Feminism 2020 Wellington Speech

*MIHI*

And seeing as that is a cultural requirement, my 20 minutes start now, and I understand I’ll have no objections to that. I was actually told recently that you’re not allowed to criticise anything Maori, so on that basis, everyone is going to LOVE my talk this evening – or so I’ll be told! It’s quite useful actually, because as far as points in the Oppression Olympics are concerned, I’m always off to a good start, being female with Maori heritage – although now that people who are biologically men want to compete in our sports teams, my winning streak may be coming to an end. Still, at least we can all vote right?

As I mentioned in my mihi, my name is Melissa Derby and I’m a Lecturer at AUT University in Auckland – a university that is committed to the ideals of free speech, unlike others in this country.

In order to score myself some Points for Wokeness, as is the current social trend, and thus add to the points already accrued this evening due to my Maori ancestry, I should let you know that my pronouns are me, myself, and I. I’m not being facetious – THAT would be dangerous in the minefield that is the gender wars – but rather in light of the world of identity politics and intersectionality that we all find ourselves in, I have a good case for using those pronouns. Hear me out.

In this modern woke world we live in, somewhere along the way, someone thought it was a good idea to divide us quite arbitrarily into groups based generally on four main things – race or ethnicity, gender, sexuality, and to an arguably lesser extent, religion. These divisions are creating an increasingly polarised society – where each group is pitted against the other in the so-called culture wars. Invariably, the one who is the Most Hard Done By wins the battle – mostly out of pity disguised as benevolence, which has its own set of underlying messages about who really has the power.

Now, within these arbitrary groups, other groups can be formed – you might be a person of colour, who is a woman, who is also gay. But this goes further still. Did you grow up in urban or rural settings? What cultural traditions are in your family background? Do you have a disability or health issues? What are some socioeconomic or sociocultural factors that influence you as a person? What hobbies and interests do you have? The questions are endless. My point is that our identities are complex. There is a myriad of things that impact on our identity to the point that a good argument can be made, and is made my many, that the ultimate minority is the individual. Some argue those who deny individual rights cannot claim to be defenders of minorities. So, with that in mind, certain activists cannot deny my pronouns, lest they be accused of denying minority rights! I’m not sure they would agree though, and I’ve probably now just landed myself a hate speech conviction. As I said, it’s a minefield out there!

When Speak Up For Women asked me to speak at this event alongside these three other incredible women, I felt extremely honoured, and I’d like to thank you all for taking the time to come along tonight to insist our voices are – and remain – heard! It is my strong belief that the issues of gender identity and women’s rights today are extremely important not only for women (although particularly for women) but for society as a whole. We cannot be expected to change the way we view issues of science, humanity, and – for us – what it means to be a woman without some sort of discussion around this. We must not tolerate a world in which we are demonised for daring to ask a question or express our opinion, and a world where – instead of getting answers to perfectly valid questions – we get vitriol and hatred. That is not ok!

So when I accepted the invitation to speak this evening, I thought I’d discuss issues of identity politics and censorship – and that’s all I knew. Massey, of course, knew what we were all going to say weeks ago – remarkably before I even knew the details of my talk! They even knew they disagreed with everything we HADN’T even said yet – which is most impressive! So that’s what I’ll be discussing this evening – the implications of identity politics and censorship, as well of some of my personal experiences of this as a woman with Maori heritage. And yes, I’m purposely not using the term “Maori woman” because I can’t stand the labels, and the implications they often come with.

I’m sure you all followed the saga in the media around Massey cancelling our event, and I’d like to thank Massey for that because look where we are this evening! A round of applause is due! I’d also like to thank the so-called activists for making such a fuss about a group of women getting together to discuss what it means to be a woman in nearly 2020, and in doing so, proving me right on every point I’m going to make this evening. They made this so easy, and have provided a perfect example of the dangers of identity politics and the implications these have on free speech, which is of course a cornerstone of our democracy and a free society. Thinking back to the time of the suffragette movement in this country, women relied heavily on free speech to get their points across and to affect change in this country, and indeed elsewhere. It astonishes me that there are those among us who are intent on throwing free speech away, especially when in so many countries around the world, people can suffer extraordinary fates merely from expressing a different opinion from the party line. NZ must not continue to go down that path.

For the so-called hateful crime of daring to speak this evening, we have all been targeted in numerous ways – on social media, of course, being the main one. Speaking for myself now, my workplace has been called and emailed numerous times, my boss has been inundated with complaints, and calls for my employment to be terminated were made. For what? For being a danger to others, causing harm and violence – we’ve all heard it before. In addition to this, my identity as a woman with Maori heritage was brought into question – and this isn’t the first time this has happened due to opinions I have expressed. Allow me to elaborate.

Some of you may have seen on social media the assertion from another Maori woman that to be here tonight, let alone to speak, was to support white supremacy. Others claimed that Speak Up For Women is ‘white feminism’. It’s hard to know where to start in addressing such ludicrous and insulting suggestions. Not insulting to me, but rather to those who suffer and have suffered at the hands of real white supremacists – or indeed extremists of any kind. The notion that being here or speaking tonight is a form of white supremacy is disgusting.

And what “evidence” is there to support this claim of white supremacy? In the words of one often-quoted academic on the issue of gender in relation to traditional Maori society, she “absolutely believes that, generally, diverse sexuality and fluidity in gender roles was accepted by our people… [ie Maori] and that all records show we didn’t have a problem with it”. Words like “believe” and “generally” come with a semblance of subjectivity of course. But even IF we could find records that mentioned things such as gender fluidity in colonial times – which is near-on impossible – so what? There are two points I want to make really clear here.

  1. “Not having a problem” with gender fluidity in precolonial tribal society is NOT the same as expecting women – and men for that matter – not to raise issues in the 21st century, when the implications of gender identity issues on society are vastly different. Did we have men playing in women’s sports teams in the 17th century, or men entering women’s prisons or safe houses in the 16th century? Of course not. The issues are not comparable.
  2. The idea that I – or anyone – has to think like my ancestors APPARENTLY thought is ridiculous! Do we ask Pakeha to do the same thing? NO! And why not? There is an element of racism in the idea that I have to think like my ancestors APPARENTLY thought, which necessarily limits Maori to the sum total of the thoughts and ideas our ancestors had. If we applied that suggestion to the entire existence of the human race, we’d all still be mucking about in caves.

My point here is that every Maori, every woman – and of course every individual person – has every right to form our own opinion about anything we like. It does not need to align with someone else’s vision of what we should be or how we should think. We didn’t fight for equality only to be told by someone else what our opinion is meant to be – no matter who that someone else is!

Douglas Murray, in his recent book The Madness of Crowds talks about this exact phenomenon, where certain identity groups are presumed to all think the same – and heaven help anyone in that group who holds a different view. This idea has reached such insane heights that it was declared that Peter Thiel, who is a gay man, when he came out in support of Trump, (and I quote) “might sleep with other men but in no other way is he gay”. Clearly I missed the memo on the new definition of what being a gay man means. Likewise with Kanye West after he donned a MAGA hat – he was no longer black. Now I don’t know if anyone has seen an image of Kanye West lately, but the notion that he is no longer black is absurd! And finally Germaine Greer, banned from the Feminist Club by some for asserting that men who identify as women are pretend women. If Germaine Greer isn’t a feminist, who is?

And so identity politics unfolds – fracturing us into groups based on arbitrary characteristics of our identity, and then assuming we all must think the same as each other. If you don’t, you’re banished from that group by a small but vocal few who will not have their ideology challenged, least of all by one of their own. Of course this aversion to any dissent in their ranks raises questions about the validity of their argument. If you believe in your argument, you should be able to defend it. Those who forcibly shut down debate do so because they know their reasoning cannot stand up to scrutiny. This kind of behaviour also makes a mockery of the notion of diversity that so many organisations, including our universities, subscribe to. How shallow is diversity if it only extends to the superficial aspects of who we are, and not to the thoughts we may have?

I had a particularly nasty experience recently which illustrates the vitriol that can come from those who buy into identity politics – all in the name of tolerance and inclusion, of course. I co-authored a research paper, which I shared to an online research forum in order to gain feedback from other academics. The paper was questioning the assertion that all Maori suffer from trauma due to colonisation, and examined this notion from psychological, historical, and cultural standpoints. It followed academic conventions, was informed by research, and was peer-reviewed by academics from NZ and overseas before it was published.

After I shared it to the group, the admin person – a Maori woman – removed the paper, twice. Why? Not because it was flawed research, not because the arguments in the paper were defeated, and not because it didn’t follow academic conventions. It was removed because I wrote it with a Pakeha man. I was told research by Pakeha men was not welcome there (never mind the fact I was a co-author), and the act of removing the article was cheered on by others as an act of resistance – to what I don’t know. Could you imagine, though, the uproar – and rightly so – if an article was deleted simply because it was written by a Maori woman – or man for that matter? If that is racist, so is removing it because it was written by a Pakeha man.

Following its removal came the usual social media pile-on. I was told by other academics that I was a danger to Maori, that I had a colonised mind, that I was a supporter of racism and white supremacy, and that I was now on some sort of blacklist of dangerous people. Complaints were made to my employer, as well as the organisation funding my research, and there were numerous threats to end my career. All of this, because I dared to write an article with a straight, white male. The modern-day root of all evil. To this day, the argument put forward in the article remains unaddressed, and undefeated.

Members of Speak Up For Women have been subjected to the same sort of abuse. Some of you may have seen an open letter written some months back about the LGBTQI community, and the response from Ani both in her blog and on social media. Rather than address the very valid concerns raised by Ani, Ani was told that she had no right to comment because of “whose land she was on”. The suggestion was that because Ani is Pakeha, she didn’t have a right to an opinion on this issue. Now, anyone who knows anything about world history and human movement would know that the idea that someone cannot speak on an issue in 2019 because they haven’t remained on the same land as their ancestors for all eternity is a joke. I’d go so far to say it is evidence of intellectual impotence – clearly they had no better argument.

But the usual pile-on followed, where Ani was told her feminism, and that of Speak Up For Women, was ‘white feminism’. I don’t even know what that means – and I doubt they do either – but what I do know is that plenty of Maori women support Speak Up For Women, although of course not all do, such is their prerogative. Plenty of Maori women also do not buy into this mystical, fairy-dust gender identity we’re all supposed to have, which is apparently more important than our biology. Plenty of Maori women disagree with the suggestion that if you don’t conform to a particular gender stereotype, then by virtue of that, you are literally the opposite sex. By claiming that a group like Speak Up For Women is ‘white feminism’, they erase Maori women – and many others might I add. As I said, all in the name of tolerance and inclusion and peace and harmony.

There are countless examples to illustrate the polarising nature of identity politics, and the role this plays in censoring people. And the fuss created by this event proves my point that arbitrary aspects of our identity are used more and more often to shut down debate, with the Most Hard Done By winning – although not this time! In all seriousness though, this is something that should concern us all. If a group of women are banned from a university campus, apparently because discussing huge changes to the way we view science and – and in my view, reality – hurts the feelings of a few vocal bullies, who’s next on the censorship block?

To wrap up this evening, I’d like to share a story that illustrates how silly and superficial identity politics really is. I recently spent a year in the USA on a Fulbright scholarship, returning to NZ in the middle of this year. Shortly after arriving in the USA, I spent five days with 51 other recipients from 35 different countries – from Lesotho to Lebanon, Indonesia to Iraq, Brazil to Belgium, and everywhere in between. We met one another over a Basque meal in the Nevada desert, and formed fast and firm bonds. We were inquisitive about each other’s country of origin, and curious about our cultural differences. At breakfast one morning, I was sat at a table with seven newfound friends from Turkey, Australia, Egypt, Bolivia, Iraq, Belgium, and Jordan. We were discussing the different breakfast cuisine in our respective countries, trying to decide who had the ‘worst’ food.

Our conversation was cut short by a call to start a session on goal-setting and planning for our time in the USA. It was during this session that our similarities became abundantly clear. Essentially, we all hoped for the same things, we were all fearful of the same things, we all identified the same challenges, and we all wanted to make the same contributions to our countries – and most importantly, to the global community to which we all saw ourselves as belonging. What was overwhelmingly evident was how much we all had in common. And even our differences were superficial – we may have eaten different things for breakfast, but we all still ate breakfast.

It was also during my stint in the USA that I spent a good deal of time researching the philosophies of Martin Luther King, Jr, someone whom I have long admired. There are many quotes from King, and a good many have been condensed down to Hallmark-type feel-good quotes. However, one of his key messages, which blows apart the absurdity of identity politics is – and I quote:

“If we are to have peace on earth, our loyalties must transcend our race, our tribe, our class, and our nation; and this means we must develop a world perspective.” My point here is that we are all far more alike than we are different, so creating random groups based on but one or two factors of our very complex identities, then using those groups as weapons against others really makes very little sense. Instead, let’s connect on our shared humanity, and let’s kick the toxic game of identity politics to the curb. And, as history tells us, shutting down debate and advocating for censorship never ends well. Of course, Massey disagrees with everything I have just said!

In closing, I’d like to share another story I came across in the USA, which involves Abraham Lincoln. He was faced with a thorny issue, and in order to illustrate his point, he asked how many legs a calf has? Some recollections have him asking how many legs a dog has. Obviously, the answer he was given was four. Lincoln continued, and asked how many legs a calf would have if we called the tail a leg. “Five,” came the answer from the respondent, confident in their ability to do simple addition. “No,” Lincoln replied. “Calling the tail a leg, doesn’t make it a leg.” Thank you very much.