Louise Upston: Minister of Girl Power, Post Feminism Backlash and Being a Babe
December 1, 2014
Following the horrendous mishandling of the Sutton situation, I really thought we had reached peak 1950’s throw back sexism. I was wrong. In an environment of wolf whistles, rape culture and work places that advocate visible G-string Friday, we finally have a Minister of Women’s Affairs that will fit right in. Let’s all put our hands together and give Louise Upston a nice, warm, full body hug.
Louise Upston, the Minister for Women’s Affairs, ruined my Sunday morning. Actually she has impacted on my whole day, and as a woman whose affairs she is supposed to represent, I’m feeling pretty ripped off.
I traditionally like to browse Twitter on Sunday morning. It’s how I decide if I should watch my recording of Q & A after spin. A tweet from Michele A ’Çourt directed me to an article posted on Stuff titled ‘Beauty pageants great for women – minister.’ Obviously this wasn’t going to be good.
I had to read it twice as the first time I started to hyperventilate. The second time I just got angry. Then I stated to write this blog, which actually began as just a continuous line of symbolic expletives. In the article Upston talks up the benefits of beauty contests, states she is not a feminist and then concludes by giving a little speech about women getting pay parity through merit, not gender. All three of these positions are problematic for women in general. In the Minster for Women’s Affairs they are untenable, disgraceful, ill-informed and harmful.
The fact that she applauded a beauty pageant, based on the premise that it appears to have promoted confidence is just so Back to the Future bat-crazy-bullshit it is hard to know where to start. It seems that this beauty pageant was a good beauty pageant based solely on the evidence that it didn’t have a swimsuit section. It was a progressive beauty contest. Well I guess that makes it fine then?
I have no problem with women in bikinis. I have no objection to acknowledging beauty, though I doubt my measures are the same as the judges of Miss Tokoroa. I have no complaint with women, or anyone for that matter, getting dressed up and embellishing themselves in any way they choose, whether that be eyelashes, earrings or a vagazzle. I do however have a huge objection to then putting them on a stage and making them compete against other women and judged by a set of arbitrary western standards of beauty. No matter which way you spin it that is what it is. It is objectifying women based on the way they look. No matter how many interested parties, sponsors and others defend it, it is rating women on their appearance. Hence the name. Beauty pageant. If it really was some kind of competition that valued skills, intelligence and talent, it would be a talent show.
The next issue is that Upston doesn’t identify herself as feminist.
‘I’ve never called myself a feminist. I’m not interested in being a flag waver.’
WTF does that even mean? A feminist is someone who fights for the rights and equality of women. Unless Upston has some other definition of feminist, and if she does I would really, really like to hear it. If Upston is not even aware of what it means to be a feminist how can she possibly hope to represent the women of New Zealand and further our causes? Is Upston actually failing to recognise the work of the movement that enabled her to vote and become an MP? If the Minister for Women does not believe in fighting for our rights and equality then what the hell is she doing?
Upston then tries to claim that though she is not a feminist, she wants women to aim higher and do better, not simply by being a woman promoted by gender, but by some kind of system of meritocracy. Good grief can she possibly be that sheltered that she doesn’t realise that equality can’t be attained as long as we are perpetuating a patriarchy? Let’s be honest, if we look at the two issues I’ve raised above, any system of meritocracy would clearly make her unsuitable for her own job. Obviously she isn’t there by merit.
If Upston wasn’t so puffed up with her own privilege she might be able to see that her being in parliament, and being the Minister of Women’s Affairs is in itself a huge privilege that few women still could hope to aspire too. If Upston is blind to why beauty pageants are offensive, the definition of feminism, and the existence of how everything she has said about meritocracy plays into the myth of ever being able to achieve equality in a patriarchy, then what the hell does she have to offer the women of New Zealand? How offensive, in the current context of abuse, rape culture and everyday workplace sexism that the government of the day think that appointing Upston is appropriate.
Just this week we have the sorry Sutton incident where the talk back channels went crazy with men calling and defending their right to call us honey. Men all up in arms at that thought that someone should lose their job for being a bit of lad! Its PC gone mad! Even though the man whose actions they were defending has been found to have acted in a way that was defined as serious misconduct. This is the culture New Zealand women have to negotiate every day.
The government’s response? Appointing a Minister of Women’s Affairs who not only claims she isn’t a feminist but also talks up the process of women competing on a stage as a way to build confidence and that her primary goal is pay parity. Really? I’m not saying pay parity isn’t important but in today’s social context, her message to our young women is that a beauty pageant can give you confidence. The responsibility of the Ministry of Women’s Affairs is not just for the rights of middle class white women who want equal pay and confidence. Her responsibility is to all women. How relevant is her spiel on meritocracy to a women forced off Sole Parent Support into a zero hour contract employment opportunity?
I am angry.
It is offensive. It shows absolute lack of respect for the women of Aotearoa. It sends a clear signal from this government that our voices, our issues and the way we are treated is not important. The only way they could have made it clearer was by giving the post to a man, and in all honesty I know male National MP’s that are more familiar with the definition and concerns of feminism than Upston.
If you are a women who thinks a full body hug that verges on frotting is fine and that respond well to be called honey while being patted on the head and being judged on your looks is okay, then you will be okay with Louise Upston; Minister of Girl Power, Post Feminism Backlash and Being a Babe.
If not, then like me, you will be angry.
Only because Bryce Edwards didn’t …Top Ten Tweets
Colonisation @colin_@Colin_R_Gale: Beauty Pageants because
“The confidence that these girls had at the end of it – you literally had to see it to believe it,”
“I’m not a Feminist cause I have admitted 2 myself it is a Man’s World & that is how I got here. Problem?”
I hear they might change her Portfolio to:“Minister For Women’s Time of the Month & Other Gross Girl Things”
Karen Foreman Brown@serenity22:
apparently Jo Goodhew was Min prior to Upston. Who knew?! Who even knew we still had one?
I can’t think of 1 woman, apart from the 80yr nextdoor who’d agree. (She’s homophobic too)
The Minister for Womens Affairs wants the name changed to Lady Affairs, as it is ‘cuter, and more fun for men’
Binary Smasher @kiwinerd:
NZ’s new Minister for Women is not even a feminist, let alone a womanist.
Andrea Vance @avancenz:
A feminist: advocates or supports the rights and equality of women. So I’m thinking Louise Upston might be in the wrong job.
Richard Hills @richardhills777:
she voted against marriage equality too, she clearly doesn’t like any icky labels that help others get equal rights and things.
Kate Davis@kateinthebay: ‘I’m not a feminist because I’m doing okay pandering to the patriarchal bullshit. Problem?’