Stephanie Rodgers is a campaigner, communicator, and commentator on New Zealand politics.
She provides advice on messaging and communications strategy, media and social media, organisational culture and crisis management for progressive and community organisations.
I want mine to be the last generation of women who have to wait until they can afford to fight back – for me, around the age of 30, for some women, older or younger or never – and then grieve that we want our 20s back. I want mine back as a time where all that was considered, when assigning the jobs or opportunities or respect I wanted, was whether I was good enough.
“I woke up on 9 November and I was like, ‘I can’t write another one of these rich entitled impenetrable alphas. I just can’t,” says the New York Times bestselling author. “It was the story of that horrible impenetrable alpha evolving through love to be a fully formed human, which is a thing we do a lot in romance. And I just couldn’t see a way in my head that he would ultimately not be a Trump voter.”
(As good a time as any to plug my side project, Op Shop Romance: for everyone who wants to see how far I can roll my eyes at trashy romance tropes.)
The CPTPP is blatantly not all that much about trade at all. The overwhelming majority sets out the extra rights of these elite foreign investors to be free from government regulation. The e-commerce chapter effectively prevents public oversight of this century’s data driven economy. They get to store their data outside NZ to get around the Privacy Act for example. They get a guarantee that NZ will abstain from regulating all unknown future technologies. Who does that benefit? And how is it necessary to trade?
The tradition of the penitent prostitute has persisted in the Western tradition. Institutions that cared for prostitutes from the 18th century onwards were called “Magdalenes” to encourage amendment of life in the women who took refuge in them. The word came into English as “maudlin”, meaning a tearful sentimentality. It is not a flattering description.
No one compares the handsomeness of our male guitarist against say, Bruce Dickinson, because they realize how ABSURD and IRRELEVANT that is. They manage to discuss the boys’ vastly different musical merits without turning it into some kind of sexy Top Trumps trade off. But no, screw my guitar playing and Simone’s singing, when it comes to the great variety of women in metal – what matters is who is the most attractive? The last thing I’d expect from a metalhead is such a shallow, reductionist attitude.
There is a spectre haunting New Zealand men. The spectre of a #MeToo witchhunt, which is what happens when women act like witches, which isn’t sexist, it’s just a historic fact that women used to get together with their broomsticks and steal penises. People wrote about it in Latin, you know, and that makes it a serious record, because they still teach Latin at Auckland Boys Grammar and Wellington College and there’s no finer schools in the country.
Of course I’m not excusing harassment and sexual assault. I am offended you would suggest that. Those things, when they’ve actually happened, are terrible. It’s simply that I find it hard to believe they happen as often as women say, because women are known to blow things all out of proportion. One time I told a junior coworker that she’d be so much prettier if she smiled more and she absolutely went off on me, how weird is that? I was paying her a compliment. No surprise she ended up going into comms instead, she wasn’t a good fit for the fast-paced newsroom environment.
I am not sexist – I know and respect a lot of women journalists. When they’re investigating real stories, they can be just as competent as men. The problem is when you’ve got women journalists investigating other women’s stories about men. They’re naturally going to believe women who say they’ve been harassed. And it’s not journalistic to believe women. The proper, investigative thing to do is believe men.
All I’m asking for is balance. After all, if men were really doing these horrible things, for years and years, someone credible would have said something about it and we would have investigated it. Or rather, we wouldn’t have, because the appropriate organisation to pursue these allegations is the police. Don’t you ladies understand that journalism is a noble calling which is above challenging the status quo or questioning the integrity of law enforcement?
You should stick to real journalism, like Paula Penfold’s work on the Teina Pora case. That was impressive because it didn’t threaten my position in this industry, which I clearly earned through my own hard work and not making a fuss about minor things like being sent sexually suggestive text messages by my supervisor every night. That never happened to me so I just can’t believe it happened to anyone else. I would have heard about it from someone believable, over the water cooler or the urinal wall.
Think of the dangerous precedent we’re setting. If women are just going to believe other women and investigate their stories – hundreds of individual, one-off stories – what next? Are we going to give credence to the hundreds of individual stories of Māori incarcerated for longer, harsher prison sentences than individual Pākehā committing the same crimes? Should we be troubled by the thousands of individual, one-off stories of historic child abuse? Are we supposed to draw some kind of conclusion about our society’s values and power dynamics from the fact a lot of people have similar experiences?
Perish the thought!
The only reasonable conclusion to draw, based on my own rational assumptions and not any kind of conversation with the women journalists involved in this investigation (it’s only fair to them, they could hardly be objective about their own investigation) is there’s nothing to see here and the risks to innocent men massively outweigh any kind of justice or closure which might be delivered to unreliable women. People could lose their jobs over this investigation, and for what? Women who never progressed that far in the industry anyway.
I’m not saying women can’t hack it in journalism, I’m sure they all had their reasons for leaving and it would be rude to question them. If you can’t even ask a woman when she’s planning on having children you can hardly inquire about her career plans!
I’m just asking for balance. The solution to decades of alleged harassment and bullying cannot be turning the tables on people like me who did nothing wrong and certainly didn’t benefit from more talented people being driven out of the industry by systemic misogyny. Is it going to fix anything if the predators in our midst are unmasked and the power structures that support them are torn down? Do you have any idea how difficult it is to make a living from journalism these days when all you have going for you is a pompous writing style and the unshakeable conviction that your every brainfart is worthy of publication?
If Alison Mau and Paula Penfold really want to help women, they should leave this investigation to male journalists who’ll do the job properly, and won’t just take some girl’s word for it that her boss was a creep or her coworker wasn’t just a clumsy flirt. And if a bit of reasonable doubt and objectivity means that no women feel comfortable sharing their personal stories of trauma and disillusionment with us, well. We can all draw a pretty clear conclusion from that.
With apologies to David Cohen and Bryce Edwards, who I didn’t contact before writing this piece because I’m not a real journalist.
As to the first: we aren’t thermometers. We can’t be content to reflect where people are. We have to be thermostats, pushing the political temperature in the right direction. And Marama Davidson is doing that just by being who she is: a Māori woman, a mother of six, launching a political campaign at the leisure centre in Ōtara where she learned to swim as a kid.
But it’s further reinforced in a speech which does not make a single mention of economic growth (she does cite the “steady economic development” of her grandparents’ day) or business but uses the word “communities” 20 times. This will be decried by the Kiwiblogs and Whaleoils of the world as demonstrating her inability to be part of a proper government.
So the best-case scenario is National gets a new leader who can’t/won’t articulate a strong position on social issues, either to conservatism or liberalism, and who lacks Key’s ability to make that work. And we know that more conservative, religious candidates started to come up through the National ranks the minute Bill English became leader. Is there a big chunk of socially judgey National supporters, who were simply biding their time while things were going well under Key, now ready to push the party back towards its “real” values?
The worst-case scenario is National gets a leader who can articulate a strong social position, and it’s Judith Collins and her position is strongly terrifying.
But what to say of Bill, now he’s off? The Prime Minister and others have made the usual polite noises about “his service” and the deep mutual respect all politicians theoretically have even for those on the other side of the spectrum. The meme has always been that he was a fantastic Minister of Finance (they all have to be, after Rob Muldoon) and he kept the country running (because we kid ourselves that “the economy” is a fickle and temperamental demigod who must be bound from doing harm by arcane ritual, published in bright blue covers and distributed to the priesthood during the sacred time of “the Budget lock-in”).
I say: this is a man who, despite professing a deep spiritual faith in a saviour whose paramount message was of love, compassion and mutual care, spent decades hammering the message that only money mattered. That the only measure of success and health for our country was balancing the books and making the numbers come out right at the end. And he couldn’t even do that. He failed by his own calculating, cold-hearted metrics, and did immense damage to the people of this country in the process.
Today is the New Zealand Census. And if that comes as a surprise to you, your surprise is not a surprise to me. If that makes sense.
I’m obviously a political nerd, and have heard almost nothing about the census. Officially, at least. We’ve had the one letter to our household with the access code (which was … not particularly well written), and there was a Stats NZ stall at the Newtown Festival on the weekend, but besides that, I’ve only heard from people having trouble with it.
People who haven’t received access codes, and have been on the phone to Stats NZ multiple times trying to get one – which can’t be authorised by a first-tier support person, it has to be bumped up to a supervisor, and which can only be sent by snail mail, not email, or maybe it can be sent by email, but it takes a week? Nobody seems to know.
(Let’s take a pause here to remember that New Zealand Post, under the guidance of awesome progressive statesman Sir Michael Cullen, shut half its processing centres and halved the number of deliveries throughout the country, which is why it takes so long to get mail from Wellington to … Wellington.)
I suppose I have the option of being out of New Zealand on 6 March. Maybe a quick trip to Aussie is in my future, so I can boycott the Census without breaking the law. It’s a sad situation where I must contemplate being a refugee from my own country to make a critical point about the need for Government to own its responsibilities.
And then there’s the perennial issue, the issue Stats NZ have been aware of since well before the previous census: its complete erasure of trans, genderfluid and any other people who don’t fit neatly into two boxes marked “male” and “female”.
It feels like Stats NZ has not only dropped the ball on sex, gender, orientation and identity, it’s kicked the ball as hard as it could and shrugged as it went over a fence. Its own justification for the lack of questions demonstrates that it’s incredibly easy to explain the difference between biological sex, gender identity and sexual orientation. But they won’t. The very scientific and unbiased conclusion they’ve come to is “well, it’s too hard and there aren’t many of them anyway, so who cares?”
I care. I care about marginalized groups being represented and included in the official records of our society. I care about the huge amount of work done by gender diverse people and groups who have tried so damn hard to help Statistics NZ get this right, and who have been ignored for years because some platonic notion of statistical propriety trumps their existence and welfare.
I care that it took four years for our world-leading source-of-much-nationalist-smugness health system to find one surgeon who can provide gender confirmation surgery and wonder if maybe that would be different if we didn’t erase trans people from our premiere official population count.
I care about the message that is sent when the Minister for Statistics blames people’s “silly answers” in test surveys for the lack of decent gender and sexuality questions – yet “Pastafarian” – a parody specifically created to mock our attitudes towards organised religion – is not only permitted but gets its own autocomplete suggestion on the online form.
I also care about the assumptions our society makes about sex and gender and childbearing. At the last census I recall, but cannot confirm (damn Google) that Stats NZ stated they “impute” people’s sex based on their answers to a range of questions – so if you ticked male but said you’d given birth to two children, they would “correct” your sex to female. This is obviously completely unproblematic and hunky-dory as long as it makes the data ~clean~.
It simply irks me that for all the head-patting and condescension the LGBTQI+ community gets from Stats NZ, and the hand-wringing over ~reliable data~, the census is a shambles anyway. They’ve even re-jigged the meshblocks so apparently it’s going to be hell for anyone doing long-term research to match this census to previous ones (edit: though I’ve also heard they recalculate previous census data to match the new meshblocks). A couple of additional questions to shine light on an underrepresented and marginalized community whose health, legal and social needs are often ignored and diminished was hardly going to ruin everything for the data nerds.
This is something we should all care about. Not just because of the particular concerns around gender, sex, accessibility, and a government department’s ability to get the basic logistics of its primary job right.
Statistics are political. Data are political. They do not exist in a vacuum, because they are shaped by human perceptions and decisions from day one. Decisions about who should count, or what should count – religion but not political ideology; (assumed female fertility) but not sexual orientation – are political because they have political impacts.
A minor but illustrative point: the census includes motorcycles and scooters under “Other”, not “Motor vehicle”, for commuting options. What about a scooter makes it not a motor vehicle? How does this data reflect assumptions about how people commute, or should commute, or want to commute? How does this reinforce our preconceptions around policy to reduce congestion or address climate change?
I’m sure there’s a reason. I’m sure there’s academic papers and statistical standards and longstanding taxonomic principles in play. And every single one of those exists within a simple context: our society has been car-obsessed for a century with all the consequences for urban design, social behaviours and infrastructure spending.
It’s very nice to think you’re able to sit above the world everyone else lives in and observe it like a wise man atop a mountain, but it’s bullshit.
(This is also why groups (*cough*TOP*cough*) who try to claim neutrality or objectivity, because their policies are “evidence-based”, are either lying or kidding themselves (*cough*TOP*cough*). The only thing more dangerous than having biased data is having biased data and insisting it is not biased. If we willfully ignore the role of unconscious bias and attitudes in shaping the data we collect, decisions justified by that data will only harm people.)
It does make it wonderfully easy to ignore the existence of the queer community and then say “oh no, we made that decision on entirely statistical grounds” though.
The problem is, census planning takes a hell of a long time. The work putting together the 2023 census is likely already well underway, and making the kind of significant shift that’s clearly required – producing modern, relevant information with modern, relevant and inclusive processes – may simply be beyond the capabilities of a department which couldn’t even take decisive action moving its staff out of a lethally unsafe building.
Claire Trevett at the Herald has a piece up examining the five National Party leadership candidates’ views and voting records on various social issues. It’s interesting reading. And the conclusion I draw is that whoever’s on top when the dust settles will take the party screaming back into good old-fashioned conservatism.
Adams: anti-general decrim of marijuana; supported first reading of Seymour’s assisted dying bill; voted for drinking age of 20
Bridges: anti-decrim of marijuana; voted against marriage equality; opposed first reading of Seymour’s assisted dying bill
Collins: opposed first reading of Seymour’s assisted dying bill; voted for drinking age of 20
Joyce: anti-decrim of marijuana; opposed first reading of Seymour’s assisted dying bill; supported drinking age of 18
Mitchell: voted against marriage equality; supported first reading of Seymour’s assisted dying bill
Trevett notes that Mark Mitchell “in hindsight … would now support [marriage equality].” This should be a black mark against him whether you agree or disagree. It’s impossible to put trust in politicians who pander to reactionaries when it actually matters, but turn around later and insist “I would totally vote for equality and basic human rights now, if I had the chance.” There’s no high democratic principle in place: it’s an overriding instinct to cover your ass and please whoever you’re currently talking to. (God, he’s sounding more and more plausible as “New Zealand’s Trump” every day.)
All five candidates are against abortion law reform, even though Simon Bridges’ favourite Bill Clinton quote specifies abortion should be safe, rare and legal. (Abortion is still covered by the Crimes Act in New Zealand, Simon, and its safety is reduced by the bureaucratic hoops pregnant people have to jump through, delaying their access to safer procedures. Something to think about?)
Family First’s ever-ironically helpful Vote Your Values website also has a guide to the contenders. Judith Collins … certainly has a voting record.
The others are more of a mixed bag, and it might seem premature to assume that all five would drag the party back into the dark ages. John Key’s own voting record was hardly a clean sweep of decency and compassion. But the thing about Key was not that he was tremendously socially liberal, nor conservative: he was simply pragmatic. He let the dice fall where they may, and when he did look like being on the wrong side of history, he had an incredibly slick media strategy and no compunction about rewriting that history to make himself the hero.
It worked for him. It did not work for English. It is not going to work for self-proclaimed scrappers like Collins or Joyce. Bridges doesn’t have the panache to carry it off (his infamous Campbell Live interview shows what happens when he’s not given the easy ride he thinks he’s due.)
Nobody except Simon Lusk wants to have a beer with Mark Mitchell, and although Amy Adams comes to many voters as a relative unknown, that’s really a weakness when you’ve been in Parliament for nearly a decade and a Minister for two-thirds of that time. (Nanaia Mahuta took this criticism a lot in the 2014 Labour leadership election, albeit mostly from Pākehā who never pay attention.)
So the best-case scenario is National gets a new leader who can’t/won’t articulate a strong position on social issues, either to conservatism or liberalism, and who lacks Key’s ability to make that work. And we know that more conservative, religious candidates started to come up through the National ranks the minute Bill English became leader. Is there a big chunk of socially judgey National supporters, who were simply biding their time while things were going well under Key, now ready to push the party back towards its “real” values? Buggered if I know. But if there is, are any of the leadership contenders willing to take those guys on and keep them mum until the party can Labour Lite its way back into the Beehive? Mitchell will fold. Bridges and Adams will weasel. And Joyce, of course, stands on a strong record of fixing things.
The worst-case scenario is National gets a leader who can articulate a strong social position, and it’s Judith Collins and her position is strongly terrifying.
And the real winner may be David Seymour. More than anything he and his funders are capable of doing, National swerving into the judgemental daddy-state ditch could deliver a lot of “fiscally conservative but socially liberal” votes back to the yellow clown car.
Labour could benefit too: but it’s going to take more than sitting back and reaching for the popcorn. They have to seize the opportunity to drive one hell of a wedge between National’s new conservatism and the progressive values most New Zealanders hold. That means being active and unapologetic on drug and abortion law reform, and unequivocally rejecting the kneejerk law-and-order frame.