The feminisation of leadership and public discussion.

Over the last two decades New Zealand politics has had significant feminine influence.

Jenny Shipley became New Zealand’s first female Prime Minister, taking over (rather being elected) and being in charge from 1999 to 1999.

Helen Clark earned her way to the top of the Labour party and then helped Labour ‘win’ three successive elections, leading from 1999 to 2008.

John Key, Bill English and Steven Joyce brought back significant male influence in our politics for the next nine years. Key played on blokiness, quite successfully, a lot, but English moved a bit towards a more caring approach to finance.

Then in 2017 there was a major switch back to feminine influence when Jacinda Ardern turned around a flailing and failing Labour Party to take over the Prime Ministerial office – to an extent ironically thanks to the support of and baubles won by Winston Peters (NZ First does not appear to be a bastion of feminine influence).

Ardern’s takeover of power was sudden and a surprise, but her promise to put more kindness into Government has been largely accepted as a positive, even though she is yet to substantially live up to her PR.

So politics in New Zealand has had and still has a fairly ‘feminist’ influence leading into and for the duration so far of this century. It has been a largely uncontroversial transformation.

Alongside this, while women are still in a minority in some things, especially business management, some balance is apparent in notable or influential positions, with women becoming Governor General and Chief Justice – Dame Sian Elias was the first woman to hold the office, appointed on the advice of Jenny Shipley, and Helen Winkelman has just been announced as Elias’ successor.

This has been happening over several decades.

What has seemed to suddenly change this year is the attempted feminisation of public discussion. This has been brewing for some time, but was given impetus by high profile issues like the Harvey Weinstein fall and the resulting #metoo movement. Properly addressing male abuses of power was long overdue.

But this has led to boldness by some feminist types (there are varieties of feminism) to try not just claim a right to drive public discussions on issues, but some have attempted to discredit and diminish male influences in discussions.

John Roughan (a male!) discusses this in Despite Trump, politics is getting softer

It is not just that more women are coming to the fore in politics but the wider influence of that, in business, the media and the way people are now supposed to think, speak and behave. It has changed quite rapidly, mostly for the better, but I think it is getting excessive.

Some attempts to shut up male voices in discussions is excessive – addressing imbalances often involves some over compensating – but it isn’t really getting a lot of traction.

The gentrification of politics is not confined to women. Its ultimate expression came from a man I would have counted among the last converts, Trevor Mallard. As Speaker of the House he has commissioned an independent inquiry into bullying and sexual harassment at Parliament. National, meanwhile, commissioned a review of its own culture after complaints against its ejected MP Jami-Lee Ross.

But these excesses are a small price to pay for the civilising influence of women in politics and the professions, and the progress they are making against sexual harassment. Few large law firms would have read the report of the inquiry into Russell McVeagh without looking hard in a mirror and making changes. All over the Western world, men who take advantage of power and position are being forced to take another look at themselves.

This is a good thing. Men who have abused power and abused women are a small minority but they have done a lot of damage.

There is unfairness from ostracising all men, and dangers from trial by media/social media and also from mischaracterising discomfort from criticism or holding to account as bullying. Lumping trivial offences in with serious things like abuse and rape can detract from dealing with the serious properly.

But this is all just relatively minor imperfection in addressing problems that need to be addressed by making it clear that male abuses of power are unacceptable.

I’ve written a bit about attacks on free speech by some feminists who think that redressing an imbalance demands that males, particularly white middle aged and older males shut up and keep out of discussions.

I think that the best way of dealing with this is to continue to participate in and promote discussions – and address the imbalances by making it easier or more inviting for female input into discussions.

It is far better to improve forums for debate for everyone, and while feminists can and should advocate for their free speech, males can do similar rather than shrink away.

Feminisation doesn’t have to mean a takeover by a few extreme feminists. In public discussions it should aim at freedom of speech that is free from abuse.

‘Start the conversation’ cranking up

‘Start the conversation’ got under way on Facebook recently:

In 2007 NZ Drug Foundation called for a national conversation about cannabis. For a decade it never took place. We are having it now!

Cannabis prohibition in New Zealand has been controversial for decades. In 2007 The New Zealand Drug Foundation called for national conversation about cannabis. For nearly ten years, this conversation has not taken place.

We as a nation must have this conversation. The debate in this country has always been very polarized, and it can get pretty extreme on both sides. Some would have you believe that cannabis is an evil drug, destroying the minds of our society’s youth. Others contend that it’s a miracle plant, sent down from the heavens to solve all of earth’s problems.

It’s hard to sort through all the rhetoric and make an informed decision, and government after government has refused to make this conversation a priority.

But we don’t need to wait. Let’s have this conversation right now, on the internet for all to see. Open and transparent.

Join the conversation and tell us what you think about cannabis, and New Zealand’s laws against it.

You can join the conversation here.

And the conversation will be cranking up at the Auckland Town Hall on Monday night:




MONDAY 27TH JUNE, 2016 7-9PM (or it could be 6.30 pm)

This is a public panel discussion featuring:

Professor Max Abbott: CNZM, Pro Vice-Chancellor, Dean and Professor of Psychology and Public Health, Faculty of Health and Environmental Sciences, AUT; Past President and Senior Consultant, World Federation for Mental Health

Helen Kelly: Former President of the New Zealand Council of Trade Unions and current medical cannabis campaigner.

Dr Warren Young: CNZM, Former Deputy President of the New Zealand Law Commission

Dr Chris Wilkins: Senior Researcher and Leader of the Illegal Drug Research team, SHORE Whariki Massey University.

Dr Huhana Hickey: Research fellow in Taupua Waiora Centre for Māori Health Research at AUT University

Tony Bouchier: President of the Criminal Bar Association.

Community Can Website

More details and discussion at Public Address: Starting the cannabis conversation: The “other” law reform