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Salient. Newspaper of the Victoria University Students' Association. Vol 42 No. 8. April 23 1979

Women Together — Women Apart

page 5

Women Together

Women Apart

Drawing of four women of different ages

For three days, three thousand women [unclear: et], talked and worked together at the [unclear: lited] Women's Convention held over [unclear: ster] in Hamilton. The Convention was [unclear: sed] on five themes: Communications; [unclear: ititutions] of Power; Women and Health; [unclear: jmen] as Chattels; and The Women's [unclear: nement]. Around these themes work[unclear: ups] were conducted. These workshops [unclear: iged] from more structured presentations films/videos or papers to informal [unclear: disssions.]

Twenty five women from Victoria [unclear: Unrsity] attended the convention.

While the convention proper did not [unclear: rt] until Saturday, there was a social [unclear: ning] on Friday night; a wine and [unclear: ese] and an opportunity to meet and [unclear: ke] friends, and have a look at some of many displays. There was also an all [unclear: men] disco. Sisterhood reigned supreme [unclear: it] night.

[unclear: iterhood] and Solidarity

On Saturday, at the official opening, full impact of three thousand women [unclear: ether] made itself felt.

There was a feeling of solidarity, that some women grew even stronger and [unclear: re] positive as the convention progressed; are all women and we are all together. [unclear: ould] be untrue to say that this feeling [unclear: is] the predominant one because it often [unclear: med] to be overridden by differences, [unclear: e] two other occasions where this [unclear: feeling] of unity was dominant were when [unclear: connporary] feminist singers performed at two mass concerts.

While other aspects of the convention [unclear: re] and are important, this feeling of [unclear: ity], in contrast to what is often the [unclear: ryday] feeling of women in our society, [unclear: it] of disunity within themselves, with [unclear: each] other, brought about by a society [unclear: it] is repressive to all and to women in [unclear: ticular] through sexism, is why women [unclear: k] to organise together and act for change

[unclear: Minists] from Afar

Of the two guest speakers, Charlotte [unclear: rich], American feminist and lesbian, was [unclear: i] more dynamic, possibly because [unclear: England] was not Martine Levy's (French fem[unclear: st])own language, but more probably [unclear: auie] her style of presentation is more [unclear: ted] to a lecture hall. She did not get [unclear: i] enthusiastic response Charlotte did. [unclear: e] point she made however stands out: [unclear: Jaliry] for women in the workforce is [unclear: re] than just percentage figures, and that [unclear: til] the very relationship between women [unclear: had] work and society changes there will [unclear: t] be real equality. But whether this will [unclear: ppen] through reform (which she pointed [unclear: t] is not effective without the backing of [unclear: anged] opinion and actions) or [unclear: revoluttion] she did not make clear.

Charlotte Bunch was very clear; change [unclear: II] occur through a feminist revolution [unclear: th] a feminist perspective.

Feminist Perspective

The feminist perspective is not confined [unclear: ly] to women's issues. All issues are [unclear: niniit] issues, and all can be seen from [unclear: the] feminist perspective.

She defined the three areas in which [unclear: Tiinists] work: consciousness raising — [unclear: the] must work for "women identified wo[unclear: men]", "women defined as women, for [unclear: men], with women" alternatives; [unclear: femist] collective businesses; lesbian communitites and alternative women's collectives; and reform of the system. Attempts to change the system she saw as the hardest as women were finding themselves now in the position of having to fight to defend what they had previously thought established: like the women's right to choose, the equal rights amendment and the right to determine your own sexuality.

The feminist perspective can not be a passive one but must be continually active.

Keep in Quiet

Like any convention it is possible to find aspects to criticise. The most serious criticism of this convention was its lack of orientation towards action. Most of the women who attended the convention were already committed to feminist action, be it in established women's groups in New Zealand, or as individuals. After the government of the country ignored the petition signed by 350,000 people seeking the repeal of the repressive abortion laws, few are interested in electoral lobbying and reform or have much faith in their effectiveness. Yet the workshops dealing with action were all centred around this sort of action. I believe the convention organisers seriously underestimated the women of the convention by not dealing with action in anything other than the most superficial way.

Both guest speakers stressed the need for a united women's movement, but apart from the initial gathering of women from all over New Zealand, the convention organisers seemed to studiously avoid any moves that would enable women to unite in action. In retrospect having an enormous number and diversity of workshops seemed like a device to prevent the women of the convention from banding together to achieve concrete plans of action.

When groups of women did formulate positive platforms for the women's movement and approached the organisers for a hearing they were met with direct rebuttal. One group proposed that the convention issue a public statement to the effect that the women of the convention deplored the existing repressive abortion laws. The organisers rejected this on the grounds that it was convention policy not to make recommendations because they must have the full support of the convention. Of-course it would have been impossible to ascertain support while the women were dispersed on campus, but surely it would have been easy to determine the feeling of the convention at the finale when almost all the women were gathered

Discrimination Even Here?

A second gripe rising out the "Women and White Racism" workshop was over the predominatly white middle class nature of the convention. That the women concerned were able to express their view at all was due to speaker Charlotte Bunch (not the organisers) handing the microphone to Rebbecca Evans, spokesperson for Maori and Polynesian women, for five minutes to detail their position.

The convention organisers seemed afraid of any sort of confrontation at all. Not just radical confrontation but any distrubance that threatened their dream world of a homogenous, peaceful women's movement.

This was unrealistic. In the first place women are no more a homogenious group than any other in society. Even in a predominantly middle-class group there exist different perspectives about women's liberation. At least four main catagories exist: reformist feminists, radical feminists, cultural feminists and lesbian feminists.

The first group is convinced that working through the existing system, through the [unclear: ch] channels of parliamentary reforms, will go a long way towards the emancipation of women. The latter three groups share one idea in common — they believe that the women's movement should be fighting against male supremacy — "The Patriarchy" There are combinations and sub-groups including the lesbian separatists, who advocate complete seraration from the male society,

Another significant group whose presence cannot be ignored was the socialist women. They believe that while a separate women's movement is necessary to continually fight against sexism, the main oppressor is not man but the capitalist system, and women and men must unite to overthrow capitalism, then the basis for women's true liberation can be laid under socialism..

As for peaceful, the very nature of opppression is not conducive to peaceful rebellion. The women's movement has never been a homogenous peaceful movement — a more militant form of feminism that that of the suffregettes would be difficult to find.

Unity, Struggle, Action

But the fact that the women's movement is not one big happy family is no deterrent to a united women's movement of united feminist action. The internal conflict need not be destructive but can be an asset in aiding the growth of the movement. This point was emphasized by both speakers at the finale.

Woman to Woman

It would be untrue to imply that this aspect of the convention overshadowed all others, although it was the source of both frustration and disappointment for many women.

Many of the workshops were very good as a vehicle for information and also as an opportunity to communicate with other women. Whether the discussion was specific or general the open communication between women that was made possible by the convention made all the negative aspects worth it.

One of the best examples of open communication was the unplanned discussion that took place after the open forum. Comducted by lesbian feminists it was based around the idea that lesbian feminists and heterosexual fesminists must come to terms with each other. About a hundren women, one third lesbian sat and talked calmly and openly about something they believed important. Some women were confused by the lesbian separatist position and felt alienated, others just wanted the opportunity to put their own feelings into perspective. To me that's what the convention was about, getting things in perspective, a feminist perspective.

Victoria Quade