Friday, November 29, 2013

A brief note on Thanksgiving and Waitangi Day

Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays. I love it mostly because of the abundance of food but also because it is secular and so it feels like everyone can take part in this celebration.  A lot of my friends message me and tell me they are thankful to have me in their life and I take the time to do the same and reflect on all the things that make my life a blessed one. It really is very great.

But one thing that is completely missing from the American Thanksgiving celebration is Native Americans. It is as if they never even existed. The extent to which Native American rights have been abused, the extent to which they are treated as second class citizens, the extent to which they are an invisible people is astounding.  When children dress up every year as pilgrims and Native Americans to re-enact the ‘first Thanksgiving’ in schools all over America, they ignore history. Many are beginning to celebrate Indigenous Peoples Day as an alternative to Columbus Day but this is not widely known let alone accepted. Native Americans are basically rarely in the public discourse and it is bizarre the way history is so easily forgotten by an entire nation.

As you all know from my brief profile on the side, I did not have the privilege of growing up in Aotearoa. A few years after I was born, my parents moved back to Bangladesh from Christchurch. And then they move to America and then I had to find my back to what I call my home. As a result, I’ve never been a super nationalistic or patriotic person. I never know who to swear my allegiance to. I’ll admit that I knew very little about Māori culture when I moved back to New Zealand as an adult. I took Treaty of Waitangi Law as an elective paper at Law School and that was the first time I was started to understand the legal status of the Treaty and the legal rights of our indigenous population. Working at OTS was life changing and I would go back there in a heartbeat not only because the incredible work that’s being done there but also how much I learnt about Māoridom from my negotiations meetings.

Maybe it is because of that or maybe it is because I view the Treaty as a legal document rather than a political document. Maybe it is because I spent all my time looking at the impact of our justice and welfare system on Māori. Maybe it is because I’m a minority and I’m forced occupy many uncomfortable spaces. But I do not find what happens on Waitangi Day uncomfortable or upsetting.

America has managed to put aside all the negative feelings that one should associate with how they have treated their indigenous population not just in the past but in modern history. There are a lot of people that believe that it would be better if Waitangi Day would be akin to Thanksgiving or Fourth of July as our national holiday. Many are disappointed by what happens at Waitangi especially what is directed at politicians. But I am not. Many would like to see that holiday turned into a civilised family gathering and a celebration of our nationhood. I don't think that we are there yet. Not until we accept Māori culture as part of our national identity. And it cannot be just limited to the Haka at All Blacks games. 

I like that politicians have to confront the pain that is in our society, the wounds that have not healed. I like that we as a nation are forced to watch the anger on the 6’ o clock news and know that we cannot just shove our people behind a day at the beach and a barbie with the family. I like that it forces us to ask questions about whether we are divided as a nation and how we can work to bridge that gap. At least I hope it does. The Māori Party was formed because Māori had a voice. A voice they used to stand up to legislation that would take away their rights. The fact that America’s indigenous population don’t have a meaningful voice should not be something we as a nation aspire to achieve. Perhaps we can ensure better means of dialogue on the day. Perhaps the dialogue shouldn't be limited to just one day. And yes, it would be nice if Waitangi Day was a family holiday of celebration and maybe one day it will be but we don’t deserve that day today.

Saturday, November 9, 2013


Scandal is one my favorite shows on television right now. And yes, it is because the lead is a black woman in a pseudo political show. And yes, it does make me feel like one day I could be someone like her. This week's episode tackled sexism in the political world. Particularly what it is like for female candidates. For those of you in New Zealand - spoiler alert.. but not really. I'm not giving away any crucial plot info. 

In New Zealand, there has been outrage from some quarters because the Labour Party has announced it would like 50% of its candidates to be female by 2017. There is outrage because it is assumed that the increase in female candidates will be at the cost of meritorious male candidates. Because as we all know, men only get to where they get to purely because of merit. None of us have ever seen an incompetent male in the workplace or a less-deserving male in any position. (Cue Tui billboard)

I was once told that women do not want quotas because they want to get in on their own merits. That is true. We do want to get in on our own merits. The problem is that even if you are qualified, institutional sexism prevents you from getting in. Thus far nobody, and I really mean NOBODY, has given me a solution for how you deal with the problem of women with merit being pushed aside for men with LESS MERIT because they are men. That is the crux of the problem. I think it was David Farrar who suggested that had the quota system been in place in the past, Michael Cullen wouldn’t have made it in. Maybe that’s true. Maybe it’s also true that the woman in his place would have been even better. Maybe. We will never know.

Anyway back to Scandal. In this episode, the female candidate for Presidential nomination (played by Lisa Kudrow) of her party is facing subtle sexist attacks from candidates of her own party. She responds in an all-out epic rant at the reporter addressing subtle sexism that we all know exist but cannot quite prove because it doesn’t have the word ‘woman’ in it. Here is an excerpt:

"There's something my grandmother used to do whenever I'd start dating someone. I would tell her his name and she would say, 'Oh, what part of town does he live in?' That was her way of asking if my boyfriend was white. Oh yeah, my grandmother was an out and out racist, so I know what prejudice looks like. It's not about experience, James, it's about gender. Reston's [her opponent] saying I don't have the balls to be president and he means that literally. It's offensive. It's offensive to me and to all the women and to all the women whose votes he's asking for."

"The only reason we're doing this interview in my house is because you requested it. This was your idea and yet here you are, thanking me for inviting you into my "lovely home." That's what you say to the neighbor lady who baked you chocolate chip cookies. This pitcher of iced tea isn't even mine, it's what your producer sent here. Why? Same reason you called me a "real-life Cinderella story," it reminds people that I'm a woman without using the word. For you it's an angle, I get that and I'm sure you think it's innocuous, but guess what? It's not."

In recent times, people have been posting about what comes up on Google’s autofill function when you search for “Woman want/need/should/shouldn’t/could/couldn’t…” and “Men want/need/should/shouldn’t/could/couldn’t…”. You can see a video on Upworthy here. And I also posted this photo previously  that my friend created using Malaysian Google.

I remember when I was a student and I was working in the restaurant service industry - I got a fairly large tip from a group of people and it was unusual because there is no tipping as such in NZ (for my American readers). My manager said to me that I would get even bigger tips if I wore something more lowcut. I very firmly told him that what he said amounted to sexual harassment and if he ever made a comment like that I would make sure he was fired. It never happened again. But not everyone is that lucky. 

I also once read an article on men’s needs in relationships vs. women’s needs. When women articulate their needs they are labelled as ‘needy’. So women have learnt to not have ‘the talk’ in relationship articulating what they want out of it because they don’t want to be seen as ‘needy’. However, men’s needs are presented as ‘needs that have to be met’.  It is an interesting theory and by no means true in every relationship. I also think that there has been a shift in my generation where we are more willing to walk away from a relationship if our needs are not being met. But that hasn’t stopped women from strategizing with their girlfriends on how to approach an issue in a relationship before bringing it up with their partners because of ‘you don’t want to be perceived in a certain way’ implications.

Switching back to politics, we all know that there is more focus on women’s image than men’s image. We know that women’s strengths are tested in different ways. If a candidate is a mother it is always highlighted. It is never the same way for candidates who are fathers. Women either have to 'soften' their image or 'toughen' their image. Because one cannot be too much like a man or too much like a women.

I want to see more men in cleaning, food and diaper commercials. I want our parental leave to give men the opportunity to be a stay at home dad. I want the number of hours that women spend doing unpaid household work to decrease. I want the pay gap to decrease. I want more women in leadership positions so we have a different perspective of governance to what we have had since the beginning of mankind. This not a fight against men because there are plenty of male allies in this struggle.

Equality isn’t just a piece of legislation or a declaration that says you are equal. Equality is a constant struggle. Equality is standing up for injustice. Equality is the ability to call out sexism but also provide solutions to minimize the inequality. Our society is not perfect. We all bring our biases to our roles. We all have views that someone ought to question. That is a good thing. It means we improve and we educate. 

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Rape Culture

Yesterday I tweeted 4 things that I believe illustrate rape culture. Today I'm elaborating on those 4 things. There are many others but in the context of this story and the dialogue this week, this is what I have identified. 

Exhibit A: Victim's actions

There’s been a lot of focus on the victims’ actions. They were drunk. They haven’t come forward. They need to be brave. This is completely unacceptable. Just because a person is in a vulnerable state does not mean they are inviting you to sexually abuse them. A staggering number of people are sexually assaulted and raped in their life time. It terrifying to read the statistics and realize that there must be so many people around me who are suffering silently that I don’t even know about. I live in my bubble and only think about it when a news like what happened this week breaks. We should not have to live in a society where a 13 year old girl has to go through what she did in this situation and then BE BRAVE. The reason these girls cannot come forward is because we don’t have a safe society where they will receive the support – emotional, legal, financial etc. We have a society that doubts, blames, ostracizes, objectifies, and vilifies.

UPDATE: Now it turns out that someone did come forward and this happened to them. 

Exhibit B: NZ Police

I do not know what the hell they have been doing for the last two years but it is clearly not enough. And yes I am aware of the law. I understand its limitations in this situation but the police are not powerless. They were dealing with a guy who father apparently is a celebrity and the son of a cop. This should have been top priority. The whole community should have been made aware long ago so what continued to happen at parties could be prevented and monitored more closely. The police need to take responsibility and need to ask themselves why the public don’t want to come forward to them. Last year a survey found trust in police was at an all time low. What did they do in response? They blamed the survey. Police culture in NZ is toxic. Everybody knows this. Someone ought to take responsibility and make some sweeping changes. I am looking at the leadership and I’m looking at the Minister.

UPDATE: See above. A detective inspector claimed yesterday "None of the girls have been brave enough to make formal statements to us so we can take it to a prosecution stage or even consider a prosecution stage." Basically he lied or did not know what's going on in his department. If this is not gross incompetence, I'm not sure what is. 

Exhibit C: John Key and Judith Collins

I expected better from our elected officials. I expect better from my Prime Minister and my Justice Minister. The PM reacted by saying that that should just grow up. This is not immature behavior Mr. Key. This is sexual assault and rape. And in case you aren’t aware, grown ups rape too. Mr. Key’s comments were callous and dismissive. He showed a lack of empathy and there was no leadership. He could have said – we need to look at our laws and if there are loopholes – we should address them immediately. He should have said – this is unacceptable and we as a society need to examine how this is happening and work to make changes at the family, school, and community level. He should have been the Prime Minister. It is clear he doesn’t want to talk about this and he doesn’t want to acknowledge it as a societal issue because being part of a society requires you to take societal responsibility and Mr. Key is incapable of that. And what about our Justice Minister? She pointed to the cyber bullying laws. She knows full well those laws will not address this but it was once again – hey look over here, I’m doing something. Once again it was shirking responsibility.

UPDATE: I'm going to add the Minister of Police Anne Tolley to this list. After what we have found out in addition to the fact that one of the boys is related to a Police officer - this reeks of corruption and she should take responsibility. 

Exhibit D: Willie and JT

I don’t even know where to start. Apparently they have apologized for offence caused by the appalling segment where they questioned a friend of the girls about this. The appalling segment that RadioLive has taken down in response to the controversy. These guys are what’s wrong with our society. They blame drinking, the age a girl loses her virginity and the fact that the girls may have lied to their parents about partying as reasons why basically ‘they had it coming’. They didn’t say it. But it was in their tone - in their condescending tones. Amy (bless her soul), the subject of the interview, was trying to answer the questions with incredible dignity in the face of the most offensive questions I have ever heard. So in case you guys aren’t aware – here are some rules about rape.
  •  Just because you consent once doesn’t mean a man can have sex with you subsequently without further consent. A girl can say no ANYTIME. Even half way through. DO YOU GET THAT?
  • Just because you consent to one person doesn’t mean you will have sex with another person.
  • Just because you lie to your parents about going to a party doesn’t mean you should be raped.
  • Just because you are drunk does not mean you want to have sex.
Also what the hell was TV3 thinking last night? How could they run this segment? Where was the responsibility? When the girls said the boys were cool – why didn’t anyone ask why? How and why is gang raping cool? Did their parents know they were going to be on TV3? The media has a responsibility and in this TV3 like everyone else in this post totally shirked it. Shame on them.

If you are feeling disheartened and you want to help - Read this post.

Finally, let's look at these 4 things and let's fix them. Let's stop blaming the victims and let's stop thinking that laws will fix everything. We have a culture that enables this and we need to work together to fix it. We need better sexual education in schools. We need better role models. We need media responsibility. We need leadership from our elected officials. I don't want to beat up these guys and I don't want them to rot in jail forever. I want them to learn their lessons, be rehabilitated and I want justice for the girls.