The truth behind the lobbyists who want the right to hit kids

New Zealand First’s Tracey Martin was on Q&A on the weekend floating the idea of a referendum on the old section 59 of the Crimes Act, i.e. the one about when it’s “reasonable” to hit your children. I’ll put my cards on the table straight away by refusing to call it that name – you know the one – because let’s be honest, the reason people call it “smacking” is so it sounds different from “hitting”, and the reason I call it “hitting” is because, like Sue Bradford, I refuse to draw lines about where or with what or how hard it’s OK to commit physical violence against children. The language I use may be loaded, but it’s no more than the other side’s.

Unsurprisingly, Family First were on the bandwagon before it even started rolling, with a typical Family First all-hat-no-cattle statement. Their “evidence” that the law isn’t working can be summarised as:

  • There’s more reporting of violence against children therefore more violence against children is occurring (not, “we have greater awareness that hitting kids is bad and thus more reporting is happening”)
  • The Police and CYFS/Oranga Tamariki are investigating a lot of reports of violence against children and choosing not to act on them (which is for some reason terrible)
  • A lot of people still don’t like the law (which definitely has nothing to do with Family First continually spinning bullshit about it)

Family First provide zero evidence that “good parents” are being prosecuted, much less convicted, for “just” a smack. Their assertion, now as it was 10 years ago, is that “good parents” – parents who want to hit their children – don’t like the law saying they shouldn’t. “Good parents” don’t like having the someone checking that their hitting of their children isn’t abusive, even though in the vast majority of cases, no further action is taken.

It feels a bit snarky of me to keep putting “good parents” in scarequotes, but they’re not mine, really. They’re Family First’s.

It’s very interesting when you look at their statements on parenting, and children, and violence, when they’re not discussing section 59, how certain themes come up again and again: poor people are abusers; brown people are abusers; the “real causes” of violence against children are drug abuse and solo mothers and working mothers (under the heading, “breakdown of family structure”) and those things exist in a vacuum.

While protesting against criminalizing some types of violence against children – where Good Parents are asserting their Rightful Authority over children who Need A Stern Lesson, and  exhortations to crack down on real abuse, Family First copy-paste articles from media sources like this one comparing long stints in daycare to child abuse, or this story from Vice, about five people in the Netherlands creating a co-parenting agreement.. Bed-sharing is child abuse too, and isn’t it convenient how that’s less culturally acceptable in Pākehā society, and sometimes the only option you have if you’re poor and living in a small, cold, damp rental?

Family First take articles like this one from Jarrod Gilbert in the Herald about the causes of child abuse, and conveniently cut it off right after the paragraph about 41% of child homicides being committed by mothers, but before the possible explanations for this and well before the conclusion that we aren’t focusing enough on prevention – say, by ensuring that our social services are able to be notified and investigate reports of “low-level” violence against children before situations escalate.

They stick headlines like “Child abuse out of control” on top of articles which specifically state increased numbers of notifications to CYFS may be because people feel more confident seeking help. While panicking about “good parents” having the authorities show up on their door, they positively salivate about “bad” parents having children removed from their care.

That’s the crux of it: the state cannot be swift and harsh enough in its treatment of those parents, those poor and/or Māori and/or unmarried parents who you know are abusing their kids, I mean just look at them; but it is a violent transgression to so much as question a good, white, Christian, married parent whose teenager was totally being disrespectful.

While clamouring for a crackdown on our culture of violence, it is simply impossible for Bob McCoskrie et al to consider that one key way we address a culture of violence is by not having a law which says that violence is okay. Because when people like him are doing it, it’s not violence at all.

I know a lot of genuinely well-intentioned people think this issue is more complex than I do. I appreciate people have different perspectives to me. And yes, if you want to throw that particular stone, I’m not a parent.

But the vital point is that groups like Family First do not want genuine constructive discussion about parenting, and physical discipline, and child development, and how the law sends signals about what is or isn’t socially acceptable. They just want to push a narrow-minded vision of what our society should look like. And if you aren’t the white, middle-class, patriarchal hetero monogamous Christian family unit they hold up as the ideal, they are not going to be here for you.

The disappointment is that their rhetoric gets taken at face value, and they have such a disproportionately loud voice in New Zealand politics. Because we cannot have serious conversations, about difficult topics, with them sitting at the table holding a megaphone to shout everyone else down.

The death-throes of patriarchy

Another day, another panic-mongering, deceptive, anti-social headline from Family First, as reported on Twitter …

This time they’re going for Rainbow Youth’s literally life-saving anti-bullying programmes. Inside Out is described on Rainbow Youth’s website as:

A friendly and accessible learning resource to help increase understanding and support of sex, gender and sexuality diversity, so we can all belong

The horror.

Family First is playing a very boring old tune. But it’s illuminating how insistent they get on these matters. Programmes like Inside Out are literally doing nothing more than saying “being a teenager is super complicated and you’re working out who you are and let’s provide a safe environment for you to do that in.”

And this cannot be allowed. We cannot give kids a platform to ask questions about their gender or identity or role in society. We cannot provide people with meaningful choice in the kinds of relationships they have with others. This way lies the total destruction of our society.

Which is true …

obi-wan point of view

Family First’s worldview – a mythical ~1950s Golden Age~ of heterosexual, monogamous, sex-for-procreation-only families with 2.5 kids – is dying. And they know it.

Their society cannot survive even the merest acknowledgement that there are other ways to be than cisgendered, heterosexual, and monogamous.

This is their problem: not that there’s no place in the world for hetero cis folk in monogamous relationships – heck, I’m one, raving feminist lefty that I am! – but that Bob McCoskrie and his little band of bigots are so insecure that they can’t comprehend other people choosing different things to them. To patriarchal, religious extremists, their way must be the only way.

And it’s simply not. There are many different kinds of people, with many relationships and family arrangements, and many, many different ways to love. All are valuable. And untold harm is done to people – especially to young people – when we try to jam everyone into one narrow box and ignore all the other ones which are also labelled “family”.

Here’s No Doubt’s take.

Bob McCoskrie can get in the river

Two years after winning the New Zealand Post Children’s Book Award, Ted Dawe’s Into the River is now temporarily banned, because Bob McCoskrie hates fun.

doctor who eye-roll-sigh-annoyed-smh

There’s something in the way we talk about young adult fiction. The Herald article refers to Into the River as a “sex and drugs teen novel”. Bob McCoskrie’s own press release calls it “explicit“.

I haven’t read Into the River, but fortunately we lived in the internet era. The reviews of the book on Goodreads seem to indicate that it’s a “sex and drugs teen novel” inasmuch as it is a novel about teens which involves sex and also drugs. It’s not Fear and Loathing on the East Coast.

Or as 5inabus puts it in their review:

Even the much anticipated “C-word” references left me wanting. Like the sound a lone party horn makes just before it fizzes and dies out, those passages were so fleeting, and so perfectly “within context” as to be anti-climatic. I had to re-read them just to give them another chance to make an impact. I felt like saying “C’mon Ted, you gotta earn that Parental Advisory sticker! All you’ve given us so far is real people talking how real people talk!”

I’ve only given the Goodreads reviews a quick scan, but the main criticisms seem to be about not really connecting with the protagonist, the sex scene itself seeming out of place, the pacing being uneven.

Pretty shocking stuff.

It always puzzles me – at the ripe old age of 31 – how some people seem to have completely forgotten what it’s like to be a teenager. Guess what: no matter what generation you’re from, sex and things-that-make-your-brain-go-wheeeeeeee is a fundamental part of the process of growing up. And having no information about them didn’t help, did it? You’ve still got the rush of adolescent hormones, you’re still having exciting, strange feelings when you see boys/girls/elves. You’re still going to explore what it means to be growing up and forming relationships.

A book which explores those things isn’t exactly out of place. And I’d rather that kids work through their questions and uncertainties through reading instead of practical trial-and-error.

Sure, slap a “mature content” sticker on the front if you really want to make sure that every single teenager on the planet will read it.

But while we’re at it, have you heard about this book which actually claims to teach morality with stories of men sleeping with their own daughters, polygamy, graphic torture, and selling women into sexual slavery? People actually force children to learn its so-called teachings! They go into our schools to spread its deviant messages! You can even find it in almost every hotel room in the world!

I’m sure Bob McCoskrie will not rest until that’s banned, too.

lestrange not really

Telling quote of the day

[Content note: rape, sexual assault, drug use]

From Family First head Bob McCoskrie, on an article about a chemistry exam containing a question about Rohypnol:

“There would be a red flag if it was glamourising or condoning it, but given it’s a technical question then education is actually key. Hopefully it will be a deterrent more than anything,” he said.

What McCoskrie – and literally everyone else interviewed for that article – ignores is that no one’s complaining about the question ~glamorising~ Rohypnol. The problem is that no one involved in the process of vetting this question seemed to have the slightest regard for students who may be survivors of sexual assault, and almost certainly have no idea that they’re going to be reminded of it when they sit down in the school hall at the end of term.

Scholarship-level exams are stressful enough without being asked to apply your technical knowledge to a clinical rundown of exactly why the drug someone slipped into your drink rendered you unable to stop them from assaulting you.

The telling bit about this quote is that Bob McCoskrie – who rails daily against good sexuality education, against giving children the actual facts about sex and consent and contraception – naturally has no problem with the potential distress of young people who’ve been sexually assaulted. As long as it “hopefully” scares young people off the entire idea of drinking, or sex itself, it’s all fine by him.

But teach kids that they should only have sex when they’ve decided they’re ready, and that it’s okay to demand your partner use a condom? It’s corrupting our youth and killing Western civilisation.

(And “education” is a red herring. It’s an end-of-year exam in Chemistry, not Health. That’s like saying all those pointless School Cert math questions about “If you bake 120 muffins and sell them for $3 each” are imparting valuable business principles.)

Hat-tip @Dovil.