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.

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Our tūpuna dreamed the future for all of us

This is the second draft of “reclaiming gender and sexuality”. You can see that it’s taken a different direction from that first draft. After writing the previous draft, the point I wanted to make started to become clear. I was able to take out lots of the stuff I really wanted to include, the quotes and work that inspired me, but that wasn’t contributing to my point. I’ll post the final version in a few weeks.

Draft 2

A few years ago I gave a talk on sexuality and whanau at a conference on tikanga (McBreen 2012). I argued that whenever Māori excluded people because of their sexuality, they were enacting the same cultural imperialism as colonisation—that their homophobia could not only be seen as analogous to our colonisers’ cultural imperialism, but that it was a result of it. I argued that the violence of homophobia, whether through anti-gay jokes, or insults or physical attacks, was traumatising whanaunga, including all children. I am increasingly uncomfortable with my argument. Not because I think it is incorrect, but because it was insufficient. I reduced my demands to appeal to people who I didn’t trust to respond to what I think is really important. I should have trusted them, and this is the argument I should have made. Decolonisation does not mean asking that Māori communities accept those of us whose sexualities or genders don’t conform, it requires eradicating heteropatriarchy from those communities. I don’t want people to put aside their homophobia, I want them to rethink all they know about what it means to be a man or woman living on this land. I don’t want them to do it to protect their kids, I want us to do it because it will protect us all, because our survival as Māori depends on it, because it is the path to tino rangatiratanga.

He tōtara wāhi rua he kai nā te toki

Many indigenous writers have commented that enforcing patriarchy and heteronormativity is a key tactic of colonisation, that it is not simply a by-product. As Cherokee activist Andrea Smith has written, introducing the hierarchy of patriarchy and binary gender prepares us for being ruled over by colonisers (and works to the goal of destroying us as people) (Smith 2005). Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, an activist of Michi Saagiig Nishnaabeg ancestry, explains that the colonisers’ attacks on gender and sexuality destroy our relationships with each other, weakening our resistance to colonisation. If whakapapa is a foundational Māori philosophy, then the many ways that heteropatriarchy attacks our understanding of whakapapa means that it has the potential to destroy what it means to be Māori (Mikaere 2000).

I want to start with some definitions. ‘Gender’, ‘sexuality’ and heteropatriarchy are colonial ideas, and cannot easily be translated into te Reo—they do not have comparable Māori terms (eg, Pihama). ‘Gender’ and ‘sexuality’ are political terms, whose meanings are an ongoing source of argument. To oversimplify, gender is often used to mean the socially understood categories of men and women (contrasted against sex, the biologically defined categories of male and female). Sexuality in its most restricted understanding means sexual preference, and may include desire. But as Leonie Pihama has said, it also has a much broader meaning, encompassing how we live, relate to each other, and understand ourselves. These ideas are central to heteropatriarchy.

Heteropatriarchy is a useful concept (which I am treating as synonymous with heteronormative). 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—the expectation that you can know who someone is and what they are capable of based on the shape of their genitals. 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. I want to unpack this further, by giving everyday examples of the ways we teach and enforce heteropatriarchy.

Heteropatriarchy is expecting girls to wear pink and play quietly, while expecting boys to wear blue and love rough-and-tumble play. It is shaming children who 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 shaming culturally feminine qualities and honouring very specific masculine-identified qualities, so competition, singlemindedness and rationality are valued, while co-operation, emotions and care are not. It is judging women who choose not to have children, while financially punishing women who do have children. It is expecting men not to care for their children. 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 and 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, while men are 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.

Heteropatriarchy is a colonial weapon that we are inviting into our own homes.

Hoki atu ki tōu maunga kia purea ai i ngā hau o Tāwhirimātea

Despite efforts to erase it, researchers of Māori sexuality have provided historical evidence for a range of sexualities and gender expressions (eg, Aspin & Hutchings 2006, Te Awekotuku 2005). Of course, there are a range of sexual and gender expressions in colonial culture also, in spite of heteropatriarchy. What is more interesting to me is that when we look at our creation traditions, there is also evidence of the way our tūpuna thought about gender and sexuality, and it is very different to heteropatriarchy.

A people’s creation traditions are important. They hold the imaginings of tūpuna, the explanations that made sense to them for the ongoing process of creation, and their dreams for how their uri might live into the future. They are an enduring haven to which we can return.

We still need to be cautious and critical. Much of our oral history has been infiltrated by colonial thinking. There is a common 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 into a linear story, intelligible to the writers. 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. 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 have another explanation of creation. 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 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.

There is evidence of flexibility, an absence of hierarchy, and combined with lack of categories in te Reo that align with Western categories, that gives a strong message that gender and sexuality were not as important to our tūpuna. Heteropatriarchy is completely foreign. This presents a challenge to all of us—how do we eradicate heteropatriarchy? How do we make these categories less important again? How much needs to change so that we no longer need labels like gay, bisexual, or even takatāpui to organise ourselves under? What must change so that we can say with honesty that, where there are specific roles for tāne and wāhine, they are equally important and respected? How do we create the conditions for our liberation? We must undo all the ways that domination is controlling us.

After 200 years of colonisation, the dreams of our tūpuna are waiting to be recovered. We just need to be bold enough to see all that isn’t being said, and ask the hard questions.

Mā pango mā whero ka oti ai te mahi

If whakapapa is the foundation of tikanga, heteropatriarchy makes no 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. Heteropatriarchy is a 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 reshapes all our relationships with our living whanaunga, as well as with our tūpuna and atua. It is for these reasons that Leonie Pihama (1998, p184) suggests The imposition of the western nuclear family is perhaps one of the key acts that undermined Māori societal structures.

Leanne Betasamosake Simpson challenges us to take on gender violence as a core resurgence project, a core decolonization project, a core of any Indigenous mobilization. By focusing on the violence of heteropatriarchy, we can see all that must change for us to realise tino rangatiratanga. There is no quick fix that will end gender violence, because it is at the core of colonisation. It is a virus bred in the colonisers that invades our tikanga, replicating itself wherever we are not actively resisting, until hierarchy seems a natural part of all that we do. By focusing on heteropatriarchy, we can see that Christianity, the nuclear family and projects focused only on building mana tāne will not lead to tino rangatiratanga.

By making hierarchy seem natural, heteropatriarchy reframes our understanding of the world as hierarchy—not only does tāne become more than wahine, but tuakana becomes more than teina, tūpuna becomes more than uri, rangatira becomes more than people. The point is to break our relationships to each other and land, so we can be dominated. The pathway is to teach us to dominate each other, the land, and all our environment, to cultivate relationships of domination. Hierarchy is incompatible with whakapapa—it focuses on difference in order to separate and dominate, whereas whakapapa focuses on relationships and linking together. Domination is violence, but when hierarchy has become natural to us, the violence is harder to see. Rejecting hierarchy is not only essential to decolonisation, it is a foundation on which decolonisation will be built, and will be a measure of our progress. As Andrea Smith (2006, p72) has said, Any liberation struggle that does not challenge heteronormativity cannot substantially challenge colonialism or white supremacy. Rather, as Cathy Cohen contends, such struggles will maintain colonialism based on a politics of secondary marginalization where the most elite class of these groups will further their aspirations on the backs of those most marginalized within the community.

Too often, decolonisation projects mirror or incorporate colonial systems of oppression. If the pathway to tino rangatiratanga looks the same as that of colonisation, then it will probably lead to the same place. Let’s not choose that path. Capitalism and the nation-state both rely on domination. It is only because we have become naturalised to hierarchy that we can imagine a decolonised future within the structures of capitalism or the nation-state. A decolonisation project with whakapapa at its foundation will challenge all systems of domination. The editors of Queer Indigenous Studies argue that those most marginalised by heteropatriarchy have a special role in this work by disrupting colonially imposed and internalized systems of gender and sexuality, Indigenous queer and Two-spirit critiques can move decolonizing movements outside dominant logics and narratives of 'nation' (Driskill, Finley, Gilley & Morgensen 2011, p17). Tino rangatiratanga will involve remembering, re-imagining and re-inventing structures that reflect the values we want for our future.

It is always tempting in arguing for decolonisation to start by exposing the violence of colonisation. Listing the effects of colonisation, on women, on men, on our children, on our relationships with each other, on those not considered normal, shows one reason why decolonisation is important and urgent—our colonial reality is literally killing us. There is another reason, which is also important—this colonial reality is killing the dreams our tūpuna made for us and the lands to which we belong. It is killing our culture. Our tūpuna had generations to learn how to live in these lands, they developed ethics for relationships with each other and their environment that sustained them. They wove these ethics and all they learnt into stories of creation. This was their method of passing on all that they knew to be true, all that they dreamed and aspired to. These were always stories about whakapapa, always stories that could only be understood by focusing on the relationships. For our survival as Māori, we must return to these stories. We must face their dreams, however challenging they now seem. For it to be meaningful, we must define decolonisation on their terms, and with whakapapa as our guide.

Aspin, Clive and Jessica Hutchings 2006 ‘Māori sexuality’ State of the Māori Nation: Twenty-first-century Issues in Aotearoa Edited by Malcolm Mulholland (Reed, Auckland)
Driskill, Qwo-Li, Chris Finley, Brian Joseph Gilley, Scott Lauria Morgensen 2011 ‘Introduction’ Queer Indigenous Studies: Critical Interventions in Theory, Politics, and Literature Edited by Qwo-Li Driskill, Chris Finley, Brian Joseph Gilley & Scott Lauria Morgensen (University of Arizona Press, Tuscon, AZ, US)
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)
McBreen, Kim ‘It’s about whānau—oppression, sexuality and mana’ Kei Tua o Te Pae Hui Proceedings. Te Wānanga o Raukawa, Ōtaki, 4-5 September 2012: 55-64
Mikaere, Ani 2011 Colonising Myths—Māori Realities: He Rukuruku Whakaaro (Huia Publishers, Wellington and Te Tākupu, Ōtaki)
Mikaere, Ani 2011 ‘Patriarchy as the ultimate divide and rule tactic: The assault on tikanga Māori by Pākehā law’ Mai i Te Ata Hāpara conference, Te Wānanga o Raukawa, Ōtaki, 11-13 August 2000
Pihama, Leonie, accessed 17 April, 2014
Pihama, Leonie 'Reconstructing meanings of family: lesbian/gay whānau and families in Aotearoa' The Family in Aotearoa New Zealand Edited by Vivienne Adair (Longman, Auckland 1998)
Simpson, Leanne Betasamosake, accessed 6 March, 2014
Smith, Andrea 2005 Conquest: Sexual Violence and American Indian Genocide (South End Press, Cambridge, MA, US)
Smith, A 2006 ‘Heteropatriarchy and the three pillars of white supremacy: rethinking women of color organizing’ Color of Violence: The Incite! Anthology Edited by Incite! Women of Color Against Violence (South End Press, Cambridge MA, US)
Tau, Rawiri Te Maire 2003 Ngā Pikitūroa o Ngai Tahu: The Oral Traditions of Ngāi Tahu (University of Otago Press, Dunedin)
Te Awekotuku, Ngāhuia 2005 ‘He reka anō – same-sex lust and loving in the ancient Māori world’ Outlines: Lesbian & Gay Histories of Aotearoa Edited by Alison J Laurie & Linda Evans (LAGANZ, Wellington)
Tregear, Edward 1891 Maori-Polynesian Comparative Dictionary (Lyon and Blair, Wellington)

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