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

JohnKey

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I just finished reading Dirty Politics. What can you say?

Oh dear.

Regardless of the outcome of this situation, I personally feel somewhat relieved and grateful that Nicky Hagar has uncovered the answers to a few questions, even if while doing so he has shone a light on a lot more questions.

On p.119 of Dirty Politics Hagar writes:

Many ordinary people began to feel that something was not right, that a dirty kind of politics was at work.

He’s right.

My own growing concern over the oddly intimate relationship the Key National Government has had with much of New Zealand media was sparked several months ago. It is clear now that the driving force behind this was the manipulation by the Party via proxy attack-dogs Whale Oil and Kiwiblog, alongside other organisations. It also eventuates that their influence on the mainstream media was hotly contested in under-staffed newsrooms and based on a not insignificant amount of fear.

Dirty_Politics_Oh_dear

The media’s (then) strange complicity in selling the National message was clear even when covering Key’s blunders. In many instances, the framing of a story alone made it borderline propaganda. Other times, journalists failed to press the Prime Minister, and allowed him to repeat pre-written party-political broadcasts — failing to confront the issue that he doesn’t answer questions. (Although there have been a few noteworthy exceptions to that, which are somewhat illuminating if you are media-savvy.) Other times, the story is dropped altogether, worn-out by the Prime Minister’s tired repetitions.

Or instead — BANG! — a sudden scandal involving the left, seemingly out of no-where (not actually no-where though! From Slater&Collins&Farrar&Key): a misrepresented letter; an Official Information Act request of little relevance but ingenious timing; who visited Dotcom how many times when; whether someone has a copy of Mein Kampf … But never a story about anything that seems to matter, and never in any great depth — just more one-liners and tired, tired, oh-so-tired accusations of corruption that never quite add up to anything but providing ample ammunition for accusations of untrustworthiness for politicians and partisan political commentators alike. (And fun-time accusations that “the left doesn’t want to talk policy”, which the media reinforces by failing to report policy! )

And oh! the talking heads do talk, don’t they? Cameron Slater and David Farrar are one thing, but don’t forget Key’s other partners in the embarrassing politics-blogosphere-media three-way handshake! Our long-time friends, the World-Infamous-in-New-Zealand Paul Henry and our “impartial” upcoming moderator of the Leader’s debate, Mike Hosking — with his NewstalkZB radio show where he chums it up with the PM about anything but politics. (But the Left don’t want to talk politics!)

They talk a lot, don’t they? But do they ever say anything worth listening to? Do they ever listen to themselves talk? Do they listen to the answers to their questions or are they just waiting until it’s their turn to talk again?

Coverage of recent politics have made it hard to figure out what’s going on in New Zealand politics. There’s so much blame and accusation, you’re hardly to be blamed if you were put off.

Voter disengagement and political fatalism is exactly what they want:

‘There are a few basic propositions with negative campaigning that are worth knowing about. It lowers turnout, favours right more than left as the right continue to turn out, and drives away the independents.’ In short, many people simply stop participating in politics. If politicians cannot be trusted, if politics looks like a petty or ugly game and if no one seems to be talking about the things that matter, then what’s the point of bothering to participate? Just leave them to it. There are innovations in US Republican Party thinking on this point: election tactics do not have to be just about winning votes; they can be equally effective if groups of people in society just stop voting altogether. We should not assume that everyone thinks low voter turnout is a bad idea. (p.132, Dirty Politics)

Please don’t let them put you off. A healthy democracy is dependent upon participation from the people. That’s you. Our politicians need you. And not just every three years when an election’s on. All the time.

Politicians need you to question them.

Need you to critique them.

Need you to keep them honest.

Push them for the answers and don’t let them put you off with trivia or spin.

Make them talk about the things that matter. Like policy, which I’ll spend a little time on, because I’m not trying to avoid it.

All of the political parties are trying to get their message out right now, but you might not get at it yourself if you don’t do a little digging around. Check out political websites and social media. For the life of me, I can’t figure out how we communicated these things in the past, but in this pocket of time, the internet’s always going to be your best bet.

What’s their plan on child poverty? What do they plan to do about environmental issues? What about climate change? Do they even believe in climate change? What about public transport? Health? Education? Tax? What do they plan to do about NZ’s growing inequality? Welfare? Employment relations? International relations issues and agreements like the TPPA? Government transparency and accountability? Do they even mention some of these issues or brush them aside?

Think carefully about who you vote for in the upcoming election. This is our chance to evaluate our politicians, and for me at least, one section on John Key (Prime Minister)’s report card is headed “Ethics and conduct”.

You make your own evaluation of course. I’d recommend you take into account all the current available evidence, personally. I think you should know what kind of politics our government is engaged in.

The fallout from the book, and National and Key’s fates, are still undecided at present. This is worthy of note, because there are some in the media who are saying the decision is already made.

But unfortunately for National, I do not think these allegations are “dissolving”, “what ifs” or “a screaming left-wing conspiracy theory”. And I do not think people will be pleased with what they read in Dirty Politics.

And the decision about this is not made by talking heads in the media. It’s made by us.

The media will have some very different decisions to make.

 

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.

Several years ago now, I was in an abusive relationship. I imagine all abusive relationships are different, but they are in many ways similar. The man who abused me was insecure, controlling, with unpredictable fits of rage. Like many people, I did what I was told relationships needed: compromise.

The relationship was verbally and emotionally abusive long before it became physically abusive. This man controlled me this way — slowly but surely increasing his grip over my life — he got angry if I spoke to male friends, was convinced I was flirting with anyone and everyone, believed I was cheating on him.

Like much emotional abuse, it was a subtle ploy. I didn’t realise the extent to which I was controlled by him, because I thought I knew better. I convinced myself it was natural to avoid drama and argument and his entitled hidden rage by just seeing my friends in secret. In retrospect, it’s the biggest red flag I could imagine. Seeing your friends in secret to avoid the ire of your boyfriend? Seems pretty obviously problematic now.

At the time I didn’t see it that way. At the time I thought I was taking the path of least resistance.

But of course, you cannot placate someone who is so insecure they believe you are cheating with no evidence whatsoever. You cannot reassure someone who is fundamentally insecure. You cannot convince someone you love them if they do not believe they are worthy of love. And you cannot persuade someone who does not trust you that you are worthy of their trust.

It frustrated me. No doubt part of me resented him for it. I am fairly strong-willed and independent. I can certainly see how my self-belief and (let’s face it) sometimes pigheadedness could be a problem for him, especially given his own insecurities. There were probably many aspects of my personality that pushed buttons for him.

Given all that, I will not excuse his behaviour.

The things that this man did are pretty by-the-book abusive behaviours, and as such, they were private, and unseen by the world. Had I ever seen a Mayo Clinic checklist for abusive behaviours, I would’ve known that he checked nearly every box. But the most salient point was this: “Blames you for his or her violent behavior or tells you that you deserve it”.

Eventually, his rage boiled over. He physically assaulted me while drunk, after bringing up his same tired argument that I flirted with other men. Reason and rationality were not, and had never been, present during these arguments. I had spent months telling him that I was not flirting, and that even if I had, this was neither intentional, nor did it prove an intention to cheat. I believed then, and still do today, that the problem was really his lack of ability to trust me, and our relationship. A hefty side-order of lack of empathy for my feelings rounded out the dish.

After his physical assault I left him immediately. I could not have gone back to the relationship even if I’d wanted to. I had seen a side of him I could not un-see. I had seen the terrifying anger and fear that lay behind his jokes and self-deprecating humour. At the time, I felt like I had seen the real him: that in those few moments, all the pretense was swept away, and behind it, I saw the truth. It was not pretty.

Unfortunately for me, others had not witnessed the same thing. Our mutual friends tried to stay out of it, walk a middle road where our relationship “just didn’t work”, and the responsibility for his assault lay on my shoulders as well as his. I was shocked to find I could not really talk about what had happened. People were turned off by the word “assault”. I had to find euphemisms, and quickly. Overall, it was really best just not to talk about it. It made people uncomfortable. Especially people who knew him, considered him a friend, and wanted to file away the assault somewhere nice and dusty and out of the way. People wanted to forget, even those who vaguely (or not so vaguely) understood he had a history of violent and extreme behaviours directed towards women he loved, or perhaps more accurately, was obsessed with.

Another thing surprised me: the response of people to me. Even those whose association with me clearly placed them on “my side” were made uncomfortable by my behavior after the assault. For example, I appeared to not be to bothered by what had happened. One person accused me of “being happy about the break up, and not upset at all”, something especially unforgiving for a woman, perhaps. And made much worse by the fact that he seemed absolutely distraught.

That part of sadness and brokenness that my now-ex performed was much closer to what people expected of me. He performed the victim with more efficiency and conviction than I ever could. And after all, he’d had so much practice throughout our relationship in blaming me for his violent behavior, so it was easy for him to extend that to telling others that I deserved it, in as oblique a manner as possible.

And it was difficult to explain to people that while yes, I was glad the relationship had ended (after all, it had clearly revealed itself to be an abusive one), of course I was hurt. Asides from minor physical injuries, the hurts were emotional: trust, betrayal, the unmasking of an enemy whom I had thought was a friend.

More than that, I felt a significant loss of trust in these people who questioned me, either overtly or subtly. It was not my job to perform my emotions in a socially sanctioned way to make others feel better about my break up and assault. My only job was to give myself time out, and to start appreciating the things in my life that were good. It was my time to turn inward, if and when I was ready, and only when I was ready. But if I wanted to focus on the positive, it seemed natural only to me.

This man stalked me on and off for a couple of years. He turned up uninvited in the middle of the night in places he knew me to be, and hung around in the dark, waiting for me. He had contact with some of my family members. When I left the country for Australia around 3 months or so after our break up, he jumped out at me at the airport at 5am, keen to have some kind of emotional farewell. It was bizarre and scary behaviour. He even made an abortive attempt to use our relationship in a (reportedly unfunny) stand-up show he was in.

People down-played it.

Was I not living in another city, I would have had real and significant fear about living my life.

This man and I still have many mutual friends. One of the worst things about this experience is witnessing other peoples’ need to bury it, to pretend it wasn’t that serious, or that it was a one-off event.

I do know that they did not see him as I did. And I can understand their willingness to forget about it; they believe that he is that slightly pathetic, jovial man he presents himself as in his many self-deprecating jokes. They think his self-loathing is an act. They do not realise he can turn it outward. They do not see what I do — that this harmless-seeming, affable man, that man is the act. I understand, and I do not blame them. After all, once I too felt the same way.

I still see him on occasion. I have to mentally prepare myself for encounters I know are coming (a mutual friend’s birthday, for example). But the ones I don’t know are coming? There is no preparedness for that.

I am no longer surprised when I hear about women who will not (or can not) leave their abusers. After all, the most dangerous time for an abused woman is right after leaving her abuser. Do we tell her we understand? No, we blame her for not leaving earlier.

And we shift blame from these men, telling them they are ill, or believing quietly that they were prompted to behave the way they did, that their victims somehow deserve what they get. Abusers are fueled by the eagerness of our society to look the other way. To ignore the misfortunes of others, to brush things under the rug, and keep walking on it, no matter how many times we might end up tripping over it.

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.

If you are at this page, it’s quite likely because I linked you here after a conversation online. Go ahead, vent. I’m the “thought police” or this is “political correctness gone mad” or I’m a “Social Justice Warrior” (What does that make you? A Social-Justice-Warrior Warrior? Good luck with that one pal.) If this is the case, please scroll to the appropriate heading.

I want to point out a few behaviours that are not okay, and try to explain why. I’ll do this a bit through links, because a lot has been said on these topics already, so I’m going to pull from a few sources who have very eloquently said what’s the problem.

“Edgy” jokes or “There’ll be nothing left to joke about”

Hi guy (I mean this as gender-neutral if that’s alright with you). Your joke about race wasn’t funny because it was racist. A racist joke is one that plays into stereotypes about a broad category of people based on their ethnicity, where the oppressed is the butt for the joke rather than the oppressor.

Least you start whining that “political correctness” is going to ruin comedy and then we’ll have nothing to joke about, let me first point out that comedy isn’t sacred. Now, on to a non-exhaustive list of comedy styles that would not be affected were no-one ever allowed to make jokes at the expense of oppressed social groups again.

  • Black comedy
  • Blue comedy (including that which uses using sexism, racism, and homophobic views, as long as the butt of the joke is not the victim/oppressed)
  • Character
  • Cringe
  • Deadpan
  • Improvisation
  • Mockumentary
  • Non-sequitur
  • Observation
  • Satire
  • Spoof
  • Sitcom
  • Sketch
  • Slapstick
  • Surrealism
  • Wordplay/wit

Keep in mind, this does not mean you cannot make jokes about race (or rape, or whatever), it simply means it is inappropriate when the butt of the joke is the victim/survivor, or oppressed person, rather than the person doing the oppression or committing the crime, or our society, authority, or ideals. You can still do a rape joke or a race-based joke, just don’t be a dick about it.

If you’re trying to be “edgy” maybe you should find another way to do it, because this could easily go wrong. At the very least, if you’re going to make jokes about rape, as Lindy West says (she covers the rape joke controversy pretty well in my opinion), be prepared to be called out. The same goes for race. If you’re not a professional comedian, or funny person for a profession, you will very likely fuck it up (and even the pros do. All. The. Time.)

David Cross has a fairly decent joke about rape that makes fun of authority rather than victim and Louis C.K. one that is essentially about not being a rapist. The sometimes-controversial Louis C.K. gets away with quite a bit because, as West says: “[He] has spent 20 years making it very publicly clear that he is on the side of making things better. The oppressors never win at the end of his jokes.”

Trolling

When did “trolling” become an excuse for people to be outright assholes? I feel like trolling has become so accepted that we just write it all off instead of understanding that that person is being a dick. I also often feel like people use trolling as an excuse to say whatever they like and face no social consequences.

Let me be clear — if you are trolling people based on racism, gender, ableism, religion, sexual orientation, you are an asshole. You are not funny. You are perpetuating harmful ideas, and people often can not tell you don’t believe those ideas (in some cases, even you possibly).

stoppit

This excludes sarcasm and satire. Just make damn sure people know it’s sarcasm.

Reverse racism or “White people face racism too”

No. No they don’t. Any example that you try to come up with to prove your point here is not going to work. Either, because it’s going to make you look like even more of an asshole than you already are, or because it will make you look ignorant to people who know better, or both. White people need to learn the difference between someone being rude or mean to them and racism.

Racism ≠ Xenophobia

Someone simply calling you white is not racism, much like the act of describing someone as black or African American or Indian is not racist. If you follow an ethnic determiner up with stereotypes or inferences about them based on their race, yeah, that’s racism, but merely mentioning it? No, not if you have a good reason (like you’re trying to describe someone). Actually, interestingly, if you avoid mentioning race when necessary to describe someone, you might appear more racist.

Because a lot has been written and said on the topic of “reverse-racism” already, I’m going to link to a few things here.

I like this one because it’s short and succinct:

Let’s start from the beginning. Your first step is to accept that “a hatred or intolerance of another race” is not the definition of racism. The dictionary is wrong. Get over it.

Racism is when intolerance in government laws, attitudes and ideals of a society are ingrained in a culture to the point where patterns of discrimination towards a certain race are institutionalized as normal. If you keep this in mind, you’ll understand that reverse racism doesn’t — and can’t — exist.

I feel like everyone in the world has probably seen this by now, but I will add it because I think it illustrates my point perfectly:

Although I don’t 100% agree with everything said about class here, the basic concept is good:

When a group of people has little or no power over you institutionally, they don’t get to define the terms of your existence, they can’t limit your opportunities, and you needn’t worry much about the use of a slur to describe you and yours, since, in all likelihood, the slur is as far as it’s going to go. What are they going to do next: deny you a bank loan? Yeah, right.

So whereas “nigger” was and is a term used by whites to dehumanize blacks, to imply their inferiority, to “put them in their place” if you will, the same cannot be said of honky: after all, you can’t put white people in their place when they own the place to begin with.

Power is like body armor. And while not all white folks have the same degree of power, there is a very real extent to which all of us have more than we need vis-à-vis people of color: at least when it comes to racial position, privilege and perceptions.
[…]
Objectification works against the disempowered because they are disempowered. The process doesn’t work in reverse, or at least, making it work is a lot tougher than one might think.

There’s a world of resources available on this topic, so I’ll leave it here. Please educate yourself. Google (and Bing) are there for you.

Tone policing or “I would’ve listened if they hadn’t been so angry”

I’ve seen this one a lot: “It’s a shame you can’t be less emotional about this,” and its sneaky cousin “Why are you getting so upset?”

This is a tricky one. On one hand, I’d strongly encourage people to try to be more polite and understanding to each other as often as possible. This does mean that it’s a good idea to try to disengage from your emotions and try to be as nice as you can muster. This can be exhausting and confusing though … and again, it’s all about power, and who has it within existing structures.

Most of the time when I’ve seen this tactic employed, it’s a silencing tactic; it’s nasty, underhanded and manipulative. It’s usually people with privilege telling people without privilege that they’re getting their knickers in a twist and they should be reasonable.

You know what? I don’t think you’re reasonable if you expect someone whose life is impacted daily by a social problem (let’s say racism) to not react emotionally to that. And I don’t think it’s unreasonable to have feelings about things that affect you. Women get these accusations of being upset a bit more than men in my experience. Women of colour even more so ( “I’m not being racist or anything, but WOC are just angry, y’know?” No, I don’t know.)

I do think it’s unreasonable when white people think race jokes are hilarious and refuse to admit they can hurt people, tell POC (people of colour) not to get so upset. This is tone policing. This is a shitty thing to do. Maybe someone’s anger makes you uncomfortable. That doesn’t mean it’s their job to alter their feelings.

On tone policing:

Marginalized people often do not have the luxury of emotionally distancing themselves from discussions on their rights and experiences.
[…]
Tone policing is the ultimate derailing tactic. When you tone police, you automatically shift the focus of the conversation away from what you or someone else did that was wrong, and onto the other person and their reaction. Tone policing is a way of not taking responsibility for fucking up, and it dismisses the other person’s position by framing it as being emotional and therefore irrational.

I hope you have found this post helpful in some way. I apologise for the swearing. I was a bit angry. But my points were still valid.

Because you said that it was “a distraction”, implying it was unimportant that children had been raped, and that you were looking forward to us getting away from this “distracting” commentary about rape culture and back to more important things.

Because you claimed that people couldn’t pay attention to two things at once: both this rape scandal and other events that were happening in the news.

Because you didn’t even try to understand that for people who couldn’t pay attention to this gang rape and other events in the media, it was because they too were survivors of rape.

Because the story of rape survivors and the all-too-common victim-blaming they receive at the hands of the police in New Zealand being front and centre in the news doesn’t happen often here and when it does, it recalls upsetting life-changing experiences.

Because you didn’t understand that one of the things that often made these experiences all-the-more upsetting was the experience of not being believed, or being denied for political reasons or reasons of nepotism and impartiality.

Because your personal denial was both political and a failure to recognise potential nepotism or impartiality.

Because you had an unnamed “source” who was a friend of the perpetrators of the crime, who said that the “sex was consensual” and you thought that that wasn’t rape denial.

Because a discussion about rape culture is only a distraction if you don’t understand how truly endemic this problem is, and that every woman lives with the spectre in their lives in one form or another.

Because you were blasé when reminded that one in four women are sexually assaulted and failed to recognise the possible repercussions for them in your words.

Because you spread misinformation.

Because you never once gave a trigger warning.

Because your statements were a trigger.

Because you told me to look at the context, when the only context that matters is that sexual assault happens to one in four women, and is minimised, denied and blamed on the victims by our law enforcers, our judicial system, our politicians and our culture.

Because the context is not my ignorance, but yours.

Because you were unable to understand the concept that people say all sorts of things to defend people they love … sometimes even when they know, or suspect that the person they are defending may in fact be guilty.

Because you deliberately chose to say you were “playing devil’s advocate”, not seeming to realise that meant you were siding with rapists or that maybe we shouldn’t play devil’s advocate with sexual assault.

Because you thought that the young men’s statements about women were “teenage bluster”, and you failed to identify a much larger problem with your “boys will be boys” acceptance of their statements.

Because you thought that your statements were totally okay as long as you bracketed your main argument of disbelief and denial with messages saying rape was abhorrent. All while you denied the experiences of thirteen-year-old victims, by saying that it was consensual. Despite having no credible evidence.

Because you said it was consensual sex, even though the victims were children, and they had not consented, nor could they legally consent to sex.

Because you did not listen when female friends tried to tell you that some of your statements were victim-denying or rape apology.

Because you wondered what a “radical” feminist would think, and then ignored the very vocal feminists who were telling you your words were a problem.

Because you only listen to arguments that back up what you think in the first place.

Because in all your talk about helping children, you somehow failed to realise these rape victims are children, and you did not stand up for their needs, which are to be believed and to be helped.

Because you said most people weren’t critical thinkers like you, all the while failing to think at all critically.

Because this is not a media distraction, this is reality intruding.

Because rape culture does have serious long term ramifications for our country.

Because you denied it was rape.

Because you denied.

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

Paula Paula, now much taller,
How does your country grow?
With distrust rife,
and half a life,
and little children left down below.

Paula Paula, now much taller,
Have you forgotten how
the state helped you
and pulled you through?
When you needed help you did not have to bow.

Paula Paula, now much taller,
Have you no heart at all?
Before your scheme
There was a gleam
Of hope in the lives of the poor.

Paula Paula, now much taller,
Why do you help vilify
Those who need help
So much like yourself
Can you not hear them cry?

Paula Paula, now much taller,
How does your country grow?
With distrust rife,
and half a life,
and little children left down below.

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