27 Dec 2017

2017: In this year of feminism

9:54 am on 27 December 2017

By Lean Damm *

Opinion - It was only this month that Merriam-Webster announced 'feminism' as the word of 2017.

The week before,Time magazine announced their person of the year as the 'silence breakers'; those who have bravely spoken out against the sexual violence and harassment that is rife in the entertainment industry.

The 'Silence Breakers' were named Time magazine's Person of the Year for 2017.

The 'Silence Breakers' were named Time magazine's Person of the Year for 2017. Photo: Time

Earlier, the #MeToo campaign was a harrowing glimpse into the sheer number of people who have been affected by sexual violence.

However, in New Zealand - about when Merriam-Webster released their word of 2017 - a Southland judge handed a non-conviction to a jealous husband who assaulted his wife, his daughter, and another man.

The judge reasoned that his violence was something that "many people ... would have done".

And around the same time, the New Zealand public appeared divided on how they felt about women's refuges asking the public to stop donating tinned tomatoes.

It seems some of the New Zealand public feel that battered and traumatised women with little more than the clothes on their backs and their children at their side, should be grateful for soggy veggies from a can and use some culinary MacGyver skills and rustle up some meatless sauce for Christmas lunch.

New Zealand did get a few wins for women this year. We got a woman Prime Minister. Beyond policy and party lines, Jacinda Ardern seemed to embody a lot that many New Zealand women could relate to.

Jacinda Ardern breaks with tradition and addresses the public in her first move as Prime Minister.

Jacinda Ardern broke with tradition and addressed the public in her first move as Prime Minister. Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

But even that was marred. Despite 2017 being the year of feminism, we spent an odd part of it needing to explain that it is in fact illegal to ask female job applicants about their plans to have children.

There were some shady questions about Jacinda's 'ability' to perform her job because she has a uterus that she might want to use for reproduction.

Ardern herself admitted she opened herself up to such questions given she has publicly stated her desire to someday start a family, but in one of the most delightfully scathing tellings-off in New Zealand morning television, she clarified to The AM Show's Mark Richardson that she is an exception not the rule when it comes to asking women about their family planning agendas in the context of employment.

And in the background of the jubilations over Ardern's rise to power as a symbolic moment for young women around New Zealand, many noticed the sad absence of another woman who spoke up for some of our country's most vulnerable.

Metiria Turei coming forward about her experiences as a single mother on welfare is a far-too-relatable tale for many women - a disproportionate number of whom are Māori and Pasifika.

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Metiria Turei's story came at the expense of her political career. Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

#IAmMetiria brought to light the indignity of a punitive welfare system that so disproportionately suffocates the social and economic freedoms of New Zealand women.

So when Turei's story came at the expense of her political career for 2017, for those women it was a blow to the idea that when your roots are grounded in poverty and struggle in a punitive welfare system, you might someday be able to accomplish anything - even become Prime Minister.

Many of New Zealand's women have made some strides and for many their achievements are an inspiration that the proverbial glass ceiling continues to be pounded away at, shattering in different ways and places.

I don't mean to taint any woman's success with 'negativity' by acknowledging how much we still have left to do - particularly when it comes to gendered violence and equality for Māori and Pasifika women.

This year has been neither good nor bad for women but, as far as topical issues and public consciousness goes, it has been unequivocally intense.

The achievements New Zealand women have made should be celebrated, but they should also be milestones in a journey that continues to push forward, making sure we are doing our best to bring with us those who have been left behind.

* The author is a mum, Cook Islander, and South Aucklander. She lives in Ōtāhuhu with her Samoan partner and their daughter, and has previously written for The Wireless and The Spinoff.

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