Three times in the past 10 days I've driven south the 200 or so kilometers from Whangarei to Auckland. Each drive has been on a perfect sparkling warm winter's day. Each time the pretty journey has been enhanced by magnolias and daffodils in bloom along the road. Lambs have gambolled adorably and calves have pranced delightfully. But each time the view from my car has been polluted by more and more election billboards.
As you know I don't have a TV, and now I must confess that I don't often read the newspaper. Most of the outside world's news comes to me in disembodied voices over the radio. So billboards are my main source of visual information this election. If I were going to vote based only on a party's billboard I'd be voting National: their boards are big, slick, witty and everywhere. Labour's are boring. The Greens' are Too Hard. Act's are shrill. Does anyone make a voting choice based only on billboards? Surely anyone so disinterested in politics and isolated from other sources of information is simply not going to bother going to the polling booth.
If seats in parliament were allocated on the basis of the number of billboards then Helen or Don would find themselves negotiating a coalition with the Democrats in a few weeks. The Democrats, whom I'd forgotten even existed, have somehow managed to put up their signs everywhere.
Winston Peters' NZ First billboards win the ego competition with his bizarre photo and sexist tagline: A Man for a Change... a change from a woman leader. Yeah, its been so tiresome to tolerate a whole seven years of women prime ministers out of a hundred and something years of male-led parliamentary democracy. Enough of pandering to feminism. Let's return to the natural order of things and put a man, any man, back in charge. Well, maybe not just any man, how about one that knows how to treat a lady right and put her in her place.
When I turned on the radio the other day and heard a male voice saying that it wasn't right for men to shout at women, my response was 'yeah right on Mister, don't shout at women, I hate being shouted at', thinking this was some kind of domestic violence related discussion. Then I realised it was Don Brash trying to explain why he'd let Helen Clark eat him for breakfast in a debate. I suppose he's been handicapped by all those years in masculine enclaves like the Reserve Bank where he was isolated from contact with women in roles as his intelligent, powerful peers. I'm guessing his experience with women has been mostly in social settings or as professional juniors. So I'm pleased to know that he would never consider going up to Ms Clark, looming over her and shouting in her face- that *would* be an abuse of the power that a sexist society allocates to men.
But Helen Clark doesn't need protecting from men's strongly expressed opinions in a public setting designed for debate. It's her element, where she knows the rules and is used to success. In such an environment it's appropriate for all parties to treat eachother with personal respect (which Ms Clark doesn't always do) but the discussion of issues should be free and frank, even vigorous. Either Mr Brash isn't smart enough to be able manage appropriately nuanced behaviour around women in different settings or he's simply no match for Ms Clark. Or maybe both.