Writing as a grindstone. Finished writing, unfinished writing, writing ideas, things that I'll never get round to writing, other things. Grinding it out, grinding away. Writing some more.

Sunday, May 04, 2014

Draft 1: Reclaiming gender and sexuality

One of the things I’ve read about novel writing is you start by writing your novel. At the end you have an idea of what your novel is about, and then you can start writing it. All my writing seems to benefit from this process. Write a first draft. Throw it away. Write the proper first draft.

I want to show this in a progression of some writing I’ve been doing. I’ll put up another draft in the next couple of weeks.

Draft 1: reclaiming gender and sexuality

“White supremacy, rape culture, and the real and symbolic attack on gender, sexual identity and agency are very powerful tools of colonialism, settler colonialism and capitalism ... These forces have the intergenerational staying power to destroy generations of families, as they work to prevent us from intimately connecting to each other. They work to prevent mobilization because communities coping with epidemics of gender violence don’t have the physical or emotional capital to organize. They destroy the base of our nations and our political systems because they destroy our relationships to the land and to each other by fostering epidemic levels of anxiety, hopelessness, apathy, distrust and suicide. They work to destroy the fabric of Indigenous nationhoods … by making it difficult to form sustainable, strong relationships with each other.

“This is why I think it’s in all of our best interests to take on gender violence as a core resurgence project, a core decolonization project, a core of any Indigenous mobilization. And by gender violence I don’t just mean violence against women, I mean all gender violence.” Leanne Betasamosake Simpson

I have been asked to write a chapter on sexuality. I feel tempted to rush to read up on queer theory, to fill my head with the words that don’t speak to me but are supposedly about the world that I live in. Sentences that I don’t understand, that make me feel inadequate and unqualified, that say to me that my knowledge and experiences don’t count.

Colonisation has left many of us doubting our ability to theorise. We begin to understand our world through the colonisers’ theories. Their frameworks start to seem natural. Just as colonisers surveyed and divided up our land, they survey and divide up our knowledge. They categorise and theorise, and we compete with western-trained academics to explain our oppressions with their theories, to them. It is all so irrelevant.

Fortunately, I have other words that tell me to trust myself, that what I need to know and say is too important to be hidden in obscure poorly written academic jargon.

“i don’t need trans/gender/queer/feminist discourse to understand the ways that my gender/sexuality marks me as a target for violence. every screamed slur and threat informs me of this.

“i have nothing to learn from my oppressors that they haven’t already taught me in their every deed and action...

"i have so little time on this planet. and i refuse to spend anymore of it reading tedious tomes written by crusty dead white men or even a tweet from a vibrant, young white activist.

“the time i’ve already spent learning all this shit only adds another resentment to the pile. the time i’m spending unlearning all of it is part of my hate. i could have been learning my own language, instead of my colonizers.

“i could have been learning the history and customs of my own people, instead of the nonsense of white people." b.binaohan

Sexuality is a giant topic. I can’t say exactly what it includes or excludes. I see it as part of gender. It clearly includes how we understand sex, how we understand relationships, and how we understand ourselves. It includes how we relate to others, how we have sex and with whom, how we raise children, how power works. I can’t think of anything unaffected by gender and sexuality.

Which is why, as Simpson says, gendered colonial violence has been the cornerstone of colonialism, occupation and dispossession. The gender violence that she talks of is about all of this. It is the violence of heteropatriarchy, which broke apart the safety of our communities and our ways of being.


Heteropatriarchy is a useful concept. It describes a culture with a specific type of male dominance, a culture that privileges masculinity and heterosexuality within an understanding of gender as a male/female dichotomy. In short, it looks like Western culture.

Heteropatriarchy is all the things we’ve been told are normal. It is all the implications from believing that men are better than and opposite to women. It is contempt for women, and therefore for anyone who behaves like a woman. It requires strict policing of behaviour to keep these boundaries distinct.

Simpson explains how it has become part of North American indigenous communities:
“I see the expression of heteropatriarchy in our communities all the time – with the perpetuation of rigid (colonial) gender roles, pressuring women to wear certain articles of clothing to ceremonies, the exclusion of LGBQ2 individuals from communities and ceremonies, the dominance of male-centred narratives regarding Indigenous experience, the lack of recognition for women and LGBQ2’s voices, experiences, contributions and leadership, and narrow interpretations of tradition used to control the contributions of women in ceremony, politics and leadership, to name just a few.”
Does this sound familiar?

Heteropatriarchy includes the expectation that you can know who someone is and what they are capable of based on the shape of their genitals. It is expecting girls to wear pink and play quietly, while expecting boys to wear blue and love rough-and-tumble play. It is teaching children to be ashamed if they can’t conform to masculine and feminine stereotypes. It is encouraging boys to be sexually aggressive, while punishing girls for being sexual at all. It’s allowing boys to learn about sex from pornography that humiliates women, and then blaming them for treating girls as sexual objects rather than equals. It’s expecting men to be ‘masculine’ and women to be ‘feminine’. It’s shaming femininity—using culturally feminine qualities or body parts as insults, men acting like women for laughs, and treating emotions as signs of weakness. It’s honouring very specific masculine-identified qualities—strength, drive, rationality, ignoring emotions. It is punishing women for having children, taking away their income, or shaming them as ‘solo mums’. It is expecting men to not have time for their children. It’s rewarding parents who work outside the home, but not those who stay home. It is expecting women to look after men, to do all the emotional work in relationships, and blaming them if their partner is violent or controlling. It is expecting men to be emotionally pathetic, unable to cope with jealousy, anger or loss in healthy ways, unable to behave with integrity with sexual partners. It’s blaming women when they are attacked by their partners or by strangers. It’s making excuses for violent men. It’s accepting that women should be afraid. It’s paying more for ‘men’s work’, and not valuing ‘domestic’ or caring work. It’s women filling the kitchens and committees at marae, and men being recognised as our leaders. It’s the high-powered hui where men are the only invited speakers, and the other hui where people complain if there are ‘too many’ women speakers. It’s setting men and women against each other. It’s treating people who can’t work within this structure as the problem.

It’s all the things that tell us that men are more important than women. It’s all the things that try to limit what is recognised as normal, and what it means to be a person. It is violent and deadly, and it is not Māori.

None so queer as heteropatriarchy

When the British colonise land, they bring their laws with them—they expect their laws to supplant indigenous laws. And so it was here. While international law, Māori laws and the treaties that they signed all agree that tangata whenua would retain their own legal systems, the colonisers quickly behaved as if British law was the only real law. British constricted their sexuality and gender, and so imposed this constriction onto Māori bodies. Māori gender and sexuality became regulated by the state, as much through forcing Māori children to learn British morality in schools as through other legal routes. At the same time, ‘modern sexualities’ emerged from the West. We are now in the perverse situation that the sexually repressed settlers look more liberated than tangata whenua. Māori are portrayed as ‘conservative’ and homophobic, having adopted Victorian ‘morality’. Pākehā liberals bemoan the conservatism of Māori. This ignores both the violence of colonisation outlawing Māori ways of being, and the obvious fact that, policed as Māori communities are, and non-conforming Māori communities in particular, Māori have still been the ones driving homosexual liberation and law reform in this country. Where would we be without people like Ngāhuia Te Awekotuku (Te Arawa, Tūhoe, Waikato), Carmen Rupe (Ngāti Maniapoto), Georgina Beyer (Te Āti Awa, Ngāti Mutunga, Ngāti Raukawa, Ngāti Porou), and Louisa Wall (Ngāti Tūwharetoa, Waikato)?

Ahunga Tikanga as decolonising methodology

Ahunga tikanga is a discipline taught at Te Wānanga o Raukawa. Like other indigenous theories, it is a reclamation and celebration of indigenous ways of being in and understanding the world. It uses critical thinking as a tool for whakatupu mātauranga—extending the mātauranga continuum. Ahunga Tikanga is centered on Māori academic traditions. While its primary focus is critically examining and extending our mātauranga, it is also a method for decolonisation—for examining and undoing the damage of colonisation on our mātauranga.

Six statements guide us:
  1. We have faith in our tūpuna. What they did, they did intentionally, and with integrity.
  2. We have faith in our mātauranga. Our tūpuna had generations in which to understand their rohe, to experiment and to learn the important skills and values in making and maintaining the relationships they need. They embedded that knowledge in the oral traditions that inform our mātauranga.
  3. Tikanga is the only legitimate law of Aotearoa. It is the first law, and it has never been ceded.
  4. Whakapapa is the philosophical framework of tikanga. It is the heart of our mātauranga.
  5. Colonisation has led to imposter tikanga. This acknowledges the effect of colonisation on how we understand ourselves and our world.
  6. Decolonisation means reclamation. It is not enough to grow the mātauranga, we must make it accessible and usable.
What does this mean in practice? Ani Mikaere and Moana Jackson say it’s important to start with the mātauranga continuum.

I want you to imagine a line in front of you. This line stretches forward, past your birth and your parents’ births, past the arrival of Europeans to these motu, past the arrival of your tūpuna Māori, all the way to the time of creation. It also stretches behind you to eternity. This line represents the knowledge and wisdom of all the generations of our tūpuna, our intellectual tradition. Whatarangi Winiata calls this line the mātauranga continuum.

Now imagine just in front of you, there’s an intersecting line. That line represents colonisation. It’s like a knife trying to cut through the continuum—it is western cultural imperialism, which is the denial of anyone else’s knowledge or tikanga. It seeks to cut our knowledge off from our past, by denying we had laws, let alone philosophies or an intellectual tradition. And it seeks to cut off the possibility of the continuum carrying on, by replacing our mātauranga with Western understandings. Our colonisers would have us believe that our knowledge is exactly what Europeans recorded when they arrived, nothing more. We are supposed to believe that the Western academic tradition can better understand and represent mātauranga Māori than a Māori academic tradition can. Whether we’re talking about Western trained researchers 200 years ago, or now, somehow they’re supposed to have a better take on the truth than anyone else. Finally, we are supposed to believe that authentic mātauranga is fixed in time at that point when the colonisers arrived. It didn’t develop from anything before then, and it can never develop beyond that point.

Those distorted views of our mātauranga have endured since the colonisers started their project, but our traditions have also endured. As Ani Mikaere (2009) has said, “While our experience of colonisation has been devastating, its impact should not blind us to the fact that it has occupied a mere moment in time on the continuum of our history.” We can use our traditions to ensure that colonisation is just a tiny dent on our continuum.

Decolonising means destabilising heteropatriarchy

Colonialism … quickly co-opted Indigenous individuals into colonial gender roles in order to replicate the heteropatriarchy of colonial society (Simpson). As Andrea Smith (2005) has said, the point was to more easily colonise us. We can expect that our tikanga around gender and sexuality will have been targeted first. Gender and sexuality are at the heart of who we are, and after 200 years of attack, we can expect to be affected. How do we use Ahunga Tikanga to decolonise our sexuality and gender?

We start by trusting our tūpuna. How did they think about sexuality? We do that by looking at what they had to say about te orokohanga o te ao. What does our mātauranga say about gender and sexuality?

There is a common pan-Māori narrative of creation that is widely known. I heard versions of it on children’s radio shows when I was a child, I read versions of it in children’s books, I was taught a version of it in Te Ātaarangi, and I hear or read people referring to it more often than to the many iwi narratives. It is a Pākehā narrative, cobbled together from bits and pieces of many stories with inconsistent details removed and laid out in a linear story. You know it: it starts with Te Kore, Te Pō and Rangi and Papa. Rangi saw Papa’s naked body below him, he desired her and took her; they had lots of male children who became cramped and bored; Tāne separated the parents; the brothers fought; the brothers search for the female element, Tāne makes her out of earth, breathes life into her, then has sex with her and she gives birth to the first woman; Tāne takes her as his wife, they have children, she discovers Tāne is her father and flees in shame to the underworld. Etc.

This narrative says a lot about gender and sexuality. It tells us that there are males and females, and that they are different. Males make the decisions that create our world, they interact with each other, they compete for dominance, they shape their environment—they are always doing something. Females (passively) bear the consequences of those actions—they are taken, they are impregnated, they are shamed, they are always disappearing (after giving birth to all her sons, Papatūānuku becomes the passive earth from which Tāne makes Hineahuone; after giving birth, Hineahuone is never heard of again; Hinetitama leaves the world of light). This is heteropatriarchy.

But if whakapapa is the foundation of tikanga, none of this makes sense. Ani Mikaere (2011) has explored what it means to understand the world through whakapapa, her conclusions include lack of hierarchy, the importance of relationships, and inclusiveness. It is clear that the narrative above is not consistent with these values. It is not a narrative that comes from a Māori philosophy. It is a corruption that justifies the corruption of our tikanga so that mana wahine becomes less than mana tāne, and mana tāne is itself defined as a limited heterosexual masculinity. It is not the way my people talk about creation.

In Kāi Tahu traditions (eg Tau 2003), Rakinui has several partners, and Papatūānuku is with Takaroa before Papa and Rakinui get together. Takaroa goes away, Raki and Papa get together, Takaroa comes back, fights with Raki, injures him, and goes away again.

I like this tradition, because it so reflects the world of our tūpuna—the going away and coming back of Takaroa, the red of Rakinui’s blood at sunrise or sunset. You can see why they recognised Papatūānuku as having a relationship with both Rakinui and Takaroa, because that’s how the whenua sits, surrounded by sea and sky. When we look to the horizon, we can see that Raki and Takaroa are also intimately entwined. What is their relationship? Are they forever embracing in their fight? It looks more like spooning. What is going on?

Tainui also describe creation differently. Pei te Hurinui Jones (2010) talks about how Ranginui and Papatūānuku are both bi-sexual or a-sexual (p241), and each gives birth to several children before getting together. Tāne-mahuta has sex with a male atua, Kahukura, who gives birth (referred to as a bi-sexual conception, p244). I am not from Tainui, so I will not speculate on the meaning of their traditions, but it is easy to see that this says something very different from the narrative constructed by Pākehā men.

An intriguing tradition that was recorded by a Pākehā man tells of Māui and Rohe (Tregear 1891; unfortunately, I can’t find a record of whose tradition this is). Māui is ugly and Rohe is so beautiful that Māui is jealous of her. He asks to swap faces with her, but she refuses. One night when she is asleep, he swaps faces. When she wakes she leaves to live in the underworld.

Helen Harte (2014) directed me to this tradition because it raises such interesting questions. Māui wanted to look like a woman, Rohe did not want to look like a man. Rohe had the mana to refuse Māui, and now has an important role in looking after us after death. Māui continued to live with a woman’s face. What was this story about before it was recorded by Pākehā?

What do these three examples say about gender and sexuality? They show that monogamy is not privileged. They show that males and masculinity are not especially privileged. They show that heterosexuality isn’t necessarily privileged. The more attention we give them and question what they mean, the more they reveal that neither gender nor sexuality are fixed, and that our tūpuna had a complex understanding of gender and sexuality. This isn’t surprising, because our tūpuna were great observers of their environment, and nature contains endless gender and sexual variety.

After 200 years of colonisation, the information we need is still there for us. We just need to be bold enough to see what isn’t being said, and ask the questions.

Decolonisation is community work

All of this is irrelevant if it doesn’t lead to change. We must measure our success not in numbers of academic papers, committees or conference talks, but by how much the community uses us and our work, by the change that it makes. How do we make ourselves and our work accessible where it is needed?

For example, how do we enable our communities to stop reproducing heteropatriarchy? How do we stop it being taught to our children? How do we ensure that all gender violence is taken seriously?

This is the challenge to academics. I am inspired by organisations like Native Youth Sexual Health Network (US and Canada), INCITE! (US), and Mana Ririki (NZ) and by organisers and educators like Harsha Walia, Jessica Danforth and Ngāhuia Murphy. We need to be reaching out to the communities who most need our work. We need to be producing and using culturally appropriate resources for parents, communities, kohanga and kura. We need to be designing, teaching and enrolling in workshops and courses. We need to be thinking strategically and long term about how our work can contribute to our physical and cultural survival.

For 200 years, colonisation has attacked who we are and how we understand ourselves. Through religion, education and law, it has tried to destroy our ways of relating, and forced Western ways on us. Heteropatriarchy is a result of colonisation, and so is the lack of faith that many of us have in our mātauranga. But the solutions will not be found in Western theories and practices. We have a long academic tradition, with our own critical theories and tikanga to guide us. Ahunga Tikanga is a tool for decolonisation—by showing faith in our tūpuna, we will build faith in the mātauranga they developed.

References (not linked to in body)
  • Harte, Helen Interview with the author 21 February, 2014
  • Jones, Pei Te Hurinui 2010 King Pōtatau: an account of the life of Pōtatau Te Wherowhero the first Māori king (Huia Publishers and the Polynesian Society, Wellington and Auckland)
  • Mikaere, Ani 2011 Colonising Myths—Māori Realities: He Rukuruku Whakaaro (Huia Publishers, Wellington and Te Tākupu, Ōtaki)
  • Mikaere, Ani 2009 ‘How will future generations judge us?’ Mā te rango te waka ka rere: Exploring a kaupapa Māori organisational framework (Te Wānanga o Raukawa, Ōtaki)
  • Smith, Andrea 2005 Conquest: Sexual Violence and American Indian Genocide (South End Press, Cambridge, MA)
  • Tau, Rawiri Te Maire 2003 Ngā Pikitūroa o Ngai Tahu: The Oral Traditions of Ngāi Tahu (University of Otago Press, Dunedin)
  • Tregear, Edward 1891 Maori-Polynesian Comparative Dictionary (Lyon and Blair, Wellington)

1 comment:

  1. Although the wait between your posts is hard, it is well worth it : )