The nature of gendered abuse

Amid accusations that our Prime Minister deliberately mislead the country by getting pregnant and will now be an unfit leader due to “baby brain” and motherhood, I’m reflecting on how it feels to be a woman in the public eye. 

You can almost always guarantee that when someone shouts “this isn’t a gender issue!” – it is. And the issues are many.

Imagine for a second that it were Clarke Gayford who was Prime Minister rather than Jacinda. The news of his partner’s pregnancy would have been met with back slaps and offers to shout the next round, and either pleasure or apathy from the rest of the country. There would be no conspiracy theories, because there would be no expectation that Clarke would share the information that he and his partner weren’t sure they could conceive. After all – fatherhood won’t change his ability to be Prime Minister. He wouldn’t be expected to stay at home with the baby. Despite paternity leave becoming more common, and many men – Clarke included – choosing to be the primary caregiver, this still wouldn’t enter people’s minds. Which demonstrates how much of the vitriol is about gender roles, sexism, and Jacinda being a young woman (her youth is of course another check mark against her – coupled with her gender it makes her fundamentally unreliable).

I’m often quietly (and ok sometimes very loudly) appalled at some of the things that get said in the public sphere in this country, and I only wish I had the energy to address all of them, because it’s honestly such a trash fire. Where do we even begin? How about we look at how Jacinda is being labelled a calculating bitch who kept secrets from taxpayers in order to use their money to have a kid and stay at home?

There’s a reason I’m starting there, and it’s this: I relate. Obviously I am the farthest thing from Prime Minister, but this accusation – lying, keeping secrets, misleading for the purpose of misusing taxpayer money – that’s one I’m all too familiar with. I’ve lived that.

While reading about the abuse that feminist and writer Clementine Ford gets online every day in her book Fight Like A Girl, I recalled being accused of faking my illness in order to get money for beauty treatments I didn’t deserve. “If she can be on twitter, she can get a job,” the comments went. “Look at her hair – she clearly has loads of money.”

Despite the obvious ridiculousness of these taunts, they hurt. And they are gendered. Nearly all of the abuse that I received made mention of my being a woman, whether it was overt or implied. There was a lot of insinuation that as a woman, I was less trustworthy. We are, apparently, better at lying and deception. I wish someone had told teenage me that when I was trying to convince my dad I hadn’t had a party and broken a bunch of shit while he was away for the weekend.

The other insults and labels – “whiny,” “bitch,” “lazy,” were all about me as woman as well. And they are nothing in comparison to what our Prime Minister, and Clementine, deal with. I read Clementine’s accounts of the explicit rape and death threats she receives every single day and I felt sick.

Why are people so afraid of women? And in particular, why are people so afraid of women beneficiaries?

I have a theory about the latter, and it’s to do with the current topic: reproduction. Cos you know what people hate more than a woman beneficiary? A woman beneficiary who had the terrible inpudence of becoming a mother. Even if we haven’t done it yet – we have the potential to, and that’s enough.

If you live in New Zealand, you’ll be familiar with people theorizing that “that woman just got pregnant get to a benefit.” “Oh her?” they say. “She just keeps having kids so she can get her government pay check and doesn’t have to work.”

Despite the disgusting and horrifying sexism of these allegations, they defy logic, because A) Having a child is incredibly hard work, very few people would decide they’d do that because it’d be easier than having a job, and B) The money you get as a beneficiary is barely enough to keep one person alive, let alone multiple people.

You only have to look at the treatment of Metiria Turei last year – and even, to a lesser extent, Paula Bennett – to see the truth in this. Both mothers, both former beneficiaries who could never shake those roots. Constantly under judgement because of their gender and reproductive choices.

I don’t envy Jacinda these next few months – years, to be honest. It’s probably only going to get worse as people continue to cast aspersions on her ability to be a woman and do her job.

I have comments turned off on my blog these days. I don’t need to deal with being harassed, threatened and insulted on top of what I already face. But every now and then someone will stumble on an older post, which still have the comments open (technical issue, basically I’d have to go through and close comments on each post individually which I’m just not spending energy on).

This week I got this delightful reply to an old post about feminism and food.

Image text: “You got it wrong. Healthy, adult women who sexually satisfy men every day deserve to eat and they are generally happy.

Healthy adult women who refuse to sexually satisfy men every day, don’t deserve to eat. They are generally bitter, nasty and they feel worthless because they are.

When women commit to sexually satisfy men every day, they usually don’t become fat. Excessive eating is just one of many foolish attempts to substitute for sex. Excessive drinking is another.”

It would be hilarious if it weren’t terrifying. I mean, there’s so little logic happening here. But that’s another reason it’s so scary. Because if someone actually believes something so ridiculous – then what sort of behaviour are they capable of in order to try and enforce it? What is this person like in everyday life? How do they treat women? They clearly see us as objects that exist entirely to please men. and if we weren’t doing so – what would happen?

I just don’t… so if I’m having sex with some dude, then I deserve to eat, and if I’m not putting out, then I don’t? Except if I’m not putting out, I’m fat – how did I get that way if I don’t deserve to eat? Maybe it’s the excessive drinking I am doing to do with the fact that I’m bitter and nasty?

Shaking. My. Damn. Head until this absurdity falls out of my ears.

Again, reflecting on when I used to be more of a public figure (with the blog, following my media fight with WINZ, and when I had an opinion column), I would say 90% of the feedback I received had a gender element to it. Even seemingly kind comments did – things like “You’re too pretty to be sick” followed by the implicit or explicit accusation that I was lying to get a benefit.

Jacinda hasn’t lied about anything, she hasn’t mislead anyone, she’s entitled to a personal life, to becoming a parent, to maternity leave, just like anyone else. If anything, the Prime Minister’s job is one that you can take leave from, because she has a backup and an entire cabinet to run things.

The country will be fine. Quit your concern trolling and get out of her uterus.


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