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Posts Tagged ‘Feminism’

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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I relished this book!  Jenni Murray, presenter of BBC Woman’s Hour has a wonderful turn of phrase, and is immensely readable.  The women profiled range from Pharaoh Hatshepsut to Olympian Cathy Freeman, with nineteen wonderful women in between.  It was fascinating to read of Jenni’s discovery of and reaction to these women, chosen because they refused to fall in with the expectations and practices of their day.  Jenni has met and interviewed many of the contemporary women, and makes witty and profound comments.  She is fond of the exclamation mark, as am I!  Jenni writes, where women of distinction are concerned . . . . their sexual behaviour rather than their intelligence and competence preoccupies the men who recorded their version of history.  Joan of Arc was convicted primarily because she wore trousers.  Jenni suggests we wear ours with pride in her memory, and breathe a sigh of relief that we won’t be punished for it.

The stories are totally delightful, with the author supplying interesting asides with an appealing feminist slant.  Marie Curie’s friend, the British physicist Hertha Ayrton said: Errors are notoriously hard to kill, but an error that ascribes to a man what was actually the work of a woman has more lives than a cat.  Apropos of Madonna (Ciccone) Jenni writes: We do need to have the courage to be a bit disgraceful if we’re going to overturn the idea that a woman somehow has to behave better than a man.  This book is available from Christchurch City Libraries, and is a treat to read!

Revealing women’s history
which men had made a mystery

 

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This WEA workshop was promoted as tackling the serious theme of modern feminism with fun and humour.  The facilitators were Diane McCarthy a performance poet and project manager of the Kate Sheppard Celebration Tours, and Lucy Gray a PSA activist who is curator  of Banna a co-constructed banner for pay equity.  Two other facilitators had dropped out beforehand.  We started with a sharing round of our feminist backgrounds, and Lucy talked about Banna.

Banna

We were then invited to crochet (hooks and wool provided) and if we wished to, make a flower which could be added to Banna.  I’ve never managed to crochet.  My mother who was proficient tried to teach me, but the fact that I’m left-handed while she was right-handed proved to be an obstacle.  In this group people were willing to demonstrate, but again they were all right-handed, and I didn’t manage very well.

My flower didn’t flourish

We were introduced to a book with many ideas for feminist crafting: Crafting with Feminism.  25 Girl-Powered Projects to Smash the Patriarchy by Bonnie Burton.  It gives ideas for feminist dates we might commemorate and some slogans.  I particularly liked Vivant Viragines – Long live female troublemakers!

The WEA offers good kitchen facilities.  I was delighted to find a tea-infusing spoon and loose Earl Grey tea leaves, which meant I could have a proper cup of tea.

Later we were invited to start knitting a feminist ally, with instructions from Knit your own boyfriend by Carol Meldrum.  I finished one leg, and may do more.  The pattern could be used for any doll.  The final activity was to re-purpose a hard cover book which we’d been asked to bring.  This involved sealing the pages and recovering the book.  I declined to do this as it would simply produce another item that I don’t want, and I left early (though not as early as the three who disappeared at lunchtime).

I met some interesting women, but overall found the workshop a little disappointing.  I’m not sure just what I was hoping for, perhaps more structured sharing, and the opportunity to join in something like yarn bombing.   Opportunities to meet with feminists in a light-hearted way are rare these days, and I commend the WEA for providing this session.

I find it rare in nowadays
to meet with new Viragines

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Fostering Feminism

Recent posts have included several with a feminist focus.  As today is the 125th anniversary of Women’s Suffrage in Aotearoa New Zealand it seemed appropriate to add Feminism as a new category on my blog, and to re-categorise a few older posts.  The ‘Press’ this morning has a good article about powerful Christchurch women.

To celebrate I’ve put a photo of one of my favourite feminist posters – a souvenir from when German Green M.P. Petra Kelly visited New Zealand in the 1980s.

‘Though women are majority
we’ve yet to see equality.’

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Sustaining Sisterhood

Last night I experienced a wave of feminist energy that I haven’t felt for a long time.  This was a session of Shared Snood where the theme was “When life gives you orange bigots: Active methods of smashing the partriarchy.”  The group of about 30 were mainly young artists, and included several men.  The variety of coloured hair made me hanker for the days when mine was purple or blue.  I met new friends and felt totally included despite being the oldest person there.

The first speaker, Danielle O’Halloran focussed on decolonisation and I was strongly reminded of a weekend workshop on Structural Analysis of Racism led by Ripeka Evans, back in 1984.  For me, that had been a transformative experience.  Danielle pointed out that before we can understand the system we need to know ourselves and each other, and to share our personal stories.  She asked us to introduce ourselves in groups of two or three so we could identify our connections.  This process is so familiar, yet one I rarely encounter these days.

The second speaker was Gemma Syme of Fantasing who talked of their radical action.

Third was Alice Anderson, an impressive young woman who led us through a meditation reminiscent of the Dances of Universal Peace, which demonstrated how we might smash the patriarchy.  She went on to speak confidently and inspiringly of how she lives her dream.

This was an evening of stimulation and inspiration such as I have not experienced in many years.  It felt nostalgic, reminding me of the energy in protests for peace, reproductive choice, homosexual law reform, and taking back the night.  It’s wonderful to know that such feminism is alive and active in Christchurch.  I’m aware that I may never have known about it if I hadn’t been linked on Facebook.  The BBC Woman’s Hour is my main contact with feminism these days, and I’m thrilled to know that discussions like these are taking place much closer to home.  I’m looking forward to the free session “All About Women” at the Art Gallery this Sunday, and I’ve joined a Facebook group of Christchurch Feminist Poets.

“The Sisterhood’s alive and well
and surely it is bound to swell.”

 

 

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I’ve enjoyed presentations by Mary Beard on TV and radio, and was pleased to discover this slim volume which comprises two lectures she gave for the London Review of Books in 2014 and 2017.  Mary, who is a Cambridge Professor of Classics, shows how Western culture has had thousands of years of practice in silencing women.  She cites Homer’s Odyssey as being an example of women’s voices being excluded from the public sphere, and points out how public speech has been a defining attribute of maleness.  Mary asserts that it is still the case that when listeners hear a female voice they have not learned how to hear authority in it, mentioning that Margaret Thatcher took voice training specifically to lower her tone to that of authority.

Weakness comes with a female gender, and we need to look more carefully at our cultural assumptions about women’s relationship with power.  If women are not perceived to be fully within the structures of power, Mary suggests it is power we need to redefine rather than women.  She reminds us that Rwanda has the highest proportion (over 60%) of women in the national legislature, and wonders if, in some places, the presence of large numbers of women in parliament means that parliament is where the power is not.  You cannot easily fit women into a structure that is already coded as male; you have to change the structure, and decouple power from public prestige.

Mary’s writing is always clear and interesting, and this book is available from Christchurch City Libraries.  This week I heard the news that Iceland has become the first country in the world to make it illegal to pay men more than women, so maybe something is changing.

“Oppression that can seem Jurassic
is shown by Mary to be classic.”

 

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An afternoon of feminism was not to be missed.  ‘All About Women’ took place at the Sydney Opera House, and was live-streamed to various venues throughout Australia.  I was surpised that the Christchurch Art Gallery auditorium was only half full for this event.  It was good to hear several women acknowledge the first peoples of Australia, especially Tracey Spicer, who said that the land under the Opera House was and always will be aboriginal land.

 

all-about-women-small

The first speaker was actor Geena Davis, who spoke about ‘Women in Media’.  Geena played Thelma in ‘Thelma and Louise’, and said one response to that film was ‘now the women have guns the world is ruined’!.  She pointed out that she has enough money to be able to choose her roles, and she chooses ones that women will feel empowered by.  With humour, passion, and statistics, Geena illustrated that in family movies men have 2.5 to 3 times as many speaking roles as women.  We are teaching children from a young age that women are less important and less valuable than men.  While equality in the real world may be a long way off instant parity is possible onscreen.  For example, the prevalence of women forensic scientists in shows such as ‘Bones’ and ‘CSI’ means that numbers of women studying forensic science have skyrocketed.  It is vital that we all do all we can to encourage, vote for, and hire women.

The second session was questions and answers with Jessa Crispin, author of “Why I Am Not a Feminist”.  It seems that feminism is the only word we currently have for a person who believes all people are equal, but Jessa believes it has become too universal.  She liked it better when feminism was a dirty word, because if feminism is a danger we’re more likely to get change.  Young people are less inclined to recognise inequality, and slacktavism and compromise have crept in.  Lower class women have been removed from the agenda of feminism which is focussed on the middle class.   Self-empowerment encourages individualism, and we need to look beyond this.

The third session was a panel of ‘Nasty Women’.  The name stems from Trump’s statement that Hillary is a ‘nasty woman’, but super female powers have turned that negative name into a positive.  The three panellists and chairwoman had many gems of wisdom.

Van Badham said the way to change society is to join a trade union or community organisation.  We thought we’d won and we’ve stopped fighting because of a false sense of security.  If we’re not active in democracy we get Donald Trump.  There is power in solidarity – stand by others.  It’s important to ‘die on the right side’.  Take strength from the women who came before and those who will come afterwards – find strength in the feminist tradition.  Fighting against injustice gives your own life meaning.

Lindy West said solidarity is vital, the foundation of equality, activism, and freedom.  No need to start new organisations – join those that have been working for equality for years.

Yassmin Abdel-Magied talked of the need to constantly push uphill.  Having conversations in your circles will have an effect on the people around you and it will grow.  Her input was moving and passionate.  She urged us to decide what our own values are and live by those values.

If you’d like to hear more of All About Women, it’s available here.

“So good to hear these women talk
they’re ones who really walk the walk.”

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‘Fabulous Feminism: too many dinner parties’ is an exhibition at the Eastside Gallery until 20 August.  It’s open 11-4 on weekdays and 12-3 on Saturday.  What a treat to see feminist art, including some old favourites, with over twenty women artists represented.  The centrepiece by Tiffany Thornley is a table setting with a biography of each artist.

Kate Glass’s ‘Friendship Flags’ is a personal bunting made with scraps of material imbued with memory of women friends and family.

Friendship Flags by Kate Glass

Friendship Flags by Kate Glass

“Artworks by women celebrate
so many versions of our fate.”

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Kate Sheppard and Teresa May have both been labelled as “difficult”.  It’s a term that tends to be used by men for any woman who won’t be silenced.

The first written evidence of patriarchal silencing of women is contained in the Lagash Code of 2350BCE.  One statute states that “if a woman says [text illegible…] to a man, her mouth is crushed with burnt bricks.”

Set for 'That Bloody Woman'

Set for ‘That Bloody Woman’

Court Theatre’s “That Bloody Woman” is an exhilarating and energetic depiction of Kate Sheppard, a woman who refused to be silenced, and was the leader of the movement which led to Aotearoa New Zealand being the first country to give women the vote (Yay!).  As well as bringing Kate to life in a personal and moving way, the show portrayed her two firm supporters Jennie Lovell Smith (wife of William whom Kate married after Jennie died), Ada Wells (the first woman elected to the Christchurch City Council in 1917), and her principal opposition, Richard (King Dick) Seddon.  The show is a punk rock musical, and perhaps the most entertaining number was the one where Jennie and Ada supplied the f-word, which Kate was too dignified to utter.  Their wonderful chorus of ‘F***, f***, f***ety, f***’ will certainly linger in many ears!

The music was loud.  I was disappointed that I couldn’t catch some words in the more raucous numbers, and wondered if they’d have been clearer at a lower volume.  The feminist vibe was wonderful.  No interval in this show, because it would have detracted from the high energy.  The season ends on 30 July, and seats are selling fast.

This morning came the news that Teresa May will be U.K. Prime Minister within a few days.  She too has been called difficult.

The last word on difficult women comes from U.K. poet, Helen Mort published in nowthenmagazine.com:

In London, it’s said you’re never more than 6 feet
from a difficult woman. Have you or a colleague

had a difficult woman in the last 6 months?
If so, you may be entitled to compensation.
Do you have difficulty with our questions?
Are you afraid you may be difficult yourself?

“So are we difficult if we
want equal opportunity?”

 

 

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Gloria Steinem’s name and reputation are familiar, but I’d forgotten how inspiring her writing can be.  I loved this memoir from the moment I read the dedication which was to the doctor who illegally organised an abortion for Gloria in 1957.   Later she writes about how society had made her feel at fault, until she realized that there were political reasons why female humans were not supposed to make decisions about our own bodies.  Gloria’s philosophy appeals, and the book is full of good ideas and fascinating facts.   She also writes that “Rhyming in itself is magic” – guaranteed to please this writer of rhyming verse.   Did you know that the Iroquois Nation is the oldest continuous democracy in the world, and provided the model for the U.S. Constitution?  Or that Gandhi urged Indian activists working for self-rule to emulate the courage and tactics of the suffragist Pankhursts?  Gloria  says the clearest view is always from the bottom, and stresses that decisions are best made by the people affected by them – long a Green Party philosophy.

This book taught me a great deal about Amercian history, especially in the area of social justice and First Peoples.  It has certainly given me a better idea of Hilary Clinton, who might make a real difference if she becomes President.

There’s just so much in this book, and it’s beautifully written, with hints of feminist spirituality.  It was a relief to read that Gloria has seen enough change to have faith that more will come.

“This woman has a magic touch
she’s seen and done so very much.”

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