<![CDATA[Rachel Hansen : Good Talks - Blog]]>Mon, 07 Mar 2016 05:31:58 +1300Weebly<![CDATA[Consent, Anne and #Ponytailgate]]>Wed, 22 Apr 2015 10:44:38 GMThttp://www.goodtalks.com/blog/consent-anne-and-ponytailgateI am mulling over the irony of my evening.

Today I have been so enraged by the NZ Prime Minister's behaviour and feeling so ragey about the rape culture that prevails in our country. The fact that he repeatedly, over a number of occasions, pulled a woman's hair as a "joke" is simply a reflection society's accepted standard of behavior towards women. And it IS a gendered issue - there is no way John Key would have done this same thing to a man. The response of the Police to the Roastbusters case is completely understandable when our PM behaves like this. So as I drove home this evening I drafted up various versions of angry blog posts I was going to write tonight...  

But then I sat down at my laptop and felt overwhelmed by all the awfulness and for some escapism I decided to read about Anne of Green Gables. (For those of you that didn't know me as a child, I was obsessed with Anne of Green Gables, and for those of you not-so-obsessed, you may not have heard that the man that played Anne's love-interest in the TV series died last week.  I was interested that his death got so much  media attention, and when I posted the news on my Facebook profile it was lovely seeing how many of my friends shared a similar affection for dear Gilbert.)

So in my escapism quest, I searched "Anne of Green Gables Gilbert" on YouTube and this is the first one that popped up:
So I watch the video, smiling at the characters I know so well.  Then the irony hits: In this scene Gilbert teases Anne and then yanks on her hair. She stands up and smashes him over the head with her slate. (I recall my ten-year-old-self cheering her on.  And being so angered by the teacher who chose to punish ANNE.)

And I am sitting here in my office, pondering the fact that my 'escapism' idea turned full circle, and here I am back, watching a male pull a female's hair, and I am back to the issues of consent and body autonomy. These are both concepts my children have been taught since they were newborns. I can't overestimate the frustration, anger and sadness when I hear about incidents where our leaders and role models don't have the decency to respect other people's bodies.

No means no. Always. And it is more than that: no one should ever have to be put in the position that they need even have to say "no" to a stranger touching them - particularly when there are such big power dynamics at play. I completely understand why the woman John Key harassed did not smash him over the head the first time he touched her. Women have been conditioned to be polite and not make a fuss - add to that the massive power imbalance of PM/waitress, the security team AND the customer service mantra of "the customer is always right". But damn, I would do anything to turn back time and be sitting in that cafe with a slate at the ready.
<![CDATA[It's not OK: Sexy Bunny Costumes in Toyworld]]>Mon, 24 Nov 2014 10:00:46 GMThttp://www.goodtalks.com/blog/its-not-ok-sexy-bunny-costumes-in-toyworldPicturePlay Bunny Kit at Toyworld. Image: Brooke Riddell-Garner
Yesterday a Wellington man was shopping in Toyworld with his seven year old daughter. Beside the Lego backpack was a 'Deluxe Play Bunny Kit'.  Nope, not a cute fluffy bunny, but a sexy-lady-Playboy-bunny-like bunny.  

The first thing that struck me about this was the number of people that would have seen this costume before anyone thought to point out its inappropriateness in a children's toy shop.  This costume would have arrived at this store, it was unpacked by someone, entered into their database, taken by someone to the shop floor, a space for it cleared among the other toys, then numerous staff and customers would have passed it throughout the following days, and NO ONE thought to question the appropriateness of it until yesterday?

I think that to a certain extent we are so steeped in a culture where sexualised stuff for kids is not seen as strange, that people have become somewhat blind to it.  

Toyworld has claimed that stocking the costume was an error – and no one is debating that: sexy costumes in a kids toy shop can only ever be a huge error. However, I think it is a good opportunity for us to consider the mainstreaming of pornography.  Playboy sell a huge range of products in New Zealand (for example, the Warehouse stocks 40 Playboy branded products).  In this product diversification, what can easily be forgotten is Playboy's core business: pornography that exploits and objectifies women.  Let's do all we can to ensure that our children don't have the opportunity to develop brand loyalty to such companies.

Toyworld have apologized "to anyone who was offended", and I was asked to comment on Radio New Zealand National this afternoon about the incident.  If you would like to listen scroll through to 18:30:

NB: I am not anti-porn or anti-sex: I am anti-exploitation, and I am anti-the-sexualisation-of-children. 
<![CDATA[Open Letter to the Science Guy in the Lady Top]]>Wed, 19 Nov 2014 10:08:42 GMThttp://www.goodtalks.com/blog/open-letter-to-the-science-guy-in-the-lady-topPicture
This is a guest post by New Zealand writer Sian Hannagan.

The title is ironic, I know what you do, you’re a scientist. Actually a brilliant scientist, doing amazing work in a field which is capturing global attention. I don’t think many people have missed the Rosetta Project and the big things coming from this. I mean, landing on a comet, awesome! The thing is, STEM field disciplines – science, technology, engineering and math, are all historically pretty male dominated spaces. They have an ongoing issue with being seen as exclusionary to women. This isn't your fault, and no one should blame you for decades of discrimination against women. But it is a thing and it is happening. We need to be aware of it. 

Here’s the thing. I don’t hate your top. I wouldn't wear it myself, and if someone wore it around me, I might make a judgement about their character that may or may not be founded. But I support your right to wear that top and wear it with pride. 

But, I also think you made a silly decision, which I think you know too. Because you apologised. You wore a top that you love, to an event you were excited about. You probably didn't think about it much. You dig the top, you feel good wearing it and it was a top you wanted to wear. So you wore it. It just happened that this event was a live televised event with journalists. There was a lot of scrutiny there, and you were there not just as yourself, but as someone representing your field. 

So someone criticised your clothing, and that sucked. I get it. I really do, I mean, this kinda thing happens to women on a daily basis. They get told they are dressed dowdy, or unflattering or too sexy, or inappropriately. Everywhere a woman wears clothes, someone has something to say. And often those things don’t relate to her competence or her as a person. They relate solely to what she looks like. And that’s not okay. When you got criticised I bet you felt pretty crummy. I bet you felt like the work you did meant nothing in the face of that criticism, and that your essential value was being ignored in the face of what feels to you, to be superficial critique. Women deal with this every day. We get it. And we get these criticisms every day because the sexually idealised objectified image of the female form is ubiquitous: it is used through all aspects of life, to sell, to market and to be ogled. She appears everywhere, from advertising, to fashion…to men’s shirts. 

Here’s the thing though, for those of us getting hot under the collar at this journalist for her apparent disregard for your scientific contributions - she didn't criticise your character or your previous work. She just pointed out that the top you wore, wasn't appropriate to the situation you wore it in. You were at your place of work, representing your chosen career, representing science to a wide audience that included women. It’s just when you’re publicly representing an industry known to be exclusionary to women, what you wear matters. A lot. Especially given a study conducted by Catalyst last month revealing 73 percent of women in tech-intensive industries felt like an outsider, compared to just 17 percent of men.  I mentioned at the top of this article how this industry was perceived as being exclusionary to women, right?  So, that. It would be like me wearing a top covered in penises to an erectile dysfunction conference. A bit on the nose. 

So it came as no surprise that the top you wore – which is the textile equivalent of a sexy calendar, porn in the toilet or nude lady mug in the workplace, caught some criticism. 

Here’s the awesome thing though. You totally saw what Rose Eveleth - Atlantic tech writer meant. You apologised and the world kept turning. Except it kinda didn’t.

What happened was a frenzied attack of the woman who made the comment, and feminism in general. I don’t know how many abusive threats Eveleth has received so far, but it’s a lot. And some of those include death wishes and sexist slurs. I mean, there is nothing like a sexist death wish to prove to women that they don’t need feminism anymore.

There are also some shitty memes going around, one comparing protest against rape to your shirt, and calling out feminists as hypocrites. Or the one that says sexism and objectification shouldn't count because SCIENCE (don’t get me started on how people in positions of power and subjective worth escape criticism and even prosecution because of their positions of power and subjective worth). I think it’s important to remember that this is only outrageous to the world at large because it’s a man (you) falling under scrutiny for fashion choices. This happens to women every day, in every career. You could say it happens to guys too (it probably does) but check out this guy

I don’t hold you responsible for this; in fact I have sympathy that a lot of this vitriol is being spread in your name and in your defence. It must really suck to be associated with an attack on an individual woman and the movement which strives to stop these attacks from happening. Feminism wants to be standing right there with you, in awe at the song of a comet. So listen to us when we say, we see you for your worth, see us for ours – and wear your shirt on a different day. 

Tags: Matt Taylor, Rosetta Project, clothing, sexism, feminism, Rose Eveleth
<![CDATA[Hey sports journalists, stop minimising the achievements of girls!]]>Fri, 31 Oct 2014 20:52:24 GMThttp://www.goodtalks.com/blog/hey-sports-journalists-stop-minimising-the-achievements-of-girlsIt is well-documented, and I am well aware of the fact that male sport receives far more coverage than female sport by our media. It is something that frustrates me, particularly because the disparity is so widely accepted by people.  When the #everydaysexism in reaches ridiculous levels, I contact sports editors.

But even I was dumbfounded this morning when reading an article in one of our national newspapers reporting on the winners of the sportsperson of the year awards for college sport in Wellington.  On first glance it appeared that it was an article only about the "Sportsman of the Year" - it was his him and his award named in the article title, and his achievements were listed first and dominated most of the article.  I read through the article and I was surprised to realise that this was an article about BOTH the sportswoman and the sportsman awards.

Here is the article:
The journalist has relegated the female award to much lesser importance than the male award. This is despite the female winner being the ONLY person ever to win the award more than twice (a huge achievement in itself), having represented New Zealand in her sport, being awarded a USA University sports scholarship AND having an individual world ranking.

Both of these people should be hugely proud of their achievements and of winning these awards.  It is likely that both of their families will cut out and save this newspaper article as a record of their achievement.  Yet, for both families (and indeed everyone else reading it), this article gives a very clear message: The most important award of the evening was that won by the male. The sportswoman award is clearly secondary.  On an individual level, this is disappointing. On a macro level such journalism has real flow-on effects to female sports participation in our communities.  

I hate that my kids are STILL growing up in a world where female sporting achievements are STILL minimised. It is not that complex or difficult for sports journalists to take small steps in making a more equal and just world.  
<![CDATA[Words to Make a Difference: School Disco Music]]>Tue, 14 Oct 2014 22:58:38 GMThttp://www.goodtalks.com/blog/words-to-make-a-difference-suitability-of-music-for-school-discoes
I often send emails to people when I am concerned about something that is happening, when I want to point something out that is not right, or feel that my words may make a difference in the world.  I have decided that I am going to start publishing emails like this on my blog.  This is in the hope that perhaps someone reading my blog may be in the same situation and me, and reading my words may help them make the time/energy available to send a similar letter.  Small steps to social change!

(I am going through my archives, and this letter was sent to a Principal of a primary school following Robin Thicke's song 'Blurred Lines' being played at a junior school disco (children aged 5 - 7) last year.)

Dear [Principal],
First of all, thanks so much to you and the teachers for spending your Friday night entertaining children!  You time is really appreciated.
I just wanted to comment on some of the music played at the disco tonight. I realise it is an issue I am hyper-sensitive to, given my line of work, but I think it is an important issue that needs to be addressed. (The portrayal of sex and sexuality in music is one of the topics I speak about in seminars).
This week there has been quite a bit of media attention given to Robin Thicke’s song ‘Blurred Lines’, (and the parody of it done by the Auckland Law Review) and it has widely been described as a song supporting rape culture, sexist attitudes and as being overwhelmingly misogynistic.  I was therefore very surprised when it was played at the junior school disco this evening. This is the song here.  
Watching five year olds dance to the lines “I'll give you something big enough to tear your ass in two” left me feeling deeply uncomfortable.
Others will sum it up the issues in this song far more eloquently than me – in particular this article
Children should not be exposed to music that they are not capable of critically deconstructing.  We discuss many things in our home, but [my five year old son] is not ready for a discussion on rape culture.   I know that some people will say “the kids don’t understand the lyrics anyway”. However if we send the message that this song is OK now, how do we then tell them it isn't right when they do understand? 
I propose that for future events, all songs are thoroughly vetted before going on the playlist.
Kind regards,
Rachel Hansen

* The Principal responded immediately, agreeing with my concerns.  
The delightful Robin Thicke blowing smoke into the face of one of his sex-slaves.
<![CDATA[Breastmilk: Sharing the Liquid Gold]]>Sat, 27 Sep 2014 09:42:30 GMThttp://www.goodtalks.com/blog/breastmilk-sharing-the-liquid-goldPicture
This is a guest post written by my dear friend Jules Hyde.  I am posting it now in honour of World Milksharing Week.
Growing up as the daughter of farming parents on a sheep and beef farm, the idea of milk sharing and donor milk was nothing new. I learnt from a young age that lambs and calves who never received that all important first feed of colostrum had very poor outcomes. As I trained to become a midwife, the benefits of species- specific milk were cemented in my mind and I took very seriously my role of protecting, promoting and supporting breastfeeding. 

When I had my own child, I had already stock piled colostrum in the freezer prior to labour by expressing it antenatally as an “insurance policy” in case baby and I were separated in those early days. I had also approached a friend who was still breastfeeding her child and asked how she felt about being able to provide donor milk in the event of requiring larger volumes of milk for my baby if required.
My own breastfeeding was fraught with ups and downs as we battled for nearly six months with the consequences of an undiagnosed tongue and lip tie. I remained resolute in my determination to breastfeed despite issues with supply, weight gain, fussing at the breast, nipple damage, spending three days in hospital with raging mastitis, a spilly baby who slept very little and fed ALL.THE.TIME. By four months, I was walking on the edge of postnatal depression, exacerbated by sheer exhaustion and sleep deprivation. At my absolute lowest, a caring family member suggested that “just one bottle of formula” was perhaps a good idea. The pervasive comments offering the perceived benefits of powdered cows milk designed for infants had been floated at me more times than I could count, and despite the effort and struggles I had until this point found the idea of formula for my baby laughable. But at my most vulnerable and tired and desperate hour, I agreed to trying “just one bottle', and I sobbed as a fed it to my own baby. Looking back, I realise that despite being educated, aware and passionate about “human milk for human babies”, I too was just as suggestible and vulnerable to the undermining that chips away at a woman's confidence to exclusively breastfeed her baby for the first six months or so. (That is, by definition, that the baby receives only breastmilk and has no additional food, water or other fluids, with the exception of medicine where needed.)
This was the one and only time my son had formula, but I am still sad that I found myself allowing it to happen. Of course formula has its place, and we are lucky to have access to such alternatives and safe drinking water to enable it to be an option, BUT too often it is reached for in moments of desperation while often the issues to support breastfeeding are brushed to the side.
I found out through trial and error that even with perfectly adequate supply, and despite all the tricks of heat, massage, and thinking loving thoughts as I gazed at my infant I simply do not “let down” efficiently to a pump or to hand expressing techniques. I felt very sad at this, as I had hoped that I would be able to a) stockpile a decent stash of frozen breastmilk for my own infant's needs, and b) to be able to donate milk to babies and mums who were for whatever reason requiring supplementary feeds.
I persevered with as much expressing as I could, and the only way it really ever happened was if my son was drinking at one breast, with a letdown happening, and I could hand express off the other side simultaneously. Needless to say it was a delicate balancing act, very fiddly and for the 30-40mL yield, often far more trouble than it was worth. Once my son started solids, and eventually got closer to a year of age, I decided that the couple of hundred mLs in the freezer were of better use to someone else who genuinely “needed” breastmilk. This is where my first experience as a Wet Nurse came in.
Through Piripoho Aotearoa and my friend Rachel Hansen (who had set up a local milk sharing group), I was aware of a mum who needed donor milk. I offered to drive the last of my frozen expressed offerings over to her as she lived out of town. While I was there, I commented that expressing was not a viable way of me continuing to provide volumes of milk for others, but (knowing other mums had wet nursed for her) that I was happy to feed her baby for her while I was there, if she wanted. She gladly accepted this offer, and in a very surreal moment, I took a stranger's baby and put him to my own breast. The mum and I both welled up a little as I asked her how it felt for her to have others feed her baby, and we talked about the feelings evoked by the situation. I still recall the emotion at the time of feeling like I was so privileged to be able and allowed to help in such a special and intimate way. My own son was very puzzled and slightly upset at this new arrangement, but consoled with a feed himself after the donor baby had had his fill.
After this point, I put my contact details down on the milk sharing group as someone who was unable to express but happy to wet nurse, and through this I became involved with another mum and baby. This time the mum had driven in to me from her rural locale, and despite having never previously met, I fed her child. Again I asked her how it felt for her relying on other mum's for milk, and she confessed that it was “weird, but also not weird” and accredited this to the ease at which she felt in my straightforwardness in approaching the situation, and then proceeded to tell me that this was actually the first time someone had been a wet nurse for her baby. This piece of information really threw me for a second, and again I was filled with a sense of awe and privilege at the trust and honour that went into a milk sharing relationship. I continued to wet nurse for this family over the course of a few days as their regular donor was out of town, and it enabled the mum to eke out her supply of frozen donor milk by me doing the odd feed here and there during the day.
While I remain more than willing to help any other families in such a way, I feel my inability to express limits my usefulness somewhat. I am still breastfeeding my son who is two, and feel pleased I have been able to help two families, in a small but meaningful way. I hope that milk sharing becomes de-stigmatised and a normal and first-line alternative to a mother-baby dyad when they may previously have seen their only other option as formula. 

<![CDATA[Breastfeeding: Second Time Success]]>Tue, 09 Sep 2014 08:50:10 GMThttp://www.goodtalks.com/blog/breastfeeding-second-time-successI was recently in a discussion where some women who had not breastfed their first child said they wanted to try to breastfeed their second child.  This is a topic close to my heart as I didn't succeed in breastfeeding my eldest child, but am enjoying a great breastfeeding relationship with my second child who turned two last week.  I want to pass on some of the things I learned in my journey).

Here is my TOP TEN to-do list for parents who want to succeed in breastfeeding their next baby:

  1. Make sure your Lead Maternity Carer / midwife / doctor backs you 100%.  If they don't, find someone else.  

  2. Learn as much as you can about the science and art of breastfeeding. The book Breastfeeding, Take Two: Successful Breastfeeding The Second Time Around was invaluable for me. 

  3. Watch women breastfeed.  Talk with them, ask them questions - I find most breastfeeding mamas are more than happy to chat about it! Watching breastfeeding technique videos on YouTube is also great.  If you have breastfeeding education classes nearby, certainly try and attend one of these.

  4. Ensure you have dealt with any grief/disappointment/sadness/anger that may have arisen as a result of not successfully breastfeeding previous babies.   Aileen Devonshire of The Holistic Birth Company helped me deal with the grief and sense of failure I felt from not breastfeeding my son. This was incredibly healing and prevented me from carrying loads of baggage into my relationship with Nina. Aileen continued to be a source of support once my daughter was born (I still vividly remember seeing Aileen one morning, 100% convinced I wouldn't be able to breastfeed, and she just told me I would be OK and I would succeed. I gave her such a "you are crazy and SO WRONG!" look, in the way only a crazed-sleep-deprived mother can). But she was right! - surrounding yourself with people who believe in you can make a huge difference.

  5. Do all your research about supplementing and donor milk BEFORE baby is born - it is so much easier to do it then, than when stressed and tired with a new baby. You could start here and here.  Also, make a pact with your partner before the baby is born regarding supplementation.  The agreement my partner and I had was that we would make no decision at 2am in the morning: If we were to supplement, it would be a decision discussed with our midwife and we would make that decision in the light of day. (For those of you wondering why this is so important, read this).  

  6. Create your community of "breastfeeding cheerleaders" when you are pregnant: make your intentions clear with your friends, partner, family, birthing team...  Find online support too.  A good New Zealand Facebook page is Breastfeeding NZ.  I had a great cheerleading team - midwives and lactation consultants that went out of their way to support me, friends that listened to my battle stories (my nipples are bleeding! I haven't slept in 53 zillion hours! I know I am going to fail again!) and still kept telling me I could do it, friends and family that helped look after Sol and helped feed us. They were amazing.  The best advice I got:  

    Friend: "Rachel, can you do it for just one more day?"
    Tearful me: "Yep, just one more day, I think I can manage one more day."
    Friend: "OK, just one more day. And I will check in with you in 24 hours, and then you can quit if that is what you want to do."
    24 hours later...
    Friend: "How are you doing?"
    Me: "I don't think I have slept, it's rough, my nipples are bleeding..."
    Friend: "Can you continue for just one more day?"
    Me: "Yep, one more day, I will be able to do that, just one more day..."

    (Once we got the tongue tie sorted out properly, our problems were resolved.  I am just so incredibly grateful for the support that allowed me to continue breastfeeding "for just one more day!" for those initial 13 weeks).

  7. Don't have any bottles in your house - you certainly don't need them in the initial weeks.  If you need to supplement, I highly recommend you use an at-breast supplementer.  These have the advantage of keeping baby at your breast while receiving supplemented milk, therefore your supply is still being stimulated and baby still gets the message that your breasts = FOOD! 

  8. Go to La Leche League meetings when pregnant, and continue once your baby is born  They are a huge source of support and information.

  9. Consider expressing colostrum before the baby is born.  It was a huge confidence boost for me to be able to do this, and a wonderful thing to have in the freezer to supplement my daughter when she really needed it.  Here is some information about this.

  10. If you have a partner, get them involved.  Get them to participate in as much of these recommendations as possible. Talk with them about how their role will be different to the first baby - my partner had enjoyed bottle-feeding our son, so it was important we talked about how this would not initially (maybe ever) be happening with our second child.  Also, make sure they know this magical trick

Anyone else got any tips / ideas / anecdotes to pass on? I would love to hear them!

(As you may have guessed, I am passionate about helping women breastfeed.  I completely understand that some women can't breastfeed exclusively: but for the small minority of women who don't produce enough/any milk, I want them to know that a breastfeeding relationship is still possible - breasts are way more than just milk!  And I want for EVERY woman to have the option of choosing donor milk should they wish.   I have written in more detail about my breastfeeding experience here.)

Nina (24 months) and I enjoying an afternoon breastfeed in the sun.
<![CDATA[Words To Make a Difference: School Sports Role Models]]>Tue, 05 Aug 2014 10:08:57 GMThttp://www.goodtalks.com/blog/words-to-make-a-difference-school-sports-role-modelsI often send emails to people when I am concerned about something that is happening, when I want to point something out that is not right, or feel that my words may make a difference in the world.  I have decided that I am going to start publishing emails like this on my blog.  This is in the hope that perhaps someone reading my blog may be in the same situation and me, and reading my words may help them make the time/energy available to send a similar letter.  Small steps to social change!

This is an email I sent this evening to my son's school Principal after it was announced that the school was "adopting" a player from the local male rugby team.

Hello X,

It is great that Mr X is keen on promoting an active life etc through sport in his initiative to “adopt” a [player from the local male rugby team].

I was wondering if the school could also consider a similar relationship with a local female sportsperson?

The majority of the sport that we are exposed to is male sport.   As a parent, it is usually quite hard to find examples of female sportspeople in the media for my children.  I have loved having the Commonwealth Games on, because there have been female sportspeople featuring prominently.  But usually the newspaper sport section is exclusively male.  Ditto the sports news on TV.  When sportswomen are mentioned in the news, it is in a different way to sportsmen are mentioned – often focusing on their personal lives and/or physical body.  This is my experience, and is backed up by research.  Society is already telling our kids that “men play sport” – let’s also make a real effort to show them that women do too. 

Again, it’s a great initiative for all the right reasons – let’s just make sure it is not one that also serves to reinforce gender stereotypes.   

Kind regards,


(Note that if my words are being used in personal emails to make a positive change in the world, I am more than happy for them to be copy/pasted!  Let's not waste time re-inventing the wheel! :) )
<![CDATA[Samoa Victim Support Workshop, July 2013]]>Thu, 19 Jun 2014 01:15:44 GMThttp://www.goodtalks.com/blog/samoa-victim-support-workshop-july-2013Picture
I was privileged to spend some time with some gorgeous girls in Samoa last year. As my blog posting has been sporadic-at-best as of late, this has sat in my 'drafts' way too long! 


In 2013 I was planning a family holiday to Samoa.  As someone passionate about social justice, I like to ‘give back’ to the communities I live in and visit. I had helped organised an aid package to go to Samoa Victim Support Group previously, and I thought I may be able to offer a workshop to the girls at their residential shelter. Wellington-based charity SpinningTop connected me to their President Lina and we organised for me to provide a workshop for them.

What I Did 

When we arrived in Apia I met with Lina at the SVSG offices and she gave me more background on their organisation.  We discussed what I would be teaching the girls and I gave Lina a couple of boxes of supplies I had brought with me –  Air NZ had kindly agreed to transport these for free.  The boxes contained some donated stationery items, disposable sanitary pads donated by Kotex, as well as re-usable packs from Days For Girls NZ (containing underwear, cloth pads, and a wash cloth).

I spent a morning with approximately 30 girls - the girls were fantastic and really engaged, and the staff were very supportive.  The girls were gorgeous, so full of smiles and laughter. They are survivors for whom I have the utmost of respect for. Lina had told me some of their stories, and these girls have all been on traumatic and heartbreaking journeys. Most of them are with SVSG because they are survivors of sexual violence, for many of them this is incest. Many of them have been pregnant as a result of this violence. Tragically in many cases these girls have been disowned and blamed for bringing shame on the family. SVSG provides safety, education and a home for these girls. SVSG also manages the legal process to bring justice for these children.

The girls had lots of questions and I felt like we could have spent a lot more time together. The level of knowledge and understanding of how their bodies work was very low.  Most knew very little about the menstrual cycle, pregnancy and childbirth - despite there being pregnant girls and girls who had already birthed in the group. My (then 10 month old) daughter Nina accompanied me and I found that having her there was a good ‘icebreaker’ with the girls.  The girls enjoyed chatting and playing with Nina as they warmed up to me. As it turned out Nina ended up sleeping in my front-pack for most of the morning as I taught - it was more than 30 degrees in the classroom so we were rather sweaty by the end of it!

I was a little taken aback when TV cameras arrived just as we were starting. They filmed the introductory part of my session and then in the middle of the session I was called out for an interview.   I was a little anxious about this as had had no warning and I wasn't sure what angle they were going to take, but I kept it very neutral and emphasised the importance of all people having a good understanding of their bodies and sexuality.  It came across well on the news that night.

I left SVSG feeling like what I had done that day with the girls was but a drop in the ocean. I felt like I had empowered the the girls with knowledge of their bodies, but also knew there was so much information we didn't cover.  SVSG were hugely grateful for the workshop, but I wanted to do more. These girls really touched my heart. There is a huge need for ongoing body/sexuality education as well as antenatal education for the pregnant girls.  SVSG has been on my mind a lot since.    

Looking Forward

Earlier this year SpinningTop approached me to see if I would be interested in offering a more comprehensive programme for the girls at SVSG.  With SpinningTop's support, I am returning to provide a one-week programme in August 2014.  I am currently fundraising for supplies (food, baby formula, educational supplies) for SVSG and am hugely appreciative of any donations.  For more details on this project, please click here.

<![CDATA[On Angels and Victim Blaming in Palmerston North]]>Tue, 10 Jun 2014 02:09:16 GMThttp://www.goodtalks.com/blog/on-angels-and-victim-blaming-in-palmerston-northPicture
I am sick and tired of victim blaming. I am sick and tired of seeing directives for women on how to "keep safe". I am sick and tired of seeing resources put into "keeping women safe" while the equivalent amount of energy is not directed towards educating their would-be attackers on not attacking.

Earlier this week I was dismayed to see my own town was jumping on the bandwagon when I read the headline "City angel' to keep eye on women".  It caught my attention because it sounded a bit creepy.  Women need to have an eye kept on them? (I guess we do if you subscribe to the patriarchal notion that we probably shouldn't be out and about by ourselves anyway because we will probably use our evil forces to tempt men to attack us. But I digress.)

The article states that "Young women out on the town in Palmerston North now have their very own "angel" to look out for them....in the hope of reducing harm and victimisation of young women as a result of excess alcohol consumption."  

NO!  Stop right there.

Victimisation is NEVER the RESULT of excess alcohol consumption!  The only reason a young woman is victimised is because SOMEONE ELSE assaulted/raped her. End of story.

Being generous, I tried to interpret the initial sentence as meaning that the 'Angel' would help protect the women from other people (presumably men) who had consumed too much alcohol. But no, it wasn't anything to do with the men - the 'Angel' "would work with young women in particular to make them aware of the harm intoxication can bring, as well as how to stay safe in the city."

I absolutely agree that alcohol can cause harm to oneself. Heck, I have been there. But we need to be clear that alcohol never ever ever causes a woman to be victimised.

The council is putting money into making women change their behaviour, but ignoring the fact that the problem is actually the rapists. In doing this they are putting the blame squarely on the females.  Furthermore, the big issue with this sort of "crime prevention" is that any behaviour change of potential victims simply displaces the crime. As a friend of mine commented, this approach simply says "Don't get drunk girls, stay sober and make sure another girl is victimised instead."

I am just so weary of the same-old same-old "watch out women you need to be more careful" line, when our leaders could equally be saying to men:  "Hey, the vast majority of rapists are men - are you sure you are safe enough for us to let you out on the streets?".

I think the concept is excellent - someone helping out young people in town. Someone educating young people on the harm alcohol does.  But to gender it, to solely focus on females, doesn't solve the bigger problem.  The problem is that we have a rape culture that enables men to justify their actions and leaves women scared to walk through the Square at night. The follow-on effect this has is that victims are made to feel they didn't do enough to stop their attacker and the attackers can lean on our rape culture and point out all the things his victim did "wrong".

(To learn more about rape culture I highly recommend you visit this site)

I would feel far more at ease with this initiative if the same amount of energy was given to having consent conversations and education with the males in town.  If this is happening already and I am unaware of it, then FABULOUS and I will eat my words and issue a hearty apology (whilst also pointing out that that story obviously wasn't worth newspaper headlines).

Come on Palmerston North City Council, where is the money and resources for consent education for males out on the town?  Why must it start with changing the women?  Why is it always about us, and our behaviour?