Posts Tagged ‘equality’

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.

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One of the things I most commonly do as a guy who participates in feminism is simply provide a male face repeating things that women have said to give them “more credibility” with a certain audience, because people who to varying degrees buy into into patriarchal arguments are to varying degrees going to unconsciously distrust women saying something more than men saying something. (and you know, because there’s a long and unfortunate tradition of men needing to hear men say something before it really takes off)

In that tradition, I’m going to assemble some common objections to feminism so I can link people to this post rather than writing a new argument every time. Let’s go one-by-one.

1: Feminism is out to get men.

On the contrary, every type of feminism holds at its core that women and men are equal. (yes, there are different “flavours” of feminism) It is literally the dictionary definition of feminism. Yes, even radical feminists believe this.

Do things feminists advocate sometimes hurt men’s feelings, or maybe result in small temporary “inequalities” in what’s socially acceptable while we adjust social norms to a more equal framework? Yes. But that’s a problem of practical implementation and usually a relic of sexism that hurts men, (such as the awkward situation where a man defending himself against a women being violent against him is regarded as wronger than her attacking him in the first place for some strange reason because “men shouldn’t hit women”) rather than something that feminism is to blame for.

2: Feminism has been bad for men overall.

Sometimes this argument is phrased as “feminism has hurt both men and women,” but I think the accusation that feminism has been bad for women is so ridiculous I won’t even bother arguing against it here. (it’s usually based on a particular study which has been well-analyzed as not meaning what people say it means, if it’s even robust enough to take seriously at all)

Arguments that feminism benefits men are so common that “fbm” is a well-used acronym by various feminisms. I have even made a few myself.

Men have been seen as “default” and a certain view of masculinity as unassailable for so long that it’s not been up for question what it means to be a man, and thus society has brutally punished people who fall to any degree outside that definition. It is now beginning to change and that is only possible because of men beginning to believe in feminist ideals.

I’m constantly pleased by how it’s becoming not only tolerated or okay to have a different idea of what it means to be a man, but how it’s actually beginning to be celebrated.And for those of us who never felt we fit in, this is one of the more exciting times to be alive, even if it means that there are some problems showing up while we figure it out.

3: But feminists didn’t argue against (this thing that hurts men).

Really? Are you sure?

Because feminists argued against conscription, are still arguing against the prison-industrial complex, have stood with gay men to protect their rights, have stood with transpeople (both transmen and transwomen) to help them advocate for themselves, have joined the economy while still facing pressure to pick up more than their share of unpaid work, and have generally been one of the biggest voices in support of men who have faced sexual assault, who may never have received justice without the reforms advocated by feminists.

Usually this argument is one of two things- either a failure to do the research, or in some particular cases, (such as TERFs, eugh) stumbling upon the one splinter-group of feminists who have actually taken things too far and don’t represent the good things that feminism as a whole is responsible for.

4: Child custody cases are biased against men

This kinda falls under the whole “fbm” discussion earlier- the reason child custody sometimes perpetuates a bias against men is because of a patriarchal stereotype that men aren’t interested in childcare the same way women are, and that to the degree that they are, they’re not as competent. (And also the dichotomy of men being viewed as sexual predators when interacting with children vs women being viewed as caregivers)

That you even have the option to contest custody is ironically thanks to feminism. The tradition otherwise would have been that even if your spouse died you would need to find some other woman to look after your children- either a family member, a new wife, or an employee or slave. (yeah, we’re going back THAT far)

There have been trends and individual cases regarding child custody that have bothered me. This isn’t an argument for less feminism. It’s an argument for more.

5: Feminists aren’t consistent in arguing for perfect equality of outcome

This is usually phrased something along the lines of “feminists want precise equality of pay, but don’t want us to (x),” where (x) may be, for example, “release male prisoners until equal amounts of men and women are imprisoned” or something equally ridiculous. (You can also substitute equality of pay for equal numbers of women in Parliament)

Firstly, feminism is an entire school of thought. You will find people arguing all sorts of positions within it, so it’s a bit erroneous to pretend that All Feminists Think (x) for anything that doesn’t directly relate to feminism. And even then, there’s no guarantee that an issue won’t be controversial, or split between different sub-ideologies.

Ignoring that for a moment, let’s talk about equality, the stated goal of feminists. There’s two broad schools of thought on What Equality Is, and those are equality of outcome, and equality of opportunity. The latter claims that if we all have the same rights, that is equality. As the violation of those rights differs by gender in practice, we don’t even have equality of opportunity today in my view. The latter says that we should be able to look at outcomes (eg. statistics about imprisonment, or sexual assault, or number of female parliamentarians, or the pay gap) and they should be close to equal in an equal society.

My personal view is that equality of opportunity should imply approximate equality of outcome. (as in, if women are equal to men, controlling for other factors*, they should be within a couple of percentage points of achieving the same outcomes, such as equal pay) Looking at that in terms of pay equity, the closest women have gotten an acceptable level of inequality is a 6% gap. (ie. being paid 92% of what a man gets, on average) Likewise, in Parliament, you would expect an average of 57-63 female MPs, with that number varying upwards in elections with overhang seats. Since MMP, parliaments have only averaged around 30% female MPs. There’s a really good argument that we should be looking at approximate equality of outcome in those easy-to-measure areas as an indicator of whether gender equality has been realised. (and it also becomes more excusable to have years in which that number is below equal if there are also years in which that number is above equal, which hasn’t happened yet)

The general counter-argument to whatever (x) is, such as prison populations, is that said figures don’t control for other factors. Sure, more men are imprisoned, but that’s because more men are committing serious crimes. New Zealand imprisons about 15.35 men for every woman, and while each type of offending achieves the same rank in how common it is among male and female prisoners, it is noted that men commit more violent offenses relative to their numbers. What we would want to be looking at is conviction rates of men and women among similar crimes, although of course we would expect more variability than in some other gender comparisons, as there are complex variables that can’t be properly controlled for, and it could be that, for instance, one gender is brought to court when they’re innocent more often, and thus should actually have a lower conviction rate. Controlling for all the unrelated factors is extremely difficult, and would constitute a research paper in its own right.

6: Feminists don’t believe in equality because they called me/someone names

It’s not inequality to critique through humour, which is what most feminist name-calling seems to be related to. You also have to understand that for most women, feminism isn’t simply them railing about hypotheticals they’d like to change or things that might be a little nicer. It’s more about screaming at the top of the lungs about how the world is broken and it needs to be fixed and how frustrating that is.

And maybe we should sit back and have a think before we go privileging our feelings about being humourously insulted over their feelings about how much their life sucks, because that’s a pretty terrible set of priorities right there.

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There has been some discussion recently about the drivers of poverty, and I thought it would be useful to reproduce some important things I’ve said in comments on this blog.

mickysavage said this over at The Standard:

I use the phrase [equity of outcome] as a counter to the Nats’ “equality of opportunity, not equality of outcome” line.  That is a phrase that Nikki Kaye for instance uses all the time.

Their line essentially says that there can be winners and losers.  The concept of “equity of outcome” suggests to me there should be some minimum standards required so everyone has enough.  It does not require complete equality but a reasonable distribution of income and resources.

And he’s right, it’s really not permissible to just leave our economy at the harsh and intolerable level of “well, some people are winners, and others are losers,” because often, “winners” didn’t do anything to merit winning, and “losers” didn’t make the decisions responsible for their poverty. Here’s my reply:

Besides, to some degree inequality of outcome is an indicator of inequality of opportunity- for instance, if people of different demographics really do have functionally equal opportunity, you’d expect the differences in poverty rates between those demographics to be statistically negligible. As that’s not the case, we have a very strong indicator that people who fall into privileged groups in our society really do have more and better opportunities, which isn’t very democratic.

Now, if said inequality actually made everyone better off, I don’t think we’d have a problem with it. But it doesn’t- it just seems to enrich the already wealthy, as seen by our ballooning wealth disparities all around the world.

There is a systemic problem here, and it’s happening in all capitalist economies. Likely it’s our attempts to mix familial policies with capitalist ones (inheritance, treating kids as individual charges not community ones, etc…) that are driving a lot of this problem- that doesn’t mean these are bad things to do, just that they do not mix well with capitalism if you want everyone to get a fair go.

The other post, which was also guest-posted in a shorter form at The Standard, claims that because negative indicators track with poverty, this is a problem of poverty, not of race. That misses the point that poverty is an intersectional issue- that is, it tangles itself up in other social problems, and is better seen not as a cause or symptom but as part of a reinforcing cycle- way back in the day, colonial New Zealanders did some racist things, that set off a self-reinforcing cycle of racism and disproportionate poverty. Even for Maori people who climb out of poverty, there’s the perception that they are exceptional, rather than just very skilled and fortunate, and likely to have been in a much better situation had they been born into a family that suffered less from discrimination. Breaking out of poverty while so many still remain in it only suppresses the poverty part of the cycle, which is still reinforced for other Maori, and still associated mentally with all Maori in so many people’s heads.

Even if we eliminate poverty altogether, there will still be racial discrimination, and it will still carry some of the same symptoms. Just like when we largely ended open discrimination, however, the discrimination would still exist, underground, in our subconscious decisions- both of the victims of discrimination to sometimes see themselves as less than, and in the actions of people who want to reinforce that idea. Here’s the comment I made in reply to this point:

Poverty is a huge part of the problem- racism, sexism, and other types of discrimination are much easier to deal with when they don’t intersect with poverty.

But it’s actually scientifically confirmed (using tests that measure stress) that lifting people out of poverty doesn’t always relieve the stress they feel from discrimination. For example, if you take a white woman and a black woman in the USA, and they both climb out of poverty, the white woman will feel a relief of the stress that she felt from being poor, but the black woman won’t- which is likely to be due to people engaging in what’s called “high-stakes coping”, where they try and power through the problem by just being that much better than everyone else.

I’m not very elegant at explaining why poverty doesn’t explain away racism yet, but you can hear excellent talks on that subject at http://www.timwise.org/ – he’s a great anti-racism advocate.

Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely support fighting poverty, (and prioritising that fight) but what we’re likely to find even if we largely eliminate poverty is that discrimination still happens, but it might be a bit easier to deal with, and many of the related statistical problems will likely shrink significantly.

Finally, there’s also some discussion as to the drivers of poverty and whether it’s relatively simple or difficult to eliminate. I come down on the difficult side, as evidenced by this comment:

Well if we’re going to reduce things to absurd simplicity, throwing money at poor people solves poverty if you throw enough of it. By definition it cures their poverty (or if you throw too many sacks of coins it kills them – but they won’t die poor).

But then if you don’t want to be simplistic, it still needs money – social workers, benefits, law enforcement, education, infrastructure, civic development, business development units, investors. It all needs money.

and my reply elaborating on that point:

Well, perhaps it cures their poverty. This is going to sound similar to some beneficiary-bashing stuff, but I don’t mean it to demonise the poor, I mean it to say that the problem isn’t quite that simple to solve. In some ways poverty is actually quite similar to coping with mental illness.

You have to remember that part of what causes poverty is that it creates perverse incentives that perpetuate it. (hence the comparison) For instance you can’t afford healthy food, so you buy whatever’s cheapest, which is often junk food from large corporations that leaves you not much better off than before you ate or drank it, which can make it hard to concentrate because your body isn’t getting what it needs, which makes it hard to stay calm or make good decisions, which might mean you miss opportunities to improve your life in all sorts of subtle ways.

Even if we directly redistribute wealth with an aim to reduce poverty, these reinforcing behaviors don’t instantly go away- much like when someone wins the lotto, it depends on their outlook whether they’ll blow the money in a couple of years, or use it carefully and wisely. We’d certainly bump a lot of people directly out of poverty, but some would need a different kind of help, because, to use my earlier example, they’d still think that Coke is what you drink, and junk food is what you eat.

Many of the things you listed couch that investment in a secondary force that helps break poverty-reinforcing behavior- education and infrastructure being the key examples, but sometimes social workers, benefits, and law enforcement can be very helpful, too. I don’t really have much faith in business or investors to do anything about poverty unless they’re getting tax incentives to do it, and even then they’ll try to cut corners.

Fighting poverty is such a crucial piece of improving our society, that it’s a shame that people have so much difficulty understanding the nature of the problem. Having suffered from a different, but nonetheless equally self-reinforcing problem, I very much understand that it’s an incredibly difficult thing to defeat, it requires a lot of support, and even afterwards, these types of problems never fully leave you, you just shrink them to the point that they’re easy enough to cope with.