In her book Everyday Sexism, British author Laura Bates explains how girls and women are shaped by everyday discourse into gendered disadvantage. Whether it be pay, employment, daily life, love, or whatever, the systematic disadvantaging of women takes place all the time in every place that we live. How to explain the ‘inexplicable’ equal pay gap? Women are conditioned to have lower expectations and are much more likely to accept less. They value themselves lower than men do.
There is nothing much new in this. There was a great study in the 1970s that showed that men applied for jobs even when they did not yet have the skills to carry them out, whereas women tended to wait until they ticked all the skill boxes before they applied. Gaps.
There is everyday racism as well. In the US and some other countries, this tends to be overt, but in New Zealand it is, at least partially, underground. Again, it dwells in the realm of expectations. I have a Māori friend who said to me recently that she had experienced racism every single day of her life.
I saw it in the treatment of my new neighbours, who have been living in a motel unit for three months until the state house next door to me became available recently (after standing empty for a few months, although that is another story). They were given the keys on a Friday night and basically were dumped in there. There was no wood for the log burner (midwinter in Christchurch!), they had no fridge or washing machine until WINZ ‘kindly’ provided both on Monday, to be paid back out of their benefits. On Saturday when I went in there, the only furniture was rags on the floor on which they slept.
I was just horrified, guilty about my nice warm house and lovely stuff, and amazed at their cheerfulness. A family from the tropical Island of Tonga, washed up in Christchurch with nothing at all.
Just to assuage your (our) middle class guilt, I contacted some networks and was able to get some beds and things donated, not new but in good condition. People rallied round. The local gran’s breads giveaway delivered them a big bag of breads and other yummy things from a very posh bakery. They borrowed my mower and then promptly mowed their lawns and mine (yay).
They are indeed lucky to have a state house, but they are also markers of a nasty residualist state that spits people out with basically just the clothes on their back and challenges them to survive. I like them. I am happy to have such lovely neighbours.
But we are all trapped by the discourses of derision that surround us. Someone called me a ‘snowflake’ a while back and I didn’t even know what it meant. I looked it up. Just another little right wing term to put down people like me. We have such speech rained down upon us from all directions. In short whether women, Māori, Pasifika, left wing or whatever we are battered by the nasty judgements of others, sometimes with significant material effects.
So we don’t need imported perspectives like Donald Trump and his pussy-grabbing views of women and his lifetime of racism. We certainly don’t need a pair of Canadians (apparently our main import from Canada is bacon and every side of bacon that comes in here is better behaved than the two racists) coming to insult our indigenous people. God knows we are good enough at that ourselves.
The discourses of disadvantage flow through our country like the braided rivers of the South Island. They are compelling, ever-changing and they shape and change people’s lives. I think that we have come to understand this a little as a nation, although there is a long way to go. The internet is full of this stuff. This is where ideas like the notion we should be able to speak freely whatever it is come from. No we shouldn’t. Just because ‘we’ have nuclear bombs doesn’t mean we are free to use them. There is no such thing as free speech – everything we say has costs and, hopefully, benefits.
So let’s ship the two sides of extremist bacon back to Canada and get on with the much-needed work of overcoming our own home-made hurdles of language, culture and habit that affect the lives of so many of us.
I can’t finish a column on the discourses of derision without looking at the attacks on our Prime Minister. She is at the other end of the scale from my Tongan neighbours, but nevertheless caught in the slipstream of attacks from the sexist right. All I want to say is that she is amazing, it is good to have her back, and it is time for her and her government to challenge the ‘poor me’ views of the business sector, which are purely political.
Let us stand up for a good society or all.
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!).