The Lady Garden

Tea and Strumpets

This is no country for women

Cross posted from Tangerina-land

Today one of Wellington’s most vital and underappreciated services, Wellington Rape Crisis, announced that they will be reducing their service by a day per week. They simply cannot keep up with the demand for their services without adequate funding, and they are uncertain of their future due to operating under a $55,000 deficit.

Wellington Rape Crisis is 35 years old, and was started as part of the international Rape Crisis movement. It continues to be politically revolutionary in that the organisational values explicitly state that women are at the centre of their practice*, and a feminist analysis of rape and sexual abuse underpins all their work. Not only do they provide frontline services, but they advocate politically for women’s rights to autonomy and self-determination over their own bodies. If this seems like nothing special, or if you’re of the opinion that we’ve already achieved these things, then you might want to do some serious reading.

Let’s be clear about these “vital” services. All too often, WRC staff are the difference between life and death for their clients, both metaphorically and literally. WRC provides clients with tools and support to work through trauma, and helps provide survivor’s loved ones with the strength and knowledge to confidently stand by them. Staff can help with housing issues, medical referrals, access to funding for study or training, childcare and much more. The organisation recognises that rape and sexual abuse affects every part of a person’s life, and works holistically within this.

Unbelievably, despite the huge amount of resources that sexual violence response requires, WRC still allocates funds and energy into preventing rape and sexual abuse in the first instance. WRC, along with other agencies, makes up the Wellington Sexual Abuse network, which provides education and campaigns which helps to combat sexual violence. The organisation is committed to not just being an ambulance at the bottom of the cliff, despite this being the service which gets the most funding from the Government.

However, no matter how vital an organisation is, if the climate in which it operates doesn’t value or support the work it does – it will die. Our Government has created a hostile environment for many community not-for-profit agencies. I want to be clear in stating that WRC is not the only agency in this dire situation. We live under an administration that feels competition is a good thing, not just in the private sector, but in community service provision.

While excellence in service should always be strived for, the way to achieve this is not to pit tiny, often volunteer-run organisations against each other for laughable sums of money. Money that they have to annually re-apply for at great expense of their already stretched resources. Money that makes organisations scared to speak out against Government initiatives for fear of being reprimanded through the loss of their funding.

This Government believes that the answer to everything is the private sector, and that corporate/community partnerships are the way of the future. But while the term “survivor of rape” still makes people shut their eyes and block their ears, Wellington Rape Crisis has no chance of being the next glossy recipient of the Vodafone Annual Feel Good Backpat Fest 2012.

I am sick to death of people desperately trying to rally 11th hour awareness for services people like to have, but rarely want to think about. Just last year Auckland’s only 24-hour crisis line for people who have experienced sexual violence was almost shut down due to a lack of funding. It was saved literally the day the service was due to be cut off, by ACC finally bowing to public pressure.

When previous governments are prepared to form a Taskforce for Action on Sexual Violence, yet no one is willing to implement their recommendations, it becomes a question of priority. One in four women in New Zealand will experience sexual assault. One in four. That’s a quarter of all of the women you know. If that isn’t a crisis, I’m not sure what is.

But, of course, our Government would much rather invest billions of dollars in a sports tournament, or millions into private schools, or tax cuts for the top tier of New Zealanders. Regardless of whether you broadly see value in these investments, a specialist organisation shutting its doors on Wellington’s most vulnerable women – even for just a day less per week – is unacceptable. It is undoubtedly the start of a slippery slope for all community services the Government doesn’t see as a priority.

This shouldn’t be about National politics. This should be about recognising, like WRC does, that rape is a crisis. If I’m going to be glib (which I am) I might also point out that investing in the prevention and treatment of sexual assault enables more women to be productive little cogs in our economic wheel. It’s a safe, reciprocal investment.

But it shouldn’t be about that. It’s about the fact that we live in a society which teaches women to consider themselves lucky to not be survivors of sexual violence. We live in a society where women are most likely to be raped by someone they know and trust, in their own home, yet they are made to feel like the aesthetic and transport options they choose every day make them responsible for any assault which may befall them.

We live in a society in which every single woman who you have ever known or even walked past has a script for protecting herself. She knows which neighbours keep the lights on for the longest, which shoes she can run easily in, and how to slot her keys between her fingers to use as a weapon if she needs to.

And nobody wants to talk about it. Well, that’s fine. Don’t get your hands dirty thinking about things which make you uncomfortable, that’s your choice. It’s a shit choice, but it’s yours to make. It’s not a choice that one in four New Zealand women have, however.

And for those women, thankfully there are agencies who don’t have their hands over their ears. But for how much longer? When a 35 year old organisation which is relevant to a quarter of all New Zealand women is slowly starting to close its doors…we are in crisis mode. This is no country for women.

I am despondent at the thought that months from now, if WRC has to close for another day, and another day and then maybe forever, that Wellington women will have to call for help from around the country like Auckland Sexual Abuse Help did. Are we doomed to repeat these last minute tearful pleas in which the public has to briefly acknowledge how vital these services are, every time the Government quietly suffocates one to death?

This is no country for women.

If you want to help. Please, please do. Though it needs to be said we should not have to self-fund a service as vital as this.

*Wellington Rape Crisis provides services to anyone who identifies as female. Their skills and physical space are designed solely for women and children, recognising that women are overwhelmingly and disproportionately affected by sexual violence. However, Wellington Rape Crisis works to refer male survivors of sexual violence to services that cater for them, and provides assistance to male support people of women who have experienced sexual violence.

In which I get very, very angry with Louis C.K.

Trigger warning for rape

So this, this right here, this person you like and laugh at and respect in other ways, this person is currently the personification of male privilege.

Thinking that it’s part of a “dialogue” when a woman gets singled out in a comedy club and has someone “joke” about how funny it would be if she was pack raped there and then, that is privilege. It is something only someone who is fortunate enough to not be threatened by rape culture can afford to think.

The fallout from a woman being threatened with rape in a comedy club for the purposes of a “joke”, is only beard-strokingly interesting to people who have never been told that what they’re wearing could get them into trouble. To people who don’t have to think of survival strategies on a daily basis, to the point where they’ve perfected LOUD FAKE CELLPHONE CONVERSATIONS while walking home in the dark. To people who haven’t memorised which neighbours stay up later than others in case you have to run to their door. Or which shoes you can run in and which you can’t. Or which of your boyfriend’s friends you don’t want to get a ride home with. Or what you’d say if you needed to leave somewhere fast.

Rape “jokes” (no matter how public they become) are not part of a dialogue. They are part of a systematic and institutionalised violence against women everywhere and always.

The reactions to those jokes are not part of a dialogue, they are fucking survival strategies. They are attempts to try and protect ourselves, our sisters, our daughters, our mothers, from the ever-present threat of rape, which is now even more dangerous because apparently it’s funny. They are attempts to get people to please stop scaring the shit out of us, or reminding us of something we’re trying to forget, or what could be in our futures, or what has definitely happened to women we love.

It must be really nice to have the ability to enjoy those pleas as part of some interesting anthropological discussion which benefits everyone apparently, because Louis CK got reminded he doesn’t have to worry about it.

Do you like parties? Do you like not oppressing people based on their gender?

Then have we got an event for you!

[Image: event poster with text “Wellington Young Feminists’ Collective First Birthday Party. Featuring Sophie and the Realistic Expectations, Lisa Tomlins and Ricky Boyd + Disasteradio. San Fran Bath House, 8 April (Easter Sunday) 9pm $10]

This time last year, we launched the Collective to a huge crowd at Wellington’s Good Luck bar. People wore their glad rags, there was an amazing band and we danced our asses off together.

Since then, our first year has been pretty jam packed. Some people have liked us, some people have not. We’ve held self-defence classes, fundraised for local organisations, launched Hollaback! Wellington and held the only candidate’s forum of the 2011 election focused solely on women’s issues. We’ve also been proud to get behind a range of issues including joining the voices against Libra’s transphobic bullshit, SlutWalk, and helping one of New Zealand’s most badass ladies get proper recognition.

Our main mandate remains providing a platform for people to learn and share information on gender equity in New Zealand. We’ve grown to over 1000+ people, and have agreed, disagreed, laughed our asses off and absorbed a whole lot of knowledge in the last 12 months. Our birthday will be about celebrating that and bringing in our second year with a bang.

We would LOVE to have you along,  and the party is open to all, so come and enjoy some amazing local bands and let loose with us! You can sleep in the next day, and most of the Lady Gardeners will be there with bells on!

Welfare “reforms”

The National Government is no friend to women. They cancelled the pay equity research into social workers and school support staff within the first few months of their election to power. They dissolved the Department of Labour unit that oversaw that research. They reduced the Ministry of Women’s affairs into a tiny, cloutless office (that despite their meagre staff and budget still produces incredibly important work). They have continued to ignore the Education Review Office’s recommendations to improve sexuality education in this country.

They appointed Pansy Wong as their first Minister for Women’s Affairs (her pet project was getting more women into trades. Not, you know, paying women more in the roles their already doing). They appointed Jo Goodhew as the next Minister for Women’s Affairs, who voted against the abolition of force as a justification in smacking, for defining marriage as between a man and a woman, and for appointing a strongly anti-choice doctor to the Abortion Supervisory Committee. And now they’re “reforming” benefits that are primarily used by women.

These new “reforms” are aimed at the poorest of families, aimed at mothers raising children alone. And they’re masked by the rhetoric of “those who can work, should”. Because apparently, raising children doesn’t count as work.

For many sole parents in this country, if you want to raise your child full-time, then the DPB is your only option. Oh sure there’s parental leave, if you happen to be employed. Of course that’s providing you’re not self-employed, and you’ve been at your job long enough, and there’s no restructuring at your workplace. If you pass those requirements, then after the pitiful partly-paid three months that one parent is afforded by the parental laws, your job will be held for 12 months. Then you’re on your own. So you better have a shitload of savings.

For couples, on the surface our parental leave laws appear gender-neutral, with the ability for one parent to swap their 12 months leave with the other. If you don’t, your partner gets 2 whole weeks unpaid leave to be with you. But given that mothers are ideally their child’s source of food for the first 6 months, and not very many workplaces allow for infants to be present, mothers tend to be the primary carers at home. Even for couples, you either need to have savings, or one partner who earns enough to pay for you, your child, rent, food, utilities and everything else that comes with starting a family.

So our workplaces and social constructs tell us that women should stay at home and be caregivers, and our maternity leave tells us that you must have savings (or a partner to support you) to take the full allowance, and even more savings (or a partner to support you) if you want to raise your child full-time after that.

If you don’t fit that very narrow criteria, and need state assistance, our new welfare “reforms” will ensure your family planning is decided for you. And if you don’t play ball, you’ll be punished.

The changes involve parents on the DPB being made to find part-time work once their child turns 5, and full-time work once their child turns 14. Because remember, caregiving isn’t work. But the real kicker is that if you get pregnant while on the DPB, you have to find work when your youngest child turns 1.

Don’t even think about expanding your family. Unless you want to be forced back into work. Work that might not suit you or your family’s needs. Work that might not fit your skills or experience. Just work, any work at all, because you’ve broken the rules.

Despite the fact that we’re at crisis point with a lack of jobs in this country, your expectation to find work trumps your family planning decisions. Because supporting families is not a good investment for government money, apparently. And you should have known better than to get pregnant while taking money from the government.

The government dabbling in family planning decisions extends to the point of the Ministry of Social Development investigating long acting reversible contraceptives for women receiving the DPB. I know this through a few sources, and it was also recently mentioned by Jan Logie.

On the surface this actually seems really great. It would be amazing to see the government invest more in sexual health and contraception. Except, hold on, why are they only investigating providing this kind of support to people receiving welfare? And why is the contraception they considered providing, the kind that doesn’t rely on people remembering to take it? On top of their new “reform” to punish beneficiaries who breed, it kind of seems like they’re trying to stop poor people from having babies, doesn’t it? Oh hang on that’s exactly what they’re fucking doing.

Parents on the DPB (which, in case I haven’t made it clear enough, could be pretty much anyone who isn’t lucky enough to have a partner and/or fuckloads of savings when they have a child) have the added bonus of raising the child alone if they don’t want to go back to work. If they meet someone and get into a relationship with them, they lose their welfare. Have I mentioned they also live on fuck all each week? Oh and this all occurs within a society which is lead to believe (often by right-wing politicians) that beneficiaries decide to have children as some life investment so they can milk this amazing lucrative system we have.

When people like the National Council of Women put out press releases that state these “reforms” are a “move in the right direction”, and when people are iffy about the punishment part of the changes, but not welfare-recipients being forced to get a job when their child hits 5, then we have work to do. If caregiving isn’t seen as legitimate work, then everyone is going to continue to have to meet that narrow, incredibly privileged criteria in order to have the family lives they want.

When are we going to start investing in our families? Really investing. Not just Working for Families schemes, not just minimal paid parental leave, not “flexible, family-friendly workplaces” in principle, but tangible support for people who don’t happen to have investment accounts. Support that doesn’t come with a close-your-legs-clause, or a time’s up countdown, or an allowance for only one parent to take time out of work. Support that says hey if we’re going to suddenly get really worried about this country’s children we should probably invest in them and their families, huh?

Michele Bachmann is many things but she’s not crazy

Bigoted, ignorant, malevolent…I could go on. But calling a woman in power “crazy” just because you disagree with her is harmful to all women. Not to mention abelist.

Today alone I have seen dozens of posts (many from feminist sources) rejoicing in the result in Iowa last night that left Bachmann behind, and I’m with them. However, deciding to laugh about how “crazy” she is and say shit like “Now you can go back to the loony bin” is totally unacceptable. 

I get it, she sucks, the stuff she says is terrible and terrifying. But when you call a woman who is attempting to make her voice heard “nuts” and “psycho” you are actually furthering the default retort for all women who speak out and fuck people off. The retort is always around how hysterical and “batshit” they are.

And yes, those things get leveled at men who fuck people off to, but usually in the context of a slew of other adjectives around how “archaic” or “uninformed” or “bigoted” he is. Usually as part of a deeper discussion on his politics. It is very, very rare for a man in power to simply be written off as “crazy” the same way Bachmann has since she came on the scene. Even if those men spout identical views (and much worse).

Left wing and liberal people should know better. I expect to be (and have been dozens of times) called “crazy” by socially conservative right wingers and Christian fundamentalists, because writing me off as crazy for Being A Woman With An Opinion is clearly logical if you take the view that I’m unsexing myself in doing so, and I should just shut up and let the (white) men do the talking.

But left wingers and liberals (should) hold progressive, feminist, oppression-averse values. And part of that is thinking critically about your internal monologue and default responses to things, when pretty much everything we are socialised to do hangs on deeply rooted (often subconscious) misogyny. It’s hard, and I personally know I will never stop untraining myself from problematic habitual stuff, but knowing that calling women in power “crazy” because you want them to stop talking is not rocket science guys.

Twilight critics and sex-shaming

Guys, I hate Twilight like the rest of you.

And I agree with all the problematic subtext. And the not-so-sub-text. I think the books took an empty shell of a ‘this could be you, lady’ and threw her into a disturbing, controlling, fatal relationship. One that should never be exulted as true romance in the eyes of young people. And the werewolf pedophilia thing – also creepy.

BUT

Having seen the movies (in a snarky, pass the popcorn ladies, kind of way) I am really getting fed up with so much criticism surrounding the fact that Bella winds up bruised after the intense, headboard-breaking sex she has with Edward. That guy’s a self-deprecating, stalky, manipulative douchebag don’t get me wrong. But the sex? She openly discusses how much she enjoyed it. She looks at her bruises in the mirror and smiles. She spends the remainder of their pre-demonbaby honeymoon trying to convince Edward to fuck her again, which he eventually does (it’s implied in the movie anyway).

Should Bella even be in that relationship? No. Is the sex problematic because it embodies the control he has over her, leaving her bruised? Maybe. But can you keep equating breaking a headboard and leaving someone bruised as bad? No. You can’t.

Plenty of people in consensual sexual relationships wind up bruised (either accidentally or on purpose) during sex, and perhaps it’s just my interest in BDSM culture and the lens that comes with that, but I spent the entire post-coitus segment of the movie going “Bella is digging the rough sex” and so did the people I went to see the movie with.

The relationship is completely fucked, but it’s consensual and so is the sex. The shitty move is that Edward, in his 1900’s sexist benevolence, is the one who makes her feel ashamed of enjoying her post rough-up glow. He won’t bang her again. She has to convince him she really really liked it.

I get that in the context of an otherwise scary relationship, the headboard breaking, pillow massacre sex can be perceived as another mark against them, but it’s actually just rough sex. And I’m finding all the commentary citing the sex as part of Bella’s “desire for all the wrong things” or an example of abuse in their relationship, really sex negative. And a shaming judgement on what many, many women also desire.

The critiques are coming from (usually) sex positive sources and feminists across the interwebs, and I have to say that I’m really surprised that these people are so quick to throw someone’s sexual preference into the big bag of bad that encapsulates the Twilight series. All that it’s achieving is making people that also enjoy looking in the mirror and seeing visible marks of how much fun they had after sex, feel like their sex lives share some problematic characterisation of an unhealthy relationship. And they get that enough already without needing to read it from places that are supposed to be sex positive.

The 2012 Mansplain Olympics page is up

Please note our fancy new tab and dropdown at the top of the page. January has already kicked off!

Introducing the 2012 Mansplain Olympics

We in the feminist blogging business deal with mansplaining a lot. Many of us use a mixture of humour, sarcasm and the ‘moderate’ button to deal with these delightful side effects of Being A Woman with an Opinion on the Internet.

But sisters, brothers, friends, and Mansplainers from the planet Mansplain – witness my suggestion for a fun new game in 2012 – The 2012 Mansplain Olympics. It’s pretty simple, I’ll arrange some sub-site to act as a platform for bloggers to submit their best mansplain comments. We’ll have a ‘Mansplain of the Month’ which will result in 12 finalists for the winner of the 2012 Mansplain Olympics at the end of the year.

So who’s in?

You might be laughing, but I’m scared (here’s that John Banks post)

Cross posted from my place.

Trigger warning for misogyny, sexual violence, homophobia and transphobic slurs.

Firstly, I just want to acknowledge that there have been many amazing blogs, both pre and post-election about the bigoted politics of John Banks and other politicians in Aotearoa. It’s amazing to share learning and outrage with you.

Pre-election, I had a conversation with a male friend about the political right and the feverishly socially conservative values that seem to come along with many (but not all) far right politicians both here and overseas.

I touched on some US Republican gems from the last year, including their attempts to re-define rape to “forcible rape” in order to further narrow the criteria for getting an abortion (and making a victim-blaming and disgusting assertion around what constitutes ‘real rape’ while doing so). I talked about how they tried to cut funding to Planned Parenthood, how they were outraged about improved access to free contraception. I generally ranted and raved.

When we began to discuss some New Zealand examples of bigoted and misogynistic far right politics, my friend said “I just find these guys so ridiculous that it’s funny.” Now, I know that my friend was meaning to emphasise how he dismissed these politicians, but it really stopped me in my tracks. I have certainly laughed at some of the more absurd political moves of the far right (like, y’know, ACT admonishing MMP despite the fact that their party wouldn’t have had seats in Parliament if it weren’t for MMP) but I can’t say these people ever make me laugh.

What I ended up attempting to explain to my friend, was that perhaps he could laugh because as a straight, white, cisgender, middle-class, able-bodied, employed, male – far right politics would not curtail his autonomy in the same way it would for me and many other people.

The idea that there are people in this country that have been elected to positions of power over me that genuinely think I should go to hell (literally and figuratively) for who I am makes me feel sick. What makes me feel not just sick but terrified, is that given the chance these people would enshrine their beliefs in legislation which would actively reshape my life without my consent. And what better chance do you get than to be a Member of Parliament?

People (and there are many) who choose to dismiss and laugh at John Banks being re-elected are well within their rights to do so, I wish I could myself.

But I can’t laugh at someone who says this:

“I challenge you or any other New Zealander to name two other countries that murder more unborn children each year per capita than New Zealand. Everybody listening should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves. This is state funded genocide and I am compiling a list of all the doctors in all the hospitals up and down the country that commit these murders every morning of the week and dump these babies either in the waste disposal unit in the hospital or into a ‘kleensac’ and I am going to release their names publicly so that you’ll be able to walk down the street “That’s a killer!” “That one who lives in that house. He’s another murderer!” “She kills babies before they are born!” and I’ll be able to identify the abortionist dash state funded killer because I’m getting the list together and I’m going to release it in Parliament so it can be published in every newspaper in the country.” – From the ALRANZ “From Our Files” series.

Or this:

“A women’s place is in the home…get back to the kitchen sink.”- As cited at the Young Labour Women blog.

Or this:

“If we continue the bankrupt response of just paying young Polynesian, young Maori men in South Auckland, the dole to sit in front of TV, smoke marijuana, watch pornography and plan more drug offending and more burglaries, then we’re going to have them coming through our window” – From No Right Turn

Or this at the 1986 passing of the Homosexual Law Reform:

“This day will be remembered as a sad and sickening day for New Zealand. A very black cloud tonight, and those members who wheel themselves through the doors of the Ayes lobby to vote for legalised sodomy at the age of 16 should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves. Particularly as the family unit in New Zealand is under siege.”

Or this on the removal of the ban on LGBTI folk in the armed forces (when Banks was Minister of Police):

[I will] “rigorously oppose and move in parliament that opens the door to the police for trans-sexuals, bisexuals and transvestites.”

Oh but it’s okay because years later he said:

“I’m only critical of their unhygienic and un-Christianlike sexual behaviour.”

Above quotes from here.

I also can’t laugh off the fact that one of the biggest human roadblocks to comprehensive sex education in this country is now Associate Minister for Education. His portfolio appointments are exactly why I think it’s remiss to be dismissive of politicians just because people find their stances laughable.

I am well aware that John Banks isn’t the only terrifying bigot in Parliament, and that there are many politicians who share his views. However I think it speaks volumes about how much of an actual tangible threat these people are, that just in the latest change to Parliament we have the following people ‘representing’ us in addition to Banks:

  • Richard Prosser of NZ First who is pro banning the burqa, arming taxi drivers, and anti same sex marriage, prostitution, and pro parental notification of abortion according to his Family First Report Card.
  • Tracey Martin of NZ First who thinks that NZ’s abortion laws should be decided by binding referendum and supports parental notification, adding “What if my sons were about to become Fathers – should I not also be informed”.
  • Denis O’Rourke of NZ First opposes same-sex adoption among other things.

I’ll stop there, because I could list the problematic politics of some of our new MPs all day.

I’m not taking issue with people laughing at John Banks because laughing keeps them from crying, my issue is with people who laugh because they dismiss how much he could actually achieve in Parliament. My issue is that many people don’t have the luxury of dismissing and laughing people like John Banks off. And that group of people is getting bigger and bigger, in fact, as of Tuesday it includes every child in our education system.

THIS JUST IN: Thousands of years of slut-shaming and pitting women against each other makes women ‘bitchy’

Cross posted from my place. This is the article, which states:

“Participants displayed a strong negative reaction to the attractive female when she was dressed provocatively,” said study author Dr Aanchal Sharma. “This almost never happened when she was dressed conservatively. In addition, participants were also less likely to introduce the attractive female to their boyfriends or allow them to spend time with her when she appeared sexy, compared to when she wore conservative clothing.”

This is my surprised face. Don’t die of shock please, it’s groundbreaking shit.