Zambezi Kiwi

Living in Zimbabwe

#Mentoo

October 24, 2017

I can still remember the shivers that went up my spine as the story was told. A senior manager asking a junior staff member to pack items at a department store on the top shelf. The hands closing about the waist to “support” that junior staff member as they stacked. The notes verging on love letters left behind to say thanks for the help.

It was creepy. It was disgusting. It was sexual harassment.

But the manager was a woman and that staff member was male, someone I happen to know very well.

It wasn’t the first time I had heard a bloke talk about being sexually harassed at work. Far from it. In fact, I’ve heard enough stories to convince me that the sexual harassment of men is one of the great, untold stories of our time.

But it was the #Metoo social media campaign, in which “all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted” were encouraged to share their experiences, that I began to realise why we hardly ever hear these stories.

We don’t ask. And I suspect we don’t ask, because we don’t believe they exist.

According to the Human Rights Commission, an average of 72 sexual harassment allegation have been lodged per year over the past five years. One in five of those have come from males, although giving your gender isn’t required. Still, by the numbers, far fewer males make allegations of sexual harassment that do women – a pattern repeated in other countries.

Why?

Well, I couldn’t find studies in New Zealand addressing that question, but I did find an awful lot of assumptions. Far too many boiled down to the idea that the word “man” is synonymous with “perpetrator” while the word “woman” is synonymous with “victim”.

We seem to believe, in essence, that men cannot be victims.

Perhaps. But then again, if men under report on mental health issues (according to the United Kingdom’s Mental Health Foundation), and under report on physical health issues (according to American studies), why wouldn’t they also under report on sexual harassment?

And if both men and women are capable of feeling sexual desire, and of acting wrongly, then why shouldn’t sexual harassment by both sexes be much more equal?

We know it is in the case of sexual assault.  A recent study of tens of thousands of cases of sexual vicitimsation in America revealed what the authors called “a surprising prevalence” of female sexual perpetrators. Males were the victims in one out of three cases.

“Gender stereotypes interfere with complex understandings of sexual perpetration,” claimed the authors. In other words, we miss these stories because we don’t believe they exist.

New Zealand is guilty of engaging in exactly this kind of harmful storytelling.

After all, it was only in 2005 that legislation was enacted making sexual abuse of minors gender neutral, so that women could be charged with abusing boys (and a raft of other sexual crimes).

Left unchanged was section 128 of the Crimes Act, which means to this day only men can be charged with rape. Women cannot.

It seems that as a nation we have bought into a story about “toxic masculinity” instead of a more accurate story about “toxic sexuality”. So, it is no surprise to find that we struggle with the idea of men ever being victims.

But that script needs to change. Sexual harassment is serious, it is damaging and it is wrong, whether the victim is a women or a man.

Outdated stereotypes won’t help us solve the problem.

This article was first published on Stuff.co.nz

The human cost

October 17, 2017

I first set foot in a brothel during my university years. It was an interesting experience for a number of reasons, but mostly for one unavoidable fact it shoved into the limelight.

That fact came to mind when I read of Auckland residents and prostitutes battling over street space a few years ago, heard the same in Hamilton later, and saw an update on the same war being waged in Christchurch this week.

The rooms I entered all those years ago were temples to the dissatisfaction of a nation, filled with priestesses and priests promising reprieve – for a fee.

That’s where the lesson came in. The fee. I realised the sexual liberation campaigner, who fought hard to legalise prostitution as a choice, had in fact achieved the opposite of sexual freedom. They had made sex less free.

That fee tells another story too. It tells us that no matter how we regulate and advocate and necessitate health checks for workers, we’ll never be able to bring this industry out of the shadowlands and into the light.

Why? Because it is an industry built on desires found in shadowy corners of the human heart.

I’m not being a moral prude. I’m merely being practical. If a man feels desperate enough to pay for that which should to be free, think what must be going on in his heart. His appetite is either desperately underfed or desperate to be overfed, whether it be for company, love or sex. Whatever the case, his life can only be very tragic to have to pay to find friendship, a feeling or physical intimacy.

I won’t pretend, along with the faux feminists or sexperts, that the women involved aren’t very often victims.  While it is nice of them to feed endless stories to our media about high-end, educated, “I have a way out” women-of-the-night, we ought first here to listen to the voice of the poor and the oppressed, the voice of the vulnerable.

Surely, they deserve a say too?

They do speak, by the way. In few and far-between reviews that show prostitutes are disproportionately women, less educated, and lack qualifications for other work. Reviews that tells us these women seem often to have been sexually abused as children, and are often under financial pressure.

The women speak silently, too, in stories like the ones in Christchurch, or Hamilton or Auckland. They speak in tiny details like the defecation done in public, the syringes left on lawns, and the hard words hurled into the black night.

Sometimes, silent stories speak the loudest.

That brings me back to sexual freedom, and its cost. As soon as we pay for any product in society we create a cost – but not just a financial cost. There are environmental costs, social costs, relational costs and all sorts of other costs we are only just discovering in every business on earth.

We are kidding ourselves to pretend there aren’t costs in this industry too. But in this case the product we consume is a person. The costs, then, must be personal.

And that is what the stories from Auckland, Hamilton and Christchurch remind us.

Are we proud to pass over such public pleas for help in favour of the well-heeled corporate madam saying in soothing tones that all is well? Are we pleased to pretend laws more than a decade old are producing the right effect?

I’m not. When you count in people, the cost of our current system is too high.

This article was first published on Stuff.co.nz 

Bullied into acting against her beliefs?

May 30, 2017

I don’t have much patience for bullies. Especially when they turn on an 80-year-old lady.

And last week they did, as it happens. But remarkably, we seem to have gotten the victim and the bullies mixed up, because in this instance we appear to have made the victim feel afraid. By the way, it all has to do with the news that luxury wedding venue Stoneridge Estate lifted its ban on same-sex marriage.

How it got labelled a ban is a mystery. After all, according to the owner it was just a statement in the contract for couples saying that, due to her convictions, the woman with a lifetime lease over the chapel preferred same-sex marriages not be held there.

Besides that, a ban would be illegal. There is no protection, you see, for hired spaces deemed sacred by any religious group from having to hold marriage ceremonies that contravene their beliefs.

But back to the story about our bullies. A couple of weekends ago, everything changed. According to the article, a couple who inquired about the chapel recently were “put-out” by the request. Days later, the media contacted Stoneridge Estate to ask about their same-sex marriage “policy” at the chapel. The next thing you know, owner Wayne Gore announced that he had talked to his mother and the request would be removed from the contract.

At first glance, it seems clear cut. Victimised couple, bullying religious bigot, right?

Except, at second glance, it all looks painfully like a betrothed couple decided to use the media to hurt someone who had offended them. To hurt someone whose request they were well within their rights to ignore, and whose chapel they could have hired no matter their sexual orientation.

Because the couple weren’t the ones made to feel afraid, apparently. Instead, it looks remarkably like our wealthy businessman was worried. Worried, perhaps, about what damage an accusation like this might do to his business. We get hints of this, of course, in the fact that one phone call from the media was enough to send him off for a chat with his mother, and to return announcing that she would renege her a request based on deeply held convictions.

And that, presumably, means an 80-year-old lady who had built a little chapel as the expression of her faith felt she was completely and utterly unable to operate it according to that faith.

By the way, the chapel was, according to our 80-year-old lady, “a gift given to her by God”. It meant the world to her, because her faith had helped her through a life-threatening illness, and a terrible car accident, you see.

Despite not being able to kneel, thanks to having had two legs broken in the accident, she managed to see the little chapel through to completion in 2004. And while her son owned the rest of the estate, she maintained a lifetime lease over the building because of how special it was to her.

In a beautiful display of respect and tolerance, her request had been upheld without complaint by more than 100 same-sex couples who had been married elsewhere on the estate.

All of which makes you wonder who the real victim and who the real bullies were, like I say. Were the victims the couple able to get married at hundreds and hundreds of venues around New Zealand, but asked to respect the convictions of an old lady at one? Or was the victim an old lady with only one chapel – one sacred place that really meant something to her – and who was forced to act against her beliefs?

It seems pretty obvious to me.

This article was first published on Stuff.co.nz

Modern marriage and entertainment

May 3, 2017

I can still remember hunting down vows for my wedding day. I wanted the most ancient thing I could find, the most olden-day words that modern day people would still understand.

I wanted something that rebelled against modern matrimony, something starkly opposed and highly controversial. Fortunately, my husband was happy to go with the flow on that one, and we found the perfect words hidden in the dusty internet pages of the 1559 Anglican Book of Common Prayer.

And now, with Married at First Sight having just waltzed through the arrivals lounge and into New Zealand, our reasons for going old school have been confirmed.

The very popular overseas show sees experts match up couples who meet at the alter, and who then have a month to decide whether or not to stick life out together.

It’s not the show I’m worried about, by the way, because it doesn’t trivialise marriage as a couple of church leaders proclaimed this week. Quite the opposite, in fact. Television is little more than a mirror reflecting back at us, with dreadful accuracy, who we really are. And that means we trivialised marriage first. The show is nothing more than a very serious, accurate likeness staring us back in the eye.

Just look at the three “one in threes” if you’re not convinced that we messed up first. In 2011 an article states that one in three people confess to having had an affair in New Zealand. One in three marriages end in divorce (read past the headline from Statistics NZ on that one).  According to the website “It’s not OK” one in three women have experienced abuse from a partner (and this will include many married women).

With statistics like that, who could possibly take marriage seriously? No wonder we ended up with a television show that experiments with vows like one might experiment with making white sauce. We already do it with each other.

And that brings us back to 1959. The subjects of Good Queen Bess were scattered across the realm nervously awaiting their wedding proclamation in church each Sunday, for three Sundays in a row, after which anyone give a reason for why the marriage ought not to go ahead.

If they made it past that test (hopefully with their fingernails intact), England’s young lovebirds were then forced to endure the same question (does ANYONE object?) at the start of their marriage ceremony.

After a rather arduous philosophical treatise on the origins, purpose and ends of marriage, you would think a little romance would enter the ceremony.

But instead, vows mentioning death all sorts of serious stuff had to be uttered, and then everybody repeated lines about God having mercy.

In fact, mercy is mentioned as many times as love.

It might seem a bit pessimistic, but I reckon these old codgers knew a thing or two. They knew that marriage was as much about love as it was sheer, bloody-minded hard work, and that was why it would take mercy.

They knew young couples needed sobering up and reminding of this as they soared the dizzying heights of new love. They knew that old couples sitting in the audience needed reminding of this as they took a break from the stresses and pressures of daily life.

They knew that repeating the same old lines in the same old ceremony might seem a little uncreative and boring, but they also knew that the moment we stopped, we would forget what it takes to make marriage work.

And I think we’re proving them right.

This article was first published on Stuff.co.nz

 

 

 

No such thing as a free pill

March 15, 2017

If you haven’t already, please read the reasonably recent column Stuff.co.nz published on contraception.

It bothered me for a few reasons.

The author, like many articles by women on these matters, started with the assumption that she spoke for women because she is a woman.

But she didn’t speak for me. In fact, I felt stereotyped, and that the diversity of our sex was smashed into one tiny perspective.

That seems quite sexist to me.

But that wasn’t the only thing that bothered me. There was the inaccurate use of the word “free”. As we all know, nothing is free. Someone always pays. And when it comes to the claim that the “government should pay” what we are really saying is “my neighbors, mates and family should pay”. After all, the government is funded by them. It is funded by us. Its money is our money.

And as it happens, there are other things I would rather be spending my money on than contraception. At the cost of $90 a year the author gives, roughly 1 million 15 to 50 year old women would qualify. That’s $90 million our communities have to cough up.

That’s the money that was allocated to free GP visits and prescriptions for children under 13 from 2015 to 2017.

Must we cut other funding to afford “freebies”?

Well, no. We can raise taxes. Unfortunately, then, the money that my family currently spends on giving would have to go down. Because we don’t have much left over in the budget each week. We live as tightly as we can, because we don’t want to be a burden on others, but rather a blessing.

And the fact of the matter is that’s not weird, that’s normal. There are hundreds of thousands of Kiwi families around New Zealand living within tight budgets, quite joyfully, because the extra money is going on helping out friends and family, or other community members.

Why don’t they just tell the government to take care of the tab (by taxing the rich!)? Well, they know that a government taking care of things means paying officials to collect the extra tax, to allocate the extra tax, to disseminate the extra tax, to maintain the IRD website and be on the other end of its phone lines and…the list goes on. All those extra middle men cost one hang of a lot of money.

And basically, these Kiwis would rather precious dollars go to the problem, not the pointy heads. Even if it means a little more hard work for them.

Besides all of that, there are a bunch of Kiwis – Catholic, Protestant, Muslim or otherwise  – whose beliefs involve the idea that contraception is either bad, or given outside of marriage promotes sexual promiscuity that is damaging to our health and our souls. The author demands that they pay for her beliefs at the expense of their own.

That doesn’t sound particularly progressive, open-minded or supportive of diversity to me.

And the attempt to throw compassion for the poor in didn’t add up for me either.

You see, beneficiaries already get “free” birth control. According to Family Planning, those with Community Service cards can pay $5 for an appointment and get the Depo Provera Injection (which lasts for three months) or an IUD (which lasts for three or more years) for “free”. Doctors can offer three types of oral contraceptive pill that are already subsidised by the taxpayer, as is a prescriptions for 144 condoms.

Of course, we know now what “free” or “subsidised” really means though, don’t we?

All in all, I think enough of my money already goes on funding the author’s sex life.

Donald Trump: A love story

February 17, 2017

This weekend marks a momentous occasion in New Zealand society. A very special movie will light up cinema screens around the country and hundred, thousands, will flock to see it.

50 Shades Darker is the moving tale of a rich and powerful business tycoon who believes he has the right to take what he wants-sexually speaking-from women without giving anything in return.

It is the heartwarming story of one man’s pursuit of a woman’s body, and the various ways in which he uses and abuses his power to reach his goal.

It is the powerful portrayal of an alpha male who takes what he wants and forges his own path in the world, irrespective of the accepted norms and boundaries in the society around him.

It is the delicate and beautiful exploration of narcissism and jealousy, and how control and domination of another human being can be achieved in a relationship.

It is, in particular, about sex, and how to objectify both men and women so that all sense of personhood is eradicated.

Yes, the intricate and moving film is the second in a series that serves up all of these wonderful ingredients, with the final movie in the pipelines.

And if the first movie is anything to go by, it will break box office records both in New Zealand and globally.

Tickets to see the film are being given away on radio stations. Presenters dare each other to watch it and delight in its naughtiness.

The media fall over themselves to get reviews online first, and anyone who suggests the movie contains vile and dehumanizing themes is laughed at as a prude.

Meanwhile, across the oceans America’s newest President makes the news almost daily because of his attitude to women.

The wealthy and powerful business tycoon made headlines around the world when tapes were released outlining his belief that power allowed him to take what he wanted from women without giving anything in return.

He is an alpha male, who takes what he wants and forges his own path in the world, irrespective of the accepted norms and boundaries in the society around him.

There are some who say he is a narcissist, who dominates those around him through bullying.

And he is famous for comments that objectify women and value them purely on their appearance rather than for their character, brains or heart.

Presenters on radio stations have spent hours denouncing his behaviour, and decry his naughtiness.

The media fall over themselves to call him out for the behaviour, and claim that women ought to be valued for who they are, not just what they look like. Anyone who suggests otherwise is considered chauvinistic, misogynistic and evil.

And everybody seems to have forgotten that government is “of the people, by the people, for the people”.

If we are people who flock to cinemas to watch powerful men abuse their position with women, if we delight in such naughtiness and fill our minds and hearts with it, how can we decry it in our leaders?

This article was first published on Stuff.co.nz

Will the real Bill English please stand up?

December 12, 2016

On Monday New Zealand got a brand new Prime Minister. The old one, John Key, resigned and his former deputy took out a leadership challenge and laid claim to the top job today.

But we got a brand new Bill English too, it turns out.

The former staunch social conservative – the bloke who backed marriage and refused to vote for same-sex unions – is long gone.

In his place stands a rather different creation. A media friendly creation. A populist product. In his place stands a man who says he would now vote for same-sex marriage

and won’t push his socially conservative views in Parliament.

Seriously?

If our new Prime Minister won’t push his views, views he – up until now – has held for years as being good, right and best for the New Zealand public, presumably, whose views will he push?

Besides, isn’t pushing different views in Parliament critical for actually testing ideas and making sure we are on the right track? If we all just blindly follow the same ideas, we won’t end up with the best laws.

Because there is no such thing as a neutral position when it comes to politics and policy.

You are either pushing one world view or you are pushing another.

And pushing the popular world view, as my mum and dad so often say, isn’t always right.

It isn’t leadership either. It’s kowtowing to whatever beliefs and views will keep you in power. It’s protecting your own patch.

It’s politics at its worst. And it will lose English, along with National, an awful lot of conservative supporters, supporters who have been waiting with baited breath for eight years for National to throw them a bone, any bone, just one bone. Winston Peters will be licking his lips at the thought of them all.

What a shame New Zealand has another Prime Minister who puts power ahead of principles.