Ignoring Sexists Won't Make Them Go Away

Of course there is no room for nuance, much less elaboration, in a Tweet, but I take issue with Helen Clark's advice to new Labour leader Jacinda Ardern: Ignore the sexist attack is (sic) & get on with the job.

Perhaps this advice worked (and works) for her, but it does womankind no particular favours. Nor does it do anything to lift party vote, which is Job One at the moment.

Yesterday some despaired that Jacinda was barely hours into her new role when she was asked about her childbearing intentions. Of course the questions were inappropriate, but they happened because we are still so far from achieving parity for the genders, because we still see the ability to bear and nurture babies as a handicap, a weakness, and a distraction from "real" work. If we really valued families, all aspiring male leaders would face the same sort of questioning, instead "spending more time with my family" is but a handy euphemism for those exiting the job.

I maintain that women's status in New Zealand has been slipping since the leadership of our country transferred from tough-as-nails and perennially serious Clark to the ponytail-pulling jokey juvenile John Key. From dressing his wife in a black sack and taking her along to the world's most misogynist country (and trying to cut trade deals with the same) to raising a child who proudly filmed himself shouting sexist abuse at bicyclists to making rape jokes undeterred by White Ribbons, Key was the poorest of role models. Although with Bill English we're back to a dour and serious adult as leader, we knew matters would get no better under his government the minute he declared that there was no need to revise our abortion laws, laws which require women to lie about their own mental health to try to avoid bearing their rapist's child. Is it any wonder that measurable statistics such as the wage gap and domestic violence have increased during the tenure of this anti-woman National government?

A sad moment for Kiwi women. Contrast with Michelle Obama.

Concurrently in the realm of the media, we have a plethora of male personalities and commentators who spout antediluvian nonsense on a routine basis. The experience of Fox News brainwashing in the United States suggests how harmful this can be over time to national solidarity. Sure, as individuals we can refuse to consume offensive media (including ever more degrading pornography), but that doesn't stop it infecting others, particularly the impressionable young, with the view of women as objects whose feelings do not matter. How else can we explain Roastbusters?

This is what we mean when we speak of rape culture. It is a continuum of abhorrent behaviour that starts with offensive comments and jokes and can too easily escalate from there. To counter it and to eventually achieve the fairer and respectful culture some of us long for, we require strong moral leadership.

In that regard, I found Andrew Little a disappointing leader. I cannot recall him ever commenting on Roastbusters and the like. Perhaps he feared his concern being unfairly reduced to a Cunliffian soundbite, but a hostile media is no excuse not to do the right thing.

As the Labour Party will be pointing out during this election campaign, ignoring problems never makes them go away. So when Jacinda is confronted with sexist thinking, as she was by Mark Richardson yesterday, and she is able to combat it with logic, humour, patience, and moral certainty, and not only that, to expand the dialogue to make it relevant and resonant beyond her own personal experience, why shouldn't she?

Ignore or do battle? When it comes to sexism, it's high time to point a finger at it, all the better if under the bright lights of a television studio, and label it unequivocally unacceptable in 2017.


Women and good men across NZ are feeling an overdue catharsis that should translate into votes for Labour!


An American expat living in Auckland since 2000, Julia Schiller is a graduate of Washington University in St Louis, a former ESOL teacher, a Labour Party volunteer, and a self-employed entrepreneur.