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.

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


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.)