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.

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.

Recommended reading

Have a great weekend!

The Human Rights Commission must show it has its own house in order on sexual harassment – Toby Manhire

The last week has seen another woman at the centre of allegations over sexual harassment in the public centre. There has been no chiding statement from any commissioner at the HRC, however – however much they may wish they could. This is because the complaint this time is at the Commission itself. The way it has been handled casts serious doubt on whether the HRC is practising what it preaches, and risks staining the moral authority upon which it depends.

The Great Stink – Laurie Penny

I was among the ones saying that we should give him more time, no, he really does want to change, he’s trying to understand what he did wrong, and if we go hard we’re going to lose him. I had forgiven him the demeaning, dehumanizing things he had done to me long ago, and I had forgotten that it was not my job to decide whether anyone else should do the same. I was terrified that this man, who I loved deeply and still do, would end his life. I was angry at Twitter Justice Girl for forcing the issue. I thought she had gone too far.

I was wrong. She did the right thing. We only found out how much of the right thing she’d done when all the other stories started coming out. The guy had spent 20 years hurting women on three separate continents and — I find it hard to write this, so give me a moment — he wasn’t going to stop. He wasn’t going to stop until the women who loved him stopped giving him chances. He might have wanted to stop, but he didn’t have to, so he wasn’t going to.

Why can’t the Government be my landlord? – Julia Schiller

Especially in the wake of the latest report confirming what we already know about the state of the housing crisis, it is time for the Labour Party to remember that it is a democratic socialist party and that the greed of the rentier class is merciless and insatiable. We saw proof of that when owners of student flats raised rents by $50/week, the exact amount the new government had raised the student allowance.

Labour must stop crowing about that and other payments, such as the winter fuel subsidy, that the rightwing can justifiably criticise as handouts. These payments may potentially alleviate some financial distress in the short term but they do nothing to redress ongoing inequality.

Recommended reading

A few damn fine bits and pieces for your Sunday.

Representation – Megan Whelan

I didn’t know how to be fat in the world, because even though I saw people who looked like me all the time, there was no instruction manual on how to look like me and be happy. All the women I looked up to – whether popular or powerful – were smaller than me. And even then, the ones who were bigger than a size 12 were the object of ridicule. I learned that if I did something wrong, the first thing people would comment on was my weight.

So I learned to hide.

Could New Zealand’s tough media laws silence our #metoo moment? – Tess McClure, Vice

In the United States, where much of the ‘Me Too’ reporting on sexual misconduct has occurred, the situation is very different. The First Amendment provides a fierce protection of free speech for journalists and citizens, and defamation cases are much more difficult to get over the line. If you’re a public figure, winning a suit generally requires proving the media outlet in question knew either that the information was wholly false or that it was published “with reckless disregard of whether it was false or not”.

Considering a case like Harvey Weinstein brings those differences into sharp relief. As a public figure in the USA, it would be up to Weinstein to prove the allegations published against him were false, or published with reckless disregard. In New Zealand, it would be down to the media outlet to prove every last claim. The nature of sexual harassment cases is that they’re often covert and occur without witnesses. It’s not unusual for sexual assault victims to wait several years before making an allegation. They tend to leave little in the way of a paper trail.

Related: The Al Capone theory of sexual harassment – Valerie Aurora and Leigh Honeywell

Organizations that understand the Al Capone theory of sexual harassment have an advantage: they know that reports or rumors of sexual misconduct are a sign they need to investigate for other incidents of misconduct, sexual or otherwise. Sometimes sexual misconduct is hard to verify because a careful perpetrator will make sure there aren’t any additional witnesses or records beyond the target and the target’s memory (although with the increase in use of text messaging in the United States over the past decade, we are seeing more and more cases where victims have substantial written evidence). But one of the implications of the Al Capone theory is that even if an organization can’t prove allegations of sexual misconduct, the allegations themselves are sign to also urgently investigate a wide range of aspects of an employee’s conduct.

And finally, some happy news to see you through to Monday: Ditching Andrew Jackson for Mary Jackson – Marina Koren, The Atlantic

An elementary school in Utah has traded one Jackson for another in a change that many say was a long time coming.

Jackson Elementary School in Salt Lake City will no longer be named for Andrew Jackson, the seventh U.S. president, whose slave ownership and treatment of Native Americans are often cited in the debate over memorializing historical figures associated with racism.

Instead, the school will honor Mary Jackson, the first black female engineer at NASA whose story, and the stories of others like her at the space agency, was chronicled in Hidden Figures, a 2016 film based on a book of the same name by Margot Lee Shetterly.

2017 rewind: Who has to apologise?

We’re into the top 5 most-read posts on Boots Theory in 2017. First up, we revisit the Metiria Turei story, and ask ourselves why so many people’s lasting impression is, “well she didn’t apologise, that’s what made it so bad.”

Originally published 3 October 2017.

An excellent piece by Maddie Holden at The Spinoff on the sexism of the 2017 election got me thinking. She writes:

Enter Metiria Turei. We’re all familiar with the story of her ousting from Parliament for a forgivable, decades-old mistake that shed light on the glaring deficiencies of our welfare system, but perhaps it’s not immediately apparent that her treatment related to her gender. It’s simply a matter of honesty and trust, we’ve been told, and charges of a racist, sexist double standard have been dismissed using fine-tooth comb analysis. It was her attitude, they said, and any MP who broke a law would be expected to pay with her otherwise flawless career in public service.

On the Sunday morning after election day I was on a panel for Radio NZ’s Sunday Morning, where the topic of Turei’s resignation came up. Fellow panelist Neil Miller said it “rankled” with many people he knew that Metiria Turei didn’t apologise, or appear contrite enough. Now, I stand by what I said then, i.e. “what the hell did she have to apologise for?” (weka at The Standard has helpfully transcribed some of my comments in this post, and here’s an awesome round-up of posts analysing the real reasons Turei resigned.)

But with the lens of Holden’s article, another thought struck me: the sexist double standards of apologies.

If you are a woman, especially a poor Māori woman, and you do something wrong out of the noblest of motives – providing for your child – let’s be honest: no apology would be enough. If you didn’t cry, it would be proof you weren’t sincere. If you did cry, it would be proof you were a weak feeeeeeemale and unfit for politics anyway. Whatever words you use, they will be found wanting; it’s all well and good to say sorry now, the talkback twerps would sneer, but why did you do it in the first place you awful bludger?

But if you’re a man? Well.

If you’re a man, you can shrug your shoulders and say “oh, those things I said weren’t actually my view, or even factually correct, soz.”

If you’re a man, you get to say “my lawyers told me it was okay” or “I reckon it’s pretty legal” and this does not in fact rule you out of being Prime Minister or Minister of Finance (but then, even blatantly lying about budget figures apparently doesn’t rule you out from being Minister of Finance).

If you’re a man, you get to say “oh well my life was just really hard back then when I physically assaulted my partner repeatedly” and pillars of the community will queue up to denounce anyone who doesn’t give you a second chance even when you continue to propagate violent rhetoric and label yourself the victim.

If you’re a man, you get to demean survivors of sexual assault live on air, refuse to take personal responsibility for it and get handed plum political roles while other people insist that we should just take it on faith that you’ve changed, even as you offer more non-apologies.

Hell, if you’re a man you can say “I’ve offered to apologise” when your government utterly screws up the handling of a sexual assault case and that’s somehow the end of the matter, and even if you subsequently refuse to apologise you get damning headlines like: “PM not keen on apology”.

Not.

Bloody.

KEEN?

Can you imagine it? Can you hear the shrieking that would have ensued if Metiria Turei had called a press conference, sniffled a bit and said “Look, I feel bad if anyone was offended, but I only offer apologies when there’s a serious reason for me to do so, I obviously never intended to hurt anyone’s feelings, but it was a long time ago and has been taken out of context”?

Because that’s all a man would have to do.

It may well “rankle” for some people that Metiria Turei never apologised, for something which requires no apology from anyone with a heart. But let’s not allow this to become the received wisdom, as though any apology would have satisfied the critics. They are not fair-minded even-handed assessors of a complex situation; they are hateful troll-monkeys who would always be able to find some reason to demonise a Māori woman whose true crime was surviving and challenging the status quo.