I am woman, hear me sigh in an I-cannot-believe-this-crap-is-still-happening kind of way. When we arrived in New Zealand, my mother, flying solo, had to get a male relative to sign for her to rent somewhere to live. When I went to teachers training college at 17 in the late 60s, women weren’t allowed to wear trousers. Whoever made the ridiculous rules had never reached up to write on the blackboard in a miniskirt. Women couldn’t go into a public bar.
My first packet of the pill came from a friend after a doctor sent me packing for asking for it. Then, women who needed to end a pregnancy had to travel to Australia or risk death or sexual assault here with a backstreet abortion. Many were “sent up north” or to an often-punitive home for unwed mothers. Babies were taken for forced adoptions.
Even by the early 80s my bank wouldn’t give me a mortgage because I wasn’t legally married. Neither would any other bank. I had to go to a finance company. Being a woman has been an ongoing admin nightmare.
I’ve written about these things over the years as I realised how much they had affected my confidence when it came to just being a person in the world. When we weren’t knitting macrame plant holders and painting everything avocado, my generation managed to effect some change. I need to remind myself – and my daughter and granddaughter – about the battles of such recent history.
History? Not so much. In the latest news from Gilead, American women are protesting to preserve the right to safe, legal abortion. Already, in Texas, restrictive abortion laws empower private citizens to sue anyone who “aids or abets” in a prohibited abortion, encouraging citizens to effectively turn in desperate women for bounty. In Afghanistan, girls can’t go to school and the Taliban’s “ministry for the propagation of virtue” has ordered women must be fully veiled, faces covered at all times in public. According to the Guardian, family members will be required to police this or face penalties.
Misogyny is having a good run here, too. Jacinda Ardern has to stare down threats and personal abuse just to go about her business. The bizarre comments about chef and co-founder of My Food Bag, Nadia Lim, dictated by DGL executive director Simon Henry to an NBR journalist – “And you can quote me” – might make women hoping to go into business think twice as well. He referred to Lim as “a little bit of Eurasian fluff”. He looked at a photo in a prospectus of a woman cooking while dressed normally and saw an exploitation of “sensuality” and “cleavage”. You have to wonder what is going on in his head. You really wouldn’t want to know.
There’s been some business backlash. It’s nothing to do with cancel culture. Henry’s right to speech could not have been exercised with wilder abandon. Others have exercised their right not to associate themselves with a bar of that sort of thing. The DGL board has said Henry has sent Lim an apology. First they said it was by email, then they said it was couriered … Days went by. Lim hadn’t received an apology by email, courier, semaphore, carrier pigeon, phone or drone. On May 11, the NZ Herald reported, “Simon Henry’s apology appears online”, a short email, apparently.
Lim has since posted about the racism her father experienced. “He’d always put on a brave face and brush it off, but even when I was as young as 4-5 years old I could see the hurt in his eyes.” She must have hoped that at some point in the 21st century this sort of ugliness would be consigned to history. She has had almost universal support. Apart from a few of the usual suspects. A loud public rejection of attacks based on ethnicity and gender isn’t a “witch hunt”. It’s a demonstration of how a decent society operates. It offers some hope.
Even in this one step forward, two steps very backward world, you have to believe that progress is possible.
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