I’m fortunate to be living with a seven year old. She gives me a great insight to the realities of the role schools play in shaping ideas about what is normal and expected of boys and girls. It stretches my capacity to listen without commenting or launching into a modified feminist deconstruction. Figuring out what is helpful and practical in the playground is perhaps the biggest challenge. So tonight the conversation at the dinner table was about the boys saying she couldn’t play rugby because she was a girl. Now in my head I was working through hegemonic power and wondering what does she really want? Answer – she wants to play! To have access to sport and physicality without it feeling like a requirement to challenge stereotypes. Yip – she just wants to play!! It wasn’t my fight, she isn’t me because I would be just playing – I grew up thinking I was a boy most of the time anyway.

So it needed to be something short and simple. Something she could say that fitted with her personality that could both challenge and accept the situation for what it was. Knowing her wicked sense of humour and brilliant acting ability as well as a profound intelligence (far beyond what I had at the same age) it boiled down to pointing out the facts in response to the statement “but you’re a girl”. It seemed so obvious but the simplicity of saying ‘really? I hadn’t noticed, thanks for pointing that out’ and getting on with playing was the approach that she wanted to take.

I don’t know if it will work but the conversation was important for exploring the determined ways genderedness enters consciousness and becomes reinforced. It woke me up to the daily normalising minefield children and young people negotiate at school. I hope teachers doing duty in playgrounds can see the important role they can play in gently challenging ideas and creating inclusion on the basis of interest and enthusiasm. Then we need to work on the media showing more women’s sport including rugby. Visibility defines acceptability.

She also has quite a good fend on her so I reckon she’ll be right mate.

Flagging change

If I was an entrepreneur I would be thinking seriously about getting into the flag industry. From the passionate to the privileged, patriotic to political there is a growing movement toward marking territory along lines of separation in the present that flow into the past and future of which all happen now with real effects that can be felt in persecution, disavowal, and fear. There is a new flag on the block and it’s got nothing to do with NZ trying to decide how to resignify our place such that the rest of the world finally knows we are not the east island of Australia.

The Russians are all in a flap about family values and have decided they need to help people pick a side. This flag is meant to be a counter to the increasing profile of the rainbow one used as a visible representation of the invisibility of those falling outside heteronormativity. The idea of ‘straight pride’ being captured by a flag with a family on it reveals other invisibility. Clearly unless you have three ‘able bodied’ children of clear gender expression (based on clothing and marginal hair length differences) and two parents you are not a good model of heterosexuality. They might have gone with a simpler version that both mirrors and contrasts the rainbow. A simple black and white with no shades of grey, although they might want to refrain from using any symbols – been a bit of confusion with regard to black and white flags recently. Alternatively Russians themselves could fly all sorts of family flags without deviating from a man and woman being the parents. Mixed race couples, people with varying body shapes and functional uniqueness, and the obligatory alternative numbers of children that could make for a family unit – including 0.

South Carolina could consider adopting its state flag for public display, how many people know what it looks like? It’s one that might help cast off the shackles of mixed meaning because regardless of now the past lives and replays certain acts and scenes if given the chance under particular signs that have been etched in the fabric of time itself. We need to remember that rallying under a banner has been an effective propaganda technique for centuries and symbols can be turned from one meaning to another just ask any Hindu about the Svastika.

So to Russia with love – being heterosexual is not a crime in any country, you cannot be sent to jail, killed or denied basic human rights simply for being straight. Pride is only possible against a background of shame, the blood of those lost to hate crimes might make a good backdrop for your new flag – red…somehow I think that has other connotations.

Back to the drawing board.

Hair we go again

I don’t want to split hairs over John Key and what he does with his hands, but pontytail-gate needs a good combing for a fresh angle and I believe Alison Mau does better than most than simply blowing hot air onto it. It’s about entitlement and power. I wouldn’t pull my best friends hair let alone someone else’s, even as a ‘joke’ its patronising and demeaning, like patting someone on the head. The meaning of respect for personal space seems to be debatable, and if I may hazard a guess – it is still a gendered space. Had it been a young dude with a pony tail I’m pretty confident Mr Key wouldn’t have gone there, maybe a flippant homophobic comment – in jest of course, and he would probably say he has gay friends, knows a gay MP, and remember he did bring in marriage equality…

We don’t like making mountains out of mole hills, Kiwis are skilled minimisers in the name of ‘keeping things in perspective’. Therefore most of the debate is shut down by the default to ‘real issues’ ‘serious concerns’. But there is a lazy permissiveness around sexism particularly shades of misogyny and there are probably way more than 50. To me it’s a blurring of boundaries around ethics so that black and white becomes the only setting where outrage overwhelms indifference. Unless it is a sexual assault, crossing the serious line is never seen as a gradual process, a filtering of normative standards and carefully constructed defences to dismiss behaviours. Responsibility is transferred and hidden in tones of humour and blame.

His skills could come in handy if he teamed up with Shelley Bridgeman for school uniform and hair policing. It could also be a simple case that given Mr Key’s awkwardness around ordinary greetings such as handshakes that hair pulling seems a better option. Perhaps he could try it out on Ma’a Nonu. I think we’ll see the dreads then…snare-base-cymbal crash.

Shapeshifting – its morphi-fying

I remember dressing up as a kid, I was convinced my red skellerup gumboots were magic but feeling incredibly disappointed that I couldn’t fly and didn’t have super strength no matter what towel I tied around my neck. That was the 70’s and curiously enough superman has had more reboots than my old 486. The interesting thing is the embodiment of superman from Christopher Reeves slightly androgynous but not so muscular to the mesomorphic Henry Cavill who might easily have passed for the Hulk in the 1970’s. Everyone at some point has a fantasy about superpowers – not necessarily involving masks and capes or other stuff.

My favourite game is choosing an X-Men character. So many options and cool amazing abilities but there is one I overlooked for ages – Mystique. She is a shapeshifter and has the ability to alter her physique to be either gender. But she was always either or – never both/and. So although every other character seems to push the limits of physicality, the one person who could ultimately explore and represent alternative gendered embodiments gets stuck in polarity! The irony is in her ‘natural state’ aside from the deep indigo skin, scales and yellow eyes she has a ‘perfect body’.

So while X-Men push the idea of fear of difference, needing to control, eliminate or assimilate expressions of otherness there are some subtle messages that reinforce usual gendered stereotypes and mystique is a very good example. She is also told people should ‘love her in her natural state’ that she should not alter herself. On one level I agree however why on earth would you stick with one experience of your body if you have the ability to be anyone! Containing her fluidity to me is the ultimate act of disempowerment.

There are probably some other as yet unimagined benefits of shapeshifting. Just imagine how easy it would make shopping for jeans! You could choose any style and morph on into them. Then there is travelling! Gosh you could navigate all sorts of tricky culturally bound gendered norms, or other stereotypes that are currently a barrier to suspicion free international travel. Caught in a fight and someone goes to kick you between the legs – it’s probably going to hurt either way but maybe less in one body.

The only other downer about super heroes is they all so self-absorbed, tragic, angsty and tortured. No amount of shapeshifting is going to make that attractive.

Ice-Cream – lick it or not, there is more than one flavour

Sometimes I struggle to explain my frustration about how pervasive ideas are that construct and limit the full expression of diversity. The expression of sexuality is right up there and I’ve often wanted to put it out there as a story but unsurprising, if you start talking about it – others ‘freak out’. So here is a little story to illustrate some of the practices that hide in plain sight. It shouldn’t take you long to figure out the metaphor I’ve chosen and before anyone says ‘its not that simple’ I agree entirely. It would be easy to pick holes in this story (its a story!) I simply invite people to look at the tensions of power – not the literal translation. If that doesn’t work for you – go out and get yourself an ice cream and enjoy! …..

Here we go!

Once upon a time there was an ice cream shop. Now, everyone loves ice-cream (at least in this story) it is part of life from early childhood through all stages of life. So there were many shops selling ice-cream for obvious reasons.
However – there was only one flavour IC. But people didn’t mind because they were not aware there was any other possibility for flavour. The one flavour on offer was vanilla. Vanilla was delicious and while a lot of people enjoyed it – others were not so fussed but went along with agreeing it was delicious and indeed the best thing in the world.
Eventually some people got tired of pretending they were into vanilla and dared to explore another flavour – dark and mysterious – it was called chocolate! It was still IC wasn’t it? There were some shop owners who refused to stock this new flavour calling it an abomination. Some quietly did but espoused that Vanilla was still the traditional flavour everyone naturally prefers.
It wasn’t long before stories were developed to explain why some might prefer chocolate, something had happened to them at birth or in early childhood to scare them off vanilla, they were born that way, and therapies developed to help people return to the correct flavour.
Resistance came for those who now identified chocolate as a real and preferred flavour that whilst not as common as Vanilla was no less legit. Many snuck chocolate under vanilla and developed ways to blend in with other IC eaters in public to ensure they could maintain their standing amongst their peers. But they longed just to be able to enjoy their IC openly but know the risks.
Still chocolate persisted in fact it started to appear in all sorts of ways, chocolate chip, chocolate coating, cones, ripple, and as more and more awareness grew around some of these other combinations some people who had spent their life only experiencing Vanilla realised they were curious and attracted to the notion of other flavours. Not all of them sampled but it was in their consciousness.
Many rejected these emerging flavours again as deviations and would punish public displays of chocolate. In fact theories around how you could tell if someone was into chocolate emerged with the some calling for schools to ensure vanilla was definitely the only choice offered and if chocolate was mentioned that this would be trying to force and convert impressionable children to the ‘dark side’. Some countries went as far to make chocolate illegal.
All sorts of panic and social problems were blamed on the arrival of chocolate. There were claims that the presence of chocolate somehow diminished the value of Vanilla, that too many choices was a danger to the very fabric of society. Those who didn’t like any form of IC were left out in the cold completely whilst chocolate became associated with other behaviours. Parents hoped their children would grow up to like Vanilla and would go to extreme lengths to make sure they steered them in this direction as they worried what future they might have and what their friends and family would think of them. Some would ask their children not to eat in public, or at family gatherings.
A strange thing happened later where upon meeting another intelligent species in the universe and offering up IC as an explanation of the ways humans define themselves, the visitors shrugged and said ‘what’s IC’? They were perplexed as the world seemed to be in the throws of catastrophic demise and here this species was making a fuss about IC? They carefully but gently pointed this out but were instead handed an ice cream…

Now to let that melt into your mind and hope some consider not freezing change out.


Jane left Tarzan for another Jane

How to get instant publicity if you are a female celebrity, don’t just end your marriage but announce you are ‘interested in trying women.’ So when Miranda Kerr joined the tribe of women ‘outing themselves as bi-curious’ I started to wonder ‘why all the attention?’

I’m not entirely convinced this is an authentic embracing of bi-sexuality. Nor am I celebrating the seeming ‘acceptance’ of this in the media, and here is why.

Miranda seems to be taking to bi-sexuality like a sport – a performance aspect. She laments that if she isn’t having enough sex her body gets out of shape, particularly her arms and abbs. Heard of push ups and crunches Miranda? ‘Personal trainer’ certainly takes on a whole new meaning if that is the case. Ok so she did the article for GQ Magazine which explains the audience clear enough, and that is my concern. Women are encouraged to ‘explore’ same sex attraction but for the pleasure of men. By declaring that she ‘still needs a man’ the idea of being with a woman is not about genuine sexual attraction but as an extension of heterosexuality.

Therefore, I can’t see her lining up with a rainbow flag any time soon. Crossing the line of acknowledging this is ‘who I am’ not just ‘something I do to spice up my sex life’ requires a commitment to speaking openly and sincerely about complex notions of sexuality, intimacy, love and identity. I’d be more excited if her ex husband Orlando Bloom announced bi-curiosity. Funny how that doesn’t seem to be as popular in the public arena.

There might be research into the ‘fluidity’ of sexual attraction and sexuality and gender differences but the LGBT community need this kind of heteronormative hijacking like the disabled community need Oscar Pistorius as a pin up boy.

When it comes to all things sexual and the ‘who, whats, wheres whys and hows of it’ we seem to take steps toward broadening our concepts of diversity but then try and contain them in other limiting normative expressions of relationships such as marriage. ‘Love and marriage go together like a horse and carriage’…because that sounds really natural, comfortable and equal.

I’m not holding my breath for a remake of Tarzan with a plot twist that could go something like this:
“Tarzan, I’m sorry but while you were great for reproducing and protecting me from wild animals, I think I want to try women, and no you can’t watch.”

With all that vine swinging, she is bound to have great arms.