And the backlash begins…

You’ll excuse me for taking a couple of days off on the weekend- that’s going to be a regular thing, and frankly, five updates a week is more than enough, even though you’ll probably get more 😉 Let’s play some catch-up!

The “Kingmaker” debate on TV7, ignoring its moronic title ringing of sexism and lack of clarity on MMP politics, raises a very interesting issue- the issue of racial backlash, where privileged groups, like Pakeha in New Zealand, feel undervalued because of positive discrimination that is used to urgently relieve the symptoms of racial discrimination. This has deep implications for feminism and politics that advances women’s causes in general- especially as backlash against feminism has already started in New Zealand.

Jeanette and Pita make wonderful points in response to a horridly biased survey question- which ethnic group people feel is most advantaged. Firstly, this makes people go looking for advantage that may be insignificant or not even there. Secondly, it’s stupid to poll people on who has an advantage- it damages the political discourse, turning us against each other, and encourages backlash onto minority groups. Pita points out rightly that this perception is driven by the fact that Pakeha who say Maori are the most advantaged ethnic group- and they made up almost half of the total population- are only focusing on the policy aimed at Maori to catch them up to Pakeha, not the actual need for that policy, and if we take that into account, Maori are grossly underprivileged, as the statistics show. He uses the example of Maori language- which is still receiving far less support than English language- to illustrate that while Maori might get some extra preferential funding to help them catch up, the necessity for that funding was created by discriminatory laws and practices in the past, that encouraged teachers to punish, even beat Maori pupils for speaking their own language.

Jeanette makes the key point here- that questions like the one about ethnic advantage are game-playing by the media to excite people, and they do this at a cost to our country and its race relations that is unacceptable. The media bears a lot of responsibility for the current shape of debate, especially the unsavoury parts of it, like the unhealthy focus on tax cuts as reflecting wider economic policy, when in fact tax cuts make very little difference to a given New Zealander, and only really help the economy when they function as income redistribution to those more likely to circulate money- the poor- which is precisely what those parties who are most keen on tax cuts really want to avoid.

But this issue of backlash is of much more general impact, and doesn’t only effect Maori. We’re beginning to see it in the blogosphere- hence the necessity of calling people to task on being jerks. Young right-wing men and women are being heavily influenced by jaded political commentators who are calling the Labour government feminazis and a dykocracy because of their modest support of feminism. The newspapers and TV news are complicit in spreading the term “Nanny State” into the national debate. Progressive women running for parliament are accused of belittling fatherhood and not valuing the “traditional family”, or not respecting “family values”, both of which are terrible dog whistle terms that have deep undercurrents of sexism and heteronormality, implying that anything other than men and women paired off with 2.5 kids they mothered/fathered themselves the old-fashioned way is wrong.

We need to be careful. If we aren’t vigilant, the media is going to continue running this divisive line. It is risking portraying Maori and women’s issues as being an unearned advantage. It is encouraging white men to oppress women, Maori, queers, whoever we like, as somehow having “attacked our values”. Let’s face it- men do not have categorical values. We are different. The only concerns we share are the result of men’s health issues, men’s reproductive concerns, and socialised male gender- which divides us into those who accept it and those who deny it.

We do not have any reason to shut down the women who contribute to the government. We should not let the media imply we do with sexist language. It’s that simple.

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3 Responses

  1. I love the idea that simply by being involved in politics women are devaluing the traditional family. Poor traditional family, so fragile that the mere existence of non-participants damages it. The idea that we might end up with a bunch of enthusiastic women trying to influence politics if we just let them out of the kitchen strikes me as a win-win situation.

    It reminds me of the various queer law reform efforts… “when the police stopped beating up faggots my husband started visiting gay beats more often, now I hardly ever see him”. I don’t think it’s the law change that turned your marriage into a sham…

    The bought media by the nature of human psychology will always emphasise division and conflict, because that’s what people pay attention to. Even on indymedia, it’s conflict stories that get the attention. The answer is to fight back, ideally by more than whining about how people are built.

  2. Moz- I totally agree with you that the idea is ridiculous, and don’t think it was even worth elaborating on it.

    While I agree that conflict sells papers, so does resolution. Open up your average newspaper and see how many stories there are about treaties, trade, new discoveries in medicine, and other such stories. The media has a responsibility when it covers conflict to also cover possible resolutions, including those of us who don’t think there was ever any justification for said conflict in the first place.

    If the news only ever covers the negative, we get depressed, and I know in my case I stop watching or reading the news when I feel they don’t have anything positive to say.

    There’s also the argument that there actually is quite a market for positive news, but the media has created a bigger market for negative news simply by focusing it, and it might just take some clever advertising and determined editing to change people’s perceptions. You can certainly have conflict, for instance, without making it dangerous or threatening.

  3. […] unnecessary counter-privilege is also really important in fighting backlash. When we have a more elegant solution available than counter-privilege, using it avoids claims that […]

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