discrimination

Close shave

It’s something of a gender marker body hair and I’ve written about it a number of times. Facial hair and grooming is part of that with some services exclusively catering for men. I say men rather than male as in order to pass as a man publicly requires a whole body performance not just what combination of nuts and bolts make up your ‘hardware’. In such places masculinity finds a haven in being shaven. I imagine they enable a sense of relaxation and comfort and comradery. The branding and marketing and product sold is based around a gendered performance of masculinity. Being female and feminine does not fit.

So I suppose what I am wondering is why any woman would claim discrimination for being told she is not able to be employed due to her disrupting the space that is on offer. What if that female employee was previously male as in the case of Dakota Hemmingson? I’m thinking this is not so cut and dry. Transitioning from male to female comes with more than just material changes in morphology or embodied expression of gender, becoming female means to enter a new position in the social order (not withstanding other layers such as race, class, functioning). My reading of this scenario leaves me with a sense of disquiet about the polarising nature of rights and discrimination accusations and the defensive position it invites for employers. Rather than opening discussion on the complexities the standard ‘no comment’ lines or bland dismissive rhetoric passes over what could be a valuable dialogue around diversity.

But being reasonably cis gendered myself I don’t feel well qualified to speak about experiences of ‘being-becoming’ trans. There are plenty of trans men and women writers talking about the changes in social status and ways others relate to them that reveal much more of the ways society affords privilege or denies and excludes people on the basis of gender. In many ways I wish New Zealand had a version of Huffington Post rather than the cut and paste journalism of The New Zealand Herald as some of these stories might gain a bit more traction to tease out the nuances of gender and sexuality, rights and entitlements.

Of course LGBTQI people experience prejudice, harassment, bullying, and feeling accepted, respected and valued are absolutely vital for all young people on any journey on the rainbow spectrum. But while binary gendered roles exist these protected, gender defined, spaces will as well and not meeting the criteria is sometimes simply that. I hope Dakota finds her way into new employment as she clearly has valuable skills that people need not split hairs over.

Battle of the Sex-isms

Apparently it was international women’s day yesterday. Ok. So WTF – What’s True Feminism? Cut to the NZ herald today for a comment on sexism and this is why journalism needs a philosophical enema. Deborah Hill Cone takes a bit of a pot shot at Alison Mau about her concern around ‘casual sexism’ that there is ‘serious sexism’ to compare it to.

This is where the backlog of neo-liberalism and post-feminism really starts to bloat these kinds of debates and the constipated arguments keep being recycled. The arguing for a continuum of serious – non-serious issues of equality or examples of discrimination simply drys out the digested mass of assumptions and absorbs the complexities to leave ‘solid’ claims that just…well…stink!

Caring about how your daughter is positioned in the educational, social, and political world by noticing comments made is not trivial. The flow on effect of this is how she will access the economic world and so what income she will ‘earn’. Some will go as far to say these arguments pale in comparison to women in countries where female genital mutilation occurs and so the dangerous illusion of relativity flushes away any chance of re-defining what might be considered worthy of caring about.

Human rights needs a rebranding and a 21st century reboot. One that re-cognises the subtle power plays of language, privilege, social construction, and ditching some moralistic high ground typical of western/capitalist neo-liberal based thinking. Instead of splitting up rights into labels of have’s and have nots and taking some strange imaginary scale system to measure when ‘equality’ is finally reached we need to question the very measures of our definitions of what makes us Hue-man.

And if you need to regain your appetite or some pain relief after all that, just do mau cone.

(don’t) Build It And They (won’t) Come

In Field Of Dreams, Kevin Costner is haunted by the ghosts of Baseball players who urge him, via a rather persistent whispering of ‘if you build it, he will come’ to create a baseball diamond in his corn field. Far from being locked up for having schizophrenia or some other mental illness, Costner’s character trusts the voices and builds the diamond and is rewarded with the sound of white ash on cork and leather. I’m not sure about the afterlife but it appears ball players just want to keep playing and why not! It’s a great example of creating accessibility through simple modifications to space.

Accessibility is generally associated with disability but I think we’ve constructed a bit of an apparition of sorts by assuming the individual who is not functioning in a bipedal manner defines the ‘problem’. I mean steps ruined the plans of the Daleks from Dr Who originally when they were restricted to the mechanics of wheels. For a time travelling, disembodied, biomechanical species they didn’t need sympathy or charity or empathy they needed better technology. And unfortunately for the human race they got it. Science fiction aside, technology has the potential to level the playing field and redraw the boundaries of understanding around functional diversity, which I feel is long overdue.

This was highlighted to me recently when I was part of a conversation that included a somewhat nervous observation from a colleague about the number of ramps being built. If it’s possible to sprain the occipito-frontalis muscles that raise your eyebrows then mine were definitely in that category. I have no doubt there was no intention to be functionphobic but as I searched for a response it dawned on me the complex meanings and ideas we hold about disabilities and response-ability particularly in education. My question was simple ‘what do you mean by that’? And then there was a very awkward pause. So I asked with genuine curiosity ‘are you concerned that ramps could mean more needs and resources?’ I wanted to shift the reference away from a personal lack or deficit so I nonchalantly threw in ‘I think of it as simply accommodating a different form of transport and this doesn’t necessarily mean they will require extra support in class’. I also had to state that students had a right to attend their local school which might seem logical but the hidden reality for many years in New Zealand has been a form a legitimate exclusion based on the inability to access buildings (even though it is illegal to do so), or as I call it – ‘the Dalek effect’.

But why the panic around more wheel chairs at school? Unseriously then, yes more young people in chairs could create all sorts of wild crazy ideas amongst commonly functioning youth. They might all want to come to school in chairs, we would need a rule about that then, or skaters and other students will want to ride around school, we would need a rule about that, or outbreaks of chair racing might endanger other students, we would need a speed limit on that, and what about not standing when the principal walks onto the stage! Well I’m not sure about you but I can see the conundrum so it probably makes sense to not build ramps so they won’t come.

We have come a long way and some travel that path on wheels and might suggest that even though their road is less travelled the destination is equally important. It really is time we ramped things up around notions of accessibility and got over our collective general anxiety around functional diversity. Kiwis ought to remember part of our national identity is sporting success and how often do we do well in wheel based sports or ones where we sit down.

Yes for me it is not Field Of Dreams but dreams of wheels.

Racing ahead without looking behind

Down here in NZ where the oval ball rules, we have not escaped the global phenomenon of more spherical ball games including basketball. Why we have our very own Stephen Adams playing for the Oklahoma City Thunder – and all of a sudden I love basketball. That’s just how we roll sometimes, we connect personally with our fellow nest flyers…walkers (silly me forgot we are the land of flightless birds), and adopt them. It’s like living in a very large extended family. We can of course double our chances with the Adams family – sister Valerie is quite a good athlete herself. Olympic Gold, World Champ, Commonwealth Champ – yeah she puts that heavy round thing out there!

You don’t need to follow sport anymore – it follows you! Sport is a business and whilst we want children and young people to be active and enjoy the positive aspects of sport, in the end it is about generating profit. The relationships between marketing and promoting brands and sport is about as in your face as a ball in the face. What happened over the last week with the ‘racism scandal’ and the Los Angeles Clippers will be picked up as an issue around human rights, racism, justice and rightly so. NBA commissioner Adam Silver has ‘cut out the tumour’ excising as much removal powers as possible by cutting ties with Clippers owner Donald Sterling. But what will be the follow up treatment and overall recovery regime for the NBA?

While this decision has been lauded by most and is probably the right one, it is hardly a brave decision. It doesn’t require any party involved to deal with the fall out or be genuinely accountable. Legal teams are probably rubbing their hands together gleefully. Silver will be the ‘good guy’ cleaning things up and taking a hard line, Sterling the ‘bad guy’ and merchandise, new branding will probably be created to ride the wave of unity while the ground swell of public awareness is firmly fixed on the NBA. Sponsors will be running to advertisers to ensure they don’t drop in too late. Rest assured it will be ‘business as usual.’

What to learn and take from this? Money talks. Everything is for sale. That is the sad truth. This was never really about exposing racism – someone cashed in with that tape. If it does generate conversations about any form of discrimination in sport or generally, then great, but these will be fleeting and more about political point scoring.

I will be keeping an eye on proceedings but so long as my boy Stephen is playing well and representing the silver fern I will ride my own wave of national pride vicariously and cross my fingers he gets the respect he deserves as a player because of how he plays. I’m also hoping coaches with a homophobic streak get a bit of a wake up call. A note to Mr Silver then – you might want to look into that to.