That F Word: Growing Up Feminist in Aotearoa

That F Word: Growing Up Feminist in Aotearoa*

By Lizzie Marvelly

Book Review

The goal of That F Word is to dispel common confusion about the meaning of the word “feminist.” To singer journalist Lizzie Marvelly, the word simply refers to someone who advocates for full women’s equality. She illustrates by demonstrating all the ways in which women aren’t fully equal to men in New Zealand (or the rest of the industrial world).

If women were fully equal, they would enjoy equal pay for equal work, decriminalization of abortion* and equal representation in government, the boardroom and the media and entertainment industry. Domestic violence and rape culture would end because sexual abuse, sexual harassment and domestic violence would be prosecuted to the full extent of the law, as would the routine exposure of 14-year-old boys to misogynist Internet pornography; the widespread use of soft porn to sell commercial products; the continual media pressure on women to hate their appearance; and the constant verbal abuse and rape and death threats against women who openly express opinions in the public arena.

Marvelly views the advent of social media as a two-edged sword for women. Despite the ubiquitous use of social media by insecure men to verbally abuse, degrade and threaten women, it also offers women a unique opportunity to openly share personal experiences of abusive treatment by men. Even more importantly, social media has brought into the open the extreme level of misogyny women experience in contemporary society.

Presented as an expanded memoir, That F Word is a remarkable achievement for a 29-year-old author. In my view, it should be required reading for all men with a genuine desire to understand the condition of women in the 21st century.


*Aotearoa is the original Maori name for New Zealand

**In New Zealand, abortion is still a crime under the Crimes Act – unless a woman obtains independent certification from two health professionals that proceeding with the pregnancy will seriously endanger her mental health.

Abortion Diaries: Using Pregnancy to Stigmatize and Shame Women

The Abortion Diaries

Directed by Penny Lane (2005)

Film Review

The Abortion Dairies features twelve women discussing their personal experience with abortion. Their reminiscences reflect their resentment and anger over the stigma, shame and utter absence of support they felt struggling with an unwanted pregnancy that threatened to destroy their lives.

One women, who genuinely desired to keep her baby, is also highly critical of welfare reforms introduced by Bill Clinton that make it virtually impossible for young single women to raise children on their own.

All deplore taboo around public discussion of abortion despite its prevalence  (annually 1.3 million US women undergo the procedure). Thirty-four percent of teenagers will fall pregnant before age twenty.

The 1936 Spanish Revolution – A Pro-Capitalist View

The Spanish Civil War

BBC (1983)

This is the first of two posts concerning the 1936 Spanish Revolution – which the US and its western allies refer to as the Spanish Civil War. This BBC documentary offers a more or less conventional pro-capitalist interpretation of events. Tomorrow I will post an alternative view by Spanish anarchists who actively participated in the revolution.

Ironically, although Spain was the birthplace of guerilla warfare,* Stalin (the only foreign leader willing to sell them arms) forced the Spanish Republic to engage in a conventional war against overwhelmingly superior forces.

Owing to the massive grassroots mobilization behind the Republic, guerilla warfare would have had a far greater chance of success (as it ultimately did in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan).

When Franco ultimately crushed Spain’s first republic in 1939, it would result in a brutal fascist dictatorship lasting 36 years.

Part 1 describes

  • the non-violent fall of the Spanish monarchy in 1931, resulting in the establishment of Spain’s second Republic
  • land reform of a semi-feudal system in which landless peasants lived in virtual slavery
  • the creation of 10,000 non-church schools in a country with 50% illiteracy
  • declaration of emancipation of women and home rule for Catalonia and the Basque region

Part 2 describes

  • the 1934 takeover of the Republic’s governing coalition by fascists, who repealed most land and other reforms
  • the success of socialists, communists and anarchists in winning back the government in 1936 as the United Front
  • the move by 60,000 landless peasants to retake 3,000 farms they lost between 1934-36
  • the coup launched by Franco and thousands of Arab troops and Spanish legionaries from Spanish Morocco
  • how the grassroots resistance led by Spain’s one million anarchists became a revolution, in which they formed revolutionary committees to organize and arm the resistance and seized factories, which they turned into workers cooperatives, and to redistribute food and other necessities which they distribute to the poor.
  • how effective civilian resistance held back Franco’s forces, confining them to regions to the north and west of Madrid for nearly three years.

Part 3 describes

  • how Mussolini and Hitler supported Franco with arms, funding and troops, while western Europe and the US signed a pact of “non-intervention” – allowing Roosevelt to sell Texas oil to Franco but prohibiting any western country to supply fuel or arms to the Republic.
  • how only the Soviets came to the Republic’s assistance by selling them weapons (for Spanish gold), providing air cover and coordinating the International Brigades – 40,000 international volunteers from more than a dozen countries (including most of Europe, Australia and the US).

Part 4 examines Franco’s background and that of the right wing groups that supported his coup.

Part 5 examines life inside the revolution and how Stalin’s agents and supporters in the Republican government systematically crushed it – by murdering anarchist leaders and launching a formal battle (lasting five days and leaving 500 dead) against anarchist forces in Barcelona.

Part 6 covers Franco’s final defeat of Republican forces after Stalin withdrew his support for the Republic (to pacify Hitler). It also examines the irony of Stalin and the communists forcing the Republic to wage a conventional war they couldn’t possibly win – in the country that invented guerilla warfare.


*The term was first used in 1808, when Spanish guerillas repelled Napoleon’s invasion of Spain. It refers to the use of a small, mobile force competing against a larger, more unwieldy one.

 

 

 

 

Will Trump Cause the Downfall of the Republican Party?

Excellent talk by NPR correspondent Mara Liasson outlining how Donald Trump’s candidacy threatens to put the Republican Party out of business. A pity she never speaks this frankly on public radio.

She explores the efforts by the Wall Street based Republican leadership to woo blue collar voters (based on social issues such as abortion, immigration, etc) without addressing their economic needs – how this has backfired with Trump’s presidential candidacy.

 

Population and Sustainability: the Elephant in the Room

elephant

Population control is a taboo topic among in most sustainability circles. It shouldn’t be. According to a University of Oregon study, childbearing is the number one carbon intensive activity. Having just one has twenty times the impact of a lifetime of carbon frugality.

How Many People Can the Earth Support?

The human species lives on a finite planet with finite resources. Growing evidence suggests we have already exceeded the earth’s carrying capacity. WHO and World Hunger data reveal our current system of industrial agriculture only feeds 84% of the global population. At present nearly a billion people (out of 7 billion) die of starvation or malnutrition-related disease.

I used to believe that third world hunger stemmed purely from inequality and maldistribution of food resources. Now I’m not so sure. In the past five years, desertification, drought, extreme weather events, increasing fossil fuel prices*, water scarcity and topsoil depletion have caused global food production to level out and start to decline.

The Good News

The good news is that fertility rates are already dropping. According to the CIA (the official source of international fertility data), the current global fertility rate is 2.45 births per woman. This is down from 2.50 in 2011 and 2.90 in 2006.

Demographers attribute the drop in third world fertility rates to massive urbanization and the entry of women into the workforce. In the developed world, declining fertility rates seem more closely linked to worsening economic conditions. In Japan, which has in continuous recession for two decades, the fertility rate is 1.39 In Greece it’s 1.40, in Italy 1.41.

At a global fertility rate of 2.45, the world will reach  replacement rate (2.1 births per woman), between 2020 and 2030 and peak at 8.5 billion in 2030.

At present the planet only feeds 5.88 billion people. Could we feed 8.5 billion? Possibly. If they all give up meat and we dig up a few thousand parking lots and return them to food production.

Dropping Fertility Rates: A Capitalist’s Worst Nightmare

The bad news is the enormous pressure Wall Street exerts to keep birth rates high. Declining population growth threatens the robust economic growth our current economic system relies on.

Like a pyramid scheme, monopoly capitalism is based on the continual creation of new debt. Perpetual economic growth is essential to repay this ever increasing debt. Without it, the pyramid collapses.

The Pressure to Have Babies

At present the US and New Zealand are tied for the second highest fertility rate (at 2.06) in the industrialized word (France is highest at 2.08). The first two countries share two specific population drivers: a high rate of teen pregnancy and the bombardment of young women with constant pro-baby media messaging.

The US is number one in the developed world for teen pregnancy. New Zealand is number two. Although Kiwi teenagers have excellent access to reproductive services (including abortion) through our national health service, there’s no effort to provide effective sex education in our public schools.

Meanwhile, thanks to the capture of New Zealand popular culture by American mass media, Kiwi girls are bombarded with the same well-oiled messaging about the new feminine mystique: that without thin, perfect bodies, faces, hair, husbands and babies, they are utterly worthless as women.

In the US, teenage girls have abysmal access to both sex education and contraception. It’s tempting to blame this on the rise of the religious right. I think the issue deserves more scrutiny. A close look at the millionaires and billionaires who have facilitated the boom in right wing fundamentalism suggests they have cynical economic reasons for furthering policies that ensure robust US population growth.

We Need a Movement

Clearly activists who are genuine about curbing carbon emissions must give population control the same priority they give changing light bulbs, installing solar panels and reducing car trips. We’re not talking mandatory sterilization, abortion or eugenics – but voluntary steps people can take to curb their fertility.

So what does a population control movement look like? First it’s got lots of men in it. Access to affordable abortion and contraception is no longer a woman’s issue – it deeply affects all of us. Growthbusters guru Dave Gardner clearly does his part by handing out endangered species condoms in the street. 

Secondly it works to actively counteract Wall Street messaging that pressurizes women to have more babies. The sustainability movement is successfully counteracting messages to consume more and incur more debt. There’s no reason we can’t do the same with pro-baby messaging. There are numerous advantages to remaining childless. We need to promote them.  

Finally it actively campaigns to reduce teen pregnancy.There is absolutely no reason why the Christian right should have a monopoly on pregnancy counseling. Progressives and liberals need to start our own rape crisis and sex education clinics, comparable to the “birth right” counseling movement. If the schools won’t do it, we need to educate teenage girls about debt rape and where they can obtain free and low cost contraception and morning after pills.

During the sixties, activists concerned about oppression in the schools, medical system, and other pro-corporate entities started their own alternative schools, clinics, abortion centers and child care programs. It’s time we followed their example.

*Fossil fuels are essential for industrial agriculture. In addition to fueling farm machinery, the fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides used in factory farming also derive from fossil fuels.

 Originally published in Dissident Voice

 photo credit: David Blackwell