Saturday, April 26, 2008

The market's great big dirty paw grabs Anzac Day

The market's hand isn't invisible, it's a great big dirty paw. As soon as it sees anything it could possibly use to make money, it reaches out and mucks it up.

At Easter the Shoc Choc ads featured back views of naked bums with red X's on each buttock. Hot Cross Buns, geddit?

In the Dominion Post for 26 April a much bigger firm, appliance retailers Bond & Bond, outdid them with its gobsmacking take on Anzac Day.

The central feature of their ad was a big billboard proclaiming "3 years interest free". It was tastefully decorated with an Anzac poppy in one corner and what looked at first glance like turds, but I think were meant to be Anzac biscuits, in two more corners.

The heading above read:

"Rally the troops for Anzac Deals - good bikkies, men can wear flowers - Anzac weekend has it all."

It's fascinating to see previously exempt icons such as Anzac Day getting the kind of treatment meted out to women - or rather women's bodies - ever since advertising images became the norm.

Back in the seventies (yes, I know, children, that's so long ago you can barely imagine anyone being, like, alive back then) we used to collect the worst ones for Broadsheet magazine's Hogwash page. One featured a black profile of a young woman with earrings, curly hair and a big grin, alongside the words: "Hot, black and easy to lay!" It was an ad for asphalt.

We all know selling anything is supposed to be easier if you link it with sex. The Shoc Choc ad can be seen as progress of a sort - now men's bodies, too, get used in a nudge-nudge way to sell stuff occasionally.

But the vast majority of sexual sells still centre on women as come-ons for heterosexual men. In the last few years, every ad agency and their dog has got in on the act with renewed enthusiasm.

For someone of my vintage it's deja vu all over again, except that this time round they have the added advantage of posing as knowing, post-feminist, tongue-in-cheek cleverdicks. Objecting can be dismissed as hopelessly outdated, pre-post-whatever. Because of course they're not serious! And they love women!

I guess they love war and soldiers, too. Maybe next year some clever cookie will combine the two and come up with an ad featuring nubile nurses fending off neatly bandaged blokes, with a headline reading, "Get your hands on some real Anzac Day specials".

Thursday, April 24, 2008

What's with the stupid joke about another woman leader, Hillary?

There's been a lot of media sniggering in New Zealand, as well as the US, about Hillary Clinton's gaffe in referring to Helen Clark as the "former Prime Minister of New Zealand" when she's still in office. But we're used to Americans who have no idea where NZ is, let alone who the PM is. What I found far more offensive was the unlovely sight of one would-be woman leader deciding to tell a stupid sexist joke about another woman, who happens to be one of the most successful Western women politicians in history (Labour Party leader since 1993, Prime Minister since 1999). Clark, along with her women ministers, has been the target of strongly gendered attacks for years. In the 2005 election campaign, for example, National Party supporters tried to drown her out during a debate with calls of "no-kids lesbo" (needless to say, these were edited out of the TV broadcasts). But it was a shock to see Hillary letting rip with such a nasty little put-down.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Old ladies are shoppers too

I've been away visiting my 88-year-old mother, who's now in a "rest home" - what an awful name that is. It was a good visit. I was able to take her out and help her do some of the many essential things that become impossible to do by yourself as you get older, but that rest home staff simply can't help with - like going to the optician and buying a bra.

Gone are the old days when you could rise gracefully in the lift to the lingerie department and discuss your needs sitting down by the counter.

Now you have to wend your way across an entire floor, around an obstacle course of self-service stands, till you reach the bra corner - which may or may not be anywhere near the fitting room.

Once you egt there, you find that neither bras nor changing rooms are built to suit older women. We had to go through some amazing contortions to get her and her walker in and out of the tiny cubicle, especially as it had a door and not a curtain. Just as well she had it, as there was no seat in there, so she needed it to sit on.

I was delighted to be able to help my mother this time, but I live an hour's flight away and I'm only an occasional visitor. It's my sisters, especially the one who lives nearest, who do it all on a regular basis.

We're a long-lived lot, so one day it will probably be me needing this kind of help. But I haven't got a daughter. So I could well end up braless.

Surely there's a good living to be made by offering a comprehensive home and rest home shopping service - or even a really good catalogue service with easy returns? A sort of Elder Ezibuy, geared to that invisible consumer group, the Definitely Older Woman?

Sunday, April 13, 2008

How do rich countries manage to keep so many children in poverty?

How do rich countries manage to keep so many children in poverty? And why don't governments ask this question more often and more urgently?

Last week I was able to spend two days looking after Kate Green, the chief executive of the UK Child Poverty Action Group, during her visit to Wellington. She's in New Zealand as the guest of New Zealand's Child Poverty Action Group, to which I belong.

On Monday 14 April she's giving a public talk in Auckland, at 7 pm, at the University of Auckland Conference Centre. As part of that, she'll be looking at how the UK Labour government has tackled child poverty. It's a fascinating story, with some important lessons for New Zealand.

Britain is far from being a poor country. Yet when Labour came to power, it had the worst child poverty in Europe - 4.2 million children. Now it's improved to fourth worst.

New Zealand isn't exactly poor either. But its wealth is far from evenly spread. In the last decades of the 20th century New Zealand had the fastest growth in income and wealth inequality in the OECD.

Not suprisingly, child poverty grew rapidly too. It started to shrink as the economy improved, employment grew, and the Labour government here did sensible things like raising the minimum wage and bringing back income-related rents for state housing.

But despite all these improvements, between 2000 and 2004 the proportion of all children in severe hardship and significant hardship increased by a third, to 26 percent.

That's over one in four children - rather too many, in fact, for their poverty to be simply the result of bad parenting.

But there's very little discussion in the media about what the real causes of child poverty are. It's far easier to individualise the problem, and put all the blame on parents for doing the wrong things or not doing the right things. I'd be very interested to know what readers of this blog think, before I write about what Kate has to say.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Those boots aren't made for walking

No posts for a week because I was (a) up in Auckland and (b) pounding the pavements there and here in Wellington trying to find boots I could walk in.

Except for a brief fling with stilettos when I left school, I've worn relatively sane shoes all my life. I like being able to walk around without torturing myself, and I don't see why I should have to submit to a Western version of foot-binding to look good.

But nobody warned me of what lay waiting to pounce on me as I got older, despite my sane shoes. The bad news is that while bunions and hammer toes can be caused by frightful footwear, they can also be inherited. My mother has had them for years, and now I've got them too.

It's never been easy to find shoes that feel comfortable AND look nice. But ever since my podiatrist welcomed me into the wonderful world of orthotics, it's become almost impossible.

When I'm wearing jeans, I can get away with clumpy shoes. Black trousers aren't too bad either - black shoes sort of disappear under them. But skirts are a real problem. They look ghastly with great clodhoppers.

So I set out to find some boots. They had to be soft, with no seams in the wrong places, because of my bunion (I do have only one, which is some consolation). They had to have rubber soles thick enough to cope with long walks through city streets. They had to be flat - I can no longer cope with any heels at all. And they had to have deep toecaps - those elegant flat chisel toes don't leave enough room for the orthotics, let alone the hammer toe.

By the time I'd been to dozens of shops and endured scores of encounters with shop assistants who were either scornful or pitying, I felt like Quasimodo. But I finally found some cheap boots that worked perfectly well and looked fine (though they'll probably fall apart the first time they get wet).

The trick, I've discovered, is to buy at least one whole size bigger than usual. I don't know if this is because they're cheap or because they're made in China, where Western feet, like Western bodies, are all inconceivably enormous.

But this trick only works with boots, not shoes. I'm already dreading the next Great Footwear Hunt. There must be hundreds of other women out there with feet like mine. So why does it have to be so difficult?