Monday, December 20, 2010

More on the "unfortunate experiment"

The second 2010 issue (Volume 24, Issue 2) of the Women's Studies Journal is now available. It's free online here. (Click on "Current Issue".)

This issue focuses on the "unfortunate experiment", the Cartwright Inquiry and cervical cancer.
Contents include:
  • Anne Else, "The 'unfortunate experiment' and the Cartwright Inquiry, twenty years on: why getting it right matters"
  • Phillida Bunkle, "Patient centred ethics, the Cartwright Inquiry and feminism: Identifying the central fallacy in Linda Bryder, A History of the ‘Unfortunate Experiment’ at National Women’s Hospital"
  • Christy Parker, One for the girls?: Cervical cancer prevention and the introduction of the HPV vaccine in Aotearoa New Zealand"
  • Rhonda Shaw and Christine Donovan, "Cultural safety: Nurses’ accounts of negotiating the order of things"
 There's also an editorial by Sue Jackson and Ann Weatherall, articles on autism and on older women managing their resources, and reviews of new books on sex work and on Amy Bock.

[Cross-posted to The Hand Mirror]

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Human rights - how we're doing

Friday 10 December was International Human Rights Day. The Human Rights Commission chose it to launch their new report on how New Zealand is doing on human rights.  But so far the media have paid it scant attention - the Dom-Post had a small report on page 13 this morning. Which was odd, because at least half of the other items in the paper were related in some way to human rights issues.
               The summary report highlights thirty priority areas (from over a hundred identified by the research and public consultation process) where "further action is essential over the next five years to strengthen human rights protections and better ensure the dignity, equality and security of everyone in New Zealand".
                Three of these priorities are particularly relevant - and poignant - at this time of year: increasing the supply and diversity of social housing, reducing child poverty through a coordinated and integrated approach, and reviewing and addressing the adequacy of core benefit rates.
                The Welfare Working Group is right about one thing - life on a benefit is pretty grim. But that's mainly because benefit rates are so low. It's a neatly circular argument - drive benefits down to less than adequate leevls for even the most basic living costs, then stand back, point to the resulting misery, and say "See? Being on a benefit is bad for you."
                 Until the Human Rights Commission's report is heeded, Christmas will bring nothing but heartache for beneficiary parents and children, as well as a growing number of employed parents. Foodbanks all over the country are reporting a big surge in requests for help.
                  In Whangarei the Salvation Army gave out 3746 parcels in 2009. But by the end October 2010, 5961 parcels had been given out - and that doesn't cover the Christmas increase. The Auckland City Mission usually gives out 350 food parcels a month, but over the Christmas holidays it goes up to 2000. "It’s always busier at Christmas," says City Missioner Diane Robertson. "There’s no access to school food programmes and parents have to juggle work commitments with caring for children at home for the holidays. The pressure on families is enormous."
                   To donate food in Auckland, phone (09) 303 9200 or go to   In Wellington you can help through the Downtown Community Ministry, Compassion House, Lukes Lane, phone (04) 384 7699, or email  Many supermarkets collect food too.
                   And read the Commission's report - then ask the government what they're going to do about it.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Bad Sex Award

Thanks to the indefatigable Beattie's Book Blog, we have been alerted to this year's Bad Sex Award, which celebrates "crude or outlandish sexual passages in modern literature".

The winner is Irish author Rowan Somerville, for his second novel, The Shape of Her. The judges said they were particularly taken with Somerville’s sentence: “Like a lepidopterist mounting a tough-skinned insect with a too blunt pin he screwed himself into her.”

Somerville narrowly beat Alistair Campbell, Tony Blair's former spin doctor. The judges said Campbell drew their attention with this remarkable passage from his second novel, in which a character imagines that "the walls were going to fall down as we stroked and screamed our way through hours of pleasure to the union for which my whole life had been a preparation".

Sunday, November 28, 2010


We all understand the tragedy of others through our own experience. For me, the ones I thought about most at Pike River were Joseph Dunbar and his mother, Pip Timms.
       Joseph had turned seventeen the day before and Friday the 19th was his first day in the job. He was meant to start on the following Monday, but his mother said he was so excited after an on-site tour that his boss let him start on Friday. He began planning to work at the mine since they’d moved to the nearby Greymouth area from Christchurch.
      “He wanted to do this for a very long time...He set himself a goal, and achieving that goal meant everything to him. It meant he was going to travel with the company, take him different places. He was absolutely stoked. He was excited, he was ecstatic.”
        Dear Pip, I know what it's like and I am so very sorry, for you and for all the other mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, partners and children.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Mangled English of the week

This week's Mangled English award goes to an unlikely candidate - Scoop. Usually the online news site sets a very good example of how not to mangle the English language, but this week it slipped up not once, but several times, in a single intro sentence:

"In an event whose anachronistic styling were suggestive of a possible Back To The Futre IV, the new Milky Bar Kid, Hinetaapora Short, met the media on Friday in front to the Wellington waterfront's shiny blobs."

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

A garden is a lovesome thing

I've just had a brilliantly restorative break in Tauranga, seeing my birth mother and going to the garden festival with my friend Julie, who organised everything and drove me and some of her other friends around all weekend. She did the whole four days, I just did two and a half, but it was glorious. I'm only a very spasmodic and inept gardener - unlike Harvey and Julie, I don't have the true gardening gene. I'm one of those people Kipling was being scornful about when he wrote, in The Glory of the Garden:

Our England is a garden, and such gardens are not made
By singing:--"Oh, how beautiful!" and sitting in the shade.

But I am certainly very good at appreciating other people's efforts, and the Bay of Plenty gardens are as beautiful as they come. Here are a few photos.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

And another thank you...

This time to Emma Woods, the mother of Nayan Woods (see "Thank you", 27 October, which was about Nayan's father). She took Michael Laws to task for his vengeful (even-more-stupid-than-usual) comments about the young driver who killed Nayan not getting a jail sentence - and gently but firmly pointed out that earlier media reports, too, were far too glib and inaccurate.
              And she did it at some length, in one of the most gracious, thoughtful, temperate, considered pieces of writing ever to appear in the Sunday Star-Times ("Family's amazing grace honours son's memory"). It made me cry, but it also gave me great hope for this country's future, because it has people like Emma Woods and her husband not only in it, but speaking out in public, despite their own immense grief and pain, to state what they believe in and stand up for it. There could be no more fitting way to honour their son.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Mangled English of the week

U.S novelist Toni Morrison smiles after being awarded of the Legion of Honor by French Culture Minister Frederic Mitterrand. (ABC News, courtesy of Beattie's Book Blog)

Outrageously Fortunate

So the last episode of Outrageous Fortune is screening on Tuesday. I'll have to watch - though I must admit, after being glued to the first two seasons (brilliant writing and acting) I sort of lost interest after that - it all got a bit same-old - and have only watched the odd episode. It all just got a bit too depressing. And of course once Cheryl was locked away it definitely suffered.
           Seeing the photo line-up of all the characters in today's Dom-Post, I couldn't help thinking that they all looked ridiculously good considering what the plot has put them through. Even Grandpa. He never really  had dementia, he can still plan a heist and get his rocks off and just plain get around like he always did. Ageing gives you wrinkles but not much else.
        In a real life line-up, those pretty or at the very least intact faces and bodies would be exceedingly rare. The ravages of alcohol, drugs, trauma and violence would be all too clear, with a fair proportion of permanent injuries and disabilities, brain damage, scars of various kinds... depression, anxiety, and aggression might not be so easy to spot at a glance but they'd be there all the same. Not nearly so nice to look at.
        Yes, yes, I know it's just a TV programme, and it's meant to be entertaining, and I'm not channelling George W. Bush or Patricia Bartlett or the very unfortunately named and thankfully defunct Committee On Moral Education. I enjoyed it too - especially Loretta. And Antony Starr's double Van/Jethro act was brilliant.
        But I think it's been a good home-grown example - and all the more effective for that - of something  we could usefully think about, all the same. And that's the pervasive message, very powerfully countering the mayhem we see in the news every day, that you can do what you like when you like to and with whomever you like and you will still stay young, fit and gorgeous. Or at least unimpaired in any obvious way. Sure, Aurora died and Cheryl is in prison, but generally speaking there will be No Lasting Consequences. Especially to your looks and your sex-life.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Made in Dagenham

Today I saw Made in Dagenham, a film about the 1968 strike by 187 car-seat women machinists at the Ford plant outside London, which led ultimately to the British government passing the equal pay law. I've just been trawling through the British reviews. All of them by men, they range from condescending to sneering, with lots of nudge-nudge references to that hoary British sit-com, The Rag Trade, as well as to director Nigel Cole's previous hit, Calendar Girls.

I think you should see Made in Dagenham, and take your daughters and grand-daughters. First, it captures brilliantly the pervasive, blatant, smug, completely taken-for-granted sexism underpinning those far from distant days. The two things the men who ran the unions and the companies could agree on was the male right to be paid more than women, and be fully serviced by women at home.

The women working at Ford were probably better paid than most women factory hands, but they still earned less than the men and worked in a leaky, run-down, hot building (so hot, according to the film, they commonly took their tops off and worked in their bras). The strike began when Ford reclassified their work as unskilled, meaning, of course, less pay (though the actual details of their hours, rates, etc are far too tedious to be covered on film).

Despite union leaders' attempts to get them to back off and behave, they instead upped the ante, demanding equal pay with men. The women won the support of the union members, the Labour Government's Barbara Castle met the strike leaders, and after a partial victory for these women, two years later Britain passed a law bringing in equal pay - though still, of course, only for "equal work".

All this has been turned into a great story which will have huge popular appeal. The script, by Billy Ivory, never once made me cringe - except maybe when Barbara and Rita swap clothes chat just before their big moment with the press. It shows what the women are up against, at home as well as at work. Their uncomprehending menfolk are staunch unionists until it comes to being laid off when the lack of car-seats brings the plant to a standstill  - and then having to get their own dinners and mind their own kids, because their wives are off demonstrating and negotiating.

The film has understandably collapsed the group of women who led the strike into one, the young, attractive Rita O'Grady, played by Sally Hawkins (who starred in Ken Loach's Happy-Go-Lucky). There has to be, I suppose, one heroine, even though that wasn't how it happened.

One other thing brought home to me how much liberty most historical films take. At the end, as the credits roll, there are side-clips of the actual women involved talking about the strike - they must have been interviewed by the makers, I wish we could have a documentary as well. There's also archival news footage of them in 1968, with Barbara Castle.

The factory women look absolutely nothing like the mini-skirted, mostly young, often busty and peroxided, swinging sixties women in the film. They're a bunch of extremely respectable-looking, often middle-aged women with perms and neat cardies. They reminded me more of the women in Mike Leigh's Vera Drake. Now there was one film that really did manage to look like the times it was recreating on screen, and very grim it was too.

Still, it's much better to have this film than none, and I'm sure it will draw far bigger audiences than Vera Drake, precisely because it's a lot more entertaining to watch. Unlike most of the overseas reviewers, Charlie Gates of The Press, Christchurch, understands what it's doing:

"When was the last time you saw a film with a strong female protagonist? A proper film that wasn’t about shopping, getting a man, climbing the corporate ladder or all three. Made in Dagenham is one of these rarities and it is a pleasure to watch...Made in Dagenham is full of warmth, humanity, humour and genuine drama...It keeps a perfect balance between the intimate and the turbulent sweep of history."

Even more unusual, Gates actually checked out how true-to-life the film was.  "My partner's Nan, Flo Patston, lived near the Dagenham plant during the strike and her husband, Johnny, worked at the plant in the 1960s. I knew Flo had already seen the film, so I called her in England to see what she thought. She said it was a 'brilliant film' and gave it 'four stars and more'."

And Flo also said all the strong language the women go in for was perfectly genuine: "That’s what you heard on the factory floor. That’s how working class people spoke."

Four stars to you, too, Charlie, for your fine review. Go and see this film for yourself.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Thank you

It was heartwarming to read the comments on my last post about Patrick, and also to hear from other friends who've contacted me about it. Homepaddock, I'm so sorry you too belong to this "club no one wants to join" - exactly.

Tonight the news featured the father of the young child killed by a young man's poor driving. I'm putting it that way because of course he never meant to swerve onto the pavement, he wasn't going particularly fast, and he immediately did everything he could to help. He was so devastated that he had tried to commit suicide.

The father didn't want him to go to prison, and said everything he could to support him. Such a change from the "lock 'em up and throw away the key" stance, which would have been perfectly understandable in the circumstances.

I read recently (sorry, I can't recall where) that two-thirds of those in prison are in for less than a year. This means they have no access to most of the programmes on offer. What on earth is the point, then? Especially as those we (the respectable ones, that is) lock up are highly likely to be illiterate and/or deaf and/or abused and/or mentally ill and/or addicted. Whereas the smooth white collar ones rarely go to prison, even though it can reasonably be argued that they have had infinitely more chances in life and have still chosen to rip people off, so they actually deserve more severe punishment.

So I'd like to say thank you to that bereaved father, too, for showing such courage, generosity and kindness, and wanting the young man to be all he could be, since the little boy couldn't.

Friday, October 22, 2010


Today it's 23 years since my younger son, Patrick, died in an accident in Sydney. He was eighteen and a half. I'm writing this post today for every parent who has lost a child, and particularly for those whose child was, like Patrick, just on the verge of adulthood. How would his life have turned out? Would he have been happy? Would he have had children? I think he would have been a good father - he could see and understand how people were feeling. But all that is lost now, to him and also to us. Haere atu, e tama, haere ki te huinga o te kahurangi, haere, haere, haere.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Wolf Hall

I've finally managed to start reading Wolf Hall, by Hilary Mantel (winner of the Man Booker prize in 2009). I am overcome by admiration of her power as a writer. Historical novels are very difficult to do successfully. Usually they fall into the trap of letting the research show; just a little too much detail, on pretty much anything - furniture, clothing, food - is enough to give the game away. But not here. Her style seems astonishingly plain and direct, yet is full of complexity - very like her central figure (as she imagines him), Thomas Cromwell, as he skilfully negotiates the shifting, deadly tides of Henry  VIII's court while the king tries to rid himself of Katharine and marry Anne. None of the film or TV sagas based on that perennially fascinating era can hold a candle to this brilliant book. But it does, of course, demand commitment and concentration of a kind that may be threatened by the very different reading environment of the internet. I don't want to live in a world where books like this are no longer written, or scarcely read. Still, right now they continue to be acclaimed.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Bill Clinton and I

Bill Clinton and I are alike in one curious respect. We both have an annoying condition called rosacea. The name gives an idea of what it is - reddening of the skin on your face. It's also known by the appallingly inelegant, insensitive name of "muzzle rash". I bet the medical man who thought that one up didn't have it himself, and I doubt that his wife had it either.
          There's no cure, but you can treat it very effectively with a gel called Rosex. I'm mentioning this because it's quite a common condition in middle age, and I've had friends with it whose doctors hadn't told them about Rosex, so they were really pleased to find out about it. I think you need a prescription, but I'm not sure. In any case it's one of the things that isn't subsidised, unfortunately, so you have to pay for it yourself. But it does make a big difference.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Good news/bad news

The good news is that so many young women (well, younger than me) are standing up for a woman's right to choose. This photo of the pro-choice demo outside Parliament on Tuesday appeared in the Dominion Post on Wednesday with good pro-choice quotes.

The bad news is that these women are still having to protest a 30-year-old law which does not give women the right to choose, was ludicrous when it first appeared and is even more ludicrous now.

For an excellent round-up of recent reports and comment on the current court hearings, including the Dom-Post, go here. And Boganette has a brilliant post replying to a friend who asked her how she could be "pro-abortion".

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Hand Mirror Post - should this woman have gone to prison?

Over on The Hand Mirror I've posted about the case of the mother who let her child drown in the bath, and was this week sentenced to prison. It's been troubling me all week. Have a look and let me know what you think.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

It's not just us - the death of English

For some time my morning reading of the Dom-Post has been punctuated by yells of anguish and shrieks of disbelief. What terrible calamity or new political idiocy is provoking these noisy outbursts? None. I'm reacting to the extraordinary abuse of the English language I see in its pages every day (and hear on TV).
          Now I learn, via the invaluable Beattie's Book Blog, that this plague has spread throughout the US press. In the Washington Post, Gene Weingarten mourns the death of English. To his all too familiar examples, found in papers large and small all over the country - alot, mispronounciation, eeking out a living, prostrate cancer, between you and I - I can add many, many more: less people/games/cars, Porirua being "more dear" than Wellington in terms of house prices, endless mismatchings of plural subjects with singular verbs and vice versa, the use of "of" to replace a wide range of prepositions (confused of, bored of, concerned of)... Tragic. I know that's the word many people would use to describe the fact that I even notice such things, let alone care about them. But that is their problem.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Thanks for the congratulations, guys. Guys?

It was women's suffrage day today, marking the 117th anniversary of New Zealand women winning the vote and this country becoming the first nation state in the world where women could vote on an equal footing with men. But somehow the media failed to notice... You'd think someone might have gone to see how the Christchurch memorial to the suffragists had fared in the earthquake - maybe that did happen in Christchurch? Or maybe not. There was a TV news item about women in Afghanistan voting, but no segue there either. Anywhere else you would think this achievement merited some kind of official recognition, akin to Labour Day. But no. Oh, wait - I've just found a government press release, put out on 14 September...

When I searched the Te Ara online encyclopaedia site for "women's suffrage", and then tried every related term I could think of, the main entry failed to come up (though I'm sure it's there, somewhere). For some insights into what happened at the 100th anniversary, in 1993, have a look here.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Designer and other whores

In the Dominion Post's new "Your Weekend" tabloid lift-out on Satrday (11 September) there was an article about Fashion Week (which "turns 10 this month"). It quoted Petra Bagust saying (twice - once in the text and once in the caption) that she was a "self-confessed "designer whore'".
            Call me hopelessly old-fashioned and out of touch, but I was taken aback by this phrase. I hadn't seen it before. Apparently (so the Urban Designer site tells me) it means "a  person who only cares for/wears designer labels".
             Sure enough, a quick search revealed that Ms Bagust had  said much the same thing last year: "I'm a friend of New Zealand designers or a designer whore, depending on how you look at it, but I like to think of myself a friend."
             Why did I find this expression so startling? I'm not sure. To me a whore is someone who sells sex for money. It's also a term of abuse used by men - and sometimes other women - to put down women they disapprove of.
              I can see that it might be a good idea to reclaim this term (much as Mary Daly wanted us to reclaim words such as "crone") and thereby take away its power to condemn some women. Is that what's going on here? Somehow it doesn't feel like it. Instead it feels as if this is yet another example of attractive young women doing their utmost to prove they're so up with the play that they don't care what they call themselves (or wear on their T-shirts), as long as they give the impression that they're at the furthest possible remove from being a prude. And that's not exactly progress - is it? What do you think?

Thursday, September 9, 2010


Our niece Jenny is an engineering geologist (it gives me enormous pleasure to write that - in my day the number of women doing engineering was zero). She grew up in the South Island high country, then on a farm near Methven, and went to university in Christchurch. She's now working in London, having to watch news of the earthquake and its aftermath from afar. Today she did what she could by sending a graph of the aftershocks that a mate had put together for her. It shows them clearly tapering off. Harvey's blog today over on stoatspring is about the earthquake too.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Changing tack

There is, as yet, absolutely no shortage of topics for a feminist to write about. But thanks to the success of The Hand Mirror, the joint feminist blog I contribute to, I've been thinking lately that I might change tack on Elsewoman. What I'm thinking is that every time I post on The Hand Mirror, I'll either cross-post or put up an alert on Elsewoman (because I know there are quite a lot of people who look at this but aren't familiar with THM). I'd also like to use Elsewoman to write about my own writing, because I'm feeling the lack of anywhere to do that, and about other people's writing, as well as anything else I want to think out loud about that isn't going to work for THM. So I'll try that, and see how we go - I can always change again, that's the beauty of blogs, nothing is set in stone.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The state of NZ women: telling the truth

The Ministry of Women's Affairs has just put out for consultation its draft report to the UN Committee on the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).

If you belong to an organisation which has an interest in the status of women in New Zealand, you should comment on this draft. If your organisation has not received a draft for comment, please contact:
Judy Edwards or Nicole Benkert
Comments are due by 8 September.

It's extremely important that the government puts out an accurate report reflecting the true state of women in New Zealand and what has and has not been done over the last four years, in terms of what the Committee asked the government to do after the 2006 report. You can se what this was in the Committee's Concluding Comments, here.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

What the Welfare Working Group report really says

I've been away in Australia for most of this week. But before I went, I wrote a "Letter from Elsewhere" for Scoop about the report of the Welfare Working Group.  Did you know, for example, that the report takes care to quote New Zealand's largest provider of casual labour criticising the minimum wage, the absence of youth rates and the personal grievance procedures? Or that it repeats the statistic about 170,000 people of working age being on a benefit for five years or more no less than six times? Despite also noting, in passing, that New Zealand already has the highest rate of workforce participation in the OECD? You can read the whole piece here.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

On not protecting children

The reports on the appalling abuse of children at Waimokoia School made me feel sick. This didn't happen in the far-off, unenlightened past, it was all so relatively recent. The school had opened only in 1980, and stayed open until last year.
          This school was set up to deal with children as young as nine who were considered too difficult for ordinary schools to handle. Yet according to the report in the Sunday Star-Times, it had "employed people with little or no formal training, Many were hired from word of mouth or had inter-family connections to other staff."
          Graeme McCardle, the man just found guilty on 15 charges, had previously worked at two other homes for troubled children. He worked at Waimokoia for six years. It wasn't clear whether he had any formal training at all for this work. A female staff member testified at his trial about his indecent approaches to her.
           And he wasn't the only one. Another teacher at the school has since been struck off by the Teachers Council and jailed on multiple charges of indecent assault. Another staff member died before his trial could be completed, and one other was recently acquitted on 11 charges.
            The first complaint about McCardle was made in 1996, but nothing was done until a second complainant spoke up over ten years later. The school was closed last year.
             One of the worst things about this whole dreadful history is that it just isn't very surprising. There have been too many such revelations. As soon as you put children in an institution where they are completely under the control of those in charge, they become vulnerable to abuse of some kind - physical, sexual, psychological. The more cut off they are from their families (who may have already abused them at home), the more likely they are to suffer.
              As we all know, families can treat their kids really, really badly. They can even kill them. But taking the kids away completely seems to increase the risk of harm, not lower it. And when the victims do start speaking out, they still have huge difficulty being believed. Only when the number of complaints grows to a point where it can't be ignored does anything happen.
              As a society, we seem to be just as incapable of finding effective ways of protecting children from abuse as we are of protecting them from poverty.

Friday, July 23, 2010

A movie about adoption, sort of

Yesterday I saw "I'm glad my mother is alive" ("Je suis heureux que ma mère soit vivante") , a much-praised French film which centres on the aftermath of an adoption, and is apparently based on a real case. It starts with 12-year-old Thomas, on holiday with his family, askig his father if his mother - that is, his birth mother - was pretty. The story unfolds in a series of flashbacks: four-year-old Thomas's young and not very bright mother Julie, doing her not very good best, goes off to work of some unspecified kind at night, leaving him in charge of his toddler brother. They're found by the authorities and taken into care. Then adoption is suggested, and the mother agrees. But on her last visit, she can't bring herself to explain to them that they're getting new parents. Later we see Thomas with a story and photos headed "Ma Mere", but that's the only hint we get that there may have been some attempt to help him understand his past. At 12 he gets furious when his schoolmates tease him about the adoption and his mother, attacks his brother for telling them, and says awful things to his father about not being able to have kids. His parents don't seem to have the faintest clue about why he's acting like this; they just get mad and pack him off to boarding school. He runs away, manages to persuade a social worker to give him his mother's new married name and address, and turns up on her doorstep. Now married and pregnant, she doesn't recognise him. Devastated, he leaves, hating her. At 18 he's working as a mechanic and living with his adoptive mother and brother - his father has had a complete mental breakdown - and he decides to see Julie again. On her own now, with a little boy, she's willing to have him around, and he's useful with the boy. What follows is an extremely moving and convincing portrait of a confused young man who finds himself attracted to his mother (who is, after all, only 17 years older than him), wants to look after his little half-brother, and gets driven out of his mind by love-hate feelings he can't understand. One day he stabs her and thinks he's killed her. But as the title suggests, he hasn't, and there is a resolution of sorts at the end.

The adoptive parents seem to have had absolutely no warning or advice on what might happen and how to deal with it - hence their incomprehension, anger and ineptitude. Yes, I know it's a fictional story, but sadly, it's probably broadly accurate all the same. The older a child is when the adoption takes place - Thomas was five - the more likely it is that very serious issues will arise later. At least in this case the children shared their new parents' ethnicity, country and language.

Genetic sexual attraction between opposite-sex children and parents, or siblings, who meet each other again as sexually mature adults is a well-known phenomenon. Usually, as in the film, it's not acted on, but the feelings involved must be incredibly confusing and distressing.

What interests me here is the lack of understanding of these adoption issues shown by much of the publicity and responses. Thomas's reactions to his situation as he grows up seem to be viewed as really weird and extreme, and also as basically all Julie's fault for "abandoning" him.

In my view, the film handles all the complex currents involved with immense accuracy, skill and sensitivity, thanks to both the direction (Claude Miller and his son Nathan) and the stunning performances of both child and adult actors. The stabbing comes as a terrible shock, and was the only part I found hard to credit - but I assume it did happen in the real-life situation this is based on (I haven't been able to find out).

COMMENTS: Update: the deleted comments were Chinese spam. I'm now moderating all comments and this problem seems to have disappeared.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Seeing and looking on a sunny afternoon

It's been an absolutely gorgeous day in Wellington. I had to go into town this afternoon and finished with time to spare, so I went down to the waterfront. The harbour was calm enough to reflect the few white fluffy clouds -an astonishing rarity for Wellingtonians. I walked round to the coffee shop at the bottom of the Herd St building where you can sit looking out at the sea and the boats - on a good day it's the best spot in town - and had a magnificent mochaccino, large, hot, strong and cheap.

Then I made a bad mistake. If there's print around I read it, so I picked up a fashion mag, the Australian Madison, and started leafing through it. It had a photo shoot featuring one of the thinnest, scrawniest, most appallingly anorexic models I've ever seen. I got out a pen and wrote "Anorexia rules" up the length of her white satin trousers. I should have just sat there, enjoyed my coffee and gazed at the harbour instead.

I had time to walk round to Te Papa to see "Paperskin: the art of tapa cloth", drawn from the collections of the Queensland Art Gallery, the Queensland Museum, Te Papa, and a private collector. It's magnificent, and it's free - please go if you can.

But while you're there, please keep in mind one thing that goes almost unremarked and definitely unexplored in the exhibition as it's presented to the public: these amazing designs and beautiful textiles were mainly made by women, often working in highly organised groups. Here and there the makers are mentioned, in connection with particular pieces, but that's all.

There's a video of a cloth being made by women in the Eyelights gallery, which has more pieces on display, including some contemporary ones (a wonderful wedding dress, for example) that do have their maker's names attached. But generally there seems to be no real attempt to explore the highly gendered making of these beautiful creations.

Exploring further after I got home, I found the on-line catalogue for the exhibition. (If you can't go you can look at the barkcloth here - the pieces are superbly photographed.) The various essays in it say some very interesting things which there is barely a hint of in the exhibition itself.

The Preface by Nicholas Thomas, Director of the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology and Professor of Historical Anthropology, Cambridge University, makes the point that barkcloth has only recently been seriously studied, and explains why: it was made by women, and it was seen as merely decorative. In other words, he is saying that part of the point of this ground-breaking exhibition is its recognition of a neglected art form created mainly (and in many Pacific cultures, solely) by women. All the more reason, surely, to bring this out in the exhibition itself.

The essay by Maud Page, Curator, Contemporary Pacific Art at the Queensland Art Gallery, gave me part of what I was looking for too. Copyright rules forbid me from quoting it here, so I've simply linked to it. She writes about how groups of women in Papua New Guinea see their work, what it means to them, and the freedom different makers have to interpret the same landscape differently. She quotes Australian writer Drusilla Modjeska, who spent time with these artists: "When a woman comes into her vai hero (wisdom), it is not simply that she has learned the iconography, but that she lives it so fully that it forms, and informs, her relationship with the cloth."* And she discusses how groups of women far from home, for example Tongan women in Sydney, lacking traditional materials, feel compelled to get together in order to carry on making a form of cloth with whatever is to hand.

There seemed to be enough room on the walls of the large Visa Gallery to have got across some of these insights. Without them, the makers seem to be largely invisible.

*Drusilla Modjeska, ‘This place, our art’, in Omie: The Barkcloth Art of Omie, [exhibition catalogue], Annandale Galleries, Sydney, 2006, p.16.


Monday, July 12, 2010

Talking sense about Andy Haden

I should be writing about Andy Haden's stated views on women, sportsmen, sex and rape, and the various reactions to them. But I started reading some comments, e.g. on the Herald site, and became so depressed by the initial flood of mindless idiots praising Haden for "speaking his mind" and "telling it like it is" that I just couldn't find the right words. So instead I'd like to point you to some other excellent posts discussing this issue.

Russell Brown dissects not only Haden's comments, but McCully's reactions to them.

Steph at LadyNews takes apart Kerre Woodham's column taking pretty much the same stance as Haden; earlier posts look at what Haden said, what Charlotte Dawson said, what Key said... isn't it a shame that we can never get this level of media attention for the issue of rape itself?

As always, The Hand Mirror tells it like it is, gets a lot of Herald-type idiots coming out of the woodwork to comment, and deals with them.

And this Herald report contains some extremely sensible comments from Louise Nicholas.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Thirsting for fame

The 2010 Bulwer-Lytton competition for the worst possible opening sentence for a novel has been won by this impressive entry, sent in by Seattle novelist Molly Ringle:

"For the first month of Ricardo and Felicity's affair, they greeted one another at every stolen rendezvous with a kiss--a lengthy, ravenous kiss, Ricardo lapping and sucking at Felicity's mouth as if she were a giant cage-mounted water bottle and he were the world's thirstiest gerbil."

You can read every category winner - Western, romance, science fiction, and so on -  here.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

The Mad Men strike again - don't fall for it

As a child of the 1950s, I was fascinated by advertising. My favourites were the ones using cartoon strips. Who could forget the gripping, full-page Horlicks cartoon story? The worried wife confiding in her best friend about her husband's lack of energy. The kind friend diagnosing the problem as Night Starvation. The solution: a mug of Horlicks at bedtime. The result: a reinvigorated husband, no longer suffering from Night Starvation, and a very happy wife.

But in those days I read the story for its own sake. I was only seven, so I didn't have a husband and I wasn't responsible for feeding anyone. What I liked was the pictures: when I grew up I wanted to be a commercial illustrator.

Advertising has come a long way since then. The brilliant TV series Mad Men captures the beginnings of today's incredible sophistication and subterfuge. You've probably seen, for example, ads for Dove "beauty" products on our TV screens, based around the notion of "real women". But in the US, Dove's marketeers have gone much, much further. They've created the "Dove Movement for Self-Esteem", whose website declares:

"Dove is committed to building positive self-esteem and inspiring all women and girls to reach their full potential- but we need your help. We're building a movement in which women everywhere have the tools to take action and inspire each other and the girls in their lives. It could be as simple as sending a word of encouragement to a girl in your life or supporting self-esteem education in your town. From mentoring the next generation to celebrating real beauty in ourselves and others, we can open a world of possibilities for women and girls everywhere. Will you join us?"

You're invited to sign up on-line and deliver a message: "What advice would you give to your 13 year old self? We'll collect these messages and deliver them to girls to build self-esteem in the next generation." But this message is optional. What they really want is your details so that they can "keep you updated about the Dove Movement actions, as well as product samples or special offers from Dove". You can opt out, but they'll still have your details and you won't hear about the Movement.

But wait, there's more.  A brilliant post by Claire on points out that Dove’s owner is Unilever, which markets a wide range of “beauty” brands in ways which run completely counter to any notion of female self-esteem. She includes video clips of ads for Unilever skin-whitening creams, weight-loss products and hair products which prey shamelessly on women's and girls' insecurities about their appearance, and one of the notorious “Axe” male deodorant ads showing hordes of extremely scantily clad women (they make the "Tui girls" look positively Puritan) pounding after a man using this stuff (running makes their breasts leap about), with the punchline "Use more, get more".

Real beauty? Real women? Building self-esteem? It's not a movement, it's an ad campaign. 

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Women's movement protests? No, we just imagined it

Unlike TVNZ, Prime is doing its best to give us something approaching a watchable, meaningful history of the first 50 years of TV in NZ. Last night it “did” protest, from the first tiny anti-nuclear movement events to the religious right’s objection to legislation on civil unions.

All the great waves of protest were there, from Vietnam to homosexual rights. Except one. You wouldn’t know that there had ever been a single women’s liberation protest event in this country, let alone a major movement creating headlines for a couple of decades.

No mass pro-choice or anti-choice protests. No beauty contest protests or Reclaim the Night marches. No street theatre. The very first public women’s movement event here to appear on TV was the Anzac Day protest in Albert Park, Auckland, to highlight women as victims of war. But no – none of it happened, apparently. Nor was a single women’s liberation veteran interviewed – though there are cerainly plenty of them around.

Of course, that movement wasn’t about really significant things, like shooting wars, or bombs, or rugby, or race. Or even male sexuality. It was simply about the profoundly unequal conditions in which half the population lived, and the women who wanted to change that. The protesters included girlfriends, wives, daughters, sisters, even mothers, of the men (save for a few independent pioneers like Merata Mita) who made the news and the TV programmes.

The protesting women may have made headlines at the time, but even if all those protests did happen, they just didn’t count, eh. Didn’t matter. There was no need to take any notice of them or the movement they sprang from for something major like a survey of TV coverage of protest over the last 50 years. Not when there were all those other really important protest movements to deal with.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

World Cup - It's not just a ball that gets kicked

When the telly is showing All White Winston Reid's last-minute goal against Slovakia for the 326th time, even though it didn't even win the match for NZ, it would be a good idea to have a look at this post about the marked increase in domestic violence during the World Cup. Here's part of it:

"England's Home Office has warned that during the 2006 World Cup, domestic violence increased by 25% on game days and 30% when England was eliminated from the competition. The problem is troubling enough that the Association of Chief Police Officers, with the hopes of discouraging incidents, has created a video showing a drunk man hitting his wife after England has presumably lost a game. The ACPO has also been using a blood-stained soccer jersey labeled "Strikeher" to encourage women to report attacks.

Meanwhile, a professor at the University of Royal Holloway London is urging women to have a plan in place in case their partner becomes violent during the World Cup. She tells women to let their children sleep somewhere else, to know where their car keys are, to have the cell phone ready to call police."

This is probably not a news item coming soon to a screen near you. But the organisers of the Rugby World Cup should take note and work out how they plan to "discourage incidents" here too. I suppose it would be seen as outrageous to urge that a portion of all ticket sales be given to Women's Refuge.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Helping sole mothers find a husband

I'm watching the current "welfare" talkfests with little hope that they will point to any genuinely sensible, realistic, effective changes which will actually help people. Today the Dom-Post reported a fascinating Dutch innovation that I'm quite sure won't be followed here - though maybe it should be.

Three Dutch councils are offering single unemployed Dutch women (it doesn't say whether they have children) a fashion and beauty grant and free membership of a dating agency, "to get them off the dole by finding a solvent husband" - or a job.   The councils think that "finding love" will help to get people - men are eligible too, though obviously they think it will apply mainly to women - off benefits by "improving confidence, ambition and motivation". But after adverse publicity, the scheme's been put on hold.

In fact these councils are onto something. Every in-depth piece of research into DPB recipients shows that the main way to get off it is through repartnering. In other words, for women trying to raise kids on their own, the vast majority of them after a "separation" (as it's so neutrally called), it's much harder to find a sustainable job than it is to find a new man with a man's wage. Of course that "new man" often used to be attached to another woman with kids, who may well now be on the DPB herself, but that's life.

So now that sole mothers are being classed as virtually no different from any other unemployed person, the idea of helping them find a new male partner who will be able to support them is just plain common sense. It's a lot more realistic than expecting the right number of manageable, well-enough-paid jobs to appear out of nowhere in response to the kinds of blunt-instrument changes being talked about now, like cutting the DPB when the youngest child turns five.

And of course, if the new relationship breaks down, I guess the state would be perfectly within its rights to bill its "client" for the cost of her makeover. It can deduct this weekly from her new DPB.

Friday, May 28, 2010

A found poem about women and poverty

The new British government has put out a State of the Nation Report: Poverty, Worklessness and Welfare Dependency in the UK. Their statistics are not very different from ours. While it's a bit better than similar reports from our own governments, because it recognises the complexity of 'multiple disadvantage', it still fails completely to display any real understanding of what it's reporting on. Three things stand out.

First, there has been a massive rise in inequality and poverty over the last few decades. The bottom third of people on the wealth distribution range own just 3% of the wealth.

Secondly, as usual, there is a complete absence of any discussion about changes in the UK labour market and in the global economy over the last 30 years. All the emphasis is on 'people not working' and the enormous cost of keeping them and their children alive (though certainly not healthy and well) in the absence of work. One particularly nasty graph compares the cost of 'working-age benefits' to the amounts spent on schools, defence, justice, climate change...

Thirdly, it is clearly women and children who bear the brunt of poverty and "disadvantage". Here's a 'found poem' I put together, drawn from the report.

One in ten married parents and
one in three parents cohabiting at birth
separate before the child is five years old
Women are 40% more likely
to enter poverty if they divorce

Most at risk of multiple disadvantage:
lone parents, a young mother, a black mother
working-age women without dependent children
manual, sick and disabled, never married
aged 80 years and over, living alone

At the heart of this fight
against poverty must be work
I will work to deliver
radical reforms to the welfare system

The material used in this
publication is constituted from
50% post consumer waste
and 50% virgin fibre

[Corss-posted to The Hand Mirror]

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Is this what you voted for?

If you voted for National because you wanted tax cuts, you might be pleased with today's Budget - depending on what your income is. But you may be less pleased when the consequences take effect. You need to trawl carefully through the fine print, or pay heed to some of the more astute commentators, to understand what's really going on. A few pertinent points to add to the one I made in my last post about the shonky argument that big tax cuts at the top are necesary to draw skilled professionals back to NZ:

1. The Budget does in fact reduce the tax take - and therefore, of course, restricts the amount available for essential services such as health and education, in the face of an ageing population and growing healthcare needs resulting, for example, from child poverty and our obesogenic environment. Russell Brown points out that the cost of the tax cuts "will be $1.085b in the next four years". But the "magic money" argument is that "tax cuts will spur economic growth, and therefore the economy will grow faster, and so it'll be revenue positive by 2013/14."

2. This really is a winner take all Budget. Idiot Savant does the numbers. The tax cuts come to $3740 million. The 45% (yes, that's right - almost half) of NZers with incomes up to $20,000 get just $320m of this. The 31% earning between $20K and $50K get another $807m. The 12% earning 50K - $70K get another $987m. The rest goes to the 12% earning more than that. The top 2%, those earning over $150,000, "pocket $430 million, about 11.5% of the total. This is almost exactly the amount the government has to borrow to fund this package. The people of New Zealand will be saddled with further debt to pay for the greed of the few at the top."

3. The government has made various attempts to hide the full extent of their generosity to the best-off and their incredible meanness to the worst-off. Russell Brown skewers the ludicrous claim that "Two-thirds of the tax cut goes into reducing the bottom two brackets." Well, yes - but this just means that the best-off benefit from ALL the tax cuts. "Even very high income earners have a "first $14,000" of income" - and so on through all the brackets until the top one, which gets a whole 5% lopped off. "Which is why it's stupid to talk about low brackets, and you'd only do it if you were deliberately trying to mislead."

4. If you're well-off and avoid paying the top tax rate, you will be handsomely rewarded by a tax cut which lowers your tax to the rate you were already managing to keep it down to. And then you could well be further rewarded by another big cut to the company tax rate (to 28%), so you can probably work out new ways to avoid tax. But if you're on a really low wage, the hike to GST - which you can't avoid, because you spend all your money on the stuff you really need - will mean you end up, at best, no worse off. But hey, don't be jealous! Just remember what Gordon Campbell calls the PM's "breath-taking" justification: because the rich spend more, they'll be paying more GST than you. 

Monday, May 17, 2010

No, Prime Minister - Key talks nonsense on top tax rate

Today, ahead of the Budget, John Key told reporters that cuts to the top rate of personal income tax will be part of a deliberate effort to encourage high-earning, skilled New Zealanders to stay in the country.

"Challenged in his weekly post-Cabinet press conference on the fairness of cutting top personal tax rates, Key said New Zealand could not ignore that it had lost more of its skilled people offshore than any other country in the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development – a proxy for the developed world.
Those people included doctors, scientists, engineers, and entrepreneurs, as well as lawyers, accountants, and other skilled professionals.
“We need those people in our economy,” said Key. “Part of what you are going to see on Thursday is a deliberate attempt to get people to stay here and contribute to the economy.”

Skilled people are leaving NZ. We need these people. We are lowering the top tax rate. Therefore skilled people will stay in NZ.

Apparently not one of the well-informed reporters present challenged the completely shonky logic of this statement, so I'll have to do it for them.

Top tax rates in Australia are 40% over $80,000 and 45% over $180,000. In Britain they are 40% over 37,400 pounds and 50% over 150,000 pounds. In France the top rate is 50% and in Germany it's 45%. These rates do not include any mandatory social insurance contributions.

So it's quite clearly not a low top tax rate that is attracting skilled professionals overseas. Nor is it very likely that a low top tax rate will keep them in NZ. It's rather more likely that this latest boost to inequality and the increased social ills that come with it will push them away.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Mother's Day - yeah, right

With my son in China and Harvey out of action, I had no illusory expectations about Mother's Day. For various completely different reasons, I was feeling a bit down by the time I set off, mid-afternoon, for a walk to the supermarket. I imagined being the target of pitying looks: "Poor thing, shopping alone, no one to do things for her today..." I should have known that was rubbish. The shop was full of mothers with one, two or three young chidlren in tow, trying to get the shopping done. They can't all have had partners doing shift work. On the local tennis court, four men were playing doubles.
            Anyway, I bought myself two pink treats - smoked salmon and tinned guavas - and soon after I got home our lovely neighbour Jenn rang and said she was bringing some flowers over for me. So I invited her and Barry for a glass of wine, and we ate the smoked salmon with it, and I felt much better.

Among the sudden rash of Mother's Day items in the media, a few stood out. First, David Hill's very moving tribute to his mother in the Listener - all the more poignant because she worked in a tobacco factory (which gave its bonuses in cigarettes), and died of emphysema at 52.
             Then there was the report of a survey showing that women and men have completely different perceptions of how much each of them do around the house. Men think they carry responsibility for 4.7 chores a week compared with women's 5.4. But women reckon they do 9.3 chores a week and men do 2.7. Most mothers feel undervalued and say they carry the bulk of household tasks such as laundry, cleaning, vacuuming, shopping, cookng the evening meal and looking after sick children.
          The other story that really got to me was about one of the five mothers featured in the Sunday Magazine. (Doesn't seem to be on-line so I can't give the link.) This 22-year-old "housebound mum", with a three-year-old and an eight-month-old, sounded exactly the same as the flat, ground-down young mothers interviewed by Jane Ritchie in the 1960s:
          "I spend every minute of the day with these kids and I would love to get away...but you're a mother. That's your job. You don't get holidays, you don't get sick days, you don't get overtime, and you don't get any pay...[my partner] has just had a fantastic guys' weekend away. Not that I'd want to stop him doing that, but why can't I do that?...Yes, I'm happy and I wouldn't trade any of my kids for the world but in the process I've given up everything that used to make me me. I have a problem finding out what I actually enjoy now."
       I know there has been real change over the last forty years for lots of couples, and there are plenty of genuine parenting partnerships out there. But there are also plenty where nothing's changed, and that's awful.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Saunders vs Saunders - either way, Bennett has badly messed up

The incredible saga of Saunders vs Saunders would be hilarious if it didn't throw Paula Bennett's competence to be in charge of a major portfolio profoundly affecting thousands of lives into such severe doubt.

Gordon Campbell was the first commentator to blow the whistle publicly on exactly who Bennett had appointed to advise on welfare reform. Peter Saunders was until recently based at the far right Australian think-tank, the Centre for Independent Studies (it can be described as a kind of synthesis of the Business Roundtable and the Maxim Institute). His publications over the last ten years, almost all published by the CIS, include The Government Giveth, and the Government Taketh Away (2007), Taxploitation: The case for income tax reform (2006), and Australia's Welfare Habit - and how to kick it (2004). He is also the author of apocalyptic science fiction, and has supported the notion that class is strongly correlated with intelligence.

However, responding to questions in the House about this surprising appointment, Bennett defended it by saying, “Peter Saunders is one of many advisers. He has something to offer the group as far as international knowledge is concerned. Members can read his book, Welfare to Work in Practice, which he wrote in Australia. I do not agree with everything he said; I do not agree with everything that a number of the advisers to the group said. But we are open to listening to those views from the Welfare Working Group.”

But as a comment by "Lesley" on Campbell's piece first noted, there are two men involved in welfare research called Peter Saunders: "I saw them both presenting at the same conference about ten years [ago] – consequently the last time welfare beneficaries were in the firing line of national ministers of the crown. One presented a well argued paper based on empirical research; the other simply raved – a startling nonsensical performance made even more compelling by the spectacle of what appeared to be a foaming mouth! One Peter Saunders was a well respected Sydney policy academic; the other working for a so-called ´think tank’…"

The raving, foaming one is the one Bennett appointed. As Green MP Catherine Delahunty told the House, the book Bennett mentioned was written by the other one. This other Peter Saunders is a professor at the University of New South Wales with a track record in welfare and poverty research which would have fitted him superbly for the role allocated to his namesake. As well as Welfare to Work in Practice, his publications over the last ten years include The Ends and Means of Welfare, Coping with Economic and Social Change in Australia (Cambridge University Press, 2002); The Poverty Wars, Reconnecting Research with Reality; and (with James Walter) Ideas and Influence, Social Science and Public Policy in Australia (both published by UNSW Press in 2005). Currently an Australian Professorial Fellow working on the concepts and measurement of poverty and inequality, and on deprivation and social exclusion in Australia, he was elected President of the Foundation for International Studies on Social Security (FISS) in June 2009.

The press release put out by the government to set matters straight has to be seen to be believed. It reads:

We got the right man

Welfare Working Group member Professor Peter Saunders was chosen as an expert in his field to participate in the Group’s examination of the welfare system says Social Development Minister Paula Bennett. However, he is not the only Peter Saunders in existence. Question time in the House today saw the matter arise, with a question mark over whether the right Peter Saunders was appointed to the Group. “I can assure you, we got the right man,” says Ms Bennett.

To set the record straight about any confusion there may be over which Peter Saunders has been appointed, it may help to clarify the following. There are two men called Professor Peter Saunders. Both studied in England, both were based in Sydney Australia at the same time and both have continued to lecture on social policy and welfare and both have written a number of books on the subject.

“This clearly creates potential for mistaken identity,” says Ms Bennett.

Indeed. The mind, as they say, boggles.

There seem to be only three possible explanations for Bennett's confusion in the House.

(1) She did indeed appoint the wrong Peter Saunders as an adviser: she meant to appoint the respected academic, who was perhaps recommended by her Ministry, and would have been a completely appropriate choice, as his full list of recent publications shows. Possibly she was shown his book, and thought he had some interesting ideas. But by mistake - her own or her staff's - the invitation went to the CIS one. And no one noticed until it was too late. If this is the case, the Minister is not fit to hold her portfolio.

(2) By some difficult to imagine process, discussion of who to appoint led to an invitation being deliberately sent to the CIS Peter Saunders. (Did Rodney Hide have a hand in this decision? How else might the minister have been led to conclude that this person was an appropriate choice?) But if she did indeed intend to appoint this man, as the press release claims, she then somehow came across the book by the other one, the university professor, and made the mistake of thinking that it was written by her choice, the CIS man. (Was she perhaps deliberately given the book by the same people who recommended the CIS Saunders, and told it was by him?) If so, she is not fit to hold her portfolio.

(3) She was simply completely confused all along and never knew, until caught out, that there were two Peter Saunderses. She read one, but appointed the other, thinking they were the same person. As another blog comment said, in the House she was "passing off sane and respected research as the product of a biased ex-academic who now works [actually, did work - he's now freelancing in Britain] for a conservative think tank and writes vaguely racist fiction in his spare time." If so, she is not fit to hold her portfolio.
(See Lyndon Hood's satire for Scoop on Saunders vs Saunders at )

Thursday, April 29, 2010

This woman didn't have to die

You may well already know about this news story in the New Zealand Herald on 27 April. (It's already on The Hand Mirror.) But just in case you don't, I am discussing it here, because I want you to know about it. It does not seem to have been picked up by any TV news programme.

It concerns a woman who was sexually abused as a child, and whose counsellor sought assistance from ACC, on the woman's behalf, for the cost of counselling.

"Counselling Services Centre manager Emma Castle said the mother-of-three's claim for counselling for sexual abuse she had suffered as a child was rejected by ACC two months ago on the grounds that she had not suffered 'a significant mental injury'."

But as several people, including me, pointed out when the rules were changed last year, the main aim of counselling is to prevent such injury occurring as a consequence of the abuse. If only those who are deemed to already have such an injury can get counselling - for a strictly limited number of sessions - then there is no hope of achieving this aim, and helping the abuse survivor regain health becomes much more difficult.

The experts feared the dire consequences of this change. On 9 December last year, the Association of Counsellors stated that it was "worried suicide rates may rise among sexual abuse victims refused ACC-funded counselling because of cutbacks" and said that anonymous details released of 54 cases showed "longer delays and more rejections since new rules, known as the Sensitive Claims Pathway, took effect in October."

In any case, it's hard to understand why this particular claim was turned down, since the woman in question seems to have already suffered "signifcant mental injury" - she had "had suicidal ideation and was self-harming". The counsellor who submitted the claim "made it very clear that sexual abuse was the reason".

But as Emma Castle pointed out, "It took them six months to make that decision. Four days after receiving notification that the ACC claim was denied, the client passed away."

Shortly before this report appeared, it emerged that ACC had approved just 32 claims for assistance with counselling because of sexual abuse in the first two months of this year, compared with 472 for the same period last year. At the time, counsellors asked what was happening to the presumably large number of people being turned down.

This case provides one shockingly clear answer to that question.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Footbinding for the 21st century?

This month I read a novel about the life of Chinese women in the era when footbinding was the norm for women above all but the lowest social levels.* The more effectively mothers mutilated their daughters' feet, and the more perfectly they were deformed, the higher their value would be on the marriage market. One in ten girls died as a result of this practice.

I'd just finished shuddering over this, and wondering how on earth it had ever become so entrenched, when I came across an article about its 21st century equivalent in the Sunday Star-Times:

"Women forking out for a killer pair of high heels are also paying for the ultimate accessory - Botox to make their legs look better in stilettos. An Auckland cosmetic physician has found a demand for his calf-thinning services, in which he uses large amounts of Botox to sculpt women's legs and make calf muscles appear less bulky."

This "physician", who charges between $2000 and $7000 (depending on how thin your legs are to start with) says the procedure is "far safer than surgery to achieve the same result, a practice common in Asian countries. Surgery involves removal of the muscle through an incision in the crease behind the knee or, alternatively, destroying the nerve."

"What happens is that they chop the peroneal nerve [running from the knee to the foot] and this can cause permanent foot drop." As it happens, my husband has foot drop, the result of a degenerative muscle condition. It makes walking extremely difficult.

So let me get this straight. First you get the "killer" high heels - which can occasionally kill their wearers, but usually just cripple them over time. Then you deliberately use either surgery or drugs to make your legs look better in these ludicrous shoes, by reducing your leg muscles - and stopping them building up to make you stronger (so it's "strictly for the non-sporty"). Oh, and you need regular injections every nine months to "maintain the new shape".

A 25-year-old who got the Botox did it because she used to do a lot of running and had big muscles in her legs. She believes it has "given her more confidence" and "can't wait" to wear high heels.

The whole article reads like a promo for this "procedure". The accompanying photo could have come straight out of an advertising brochure.Susan Pepperell, the reporter, apparently did not ask for any other medical opinions on it.

I guess it's only a matter of time before teenage girls start asking for it for Christmas. At least it won't be their mothers forcing them to stop running and start Botoxing? Will it?

*Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, by Lisa See.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Sticking it to sole parents

I've just had my say on Paula Bennett's latest set of sticks to beat sole parents with - have a look at my latest Letter from Elsewhere on Scoop.  But to get a real feel for what's happening, have a look at the manual for MSD staff who have to administer the new rules. See if you can make sense of them. Then see if you think you could make them work fairly.

There seems to be very little emphasis on (a) helping sole parents actually find suitable jobs or (b) finding out what's actually going on in their lives that might lead to them failing their work test - and losing half their benefit. Knowing what precarious circumstances many sole parents live in, I can all too easily imagine you being judged guilty because you've had to find somewhere new to live, or your child has had an accident, or your car has broken down completely and there's no public transport...

Paula Bennett makes great play with the fact that she's been a sole parent. Yet she seems to have absolutely no idea of the real-life situations people at the bottom of the heap have to grapple with every day.

As for John Key - oh no, wait. His mother was a widow. So even if he was a child again now, she would come into the one category of sole parent who doesn't have to face the new Work Test.

Losing your partner by death is a tragedy. But having seen the many ways in which women (and a few men) can suddenly find themselves a sole parent, I simply do not understand why this distinction is still being made.

What is there about being deserted by your partner, or being beaten up and having to run away from your partner (and your home), that automatically makes you completely unable to act sensibly and responsibly (as I have no doubt John Key's mother did) and decide for yourself when you and your child/ren are ready and able to add paid work to your existing workload of parenting alone? (If you can find any, that is.)

Friday, March 12, 2010

Losing it with Peter Singer

Some days, everything goes wrong. I was getting ready to go to some Writers and Readers sessions when I discovered my wallet wasn't in my bag. Frantic searching failed to unearth it. So I had to borrow the EFTPOS card for Harvey's account to get some bus money from the machine up the road. When I tried to get the cash, it said "Your card has expired, we have retained it." Rushed back home and found Harvey did have a replacement card, he just hadn't got around to cutting up the old one. The new one worked, so I got money.

Then I realised I would need to call Harvey during the day, but my mobile phone had almost no cash left on it, and I couldn't use my own credit card to top it up because I'd just cancelled it, hadn't I. Yet another borrowing, this time of Harvey's Visa, followed by a long session on the phone as I (a) mucked up the business of putting the card number in for the automatic top-up, (b) did it all again and got the number right, only to have the autovoice tell me, at the very end, that the automated top-up system had failed and I was being put through to an operator instead, and (c) spent another ten minutes attempting to complete the process with someone in, I think, the Philippines, who kept getting the card number wrong (but never once asked me for the card-holder's name, which was lucky, as it saved me explaining that this man with the completely different surname was my husband). I lost it only at the very end when, while waiting for the top-up to finally go through, he started telling me how I could do it online instead (thereby, presumably, doing him out of a job, but I didn't like to mention that).

Making it down to Writers and Readers at last, I got through two sessions (Margo Lanagan with Eirlys Hunter, fantastic, and Bill Manhire with Steve Braunias, both impressive and heartwarming) before I tried to phone Harvey to tell him the wallet wasn't at the Embassy. But my phone told me there was a text, so I thought I'd better try to read it. Don't laugh, but I've never received a text before, let alone sent one. "I'm so sorry you've had such a bad morning, Anne", it said. "I have"

and then it stopped. I stared at the phone for a while before I figured out that maybe I could read the rest if I used the downward scroll button. It worked, and the next page said "found your wallet in the car." It was from my lovely niece Jenny, who is staying with us, and when she couldn't raise me on the phone (of course I had dutifully turned it off for the sessions) she decided it was high time I learnt to read texts. She was right, and she made my day.

So then I went to hear Peter Singer, who thinks it's wrong to kill and eat chickens regardless of how well they are treated (actually the said chickens would not, of course, exist at all if they weren't destined to be food, though he didn't discuss that), but probably not wrong to end the lives of severely intellectually disabled people, whose life (unlike the life of chickens) he apparently cannot imagine himself into, any more than he can imagine himself into the life of a cabbage (which he is therefore happy to eat). Does that mean it would be okay to eat severely intellectually disabled people? Probably not, eh.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

What I Did On My Holiday

I've just managed to have my summer holiday, by dint of being able to get Harvey's caregiver in to stay, and tacking one night with friends and two nights at Mt Maunganui on to a trip to Tauranga and a night with my sister Ruth for my birth mother's 90th birthday.

Mary looked wonderful - my sister Ann bought her a terrific new outfit, a very nice soft long-sleeved top in a beige and blue patterned crinkly material, and a longish skirt, also crinkly, in a lovely soft teal blue. It was all very easy to wear, but also smart and up-to-date. She wanted sparkly earrings and silver shoes, and Ann got her those too. She had two parties, a family one at the old homestead on Sunday, and a rest home/friends/Anglican Women one at the rest home on Monday (her church, Holy Trinity, sent a huge bouquet of flowers), and she enjoyed it all very much. I was able to be there for both parties, and she knew me and was pleased to see me, so that was all good.

And then I swanned off to the Mount. No car, I didn't need one - that was the whole point. I'd booked a small apartment - Absolute Beachfront - on the ground floor, but they upgraded me to a big one on the third floor! Fantastic. The best thing was the beautifully shady balcony - I sat out there for breakfast, lunch and dinner (the takeaway Turkish round the corner, eaten out there with a sensible mini-bottle of red, was infinitely better and cheaper than the mediocre offerings at the cafe next door). But the first night I went out to dinner with Beth. We started and ended with bubbly on the balcony, and we had an Italian waiter who looked exactly like a faun.

Because it was a grey morning on Tuesday, I even walked round the Mount, very slowly - not because I couldn't walk faster, but because I wanted to make it last. It's one of the loveliest little coastal walks in the land. I thought about my husband, and the son I still have, and the son I haven't had since he was 18. I sat on the seats commemorating Ashley, who died at 19, and Chris, who died at 18, and thought about their parents too. Then on Wednesday I came home and picked up where I had left off. But it was good, and I might well do it again.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

On making the rich richer by making the poor poorer

Apparently all the rich have to do to have their taxes reduced is to assiduously devise ways to avoid paying. The Labour government introduced a modest increase in the top tax rate. Now the National government proposes to remove it - because so many wealthy people are managing to avoid it. This is like removing speed cameras because more people have radar detectors, or repealing the equal pay laws because so many employers are managing to flout them.

Any quaint notion that those who earn more should pay more tax is fast vanishing. Meanwhile the offsetting introduction of higher GST represents not only a further shift away from income tax to consumption tax; it also means that those who have no choice but to spend all or almost all of their low income will have their tax burden increased.

Here's what John Kenneth Galbraith said about cutting taxes on the rich (in The Culture of Contentment):

"The only effective design for diminishing the income inequality inherent in capitalism is the progressive income tax. Nothing in the age of contentment has contributed so strongly to income inequality as the reduction of taxes on the rich; nothing…so contributes to social tranquillity as some screams of anguish from the very affluent. That taxes should now be used to reduce the inequality is, however, clearly outside the realm of comfortable thought." (p.179)

CROSSOVER: My recent post at The Hand Mirror on last Sunday's SST Sunday Mag article based around the grievances of those without kids against those with has stirred up 23 comments, and counting.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The final farewell to a great New Zealander

Today brought the final farewell to Sonja Davies. On a perfectly calm sea, in brilliant sunshine, her ashes were laid to rest at the deepest point of Wellington Harbour, and bread and roses were spread over the water.

Our lives shall not be sweated
From birth until life closes
Hearts starve as well as bodies
Give us bread but give us roses

Haere atu ki te po Sonja
Haere, haere, haere

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Sorry, wrong movie

I've just had a weird experience. I read that Maori TV was screening a movie called "Avalon", by Barry Levinson, and that it was about an immigrant family adjusting to life in New York. Here's how the New York Times review by Janet Maslin starts:

"In the fond overflowing family album that is Barry Levinson's ''Avalon,'' the prevailing symbol of both unity and discord is a Thanksgiving turkey. Or a ''toikey,'' as the participants put it, since the Krichinskys are an immigrant Jewish family in Baltimore and their every bantering, nit-picking conversation carries hints of the Old World."

Great, I thought, I'll watch that. I don't watch many movies on TV because I can't stand the ads, but this one looked good and wasn't something I'd easily stumble across for rent.

But when I switched on, it turned out to be something completely different - a weird science fiction epic. So I looked it up on line, and found that as well as the 1990 Levinson film, another "Avalon" was made in 2001:

"Avalon marks longtime anime director Mamoru Oshii's (Ghost in the Shell, Patlabor) first venture into the world of live action films, bringing a other-worldly vision to what might have been pedestrian fare in the hands of most other directors. For all of its high-concept theories about what is real and what is simulation, Avalon actually scores more points as a unique visual experience much more so than as a richly detailed story."

Oh dear. Did Maori TV think it was getting Levinson, and Oshii was supplied by mistake? Never mind - it's sent me back to the keyboard instead, which is a Good Thing.

Friday, January 29, 2010

The business of milk

Last year I was lucky enough to see Sally Burton's magnificent exhibition, "White Gold: The Business of Milk" at Nelson's Suter Gallery, where she pays homage to the M.P.U.’s (Milk Production Units) commonly known as cows - or as she calls them, the "working women of our most important industry". You can read about it and see images from it here and here.

I thought about Sally's cows yesterday when I heard that the government has called in current resource consent applications concerning proposals to keep 18,000 cows inside, in cubicles, for eight months of the year, and 12 hours a day for the other four months, in the Mackenzie Basin. There has been a huge surge of opposition to these proposals (see, for example, my last Letter from Elsewhere and other items on Scoop). As well as the massive environmental impact, this method involves treating cows as nothing but MPUs - merely milk-producing machines. It doesn't matter how we deal with them, as long as they stay healthy enough to keep on producing.

But cows kept inside in cubicles is not, of course, the image that our dairy industry has wanted the world to see. So if such proposals - and there are bound to be more - are allowed to proceed, they are likely to have a huge impact on the New Zealand "brand".

As this whole affair has proceeded, it's become clear that each aspect of such proposals is dealt with quite separately - and some aren't dealt with at all. This enables the big companies behind these schemes to amass all the consents they need, piece by piece, without the total impact and the wider implications ever being examined.

This time, though, the outcry has been too great to ignore, and Nick Smith has done the right thing. Now let's hope the commissioners get it right too, and stop these proposals going any further.