What we do

With the horrible, tragic case of Grace Millane in the news, we’ve been talking a lot about what women do – and what we shouldn’t have to – to be safe in our country. So I wrote on Twitter:

My mum wants me to text her when I’ve gotten on the bus. My coworker says she’ll stay up until I let her know I’m home safe when we share a taxi. I message my partner to say where I am and what time I expect to be home when I go out.

I make eye contact with security cameras. I still carry my keys between my fingers and find excuses to turn my head when someone’s walking behind me so they don’t realise I’m looking at them and listen to hear if they speed up when I speed up.

I’m nearly 35 and I’ve spent my life knowing that these things are, at the same time, what I must do to keep safe, yet will not keep me safe. That I’m considered ~crazy~ for doing them and yet will be asked why I didn’t when something happens.

I have no pithy call to action tonight, just a lot of sadness.

And many people responded, women and men. I wanted to record those responses here.

I did this just two nights ago texting my husband to tell him I had to walk 5 minutes alone to my car after an event. Held my keys in my hand. Let him know when I’d made it safely.

I do all of these things regularly.

My daughter rings me and talks to me as she walks to her car.

I always ring my husband and he talks to me until I am in the car.

Currently awake waiting for wifes next location update. Tautoko.

I do exactly the same things.

It’s better to hold your keys like you would a knife than have them between your fingers. Its what I do

I’m 60 and the streets are no safer for women than they were when I was in my teens and the police still tell women how to stay safe and to watch out for each other, rather than direct a campaign at the men who attack women, and tell their mates to watch out and stop them.

I still do these things. I was taught them in my late teens . I am over 60 . I should feel safe. I still think zbout where and how I park the car. So it is lit at night . That I am not trapped between the car and a wall or fence when I open the door .

That the house is completely locked at night. That the curtains are drawn

Same here, always phone hubby when I leave work on a late shift, speak to him until I get on the bus and always have my phone ready and my keys out! Hate it! I’d love the freedom to go running after work in the dark but it’s just not safe…how is that right or fair?

These things are so ingrained that I didn’t actually even realise I do them, but I do. And you’re right, these actions are unlikely to stop me being hurt by someone with intent. I’m over it not being understood that women experience this world in a different way to men. It sucks.

I do this with my mum as well – no matter what time of night it is, she’ll always answer too.

There’s an effect on freedom. My wife calls when she’s waiting at the bus stop late at night… I worry about my female flat mate who works late in the city centre and walks home. They’ve very different lenses to experiencing public life than mine and it ain’t right.

How fucking sick is this. Our intimate partners know we will call but it isn’t something we discuss.

Recommended reading

Not all new writing, just writing which came across my Twitter feed.

Charlotte Graham-McLay: What I Learned About Writing From the Women Inside New Zealand’s Prisons (VICE)

We were reticent rather than the overconfidence I was worried about, but the women hosting us knew what to do about it. They must be practiced at that, on visiting days, smoothing over the awkwardness with warmth and small talk. The woman next to me asked what I did, and told me she’d dreamed of being a photojournalist as a girl. She told me I should go to war zones and I didn’t like to say I didn’t want to. Later, we talked about mental healthcare in prisons, a subject I’d held forth on in newsrooms and at dinner parties previously, but this time I just listened.

Sarah Jaffe: The Factory in the Family: The radical vision of Wages for Housework (The Nation)

To demand wages was to acknowledge that housework—i.e., the unwaged labor done by women in the home—was work. But it was also a demand, as Federici and others repeatedly stressed, to end the essentialized notions of gender that underlay why women did housework in the first place, and thus amounted to nothing less than a way to subvert capitalism itself. By refusing this work, the Wages for Housework activists argued, women could help see to “the destruction of every class relation, with the end of bosses, with the end of the workers, of the home and of the factory and thus the end of male workers too.”

In a moment when women’s protests and talk of class struggle are both resurgent, the intersectional analysis that Wages for Housework put forth (years before Kimberlé Crenshaw coined the term) is more relevant than ever. It noted that to ignore women’s wageless work is also to ignore that of so many others, from the slaves who built the United States to those who still labor basically unwaged in prisons: “In capitalism,” as the Wages for Housework committee members wrote in 1974, “white supremacy and patriarchy are the supremacy and patriarchy of the wage.”

Kevin McKenna: Why are we still so scared of crusading women who speak the truth? (The Guardian)

The deeds of Scotland’s working-class heroes have largely been written out of the approved histories of the nation that our children are permitted to read. Until very recently, a Scottish child could travel into adulthood unhindered by an ounce of knowledge about the story of Scotland and certainly about any of the women who have helped shape our destiny.

John Harris: Adapt or die: a new breed of trade union can save the fossils of old (The Guardian)

I have spoken endlessly to trade unionists who want to give serious thought to how to do things differently: one idea that often comes up is of a lifetime individual membership that could be instantly reconfigured as people move into work, then out, and then in again, allowing them to make the most of different kinds of collective representation and personal benefits.

But such things are still more the subject of tentative conversations after office hours than anything more meaningful. Is this perhaps because the women, young workers and people of colour who tend to work in the more precarious parts of the economy are too often locked out of many of the big unions’ upper tiers?

Recommended reading

A weekend roundup post-International Women’s Day.

Charlotte Graham-McLay: Why the #MeToo reckoning has so much further to go (Noted)

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.

Alison Flood: Romantic fiction in the age of Trump (Guardian)

“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.)

Golriz Ghahraman: The CPTPP deal undermines Kiwis’ best interests (NewShub)

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?

Dorothy Ann Lee: Who was Mary Magdalene? Debunking the myth of the penitent prostitute (The Conversation)

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.

Serena Cherry: Women of metal, I salute you (Atom Smasher)

Couldn’t not include this one!

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.

Here’s Svalbard’s “Unpaid Intern”. If it’s not your cup of tea musically (Mum) then check out Cherry’s companion essay about class struggle.

The gender politics are coming

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.

Statistics are political

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.)

People who will not be able to fill out the census because Statistics NZ, in its pursuit of cutting costs and pushing everyone online, has completely screwed up the process for people who are blind.

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.

Screenshot from Twitter.

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~.

At this stage, there’s an outstanding OIA request on FYI.org.nz asking if Stats NZ continues this practice. It will clearly not be answered before the census closes today.

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.