“Herstory” in history – Barbara Brookes at Auckland Writers Festival 2016

Three of my favourite things came together at the festival this morning: art, books and networking! Barbara Brookes was giving a presentation on her beautiful book A History of New Zealand Women at the Auckland Art Gallery and I had a message for her.

Meeting up with Barbara Brookes
Meeting up with Barbara Brookes

When I booked a taxi from my home to the airport on Thursday morning (many long blogs ago), my taxi driver, Frank, was a chatty man – and when he heard I was off to Auckland Writers Festival, he said I should go say hello to his sister for him – her name is Barbara Brookes he said. What are the odds? So here I am doing my networking thing, Frank, hope you get to read this blog!

A History of New Zealand Women is a truly beautiful book. It is a book to own. Barbara spent 35 years researching it. She saw the writing of it as part of her personal journey through life. As she said: Some women are into slow cooking, I’m into slow writing!

A History of New Zealand WomenIt is a multi-layered book, and certain myths crash landed very early on:
Myth number 1: That Pakeha brought an improved way of life for women. Wrong. In fact Māori women who married English men lost their traditional rights, even their landownership rights and became completely subservient to their English husbands.
Myth number 2: That the arrival of the English meant more opportunities for Māori women. Wrong. What represented opportunity for English women, a new life in New Zealand, meant dispossession in many cases for Māori women.

So how did we all get to be on more or less the same page as women? Take your pick: childbirth, abortion, the fight against introduced diseases, two World Wars, the introduction of women into the workforce, the shared love of shopping and independence from the restrictions of marriage as the only way up and out, the rise of feminism, the fight for equal rights and equal pay, birth control. These were the bonds. And they were strong.

Many of the old problems are much reduced or gone. But this is life we are talking about, and new problems have come along to take their place. Like the over-sexualisation of young women and even children, domestic violence, and the one Brookes believes is the most worrying: the decline in importance of the male breadwinner and its effect on family dynamics, and the loss of quality family time as a result of the many freedoms that we all now enjoy.

Just when it was getting really quite depressing, I got chatting to a beautiful young woman in the signing queue who said: I’m one of the young women everyone seems so worried about, but we do know about the over-sexualisation of young women, and we know about the dangers of programmes like The Bachelor, but we are also strong, we are also aware.

It was like the baton had been passed on. There is a whole new wave of young women out there. The future is in their strong hands.

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