It’s 2016 and women are equal

Posted: December 1, 2016 in democracy, Uncategorized
Tags: , , ,

Our half-baked schoolyard bully of a Prime Minister has once again contracted a case of foot-in-mouth disease, saying it is a “stupid” idea to have a cabinet that includes a fair number of women1.

I have such a long list of arguments against ridiculous comments like this it’s practically an orbital ring.

The first and most obvious is that implying that you’re not capable of putting an equal amount of women into cabinet/ministerial positions and you “instead” promote by merit implies at least one of two things, neither of which is acceptable:

  • Either you can’t locate ten/thirteen women within your caucus who are qualified to be ministers.
  • Or you don’t think women as a category are inherently equally qualified to be ministers as men are, so it’s okay for you to have more men, rather than a recruitment failure on your part for not finding and mentoring enough women.

I’m going to state the obvious and say that the former is definitely true. If you want to have ten women (or twelve to thirteen if you want equality for ministers outside cabinet, too) available for ministerial positions, you generally need to have twice that many women in your caucus so that you are mentoring potential replacements for your A-team. With 17 women in Caucus, National only has enough female “talent” to  comfortably maintain 8 women in cabinet. (which Key clearly recognises, as only 7 women are ministers inside cabinet) If you want fully equal number of ministers, you really need 25 women in your government, which is roughly a 42% ratio.

The phrasing of Key’s objection also seems to imply he believes the second implication of what he said, too.

And all of this is admitting to a poverty of talent not only in National’s female caucus, but its party leadership. Surely a competent party and a competent government should not only be able to pick 25 qualified women, but it should be able to pick at least 30, given you need 61 people to govern. And within those 30, there should not only be thirteen women qualified to be ministers, but you should have the ability to choose based on merit, and other less obvious qualities. (such as who wants to do what, affording appropriate seniority to various ministers, and managing the various political factions and personality conflicts) This isn’t like squaring a circle, for someone who wants to be Prime Minister, this is simply something you need to be able to do to be qualified. If John Key isn’t capable of adding “have I fairly considered all of the women in my party?” to his decision-making criteria, then the qualification question reflects back on him. And we understand he might need some time to get to the point that he can actually have a completely equal cabinet, that’s fair. He needs to recruit more women, and mentor the ones he does have in his caucus. But to dismiss the idea as silly without even trying smacks of arrogance.

One of the frequent objections I hear to this idea is “why do you feel people are ‘entitled’ to be represented at roughly the same rate as you are in the overall population?” To which my response is that women aren’t entitled.

They’re qualified. They’re talented. They’re hard-working, they’re smart, they’ll fight, and they’re effective, you just have to be willing to reach out to people who believe in serving their country and your values, and that’s something that even the National Party can do, and I’m not even complementing them to say so, I’m just saying that this is Management 101-level stuff.

The people who are entitled are men who think it’s okay for us to hog two-thirds of leadership positions. If I am ever acknowledged for some particular thing I did, or some honour, I want to know I’ve earned it by merit, not because someone gave it to me because they’re too sexist to acknowledge a woman who genuinely did better than me.

I have been told I’m simply arguing for quotas and don’t understand selection by merit. Really? Well, let’s have a look at what National thinks is selecting by merit in its 2014 list:

  • Simon Bridges, a slick-hair seat filler who can’t seem to give a straight answer on anything, is one rank above Nikki Kaye, the one woman in National’s caucus that everyone across Parliament acknowledges is an effective and compassionate MP, and one of National’s best, even if they don’t always agree with her.
  • Murray McCully, of Sheepgate fame, is ranked significantly higher than one Amy Adams, who is largely successful in her job of “not making the news,” unlike McCully, who seems to have a reverse-midas touch.
  • Chester Borrows, who is due to some fluke of birth a freaking deputy Speaker, despite trying to compromise on beating children, and having run over the feet of protestors because they were in his way, still manages to rank higher than Louise Upston, who debates better than he does and manages to not be a disaster.
  • Despite both of them being odious, Melissa Lee is also ranked lower than Sam Loto-Iiga. Whatever you wish to say about Lee, I doubt she could mix things up as badly as a Minister as Loto-Iiga has, although arguably such a comment is me inviting her to disprove it.

And lest you think I’m simply picking every woman on the list and saying they deserve to be higher, I can tell you that the two highest-ranked women on National’s previous list are rubbish that deserve to be much further down, preferably trading placing with the actually talented Nikki Kaye. Parata is out of her depth running education, and I think everyone outside of the National Party faithful breathed a sigh of relief on hearing that she plans to step down with the 2017 election, and Collins is a scandal magnet who’s lobbying to succeed Key as leader, despite the fact that she wants to be Prime Minister of a majority liberal country2 and couldn’t effectively campaign to liberals even if she starred in a hit musical about intersectional feminism. (While I won’t tempt fate by daring them to pick her3, I can’t see any effective political strategy for an odious insider like Collins to win the Prime Ministership in an actual election as leader. The best shot she has is John Key resigning mid-term)

There are complications to be sorted out to do this, however, and unlike National, Labour is acknowledging them. One of the problems is that even if you alternate your party list, the two largest parties win a sizable number of electorates, many of them predictably going to either Labour or National. Some ‘safe’ Labour seats will need to be taken away from senior male MPs, and given to female MPs so that other list winners will balance out. Some competitive seats may also need to go to women, so that the potential for surprise wins makes it likely that labour will still average out to roughly even representation.

Despite all the sexist uproar about a “man ban,” Labour had actually worked this out reasonably well and agreed to the rule under Cunliffe, so unless it’s repealed in less than a year, you can expect to see a half-female Labour caucus in 2017, despite the difficulties. (the real question will be if they’ve managed to order MPs in a way that puts the minnows near the bottom and the powerhouses at the top and/or in safe seats. We need a lot less Mallards and Currans in Labour’s caucus if they want to take back the treasury benches)

In all, it’s 2016. We deserve to live in a country where not just the Left, but even the Right acknowledge that a cabinet with equal amounts of women in it is realistic, fair, and qualified, and anyone who said otherwise is desperately hanging on to outmoded ways of thinking.

(This is a consolidation of some of my rebuttals to various comments to this post at The Standard)

1 For reference, that number is approximately 50% on average. We can have less some years so long as we have more in other years. Technically there are .99 men for every woman in New Zealand, so if we wanted to get exact we could even say that we should be skewing slightly above 50% on average, but I think it’s simpler for everyone and perfectly fair if we just stick to asking for equal representation.

2 What, a liberal country, I hear some of you saying? Well, yes. New Zealand might have a strong rural influence in politics, it might have voters that care a lot about economics and for strange reasons seem to give credibility to the right wing on that front, and it might even believe that if things are working you don’t need to change them, but it is a majority liberal country, which believes in fairness for everyone, that dislikes overt discrimination, and that has decided it quite likes a certain amount of Māori culture, and having the gays out of the closet rather than in. If you convince New Zealanders that something is unfair, they want it fixed. Collins can’t convincingly sell New Zealand on any of that, and Key’s ability to seem okay with it all is a large part of his effectiveness in seeming popular and remaining relatively immune to criticism. He was viewed as delivering the public the two things they want most: economic prosperity, and social liberalism. Both arms of his political strategy are now seen to be unravelling by both the public and the media, so it’s a question of when, not if, his time is over.

3 We’ve seen how that turns out in the USA, and I am shutting my mouth whenever my brain rushes ahead and thinks such a stupid thing, and I apologise to everyone to whom I have actually expressed a wish that the National Party hamstring themselves by picking Collins. Let’s not and say we did. Or just not. Either one really.


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