Posted on May 18, 2009 by Matthew Whitehead
Bow down to your deity, puny mortals. It’s nice to know I’m not an irrational freak and that the bad feeling when I gorge myself with chocolate1 is not me worrying about getting fat even though it seems all but impossible for me2, it’s actually Fat Satan trying in vain to steal my soul.
I’ve had trouble with this whole looking after yourself without feeling guilty thing- mainly because feeling guilty is like, a favourite passtime of mine or something- but the idea of dark obesity deities is strangely comforting even beyond the feeling of “yay, parody!”. I’m thinking Fat Satan is going to enter my everyday vocabulary.
1This happens approximately 100% of the time that I buy quantities of chocolate that exceed the size of the average “candy bar”, to wax American.
2I have an astoundingly inefficient metabolism, and the only time I ever noticably gained weight was when I was on a student exchange to Germany. Coming back and not fitting my tight jeans was a surprise. Fat Satan will have to make do with conquering the Americas for now.
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Posted on May 15, 2009 by Matthew Whitehead
Just a quick link- those of you who don’t already follow THM should take a look at Anjum’s piece there about the Ministry of Women’s Affairs firing its staff handling pay equity issues. Not a good look, National.
Filed under: Feminism | Leave a Comment »
Posted on May 13, 2009 by Matthew Whitehead
You can see her defending her appointment on TVNZ Ondemand.
While there is considerable reaction to Christine Rankin being appointed to the families commission, a lot of it is misguided. One of the tragedies of accepting any significant part of feminism is that it motivates you to defend women whose values greatly contradict your own, and while I think Ms. Rankin is a disastrous appointment, I don’t think all the criticism of her is fair or robust. In fact, I think there have been bad and good criticisms from both sides of the political divide. Let’s quickly dismiss the things I don’t want to talk about because they are trivial attacks with little substance:
- Her dress style: Her dress style is in many ways professional, and has become more so. Get over it, if she wants to dress that way I don’t see any problem. If her male colleagues are distracted maybe they need to have a cold shower before coming to work, as she certainly does not dress in a style that I would describe as provocative. I can’t believe anyone complains about her wearing long earrings, for instance.
- Her divorces: The families commission should represent all types of families, and divorce is a reality in New Zealand. I actually think this gives her a useful perspective, even if the conservative types may not like it.
- Her aggressiveness: She’s a strong woman. Get over it. A commissioner should be able to vigorously defend her viewpoint, and I don’t object to that quality in Ms. Rankin.
- Her association with the National Party: I’m personally of the opinion that public servants should not be forbidden to have a political life of their own so long as they serve the government of the day effectively and impartially. While I have doubts about her ability to be impartial, I don’t think being involved with the National Party should disqualify her.
Here are my own objections, that I feel have some substance.
- “Politically Incorrect”: Describing oneself as “not PC” is a way to tripwire one of my litmus tests. While I don’t think it’s possible to never offend everyone or that you should speak in language that you have not made your own, I do believe in making an effort to get along with other people and to call them by their own appropriate names and identifiers, rather than expecting them to conform to my behavioral standards and make do with what I want to label them. People who claim they’re not PC as a badge of pride tend to use this as a way of saying they expect you to hold the same bigoted views as they do, although of course I take the time to listen to them and confirm that they follow this trend before I judge them. Christine Rankin most definitely does conform to it.
- Diviseness: Oddly enough, Peter Dunne is right: Christine Rankin is a politically divisive figure and will not be able to work effectively with a potential labour government, and has shown in the past her inability to do so. She defended herself as being strong, not PC, and able to speak out against the left- so she’s effectively admitting she is highly divisive and not looking to provide objective advice. It’s great saying you’re willing to speak out against things that are wrong, but she crossed the line as soon as she said WHO was wrong in the specific (“the left”, although I would still object if a civil servant said “the right” was wrong after being appointed)- that made clear that she divides the world internally into people she agrees with, and people she doesn’t. I have no idea whose fault her issues with the Labour government were, and I make no judgement on that, regardless of my antipathy for her. She says she would be fine working with a Labour government if they want to hear what she has to say, but frankly I think her ideology would get in the way of that, given her disastrous performance at WINZ and her inability to deal with opposing viewpoints. Of course, Christine is also right that Dunne is on a mad quest for power, but that’s a personal attack on him, not a defense of herself. I doubt that was his motivation in objecting to her: He’s far more likely to be worried she’s going to destabilise and sabotage his most effective political achievement.
- Policy: Christine Rankin thinks that violence against children is sometimes appropriate and supports the re-implementation of section 59 of the crimes act. As a victim of abuse herself, I accept her right to talk from her experience and she has my deepest sympathy and my support in her advocacy for children in general, however I feel her views on smacking children, and also on the separate issue of the repeal of section 59, are likely founded on her own desensitisation to violence against children. Section 59 was not a smokescreen issue, it has helped effect a 33% increase in the number of people who know it is not okay to commit violence against children. For someone so results-focused, Christine Rankin is quick to ignore some quite positive results, and seems set on undoing an effective policy. I apologise if in saying this I’ve somehow belittled her experiences, but I can’t find a convincing reason to agree with her.
- Partisan Appointment: While I don’t claim the government will have viewed this appointment favourably1, I have little doubt that it has been made to further the interests of this government, and not those of New Zealand as a whole. Ms. Rankin has made clear that she does not believe in the idea of public service, and thinks governments departments must be run like a particularly poor business, cutting every cost without exceptionally good short-term justification. Some scared interviewers likely viewed this favourably because it gels with the inept last-ditch strategy of our new government to cut everything they can and hope for the best. This sort of managerial style would be disastrous for long-term social welfare project like the Families Commission, and no doubt a repeat performance of her bellyflop at WINZ, and undo the small successes the commission has had thus far.
- Disqualification: Rankin has made it quite clear she cannot manage senior government positions in the past. I don’t see the point of giving her another one without her gaining some very good qualifications in the meantime.
- Heterocentrism and normativity: Rankin seems to think a heterosexual marriage with 2.5 kids is something to be ashamed of because we now talk about other types of families. As someone who was a victim of abuse and has been divorced, I would have expected Ms. Rankin to have learned something about how useless normativity is from her experiences. That she has not clearly shows she is ill-suited to the families commission.
Filed under: Feminism, politics | 5 Comments »
Posted on May 8, 2009 by Matthew Whitehead
We all know the refrain right? There is no such thing as mental illness. People just need to “harden up” and get through it, right? Pychs are just there to scam the weak-willed for money, like some sort of pokies for the headcases.
Bullshit. As someone who is finally starting to recover from long-term social anxiety, trying to “harden up” and tough your way through a recovery just causes you to panic and think you can’t do it at all, which quickly leads you into making your problem worse by trying to deal with it through avoiding it. Not just that, but there are real physical symptoms1 from mental illness that can be pretty mystifying if you try to treat them without addressing the mental problems behind them. (My sleeping has got much better, for instance, since I started re-learning how to relax my muscles) One way to battle a mental illness is that you challenge its premises by slowly putting yourrself into the situations that challenge you- not going all-out at once, but just building up slowly so you can function.
This opinion often cloaks itself behind other objections: “We try to cure everything with antidepressants” being a notable one. Firstly, I should point out that any half-decent GP will realise that antidepressants are there to help break you out of feedback loops, not to make you feel better about the hole you’re in. You can’t make yourself feel better by getting a job or doing well at study if you’re too depressed to even show up, for instance. This is what real medical professionals use anti-depressants for, and why a GP will generally try to get someone they prescribe this sort of treatment to into therapy of some sort. The reason that the use of antidepressants for medicating mental disorders is so common is that practically every mental disorder is based upon a feedback loop. Violent people cause others to threaten them by being prepared for that threat in the first place. Shy or nervous people isolate themselves because they’re too afraid to socialise. Depressive people lose engagement and motivation and can’t face the things they need to do to get them back, because those very actions require a degree of motivation and engagement. Starting off on an anti-depressant during some sort of therapy gives people the boost they need to break the cycle- no good doctor just hands someone pills and hopes they go away.
What’s even worse is that this reinforces social problems in our society. Because violent people think they’re naturally violent rather than that they’ve lost control of their own subconscious, a lot of preventable domestic violence happens precisely because of the attitude that mental illness doesn’t exist. Rape victims have what they need for recovery questioned and are treated like attention-seekers because they can’t just “harden up” their way out of post-traumatic stress. All sorts of people from the GLBTQI rainbow can suffer social exclusion syndrome that makes them think they’re a lot more different than they actually are due to the pressure put on them to conform to straight norms. I won’t claim to familiar with the sorts of mental disorders that can arise from racism, but as poverty tends to make it harder to access effective treatment and discourage wanting to further, racial poverty among New Zealand minorities is surely a factor here.
Hopefully recent public education has dented this one a bit, but it still surprises me just how many of these harmful beliefs my subconscious had swallowed despite totally contradicting what I believed. Fortunately, when you live in a world where mental illness is real, you can understand that sometimes the conscious and subconscious work at odds with each other.
Filed under: Mental Illness, New Zealand | Leave a Comment »