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.

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.

A quick and clean exit

I was off social media for much of yesterday avoiding spoilers for the Royal Rumble (WORTH IT) and missed this rather, um, celebratory article at NBR about Wellington restaurant Five Boroughs’ “quick and clean” liquidation:

Popular Wellington diner Five Boroughs has moved across town into smaller premises after the company was put into voluntary liquidation, which the owners say give it greater opportunity to chase more profitable business.

[The company] owes $32,400 to employees in holiday pay, $27,000 to unsecured trade creditors, and about $360,000 to Inland Revenue, though that number is yet to be confirmed.

One of Five Boroughs’ owners has made an open statement on Facebook challenging some of the article, but it’s hard to argue with quotes like

“We could see ourselves on this slippery slope where we were basically just becoming a hamburger restaurant, and neither Elie nor myself really wanted that. It was sensible for us to move to a smaller site, where we could really get a handle on the product and the quality … We decided we’d get a handle on everything now and do it on our own terms.”

Other reports (from people claiming to be staff) indicate that the timing was deliberate – workers were given 4, 9, 11 or 13 days’ notice that their jobs were ended – and in my experience, employers sometimes schedule redundancy announcements around or before Christmas to avoid extra holiday costs (usually because they don’t understand how holiday pay works).

The fact that Five Boroughs’ owners owed $32,000 in holiday pay tells us the staff were employed on a casual basis, instead of permanent; which is common in the hospitality industry and generally exploitative [I’ve been corrected on this point; it’s also possible staff are owed accrued leave as permanent employees]. Sure, there’s sometimes a genuine need for casual or on call work, but knowing what the basic requirements of your operation are is business competence 101 – and you can, and should, hire permanent, decent-fixed-hours staff accordingly.

This is horrific for the people who have been essentially turned into disposable assets by their employers, and it highlights the wider issue of how fucking terrible New Zealand business owners and managers are.

We’re persistently fed this myth by rightwing politicians and lobbyists: the market knows best, businesses are more efficient than the public service, the profit motive encourages good, clean, efficient, smart behaviour.

Yet again and again we see businesses which are only able to be “successful” by shafting ordinary workers. By relying on poverty wages or tax loopholes to make the books look good. By making short-term cuts and bailing before the long-term effects are realised. By literally putting themselves out of business to make a quick cut-and-run to a more central, “slicker” venue.

There are good businesses out there. There are Living Wage employers, bosses who understand the benefits of having collective agreements, companies which see the huge advantages of engaging constructively with the people who make their operation successful.

I want to see other business owners get angry about this story. Tell us that this isn’t how you run things. Show that you’re not just exploiting loopholes and grinding people’s faces into the mud for a bottom line. Because we have too many examples to the contrary, and your self-appointed spokespeople like National, ACT, the New Zealand Initiative and NBR telling the world it’s just hunky-dory.

We cannot accept a situation where ordinary people – the people who did the work every day of preparing food, serving customers, cleaning tables – are left in the lurch, and it’s hailed as savvy business practice. We cannot accept the “wisdom” of a market which relies on bullshit and crossed fingers to make all the numbers line up on a spreadsheet and call it “growth”.

Success is when you make a contribution to your community, when you nurture and protect the people around you, when you create something good for the benefit of everyone.

This isn’t success. It’s greed. And greed is poison.

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.