Showing posts with label privilege. Show all posts
Showing posts with label privilege. Show all posts

Monday, 16 June 2014

Not what abortion "on demand" looks like, folks

In the recent discussion about abortion (and big ups to the Greens for getting it on the political agenda), several commentators who identify as pro-choice have stated sentiments to the effect that we have abortion on demand now.  Except that we really clearly don't.

Getting an ingrown toe nail cut out is a medical procedure you can get on demand.  You don't need anyone else's permission, you just need to have an ingrown toe nail and find someone who can cut it out to do so for you.  The same with getting moles removed, whether possibly cancerous or not, having most forms of plastic surgery like rhinoplasty (nose job) or breast implants.

But to get an abortion, be it medical (ie by pills at an early stage of pregnancy) or surgical, two different people have to give their permission, after seeing your own doctor.  Those people have to also be certified to give you that permission.  For people with resources who are seeking terminations in Wellington or Auckland this probably isn't a big deal, and I can understand how some might think, from the outside, that it is basically abortion on demand (although to the best of my knowledge no definition of on demand includes requiring permission from other people).  However that is a) not what the law says and b) not what the practice is.

To use a rather silly example, say that getting a can of Coca Cola (Symbol of the Free West) worked the same way as access to abortion.  If Coke is on demand then you can rock up to an appropriate outlet and get one, no one else gets to say yes or no as long as you pay your $2.

If you could only get Coke in the same way as people can access abortion under NZ law then it would look something like this:

1.  Find one of the limited number of dairies that offer Coca Cola cans.  It may be in an out of the way place, there may be protesters outside (with signs reading "Coke promotes a culture of DEATH").

2.  Once you've found a Coke-supplying dairy, seek and gain the permission of a person who works there and has certification.  The certifying dairy worker will need to approve that you can have the Coca Cola for one or more of a small number of reasons that are outlined in law; most likely "thirst relief" which is found to be the reason for 98% of Coke purchases.  You may not be thirsty right now, but you know you are going to be thirsty in the future, but you will need to carefully convince the certifying dairy worker that you should have the Coca Cola for "thirst relief" now.  Other allowable reasons include high risk of diabetic coma without it.

3.  You'll then need to go through Step 2 again with another certifying dairy worker.  Hopefully there is more than one at that dairy, but if there isn't then you will have to go somewhere else.

4.  It's likely you will then be referred to another dairy, which will actually have the can of Coke.  You'll need to get an appointment there.  Again it may be in an out of the way place, there may be protesters outside (with signs reading "Every Coke Kills a Living Thirst").

5.  When you get to the dairy for your can of Coke you'll possibly be required to go through counselling to consider the consequences of drinking a can of Coca Cola and talk through other options, such as water, milk or going through with being thirsty.

6.  You will then have to undergo a dietary examination, to assess precisely how thirsty you are, any other dietary influences that may lead to complications when you drink the Coke, a full history of your drinking history, and examine your suitability for drinking Coca Cola at this time.  You'll be given advice on whether the Coke is a good idea or not.  Likely there will also be a discussion about planning your future liquid intake so that you can avoid thirst again in the future.

7.  Finally you get your can of Coca Cola.  It's possible this will happen on the same day as the counselling and examination, but maybe not.  Enjoy.

Imagine living in a small town with only one dairy, which didn't have Coke.  The nearest bigger town also didn't have Coca Cola, and you'd have to fly or drive quite a way to get some, possibly taking time off work to do so and at some personal expense in regard to travel costs.  That'd suck.

And that would not be availability on demand.

Abortion is NOT available on demand in Aotearoa New Zealand.  In my opinion to continue to claim that it is does not help get the law or the practice changed to make abortion more available.  It's not defacto on demand, it's not almost on demand.  It is only allowed with the permission of two other people, neither of whom is the pregnant person (although their consent gets the ball rolling), and only for a limited list of reasons outlined by a law set over 30 years ago.

In my opinion the best place to get practical information on accessing abortion services in Aotearoa New Zealand is

Edited to Add:  After I wrote this, but before it was scheduled to post, the Sunday Star Times published this article, including one person recounting her experience of accessing abortion under the current law.

Saturday, 2 March 2013


I have been thinking about bodies this summer, specifically my own, and the extraordinary privilege I enjoy of being very able-bodied.

I've been house-painting every spare moment, with the help of many wonderful friends.  There is scaffolding on two sides of my perched-atop-a-Wellington-hill whare, to make it possible to reach the many, many oddly shaped bits.  Of all my friends, I've been nearly the only one comfortable on every level of the scaffolding.  Some friends have struggled with heights, some with the contortions required of their backs to access lower bits, some have been unable to move between areas because it would require balance they do not have.

And I've not just been comfortable, I've been playing on the scaffolding, climbing all over it like a monkey, moving from the roof of my house to the ground via swinging on bars and shinnying up and down supports.  It's been almost as much fun as being evicted from Kew Gardens for excessively high tree climbing.

Midst the fun has been the sobering noticing that for some of my friends, helping me has been painful,  and they have needed to be careful with how long they spend.

And then two weeks ago, for the third time in my adult life, I was hit by a car while cycling, and taken to hospital via ambulance for tests because of the impact on my body.  I spent hours in a neck brace, staring at the ceiling, because there was the possibility of spine damage due to where I'd been hit.

I am terrified of hospitals, medical interventions, needles and blood.  So terrified I have been fainting since I was 19 - in plays, movies, doctor's surgeries, during conversations with friends, when I cut myself while cooking.  So this was pretty scary, as was being strapped to a stretcher while they measured different indicators of bodily wellbeing.

After discovering no internal organs were damaged and no bones broken - "just" extensive soft tissue damage - I was sent home, to bed, for a week.  Now I'm up and trying to go about regular living for me, and I can't, it still hurts too much.  I'm trying to cycle and I'm scared of being hit again, wincing away from traffic.  I'm having flashbacks of hitting the car, and lying on the road, being told not to move, and all the smells, sights, noises I experienced from that prone position.  I can't carry anything heavier than a couple of books.  The house painting is stalled for now.

My body feels violate-able, and I'm in near constant pain, and I hate it.

Yet this and my scaffolding reminder of my typically privileged experience of my body is timely.  Not because I think it means I understand what it might be like to be unable to bend my back at all, or need a chair to help me move around, or need assistance to wash and make food and get into and out of bed.  But because it helps remind me that my usual experience IS a privilege, which I hope helps remind me to not make assumptions about other people's lives.

Friday, 12 August 2011

poverty, inequality and cultural privilege

the human rights commission diversity forum is an annual event that has been going on for several years. you can get a background information here. this year, for the first time, it's going to be held in hamilton, at the claudlands event centre on 21 - 22 august. it's an excellent opportunity for the people of the waikato to get involved in discussions around various aspects of diversity.

the main part of the forum starts from sunday afternoon, and the only problem is that there are so many wonderful sessions happening at the same time. at 1.30pm on sunday, there are two sessions run by organisations i'm actively involved with - the session on raising awareness of religious diversity hosted by the waikato interfaith council, and the session on domestic violence run by shama (hamilton ethnic women's centre).

however, i won't be at either of those two sessions, because i've been working with poverty action waikato on a session that deals with the intersection between race and poverty. it's called living in nz in your culture: poverty, inequality and cultural privilege. i was really keen to have a session on poverty as soon as i attended a meeting in april regarding the forum, where the HRC was seeking expressions of interest from organisations wanting to host sessions. i approached poverty action waikato because of the excellent programme they'd put on for international women's day - i've put up posts about them here and here.

the purpose of the session on sunday 21 august is to gather stories from people who live with or have ever lived with poverty, or who work with those living in poverty. the key focus is on the way racial or cultural discriminations feeds into poverty and vice versa. the goal is to compile these stories into a document, which the human rights commission have assured us they will use to push for policy change and which we also hope to use to push for social change.

of course, we understood immediately the challenge. it isn't easy to share stories at a time of vulnerability, and particularly in a culture that is so judgemental. it's hard to share personal stories at the best of times, and to share stories around things which society deems a failure is that much harder still. so we've had a think about how we can create a safe space for people to share.

one thing we have done is provide a variety of mediums. if people feel comfortable with small group discussions, we have those. if people want to leave short and simple messages on post-it notes, we'll have those. if people would prefer to share through a longer written piece, we'll have the materials available. and for those who don't feel comfortable with writing, we'll have a dictaphone and a booth, so that can provide a short recording. in all cases, we will preserve anonimity.

in all the demonstrations, rioting and public agitation across the middle east, europe and now england, there is the common thread of people feeling disaffected and angry at economic inequality and the daily struggles of survival. there is the common thread of voices needing to be heard. in a nz context, this is one small way for people to have a voice. maybe it won't make a difference, but hopefully it will. there are enough people around this particular project who care and who want to take the message further - as far as we possibly can.

so. i'm asking those of you who read this to promote this event and to encourage people to attend. please use your organisational and social networks to pass on the message.

Thursday, 30 December 2010

A little bit of luck

Cross posted

Chris Trotter's most recent column is a dispiriting analysis of why cost-cutting, beneficiary-bashing, privilege-defending prime minister John Key somehow remains so popular: it's because he's so ordinary, just another Kiwi bloke who is happy to drink his beer from the bottle and weild the tongs at a barbie Even his extraordinary wealth doesn't upset New Zealanders: being rich is fine provided it's not inherited wealth, and it's not flaunted, not displayed in a way that implies that other people are lesser beings. There's no Remmers snootiness about John Key. He's pragmatic rather than being a thinker, and it's a damned fine thing that he doesn't seem to read great literature, or enjoy Beethoven's string quartets, or heaven forbid, try to engage in any sort of intellectual life. We don't want any smart people around here, thank you very much.

I think Trotter is on the money when he says that New Zealanders prefer modest heroes: one of the reasons New Zealanders admired Sir Edmund Hillary so much was his modesty about his achievements. John Key does seem like the chap next door, just an ordinary bloke getting on with the job. Personally, I'd rather that we had some intellectual heft on the 9th floor of the Beehive, and in ministerial offices, along with the nice chap demeanour, and frankly, I'd prefer a country where being smart and well-educated and prepared to talk about policy and ideas isn't regarded as a social solecism, but evidently, I'm in a minority on that one. (The evidence would be John Key's continuing popularity.)

Where Trotter nails it is with this sentence about the way New Zealanders regard John Key.

Strangely, we don't seem to mind if our leaders are richer than we are. Money, after all, is a wonderfully democratic thing. With sufficient hard work (and just a little bit of luck) just about anybody can become rich.

Just a little bit of luck...

It takes more than just a little bit of luck to become very wealthy. It takes a whole damn truck and semi-trailer of luck to become wealthy. Let's count the little bits of luck that John Key has had.

First of all, there's the luck of being born with a white skin. John Key has never had to experience walking into a shop and being regarded with suspicion just because his skin is the wrong colour. Then there's the luck of being born male - he doesn't have to justify his pursuit of career at the expense of having children, or carefully plan childcare if he wants to do a full-time job. Nor has he constantly had to calculate whether he is phsyically safe when he walks down a street, or has a few too many drinks. He was born able-bodied: no having to negotiate all the barriers that society places in the way of people with physical disabilities, from cars parked over kerbs and pavements, to lack of toilet facilities, to public places that are accessible only through a back door right round the back of the building, to work patterns that demand 10 hours phsyical effort a day, to... the list is endless. He was born with sufficient neural connections across his corpus callosum, so that he is a quick and able thinker, able to grasp difficult concepts quickly and easily. When his family was impoverished during his childhood, because his father died, there was a good quality state house available for him to grow up in, providing him with security. He had the extraordinary good luck to be born to a mother who made it easy for him to get through school and university, who assumed that her children would pursue higher education. He had the good luck to go through university at a time when only a small proportion of New Zealand's population did so, which meant that the government funded virtually all the tuition and living costs for students - no student loans for him. And so it goes. John Key is an extraordinarily lucky man.

Let me be quite clear: it is not John Key's "fault" that he was born lucky, any more than for example, it was Kiri Te Kanawa's "fault" for being born with an extraordinarily beautiful singing voice. It is just a piece of extraordinarily good luck. I do not doubt that John Key has also worked very, very hard. But one person can work hard all his life, putting in extra hours, doing his best to earn a good income and support himself, and still end up at retirement age with not much more than the old age pension to live on. Another will work hard all his life, but because he has been born lucky, because he is in the right place at the right time, he will become incredibly wealthy.

What Trotter points to in this paragraph is the collective delusion that New Zealanders buy into, that being wealthy is a reward for hard work, and that if only the rest of us worked that hard, we too could be wealthy. Far from being a column in praise of John Key (pace the standard cheerleaders on the right), Trotter has given us an exposé of the way we delude ourselves about our prime minister, about the nature of achievement, and about how we regard success in this country. I recommend it.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Apropos of agency

Cross posted

anjum has been writing about agency with respect to Muslim women in particular, but also in respect of all women in minority ethnic groups: We're quite capable of speaking for ourselves, imperial feminism, dodging bullets. Apropos of that, here is a challenge I've given my students, something which seems to have rattled some of them a little, especially those of them who felt that we (whoever "we" is) ought to be very worried about the various forms of veiling that many Muslim women wear, and should be doing something about it.

Turn it around, I say to them. Imagine what a newcomer to Australia or New Zealand, or indeed any other Western nation, might say about the practices we force on women here. Women have to get the hair waxed off their legs, they must wear make-up and straighten their hair, when they're at work they have to wear shoes that make their feet ache and can result in long term damage to their legs and hips, and there are some foods they're not supposed to eat, so that they can keep their weight down. Sure, they can "choose" not to do these things, but if they don't, then they will be criticised, sometimes quite severely. There are no formal rules about these practices, but all the women understand that this is what they must do, and if they don't, they will pay the price.

Then I say to them, how would you feel if the newcomer decides that she will do her best to rescue Western women, to work hard to liberate Western women from these practices, because it's clear that they need rescuing.

I've had a few stunned silences in my tutorials when I've put it that way. And in other places. Including in myself.

Friday, 3 September 2010

Another unnecessary dichotomy - Thin Privilege

Thin Privilege is something I struggle to write about because I've got it in spades, and always have had.  I can see how much harder it is for my friends and relations who don't.  They are often treated in a way that seems to come from no other place than their size.  Fatshionista's thin privilege list is a good reminder/eye-opener if this is something you haven't thought about in a while or at all.

The only time I get more than a sense of how privileged I am to be thin is when I'm pregnant.  When I'm pregnant I can tick a lot of the boxes on Fatshionista's list.  People don't necessarily cut you much slack because you are pregnant (which is somehow more acceptable than being larger than a size 12, but still just a little bit vulgar, really).  But I digress.

The thing about Thin Privilege is that as privileges go it's not all that awesome. For many of the bullet points on thin privilege lists, which I don't dispute at all, there is a correlating disadvantage for the thin.  Maia chronicled one such incident last week, which I found particularly odd because now that I think about it I would have considered Michelle A'Court to be more in the Thin Club than out of it.

The Thin versus Not Thin dichotomy is yet another false division that just sets women against each other.  We need to fight, together, against a culture which judges us on our physical appearance, whether that appearance is one that conforms or not.  I think we can do that in a way that recognises that different women (and indeed men) face different issues as a result of the judgyness manifesting in different ways.  At heart though it's all the same judgyness - one based on saying what you look like, the space you take up in the world and how you decorate it, is more important than what you do, say or think.

Sunday, 2 August 2009

unpacking privilege

we were watching the film "out of the blue" yesterday, about the aramoana tragedy, but this post really isn't about that incident. rather, one of my kids couldn't believe that people lived in the modest houses like some of the ones she saw in the film. and it occurred to me that she really doesn't have any idea about poverty, not really, not any kind of personal experience.

i've tried through their lives to give my kids an understanding of their privilege. of explaining to them that they are lucky to live in a nice neighbourhood, and to go to good schools. they have nice clothes and good friends and a supportive extended family around them. they have never had to feel hunger out of need, never had to feel the stress that poverty brings. and all of these things are a matter of chance. the vast majority of the world is not so lucky.

i thought i explained it and i thought they understood. but now and then, one of them will come up with a comment like that, and i feel like i haven't explained it well enough. they will give a portion of their money in charity, they understand about sharing what they have. but they don't identify with people who have to struggle for the basics, and i think this is not a good thing.

i guess what i really want is for them to be more aware, more conscious of all these things. maybe it will come with time. or maybe i need to be taking them to volunteer at the city mission & other such places, because i think this is one of the most important lessons in life and i haven't fulfilled my duty as a parent until they really have learnt it well.

Friday, 13 February 2009

I'm hearing white privilege all over this

Bruce Emery charged after a teenage boy, stabbed him, and killed him. He's been convicted of manslaughter (funny - it looks like a murder to me), and sentenced to four years and three months in jail.

I agree with Maia - jail solves nothing, jails are brutalising institutions that should be abolished. But here's the rub. Normally, the sentence for stabbing someone is between five and seven years jail, but it can be reduced to three and a half years in mitigating circumstances.

According to the sentencing judge, these are mitigating factors:
- Emery's family standing;
- the fact that he supports himself in the community.

Emery's lawyer argued that his client was an upstanding member of the public, he had three young children, and no prior criminal record.

So there you have it. Being a white middle class man is a mitigating factor.

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Outliers, privilege and gender

Cross posted

Like his previous efforts, Blink and The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell's new book, Outliers, is an entertaining read, with a serious point. It's a straightforward one too - when you see something that looks like an outlier, such as extraordinary individual success (Bill Gates), or catastrophic and inexplicable disaster (various air crashes), if you look hard enough, you will see that it is the outcome of a particular pattern of events. In particular, individuals may seem to have achieved success and fortune through their own singular and astonishing efforts, but in reality, their success is enabled by the circumstances they encounter as much as by their own hard work. Check out the New York Times review if you want more detail on the book and its message. It's a fair review, and for my own part, should you happen to come across a copy of the book, and you're looking for some engaging, enjoyable, non-fiction holiday reading, then you could do worse than spending a few hours on it.

But it's not perfect, and I don't think it's even all that original. Gladwell's message - "Background matters, background matters, background matters" - sounds awfully like privilege to me, a topic well rehearsed in feminist and anti-racist and GLBTI and PWD circles. (I'm white, able-bodied and straight, so my apologies - up-front - if I'm not getting some of those terms right. Add a comment or send me a message to let me know.) There's a whole great mass of material on privilege, and analytic discussion of it and the way it is constructed. It's a shame that Gladwell didn't even acknowledge the idea of privilege, or use it to unpack some of the empirical data he deploys.

And then there's the surprising gap in his analysis. In one section, Gladwell gives a list of the 75 richest people ever, calculated in current USD. From that list, he draws out what is to him the most astounding sub-group: of the 75, 14 are Americans born within 9 years of each other in the 19th century.

Well, yes, that is amazing. But in a book that is focused on how background really makes a difference, and arguing that circumstances can make all the difference, no matter how much hard work an individual puts in, to me it's astonishing that Gladwell didn't notice the other critical criterion for being wealthy. Of the 75 people on his list, 72 are male. Just three are female, and of those three, two inherited their wealth through position (Cleopatra and Queen Elizabeth I). In other words, if you want to be wealthy, it would be best if you could arrange to be born male. It's almost certainly better if you are white, too, but the list of names isn't race-marked (c/f gender marked).

In fact, women barely feature in Gladwell's book at all, except as wives and mothers who provide suitable conditions for youthful achievement. He doesn't stop to consider the extra barriers that might be placed in a girl's way; as a teenage boy, Bill Gates was able to hang around the university and stay out late nights, programming, using public transport to get there and back. Do you think a teenage girl would have been allowed to do that?

Gladwell does have the great good grace to write about his family history, and in particular, about the grandmother who created the conditions to allow his mother to leave Jamaica and get a superb education at a top flight school and then at University College, London, creating the conditions for his own success. But it would be nice if he could have at least recognised the story that his own statistics tell him - if you want to succeed, outrageously, then your chances are much, much better if you are male.