Monthly Archives: May 2015

Should boys be wearing skirts?

This is the reaction of New Zealand designer (and all-round nasty individual) Denise L’Estrange-Corbet has to the idea of gender-neutral uniform options being considered by schools.

Yes, Denise. If a boy wants to wear a skirt then there should be absolutely no problem with him doing so, because gendering clothing is unnecessary and ridiculous. A boy should be allowed to wear a skirt or a dress any time they wish, just as a girl should be allowed to wear shorts or trousers, or a kilt for that matter. Non-gender-conforming people should have no troubles with what they are allowed to wear, leaving them only the problem of choosing which of the options available to them they wish to select.

People like Denise-of-the-overpunctuated-surname and their sneering attitude toward what is a big deal for the minority of students who dress in ways that don’t necessarily conform to the norms of their birth gender are an impediment to the progress of society. Gender non-conformists are people too, with the right to be treated well, and without prejudice. If we stop making a big deal over gender norms, and start looking at people as people rather than categories, there are many who would live a better life because of it.

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Should parents be informed of their daughters’ abortions?

Or worse, should they have power of veto? The subject has been raised in New Zealand recently, and some of the things that are being said just utterly horrify me.

I was raised in a household where abortions were just absolutely off the table. So when I found myself pregnant at 16, it was never even an option. I carried my child, and I raised her. To be honest, I don’t really know what my parents would have wanted me to do – the strength of the religion that had been pounded into me meant that I went blindly forward with what I believed was God’s will, and damned if I was going to listen to anything that didn’t mesh with my ideas of right and wrong. I was the sort of person that I would be ashamed to raise – dogged and dogmatic and unthinking and narrow-minded. But that is then.

If I had elected to have an abortion, then I do not know if my father and stepmother, who were the only family I had around, would have approved. I strongly suspect that things would not have gone well for me had that been my choice (not that things went smoothly for me anyway, but that’s not the point). Mine is not a good example of what could go wrong for vulnerable pregnant girls, though. I was already responsible for myself, living out of home, and generally not supported by my family. Things were not going to get dramatically worse for me,

If I had been at home though, and relying on my very religious family, then them finding out about me making the hypothetical  decision to have an abortion could have landed me out of home. No, worse than that – if it was not already a done deal, I would have been pressured out of it, or outright forbidden to go through with it. My body was not my own, you see. It belonged to God and whoever God delegated his authority to. So in a religious setting, informing the parents is not a safe thing to do.

Parents like to think that they have a right to know what their teenage daughter does with her body. But they have to acknowledge that she has choices, and agency, and they cannot control her or dictate to her for the long-term, so letting go in the short term is necessary and healthy. Giving her knowledge, information, and power over her own body is the best thing they can do for their child.

One comment that just left me floored was “maybe the father of the baby should have a choice – he may want the baby” . . . I’m sorry, are you kidding me? It’s her body. Not his. Until he can be pregnant and give birth in her place, he doesn’t actually get a say in what she chooses to do unless she wants him to. Basic bodily autonomy 101 here, kids. It’s not the father’s choice. It’s not the parents’ choice. It’s up to the girl – and only the girl.

I have two daughters of my own, and one of them is just hitting puberty. I understand the impulse to control and to guard and to protect, but it’s impulse that does no one any justice. Build your relationship with your girl. Build trust and love and acceptance, so that she knows that if things go awry she can come to you. Let her know what you would do in such a situation – tell her up-front that you will support her in whatever way you see fit, whether that’s that you would support an abortion but not a baby or vice versa, or whether you would be there for her and do everything you can for her no matter what she chooses in a situation like that. Educate her so she knows how biology works, how to stay safe and healthy, and support her to get whatever contraceptives she needs.

Maybe I’m being idealistic, and maybe I’ll feel different about my girls as they grow, but I don’t think so. I want to trust them and empower them in a way that I never was, so they can make these sorts of decisions, about love and sex and abortion and parenthood and growing up, with their eyes wide open.

I was a teen mother. I also had an abortion when my daughter was less than a year old, because I couldn’t cope with two under two. I never told my husband that, because he was part of the religious tradition that condemned such things – but I did what was right for my physical and mental health. I have walked both roads, and I would hold my child’s hand down whichever one they chose, if it came to that.

Being young and unemployed

I read an article about being young and unemployed today, and it raised an issue that I don’t think is discussed enough in relation to unemployment – the effects of unemployment on developing mental illnesses.

Everyone knows that having mental illnesses puts you at higher risk of unemployment. It’s just logical – if you’re seriously unwell in any way then your risk of struggling to find or keep work is much higher. Mental illness has a lot of stigma attached to it, making it hard to get work, and the illnesses themselves make it hard to keep work at times.

So it’s not a great surprise that the mentally ill are somewhat overrepresented in the ranks of the unemployed. But how many perfectly healthy people found themselves on the dole, and became unwell because of it? There are anecdotes in the article of a couple of people that had that experience – of suffering depression and anxiety related to being unable to find work. I would hazard a guess that this is not an unusual experience, and that even the most mentally healthy individuals have periods of unwellness if they are unemployed for a protracted length of time.

What kind of provisions do we make for this? Oh, that’s right. None. Because unemployed people suffering mental illness are doubly derided by society. Not only are you lazy and incompetent, goes the narrative, but you’re also crazy. Stay away, kids!

It’s worse than just having the psychological struggles of the unemployed ignored, though. WINZ processes actively make people unwell. The struggle of trying to get your entitlements, the constant losing of paperwork and other little errors, the unending pressure to get a job and get off the dole (I’m trying, miss, but there aren’t any jobs!), all these things cause stress that can turn into illness. Being unwell already and having to jump through the WINZ medical exemption process is even worse, and no more mercy is shown than to the least co-operative of recalcitrant beneficiaries.

WINZ is a recipe for mental ill health. Unemployment is a potent ingredient all on its own. The melting pot of financial pressure and debt turn it all into hot mess of psychological distress. But support is offered only to the most unwell of people, leaving people easily treated to get worse and worse. They could go to their GP, of course, and be referred for counselling or given anti-depressants – except they chose their GP back when they had a job, or access to student services, and now they can’t afford to go. Tough luck, kid.

The situation for the unemployed actively seeking and not finding work is dire.The stress brings their mental health under pressure, and there’s little out there for them to get support or help from.

Increasing education to deal with unemployment

A commenter replied to one of my earlier posts that eat with the idea of upskilling the unemployed in order to make them more employable. He said

Creating more people with qualifications will not change the fact that there simply aren’t jobs.

And he’s completely right. Upskilling beneficiaries without increasing the number of skilled jobs available will only result in a very well-educated pool of beneficiaries, possibly with the debt that is incurred with any form of higher education adding to their troubles. What use is this?

In the end, we need more jobs in order to have less unemployment. It’s just maths. I don’t know how to increase job numbers – that’s something that economists understand, not Classical Studies graduates. But I do understand that we can’t employ people in jobs that don’t exist. It simply makes no sense. Politicians talk about education, about breaking the cycle of poverty, about reducing substance abuse and criminality and all these things, but if there aren’t jobs to walk into, then you can’t walk out of poverty.

Mental health in Christchurch

An article came out today, telling me some things that I thought everyone must know about post-earthquake Canterbury, and some things that I didn’t know, things that make me both angry and sad.

Mental health issues have become more prevalent in Christchurch since the quakes, something that is entirely expected, at least from where I stand. People who have been through a major traumatic event, like a huge earthquake, are more likely to have PTSD relating to the event, but are also more likely to have other mental health issues like anxiety or depression triggered by the circumstances and the pressure they are under. Zero surprises here.

The statistics are startling but not surprising:

– 43 per cent increase in adult community mental health presentations.
– 37 per cent increase in emergency presentations.
– 69 per cent increase in child and youth mental health service presentations, which would be higher without CDHB’s schools programme.
– 65 per cent increase in rural mental health presentations.

Canterbury District Health Board has a lot on its plate to deal with. In addition to the increase in mental health presentations following the quakes, 30,000 people moved into the area post-quake to help with the rebuild, and those people have a range of mental health issues, just like any other population. The problem here is that mental health services in Canterbury have received less than a puny 1% increase in funding, with even the growth in population ignored, never mind the increase in the incidence of mental illnesses in the area.

The lack of funding makes me angry and sad. At bare minimum, there should have been a funding increase in line with population growth. To present themselves as having even a scrap of humanity, the architects of the health budget needed to have acknowledged the effects of the quakes on people’s mental states and provided at least a token gesture toward relieving the pressure on an overstretched service. But none of that has happened, and it is disgraceful.

Where now for CDHB’s mental health service? Well, it’s the same as everywhere else in the country, scrambling to try and make things work on a shoestring budget. It’s worse for them than many others, but two things they have going for them is a well-performing service before the quakes, and the amazing resilience that people, communities, and institutions have shown in the last four years. They shouldn’t be struggling with this, though. We can do better, damn it, and why don’t we?

We’ve prioritised a bloody convention centre over so may more important projects. Health services of all kinds go without. Social housing has been 98% destroyed, and the shortfall has not been addressed in any useful measure. There are still people living in garages and tents, struggling through the winter, because their houses are written off and their insurance hasn’t come through. There is overcrowding due to a lack of suitable and affordable housing in the area. Why on earth would we need a conference centre, which will be empty for significant stretches of time, when there are so many other, more urgent needs? The misguided waste of it all is painful.

The Canterbury region has suffered mightily these past four years, and yet still the carry on. We should be supporting them in any way we can, not letting them down as attention drifts away from their needs due to the passing of time and the waning of urgency.

Benefit addicts and elitism

I think the focus around throwing benefit money at people to do nothing (or to jump through increasingly ridiculous hoops for WINZ) is the real issue. Instead of investing in educating and upskilling those not working we create a benefit addicted underclass with an entitlement mentality. Pay people a benefit if they enrol at university/Polytechnics and base their benefit rates on their grade average.

So says one hapless Stuff commenter, on an article about the issue of underemployment. I do wonder sometimes if people actually listen to what they are saying sometimes.

A benefit addicted underclass with an entitlement mentality. Well, people keep telling me there are dole bludgers living it up on the taxpayer dime, never intending to work and living well despite it. I have to ask, though, where are these people? If they were as common as it’s thought, then the government would be making an example out of them, whether punitively as a warning or positively when they’re finally off the dole. Maybe I’m wrong, and maybe there’s a huge class of people out there that are different from my romantic notion of beneficiary life. But it’s not my experience, and it’s not backed up anywhere by any statistics I’ve seen. More than three quarters of unemployment beneficiaries are on the dole for less than a year – that doesn’t stink of a benefit addicted underclass. Maybe it’s the sickness, invalid’s, and sole parent benefits that people hang around on . . . um. Yes. That’s what those benefits are there for. People who have needs that are not just ‘out of work’. Chronically ill people may need a benefit their whole lives, and I will not begrudge them one cent. Sole parents are doing something very difficult, and they should be supported by everyone around them, not threatened with losing their only source of income.

A benefit addicted underclass who all rely on not-quite-enough to get by on each week. Really. It’s just such an attractive lifestyle, I can see why so many people would freely choose it. Back in the real world, people are on benefits for many reasons, and they’re far too complex to be dealt with in the schemes of the Stuff commenter mentality.

“Pay people a benefit if they enrol at university/Polytechnics and base their benefit rates on their grade average.” Oh honey. It’s like you had half a good thought and then your brain ran out of go-juice. We do pay people a benefit to go to Uni/Polytech – it’s called the Student Allowance. We do that to make education more available to people, to help them upskill. But there are people who will never do well in formal education, and they deserve to live just as much as a Rhodes Scholar (who, incidentally, is just on a very fancy kind of benefit). Tertiary qualifications are out of reach for some people for many reasons, medical, educational, and personal. Basing benefit rates on participation in tertiary education is very much elitist. Basing people’s worth on their enrolment at a higher learning facility is a few shades of ridiculous.

Basing benefits on grade averages has got to be one of the dumber ideas I’ve seen recently. There is just so much wrong with it. People who are disadvantaged tend to not perform as well academically as people who grew up with fewer impediments. People who are on a benefit because they are unwell may find it harder to attain higher grades. People who have a serious life event come up not only have to worry about their grades – they also have to worry about their budget getting cut over it. Honestly, when did this sound like it would be a good idea?

This sort of thinking assumes that every beneficiary has about the same advantages in life as the thinker, and that the beneficiaries are in a bad position because they are making bad choices. That’s just not the way the world works, and so applying solutions that involve putting pressure on people to make ‘good choices’ doesn’t work. They don’t have the right base to make ‘good choices’ from.

Being different and special

Have you ever seen those encouraging little messages broadcast to society, the ones that say that some talent you have will get you ahead? Creativity, determination, willpower, thinking outside the box, all these things make you special, more employable, more successful.

I see those, and I think,”Well, I’m not really creative, nor more determined than your average person. I don’t really have great willpower (pass me the chocolate), and nothing about my thinking is special. I guess I’m just plain and normal.”

That makes me think, wait. Most people are just that – normal. Why are we pushing so hard for people to be unique special snowflakes of great importance all the time? It’s a bit insulting for anyone who recognises in themselves that they aren’t special snowflakes. They’re the normal that special is measured against.

I guess those ads are meant to appeal to the part of everyone that wants to affirm snowflakehood. The part that says ‘no, I’m not part of the crowd, I have these special qualities that most people don’t’. Reality is different, but it’s probably good for people to have that belief in themselves.

Is it a sign of my illness, then, that I don’t identify with these things? Maybe. I can identify myself as lucky, as having had many privileges over my life, but I’m not special. I’m just another person, one that a high-achiever like Nanogirl or Helen Clarke can be measured against and found special.

I’m ok with being plain and normal. I have skills and abilities, but I don’t have to be exceptional at them to be ok with what I am.