Why Labour are also fuck-ups

So, seeing I’ve been strongly critical of national on women’s rights, let’s do a retrospective of similar areas where Labour fucked up on identity politics, political freedom and non-discrimination. I have the feeling this is going to make me temporarily popular with certain other Greens who share with me a deep distrust of Labour, and of course I’m sure the National Partisans will laugh it up at both what I believe and the fact that I’m absolutely going to town on Labour. Don’t worry, you’re still in the targets, too. 😉

  • Pay Equity (for women): They essentially started the investigation into pay equity in the public service to make the problem go away until next term. Except that was stupid: Labour ran a healthy surplus for most of its terms in government, an ideal time to implement the increase in public sector wages that would be the simplest way to address direct pay equity issues. Not only that, but they knew they had a pretty good chance at being ousted coming up to their third bid for re-election, so if pay equity is as important as they’re implying, they should have put it on their list to fast-track before the election. Overall their reluctance to act on an issue even the most anti-feminist of women would appreciate in some sense has been inexcusable, and it made their criticism on this issue pretty hollow.
  • Seabed and Foreshore: Confiscating these was a disaster. Even if you accept they needed to be nationalised in some form rather than being claimed in settlement, the government should have at least let Maori have their day in court first and compensated Maori with something else in settlements if they did have a good claim. And even if nationalisation of some sort did go ahead, the seabed and foreshore should have been placed into the public domain (where everybody effectively owns it and has usage rights) rather than vested to the crown. (where we all just have to trust no government decides to do something incredibly dumb with it) Overall a fuck-up of massive proportions even if you didn’t want any seabed and foreshore claims going ahead. Not only that, but reversing this thing is part of the reason National doesn’t have to rely on the Greens to pass anything that Act don’t want to- both in the sense of the existence of the Maori Party, and in the sense of their willingness to form a coalition with National.
  • Marriage is still straight-only: And labour defended it as straight-only. I don’t see why we didn’t go whole-hog on this, civil unions lead that way eventually, and giving space to idiots like Gordon Copeland and Brian Tamaki only encourages them. Make them steam it out.
  • The bill of rights is still only paid lip service: The most ridiculous of bills are found consistent with the bill of rights that even a budding civil rights activist could see are not. If we’re going to maintain the idea that the bill of rights should limit the power of Parliament, let’s actually have at it. For one, we should be having judicial overrulings of implied restrictions of straight marriages for transwomen and transmen, and gay marriage. For another, Three Strikes should be disallowed if it passes. Labour made no move to tighten up our constitution here, and they deserve some of the blame for not doing enough every time National and its most extreme coalition partner rub it in their face with legislation with terrible civil liberties connotations.
  • No checks on Parliament’s power: As the academic and social elite of New Zealand, (as opposed to the financial and social elite, who they sit opposite to) Labour seems to think that Parliament knows best, and even the biggest partisan reformists are reluctant to act quickly and decisively on any constitutional reform. The lack of any meaningful review of laws leads to low-quality legislation as there is no disincentive to sloppy drafting, and only select committees save us from elected dictatorships as it is. More oversight of Parliament is necessary, and I don’t just mean opening the books to OIA requests. Unfortunately, the phrase “constutional reform” sets off monarchists even if it’s unrelated to a Republic, and Labour didn’t have the guts.
  • The EFA: While unlike many from the Right and Centre I don’t think law touched free speech with a ten-foot pole, and I supported the general motivations behind it, there were three big problems with this law.
    • Was not radical or tough enough: If Parliament was going to get tough on electoral laws, they should have gone whole-hog. Instead we have anonymous donations below a thousand dollars in a world where donating anything to a political party is an extraordinary act of partisanship for most. Donations through filter trusts may still evade pubic scrutiny of their real sources, and the loopholes in the EFA are generally still big enough to run a train through.
    • Poor drafting and implementation: Before I get to the political part, this law should probably have set every-year all-year caps at a more sensible rate on both party and issue campaigning. Beyond that, Labour left notification laws a muddle, and the procedure for dealing with them a farce, with even the minister responsible for the law being caught out on her opinions of what did or did not breach it very frequently.
    • Parliament should not regulate politics: If Labour had wanted to do this the proper way, rather than leave the Greens to negotiate a Citizen’s Jury into elecoral finance, they should have put all the relevant laws in the hands of a truly independent body with a similar structure and lobbied like any other interest group. That approach would have probably been a publicity boost, and if it left them with less cash in hand, it would be likely that experts would attempt to be equally hard on National’s large donors to equalise the playing field.
  • Gay adoption and provisions for other non-heteronormative families: This merited visiting in at least some manner after civil unions were passed.
  • Their list: While claiming to be a left party and generally supporting freedoms and championing the underprivileged, Labour betrays the strains of elitism that run through its more powerful tiers by retaining strict central control of their party list. One of the big, and legitimate, criticisms of MMP is that list candidates can be chosen entirely by backroom meeting in most parties. Righting it is as simple as adopting a postal ballot for your list and using it to encourage members to join. Labour should have joined the Greens in this long ago.
  • Prisons: Not only is Labour a staunch supporter of incubating more criminals with a policy of systematic over-incarceration and a justice policy based on vengeance rather than restoration of our community, but this is about the most likely aspect of their policy to get dramatically worse under Phil Goff.
  • Cannot really be called centre-left: Centre-left would imply that there are significant aspects of leftism remaining within the caucus and among senior party members. Labour has been a centre party and a staunch supporter of the flawed attempt at free-market capitalism that trade liberals have unleashed on the world since before MMP, and is remaining one after it. Only their focus on reducing unemployment and their staunch social liberals make them a positive force in parliament. (although that’s a pretty big “only”)
  • Environmentally kleptocratic: Despite their big promises of cleaning up New Zealand and moving towards sustainability, Labour put much more effort towards economic development and paid bare lip service to minimising global warming with their softball ETS that was hardly worth supporting.

Now, keep in mind that this is a very complete list in its strongest and most general form. Largely speaking, I think Labour is the third-best Party in Parliament and actually does more good than harm. I think that its policies for the middle class, its Keynesian streak, its financial (if not economic) management of the country, and its tax system are all very good “second bests”. Most of the MPs individually are good people who I have a lot of commonality with politically, they just have enough specifics wrong to drive me half-insane watching them failing so close to getting it right. Presumably even a pretty good government would generate a list at least have as long, and I think this last government has to be admitted as having managed okay on a fair amonut of issues by most of its critics.

But I have deep reservations on the current direction of the Labour Party, its priorities, its conduct, and its trustworthiness, and would not vote for it under any system where I had an ability to really choose another party. Labour has lost its hang of defending civil liberties, privacies, and its social liberals are mired beneath the free trade academics who think they can get a good deal for the country’s working class through imaginary infinite growth. It’s not gonna happen Labour, and you need to stop thinking that anything but a physically static economy can be branded with the word “sustainable”.mong

“Redefining Marriage”

Welcome to Big Gay January! This month I’m going to be focusing on a lot of GLBTQI stuff to see how that influences my writing. (And also because I’m in a very gay mood lately) Probably mostly GLB stuff because that’s what I’m most familiar with 😉

So, one of the huge success stories of the GLBTQI movement in the USA has been its push for gay marriage- namely that it has scared the jesus out of the conservatives1 that are pretty freaked out that this push could actually succeed. There’s talk in conservative circles of offering everything but the kitchen sink- ie. equitable civil unions and non-discrimination protections. Which is good. Clearly our queer sisters and brothers across the Pacific have shown us that if your position is sensible and consistent, pushing as hard as you can for what you really want redefines the “compromise” position.

So, what tactics have the social conservatives come up with to halt the march of progress? Well, they talk about “redefining” marriage. I’ve talked about the myth of marriage being an unchanged institution before, but there is some technical correctness here- when social conservatives talk about marriage being between a man and a woman uninterrupted for thousands of years since its inception, they are mostly correct. The assumption, bigoted though it was, was that sex between men (lesbians need not apply, because nobody knew or apparently cared that you existed for a lot of that time) happened only because of lust, and thus it was somehow inherently sinful. How this is different from normal sex is anyone’s guess. Now, while they are largely correct that marriage has always been between men and women since it started and until now2, they are incorrect to say that it has never been redefined and that they are right to oppose marriage equality on those grounds. Marriage has had countless redefinitions. Firstly, we stopped viewing it as a transaction where a father paid a suitor to take care of his daughter, and viewed it as a partnership between two independent and equal adults. In short, we injected feminism and equal rights into marriage. That was a redefinition, and if you oppose marriage equality on the grounds of redefinition, you ought to also be working just as hard to reinstate marriage as a financial transaction and revoke equal rights for women. And we all know that’s not a position you can afford to admit support for.

Oh, but wait, we’re not done. We’ve also got the miscegenation laws from America, and similar taboos and informal laws that have happened throughout history to prevent interracial marriage. Surely if marriage is to remain a consistent, unchanging contract, we should also reinstate the idea that marriage is to be restricted to people of the same race. We wouldn’t want that sort of social progress rubbing off, either. We’ll also ignore the convenient genetic advantages of mixing disparate gene groups. (Which is pretty much what a “race” is. Humans don’t actually have enough genetic variation for distinct breeds the way some other species do.)

Oh, and we’re still not done. We’ll have to abolish marriage as a contract for legal privileges and rights, too, and return it to merely being a declaration of love and a promise of fidelity, like I mentioned earlier.

Oh, and one more thing: Even if all that doesn’t change your mind, there was a limited period of same-sex couples being recognised as married in ancient Rome. Is it really redefining an institution if we’re just reinstituting it in a way the ancients practiced? While this isn’t exactly smoking bullet stuff, it still very much muddies the water on the accuracy of the “redefinition” argument, and perhaps relegates it to more of a dog-whistle for ignorance and contempt of homosexuality than a legitimate contention.

So, while I accept that people can say that marriage equality redefines marriage, and I even accept that they can be ridiculous enough to think that this is a bad thing, I do not accept that they can cherry-pick just gay marriage from the list of times we’ve redefined marriage and then say “Okay, we’re ignoring all those other changes.” If one redefinition is wrong without further justification as to what makes it special, then they’re all wrong.
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It still is.

This is going to be a brief one.

I don’t care that you just touched and caressed. It still is.

I don’t care that it was just one of you giving and the other receiving. It still is.

I don’t care if neither of you got there, it still is.

I don’t care if you only used your mouth, it still is.

I don’t care if you only used a toy, it still is sex.

I don’t even care if one of you got off without any bodily contact due to some obscure pie-fighting fetish, even then it is still sex. Because it involved intentional manipulation of your partner for pleasure.

And for all of you out there in penis-land wondering how lesbians have sex, maybe I’ve just explained a few things. My god we can be dumb sometimes- this is a thing that even teenagers can learn with their fumbling experiments. That all the bases matter. Because we’re still playing the same ballgame.

So, kindly expand your definition of “sex” beyond penis-in-vagina. Thankyou.

The Right Of Reply

One meme I’ve noticed permeating its way through the more conservative parts of society recently (especially in regards to defending homophobia and inequal rights for GLBTQI people) is that freedom of speech means that backlash against what you’ve said is wrong and somehow circumvents your right to free speech.

It’s fundamentally trivial to debunk this: If you have freedom to say whatever you want, then anyone who disagrees with you must also have the freedom to talk about why they disagree, and what specifically you have done or said that they object to. Freedom of speech means that nobody is allowed to interfere with your peaceful political expression. From that principle it’s fairly clear that trying to prevent backlash against someone who expressed their opinion would actually be restriction of speech, not freedom of speech.

I’m beginning to think of this as a sort of “right of reply”. Every point of view ought to have a “right of reply” to some degree, however extreme that view is. Accepting and even encouraging this dialogue is a very important part of a modern democracy. Asserting that someone else’s right of reply denies you free speech is ridiculous. Now, you can assert that they’re doing so in a way that’s not transparent, (ie. they’re hiding behind a front to avoid responsibility for their actions and words) or that they’re using money to help them in a way that damages our democratic society. (ie. flood advertising for an election or a referendum) But you’ll notice that neither of these actually restrict the flow of political ideas- they restrict actions which change the nature of the political “game”.

Saying you’re “just exercising your right to free speech” does not remove your responsibility for what you’ve said. Free speech is a barrier the people erect against the government, not an excuse to say whatever you like without consequence. If people have a right to say their bigoted piece, then other people have a right to say why they think it is bigoted. That’s not harassment or a personal attack. It’s right and responsibility- the two consequences of personal liberation.

Why are steps forward always accompanied by a step back?

Firstly: For those hiding under a rock, Barack Obama is now president-elect of the United States of America. I have heard so many amazing stories about this that have brought tears to my eyes, let me issue a completely goofy chuckle at the amazing feeling that having someone like you being your leader for the first time must elicit, (I get a small glimpse of it every time I get to talk with our incredibly successful youth candidates and/or GLBT1 candidates in New Zealand) and generally just lift up my faith in democracy ever so much higher. That’s even discounting the incredible, joyous relief I feel at the idea that the world’s most influential democracy has finally decided that smart candidates who can compromise, open government, and equality of opportunity over a folksy right-wing warhappy radical eco-skeptical neoliberal extremist who struggles with complex sentences and can’t behave himself appropriately on the international stage, but who might be kinda cool to share a drink with and could possibly fit in with you in church.

In short, America has reminded us that we can- and should- choose reform in government, equality, and democratic values. Even if the person bringing them isn’t our ideal candidate.

But it’s also been a bittersweet victory for many Democrats in the United States, and has warned us of wedge issues and the influence of social conservatism on the gay rights agenda. Many states just voted through propositions that revoked or banned gay and lesbian marriage, (usually in the form of a “protection of traditional marriage” proposal) including the incredibly liberal state of California2. In Arkansas even got through one that also bans adoptions by gay or lesbian couples. I’ve also read that much of the US$70 million that anti-equality campaigners spent on getting Proposition 8 passed in california was fund-raised out of state. The idea of more conservative or liberal areas flooding money into ad campaigns for their neighbors in order to enforce their moral agenda there seems somewhat chilling to me.

Had these been issues in the candidate elections, a lot of states could have lost some support among traditionally Democratic demographics3– for instance, 60% of black voters in California favoured Proposition 8. Convincing people that this isn’t about attacking “traditional marriage”, but actually upholding equality and the democratic principle of equal citizenship for all doesn’t just benefit GLBTQI New Zealanders- it can actually potentially change how some New Zealanders vote.

I’m seriously hoping that the results of our own election this Saturday won’t leave me with similar worries
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A Primer on Dogwhistling

Because it’s election season, we’re bound to see plenty dogwhistling in this campaign, (in fact we have already) so I think it’s time to discuss what it is, and just why dogwhistling matters.

Many people less suburban than myself will know that a dogwhistle emits a noise too high-pitched for the human ear to discern. Likewise, a political dogwhistle is a message specialised enough that the general public are unlikely to understand it, but that has some special subtext to the core voters of the politician that uses it. And no, dogwhistling is not just people getting upset that other people aren’t being “PC”, although often dogwhistling is used to disguise a politically disastrous message so that it sounds tasteful to more moderate voters.

At the core of it, a dogwhistle is essentially when you say one thing and mean another- the only complication is that the hidden meaning has to be subtlely implied to those who would support it.

For example, “We should solve women’s pay inequality by increasing women’s access to education and training.” is a dogwhistle. Why is it a dogwhistle? Well, because even when women are equally qualified with men, pay inequality still happens. So either the politician involved is genuinely too stupid to understand the problem involved, (not good) or they’re trying to frame the phrase “I’m not going to address pay inequality at all” in positive language. (even worse) What better way for someone concerned with their image to not solve a problem than to insist that solutions that haven’t worked in the past will be enough? Especially when many men are genuinely convinced that the problem is really that women aren’t working as hard as they are- no surprise, people LIKE to be told they’re working hard and deserve what they have.

So why is this bad? Well, because it means that someone who takes a politician for their word will actually think they’ve got a plan that’s moderate and sensible. It misrepresents their policy, and poisons good debate over what we can do to solve problems in our society by essentially saying they don’t really exist- or even worse, it frames positive solutions as problems like, say, using the DPB to address the fact that men run out on their partners.

Why should we even be worried though? While we know dogwhistling happens all the time in larger countries like America, does it really happen in New Zealand? Sadly, yes, every election is full of multiple dogwhistles from most every party.

For example, National has already dogwhistled all over beneficiaries of various types when the only benefit that at any time allowed an excessive amount of people to stay out of work when they didn’t need to- the unemployment one- has taken incredible dives thanks to Labour’s incentives for people to get into work, and their attempts to create an economy where we have a labour shortage.

What other types of dogwhistles have we seen or might we see? We’ve already had the “influencing our young people” dogwhistle for homophobia used by the family party. (If seeing two women kissing influences young women to be gay, how does all the heterosexual kissing and rubbing and hugging they see on TV affect them, I wonder? Why aren’t the family party coming out against that equally strongly? Because being gay “makes it worse”. Except they can’t say that in public because it makes them look bad)

Then there’s “lower taxes”. How’s that a dogwhistle, you might say? Well, think about it- are these lower taxes for you? Are they fair to people who work hard but don’t get a high paycheck? Do they value people who do volunteer work, or parents? Probably not. Yet lower taxes are being touted as a solution to lower effective wages, to economic downturn, to social inequality- like some sort of magic political fairy dust that solves every problem it touches. In reality, even the most insanely generous tax cuts are unlikely to exceed fifty dollars a week- and that’s if we seriously constrain spending on really important public goods, like trains, buses, hospitals, (and nurses and doctors) education, (and teachers) and more. Hell, I’ve only listed the big stuff- a few dollars a week, you can also subsidise music and the arts, educate the public about health issues, ethical dilemmas, civics, or what have you. Even if that fifty dollars is very useful to you, there’s an enormous opportunity cost to having it. But let’s stop and think about it- will fifty dollars a week help you with rising power prices? Probably not. Will it help you if your job is being shipped off overseas in our free trade deals? Unlikely. Who will it largely help? Those who earn enough to get a significant benefit from a few percentage points of reduction on their tax. And to be fair, I don’t mind that the wealthy get a tax break along with the rest of us. What I mind is that it’s a tax break that scales with how much tax they pay.

We accept that the wealthy in our society generally provide services that are scarce or valuable, and so paying them more so that they can free themselves from money-related stress, or use money to free up their time, can generally be a good thing. But if that’s so, then they also have the responsibility to contribute more to our society with that money. And we trust their judgement in that- people who can afford to donate any money at all to charity are exempted any tax on that donation, and we’re removing the cap on that exemption.

But if a tax break is intended to solve issues with rising food and power prices, then why does one person need more of a tax break than another? Because there’s a hidden message. Because “tax break” doesn’t mean that everyone gets what they need. It means that the people on top get to keep more and more of what they have. It means that people who might, but don’t necessarily work harder or smarter- who have had an education better tailored to them, had a better-connected family, or have simply been lucky- also get a better deal than you, because they already have more.

In which I reconstruct sexuality

So, one of the really interesting works on sexuality (and more notably bisexuality) is the Kinsey Scale. While being an excellent example of forward-thinking classification that came about from excellent research into homo- and bisexuality in both men and women. However, it’s old- it was first published in 1948, and it doesn’t really delve deep into the issues surrounding sexuality.

The Klein Grid expands upon the the Kinsey scale and gives a much broader background. It recognises a large number of things which are important to sexuality, including drawing distinctions between (sexual-) orientation and lifestyle, action and ideation, recognising the impact of emotional attraction as well as physical attraction, the realisation of changing conceptions of sexuality and actions reflecting those conceptions causing him to question people seperately about their past, present, and the ideal future they would like. He also raised the idea of socialisation being as relevant to sexuality as gender is.

In some ways the Klein Grid is excellent, perhaps even too comprehensive- there are seven variables, which each belong to one of two sets of seven answers along the Kinsey scale, and each variable needs an answer for not only the past and the present, but also the ideal future. But I also find Klein’s variables inadequate- for instance, asexuality is completely undefinable on the Klein Grid.

What are the key things we can learn from Klein’s conception of sexuality?  Well, for a start, I would probably rework his variables into something new:

  • Reaction: Are you more likely to react sexually to women or men?
  • Ideation: Are you more likely to fantasise about men or women?
  • Action: Are you more likely to form relationships with or have sex with women or men?
  • Socialisation: Are you more likely to socialise with men or women?
  • Gender identification: Do you see yourself as a woman or a man?
  • Approach: Are you more interested in companionship or sex?
  • Sexual drive: How compelled to have sex, or interested in sex, are you in general?

I personally think that changes in the answers to these questions generally reflect self-attitude or self-discovery rather than fluid sexuality, but perhaps that’s an ideological blindspot of my own. The research on the subject does seem to give credence to the idea that sexuality is something that’s “set”, however1– what it’s set by is an interesting question. The Klein Grid is great for biographical purposes, but in terms of trying to classify sexuality, I think it complicates things needlessly.

I personally think sexual drive is also incredibly important to any discussion of continuous sexuality- people with extremely high sexual drives behave very differently to people with low sexual drives, and of course, there are those with little to no interest in sex. Discussion of sexual drive is largely missing from analysis of sexuality, although it’s been a practical concern to people on the front line of counselling or advice since those professions were first formed.

1And that perceived change in sexuality is actually self-discovery.

Defending Marriage Equality: “It’s About Children”

While civil unions are an almost marriage-like compromise, they are not marriage, and one of the key ways in which Destiny Church has been somewhat placated is that civil unions do not give gay couples the same adoption rights as straight couples. (there are a few legal loopholes and runarounds that can be tried, however, in cases where one of the gay partners is the parent of the child, however some of these are the type of thing you only want to try for one child, thus making the whole “having a family” side of things even harder)

One of the more insidious arguments against marriage equality, that’s implicitly fueled by this omission, is that marriage is about having children, which makes marriage special and unique to straight couples. Because gay and lesbian couples can’t have children on their own, people looking to attack marriage equality love to trot out the argument that people defending marriage equality are “redefining marriage” to not be about children as a strawman.

If that were true, however, detractors against gay marriage should be fighting just as hard to ban marriage between infertile men and women, and have such existing marriages annulled. This has broad and rather undesirable consequences- essentially all straight marriage would end when women started menopause, and/or when the kids moved out. It means marriage devalues chaste partnership between people of child-bearing age, which is actually something social conservatives like to argue for.1

Now, what if our friends who dislike marriage equality so much point out that while infertile couples may not be able to have children, we should presume any straight couple can when we let them marry? I say their proclamation that marriage is about having children allows for an even stronger argument that rules out that defense: that we should ban and annul any marriage in which the partners were not actively seeking to conceive or already raising children. If marriage were really just about having children, then there would be no problem at all in doing this.

Taken to this ridiculous extreme, we see that even if marriage really is about children, it has every reason to include couples that cannot or will not naturally conceive who are willing to take the alternatives – such as insemination, fertility treatments, and adoption.

Another thing people seem to forget is that formal, ceremonial marriage is actually a relatively new development,2 and thus ought to be considered as open to further change and reconception. Back in the old days, marriage was essentially just telling the community your intention to start an official relationship with someone, and in some cases marriage was considered officially binding as soon as the couple said to each other they were married. As a lot of arguments against marriage equality are arguments from tradition, you would think its detractors would actually know something about the history of marriage.

So, what I want to know is: are anti-gay activists willing to pay the price of their arguments being taken to their logical and consistent conclusion? Do we have to enshrine every idea that’s a few hundred years old as inescapable tradition? Should we discriminate against the infertile? Or should we accept that marriage as an institution isn’t set in stone, and is open to egalitarian reform?

1As long as it’s not due to any undue pressure, two people who love each other deciding not to have sex is perfectly fine by me.
2Marriage as a state-recognised contract performed as a ceremony in a church is about 250 years old. By comparison, some of the “recent” language changes people like to complain about are at least 400 years old, democracy is about 200 years old, and the idea of capitalism is about 270 years old. Marriage is as exciting and new as anything else in our society, and if it deserves to be a cornerstone of society, then that is because of its merits, not its traditions.

Let’s talk words (in which I am apolitically correct)

Words are powerful things. While the origin of the quote is disputed, back in the annals of history, several people opined something along the lines of “among great leaders, the pen is mightier than the sword”, referring to how the best leaders recognise the power of ideas before they recognise military power. Words fuel discrimination in huge ways, whether we dismiss this fuel or not. And words are one of the most insidious ways we disrespect and disclude women, transsexual, intersex, and homosexual people, even beyond the fact that words are largely classist due to the fact that you need a very good education to understand even half of them. Maybe thousands of years later, we’ll be arguing about who said that words determine the way we think.

There’s nothing political about political correctness- you don’t need to be left-wing to value social justice. It’s about taking away the power of words to dictate the way we think- have you ever wondered why talking about doctors gets people to assume you’re talking about men? Possibly because you’re used to having other subtle indicators in people’s language point out the gender of the person they’re talking about for you, which are largely absent with doctors. Possibly because the way many people use English assumes that male is the norm or default. One of the most wonderful things feminism has brought with it, to my mind, is the idea of English as a language that’s no longer normative, where there are a lot less assumptions about what a word, and therefore a sentence, means.

A prominent example of sexist words is that our pronouns are gendered and binary. Some people insist that you’re a he or a she, or if you’re lucky, a (s)he. (even if you’re intersex or transgendered or genderqueer) Recently we’ve been getting retro and using “they” as a nice ambiguously genderless pronoun, but it’s not catching and the more inflexible grammarians are rioting over plural ambiguity.1

There’s also the whole issue with -man and man-. Mankind? No, I think you mean humankind. Fireman? No, I think you mean firefighter. Chairman? No, I think you mean chair, or maybe chairperson if you like long words. Manpower? I think you mean labour. Manhours? I think you mean workhours. I’m still working on manhole2, however. 🙂

normative sexuality versus pluralistic sexualityThen there’s sexuality- our labels for sexuality are mostly normative, even though our society is becoming a lot more pluralistic on this matter. I think here the teenagers have it right- we like boys or we like girls, or we like both. Saying that we’re gay or straight, hetero or homo, feeds into heteronormativity. Two wonderful new words should make your acquaintance: gynosexual and androsexual, respectively meaning “attracted to women” and “attracted to men”. Not only do these words not assume a norm, they can’t even identify gayness or straightness without you knowing who they’re being attached to. They also join bisexuality in uniting sexuality by the object of attraction- drawing attention to the potential similarities in what women and men are attracted to about men, and what women and men are attracted to about women. The mere existence of terms like this offer a subtle challenge to our ideas about sexuality.

It’s even more illustrative of how easy this type of thinking is that “Maori” can be translated as “normal”, and “Pakeha” as “different”. But I’ll leave the concept of pluralistic racial language to someone much better equipped to deal with it.

1If you’re one of those grammarians, I suggest to you that you attempt to resurrect the second-person familiar pronoun otherwise known as “thee” before you complain about us copying respected literary figures like Jane Austin in adding some general (and not just gender) ambiguity to our pronouns. And if anyone starts talking about gender being a grammatical term and having its meaning stolen by feminism, I’ll whack them over the head with my over-sized German dictionary (it comes with three genders included) as a way of introducing them to the idea that a term can have multiple contexts. Try mentioning the word “jerk” to a group of teenagers, then to a group of physicists, and you might see what I mean.
2Personholes have thus far failed to catch on, especially as they’re often taken to be innuendo. Product development is hard at work fixing this issue. 😉

Why rules are awesome and exceptions suck

Deborah over at The Hand Mirror has an excellent post from a while back on how a tiny exception in Act’s proposed tax cuts devalues women’s labour, by hitting part-timers (who are disproportionately female) with extra tax. This hits on a vein that’s essential to my feelings about not only feminist thought, but also queer rights, race relations, disability issues, and even economic productivity/fairness, so I’d like to expand on Deborah’s objection to an exception that hurts women more than men.

This is a great example of why in all types of complex systems- from Human Rights laws to the tax code to social progression- ideas that can be elegantly expressed as rules that have no exceptions make the best guidelines to live by. (I should point out that adding just a few “inclusions” to a restrictive rule is effectively the same thing as making a more inclusive rule with lots of exceptions, it just cuts down on admin costs a little more.1) Continue reading