Sunday, 24 May 2015

Going Backwards: Table Talk 2 At Ika Seafood Bar and Grill, Tuesday, 19 May 2015.

Generation Why? While the next generation confronts History's camera, a young woman studies the programme of the last United Women's Convention to be held in New Zealand. (Hamilton, 1979) Thirty-six years later, the revolutionary fervour of Feminism's second wave seems impossibly remote - especially when viewed from the Neoliberal culture of contemporary New Zealand society. (Photo by Marti Friedlander)
“BUT WE’RE GOING BACKWARDS!” Came the anguished cry from the table in the corner. Amidst all the sororal warmth generated by Amanda Bailey’s pulled ponytail, the speaker’s uncompromising judgement arrived like a blast of cold air from the world outside. A necessary corrective to the perky inclusiveness of the many Third and Fourth Wave feminists in the audience. The women seated at the corner table had been present at the birth of Second Wave feminism in New Zealand. It lent their intervention a special force.
As a bloke, I did not consider it my place to enter into the public phase of “Beneath the Ponytail: Women. Work. Progress?” – the second of Ika Seafood Bar and Grill’s “Table Talks”. No matter how many times the panel (Human Rights EEO Commissioner, Dr Jackie Blue; Senior Lecturer at University of Auckland, Dr Michelle Dickinson; First Union Secretary, Maxine Gay; and Labour Party List MP, Jacinda Ardern) reiterated the view that men-can-be-feminists-too, I still recall Second Wave feminists arguing that the best thing men can contribute to discussions about feminism is their silence.
Effective political memories (with the obvious exception of those gathered around the table in the corner) were in rather short supply on Tuesday night (19/5/15). Poor Jackie Blue admitted to being a young university student at the time of “Women’s Liberation” and missing the whole thing! (Although, to her credit, she is rapidly making up the lost time.) Maxine Gay, by contrast, who has been a fighter on the feminist barricades since the 1970s and 80s, was for some reason reluctant to acquaint the twenty-somethings present with the often brutal history of liberal versus socialist versus lesbian separatist versus cultural feminism. Inclusiveness was not a conspicuous virtue of the Second Wave.
Dr Michelle Dickinson’s (aka “Nanogirl”) contribution commenced with the bleak news that although the numbers of young women entering the sciences has been rising, the number who actually make use of their scientific training (especially in Dr Dickinson’s own field of engineering) remains worryingly small.
Significantly, the only viable route out of this situation was deemed to be through the good offices of sympathetic business leaders – most of whom are, predictably, men. A number of these individuals were mentioned, and it would be churlish to disparage their efforts in any way. But the fact remains that it is now only in the business world; only in the place where the values of the marketplace reign supreme; that womankind’s quest for full sexual equality is being realistically contextualised. Grasp that, and the full extent of feminism’s retreat is made apparent.
It took the Labour List MP, Jacinda Ardern, to spell out the consequences of this depressing reversal. Paired with National’s Nicky Kaye in what was called “The Battle of the Babes” for Auckland Central, Ardern was faced with a hard choice. Either, take offence at the blatantly sexist framing of the contest and forever afterwards be stereotyped as a humourless feminist harridan. Or, by taking it in good part, risk being dismissed as Labour’s bimbo. Quite rightly, she reasoned that the latter stereotype would be more easily overcome than the former and played along. More than 30 years after Helen Clark poured out her heart to a female journalist about the extreme sexism she’d encountered in the male-dominated Parliament of the 1980s, Ardern’s testimony made me wonder exactly how much has really changed.
Indeed the whole evening’s discussion – ably chaired by TV3’s Lisa Owen – had about it a decidedly self-referential quality. Just as it had on the occasion of the first “Table Talk” – about the beleaguered (now cancelled) Campbell Live – the Ika Seafood Bar and Grill had turned into a large left-wing echo-chamber. I got the strong impression that only the women at the corner table understood that the evening’s discussion – for all its undoubted passion and sincerity – was taking place in the belly of the beast: a monster whose ideological victory was as complete as it was unacknowledged.
As the Australian sociologist and feminist Professor Raewyn Connell puts it in her paper “Understanding Neoliberalism”:
“With a few exceptions neoliberal leadership is composed of men. It’s treasured figure, ‘the entrepreneur,’ is culturally coded masculine. Its assault on the welfare state redistributes income from women to men and imposes more unpaid work on women as carers for the young, the old, and the sick. Its attack on ‘political correctness’ and its rollback of affirmative action specifically undermine the gains of feminism. In such ways, neoliberalism from the 1980s on offered middle-class men an indirect but effective solution to the delegitimation of patriarchy and the threat of real gender equality.”
The young women who joined in “Beneath the Ponytail: Women. Work. Progress?”, so inclusive in their definitions of feminism, but, at the same time, so concerned to escape the shaming label of “feminazi” that men of all generations are so quick to pin upon them, seemed to bear out Professor Connell’s bleak observation.
Was that what the Second Wavers at the corner table sensed also? That the push-back had somehow been reversed? That the enormous sense of empowerment, of emancipatory élan, that had characterised the feminist revolution of the 1970s and 80s, had, without anyone really noticing, been subsumed in something much, much larger?
It’s not as if the many gains of the Second Wave have been rolled back – not at all – but rather that, in some ill-defined way, they no longer matter. As if all the changes that were extracted with so much pain and effort could only ever have worked in a more caring, just and equitable world – the world which a triumphantly masculine Neoliberal Revolution long ago destroyed.
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Saturday 23 May 2015.


Guerilla Surgeon said...

OMG, a column on feminism. The Blimps will be chomping at the bit to comment on this. Can't wait :-).

Jigsaw said...

No No- GS we will leave your solitary sneering comment as the only one there-seems fair.

blondewithaniq said...

What Jigsaw said..

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Well, now there are two sneering comments. But if it sticks at three, no one will be happier than I. I got sick of hearing "You realise the top three jobs in this country are held by women." :-)

Anonymous said...

'Second Wave' Feminists have largely achieved their goals. This doesn't mean everything is perfect, but women are now able to easily enter and advance in occupations that were formerly the legal and social preserve of men. And it is usually possible to combine a professional career with motherhood, without attempting to be Superwoman (did she have babies?).
Most of the boorish (and worse) behaviour is now illegal or socially sanctioned. Which is not to say it doesn't occur some times, and of course it shouldn't be accepted.

My evidence for this? I am a man, a professional engineer in in my mid 40s. As is my wife. Engineering used to be almost the sole preserve of men. There is now a large minority of women (at least in most disciplines). How often does my wife encounter sexists behaviour from colleagues and clients? Pretty much never. Her boss (another female engineer, just a little younger) commented that she has NEVER encountered sexism at work. Both are mothers. Both have 20+ year careers.

I am just old enough to have seen the number of women in professional engineering move from nearly non-existent to a large minority. The great majority of male engineers accepted this AS LONG AS THEY GOT THERE FAIRLY (i.e no special treatment).

Feminism is in many ways a victim of it's own success. The goals of reasonable access to formerly male preserves have been achieved. So what is to be done? Shut up shop, apart from a watching brief? Or Find ever more finely sieved things to be offended by? Or (if you are younger) pretend that you are still an excluded minority and a brave pioneer, in a country where the Governor General, PM, Chief Justice, and CEO of the largest company have all been women - simultaneously!

One thing most professional engineers get annoyed by is complaints that the profession isn't 50% women. And enraged by suggestions to rig it so it is 50%, by discriminated entry to Engineering School or work by things other than ability. Where is it written that the profession should have an identical gender split? If there are no significant barriers to entry and progress, isn't that enough? That is all the Second Wave feminists asked for.
That is all anyone should need, or get.

I ideally suppose people shouldn't be making comments about women MP's attractiveness. But people make comments about male MPs appearance all the time. Ask Gerry Brownlee. Or Ed Miliband.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

An American magazine asked Hillary Clinton to match her cookie recipe against Barbara Bush's. We had the "battle of the babes" in the last election. I would suggest that things aren't quite so rosy as you think.

Anonymous said...

That was 20 years ago, and we are not America.
I am not claiming everything is perfect.
I AM claiming , and providing evidence, that it is perfectly possible for women in NZ to have careers, and encounter minimal sexism while doing so.
Was this not the major aim of "Second Wave" feminism in the 70s?

The fact that Chris is reduced to making claims as nebulous as "Neo Liberalism is inherently masculine"* supports my view.

This is a problem with radicalism (or human nature) - it never knows when to declare victory, but rather seeks ever more finely grained (alleged) injustices to the point where it becomes an irrelevant or even a laughing stock.

*Would Thatcher or Richardson agree?

Charles E said...

Was it at this feminist gathering that someone said if a man's bookshelf has few female authors on it he is a sexist pig? Or was that a media invention I picked up? If so ask why did I think it plausible.

I think you are right Chris that feminism today has faded because of what you call neo liberalism, just as the old left in general has. But I see that as its success, not failure. Causes mostly won cease to be causes any more so movements based on them die out.
Both have done so well they have been dismissed as unnecessary, old fashioned, anachronistic, irrelevant etc etc. They need a new contemporary focus. Feminism in the West could perhaps focus on the rest of the world, especially the Muslim dominated bits where feminism is sorely needed even more so than ever in the West. If they did that they would gain huge public support. Same for the left in general. Opposing centralist Western governments like ours you have helped create will not work. Look outside that for causes the voters will see have credibility. Like the many crimes and horrors presided over by the Chinese & N Korean Communist governments; people trafficking & the sex trade in SE Asia; the plight of women in Muslim countries. The Left in the West would get my vote if it truly went international for once.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Er... One of them was 20 years ago and in America. The other one was last year and in New Zealand. I'm not quite sure what you call "minimal sexism." There are stories out there of "maximal sexism" if you care to look. And I somehow doubt that second wave feminists just wanted to stop at job equality. And to be honest even that is in doubt. At least in the private sector.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

" The Left in the West would get my vote if it truly went international for once."

This is like – if only those Muslims would come out and condemn Isis. Jesus don't you people ever read anything or listen to anything outside of Fox news?

But then I love it when somebody makes one of these generalised statements that two minutes googling can disprove.

Charles E said...

GS I usually skip your snide posts but for your edification I have never watched Fox News for more than 20 seconds, nor read more than a page of the Guardian, nor do I ever intend to so in your bile soaked world I am presumably hopelessly uninformed. Can't be stuffed to tell you the long list of what I do read.....
So shove your Google where the sun does not shine and try to form your own opinions for a change.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

"captured as it was by the well healed (sic) left, who like a daily dose of hand ringing(sic) about the down trodden (sic) on their screens in their expensive houses"

"his plummy patronising manner."

Charles – I think it's perhaps a bit much to say things like this and call me snide. You constantly use this sort of language to describe left-wing people. You probably don't notice, you possibly think it's okay. But it's snide. And probably bile soaked as well. (I wouldn't normally correct your spelling, but if you going to pretend to know stuff, you shouldn't make spelling errors other than the normal fat finger keyboard, or AutoCorrect mistakes .)

Actually my Google research had nothing to do with my opinions. I just found left-wing groups that were supporting international causes mostly to do with FGM. Perhaps if you'd actually looked at them you would have realised this. Perhaps if you bothered to do a bit of research before you made your accusations, you wouldn't have made them.

It's in the same vein as I said, as "why don't Muslims condemn Isis? " Which the right always, always says. If you bothered to Google a little bit you'd find that just about every Muslim outside of Isis condemns Isis and also terrorism. (Just as you would see that the left is truly international on many issues.) But that doesn't stop you people from whining – now that is snide but you deserve it – 'why don't Muslims condemn Isis?"

I think I was making a valid point, which you haven't answered I notice. So perhaps you should pull your head out of where the sun don't shine, and do some of the grunt work that would stop you making an arse of yourself.

Charles E said...

GS you may do a lot of Googling but it does not help you I think. Google 'snide' and you will see the examples you give of me are not snide. They are I admit, cutting, sometimes rude, even nasty. But they are direct, pointed criticism. Snide is indirect, twisting, tangential. I find you are often truly snide plus patronising too. But if I don't read your posts how do I know? Well I only read the ones where you respond to me so perhaps you are sweetness and light to others!
Anyway re Google I hope you are good at it because Google will adapt like a virus and feed you more of what you like so actually reinforce your prejudices (an example of patronising btw, as this is).
I prefer books, journals, TV docs and talking to people.
But mostly I prefer thinking and forming my own view of the world I see out there, and take part in.
Anyway I invite you to read my post(4.11)again, esp all the lines above the one throw away one at the bottom you zoomed in on for your put-down. See, that is what you do: you pick one tiny, often irrelevant or silly thing and go off on a tangent of your own imagined prejudices about the writer, ignoring the key argument being posed..
Whereas, the point or opinion I was offering was clearly not a platitude about Muslims or the left twiddling their thumbs while horrors abroad proliferate (as I am well aware of the great work being done by good people everywhere on these evils). It was an opinion (yes opinion) that the reason the left & feminism are being ignored as though irrelevant now is that their job is largely done in the West (and risks being over done) so perhaps it should impress us anew by really going to town on the rest of the world (peacefully of course) as so many societies are decades behind us and so so slow to change for the better, especially re women. Which as you know from Ms Google, are the single most important factor in improving life on the damn planet! How? For another day perhaps but the left's energy in the West should not be wasted beating itself up or fighting causes already won or worse, inventing ever more hair splitting extensions of those battlegrounds (called PC gone mad by the right, imprecisely). Just my opinion...

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Interesting that you characterise your last sentence as a throwaway line. If you don't want your sentences parsed, don't put the damn things in. All we can do in a non-face-to-face conversation is take you at your word. Try to remember that there is no real way of telling what's a throwaway line and what's not.And if you're going to insult people at least spell the fucking insults correctly. Is that blunt enough for you?

I think you're confusing snide with taking the piss. Actually, my dictionary – an actual book, tells me that the underhanded definition of snide is simply an American usage. Normally outside of the States it simply means derogatory. To which I fully admit. You seem obsessed by my last line too. Which I sort of regarded merely as taking the piss. Which some of your ideas fully deserve.

And you should probably be aware that Google does lead to books, journals, TV documentaries and even interviews with people. All of which I occasionally use to make a point. But if you want, I can simply reference you academic journals – or do you consider them too left-wing and politically correct? And if you think that feminism is overdone in this country, you should probably go talk to a couple of women. For just read this, from an actual newspaper.
all this:
Or maybe you could just go back and look at the Tui ads :-).

Do you regard workplace sexism as trivial? Perhaps it is when compared to FGM, but as I pointed out, various Western women's organisations are working on that too. Which is what I was pointing out in response to your "throwaway line."

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Now that I've got a bit more time. Charles, you're opinions I can deal with. As you have probably gathered I regard them as ill informed, but they can be treated on their merits. I think what pisses me off is your constant drip of denigrating remarks about left-wing people. Not their ideas. But do you ever describe a left-wing person without using some sort of derogatory adjective? Whiny, old-fashioned, anachronistic, 19th-century? I would love to argue ideas, but if you continue to do this I will respond in kind. It doesn't make for the best debate, but it does give me some mild amusement.

Charles E said...

GS do you really not have any original ideas?
You spend how many lines? Twenty-three in two posts, warbling on about me but still fail to respond with any substance to my argument, other than to copy & paste something off your lover, Ms Google!
I bet almost no-one ever bothers to look at links in a blog post? Why would they? It's not a sodding academic journal!
Gone on, in your own words, tell us what is wrong with the idea that the Left (inc feminism) in the West has done itself out of a job? It's a stark proposition because I suppose it means the movement was only issue dependent. And so a party like Labour here and in the UK was only elected for a purpose, not because it was a natural party of government in the long term. It was just a transitional phase in development. It was an era and now its an error to try and perpetuate what is over.
Surely there is plenty there for you to form your own opinion on without any help from references? If you don't try to demolish it, I will tomorrow.
So what do you say? Is the Left in the West a dead parrot? Beautiful plumage, but still fucking dead.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Original ideas? You don't have any. You use the same old tired 18th century bullshit that you've learned by rote from God knows where. It's not original. Nothing in politics is particularly original. And you're still using those same pejorative adjectives except now you're spelling them correctly which I suppose is something. Can we for fuck's sake get away from the cliches?
I always look at links in blog posts - even Robert looks at links in blog posts occasionally. And it might not be an academic journal, but it's good to back up your ideas, original or not, with some sort of fucking EVIDENCE. You on the other hand, create these huge bullshit generalisations out of thin air and call them "original."
And no, feminism is not dead. There are still serious issues which you would realise if you bothered to look at the links. These are what's known as EXAMPLES, or EVIDENCE Charles, something that every undergraduate student who writes an dissertation of some sort knows to put in, so that we know it's not just their own stupid fucking opinion. As to the left, no it's not dead. New Labour I hope is dead. But Labour is doing quite well in Spain and Greece thank you very much. Because in those two countries at least, they have come to realise what your neoliberal bullshit has brought us all to. They are also EXAMPLES.
So by using EVIDENCE, I have shown that your unsupported opinions are bullshit.
In conclusion :-). Your ideas are not new or original. Plenty of people have them, and they are very old. Your ideas are also unsupported by evidence. Which means they are pure fairytales. The fact that this is not an academic journal does not relieve you of the obligation to provide evidence for the so-called facts or ideas that you present. You are entitled to your opinion Charles, unsupported or not. You are not entitled to your own facts.

Charles E said...

You get a fail GS.
Resorting to personal abuse, CAPITALS and foul language, breaching the sites rules.
No we are not writing dissertations at school, let alone academic papers and we are not in a Court either. What you call evidence is merely your selection of material you regard as supportive. As it is self supporting only, it would not get you top marks and certainly in Court a Judge would dismiss most of it as of little relevance therefore.
But worst of all you confirm that you have no ideas or argument of your own or even an adopted one, in response to my admittedly sweeping generalisation about the Left in the West now being 'used up'. Whether it's original is irrelevant. Who cares?
So that's it, I have confirmed that I am right to ignore your posts and will resume that policy now.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

"So that's it, I have confirmed that I am right to ignore your posts and will resume that policy now."
Can't see a downside here Charles. However I shall continue to provide evidence that your arguments are bullshit. I used capitals because you don't seem to be able to comprehend a proper argument so I needed to emphasise various points.

"Beautiful plumage, but still fucking dead." Fowl language.

I doubt a judge would dismiss my evidence actually, because most of it comes from reputable expert sources. And yes it is my selection of material, but you're free to select your own in rebuttal. As we quite often see in courts, a contest of experts.
I seem to remember replying to your not so original point about the left. (And it is now interesting that you suddenly claim that whether its original or not is unimportant, considering you attached huge importance to it in previous posts.) But there are none so blind as those who cannot see.
If I've breached the site rules, you should probably complain. I thought personally, if I breached the site rules then Chris would disallow my comments. As he hasn't, I assume I haven't broken the site rules. If this is an example of your logic Charles and you should be worried about it.

Chris Trotter said...

To: GS and Charles:

Alright, you two, that's enough!

No more!


Guerilla Surgeon said...

What – you didn't like the pun? :-)