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.

Hekia Parata challenges the gender pay gap!

It’s great to see a senior Government Minister addressing serious issues of inequality and structural discrimination in one of our most important professions:

“I’m interested in how we attract the best and the brightest into teaching… I haven’t focussed very much on whether they’re men or whether they’re women but if it is a higher-paying profession, I think that will attract more men,” she said.

She’s got a really good point. Work which our society views as “women’s work” – usually involving caring for others, or children, or more “domestic” duties – is systemically underpaid compared to equivalently-skilled “men’s” work. Primary school teachers start on a whopping $46,000 after doing a three-year degree. Probationary police constables who have undergone 19 weeks’ paid training and need NCEA level 2 math and English get $58,584 more.

I’m not entirely comparing apples with apples there, nor am I saying that police officers don’t deserve to be paid well for doing a vitally important job (would be nice if their senior officers stopped mishandling sexual violence cases, but you know.) But Parata has a really important point: if teaching paid better, it would probably attract “the best and brightest”, and some of those would undoubtedly be men.

Wait … sorry, I’ve got it all wrong. Tracey Martin of NZ First informs me that Parata actually said,

“..if it is a higher-performing profession, I think that will attract more men,” she said.

Yes, the problem is actually that men’s standards are just too high. They want prestige and a sense of contributing meaningfully to their society, unlike women who clearly just want to go home at 3:30 and get really good holidays.

(I can feel every teacher in my family – and there are a few – glaring at me right now!)

If you all just bucked up, ladies, maybe the men would flock to get paid what I got as a receptionist in my first job out of uni. (Graduating in the middle of a recession is super fun.)

But that’s the National government for you, with its typical sneering attitude to teachers. Parata hasn’t quite met the standards set by predecessor Anne Tolley – who once read a children’s book about a rat who “learned to be happy with a lot less” to a meeting of secondary school teachers right before they entered collective bargaining – but I reckon she gets a gold star for effort.