2017 rewind: Thank you, Metiria.

Well, here it is. No surprise that this was the most-read post on Boots Theory last year, because Metiria Turei’s “downfall” and resignation was by far one of the most significant moments in New Zealand politics – not because like Jacinda Ardern’s ascension it led to a change of government, but because it addressed a fundamental question in our society. Are we willing to acknowledge that our welfare system is utterly broken, in a way that’s more than just shaking our head at the sad stories of strangers? Can we forgive a woman, a staunch Māori woman, for the “crime” of feeding her child – if she occupies a potential position of power?

It seems not.

But that’s nowhere near going to be the end of the story.

Originally published 9 August 2017

It was always a possibility in the back of my mind that Metiria Turei’s admission of benefit fraud – and the absolute flood of hatred, hypocrisy, bullying and mucky insinuations unleashed upon her by people who’ve never faced a truly hard choice in their lives – would cost her her political career. I had hope we would be better than that, especially after she had so much support from the members of her party, her co-leader, and the public.

And now she’s gone. And I’m heartbroken.

But let us be absolutely crystal FUCKING clear about this. Metiria did not resign because her admission was political suicide. She did not resign because it ~wasn’t a good look~ or whatever nonsense my commentariat comrades want to spin.

She resigned because her family, any family, could not withstand the appalling, personal, vicious abuse being hurled at them.

And I just hope all the people with loud public platforms, who absolutely dedicated themselves to destroying this wahine toa over the past weeks, are feeling proud. You’ve done great work. You dragged a young woman’s parentage into the dirt for a political hit. You positively salivated at completely minor youthful transgressions and told the nation, unequivocally, that they were the blackest sins. You gleefully reinforced every terrible stereotype about solo mums being lying sluts on the make.

You refused to let the issue die and then turned to the camera to narrate dispassionately: “this issue just won’t die.”

You’re the real winners tonight.

There was an issue people wanted to die, though: the brokenness and heartlessness of our social welfare system. The reality, which has now been exposed and brought into the light, that we as a nation are not looking after the poorest and most vulnerable. We are not making sure every child born in Godzone gets three square meals a day and shoes to run the school cross country in.

We are failing children and their parents, and it is by design, and has been for thirty years. And boy, is it clear after the firestorm of the past few weeks that y’all do not want to talk about it.

Well, too bad.

I’m not letting this issue be put back in its box, to await the magical day when a progressive, socially conscious government, which somehow defies the odds to gain power without ever letting on that it’s a progressive, socially conscious government, pulls the rabbit out of the hat and says “ta-da, we’re going to fix the welfare system.”

The question of social welfare is literally the entire point of government. How does the government ensure people live a good life? Does the government do this at all, or merely ensure the poorest and most vulnerable get just enough gruel to make them useful cogs in the economic machine? Do we give a damn about babies? Yes, even the babies whose parents made a few mistakes in their lives?

Those are the questions we must answer. This is the policy which must be changed, and changed right down to its core, not tinkered at the edges for fear of frightening the middle-class horses.

This is the conversation which we are going to have, New Zealand, because there is solidarity here. #IAmMetiria does not go away just because you’ve bullied the woman who sparked it off the scene.

Thank you Metiria. I am so, so sorry that we are not the caring, compassionate country we like to pretend to be.

Book review: Who Cooked Adam Smith’s Dinner?

It’s almost a year since I wrote,

I’m almost finished reading Katrine Marçal’s Who Cooked Adam Smith’s Dinner? which absolutely nails this topic. Hopefully have a review up shortly!

A year is “shortly” in geological terms, isn’t it?

This was a difficult book, one which had to be read in fits and starts then put down for a few days or weeks or months and taken up again after the waves of righteous validated fury subsided. It’s just that good.

The premise, as I’ve described it to possibly every woman I know over the past year, is, “Well, modern economics views everyone as a rational, individual economic actor. But did you know Adam Smith lived with his mum for his whole life, even though his economic theories erase the unpaid work of women and social drives which meant he never had to cook his own dinner?”

It definitely catches people’s attention. It explains the title, it’s a catchy hook, and yes, Who Cooked Adam Smith’s Dinner? is absolutely, as the subtitle puts it, “a story about women and economics.” But it’s a lot more as well.

It’s about women, and men. Tax and the environment, employment and healthcare, the language we use, our existence as embodied/biological entities, Robinson Crusoe and Florence Nightingale. It’s about everything, because it’s about how economic thinking has infected our whole world and suppressed vital parts of our humanity – our social bonds, our emotions, our intrinsic values – holding up as the ideal a flawed “economic man” who reflects no real human being.

It’s about how we cannot solve any of these problems when our answers remain rooted in the same old economic model:

So far only half of the feminist revolution has happened. We have added women and stirred. The next step is to realise what a massive shift this has been, and to actually change our societies, economies and politics to fit the new world we have created. Wave economic man off from the platform and then build an economy and a society with room for a greater spectrum of what it means to be a human.

It’s about challenging even the standard thinking which opposes the rightwing/neoliberal/economic model (and yes, I do love that it’s about how even good old-fashioned class struggle has bought into the marginalizing of “women’s work”):

Dependency has for centuries been seen as shameful. It was something that slaves and women were …

But the workers’ movement redefined that which was previously called wage-slavery as a source of pride. Independence came to be defined as having a job with a salary that could support a family. Then one was doing one’s duty. So one could also demand rights.

Woman, on the other hand, couldn’t do this – because she was still dependent.

That for working-class men to be ‘independent’ by working full-time they had to depend on women to take care of the home was not a part of this history. Just as Adam Smith failed to tell us about his mother.

All this, and then some. No 800-word review can do it justice.

If I have a major criticism, it’s that the book focuses almost exclusively on gender, ignoring other lenses and perspectives and often using very essentialist language around women, especially in the area of reproduction. But that’s kind of necessary to the case: when our economic system erases women’s roles and holds up a strictly gendered ideal of Economic Man, it’s difficult to describe the problem without using those same tropes.

The writing itself is beautiful and the tone scathing. Part of what made the book so hard to finish was how unapologetically blunt Marçal is in her statements, punctuating her paragraphs with snappy codas:

Housework is cyclical in nature. Therefore, women’s work wasn’t an ‘economic activity’. What she did was just a logical extension of her fair, loving nature. She would always carry out this work, and so it wasn’t anything that one needed to spend time quantifying. It came from a logic other than the economic.

Out of the feminine. And other.

Or:

In one single person we have managed to collect all the characteristics that we for centuries have called ‘masculine’. Economists say this is a coincidence. Economic man only happens to come across that way. And anyway, we can fit women into the model if we want. Essentially all people can be reduced to this abstract, rational economic consciousness. Irrespective of sex, irrespective of race, irrespective of culture, irrespective of age, irrespective of social status.

What is this if not equality?

Sometimes you need a cup of tea and an episode of Person of Interest to let your brain and your heart recover from such rightness.

In short: damn fine book. It’ll inspire and anger you, make you question your assumptions, and feel amazingly validated in your principles. Just don’t expect to finish it in a weekend.

2017 rewind: Unity: a poem inspired by Martyn Bradbury

I’m still proud of this one, even if it did ruffle some feathers among people who can’t read a disclaimer properly. Once again for the folks at the back: I didn’t write this. Martyn Bradbury wrote every word; I merely assembled them into a more pleasing form.

And then he wonders why no one talks to him at parties.

For context, because everything on the internet passes like tears in the rain: the 23-year-old woman Martyn took such offence at was Lara Wharepapa-Bridger, who was targeted by a lot of horrible abuse after calling out ~the Mad Butcher~ for obnoxious behaviour.

Originally published 30 January 2017

After a weekend of checking Martyn “Bomber” Bradbury’s latest diatribes – against women’s marches, Green Party voters, liberals, cyclists, the Labour Party, tourists, millennials, Nazi punchers, identity politics and Guy Williams – for personal attacks against myself or my union comrades, I decided this whimsical thought-experiment-slash-poem, assembled over an idle evening or two, deserved to see the light of day. It amused me to make it; I hope it amuses people who have been abused by New Zealand’s greatest leftwing blogger to read it.

Presented with no apologies; these were Martyn Bradbury’s own words, even if some of them have since been unceremoniously deleted.

“Unity”

or

“#ifthisishowthelefttreatallieshowwilltheytreatyou?”

having to put up with the puerile ravings of a hypocrite
is a tad tedious.

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Last night Giovanni Tiso and Russel Brown launched a twitter attack
a tsunami of abuse by the Emerald Stormtroopers and aesthetic left of Labour

If a house be divided against itself, that house cannot stand.
God these people are clowns.

The Left is its own worst enemy
the Left hates itself
the Left looks for traitors
the Left will simply bicker

It’s not the message of the Left
it’s the deeply flawed messengers the Left keep hiring
as self important as Giovanni Tiso
as alienating as the PSA Wellington comms team
mixed with the tediously smug insight of Simon Wilson

Maybe it’s living in Wellington,
undeservingly smug
absolutely positively passive aggressive.

maybe it’s living with a Green Party staff member,
those Green Party staffers who love to cyber bully
Hipsters with ambition and top knots
as sociable as a militant vegan in a battery cage chicken café

THIS IS SATIRE – NO NEED TO PROSECUTE – THIS IS SATIRE – NO NEED TO PROSECUTE

The EPMU doesn’t storm the barricades, they knock politely
so tinder dry that they make the PSA look like a clown college.
they wonder why the CTU can’t create more solidarity

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This is why you can’t trust Labour and the Greens
the total lack of political vision
too frightened to anger the PSA
the battle of the teeth
the naked ambition of Julie Anne Genter
a recipe for friction and disunity.

THIS IS SATIRE – NO NEED TO PROSECUTE – THIS IS SATIRE – NO NEED TO PROSECUTE

If only Kim had heeded my advice
personal ambition and ego politics always trump what’s best for NZ.

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Twitter can be rough
a boutique shop down a tiny alleyway
for Militant Free Bleeders and Beard Glitter aficionados
screams of ‘hate monger’ if someone gets the wrong pronoun
fucking worthless as a political measurement tool

outside the tiny little alienating echo chamber
the impenetrable little echo chamber
the Emerald Stormtroopers
are itching to start a schism of religious proportions.

just accept some people are simply mean
there’s a block button for a reason

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Russell Brown called The Spinoff the future of journalism
the supposed saviour of journalism
glitter bearded hipsters and middle class Blue Green wankers
new gatekeepers, policing language, identity and self interest for millennials
Their standard
about as high as your average beauty blog
Cash for copy
with all the charm of a modern day witch hunt
more like the youth wing of the Property Council than a social justice movement
like a little of Wellington in Auckland. Ugh.

And then there are the Millennials.
the first user pays generation
Me first cultural norms mixed with narcissistic social media
Without an idealogical compass
they are all going to the Greens

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a 23 year old crying on social media
some interchange she had with a rich white bloke
inside a snobbery winery
that’s front page fucking news?

I’m not allowed to have an opinion on the feels of a 23 year old woman
A 23 year old Millennial performing a classic over share moment
crying on social media

but if I was allowed an opinion

fake news at its most divisive
bullshit social media pile ons
liberals in social media bubbles
pointless alienating self-aggrandisement.
petty in comparison
alienating to everyone outside their echo chamber.
who actually cares beyond Twitter

one week of screaming racist
Longer than it took God to make the Universe folks.

a 23 year old woman who cried on social media
the feels of the preciously middle class
classic run-of-the-mill-middle-class-emotional-millenial-over-share

we gots us a girl in bubble wrap folks

Upset and tearful?
Over that?
Upset and tearful?
I’d imagine the children of Aleppo were upset and tearful.

let’s take her at her word
she was in fact upset and tearful

But again
I’m not allowed to have an opinion

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urban males
made to feel guilty for having a penis inside the Labour or the Greens.
this fragile ego
the perception that their privilege has been eroded
a frightened male sub culture that has to be gently coaxed
You can’t get shit done if you don’t have white males on board.

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oh come on Comrade
it’s the election year for Christ’s sake!
If we want progressive change
put aside the righteous anger
Rather than flinch and react angrily
understand where the anger is coming from
take less personal insult from righteous anger

you sanctimonious little arsehole.

Do Good Thursday: AUNTIES

New year, new energy, new good, concrete things you can do to change the world.

The pitch:

AUNTIES is a one-off publication written by women in Aotearoa about their experiences of political organising.

A collection of essays, interviews, visual art and poetry, AUNTIES channels the political power of women, offering rare insights into what it means to struggle and create change in the workplace, environment, local community and beyond.

Activists Nadia Abu-Shanab, Kassie Hartendorp and Ella Grace McPherson-Newton will be editing the project, which will feature the work of up to twenty writers and artists in a full colour, high quality publication. It will be launched on International Working Womens’ Day, March 8th, 2018.

This is an incredibly powerful project and it’s being organised by amazing people. They’re super close to their $5,000 goal – can you give them a little push to make it in their final week of fundraising?

Chip in to make AUNTIES happen here.

2017 rewind: The immigration “debate”

Boy, this issue never goes away. Wait, am I talking about toxic immigration narratives, or mainstream media pundit-dudes making prats of themselves?

Originally published 8 October 2017

There were a few drafts of this post, as I struggled with how to address Duncan Garner’s blatantly, deliberately, openly, provocatively racist column (no one makes that much effort saying how not-racist they are if they aren’t about to be super-racist). Deconstruct line-by-line? Parody (unnecessary given this excellent piece)? Flowchart showing all this has happened before and all of it will happen again (everything’s better with a Battlestar Galactica reference)?

I settled on a bingo board.

Because I am tired. I am so very tired of this little dance we go on, every single time a Pākehā dude (usually) opens his mouth to complain about “floods” or “waves” of immigrants or wants to start off “an important conversation” about immigration by observing that the queue at KMart made him feel like he was in South East Asia. I am tired of the disingenuous defenders insisting that we stop talking about the actual words the grown man who works in a communication-based job actually wrote. I am tired of the expectation to buy into the charade that he just doesn’t understand the basic implications of his words, to soothe the troubled brows of people who think being called racist is the literal worst thing that can happen to a living being.

I am tired of having to explain incredibly basic concepts like “referring to groups of people in animalistic terms is dehumanizing” or “criticising racist rhetoric does not mean I believe in a fully open borders policy and what the hell are you smoking to suggest that I am, you obvious deflection tactic?”

I am tired of the constant threat: actually I’m one of the good ones and if you alienate me I might not support good things any more.

And I am afraid. Haven’t we seen this happen already? Don’t we know what direction normalising this kind of rhetoric, and shutting down of criticism of it, takes us in? Haven’t we all watched what’s happening in the United States and retweeted Sarah Kendzior enough to read the signs? Didn’t we just learn that pandering to the “less-bad” agitators – saying “oh sure Milo’s transphobic but at least he’s not an actual Nazi” – is part of the problem?

Weren’t we all guilty of laughing at Trump’s buffoonery and assuming he was harmless, and just coincidentally aren’t we all waiting to see which way Winston Peters will go, gosh isn’t it funny how he mocked that journalist for being Australian?

And I’m rolling my eyes at myself right now because come on, Stephanie, this is just one silly Duncan Garner column, it’s not an impending seachange in NZ politics towards the openly white-supremacist authoritarianism of Trump and Breitbart, be reasonable.

But being reasonable and giving people an endless supply of second changes or infinite benefit of the doubt is how people like me – people who aren’t directly threatened by this rhetoric – end up saying “I woke up one day and realised I was living in a dystopia” – while those who faced genuine harm from all those “poor choices of words” or “unintended implications” are screaming we told you so, why didn’t you listen?

This is how hatred and hate-filled politics becomes normal: not because there are people deliberately pushing a racist agenda, but because a much wider group of people ignore it, or reinforce it by parroting its tropes without thinking about it. And when they’re called out, they’re outraged, because they’re not racist and how dare you say so you basement-dwelling loser, and their indignation is another piece of the puzzle, because now the conversation is about whether those stupid social justice types on Twitter are just too sensitive to have mature conversations about serious issues facing our nation.

And I’m tired. But I had to say something. Because you can never see where it all started to go wrong until it’s too late.