letters · politics

A letter I wrote to the Minister of Education re: sexual consent education, and its response.

In response to a rape jokes scandal in a New Zealand school, the then Minister of Education Hekia Parata ruled out compulsory consent education – saying that it was best addressed in the family.

I sent an email to here, and here’s the response I got.

I wrote:

Hi Hekia.

I write to regarding the comments you made as reported in this RNZ article: http://www.radionz.co.nz/news/national/326678/wellington-college-students-suspended-for-rape-comments

“Today, Education Minister Hekia Parata ruled out introducing compulsory education around sexual consent in high schools, saying the subject was best addressed in a family setting.

Ms Parata said the issue was a conversation for parents to have with their children, and schools had the freedom to supplement the pupils’ education if they wanted to.”

For context, I’m 31 year old pakeha male.

I think this is a disappointingly regressive attitude.

I got my sex education in 1997-2000. It covered use of condoms, STIs and pregnancy. I wish it had covered sexual consent, because there are certain regrettable situations I’ve been involved in which consent education might have prevented.

I think compulsory consent education is a no brainer, if not a bit of minefield to navigate.

All the best,

David Johnston

The response: (PDF)

Dear David

The Minister of Education, Hon Hekia Parata, has asked me to reply to your email of 15 March 2017 about the introduction of compulsory education around sexual consent.

Teaching children and young people respect for others is a responsibility for all of us; something they learn at home and school, both in what they are told, and what they observe around them.

As part of this shared responsibility, The New Zealand Curriculum recognises that schools work with children and young people on the skills they need to navigate personal relationships and sexual identity.

Sexuality education is a compulsory part of our health and physical education curriculum, which schools must deliver in Years 1 to 10. The Ministry of Education expects schools to follow the guidance we issued in 2015, this can be found at http://health.tki.org.nz/Teaching-in-HPE/Policy-guidelines/Sexuality-education-a-guide-for-principals-boards-of-trustees-and-teachers This guidance spells out what should be covered by sexuality education. For secondary schools, that detail sets out a clear pathway through topics including consent, coercion and sexual violence.

Our guidance puts identity and sexuality firmly in the context of relationships with others. It covers the skills of self-knowledge, assertiveness and caring that are central to healthy relationships. Students learn about personal boundaries in sexuality education. From the beginning, we expect schools to teach children to identify safe and unsafe touching and the importance of respect. By Years 6 to 7, students are identifying pressures from others and developing assertiveness strategies.

Schools are required to consult with their communities every two years, or more often, about how they teach sexuality education. It is one of the reasons there is variation from school to school in teaching this subject. Any teaching programme discussing consent requires an understanding of empathy and respect for others’ feelings. So at the heart of sexuality education, again from a young age, is material on affirming the feelings and beliefs of others.

Many secondary schools and communities include consent in their sexuality education. Many schools also hold forums outside scheduled classes where important issues such as consent, coercion and safety in intimate relationships can be debated and discussed.

We encourage all schools to look at what they are doing on sexuality education with their school community.

Thank you for taking the time to share your views.

Glen Johnson
Acting Group Manager Pathways and Progress Early Learning and Student Achievement

It’s an interesting response – pretty comprehensive and pro-consent education – and completely at odds with Hekia’s comment.

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book reviews · technology

Book Review: Girls Who Code

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Girls Who Code is an organisation aimed at helping women get into tech.

The founder Reshma Saujani wrote a book by the same name. The book’s recommended age is 8-12. It’s a comprehensive guide for learning to code.

While well-intentioned as it is, I don’t think this is a very book as means for learning to code. For a book that is intended for children – it is too long and overwritten.

From a feminist perspective, isn’t a STEM book targeted at women a little ironic?

One of the main points in discourse around women in tech is that tech is gender neutral – tech isn’t an inherently boyish activity.

I find it a little amusing then, that this book fundamentally uses gender roles to sell itself.

I don’t think it’s wrong to do it. If there really is a cultural norm of ‘girls don’t do tech’ and this book gives permission for a girl to be interested in tech, then that’s a good thing.

Also, the book is filled with profiles of important women in tech – and that’s great. Probably my favourite part of the book.

A disclaimer

I haven’t read the whole book. I got a good few pages in before I gave up, and just quickly skimmed the rest. The book is too wordy.

My review

This book is way too large and cumbersome.

It’s 160 pages long, and each page is filled with with text.

If the goal is to encourage young girls into tech – this isn’t the right way to do it. It’s not the right way to encourage any young person into tech.

It might impress parents, and other adults – with its comprehensiveness – but a child is going to find it overwhelming, and unfun.

I think being comprehensive is good. But this book uses too many words to do it.

An introduction to computer science book for children should be first and foremost interesting and fun, and easy.

One hundred and sixty pages of fairly dense reading, doesn’t really sound like fun.

Another thing this book suffers from, is bad design. The book uses a lot of cute handwriting style comments and arrows – I guess in an attempt to make it seem more friendly.

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I think it’s just bad design.

A coding book should just aim to communicate as effectively as possible. Using recognisable and tidy layouts is the best way do to this.

This isn’t to say that a coding book shouldn’t be fun. Infact – I tend to prefer reading tutorials that have a more informal tone – but I’m going to find if it said ‘Righto lads, here’s how to create a for loop’ off putting.

The taco creation algorithm they used to demonstrate for loops was interesting, as was the bead creation algorithm. The profiles and timelines throughout the book are good.

What does make a good coding book for children?

It’s easy enough for me to criticise – but what would a good coding book for children look like?

It would be far shorter, for one. I think the way I would go about it – is I would create a first introductory book intended to be as fun and easy as possible, and then if the child showed continued interested in it – then they could purchase a second more indepth book.

I would aim to use as few words as possible. Each page, basically containing one simple concept.

I would intersperse simple quizzes through the book, testing the child’s knowledge. Quizzes are effective tool for maintaining engagement, as the child is given a sense achievement and progress when they answer the question correctly.

I’d intersperse cartoon pictures throughout the book to keep it interesting.

So that’s it. Seeing this book, makes me think I should I considering writing my own one.

relationships · social philosophy

Compatibility and the spectrum of cynicism.

I would argue that the main thing the prevents people from getting into relationships isn’t a lack of basic compatibility with others – but a mismatching of their level emotional cynicism and bad timing.

Let me explain.

Basic compatibility

There are some core things are basic deal breakers about whether someone is a romantic match for us or not, things like:

  • Whether they’re a smoker or not
  • Their level of exercise
  • Whether they do drugs or not
  • Their age
  • Their employment and/or social standing
  • Their political views
  • Their religious views

Different people are going to have different deal breakers. Many of us would never consider dating a smoker – but some people are ok with it. Some people couldn’t stand the thought of dating someone with an opposing political ideology, others are political apathetic and don’t care.

The point is – of the entire dating pool, there’s a subsection of people of people who you’re actually going to have some semblance of realistic compatibility with.

Now, if you’re an intelligent progressive-minded person living in a small shittown – then it’s likely that your eligible dating pool will be unworkably small – and working with that is not what I wish to deal with here.

For somebody in a decent sized progressive city – your compatible dating pool is still going to contain hundreds or thousands of prospects.

Chemistry

After basic compatibility is met – there’s still whether the two of you get along or not.

It’s possible that you both have similar lifestyles and share similar world views – but you go on a date, and you just don’t get along. You don’t find their jokes funny, or you finding their flirting wooden. Maybe they have a certain physical appearance that you just don’t find attractive.

But even if after we eliminate all of these – I would still say that people in decent sized progressive cities still have a healthy sized dating pool of people they’re compatible with, and are attracted to – so what prevents people from getting into relationships?

Perhaps people are too picky

Let’s get this point out of the way first. It’s plausible that many people are being too picky. They want someone who earns $100k a year, and has rock hard abs, and is super intelligent, and likes dogs, and shares their taste in movies, and always knows the right thing to make them laugh. If they’re not considering dating anyone who doesn’t meet all of these criteria – then perhaps they narrow their dating pool too small to be workable.

I’ll concede that this may be the case for some people – but I don’t think it’s the primary factor that prevents most people from forming relationships.

Enter the emotional cynicism spectrum

People, in a given moment, have an emotional state that fits on a spectrum of distrusting and cynical on one end, and joyous and willing to love on the other.

Being more cynical will mean when a guy says hello in the supermarket line, the person is more likely to dismiss them as a creep or give a curt response. Whereas existing on the more open to love side of the spectrum will more likely result in a friendly conversation that leads to a date.

The point here is – whether this date happens or not – isn’t due to their inherent compatibility, but their respective emotional states at the time.

People’s day to day life experiences affect their emotional state. For example, being sent some abusive messages or being ghosted will likely make someone more cynical – while having a stranger pay for your bus when you were out of cash will make you more willing to love.

Our emotional state is likely to fluctuate. You go on one friendly date – it goes well – you become more willing to love. That allows a date with a different person to occur. You get ghosted. You become more cynical.

It’s this dynamic that ultimately makes finding a mate seem difficult, despite the apparent abundance of potential romantic partners – we may be just meeting each other at the wrong times; had you met that person a week later – the date might have gone entirely differently.

There’s a couple more points I’d make:

  • Both partner’s being open to love isn’t what’s necessary for a pairing to occur. I would argue that both partners being cynical can also allow a pairing to occur – as both go in with a more standoffish stance – and both feeling like that’s what they deserve. I would say though – that this kind of relationship is ultimately going to be less satisfying – or, at least not what this writer is looking for.
  • I think there’s also a similar timing problem in terms of social maturity. For example we might be meeting people who we’re fundamentally compatible with, but who still find upfront communication awkward. This kind of timing problem doesn’t have the same fluctuation that the emotional cynicism does; it tends to be something that develops in a linear fashion.

The cute optimist in me says that in considering this – maintaining an optimistic emotional state in response to events that might make you cynical is the important takeaway here – as it’s the being optimistic that is going to be opening the doors.

That said – it’s good to go in optimistic, but with an attitude of detachment – anticipating that there’s a decent chance that something won’t pan out. That atleast lets that eventuality not affect your emotional state as much as it might have.

It’s hard to say what this means in practice. Say you’re arranging a date for a Friday night. A common likelyhood is that they’ll flake on the date. I guess a healthy technique to manage that outcome – is to have also made plans for what you’ll do if that happens, one that doesn’t involve acting cynically yourself. For example you might make plans of ‘If this date doesn’t happen, I’ll go for a run instead’. I don’t think this would necessarily negate all negative emotional experience – but it’s the best you can do.

It’s funny – I feel like the tail end of this post might spread a little cynicism. But I think it does objectively demonstrate a healthy and emotionally mature thinking. I would hope this has an uplifting effect in knowing that there are others out there with with this kind of emotional consideration.

observation · politics

The four kinds of National voter.

  1. The will-always-vote-National voter

    This voter supports National the same way a sports fan supports a particular team. It’s likely that they vote the same way their parents did. It’s not a kind of support that comes from consideration of policy, rather it’s just backing a team.

  2. The house-owning voter

    Although not explicitly – National pretty much ran on a policy of not doing anything about the housing crisis. Their single housing specific policy was to increase the first home buyer grant, which is great if you’re the one selling your house. There’s $10,000 more you can sell your house for.

    I think a lot of kiwis who have already bought houses, don’t want to see an end to the housing crisis. They want to see houses continue to rise – so they can double their money like they’ve seen others do.

  3. The I-don’t-like-beneficiaries voter

    I think a lot of New Zealanders are sick of what they see as a perverse incentive to welfare dependency in New Zealand – and they’re not without merit.

    The single thing I’m most critical of Labour and Green about is their head-in-the-sand ‘everybody should have kids if they want them’ attitude. For educated middle class New Zealanders who put off having kids till they’re in their 30s, seeing a system that seems to enable people who care about their kids far less they do, they can’t abide by.

  4. The I-believed-Nationals-lies voter

    National conducted a campaign of fear mongering about inheritance taxes, and lies about Labour increasing income tax or not budgeting properly.

    This has always been National’s strategy – portray Labour as idealistic but incompetent, and that somehow ‘greedy = good business sense’- ignoring that during the last Labour government – they managed to quite successfully produce a budget surplus.

relationships · social philosophy

Thoughts about #ihave

The #ihave hashtag is a response to the #metoo hashtag. The #metoo hashtag shares stories of (primary women) people’s experience being the victims of sexual assault or harassment.

The #ihave hashtag is a response to calls of ‘Where are all the men who have commited these offences?’.

Here’s one such tweet:

This Facebook post here is the one that I saw first – of men using the hashtag to admit their own role.

I’ve long thought that the conversation about sexual assault has lacked the perpertrators side of it, and that ultimately isn’t helpful.

This Ted talk here was produced a few years ago – it’s very moving, and I think the conversation needs to sound more like this. The problem with hearing just the voices of victims is that it doesn’t help us understand why all these assaults are taking place.

There’s a reason perpertrators are reluctant to tell there story of course – there’s a huge social stigma to being labelled a creep or a rapist.

So when I saw this hashtag being a thing – I was faced with a binary decision. Do I jump on board and admit that I’ve done creepy things before, or do I conciously ignore it?

Seeing this as an opportunity to make the change that I want to see – more honest and pragmatic dialog around sexual assault – I jumped on board.

I first posted on Twitter – which is relatively safe. Although it uses my real name and is easily tracable back to me – I don’t really have any followers there. My Facebook on the other hand is a different story – I’m friends with all of my family there, women I have potential romatic possibilities with, and some, but not many, people from work.

I ultimately decided it would be more effective posting there and did it. The message I posted was:

I feel nervous posting this – but I think it’s genuinely, and perhaps a more difficult part of the conversation that needs to be happen if we want to make progress, so here goes: #ihave. I’m hoping this hashtag catches on.

I made it public, so it would show up when other people are exploring the hashtag.

It’s worth acknowledging that the post is fairly coy – making no reference at all to sexual assault or other violations.

I was immediately asked by my brother what it was in reference to, and I had to clarify it was in reference to sexual assault/harrasment.

The response I got was supportive. Supportive messages and heart reacts, from women I respect. No nasty messages or comments.

I observed two men within my immediate Facebook network posted similar posts, and at least two more in the networks beyond that – but I didn’t look especially hard to find them.

I wouldn’t say the experience was relieving, although I am grateful and impressed at the grace demonstrated in the responses. I was constantly checking my Facebook and Twitter feeds for new mentions of #ihave, and getting into arguments with people on Twitter. It’s one of those conversations where speaking up is good, but it’s better to make a couple of bold and sensitive comments, than to create noise with all the rest.

There’s also the knowledge that there are probably plenty of people have probably seen the post, but haven’t said anything. They’ll now be wondering ‘Just what did David do?’ and look at my sideways. The whole thing makes my social situation a bit more complicated. (Note: The details of what infractions I’ve committed I’m not going to get into here. It’s a sensitive topic, and just as your wouldn’t insist a #metoo talks about their experiences publicly with strangers – the same goes for #ihaves. A retrospective edit: it occurs to me that for people who know me – they might find this lack of specificity disconcerting and be unsure about how wary to be of me – so to clarify – nothing violent, no penis in vagina rape, no drugging; there has been unwanted physical advances that they were unappreciated were soon made apparent to me, and other behaviour that has creeped women out).

I would also stress that it’s not like the #metoo campaign brought me to some sudden and recent profound realisation. This is something I’ve been working with for years – it’s just now that the #ihave trend gave an explicit window to say something – the other choice being consciously ignoring it.

I didn’t participate out of an act of self-flagellation – I participated because I want more light to be shone on this very much unspoken about part of the conversation.

Speaking broadly – regarding my emotional and mental wellbeing, my social life, my sense of life satisfation – feelings of guilt around my interactions with women are a significant, but not the only hazard I’ve been dealing with. There’s also addiction, depression, and selfishness/lazyness.

These are all things I’ve been managing, with ups and downs over the last several years. Things that have helped have been exercise, a good diet, not smoking weed, private journalling and vulnerable conversations with people I trust.

Recently things have been going quite well for me – I’ve been motivated, my exercise is going well, and I’ve been having good romantic interactions with women (including one recently where I explained ‘It’s really important for me to use my words to scope out how you feel about a thing. I feel much more comfortable doing it that way.’).

So while I do think I did a good thing by participating – I also I feel like I’ve potentially jepordised my own emotional and social wellbeing, and it did set me in a bit of spin. I didn’t have a particularly productive day. I do feel a bit better now that I’ve written all this – writing is one of my ways of maintaining a healthy emotional state.

In terms of improving our sexual culture for future – for our children – I would say the single biggest thing we need to do is talk more about consent. Give examples of how to seek and how to give or decline consent.

In terms of improving our own wellbeing for traumas of the past – I do think that forgetting things is a healthy mental mechanism for getting over trauma, and that’s where I’m not really interested in reliving or rehashing a lot of this stuff. For my own well being, I want to keep moving forward.

I know that there’s a lot of people who think that’s selfish and irresponsible of me. But I don’t think continuing to live in guilt or shame is going to improve anything for anyone – bar people who get a sadistic sense of satisfaction at seeing people in misery.

My advice for both #ihaves and #metoos is to not keep rolling around in the gutter if you don’t have to. You only get one life – it’s not like at the end they’re going to say ‘you got a shitty roll, here, have another go’. I say the best way to heal is to keep reliving your trauma but go out and have good, healing experiences that set the new normal.

I guess what I really mean when I say I don’t want to keep rehashing this stuff – is that I’m not keen to keep writing on this topic in an open and public manner, at least for now. It’s stressful and generates a lot of social uncertainty. I’d happily engage in some kind of research project relating to my experiences where I’ve good a chance to tell my side of the story. And I guess gauging how things go – I could keep writing about it – but I do have other things I’m doing with my life. That’s at least where things are at two days after participating.

There’s a couple of consent related things I produced a while ago – which I never posted (in large part, because I was very self conscious about it), so I’ll probably post those – but from where I am now – I don’t feel like this is an issue I want to keep engaging with. (Unless it’s talking about tricks for making consent and social rejection fun and less awkward – in which case I’m totally into that – because that’s a fun topic.).

One more thing – in my own experiences with being the victim of workplace bullying I know how powerful an apology is for moving forward. An apology seems like a simple thing – but I think most of us find apologising difficult – probably out of a sense of pride and thinking that they’re not necessary. For anyone who has been on the receiving end of my advances – I genuinely am sorry – and I hope this piece is demonstrative of that; I wish you peace and happiness for your life.

politics

The psychopath class.

Let me start by explaining how my political views have developed.

In my teens and early 20s I was attracted towards anarchism. I held conspiratorial beliefs, include that 9/11 was an inside job and I genuinely believed the 2012 prophecy.

As I got older and started seeing through the quasi-religious conspiracies prevalent in the anarchist/hippy social circles and I also developed an appreciation for the genuine quality of educated working and relatively rich professionals. I developed an appreciation that the world is getting better in many regards – literacy is prevalent, disease is no longer a common part of life, and people are more free to choose their careers.

I’m on a backswing now – and I’m convinced that the world is in a large part, ruled by pyschopaths who care little for the experience of everyone else on Earth.

The average intelligent, empathetic person, like myself or yourself – isn’t necessarily very motivated to climb up the ladders of power or wealth. Instead, for many of us, we’d opt to choose a career we enjoy, or spending time with our friends.

Let’s acknowledge that some people are genuine psychopaths who have no problem inflicting misery on others. This doesn’t mean that they don’t have good risk assessment capabilities, and thus don’t necesserily commit crimes or overt social infractions – as they recognise the harm that would produce to themselves.

Where an intelligent empath may not be motivated to climb the ladders or power and wealth, these psychopaths are.

The problem with the world isn’t that there aren’t enough good people. It’s that the good people aren’t motivated by power, and the bad people disproptionately are.

Some good people are idealists and do seek to move toward power to influence for the better – and this is a good thing. I think we should do more to talk about whether the people we are voting for and hiring, are self serving psychopaths, or people who have the interests of the world at heart.

politics · wellbeing

Mental Health Awareness Week and male tears.

Mental health awareness week has highlighted an interesting theme in gender politics.

I’ve long thought that talk of delicious male tears and other ‘ironic misandry’ is toxic and unhelpful. MHAW highlights where it’s most damaging.

Here’s some example posts I’ve been seeing:

There’s also Terry Crew’s vulnerable revelation about his experience as a victim of sexual assault, in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein saga.

This kind of appreciation that it’s ok to be vulnerable and it’s good to talk talk about your feelings runs into an uncomfortable friction with some themes amongst internet feminism – mocking male fragility and male tears.

bahar-mustafa-white-men-diversity-ban-male-tears-killallmen-featured-image

If we google ‘male tears feminism’ we get a few good articles on the top page:

Slate.com: The Rise of the Ironic Man-Hater – Summary: Ironic misandry is ‘reductio ad absurdum’ – intentionally exaggerating the stereotype of feminists as man haters to point out how absurd it is.

Time.com: Ironic Misandry: Why Feminists Pretending to Hate Men Isn’t Funny – Summary: Even if ironic misandry is in jest – it’s bad PR for feminism to use it.

The Guardian: Feminists don’t hate men. But it wouldn’t matter if we did – Summary: Misandry is a way of blowing off steam and men complaining about it grasping at straws to find victimhood.

I’ll concede that being the victim of disrespectful jokes doesn’t entail the same amount of harm as being subject to sexual assault or being systemically paid less.

I would argue that ‘male tears’, ‘#killallmen’ jokes are more on par with ‘make me a sandwich’ and rape jokes.

A point that the slate article makes – is that genuine feminist men are ok with these jokes:

“The men who get annoyed by misandry jokes are in my experience universally brittle, insecure, humorless weenies with victim complexes,” while the “many intelligent, warm, confident feminist men in my life … mostly get the joke immediately and play along. They’re not worried I actually want to milk them for their tears.”

This is similar to saying the pledges in a hazing ritual are actually ok with the hazing. They might say that – and the harm of the hazing may be outweighed by their desire for social approval – but that doesn’t making the hazing ok.

It’s a form of gaslighting to suggest that – ‘if you’re not ok with being the subject of bullying – it’s because you’re not a good person’.

It may be that many men simply don’t care – but we should acknowledge that some men are more sensitive than others. The idea that a good man is an insensitive one – is precisely the conception of traditional norms of masculinity.

The reason that ‘male tears’ is such an effective insult, is because goes to the heart of the traditional conception of what it is to be a man. Speaking up about it – only exposes one to more ridicule – revealing oneself to be a weak man with feelings.

It’s precisely having feelings, I imagine, that causes men to kill themselfs – which they do at about three times the rate that women do – depending on what part of the world you look at.

The argument that the misandry is merely ironic identically reflects the arguments that many on the alt-right make about using racist terminology.

For example, Jeffry Lord tweeted ‘Seig heil’ and later defended it as ironic mocking of white supremacists.

If you’re interested in reading more – here’s a good article by Vox about ‘ironic racism’ and the alt-right.

There is a key difference of course – alt right ‘ironic racism’ is enforcing an existing dynamic, whereas feminist ‘ironic misandry’ seeks to flip an existing dynamic.

But in either case – they’re both toxic and bigoted. Ironic misandry is bullying, basically. I have a very hard time believing that someone who thinks it’s ok to mock male emotional vulnerability has men’s interests at heart.