Dude, huh?

Hey Daniel Michael Satele,

I’ve read your piece on Billy Apple few times now and I’m confused. On one hand, the title ‘Can I live?’ in reference to the Billy Apple piece “The Artist has to Live like Everybody Else” seems to be about the way Pacific/ PoC artists/ writers are marginalised within sites of institutionalised whiteness, like art galleries. But there’s a few links in your argument that I’m not following:

Name-dropping, personal branding, exposing the commodification of the artwork within the work itself … OK … so what? This is old hat today. Rihanna is on the radio singing “turn up to Rihanna” in a song called “Bitch Better Have My Money.”

The point for me isn’t the self-referentiality of self as commodity. What’s more interesting is that Rihanna is referring to herself as a commodity and it has absolutely no impact on our consumption of her. There is very explicit depiction of wealth in that video and a lots of pornified/ strip club imagery, and  it doesn’t repulse us, even though the depictions of Black women’s bodies in that clip evoke slavery. How is it that we are so lulled into capitalism-apathy by that music videos like that? Isn’t it that we accept it as part of the bargain we have with the music industry? Commodification is okay – as long as it’s slick – because we are expecting to be entertained.

So Billy Apple’s work doesn’t work like that. It refers to itself and as art as a commodity, but we are uneasy. We don’t accept the argument that it operates on the same-as-usual basis. Having it in a gallery or named as art disrupts the historicity and the familiarity of the object.

So I watched Christina Barton’s video on Youtube about the Billy Apple Retrospective, and I liked it. I liked that she addressed the self-portraiture running through the works. I liked that she reached out to engage with you about your words. Calling her out didn’t sit well with me. What was that about?



Buddy or Bully-Boy? Is it time to Boycott Australia over Human Rights Abuses?

In the shadow of our ANZAC commemorations, it is time to ask whether Australia is still our mate.

This year Australia spent A$145 million on ANZAC commemorations, including the new Australian War Memorial over here in New Zealand. 6500 Australian men enlisted in WW1, but like for us in Aotearoa, Gallipoli is particularly significant. In BBC News article describing the pull of ANZAC day commemorations, Wendy Frew says,

 it is Gallipoli that holds a special place in Australian hearts. Many believe it was here Australians proved themselves the equal of any in the world, heralding the young nation’s emergence onto the world stage.

So, unbeatable odds. Mate-ship. Courage under fire.

Being a mate and having courage in adversity are ingredients my Australian Great-Grandfather would have described as character. In the interests of full disclosure, my Pakeha mother hails from Australian Irish roots. Our family lore includes the fabulous tale of how my Great-Great-Grandmother was the midwife that delivered Ned Kelly. Which goes to show that given the right conditions, you can be proud of anything.

You can even build identity out of it.

Because there is no doubt that Gallipoli holds a special place in our national imaginations, and that commemorations are a form of nation-building. In 1983, theorist Benedict Anderson argued that nations are an ‘imagined political community’. He meant that we don’t have relationships with most people in our nation, but nevertheless have a sense of belonging to a group and sharing particular affinities. Our belonging is most keenly felt through larger events, like rugby games. Or like Gallipoli commemorations. Mate-ship. Courage under fire.

But what happens when a nation commits acts that are at odds with the way we think of them? How are we as New Zealanders to make sense of Australia’s human rights abuses?

There are two areas where Australia is drawing international attention for human rights abuses: in the Australian Government’s treatment of refugees and in their treatment of Indigenous Australians. I can’t help but think that these failures in compassion are intrinsically linked; that they relate to an outdated, racist understanding of who an Australian is. That Australia, one of the strongest global economies, is protecting its wealth for the good of white Australian citizens, at the expense of Indigenous communities.

Let’s get real about how bad Australian human rights abuses have got.

As you may know, on May 1st there were 10,000 protestors in Australian cities protesting the threat of closure of remote communities in Western Australia.  The #SOSBLAKAUSTRALIA campaign came about through a call to action from the people of West Kimberley. In November 2014, Colin Barnett, Premier of Western Australia, announced that the State could no longer support 150 remote Aboriginal Communities, which could be removed by the end of 2015. Prime Minister Tony Abbott has backed this statement, saying “What we can’t do, is endlessly subsidise choices, if those lifestyle choices are not conducive to the kind of full participation in Australian society that everyone should have”.

As #SOSBLAKAUSTRALIA have pointed out, it is against UN HUMAN RIGHTS LAW for any people to remove another people from their land. The Commonwealth of Australia signed up to this convention in 2009 and is accountable.

Meanwhile, the treatment of refugees to Australia has gone from bizarre to ridiculous with Australia sending refugees from the processing facility at Nauru to Cambodia. Human Right’s Watch  have argued that Cambodia has a bad record with refugees and it’s own serious human rights abuses. Including torture. Meanwhile, Amnesty reminds us that 107 children are amongst those detained on Nauru, with another 60 are detained in Australia.

It’s gone far enough.

Nothing reminds us of our mate-ship with Australia more than ANZAC day. We are close by, used to skipping over the ditch for holidays or work or shopping trips. According to NZTE, we also have one of the closest and broadest trade relationships in the world. Our two-way trade is worth NZ$24 billion.

So if you thought John Key might have a soft word with Tony Abbott about human right’s abuses while they were watching the cricket, you are sorely mistaken. From Key’s perspective, it’s all about  maintaining our trade relationship. Australia is New Zealand’s second biggest export market, worth NZ$13.18 billion, in things like crude oil, gold, wine and cheese.

What about New Zealand as a nation? Is there anything we can do to tell our closest mate that their behaviour is not okay? Is there anything we can do to support the human rights of Indigenous Australians and refugees? Or is it simply a case of New Zealand being the little guy, a small country without the wealth or status to do anything except bear witness?

So, unbeatable odds.

And something my Australian Great-Grandfather might have called character. When you stand up to a bully, even though he is stronger than you. Or even harder, when you speak out to a friend, knowing that your words might cost you their friendship.

I think it’s time we as New Zealanders start boycotting Australian products. We are less significant to them economically – their 7th largest export market, worth NZ$10.9 billion to the Australian economy in things like aluminium, cars, wheat, chocolate and retail medicines. But we as New Zealanders can vote with our wallets and stop buying Australian chocolates, cars and medicines. Unfortunately, this kind of global attention to human rights abuse might make the Australian Government pay attention.

Because in the shadow of ANZAC, we could remember that some people gave their lives for a sweet ideal they called freedom. And standing up to your mate when he’s being a nong, well it’s what you do when you’re a mate, isn’t it?






The Opposite of Selfies

Last night I went to the opening of Jack Trolove’s evocative exhibition ‘The Body Remembers’ at Whitespace, which will be showing until the 17th of May.

Trolove’s portraits have an expressionistic quality; visceral brushstrokes of warm oranges and aqua blues across skin brought Toss Woollaston’s Southern landscapes to my mind. The potency of the portraits is in their ambiguity; the way their expressions hint at stories but the paintings leave enough space for an interpretive viewer. Trolove’s bio explains he is interested in ‘in-betweenness’.

What struck me about the paintings was their intimacy, and what they reveal about the self. Close-up, sometimes sleeping, sometimes uncomfortable or pensive, these are expressions and moments we don’t often see except for on the faces of lovers or spouses. These strangers have an intensified proximity to us, without the scaffolding we are used to in public spaces.

Think of the ‘selfie’ and what it conjures about subjectivity in this neoliberal capitalist moment. We are used to constant iterations of the ‘self’ as a facade of your best, most promotable qualities alongside commodities that act as furniture. Designer clothing, ironic and non-ironic branding, gold snake chains, black-rimmed glasses, retro sneakers and dark red lipstick. We are used to the idea that commodities tell us things about our unique selves, and about our worth.

Trolove’s paintings are the opposite of ‘selfies’. Without any adornment, they reveal bodies we don’t show to the world; bodies in pain, in idle moments, or bodies that resist easy recognisability. There is a richness in this.



Feminist Failures and Feminist Bargaining: Negotiating Hetero-patriarchal Culture while being Feminist

I’m reflecting on ‘s piece in The Guardian yesterday about how she experiences serious self-loathing about her body and has a disordered relationship with food while simultaneously being feminist and promoting body love amongst her peers. Cosslett talks to Susie Orbach, who of course points out how incredibly pervasive distorted representations of women’s bodies are within patriarchal culture that feeds huge industries aimed at changing women’s bodies. Orbach questions Cosslett about whether she’ll continue to put up with it. Cosslett writes:

This question stuns me. I wasn’t aware that not putting up with it was even an option. “Become a refusenik!” she says, and I want to: I really want to.

Part of the complexity of Cosslett’s issue is that it feels shaming amongst her feminist, educated peers to admit that that eating is so problematic for her.  She says:

I was embarrassed, and furious, that I couldn’t seem to escape the cycle of self-loathing that I have railed against so often as a writer and editor.

The complexity of striving to adopt a feminist positionality in a context of both a subculture of feminist peers and pervasive messaging within hetero-patriarchial culture stuck a chord with me. There are a multitude of behaviours and heavily compromised “choices’ that we negotiate everyday in-between the poles of patriarchal subjectivity and what might be an idealised feminist subjectivity. All of which do not contain actual, equal, possible choices, because the social terrain we fight them on is so uneven. Should we have children? If so, can we raise them with pro-feminist consciousness but still have them invited to birthday parties? Should we ‘choose’ to be married, de facto, monogamous, same-sex monogamous, polyamorous or single? Should you shave your legs or not shave your legs? Can you ‘choose’ whether to lead in a male-dominated profession or fiercely advocate in a feminised profession; or stay-at-home doing hard nurturing labour with your pro-feminist genderqueer child; or not work within the capitalist system? Do you only fuck feminist-identified women; or only fuck feminist-identified men; or try to change the misogynist ideas of the man you end up fucking? I mean, none of these are really, in practice, experienced as “choices” because often our decision-making is so compromised by the plethora of intervening factors. And yet, they can induce self-judgment. There are many, many times when I’ve felt like I have failed at being a ‘good’ feminist.

Feminism is probably at it’s least useful when it becomes another means for women to police their own behaviour or other women’s behaviour in relation to a group ‘ideal’.

To draw on West and Zimmerman’s (1987) well-known paradigm of ‘doing gender’, it’s worth pointing out that the heteropatriarchial gender system works in part through ‘accountability’. The concept of ‘accountability’ is that when we make decisions about how we ‘do’ gender we know we are being held accountable to gender norms. There are privileges or ‘rewards’ for doing gender in a normative way. There are punishments when we don’t. Wanting to be ‘a good girl’ – or be valued in our culture – goes to right to the heart of ‘being’ a girl. Our early gender ‘interpellations‘ where we take on what it means to be gendered are often really about a desire to be good or loved.

So what happens if Cosslett takes on Orbach’s advise and becomes a ‘body image’ refusnik? It might mean she loses the some of the rewards she currently experiences for being thin. She might not experience the same level of praise, attention, desirability, be invited to the same parties, be able to wear the same clothes, or have the same sexual and romantic relationship options. She is likely to experience social policing and punishment for being fat. She might have friends, family and even strangers commenting on her body. She might be seen as less professional, not be promoted or not be employed. None of these outcomes are fair. All of these possible outcomes are misogynist. But they are realistic outcomes of not being compliant with body norms.

When I was in my early twenties I had disordered eating. Not because of adopting normative body ideas, but because the impact of non-consensual sexual acts in my teenage years made putting anything inside my mouth feel physically repulsive. I struggled with self-loathing, but I experienced an ongoing stream of praise from friends and family members and lovers about how good I looked. Thin meant beautiful. As I went through recovery and my body finally settled on being about a size 14 instead of a size 10, I stopped getting praised for my attractiveness. In my case, being on the other side of the terror I felt around eating was worth it but there was still a social cost for me.

There’s an interesting, complicated, old-fashioned feminist idea called ‘patriarchal bargaining‘ that seems useful to play with here. Patriarchal bargaining was a term coined by Kandiyoti (1988) when women fit in with a patriarchal norm – accepting a norm that disadvantages women overall – in order to increase their own individual power. So in this case, women might adopt beauty practices that continue to promote the hierarchialisation of women based on their bodies, because in reality it gives them more access to wealth or desirability on an individual basis.

It’s a useful idea, but it seems a little harsh when we consider what our options are. Isn’t that really what we are all having to do most of the time? Sometimes gaining status through privileged femininity might feel like ‘any means necessary’ when you are still socially devalued because of your gender, class and race.

So I propose the concept of ‘feminist bargaining‘. Feminist bargaining could be when you have feminist beliefs but also know you have to survive in hetero-patriarchal culture. So you make decisions about where you can live your feminist beliefs, and make decisions about how to survive when you can’t. And really this looks like a series of compromising negotiations with hetero-patriarchy, where most of the time hetero-patriarchy wins because it’s a powerful system of meaning-making supported by global capitalism, not just your high-school dean or your mother. In fact, some of the feminist bargaining you do in some areas of your life probably make it possible to fly the feminist flag in others.

You have to think about whether you are adopting particular practices to survive hetero-patriarchy, or whether you are adopting them to keep thriving while others experience violence or extreme marginalisation on the same scale. I think wealth is a good example here. Are female CEO’s of multinational corporations good feminists? I would say no. Even though they might be using masculinist tactics to swim within the corporate system; it is still too abhorrently unethical. They cause too much harm towards poor, working women, the environment, and other marginalised people.

If nothing else this issue reveals how limited the terrain of individual feminist decision-making is. When we think of feminist actions as the decisions we make in our individual lives, we are clearly facing an impossible tide. We need to move beyond neoliberal versions of feminism focused on the transformation of the ‘self’ – where feminism becomes just another way to govern your own body – to collective actions and goals.

Protest Challenges Police Handling of ‘Roast Busters’ Case.

puudae7Three young women wearing black chained themselves outside Auckland Central Police Station in a direct action against the police’s decision not to prosecute in the Roast Busters case. Their spokeswomen Genevieve Wilson explained that they were seeking accountability from the police, and recognition that the actions of the police have supported rape culture.

They called for a formal inquiry into the handling of the case, including the treatment of the female complainants by police. Their message to the female victims of the “Roast Busters” was that “We support you. We think you are really brave”.

The protest, that used the hashtag #silentVigil, was a powerful challenge to the New Zealand Police to be accountable for their inaction, and to be responsive in changing police culture and handling of sexual violence cases.

The protest of these three young women speaks to a much larger sentiment amongst New Zealand women that the New Zealand Police are failing us when it comes to sexual violence cases.

There’s a few complex and linked issues we could unpack about Police handling of the Roast Busters case. We need to ask questions about police actions, their knowledge about sexual violence and non-consent, and their handling of the case in respect to the kinds of messages they gave complainants and suspects.

Institutional sexism occurs through both overt mechanisms (like policies) and more obliquely through commonly held stereotypical beliefs. In this case, we need to think about whether the police culture is susceptible to some of the broader, pervasive sexist thinking that supports ‘rape culture’. Research by Shannon Chan (2013) points out that women are a minority in the New Zealand Police force, particularly at senior ranks. Shannon Chan’s research with female officers suggested that while they enjoyed the positive aspects of the force – like camaraderie – they tended to downplay sexual harassment and unwanted banter in order to ‘fit in’ and ‘be one of the boys’ within police culture. So, with a force where even female police officers need to ‘fit in’ with misogynist attitudes toward women, we have a problem.

Going forward, the key issue for the New Zealand Police is trust. Do the Police handle interviews and interactions with young women sensitively, and in a way that encourages them to make complaints and trust that their testimonies will be taken seriously? Can we trust them with our painful stories? Can we trust them to understand that liking a boy or going to a party or underage drinking is not the same thing as wanting sex?

The issue now is that the inability of the NZ Police to prosecute – when this was such a well publicised case, and when images of the boys and their Facebook messaging has been seen by most of the country – sends a far more damaging message to future victims and future perpetrators of unwanted sexual contact.

For women it reinforces the sense that we will not be taken seriously by the New Zealand Police, and that the experiences of women and girls are not as respected or valued. For boys and men it sends a message that the words of women and girls are not taken seriously. A message that some act of opportunistic, unwanted sexual contact with a girl is a risk that you can probably take.

To understand ‘rape culture’ we need to make sense of what beliefs and ideas allow rape to occur. To my mind, it’s really ways of thinking about girls and women where our lives and bodies are less valuable than the lives and bodies of men. So when the young men involved in the ‘Roast busters’ could put the esteem of their mates ahead of the feelings of the young women in front of them, that’s a rape-supportive culture. When young women don’t make statements because they are afraid of the reactions of their peers and families, that’s a rape-supportive culture. And when the New Zealand Police can lead a year-long investigation into the ‘Roast Busters’ and fail to hold the perpetrators to account, that’s a rape-supportive culture.

Meanwhile, bravo to the courageous young women that protested outside the Auckland Central Police Station today. It was an unsettling visual image to see young women with black gaffer tape across their mouths, an image that brought the silencing of young women to the fore. One woman held a sign that simply read “You failed us”.

A mass protest against rape culture and calling for police accountability is planned for the 22 November outside of the High Court at 1 pm.

Key’s ‘Free Thinkers’ on Security Risk reveals his Distrust in Academics.

This morning a “group of free thinkers” were announced that will be advising the PM on security threats to New Zealand. The group will be reporting to the ODESC group within the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet. Unfortunately, the PM hasn’t included any university-based experts on global security.

Some of the appointments make sense. You would expect Ian Fletcher, head of the Government Communications Security Bureau, to be on the list. Likewise, Sir Peter Gluckman, PM’s chief science adviser and Lt Gen Rhys Jones, former Chief of Defence Force. There’s also a lawyer, Richard Forgan, consulting partner at PWC.

Then it gets a more problematic.  The remainder of appointments are people with high level business acumen and management expertise:

Therese Walsh – chief executive of the 2015 Cricket World Cup, Karen Poutasi – chief executive of NZQA, Keith Turner – chairman of Fisher and Paykel, Hugh Cowan – Earthquake Commission executive, Helen Anderson – director of Dairy NZ, Niwa and Branz, Murray Sherwin – chairman of the Productivity Commission.

Now sure, global security risks threaten business and pose an economic risk. If three of the appointments were held by business people with strong strategic thinking, fair enough.

But where are the academic experts who spend their whole working lives researching global security?  Global security is incredibly complex because of the range of players (individuals,groups, governments, corporations); new and evolving technologies; the potential impact of threats (economic, but also to human life, to the environment, to our food security); and the potential impact of any counter-measures (i.e. escalation).

At the very least, it should include thinkers like Associate Professor Dr. David Capie, from the Centre for Strategic Studies at Victoria University, whose research area is conflict and security in the Asia-Pacific region.

The irony for me is that ‘free thinking’ is precisely the role the university is meant to have in society, to act as social conscience because of their ability to be removed from government or business interests. At the same time as Key’s government is following a marketplace agenda with our tertiary institutions that is decimating education, this advisory group shows the need for ‘free thinkers’.

Red Post-Election Blues.

There was a kind of depressed lull after the Sept 20 election, none of us on the left had much to say. I was overtaken with post-election blues; a kind of energy-sapping disappointment, frustration and despair. One of my friends posted a fb note saying that he was still processing, so could we please not talk to him about the election. I got together with a group of friends that week to provide mutual solace, and ended up kissing an environmental activist who walked me to my bus-stop. So clearly, there are always silver linings.

But overall I’ve felt that there is more to say –

We are facing an emerging picture of the impact a third National term will have. John Key has come out backing the so-called ‘child poverty’ advice of the Ministry of Social Development, even though MSD officials disregarded the main recommendations of the report. Ignoring research-based findings in favour of right-wing discourse smacks of arrogance, but clearly Key’s government feel they have a clear mandate from the election to keep rolling out quasi austerity policies.

I’ve felt disappointed by the election summations of the left. Chris Trotter gnashed his teeth about the gender quota issue in the Labour party, complaining that less than 1/5 New Zealand men gave their Party Vote to Labour. It’s interesting that even amongst the left, scapegoating marginalised groups – like women – who are more exploited for their labour is an acceptable practice. The failure of New Zealand men to vote Left speaks to the uneven distribution of  emotional labour and nurturing in our culture (i.e. that women are more often responsible for children and elderly) not the failure of feminism. It means New Zealand men largely voted in their own self-interest, rather than voting for the good of dependents. It also reflects New Zealand men’s greater earning power.

Labour is facing a four-way Leadership race between Nanaia Mahuta, David Parker, Andrew Little and Grant Robertson. I’ve felt really irritated by social media calls for people to vote on merit rather than ‘special interests’ or ‘political correctness’. It’s just really embarrassing that left-wing commentators have such a poor understanding of how structural inequalities work. Even if you are a die-hard old-school Marxist who puts the exploitation of the worker at the centre of your analysis, you should know that capitalism effects different groups of people differently, i.e. some workers are more exploited and exploitable than others. Because of the impact of structural racism (in education and the justice system for example) Maori and Pasifika peoples are more vulnerable to exploitation as low-paid workers. Even without that level of analysis, Maori and Pasifika voters did turn out for Labour, and deserve party accountability. That’s not even going near the politics of indigeneity, and what I would want to say about colonisation and Te Tiriti. So pull your heads in.

So is there a better way to theorise National’s landslide win? What stands out to me is the level of saturation of neoliberal discourse after the previous two National terms, and in a global context of ongoing austerity measures. Chomksy’s recent comments about the business classes in America fighting a ‘class war’ to challenge opposition, and discussion of the decimation of the union movement, have made reflect me on the impact on growing income inequality in New Zealand.

What if the failure of Labour to secure voters was less about political claims-making along a mutable political spectrum, and more about the division of haves and have-nots without the buffering “middle-class” we’ve generally seen?  Marx argued that we act in our own self-interest. The interests of the wealthy elite is far removed from the social and economic needs of New Zealand’s working class; perhaps why Cunliffe’s gesture towards raising the minimum wage didn’t make a dent in political consciousness.

What does it mean if New Zealand’s political process has come to represent the interests of the business classes?  We are already in a global environment where corporations have more power than individual governments. The only solutions I can think of lie with mobilising globally across different disenfranchised groups (like the global poor), and directly challenging corporations instead of simply channelling our efforts through government.

I’m really interested in hearing other people’s views on how we can create meaningful social change. Do we need to get radical?