Rereading de Beauvoir 6: History, Ch. 2

Part Two, History. Chapter 2 (78): The rise and fall of the goddess edition…

So, I realise that at this rate, I’ll be in a Zimmer frame before I get through the book, since the last post in the series was on January 18 of this year (and it was out of order.) I’m racing to do another chapter so I’ll at least have managed two posts in 2014. But it comes with one of those end-of-year pledges to Do Better Next Year. I’ll also mention here that I discovered a Kindle edition of this translation a few months ago, which I bought (having acquired the whopping hard-back in, of all places, Edinburgh the very week – or so – it came out back in 2009. I’ll use both and keep up with the page references to the hard back, details of which are in the First Post.)

Setting aside all groveling and uselessness about taking too long, this chapter, which has no title just a number, begins with a recap of woman’s role in “primitive” times before property, institutions, laws etc. when, although the demands of reproduction and work were great, no one apparently tried “to break [woman] down as will happen in paternalistic regimes later on.” (78). A clear target of this chapter is Engels and his notion that before private property (or at least agricultural societies) there was some kind of Reign of Women.



In setting up Engels’ claim, SdB runs through the myriad goddesses of antiquity – Ishtar, Astarte, Gaea, Rhea, Cybele, Isis (some are the same goddesses going by different names) to whom male gods were subordinate. While Engels saw the passage from this “veritable reign of women” as “ ‘the great historical defeat of the feminine sex’”, SdB argues no: “In reality this golden age of Woman is only a myth. To say that woman was the Other is to say that a relationship of reciprocity between the sexes did not exist: whether Earth, Mother or Goddess, she was never a peer for man. … Society has always been male; political power has always been in men’s hands.” (82) And she quotes Lévi-Strauss on marriage:

 “The relationship of reciprocity which is the basis of marriage is not established between men and women, but between men by means of women, who are merely the occasion of this relationship.”

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Ministry of Anti-Feminism

Our Cringemaking Minister in Charge of the Ministry of Women

I hesitate to say that Louise Upston, newly in charge of the newly named Ministry of Women, should be put in the same category as those politicians and members of the media who court the ordinary bloke by deriding feminism.  Too many of these faux blokes have little respect for women.

ComicBook-AppI think Upston was ill-informed and thoughtless when she proudly proclaimed she was not a feminist and supported beauty contests.  This is a common response from successful women backed into a corner by journalists.  It is cowardly and dangerous.  It may undermine her government’s initiatives in respect of rape culture, further weaken its response to the handling of embarrasing sexual harrassment cases.  

McCarthyism and guilt by association is implicit in such a statement.   Will Upston  proclaim she is not a union member, communist, activist, gay, lesbian, Jew, Muslim, Catholic?   Such rhetoric has had horrible repercussions in history and the contemporary world.  Think religious wars, pogroms, Nazism, race and sex discrimination.  Think our Trades Hall bombing and the death of the caretaker, murderous anti-abortionists in the US, homophobic attacks, police excess in the UK (Blair Peach) and  the US, our own Red Squad during the anti-tour protests, and the bombing of the Rainbow Warrior.   Think internet trolls’ attempts to silence women commentators with threats to their and their children’s safety. 

Feminism is a developing and contestable body of thought, philosophy.   It doesn’t require women to pledge  support.   There is a resurgence of interest in it (I wonder why) and a drive by young women worldwide to reclaim the word.  

1970s feminists were not unanimous in their opposition to beauty pageants.  Those who demonstrated did not attack contestants.  They drew attention to commercial exploitation and sex stereotyping.  They exposed the hypocrisy of bestowing kudos on beautiful and sexually attractive women and harsh and punitive sanctions against enjoying sex, especially if it was in breach of male-dictated mores. 

I helped organise a protest demo.  Years earlier my father encouraged my sister to enter a bathing beauty contest at a local beach.  She was a good swimmer, bronzed, barefoot, a bit salty.  She extracted herself from the sea to join the queue of coiffed, pancaked, lipsticked, high-heeled contestants sporting pristine swimsuits.   I, four years her junior, moved near a group of young men for a better view.   Their comments on the contestants were foul, full of sexual overtones and grunts.   They didn’t notice my sister.

Ms Upton should ask her staff for a briefing on feminism.  She may realise an apology and recognition is due those who have been at the forefront of advancing the status of women. 

Her staff need to watch the new sex education initiatives sparked by the Roastbusters activities.  School Boards of Trustees have often failed in their legal obligation to establish programmes, law change may be needed and will require courageous leadership.  Decriminalisation of abortion is long overdue.  That law is based on the ‘she asked for it’ approach to women enjoying sex, deliberately intended to humiliate by subjugating women to invasive certification procedures.   The process may require three days, travel to a licensed clinic, child care.  All of these can be stressful and costly.  Repeal would allow women to access the abortion pill from their local doctor.  This will also require courage.   

The ministry’s staff have been humiliated by a recent report which could not explain what they did.   Ms Upston must front up on this, justify its  contemporary role.   With a weak minister it may indeed be useless and expensive charge on taxpayers.

Addendum: Here’s Family First on her voting record. Great they do the work for us!

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Quitting the Media III: Skylight!

I went to see the latest incarnation of David Hare’s play “Skylight”, which is being streamed into New Zealand theatres via NTLive. This new one stars Bill Nighy and Carey Mulligan, and you should go see it if you can. It’s 3 hours long, but with a 20 minute intermission and it doesn’t drag at all. (Here’s the Guardian’s review, from which I, ahem, ‘borrowed’ the pix… and here’s a good discussion from the Observer)

Bill Nighy and Carey Mulligan in "Skylight". Photo borrowed from the Guardian.

Bill Nighy and Carey Mulligan in “Skylight”. Photo borrowed from the Guardian.

Nighy plays Tom, an older businessman/restaurateur who is visiting his former (much younger) lover, Kyra, a few years after she walked out, and one year after his wife, Alice, has died. They had a 6-year affair until Alice found out, prompting Krya to leave. She’s now living in a less salubrious part of town working as a teacher in a tough school. The play was seen when first written and performed in 1995 as a critique of Thatcherism, and everyone’s talking about how “relevant” it is to our present time. Agreed.

However, I’m excerpting a bit here for how it speaks to my “Quitting the Media” series. Snap!

Kyra: [Responding to a question from Tom] No. I’m afraid I’ve stopped reading the papers.

Tom: What are you saying? Not altogether?

Tom is taken aback, but Kyra is going on, amused at her own story.

Kyra: It’s funny, I remember my father. Dad used to say, ‘I don’t watch the news. I don’t approve of it.’ I used to say, ‘Dad, it’s the news. It’s the news, for God’s sake. How can you not approve of it?’ But I must say, now … perhaps I’m my father’s daughter…I tend to think that he had a point. I don’t have a television either.

Tom: But that is just crazy. You’re …

Kyra: What?

Tom: Well, you’re missing what’s happening. You’re missing reality.

Kyra: Oh, do you think?

Even Tom is only half-serious, knowing his argument doesn’t sound too good. And Kyra is completely unfazed.

I just noticed the papers were full of … sort of unlikeable people. People I couldn’t relate to. People who weren’t like the decent people, the regular people I meet every day at the school. So I thought, I start reading this stuff and half an hour later, I wind up angry. So perhaps it’s better I give it up.

Tom: So what do you read?

Kyra: On the bus I read classic novels. Computer manuals. It’s like that game. Name a politician you actually admire. So what is the point of sitting there raging at all the insanity?

Bill Nighy and Stella Gonet in the 1997 production. Photo also borrowed from the Guardian.

Bill Nighy and Stella Gonet in the 1997 production. Photo also borrowed from the Guardian.

An Aside About Sexism, Or Something…

I’m tacking this bit on last because it’s not really related to the issue at hand, but I couldn’t help thinking about how come Bill Nighy got to play Tom in 1997 when he was 48 opposite Stella Gonet, as Kyra, when she was 34. Now, in 2014, Nighy gets to play Tom when he’s 64, opposite Carey Mulligan, who is 29. Stella Gonet, who’s now 51 clearly couldn’t be a contender, as they say.

Stella Gonet in 2013

Stella Gonet in 2013

I actually thought the age difference in this 2014 version wasn’t particularly believable. It looked all of its 35 years and more. I guess Mulligan was an audience drawcard, and she did a good job. But, jeez, that part where she says “apart from anything, I’m older than most of the teachers”. I mean, really! If anything, Mulligan looks younger than her 29 years…

Aging in women and aging in men: it’s like we’re different species.

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National’s Visionless Nullity

TROUBLE AHEAD:  The Reserve Bank has twice in a month put the kybosh on National’s “look how clever we are, we conjured up a surplus” mantra as the solution to all economic ills.   I doubt Finance Minister Bill English feels any less smug.   He admits one is not on the cards this year.

From the Maoriland Worker, 11 October 1912.

From the Maoriland Worker, 11 October 1912.

The Bank raised serious questions about the big issues of liquidity and stability, the housing market, our foreign owned banks and their insatiable appetite for borrowing.  Dairy prices  are expected to drop further,  farmers who have taken on big debt may be in serious strife.   Fortunately, established farmers took the opportunity to pay off debt from the high returns last year.  The Canterbury rebuild, slow to get going, is going to slow off too. A tiddly surplus can’t hide the elephant in the room, our huge indebtedness and trade balance problems.  Banks make money (literally and in the form of profits) by borrowing and lending, the more the better it seems.  Prudential risk management still seems a quaint idea instead of a fundamental obligation.   So the Reserve Bank is trying to keep them reined in.  Sadly I don’t think its short, simple messages percolate far.  

I see David Cameron (in whose company I am deeply discomfited) warned about the Eurozone  while patting himself on the back for the UK’s improved position as if that will save the UK or the rest of us if things go belly up again.  Are we to believe UK banks now leaders in prudential risk management? 

Apparently many happy Aucklanders seized their new property valuations and rushed off to borrow against increased equity in their houses to buy a boat, have an overseas holiday, do some renovations and the like.  My legal offsider delivered pretty brutal advice to clients in the 1980s who did the same, but it didn’t make a jot of difference.   We had to bail out the by then half state-owned BNZ in 1990.


Treasurer Bill English lives off the fruits of inheritance and a well-paid job to boot.   I too live off the fruits of capital inheritance (very modest compared with Bill’s), national super, a small amount of rent and a $15 dividend.   Savings may be called on to top this up.  Many years ago a successful businessman asked me if I knew what a capitalist was and I smartly answered  ‘Me.  I live off interest, a rental and dividends’.   I may have had a job at the time.  I believe a capital gains tax long overdue.   How quickly we have re-established a class system but one, it appears, that may have less sense of noblesse oblige and social obligations than the previous one.    Continue reading

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Quitting the Media II: Feeling Better & TV

Since writing Post No. 1 in my MSM detox series, I’ve been a bit more zealous about not exposing myself to local corporate media, mainly and, instead going to the Radio New Zealand website and for “news” and checking out a few (but not many) blogs (and never ever ever reading any comments) for the occasional spot of commentary. And, for those who haven’t waded through that first post, I’m not on Twitter or Facebook, so that’s easy to avoid.

Wendy_SimonAnyway, since quitting NZH and Stuff altogether and in a more concerted fashion, I really do feel a whole lot better for it. (I should have mentioned that I gave up so-called TV News over a year ago. Just ugh! So I don’t visit their sites either. More than a few additional benefits from that decision below.)

Radio New Zealand isn’t into click-bait; their headlines are a bit of a trip back in time to the days when headlines were pretty straight-up: theirs seem intended to inform not sensationalise. Which brings me to the issue of “breaking news/scoops”.

Who Cares Who Got It First? Not You!

Forget about who gets it first. Who cares? Sure, the journalists do. But you don’t need to. Really, think about it: unless there’s a tsunami coming or some other disaster you really really need to know about (and then you should turn on the radio anyway because your internet is probably about to cut out), why would you care who “got” Kim Dotcom’s driving conviction (I actually don’t know, obviously, but I saw it just now on RNZ). If it’s important, my proposed news provider of choice (RNZ) will pick it up eventually. If it’s not important (again: “Jessica Biel Goes Shopping in Auckland”) then it’s better than you not know. It’s better that this rubbish isn’t cluttering up your valuable working memory. It’s better that it isn’t evoking some emotion you’d rather not be having. It’s better that you save the “tut tutting” and getting your undies in a twist for important stuff.

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Quitting the Media: Part I

The so-called  “news” (ha ha ha ha ha) media are bad for your health. They’re bad for your personal health. They’re bad for the health of society. They’re just plain bad. I think at this point we all know it. We all know that the pompous claims about being watchdogs for democracy, the Fourth Estate, speakers of truth to power (oh, spare me!) have long since been crushed under the wheels of “Jessica Biel Goes Shopping in Auckland” etc.

Sure, I’ll admit there are teeny tiny corners of what we call the mainstream media (MSM) that still do some of that stuff. But they’re teeny and they’re tiny. And if MSM ever did more good than harm (I don’t believe much in halcyon days), that time has long since disappeared. Simply put: Whatever good the media might do or stand for is surpassed in great measure by the damage and destruction it wreaks. It doesn’t speak truth to power, instead it narrows our view of humanity and the world; it reinforces envy (wealth, beauty things) and stereotypes (where to start on this one? Read through some of this. OK, that was mean. That was click bait, i.e. mysterious link. The link is to the Treaty Resource Centre’s ‘Media and Māori’ section), it tries to tell us how we should think, what we should consider important, it plays down or avoids altogether so much that is significant while filling our lives with the most stomach turning trivia… (I should stop now) I think deep in our hearts, we all know it. We listen to them when they bang on about freedom of the press, and figure, well, we don’t want to live in a totalitarian society. OK, so the media suck, but it’s better than being stuck with Pravda. And we go along with it. We accept their inflated view of their own importance and, off we go, falling for the click bait. Feeling the blood pressure rise. Then becoming overwhelmed with the inevitable regret that we clicked in the first place.

You know what it’s like, that feeling that you’re helping a drug dealer sell more meth, or P, or whatever it might be. The realisation that you’re reinforcing the use of such cheap, smelly, stinky bait. That you are what lies behind all those media people who, when challenged say, “but we’re giving people what they want to read”. All because you just had to click. C’mon people. Take control of your own digits!!

Back in the pre-internet days, newspaper headlines were generally aimed at telling you as much as possible in the fewest words. The editors and subs couldn’t track how many eyes continued down the page, or turned to the next instead. Now, though, they can. And this is where it’s left us: (a) knowing the media is destructive and (b) knowing we’re propping it up. Which is why I think we must give it up. I know, it’s not easy. And you need to take this in steps. Steps I’ll be incoherently outlining in a series of posts. (If you want the whole series, of which this is the first, click here.) Here are a few points for starters.

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At the end of the day: Post-Election Blues Series

Three days before the election I couldn’t hold myself back from beginning a post although my mood was grim.   I felt I could only hope for a cliffhanger.  This didn’t seem very satisfactory so the next day I changed my strategy, gave up post, hoped polls wrong.   Huh.

At first I thought the media had done a fairly good job.  I knew decriminalisation of abortion was a proscribed identity politics issue (whatever that is) because ordinary blokes aren’t into it.    Travelling, taking three days off  work, arranging child care in order to get through the certification process is a major problem for many ordinary women.   

Allie Brosh. Creative Commons license.

Allie Brosh. Creative Commons license.

Blaming Internet Mana and Nicky Hager for the election outcome, the left’s misfortunes and directing attention away from policies is downright pathetic.   A lot of policy did get good coverage. Labour has totally lost its mojo, it was an all too visible mess in steady decline before the advent of Internet Mana.   The latter’s brave but high risk strategy bombed.  I was surprised by the Greens’ failure to increase their support.  So were they.  Are they too losing their mojo?  Both parties might consider co-operating in a very thorough investigation of the problems, outcome and future challenges.   Scrabbling for the middle ground and downplaying their more visionary roles is close to a vote of no confidence in their own merit. 

A resonating line I’m hearing is ‘I/we have done pretty well lately’.  Sounds like it is from National’s armoury.   It isn’t as ugly or self-serving as ‘greed is good’ but it doesn’t offer a lot of hope for those who aren’t doing so well.  Let alone for advancing social cohesion, surely the primary goal of good government.  It is also unlikely to advance the welfare of our planet.  

I confess it: It wasn’t hard to smirk a little when National didn’t need NZ First.  I’m not sure the young can take heart from their success.  But a peeved Peters could be a thorn in National’ side.    Continue reading

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