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.

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.

Our unfortunate ignorance

I may have got a little ranty on The Spinoff’s Facebook page recently, after reading this excerpt from a new book on the “unfortunate experiment” at National Women’s Hospital. To wit:

I appreciate this is an excerpt from the book, but it rings a little callous that the line quoted above is literally from the last paragraph of it. The excerpt humanizes the doctors involved, and doesn’t even mention by name a single one of the women who were literally left to develop cancer due to wilful medical neglect.

Sandra Coney and Phillida Bunkle’s 1987 article in Metro gets only half a sentence – “It took the attention of feminists and a media response to highlight the tragedy …”

For people who have no idea what happened at National Women’s Hospital, this article will not be informative, either about the arrogance which led to up to 30 women dying of treatable cancer, or the significant impact it had on the way we think about informed consent and medical ethics. And that’s a shame.

As I say; I know it’s just an excerpt, from a book written by a doctor who had a significant role exposing the unfortunate experiment, with the clear intention of ensuring this horrific chapter in New Zealand’s medical history isn’t whitewashed. Per the Otago University Press statement (pdf) on its publication:

Since that time there have been attempts to cast Green’s work in a more generous light. This rewriting of history has spurred Ron Jones to set the record straight by telling his personal story: a story of the unnecessary suffering of countless women, a story of professional arrogance and misplaced loyalties, and a story of doctors in denial of the truth.

But that’s not what comes through in the foreword, where the doctors who wilfully experimented with women’s lives without their consent are humanized, where Herb Green’s initial work is described as “a major advance for New Zealand women” long before any mention of the fact his later work killed women, which erases a culture of medical superiority and sexism in favour of shrugging, “It’s difficult for an outsider to comprehend how this could have happened”. Fifty words are given to a 1950 FIGO determination on carcinoma-in-situ, and literally none to the names of the women harmed – not even “Ruth”, the central figure of Sandra Coney and Phillida Bunkle’s groundbreaking article, whose determination to access her own medical records blew the lid of the experiment; not even Sandra Coney or Phillida Bunkle themselves – reduced simply to “feminists”.

Suffice it to say, I don’t think The Spinoff have done its readers a good service. And that’s a pity because this book deserves to be publicized. This chapter of our history needs to be better known. We should understand the complex issues and background around medical science, patriarchal arrogance, the dismissal of women’s safety and autonomy, and our understanding of informed consent which impacts people to this day.

~

Coney and Bunkle’s article (pdf) was published in 1987. I was three-and-a-half and not really paying attention. But Coney’s subsequent book of the same name was one of the volumes my mother unsuccessfully tried to sequester from the family bookshelves as I reached those dangerous pre-teen years of awkward questions and being able to read a little too far above my age grade.

I picked it because I liked the statue on the front cover (and it was in a cupboard I clearly wasn’t supposed to be able to reach). I didn’t even know what a cervix was. But I knew there was something terribly wrong when one man in a position of power was able to do things to people under his care – to women – without telling them what was happening, or what the risks were. And I learned how hierarchies of power protect their own even when terrible harm has been done, even when it should go against every principle their institution or profession is meant to stand for. How people in societies are sectioned off into groups which are deemed less intelligent or less worthy of information or autonomy – women, people of colour, incarcerated criminals – especially where the advancement of medical science has been concerned.

It’s probably no surprise I turned out to be a feminist who doesn’t go to male GPs and never misses a smear.

We don’t have to demonise the whole medical profession. After all, it was doctors like Ron Jones who exposed the real data from Green’s experiments in 1984, and who are still determined not to let us forget. But we must be aware of the potential for harm when so much trust and power and blind faith is put in the hands of any profession, when laypeople are presumed to have no right to input or information about their own treatment, and when it becomes simply instinctive for institutions to defend their own against criticism. We have to remember our history so we can make sure it never happens again.

Books like this are tremendously important. But there are better ways to tell their stories.

QOTD: Somebody has to prepare that steak

I’m having difficulty finishing Who Cooked Adam Smith’s Dinner?, the feminist critique of economics by Katrine Marçal. It’s just too real. Every few pages I put it down with a sigh at how true, yet/thus how utterly frustrating, it all is.

So in lieu of a long-planned review, to be completed once I’ve ground my way through the last 30 brilliant, infuriating, vindicating pages, here’s a quotation which nails the key point.

Since Adam Smith’s time, the theory about economic man has hinged on someone else standing for care, thoughtfulness and dependency. Economic man can stand for reason and freedom precisely because someone else stands for the opposite. The world can be said to be driven by self-interest because there’s another world that is driven by something else. And these two worlds must be kept apart. The masculine by itself. The feminine by itself.

If you want to be part of the story of economics you have to be like economic man. You have to accept his version of masculinity. At the same time, what we call economics is always built on another story. Everything that is excluded so the economic man can be who he is.

So he can be able to say that there isn’t anything else.

Somebody has to be emotion, so he can be reason. Somebody has to be body, so he doesn’t have to be. Somebody has to be dependent, so he can be independent. Somebody has to be tender, so he can conquer the world. Somebody has to be self-sacrificing, so he can be selfish.

Somebody has to prepare that steak so Adam Smith can say their labour doesn’t matter.