Zambezi Kiwi

Living in Zimbabwe

The battle to be a woman

April 18, 2015

I see Paul Henry is already in trouble. I’m not surprised, and, no doubt, neither is he. In fact, I have the sneaking suspicion that Henry is quite delighted that Equal Employment Opportunities Commissioner Jackie Blue has taken exception to some of his comments.

He’s that kind of guy. After all, it has meant free publicity, and will be sure to see every Kiwi sick of the word “feminism” tune in dutifully to Henry’s new show each day, just to make sure ratings don’t land his programme in “review”.

I would be tuning in – just to be transparent about which side of the Paul Henry “love/hate” fence I sit on – but we don’t have a television. Still, from what I have read of Henry’s comments, I entirely agree with him.

This young woman is sick of the word feminism.

Here’s why: Blue took exception to Henry’s claim that two very prominent women running for two very prominent jobs were wasting our time by pointing out they wanted to be the first women elected to the jobs. Blue protested, saying women were under-represented in politics and business and are generally paid less than men.

She wrote that “feminism is the belief gender should not limit anyone’s chances at life”, and labelled those who think men and women get equal opportunity “deluded”.

But Blue is ignoring a few important things.

First, she’s ignoring the fact that women are over-represented in many jobs – like teaching, nursing and secretarial work. If feminism is what she claims it is, Blue ought to be fighting for equal representation in these jobs.

Second, she’s undermining the success of women by talking gender, not skill. That means promotions, pay rises and even positions can be seen as – and worse, sometimes are – tokens aimed at reducing inequality, rather than the deserved rewards of a hardworking, honest woman. I was once offered a position for the stated reason that there weren’t enough women represented. I turned it down.

Third, and most importantly, she’s forgetting the fact that not all women want to be her. It was also the lesson Julie from the Hand Mirror (a blog that has a tagline reading “Feminism is the radical notion that women are people”) learnt in 2013.

She stood for the Puketapapa Local Board, and was shocked to find that 13 women turned down offers to run on the ticket she was involved with. Yes, fewer women sit in Parliament than men, but perhaps that’s at least in part due to the fact that fewer women want to stand than men. You can’t elect them if they’re not there.

And women are perfectly within their rights not to want to be politicians or businesswomen. Lots of them might want to be full-time mums. Moving out of employment certainly limits how far up the career ladder they climb, which limits their pay, but still, it’s their choice. To suggest they are not meeting their full potential, are being held back by a boys’ club, or ought to be getting involved in jobs just to change statistics is incredibly demeaning  to women and to the roles they have decided are more important to them.

Do I deny that there are boys’ clubs and men who don’t believe women are their equals? Nope, they’re out there, all right. But so, too, are women’s clubs (they’re called feminists) and women who believe they should get roles based on their gender, not their skill.

Both are as bad as each other.

This article was first published on Stuff.co.nz

Hedonism, sex changes and happiness

February 24, 2015

Human beings, I have read, are simply not hedonistic enough. I tend to agree with the sentiment entirely, and this week more evidence came along. It was in the form of a story about a mother and child, both pleading for the world to accept the girl as a boy. The issue, said the story, was gender dysphoria – the feeling one is born into a body of the wrong gender. But I don’t think that’s what the story was about at all: it was about a mother’s search for the happiness of her child. It is, of course, the most natural thing in the world for a mother to seek such a thing and I don’t blame her. I do think, however, she has stopped the search too soon.

You see, happiness is like looking at a very faint star in the night sky. The harder you stare, the more difficult it is to pick out. Insisting on finding it will only make you miserable because, at some point, the search will fail. It’s only when you stop looking and start to gaze at the entire night sky that the strange little glow finally makes itself visible. My point is that happiness is a byproduct of how we learn to look at life. It is not the result of getting certain things we want.

Unfortunately, we have made for ourselves a cosy little lie that tells us just the opposite – in every advertisement, movie and song – because it is much easier to buy something, even a sex change, than it is to train our unruly minds and hearts to be content. So instead, we create superficial selves – on Facebook, at work or through surgery. We know none of it is true, because we teach our children not to judge by appearances. But we cling to the comforting lie anyway, claiming that a man dressed as a woman really is a woman, claiming that which can’t be seen – his genes and hormones and bone structure – mean nothing. We cling to it when we throw away hundreds and hundreds of generations of DNA that go into making every individual exactly as he or she is, and say identity is nothing more than emotion. Identity is hard enough for adults to wrangle with, let alone children, yet we encourage them to make choices they can’t comprehend and fail even to talk through the evidence that sex changes simply don’t work.

Studies such as those done by Portman Clinic in London, or Vanderbilt University in the United States, which show 70 to 80 per cent of children who experience transgender feelings lose them over time, aren’t talked about. Famously, the first hospital in America to offer sex-change therapy, Johns Hopkins, withdrew it after a study a decade later found psychological troubles persisted in sex-change patients. As Dr Paul McHugh, former psychiatrist in chief at Johns Hopkins Hospital, points out in the Wall Street Journal, even a long-term, 30-year study out of Sweden covering more than 300 people is ignored. It shouldn’t be, because it found the group’s suicide mortality rate rose 20-fold compared with their peers starting from 10 years after sex-change operations.

It all makes perfect sense if you think of gender dysphoria for what it is: an issue of the mind, not the body. Which brings us back to happiness and hedonism.

That’s why I agree with writers like C S Lewis, who say we give up too early. We – all of us – stop the search for happiness amid superficials like sex changes, making money or gaining reputation, which only ever change appearances and cannot last.

We need change deep inside of us if we want true happiness, and that is something worth insisting on.

This article was first published on Stuff.co.nz