Ending Unplanned

Briar Rose Douglas

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Study finds men prefer brunettes. Bleach sales plummet. World ends.

Someone, somewhere, has surely done a study on what hair colour women prefer on men, but I’ve never heard of it. So I asked Google, knower of all things. But it just shrugged, decided I must be confused, and offered a bunch of suggestions about what hair colour men like on women instead. (So I typed in “I don’t care” and had a Fall Out Boy renaissance.)

But if there weren’t enough studies like this out there for Google to spurt out, there’s now…well, another one. Breaking news on msn.co.nz: Men prefer brunettes over blondes (the original study is here). Well, phew. I just saved a whoooole lotta money on bleach, then. Thanks for telling me.

The problem (okay, one of the problems) is that it assumes women are just kind of…there to be looked at. Like life is a competition for male attention and the prettiest girl wins. And, if you have the right hair colour (or eye colour, or body type) you’ll be one step closer to happiness because men will like you and want to date you and build picket fences with you. Well, for you, probably. And why are similar studies about men’s hair colour hard to find? Why am I even asking a question that’s not Googleable? It’s not even a thing.

Whatever. Here’s a video of a cat playing piano.

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The hotness pageant

Quick: picture a beauty pageant contestant. Your picture might involve blonde hair, tanned skin and a perky smile. But most crucially, your picture almost certainly is of a woman. Why? Probably because male beauty competitions don’t really exist (the most similar event for men that I can think of is bodybuilding, and even that falls more into the sporting category). And, while many women will never enter an organised beauty pageant, they will inevitably be entered into another pageant - the pageant of life - where they will be rated according to their appearance and general sexiness. The judges? Men.

I had a conversation with a guy recently who emphatically declared that every (straight) man mentally, if not verbally, ranks the women around him in terms of hotness, everywhere he goes. (The temptation to put inverted commas around the word hotness is great, but I’m worried it’ll open up the politically correct punctuation floodgates.) Any guy, he said, who claims he doesn’t have this “would I or wouldn’t I like to sleep with these women, and in what order” list, is lying. (Of course, what he really meant was that he has this list, and has managed to get a few similarly minded buddies to participate.)

There’s no question that looks count for something when it comes to attraction. Most men (and women) will notice what people look like, and favour certain physical characteristics. But the term “hot” (there go the inverted commas) has a definite sexual element to it. The hot-or-not judgement is not just about rating someone’s looks, it’s about whether you’d like to roll around naked with them. Inappropriate contexts aside, there’s nothing wrong with that. But the idea that every man I encounter (Really? Even my friends’ dads or my lecturers at uni? All of them?) enters me into a mental hotness pageant, ranking me against any other females present, is pretty gross.

To be clear, I don’t believe this is true of all men for a second. At the very least, almost any statement starting with “all men” or “all women” makes the Statistical Gods weep sad, sad tears of logic. But apparently some guys do think this way, with Hot List Boy being exhibit A.

Blame it on society, celebrities, the media. Boys learn what is hot (and that hotness is important) from a young age. Girls grow up with their own matching set of messages about what they should look like and how men should act towards them, so that in a weird sort of way, winning the hotness pageant is almost flattering. After all, women are socialised to use their looks and sexuality to compete for male attention. Take women’s magazines, which inevitably have headings like “Be the hottest girl at the party” and “Be the best sex he’s ever had” (unfortunately, I didn’t make up those morsels of literary genius), or the unquantifiably large amount of advertising telling women what purchases will make them loveable, and telling men what women should look like.

And sure, there are ways for women to be attractive to a large number of men. Certain body types, hairstyles and clothing will undoubtedly attract male attention in bulk. But more importantly, who cares? Participate in the hotness pageant and all you really stand to gain is some superficial and probably temporary admiration. Why? Because ultimately, most people are more interested in getting to know someone who does cool things than a girl with perfect hair or a flawless figure. That’s not to say women can’t be cool and hot – just that one has more lasting benefits than the other.

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RIP state assets. New plan: Meat

Majorly depressed today. It’s not even that National won the election (hardly surprising). It’s that so many people just opted out of voting altogether. It’s that John Key’s odd endorsement of the Act party actually worked. It’s that I can no longer count on both hands the number of people I heard saying something along the lines of, “Oh, I don’t even care about politics, I just voted for John Key coz he seems nice, amirite? Lol!” (Hey, at least they voted.)

But you know what would make me feel better? Turkey. Or perhaps a bacon-wrapped turkey stuffed with a chicken that’s stuffed with another turkey that’s got stuffing in it. Bacon stuffing. I’ve never been to America, but I imagine Thanksgiving celebrations, with their large quantity of food and gratefulness, make everything better – not to mention the holiday fell just before the New Zealand election. So instead of writing about how much I wanted to keep our shiny state assets (and so on, and so forth), I’m going to write in the spirit of Thanksgiving in the hope that listing what I’m thankful for in this election will somehow manifest an abundance of delicious meat.

  • I’m thankful Phil Goff needn’t continue to be sacrificed at the parliamentary shrine.
  • I’m thankful that Winston’s unlikely prophesy that he would be back in Parliament came true. Now he can predict future natural disasters and rugby match outcomes for us. Thanks, Winston.
  • I’m thankful Colin Craig only managed to buy 2.8 per cent of votes after throwing his money at billboards and advertising for the Conservative Party. It’s nice to know that it takes more than money to get into Parliament – maybe next time he could try yelling about controversial topics like Winston does, or having tea with Dan Carter.
  • I’m thankful Don Brash has been once again voted off the island, even if the person now breathing life into Act (besides Key, of course) is John Banks - yet another former Nat who turned out to be not so close to the centre.
  • I’m thankful that New Zealand’s political term is only three years.
  • I’m thankful the Greens kicked party-vote ass. The only question I have now is whether they’d consider an alliance with a left-wing meat party. All free-range. All delicious. Yeah, that’ll be the slogan.

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Act in won’t-sell-your-assets clothing

I’m thinking of launching the Technology Party. The key policy would be to improve laws, democracy, and the parliamentary process using modern-day wizardry. Or basically, to keep up with the times.

Because what we really need is a “public anger” app on our mobiles, linked directly to a large, ominous-sounding bell in Parliament. If enough people dislike something, they punch in the right keyword, and the bell goes dong.

Democracy at its best.

Would this party be left or right, you ask? Pffft. The Technology Party has moved past these political leanings and the new way is “up”. Left and right is so 2005 - we fly above it. Like the Jetsons.

If you know anything about Colin Craig, the leader of the new political kids on the block, you’ll know he stands on the right.

But if it wasn’t for Colin naming his party the “Conservative Party”, I’d say he’s trying to keep one foot safely in the centre.

His own views on things like abortion, or marriage being “between a man and a woman”, were kindly described as “traditionalist” by 3News (but might be better labelled “backward”).

But wait – actually, that’s just Colin Craig’s personal views. It has nothing to do with the party (he just, you know, leads it, and funds their every move). He doesn’t think discussion about those things is “beneficial”. And it probably wouldn’t be beneficial for Colin, because it would ruin the “play it safe” strategy he’s got going on.

Take the party’s policies on its website, which are a list of political euphemisms and statements that no sane person, right or left, would ever disagree with – “You want your family to be safe”, “You want to worry less about money”, “You want happy families where parents are empowered to raise their children in a loving environment”.

Well, sure. But actually, what I really want is to know how they plan to get those things.

The Conservative Party, with its shiny, three-month-old new-ness, is certainly making the most of the honeymoon. Right-wingers scrambling for choice after Act spontaneously combusted (or just those who hate everything else on offer) have another option. And enough people are considering it for the Conservatives to feature in the polls.

But, really. It’s a right-wing party that’s polling at around one per cent, led by a well-off white man. Could this be the reincarnation of Act? Well, almost. It’s Act in won’t-sell-your-assets clothing.

They’ve chosen a few things that rubbed the majority the wrong way – asset sales, the anti-smacking legislation, the Emissions Trading Scheme – and said “Hey look! We hate those things, too! We understand you!” and then slipped the odd far-right statement in there (like that New Zealand should return to a single voter role – sounds an awful lot like Don Brash’s “We are all New Zealanders” speech to me).

The Conservative Party says it will govern with anyone, right or left. But one per cent beggars can’t be choosers, and despite opposing asset sales, it’s clear the party’s loyalty lies on the right.

So nod hello to the new Act. Because the newcomers are nothing new.

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That’s it – I’m voting for Winston

Politics used to be fun in New Zealand. From Helen Clark’s shoulder pads to Rodney Hide’s yellow blazer, party leaders used to have that element of delicious ridiculousness. Election debates, with all the parties tossed together to talk over each other and ignore the host, used to be popcorn-worthy.

But the opening election debate tonight was despicably civil. Besides John Key calling Phil Goff a “drunken sailor”, it was really just two guys in suits having a conversation that would have sat well at a dinner party. It was full of gentle, albeit cold, remarks of “no, let me finish”, or “you had your turn, now it’s mine” when the other interrupted.

Key was so relaxed he almost looked bored.

It was Helen Clark’s fault, really. She opted to only debate with the opposition leader (Mr Key himself) in 2008. John was always going to follow suit when he became Prime Minister. Not to do so would have lumped him in with the little guys, and it’s clearly in his favour to be pitted against Goff, who has never been in danger of denting Key’s popularity.

Helen had her reasons for locking out the minor parties. More time to talk policy, less people to talk over or put in their place.

But what about the fun, Helen? What about the fun?

The colourful leaders in the Beehive are being stripped of their wings. Rodney Hide was rolled, for reasons so vast they really deserve their own blog post. Green Party activist co-leader Jeanette Fitzsimons resigned, leaving precious few MPs willing to dress as Ronald McDonald and chain themselves to a fence. Hone Harawira was almost pushed out, clinging on by the skin of his by-election teeth.

But the saddest loss from the Parliament lol-fest was surely Winston Peters. He was everything you could want from a minor party leader. He yelled. He heckled. He mixed ridiculous policies with equal measures of criticism and wit. Winston was never going to reach the top of the Beehive, but he at least made it fun.

Let’s all abandon the major parties and their cruise to the land of the dull. Let’s swim out to the NZ First shipwreck and rescue Winston. At first he’ll shout that he doesn’t need recuing, that he’ll clamber back to Parliament on his own. As we paddle back to shore, he’ll argue that we’re going the wrong way. But bring back Winston, and we’ll have a debate worth watching.

So vote Winston. Vote fun.

It might not change the country, but at least we’ll have something to lol about.

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The retirement debate

It’s little wonder National wanted an MMP referendum. From the look of the election polls, First Past the Post would see them first past the democracy and straight to dictatorship town (do not pass go, do not collect tax from the rich).

Even under the current system, of course, National might be able to govern alone.

Though if Labour’s recent efforts win enough votes to dip National under the 50 per cent mark, it should make for some MMP-fuelled lols. John Key has written off NZ First even if Winston does do the impossible. Act has long been divided and conquered, and anyway, Don Brash was unpopular even when he was pretending to be centre-right. The Greens - the left-wing lifeboat for voters jumping the Labour ship - are doing well, but that’s hardly a match made in policy heaven. Hone Harawira is probably too much of a loose cannon for anyone’s taste. Back to the Maori Party then, possibly, or United Future’s one-man National cheer squad.

But Labour has delivered what National doesn’t seem to have counted on: an economic policy that actually makes sense. Lifting the retirement age is bound to happen, voters know it, and Labour is addressing it. No longer can Finance Minister Bill English claim Camp Goff are ignoring the facts and simply planning to borrow and hope for the best. Economically, Labour stands for something.

Worse for National, even Labour’s policy errs on the side of throwing money at retirement. As Winston Peters has pointed out to every reporter within shouting distance, Labour’s policy doesn’t go far enough. It doesn’t change anything now; it just plans to do so, far enough down the track that it almost seems irrelevant. But for a historically unpopular policy, that makes sense: it brings Labour considerably closer to facing reality than National, but next to Winston they still look stable and sensible. A good bet in an economic crisis, perhaps.

John Key promised to resign if he raises the Superannuation age (you know, like he promised he wouldn’t raise GST). The problem is, it’s a promise easily trampled by facts: at the moment, Superannuation costs about 4 per cent of GDP, but this will double within 20 years. Currently, the figures don’t add up. And the ageing population certainly will.

National is launching its campaign today, and it had better be good. Suddenly the retirement age is the election issue of the moment, and all National has done is cry “Return to surplus! Return to surplus!” – but Labour claims it can do that too, just as quickly, and without putting Kiwi assets up for adoption.

But Labour’s problem was never its policies. Labour’s problem was Goff. It’s not for any particular reason. He’s done nothing wrong. Nobody can say he’s untrustworthy or unreliable, incoherent or unintelligent. He’s just a bit flat.

What Labour has lacked is someone to make John Key look like he did sitting next to Obama – small and nervous, with trousers not long enough to cover those ridiculous pulled-up socks. John’s weird three-way handshake with Richie McCaw and IRB chairman Bernard Lapasset (oddly pulled from Youtube by the IRB for copyright – really? – reasons) might have helped, but it’s far from checkmate.

But there’s a reason Phil Goff was chosen to lead Labour. Sure, he’s no Helen Clark – in the 2005 election debates, she tripped Don Brash up and stomped him into the floor, whereas Phil would have politely set him on the ground and helped him up again. But Goff is good with words, and he is consistent (even if no-one actually remembers what he said).

As for the Prime Minister, he’s a bit hit-or-miss in the coherency stakes. If someone drops a tricky question like Stephen Sackur did on BBC’s Hardtalk, or mentions the words “standard” and “poor’s” in the same sentence, it might turn John back into an “I wasn’t at the meeting” broken record. When Goff and Key go head-to-head in the election debates, things might start to look a little different.

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What if the All Blacks had lost the World Cup?

Last night, Auckland was another place. The All Blacks had won the Cup (only just, but hey, winning is winning), and Queen Street was wall-to-wall with screaming, yelling, grinning faces descending on the Viaduct.

Sections of the mob sang the national anthem, or shouted no-longer-needed words of encouragement to the winning team. People climbed onto the roofs of shops and bus stops to yell similar sentiments. Fireworks were set off on the pavement, sparking hurried, giggling holes in the crowd. Strangers hugged and high-fived each other. No-one stood still. Signs saying Party Central was full – irritating only 80 minutes earlier – became laughable: the party was everywhere. Graham Henry himself could not have contained it.

It has been speculated that, had the All Blacks lost, there would have been riots, violence and mobs of angry black flags. But just like many New Zealanders were too cool for the World Cup build up, I suggest a French win on Auckland turf would have simply fallen flat.

Besides those at party central, who had queued far too long to face going home before midnight, the CBD’s population would have dropped to Tuesday-night numbers in 10 minutes flat. Most Kiwis would have gone home to post drunken tweets about who or what was to blame; that kick, that forward pass, that call by the ref. Others would have shrugged, insisted they cared more about the election, anyway, and escaped to cry in private. Those planning to join the party after the game would have stayed in to sulk over a beer.

The twenty-odd French supporters in the country would have been in good spirits, and would have taken a quick stroll up Queen Street together before sipping on a smug glass of champagne.

A couple of All Blacks fans would have yelled abuse at those dressed in blue and attempted to break into JB HI-FI, only to be outnumbered by bored police officers.

Riots in Auckland after losing to France? Nah. Kiwis wouldn’t have given them the satisfaction.

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Only Oprah can save Labour now

Oprah is the kind of woman who wins. She has dominated seemingly every field that has caught her fancy. Top talk show host? Check. Top of the Forbes rich list for women in the entertainment industry? Check. Thriving magazine to her name? Check. An unreasonably successful book club? Check. 

In fact, you could venture a solid case that Oprah is the most powerful woman in the world. Sure, Hilary Clinton has an impressive following, but if Hils mentions the name of a book, film or brand of chips, that doesn’t forcibly shoot it straight to the top of the best-seller list quite like Oprah’s endorsement. There are richer women than Oprah outside of Hollywood’s borders, but their names don’t spark the same instant recognition. Oprah’s power isn’t just about her professional position. It’s not just about her wealth. Oprah’s power stems from the complete and utter domination of one of the most basic human goals: getting people to like you.

I remember talking to my money-obsessed friend about why he wanted to be rich. He said it wasn’t so much the money, it was the power. The influence. It was what you could do with that money, or – let’s be honest – what you could get other people to do for you. And we both agreed money is the ultimate power.

But on second thought, I take it back.

Money gives you a lot of options, sure. But nothing lowers your influence in this world like being a complete tosser. Or, in Phil Goff’s case in the popularity contest that is New Zealand’s election campaign, a little bit lame.

John Key, with his disarming smile and boyish charm, can do no wrong. The wage gap between New Zealand and Australia is more Grand Canyon than the street gutter he promised? Well, it’s not his fault, it’s just the recession. He goes back on his guarantee that GST won’t go up? Oh well, there must be a good reason. He breaks the rules of the election campaign by going on the radio for an hour? Well, um, that’s probably coz of the Christchurch earthquakes or something…right?

Phil Goff, on the other hand, doesn’t have the looks or the likeability to pull in the votes. He may well know how to turn the economy around, stop climate change, and generally inject awesome into every inch of the country. But no one would know it, because he comes across a bit like a soggy biscuit. And never mind that the general public seem to like Labour’s policies, from tax-free fruit and veges, to keeping state assets, to a milk price inquiry. All voters really care about is witty banter and good dental work.

What Labour needs is some Oprah magic. If anyone can take Phil’s place at this late stage, she is it.

Just imagine her up at the podium in the election debates. While John Key mumbles helplessly about youth unemployment, Oprah will flash her fabulous teeth, pump her fists in the air and declare, “We can do it! We can do it! We can do it!” The audience will scream and cry and clap in delight, not caring what “it” is or how Oprah plans to go about getting there.

"She’s not even a New Zealand resident!" John will cry. "But I believe in New Zealand!" Oprah will shout in reply, sparking a nation-wide cheer.

If she decided to, Oprah could out-Key Key.

Traditional campaigning ain’t gonna do it. Billboards and finger-pointing and policy-pushing are all too sensible to work. Labour needs Oprah. It’s as simple as that.

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What’s sex got to do with it?

The first time a guy ever said he loved me, he wrapped his arms around me, kissed me on the cheek and said the words. He promptly yelled “NOT!” and ran away laughing. Fair enough – we were seven years old and engrossed in an epic game of “catch and kiss” on the playground. I think his name was Lucas.

As in relationships, saying those words was not a mandatory part of the game. But even back then, the overall rule was clear: it was the boys who did the chasing, catching and kissing.

Confession: I’ve never said “I love you” first. Never got the chance, really. Every guy I have ever loved, and a few that I didn’t (thanks Lucas), always got in first. And it seems I’m not alone.

A recent study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that men were more likely to say those three words before their female partners. Did I blow your mind just then? Probably not. Sure, women are stereotypically more lovey-dovey, but they’re also taught to follow the rules of “catch and kiss”from early on in the relationship game. They’re taught to let men do the chasing. So men might end up saying “I love you” first, simply because their partners don’t want to scare them off with the declaration, right?

Apparently not.

The study also found that men first considered confessing their feelings an average of six weeks before women did. Six weeks! That’s a month-and-a-half of courting and canoodling where Romeo is thinking this could really go somewhere, while Juliet is all “We’ll see what happens” (the cold-hearted cow). But if we sit Romeo down for a little chat about his intentions, maybe he’s not the commitment type after all.

I Love You – Can we have sex now?

As the saying goes, words are cheap. Like my catch-and-kiss buddy’s playground confession, not all declarations of love are an indication of lasting commitment. And as the authors of this study proposed, men might rush to the I-love-you stage to get to the clothes-on-the-floor stage.

Sure enough, they found that men were happier to hear their partner confess her love when she said it before they’d had sex than when it was said afterwards. They reasoned that men who hear “I love you” before getting down to it may take it as a positive sign that the woman wants to have sex with them – and soon. In contrast, the same words after sex reek of – eew – commitment.

But all these stereotypes are giving me a headache. Time for a sub-heading.

Not all Men are the Same

Not all men would be happy to exchange vows of love just to get someone into bed. As the authors acknowledge, some men are looking for a short-term fling; other men want a committed relationship (see dating websites for details). And according to this study, men (and women) in the latter category are happier to hear words of love after they start having sex with someone, when it is more likely to, you know, mean something. That is, men looking for love want to know the relationship isn’t just based on sex. Men looking for sex want…well, sex. The only thing left to do, then, is to spot the difference between the two. And in the meantime, maybe it’s a good idea to hold off on the “L” word.