Dr Liz Gordon: 2020


In January my friend Professor Kathleen Quinlivan had a celebration in her name at the University of Canterbury.  It was fantastic, and she was as sharp and wonderful as ever. A week later she died. Two of my friends have passed away already this year. My optimism that such a cool year as 2020 might mark a turning point for the world is already sagging, in the headlong rush towards multiple diaspora, white supremacism and authoritarianism.

Kathleen was talking at that final session about why schools are as they are: authoritarian, punitive and uniform, despite efforts by so many people to change them.  This is such a crucial question, because the culture of our schools is a huge contributor to the social culture. With National set on using ‘angry white males’ to win the election (OMG did you see Simon Bridges at Ratana Pā pitting the working classes against beneficiaries – talk about shades of the 1990s), we can see how schools produce those people, by brutal practices, competition, no civics education, little relevant history and a tolerance for bullying.

Over Christmas I got into yet another battle on Neighbourly about how we talk about each other.  The ‘scumbag’ discourse I have mentioned before was widely on display a few weeks ago, when one of my neighbours had their garage broken into and a group of kids did donuts in the RSA car park at Templeton.  Many of my neighbours down here are frighteningly punitive, the name-calling is obnoxious. The kids have to be taught a lesson! These responses are visceral and vicious. I mildly said that I found the use of the s-word offensive, and unleashed hell onto my own head, which was très amusant!

Kathleen was also interested, right until the end of her life in the question: “how do people become the people they are?”.  There are multiple answers: we are made by our social, economic and cultural contexts; by our family and community values; by our individual instincts and pathways.  We are nature and nurture, but in my view, in terms of our attitudes, much more nurture than nature.

It now cannot be ignored, in 2020, that the politics of race has once again raised its ugly head. Even in New Zealand. And, that by exploiting the binaries: worker v beneficiary; good v bad; white v brown and, who knows, gay v straight, pro- versus anti-choice, National is setting up a race war for the election.

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And it is looking to be the year, again, of the man. Angry males, legs wide, astride the stage, pronouncing that ‘their’ values rule.  It is OK that academic women earn between $200,000 and $400,000 less across their lifetime than male peers, that the pay gap has not died or even withered much,  that Māori land taken unfairly stays in white hands, that we continue the headlong rush to ruining the planet, that parliament will once again elect only 40% of female MPs or less, and that the showing in local body elections and among Mayors is much worse.

So, you might say, same old, same old… But if the re-assertion of a particular white male hegemony becomes a populist mantra (I know SB is Māori, but his target audience is not) here, influencing the election outcomes, all those struggles will be set back further, and once more those of us supporting and protecting social equality and human rights for all will be on the streets.

I have regained a small sliver of optimism this week over Bob Jones dropping the defamation action against Renae Maihi. I am not sure how it played out.  Perhaps his lawyers simply told him he was on a hiding to nothing. But, possibly, in hearing how his attempts at so-called humour were received by Māori and women, he may possibly have gained some insight into how his ‘jokes’ could have material effects on others.  Maybe not – there was no apology, no comment at all (but the lawyers probably wouldn’t have let him, in case he became liable for huge costs, which will undoubtedly be claimed).

Jones famously has his own jet, purchased when Air NZ kicked him off a flight for refusing to remove his headphones during the safety briefing.  Probably all he has to talk to is the empty seat in front. It is not surprising his views are a little bonkers. More surprising, though, that any newspaper will publish them.  Is that all it takes, then, to be rich and white and male, to have even the daftest views published in the mainstream media?

The onset of 2020 and the absence of change and, to be honest, a fear that National may win the election with some ease, has put me in an activist mood. 51% of wealth, power and voice for women! 51% of the seats in parliament at this election for women (50% will do)! Manspreading should be illegal, defined as taking up the space of others, usually in confined spaces, by spreading ones legs as wide as possible, in order to assert mastery over others or the environment. Race and gender, power and politics, these are the things that will define 2020.  We must ensure that alternative voices are heard.


Dr Liz Gordon is a researcher and a barrister, with interests in destroying neo-liberalism in all its forms and moving towards a socially just society.  She usually blogs on justice, social welfare and education topics.


  1. Great piece Liz you covered off so many of the important issues.

    We all need to be fired up to get social justice as the No. 1 priority for all. This covers everything that I want for our society.

    Pope Paul VI said ‘if you want peace work for justice’

  2. I went to primary school in the 50s when ‘Playway’ reared its ugly head, a small attempt to attack liberal education. My experience with my children and grandchildren is that primary schools continue to educate well, with many female principals. The male dominance in numbers you describe remains in universities. As usual you don’t get many comments. Is it because you make claims that don’t resonate with readers?

  3. It amazes that we have ever had a Labour Govt–social democratic, or even neo liberal as per post ’84–in this country. Of course apart from the classic original Labour Savage Govt., and the brief Kirk one, later ones have involved MMP and the influence of New Labour, Alliance and Greens one way or another.

    After a decently long life it seems to me around 40% of New Zealanders remain of a punitive, dark and nasty nature. The provincials sitting on stolen land being hard to shift, and new generations without institutional memory of old NZ. They know how many Flybuys points they have, but would not have a clue what they should be paid for working a public holiday or how to participate in community and public affairs.

    So yes Liz, worrying times with the existential climate issue and NZ National Party “machismo gone mad” approach all over social media. Like your friend–keep on keeping on all your life is the way to go.

  4. Teachers are in a powerful position but very much controlled by Principals and Boards of Trustees in the longer run.
    A curriculum including social justice, understanding of how the political system works, how banks create money out of fresh air and how govt in the past have created housing, fairer wages, a “free” health system, are all fundamental understandings the younger generation need to think critically.

    Media power, how it works and false news are well understood but not taught about. Why do we tolerate this.

    Consumerism, advertising, environmental degradation and wildlife destruction affect the planet and how we continue to wreck it yet avoid teaching the younger generation about how to care more and buy less.

    War is not justifiably. How is that taught.
    If we were patriotic we would arm our children’s minds with understanding.

  5. In the mid 80s when Bob Jones invented the New Zealand Party I considered becoming one of its members/supporters.
    But back then like today I was a low income worker and I realised the New Zealand Party had Zero interest in low income workers. They wanted rich white(which I am)supporters. They did not want peasants.
    I admired Bob Jones for a short period of time. But that admiration disappeared more quickly than the demise of the NZ Party.
    Today, more than 33 years on, I have absolutely no time nor respect of Bob Jones. He has become arrogant. He has become thoroughly nasty. He is not the sort of person one wants to refer to as Sir.
    And so whilst he deems himself as meriting the now hollow accolade given to those who serve themselves for the sake of ego and vanity rather than to the population of New Zealand I feel his actions of late are questionable.
    To date I am now of the opinion that even former politicians who served only for themselves do not merit a knighthood. And that applies across all the political parties and NOT ONLY National.

    • Justme
      I feel the same about Bob Jones. A former grudging admiration with a taint of suspicion about ethics has developed into distaste for his dismissive and aggressive attitude to critics especially those weaker, although I remember he gave a substantial, unpublicised amount to women’s refuge early on. I read a novel written by him but it was disappointing.
      He can make money but he’s pretty average as a writer and less talented as a humourist.
      Perhaps all politicians and ‘self made’ businessmen should be given knighthoods-flood the country with ‘sirs’ and ‘dames’- and the value of these ‘hollow accolades’ (a nice description) will become readily apparent.
      To Liz Gordon-great article by the way!

  6. ‘Man spreading’ …? Well, perhaps that’s as much biology as attitude? We ‘males’ don’t need child bearing hips so biologically we don’t have the hip room necessary to sit, knees together. We need to have our legs apart when sitting to make way for our balls.
    Well, some of us at any rate. I doubt much room’s needed for bob’s balls. Old men get grumpy when their balls give up and stop making testosterone then shrivel to peanuts. Use it or lose it, aye bob? I know what I’m talking about as an older gentleman. Ones balls become mere passengers hitching a ride to oblivion. Hangers on, in literal fact.
    Imagine, since I love irony and contrast, paula bennett, judith collins, helen clark, jenny shipely, ruth richardson, hekia parata, etc girl-speading? Imagine ? Just imagine ?
    @ Dr LG. Men, are not your enemy. A system designed and constructed to exploit and manipulate others for dollar wealth is. For example; Elizabeth warren can explain that better than me. She’s the perfect huntress. She’s been designed for one purpose. To exploit the exploitable while running defence in such a way as to appear a voice of reason. A lawyer and a friend of the banking industry all over Bernie Sanders like a toilet seat rash?
    Good people, what ever sex, sexual orientation race etc they may identify with are bound to be exploited by those others who will readily, happily and greedily do so bolstered by a system designed by their predecessors which encourages and enables them to do just that.
    When a lion jumps a gazelle at a water hole, the lion doesn’t first convene a discussion group to bash out the nuances and outcomes of such a thing. No. It will kill and eat the gazelle and while the lion does so it will give not one fuck what gazelle kind thinks about that.
    Therefore? If we must survive as a species with a creative mind and a desire for cultural diversity which fosters kindness, reason and thinking above neck breaking and raw meat eating we must curb that most ghastly mental illness that plagues human kind. The lust for power that can be enabled in the weak by amassing huge piles of ‘money’.
    Therefore? Taxes, taxes, taxes, right?

    Tucker Carlson Blows Up at Rutger Bregman in Unaired Fox News Interview

    If you want to shut the bob’s of the horror world of their own making down? Make sure the bob’s can’t pop up like a festering little pimple after a big night out.
    Since we’re stuck with capitalism then we must have taxation and those taxes must be spent on the most at risk first. Otherwise? The most at risk merely become unwitting minions to super money in the pocketsess of the likes of trump, jones, putin etc.
    In AO/NZ right now? We have a frightening and unrepentant cadre of exploitative and manipulative children of the New Right. But lets try this?
    Re write the vernacular and call them what they are; the very riche. We should refer to them as what they are. As mentally unwell. They’re psychiatrically compromised by the freedoms they can enjoy here to be as exploitively greedy and legitimately crooked as they like .
    There’s nothing, nor any systems in place here at this point that can restrain them.

  7. Oh. I found this on Boingboing.net.
    Here’s three old spreaders for you.
    Even here, in AO/NZ, within our humble homes, behind our hedges and front gates these swine interfere with your paradise. These fine little spreaders do sharp deals to make good coin then they’ll bleed you out like a stuck pig.
    Man who helped cause 2008 financial crash suddenly very concerned about the economy
    Firstly, we’ve got to learn how to recognize the enemy.
    Then, we have to discuss what to do about the enemy.
    Finally, we must do it.
    Taxation is the answer. A bloodless coup. We can change the way we live our lives without one shot being fired.

    • HNY Country Boy. Was just talking about your excellent contributions at the weekend. Thank you very much indeed for your instructive and slightly detailed account of the anatomy of man spreading. You are a gifted writer! I am, of course, not anti male at all, but against against people who are against… well, you know, and have named some of the prominent female examples yourself. But seeing SB on that stage, saying those things, triggered somewhat of a rage.

      To my other critiques. Thanks for the one saying that I don’t get many comments because I am a bit daft. This may well be so. I am not at all anti-teacher, but yes, I think that the model of schooling in this country promotes hierarchical and punitive approaches. I should say this is especially so in the secondary school, and I agree some of them use restorative and democratic approaches throughout. But not many.

  8. Defamation fight doesn’t go the distance

    BobbyJo knew he was heading towards a points decision loss around mid fight; he looked to the corner for the signal. Thus when he received the vicious gut punch he knew was coming, he faked a low blow to his withered and wrinkly and pulled out of the bout to save face. Those who had money on BobbyJo called a draw, even suggesting his opponent should be lucky they weren’t disqualified, they should express gratitude for the opportunity to spar with such a great man.

  9. Yes, I think Jones’ lawyers would’ve told him he was on a hiding to nowhere, but my guess it were the implications of a successful truth defence that would’ve done it. Maihi was clever to run that first and run it well. A successful truth defence would’ve meant a factual finding that Jones was racist, a declaration by the High Court no less. “High Court declares Jones racist”. Not something many would want to be remembered as, not even Jones.

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