From The Will of the Empress by Tamora Pierce:

“Why?” Sandry demanded, quivering as if she might yet flee him. “Why do you have such a distaste for it, when so many other men do not?”

Ambros cleared his throat. “You judge us all by the actions of a few, Cousin.”

Sandry made a face. “I’m sorry, Ambros,” she apologised, her voice still raspy. “I’m overwrought, I suppose.”

Ealaga sighed. “Really, my dear husband, for a man who is so clever, you can be so shortsighted,” she said with unhappy patience. “What else is she supposed to do, when any unmarried woman of western Namorn must live her life and judge all men by those few who have successfully stolen women away? Each time a man succeeds, we place our daughters and our sisters under new safeguards. We put their lives under new restrictions. We give them new signs that a man in whose company they find themselves might plan to kidnap them. Don’t we teach our women to view all men according to the actions of a few?”

(White) men are destroying the left

I can’t count the number of times I’ve read that someone is destroying the left. Almost universally, it’s because they’re criticising someone else’s behaviour. Almost universally, they’re a woman, often Maori or Pasifika though not necessarily, criticising a well-known left wing man for trampling over others. Sometimes it’s rape or abuse apologism. Sometimes it’s sexism, or racism, or transphobia. Sometimes it’s the violation of boundaries of someone in a minority group, the assumption that they’re owed attention and time and hand-holding.

I’ve seen the effects of two incidents in the last week that play into this framework. One friend feeling so disillusioned with the left she felt she could no longer be a part of it after being gaslighted and harassed over a simple request not to make an offensive comparison. Another receiving an incredibly creepy and unwanted contact from someone whose fauxpology she’d criticised in a single tweet earlier in the week. Also this week has been discussion of a protest planned in Auckland in solidarity with #Ferguson which attempted to link events there with democracy protests in Hong Kong as part of some vast global movement, specifically claimed to not be a criticism of police, and is linked to organisations that are known for protecting rapists.

As a slight diversion from the topic, I was studying for my economics paper this morning and reading about production possibilities frontiers, essentially a model representing the trade offs that can be made when you can put your resources into two different outcomes. The example was an economy that produces cars and computers – you can make, say, 2200 computers and 600 cars, or 2000 computers and 700 cars, or you could go to an extreme and produce 1000 cars but no computers at all. The thing is, when you do that the opportunity cost of a car is high. A lot of your autoworkers are actually really good at making computers and not very good at making cars – if you move a few of them into computer production, you’re going to gain a lot more completed computers than you’ll lose completed cars.

This is actually a pretty good analogy for the left. We put so many of our resources into <s>cars</s> men that our opportunity costs in <s>computers</s> really effective, strong, capable women is skyrocketing. Protecting one rapist drives away dozens of women. Defending one guy who doesn’t understand boundaries silences dozens of women who now have to protect themselves against the risk of being stalked in real life for even the slightest criticism.

This system is not rational. It’s not reasonable. It’s not stable or efficient or effective. Instead of policing women’s reactions to bad behaviour, we need to police that behaviour. We need to teach people that if you have to track down someone’s contact information, you probably shouldn’t be using it. If they wanted you to call them they’d give you their phone number and there are very few situations that warrant an exception. The mindset that lets men (and the occasional woman) think they can ignore the boundaries of people who disagree with them is baffling in its arrogance and absolutely not conducive to the long-term success of the left. And particularly when it is a man, there is an existing context in which women have to constantly guard themselves against the possibility that that man is not just an annoyance, but outright dangerous. It’s a context in which calling someone at work to argue about the legitimacy of your apology is in the same category as domestic and intimate partner violence that kills and injures far too many women and girls. Is it the same thing? No. But the men who murder also stalk. When you receive that intrusive phone call, you don’t know how far it might go if you make him angry, and when we put our resources into coddling men who act like this and defending their behaviour we allow them to continue to act in ways that are destructive and harmful to everyone.

Excerpt – Simons, M.A. ‘Lesbian Connections: Simone de Beauvoir and Feminism

Full reference:
Simons, M.A. (1992). ‘Lesbian Connections: Simone de Beauvoir and Feminism’ in Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, 18(1), 136-161.

Beauvoir, according to Butler, radically extends the notion of choice: “To ‘choose’ a gender in this context is not to move in upon gender from a disembodied locale, but to reinterpret the cultural history which the body wears. The body becomes a choice, a mode of enacting and reenacting received gender norms which surface as so many styles of the flesh” (Butler 1986, 48). Gender is not a fixed identity but, according to Butler, “a corporeal style, a way of acting the body, a way of wearing one’s own flesh as a cultural sign” (Butler 1989, 256). Freedom and choice are limited, with sanctions against crossing gender boundaries severely enforced, but a woman acting “masculine” or a man dressing in “feminine” clothing claim their freedom and disrupt the social meaning of gender in the process.

Dressing with self-respect

Recently, #FastTailedGirls trended on Twitter. It’s a hashtag that was started by Mikki Kendall for black women to talk about their experiences with being hyper-sexualised at a young age. I saw tweets about girls as young as four years old being labeled “fast” for wanting to play with their male peers, for dressing up in sundresses and hats, or hitting puberty early. And because black women can’t have their own space respected there were of course trolls, slut-shamers and victim-blamers.

(I was going to put a picture of an adorable little girl wearing a hat here, but got frustrated trying to find a non-watermarked picture of a pre-teen when “girl” is assumed to refer to all women.)

One of them tweeted, about an hour ago: “@yvethepoet How do those laws have anything to do with allowing children to dress like they don’t respect themselves?” (To clarify, he was addressing it to @yvethepoet, who was contributing to the hashtag. Additionally the tweet he was replying to didn’t say anything about laws, so I’m going to assume he means age of consent legislation or something similar.) And good lord that tweet raises so many issues but is so, so typical of the responses women get talking about this shit that I really want to address it.

1. Age of consent laws don’t have anything to do with how children dress because clothing isn’t consent.
2. Though he later mentioned “young women”, he is definitely referring to children here. Presumably pre-teens. A child wearing “provocative” clothing, a child wearing heels and make up, a child wearing a bikini, does not look sexy. Not to me, not to most adults. Children learn about the world through play. They dress up, they play pretend, they role play, they copy what they see. An eleven year old experimenting with her clothing in imitation of how adults dress is not making some kind of comment on her sexual availability. Ideally an eleven year old doesn’t even know what that means, though sadly many (particularly black girls and other girls of colour such as natives) have been forcibly introduced to their sexuality way, way too young. Even a fifteen year old who hit puberty early and has a lot of curves is still clearly a young girl on interaction. There are very, very few fifteen year olds who are actually so magically mature that you can’t tell them apart from an adult. And while the age of consent here in New Zealand is 16, in much of America where the people contributing to #FastTailedGirls live it’s 18, so a fifteen year old girl is not “only” a few months away from being “legal”.
3. How exactly does one indicate through their clothing that they don’t respect themselves? I actually addressed this point on Twitter and never got a reply. By asking this he’s assuming that his assumptions about the meaning of dress are universally true. Some people think that a woman who doesn’t cover her hair must have no self-respect. I could think that anyone who’d wear a onesie in public doesn’t have any self-respect. The motivations behind how we dress are incredibly complex, very culturally specific, and entirely subjective. Often people will object to clothing on one woman that is a completely normal thing to wear. For example, one woman on the hashtag talked about being told to wear trousers instead of shorts as a child because her mother’s boyfriend was coming to the house. Obviously, that’s bullshit. A young girl wearing shorts is not some sultry temptress. She’s a young girl wearing shorts. I’m wearing shorts right fucking now and I don’t think they’re particularly sexy. Another woman talked about a teacher chiding her for showing too much cleavage wearing a tank top. Women who have large cleavage often complain about trying to find clothes that properly cover them up, because sometimes it’s just not possible. You can’t wear a turtleneck in hot weather (the American South in summer…) and sometimes a turtleneck actually draws more attention to the breasts by outlining them and not having a neckline directly above them to distract the eye. Ultimately what people are actually objecting to is these girls and women having a certain type of post-puberty onset body, and that’s not something that girls and women can control.
4. Following on from that, what does the assumed self-respect or lackthereof of young girls even have to do with rape? I mean, obviously, it does because a) rapists are predatory and deliberately target vulnerable girls and women who often have poor self-esteem and b) being sexually objectified and hypersexualised erodes self-esteem and self-respect, but the guys who are making this argument don’t fall in line with that reasoning. They don’t talk about rape as a deliberately predatory act and they don’t worry about the self-esteem of girls who are being constantly judged according to their perceived sexuality. They think “confidence” is a codeword for “dressing slutty” and victims call rape on themselves by being too sexy. And in that case, shouldn’t the opposite be true, that girls who don’t respect themselves are less attractive? Unless, I guess, you think low self-esteem and lack of self-respect are sexy, that they make an eleven year old girl desirable, and that the exaggerated play-acted “flirting” of pre-teens, in the few cases where it existed in the first place (which it usually doesn’t, most girls did not invite the attention, not that any level of flirting implies consent anyway and especially in a fucking child) is somehow attractive rather than clumsy and immature.

This huge focus on clothing is ridiculous. Clothing is not the be all and end all of attractiveness. It might influence it in some ways, but not enough to make someone who you wouldn’t ordinarily be attracted to suddenly become someone you’re going to chase after, past the point of just eyeing them up, past the point of approaching them, past the point of flirting, past the point of asking them out, someone you’re actively trying to have sex with even if their first response isn’t “yeah, let’s do it!” Likewise, someone who’s attractive in and of themselves isn’t suddenly unattractive because they’re wearing more clothes. So how, how, how can what a child is wearing be a relevant factor? People who aggressively pursue children do it because of social values and conditioning that tells them it’s okay and they won’t face consequences. In some (but not all or even most) cases they do it because they’re pedophiles or ephebophiles, who are attracted specifically and exclusively to that age group, and also because social values and conditioning tell them they won’t face consequences. But the idea that there’s something that black girls in particular are wearing that accounts for the way they’re sexualised and shamed defies all logic and common sense.

The rape apologists’ utopia

One day, all that rape prevention advice will have been repeated the magical number of times for women to start actually following it consistently. At this point, women will stop going to bars, pubs, or really anywhere that might serve alcohol. They will dress drably, being sure to cover their ankles and collar bones. They will never speak to strange men and you’ll only be able to see them in public in groups or with a male relative. While some will work, it will only be those who can get jobs where they both arrive and leave in broad daylight, near enough to the house that they don’t have to walk through a “bad” neighbourhood. (If they live in a “bad” neighbourhood they simply won’t leave the house. Ideally they’d have the use of a car to avoid walking or public transports.)

Women would never have male friends. They would not flirt, smile, or make eye contact, in fear that they may be misinterpreted as a sign that they want to have sex with you and also all of your friends. In the workplace all job-related communication would take place via email for a document record and to avoid interaction.

There will also be no sex workers, because the very idea of it would be so terrible that women would prefer to starve.

Men would be completely unable to pick up women for a one night stand, or a fling, or a relationship. They wouldn’t be able to find a sex worker. They wouldn’t have any female friends. If they were married they would have to earn more to provide for a dependant, who is probably a relation of a male friend, business partner or acquaintance of theirs. If any women work with them they would be largely silent, making few if any suggestions to improve products or processes, because forwardness in a woman is not a trait to be encouraged lest it leads to forwardness in other areas. If a man does manage to get into a relationship or marriage, his partner will be both ignorant and inhibited, having been raised to believe that sex is something that’s entirely reasonable to be punished by violent assaults and humiliation, occasionally recorded for posterity, and no body will care unless the rapists make the uncouth mistake of bragging in public. The days of mutual passion, gone. Women will be reluctant to even admit when they enjoy something, because that would make them sluts.

I can really only conclude that apologists haven’t quite thought things through, because surely they can’t want this.

The escalator analogy

Glancing at Twitter I can see there’s shit going down. For those who I haven’t mentioned it to already, I know basically nothing about the story and that’s how I’m going to have to leave it for a while. I feel like I’m sort of flirting with a breakdown and waiting for various support services to get back to me to tell me what the next hoop I need to jump through is. Added to that physical pain any time my spine isn’t in just the right position or bearing too much weight, and a bunch of chores that need doing and yeah, I have no time for that sort of deal. Don’t let me stop you talking about it of course, just, if you could avoid bringing me in on it, that would be super.


Labour’s put out a new gender balance proposal which I’ve seen termed as “the man ban in drag”, whatever that means, and I felt this was a timely opportunity to remind or educate people about the escalators. This isn’t something I came up with, someone much smarter did that, and later if I have the time and energy I might try to track down who it was to give them the credit. But it basically goes like this:

There’s a company that needs to hire some people to do some work. They decide to use a meritocratous method of picking candidates, which in this analogy is that there is a room upstairs and the first forty people there will get the job. Between the ground floor and this room are two sets of escalators, so immediately people start streaming towards the up escalator. Some run up, and they get to the room first. Some walk up, and they start filling out the ranks too. And some people figure, the escalator’s going up anyway, I’ll just rest and let it take me up and then sprint for the doorway.

As it happens. everyone who gets onto this first escalator is a man, either because they’ve pushed ahead through everyone, or deliberately pushed women aside, or the women looked at those more pushy guys pushing everyone (and sometimes singling out women specifically) and thought, “there’s got to be another way up.” And there is. There’s the second escalator, the one that’s going down. At this point, a lot of women just go, “this is some bullshit” and walk out, because it’s clearly not as meritocratous as they were led to believe. Being willing and able to push people down so you can get past them just plain isn’t going to lead to somewhere they want to work because it’s unlikely those people will put that behaviour aside when they reach the room. Still, it’s a really good job and there are women who really want it, so some of them start not just running but sprinting up the down escalator. They aren’t as fast as the men who ran up the up escalator, and they’re quite out of breath by the time they get to the top, but they still manage to get there. Other women are going up the down escalator too at whatever speeds they’re willing or capable of. A few more reach the top and get the last couple of places, or reach the top and still miss out. Some are (to mix my metaphors) just treading water in the middle. Others end up right back down at the bottom again.

Up in the room, everyone looks around. There’s about five women out of the forty successful candidates and some of the men notice this and start talking about how the women must not really like the work, how strange! Or maybe they’re just not very good at it. Hearing this, the women argue back that they had a lot more work to do to get up here. The men had it easy, they were on the up escalator, some of them in that very room just stood there and let it carry them up, but the women had to fight against a backwards current. The men don’t get it. Everyone had the same instructions. There were two escalators, you could choose which one you used. If the up one was a little bit playfully rough, it didn’t mean anything, the women who were nervous of it were just being too sensitive. Why couldn’t they just push the guys back?

So the women get together and decide to install a lift. It would be pretty basic, and it would only carry a few people at a time and it would need other people to operate it, but they agree it’s a good method to get a few more women up into the room. So the next time they all get told that the first forty people will get a job, the men push for the up escalator just like they did last time. Meanwhile, the women start operating their elevator. By the time the first dozen men are there, six women walk in. Another ten men, then six more women, and finally five more men and a woman who’d decided to get there the same way the men did. The men look around and instead of five women there are thirteen now, and they get pissed. This isn’t right. They know from past jobs that only about five women make it up. Sometimes a few less or a few more, but maybe like eight, nowhere near thirteen. They troop out of the room and go and see what happened and find the women’s escalator, and now they’re really pissed. This is cheating, it’s not fair. There are two perfectly good escalators. “Yes,” the women say, “but we pointed out that our escalator goes backwards and you didn’t care. We won’t use the lift if we can set our escalator to go forwards like yours, or even if we turn it right off so it doesn’t move, otherwise we need the lift.”

A lift, the men agree, is SPECIAL TREATMENT. And so is messing with the escalators. There are two escalators and you can choose which one you take. They don’t have to take that one. It’s not the men’s fault they do. Some people come on the up escalator with them and there’s even one in the room with them. If SHE could do it, it proves there’s no problem – the other women can do it too. Just stop expecting to be spoiled and catered to so much, it’s no wonder some people (but no one here, of course!!) refuse to hire women who are going to cry and whine and accuse men of sexual harassment and have babies.

Some women are pretty disgusted by this and decide to go into another line of work. The others decide that they’re not going to give in, they really like this work, so they’re going to keep using their lift, and if the men keep going on about special treatment for women and accusing them of god knows what terrible behaviour because they’re pissed that more than a couple of go-along-to-get-along women are even there, well, at least they know the truth of it.

The vast majority of rapes are committed by shrubbery

Look, here’s what I don’t get about this insistence that to avoid rape women need to never walk alone at night in dark parks.

What’s unsafe about a park at night?

Okay, it’s dark. Why is that a problem? Because people can’t see you?
There’s not many people there. Why is that a problem? Because you’re less likely to encounter someone?
If you do encounter someone, they’re far more likely to be a helpful passerby than a rapist. If you encounter two people, they’re most likely two helpful passersby, but if one is a rapist the other still probably isn’t.
Really, the risk factor is the presence of a rapist. But why do we assume that rapists hang out in dark parks?

Let’s pretend I’m a rapist. I’d really like to go rape someone, hopefully a woman coz women are supposed to give me sex, okay. I’m a nice guy and I do all this nice stuff and I’m sick of women leading me on by being friends with me and then not having sex with me coz I’m not an alpha male. Bitches, man. More importantly I’d like to get away with it. Do I:
a) go hang out in a dark park, hoping that
– I see someone else in the park
– it’s a woman
– it’s a woman by herself
– who isn’t carrying anything she can use as a weapon
– who isn’t able to fight me off without a weapon
– I’m strong enough to overpower her for long enough to complete the rape
– she isn’t able to identify me, no one has seen me nearby, I haven’t been caught on any cameras, my DNA isn’t in any government system, I don’t get any injuries that will require treatment and that could be matched up to her report, no one else comes along
b) meet a woman somewhere, ask her out, use alcohol or maybe something a little stronger to lower her defenses, come onto her, ignore her soft nos, ignore her body language, ignore her actual nos, then maintain that it was completely consensual and I have no idea why she’s saying otherwise, well, maybe it’s because I didn’t call her back or something? idk, bitches, man.

Really. Which of these sounds easier to me? Coz I’m picking b.

The myth of female gaze

“Secondly, the trend may shift from only sexualising females. Anyone see the new Bond, Skyfall? The first scene with the villain includes a very camp Javier Bardem feeling up an uncomfortable Daniel Craig. Would this scene have EVER been put in Sean Connery’s films all those years ago? Nope. In the changing word today, gay marriage is being legalised, there are homosexual leads – it’s being accepted. Quite frankly, the only reason only females are sexualised in games is because there is a stigma against homosexual male characters! But if games are heading the way of the movies, and with more story-driven gameplay, they most certainly are, then it is not unfathomable to think in the next few years we could see EVERYONE getting sexualised!”
(from a comment on this article)

This paragraph is sort of strange, and it reminds me of an anecdote I read on an author’s blog once. She came across a negative review of her book on a site that expressed distaste at the way the book “promoted homosexuality”. Baffled, because there was no such content in the book, she got in touch with the writer of the comment to discuss his view. The conversation eventually revealed that the concept of the female gaze was so foreign to him that when a male was described in sexual, or even sensual, terms, his automatic assumption was that there was something gay going on. Apparently the writer of this comment suffers from the same problem. You see, even though far more straightwomen than gay men play video games, we can’t possibly have a male character be sexualised unless it’s for the appreciation of gay male gamers. Because it’s more socially acceptable to market to the horniness of gay men than for straight women, or something.*

On a note that may be related only by virtue of also being discussed in that article in the comments, I’m not really sure that “offensive” is the right word to describe my feelings about the prevalence of sexual assault in not just video games, but pop culture in general as well. As a mostly female-perceived person it definitely makes me uncomfortable. As a writer and a reader it’s sometimes just plain boring. It’s a lazy shorthand to show or prove that a character is evil. Rape is bad = only bad people rape = this character is bad, so he should try to rape someone. But there are plenty of other, and often better, ways to show that. Hell, you can have a “bad” character who refuses to sully himself by touching a member of some outside group in that manner (for characters in cults or racial gangs, etc) – it’s still misogynistic, but on a different level to the casual assumption that if there’s a bad guy around, women gonna get raped. It’s individualised misogyny, the idea of this character that an “outsider” woman has the ability to dirty him – not an idea shared by everyone playing the game or watching the movie. Or you could have a character more into psychological shit who prefers to leave his captives waiting and imagining what might happen to them. Or maybe, harming the captives just isn’t part of the plan. They’re there for a reason – ransom, to prevent them from taking action against the villains, to coerce them into performing some particular task, etc – and pointless violence against them risks retaliatory violence on a larger scale from their allies which the villains have decided is better to avoid.

And that’s just in games that take place in a semi-realistic world where, yes, rape and sexual assault are pretty much endemic. In games in other genres, though, they don’t have to be. You’re making up a world with, I don’t know, magic and dinosaurs and different political systems, but it’s just too much work to imagine a different dynamic between the sexes than the one you were brought up with? Yeah, I’m calling bullshit on the idea that it’s “just realism” there, bud. That’s not realism, that’s laziness and the inability to think about the world from a point of view that isn’t mired in rape culture and male dominance.

*Note: I’m not explicitly including bisexual peeps since they’re, in the minds of people who think the treatment of women in video games is universally regarded as sexual, already catered for in some way.

A relationship in the nature of marriage

So the newest beneficiary bash involves extending legal responsibility for relationship fraud to the partner. So there’s been some discussion of abusive relationships, and in Question Time today Jacinda Ardern (I think?) asked about whether women in abusive relationships would have that taken into account.

In response, we were told that “an abusive relationship is not a relationship in the nature of marriage”.

This is an interesting position to take. There’s no specification of whether this means just for the purposes of this policy or in general, and if the latter, I would be extremely worried. In New Zealand de facto relationships have the same benefits as those who are legally married, for example, and especially regarding divorce and separation, many of the legislations set up were about protecting the partner who has been financially disadvantaged, usually the woman – especially in an abusive relationship. If abusive relationships hold a special category where they’re NOT regarded as similar to a marriage, does that leave grounds for someone to claim they don’t have to pay alimony? Particularly if the victim/survivor does not wish to lay charges, or if the abuse does not involve physical violence (or very little) – though I’m not confident about the government’s willingness to recognise the existence of emotional abuse – it seems like the main thing stopping people from doing this would be the implicit admission of abuse, but in my experience abusers are willing to do all sorts of seemingly self-destructive things purely out of bitterness if their victim finds a way to get away from them.

ETA: Further questions:

Does this mean that if someone is in an abusive relationship, they are allowed to tell WINZ they’re single?
What does this mean for the legal validity of abusive marriages? Does it render a divorce unnecessary?*

*This is clearly in a hypothetical world where an answer in Question Time is an accepted method of law interpretation rather than judges’ decisions.