feminism

Not a very feminist party

The NZ Herald reports that Dr Pani Farvid, Internet Party candidate for Palmerston North, told a women’s group that  the Internet Party is a feminist party. When probed about the party founder’s own propensity for sexism, Dr Farvid remarked:

“He is not perfect. He is not the party, he’s the founder, but we are a feminist party. He has apologised himself, I’m not excusing him, that sort of thing is not OK, absolutely. He just doesn’t know any better and he should.”

I have no doubt in my mind that Dr Farvid and many of her peers absolutely support the feminist movement. I do however, consider it a bold claim to promote the Internet Party as a feminist party in light of its founder, Kim Dotcom’s repulsive sexist record.

Dr Farvid could have said either ‘I am a feminist’ or ‘that she promotes feminism within the party’ and that probably would not have brought her own feminism into disrepute. Instead what she has done is invalidated the experiences of all women, by on the one hand claiming she is not excusing him, and on the other hand impliedly excusing him because ‘he just doesn’t know any better’. A party claiming to be feminist, surely would not minimise or invalidate the experiences of women because the perpetrator of harm didnt know better. As a woman on twitter pointed out:

 @mairesmith

@Ellipsister A woman apologising for a man’s manners isn’t really what I think of as ‘feminist’, no.

When I consider a ‘feminist party’ I consider precisely the basis on which the party was formed i.e  who founded it, who funds it, what messages does it share as a party, who are its members, how do they promote feminism and so on. The Internet Party was founded, is funded and is promoted by a man who has a tendency to tweet about ‘rape jokes’ and to objectify women. His behaviour is then downplayed by a woman in the party because ‘he is the product of a sexist culture which we need to remedy’.

But Dotcom does know better. In 2012, the NZ Herald reports:

“A sexual violence prevention agency has told Kim Dotcom rape jokes are “never okay” after he posted a series of comments about the crime on Twitter”

One of those tweets was the following:

KDC2Rape jokes that work!???

In the same NZH article, Rape Prevention Education director Kim McGregor told the Herald that rape jokes are hurtful to survivors of sexual violence and that:

“Rape jokes aren’t funny. It’s never okay to make a joke about rape. People who have experienced rape are often traumatised for years. They’re violated, they’re humiliated and it’s nothing to joke about.”

Then about a month or so ago, Dotcom attempts to make a joke about murdering sex workers:

KDC

The joke is offensive because it devalues the existence of sex workers as human beings. His attempt at apology was this:

KDC 3This is not an apology. It is a concession to his then newly appointed leader of the Internet Party, Laila Harre. As others in the comments that followed point out, its not Batman that was the problem, it was the comment about murdering sex workers.

But it’s not only Dotcom who has offended women. Chris Yong,  reportedly ‘joked’ to  the Herald when asked about the three women contending the Auckland Central seat that:

“we’ve got the best babe”

What Yong is doing here is commenting on Miriam Pierard’s appearance, using the term ‘babe’. In employing it the way he has, he also simultaneously criticises or demeans Jacinda Ardern and Nicky Kaye by suggesting Miriam’s appearance is superior to theirs and reducing the contest down to one of appearance. This is insulting to all women running political campaigns, if he deems appearance as the determinant of their chances at success. He also exhibits a sense of entitlement over Pierard claiming some kind of ownership that “Miriam belongs to us”. Yes, he may have just been referring to her role in the Internet Party team, in a team camaraderie kind of way, but  Miriam Pierard is a person. She is not property and he should be more careful with how he speaks about his peers and the messages he sends to other women.  Some people may argue that the term ‘babe’ is not offensive but when it is used in the context Yong employed it above, it is sexist and it is not ok.

Name it Change it have developed an egregiousness pyramid to assist the avoidance of sexist reporting in the media.  It also serves as a good guide when interacting on social media. For a commentary, see Bidisha on Sluts and sweethearts: Sexist language is on the rise, but now there is a new way to fight back.

In my view, a feminist party wouldn’t stand for those remarks and in fact they wouldn’t even feature in a feminist repertoire that is built on and promotes gender equality.

Recently, Internet Party Leader, Laila Harre poked fun at the weight of current women MP’s, also engaged in the anti-feminist action of ‘fat shaming’ and mocking the size of womens breasts as something women should feel stigmatised about.  Her words as reported:

“Obviously wanting to be fit and relatively less portly than most members of Parliament become, ‘she said diplomatically’.”

Will she name names? “I think their breasts speak for themselves.”

While the Internet Party’s top 10 candidates are equal ratio’s women and men, above that number the ratio changes. Only 6 of the 15 candidates are women. I personally would expect a feminist party to be predominantly if not all women given men saturate the political landscape. And while there may be an even spread of women in the top 10 candidate list, it would be interesting to see the ratio in prominent roles of the executive branch of the party if the claim is that the Internet Party is a feminist party. Moreover, the Internet Party don’t even appear to have developed any policy (yet) that focuses specifically on gender issues.

Exacerbating the sexism link to the Internet Party, is the alliance with Hone Harawira’s MANA movement. Recalling Harawira was recently called on to apologise for his minimising and harmful remarks  on Backbenchers regarding his view toward Tania Billingsley who was attacked in her home by Malaysian Diplomat, Muhammad Rizalman bin Ismail.

Harawira stated:

“I think all of the media, their heads should roll, for making a big fuss about bugger all. There are kids starving in this country, there are a whole lot of issues we need to be dealing with right here, right now … it’s something we can do without.”

A week after this aired, Harawira did put out an apology, although I was unable to locate an official press releases on the Party website. Instead there is a status update on the MANA Movement page, which states:

I want to sincerely apologise if my comments on Backbenches may seem to have minimised the gravity of the situation regarding the young woman who asked police to investigate the complaint of sexual assault against the Malaysian diplomat.

I have reviewed the tape and I accept that my comments were not helpful at all. Sexual assault IS a big deal, and I applaud Tania Rose Billingsley for her brave and courageous appearance on television last night.

Hone Harawira

Like Dotcom above, this is hardly an apology. It is a concession to appease the women’s rights activists in the MANA movement, including Annette Sykes who has long advocated against violence against women.

One commenter was unimpressed with his attempt to deflect criticism and replied:

…Apologies are nothing but lip service it is something a husband does after he beats his wife up and says I am sorry it will never happen again. It is male dominance at its best…. It is whether you learn and don’t do it again that matters. It is a journey of learning and understanding and for you to stand up amongst your people and put yourself forward as having changed your mindset and exampling this. Only then will your apology actually mean anything.

Given that Dr Pani Farvid is a Senior Lecturer, I would have expected more critique of her party and the sexist behaviour associated with it, rather than the apologism she offered for Dotcom’s insidious tendencies to demean women and roles occupied predominantly by women.   I wholly commend Dr Farvid for starting the process to educate her party on the harm caused by sexism and misogyny but it’s a slap in the face to the many feminist movements to parade the Internet Party as a feminist party when it clearly is not.

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Pōwhiri and gender essentialism

Following an Editorial piece in the NZH on 8 January 2014, there is currently a debate (in NZ) regarding whether Māori women should be able to whaikōrero (make a formal speech) at pōwhiri (welcome ceremony) which requires that they sit on the paepae (orators bench).

The discourse is seemingly lead mostly by males – both white and Māori (Update: I am now starting to see voices from across the spectrum, and no I haven’t been reading the NZH comments section).

I was going to publish last night, but decided I should make sure I am certain of my views, since 1) they are probably very controversial and 2)I have been grappling with this issue since it was discussed in one of my Jurisprudence classes at University a couple of years ago (raised by Māori Law Lecturer Valmaine Toki). I decided to publish because I believe that as a Māori woman, I am not alone in my views, so I make no apology for disagreeing with the narrative largely lead by Māori men.

Graham Cameron writes a beautiful piece on the story of the pōwhiri and introduces his views therein.  I say its beautiful because he tells the story of pōwhiri so eloquently. And I agree that pōwhiri is not intended to dominate women. But my contention is that it is not sufficient to accuse critics of cultural imperialism while ignoring the views of Māori women who may in fact want to whaikōrero at pōwhiri.

I was introduced to the concepts of ‘gender essentialism’ and ’benevolent sexism’ by a Pākehā woman yesterday. And I agree with her that these concepts are prevalent at pōwhiri  and that they are discriminatory irrespective of custom. Additionally, these concepts are not unique to Pākehā culture.

Cameron’s piece alludes to the idea that because these tikanga customs and practices are culturally essentialist, gender essentialism is justified on these grounds.

How about that – a man justifying what is and isn’t important to the experience of Māori women at pōwhiri, you know, because culture dictates it.

Cultural essentialism does not justify gender essentialism. The mere fact I am a woman and must be protected (benevolent sexism anyone?) so I can have babies is no justification for depriving me the opportunity to whaikōrero at pōwhiri. I acknowledge that this is a really uncharitable interpretation of Cameron’s post, but as a Māori woman, this is how it reads to me.

A great proportion of this debate also centres around how karanga and whaikōrero are equally important aspects of the pōwhiri. And this is true, but it doesnt detract from the fact that they might not be equally important to the Māori women who actually want to participate in the whaikōrero.

Do I think that Māori should change this practice because the Speaker of the House says so? Absolutely not. Do I think Māori should have the discussion within their respective whānau, hapū, and iwi, allowing Māori women to express their own preferences and making consensus based decisions? Absolutely.

As Māori we are consistently talking about the fluidity of our tikanga, yet when a male privilege is challenged – cultural imperialism!

Admittedly, I am not as familiar with feminist theories and the various nuances as others are and I do feel like I might be less protective of this particular cultural aspect than others because I was raised in a predominantly urban environment with limited exposure to my Māori heritage.

But I will not sit idly back and let this discussion be derailed by the Speaker of the House and the dominant culture or by Māori men justifying gender essentialism based on a context that no longer afflicts our interactions with each other. Tikanga is fluid. It can adapt. But its up to Māori to decide if they will adapt.

(Note: this post was originally much larger, but I decided to reduce it so the basic message isn’t lost in a typhoon of academic speak)