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?

Tulia

 

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.

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?

Rape Complaints and Dating Apps: Time to Talk to the Boys

Three New Zealand women have reported being raped after meeting with men via the dating app Tinder (See NZ Herald article by Anna Leask). The Herald article quotes a warning from Detective Sergeant James Watson, Head of the Adult Sexual Assault Team, about in-person meet-ups with people you meet on-line:

“Women need to be very aware of who they are meeting when they are alone and without their friends.”

Really? Huh. I’m fairly sure Detective Sergeant Watson has just described the plot of every b-grade horror flick since the 1980’s. It’s roughly the plot of Little Red Riding Hood. Girl, be aware! Don’t go alone! You may have guessed I have some problems with this advice.

Why didn’t Detective Sergeant Watson have a warning for men who use dating apps like Tinder? You know, like don’t rape! Or even, men need to be very aware when using Tinder that sexual coercion is a crime. Sexual contact that is non-consensual is rape, regardless of whether the woman has agreed to meet with you. The Police’s safety message to women reflects a culture where we are still loading women with the responsibility to avoid rape, instead of telling boys and men not to rape.

Sociologist Jaclyn Friedman has argued that these kinds of messages are linked to our understanding of women as ‘sexual gatekeepers’. That is, we portray men as having sexual desire (which is difficult to control), while women are held responsible for whether or not sex happens. In 2011, Constable Michael Sanguinetti, a Toronto Police officer, said “women should avoid dressing like sluts” to avoid unwanted sexual attention. This comment was what motivated the transnational movement ‘Slut Walk’, which protests against blaming rape victims, particularly excusing rape because of women’s clothing.

After the ‘Roast Busters’ saga last year, there is no doubt of the prevalence of rape culture, or that new social media has produced different possibilities for sexual violence. The prevalence of smart phones amongst young people simply means that of course loads of young women are going to meet people via dating apps or social networking. Telling girls not to go alone on dates seems pretty unhelpful, because it goes against the social logic of what a date is, i.e. an opportunity to get to know someone with the prospect of developing romantic feelings. This means by default that you aren’t going to know the person well, and that you are going to be alone.

Stopping rape means changing the context of heterosexual intimacy where men often engage in non-consensual sex with women they are dating, as social psychologist Nicky Gavey points out in her book ‘Just Sex: The Sexual Scaffolding of Rape’. Preventing rape means changing the ideas that boys and men have about themselves ( e.g. that they are entitled, that everyone else is getting it, that they are powerful or that they should be, that horniness is uncontrollable), and the ideas that they have about girls and women (e.g. that we are inferior or weaker, that our thoughts and feelings matter less, that our bodies are for their viewing pleasure). They need to know that a date does not mean she owes you.

It is already difficult for young women to come forward to police, and make complaints about sexual violence. The message the police should be giving women is that unwanted or coerced sex is never acceptable, and that if this occurs, they can talk to the police and be treated with respect and understanding.

Dear Lesbian

Dear Generic Lesbian,  Standing-in-for-all-lesbians Lesbian, Capital “L” Lesbian, Lesbian Captain Sir,

as a bisexual/ femme/ queer woman

via Facebook when I stumble across lesbian sites and lesbian events like http://www.lowdown.org.nz that extend an invitation to me as an afterthought “lesbians and their friends (of both genders)…” (and believe me this is not a new phenomenon)

I wonder if you have noticed that I have been out as long as you, marched on the same parades as you, danced at the same parties,  and fought the same fights. We have been lovers for a long time now, long-term friends, and once I even married you. There is no running away from this.

When I am invited, but the event or site is not “for me”, it is not “us”, I know that you do not see me as equal to you. A lover certainly. Perhaps even a partner. But not some-one that you need to recognise or give space too. Not “one of the team” in the same way you see your butch mates. That you see me as circumspect, able to slip away, able to “pass”, not someone who is worth investing in.

I am angry and I am over being polite. I have spent 20 years speaking queer politics out loud. I am femme and feminist and I have done my own work and I am not going to carry your butch insecurities for you.

So let’s get real clear about where this lies:

1.The fact that you forget me because I am not “the same” as you makes you the worst kind of lazy, egotistical lover.

2. The fact that I lose queer credibility because you are afraid that I might leave you for a man  is outdated, possessive and misogynist. We do not own our lovers. Who else I love is nobody’s business but my own.

3. If your sense of butchness/ masculinity is not enough for you regardless of who else I love or have loved, then that is your problem. And also the problem with butchness/ masculinity.

I respect and value myself enough not to invest in intimate relationships with people I can’t trust. That goes for political alliances too.  Until you can treat me as an equal, not as second-best, you can go your way and I will go mine.

4 Ways To Really Push Back Against Your Privilege

Mia McKenzie is a fab QPOC writer, but her post on “4 Ways to Push Back Against Your Privilege” totally irked me. The premise was great. She explains that privileged folks sometimes get as far as acknowledging their own privilege, but then think that is all they need to do. What was more difficult for me was that the strategies she outlines are very self-focused, they focus on reducing your privilege as if it is a private stash of social capital, instead of actually dismantling the structural systems of oppression we actually need to dismantle in order for things to change. The problem with seeing your own privilege as a guilty stash of opportunities that just need to turned down is that a whole lot of well-meaning, academically-educated, left leaning folk can do exactly that and the only tangible effect will be that they feel less guilty. The systems that bring about structural inequalities will still be in place. So here is my poor Pacific queer woman version of how you can really push back against your privilege.

1. Fight The Power

McKenzie’s first method to push back against privilege is to “Relinquish Power”, which on the surface seems quite good. I’m all for white, able-bodied, straight, cis-people thinking about the ways that the social ease they are given produces rewards they don’t really deserve, and then figuring out ways to redistribute them. My problem with McKenzie’s explanation is that it shifts privilege too simply into something which can be given up by an individual. She gives an example of a white manager “pushing back” by taking on the opinions of her POC workers. My problem with this is that even when white managers take on the opinions of POC workers, the structural inequalities that so often hierarchically position white workers above POC workers are intact. There is no real challenge to structural racism, or to global capitalism as a system that produces racialized hierarchies. If you really want to push back, you can’t just turn down the advantages that forms of privilege give you and think that you are doing enough. Why? Because structural inequalities (via gender, race, class, ability, sexuality or gender identity) reproduce forms of violence and harm for some at the same time as they reproduce privilege for others. The real issue is recognizing that when you are being privileged someone else is being harmed. And even when you are privileged by a system, that doesn’t mean you are the only winner. Class privileges middle-class, first world kids, but the real winner is capitalism. You can turn down your labelled clothing or your entry ticket to a top-notch university, but unless you are doing more to protest against multinational corporations, trade deals, the pervasive spread of neoliberalism or poverty, you are still part of reproducing the status quo.

2. Speak Out.

McKenzie’s second point is that when you have access to something that others do not, just don’t go. She gives the examples of not going to an event which isn’t wheel-chair accessible when you are able-bodied, or to a woman’s event that excludes transwomen. She’s pointing out that privileged people need to sacrifice things that they are used to being given automatically. And this is a fair call. But really, it’s not going to undermine privilege in any way because privilege is often institutionalised, and reproduced through long histories of exclusion. And while you might have the luxury of not going and therefore feeling good about your cis-privileged and able-bodied self, people who are marginalized don’t have the same opportunities to be heard. So instead, complain loudly to everyone who will listen about how such-and-such event is unjust. If an event you are interested in doesn’t have disability access, email the organisers and complain. Don’t just leave it to people with disabilities to have to fight for their own right to be included. Exclusion is about everyone.

3. Name it and Figure out how to Change it. Dialogue.

Okay, so this is really reiterating the last points. McKenzie suggests that people with privilege “Shut up” in those spaces where their privileged voices carry more weight. And I think that’s a great start. But so often what I find really challenging is when power dynamics are at play and one person or groups systematic advantage is not named. It’s not enough to be quiet. Here’s why. The way I’ve really witnessed male privilege being reproduced is when “nice, average guys” stay quiet and don’t name the way sexism or misogyny is playing out. Staying quiet can work covertly with the way privilege is made invisible. Recently in Aotearoa, there has been a lot of ongoing public dialogue about rape culture. It’s frustrating to me that women have been having to bear the brunt of this by talking out about our experiences of rape culture as survivors, while men have stayed relatively silent about the impact of rape discourses on their own actions.

4. Be careful about what ideas and structures you reproduce.

McKenzie’s final point is to “Be careful what identities you claim”, arguing that you shouldn’t claim a marginalized identity if you don’t have a marginalized experience. She uses this unjustly to challenge “white-presenting” POC who apparently:

” claim POC but by their own admission don’t experience oppression based on race”

This statement is scary enough to me that I’m considering writing a whole blog-post about oppression and being a fairly pale POC (admittedly as a Pacific woman in Aotearoa we are discussing very different contexts), but what I want to focus on here is the way that making sense of racial or ethnic identity as solely based on skin-color buys into the system of imperialism, colonization and racism that we are trying to undo. Like McKenzie, I think attending to marginalized experience is really important. But sometimes even in well-meaning activist talk, categories of people get reproduced in very binary, rigid and stereotypical ways. We need to be careful that we are not reproducing violence through perpetuating a system of meaning that was created by the oppressors. I get really frustrated with how well-meaning Pakeha (white New Zealanders) sometimes talk about the negative social indicators connected to “Pacific peoples” in ways that seem to reinforce messages of social futility. Likewise when middle-class people talk about people living with poverty, or when straight cis-privileged people talk about diverse gender expression in ways that naturalize heteropatriarchy. For example, it’s not ” respecting gender diversity” to give a masculine-identified trans-kid a toy gun. It’s reinforcing the heteropatriarchal ideas that masculinity is about the ability to use violence, and that force is a valid way to solve conflict.

Finally, challenging oppressive structures takes a lot of hard work over time, often for small gains. So often what we really need to do is to build a critical counter-public, and it’s hard to know how to work together. I’d love to get some feedback about these ideas and how to practically challenge privilege and the systems that produce them.