Category Archives: In the Media

Tony Veitch's statement in full

Tony Veitch’s statement in full, From the NZ Herald

5:00AM Thursday July 10, 2008

This week there have been reports of an incident between my former partner and me two and a half years ago. I deeply regret what happened and have done so since it occurred.

On the night in question I agreed to let Kristin come over to my house. Following dinner we had a major disagreement and we argued for a long time. In the end my frustration took over. I broke, and lashed out in anger – something I will regret until the end of my days.

Some of what’s been said by the media is untrue, but again, no excuses.

It’s the thing I will most regret in my life. I have lived with that on my conscience ever since and I will always do so. I make no excuse for what I did, except to say at the time my relationship with Kristin had just ended. I was working seven days a week and two stressful jobs and was emotionally and physically exhausted. I was taking medication for the exhaustion. I was at the lowest ebb of my life and I needed help, but again, it was inexcusable. In the long period after the event took place we remained in contact with each other.he reason I have not spoken until now is that Kristin and I made an agreement about confidentiality because we did not want this to play out in the public.

That agreement included payment to Kristin for loss of income and distress I caused her. I had no wish to breach that confidentiality, but because of the growing controversy and the positions I hold and the standards of behaviour those positions demand, I feel it important to offer some words of explanation and I have no desire to put Kristin through any further distress.

Following the incident I undertook weekly counselling for a year, counselling which enabled me to form the relationship I now have with my wife, Zoe. Indeed, I told Zoe what had happened shortly after we started seeing each other. She has been completely supportive and I am grateful beyond words for that support and for her love.

Once again I know what I did was wrong and it will never happen again.

I apologise to Kristin. I apologise to TVNZ and the Radio Network for the embarrassment this has caused them and I sincerely apologise to the New Zealand public. Thank you.


Virtual Misogyny

To add to the list of masculinist standardization: 

Women with long fingernails are complaining that iPhones are sexist, according to the Los Angeles Times. The iPhone’s virtual keyboard responds to the electrical charge emitted by fingertips, not fingernails. “Considering ergonomics and user studies indicating men and women use their fingers and nails differently, why does Apple persist in this misogyny?” says Erica Watson-Currie, 39, a consultant and lecturer. (Source NZ Herald).

2008, THE FEMINIST REAWAKING: Hillary Clinton & the 4th Wave!

The success of women in politics, is frequently cited as evidence that feminism has met it goals.  Hardly!  Too often the Exceptional Women – is also, ‘the Exception to the Rule’.  Amanda Fortini writes in the New York (April 21, 2008) – why does our culture take sexism seriously?  Sexism is often so subtle, threatening its insidiour existance…..and anyone who talks about it, risks sounding like an overzealous lunatic at worse – scrutinizing every interaction for gender – specific offenses.

 She goes on to say – ‘it was hardly a revelation to learn that sexism lived in the minds and hearts of right wig crackpots and Internet Nut Jobs,….but, it flourished among members of news media.  The MSNBC portrayed Clinton as the grieving widow of adsurdity, saying of her Presidential Candidacy and Senatorial Seat – that she didn’t win on her own merit.  She won because everybody felt, ‘oh my God…this women stood up under humiliation’.  Please….that displeases me – Political Success to rewards of Public Sympathy?  Okay….people loved Hillary – She kept going, when everyone thought she’d play the role of the ‘victim’ – but anyone who’s read books on ‘The Life of Hillary Clinton’ – know thats simply just not her style.  She played her cards right politically!  Yet, the media went to arms lengths, to show ‘sexism’, as though her intelligence and long record of public service counted for NOTHING!  So, why does our culture not take sexism seriously?, or do we?

You're Fired: Norway meets it quota of 40% women on corporate boards

You’re fired!

Imagine you’re one of the 13 men on this all-male board of a large company and are told five of you must go to be replaced by women. Unlikely? Not in Norway, where they’re enforcing a law that 40% of directors must be female. By Yvonne Roberts

Thursday March 6, 2008
The Guardian

The often male world of company directors. Photograph: Alamy

Rolf Dammann, the co-owner of a Norwegian bank, recently had his skiing holiday interrupted by some unwelcome news. The government had published a list of 12 companies accused of breaking the law by failing to appoint women to 40% of their non-executive board directorships. His company, Netfonds Holding ASA, was one of the dirty dozen – attracting international attention.
“I work in a man’s world. I don’t come across many women and that’s the challenge,” Dammann says. “The law says a non-executive director has to be experienced, and experience is difficult to find in women in my sector. People have had to sack board members they’ve worked with and trusted for 20 or 30 years, and replace them with someone unknown. That’s hard.”

This month, Norway set a new global record. It now has, at 40%, the highest proportion of female non-executive directors in the world, an achievement engineered by the introduction of a compulsory quota. Two years ago, after several years of voluntary compliance had failed to lead to a sufficient number of female board members, 463 “ASAs” – publicly listed companies over a certain size – were told to change the composition of their boards or risk dissolution.
“A woman comes in, a man goes out. That’s how the quota works; that’s the law,” says Kjell Erik Øie, deputy minister of children and equality, in the centre-left “Red-Green” coalition government in Oslo. “Very seldom do men let go of power easily. But when you start using the half of the talent you have previously ignored, then everybody gains.”

In 2002, only 7.1% of non-executive directors of ASAs were female. When they introduced the 40% quota, the government had expected a widespread rebellion, but by the final deadline for compliance – February 22 this year – only a handful of companies had failed to meet it. Most ASA boards have acquired between two and four new women in the past several months. It is not exactly an army on the march, but it is a step in the right direction and has allowed Norway to buck an international trend; in Britain, women fill only 14.5% of non-executive board positions and one in four of the FTSE 100 boards still has no women at all. The number of women holding executive directorships in FTSE 100 companies actually fell last year to the lowest level for nine years, according to research by Cranfield business school. And the picture is similar all over Europe. Only 2% of boardroom posts in Italy are held by women, and in Spain the figure is 4%.

According to the Norwegian government, the quota is not simply a strike for equality; it makes sound economic sense, too. Last year, Goldman Sachs, the global investment company, published a paper in which it outlined the economic reasons for reducing gender inequality and using female talent fully. Not only would this increase growth, the paper said, it would “play a key role in addressing the twin problems of population ageing and pension stability”.

So what is stopping companies from appointing women to their boards? Catalyst, an influential New York thinktank, has published a list of the barriers to female advancement to board level. Top of the list is women’s lack of management experience, closely followed by women’s exclusion from informal networks; stereotypes about women’s abilities; a lack of role models; a failure of male leadership; family responsibilities; and naivety when it comes to company politics.

Imagine then, given these hurdles, that at one stroke British CEOs were required by law to sack at least two men, if not more, from their boards and replace them with women whom they presumably believed to be inexperienced, unproven, possibly not fully committed and … well, female? How on earth did the Norwegians manage it?

In Norway, unlike in the UK, the law does allow for such affirmative action. Attitudes are different as a result: it is interesting that when avid Cameron suggested last weekend that he would operate a quota of women cabinet members, the former Conservative minister Ann Widdecombe said she would be “grossly insulted” to be given a frontbench job on those terms.

However, even in Norway the quota went ahead only after years of ferocious debate and some resistance. As one male non-executive director who has survived the recent cull of boards put it, “What I and a lot of people don’t understand is why it is seen as good for business to swap seasoned players for lip gloss?”

But such scepticism was not as widespread as one might expect. Ansgar Gabrielsen, 52, a Conservative trade and industry minister, and former businessman, is the unlikely champion of the quota. In 2002, in the then centre-coalition government, he publicly proposed a 40% quota on publicly listed boards without consulting cabinet colleagues. The law would be enacted in three years, he announced, only if companies failed to comply. The challenge was huge. Out of the 611 affected companies, 470 had not a single female board member.

Gabrielsen’s reasoning at that time set the terms of the debate that followed. The quota was presented less as a gender-equality issue, and more as one driven by economic necessity. He argued that diversity creates wealth. The country could not afford to ignore female talent, he said. Norway has a low unemployment rate (now at 1.5%) and a large number of skilled and professional posts unfilled. “I could not see why, after 30 years of an equal ratio of women and men in universities and having so many women with experience, there were so few of them on boards,” he says.

But if it was Gabrielsen who set the terms of the debate in a way that made it less threatening to men, it was a woman who worked out how to make the quota achievable. In 2003, the NHO, the Norwegian equivalent of the Confederation of British Industry, decided to step up the pace of voluntary change. It headhunted 32-year-old Benja Stig Fagerland and gave her a two-year deadline to achieve a minor miracle.

Fagerland is an economist with two degrees and an MBA. She had no interest in “women’s issues” then, she says, but she had set up a network of 10 girlfriends, called Raw Material, to discuss the pros and cons of the quota. They were all in their late 20s and early 30s, in middle management, and ambitious. Raw Material attracted the attention of the media and NHO.

“We were young and fearless. We thought we could go where we pleased in terms of our careers. I didn’t believe in the quota system,” Fagerland says. “I was competitive. Every job I’d had, I’d been the youngest and the only woman. I thought it was an issue of competence and nothing to do with being female. I set out to discover the arguments for and against. And that’s when I changed my mind.

“As a young person, so many male colleagues had said to me, ‘You cannot be 1.8 metres tall [over six foot], strong and intelligent and a former model. It’s too powerful for men, too scary. Be more of a girl.’

“I told myself, ‘OK, those are the men’s rules, and so for six months I tried. It was the stupidest thing I did. Now, I tell my daughters, be yourself – but sell yourself hard.”

Once appointed by the NHO, she devised and a ran a project which she called (much to her employer’s alarm) Female Future, to mobilise female talent. First Fagerland, now 37, surveyed major CEOs. Eighty-six per cent said they wanted to use more female talent, 64% said they did not know how to find it. Each CEO contracted into the project “pearl dived” to find three rising junior female employees who then received six months intensive training from Fagerland.

Fagerland says, “I’d tell the women, ‘You bump into your CEO at a reception. He says, “Hi, who are you?” You can pick at least 10 different stories but you only have 20 seconds, so it’s very important which story you pick. You have to have ownership of your own story and say “This is me. This who I am.”‘ Power isn’t given, you have to take it. And women aren’t always good at that.”

Fagerland was working in a less hostile environment, perhaps, than she might have found elsewhere in Europe. Not only did she have the government behind her, but the media too: “It was a story that they wanted to write,” she says. “And they haven’t stopped since. They have always been very supportive.”

Female Future has since won a string of international awards. So far, 570 women across the country have gone through the training.

One in four has been offered board positions on large companies; half have board positions on smaller regional companies. A further 250 women will complete the programme at the end of this year.

In spite of the NHO’s efforts, however, by 2006 only one in four publicly listed boards in Norway had met the 40% target for non-executive female directors. It was then that the new centre-left government announced that the quota would become compulsory. The deadline for compliance was reset to December 2007 and later – at the eleventh hour – extended again by a month. The results were not published until the end of February, to give companies still more time to comply.

Business leaders argued that experienced senior women were impossible to find, especially in the oil, technology and gas industries. “I’m a responsible man,” one CEO told me in Oslo last week. “I have a duty to do the best I can for our shareholders. I’ve been forced to appoint two women whom I know are apprentices. Give them 10 years and I’d be happy to have them on the board; not now.”

Marit Hoel is the founder of the Oslo-based Centre for Corporate Diversity, which helps companies to find experienced female non-executive directors. In Norway, as a sociologist in the 1980s, she was the first person to begin counting women – or the lack of them – on boards. In response to the growing criticism that women of ability and experience were in short supply, she called a press conference. She spoke no words. Instead, she showed the photographs of 100 senior women with a brief resume of their cvs. “It was my Beckett moment,” she says. “The pictures said it all. Experienced women are out there in quantity. The problem, as elsewhere, is that they are literally not seen. Men have their own network.”

In Norwegian, the network is called “gutte klubben grei”, the grey men’s club. Ada Kjeseth, 58, from Bergen, knows how it operates. An economist and accountant, she was appointed in 1988 as the first woman to join the non-executive board of Norsk Hydro, now the third largest supplier of aluminium in the world. She is now on eight boards (not all publicly listed), covering interests that include insurance, property and car imports. “Since last year,” she says, smiling. “They keep knocking on my door.”

Referring to the power of the gutte klubben grei, she says, “They meet in places where only men meet. They go hunting and fishing and drinking together. People who know people are appointed. I wish the quota hadn’t been necessary, but I’m a realist. It forces men to look beyond their magic inner circle.”

Every International Women’s Day, Kjeseth adds, a friend holds a dinner for 70 women, all at the top of their respective companies. “Each year, I look around the room and I get goose bumps. Men have networked for years but don’t recognise it as networking. When we do it, they become alarmed. I don’t know why,” she adds mischievously.

Kjeseth, married with two grown-up sons, knows from personal experience about the potential pitfalls in the quota. “I was young and I had two small children when I joined my first board,” she says. “Norsk Hydro had budgets of billions and large, well-run projects. I thought, what can I bring to this? I left after two years because I knew I was inexperienced. Now I know companies and the laws that regulate them inside out. Some women who are appointed may be inexperienced but they will learn fast.”

Almost nobody I spoke to in Oslo was unequivocally in favour of the quota. “I’m very aware that an owner has the right to pick people he likes in his best interest of his board, and the quota violates that principle,” says Hoel. “I would have preferred the quota to be voluntary – but that would have meant waiting another 35 years. I’m also aware that, in companies, what is being counted, gets done.”

In Oslo, on the day of the final February deadline, the dozen ASA companies that have been “named and shamed” as failing to fulfil the quota, rapidly reduced to 10. Dammann and one other CEO explain that they had appointed two female non-execs but the change had fallen foul of red tape. Dammann appointed his two women last June, after what he says was a six-month “time-consuming” search. He is not a convert to the quota, though.

“I think people will still go to those they have trusted for years, whom they have had to remove from the board,” he says. “So there will now be a formal and informal system, and that cannot be good for accountability.”

One woman in her 50s and a veteran of non-executive boards concedes that there will be challenges ahead. “The higher you go, the more competitive the men,” she says. “It becomes harder to read the situation. They have their own code. Also, with only a couple of women on the board, we are still the outsiders. But to me it’s like a beautiful game of chess – you learn with every move.”

Dammann, like many opponents of the quota I met, is now pragmatic. “The law is passed. We are making an investment in diversity that should be good for business. I hope it pays off.”

Under the law, the remaining 10 rebel companies now theoretically face closure. “They will find the women,” Anne Margaret Blaker, political adviser to the minister of trade and industry, says. “You can be sure.”

In the UK, the pace of change continues at tortoise pace. Jacey Graham, co-author of A Woman’s Place is in the Boardroom: the Road Map, which will be published in June, says, “Nobody in the corporate world is in favour of quotas. What big companies are doing is putting targets in place at different levels within the organisation but not at board level.”

In June, the TUC and the CBI are due to publish a joint paper, Talent not Tokenism, arguing in favour of promoting diversity on a voluntary basis. The goal is the same as Norway’s, the road however may take much longer to travel. “It’s a natural instinct to recruit those who are like you,” says Marion Seguret, the CBI’s senior policy advisor. “Men need to be trained to look to the other 50% of the population.”

Back in Oslo, the irrepressible Fagerland says she plays a game with her daughters based on the Swedish fictional character Pippi Longstocking, a girl who believes in herself and is utterly unconventional. “We break all the rules. Everything is turned upside down. We wear pyjamas in the garden and eat sweets before dinner. They love it.

“I want them to constantly question why things should be as they are. In business, you can always find ways of playing the game differently and better. But first, you have to know your own level of competency and your price – and never sell yourself cheap. For your own sake, and for the sake of all those women who come after.”


‘9/11 ripped the bandage off US culture’

No sooner had the Twin Towers fallen than the search began for the heroes of 9/11. But only men seemed to be eligible. The women who died were ignored; those who survived were encouraged to get back to baking and child-rearing. So says Susan Faludi in her new book The Terror Dream. Decca Aitkenhead meets her and, overleaf, we print the first of three exclusive extracts
Decca Aitkenhead

Monday February 18 2008
The Guardian

Some months after 9/11, I received a call from a British women’s magazine editor who wanted to commission a feature. “It’s about terror sex,” she said. I didn’t know what she was talking about. “You know, terror sex! Everyone going out and having, like, crazy sex all the time, because they don’t know how long they’ve got before a terrorist attack.” I had never heard of this behaviour before, and nor for that matter since, but when I mention the call to Susan Faludi she nods – “Ah, yes, terror sex” – and laughs. “But at least,” she points out, “terror sex was about fun. It didn’t require going out and buying a rolling pin.”

Faludi received her first call from a journalist writing a “reaction story” to 9/11 on the very day of the attacks. She wondered why anyone would solicit her opinion on international terrorism, but after some vague preambles about “the social fabric”, the reporter’s purpose became clear: “Well,” he said gleefully, “this sure pushes feminism off the map!”

The calls kept coming. “When one journalist rang to ask if I had noticed how women were becoming more feminine, I asked her, ‘What exactly is your evidence?’ She said her girlfriends had started baking cookies.” Within weeks the pattern was growing clear. “It was the idea of the return of the manly man, and of women becoming softer. That had become the trend story.”

At the time, Faludi was working on a biography of an eco activist. “But I suddenly felt, ‘Why am I off in the woods?’ when I felt like I wanted to be writing something closer to what was happening.” She began monitoring the post-9/11 media closely, and found them dominated by enthusiastic reports of a mass retreat by women into feminine domesticity, and a wholesale revival of John Wayne manliness. Concerned that this narrative bore little resemblance to reality, Faludi shelved the eco biography and set about analysing the motives and evidence – or lack of – for this curiously reactionary narrative. The result is her third book, The Terror Dream: What 9/11 Revealed About America.

I had read that the author of two feminist blockbusters, Backlash and Stiffed, was unexpectedly meek in person. But the first impression is still a surprise, for Faludi, 48, is so paper thin and softly spoken as to seem almost like a middle-aged child. We meet in San Francisco, where she lives with her partner, and her manner is calm and kind, but wary. My early questions widen her eyes, not so much like a rabbit in the headlights as a field mouse.

Faludi’s caution may be a legacy from the ferocity of public reaction to her previous work. Ever since the publication of Backlash in 1992, the author and journalist has found herself caught up in America’s culture wars, a combat zone to which her sensibility, though not her intellect, seems ill suited. “Backlash was an advocacy book – or at least it was perceived that way,” she recalls, almost shuddering. By comparison, she says, The Terror Dream “is not such a barn burner, which is fine by me”.

Less a call to arms than a piece of cultural criticism, its thesis is still highly contentious by the standards of mainstream American thinking. When al-Qaida attacked their country, Faludi writes, the humiliating shame felt by American men watching helplessly on TV was experienced, at a subliminal level, sexually. “The post-9/11 commentaries were riddled with apprehensions that America was lacking in masculine fortitude.” A Washington comment article panicked about the “touchy-feely sensitive male” who had been “psychopathologised by howling fems”, and speculated hopefully, “Is the alpha male making a comeback?” Despite the perversity of a nation “attacked precisely because of its imperial pre-eminence” reacting by “fixating on its weakness”, America’s media fell back in love with the manly man – an old-fashioned hero strong enough to defend his nation and rescue his womenfolk.

If he did not exist, he would have to be invented. So firemen had to be superheroes, widows had to be helpless, unmarried women had to be frantic to wed and working mums had to want to stay at home. Crucially, strong men had to protect weak women – a desire vividly dramatised by the Rambo-style rescue in Iraq of Private Jessica Lynch, who found herself reconfigured by the media from professional soldier to helpless damsel.

Faludi traces this “rescue narrative” right back to the original shame of America’s frontiersmen, whose womenfolk were frequently kidnapped by Indians – and, more shaming still, did not always want to be rescued. “The ‘unimaginable’ assault on our home soil was, in fact, anything but unimaginable,” she writes. “The anxieties it awakened reside deep in our cultural memory. And the myth we deployed to keep those anxieties buried is one we’ve been constructing for more than 300 years.”

Somewhat to her surprise, The Terror Dream has received broadly good reviews in the US. But this, Faludi suspects, has a lot to do with the fact that it was not published until last year.

“You know,” she says drily, “you really couldn’t say anything questioning in this country for years, not until hurricane Katrina – 9/11 was still too much of a sacred cow. You certainly couldn’t make a cynical remark. You saw what happened to Katha Pollitt.”

Pollitt was one of a number of women writers, including Susan Sontag, whose tentative dissent from the jingoistic chorus in the months after 9/11 provoked peculiarly spiteful uproar. “Pollitt, honey, it’s time to take your brain to the dry cleaners,” one columnist sneered; “We’re at war, sweetheart,” wrote another. A man called Pollitt’s home number and ordered her to “go back to Afghanistan, you bitch”.

But surely male dissenters could – and in some cases did – incur outrage? “Yes,” Faludi agrees, “but the criticism towards women wasn’t just: that’s an unpatriotic thing to say. It was: that’s an unpatriotic thing to say, and you’re a bad mother, and you’re morally deranged, you’re a ditzy idiot. The language was very much coded in female terms. And it was so way over the top. I mean, some of these women hadn’t said very much of anything.”

Her theory that this signalled the advent of a misogynistic climate has been challenged by some critics, who point out that the period saw the first female evening network-news anchor, Harvard’s first female president and America’s first female secretary of state. “I mean,” objected one, “how can she not mention that Hillary Clinton is the leading Democratic contender for president?”

“I found that really exasperating,” Faludi responds, “because this is not a book about what 9/11 did to women. Or to men, for that matter. It’s a book about how 9/11 ripped the bandage off, so we could see the underlying machinery that makes the culture go. The media and the rest of popular culture weren’t recording people’s reactions to 9/11; they were forcing made-up reactions down people’s throats. So whether Katie Couric’s at the anchor desk on CBS, that doesn’t contradict this.”

Besides, she adds: “For all the talk of Condi Rice being in a high position, the woman who was most celebrated in the White House was Karen Hughes. And for what? For going back to the home.” The presidential adviser stepped down in 2002 to spend more time with her family, a decision deliriously feted as “wise” and “unselfish”, under headlines such as “There’s no one like Mom for the home”. A Wall Street Journal columnist diagnosed “a case of Sept 11”, and speculated dreamily on the bliss of Hughes’s new domestic future. “She can wash her face in Dove foamy cleanser, pat it dry, put on a nice-smelling moisturiser and walk onward into the day. She can shop. Shopping is a wonderful thing.”

More startling even than the retro-sexist nature of the mythmaking exposed in The Terror Dream, though, is the sheer scale of it. Boundaries between fact and fiction appear blurred to the point of non-existence. Time magazine dubbed George Bush “the Lone Ranger”, while one political analyst noted that his “evildoers” rhetoric reminded him of the “Whams”, “Pows” and “Biffs” of Batman, concluding: “This is just the kind of hero America needs right now.” Scaling new heights of self-referential absurdity, the Daily News offered, as evidence for a story about the “opt-out trend”: “Talk of married, professional moms dropping out of the workforce to rear kids is all over magazines, talkshows and bookstore shelves.” Reporting grew so detached from reality that “security mom” was allowed to become a staple of mainstream media and political discourse, even though Time’s lead pollster confessed that, despite searching for this new demographic identity, “We honestly couldn’t find much em
pirical evidence to support it.”

As a work of cultural criticism, The Terror Dream is comprehensively shocking. But didn’t the extreme disconnection between reporting and reality that it exposed present the author with a problem? If the country’s cultural narrative was driven more by fiction than fact, and failed to reflect the truth of post-9/11 America, why base a whole book upon such spurious material?

“Because we live in a culture that’s so . . . you can’t . . .” She casts a hand around the hotel bar helplessly. “I mean, this is sort of miraculous, to be sitting in a room where there’s not some massive flat-screen TV yelling at us. It’s almost a sci-fi feeling, this kind of constant bombardment of programmed thought.” Its effect is not as simple, she stresses, as “monkey see, monkey do”. “But it certainly has a warping effect on how we think about the world, and how we think about ourselves.” Journalism became not descriptive but prescriptive – “and that had an enormous effect on our political life, our policy, our nightmarish policy, our misbegotten military strategy”.

In one respect, she concedes, cultural criticism today is less relevant than it used to be. “The culture used to move relatively slowly, so you could take aim. Now it moves so fast, and is so fluffy and meaningless, you feel like an idiot even complaining about it.” But on the other hand, “I think a reason that a lot of people feel politically paralysed is that it used to be clear how power was organised. But those who have their hands on the levers of popular culture today have great power – and it isn’t even clear who they are.” They may be commercially accountable, in other words, but not democratically.

The real trouble with cultural criticism, of course, is not unlike the weakness of social “trend” stories extrapolated from catwalk fashions. Difficult to quantify or verify, its connections operate outside the calculus of statistical fact. But as an explanation for how 21st-century America found itself comfortable with rendition and waterboarding and torture, the link from a John Wayne fantasy revival to a “Lone Ranger” cowboy president, to the lawlessness of the wild west, is powerfully compelling.

“We have to fight the terrorists as if there were no rules,” a senior New York Times columnist wrote, as if riding into town. “A gunshot between the eyes,” advocated another in the New York Post. “Blow them to smithereens.”

Does Faludi think, I ask cautiously, that this weakness for muddling up cultural fiction with reality is caused by the sheer volume and sophistication of America’s media? Or does something in the national psyche render Americans uniquely susceptible to the confusion? I’m a bit worried that Faludi may feel the conversation is taking an anti-American turn. But she does not do that classic liberal sidestep of going only so far, before retreating into patriotic disclaimers. Her manner might be diffident, but her answer isn’t.

“I think,” she says bluntly, “it combines with a number of prevailing, longstanding dynamics in the American mindset. You know – the desire to be seen as innocent, that you can just hit the restart button. That tomorrow’s a new day, one person can make a difference – all these apolitical, and even anti-political, or certainly anti-historical ways of looking at the world. That makes us more susceptible to Cinderella stories, and want to believe them. Americans have always wanted to believe in some dreamy notion that has nothing to do with the facts that are right before them. Americans are just so wedded to saying OK, let’s just turn the page and everything’s going to be fine.”

At the risk of sounding like a smiley, solution-orientated American interviewer, I ask if she has any constructive suggestions as to how to address the problem articulated in Terror Dream. “I think the solution is actually to talk more about the problem, before saying let’s move on. There is this five-minute window that happens after a crisis like 9/11, when people are actually grappling with real experience, and with real feelings of vulnerability and weakness and pain and sorrow. And that’s immediately swept aside in favour of this make-believe story line. If we are really to free ourselves from that reflex, we have to understand the reflex – which is going to take more than five minutes. After all, it took us hundreds of years to create it and buy into it.”

It’s so rare to meet an American who seems gloomier than me, I feel slightly embarrassed to mention our excitement across the Atlantic at the prospect of a new president, for fear of sounding naive. Faludi won’t say which way she voted in the Democratic primary – but doesn’t she feel optimistic about the forthcoming election?

“Well, most of my voting life I’ve been painfully disappointed, starting with the first election I was old enough to vote in, which brought in Ronald Reagan. Yes, on the Democratic side we have a woman refusing to be a weak maiden, and we have a male candidate refusing to be the swaggering tough guy. So maybe things have really changed. But on the other hand, this myth never really goes away; it just goes underground, and it’s going to come back with a vengeance in the general election. You can already see it.”

I ask her what she means.

“Well, let’s assume McCain is the Republican candidate. His story is going to be the story of Daniel Boone – the guy who was taken captive by Indians or, in his case, the North Vietnamese, and withstood torture and came back. That’s the drama that’s going to be trotted out. Already they’re talking about ‘McCain the Warrior’. And then on the Democratic side, whoever the candidate is they’ll be attacked because they don’t fit into that rescue formula. Clinton will either be accused of being not manly enough to withstand the terrorist threat, or accused of being too cold and calculating to be a woman. Or both. And Obama will be this scrawny guy who doesn’t seem macho enough to stand up to the enemy.

“I don’t think,” she smiles sadly, “we’ve seen the last of the narrative”

· Susan Faludi’s The Terror Dream: What 9/11 Revealed About America is published by Atlantic Books at £12.99.
Copyright Guardian News and Media Limited


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5:00AM Monday October 01, 2007

Sometimes we just get it wrong. As readers, on a daily basis we watch a news story such as the Rotorua police rape case of Louise Nicholas unfurl in scattered pieces over months, even years.

Just as we are able to pull up to survey the big picture, the next noisier instalment diverts our attention.

In the thick of it, we argue over whether Clint Rickards is innocent, or if Wanganui Mayor Michael Laws’ declaration of “don’t give me moral coppers – give me effective ones” is frightening, foul or fair.

Only now, far too late, do I realise why the entire national conversation about this case feels sorely off-target. We have missed the point.

Yes, these trials may be about a dirty bunch of cops who were allowed to abuse their position of power criminally. It is also about a system that may or may not have been tragically flawed, allowing impotent litigation to drag on for years.

But the pivotal piece that holds the most power for me is that most of us – in the media, in the courts, and at dinner conversations – have forgotten one essential thing.


AdvertisementThis story started with an innocent 13-year-old girl. Ultimately, it will end with another 13-year-old girl, Louise Nicholas’ daughter, and mine, and yours.

Louise Nicholas was first raped by a cop before she had even begun menstruating. She was a young, scared girl boarding with her abuser and his family. It took her decades to grow into a woman sophisticated enough to understand the abuse of the institutionalised corruption she would have to fight long after that first rape.

For a moment, put aside whether Clint Rickards needs to be out on the street stripped of his new $50,000 Government wheels. Put aside whether John Dewar’s counter-accusations will be upheld, and even put aside whether Louise Nicholas was telling the truth. Instead consider this.

One woman has been on the witness stand seven times through five trials and three depositions. Thousands of pre-trial hours have been spent on what her decision to speak out as a young girl has now unearthed decades later.

She has been called “the town bike” and a “media whore” by people who have never known her, though there has never been proof that she was sexually promiscuous in any way outside of the police rape incidents.

She has had the guts, the strength, the tenacity, and the tremendous inner resolve to choose to fight this case through intermittent litigation on and off for the past 14 years.

How would one person ever have had the strength to put herself through this?

Even if you discount her entire case, no one can ignore almost two dozen women who eventually came forward with similar stories of abuse uncovered as a result of the Operation Austin investigation in the years that followed. The handfuls of victims who chose not to confront the cruel agitator of the courts or the media are today symbolised in just one woman.

Louise Nicholas lost the trials she always believed would rebalance justice. But she won something much bigger than her own experience. She won a different future for her daughter – one that was stolen from her past. What I and many others in this country have forgotten amid the combustible discourse is how to change the conversation. We forgot how to ask: What should be valued here?

There is a former dairy milker living quietly in the North Island with three daughters and a new baby son who embodies what is best about this country. She has fought – despite being stripped of personal power taken from her since she was a young teenager – against the police, against the courts, and against public opinion to do what she knew was right, to find justice.

She lost once, twice, three times, then four, and even today it appears that this fifth trial conviction will be contested.

Louise Nicholas, I hope your 12-year-old daughter has begun to understand the importance of the woman you have become.

Tell her what you have done for her future. Tell her what you have done for the thousands of silent victims who are now a part of your singular voice.

Then this country can remember to say what we should have understood all along. Thank you.

* Tracey.

Louise Nicholas is speaking at 8pm tomorrow, at the Dorothy Winstone Theatre, Auckland Girls Grammar School. For tickets benefiting Rape Crisis phone (09) 376-4399.


Bay of Plenty Times

PICTURE: MARK McKEOWN: TMAPS co-ordinator Jessica Trask is buried under a pile of paperwork.

Pushing paper instead of helping victims

A lack of funding has left the co-ordinator of a family violence programme launched five months ago in Tauranga, desk-bound and struggling to find time to be out in the community.

Less than three weeks after the launch of the Government’s $14 million “Family Violence _ It’s not OK’ campaign, Jessica Trask of the Tauranga Abuse Prevention Strategy said most of her day is spent pushing paper.

A funding shortage has meant 20 hours of administrative support has recently had to be cut leaving Miss Trask to deal with paperwork and phone calls generated by up to 60 family violence callouts each week.

Time spent sourcing funding is now added to the list of tasks.
Her role previously included educating Western Bay residents on domestic violence _ something she now has little time for.

Miss Trask said that while the Government had poured $14 million into the national campaign, encouraging the public to ring in and report family violence, organisations and community groups had not received additional funding to deal with an increasing workload.

“What was 15 per cent of my role before now has become something like 70 per cent of my role and that’s largely paperwork,” said Miss Trask.

The strategy was 18 months in the planning and aims to bring agencies that deal with family violence together to stop families falling through the cracks and to educate the public on domestic violence.

This week marks the strategy’s five-month anniversary_ a lifespan that has proved too short to fully tap into crucial government funding received by similar organisations in Whakatane and Rotorua.

Miss Trask had been hopeful of receiving $80,000 funding from the Te Rito collaborative fund _ established by the Government in 2002 to ensure local agencies could work together to develop family violence prevention strategies in their region.

However, Ministry of Social Development spokeswoman Marti Eller said the strategy was not eligible for the amount granted to similar groups because it was not in existence during the original contestable funding round in 2003.

Conditions of the Te Rito fund stipulate that applications for a second round of funding _ securing $80,000 a year for three years _ were only open to the original applicants.

The strategy, known as TMAPS, lodged an application regardless and was able to secure $25,000 a year from an unspent allocation of the Te Rito fund nationally.

“The fact that the local team have worked hard to find funding for them (and will prioritise them should any further funding free up) is a tribute to what they have established,” said Ms Eller.

Miss Trask said TMAPS was appreciative of ongoing support from local Government funding agents but a lack of prioritisation of the Te Rito Strategy at a higher financial level meant successful community collaborations like TMAPS were under serious threat.

She had hoped Government funding would result in further expansion across the sector.

“It will mean a considerable shortfall and we will need to be looking to the community to help us to continue this,” she said.

“We don’t need a new strategy, the strategy’s been decided. We just need to fund it properly.”

Tauranga Women’s Refuge manager Hazel Hape said TMAPS, which works closely with 18 family violence related organisations in Tauranga, was a good initiative but its longevity was dependent on ongoing Government funding.

TMAPS was exploring other funding avenues.


Are women united against violence and for peace?

September 17, 2007

LONDON: Women celebrities and activists – including the Australian actor Cate Blanchett, model Elle Macpherson and writer Germaine Greer – have urged world leaders to demand an immediate ceasefire in Sudan’s Darfur region and the swift deployment of an expanded peacekeeping force there.

The women made the statement in an open letter to newspapers around the world on Saturday before the United Nations General Assembly meeting to discuss the crisis this week.

Their letter was also published before street protests in Britain, the US, New Zealand, South Africa and Japan marked Global Day for Darfur yesterday.

Organisers including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the Save Darfur Coalition urged protesters to wear blindfolds and to tell world leaders not to “look away now”.

“The crisis in Darfur and eastern Chad remains one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world. The international community must not look the other way as the situation deteriorates,” said the letter by the 26 activists, eight of whom recently travelled to the western region of Sudan.

More than 200,000 people have died and 2.5 million have fled their homes since ethnic African rebels took up arms against the Arab-dominated Sudanese Government in 2003, accusing it of decades of neglect. The Government is accused of retaliating by unleashing a militia of Arab nomads known as the Janjaweed – a charge it denies.

Efforts are under way to speed up the deployment of a 26,000-strong African Union-UN peacekeeping force in Darfur that is to replace a smaller, ineffectual mission of African Union troops.

The letter urged politicians meeting at the UN to “move beyond sympathy for the suffering” and to “step up the pressure on all parties in the conflict to agree to an immediate ceasefire”.

Other signatories included the US actor Mia Farrow; Dame Anita Roddick, the Body Shop founder who died in England last week, and the Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

Associated Press