Archives for category: interrogative

I’ve spent the last few days in reflection, contemplation and conversation. My reaction to the results of the election was not anger or sadness predominantly, but a form of numbness. Watching the election coverage on Saturday, I felt a surreal sense of déjà vu.

I am worried.

But perhaps not about the same things as some.

One of the things that has become increasingly clear to me is how partisan we have become. It’s difficult to see how things could be any other way at the moment. (For those who don’t know, partisanism is “the term is used for [those] who strongly support their party’s policies and are reluctant to compromise with their political opponents”, and if you observe U.S. politics, it’s typically not ideal for a healthy democracy.)

After the release of Dirty Politics, the revelations about mass surveillance revealed by Pulitzer-prize winning journalist Glenn Greenwald … for those of us who were predisposed to believe these things, it was already hard for us to trust the current government, and it just got harder. This is especially galling given that John Key’s position on mass surveillance is simply that: “Trust me, don’t worry what the letter of the law means”.

For those who do trust the Prime Minister, or don’t trust people like Greenwald, Snowden and Hagar, or simply didn’t believe there was any substance to the allegations … Well, I suppose it came down to much simpler questions for them.

But here’s the problem. For many of us on the left (or even the centre), who believe Key is not to be trusted, it’s very difficult to see how others could ignore what we see as pretty substantive evidence of wrongdoing. And it is conversely very easy to write off those who gave National their renewed and strengthened third term as selfish, ignorant or much worse, based on some of the stuff I’ve seen flying around social media.

I urge you all — please do not limit your relationships with people based on their voting preferences, and please do not attack them for their position. (Though if you feel they are resorting to damaging rhetoric, of course I believe you should be clear that you do not see things that way.)

When we all retreat into our ideological corners, it becomes very difficult to discuss issues, and near impossible for us to agree upon anything. And one of the big things I am discovering post-election is that people cast their votes for a number of different reasons. No, not all of them make sense to me. But they are what they are and you won’t change anyone’s mind if the conversation is accusatory or altogether absent.

This election campaign was one of the weirdest ones New Zealand has perhaps ever had. And I can’t really hold it against people if they retreated from the chaos into something that presented itself as stability. And for many people, I think it did come down to that.

For others, it was the same problem as the 2011 election — what they perceived as “negative campaigning” from the ideological left. (That it mostly came from third parties was clearly beside the point for those people.) And I guess I can’t hold it against those people either. There certainly was a lot of “change the government” talk, and some of it came courtesy of persons who simply were not trusted by a broad swath of New Zealanders. (And this one doesn’t fall along ideological lines. Many progressive “lefties” didn’t like Kim Dotcom either. I think that is well evident now, looking at the election results.)

The problem is, although Labour did try to run a clean positive campaign (even going so far as using the word in their motto, as though we might not realise otherwise) it didn’t really look that way to many people given the kind of external stuff that was going on, especially given that Key kept saying it was a left-wing smear, and since all the parties on the left bought into the allegations, I suppose for some that was all the confirmation they needed that he was correct.

For those who do trust Key (and I might not be one of them, but I must acknowledge their point of view), they saw the left campaign as not just accusations against him, but accusations that there was something wrong with New Zealand. And the National campaign said the opposite — New Zealand’s great, we’re headed in the right direction, don’t you worry, National’s got your back. Also, we’re stable as fuck. Don’t you like stability? Yeah you do.

Perhaps the left parties could have looked a lot more stable if they had co-operated with each other more. I was pleased to hear such sentiments from David Cunliffe post-election. I hope Labour have learnt from this election, because they didn’t seem to learn an awful lot from their 2011 defeat. (Obviously I don’t have all the solutions to Labour’s problems. I wish I did.)

But here’s my point. Those of us on the political left might well spend some time in contemplation at our loss. But more than that, contemplation at National’s win.

I urge you — talk to people who voted for National. Keep your cool. Find out why. They have their reasons, and I promise you, they aren’t all selfish or stupid. It’s infantilizing and arrogant to assume that.

Believe it or not, many people who voted National in this election care just as much as you do about New Zealand. They just have different ideas about what’s the best thing for the country. And I know it’s difficult, given that many of us who are socially progressive feel like we see something National voters don’t (or won’t) about the state of inequality, poverty, environmental damage, media manipulation, mass surveillance and the economy, but I wonder if we need to swallow that attitude occasionally and try to hear people out a bit more (though I hope you realise I direct these comments at those of us who have the luxury and privilege to be a little more removed from the hardships many are suffering).

Maybe if you can have the right conversations, you’ll find out something that surprises you. Maybe not, but if we can try to have respectful conversations now, my hope is we can build something more constructive for all of us. Even if that is entirely limited to mutual respect and nothing else, that would be a pretty massive achievement in my mind. After all, no argument ever got resolved without mutual goodwill.

Now, more than ever, we need to find the middle ground.

And yes, that means the political parties on the left need to negotiate their own middle-ground and be more co-operative with each other, but I also think we as citizens need to try to find middle ground with our fellow citizens. We need to try to find the room to understand each other. We need to try to find a way to live with each other.

I know that none of this addresses what many of you perceive as violence towards the poor, or beneficiaries, or the school system or a multitude of other issues, and I’d like to assure you that I do share your concerns.

I just am not sure that we actually help those things by attacking or outright rejecting that which we do not like or understand fully. If we do that, aren’t we the same as those who refuse to read Dirty Politics because it’s a “left-wing smear”, or those people who didn’t think there was any substance in “The Moment of Truth” solely because it was associated with someone they didn’t like?

I am not suggesting that we take the high road. I am suggesting we take the middle path, and perhaps along the way, we might find some wisdom.

None of us are perfect. But one thing is certain — we are all human, and many of us care deeply about the future of this country, no matter who we voted for or what simple or complex reason we had for doing so.

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This election, we have the chance to do something really exciting. We get to vote in an MMP Government.

I know, I know, we’ve had MMP in name since 1996, after not one, but two referenda on the issue. In spite of this, in practise, we’ve pretty much had a mostly-two-party system in the intervening nearly twenty years since then, with alternate National- or Labour-majority coalitions having the controlling voices in parliament.

Wow, twenty years is a long time. I was in Primary School when my parents’ generation campaigned to change our electoral system. I’ve been voting for a decade, and we still haven’t had a really equal coalition government.

But I am grateful to those of my parents’ generation who fought so hard to get us MMP, because it is a great system. We just need to trust in it and really utilise it.

First, I want to point out that National and the hard-right have always disliked MMP and have campaigned heavily in favour of FPP on and off the whole time we’ve had it (and before), through both fair means and foul. Notably, a recent failed campaign, Vote for Change in 2011, detailed in Dirty Politics (chapter: El Rushbo of Aotearoa).

So it should come as no surprise that one of National’s classic electioneering tactics (“You don’t know what government you get with MMP, but you do when you vote for National”) is being used again this election cycle, and discussed in the media with some frequency.

Paula Bennett is very much on message in this debate between her and Jacinda Ardern, where she tells Jacinda that Labour policies are unaffordable when combined with the Green Party’s. Jacinda, with a long history of standing up to PB, rightly points out that they are not part of the Green Party.

Likewise, Metiria Turei and Russel Norman are fielding lots of questions about their policies combined with Labour’s, which they have answered by saying that is a question for post-election discussions. Of course, the larger the slice of vote they get, the more they can push for, and it feels like the Green party is gathering momentum in a big way: they’re experienced, credible, and they have strong policy and a strong support base built up over years in parliament watching and learning.

(A quick note on Winston “King-maker” Peters, New Zealand First and the most recent polling. It is possible that he will end up having a deciding voice in the conclusion of post-election coalition discussions. But let’s remember that while almost every poll in the last election overestimated National’s support by around 5%, and Teflon John seems to be on a downward trajectory, the polling has been all over the place in the last few weeks and will continue to be. It is folly to assume that the kind of results we’re seeing now will hold, or as Russel Norman so very sensibly and truthfully says: “it’s dynamic at the moment”. Honestly, Patrick Gower, don’t you know about counting your polls before the election’s hatched?)

And Internet-Mana, those young upstarts (with Hone Harawera and Laila Harré respectively at the helms, and Dotcom providing the funds) have somehow turned into the rockstars of the election campaign if you listen to people who’ve attended their events. Not that you’d know that if you watched the news, because, you know, the party’s supposedly in chaos. But to my mind, what they’re achieving is pretty amazing — a lot of Internet-Mana supporters are young people whose voice was so conspicuously absent in the last election. If they’re attracted to vote in this election by the enthusiasm of the Internet-Mana message that politics is for everyone to participate in, then we all win. (“Only 5.2 percent of people aged 65 years or over did not vote in the 2011 General Election, compared with 42 percent of people aged 18–24 years” Statistics NZ.)

Chaos, obviously:

chaos

This election is more exciting than we’ve had in years.

It’s not just Internet-Mana and their new take on election billboards.

It’s not just Dirty Politics revealed.

It’s not because we have some minor parties in the pool who are strong, united and credible.

It’s not just because the Smiling Assassin is losing his grip on our fellow countrymen’s hearts and minds and being hounded by media and pressured like never before. (And don’t get me wrong, I love that people are finally seeing a little of the Key I’ve long suspected lurks in the background.)

It’s because we finally have a shot at the government we decided on twenty years ago but have never quite had. We finally have a credible group of political parties, who need each other and have to negotiate like never before. It might be a little slower to make decisions and pass law, but haven’t you heard? Slow and steady wins the race.

Because I want our politicians to have to talk things out and discuss them. I don’t want questionable laws passed under expediency. I don’t want our executive to override parliament. I definitely don’t want laws passed that are in conflict with the rule of law itself. And I don’t want a party in power that doesn’t know how to compromise.

It’s really important that there be active, thorough and rigorous debate around law and policy. A true coalition government could provide that.

A truly multi-party coalition, with a more even balance of power, can work to hold our elected officials to account — to hold each other to account.

And it’s not just debate and argument. For the first time, I think we’ve got a group of parties who actually might have more similarities than differences in their policy issues. They’re on the same page about a lot, never mind that it might be different sentences on that page. This is a good place to start in a negotiation.

Poverty, inequality, the environment, the economy, health and education are all on the table. And those are the key ingredients that make up the essence of the society we live in. Those are good things to discuss!

And that conversation will be an interesting one, not only because each party will need each other, but because they’ve all had a taste of the years of being in opposition together, and they’ve had to figure out how to work with each other with a controlling government who’d rather bully, belittle and avoid than be held to any kind of account or take any responsibility for issues raised. (Seriously, you should watch question time in parliament, if everybody did, I doubt the right honorable John Key would have ever had the nice guy reputation he held until recently; New Zealanders are not fans of arrogance at all.)

Bryan Bruce:
Screen shot 2014-08-28 at 11.32.41 AM

 

rowing

In National’s latest ad campaign, John Key and the National Party are doing what they’ve always done — using our electoral system to take a jab at the opposition parties. (The boat with the red, green and purple people in life jackets rowing in opposite directions. Yeah, we get it, National, it represents the opposition parties. Haw haw!)

But it goes further than that: it’s a jab at the MMP system that gives more people a voice and enables a diversity of participation that we fought for and we should actually embrace. More people get a chance for their voice to be heard! We get to explore the next phase in our democratic system! That’s awesome! It’s exciting! It’s not a problem; it’s the solution to one.

When National makes fun of MMP by proxy, they are not only making fun of the regular New Zealanders who worked hard in the past to bring us that system, but the inevitable and promising future of our chosen inclusive political system and utilising its best qualities: co-operation, compromise, communication and a shared vision of the future woven together from the many diverse points of view in New Zealand society.

No, it’s not always going to be easy, but maybe making new laws shouldn’t be as easy as it’s been under National for the last six years. I’m not sure how great some of those fast and easy laws are. Probably not that great if the “a body as authoritative and dispassionate as the Law Society feels forced to report to the United Nations that the Government in New Zealand is acting in conflict with the rule of law” (NZHerald).

So what sort of society do we want to be? Compromising and caring, working together to make something more than the sum of its parts?

Or a big group of bullies, who don’t listen, break the law, don’t care about half of us, try to trick us rather than woo us, and think they’re above the rule of law, while they race to the finish line leaving most of us struggling in their wake?

I know what I want.

A positive vote is a vote for any of the parties of the left right now, because they’re going to be part of building a co-operative future in politics, not one of bullying and standover tactics that leaves most of us struggling to keep up.

I redesigned the Prime Minister’s book cover last week. For reasons of satire and political commentary of course.

JohnKey

My proposed new voiceover for this video:

As one of France’s largest supermarket chains, averaging around 40 billion euros a year in profits, we’re really struggling to find new and innovative ways to increase our market share in a saturated market place with many established players offering the same tired products.

Luckily for us, after years of our adopted aesthetic values driving down the value of ‘ugly’ produce to zero, we realised we had inadvertently created a money-making opportunity for ourselves!

It was unintentional initially, but there’s no law against us benefitting financially from a problem we helped create through decades-old business practises, right?

So we convinced the growers to sell us this ‘unsellable’ (ha!) produce at a bargain basement price (I mean, they were throwing it away before, so anything they get for it is better than nothing) and then we sold it to consumers (at a tidy profit) by telling them it was less wasteful, even though WE were the ones who created that waste in the first place!

But here’s the kicker! Then we made a self-congratulatory web video about our cool new revenue stream but made it SEEM like it was about waste. And the best part? Because people love feeling like they are doing something positive, they all shared our video on social media and our video went viral.

And because journalists are fucking lazy and pretty much just repeat whatever we tell them to, it got in all the traditional and print media too! Which is exactly what we were hoping would happen. Taking advantage of people’s natural goodwill and laziness is so easy! VOILA, the perfect PR rort.

If you follow the news at all lately, you’ve probably heard about Cunliffe’s apology for “being a man”. You might’ve heard that John Key thinks it’s silly. You might’ve seen Judith Collins referring to it in her ironically-wonderful twitter titbits.

You might not’ve heard the context though, and as we all know, context matters. David Cunliffe was addressing a women’s violence conference. He also affixed a qualifier to his statement — he said “I’m sorry for being a man right now” (emphasis mine) and then went on to explain his statement; “because family and sexual violence are perpetrated overwhelmingly by men”.

Let’s not beat around the bush here. This statement is borne out by statistics. We don’t need to discuss whether or not Cunliffe’s statement was “insulting” or not, John Key. It’s factually accurate. And that’s what the media should be focusing on.

But no. Instead of discussing the facts, we are discussing politician’s opinions in a media-manufactured gender war.

Let’s talk about how this apology has been received not just by its detractors, but also its supporters.

By and large, those who live in feminist/women’s rights/rape crisis circles have been supportive and positive. Women’s Refuge Chief Executive Heather Henare said it was “gutsy” (a statement I might not have agreed with had it not become clear just how negatively the media perceived the event).

But here’s the thing guys — the people who support his statements are actually just pleased the Leader of the Opposition considers these issues at all. Because it doesn’t really feel like our incumbent government cares about issues like domestic violence and rape. It’s not hard to see why.

It seems like the detractors of Cunliffe’s speech want to focus on the apology part of his statement more than the explanation bit (“family and sexual violence are perpetrated overwhelmingly by men”), which is the part that describes the world supporters of Cunliffe’s apology actually live in.

The part of Cunliffe’s speech that matters is that he understands himself as part of that world too.

And all this talk about whether or not Cunliffe’s comments were insulting is missing the point. The point we’re all ignoring when we’re forced to engage in this media-created, two-sides-to-the-coin, knee-jerk reaction “debate” about Cunliffe’s words. Here’s the facts, not the opinions: Family and sexual violence are perpetrated overwhelmingly by men.

If Labour ends up gaining votes over this issue, it won’t be because Cunliffe said “he’s sorry to be a man”, it will be, in part, because National are making it so easy to feel sorry if you’re a woman.

But it will mostly be because Cunliffe did something simple that these voters want; something our Prime Minister and our media seemingly cannot: he recognised that we have a problem and saw himself and his country in that context.

You can watch the debate about creationism vs evolution between Ken Ham and Bill Nye here (they’ve kindly skipped straight to the beginning of the debate for us).

Here’s what I’ve learned  from Ken Ham:

  • There are lots of scientists who are Christian
  • But the terms ‘science’ and ‘evolution’ have been “hijacked” in a “bait and switch” by secularists
  • The Great Flood totally happened and there’s nothing in the bible that says Noah and his family weren’t master boat-makers
  • You can’t prove the age of the earth and if you try to it’s misleading
  • But fossils prove there was a great flood, even though they don’t work
  • Even so, you can’t ever really know what happened in the past
  • Except that definitely you can know that God created the universe (and the flood, don’t forget)
  • Because it’s in this book
  • Even though sometimes things written in books are proven later to be incorrect (for example high school text books on science)
  • And even though some things in this book aren’t really true because they’re stories
  • In this particular instance the book was correct.
  • Did I mention that book?

(PS God is great, and why would you have any curiosity about the universe ever if there’s no afterlife and non-Christians aren’t really moral plus bonus decaying universe/original sin and also MAGIC! Did I mention some of my best friends are scientists?)

Well, case closed then. Way to “science” up some evidence.

Hi Guys,

I have to get something off my chest with you. It’s not easy to say, but I think some of you need to hear it, so I hope you’ll hear me out.

Lately I’m feeling a bit fed up about sexism. I’m not gonna tell you sexism is a massive overt contributing factor in my life; it’s not. But it is, mostly subtly, but sometimes not at all subtly, present at all times.

Just recently I’ve noticed something I think a lot of women can sympathise with, I dunno if you’ve noticed. Whenever I, or another woman I know, has posted something on social media about feminism or sexism, or woman’s issues, typically the first person to speak up is a man.

This is not, in and of itself, a problem. Men need to be part of this conversation. But they need to be part of the conversation in a way that is appropriate, helpful, and moves the conversation forward, rather than what is often the case; blame, denial, defensiveness, abuse, claims of “reverse sexism”, silencing women’s voices, and an assertion that they know better than a woman about a woman’s issue. (On the last, you could almost be forgiven since this is what politicians do every time they deny women the right to birth control or access to sexual health, which happens all the time.)

I suspect a lot of men are a bit confused about what’s appropriate and what’s not. I think a lot of men have been trained, at least a bit, to think that men’s opinions are more valid and worthy of respect, than women’s. I know that opinionated women can be, at best, incredibly challenging to a lot of men.

I understand that discussing sexism, or in fact any systemic privilege, is a challenge (or worse, a threat) to those who benefit from that system. Because for me to say that you are the beneficiary of a system that unfairly privileges you for no good reason? And that you don’t even notice it? And that this same system discriminates against others? It’s hard for me to say that without making it sound like I’m blaming you, right?

Well, I want to draw a line in the sand right here. I’m not blaming anyone. But what I am doing is asking you to be accountable. I’m asking you to be a thinking, critical human being, who is willing to hear people out when they have something to say, and willing to see the bigger picture, as well as the tiny details (which we tend to get side-tracked by and lost in when it comes to conversations about feminist issues).

So men who call themselves feminists, or allies, or whatever the new terminology is right now, here’s the deal: you don’t get to call yourself a feminist or an ally if you don’t act like it. You don’t get to do and say whatever you want all the time and then just excuse it by saying “But I love women!” or “But I’m a feminist!”

If this seems unfair, welcome to adulthood. We don’t always get to do and say whatever we like all the time with no repercussions. If you want to say demeaning things about women, then you can do that, but you can’t also claim to be a feminist. And men, you have got to stop claiming to be victimised by feminists. It’s so played out. I don’t think anyone in the world ever has been convinced by claims of “reverse sexism” (or reverse racism for that matter).

Here’s a weird thing though, I’ve noticed that when men I know post things about sexism, the same thing does not happen. There’s no backlash, no dudes calling them man-haters, or bitches, or complaining that they’re being blamed for something they didn’t do.

Is this because men are taught that other men’s voices have more validity than women’s? Yes, in part (sorry guys, it’s true). But mostly I think it’s because when someone in a position of power points out inequality, their word is seen as more valid because they do not stand to gain by pointing it out.

Also, men can be seen as accepting a level of responsibility when they post about feminist issues in this way, which another man would find it hard to argue against. They can’t be man haters, because then they’d have to be self-haters, and that would be a weird accusation to level against someone. Important reasons to get men involved in conversations around gender, sexism and feminism, but by all means not the only reasons.

In New Zealand, we have one of the highest suicide rates in the world, with young men six times more likely to kill themselves than young women (this, despite the fact that women in developed nations the world over are twice as likely as men to suffer depression1). The New York Times’ claims the prevailing belief is that men “are trying to conform to exaggerated standards of masculinity that many cannot hope to meet.” 2

Wouldn’t it be nice if men could feel free to discuss their emotions with other people? Gosh darn it, let’s go crazy — what if they could discuss their emotions with other men? What if men being emotional wasn’t seen as weakness to the same degree as women expressing anger was seen as inappropriate and hysterical? 

These are feminist ideas guys. It’s not about hating men. It’s not about gaining power over men. It’s about taking these boxes we’ve been in for centuries and interrogating their usefulness and their truthfulness.

But I’ve got to say it again — when men involve themselves in these conversations in a respectful manner that allows women their voices and backs them up, rather than talking over them, we tend to get a lot further. You just need to learn how to do it guys!

And yes, it can feel like a quagmire at times, because different women will have different ideas about what is and isn’t okay. And you will need to listen more than you talk, and for a lot of men, this will be hard. And sometimes you’ll feel like you’re being blamed for something that’s not really your fault, and your instinct will be to get angry and defend yourself, but instead you’ll have to take a breath, and stay calm, and listen some more.

The first, but by no means easiest thing you can do, if you want to help and if you love women the way you say you do, is to tell your male friends when they’re being jerks if they use sexist or abusive language towards women — be it women in general or an individual woman — or even if they just sorta said something that’s a bit uncool. Even if it was just a joke. Even if there are no women around.

Scrap that — especially if there are no women around.

For myself, I’m adopting a zero-tolerance to internet disrespect (and I hope it should go without saying real life too). I’m going to be calling people out (as politely as possible) when they’re rude, or unsupportive. To me, or to other people I know. Because just lately, I’m feeling fed up, and I don’t want to keep feeling like I get less of a say, or more importantly, less of a hearing, because I happen to be attached to a vagina.

I’m sick of being told I’m “too opinionated”, despite that I may be no more or less opinionated than a male, who does not get the same accusations leveled at him.

I’m done with having my explanations or expositions attributed to my boyfriend right after I’ve just finished speaking, because … well, that one I don’t understand at all, but man, it annoys me!

I’m over living in a world where a woman can’t suggest that maybe the key to ending rape is to teach men not to rape without … wait for it … getting death threats3.

And I’m not going to pretend that feminism isn’t a reaction against a historically-rooted system that has oppressed women (and sorry about this guys) way more than it ever has (white) men. But guys, if you love women, this is something that you’ll need to accept. Denying it (and its effects) should be akin to denying the holocaust; something good people just don’t do.

You guys, if you have a female friend who posts something online about sexism, feminism, women’s issues, this is an opportunity for you to join the discussion. But, please, don’t do this at the expense of silencing someone else, or shouting them down. This could be a learning opportunity for you. Here’s something a very wise (male) friend of mine said to me about this issue: “I feel like by being at the top of the privilege ladder in many ways I need to be very careful that I understand something well before making any kind of point.”

But we do want you to participate in the conversation. We just want you to learn how to do it respectfully. And I thought maybe some of you could use a few pointers.

A few guidelines for men entering women’s conversations:

Before you talk, ask yourself

  • Have you really understood what the other person was saying? Are you sure? Have you kept all points in their context?
  • Is what you want to say emotionally motivated? What emotion is driving it? Would it be better if you were able to disengage from the emotional reaction you’re having? Are you feeling offended? Is it defensive?
  • Is the thing you want to say on topic? Does it move the conversation forward? Is it supportive? Could it be taken another way than how you intend it? Could it be considered dismissive, or rude? Can you rephrase it so it’s clearer?
  • Why do you want to say it? Is it because it relates, or is it to serve your ego? Does it relate to the subject matter? Does your story silence other voices?
  • Do you really need to say your piece?

Make sure you

  • Respect other people’s experiences.
  • Respect others’ right to talk.
  • Realise that you have a lot to learn.
  • Listen more than you talk.
  • Correctly attribute people’s statements.
  • Try not to take things out of context.
  • Have adopted an inclusive attitude.

Always

  • Stand up for women to other men, whether or not there are any women to witness it.
  • Try to consider any privileges you may have and how they might have helped craft your thinking. Challenge them.

But whatever you do, don’t

  • Take things too personally if someone disagrees with you.
  • “White knight” people, and think that you can somehow “save” them — allow them the dignity of agency.
  • assume you know exactly what someone else knows or has experienced, or that you know more than them.
  • Make rape jokes. Ever.
  • Play “oppression olympics” — stories of oppression are not competitions.
  • Make personal remarks — stick to the topic.
  • Be afraid to ask questions (in a supportive way), especially if you think you haven’t understood someone.

These guidelines could probably apply to groups outside the feminist/women’s sphere.

I really hope you can take this onboard. I think it might help.

Thanks

_________________
Footnotes
1 James, O.W., 2007, Selfish Capitalist Origins of Mental Illness, London: Vermilion.
2 Shenon, P., 1995, in the New York Times, 15 July, p.3, “New Zealand seeks causes of suicides by young”. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/1995/07/15/world/new-zealand-seeks-causes-of-suicides-by-young.html
3 Goodman, A., Gonzalez, J., Maxwell, Z., 2013, on Alternet, 15 March, “Survivor Zerlina Maxwell Defies Racist Death Threats After Speaking Out on Fox News”. Retrieved from http://www.alternet.org/gender/survivor-zerlina-maxwell-defies-racist-death-threats-after-speaking-out-fox-news

This poem was inspired by this article if you’d like some context.

 

The Prime Minister answering questions

on the spot

it is not

his job to be perfection.

Low rent politics:

the member needs to put that down in writing

(15 seconds

with no warning

on a process that happened 18 months ago?)

and he’s doing that to journalists.

Cos if you want perfection of everything

I’m changing too.

Two

three

four-five

forearmed

is forewarned.

There were a lot of warning signs from the outset. I went into the job expecting a pretty high level of disorganisation — and yet my expectations were exceeded on every level.

I had taken on a temp role at a large telco (who shall remain nameless) who are merging with another large telco. My role, within the HR team, and more specifically a smaller team of temps, would be to help manage some of the teething pains associated with their systems move (mostly, at the outset, their intranet and HR systems, not including payroll).

I did not last long.

We begin on a Tuesday, after Easter Monday.

It was clear that our arrival had been rushed and not prepared for. There were no computers for us. No log ins. No preparedness in terms of training us on systems or processes. No material had been printed for our arrival.

After the afternoon of day two, when lack of work helped us graduate from awkward chit-chat to full-blown conversation mode (assisted nicely by the-temp-who-never-stops-talking who reminded me so much of my eldest (and socially awkward) sister that I began referring to her as “sister-clone” when recounting events to my friends), one of the women in the recruitment team offered our manager a job “just in case she didn’t have work for us” doing reference checks. All four of us told our manager, who had a way of vacantly staring even when she seemed stressed and busy, that we’d be happy to do this.

No, Manager Vacant-Stare decided at the close of day two, better to put you all in a small windowless meeting room, and have you write a list of jobs to do tomorrow. We wrote a list. Manager Vacant-Stare briefly appeared to say, no, I don’t care what’s on your list, that’s fine, before disappearing again.

Day three, week one. Windowless meeting room. 10.30am. Our list is mostly done, although I don’t know this as the girls organically degenerated into gossip from “work”. Most of the items we couldn’t actually do. Especially not without a computer or any idea how the processes work. I’ve asked Manager Vacant-Stare to print us out information on a few processes, which I’m dully reading through.

One of the girls announces, as part of a long diatribe about herself and her boyfriend, that she is an alpha female. I already disliked her, I now want to kick her in the face. I begin practising roundhouse kicks in my head. I wonder if this will actually improve my physical ability (poor) in performing this maneuver. After listlessly hearing Irish Girl and Alpha Female talk about their relationships with their boyfriends for 45 minutes, I make an excuse to go to the bathroom.

I find myself standing out in front of the building. I’m not quite sure how I got here, except for a vague recollection that the doors to the bathrooms are right next to the doors to the lifts. I’m slightly concerned that if I blink, I might find myself at home with equally no idea how I got there. I find my cellphone in my pocket and call a friend, explaining to him that this scenario is literally out of my worst nightmare: trapped in a room with gossiping girls.

After ten minutes conversation I go back upstairs (the ascent in the lift feels like a death sentence) and return to the windowless meeting room. Irish Girl and Alpha Female are still talking about their boyfriends, while Sister-Clone interjects with a comment about her aunt’s relationship, or some TV show. The girls get frustrated when I suggest we do some work. I give in to the fog. I can hear Alpha Female complaining she is cold.

Day Four, week one. We are still in the windowless meeting room. Still no computers for us, but Manager Vacant-Stare has given us hers, so we can write up some of our processes in Excel or Word. We do this within the first few hours, Alpha Female complaining it is cold. She is not good at using MS Office. She spends 10 minutes wailing about not knowing how to use Excel, before I intervene and point out the ‘wrap text’ button on the home tab (apparently what she was looking for all along). Neither Alpha Female or Irish Girl have ever seen Smart Art before, and are far too impressed by it.

Alpha Female, who weirdly, for someone who comes across as so normatively consumerist/corporate, lives in a commune:

  • believes the world will end (soon) in fire, with the return of the creator
  • when the ring of fire will ‘explode’
  • and ‘nature will take back the Earth’
  • which she knows because ‘all’ ancient spiritualities had a prediction about the world ending this way
  • but climate change will not affect us in our lifetimes
  • we’re going to run out of oil soon (if you’re wondering, the opposite is true: we’re not going to run out of oil soon enough)
  • and ‘a vegan diet is not healthy’.

As a vegetarian (I’m also allergic to gluten or perhaps I’d have made the leap to veganism by now), and a follower of climate change news, I challenge these last points. She doesn’t have a lot to say in defense of her ideas, but manages to wave a flag of ‘spirituality’ as some sort of superiority indicator. In a moment of Dawkins-like fury I want to tell her that ‘spirituality’ is a word that means she believes things she has no evidence for. I don’t.

Alpha Female talks about her boyfriend again, and how he won’t let her take public transport, or walk anywhere and insists on giving her rides all the time. I think, but do not say, that he is reminding me of the description of domestic violence precursor behaviours on a Mayo Clinic webpage. When Sister-Clone suggests she wouldn’t like his controlling behaviour, Alpha Female explains that it’s only because she’s “so precious to him”, and he doesn’t want to lose her. I think about domestic violence precursors and roundhouse kicks to the face. It’s much later it occurs to me this is a paradox.

I am infinitely relieved this is a four-day week.

Day one, week two. Still no computers. No work. It’s obvious Manager Vacant-Stare knows we aren’t doing anything, because she hasn’t given us anything to do. I ask her if I can do anything to help her. She explains to me that there’s nothing I can do without computers and they’re coming, she just doesn’t know when. There’s a spark of anger in her vacant stare. I retreat back to the windowless meeting room. I’ve never been good at dealing with passive-aggression.

She later tells us she will have us sit with her one-by-one so she can show us a system process and go through our process flowcharts we (I) made last week, before quickly disappearing again. I don’t know where she is. I’m fairly certain the flowcharts are wrong, since I’d made them for a job I’d never done, but I don’t care. I’m glad at the prospect of doing something. Anything.

Today, the gossip is less. The mood is low. It’s not just me now, they’ve caught up. We discuss whether this is some weird psychological test/torture. Sister-Clone compares it to an episode of a TV show. It’s not nearly that interesting. I feel like I’m paying penance for some unknown sin I’ve committed.

For the first time, I think about the oubliette in The Labyrinth. The Oxford English Dictionary defines oubliette as “a secret dungeon with access only through a trapdoor in its ceiling”, but the definition Hoggle gives in the film is better (and perhaps more accurate to the word’s french origins): “a place you put people who you want to forget.” I wish David Bowie were here. Or a Muppet.

Manager Vacant-Stare never does reappear. Alpha Female complains about the cold again.

Day two, week two. A small, white, windowless meeting room. I’m beginning to crack. At least, I think I’m beginning to crack, but I don’t realise at the time that I started to crack long ago. I am not about to break. I am broken. Any tentative pushing back on Manager Vacant-Stare for work or news of when we’ll be able to do work is generally greeted with veiled anger from her. I don’t know what to do. I am forgotten.

I wish Sister-Clone would stop talking, but her chatter about her mother and her flatmate and her cat is like comforting white noise by now. I wish Alpha Female didn’t exist. I begin to draw doodles of fungus people. We carefully fight in the polite/horrible non-fighting way that girls do over the emails of five-minute work Manager Vacant-Stare sends through.

Around lunch, Alpha Female and Irish Girl sit with Manager Vacant-Stare as she takes them through one of the processes we will be doing. They later tell me and Sister-Clone that Manager Vacant-Stare decided that instead of taking the two of us through the process herself, that Alpha Female and Irish Girl will do it instead.

When Irish Girl starts taking us through the process after lunch, I can barely see the computer screen, as Alpha Female has taken up a prime spot. When I ask if she can move a bit, she tells Sister-Clone to move. I can see if I crane my neck. It becomes clear that, like everything we’ve done so far, that no one actually knows what they’re doing. We don’t get any of the work done. The computer never makes it over to me. I still don’t know where Manager Vacant-Stare is.

Day three, week two. I ring my agency on the way to work. I tell them I am handing in my notice, I can’t do it any more. I explain the situation, but they seem to think this is normal. Later, when the company is informed, I am taken into a meeting room by a brusque agency representative and told that it’s my fault because the computers are arriving tomorrow and there’ll be plenty of work. She asks me if I’d like to leave now instead of working out the day as she “doesn’t want my poor morale to affect the other girls”. I’m aware it’s not really a question. I am laughing on the inside, but it’s a wrong, hysterical kind of laughter. I am broken.

When I go back to the white windowless box of a meeting room one last time to pack up my things and say one last un-fond farewell to Irish Girl, Alpha Female and Sister-Clone, I tell them that the rep told me the computers are definitely coming tomorrow. Sister-Clone shakes her head. No, they might be coming tomorrow. Part of me will miss Sister-Clone.

I descend in the lifts and walk outside. The suns shines on my face and the fog begins to clear. It is warm here. I am free.

Between the cups of tea and clinks of glasses,
the lines of pen we wrote when we were small.
The interlude from when I saw you last
and see you next; the rules I kept and didn’t know.

I started up the hill today, the grasses clipping at my legs.
The little houses there looked into me
I started to believe the things you mentioned.
The houses frowned. The grasses whipped.

I didn’t let them get to me, I drowned their judgement out.
(Though later I could hear them in between the subtle strips
of what who I was last night
and who I am next week.)

I don’t believe the things those little houses on the hills say:
they want me to abide in them forever.
Little houses do not want us having picnics on the moon.
They are afraid of being left between.

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