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

AWF18: Writing the Suffrage Past

AWF18: Writing the Suffrage Past, with Alice Canton, Emma Espiner, Linda Olsson and Tusiata Avia

Feelings. FEELINGS! I have them.

One of the things I really like about Auckland Writers Festival is the way it puts me in touch with the whakapapa of NZ feminism. I remember having a great old chat with older queer women in the audience for Gloria Steinem a couple of years back about second-wave feminism and how it’s different from contemporary feminism. Sitting in the audience for Writing the Suffrage Past I got talking to my neighbours again: I had (I think) an older lesbian couple on one side, and (I think) a teenage girl and her mother on the other. The intergenerational vibe was also set with an introduction from Claire Mabey, who, like our Prime Minister, is hapū.

IMG_20180519_152841648The four writers were Alice Canton, Emma Espiner, Linda Olsson, and Tusiata Avia. Canton is a NZ-Chinese theatre artist; Espiner is Māori journalist and medical student; Olsson is a Swedish novelist; and Avia is a Samoan-NZ poet. Each writer had been given access to the “Are we there yet?” exhibition about NZ feminism at Auckland Museum, and had written a piece inspired by something from the collection. An image of their chosen piece was displayed on the screens as each writer gave their talk.

Olsson was up first. The object she had chosen was a photograph from a protest with one woman holding up a sign that read “I can’t believe I am still protesting this shit”, which got a laugh of recognition from the crowded room. She spoke about a recent Oxfam report which has found that we must achieve gender equality if we are to end financial inequality. It is not enough to integrate women into existing financial structures; the structures themselves must be changed.

Olsson read out a piece she had written that was a conversation between herself and one of her female ancestors who had been sent to prison. Prison was not sad: it was safe. The women all looked the same, so they felt safe.

Next up was Espiner, who began by speaking her mihi. The objects she had chosen were issues of Broadsheet, NZ’s seminal feminist magazine that ran from 1972 to 1997. She spoke with great humour and affection about growing up with a radical feminist lesbian mother, and how what now looks like a feminist utopia felt, to a child who just wanted to fit in with her peers, like a terrible affliction. She would choose Women’s Weekly but her mother always threw it out of the supermarket trolley: ‘Broadsheet reflected our reality’.

Espiner is studying medicine and spoke about how healthcare has often been deeply misogynistic, citing in particular Sandra Coney and Phillida Bunkle’s “An Unfortunate Experiment at National Women’s”. Some progress has been made towards equality in the medical world, though: ‘the feminisation of medicine and surgery has been positive and valuable’.

Espiner honoured her mother for being a Pākehā woman who understands Māori sovereignty: ‘Doing the right thing when nobody is looking is the definition of an ally’. She ended by addressing her mother Colleen Smith directly: ‘I’m sorry for being a shit, you were right about everything’.

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Next up was Canton. Her object was a black and white photograph of an unnamed servant maybe a century ago. She invited us to reconsider the way we view the suffrage movement in NZ. We tend to picture middle-class white women with their ‘spunky Elizabeth Bennet charm in the face of adversity’. But what about the no-names?

Canton used an over/under formula to invite us to think about which women are over- and under-represented in our feminism. Under: working-class women, rural women, Māori and Chinese women; disabled, queer, migrant, and indigenous women; women of colour, queer women of colour, poor women, fat women, old women, trans women. Over: cis-gendered and white women. Canton said that, even at the risk of splintering the movement, we must acknowledge that not everyone is equally benefiting from feminist achievements. As with the previous writers, she sat down to enthusiastic applause.

The final writer was Avia. Her object was a photograph of women on a protest in 1977 holding a sign on which is a photograph of a woman who has died from a backstreet abortion and “this woman died, we care” is written. Like Espiner, Avia grew up as the daughter of a lesbian feminist. She performed for us a poem she had written about being home sick one day when she was 11 years old, reading her mother’s issues of Broadsheet, and seeing the photograph on the sign. Avia looked for the photograph again in the museum’s collection for this event, because she still remembered it after all this time. Avia said of her poem: ‘Only I could have written this piece, but I don’t think it’s particularly special. It’s a glimpse into a huge female experience.’

Avia is an extraordinary performance poet and, despite the fact that she had recently  fainted backstage, this occasion was no exception. She sat and spoke calmly but we were hanging on her every word. The poem was about backstreet abortions, and it was visceral. ‘I flinch for forty years.’ We groaned and grimaced. The photograph of the dead woman shows her lying on the bathroom floor naked. Avia called the V of her legs ‘her final vanishing point’ and said ‘I have not misremembered her aloneness / I never forgot that’.

This was a really powerful session that gave me a great sense of community and of the whakapapa of mana wāhine in Aotearoa. In a similar vein, I recommend the podcast On the Rag from The Spinoff about Kiwi feminism. (I am a massive fan and keep secretly hoping they will invite me to join them.)

Words and photos by Elizabeth Heritage

Books by each of the writers participating are available nationwide.

AWF18: Women of Substance, with Sue Bradford and Joan Withers

AWF: Women of Substance, with Sue Bradford and Joan Withers 

My first session of Auckland Writers Festival 2018 was Women of Substance: I feel sure this is an excellent omen. Activist Sue Bradford and businesswoman Joan Withers were in conversation with Rob Campbell.

Bradford’s biography (Constant Radical by Jenny Chamberlain) and Withers’ memoir A Woman’s Place (ghost-written by Jenny McManus) are out now. Awkwardly, Bradford had read Withers’ book but not vice versa. There was potential for a lot more awkwardness: Withers is a high-powered and very powerful executive; Bradford is a radical left wing activist and ex Green Party MP. But although difficult topics were not avoided, both women treated each other with a respect and courtesy I’d like to see more of in public discourse.IMG_20180518_104008910

Of course the elephant in the room was the current scandal about Warehouse Group businesses – of which Withers is Chair – not paying their workers for all the hours they work. Withers took pretty much the line you’d expect: they take this issue very seriously and are looking into it. Bradford said that her partner Brian is ‘out there fighting for those workers right now’.

Bradford commented that the world of the corporate boardroom is often enemy territory, which was why she was so interested to read Withers’ memoir. Withers said the issues she has lived through in her corporate career have been challenging, so her book has been ‘heavily legalled’. Both women spoke about how they had been trepiditious to put so much of their own lives in the public domain.

Both women spoke about the importance of women being represented in every area of life. Bradford noted that the current Parliament has 40% women in chamber, which is better than it was but not yet good enough. Women are often reluctant to enter public life for fear that some things that have happened to them would become public knowledge. ‘For some of us there is no political party we can have faith in. I’d love to see a political party where the interests of women and children were put first.’

From the perspective of women on boards and in senior corporate leadership, Withers said ‘Representation is moving forward but it’s glacially slow’. At one point TVNZ had a board that was 63% female, but The Warehouse Group has just 33%. Withers is opposed to quotas because they are ‘potentially demeaning’. If you cast the net wide enough, you will find women who are well qualified.
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The difference between the circles that Bradford and Withers move in was often quite stark. Bradford said ‘Business feels irrelevant when you’re working with people who have no money, and no hope for themselves and their children. I’ve always accepted invitations from any group wanting to have discussions, but I’ve never been invited by in by corporates. Our place has usually been outside banging on the doors.’

An audience member asked an interesting question about the combative language Bradford uses, and whether it’s helpful. Bradford said ‘A war on the poor is what’s happening in this country; it’s a class war’. She said she believes there’s a balance between naming what’s going on, and behaving in a civilised and ethical manner so as not to alienate others.

There were obviously lots of Bradford fans in the audience – several times her remarks were greeted with applause. Both women spoke with great mana, and ended the session speaking about how they both have hope for the future. A great way to start the festival!

Reviewed by Elizabeth Heritage

A Woman’s Life: Life, leadership and lessons from the boardroom
Published by Penguin Books
ISBN 9781525250071

Constant Radical
Published by Fraser Books
ISBN 9780994136008

A Love Letter to The Women’s Bookshop, from Deborah Shepard

Go into your local bookshop & write a love letter, and be in to win $500 in Book Tokens! 

Deborah_Dhepard_photo_by_John_McDermott

photo by John McDermott

My favourite bookshop is the Women’s Bookshop in Ponsonby Road. It opened, first, in Dominion Road in 1989 the year I moved, reluctantly, from Christchurch to Auckland, following the dictates of my husband’s career.

Only one year earlier I had been immersed in a new paper in Feminist Studies at Canterbury University, one that had turned my world on its head, providing a theory and an explanation for the vague feelings of alienation and dissatisfaction that had been surfacing since becoming a mother, or, ‘just a mother,’ that’s how you were viewed then, and not a human being with a brain and yearnings to write. The move to Auckland changed my academic pathway, although the seeds of my future had been planted in that one revolutionary paper. Through a course in film studies with Professor Roger Horrocks I embarked on PhD research and it was Carole Beu’s bookshop that provided the resources I needed to do that work and write my feminist revisionist history of New Zealand film, Reframing Women: a history of New Zealand film (Harper Collins 2000).

The day I found the new bookshop in Dominion Road I felt immediately at home and excited. The atmosphere was so welcoming. You could make a cup of herbal tea, settle into a sofa in the corner and take a leisurely browse through the revolutionary texts. Carole offered an amazing collection of fiery texts. These were the heady years of the feminist movement, where there was an explosion of writing by women that provided the theoretical underpinnings for a better understanding of the gendered nature of the society in which we live. This was where you could find the Virago ‘Modern Classics’ a series that reclaimed the earlier texts of hundreds of women writers. It’s where you could source the work of feminist historians who were critiquing the masculinist bias in the historical records whilst recuperating the contribution of brilliant women writers, artists, musicians, philosophers and scientists who had formerly been ‘hidden from history.’ It’s where you could find the texts by feminist economists, planners and geographers who were re-envisioning society and how it might be better structured to create fairer, more cooperative and supportive communities for us to live in.

Carole stocked the seminal texts by: Betty Friedan, Marilyn French, Germaine Greer, Gloria Steinem, Kate Millett, Dale Spender, Mary Daly, Adrienne Rich, Audre Lorde, Linda Nochlin, Phyllis Chesler, Erica Jong and the follow up books by Gloria Steinem Revolution from within, Germaine Greer The Whole Woman, Naomi Wolf The Beauty Myth and later The Backlash by Susan Faludi. She also, critically for us, supported the work of New Zealand women novelists and non-fiction writers and kept the fires burning through the 1990s and 2000s when feminism was under attack and almost went underground, until recently when we got Caitlin Moran and Clementine Ford, the younger spiky feminists who are taking us forward again.

These days when I visit the bookshop in Ponsonby Road, I value it even more. It is like a heart beating for women, in the centre of the city. I love that it is staffed by women, some of them published authors in their own right, and by Carole herself, a feminist legend, who over three decades has championed and supported women’s literature through the Listener Women’s Book festivals in the 1990s, through her radio and television book reviews, the Auckland Writers’ Festivals, the book launches at her store and her own annual Litera-Teas. While the work of male writers is included at the Women’s Bookshop it must be one of a very few public spaces that offers a kind of intellectual retreat where women can read to be empowered and inspired to be braver, bolder, wilder and more staunch. Experiences like these can’t be had through Amazon. The Women’s Bookshop is a precious institution, a taonga in our nation’s bookselling network, long may it thrive.

Deborah Shepard, 2017
Deborah Shepard is an Auckland biographer, life writing mentor and teacher of memoir with a PhD in Film Studies.

The Women’s Bookshop, Ponsonby
Stopping Passers-By! An artist will be stopping passers-by on the pavement, by painting colourful illustrations on the outside of our shop window from 11.30am to 1.30pm.
Spot Prizes! We have heaps of give-away books – enough to give a Spot Prize every 10 minutes from 10am to 5pn!! No matter what time customers come in, they will have a chance to WIN! They can select their own prize from the scintillating stack.
PLUS: Visit two of the best bookshops in Ponsonby – and win! 
On NZ Bookshop Day, buy any book at both The Women’s Bookshop AND the Dorothy Butler Children’s Bookshop down the road, get a stamp from both shops, and WIN a children’s picture book – choose from the delicious pile.

Book Review: How to Win at Feminism, presented by Reductress

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_how_to_win_at_feminismThis is the funniest book I have read in a very long time. There was both snorting and out loud bursts of laughter. How to Win at Feminism is a comedic guide to feminism taking issues in feminism and cleverly addressing them through the appearance of contrived ignorance and marketing speak.

The form of the book cleverly provides an interesting introduction to feminism through clever histories of feminism, explaining why women should support each other, a broad treatment of feminism and beauty (I love the rebranding of the gym chain Curves as ‘Lumps’) and finally men and feminism as well as workplace issues.

This is a terribly easy book to read – with great formatting and magazine style presentation. It is very easy to dip in and out of. Personally I loved the feminist invocations (poems) to Beyonce and Leaning In. The section on ‘femsplaining feminism to your friends’ is pretty clever. . The section on femsplaining feminism to your friends is pretty clever. There are a staggering number of feminism in jokes and some top level shade.

‘Getting catcalled for your personality’ was simultaneously hilarious and distressing – in a week when both my self and a colleague had to deal with unwanted catcalling in real life. There is so often truth in great comedy and the three authors of this book have done a great job.

Of all the books I’ve ever reviewed this is the one that I had to work hardest to stop people stealing from my handbag – any regular viewers of the Reductress website will know that this book is out and eagerly awaited. Because of the excellent way the authors deal with marketing to women throughout the book I’m loath to recommend it as a good buy! That being said I would have been very happy to receive a copy of this book for Christmas.

Review by Emma Rutherford

How to Win at Feminism
presented by Reductress
Published by HQ
ISBN 9780008214289

WORD: Speaking Out – Tara Moss interviewed by Joanna Norris

Tara-Moss_Speaking-Out-promo-shot-1At the 2050 session yesterday about climate chaos, panellists spoke about the danger of going from denial to despair. I was thinking about that a lot as I watched author and feminist activist Tara Moss give a presentation on sexism in the media, politics and society. The statistics are unrelenting, and I was too sad to write all of them down: women comprise only 11% of protagonists in top-rating US films; worldwide, fewer than 1 in 4 people we hear from or about in the media is female; a third of women worldwide have experienced physical or sexual violence. One third. That’s literally billions of us. Christ. She encouraged us to photograph her slides but I was too depressed.

Moss herself was very calm; charming and warm. She is an Australian writer who has moved from writing crime novels to feminist non-fiction. She’s here promoting her latest book, Speaking Out: A 21st-century handbook for women and girls, which I have duly purchased and she has kindly signed for me. But in the face of stats like this – women worldwide are 27 times more likely to experience serious online abuse than men; one fifth of women worldwide have been raped – what on earth are we meant to do?

As Moss said, “everywhere you look there’s an imbalance”. Even down to the way words are defined in the dictionary: take a look at bossy, where all the examples are derogatory of women. On the plus side, I now have a new interest: feminist lexicography. On the downside … this is how we develop unconscious bias, when our cultural places of authority have sexism woven into them so deeply we can’t see it.

After she had given us her presentation, The Press editor Joanna Norris interviewed Moss. They spoke about rape. Moss herself is one of the one in five women who has experienced rape, and she acknowledged matter-of-factly that there were a lot more of us in the audience as well. It’s still an issue that triggers a huge response. She made the excellent point that “we have a toxic silence around this issue but it’s so shockingly common that it shouldn’t be shocking to talk about it” – yet it still is.

Norris asked Moss whether there’s such a thing as oversharing. “There’s no such thing as overshare when you’re talking about important issues … Toxic silence does a lot more damage than oversharing … Actually there’s no such thing [as oversharing], that’s crap … I don’t think there’s anything we should feel we can’t talk about. Silence has never solved anything.”

Her solution to addressing sexism is, as the title of her book suggests, to speak out, together. “The calling-out needs to be done collectively, none of us can do it by ourselves. The women’s movement has been done collectively over the centuries … There are so many women we need to thank … That’s how things are going to get better. We need to normalise the discussion.” Personally, I’m going to start with a stiff drink in one hand and Speaking Out in the other, and then see what I have to say.

Reviewed by Elizabeth Heritage

Speaking Out: Tara Moss interviewed by Joanna Norris

Speaking Out: A 21st-century handbook for women and girls
by Tara Moss
Published by HarperCollins
ISBN 9781460751336

The Fictional Woman
by Tara Moss
Published by HarperCollins
ISBN 9781460751206

 

WORD: Busted – feminism and Pop Culture, with Debbie Stoller and Charlotte Graham

Event_Busted-Feminism-and-Pop-CultureSome days are better than others for being a feminist. Today, so far, is a good day.

I started my WORD Saturday with Busted; Charlotte Graham interviewing Debbie Stoller, editor in chief of US feminist magazine Bust. The art gallery theatre was full of people – mostly women – I assume mostly feminists – keen to hear her talk.

Bust magazine has recently celebrated its 100th issue. Stoller says they were often not sure there would even be a next issue. “There’s not a lot of money in feminism, and I often do feel like I’m in the feminism business … We have to pull ourselves up by our bra straps every day.” Funding is a constant issue. Selling ads on the website doesn’t work; Bust has to be supported by readers subscribing to the print magazine in order to survive. “Hopefully print will come back like vinyl.”

Stoller spoke about the way in which women raised on feminism “felt like we were trying to cut our way through the jungle” in terms of finding a way forward in life. “Bridget Jones’ Diary was a revelation, the way it depicted the life of a single 30yo woman.” She and her colleagues started Bust because they wanted to create a mainstream women’s magazine that didn’t make women hate themselves. “Men’s mags were about the pleasure and the power of being male”, so where were the magazines that made women feel good?

Stoller is also known for re-embracing traditionally feminine arts such as knitting, and has written a series of ‘Stitch & Bitch’ books. She says “Martha Stewart is one of my three top feminists” (the other two being Madonna and Courtney Love). Domestic art can be something you do for yourself. But why, as women, when we read about Martha Stewart, do we immediately put pressure on ourselves to do that too? There’s this presentation of perfection followed by a feeling that we have to achieve that too. Is there an equivalent in male culture, asks Stoller? And if not, why not?

Stoller spoke about the ways that, even though young women these days are not reading as many magazines, they’re still getting the same messages of body hatred and the pressure to perform constant perfection from social media: “No one instagrams how well their toenail polish matches the cat vomit”. She spoke about the way feminism in the 1970s classed housework as drudgery, but then women got into the workforce and found that a lot of that was drudgery too. The difference is that paid work is more highly valued, both in terms of money and appreciation. But with Pinterest etc., “private work becomes public”, and can transform domestic work into something publicly and immediately appreciated by others. “I feel that I should have a Pinterest-worthy life.”

Stoller says that the issue of feminism and choice is very difficult. If a women chooses to, for example, surgically enhance her breasts or shave her vulva, is that a feminist action? Stoller pointed out that “women can make choices that help sustain sexism too”, and that “it can makes you feel better in a sexist society to just go along” with the prevailing mode. Just because it’s a woman making the choice doesn’t necessarily make it a feminist action.

The thing that struck me most was when Stoller said “always question how things are assigned value and importance”. She pointed out that things that come out of male culture (like sports) tend to be immediately valued, whereas those that come from female culture (like fashion) are constantly put down. “Why is playing soccer so much more important than being a weaver?”

Stoller pointed to the abuse US actor Lesley Jones has recently received as an example of the sexism and racism still active in our society. “It’s a really important moment … Solutions start with awareness and acknowledging of the problems … Mainstream media is site of change and power now, not politics.” She has hope that the world can change for the better.

I’m finding that that hope, tempered with pragmatism, is emerging as a common theme across WORD Christchurch 2016 – particularly in the 2050 session yesterday discussing climate chaos. We should have hope for the future, contingent upon us all pitching in to help to make that change happen. Something for us all to consider.

Reviewed by Elizabeth Heritage

Busted: Feminism and Pop Culture
Debbie Stoller interviewed by Charlotte Graham

Debbie Stoller will also appear in:
The Sunday Fringe – How to Start a Magazine, Sun 28 Aug, 10am