Archive for the ‘Feminism’ Category

Glad I’m a girl was the theme for this week’s poetry group, and it was not one that made me glad. I strongly dislike being called a girl, and consider it a belittling term for any woman who has menstruated. I like to watch The Chase, but I cringe whenever Bradley refers to female competitors as girls. The following was my effort for this topic:


Do not call me girl
I’m way past menarche
well past menopause
proud to be a Crone

Lady does not suit me
sounds too gentle
patient and passive
for someone who
has lived a life
engaged with earthquakes
come through Covid
three score years and ten

and creative
I am a Woman!

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I like this sign on the toilets at the Richmond Club:

I felt immediate delight
because this statement says we’re right

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People spoke of their experiences of travelling in Iran (formerly Persia) after Helen Tait told of her 24 day trip there in 2019.

Iran’s population has more than twice the density of Aotearoa, and there is an overwhelming tradition of hospitality. Before the coup that deposed the Shah in 1979 there was a great deal of discontent and resentment as his regime was seen to be brutal and corrupt. Different groups had different ideas as to what the change should be and eventually the Muslim religion was chosen as a focal point. However increasing religious observance led to the disenchantment of many. In 2020 the GAMAAN survey showed that 72% were opposed to the mandatory wearing of the hijab, which has led to recent violent protests.

In 2019 Helen observed only casual use of the hijab by young women. The society appeared to be loosening up and moving away from strict control. Consequently she was stunned to learn of the recent repression which represents a small minority ruling a well-informed larger group.

A women who visited Iran in 1977 said she saw no hijabs then in Tehran, which appeared very free and Americanized with quality restaurants, although the situation was different in Isfahan.

The question was asked how such a small minority of religious clerics have managed to maintain and increase their authority and it was pointed out that it requires only 5% of a population to be convinced and willing to use arms to enforce an idea for it to happen.

We heard that an increasing percentage (8% in the Gamaan survey) of the population now identify as Zoroastrian as they see that religion as being patriotic and specifically Persian.

In recent days it has been distressing to learn that students in girls’ schools have been poisoned in what may be an effort to further limit female education.

A Persian woman sans hijab
may be ill-treated for her garb

A souvenir from Persia

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The first Women’s Refuge in New Zealand (and possibly the world) started just round the corner from my home, at 249 Kilmore Street. Rosemary Howard spoke of how this came about. There were no photos to illustrate her talk, partly because of the time (1970s) and partly because of the need to keep Refuge secret.

In the 1970s Rosemary, who described herself as independent, curious and naive, moved from the North Island to study Sociology at the University of Canterbury. Subjects such as the Role of Women, Deviant Behaviour, and Race Relations were greatly stimulating and made her think about the structure of our society. At the age of 19 she joined a group of 60 people, academic and professional, who were thinking about alternative ways of living and how they might develop community and share childcare.

When a large historic house in Merivale, Chippenham Lodge built in 1862 and probably designed by Benjamin Mountfort, came up for sale in 1971 with a price of $20,000 they decided to buy it, and the community began. In an early version of crowdfunding they were able to raise the capital needed. Next they bought the house next door in Mansfield Avenue which cost $24,000. To support and nurture their ideas about sustainability they also bought Cricklegrass Farm at Oxford for $14,000. In 1972 there were 24 adults and about 10 children living on the three properties.

The intention of the community was to share resources and effect social change. Shared roles and childcare gave members the freedom to be involved in various projects such as Greenpeace and Four Avenues Alternative School, and they became social activists. I remember going to a Green Party dinner at Chippenham in the later 1980s, where the entrance pathway was attractively outlined with tea light candles.

In the 1970s Women’s Liberation was a strong movement in Aotearoa. Organisations such as the National Organization of Women and Zonta were all thinking and asking questions about the limitations placed on women, e.g.abortion law reform and equal pay. Women could not enter a public bar, and banks refused to accept a woman as a signatory for a loan. When Rosemary was refused equal pay at Watties she chained herself to a pea harvester. Broadsheet magazine, first published in 1972 fuelled the fire of many women and led to the United Women’s Conventions and the Radical Feminist Network. Women from all walks of life were talking and asking questions about patriarchy.

A meeting place for local women was needed, and the Chippenham group rented half a house at 249 Kilmore Street as a place where women could meet and talk about their oppression. (The house has since been replaced by townhouses.) Books about feminism were being circulated. The power imbalance between the sexes was recognised. The focus of this Women’s Centre was to talk about how they could change society. Then injured women started to arrive in great distress, with children and hastily packed bags. The Centre, staffed by a roster of women, became a Safe House.

They thought there would be just a few isolated cases, rented the other half of the house, and were soon overflowing with distressed women. It was decided to retain the Kilmore Street house as a discussion centre and look for another Safe House. They approached the Christchurch City Council who were initially not interested in assisting battered women. Rosemary refused to leave the Council offices until they gave her a house, which they eventually did, in Hastings Street, Sydenham, and so the first Women’s Refuge in Aotearoa was established. Previously women who experienced domestic violence might go to their local church or to the Society for the Protection of Home and Family, but the topic of violence against women was not to be mentioned. The police were not supportive at the time, but were persuaded to run some staff education programmes.

From 1973 to 1977 the Refuge was run by a roster of volunteers and many women from the Chippenham Community were involved. Other women asked how they could help – some gave goods, others pledged a dollar a week. In 1973 the Labour Government introduced the Domestic Purposes Benefit (DPB) which gave single mothers the opportunity for economic independence. The Refuge set up a network of contacts in Christchurch to assist women with accessing DPB and State Housing.

Fundraising was an important activity. For instance Refuge ran a champagne party at the Arts Centre supported by the Court Theatre. Actors offered a play called The Liberation of the Shrew and a substantial amount was raised. Rosemary spoke to service clubs asking for money, but the response was often negative, because the reality of domestic violence was not believed.

The beginning of Refuge has not been well-documented, because the work was all voluntary, underground, and secret. In 1977 some roles became paid with Government funding. Importantly the issue of domestic violence in this country was recognised. Instances of this increased after the Christchurch earthquakes, and again with Cyclone Gabrielle so vigilance and activism are still required.

On the Avon Ōtākaro riverbank near The Bricks there are two kowhai trees planted by Daphne Terpstra, Dame Ann Hercus, and Lady Hay to mark National Awareness Week for Women’s Refuges throughout New Zealand in 1988. Daphne was the woman we bought our cottage from, and she told us that it had sometimes been used for the overflow from the Refuge. I wonder if this site was chosen for the memorial because of its proximity to 249 Kilmore Street.

Memorial kowhai trees on riverbank

In the 1990s I worked at the Women’s Centre which was then in Cathedral Square. It had been set up as a link between Refuge and the wider community. The women there taught me about power and control, and about working collectively.

Do you have Refuge memories you’d care to share publicly?

The women looking after others
with care for children and their mothers

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Emerging Amazon

Remember something that happened for the first time. This was the prompt for our creative writing class, and I remembered the first (and only) time I went abseiling. It was November 1992 and I enrolled in an Emerging Amazon course for women run by Ali Watersong. We all met on the Friday evening when Ali led a psychodrama session where we looked at what we were afraid of and talked to the cliff face.

On the Saturday morning we drove to Castle Rock in the Port Hills, were fitted with harnesses and hard hats, and taught techniques and safety procedures. Then we climbed up the rock – I remember feeling scared but determined. I also felt a connection with my father who died when I was very young, and who was a keen climber.

The weather was fine, the sky clear, and the view from the top breathtaking. I could watch other women bravely stepping off and launching themselves down, but it took time for me to gather my courage and follow them.

Ruth abseiling

With Ali’s support I was able to do it, and gained immense satisfaction. Someone even took a photo which I have treasured. There was a feeling of sisterhood within the group. The experience definitely took me outside my comfort zone and gave me a sense of achievement, but I was not tempted to repeat it. I wonder how many of my blog readers have abseiled?

I needed courage to abseil
today I would require guard rail

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I was keen to see this film after reading the autobiography of filmmaker Gaylene Preston, but I must admit I found it depressing. It covers the year in 2016 when Helen Clark made a bid to be the first woman Secretary General of the United Nations. For the first time the process for election was supposed to be open and transparent, but in fact the same old men made the same old decisions. If we want change at the U.N. the whole system will need to change and this is now unlikely to happen for another decade, if ever.

Helen Clark is always an interesting woman, and it was good to see how she kept regular contact with and cared for her aging father. This would have been a very different film if Helen’s bid had been successful.

A friend in Wellington kindly sent me this DVD as a gift. I will not want to watch it again, so if you’re interested, please let me know, and I will pass it on.

She tried for top job at U.N.
but was rebuffed by biased men

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Asked whether any book has changed my life I found it difficult to choose one. Over the years many books have had an effect on me, but the one that truly changed my life would have to be The Paradise Papers by Merlin Stone, later re-published as When God was a Woman.

This book demonstrated to me how much of women’s history has been changed and suppressed, and it began my interest in and devotion to Feminist Spirituality. I was nearly thirty when I first read it and new to the subject of Women’s Studies. Around the same time I was introduced to a number of women fiction writers who strongly captured my imagination. The first was Marion Zimmer Bradley, author of The Mists of Avalon. I loved the magic of this book, which tells the legend of King Arthur from a feminist perspective. I’ve read it many times and also bought the others in the same series. In 2009 I was privileged to visit Glastonbury/Avalon, and walk the path up the Tor, which I had previously only imagined.

Another important novel was The Story of a New Zealand River by Jane Mander, the first book I’d read by a New Zealand woman author. I felt a particular affinity for Jane as she had lived in Onehunga in Auckland, where I was living when I read it.

It was Margot Roth, a much-loved Women’s Studies tutor sadly no longer with us, who suggested I also read Marge Piercy, and her Vida captivated me at a time when I was deeply involved in political action.

Is there a book that has changed your life?

A book can take us far away
and bring ideas that change our day

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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?
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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