Writing

23 May “Here, let me help. Start by imagining your penis is bleeding…”

Published by the Spinoff, 27 April 2017

Following that Waikato Times column about blokes suffering from women’s periods (comprehensively rebutted here) Michele A’Court generously proffers some empathy advice for men.

 

Hey Tom O’Connor, I think you’re doing “empathy” wrong. You’re doing that thing where, instead of imagining what it is like to experience something, you just describe what it is like for you to know someone who experiences that thing.

And yes, that’s a convoluted sentence (you might need to read it twice) but that’s because what you are doing is unnecessarily convoluted. Men do this a lot with lady stuff. Like when a woman is treated badly, you ask each other to imagine how you would feel if she was your daughter, or your wife, or your sister, and how that would make you feel. When really, the most powerful way to empathise is to imagine if the thing – the rape, or the harassment or whatever – actually happened to you. “How would you feel if a team of rugby players at a social event touched your genitals without your consent, Tom?” Feel the difference there, buddy?

You say you experience menstrual pain because you live with people who experience menstrual pain, and their pain affects you – that whole 23-days-a-kitten, 5-days-a-tiger scenario you have to deal with. (To be honest, based on this, I’m not entirely sure you’ve met a woman, but let’s not get stuck on that or any of the other batshit-crazy ideas you managed to pound quite hard into a few column inches.)

Let’s do what you didn’t do and see if we can find a way that a man might actually be able to empathise with a woman who menstruates. The very best way would be to imagine yourself a woman, but I appreciate we might want to take baby-steps with this.

So… imagine that you are you, Tom. All good? And that for a few days every month, you bleed out of your penis. Sometimes a little bit, sometimes a lot. And your testicles (which would have turned into ovaries if you’d been born a lady) are painful. They cramp up like they’re being squeezed in a vice. Not the whole time – it comes in waves. In extreme cases, it hurts so much that you vomit. For a day or two, or more, you might feel feverish and achy all over. You’re not actually ill, but you know… your balls hurt and your penis is bleeding, so…

Of course, it’s different for everyone. For some people, once your penis starts bleeding, it means the worst bit is actually over. There’s the blood to deal with, sure, but hormonal fluctuations that happen in the days beforehand make you feel all kinds of things. Sad, angry, frustrated, confused. And you will try to pinpoint the cause of each of those emotions but you will be unable to – they’re not caused by thoughts or events, they’re caused by your body doing its job.

Over the years (all this starts when you’re about 12-years-old and goes on till you’re about 50) you get good at managing it. You probably suck up about 90 percent of the complex emotional stuff and only express a tiny bit of what’s actually going on for you. You take paracetamol and ibuprofen to deal with the pain in your balls, and experiment with putting wheat bags on them and drinking herbal teas which might help – it’s hard to tell when you’re doubled over and sweating with nausea.

At some point, you might even come to appreciate and embrace the emotional rollercoaster. It’s good to feel things, and to express those emotions. That doesn’t mean you’re crazy – it’s what makes you a man.

And you do your best to be tidy with all the blood coming out of your penis. People don’t like to see the blood on your clothes so you wear special penis-wraps to soak it up. Though on heavy days (and you don’t know when they’ll be – surprise!) you might bleed a bit into your trousers, so you carry a hoodie or jumper even on a hot day just in case you need to tie it round your waist and hide the bloodstain. Your closest mates are really kind about letting you know if you’ve bled through – that’s what mates are for.

Back in your dad’s day, he made his own special penis-wraps out of old sacks in the garage and attached them to a hidden belt with twine. And at the end of each menstrual cycle, your dad would take the bits of old sack down to the river and bang them against the rocks to clean them for the next month. He and Granddad often reminisce about what a bonding experience this was for them – the women would be off doing whatever it was they did, and the men would be swapping yarns and getting that sacking all clean and soft, and they’d talk about the Moon and how He was both kind and cruel, making them bleed so often but then also making it possible for them to become fathers one day and what a joy that is.

But men don’t have time for all this riverside folk-telling now because they have jobs and stuff. And to be honest, no one’s too sad about that because the homemade sack-wrappings were bulky and they chafed and could be a bit smelly and sometimes caused penis infections, and stopped you doing things you wanted to do like ride a bike without wincing or play rugby. You can’t hunker down in a scrum when you’re on the sack.

Happily, times have moved on. Everyone buys disposable penis-wraps at the supermarket in a special section just for men and their sons. Well, almost everyone. They’re pretty pricey and there is real actual evidence of young boys not going to school when their penis is bleeding because they can’t afford the penis-wraps. And other reports of lower-socio-economic men improvising with bits of sack (they’ve heard the old stories) and ending up with inflamed, infected penises and bladder infections that make it painful when they wee, or walk, or sit down.

Even for people who aren’t poor, it can be a bit of a stretch. Imagine being the father of three sons – you’d be spending as much on penis-wraps as you do on petrol! And the penis-wraps aren’t nearly as much fun as going for a long drive. Still, you’ve got no choice.

Bleeding out of your penis isn’t an illness (though it does make you feel very sick on occasion and is recognised by “sick leave” when necessary) but you could argue that not being able to leave the house for five days every month because there’s blood running down your legs is something of a “disability”, yeah?

I’d be really happy for some of my tax dollars to go towards providing penis-wraps to men like you, Tom. It’s not like anyone would abuse the system – they’re not much good for anything else. Sure, some wag at a party might use five to make a whacky glove but that sort of shit is only funny once.

It seems weird, right, that one half of the population has to spend a significant amount of money on a basic need – which, to be fair, benefits all of us in terms of hygiene and health. I’d like us as a community to contribute to that, to level the playing field a bit. I can’t take away the pain in your balls, Tom, or stop the blood pouring out of your penis, but I can ease the financial burden for you and your brothers, and make your life – in this sense at least – a little more like mine.

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27 Feb On Grief…

First published in “Your Weekend” 11.2.17

 

Last summer, I heard a man walking in our local bush reserve having a chat with himself. Not in a “railing against an invisible enemy” kind of way – just one of those times when you’re thinking deeply about something so big you forget the rules and unwittingly start speaking your thoughts out loud.

 

He looked stricken when he saw me – embarrassment draped over something sadder. I said soothing things about how we all think out loud sometimes, and what a lovely place this was for it, and then both of us scrambled off in our different directions. I’ve wondered since what it was he was trying to process. What his story was.

 

My father died and we had his funeral on Waitangi weekend. Right now, I could get caught talking to myself in the bush. I have certainly been caught not being able to remember the names of people I know well. And reaching for nouns. I am unable to imagine maps in my head – I can’t drive from one suburb to another without advice. It’s hard to make decisions. Which is unfortunate, because it’s a time when a lot of decisions need to be made.

 

I feel like I need to apologise to anyone who has lost a parent, for only showing them an ordinary amount of sympathy. I thought I understood grief, but this is different. I’ve lost close friends, grandparents, and other significant people. I grieved for a year for a 21 year old cat.

 

But I don’t know how to be in the world without my Dad. I’m sure I’ll find a way but this is new territory. I’ve never had to deal with this before. Almost all of us will.

 

Being a child is our first role, the first person we are in the world. While your parents are there – even when you’ve reached the place where you’re feeding them ice cream on a spoon – you can still escape to being their child, and rest your head on their shoulder.

 

At my father’s funeral, my brother and I found stories that made us children again. The ones I know from when he was a young man make me happy. My brother told a story from our childhood I had forgotten for more than 40 years. It made me laugh harder than you possibly should at a funeral. It was glorious.

 

There is a recording of the service. They do that automatically in case you want it. I couldn’t bear to hear it again. But I will replay it all in my head, and tell the story of all those stories to anyone who wants to hear them. And, for a while at least, possibly mutter to myself during peaceful walks in the bush.

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10 Dec John Key & A Rampaging Goat

Written in the hours after John Key resigns on Monday 5 December 2016, and in honour of a rampaging goat. (First published in YourWeekend 10.12.16)

There’s the odd news story that makes you pull over to the side of the road and gasp.

Four days before John Key resigned as Prime Minister, there was a story about a rampaging goat tasered by police in Oamaru. John Campbell introduced the story at the end of Radio NZ’s Checkpoint with faux breaking news gravitas. After a day of Pike River, Kaikoura and child sexual abuse survivors, for all of us a rampaging goat was almost a cat up a tree.

The interview with local motelier, Paula, was Kiwi storytelling at its best. She sounded like the kind of chick you’d want to have a beer with at a barbecue. Pretty relaxed about it. Painted a vivid picture of a “big hairy goat with big giant horns” initially appearing dead in some flax until Animal Control arrived and chucked it some bread, whereupon it “just bolted” and tore up the neighbourhood and SH 1.

“It was just chaos from then on,” she explained calmly. She managed briefly to lock it in someone’s yard. “I thought, all good, all good” but the goat escaped again. Police arrived and “they were running all over the place and chasing it through the yard”. At some point, Paul says the goat scaled a 6 foot fence. Imagine it! Paula didn’t hang about. “I thought I’d better get back. We’ve got a motel to run.” The pragmatism of a responsible small business owner.

Why did the goat run? We can only speculate. Possibly a wild goat finding itself in metropolitan Oamaru was driven mad by the traffic. Found himself somewhere he didn’t like. Paula says it was a male goat “so he was smelly, he was in breeding season so obviously something pulled him into town…” She and the interviewer laughed gently about the sexual mores of goats. It was a sweet moment.

At the end of the day, things didn’t turn out well for the goat. Tasered and ultimately – Paula put it as kindly as she could – euthanased. Not the way the goat would have wanted to go out.

I thought of the goat when John Key resigned. That Key, at least, was going out the way he wanted to, the guy people still want to have a beer with at a barbecue. Perfect timing from a currency trader who knows when to buy and when to sell. But also a politician whose show reel will feature some bizarre moments with ponytails and soap. And a prime minister who built tremendous political capital but wouldn’t spend it on hard choices like the housing crisis, or Pike River, and who takes that capital out the door with him.

And then I wondered which wild thing is coming into town next.

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02 Dec What Happens When You Tell Men to Shush on Facebook

From the Spinoff 24.11.16

Comedian and writer Michele A’Court explains why she asked men to pipe down on her Facebook page, and how her request was received. The answer may surprise you…

Two days after the election of President Trump, I tried a social media experiment on my personal Facebook page. I asked men to shut up, and give women a little space to chat.

Here’s why I did that, and what happened next.

Friday morning, November 11, I posted a link to an opinion piece I’d written for the Press about waking up in Trumpland – the nightmares I’d had on election night, my fears for the future, my hope that if “grabbing ‘em by the pussy” becomes the standard White House greeting, Michelle Obama would continue to go high when Trump goes low, meaning she would punch him in the face on inauguration day.

Then I went off to make an emergency episode of our podcast, On the Rag, in which Alex Casey, Leonie Hayden and I talked about our emotional reaction to Trump’s win – the grief and fear – and also the constructive things we can do with those emotions: acknowledge them, share our stories with each other, support the kind of people Trump threatens and other practical actions we can take to deal with all this mad shit.

By the time I got home in the afternoon and looked at my Facebook page, the comments thread below my article about President-elect Trump wasn’t about Trump. It was about someone not mentioned in it – Hillary Clinton. The usual stuff – “Liar! Criminal! Laughs at rape victims! Married to a rapist!” – you know the drill. Remember, this wasn’t a pre-election piece comparing and contrasting two candidates; this was a post-election, “Holy shit! It’s Trump! How do we all feel?” post. But the conversation had been almost instantly hijacked from a discussion about the man who’d been elected to a different one about the woman who didn’t win.

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All (and I mean all) the “But Clinton!” comments were initiated by men. They emanated a lot of heat, shed no new light, and frequently included links to the same old stories that have been circulating for months. There was a lot of detailed talk about rape (again, from men), and personal insults between commenters (both sides). Occasionally, a woman would slip in to say, “I couldn’t sleep after the election either – thanks for letting me know I’m not alone”, but you could look down the thread and see women being squeezed out of the chat. They stopped commenting – apart from one stoic FB friend who kept posting amusing memes. Other than that small highlight, it was dispiriting. Men shouting, women falling silent, and wandering away.

While mulling that over, I read a terrific piece by Guardian columnist Lindy West printed in the New York Times. “Her Loss” was a very personal and emotional reaction to the election result and what it meant for women. West confessed to spending most of the election day in tears.

I cried because I want my daughters to feel that blazing pride, that affirmation of their boundless capacity — not from their husbands, but from their world, from the atmosphere, from inviolable wells of certainty inside themselves. I cried because it’s not fair, and I’m so tired, and every woman I know is so tired. I cried because I don’t even know what it feels like to be taken seriously — not fully, not in that whole, unequivocal, confident way that’s native to handshakes between men. I cried because it does things to you to always come second.

And I wanted to share that on my Facebook page without it leading to another long bullshit thread about the first woman to run for US President allegedly laughing at victims of rape. West’s piece was specifically about how this election felt to women. I specifically wanted women to join in with their responses.

So I posted the link with this at the top: “To all the men who have posted on my page about Hillary Clinton in the last little while, I offer you this. I do not invite you to comment on it. I invite you to read it (your call) and then shut up. And take a moment to think about what the last few days and months have felt like for women like us. Actually, much longer. Because I think this describes it very well.”

Immediately, the same men from my earlier post climbed in, along with several more. “Censorship!” “Sexist!” they cried. I opened a bottle of wine and stayed busy with the delete button for a couple of hours, then edited the top of my post with this: “Perhaps I haven’t been clear: for this one time, on my own personal page, I am not inviting or accepting comments from men and will delete them as soon as I see them. It is not your turn.”

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I was not trying to ban men from Facebook. Ha! As if! I was not even banning them from my page. I have a pretty open policy – most of my posts are set to “public” and I accept friend requests willy-nilly, only unfriending if someone becomes annoying, and blocking if someone becomes abusive.

With this post, I wanted any men who felt so moved to read the article as an insight into one of the “bubbles” that exist on social media. (I’m defining “bubble” here as a group of people who think differently from you.) And in my experience, you get a better insight when you read and think quietly than when you distract yourself by cutting and pasting a link to something which may or may not be related because you didn’t read the original article in the first place.

So I was offering something I thought was terrific for people to read, and then simply asking people who were not women not to comment on this one post, on this one day.

Given that, I’m buggered if I know why any men would want to get amongst it with the chat. But, man, they were keen. Delete, delete, delete.

So far, so predictable, I guess. But then some things happened. A couple of men who seemed quite cross personally messaged me to complain about my “sexism” and “censorship”. So I refilled my glass, and wrote back to each one of them, explaining that I wanted to create a space where women could do the talking about how women felt. That I was thinking of my personal Facebook page as my living room and today I was only inviting women to sit down and chat. Men could observe if they wanted – welcome! – but the conversation was for and about women.

And after the briefest of back-and-forths, each of them suddenly wrote some version of, “OK, cheers!” and we were done. It was way less adversarial than I might have expected. Personal engagement seemed to diffuse the anger quickly. I found myself feeling warmly towards someone whose middle name on their profile is “Feral”.

While hovering over the delete button, I also saw several men writing positive and encouraging comments, and taking on the angry dudes. I deleted those, too (rules are rules) and messaged each of them to explain why. One of them wrote, “Absolutely no worries… Totally respect your request.” Another man re-posted his supportive comment separately and tagged me into it, so it appeared above the original post on my page. I thanked him publicly, and so did fifty other women. If he’d been in my actual living room, I would have poured him a glass of wine, and invited him out on the deck for a chat.

So what happened on the thread? That was the really good bit. Women told personal stories: about what they’ve been saying to their sons and daughters about the election; about feeling physically sick; about their dreams for their daughters; stories about what is happening in their kids’ classrooms; experiences of sexism at work; about racism at school; and admitting to each other that they too cried real tears on election night. Plus dozens of comments about how nice it was to get to say all these things without being shouted down, and thanks. Sure, there was the odd snarly response directed at men who were angry about being silenced – usually some version of, “See how it feels, buddy?” – before I could get to the delete button. But there it was – a long, long list of women being open, and honest, and vulnerable, and kind to each other. A genuine sense of “Me, too!” and “You are not alone”. Social media that was heavy on the “social”.

Another thing I noticed: with one exception, the comments were first-person responses. At the beginning, one woman had simply posted a link to a John Pilger article about liberals being responsible for Trump’s victory. Two women immediately replied, “Yawn”. That was the only external link posted. Which meant that there were no more: “Here, let me slap you with what someone else said,” but a whole conversation consisting of, “This is how I feel, this is what I’ve experienced, this is what I think.” Which is exactly what I wanted to create a space for – a place where women’s voices and real stories were heard.

It was engaging. The post (the link to West’s piece plus my “shush” preamble) was shared 127 times. As well as all the comments, it elicited 1,013 responses. For those who like numbers that included 864 thumbs, 131 hearts, 11 laughs, 4 wows, and 3 angry faces – which I assume were directed at me rather than West’s lovely writing.

There was only one woman who said she didn’t love it. It was, she said, “male bashing” and I should “tear the tab off the toughen-up can” and she would “pity a man” for the backlash he’d get if he’d asked women to shush. To be honest, I think that is effectively what happened when men bombarded my earlier Trump post with “But Hillary!”. Importantly, it also matters that West’s opinion piece wasn’t about men at all – they didn’t get a mention, weren’t being criticised, and there were no allegations against them to defend. It was about women.

Still, this is a useful thing to consider. Here’s my position: If gay people (or people of colour, or Muslims, or any other group targeted by Trump) want to talk about their fears about Trump’s presidency without straight/white/Christian folk leaping in with their reckons, I would totally respect that.

Also, if a man put up a post detailing a man’s emotional response to a major event affecting men in a specific way and asked women to leave men to discuss their own emotional responses amongst themselves with openness and vulnerability, the sisters and I would be fucken rapt. I’d bloody love to see that, and I promise I wouldn’t make a peep in that space if they asked me not to – but I’d read the shit out of it and probably discuss it elsewhere because that would be awesome.

I’m holding onto the hope that this might happen. I had some nice chats on Messenger that seemed to get somewhere. And a few days after the post, someone put this on my page without any other explanation: “In light of Michele A’Court’s post on Saturday, I’d like to apologise to Rosemary for mansplaining her reaction to the US election for her… Still learning.” – John.

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22 Nov Taking It To The Streets

First published in Your Weekend 19 November 2016

There is a t-shirt in one of my drawers which says simply, “I’m Against It”. I bought it during a particularly busy period – the invasion of Iraq, a cricket tour to Zimbabwe, and the imprisonment of Ahmed Zaoui for starters. For a while there, I could barely get it laundered between outings.

 

When I got the t-shirt, I remembered thinking I would have liked to have had it during the early weeks of Springbok tour protests in 1981 before we took to wearing body protection (I fashioned carpet tiles together with bailing twine). In recent years it stayed in the drawer because during the Marriage Equality campaign it would have put me on the wrong side.

 

If I was in America right now, that t-shirt would be getting another turn. Not, as some suggest, because protesters gathering daily on city streets are being paid to turn up (would that be a flat fee or by the hour, and do you get bonuses for placards and/or chanting?) but because the idea of peacefully walking the streets with strangers who share your ideas and anxieties is, quite simply, bloody lovely.

 

You wouldn’t find me damaging private property or throwing a punch, and I’m as nervous as the next person about any escalation to violence. But so far, the thousands protesting in America are exercising their 1st Amendment right without any recourse to the 2nd Amendment. The guy with the gun was a pro-Trump supporter in Portland.

 

Importantly, these protesters are not suggesting the ballot was rigged – they lost, and they know it. But majority rule doesn’t mean minority silence. It was swathes of people feeling they’d been made silent that got America to where it is right now. A long walk, some fresh air and real-world political engagement is possibly just what’s needed.

 

I appreciate those calling for a “wait and see” approach to Trump’s presidency. Perhaps building the wall is a metaphor rather than a construction project, and the mass deportation of millions of undocumented immigrants is another. But the rise in bullying and threatening of Muslims, Latinos, African-Americans, Jews and gays, meanwhile, hasn’t waited till inauguration day.

 

One of the points of protesting is to temper what your government does next. Here’s another metaphor: If someone is coming for you, one of the things a potential victim is supposed to do (something she will be judged on later) is shout “no”. And sound like you mean it.

 

So it seems appropriate that many people in America, afraid of what is coming next, are shouting “no”. Or, as they’ve been chanting in cities throughout America in old-school call-and-response style: “Show me what democracy looks like / This is what democracy looks like.”

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01 Nov What Really Gets On My Titties?

The idea that Paul Henry, Max Key and co are ‘just saying what all guys are thinking’.

Published by the Spinoff ( www.thespinoff.co.nz ) Tuesday 1 November 2016.

Men, it’s time to call a meeting. The agenda? Actually choosing not to mouth off about titties and pussies and riding women, writes Michele A’Court.

I’d like to think there’s a men’s meeting going on somewhere with someone in charge making an important speech. “Fellers, look, you can have your fun and, sure, we all make mistakes. But just calm the fuck down, would you, on the public displays of douchiness – you’re making us all look bad.”

Because with every step forward – men speaking out against family violence, corporations endorsing policies of inclusion, the Icelandic government pledging to close the gender pay gap by 2020, your partner doing shit around the house without making a song and dance about it – just when you think, “We’re getting somewhere!” some numb-nut grabs you by the pussy and pushes us all 50 steps back.

Sometimes I feel like I’m living in a lady-version of The Truman Show – surrounded by good souls who are into fancy shit like consent, and listening, and kindness, and being respectful. We have grown-up conversations about Syria and climate change and medicinal marijuana and TV shows and music and the Dakota Access Pipeline and we drink a bit, and you forget – or can’t even imagine – that there are people out there talking about whether someone’s “titties” are more Palm Springs or Rancho Mirage.

It’s my own fault, I guess. I don’t listen to talkback and I rarely read the comments. I don’t want to look at people in the biscuit aisle at the supermarket and wonder if they’re the person I just heard talking about Muslims and/or solo mums in a way that’s less than elevating.

And so – let’s do this chronologically – Trump was shocking to me. Less what he has said, than the barrage of people defending it as locker-room banter. Really? You guys have a private world where this is OK? Is that really what happens when women aren’t there? Well, fuck me with an orange toupee. I’m going to look at you all a little differently for a while.

And then along comes Max Key with his “real men ride women”. Though it was mostly his Dad’s response that infuriated me – the old diminish-and-dismiss one-two: “Clearly he didn’t mean to make the sort of comment that he made in the way he did, but he fully takes responsibility for it. I’ve told him it’s not appropriate, he’s apologised and assured me he won’t do it again.”

Look, we all love our kids – that’s our job – but that whole first sentence is patently bullshit. A) Max actually said it with his very own voice; B) it’s four words so sod-all wiggle room for getting anything round the wrong way and misrepresenting his intent; C) Max, apparently alone in the car, videoed himself shouting it at the cyclists, then D) hit stop and save on the recording; and E) satisfied with its content, uploaded it to the internet. That was exactly the sort of comment he meant to make. If he’d fucked it up, doubtless he would have driven round the block, come up behind the cyclists one more time and given himself a Take 2.

And then Paul Henry. Again, it’s not what he said that shocked me. Blah blah genius, blah blah hate people. Up until the bit about his fellow diner, my response would have been a solid, “Meh.” And I guess it’s not even that a grown man goes into a lengthy lunchtime riff about breasts that bothers me – now that I’ve seen behind the cyclorama on The Ms Truman Show, I’m getting to grips with the idea that #notallmen are like the pleasant male humans I know personally.

As I’ve said somewhere else, it was the restaurant equivalent of shouting unwarranted commentary from a passing car at a woman trying to go about her day. Whether she heard him or not (maybe she zipped up her jacket because she was suddenly sitting in a draft) he had reduced her to an object for his judgement over quite some period of time. Long enough to ascribe geographical descriptions and ponder the effects of future motherhood on their terrain.

But there are two things that properly get on my own personal tits about this. First, that Henry thought this was appropriate for a news and current affairs host to say in a mainstream media interview. That you can commentate publicly about a real human person’s “titties” one minute, and ask probing questions about the housing crisis, or sexual violence, or an industrial dispute the next. Without your viewers wondering whether your interviewee has, in your expert and well-documented opinion, boobs that owe their provenance to Palm Springs or Rancho Mirage.

And secondly, what annoyed me was not being able to dismiss the “titties” rant as the attitude and behaviour of an outlier. “Paul Henry just says out loud what everyone else is thinking!” Are you? Seriously? And here was me thinking he was saying what other people were too smart to think in the first place and/or too well-mannered to keep to them-fucking-selves. Because it is seriously not helping.

And look, just a brief mention of Anthony Weiner. If that needy little dude’s dick-pics end up being the schlong that breaks the camel’s back and delivers Donald “No-one respects women more than I do” Trump to the Whitehouse, I’m walking off The Ms Truman Show set once and for all.

I like to have people of substance to look up to. Journalists and broadcasters and politicians who are smarter than me, and also kind, and who have a bigger vision than me – but who have me (or someone like us) in mind when they ask their questions or make their decisions. So on a flagship news and current affairs show, I’d like to go, “That guy – he represents me and asks questions on my behalf because he cares about people like me.”

Without wanting to go all Hobson’s Pledge on your arse and get nostalgic for “God Save the Queen” at the movies, wouldn’t it be great to have more men of character and quality just, like, deliberately choosing to not talk about titties and pussies and riding women, or even just using their elevated position to punch up, rather than down.

Because I think it would be in all of our interests to get to a place where, when someone said something offensive about women, our first reaction was not to say, “Well, you know … That’s what men are like.” Someone really should call that meeting.

 

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02 Oct On Refugees, Poisoned Skittles and Sport

From “Your Weekend” magazine 1.10.16

Wife-and-husband social commentators Michele A’Court & Jeremy Elwood write a weekly column. This week, Jeremy goes first…

 

Early this week, a baseball pitcher named Jose Fernandez died in a boating accident off the coast of Miami, Florida. He was originally from Cuba, and defected to the US at the age of 15 on his fourth try, having been caught and imprisoned on the previous three. On that fourth attempt, he dove into the water to rescue a fellow passenger who had been swept overboard, only to discover it was his own mother. He wasn’t a great baseball player as a kid, but he loved the game, so he trained hard and by the time he finished high school, the Miami Marlins were willing to take a gamble and draft him.

 

It worked out pretty well.

 

He was voted rookie of the year in 2013, and this year was on track to finish the season as one of the top pitchers in Major League Baseball.

 

He was 24 years old.

 

It’s an incredible story with a tragic ending, and if you’re a sports fan, or just a human being with a heart, I encourage you to Google his name and read more about it.

 

It also comes on the heels of Donald Trump Junior proving that being a xenophobic douchebag can be hereditary. I don’t encourage you to Google his tweet comparing Syrian refugees to a bowl of poisoned Skittles, as it was so inane that it doesn’t deserve any more attention than it has already had, but if you need to get a frame of reference, go ahead.

 

Ok, done? Need a minute to wash your eyes?

 

What these two stories illustrate to me is the gap between what people fear immigrants will bring to a country and the potential of what they might bring. Those who fear that a few hundred (or even a few thousand, unlikely as that may sound given the reluctance of our politicians to allow a halfway respectable quota in) refugees coming to New Zealand will somehow take over “our” culture, religion or dress sense – you know, like the British did – are not only out of touch with reality, but also blind to more positive possibilities.

 

What if one of those refugees is our next great cricketer? Or writer? Or scientist? Or baseball player? (We do play it here, quite well too.)

 

And if they aren’t, you know what? That’s ok too. They might just be your next mechanic, or hairdresser, or Uber driver. They might be your neighbour, your colleague, or your friend, or you may never meet them, they may have no impact on your life whatsoever.

 

But by allowing them to come here, we would be making an immeasurable difference to theirs, and that’s a gamble I’m willing to make.

 

From Michele A’Court…

 

There are a lot of things I like about sharing a house with someone who was born in a different country from me, who has different interests and passions, and who introduces me to pockets of culture I might have otherwise missed.

 

Baseball, for one. During long, grim New Zealand winters, North America’s favourite summer game plays on our television. This is a game-a-day sport, not a once-a-week fixture. I’ll catch the odd innings as I pass through the living room on my way from office to kitchen, occasionally abandoning work altogether to watch big moments like my baseball hero, the Angels’ Albert Pujols, hit yet another record-breaking home run.

 

But it’s in dealing with life events that baseball most impresses me. The Miami Marlins’ press conference announcing the death of Jose Fernandez was a snapshot of what America – otherwise characterised by a Presidential campaign fuelled with hate, anger and stupidity – looks like at its best.

 

The Marlins are a multi-cultural team – African-American, Latino, white. Players and management spoke in Spanish and English. Everyone talked about being a family. Few families look as ethnically diverse as this, but family isn’t about ethnicity – it’s about living, working and playing together, right? There’s the family we are born into, and then there’s the one we make.

 

Marlins President David Samson said of Jose: “The magnanimity of his personality transcended culture, religion and race… He was a model for Cuban Americans and for all people who need to work harder than most to have freedom… He would say to me, ‘You were born into freedom, you don’t understand freedom really.’”

 

That, Samson said, was the gift Fernandez had given them. The kid from Cuba who had made them understand America better. Which is so often what refugees do.

 

I understand the fear that someone like Donald Trump Jnr is tapping into with his “bowl of Skittles” metaphor. But people aren’t candies and I’m heartened that, in NZ, two recent polls reveal most Kiwis believe we should invite more refugees here, that our current 1,120 a year is not enough.

 

Plus, it is worth remembering, in the interest of perspective, that the people who threaten us aren’t always from somewhere else. After watching the Marlins’ press conference, I watched our local news. Wellington Lions rugby player Losi Filipo was let off charges for assaulting two men and two women because of the effect a conviction would have on his rugby career.

 

If I was Trump, I might ask, “If I had a bowl of thugs and I told you some of them might play rugby really well, would you let them all off without conviction?” Apparently, the answer this week was yes.

 

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18 Sep Too Many Chiefs (not enough women)

First published in “Your Weekend” Saturday 17 September 2016

Murdoch - Chiefs

By Michele A’Court…

After more than a month of the Chiefs making headlines, what have we learnt?

On the one hand, this: That as a society, we don’t respect women who work as strippers. The women we care about (our daughters, sisters, mothers and partners) aren’t strippers, so we can’t empathise with women who are. We assume that women who do this job aren’t honest or trustworthy, or deserving of workplace safety.

Note: this does not apply to male strippers. They’re fun and non-threatening, and they might have other jobs like being a steel worker or Channing Tatum and are just having a bit of fun. It doesn’t define them – it’s probably a hobby.

That men fuelled by alcohol and bro-ness and exposed to nudity are like locomotives – once they’ve built up a head of steam, you can’t expect them to stop. They don’t have brakes. Apparently, they go to their lizard brain and can no longer be expected to tell right from wrong. They will forget you are someone’s daughter, sister, mother or partner.

But on the other hand, we should also learn this: A large number of us will not put up with this any longer.

From here on, no-one can reasonably claim you need hindsight to know that internal investigations are insufficient. Particularly if you are a group that prides itself on having a team culture where you all look out for each other and have each other’s back.

And that if you are investigating these kind of allegations, the first person you should talk to is the person making those allegations. She shouldn’t be the last.

That “consent” means one of the people can ask for whatever it is to stop at any time. Consent is specific to every moment. You – the whole big group of you – are going to have to listen to someone who might be small, young, or even naked and do as she says.

That in some instances, going to the police is not the only valid way to seek redress. Louise Nicholas’s story taught us that – an internal police investigation got exactly nowhere for years. It was the 4th Estate (a newspaper reporter) that eventually brought justice. It is not unreasonable now to think of the 5th Estate (social media) as an appropriate channel to bring this to public attention.

And that if Louise Nicholas offers to help you with the investigation, you should say yes. Several weeks ago.

And also, that if you are the Minister for Women it is your job to have an opinion on the way women are treated and viewed by society. If you can’t comment on the way private organisations treat women, you can’t talk about the wage gap or the need for women on private company boards either. In which case, I don’t know what you are for.

 

By Jeremy Elwood…

 

Since the events of the Chief’s Moronic Monday, and the subsequent wet squib of an inquiry, much of the media focus has been, understandably, on whether this incident is indicative of a deeper problem within New Zealand’s rugby culture.

It’s an obvious target, being something that most Kiwis are familiar with, regardless of their own interest in the sport.

I’ve never liked rugby. I find it a tedious sport to watch, I was rubbish at playing it, and yes, I have a number of bad memories of the “culture”, from school days onwards. So whilst I welcome any critique of it, I also have to admit that the kind of behaviour currently in the spotlight, and the responses to it, is hardly limited to the players and fans of my least favourite sport.

It seems that any time a group of men get together around alcohol and women, the potential to act like animals raises its ugly head. I know, I know, it’s Not All Men. I can admit that without joining in with that petulant cry from blokes who feel like somehow calling out the men who do act this way is an attack on our entire gender.

I see it regularly in my own job. Stag parties, corporate social clubs, birthday groups; we get all of these and more at comedy clubs all the time. Most of them are great, just having a laugh and a good time, but every now and again you get the ones where a mob mentality has taken over and “boys being boys” is on the edge of turning into “grown men being barbarians.” They heckle, they shout abuse (particularly to female comedians), and, more than likely, their next stop after they’ve ruined a comedy night is to go ruin one at a strip club.

This is nothing new. Testosterone plus booze plus sexual frustration plus encouragement from your mates has been a recipe for disaster for centuries. But that doesn’t mean we should let it slide. Brushing it off in the sober light of day as a bit of harmless fun, or even hinting that any woman caught up in the midst of it has in any way encouraged it is a symptom of something far darker than the actions of a few idiots. It’s suggesting that a person’s worth, and right to safety, is predicated on their job, dress sense or gender.

It’s fantastic that this story is refusing to go away. The fact that the Rugby Union were unable to brush this aside is a step forward. There are many more steps to take, though, by people throughout our society who can no longer hide behind a “culture”, rugby or otherwise.

 

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03 Sep Going Out On Your Own Terms – from “Your Weekend”

Jeremy and I watched the Tragically Hip’s last ever concert – the choice they made about how to end their artistic career after lead singer, Gord Downie, was diagnosed with terminal cancer. It made both of us muse about the choices we do (and don’t) get to make about how we end things. This piece was written with huge respect to Downie, and also to Lecretia Seales who fought for the right to end her life on her own terms. http://www.stuff.co.nz/life-style/83577259/jeremy-elwood–michele-acourt-going-out-on-your-own-terms

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