In which I support Christine Rankin

Before I start, over here I criticise her appointment as a Families Commissioner. I still believe that she is the wrong person at a time when a consensus needs to be built around the fundamentals of family in New Zealand. 

Over the last few days I have become more and more revolted by the media’s intrusion into Christine Rankin’s person life, and the analysis and commentary that has accompanied it. I’ve tried to write this post a couple of times, and I’ve finally unpacked the three issues that I find so offensive.

Stereotyping and dismissing women

75% of the commentary has focussed on Rankin’s sexuality – her skirt length, her earrings, the response of men, her relationships (frame as a seductress) – as if a woman’s only power is her sexuality. She was a senior public servant, she has run a successful lobby organisation; she is clearly an effective political and administrative operator who uses her intellect and eloquence to gain power.

Why oh why is it acceptable to reduce a woman’s power to her sexuality? As if women were no more than breasts and a vulva and all our power comes from our ability to seduce and trap men.

The growing culture of personal attacks

Over the last few years there have been more and more personal attacks masquerading as commentary. Between the reasonable accusations of divisiveness and standing in opposition to government policy, there have been loads of unjustifiable personal attacks on Rankin.

When did it become acceptable for politicians and their allies to use personal attacks? When did the media start running them with glee rather than challenging the ethics and motives of the attacks? When did the Left start to stoop that low?

Unjustifiable intrusion into personal lives disguised as political analysis 

Rankin’s marriages and relationships have absolutely no relevance to her role as a Families Commissioner. It is not the marriage-for-life commission, it’s not the the perfectly-respectable commission, it’s the families commission which is intended to look after New Zealand families in all their shapes and sizes. Rankin’s family is not the same shape as mine, but that is not newsworthy or politically significant.

What justifies the increasingly prurient intrusion into the lives of the famous (and not so famous)? Are we really a country of judgemental curtain twitchers whose only engagement with our communities is condemnatory gossip, rumour and innuendo?

Sacrificing families for political gains

The section 59 debate, for the first time in a long time, lifted the lid on the New Zealand “family”. What we found was a fight waiting to happen: the core of the debate was not smacking, it was the nature and role of the family. How should we balance the competing interests of the family, its individual members, the community that surrounds it, and the state which we rely on to intervene when necessary and butt out the rest of the time?

How the 2008-2010 government would address that gulf fascinated me. It seems so intractable, yet addressing it is so necessary. National have chosen Christine Rankin, they have chosen to make the Families Commission incapable of progressing this.

It’s not Rankin’s support of the pro-smacking referendum, it’s not her links to the conservative Christian lobby, nor her links to the crime and punishment lobby, the anti-transparency brigade, or the right wing political donors. It’s her track record of divisiveness, or polarising issues and debates.

By choosing Rankin National may have discharged their debts or paid back their supporters, but in the process they’ve sacrificed progress, safety, and growth for our families.

[Ari and Julie have both written good pieces on Rankin’s unsuitability for the role separate from her divisiveness]