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Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume 36, Number 24. 26th September 1973

Hogwash & sexism

Hogwash & sexism

There was possibly little at the United Women's Convention to stir the blood of a revolutionary, with Marcia Russell's eight-point plan for revolt hinging on attacking the elite at dinner parties and smoking 'noxious substances' in public, and Katherine Whitehorn's conception of radical social change being men sewing on their own buttons. There was however, much to hearten and encourage the fledging libber and left-winger, and volumes to awaken and enlighten the leagues of Federated Farmers' Women's division — women forgotten in the definition of "feminists".

The most potent aspect of the weekend was that it demonstrated to the women there that women are intelligent, articulate, superb organisers, responsible, respectable, witty, likeable and human.

This is only surprising in that so many of us grow up believing that women have nothing to offer and are interior in every way. We learn to describe those outgoing aspect of ourselves as "masculine" and to live uncomfortably with them. And at the same time as the convention was awakening our self-respect and pride, the scenario of speakers was enraging and disturbing men.

The press reaction to the convention was disgusting. All over the country, male subeditors, TV Critics and journalists have been showing their colours. Racism has become for a while a-safe respite from the threat of women. The first newspaper response to the speeches of the first day was a photo of a three-month old boy in his mother's arms, captioned:

"Poor Oliver is in a bit of a twist. He was one of the few fellows forced to front up to 1500 women at the United Women's Convention today, it's a pity Oliver was too small to stand Up to his mother and tell fur he would rather have been at the Test with the boys."

Obviously, no-one would voluntarily choose the company of women. Only a baby would be weak enough to be coerced into the presence of 1500 of them. So poor three-month old Oliver met his first battle face to face.

The TV columnist for "The Dominion". commenting on telecasts of speeches on Monday said: This afternoon's TV gave Mums a sampling of the hogwash poured down the verbal ducts at the United Women's Convention." Is the recounting of the history of women's struggle, the description of the legal discrimination against women, the analysis of sexism in politics, economics, advertising, abortion laws, wages, the postulation of alternative lifestyles, education and social practices which might encourage equality of the sexes, and the repeated claim to equal human rights, all really hogwash?

Typically, the most oft-quoted speech was that of the President of the Maori Women's Welfare League, and then only those parts of it which dealt with the problems of Maori women as Maoris. Racism became safe ground for lip service. After all, it doesn't really require much change in lifestyle for most of us —, we ignore all our own neighbours, regardless of race. It is a bit harder to ignore all women.

Women journalists have generally reported fairly on the addresses given. Phillida Bunkle's opening address was an articulate resume of the history of feminism, she was a welcome relief from the inanity of Cherry Raymond, who got everything off to a grinding start by exhorting us not to be "silly women". Phillida was subsequently to be the subject of a vicious attack via an anonymous note, which she turned to good purpose by speaking compassionately on the "sisterhood" Margaret Wilson followed, describing the effect of the law on women in industry and the labour market. An aggressive speaker, she exhorted women to make greater use of the channels available to them by becoming active in, and using to their advantage, the trade unions.

Mira Szaszy's was a moving address. She spoke at length on the pre-European role of Maori women, describing their mana, so much great a than theirs or out since. She painted a picture which helped explain why Maori women have coped so badly with the isolation, overwork, alienation and loss of pride which the Women's role demands today, reasons why 10 many Maori women suffer mental breakdowns.

Katherine Whitehorn was the last speaker of the morning. She was witty, a good after-dinner speaker, in a way a rebel horn the evocative emotion of Ms Seaszy. Unfortunately, hi address became merely fabric to her unconnected jokes, and she sacrificed a developed argument to her Hair. Rather belatedly, she avowed her support for the family as a social unit, while hewing the role definitions it usually entails. She sounded a warning to the self-preoccupation of Some feminists and urged visit to consider the wider social implications of our actions. Elizabeth Reid was the best speaker of the day. Her analysis of reformism and revolution, of the impossibility of working through the system to achieve social change revealed her frustrated position.

As Mr Whit lam's special adviser on women, she has met with nothing but condescension from the men with whom she works. Her description of the myriad ways In which men cope with intelligent women, when then Cognitive maps are telling them we are interior, was so true as to be tunny. She quickly recount many ways m which women arc taught, expected and made to be servile and subordinate, to believe in their inferiority, and to accept blame for events way beyond then influence and control. Elizabeth Reid brought us all back to where We really were and encouraged us to take up the struggle on our own behalf.

Alter other speakers, the remainder of the afternoon involved a panel discussion with all speakers, which was interrupted mid-way by the delivery of the "Auckland Star" and Oliver's saga.

The anger which I felt was immediate — the reaction of my sisters strong. The heightened sensitivity which I felt then is only dimming now, as I again grow used to the Sexist comments I get in the street, the degrading 'humour' which is presented for general (i.e. male) enjoyment, the [unclear: ianity] of advertising and the simple incomprehension of those men and sadly, women, for whom the whole thing is "so irrelevant".

Sunday was spent firstly in workshop discussions and finally in a wearying parade of findings, recommendations and resolutions. The fate of the latter is already presaged by the comments of our Prime Minister who, at a speech earlier this year, placed the cause of crime in the breakdown of the family — thereby placing women in the most intolerable of situations. The family is her only legitimate role, if she fails that, she fails the welfare of the whole State.

This is the thinking which led Kirk to conclude that equal pay is the greatest threat to social stability.

When informed by reporters that the United Women's Convention had unanimously urged him to appoint a special adviser on women, Kirk replied that he did not need one. After all, he has a wife. If there should be anything requiring a woman's view, he need only ask her. Undoubtedly, our other resolutions will meet an equally obtuse reaction.

No-one at the Convention expected the fight for human rights to be easy. And, as Eliza beth Reid suggested, the tight will be waged out side the "normal channels of protest" Hut then, as we travelled home from Auckland that weekend, we Had the feeling that perhaps, together, we could do anything.