Who has to apologise?

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.

Werewolf on leftwing misogyny

Two stonkingly good posts over at Werewolf this week – both superficially about the ongoing tantrums of Martyn Bradbury, but more fundamentally about the direction for the left and the role of women within a leftwing movement.

Anne Russell writes on the misogyny at The Daily Blog:

Meanwhile, we need a Left to take care of the sick and wounded; women, people of colour, disabled people, sex workers, the queer and trans community, all those who know that their battles are at the centre of the fight rather than a distraction on the margins. A brilliant article on weareplanc.org about the emotional conditions of capitalism argued that contemporary leftist resistance needs to correspond to capitalism’s current emotional stage: that of making everyone very anxious and overwhelmed. The article argues that the Left, at least internally, has to be kind to its members, offering a haven from the angry and overstimulating world of neo-liberalism-cum-fascism. As I wrote last year, this approach is not incompatible with outward anger against the state, cops, the prison system, corporations or any other oppressive institutions and forces. Rather, it will help replenish our energy to do that work.

And Gordon Campbell the day before said on Labour’s candidacy troubles:

Bomber’s message is the one that women on the left have been hearing since time eternal ie, that they should keep quiet, remain patient until victory is assured, and – in the meantime – make sure their concerns and modes of expression don’t antagonise the heroes of the proletariat. Besides everything else, this looks like a failure of imagination. Is the Winston Wing of Labour’s support base – those heroic, hand-calloused members of the white working class that Bomber Bradbury and Chris Trotter always bang on about – really so immune to policy arguments pitched any higher than Greg O’Connor’s face on a campaign billboard, or Willie Jackson on the mike?

Martyn, who among his many well-nourished enmities has a strange grudge against Werewolf’s antecedent Scoop, will see these two posts (and this one) as proof of some grand conspiracy against him by the BlueGreenSocialMediaMillennialHipsterIdentityPolitics Stormtroopers. Doesn’t stop them being bang on the money, and doesn’t mean the broader problems they describe aren’t very real obstacles to real progressive change in New Zealand.

[edit: called it. It’s apt that Martyn describes Gordon Campbell as a “purveyor of violent sexual abuse revenge fantasies” even though it was Anne Russell who mentioned the case of Mervyn Thompson. Obviously women can’t have their own opinions in the absence of a man.]

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.

Massey Chancellor: women graduates only worth 40% of a real veterinarian

Theoretically final update: Chris Kelly has now resigned.

Note: Chris Kelly has now apologised for his comments and stated they were “not factual“.

Note note: Massey have deleted the apology from their Facebook and Twitter pages. Unfortunately for them The Internet Never Forgets.

If anyone still questions whether there’s a lot of demeaning, retrograde attitudes held against women in scientific fields, may I refer you to recent comments by Massey University Chancellor Chris Kelly about changes being made to their flagship veterinary courses.

Chancellor Chris Kelly told Rural News that practical studies will start in students’ first year of vet and ag degree courses.

The move on the vet degree course responds to the vet industry saying that though new vets are well qualified academically they lack practical skills, especially for rural practice.

The vet course will change a lot, says Kelly. Until now first year studies have been general and academic, emphasising chemistry, physics and biology. But in the revised course students will start learning the real ag and vet stuff in the first year.

Well that all seems very logical. You’ve got to adapt to what the industry wants, in terms of skills and requirements, giving graduates the preparation they need to hit the ground running.

But then …

Kelly says 75-85% of vet students are women and in the first year when there is a high ‘cull’ it’s the women who keep on because the work is then mainly academic.

“That’s because women mature earlier than men, work hard and pass. Whereas men find out about booze and all sorts of crazy things during their first year.

“When I went through vet school, many years ago, it was dominated by men; today it’s dominated by woman. That’s fine, but the problem is one woman graduate is equivalent to two-fifths of a full-time equivalent vet throughout her life because she gets married and has a family, which is normal. So, though we’re graduating a lot of vets, we’re getting a high fallout rate later on.”

I’m sorry, what?

the problem is one woman graduate is equivalent to two-fifths of a full-time equivalent vet throughout her life …

nina garcia disappointed

because she gets married and has a family, which is normal.”

cersei eyeroll

Does this actually need unpacking? Are we actually on the cusp of 2017 and I have to spell out why it’s so insulting, small-minded and frankly bizarre to be write off women’s professional abilities and value because they might have babies?

What about women who don’t want to have kids? What about women who enjoy more practical study than theoretical? What about women who don’t just go into veterinary science because (as implied further on in that godawful article) they love puppies and kittens and ickle babby wabbits?

I mean, I don’t want to blow Chris Kelly’s mind or anything, but even Google Image Search knows that women can be large animal vets:

large-animal-vet

Of course, this is the great lie of “meritocracy”. Whenever someone talks about the lack of representation for women in politics, on boards, in senior management positions, the answer is always “oh but we must appoint on merit.” If something is dominated by men (like, say, the leadership of our universities), if men are being paid more, that’s just how it is.

As soon as young men were being academically outpaced by women, panic sets in. The course must not be structured properly! We have to stop this plague of women dominating our industry! They’re just going to throw all those skills away and turn into baby factories once they hit 27 anyway!

And men? You should be appalled too. Because the Chancellor of Massey University thinks you’re a bunch of meatheads who can’t handle academic study:

.. men find out about booze and all sorts of crazy things during their first year.

What the hell are y’all getting up to at Massey these days?

orange-mocha-frappuccino

That’s right, dudes. You just want to go off and get pissed! You don’t care about having kids, and if you do you certainly won’t want to spend any time with them! You definitely won’t ever explore flexible working options or want to change careers. You’re a good little productive economic unit, aren’t you?

I get that this is how some people think the world works. Men get to live whatever lives they like, and women only play supporting roles based around home and care. But it’s never been true, and it sure as hell isn’t how the world works in 2017. If men aren’t succeeding academically, maybe you patriarchs might want to have a word with yourselves about whether your ingrained sexist bullshit assumptions have something to do with it.

parks and rec go to the corner

And maybe, as the Chancellor of Massey University, Chris Kelly should focus on what his institution is meant to do – deliver good tertiary education – instead of making himself look a damned fool who just got transported here by a wormhole from the 1800s.

Getting more women into Parliament

Natwatch posted recently at The Standard about National’s difficulty finding enough women to put into Cabinet, and EEO Commissioner Dr Jackie Blue, herself a former National MP, has also called for actual action on getting more women into Parliament:

“If anything, the Cabinet is the ultimate board in New Zealand, and if women on boards is now being accepted as good for business, it bloody is going to be good for New Zealand,” Blue told The Nation.

“So I don’t want to hear these sort of measly, ‘Oh, we appoint on merit’…

“We have to have that debate. I mean, we’ve asked nicely, we’ve implored, we’ve pleaded, not much is happening. Women’s representation in Parliament has gone static.”

National is the party of capitalism. Of course they’re also going to be the party of patriarchy.

But Labour’s meant to be better. Not just because of its progressive principles, either. In 2013 the party passed a conference remit mandating that after the 2017 election, 50% of caucus would be women.

So with another party conference done, candidate selections underway and the list moderation process looming, I did the math on how the party can meet its commitment.

Labour currently holds 27 electorates and five list seats (Little, Ardern, Parker, Cosgrove, Moroney). There are 12 women MPs – 37.5%. The Party was meant to achieve a 45:55 split in 2014, and even despite the horrible showing, we only needed 2 more women to make it in.

Most Labour seats are pretty safe. Michael Wood winning Mt Roskill doesn’t affect the count. In a best-case scenario – Jacinda Ardern taking Auckland Central, Ginny Andersen maintaining or increasing Trevor Mallard’s majority, and perhaps a woman candidate in New Lynn? – we get 13 out of 28 electorates held by women. 46%.

In a good result for Labour, Duncan Webb wins Christchurch Central, giving us 13 out of 29 – down a little to 45%.

So it’s over to the list to get women into caucus. Andrew Little as leader obviously takes the top spot, so our starting point is 29 electorates – 16 men, 13 women – plus Little. 43% women.

From here, Labour needs to hold 34 seats to get gender parity, from four additional women coming in off the list. That’s doable on just 28% of the party vote – but of course we’re aiming a lot higher than that.

At 35% party vote, Labour gets 42 seats, with four men and eight women coming off the list.

At 40%, being super optimistic (and certainly not wishing any ill on our comrades in the Greens) we get 48 MPs all up: 16 men and 13 women from electorates, eight men (including Little) and 11 women from the list. It doesn’t look too out-of-whack – but the fact remains that multiple women need to be up high on the list to give Labour a realistic shot at the gender equality its members want.

It’s simply a historical, structural issue. A lot of safe Labour seats are held by men. That’s not surprising if you have even the faintest clue we live in a patriarchal society. Unfortunately, there are a lot of people who don’t seem to get that – and as soon as you even think of putting a woman into one of those safe seats, they start screaming bloody murder about quotas and reverse sexism and “what about merit!”

I was at the party conference in Auckland, and let me tell you, Labour is not wanting for women of merit, qualification and principle. They’re not expecting a hand up or an easy go of it (they’re women in politics, guys). They just know, as anyone with any sense of the world knows, that we live in a society which doesn’t treat women as the equals of men. It doesn’t even treat qualified-but-problematic women as the equals of unqualified-and-actually-monstrous men.

hillary-clinton-unimpressed

We don’t set gender equity goals because women need help. We set them because our institutions need help, to step out of the past and be fit for the future. It’s nothing to be frightened of. It makes us stronger, not weaker, when we acknowledge the problems of the past and take action to rebalance the scales. So let’s ignore the squawking, and get some damned good women and men into Parliament next year – and not just on a Labour ticket either!