breasts seem to be everybody’s territory

“fifteen year old heroin addicts can usually keep their babies alive until they reach school age I don’t see why you should be so worried you won’t.”

That was the excellent mothering advice given by a mid-wife to a well educated and overly anxious friend who was trying to be the perfect new Mum.

Being a Mum has suddenly become so wrought with the burden of having to make the right decisions on everything or risk completely screwing up your off-spring for life. Our baby boomer Mums weren’t worried. As long as we didn’t get the cold duck in the baby bottle we were winning and everything else was filed under ‘character building’. While Piri Weepu took a hiding over the ‘breast is best’ debate last week I was mystified as to why breasts and their uses are such a politically divisive issue in New Zealand.

In Hispanic culture the bollocks take a much more leading role, at least in the language. When a bloke gets tired of being pushed around he will tell you that he is going to do ‘what his bollocks sing’, not as in the more boring Anglo phrase; ‘what he likes.’ If Latin blokes are getting testy they will require that you cease ‘inflaming’ their testicles and if things get really bad and they are on the point of losing it they will inform you that their balls have reached the floor with the weight of annoying behaviour that they are having to bear.

One treads carefully around the status of the Latin cojones. Breasts on the other hand are fair game for anyone to have an opinion on.

I’m still suffering post traumatic stress disorder having survived a breast feeding class in an antenatal group nearly a decade ago. I attended most of the classes on my own. The mad Latin had made it clear that he was not going to draw pictures of girly bits nor would he look at any birth videos but he would be more than happy to smoke cigars outside the delivery suite as was appropriate to his age gender and culture. The other members of the class – all with partners dutifully attending seemed to think I was making up a fictitious foreign partner and just nodded knowingly when I said he wouldn’t be coming each night. So, stupidly, I bullied him into it. Unfortunately that was the exact night that all the men had to take a doll and pretend to breast feed it throughout the meeting. The patronising tutor who spoke as if we all had been starved of oxygen at birth reiterated that it was vital that the men took this seriously and as of this moment the doll could be considered to be a real live breathing baby. At which point, not understanding anything she’d just said, the mad Latin threw the ‘baby’ in a slam dunk head first into the rubbish bin where its little legs continued to wobble accusingly in the ensuing and increasingly awkward silence. A silence punctuated by the Latin letting me know that his bollocks were now dragging on the floor and he would rather cut his willy off than pretend to breast feed an ugly plastic doll. He had a point. The tutor insisted I translate and so I told her that he was feeling culturally unsafe. As, no doubt, was she by this stage. We retreated disgracefully but I noted that while Latin males have clear boundaries around the state of their bollocks, breasts in Anglo culture seem to be everybody’s territory for staking out their political agendas, bar the woman who actually owns them.

Most people know that if and where a woman can breast feed it’s the best and cheapest option. Mostly where women choose not to they do so for a good reason. Where that is not the case they usually have a lot more to worry about than the chattering classes suggest. Like being a single working Mum on the minimum wage not wanting to fall into the benefit trap. Just as one example.

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Get off the Grass

We shall not, we shall not be moved! We…Oh all right then. We might be nudged a little. Oh? We’re not allowed here and you’re a bit annoyed at us? Right. Wouldn’t want that. I’ll be off home then – shall I close the door as I leave? Yes. No trouble I’ll be sure to mind the grass as I pack up my protester tent.” Deafening roar of mute shuffling and benign resignation.

This could be the script for most protest efforts in New Zealand. It’s depressing. Preferable to the Latin penchant for blowing stuff up and running about in camo gear but still – it does seem rather lame.

When the banks in Argentina closed their doors and left notices outside saying that their clients’ money was now in a ‘playpen’ for four years where it couldn’t be touched by the people who owned it, they stopped all public transport and went into the streets banging every saucepan they had in the house to vent their frustration. They went through about 4 presidents in as many months until they found someone who could start to sort the mess out.

In New Zealand there’s the whimper of ambiguous protest and they all get sent home like naughty kids for ruining the grass.

It’s unfortunate that the Occupy movement couldn’t count very well and that its ranks were filled with the young, na├»ve, homeless and mentally ill. It doesn’t detract from the fact that they were intuitively protesting about a society from which they felt marginalised and betrayed – a society that had once prided itself on everyone getting a fair go. These were not the kind of people who could easily launch a credible legal defence for their actions or articulate the economic rationale for their unease.

Twenty years of listening to the reasons why the trickle down theory is going to work one day must begin to feel like just getting peed on from above, and the only option is to pitch your tent and sulk in it for awhile.

It’s not usually the powerful or the privileged who are the first to stand up and be counted when it comes to defending social or environmental threats. Which was why the Law Society’s submission to the bill intended to regulate off-shore drilling in our EEZ was anything but lame. When the lawyers are saying that the bill ‘does not adequately reflect international law’ you have to assume they’re not liking it either. Nobody’s told them to get off the grass. Yet.

This week in Argentina – protestors in a handful of provinces managed to paralyse the operations of one mega open cast mine in Famatina and suspend further exploration. The protests spread to neighbouring provinces and the riot police were called in using tear gas and bullets to disband the groups of mainly women environmentalists in Catamarca. I rode through some of these towns 11 years ago when the mines had already contaminated enough of the water in places north of there to cause mental retardation in the children. Despite the mines having now been operating for over 15 years the villagers still lack basic health care, primary schools and water that does not make an entire village into idiots. These people are not lazy misguided protestors. They’re hard working agriculturalists easily replaced by mining conglomerates. As an economist from Buenos Aires University, Miguel Teubas has said ‘ mining displaces other more sociably profitable activities like agriculture, industry and tourism. It’s simple. These people can live without gold but they can not live without water.”

I doubt Kristina would show up and tell them that ‘no one owns the water’ so they may as well all get off the grass.

What is interesting is the protestors were not saying ‘no’ to mining per se. They were only requiring that mining continue where the environment could be adequately protected. They weren’t ruining any grass. There’s not enough water to grow any.

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Treaty of Waitangi 101

“I don’t feel responsible for anything my ancestors did and I don’t think there’s anything to redress – it’s all just history – shouldn’t we all just move on and worry about the future?”

It was early February about 23 years ago and I was hitching with an Aussie friend somewhere North of Kaitaia. We’d managed to get to Cape Reinga but were finding it hard getting any rides on the way back. It was getting dark and so we’d broken the golden rule and just hopped in the first car that stopped for us. It looked fairly flash and the man driving it was a middle aged Maori man in a suit. It was the late eighties and we were in Waitangi country and within a few minutes of being on the road again we were on the subject of the Treaty – which was when I made the above statement. It was typical of the times that I’d gotten through a fairly good secondary education and the first year of a degree in politics and I still knew nothing about the Treaty or any real history of New Zealand but still felt quite confident expressing the view that we should all just get over it (what ever ‘it’ was). He said that I might take more of an interest if I suddenly saw an army of disenfranchised Maori soldiers in camouflage gear storming South and holding the North as sovereign territory before re-grouping to take the rest of New Zealand in a civil war.

In the rear vision mirror I saw my friend’s eyes widen. I looked at him. He looked at me.

I noted that he wasn’t entirely serious. I suggested that he might have a bit of trouble finding the camo gear to cover his generous puku and as long as the other soldiers were in the same excellent state of fitness I felt pretty safe in the knowledge that I would be able to out run them. At which he burst out laughing and invited us to dinner as he said he was hungry and wouldn’t want his impressive puku to be diminished in any way. As he was getting out of the car I whispered to my mate that I was sure I knew him. I couldn’t find any family friend connections but his face was definitely familiar. He took us to what seemed to us like a flash restaurant – we had no money and were embarrassed so we just ordered a coke. He ordered half a chicken with all the trimmings for us each. The meal became an entertaining lecture on the Treaty of Waitangi 101 from which he quoted verbatim. At one point my mate whispered “You’re out of your league”. I nodded and agreed to keep my mouth shut for the duration of the journey. We also decided that if he was a Maori radical terrorist he was a really nice one. He drove us back to Orewa where he was staying. It was, by this time about 1am and we said we’d be fine if he just dropped us on the side of the road – we’d make our own way home. He insisted on asking us exactly where that might be and then drove about 40 minutes out of his way to drop us in the driveway. As I got out of the car I wanted to thank him but didn’t feel I could without knowing his name. “You can just call me Matt.” He said. “Or Matiu – whatever you like. And the penny dropped. “It’s Rata isn’t it? Your surname I mean.” I said. He nodded.

I still think of him around Waitangi Day and wonder what he’d make of the status that the Treaty holds in New Zealand today. Would he see it as progress that the brash pakeha hitch-hiker is just as keen to keep the Treaty clause in the legislation for the sale of SOE’s simply because the Treaty is a long term community based way of looking after the future which encompasses possible environmental and social consequences and not simply a thin and very temporary bottom line?

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