Ending Unplanned

Briar Rose Douglas

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Awkward party conversations that set off my sexism alarm

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                                                Awkward turtle.

These days, having grown up after women’s rights became a thing, most people have a sexism alarm. Many will call each other out on sexist behaviour, if only in jest. Of course, sometimes there were problems with the alarm’s installation or it got broken somewhere along the way (I check mine every daylight savings, just to be safe). This leads to theories about life and the world that don’t quite match up to reality, and when you add beer and party mayhem, it all comes out.

The “rape is good for the human race” theory

Once, a guy I had seen “around” but never actually spoken to came up to me at a party and said he thought rape ought to be supported by evolution. I mean, I think he said hello first, but it was abrupt nonetheless.

His reasoning was this: he believed if men weren’t “prevented” from having sex by the pesky matter of requiring women’s consent, men would have a lot more sex, and therefore make more babies, some of whom would also grow up to be hideous rapists who would in turn make more babies and so pass on more genes. (Obviously this wasn’t what Darwin had in mind. At least the guy didn’t think women’s reproductive organs shut down if they were “legitimately raped”.)

I probably don’t need to explain why this conversation was awkward, but just in case: it’s generally not polite to approach a member of a group, particularly a disadvantaged group, and say that oppression and violent treatment of that group would be a good idea, you know, scientifically speaking.

At the time I didn’t feel threatened – I just pointed out that rape has a tendency to actually ruin people’s lives, and having a bunch of stressed out pregnant women running around (while the fathers are, presumably, off having more sex, because 1. That makes more babies and 2. Who wants to raise a child with someone who completely disregarded that you are, in fact, a person?) would most likely not be conducive to healthy, well-cared-for offspring. But in hindsight, it was a pretty threatening thing to say. He was kind of saying, “Hey! Wouldn’t it make more sense if I could just rape you?” Awkward. Also, border-line illegal.

The “sex is sex (if you’re a man)” theory

Another guy started bragging to a group of people, me included, about sleeping with a woman who he thought was unattractive. Bragging. As in “I had sex with one of those female things! An ugly one! Points for me!” Okay, those may not have been his exact words. But he did call her ugly and desperate.

“Isn’t it desperate to have sex with someone you aren’t attracted to?” I asked. He replied, and I am quoting him directly, “Not really. At least I had sex” (odd, since so did she). Not yet satisfied with the awkwardness level, I asked, “But why couldn’t you find someone you actually liked to have sex with?” Then I felt kind of bad because he sort of just shrugged, muttered something about how “sex is sex” (which is harder to argue with, since sex IS, undoubtedly, sex. That’s a watertight thesis right there), and then moved away.

It’s not just the double-standard thing that gets me; it’s also that it doesn’t make any sense. Yes, it sucks that, socially speaking, it’s more acceptable for men to have sex than for women. But the really strange part of his reasoning was that he was trying to derive status from having sex with someone who he thought wasn’t good enough for him. It’s illogical. The stereotype equivalent for a woman would be if she said “I got some guy to agree to date me exclusively. He doesn’t have any money or social standing and I don’t respect him at all, but hey, a relationship is a relationship. He’s another stitch in my apron.” Ridiculous.

The “all men are jerks” theory

Sometimes, when a bunch of women are in the same room, they start talking about what is wrong with the male population. I talked to one woman who truly believed that there is not one man who wouldn’t cheat on his partner if given the opportunity. That is, she believed the best you could get in the male loyalty department was a guy who wouldn’t actually go looking for an affair.

These conversations have always made me deeply uncomfortable, whether the topic is “all men cheat” or “all men are liars”. Besides defying statistical probability, these kind of statements ignore something important: women do these things, too.

Thinking that women are morally superior to men is sexist. It is also untrue. For instance, while plenty of studies have found men to be more likely than women to cheat on their partner, the rates have become more similar as women have become more independent, with jobs outside the home and money of their own. My point is not that women are deceitful, but that men and women are not so different. It follows that, just as there are women who wouldn’t cheat on their partner even if they were locked in a room for a week with a shirtless model billionaire who spoke seven languages and helped underprivileged children on weekends, there are also men who think that cheating is so wrong that they just wouldn’t do it.

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Gay marriage: Garth George asks “why?”

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At first I was hesitant to respond to Garth George’s article asking why gay couples want to be able to marry. Sometimes his columns are so extreme and inflammatory that I’m not sure he could actually genuinely hold those beliefs. And by “sometimes”, I mean “always”. But he did ask a question, and perhaps, as he says, he really doesn’t understand, so here goes.

Garth’s central thesis is that marriage is between a man and a woman because they can have children naturally. Marriage, he says, consists of “men and women who cleave to one another to, among other things, have children and to bring them up in a traditional family environment”. But some married couples don’t actually want children. And whether they do or don’t want little ones, most couples use contraception most of the time they engage in the “baby making” process. I find it difficult to accept that marriage is about children when many couples spend the majority of their marriage trying not to have children. And of course, plenty of straight couples can’t have children. Should post-menopausal women have the right to marry? What about couples where one or both of them is infertile because they had a quiet infection that slowly destroyed their baby-making equipment? (The disease occurred “naturally”, after all.) What if someone were born without the ability to have children by some biological anomaly? Suggesting people shouldn’t get married if “by nature” they can’t have kids together is alarmingly similar to suggesting women’s “natural” place is at home raising children, because kids do a fair amount of growing inside them.

Another point of confusion for Garth is that gay couples didn’t all rush to get civil-unioned once it was legally possible. “Not many have bothered to regularise their relationships,” he says. “So, again, why set out after same-sex “marriage”?” I think I can help Garth out on that one. First, plenty of people want rights that they don’t want to exercise. For instance, as a woman, I want the right to join the army. I don’t actually want to do it, but I want the option because otherwise it sends a strong message that society doesn’t think I’m equal to men. But nobody thinks that women should rush to join the army, just because they legally can, if they want any further complaints about discrimination to be taken seriously.

Second, civil unions were better than nothing, but that’s not really what was, and is, being asked for. What is being asked for is equal treatment under the law, and gay people don’t have that yet. Garth, if you asked Santa Claus for an electric moustache trimmer and every non-homophobic man with a moustache got an electric one but Santa only gave you a hand-operated one JUST BECAUSE YOU WERE HOMOPHOBIC, wouldn’t that seem wrong? (Garth also seems confused about what homophobia means, suggesting it is actually having a phobia, or intense fear, of gay people. I suppose that would count, too, but being prejudiced towards homosexual people is the actual definition, which Garth’s article quite clearly is – such as in his odd statement that “The original meaning of gay was light-hearted and carefree, yet no homosexual I’ve ever met could be so described”. They’re not all the same, Garth, and have you ruled out the possibility that they are less likely to appear light-hearted when interacting with someone who thinks they are just doing it wrong when it comes to life?)

But Garth asked why the law should treat gay people equally to straight people. I can think of a reason that, based on his article, I don’t think he’s considered. Let’s start with statistics showing that gay people are more likely to have depression and harm themselves than their straight peers. It would be difficult to argue that this is inherent – say, that being gay somehow makes you genetically inclined towards depression (naturally!). Rather it seems obvious that the higher rate of depression and self-harm in this group is due to being discriminated against. It’s not that all, or even most, gay people are depressed – far from it – but discrimination is still something they have to deal with throughout their lives. Now, plenty deal with it just fine, but that’s not the point. The point is they shouldn’t have to.

So why should gay people have the right to marry?

Because gay couples can’t walk down the street holding hands or kiss their partner in public without getting funny looks. Because they have something essential to who they are that they have to justify to others and “confess” to their friends and family. Because being treated as different and inferior wears people down over time. Because not being able to marry is a symptom of a social problem that grows negative feelings like cancer. Because they’re people. Because IT’S THE VERY LEAST WE CAN DO.

After a long history of society treating gay people as criminals, disease carriers, and second-class citizens, I don’t think that as a society we should be debating whether they should have the same rights as straight people. I think we should be apologising. You know, “sorry we criticized and ostracised you for just being who you are, and harmed your collective mental and physical health. Please accept these marriage rights”. That might be a start.

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Beauty and the feminist

When I was younger I sometimes worried that I was “too feminine”. You know, too … girly. At the time, this didn’t seem like a good way to be. Really feminine women seemed to be those who laughed like chipmunks, wore lots of pink, and became over-excited in the presence of kittens – the ones who were perhaps well liked, but not taken very seriously. Women who were taken seriously, at least professionally – say, Helen Clark, or my high school Biology teacher who everyone was scared of – didn’t do these things. They wore sensible clothes and cut their hair pretty short. They did not giggle. It was difficult to imagine them wearing either an apron, or a mini skirt. They were in leadership positions, and they seemed to have a better deal when it came to women’s rights.

For a while, I compensated for my girly appearance (I had long hair, and, um, was a girl) by wearing black nail polish and smiling less. The problem was, I didn’t like black nail polish. To me it looked as if I had some kind of advanced gangrene and was in the process of becoming fingerless. And not smiling didn’t make people think I was a candidate for world domination, it made them ask if I was all right, and did I want to talk about it. So, my semi-goth, anti-girl-stuff phase didn’t last very long. But ultimately, although I didn’t think of it like this at the time on account of being 13, I felt like I had to choose between being a) feminine, or b) a feminist – as if they’re opposing things.

The confusing part was that the label “feminist” has become some kind of antonym for “attractive”, as if being a feminist necessarily means you wear misshapen beige suits with oversized shoulder pads and shout aggressively when someone holds a door open for you. And you hate men. And you’re probably covered in scales. And you’re never going to get laid, let alone live happily ever after. The feminist stereotype is not seen as particularly attractive, physically or otherwise.

 It’s not surprising, then, that most women don’t describe themselves as feminists. Public Opinion Quarterly found in 2000 that “just over a third of men and women think feminists dislike men, and just under 50 per cent think feminists do not respect women who stay at home with their children” – something Kiwi women are also aware of according to the New Zealand Herald: “There’s this idea that they’re all very angry women with hairy legs,” says one. And another: “The word ‘feminism’ is not a popular word. Usually if I talk to a young woman and I say ‘are you a feminist?’ at first her response will be: ‘God, no.’”

I recently heard a woman say, “I believe in women’s rights. But I’m not a feminist”. It was as if she’d just said, “I’m a HUMAN, but not a PERSON”. I know what she meant, though. She meant, “I want to be able to choose stuff and not be my husband’s sex slave, babysitter, and cleaner by default – but I still want to be attractive.” Considering women are raised on a steady diet of fairytales, Disney princesses and celebrities to believe that being what society considers attractive is the key to happiness (or at least attention), ugly feminist stereotypes are some pretty powerful motivation to not call yourself a feminist. So when trying to be as attractive as possible (having the right clothes, makeup, an expensive haircut and full-body wax), it’s not surprising that some women add “not a feminist” to the list.

Feminism, of course, is actually just believing that men and women should be equal and have the same rights. Cutting your hair off or wearing baggy pants are not requirements, unless you’re a woman who actually likes and wants to do those things. You also don’t have to wear tiny clothes or remove all traces of body hair, if you’d rather not. (Women are taught this is what men want. I agree with Caitlin Moran when she says most men won’t really care – they’re not one-dimensional animals. And seriously, if a guy actually tells his girlfriend to wear something tighter and shorter, or get a Brazilian, I think something is very wrong. With him. And I don’t think women should offer unsolicited advice on appearance, either.) Feminism also doesn’t involve hating men. Men can be – and are – feminists, too. Feminism is just a warm and fuzzy club of people who won’t exploit you because you have breasts, or rate those breasts out of 10 when you leave the room. And I hear they’re taking more members.

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Question time: On changing your name when you marry

It’s an exciting moment for any blogger: the first “question from a reader”. And what a question! She writes:

“Hi Briar. What are your thoughts on changing your name when you get married?”

- Zena Warrior-Princess*

*Not her real name

Names are important. As Elton John and Lady Gaga well know, it’s easier to make it in life if you have a title to match. Names that top google search lists are in high demand, and people with easily pronounced surnames are more likely to have high-status jobs.

When you think about it, asking a woman to change her name when she ties the knot is a big deal. On a practical level, it’s harder to change your name than to keep it the same. It costs money, you have to notify a whole heap of organisations, you have to get used to the new name and probably spend the first few months writing your old one down on forms accidentally. If you’ve built a career around your name, like if you have a public profile or a bunch of well-respected articles attributed to you, there may be a lot at stake.

Plenty of women, though, change their surname when they marry. Most men, on the other hand, expect to keep their last name for their entire life (except P. Diddy and Snoop Lion, who change their names like someone wore them out). I suppose it’s archaic in the sense that, in the past, the main reason for a woman to do this was that she no longer “belonged” to her parents, and now “belonged” to her husband – and had better fetch his slippers and please him with baked goods.

Names are such a personal thing that I really don’t think there can be a blanket rule (though, if your last name really is Warrior-Princess, I’m fairly sure changing it will improve your life). There are too many variables. For instance, what if my future husband’s surname was Friar? Or Tuck? No, no, no. On the other hand, if he had a super-awesome last name that totally suited my first name and would make for a cool signature, I might be into it. I also like the idea of a hyphenated version, especially if the guy changed his name to that, too: equal effort and sacrifice seem like a nice way to start a marriage. But some names just don’t go together, and no one should have to downgrade. I definitely don’t think women who opt to change are anti-feminist Stepford wives. Changing and keeping your name are both legitimate choices.

What would bother me is a guy who expected me to take his name, or refused to talk about possible hyphenated options (I think throwing potential names around would be a fun two-player game, and his enthusiastic participation would bode well for other two-player games, like Twenty Questions or Monogamy). It’s a respect thing, really. Partners should respect each other’s right to choose. Your name is probably something you’ve had all your life. That’s plenty of time to get attached to it.

I have a married friend who said that, when she thought about taking her then-fiancé’s name, she felt something like, “Ahhh, yes, that’s what I’m meant to be called”. That’s what I think it should be like. So if the status quo seems more like you than a possible future option, maybe it’s better to keep it as it is. And if it’s all too hard, you could always try prefixing your name with “Queen”, like Queen Elizabeth or Queen Latifah. No one asks for your last name when you’re a Queen.

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Don’t call me baby

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When Maggie Barry called Jacinda Ardern “petal” and told her to stop being precious, I face-palmed pretty hard. It wasn’t so much the topic (paid parental leave, which Barry said Ardern had no business commenting on as she isn’t a parent. Guess all straight and single politicians should duck out of the same-sex marriage debate that’s coming up, then). No, it was Barry’s word choice.

It’s pretty safe to say that Barry wouldn’t have chosen the word “petal” had Ardern been a man. Can you imagine someone calling Winston Peters, John Key or David Shearer “petal”? They probably wouldn’t bother; the insult would bounce off because it doesn’t make sense. Names like “petal” imply the receiver is small, sweet, fragile – a stereotypical little girl. Try to pin this on most men and they’d probably just be confused. This is because men aren’t stereotypically associated with being small, sweet, or fragile, so it’s about as effective as accusing him of being twelve feet tall – no-one thinks it’s true anyway, so he doesn’t need to defend himself. (Unless you’re trying to insult him by feminising him, like calling him a sissy. But then, the only reason that’s supposed to be insulting is that being female is associated with being small and weak.)

Calling a woman “petal” is an easy insult, especially if she’s on the young side like Ardern. It requires little thought or wit to play off the stereotype that women are feeble little things. It can even be effective. But every time it happens, a puppy dies. Or, a stupid stereotype is reinforced. I can’t remember which.

This is the same reason why when I’m called “sweetheart” by people I’ve just met, I want to hurl a pen at them. Occasionally I meet someone who pulls it off quite gracefully, but these are the people that call everyone – men and women – some vague pet name that implies familiarity without them actually having to remember names. (I imagine it’s useful if you work in, say, sales, where you have to be friendly to everyone no matter how friendly they are to you or how many racist jokes they crack). But people who reserve these names for women make me feel icky. Kind of like they just patted me on the head and said, “Oh! It speaks!” They just met me; they have no idea if I’m sweet at all. They just assume I am, because I have breasts. But some women aren’t sweet. Some women lie and steal and drive up empty side lanes in their cars so they can overtake a row of patient drivers at a red light. Some women consider hurling pens at strangers.

Being nice and being weak are different things. But names like “sweetheart” tend to come across as patronising when your entire gender is stereotyped as nice, and also happens to get paid less on average (coincidence? hmmm).

Maggie Barry knew all this, of course. She used the name “petal” to imply Ardern was weak, and the words “don’t be so precious” to imply she was emotionally volatile – because while Jacinda can hold her own in Parliament just fine, and while she wasn’t over-reacting at all, she’s a woman, and hey, if the stereotype-shoe fits…

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that words mean things. Calling a woman “petal” sounds like a little thing, but it’s a symptom of one of the biggest problems in the world: sexism. I know they’re politicians, and they need to throw around a few insults. That’s cool. This probably wouldn’t fly with Lockwood Smith, but I’d rather Barry kept it above board and just called Ardern an asshole. At least it’s gender neutral.

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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.