WORD Christchurch – 125 Years: Are we there yet?

WORD Christchurch 2018 – 125 Years: Are We There Yet?

An anthropologist, a human rights activist, a journalist, an academic, a musician and a broadcaster all walk into a concert hall to discuss the question ‘Are we there yet?’. At this sold-out session commemorating 125 years of women’s suffrage, the collective response was as to be expected: no. The talk was more centred around– as the whip-smart Kim Hill had suggested in her introduction – where ‘there’ actually is. After all, she added, ‘Feminism is like housework – every few years we need to do it all again.’

125-Years-SuffrageKeeping the house tidy last night were a range of feminists, spanning years and backgrounds, who came at the ‘no’ from different directions. Dame Anne Salmond took a wide view and covered the ground lost in an unequal system. After time overseas, she had returned to New Zealand some thirty years ago to find a country reshaping its institutions to the benefit of individuals. This ‘hyper individualism’ rippled out into society, where individual achievement was equated with fulfilment. Women had new freedoms but it had cost a lot: ‘Workplaces became more ruthless and transactional’; our capacity to care for others was endangered.

Trailblazer Georgina Bayer traced the momentum of the last 125 years, highlighting moments of quick transition and great traction, exemplified by the time when women held the five top constitutional positions in the country. This spoke to the importance of the visibility of women in power and petitioned us to think about Georgina’s own lived experience – to consider the role of bold individuals who have forged these paths.

At this point Kim skilfully steered the conversation by positing a problem: we have had the top positions, but we are still not there yet. So, what do we need to do? Attributing the following quote to Gloria Steinem, she suggested that it was ‘not a question of having a bigger slice of the cake, but that we have to remake the cake altogether’.

Part of this, perhaps, is changing the ingredients – moving beyond binary arguments, which is how journalist Paula Penfold began. She brought some stats and facts to the table via a listicle, where for every positive, a negative emerged too. The good news: at Stuff, the CEO is a woman, as is 50% of senior executive, but out of 143 CEOs in Aotearoa, only 4% are women. In terms of gender pay equity things are progressing but a recent report on pay parity states that we are unlikely to achieve this until 2044. Kim suggested there would be little chance for pay equity until private companies are transparent with what they pay people. Problems remain while they are hidden.

Next was the impressive, fluid and cohesive response from Sacha McMeeking. She acknowledged all those women who had gone before, who made it possible for her to be born into the ‘girls can do anything’ time. She was inspired to be one of those who forged human rights, but no longer believes that these alone can change the world. The time for grand normative debates has passed; we need to focus on creating social habits. Sacha pointed to economic injustice and violence: both are embedded issues that are not solely produced by gender – rather they result from our economic, justice, education and mental health systems, which need an overhaul.

Finally, Lizzie Marvelly – musician, columnist and the youngest on stage – took the mic. Her account of her experiences provided a depressing reality check of where we are at now. She had many ‘amazing opportunities’, many tainted by blatant sexism. Lizzie also pointed to inequalities in the stories women tell about women – we all know Kate Sheppard, but few of the Māori women who have laid the groundwork for us today.

Before handing over to questions from the (mostly female) audience, Kim asked about choice. Is everything a feminist act if choice is involved? Lizzie responded that if the choice isn’t about equality, then it isn’t feminist. Privilege, the need for care and how to allow for agency were all touched on in question time. But common to all panelists was the belief that we need more than rights; we need to address the structures; we need outcomes. ‘Multivariate problems call for a variety of solutions’. The cake must be remade.

Reviewed by Emma Johnson

Georgina Beyer appears in the session ‘Comfortable in Your Skin’ tonight

That F Word
by Lizzie Marvelly
published by HarperCollins NZ
ISBN 9781775541127Li

Email digest: Wed 18 July 2012

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Tonight on the North Shore The Story of Peter Blake is being launched at 6.30pm

Ladies’ Litera-Tea – now there are two of them!

Book News
2012 winner of the Text Prize for Young Adult and Children’s Writing announced

Costa’s new short story award to be judged anonymously

Book reviews
The Big Music: selected papers by Kirsty Gunn

From Under the Overcoat by Sue Orr

A Micronaut in the Wide World: The Life and Times of Graham Percy by Gregory O’Brien

Velocity by Ahmed Ajaz and Stefan Olander

Bligh by Anne Salmond

The Frog Footy Player by Chris Gurney

The secret lives of authors
A blog where I talk about my author photo being taken

Dame Fiona Kidman talks The Trouble with Fire (Fiction finalist for the New Zealand Post Book Awards)

Meet Chris Cleave author of ‘Gold’

From around the internet

Fifty Shades of Grey in pictures

“What is the reason for the sex-novel craze? Is it the public or the novelists to blame?”

A maze made of 250,000 books at London 2012

Are you aged 13-18 and love poetry? We’d love to publish your poems on the Pulse  Email ThePulse@ccc.govt.nz

Book review: Bligh by Anne Salmond

This book is in stores now and is a finalist in the New Zealand Post Book Awards.

Everyone knows about Captain Bligh. We all saw at least one of the movies. And would Mel Gibson or Marlon Brando lie?

Perhaps not lie, but there seems to have been a few omissions.

Even in the brief introduction to this book I discovered the new (to me anyway) fact that Bligh was the master of one of the ships on Captain Cook’s third voyage. He was introduced to pacific peoples as “Cook’s son” for a dose of instant mana. And I discovered also that he was an acquaintance of Sir Joseph Banks and a pioneer ethnographer of the Pacific peoples.

Anne Salmond is an academic, and has produced an academic book, based on detailed research including some new sources. These include, most interestingly, some unguarded letters from Bligh to his wife Elizabeth (Betsy). It’s hard to avoid speculating about the contents of her replies, if she ever wrote back. He was clearly a warm family man, and Betsy was a loyal supporter not only through the mutiny and its aftermath, but during his later, by no means trouble-free, career.

Bligh made three voyages to the Pacific. The mutiny occurred during the second voyage, and naturally from then on the mutiny, his tremendous feat of seamanship in reaching Timor, and the aftermath of courts-martial and personal reactions occupy a good deal of Bligh’s attention, and the book. His subsequent career, as a combat captain in the navy and as Governor of New South Wales, is covered, but in less detail.

Why the mutiny? Well, maybe Fletcher Christian and his crew preferred the creature comforts of Tahiti to the discomfort of a very small ship, sent on a mission that really needed something larger. Salmond certainly seems to think that this was a factor. But how much blame attaches to Bligh himself?

The atmosphere of life on the Bounty comes alive in Salmond’s writing. So does the character of Bligh. A kind comment would be to call him irascible. He was subject to what were called “violent tornados of temper”. He suffered from severe headaches, he was a miser, and made sure to be as comfortable as possible himself. But for his time he was a relatively enlightened naval officer, looking after his crews’ welfare, and resorting to the cat less often than many captains at the time. He comes across as possibly bi-polar, but a man of his class and time, who knew his duty and would carry it out.

The book focusses on Bligh, but also seeks to illuminate the culture of the islands, especially of Tahiti. The mutiny is placed in context: there were other mutinies, and the great fear among the English ruling class was that the French revolution would spread. Some even feared that the mutiny, and the general unrest in the Navy, was the start of the “contagion”.

This is a big book. In places it is difficult going because of the sheer number of characters and places involved. It has a full set of notes and extensive bibliography, as would be expected. The production values are good. There’s a lot of text, some coloured plates and half-tone drawings, but it couldn’t be described as “well illustrated”.

So I, like so many other readers, am forced into a reassessment of Bligh. Any reader trying to understand this complex character is reminded just how easy it is to get history wrong through simplification and focussing on the easy stories. How many other characters, both good and bad, need the same sort of thorough-going carefully researched reassessment?

I came away from the book with a feeling that I understood both Bligh and his two worlds much better. But one reading isn’t enough – I intend to re-read in a little while because I’m sure that there is much more to get out of it. And I won’t read it straight through next time, but rather focus on specifics. A lot of the book’s value would be lost if it was read simply “for the story”.

I also came away distrusting the movies. How disappointing.

Reviewed by Gordon Findlay

 by Anne Salmond
Published by Penguin Group (NZ)
ISBN 9780670075560 (Hardback) and ISBN 9781742287812 (Ebook)