Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Women, Power, and the Casual Circulation of Misogyny & Lesbophobia

Chris Trotter published a much discussed response to the NZ election last weekend, in which he presented his views on the change from a centre left to a centre right government. He concluded that:
It was these: the men who just couldn’t cope with the idea of being led by an intelligent, idealistic, free-spirited woman; the gutless, witless, passionless creatures of the barbecue-pit and the sports bar (and the feckless females who put up with them); who voted Helen Clark out of office.
Many people posted criticisms. My responses were:

I do find it dispiriting that there has been so much mysogynistic and homophobic invective directed at Clark. It’s not something I hear among people I know, but it seems to be quite pervasive online & in talk-back radio. I had thought NZ society had generally become more enlightened. Many people overseas that I know, saw Clark as a sign MZ is a forward-thinking and enlightened country, and are sorry to see her voted out.

I have come across several despondent people in the last few days in the places I work, and they generally can’t believe we have a change of government. Some of the most despondent are men. They don’t follow political blogs online or, as far as I know, listen to talk-back radio. But one youngish man expressed similar ideas to Chris above, though he expressed it in a more subdued and less accusing way. He said he thought the people that voted Labour/Clark out must mostly be older men who don’t like having a woman PM.

I don’t know how true that is, but it does feel like 2 steps forward and (hopefully only) 1 step backwards, before the country moves forward again in relation to attitudes to gender and sexuality.

And this:

It only takes a shift of maybe up to 5-10% of voters to swing an election. So the mysogynistic elements who swung to the right in this election aren’t the majority of National/right voters. Thus the men Trotter is criticising does not need to be more than this 5-10% of voters.

Of course there are plenty of National/Right supporters, who, along with their MPs don’t express their criticism of Labour/Clark in msyogynistic terms. However, those elements do exist in fairly substantial numbers, and have been pretty evident within the campaign against Clark/Labour.

Sexism, homophobia and anti-woman invective is fairly common in the comments on a couple of prominent right wing blogs, and over the last few years such expressions have fanned some of the angst on talk-back radio & campaign heckling. They would never be allowed to remain, and/or exist unchecked in left wing organisations. Yet IMO, the more official face of National/the right, while not using such terms themselves, do not seem to express their distaste for it, benefit from it, and in some ways seem to actively fan its flames.

The National party has supported the above mentioned right wing blogs/blog owners by working in concert with them in some ways, and by National MPs candidates publicly saying they regularly read them, without any criticism of the mysogyny & homophobia threaded throught them.

As long as those sort of elements have a fairly prominent visbility amongst right wing supporters, and remain unchecked by the majority on the right, then the right will be seen as supporting and benefitting from such mysogyny and homophobia.

Anna on the handmirror blog, both agreeed and disagreeed with Trotter

Jenny Shipley wore a lot less misogynist crap than Helen Clark did. I think it was not just Clark's gender which got her offside with some - rather, it was the fact that she was a woman advocating socially progressive politics. Jenny was cut some slack because she was a mum - she fit the expected female career path better than the 'childless lesbo', as Young Nats called Clark - and advocated policies which did not challenge gender or family norms, as civil unions and the repeal of section 59 have done.


  1. Or it could have been her policies and rhetoric that folk didn't like

  2. That's beside the point. Disliking Clark's policies and rhetoric don't justify attacking her with misogyny and homphobia/lesbophobia.

  3. That's fair.

    What did you think of Chris Trotter piece on the Maori Party working with National?

  4. I can't remember the details of Chris's views on that. But I have disagreeed with Chris on some of his points on the MP (on some of my posts to his old blog).

    Basically, I think the MP were offered a deal by National that they couldn't refuse. If they had not got involved in the government, they risked losing some of their key aims (National getting rid of the Maori seats, and nothing happening on the Forsehore and Seabed).

    So the MP needed to get in there and push for some of their policies.

    I also think there are various possible difficulties for either National or Labour (if Labour had formed the government) in working with the MP. My biggest criticism of the last Labour government was of the way it betrayed Maori with the Foreshore and Seabed. It may actually be easier for Labour in opposition, with a new leadership, to rebuild it's relationship with Maori & the MP.

    There are issues that could split the MP, which ever party they make agreements with. I think it may also indicate some changes in the Maori demographics that mean some Maori will lean more to the right (aspirational growing middle-class, socially conservative Maori), as opposed to lower socio-economic Maori (more aligned with Labour).

    So, there are various ways the MP-National coalition will play out, which could be good or bad for either National or Labour.

    However, the agreement looks likely to win some benefits for Maori, though they need to be careful not to be undermined in other ways by NACT.