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Archive for the ‘Feminism’ Category

A workshop with a group of strong young feminists was stimulating, satisfying, and exactly what I needed after several weeks of dealing with various health issues.

Most of the participants had been motivated to come after attending recent local shows by the facilitators Carrie Rudzinski and Olivia Hall, of the HWS Poetry Collective. I had hoped to go to one of their shows, but my recent eye operation precluded that. The fact that the workshop venue was our nearby Community Cottage was an added incentive to venture out on a drizzly Sunday afternoon.

The group was open and trusting. A bonus for me was that after I introduced myself as being a blogger another woman asked if I was Ruth’s Reflections and said she follows my blog. It’s always a thrill to meet someone who reads and comments on this blog.

We were all spurred to write freely, sometimes just a few words or a stream of consciousness which may later transform into a poem. Two poems were offered as examples. Calling all Grand Mothers by Alice Walker was an inspiring call to action. I found the second poem Backpedal by Olivia Gatwood hard to relate to, but am always curious to see what new poets are creating.

We were given excellent prompts and useful advice, e.g. to include concrete specific details, and to move while memorising. One prompt asked us to consider how we would like the world to change and to write an Epistle that might change someone’s mind. I was focussed on the war in Ukraine for this exercise, and found myself advocating violence. This is totally out of character for me, so may constitute a debut – useful as debut is the theme for my next poetry group meeting.

I’m grateful to Carrie and Olivia for sparking my latterly dormant muse. Here is my Epistle:

Dear Mrs Putin
your man has gone mad
it’s unbearable to watch him
killing indiscriminately
bombing schools
obliterating hospitals
children are dying
you have children of your own
can you make him stop?
please!
I don’t condone violence
but I think the time has come
for the sake of the world
he has to go
assassination an option
a suicide mission
we need a hero
could that be you?

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It’s International Women’s Day, and there’s little sign of public acknowledgement, presumably because there’s so much else on the public mind.

My thoughts are with the women of Ukraine. It is barely believable that just a few weeks ago they were living comfortably in situations similar to our own. Today they fear for their lives and those of their loved ones. Some are preparing to fight. I heard a woman interviewed who said it takes strength in the hand and fingers to fire a weapon. When asked how she would feel about killing someone she said she wasn’t thinking about that, just concentrating on the moment.

Many have left home, husbands, and other family to take their children on long journeys to uncertain safety, with tags showing their children’s blood group sewn into their clothes.

Ukrainian child refugees

There have been pictures of people carrying a loved pet, and I’ve wondered how long before those pets are abandoned. I wonder also about the Russian women watching their sons go off to fight, and facing arrest if they dare to protest. Putin seems always grim, with grim-faced men near him. Does he have a wife? a mother?

This is an appropriate day to invoke a Ukrainian goddess, but it was hard to find one. Zorya is a triple goddess whose name means dawn in Ukrainian. May there be a new dawn of peace for Ukraine and the world.

Interestingly the Phantom Billboards are striking a hopeful note.

Phantom Billboards

On this day I’m reminded of Virginia Woolf saying:

As a woman I have no country. As a woman I want no country. As a woman, my country is the whole world.

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This is a beguiling story set in the the aftermath of the first world war. It tells of a young woman forced to give her baby up for adoption, and what happens to that baby. All the characters are sympathetically drawn, even those who are driven by the conventions of the time to do cruel things. The book authentically portrays the choices available to women in the early 20th century, and the various discriminations they faced. I felt the ending was a little too convenient, but none-the-less satisfying. This is an absorbing yarn that tugs at the heartstrings. I’ve read others by the same author and enjoyed them too.

Decisions can be hard to make
uncertain which road best to take

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Queen Camilla

The Queen has stated her sincere wish that when Charles ascends to the throne Camilla should be titled Queen Consort. I see this as a belated acknowledgement of the pressure the younger Charles was put under to marry a virgin rather than the woman he loved.

It’s noteworthy that while British kings have had Queens Consort, the husband of a Queen has always been Prince Consort rather than King Consort. This shows that a king is considered more important than a queen, despite the fact that Britain has had several strong Queens Regnant. I wonder what might happen in the future? The Succession to the Crown Act of 2013 gave female offspring an equal chance to succeed, but it’s unlikely that Princess Charlotte, currently 4th in line of succession, will ever have occasion for her husband’s royal title to be considered in this way. What’s more important in Aotearoa is whether we continue to have the British Monarch as our head of state.

Will we still have a British King?
Who knows what years ahead may bring?

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This year’s WORD Christchurch festival is very different from previous ones. I bought my tickets way back before Covid Delta colonised Aotearoa. It must have been a nightmare for the organisers when they had to first cancel, and the re-schedule the festival. The poetry workshop I’d originally registered for was cancelled completely, with the fee fully refunded.

The other session I’d booked was Fifty Years a Feminist, with author Sue Kedgley interviewed by Christchurch Mayor Lianne Dalziel. Sue, who lives in Wellington, couldn’t attend in person, but came via a video link, and it seemed strange that there was only one chair on the stage.

Sue online and Lianne on stage

I arrived early at The Piano, and was shown to a socially distanced seat, with every second row left empty, and two vacant seats between each bubble. I estimate the Carter Hall would have been only about 20% filled for a session that would usually be a sellout. The audience was all masked of course.

I haven’t yet read Sue’s book, and hardly felt I needed to after reading Phillida Bunkle’s very thorough review. The fact I’d lived in Auckland through many of the incidents portrayed made me keen to hear Sue talk about them.

Sue emphasised the fact that the slogan The personal is political which was prevalent in the 1970s still applies today, and gave the example of the harassment of students at Christchurch Girls’ High School by boys from Christchurch Boys’ High School, where collective action by the girls had been effective.

Sue and Lianne both spoke of the bullying that goes on in our parliament and how that male culture needs to change, preferably with the assistance of a Code of Conduct. It’s heartening to see signs of more co-operation between parties. Empathy, compassion, and the ability to listen are often hallmarks of women leaders.

When asked how we can help women in public roles Sue mentioned that the National Council of Women is setting up a Misogyny Watch group. We need to show our support for each other. Change often comes through collective protest action.

Sue pointed out that the gains of feminism are fragile and some young women have no idea of how hard won they were. Our new history curriculum needs to incorporate the history of feminism and the importance of protests.

There was discussion of how people could be rallied, and Sue acknowledged we are all exhausted, especially with Covid. Earlier this year a group of young women in Wellington rallied against harassment in bars, and were successful in putting responsibility on the hospitality industry.

What an energising boost it was to hear these two women discussing the history and current state of feminism in Aotearoa.

A boost to feminism’s strength
to hear these women talk at length

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Today I attended a Suffrage Day celebration at the national Kate Sheppard Memorial.  There were about fifty people, little need for social distancing, and no masks in sight.  I’ve been to similar events almost every year since 1993, and I wonder how long the same faithful feminists will continue to attend.

I understand Covid 19 made it uncertain whether any public event would go ahead, and there was little promotion of it.  No acknowledgement of the special date  in this morning’s Press.

Rosemary du Plessis introducing the speakers

The M.C. for the celebration was Rosemary du Plessis, representing the National Council of Women, and several speakers urged us to use our vote in the forthcoming General Election.  I’m sure they were speaking to the converted.  There was mention of a project to raise funds for seating near the memorial, which I would certainly appreciate.  One speaker pushed the case for suffrage to be extended to 16 and 17 year olds something I agree with.  She pointed out that young people have demonstrated their abilities by organising the School Strike 4 Climate, and deserve to have a say in the political process.

Our voting privilege exists
thanks to the work of suffragists

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Jenni Murray, presenter of the BBC Woman’s Hour, has chosen 21 women who refused to succumb to the established laws of society, blazed trails for those coming after, and who continue to inspire us.  Christchurch City Libraries have this book available in audio and large print format (I did wonder whether they’ve heard about my cataract).

The 21 women are Jenni’s personal choice.  They range chronologically from Boadicea to Nicola Sturgeon.  Some notable inclusions are Aphra Behn, the playwright who was arguably the first English novelist, Caroline Herschel, astronomer, the first woman to earn her living in science, and Mary Somerville the first person to be called a scientist.  Fanny Burney’s description of her 1811 mastectomy without anaesthetic is gruelling, and it’s encouraging to know she lived for another twenty-nine years after the experience.

Many of the early women received the bulk of their education at home – surely a commendation for lockdown learning.  Jenni’s personal knowledge of the more recent women and the changes they’ve made to our society add to the book’s fascination.  She often gives directions to relevant monuments and buildings, and I wish I’d had these when I visited the U.K.

This book  goes some way to correcting the gender imbalance in British history and deserves to be widely read.

So many women made a mark
whose stories were kept in the dark

 

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Finding Feminism

I was first introduced to feminist ideas when I met members of the Broadsheet Collective in the early 1970s.  I became a subscriber, went monthly on a Saturday morning to their city office to help with stuffing the magazine into envelopes, and enjoyed the discussions that accompanied this.

Through the 1970s and 1980s I took various Women’s Studies courses through the Auckland WEA, some of which were led by Margot Roth.  I was introduced to women authors I’d never heard of, such as Jane Mander, who wrote The Story of a New Zealand River and who had attended Onehunga Primary School where my daughters went, as I did for just one term.

In 1979 a friend asked me to go with her to the United Women’s Convention in Hamilton at Easter, but I declined because I thought that the family’s needs over a holiday weekend should come before mine (this was probably before I’d done assertiveness training).  I had no such hesitation in attending Women’s Studies Association Conferences from 1985 to 1990, even co-facilitating a Women’s Spirituality workshop at one.

It wasn’t until 1982 that I joined a Consciousness Raising group.  I saw it advertised and enjoyed meeting a diverse group of women and discussing all kinds of intimate subjects.  I was surprised to find that two lesbians in the group were totally non-political.  Previously I’d never knowingly met a lesbian who wasn’t politically active.

Feminism was an ideal counterpart to my involvement in Values/Green politics and my eventual engagement with Women’s Spirituality.  It gave me identity and sisterhood and has remained an important integral part of my life.

As a young bride I’d taken my husband’s name without a second thought, but after twenty years of marriage I realised that I’d given up my birth name without considering what that meant in a patriarchal society, and I wanted to claim a name of my own.  At that time I’d met only one woman who was married and didn’t use her husband’s name.  I thought long and hard over what surname I wanted to use and was reluctant to return to my ‘maiden’ name as that favoured my father’s family over my mother’s.  However the meaning of my Gardner family name appealed, and eventually persuaded me to make that choice.

Legally any woman is always entitled to use her birth surname (and children are entitled to use their mother’s name) but society is not always as welcoming.  When I went to change the name on my bank account I was told I’d need to provide proof of separation.  I stated that I was not separated and didn’t intend to be, and that was apparently something they hadn’t encountered before, that had to be checked with head office.

Over the years I took part in all kinds of demonstrations, for peace, a woman’s right to make decisions about her own body, take back the night, etc.

In 1989 we were settled in Christchurch and I decided to attempt some tertiary study.  It was the Feminist Studies Department at the University of Canterbury that attracted me, and I enrolled in FMST101 Feminist Perspectives: The Re-presentation of Women, where I was introduced to women in all kinds of spheres many of whom I’d never heard of.  I relished the lectures and discussions and managed to satisfactorily complete the assignments.  An academic friend kindly critiqued my first essay (the first I’d written since leaving school) which enabled me to improve it before submitting.  Our tutorial group included a woman with a nose stud, the first time I’d met one of these at close quarters, and I needed to carefully choose a seat where that wouldn’t distract me.

The following year I enrolled in a Stage Two course Women and Change where I was part of a group that researched and reported on why women leave traditional religions.  I loved doing both these papers but did not choose to attempt any more University study.  I’d proved what I wanted to, that I was capable of passing tertiary papers.  Sadly the Feminist Studies Department at University of Canterbury has since disappeared, but some students still manage to incorporate feminism in their studies.

As I’m a woman I must be
a feminist – it’s plain to see

 

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This memoir is an amazing story by an amazing woman.  She escaped terror in her homeland and came to Aotearoa as a refugee child, and her voyage of self-discovery is fascinating.  In this brutally honest and thoughtful book Golriz outlines her years as a criminal lawyer, especially around the issue of youth justice.  She has felt lack of confidence, and experienced imposter syndrome, yet she kept accepting challenges because of the sacrifices that had been made so she could experience these challenges.  I found her discussion of why she decided to stand as a Green candidate and her entry to Parliament profoundly moving, along with her understanding of the need for diversity to bring about true democratic representation.  As she says: Decision-making without diverse representation is not only hurtful, it is weak and ineffective.  She experiences harsh ongoing prejudice because of her race, background, and gender, yet she does not falter in her passionate pursuit of the goals she believes in.

This is an immensely readable and inspiring account, and it challenges you to think about a wide range of issues.

Along the way she’s overcome
the threats of vicious racist scum

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With dawning feminism I became aware and cynical of the role of the Christian Church in oppressing women.  While I admire and support the basic tenets of Christianity, the operation of the church has often been less than Christian in my opinion.  In the 1970s I was introduced to Broadsheet and became a long-term subscriber.  I took Women’s Studies courses through the Auckland W.E.A., and was encouraged to buy and read The Paradise Papers by Merlin Stone, later re-published as When God Was A Woman.  This book documented how the patriarchy deliberately suppressed female images and symbols over millennia.  I hungrily sought and devoured similar books and discussed my discoveries with friends.

In 1984 Auckland University Continuing Education offered a course on Women’s Spirituality, tutored by Lea Holford.  I dithered, wondering whether this would be for me, and eventually phoned to enrol the week before the course was due to start.  To my surprise it was already full, and I’d missed out.  The next year I made sure to enrol early, and the course was an amazing revelation.  Lea, who came from San Francisco and knew Starhawk, shared knowledge and images that were affirming and wonderful.

There was one man in the course, because at that time the University would not allow gender discrimination in its enrolments.  Several of the students convinced this man that his attendance was not appropriate, and he left.  Many of us wrote to the University to request that such courses be women-only, but I’m not sure what the outcome of this was.

Initiation card

The final session of six included an initiation into Women’s Mysteries.  For me this was profound.  I had a strong sense that I was linking with innumerable women who had similarly experienced the Mysteries over countless years.  I shared this with the woman next to me, and to my surprise she had not had a similar experience.  A group of women from the course agreed that we would meet regularly and share feminist ritual, and thus the group that became Tapestry was born.  Some of us were later involved in organizing a Women’s Spirituality weekend, which was again a profoundly moving experience.  With another woman I facilitated a re-birthing ritual there.  One of the participants told me afterwards that this was especially powerful for her because she was a twin, and the experience this time was uniquely hers.

Juliet Batten offered a W.E.A. course in feminist ritual and I eagerly enrolled for this.  Juliet’s course explored ritual in a more intimate setting, led to an advanced course, and to the formation of the ritual group Cone which I also relished.

By this time I knew I’d be leaving Auckland at the end of 1986, and although it seemed greedy to be in two ritual groups I was keen to gather and enjoy all the experience I could, not knowing whether I’d be able to find similar groups in Christchurch.

Once we’d settled in, I advertised and networked, and found women with similar interests, but no ongoing group until I went with some friends to an Ecumenical Feminist Women’s Conference at Rangi Ruru in 1988, where 150 women gathered for several days.  The majority were or had recently been involved with the Christian Church, but one workshop for pagan women attracted just thirteen – surely an auspicious number.  From this a ritual group was formed.  It’s gone through many incarnations over the years and is still a source of spiritual strength and sisterhood for me and others.

Centrepiece for Summer Solstice 2005

At different times we’ve held large open rituals and joined with other groups.  A North Canterbury group, nurtured by Noreen Penny, co-founder of the Kate Sheppard Women’s Bookshop, was responsible for inviting overseas women to speak and hold workshops, notably Zsuzsanna Budapest and Carol P Christ.

I was pleased on a number of occasions to offer workshops and courses on feminist ritual, sometimes with a friend and sometimes on my own.  Because feminist spirituality was so important to me I was keen to share the experience with others.

All the ritual groups I’ve been involved with have celebrated the eight festivals of the year, solstices, equinoxes, and those in between.  We also celebrate significant birthdays and life events.  Our group’s numbers have declined as some women have moved away, and some have died.  We have not actively sought new members for some time, but it’s good to have occasional glimpses of younger women who are celebrating in their own way.

Image of Ishtar

For me, the experience of women’s spirituality is summed up by this quote from Ntozake Shange: I found god in myself, and I loved her, I loved her fiercely.

 

 

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