was to get as much of my pectoral muscle in as possible, and it took a bit of work to get the machine at the right angle. More squishing pressure, and then a repeat with my other breast. After that it was back to the changing room, to wait while the radiographer checked the quality of the pictures. She called me back in for a repeat horizontal shot on one breast, and while I didn’t exactly bound in with glee, I certainly wasn’t at all afraid of having another shot done. Then I was free to go.

The results will be through in a couple of weeks. The odds of me having breast cancer are small, as they are for any woman, but if they do detect one, then the chances that I will survive are much better. I’m very glad to be able to have this screening test, just as I am glad to be able to have smear tests. Not very much fun, at all, but worth it.

For all my fear, it didn’t hurt very much. I did time the test for the pre-ovulation stage of my menstrual cycle, because my breasts are always tender post-ovulation, and had my period not arrived the day before the test, I would have rescheduled it. I commented to the radiographer that this was one time when being a small-breasted woman was a bonus. She replied that it didn’t seem to make a difference, ‘though I would be keen to hear what larger breasted women say about that.

Update: I got an ‘all clear’ letter today. The letter is excellent; it says that there is ‘no evidence of breast cancer’ in upper case and bold, and it reminds me that screening isn’t perfect, so I need to see my doctor if I notice any changes in my breasts.