Christine Rankin to the Families Commission

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.

  1. “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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.

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