Catriona MacLennan: Beware the terms men use to maintain power

Human history is the history of male domination and, primarily, of white male domination. Rangitoto Island. Photo / Supplied
Human history is the history of male domination and, primarily, of white male domination. Rangitoto Island. Photo / Supplied

There is no such thing as identity politics. The term is used by white men seeking to hold on to their power and deny the human rights of Maori, Pasifika, women and LGBTQ people.

Eight men own as much wealth as half the world's population, or 3.6 billion people. Those men are overwhelmingly Anglo-Saxon.

At the same time, globally, four children die every minute due to lack of access to medicine and food. The world has the resources to save those children, but we don't choose to do so because we refuse to share resources, writes Catriona MacLennan.

Human history is the history of male domination and, primarily, of white male domination. Black and brown people, women and LGBTQ people have been prevented by law, custom and outright physical force from accessing political power, jobs, votes and resources.

In New Zealand, Maori had their land seized and continue to suffer the effects of colonisation in huge over-representation in deprivation statistics.

Our country has the highest rate of intimate partner violence in the world, and a shocking incidence of sexual abuse. It is only recently that same-sex couples won the legal right to marry.

But, in the way our political debate is framed, these issues are "Maori", "women's" and "LGBTQ" issues. They are distractions and peripheral matters, and should not be discussed in the mainstream of political discourse. Instead, it is suggested that we need to focus on important matters such as the economy.

And, in turn, "the economy" is defined in a way that suits the elite. "The economy" is about the Official Cash Rate, the deficit and tax cuts. It is not about why Pasifika women are the lowest-paid in the country, earning only 69.9 per cent of what white men are paid, or why Maori women earn only 76 per cent of the white male pay rate.

"The economy" is also not about why beneficiaries are deliberately paid less than the amount required to live the most basic existence.

Groups which have suffered legalised discrimination for centuries are increasingly fighting for full human rights and equal treatment. This has angered white men, who are determined to hang on to their power. One of their weapons is language, and that is why the term "identity politics" has gained such currency.

United States Senator Bernie Sanders during the American primary campaign said of his rival Hillary Clinton: "It is not good enough for someone to say 'I'm a woman, vote for me'."

The sub-text of his remark was, "I'm a white male. Vote for me because then we won't have to waste time talking about racism and sexism and we can focus on the economy."

Every American president for 228 years has been male.

Similarly, Professor Mark Lilla argued in an article in the New York Times in November that identity politics was "disastrous" as a foundation for democratic politics and that American liberalism had "slipped into a kind of moral panic about racial, gender and sexual identity that has distorted liberalism's message and prevented it from becoming a unifying force capable of governing".

These men would like us to ignore the fact that racism and sexism not only deprive people of human rights. They kill.

Activist Malala Yousafzai was shot in the head by the Taleban because she advocated education for girls. Jyoti Singh was gang-raped, tortured and murdered in Delhi in 2012 because she was a woman out in the early evening with a man who was not a family member.

The following is a brief dictionary to assist those who find dealing with the language of the genus white male confusing.

"Broad church" - a phrase commonly used in relation to political parties. It means white men should retain control of all the key positions in the party.

"Merit" - a subjective criterion which holds that traits displayed by white men are the most desirable qualities in job applicants and political candidates. Once women and non-Pakeha acquire the prescribed qualifications and experience, the goalposts are shifted to say other qualities they do not possess are vital to the role.

"Political correctness" - any move to protect the human rights of anyone other than white men. Epitomised by the supporters of United States President Donald Trump who have reportedly assaulted women since his election win because "political correctness" no longer applies.

"Racial or gender quota" - a plainly unfair device to deprive white men of their pre-ordained right to the overwhelming majority of top jobs and political positions.

"Shrill", "screeching", "shrieking" and "screaming" - words applied exclusively to women engaging in political debate. The men who use these terms are under the misapprehension it is February 1817, rather than February 2017.

• Catriona MacLennan is a barrister and former press gallery journalist.

- NZ Herald

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