Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Pink balloons

I'm struggling with the 'essentially playful' part of my blog ethos today, my heart going out to the families of those killed and injured, many of them young girls as they clutched pink balloons and dreams, in the latest deranged attack on female freedom by another boy-man brainwashed into thinking pink balloons are what's most wrong with the world. At least that's how I see the Manchester suicide bombing of the Ariana Grande 'Dangerous woman' concert yesterday. 

Others will focus on the immigrant status of the bomber's parents and make it about letting people into our countries who don't share 'western values'. But male resentment of female freedom is universal and many of the school shootings in the west by non-immigrant men have been motivated, in some part if not entirely, by this same resentment. And the aggression and pervasiveness of online misogyny speaks to the same depressingly timeless and borderless resentment. 

Of course in many ways it's easier, if that's the word, to make it about immigration and a clash of cultures than it is to face the harder-to-change reality that boys of all cultures continue to find common cause in the idea that they are more entitled to self-expression and realisation than girls are, and to resent any and all challenges to this idea.

I don't have the answers but I do think that framing the problem as it is must be part of our response. 

Balloons over bombs. 

Friday, May 19, 2017

Reasons why not

Suicide is a tricky subject and only the bravest attempt to comment on it - and commit it, perhaps - though it might also be characterised as a cowardly act, indeed perhaps the most cowardly. It's complicated.

Mahatma Gandhi is quoted to have said on the subject: 'If I had no sense of humour, I would long ago have committed suicide', which, as with most of what he said, seems to cut to the heart of things.

When, during my darkest days of researching and writing on violence against women, a period when my mother told me I had lost my sense of humour, I was asked by a counsellor if I had suicidal thoughts. I hesitated for quite a while before replying, through torrential tears, in the negative.

I did want to run away though, which I confessed to the counsellor at the time, even though I had a young family I loved and was loved by (most of the time). I'm glad I stayed -- not sure about them.

That was in my thirties. My teenage tears over frustrated dancing dreams seemed even worse -- as they will. Because at that age you are so new to adult feelings and pressures that you are almost living in a state of perpetual shock at the unexpected bigness of life and your own frustrating powerlessness to make things go the way you want them to and to figure out where you fit in.

Writing about those tears and years as I am now in the second volume of my memoir I am almost amazed and even proud of the funny letters I wrote home from London (which Mum kept) that belie the deep despair and confusion I was feeling at the time, letters that seem to speak to Ghandi's idea that our sense of humour saves us, if anything can, from being fatally cowed by the big bad world and its attempts to destroy and diminish us, real or perceived.

So, it is in this light that we move to consider the big bad present day and its show of the moment Netflix's 13 Reasons Why that tackles teen suicide head on and in much greater detail and depth than has ever been done before on screen.

We (Moose and I) hesitated before spending thirteen hours watching this YA show, but I'm glad we, the parents of three teens at one time and one teen now, finally did. That said, it was too drawn out and not quite believable that a girl like Hannah: smart, an only child from a more or less happy family, and not exactly unpopular, would kill herself at 17 and leave her parents, whom she loved, to find her bloodless body.

Then again, emerging adults are so much in their own traumatic world and with the volume turned up so high that it does seem to shut out all else, so it might be believable from this perspective that is so hard to fathom once you've moved, as I have, so far beyond that world.

But beyond suicide the gender battles are particularly well portrayed, with the rape scene, or scenes, done simply and realistically, rather than sensationally, to make it all too believable that the perpetrator, a classic privileged male narcissist, could do what he did and get away with it - but for the tapes Hannah left, which is the crux of the matter. She gets to explain what happened to her and why she did what she did, with the rape as the culminating cause but not the only reason for her to end her life. For this aspect alone I'd recommend the show, if these scenes do make for rather unsettling viewing.

And I hope the show can be educational and reformative for the young people watching it, as well as for those people -- all of us, really -- responsible for helping our young people begin to find their own way in the world without hurting themselves and or others. Humour would have helped these teens do this better and viewers to watch it as well, but then the outcome would have had to be entirely different.

So in its way, this serious and unflinching portrayal of troubled teen life ending (and starting) in suicide, confirms Gandhi's view on the vital, life-saving importance of humour. And on that note, I will sign off and get back to rewriting my very own teen comic tragedy under the working title: 'A woman of strange substance'.  


Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Leaves walk (poetry warning)

Leaves walk
Run and tumble
Across the wet
Sticky grass

New autumn leaves are lost
Liquid Amber boss

Leaves walk 
Right up to the front door step
Knock! Knock!

But they don't want to come in
They are just friendly
Plant smiles

Leaves walk
Leaves talk

Autumn parade
Cat walk
Tip-toe charade

Leaves walk, talk and tumble
I need glasses to see them
But they are there just the same
With or without me - 
And my glasses

Leaves walk
No they don't
Yes they do - on tip-toe
Thrusting their shoulders
Rolling their hips

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Block blues and other hues

This spectacular flower (?) was snapped outside one of the houses renovated in the Block NZ TV series a few years back. I think I blogged on it here at OWW. 

They are strange looking flowers and from a distance as you drive past they look top-heavy and gangling. But close up they look like this! Like a plant version of an ice-cream sundae, perhaps. 

I picked the day, or the day picked me. Though our firebrand flower seems to be shielding herself from the glare of the sun. Yet how well the blushing blue sets off her colours. She appears to know this too. 

It was taken in summer, late summer last. 

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Sweet subtlety

I have just posted this chocolate photo on my Facebook header. It is a good fit and replaces the man being tripped up who had run (or tripped) its course.

It's a box of chocolates opened out onto a white plate from last year's Mother's Day chocolates. But I can't find the source photo and Facebook won't let me copy it from there (now I have found it).

The one pictured below is an actual raspberry inside a white-chocolate shell. My sister sent a box made up in Christchurch for Christmas 2011, but they could work equally well for Mother's Day.

One comment and 'like' in one hour on Facebook. It's from VC, who writes: 'I've seen some heavy hints in my time...'. Indeed.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Adams' Arrival

The title of Amy Adams' latest film Arrival seemed a bit lame to me until I realised it was intended as a subtle - too subtle, in my opinion - tribute to one of the greatest records of all time: ABBA Arrival. This realisation has made all the difference to my appreciation of the film and explains why an actor with the initials AA was cast to play the lead. I do prefer it when things make sense.

It would have been helpful if they had incorporated something of the ABBA Arrival soundtrack in the film to give us more of a clue as to this tribute. For example, when this alien (heptapod) 'hand' slaps the glass partition between it and Adams, 'Knowing Me, Knowing You' might have worked well. Instead they went with eerie instrumental stuff that only added to the general confusion.

But seriously; ABBA aside, Adams brings real-world (and real-woman) cred to this alien-invasion film based on a short story 'Story of Your Life' by American-Chinese author Ted Chiang about the fluffy physics of wondering what we would do if we knew the future. She is great, even though she can't sing or dance.

But though the story and the reviews of the film have not emphasised this, one of the main strengths of the film for me is the progressive gender commentary and critique it offers, with the contrasting roles played by Adams and her male support, Jeremy Renner, representing the female emphasis on language, patient understanding and lateral problem-solving as a more subtle and ultimately superior response to our failures of communication than the male emphasis on logic, abstract physics, and, if that doesn't work, concrete weaponry that has prevailed throughout history

I think this is the direction our sci-fi imaginings of the near and distant future need to be heading in, rather than continuing to assume weaponry and wizardry (math) will help us fix the present and find the future.

And really what the film is saying is that the future of humanity lies in both types of reasoning (female and male) coming together to work out how better to support each other to save the future from the past by moving beyond the profoundly destructive conflict that has existed between men and women throughout much of history the world over.

When men and women work together, as they are meant to, as they do in this film, and as they did in ABBA, more or less, there is no limit to what we can achieve. Indeed we may even be able to see the future.

Knowing me, knowing you is what it's all about, indeed, and I really think that should have been the Arrival theme song.  



Thursday, May 4, 2017

To lose and laugh

I like this take on how to deal with losing without slitting your wrists. Having spent the morning wrestling with this very challenge, it has helped me a little. I wouldn't be able to type this nearly as clearly as I am doing, with only a moderate trembling, if I had already slit my wrists.

But this quote from the tennis legend that implies that those who fear (HATE) losing are in fact the champions, puts a heroic spin on losing if you twist its meaning just a little, and what's a little meaning twist to save a twisted life? Nothing. Now I just feel sorry for all those scaredy-cat would-be winners.

Yesterday I found out I lost my bid to become NZ's newest oldest stand-up comedian, and worse, that I was apparently never in the running - too old? Ironic, but probably. Either that or my ears are too big. Old ears are big - all the better to hear you with, evil comedy overlord.

I was told, not in so many words but thereabouts, that there was a desirable cross-section of new comedians and I wasn't situated on it. I was in the blank bits, the undesirable void, the withered wasteland, the shapeless, shitty pits where no potentially winning comedians dare to stray.

And all the time I had myself picked to win the thing. Ha! How funny is that! See how I made humour out of losing? I think maybe that's my next book. No wait; there are already 874 books on bouncing back with humour already published this year. Oh well, there's always next year.

I think maybe I need to build my own cross section.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Artful Ali

Ali Smith is a genius. To read her book Artful is to know that totally. She is beyond good.

The book is a collection of four lectures given at Oxford University in 2012 that were clearly written also to work as a whole. For they do work as a whole.

Artful is ostensibly taken from Dickens' Artful Dodger in Oliver Twist, but it goes way beyond Dickens (into the 21st century). There is at least one story within a story in Ali's Artful, whereas Dickens favoured the meta-narrative.

'Artful Ali' is both the artful horticulturist narrator and the uber-artful elite academic dead friend who the narrator keeps talking to, going on holiday with and even steeling books in her name.

She, the friend from the underworld, is in the middle of writing four lectures when she dies. We never find out what she died of. How is certainly incidental compared with that.

The lectures are:

1. 'On Time 2. On Form
3. On Edge and 4. On Offer and on Reflection.'

Katherine Mansfield also gets more mentions and more salutes than in any book I've read that was not either directly about KM and or written by a New Zealander. It doesn't happen often. It barely happens. And it should happen. KM is well deserving and overdue such praise.

So I appreciate this recognition of a proper creative genius. Living in NZ this is especially appreciated. Sometimes it takes a genius to recognise a genius.

Artful by Ali Smith is a brilliant and beautiful read and a definite must for anyone who likes to think hard about life. Anyone who dares.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

To BBC or not to BBC

So here are the world's most tattooed senior citizens. Quite the distinction. I bring them to your attention because they are the present feature on the BBC world service radio programme 'Outlook' that has requested a copy of my book from the publishers with a view to interviewing me for their extraordinary personal stories series.

I'm not sure if it takes my achievement down a notch to be likened to extreme tattooists, but I think, or like to think, my 'extraordinariness' - if extraordinariness it is - is not quite so..., so..., I don't know how to characterise tattooing. It's brave in a way, but many would consider it more foolhardy than brave. Perhaps they would regard the 'bravery' required to do stand-up comedy in the same vein. There are similarities.

And I do like their tattoos, as much as I like any tattoos, at least.

Anyway, the BBC have to read and like my book first of all and then decide if my story is extraordinary enough. As the Sydney Morning Herald described my book as 'a memoir of ordinary events and aspirations', if they decide that it is, it would be a wonderful correcting of that clunky put-down - and from my home town too. They could have done better than 'ordinary.'

Of course a few people rushed then as they are rushing again now to remind me that the extraordinary is to be found in the ordinary. But I think that's kind of crap. I know what they mean, but I think closer to the truth is that all lives are extraordinary, just that some are more extraordinary than others, or more extraordinary in some way.

I hope mine is extraordinary enough.  

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

The Monday Extract is Me!

Me in 1982 and in The Spinoff yesterday
So I am glad my father came back from the war more or less intact, sure. I am also glad that the Kiwis and Aussies who fought alongside in the previous war, for one day a year - today (Anzac Day) - forget their often antipathetic relationship to come together to commemorate that bloody brotherhood battle with a mutual holiday and various dawn parades. I need these countries to get along, my flexibility to straddle the two with dignity is fast dwindling - I am not the dancer I once was, indeed.

But, with all due respect to battles of brotherhood on which nations are forged and f*cked, today, for me, is more about commemorating (celebrating) a slightly smaller but in some ways no less bloody battle to make a name for myself in the book business, a business that has suffered significant casualties in recent years with new authors positioned front and centre on the bloody battle lines - armed with only a leaky pen.

But yesterday - today for Americans, who are my main blog readers - an extract of my memoir published last May was printed here in The Spinoff online magazine in 'The Monday Extract' with this photo and a little blurb about me and my current mad bid to become a stand-up comedian (more on that later).

Quite a few have shared it on Facebook already, the majority of them people I don't know, so that feels like a small victory and a few metres of enemy territory gained. Hopefully it translates into a few more sales too, as my pen is in need of reloading for the difficult second assault (Vol.II).


Thursday, April 20, 2017

The age of equality

The 'Caring Counts'  report that helped deliver a long overdue 
$2 billion dollar gender pay-equity deal 

Jane Fonda's 2011 TED talk on the power of ageing
and justice for the aged 

Politics is a dirty business, make no mistake, and our right-wing government's recent decision to support a massive pay-equity increase to the mostly female workforce employed in the aged care and wider paid-care sector is a blatant election-year stunt.

The same government previously went out of its way to block pay equity and before that, in 1991, its ideological ancestors passed the Employment Contracts Act that did away with collective bargaining, dismantling the union's power and leaving it up to the individual to negotiate his/her own wages and conditions.  Hence the pay gap between employers and employees, rich and poor, men and women increased steeply, and was particularly stark in the female-dominated caring sector. As the Caring Counts report stated:

"Carers are completely undervalued. We do a job that no-one sees.
We are a vulnerable workforce looking after vulnerable people."

Kristine Bartlett
For the male dominated right-wing government to take electoral credit for putting right what they went out of their way to put wrong less than twenty years earlier, is political cynicism in the extreme, and even then, wouldn't have happened if not for a Human Rights Commission report and one particularly determined aged-care worker, Kristine Bartlett, who'd been on the same $14.40 per hour wage after twenty years in the job and spent years fighting in the courts for pay equity for women workers like her until she finally succeeded.

The courts also finally ruled that NZ was in breach of the International Labour Organisation Equal Remuneration Convention (1983). In fact there was equal-pay legislation in place in New Zealand as far back as 1972 and the left-wing had done its best to equalise pay for women and other disadvantaged groups whenever it was in government. But as in all western countries the bastards on the wrong wing have dominated and have systematically set about undoing many of these pay-equity gains.

If the present wrong-wingers use this move as leverage to get reelected for a fourth term I worry that the gains won't be worth the price paid, as they will no doubt continue to cut funding in the rest of the health-care system beyond election year. It's a depressing thought and a fundamental flaw in the democratic system.

But I take some comfort in public politicisation processes, like TED talks, that are proliferating every year and giving voice to an ever wider array of people, like Jane Fonda, who have the power to popularise unpopular messages, such as justice for the older of age and older women specifically - 'the largest demographic in the world' - to a global, cross-partisan, cross-cultural, all-age, all-gender audience. The future of justice for all is in their hands, ultimately, as party politics and the formal political system become increasingly corrupted by big money and big fear-mongering madness.

Still, in the short term this is a big win for NZ's women and a massive credit to the tireless work of one woman in particular, whose caring work in looking after the elderly for twenty years was valued over that period, if not always, as work of minimum value to society. Rubbish collection (men's work) is paid more. But she showed them her real worth in never giving up and so paved the way, as far as she could, for justice for other chronically undervalued women. Thanks Kristine; your work is priceless.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Beauties and Beasts

Two cute little girls, 8 or 9 years old, sat unsupervised across the aisle from us in the cinema for Beauty and the Beast last weekend, eating noisily and dashing off to the back of the cinema whenever 'the Beast' appeared, which was quite regularly. I guess their mothers were beyond Beauty and the Beast. Perhaps they were working.

This is a story traditionally made and marketed for little girls, and perhaps they took some pleasure in this dashing off, but they seemed genuinely scared and the Beast was definitely made to scare (probably for the fathers of the little girls or their brothers who were forced to watch it) and it is not fun to be genuinely scared, not if you're a girl, at least. My grown sons assure me that it is fun to be scared, if you're a boy, though as I recall when they were that age they didn't like it quite so much.

Although I normally hate noisy eaters in cinemas and found 'the Beast' and the rest of the film far from frightening, being a not so little girl anymore, these noisy little girls and their terrified dashings-off for the illusion of safety of the back wall of the cinema, I found increasingly charming and by the end of the film, was enjoying them more than the film.

The film is, as most films and stories targeted to females have always been, about one beautiful female character and a whole bunch of varied male characters. Male-targeted films and stories, like Lord of the Rings, do not apply the gender reverse of this formula, needless to say (in a man's world), they just add even more males and usually a less significant role for the one beautiful female, if any role at all. It's a problem, still.

And yet I found myself defending the film to my daughter the other day who rubbished it on feminist grounds (though she hasn't seen it), because I kind of think that, apart from the obvious gender imbalances, and the only-beautiful-women-count tiresome trope, this story does at least feature a fully-fledged female character in the lead role.

The story is also a little more gender evolved than it might seem. In suggesting that true love is the only way to tame the selfish beast in men, though slightly oversimplified and romanticised no doubt, I think it gets to the essential truth of heterosexual relationships, a truth that is not seen nearly often enough on our screens. Rather we are told over and over that men are the heroes who rescue women from danger, loneliness and insignificance. In reality this rarely happens and, indeed, the greatest threat women face is from the men they live with who have not been tamed and who continue - with society's sanctioning - to put their selfish, boyish needs ahead of those of the family, while wanting to control and dominate their women instead of loving and supporting them. In relationships that do work, more often than not it is the women who rescue the men from themselves, or there is a mutual 'rescuing' and respect.

So although I wouldn't describe Beauty and the Beast as a feminist film exactly, and I'm not sure those two little girls would have learnt anything progressive from watching it -- those parts of it that they did watch -- I think we could do worse on a gender front than this fairly light and entertaining family film. We could do better, no doubt, but we have done a lot worse too, and I'm mildly encouraged that with this film we are inching closer to an on-screen representation of what a healthy relationship between a woman and a man looks like - if with a little too much fur, fang and frill.


Monday, April 10, 2017

John Clarke dies

Fred Dagg
The funniest man down under, if not up over, has died. It's a shock and a tragedy, he was only 68! I can't believe it.

Incredibly, I was recently in communication with him about playing my father if my childhood memoir was ever adapted for TV (a big if, no doubt), but he liked the idea, rather than dismissed it, saying 'what a good photo' it was of my father that I sent him. He could see the likeness.

NZ commentators are saying 'he found the nation's funnybone' and he did. And in tribute, we have the annual Fred Award at the NZ International Comedy Festival for the best comedy show named after his first satirical character, Fred Dagg, the farmer with seven sons, all named Trevor.

After that he became the undisputed king of Australian political satire and his 1999 mockumentary series The Games, about Sydney's preparations for the Olympic games was the forerunner of The Office and just as clever and funny, though not quite as widely lauded, and more's the pity for that.

He was (no is!!!) one of the cleverest and funniest men on television and my comedy idol and mentor.

His death is not funny, of course, but everything else he did was, and there will never be anyone like him. It's almost like losing Dad again.

Rest in parody, John Clarke.

Friday, April 7, 2017

A town down

If ever a picture told a thousand words, this picture of the floods in Edgecumbe, the Bay of Plenty NZ, taken yesterday by journalist Luke Appleby did and does. The whole town was evacuated to higher ground just in time before the river's flood-bank broke.

It was the tail end of Cyclone Debbie that flooded parts of Queensland earlier in the week and here is said to be a one in 500-year storm, with the flood-banks only built to take a one in one-hundred-year storm.

I guess global warming has made an arse of those figures, if it's fair to attribute such record-breaking natural disasters to that. I think it must be, but I'm no scientist.

Here in Auckland, two-hundred or so kilometres north of this town, the same night we experienced the heaviest rain we have ever experienced in our twenty-plus years at this address. It was so heavy that out walking after dinner in a momentary reprieve from the deluge, I heard a strange rumble in the near distance and wondered what it was. It sounded motorised. I dismissed it, but walked on, away from our house, a little faster just in case. But I didn't seriously think it could be rain. I had never heard rain that loud while walking under a dry sky.

Five seconds later I turned back, running for home, as the roar arrived in a stunning hurry, dumping a vertical tsunami of water on me - the only person fool enough to be out in it - drenching me through in about four seconds while I ran screaming for home. I didn't even have an umbrella.

We are on high ground here but it was still frightening, the sudden explosion of the skies and the intensity of the roar that came with it. You could swear there was attitude in that roar. Had I pissed off some god somewhere? More than likely.

Our garden flooded in parts but it drained off by morning. I don't know how people recover from this level of flooding -- the mud, the mess, the carpets, the walls -- but at least they got a warning and were able to evacuate in time. Hopefully the authorities realise they are going to be dealing with this sort of thing slightly more often than every 500 years and build stronger floodgates.

As for me, I will do what I can not to piss off the gods, and take an umbrella just in case.


Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Green Light Sigh

So Lorde's latest hit song Green Light is great, but that's not what concerns us here, at least not directly. Indirectly, maybe.

But first, what we're concerned with here is this green light sigh from that tedious English guy in response to Melbourne's recent move to install recognisably female road-crossing signals alongside the recognisably male symbols that have been the norm there, here and everywhere since roads got busy and governments decided they needed to encourage people to cross them with care.

Admittedly, men probably needed more help to know when to cross a busy road and when not to than women did (and do), but still. We mustn't assume that. We must assume that men are as capable of careful crossing as women.

I think the fact that this move in Melbourne came in early March just after the release of Lorde's new single was probably a happy coincidence, but you never know. Women are organising our efforts better than we ever have done before, and Lorde is one of the most outspoken feminist role models for strong, smart and feisty young women of her generation. It was also the day before International Women's day, so that might have been a factor too.

But whatever else, the timing is clearly a reflection of the feminist fourth wave we are currently riding that seeks to challenge the small and big biases in public life that continue to endorse the male as primary and normative and position the female as other and secondary - if present at all.

The traffic signal changes were funded by community groups and businesses, not tax payers, and have only switched six male signs to female signs so far, so it's a fairly small step for equality. But it's a significant step even so, or it wouldn't piss off men like Morgan, although he and his ilk are a touchy lot.

More unfortunately it has also pissed off some women; indeed the 'feminism at its worst' comment that was the basis of the Telegraph article in Morgan's tweet, came from a woman. Sigh.

Of course there are plenty of women who don't identify with dresses and we women have fought for the right to wear trousers, after all. But surely you don't need to like wearing dresses to see that the traditional symbol is masculine and to know that it went unchallenged all these years because men were considered to be the norm by those people, invariably men, who got to decide what went where in the public (if not the private) sphere.

The bias was so pervasive it would have been unconscious, so these men who set up the signs would have just said 'we need a sign to show people when to cross' and that sign would have been made in the shape of a man, without 'gender' ever being mentioned. Same goes for the male pronoun standing in for 'people' for so many centuries of the written word.

Unfortunately that's not a luxury women (feminists) have. Signs and stories never have been and never will be unconsciously made in our image. So we have to make conscious changes and many changes seem small but are significant because those bigger changes, like the right to vote, to work, to choose, to wear trousers, etc, are made up of all these smaller changes that gradually, and often unconsciously, shift attitudes about who we are and what we need to be and do to be happier as people one and all and less in conflict with each other.

So I say this is feminism at its walking best. It's not a giant or even a small leap, to be sure, but it is a safe step in the right direction.

Walk with me and you will see that we can be as one free; that just came to me in a fabulous feminist flash. I think I feel a song coming on, I will call it 'Walk with me.'

PS: Just found out that Wellington, NZ had installed suffragette Kate Sheppard images for eight of its road-crossing signs earlier this year, not to suggest it's a competition between Australia and NZ. Far be it from me to do that!

However I think I prefer Kate's retro dress. Just saying (and that NZ was first to grant women the right to vote).

Friday, March 31, 2017

A funny fluffy fabulous feminist

So I've just finished reading Stuff I Forgot to Tell My Daughter by NZ's female comedian of the decade, Michele A'Court, a couple of years after it was published, but better late than never - much!

I was moved to tears of hilarity and recognition, as a mother and feminist (and wannabe comic), by this funny fluffy fabulous feminist - 'fluffy' from her daughter's first interpretation of the word 'lovely' that became their go-to word for all lovely things and days from then on, a word I might borrow from time to time for the same purpose, hoping that some of their fabulous fluffiness might rub off on me. Indeed a girl can never have enough effs.

Michele is a wit and a brain and a 'strident' feminist to boot - things that tend to go hand in hand, in my experience, but not so much in popular mythology. She is also NZ's answer to Caitlin Moran, who could be described in the same terms.

In fact these women both describe themselves as 'strident' feminists, a playful, even 'fluffy' take on the rather more hard-nosed 'radical' feminist of old. I am going to borrow this term too; I hope they don't mind.

I don't think Michele will. I wrote to her to tell her how much I enjoyed her fluffy fabulous book, and she wrote back within 24 hours! That was a very fluffy day, I must say.

And I am going to see her perform this Sunday (at the club where I am currently battling it out to be the fluffiest new comedian on the block) and where this Sunday, she and other local comedy legends will be giving their time and comic talents freely to raise money for Women's Refuge.

Stand-up has not had a long history of supporting causes like Women's Refuge, it's safe to say. Indeed many have been critical of the male-dominated industry's jokes about wife-beating in the past. And sadly I recently witnessed this kind of thing still being brought to the stand-up stage by new comics, with one guy opening his act with: 'Some things aren't funny (significant pause); domestic violence for instance (significant pause in which I thought I knew what was coming and was bracing myself, but it was even worse than I expected); you should never hit a woman (significant pause) with a baby.'

But he bombed, this young white guy, with an act that was so out of touch with mainstream feeling on these issues that people in the audience, other than me, groaned in dismay, or sat in stunned silence, and I ended up feeling somewhat reassured that I was not alone.

We obviously need more funny feminists, men as well as women, and fewer unfunny sexists. And there are more and more funny feminists to be found on our screens, stages and pages. Michele A'Court is a shining local example of this progressive trend that I think is the best and perhaps only way to bring about a lasting change in attitudes on women and men (and children) from which policy change happens.

If you can make people laugh while you're gently prompting them to think about things in a slightly, but significantly different way, then they are much more likely to listen and to be moved to change their ways, in my view.

Funny feminism, it seems to me, is the fourth wave of the movement. Let's make it a permanent wave, I say, like the hairdo we women don't get anymore but probably should. As long as we can talk on the phone while we're getting it, what's not to like? Indeed it should be easier with mobile technology; what was it invented for otherwise?



Saturday, March 25, 2017

Too far go, Fargo?

So I loved Fargo the film, not least because the female lead (Frances McDormand) was a heavily pregnant super sleuth - a pregnant Sherlock Holmes, if you will - who solved the bizarre crime riddle and won the Academy Award for Best Actress for her troubles. The script, by her husband Joel Cohen and brother Ethan, was hilarious, and the surreal snow setting of a deep mid-winter Minnesota was the sweet, almost literal icing on the cake.

The TV series inspired by the film has the same setting and general story-line of a bumbling salesman who gets himself embroiled in a darkly absurd crime saga to be solved by a somewhat unlikely female detective who is married to a less than macho man.

However the first series, made in 2014, which for some reason we didn't get around to watching till now, makes one small but significant plot change. Instead of the salesman arranging for his insipid, but otherwise unoffensive wife to be kidnapped in order to pay off his debts - and it all goes horribly wrong from there and she winds up dead - he brutally murders his wife with a hammer - an obvious symbol of masculinity - a woman who is characterised as the ultimate 'nagging wife' who tells him constantly he's not a proper man and goads him to kill her by saying 'what are you going to do about it? Nothing'

The blood spatter on this poster is hers. He is right and she is wrong, presumably, men's justification for domestic violence and homicide throughout the ages.

I almost couldn't breath after this brutal scene played out, as our sympathies had very much been with this guy up until then and the way it was done was as if the writers were justifying the graphic, cold-blooded murder of a woman with a hammer repeatedly struck to her head because she was such an emasculating nag.

Fargo: Season One cast and writers - winner of Best TV Miniseries
I almost got M to turn it off at that point but, like I said, I could hardly breathe, and I think I needed to know where it went from there to see if they did anything to redeem the misogyny.

And they did - some. But was it enough? Could it ever be enough to counter the suggestion that if you think your wife is a nag and you can't get her to stop any other way, you are justified in killing her? No, of course not. There's a thing called divorce that decent people do if they don't get on with their wives/husbands.

Of course that wouldn't make for a black comedy, which this is, and one of the best, in every other respect. But is it worth it to cross that line and effectively promote domestic homicide in a world where so many men every year, in every country on earth, do beat and murder their wives and are more often than not excused murder convictions based on her so-called 'provocation'? Definitely not.

And looking at this cast and writer lineup for the series it is not that hard to see why this sort of entertainment at the expense of womankind continues to get made. However my feeling is that this line crossed dates the series and that since as recently as 2016, we are seeing a much greater reluctance to cross the misogyny line - as well as a greater willingness to have more gender-balanced casts for films and TV shows (see previous blog).

We haven't finished watching the first series yet but I am hopeful that if not the second series (2015) then the third series being made now will do better on this front than the first, even if the first won all sorts of awards. It is very good, clever and funny, but that really is no excuse, in my mind (this is my doctoral research area), for sending the message to the millions who watch these things that killing 'the nagging wife' is in any way justified, much less for purposes of entertainment.

Postscript: Having finished the first series now I'd still say the writers were wrong to replace an accidental wife killing in the original story-line with a more or less deliberate and brutal wife murder for 'nagging', a man-made concept and stereotype for which there is no hard evidence, even though it has many times been accepted in law as provocation for domestic homicide to reduce a charge of murder against a man with a history of violence against his wife to manslaughter.

However, the perpetrator does finally get his comeuppance, after he sets his second wife up to be killed, and she is beyond blame, a telling contrast to show how low the man has sunk, and it is very well done, with a satisfying sense of closure in the rest of the story-line too.

That said, he effectively got away with the first murder and was living the high life, winning salesman of the year having found his manly mojo. It was only his pride that tripped him up, not the law, which could still send the message that if you keep your cool, you can get away with murder and have it all.

The less than macho husband figure of the female detective (Colin Hanks: traffic cop then postman), who painted stamps in the first Fargo, finds his manly mojo too in the end by killing the hired assassin and getting a commendation for bravery for it. It is well done and satisfying that this nice guy, who was duped by the decidedly not-nice assassin, got to make good from bad - the little guy beating the big guy in the end. But still, it did smack a bit of the male writers wanting to amend what they saw as an uncomfortable gender imbalance in the original husband and wife story: the savvy and fearless detective wife and the mild-mannered stamp-painting husband.

I loved that relationship, one that was, moreover, based in reality, a reality we almost never see on our screens, no doubt because men don't want to believe that, in reality, women are strong, stronger than they are in many respects - though it's not a competition. That's where we've gone wrong in the past.

But at least the writers are thinking about gender constructs in somewhat critical ways rather than assuming the sexist stereotypes are true and timeless. There's a ways to go yet - women make great detectives and I'm pretty sure men can and do paint - even small things, like stamps - so let's embrace that kind of pairing and every other version of it.

Men don't have to kill to be men and we women are very good at taking care of ourselves, we just need men to support us more than they have done, and support each other too, in exposing, punishing, rehabilitating and ultimately eradicating truly violent men.

The first series of Fargo both helps and hinders this aim.  


Sunday, March 19, 2017

One giant leap for womankind (Hidden Figures)

Men are better at maths than women, white people have bigger brains than black people, women's place is in the home, the moon-landing was a giant leap for mankind.

These pervasive myths are so spectacularly shattered by the real-life-based box-office hit film Hidden Figures that one feels there is no going back to the bullshit now that that film has been seen by millions of people around the world. And the fact that it is such a box-office hit when no-one is murdered or even injured, there is no sex or nudity, and THE MAIN CHARACTERS ARE THREE BRILLIANT BLACK WOMEN, is one of the most revealing and uplifting events of our times in that it speaks to the truth, I think, that people don't want to be lied to anymore and prefer a true story of courage and cleverness and justice won against impossible odds, to violence, sex, contrived macho heroism and lies. We get enough of the latter in global politics, after all.

The film is also highly entertaining and brilliantly acted, and was nominated for three Oscars, though it didn't win any. Who decides the Oscars again? (6,000 members who are 'overwhelmingly white men' appointed by invitation only).

But the truth that people of all walks of life are flocking to see, a truth hidden from any news, entertainment or media source for more than fifty years, is that three brilliant, black women, who all had children and were otherwise 'regular' women in the ultra conservative 1950s and early 60s, were instrumental in getting white men to successfully orbit the earth, then to the moon, leading the way at NASA in their pioneering computer programming, rocket engineering and, most critically of all, rocket science, the advanced mathematical calculations required to determine the trajectories for getting rockets and men up into space and back safely.

John Glenn even refused to embark on his mission to orbit the earth without the numbers being checked by the only woman and black person on the team of forty-odd mathematicians doing the sums to ensure he got up and back safely. Who knew? NO ONE - except for those involved, of course.

Behind every great man? Let's rewrite that: 'Behind every successful man there is a great woman'. Only in this film, the women are out in front, in the spotlight, claiming, at long last, the credit and glory they deserve, though only one of the three women is still alive to see it.

And let's not forget that their stories might never have been told but for another black woman - Margot Lee Shetterly - researching and writing the book Hidden Figures (2016) to finally bring them to light.

It's such an amazing and cinematic story but no storyteller, until now, felt it was worth the telling in book or film - the fact that the story was so well hidden, clearly would not have helped. And so often this seems to be the case with women's achievements throughout history. Most written history is the story of men, as if women weren't even there.

But something seems to be finally changing. Women have always been considered, at most, the second sex, at worst, barely human, with males given preferential treatment and access to privileges and power ahead of females from birth, in every country around the world. But as the message of this film is that when we come together simply as human beings we can reach the stars, literally, it might just be that we have finally been shown the error and harm of our ways so that we can go on from here with hope that we could actually make a world in which there is a whole lot more justice, happiness and peace. Awomen to that.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

'Sex is wonderful'

The title is a quote from a local author, Bernard Beckett, in his father-to-son letter written in response to the recent debate about rape culture in New Zealand. I encourage you to read it and thank author Sarah Laing for the link, and for her own response to the debate.

The debate was sparked last week by some boys from a local boys' high school posting on Facebook the comment that if you don't take advantage of ('fuck') drunk girls you are, effectively, not a man.

The comment received several 'likes' from other boys at the school before it was reported to officials and reached the media. There was an outcry from various quarters, including a protest organised by the local girls' school.

We have a very high rate of sexual assault in NZ and this issue has been debated and dismissed many times before. Those who have seen it all before and seen the limp legal response to a variety of rape cases, argue that the problem is that women continue to be held responsible for changing our behaviour 'This issue isn’t women’s responsibility to fix' while boys are repeatedly sympathised with and excused.

So Bernard Beckett taking public responsibility as a man for changing the attitude and behaviour of his sons, away from that of male entitlement and domination and towards respect for women as human beings, is a big step forward. Few men have taken this step in the past, rather, most leap to the defence of the boys and men accused of rape.

I fundamentally believe that if women had the social power nature intended us to have - and that we must have had some time in the distant past - we would be able to repel would-be rapists and ensure that men with the capacity and inclination to rape would not reproduce. By devaluing the feminine through misogynistic religions, war and pornography, etc (I think single-sex schools are a problem too), we transfer this natural power away from girls and women to those boys and men who think they have a right to do with us what they want, to own, to dominate, and to hurt us if we resist, because we are, to them, not fully human. Aristotle thought we were 'deformed men'. This is not about thugs. There are strenuous intellectual defences of the basic idea that women are a lesser species of being than men.

Sex is wonderful, rape is wrong. There is a world of difference between wonderful and wrong. It is up to men to return the power to repel would-be rapists to girls and women by teaching their sons the difference between wonderful and wrong and vigorously prosecuting those that fail to learn.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Master bed

Sorry about the uneven light, best I could do between downpours.

Her room really (the cat's).
Not for sale (room). Cat, possibly.
I have a theory that the mattress protector was developed by a man to avoid having to take the mattress outside for an airing once in a while. Lifting and carrying a double mattress is definitely 'men's work'.

But washing the mattress protector is mostly going to be women's work, as most washing is done by women, whether paid or unpaid. In our house, Moose does the Saturday wash and I do the rest, which is about even, to be fair.

But this 'master bed' load nearly killed the washing machine (and me). Three queen-sized sheets and protectors, plus pillowcases, all wrapped around a centre piece, spinning and churning madly, was nearly more than our machine could cope with. Handling them onto the line took a fair amount of spinning and churning too; really a longer-limbed machine and chief washer are required.

And that house there beyond the sheets - our neighbours of twenty-two years - has just sold for a second time this year. Estate agents bought and flicked it, adding a shiny vase of giant fresh flowers like a great fake smile. And bingo! It sold again.

Don't know how much more they got for it the second time but it didn't take long to sell. They'd only need another $50,000 to be doing very well out of the two-month deal, and that's precisely how house prices are pushed higher and higher. Sometimes I think the entire right-wing is a property developer and effective real-estate agent.

Parasites one and all.

Meanwhile, we live on next door, exposing our underbelly to the prospective neighbours - spin on that!

Nice garden.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

International Amy

What better way to celebrate International Women's Day than with the comic genius of Amy Schumer whose latest stand-up show - the Leather Special - we watched on Netflix last night.

'Be bold for change' is the message of this year's International Women's Day and Amy is nothing if not BOLD.

She not only challenges Hollywood and wider ideals of petite, pouting and passive femininity, but in this latest special she boldly uses her international platform to make a stand on gun violence and violence against women after two women were shot dead while watching her film Trainwreck by a man with a history of domestic violence.

She kind of stops her show to discuss this issue; namely that people (men) with a history of violence can buy a gun in the US, though she somehow still manages to make humour of it without taking anything away from the seriousness of the issue and her strong views on it. That takes real guts, and talent, and epitomises the 'be bold for change' message of this year's IWD.

Women have long been at the forefront of organised campaigns to end war and all forms of violence, while men have been at the forefront of blocking their efforts and fighting for their right to bear arms and kill people, effectively. The future of humanity rests on women being given more power to speak and be heard on the subject of ending all forms of violence, and Amy sets a fine example on this front, especially as she is entertaining and popular with men too and not as easily written off as a man-hating bitch, as feminists campaigning against guns, war and gender violence invariably are.

So here's to Amy Schumer, a true international woman living the challenge to be bold in fighting for change in how women are represented and treated by men, and for a world that does not condone and perpetuate violence in the name of some deeply misguided and sexist right. If a funny woman can be serious about stopping violence, we all can - and must. Be BOLD!



Tuesday, March 7, 2017

John gone, Jacinda in

Jacinda and Grant would have been great
So a bit of good local political news as the US sinks deeper into the political darklands of state-sanctioned patriarchal bullshit and bigotry.

Here in NZ the young, savvy and hugely popular female MP Jacinda Ardern has just been elected Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, giving the left-wing a chance of election after three terms of the right-wing under that previously popular political person with a name starting with J (John Key). Hurrah!

I wager Jacinda will ultimately replace John (who stepped down recently when he smelt the whiff of defeat) in the political popularity stakes, as she has that same all-round appeal - even if a female version, which for now at least seems likely not to equal the male equivalent for mainstream voters - but she actually cares about the people she represents, especially those who need - and deserve - political help. And ultimately I think Jacinda and her ilk will surpass the popularity of the 'old' white male on either side of the political spectrum.

A while back I voted for Jacinda to deputy lead with Grant Robertson as leader of the Labour Party, but the team of Andrew Little and his then deputy Annette King were elected to lead instead. Grant is gay and that seemed to be why the party voted for his blander, safer (not gay) colleague Andrew, which was disappointing and quite possibly politically disastrous. Grant is an awesome debater with a lively wit, much more so than Andrew, who is comparatively dull and ordinary. Grant and Jacinda would have been a dynamic, progressive and winning team, I think, with the exception of those voters, on both sides of the political spectrum, who remain sexist and homophobic.

But those old patriarchal prejudices are dying out and politics can only be improved when they do finally leave the world to be run by the broader of mind and more diverse of experience. A lot of men have a very narrow, black and white way of looking at problems, and politics has been limited and undermined by that narrow view for far too long.

We're not out of the woods yet, certainly not in the US, but here in NZ the election of Jacinda Ardern is a substantial step in the right direction so that is something to celebrate.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Broken Batman and Busted Robin

Broken Batman and Busted Robin
Sorry to sully the blog with this image, but the reason for it is that Trump looks SO tired in it it makes me feel good, and that's the main thing.

The man (loosely defined) has no idea what he is doing or how to do it and that would be tiring when it is your job to know everything and do everything.

His eye bags are puffy pouches of guilt for taking on a job that he is completely unequipped for and for hiring such a bunch of shit-bag old men to help, men who, if possible, are even less equipped than he is, because being yes-men, they are literally the very last sort of men Trump needs.

Old yes-men out, new 'no-women' (women who say no to Trump) of all ages in, that's the message for politics in the US and in all countries today I say - Cat Woman for President! - and that's what Trump's election and shady appointments are making clearer than any feminist campaign ever could have done.

So thank you, Broken Batman. You and your little Busted Robin side-kick up to your necks in Russian shit, have done us a favour. The bat-mobile can't save you now!

Monday, February 27, 2017

The mother of all men

Jeannie and Jim Gaffigan
Jeannie Gaffigan co-writes and produces her husband's comedy shows, including most recently the Jim Gaffigan Show for TV, which they have just stopped making after the second series to spend more time with their kids - they have five under the age of 12.

I was a fan of the Gaffigan even before I read this statement of his on the measure of manhood (now I want to marry him; move over Jeannie. Kidding, sort of). He is generally a very funny man, but his meta appeal is that unlike so many male (and some female) comedians, he doesn't mock and degrade women in his comedy.

In fact when I found this statement and podcast from Gaffigan I had just come from listening to two stand-up comedians, like him, played on our local RadioNZ (public broadcaster). One was from Bill Burr, the other from Ali Wong and both shamelessly mock motherhood as non-work. Wong does this while she is heavily pregnant with her first child so not really in the know yet as to what motherhood entails, and Burr does it because he doesn't need to be a woman - or even a parent - to know how pathetically easy motherhood is, he just uses his all-seeing, not at all man-biased, eyes.

Burr says it's not work if you can do it in your pyjamas. But he's wrong about that, because I can give a blow job in my pyjamas, and that's work; the clue's in the name 'job', Bill. Wake up, buddy.

Wong says feminists have ruined everything for women - while she's enjoying the rewards of feminist battles fought for her freedom to earn on a living on the stage (heavily pregnant) - because before feminism women never had to work (she actually says those words) and now they do, and that the reason she got pregnant was so she could put her feet up and relax and not have to work.

Good luck with that, Ali. I wonder if you will pay a woman (or a man as it always used to be when women didn't work) to help you raise your child and do the housework? Most 'career' women do, though not all. The key is we now have the choice to work at home for no money or on the stage for a lot of money, before we didn't. Stuff feminists for giving us that choice. The bloody bitches.

Indeed Burr and Wong are altogether so right and astute in their commentary on the state of our world. I mean what the world clearly needs is for women and motherhood to be respected less, because what's gone wrong so far is that women's 'work' throughout history has been way overvalued and men's work (golf) has been way undervalued. Clearly Donald Trump doesn't think enough of himself and doesn't get enough credit or power or success for all the WORK he puts in; that's clearly the problem.

The online backlash of comments from men to Gaffigan's podcast in which he expresses the above, deeply controversial sentiment that if men don't respect women and what they do they are not true men, is so telling of men's need to define themselves as better than women. Without that innate superior status, they're just people, like women - yes, women are people - and many men can't live with that. Here's just one of the comments in response to Gaffigan's radical feminist (not) statement:

‘Well in most developed countries a third to a half of men are not even interested anymore in chasing women and the number will keep rising. Men has realise it is not worth the effort anymore. In two/three generations only a small portion of people will marry/have children, wake up grandpa.’ 

Men really are so astute, factual - and grammatical.

It is no surprise to learn that Bill Burr, who is nearly fifty, has only recently (2013) married for the first time and that his fans are outraged that he married at all. This from one of them:

'I don't care if people get married or who they marry, but when your entire career revolves around making fun of marriage, gold-digging women, the unfairness of divorce laws, and then you end up marrying a pc woman with an attitude it just seems like a bad decision, lol. I also read that he said he doesn't have a pre-nup, he's worth around 4 million dollars, and if she divorces him, he'll just give her everything.'

Sure he will.

But he has a point. Burr's comedy career has been built on belittling women, so why marry one? His fans naturally see this as hypocrisy and they're right, to a point. But the simple truth is that the man, at 45, has finally grown up and seen the light beyond his cheap and nasty prejudices, just as Gaffigan did, only rather sooner on in his life. Gaffigan, a bit younger than Burr, married in 2003. Before that his comedy was less respectful of women, too; though it was never as shamelessly sexist as Burr's.

There's a pattern forming, folks: men need to love and respect (not merely lust after) a woman to figure out what it means to be a man, at least het men do. Gay men seem to know anyway; they typically respect their mothers a whole lot more than het men do, which no doubt makes a significant difference to their attitudes towards women.

Women, on the other hand, most of us at least (don't know about Ali), already know the importance of love and respect and family, etc, we don't need a man to teach us that. We just need men to let us teach them, and to do that they need to respect us enough first to be prepared to learn what we've got to teach them about the important things in life.

It's a Catch 22: many men can't learn respect for women without loving a woman and they can't really love a woman without first respecting us. No wonder there's so much domestic violence, divorce and cheap sexist comedy. It's something of a miracle it ever works between men and women.

So when it does, as in the Gaffigan case, it's an occasion to celebrate. I'm glad Gaffigan has five kids. If only he and the other guys capable of respecting women could father all the kids; the world would be fixed in no time at all, and we'd have better comedy to boot.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Skinny Mic Night (Raw Quest heat)

So my heat for the 2017 Raw Quest is done - hoorah!! Now I've just got to wait through another seven heats to find out if I made it through to the semi finals and then the finals in May. Who knew there was so much waiting in comedy? Not me. It's possible I'm too old for this shit.

I was first on in the second half, a position the guy who owns the club and places the acts told me is good. I wasn't so sure, I'd never been on first (second) before. It means you're on straight after the pro MC doing his own set, so you're being compared with him, which could be a disadvantage depending on how good he (or she) is. He in this case - and not all that good, though he was funnier in his second half than his first.

The upside to being in the second half is that those audience members who have stayed after the break - only about 80%, usually - know what they're getting in for and have decided to stay, so they're probably quite keen to laugh.

There were about forty people remaining in the second half after a fairly lacklustre first half, so that was pretty good considering. And although the MC was funnier in his introductory bit in the second half, which put the pressure on me a bit, it did warm up the crowd for me so that was good.

The MC formula seems to be to meet and greet the audience in the first half, then tell your own story in the second half and comment on the individual comedians along the way.

The meet and greet seems the hardest part, as they've got to ask direct questions of the audience who often don't want to go public with their life stories - and fair enough. Although when it's done well, as I've seen it done a few times now, it's very effective, as the audience gets carried along as if they are part of the show and everyone has a rip roaring good time.

But if it's not done well, as it was not on this night, the 'How long have you been together?' standard question of couples gets a bit awkward when asked of those who are clearly not ready to 'come out' as couples. It seems quite a lot of not-quite-couples go to comedy. Perhaps that makes sense.

Anyway, we got there in the end and my set went pretty well. I think it was a good spot for me all said and done. I started with a joke about looking fat standing next to the mic stand, which was new and got a good laugh. Hopefully it's not pinched.

I didn't get as many laughs as when I performed that set (different beginning and ending) as my first ever stand-up back in October, but the audience was very different that time and had been well primed by the veteran pro Brendhan Lovegrove. Still, it went well enough and the applause kept going well after I had walked off, which is a good sign (unless they were happy to see me go).

The others in the second half were generally funnier than in the first half and the last guy was really very funny and probably the funniest on the night, although his main joke was that he was 18, which I didn't find all that funny. I should tell them my age, now that would be funny.

But I think I was second funniest on the night and definitely the funniest 50-year-old, so there's that. Hopefully the guy choosing the semifinalists is looking for age range.