125 years ago today the bill was passed which enabled women to vote in New Zealand. The Franchise Superintendent of the W.C.T.U. at the time wrote, “As a Society we have been very particular to contend for the right of citizenship for its own sake … We hope, however, as the effect of our getting the franchise, that the inequality of the laws affecting men and … will in time be removed.” (The Struggle for Suffrage, STAR, Issue 4752, 20 September 1893)
Today’s generation of feminists continue to work for equality for all, so we asked several writers joining us for LitCrawl this year to share their most strident feminist moment.
There are lots of strident feminist moments in my past; moments where I had to enact abrasiveness. These days being stridently feminist feels to me like territory inhabited by people who loudly exclude trans women or sex workers. I'm not interested in that kind of exclusion. I want there to be more voices who know their own worth. These days my feminism is quieter and more detailed in practice. It asks me about the space I take up and whose voice I could be helping to make louder. It lets me have those starting conversations over and over where you help someone else pick up ideas or explore them further. It helps me meet people where they are at and work patiently with the things I need to do better. Strident feminism is a sprint but I'm here for the marathon.
There’s the feminism you wear on the outside: I have a white T-shirt with FEMINIST AF blazoned across the front in red. I wore it on a recent research trip to the States. The lanky beanpole guy in the café who served me pancakes: Feminist AF. The chic boho couple I met wandering through Venice Beach with an off-duty mermaid: Feminist AF. Everyone loved my Feminist AF T-shirt. Then there’s the Feminism you wear on the inside: private, internal moments that are harder to advertise. For example I spent the early 2000s working as a receptionist (really) in a massage parlour tucked beneath the shadow of the Sky Tower. One night sitting at reception as the sun went down outside the sliding door, I found an exercise book in the top drawer that kept a log of all the working girls real names, phone numbers and next of kin in case of emergency. Another night the fire alarm went off and girls and clients tumbled down the hall and spilt into the parking lot, the men scurrying off into the oil-slicked night as the sirens blazed. A false alarm but the firemen still came. Another night something else happened - something routine - that sent me into the recently sandblasted St Paul’s Church on my day off to ask a God I didn’t believe in for forgiveness. Feminist AF? It’s a bit more complicated than that.
My identity as a woman, is inextricable from my identity as Māori. The way in which this land was forcefully taken from Māori caused irreversible ripples throughout te ao Māori. One rupture is manifest in the collecting institution, and the collection, that I work within: the mātauranga Māori collection at Te Papa. Over the course of this year, I have been working to surface wāhine Māori relationships with menstruation through the collecting of a MyCup menstrual cup sold in collaboration with the Tukau Community Fund. Prior to acquiring the menstrual cup, I could find no evidence of wāhine Māori menstruation in the Te Papa collection. Through talking with MyCup and Tukau, I came to hear how rich and empowering the impact was that Tukau had within its community, but also how personal relationships with menstruation had changed due to the work of these amazing women: Kimberli Schuitman, Season-Mary Downs, Jayme Armstrong and Willow-Jean Prime. That's mana wāhine to me, that's wāhine toa.
Jessie Bray Sharpin
I keep wanting to write about a triumphant childhood moment, played out to the internal voice of my mother telling me "girls can do anything boys can do" since before I could walk. This was the norm for me though, so it sat alongside every day experiences. Her other line that I still repeat to myself to this day is "never let a boy stop you from doing anything you want to do". (This one originated with my older sister being blocked from going down the slide by a little boy at a playground).
But when I think of my most strident feminist moment, it's from a 26 year old me, much more recently. And, unsurprising to those that know me, there's history involved. When I worked at the Nelson Provincial Museum, I initiated, developed and presented a series of talks (Women of Early Nelson) that took visitors on tours of our permanent gallery, focusing on stories of women from the region's past. I was, and still am, so proud to have brought their stories to light.
At the end of one talk, I was asked, "but what about the men?". "They're on every wall" I replied.
Join these women and many more at LitCrawl 2018. Programme launched on 27 September, look for our #suffrage125 events.