Festive Fun, and Fury

Several things annoyed me over the festive season.  Bad weather before Christmas,  disappearance of two frogs, no tadpoles for sale.   More contact with whanau, friends should have offset these minor matters.  We’re older, frailer, ?wiser.  I thought this would make armchair politics more fun.   Silly me.  Our political views have become more divergent (along with the array of parties on offer) but follow the trend of the upwardly mobile moving right,  most of their offspring even more so.

Keep_Left_AgingThe comfort of rule seems to have rendered them less well informed, more dour socially.  The accretion of wealth seems, once again (or would it be more accurate to say ‘as ever’) mystically linked to a right to rule that equally mystically results in righteous rule.  This saves a lot of intellectual effort. 

Offsider was easily persuaded to forsake roast for a sandwich and a whanau do two hours plus away.   Bad  Christmas vibes linger from my childhood:  exhausted mother in hot kitchen, post-war stringency, hayfever.  Offsider’s whanau was more sensible, convivial and took turns at bring a plate, alcohol.  Even so tears, marital spats, kitchen fatigue were  regular features.  Roast lamb (which nowadays seems to mean a tough old ewe nourished on Australian drought plains) is a goner, but the blame for the whole fandango I unreservedly lay on women.  My sister took her brood off camping from the outset, it was years before they cottoned on to Christmas excess.  It should be expunged from history.  Not the history of  Christianity per se.  It underpinned a lot of our laws, customs and male supremacist culture. 

At gatherings I did attend I convivially raised the election assuming it would still be  topic of great interest and entertainment, and revealed I had voted Internet Mana.    Before I could ask National voters how they accommodated the pong revealed by Nicky Hager’s Dirty Politics in the Prime Minister’s office the spittle erupted.  The target:  Laila Harré. The best exemplars of this self-blind rectitude were women, real-life heirs to Lady Catherine de Bourgh, who I had thought of as something of a caricature.  C de B is the aunt of hero Darcy in Pride and Prejudice, and is utterly opposed to his marrying the heroine Elizabeth, his social inferior of no breeding.  She tells her this without restraint or manners.  I got an what amounted to an ill-informed dressing down.  Elizabeth not only stood her ground, she bested her attacker.  Not so me.  I was horrified rather than mortified. 

 If my moral compass is shaky where the hell is theirs? 

Failure

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Rereading de Beauvoir 8: History, Ch. 4

Rereading de Beauvoir 7: Part Two, History. Chapter 4 (107-127): God the Father Edition

This chapter opens with the shift to Christianity and, yes, another litany of quotes from the men who would rule over us. A brief selection:

St. Paul: “Neither was man created for the woman; but the woman for the man.”
Tertullian: “Woman! You are the devil’s gateway. … It is your fault that God’s Son had to die.”
St. Ambrose: “Adam was led to sin by Eve and not Eve by Adam. It is right and just that he whom she led into sin, she shall receive as master.”
St. John Chrysosotom: “Of all the wild animals, none can be found as harmful as woman.”
St. Thomas: “It is a constant that woman is destined to live under the authority of man and has no authority of her own.”

IMG_0358You get the picture. SdB juxtaposes the burgeoning Christian laws with Germanic traditions in barbarian-occupied territories, which despite the modern-day connotations of the word “barbarian” were certainly not as “barbaric” for women as a lot of the Christian laws (but, yeah, still pretty barbaric). She describes this world as “midway between matrilineal filiation clans and patriarchal gens”.

Next up in this uplifting romp through the Top 1000 Ways of Oppressing Women: feudalism. From woman’s perspective, this period was marked by confusion because of a conflict “between sovereign and property law between public and private rights” (109).As a result “woman is both put down and raised up by this system” (109-110). She has no private or political rights, but there’s an uptick (for some) with the arrival of female succession (only, of course, in the event of no male heirs, and still, of course, she requires a male guardian).

Things deteriorate, however, as woman becomes finally categorised as a kind of property, and as such a slave, who is to be traded in marriage in order to secure land.

“This warlike civilisation has only scorn for women. The Knight is not interested in women: his horse is a treasure of much higher value to him.” (111)

Idle thoughts pop into my mind at this point about the tasteless historical distortion of all those ghastly TV series epics set in imaginary feudal times. Is it a good thing that they feel obligated to not depict anything close to reality with respect to women – or anything else for that matter – or is it a bad thing in that it helps blind us to the truth of our history? And I should point out that these idle thoughts are based on seeing only the promos for said epics, and on fast-forward, since I haven’t actually watched any. The heaving décolletage and cast of 21st-Century looking models are enough for me, even at 2x speed.

Continue reading

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Rereading de Beauvoir 7: History, Ch. 3

Part Two, History. Chapter 3 (93): How do they loathe us, let me count the ways:

By now, woman has been “dethroned by the advent of private property” (93) – keeping in mind that according to SdB she was never really on a throne to begin with – and inheritance is starting to kick in with a vengeance (where you might translate ‘inheritance’ as ‘man seeking immortality through his property’). It is property, SdB writes, that “was more important to him than life itself.” (93) Uh, “was”? Isn’t that still at the root of so much of our destruction of, well, everything on earth? As a result of his wanting to live forever through his property, man “strips woman of all her rights to hold and transmit” it, and so her children cannot “belong to her” but to him. (93)

Because she owns nothing, woman is not raised to the dignity of a person; she herself is part of man’s patrimony, first her father’s and then her husband’s. (93)

For women, this chapter (and this account is No. 6 in the series re-reading Simone de Beauvoir) a sorry tale encompassing not just the major monotheistic religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam) but the Greeks and Romans. SdB includes some of the highlights of Greek and Roman commentary on women including these delights (cartoon version of same is immediately below:

Hesiod: He who confides in a woman confides in a thief.
Aristotle: The slave is entirely deprived of the freedom to deliberate; woman does have it but she is weak and powerless.
Hipponax: There are but two days in life when your wife brings you joy: her wedding day and her funeral
Pericles: The best woman is she of whom men speak the least
Menander: There are many monsters on the earth and in the sea, but the greatest is still woman. Woman is a pain that never goes away.

Greeks_on_WomanAs my partner pointed out, however, we only have this commentary because of the monks who decided to copy it all down, in lieu of photocopiers. It’s probably obvious why they might not have wanted to copy down what women were saying about men. I have a few ideas, though:

Greek_women

So, anyway, back to SdB: Reading this chapter, one has to admire the myriad nifty laws and customs and religious tenets men came up with to convince woman of her inferiority, and enshrine it in law, practice, habit. It starts to look as though, aside from preparing for and fighting wars, this is the thing they’ve put most time and energy into. Continue reading

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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.

Ishtar

Ishtar

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.”

Continue reading

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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.

CAPITAL GAINS:

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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