Enablers – Dr Liz Gordon

By   /   January 12, 2018  /   7 Comments

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The late Jim Anderton and his movement was potentially an enabler. But the neo-liberal political project which he opposed has trundled on ever since and has outlived him, which is a shame. We could do with a new transformational spirit here to overcome inequalities and the rise of the super-rich and overpaid and the poor and underpaid. Any candidates?

I want to reflect, in this column, about what has come to be known as enablement, although has been known as leadership, role modelling and the like.  There was quite a lot of it about in 2017.

 

What I mean by an enabler is someone who, in a position of leadership, states an idea or position that leads to a significant shift in perception by a large sector of society, and which in turn leads to action based on that shift.  

 

I can think of four clear examples from 2016-17: Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders, Jeremy Corbyn and the reporters and women who outed Harvey Weinstein. I have excluded Jacinda Ardern because the change in fortune she achieved for the Labour Party was not based on an idea or position she held, but simply on a perception of change. Jacindamania, while a fascinating sociological phenomenon, was not a position or idea, but simply a perception.

 

So let’s start with Donald Trump. The idea or position that he most clearly enables is, simply speaking, that white men are the inheritors of the earth.  Women, in particular, may be smart but primarily they must be beautiful. Poor Melania’s role is to stand there and look gorgeous.  She is not expected to do or be anything.

 

Hispanics, black persons, people from the Middle East and so on are looked on with suspicion as being lesser humans and probably up to no good.  This view has enabled the rise of neo-redneck groups, the Charlottesville white supremacist rallies and the rise (and fall) of the (quoting from Wikipedia) “racist, homophobic, transphobic, anti-Semitic, Islamophobic” and sexual assaulter Roy Moore.

 

More recently, the Arizona racist Joe Arpaio, pardoned by Trump in 2017, has announced he will stand for the US Senate in 2018.  An extreme form of sexism and racism now runs free in the USA to a great extent than for 50 years.  Fortunately, it has also spawned its own fightbacks.

 

Bernie Sanders, a politician in his 70s known for his democratic socialist views, sought the Democratic nomination in 2016. His anti-inequality, anti-extreme wealth and anti-corruption campaign captured strong support, especially among the young.  Hilary Clinton won the nomination with huge establishment support, but only just.  His unofficial campaign slogan, ‘Feel the Bern’ really took off, as did his call for an economic revolution.  He may run in 2020, although the field may be a bit crowded.

 

In the UK, the ‘unelectable’ Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the Labour Party, experienced a massive increase in popularity and nearly snatched a 2017 election victory.  This was again driven by the youth vote.  Issues such as nationalisation of the railways is now back on the political table. Corbyn captured the hearts and minds of a big chunk of the voting public.  The Jeremy Corbyn chant has supporters singing to their leader at every meeting he attends.  Fascinating – a politics of hope which the Guardian calls an anthem for a revolution (but a bit overblown, I think).

 

Finally, the Harvey Weinstein phenomenon, which has seen women all over the world declaring #MeToo.  I must say that I am not quite sure at the present time how transformative or enduring this movement will be.  I mean, there is little in it that that we/women did not know before.  The only new thing is women owning up publicly to being victims of sexual assault by men in power.   In order to stop this, we have to balance gender power, wealth and influence throughout society.  

 

There is already a fightback movement against the #MeToos, and I would not be surprised if women went quiet again reasonably quickly.  We have learned that women, working together, can take down individual males, but we have not dismantled either capitalism or patriarchy.  In short, the conditions for the sexual exploitation of women (among many exploitations) are still in place.

 

What we have learned from these recent enablers is two things.  The first is that dominant discourses of politics can be disrupted in explosive ways (by this I mean both fast and extensive) by particular views that have or gain a willing and enthusiastic constituency.  The second is that enablers produce echoes in the wider society.  Trump led to Charlottesville and beyond, Bernie and Jeremy to a generational change in thinking about politics, and the women to a voice for people who have been silenced for years.

 

The late Jim Anderton and his movement was potentially an enabler. But the neo-liberal political project which he opposed has trundled on ever since and has outlived him, which is a shame. We could do with a new transformational spirit here to overcome inequalities and the rise of the super-rich and overpaid and the poor and underpaid. Any candidates?

 

Dr Liz Gordon began her working life as a university lecturer at Massey and the Canterbury universities. She spent six years as an Alliance MP, before starting her own research company, Pukeko Research.  Her work is in the fields of justice, law, education and sociology (poverty and inequality). She is the president of Pillars, a charity that works for the children of prisoners, a prison volunteer, and is on the board of several other organisations. Her mission is to see New Zealand freed from the shackles of neo-liberalism before she dies (hopefully well before!).

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7 Comments

  1. Siobhan says:

    My problem with the #metoo movement is it seems to be revolving around comparatively privileged women without spreading to the working classes…I mean it seems a little hard to believe that these guys haven’t inflicted this crap on the maid every now and then.

    I guess we can hope for some ‘Trickle Down Feminism‘, but the reality is it has never played out that well.

    Somehow the women at the bottom get the short end of the feminist victories…ie the joy of working outside the home = 2 part time jobs, a tonne of debt and the kids in some vicious holding pen being cared for by other underpaid women.
    (I am NOT in anyway diminishing/dismissing the problem of sexual abuse and harassment among well to do women)

  2. J says:

    The spirit of Helen Kelly who has just as much charisma and leadership via her past actions and hopes for us as Kiwis, now as she had when alive.

    That in itself is an indictment on our current living leaders, wherever they are in society, that are supposed to work on behalf of All New Zealanders, by safeguarding our children, our environment, our lowly paid workers and our constantly-under-attack beneficiaries (I don’t include the mp beneficiaries in this as they have enough money to defend themselves).

    Also, ‘I stand with Pike’ and want to know where to buy the stickers – I don’t do Facebook.

  3. Michal says:

    Liz I think a lot has been said about Jim anderton which is pretty overblown. He was the primary cause of the dismantling of the alliance because he supported Labour’s sending troops overseas. I doubt any Alliance member supported that. He really went along with the neo lib agenda once he became deputy PM and that was quite against what he set out to do with the NLP. His big claim to fame and quite justly is Kiwibank which almost a million people have accounts for. I cannot undertstand why any Kiwi would bank with any of the overseas banks that dominate our landscape, unless of course they have to because they have a mortgage with them. The billions in profits that are transferred overseas each year is surely the No. 1 reason to bank with Kiwibank

  4. Andrea says:

    There is a plus to Donald Trump. It’s weird.
    Everyone laa’d along with the narrative about America being the world’s friendly super power and, mostly, ignored all the downsides. ‘It’s just the way it is.’

    Angela Merkel said it out loud – Europe, time to go it alone.

    People have begun to wonder, since he’s had his wee fingers caressing the Big Nuclear Button, whether the world could be more peaceful if America didn’t have to prop up its arms manufacturers, or put so many of its unemployed into the military.

    That has to be good.

    Mr Kim may be playing the dynasty game but he has started talking to the south again. Asked to go to the Winter Olympics. Perhaps they can come to a peaceful conclusion if they don’t have communist or trade challenge-fearing Americans putting their sticky beaks in.

    Even The Wall has got people wondering, polarising, concluding that many-most of the immigrants are decent folk who are worth sharing a nation, or even a state with. California and its sanctuary cities. Arizona wondering who will pick the lettuces.

    The sheer provocation the man provides on issues too long taken for granted. As president – yeah, nah. As provocation and inspiring of change away from his scenario – oh hell yes!

    Which is about the only silver lining I could find.

  5. Kim Dandy says:

    I voted for John Minto when he ran for mayor.
    There’s a man I believe would have shaken the city up had he won.

  6. Priss says:

    “Poor Melania’s role is to stand there and look gorgeous. She is not expected to do or be anything. “

    Compare Melania Trump with Michelle Obama. Point made.

    “There is already a fightback movement against the #MeToos, and I would not be surprised if women went quiet again reasonably quickly. We have learned that women, working together, can take down individual males, but we have not dismantled either capitalism or patriarchy. In short, the conditions for the sexual exploitation of women (among many exploitations) are still in place.”

    Considering the recent open letter published from French actor Catherine Deneauve, attacking the #metoo movement, it appears yet again the worst form of fightback will be from ourselves. It’s like one step forward; one step back; snatch defeat from the jaws of victory; repeat.

    If a man had said what Deneauve penned, his head would be on a figurative pike by now.

    • Shona says:

      Yes quite. How appalling a woman would think there is a difference between seduction and sexual harassment. Being groped and pawed and preyed upon is a fact of life for women. What you do about it is what counts. A s a person who has experienced sexual abuse i do not consider my self a victim. Being heard is paramount having a neutral forum to tell one’s story is also. Access to free and competent counseling should be mandatory world wide. Prosecution only when it will achieve change. Shaming is more effective. e.g. Natalie Portman at the Golden Globes.
      If the status of older women was one of respect instead of derision younger women might actually learn enough to manage their lives perfectly well without suffering irreparable harm from the daily shit we are all expected endure in out patriarchal world.