The House Rules: Rule One – Style Me Sexist

House Rules is a bit shit.  I watched it last year, and I am watching Season Two now on TV3.  The premise of this show is that six couples renovate each other’s houses.  The best couple at renovating gets their mortgage paid off.  Watching House Rules is a bit like eating a whole packet of toffee pops: enjoyable to begin with but sickening in the end.  If you over-thought the show (I over think most things) you could find it repellent for a number of different reasons.

You could, for example, grow to hate it for environmental reasons.  Each week a house is torn apart and much of its interior ends up in a skip.  This is episode one in every cycle: they get the House Rules then they rip the shit out of all the old walls, and floors, and ceilings.  Sometimes they make great design decisions like getting rid of old wood floors and putting new fake wood floors down that make better design sense because they’re lighter or darker or thinner or wider than the floor boards that were there before.  It’s a lovely idea that design lives in a separate world of limitless resources, and that design is paramount over all other considerations.

Or you could hate it as a piece of capitalist propaganda.  In this show buying new stuff is very important.  In this show perceived obsolescence is king.  To win this game you need to chuck everything out and buy in the new.  Orange is in.  Orange splashback tiles go up, some orange cushions on the couch for “pops’ of colour, a bit of artwork with orange in it.  In two years orange will be out.   Never mind.  Rip them out and buy something new.  You might buy into the premise that it is everyone’s dream to own a home and pay off the mortgage and, to be fair, it is a pretty common dream, but this premise is based on the idea of couples who are on struggle street and just need their mortgage paid off so they can start a family/help their children/grand kids/whatever.  These dreams of liberation from the financial wheel of samasara are kind of wrecked by the information that most of the couples on the show own more than one property, sometimes three, sometimes with a private jetty.  It means that what we are really watching in the show is a competition between people with property portfolios trying to get some of their stock spruced up before selling it on.

Both of these things annoy me.  Not more than the fact that I keep watching the show, but they annoy me.  They are not the things that annoy me most though.  What really makes me unhappy with the show is its lazy attitude to gender, and its cheap shots.  This show’s message about people is that people heterosexual people want a house and a family.  Fine.  I guess this is predominantly true.  It’s a bit narrow-minded but I can live with it.  The problem is that after we accept this premise we have to accept all the gendered b/s that goes with it.  Take one couple on the show for example: Mel and Bomber.


The quality we are edited to admire in Mel is her ability to do manly things like smash crap, and build things.  She’s no snotty princess she’s a great “girl” because she can do man stuff.  The quality we are edited to dislike in Bomber is that he can’t hack the tough stuff, that he’s a sook when he gets a cut, and that he seems to like shopping too much, and we all know (nudge, nudge) that shopping is something girls like doing.  We know this because it’s the girls who always go shopping, and the men who smash crap and build things.  When a man is filmed in a design shop he is usually edited as being confused and/or bored.  When a woman is filmed doing building work she is always commented on as exceptional.


Lisa and Adam fit the mold.  Adam is a manly man.  He smashes crap.  He builds stuff.  He doesn’t like shopping.  Lisa is a princess.  Her journey on this show has been to become better at shopping (she was so lost before but now she is confident), and able to muck in and still look fabulous.  In one renovation we paused to admire Candi and Lisa smacking a shelf out of a wardrobe with a hammer.  It was really hard and they had to whack it lots of times but they didn’t give up and eventually they whacked it so many times that the shelf came out.  Cue talking heads of Adam and Ryan talking about how much they admired Candi and Lisa for getting stuck in.  If you were totally drained of mental acuity you might think this was celebrating female empowerment, but it is actually strongly reinforcing gender roles perversely by drawing attention to the “exceptions”.

I think it has been watching House Rules that has turned on my gender and sexuality b/s radar because I feel like I have been seeing the b/s everywhere lately.  Some time this week I watched a TV One reporter note his disappointment that Carmel Sepuloni would not be running for Labour against Paula Bennet in Waitakere in the 2014 election.  He was disappointed because it was a “cat fight” we were not going to see.  On Friday night we were treated to Jacinda Adern on 7days in a game called Yes Minister.  Cindy Hard On – as Paul called her – was asked if she would get a penis, like Helen Clark, if she became the next female Prime Minister. In the end Jacinda decided to lose on the question of whether John Key was a little bit hot.  Pretty witty stuff.  “Hot” women should talk about sexy stuff.  “Ugly” women might have a penis (*snort*).

We also saw a lot of really insightful comments around the announcement of the Labour list which aims for a better gender balance.  The National Party had a list that was 32% female in 2011 (not male dominated)  but Labour’s list for 2014 is 54% female (female dominated apparently).  According to some this Labour policy is a “man ban” (National’s policy of selecting purely on merit suggests they have a low opinion of women by their own logic).  Deep in the heart of the comments at the bottom of the story we see the popularity of the homophobic barb.  In this world the gay man is really a woman; as if being feminine is the worst possible thing a man can be.


It seems to be a consistent theme.  The release of the John Key biography inspired a lot of comment on KiwiBlog.  Some of it really insightful.


Good to see so many thumbs up on both sets of comments.

Not to mention the hundreds and hundreds of comments in the media about this haircut over the last few weeks:


Year 12 student Lucan Battison was suspended from school because the new principal brought in a new rule about hair not being on the collar.  Lucan’s haircut was not an issue in Year 9, 10 or 11.  As a compromise Lucan put his hair in a bun at the back.  Cue the suspension.  A lot of what has been said about this has concerned the ability of schools to make rules, and the waste of time and money in the courts (not to mention the truly weird comparison of Lucan’s actions to Martin Luther King’s actions by Lucan’s lawyer).  What interests me more is the idea that male hair styles are still so prescribed in conservative culture.  For girls any kind of length goes.  For boys?  Good luck being transgender at St. John’s College.  Never mind transgender, good luck being Alexander the Great at St. John’s College.  Or Sikh.  Or a young Nuiean boy at the primary school down the road.  The identity message from St. John’s College is that men have short hair.

Not, of course, that the issues around gender and sexuality are straightforward.  I read a list going around the internet recently called:

35 Practical Steps Men Can Take To Support Feminism

I agreed with a lot of the things on the list, but felt myself bridling against some of the suggestions.  The start of the list, for example, says that men should do 50% of the housework, and 50% of the emotional work in a relationship.  It also says that men should make the effort to consume cultural products made by women.  Sounds good to me.  But some of the suggestions feel insulting.  Number four on the list says: “Give women space….  If a seat is available on public transit next to a man, take that seat rather than one next to a woman”.  Number six on the list requires men not to think – “When a woman tells you something is sexist, believe her”. 

Walking behind a woman on a dark street at night is one thing, but not taking an empty seat on public transit next to a women feels like quite a different thing.  A bridge-too-far-thing that requires me to accept that having a penis makes me a threat and not a person.  As for being asked to accept anything from anyone on any subject without engaging my brain?  Forget it.  I say things about being a man all the time (like right now) that lots of men and women would rubbish.  I’d rather we thought about things.  Of course being a woman and experiencing sexism is different from being a man and witnessing sexism, but I feel like once we get out of the territory of blatant sexism there is a lot to think about, and talk about for both genders.  Really serious things.

Like My Kitchen Rules.


So excited when I heard this (I tell you this and fully understand that you have lost respect for me), until I began to wonder about things.

Why the secret?

Media conspiracy?  Evidence of homophobia?  Carly and Tresne say they wanted to be judged on their cooking.  Fair enough.  Although, of course, we don’t need the straight relationships hidden from us to focus on those couples’ cooking skills.  But if that is the whole truth of it then it shows –  at the minimum – that gender, sexuality and identity is complicated, and that media doesn’t like complicated.  Talkback and comment threads (the talkback of blogs) also don’t like complicated, but complicated is what we need.

If we want to include everyone.

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I wrote a book called Kaitiaki o te Pō