Every so often I receive a newsletter from the Ministry
of for Women ‘s Affairs which showcases a handful of women high achievers. I don’t know how many lesser mortals read the newsletter. No chance we’ll all fit at the top of course. What’s the Ministry doing to advance the lot of women at the bottom? Or has it become a public relations service for incumbent governments? Onetime minister ‘I’m not a feminist’ Louise Upston has (?been) moved on. She timed her boast very badly indeed. ‘I’m a feminist’ was to become the crie du jour worldwide.
Upston didn’t physically drape herself over the high rollers the way her boss does. Richie McCaw must shudder every time he sees John Key. Showcasing Key’s up close, touchy feely approach risks reminding us of his pony tail pratfall. Flanking himself with power-dressed, striding women ministers is the new look. Reminds me National’s Ruth Richardson flanked by very young men in black suits, fresh out of Canterbury University (the hotbed of neoliberal fantasies) I guessed, and keen to roll the welfare state.
Equally bad timing accompanied Labour’s NO MORE IDENTITY POLITICS (NMIP) fiat a year or so ago and the scurrying of backbench women MPs to a lockup/back rooms. Transgender people are now getting their time in the sun! So much for male management, public relations skill. Shane Jones, their faux ordinary bloke and standard-bearer for NMIP scurried himself off to the Pacific Islands courtesy of National’s job creation scheme. He seems set to replace Winston Peters, schadenfreude for both major parties and death knell for NZ First?
Labour does deserve credit for its conference theme The Future of Work. Did I hear Bill English say in response we’ll have to get used to moving to where the jobs are, as in the seasonal tourist industry. Was he thinking about snails, desperate migrants, or investing in mobile home parks? Paying gritty homage to the Western tradition of covered wagons, eliminating troublesome tribes who thought they already owned the land, forestry, fisheries? All in all, a recipe for drugs, violence, and poor schooling. Not much aspirational thinking. Degrees don’t have much cachet now, and have instead morphed into an indicator of lifelong indebtedness and unpaid work as interns.
We know a disproportionate number of those at the bottom are women. Solo mums and fathers get a rough ride, the whip cracked against them, and may have less time to save for retirement even when they have good to middling jobs. Middle class, two parent families are favoured by vote-buying politicians, receive paid parental leave and working for family tax credits. But the dream of becoming a middle class, two parent family is also receding if housing costs, a shrinking job market and loss of fertility linked to late childbearing are taken into account. Why do we pound teen mothers when most are over 18 and in better physical shape for childbearing than women in their thirties? Young men may want to settle down early, not drink themselves senseless every weekend. One model doesn’t suit all.
So where is the powerful voice of the of the Women’s Ministry and its current Minister? We might remember her name if she was out there pounding the podium, reminding women of the activism that won the vote – but only the vote. Not equality, not pay equity, not sexual and reproductive freedom. We’re belittled, silenced and slutshamed and not just by social media trolls. Language, the fear and reality of sexual assault, rape still shape our lives and movements. Where’s the programme to push back the Roastbusters culture?
And where are the Labour women who should be holding the Minister to account. Jacinda Ardern is pretty competent but treating her as a show pony is bound to backfire. Striding alongside Andrew Little should NOT be attempted. The Greens, Meteria Turia et al can’t do it on their own. Dual party leadership has been quite a success. Far more so than teensy petitions on social media and the like. Even big petitions can go absolutely nowhere.