I first came to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie‘s work via The Thing Around Your Neck. I like short story collections for discovering new authors because there’s so much less commitment — I read a couple of stories and if I like them I continue; if not, I’ve only lost a few minutes of my time. The former, in this case.
I finished The Thing Around Your Neck (full of eloquent, insightful and sometimes snarky observations on being Nigerian in Nigeria vs. the US) and later had my heart broken by Purple Hibiscus. Since finishing Americanah in 2013 Adichie has stepped away from fiction to write concise manifestos of feminism: first We Should All Be Feminists (fairly self-explanatory), and now Dear Ijeawele, on how to raise a feminist. Both are very short and easy to read so you can easily finish one in your lunch break.
It’s all very common sense stuff but depressingly it apparently needs to be said. Things like: Don’t let motherhood consume you. Share parenthood equally. Bin the concept of gender roles. (That last one especially difficult to do in today’s blue and pink segregated toy aisles.)
I cannot overstate the power of alternatives. She can counter ideas about static ‘gender roles’ if she has been empowered by her familiarity with alternatives. If she knows an uncle who cooks well – and does so with indifference – then she can smile and brush off the foolishness of somebody who claims that ‘women must do the cooking’.
Some advice is more specific to raising an Igbo daughter, but you can easily substitute your own cultural heritage in her suggestion to cultivate a strong sense of identity, or in recognising the pros and cons of the society you live in.
Teach her never to universalize her own standards or experiences. Teach her that her standards are for her alone, and not for other people. This is the only necessary form of humility: the realization that difference is normal.
I wish someone had sat me down as a child and explained some of these things to me. Especially that I don’t have to be nice to everyone: kind, yes, but I don’t owe it to other people to be nice to them when they are hurting me. It can be difficult to have opinions on the internet without being stomped on, but that doesn’t mean we should silence ourselves.
I don’t have any children but I have an interest in making this world easier for everyone to live in, and the suggestions in Dear Ijeawele seem like a good place to start.
This doesn’t happen nearly as often as I would like, but I can honestly say that I loved this book! I’ve only ever really thought of Jackie French in terms of children’s and young adult fiction so was pleasantly surprised to see her grown up offering – If Blood Should Stain the Wattle.
Now it is probably the Australian in me, but I especially loved how Jackie uses famous Australian poetry and folklore that brought a ‘familiar’ spark to the story for me.
If Blood Should Stain the Wattle is full of wonderful, well established characters that have appeared in Jackie French’s earlier ‘Matilda’ series. I haven’t read any of these books yet but this didn’t detract from my enjoyment of this one; instead it made me want to experience them all.
There are fabulous strong female characters who are making their mark in Gibber’s Creek, finding love and setting their sights on conquering the world. Okay, maybe just Australia. Then we have the odd spiritual moment where they converse with ghosts and even manage to peek through time itself. But this is the seventies so the story wouldn’t be complete if there wasn’t a hippy commune on the edge of Gibber’s Creek and a ‘cult leader’ who is receiving messages from aliens. Did I mention that this is also the story of the Whitlam government coming to power?
Stop, come back! Don’t be put off by the inclusion of politicians and their shenanigans within the pages. Jackie French has cleverly woven the information into short excerpts from newspaper reports, and by having characters Jed Kelly and Matilda campaigning to support a Labor government. No boring political twaddle in sight; instead we get to experience first hand what it was like when the Whitlam Government came to power in early 1970s Australia and the subsequent historic dismissal of Gough Whitlam by then Governor-General Sir John Kerr.
This book really does have something for everyone and it won’t disappoint.
The Matilda series began as a trilogy, became a quartet. It was meant to be a history of our nation told from one country town, and the viewpoints of those who had no political voice in 1892, when the series begins: women, indigenous people, Chinese, Afghans.
But, by book four, I realised that history didn’t stop just because I was born, and that the series will continue as long as I live.” (Jackie French)
The quartet Jackie French is referring to is now a sextet – and who knows how many more there may be. So if you want to start at the very beginning the titles in order are:
If you’re skeptical that media representation and the lack thereof can influence the way we view ourselves and others, Geena Davis and her institute on gender in media can provide a few facts that might change your mind. In 2012, the year of Brave‘s Merida and The Hunger Games’ Katniss Everdeen, the participation of girls in archery competitions more than doubled. Which is great! What’s not so great is how rare that positive representation actually is. The gender disparity in film is just as bad now as it was 1946, and that’s not an exaggeration. I recently read Jessica Chastain’s essay on how amazing and rare it was to work on a set that has 20% women (The Zookeeper’s Wife, directed by Niki Caro). 20%! Sometimes she was the only woman on set at all. I sometimes forget, working in a field that is so woman-friendly, how isolated we can be in the workplace.
As depressing as those facts are I highly recommend having a look at Geena Davis’ website and the footage of her All About Women speech when it goes up. In person she is very, very funny and has inspired me to look even more closely at the media I consume. I recommend you do likewise, particularly animated children’s movies, which from the stats seem to have the worst record of gender disparity and negative stereotyping.
Backstage interview with Jessa Crispin
Crispin rejects the label of feminist because today’s feminism isn’t feminist enough. Too many people are calling themselves feminists, she says, by just co-opting the ideology others have created rather than inventing their own. To make real change we need just a few really hardcore radical women willing to tear down the system, we don’t need to convert everybody to the cause.
If feminism is universal, if it is something that all women and men can “get on board” with, then it is not for me. If feminism is nothing more than personal gain disguised as political progress, then it is not for me. If by declaring myself a feminist I must reassure you that I am not angry, that I pose no threat, then feminism is definitely not for me. I am angry. And I do pose a threat. — Jessa Crispin, Why I Am Not a Feminist
I found listening to Crispin frustrating because while I agreed with some of what she said (feminism needs to be more inclusive racially and economically) I disagree with how she thinks we should solve it. Slacktivism is a problem for many causes, not just feminism, so rather than sneering at the lip-service feminists as not being feminist enough, why not work to inspire more of them to take more active roles in achieving gender parity?
If you were there (or have read Crispin’s book, Why I Am Not a Feminist), I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.
So many smart, articulate ladies on this panel. Some of the best quotes:
No one is looking after us, it’s only us. And if you don’t get active in democracy, you get Trump. — Van Badham
The moment we shut up we let them win. — Yassmin Abdel-Gamied
Simply presenting my body to the world and insisting that it has value is a political act. It freaks people out. — Lindy West
You have the strength of all the women with you, who came before you, and who will come after you. — Van Badham
We have to mobilise everyone. Tell our kids that activism and standing for office are part of our civic duties. —Lindy West
It’s when people mobilise around the issues that are actually more important than the vacuum of hate, that opinions can change and we’ve got to have hope in that message and our capacity to organise, to speak to people about what’s really important to them. It’s only a tiny percentage of people who are really defined by hatred and will vote hatred more than anything else. — Van Badham
The idea of changing the entire world is overwhelming, but the idea of having an impact on the few people who are around us is very very achievable. — Yassmin Abdel-Gamied
One (very small) way that I try to make a difference is to support marginalised authors by buying, reading and reviewing their books. It takes very little effort on my part and I get to read great books! Win-win. If you’re looking for new authors to read I recommend We Need Diverse Books as a great place to start.
Yesterday a car pulled up next to me while we were sitting at the lights, and the gentleman inside (I use the term loosely) rolled down his window. ‘Cheer up!’ he called. ‘Come on! Smile for me!’
If this doesn’t happen to you on a regular basis then perhaps you won’t understand why my immediate response was one of stifled rage. Sure, it’s one of the more innocuous forms of putting women in their place, but it exists on the flipside of the coin marked Nasty Woman. And if you’re looking at the USA thinking That’s so much worse, at least our last prime minister was only grabbing ponytails, don’t be too complacent. Unfortunately kiwi misogynists are looking at global politics for more ideas of how to be horrible to women.
If this depresses you, I have good news! WORD Christchurch is live-streaming a collection of talks by smart, feminist women straight to Christchurch. Geena Davis will be talking about women in Hollywood and the film industry, Jessa Crispin will be discussing her new book (Why I Am Not a Feminist — A Feminist Manifesto), and Yassmin Adbel-Magied, Van Badham and Lindy West will be on the Nasty Women panel. I’m especially excited to listen to Lindy West, as she was one of my favourite staff writers at Jezebel.com a few years ago (and has since published a book, Shrill).
I look forward to hopefully seeing some of you there, but if you can’t make it (or you need something to read in the meantime), check out our staff’s favourite feminist titles here.
So, what usually happens with me over the summer is I drag a big pile of books and DVDs home and then I do an average to poor job of getting through them all over the Christmas and new year break, because even though I might not necessarily be at work, there’s still plenty to do at home (taking the Christmas tree down, letting the 3 year old help, cleaning up after that disaster and so on…)
This year I had the misfortune of getting a cold in the new year that turned into a chest infection and necessitated quite a bit of lying in bed feeling sorry for myself. Which as everyone knows is the perfect time to get some reading done. Here’s what I managed to rattle through as a result *cough*.
American Gods – As recommended by Pickle Bronwyn, this is a great read. It spans a great many topics – Norse mythology, theology, Americana, First Nations beliefs – and it’s also kind of a road-trip novel. Engrossing and enjoyable.
Like a Queen – To say Aussie writer and mum Constance Hall is a phenomenon is not overstating the case. Her posts on parenting and relationships and the importance of building other women up rather than tearing them down are massively popular, largely due to Facebook. In only a couple of years she has recruited a legion of fans (or “Queenies”) from all walks of life who love her brash, no-BS yet tender approach to modern womanhood. Her book is more “hippyish” than I usually go for but it’s brutally honest and raw too which is very affecting. A great, affirming read for harangued and under-appreciated mothers.
You can’t touch my hair: And other things I still have to explain – Phoebe Robinson made a fan out of me within about three pages. She’s wickedly funny, scathing and more than a little bit goofy while tackling pretty important issues like racism and sexism. I learned a lot about African American hair from this as well as what sexism looks like to a female actor/comedian. I LOVED this book (even though I cannot fathom why she put The Edge at the top of her “which order I would have sex with the members of U2 in” list. The Edge. REALLY?). It’s a humorous mixture of pop culture, social awareness and general badassery. Highly recommended.
Talking as fast as I can – Actor Lauren Graham’s memoir is a lot like what you imagine her personality to be – considered and cheerful with plenty of quips, non sequiturs and tangential observations. It’s a must-read for Gilmore Girls fans and recommended companion reading if you’ve recently watched the rebooted “A year in the life” series. Don’t read this expecting to get the low down on any Hollywood scandal though. No careers are ruined. No beans are spilled. But it is a light, amusing read that makes me keen to check out her first novel (a second is in the works) as well as her screen adaptation of The Royal We. There’s also a handy “writing process” guide borrowed from another writer included that I may well put into use. Also, how much is that cover photo crying out for some book-facing? So. Much.
The world according to Star Wars – I am a sucker for any book that indulges my desire to ponder the many facets, nooks and crannies, and minutiae of the Star Wars universe. And Cass Sunstein, one of America’s most highly regarded legal scholars, obviously feels the same since he wrote this book, seemly to fill that exact niche. It’s a mixed bag (the section on the U. S. constitution was a bit tenuous, in my opinion) but there are plenty of opportunities to ponder the meanings, symbolism and politics of this most popular of sci-fi series’ and to view it through a variety lenses. Recommended for fans.
The Atomic Weight of Love is the debut novel of Elizabeth J. Church and I hope we see a lot more books from her. This book is an ideal Christmas present. It appeals to a wide audience and will make a great holiday read and is not without a little racy love interest.
Meridian has won a place at the University of Chicago where she studies ornithology working towards a graduate degree and eventual doctorate. Just as her wings are opening and she starts to glimpse new horizons she falls in love with a college professor two decades older than herself and her wings are clipped.
It is written in a memoir style following Meridian as a woman growing up in the 1940s through the fifties and sixties into the seventies and the emergence of women’s liberation. You will find yourself reflecting at times how so much has changed yet still remains the same.
Meri marries Alden and follows him to Los Alamos where she attempts to fit into the group of ex-academic wives she meets there. It is the era when a wife is expected to follow their husband and make the best of it. She struggles to be a good wife while salvaging something of her studies by continuing to study Crows, having left her graduate study dreams behind her.
The novel’s dual strands, the place of women with the emergence of the women’s liberation movement, and the atomic bomb with its resulting anti-war Vietnam and Korean war movements, almost splits it characters by gender over its two themes.
Some of the characters could do with more development – they feel a little clichéd. It seems women have little to say on war in this novel and men little say on the home front. Even for the times this feels a little stretched. She skims over the women who Meridian meets in Los Alamos except her best friend Belle, a strong woman who urges her not to minimise herself yet when it comes to the crunch still tells her to stay in her marriage and try to make it work.
That being said bird studies draw amusing parallels between human and bird society. Each section of the novel starts with an ornithological reference “A Parliament of Owls”, “A Deceit of Lapwings, “A Murder of Crows”. When Meridian meets Clay, a young hippie ex-marine about two decades younger than her, it seems they are about to repeat past mistakes. Her husband seems not to understand her sacrifice while her lover urges her to soar again.
Congratulations on the amazing success of the recent WORD Christchurch Writers and Readers Festival. Putting together a literary festival seems a massive undertaking. How long did it take you to plan and execute?
Each festival takes a year to plan, although some foundation work is done in the preceding year as well. This year we had a fantastic and very hard working team led by Executive Director Marianne Hargreaves. My job is to plan what the festival will look like – everyone else makes it happen!
The festival featured 80 events and over 150 writers and speakers. How did you put the programme together? Or to reprise the title of one of the festival events: Where do you get your ideas from? (Did you brainstorm with a committee or were these ideas all your own?)
I do call for input of ideas from our board of trustees, who are all avid readers, and from my Twitter followers who are a clued-up bunch, but mostly the ideas come from reading books, reading coverage of books on the internet, checking upcoming publishing schedules (and publishers sometimes pitch their authors to me), and generally thinking about the issues and themes that the world is concerned with. What moves people? What troubles them? What do they want to know more about?
Outside of my work hours I am constantly thinking about the programme and can get lost for days down the rabbit hole of the internet following ideas. We also work closely with the Melbourne and Brisbane Writers’ Festivals as well as Sydney’s Festival of Dangerous Ideas, so we send each other ideas.
How did you hear about these various authors/speakers, and how did you decide which ones to invite over?
All different ways, but here are some examples. The Canadian writers (Ivan Coyote, Elizabeth Hay and Sheila Watt-Cloutier) came to me through Hal Wake, the director of the Vancouver Writers Festival, which I attended in October last year. I saw that Tim Flannery had a book out on climate change, which was a topic I wanted to cover; his partner Kate Holden came highly recommended to me by another writer.
I found Caitlin Doughty via Twitter, where she was tweeting macabre things that appealed to me, which led me to her website where to my delight I discovered she had recently published a book. Then I saw her speak at the Sydney Writers’ Festival last year and that sealed the deal. Ali Cobby Eckermann and Elisa Washuta came through the Christchurch Sister Cities programme – both writers were recommended to me by literary people in Adelaide and Seattle respectively.
Alok Jha was recommended to me by someone who had seen him in person in the UK. John Freeman I met in Auckland last year, then again in Vancouver and New York. He was coming out for the Melbourne Writers Festival so I extended the invitation to Christchurch.
Did you start with a theme in mind or did the theme emerge later?
You send out hundreds of invitations and hope that some will stick. In this case, the ones that were sticking started revolving around two common themes – the planet and its people. Nearly all the writers who had accepted my invitation write about quite political things, whether it is the environment, gender, human rights, sexual politics, life and death. I decided to declare the Planet & its People as the official theme because I knew it would appeal to people who care about what is happening in the world right now.
The festival ranged over a myriad of topics like climate change, water, feminism, sex, positive death-acceptance, true crime, LGBT issues, poetry, migrants’ voices, war stories, inclusive cities, and political cartoons. How did you know what topics would appeal to a general audience? What combination and balance were you looking to achieve?
These are topics that engaged people care about. I was looking for a combination and balance of thought-provoking, challenging, enlightening, uplifting and entertaining.
Do your literary interests span all these different genres, topics, and cultural hot buttons? Did you read all the books featured?
I wish I could say I read books by all 150 speakers at the festival but alas no, I didn’t have the time! My personal tastes run to literary fiction and personal essays mostly, but I can still appreciate a topic and trust my sources, and I always make sure the speaker is engaging foremost.
You’ll notice I managed to smuggle my musical tastes in there as well, with the Flying Nun celebration night and Hollie Fullbrook from Tiny Ruins, and also included comics, performance poetry, live storytelling, journalism and TV writing, so WORD is no longer just about books.
Some authors were interviewed on stage; others took to the stage by themselves; and yet others were part of a panel. How did you decide which format would best showcase each author’s talents?
A lot of it was led by the writers themselves. It is a big ask to get someone to prepare an address, so many authors prefer the ‘in conversation’ format. It is good to have a mixture of both, so I always ask which format the writers prefer.
Panels are a good way to make sure an international author has more than one opportunity to be on stage; and with local writers, they are a good way to include as many writers as possible, and to cover some interesting topics beyond ‘tell us about your book’.
How did you decide who would chair each panel or interview each author?
I attend a lot of writers’ festivals and am always paying close attention to the chairs! In many cases a good chair person is as important as the speaker people have come to see. Chairing takes a certain set of skills – confidence to carry the responsibility, but also the confidence to take a back seat and not dominate.
Chairing a panel is a kind of mediation as well, where it’s essential that you allow everyone on the panel to get their word across, and be prepared for conflict. Managing audience questions is another skill! I also look for chairs who can go with the flow of conversation rather than rigidly over prepare and stick to their questions no matter what. As far as who to match with whom: instinct.
What guided your decision-making regarding workshop topics and the people who would run them?
I wanted a range of topics, and we certainly had that: fiction, song-writing, the business of publishing, memoir, indigenous storytelling. They arose from looking at who was coming and who had experience teaching. The workshops were all very popular, so we will definitely look at adding more next time – and as Tracy Farr’s fiction workshop and Scott Pack’s How to Perfect Your Submission workshop sold out so quickly, will look at more fiction workshops next time and another about getting published. The Taku Kupu Ki Te Ao workshop had three teachers in addition to the facilitator, and by all accounts they got as much out of it as the students!
What gave you the idea to launch the immensely successful new events like Oratory on the Ōtākaro, and the New Regent Pop-Up Festival?
The Ōtākaro walk was conceived in consultation with Ngāi Tahu who are a great supporter of the festival. We are keen to regularly feature Ngāi Tahu speakers and stories. Look out for more walks at future festivals!
The Pop-Up was inspired by a combination of things – wanting to expand the fringe programme which creates accessible events in interesting spaces; wanting to include as many Christchurch writers in the programme as we could; and my visit to the Lit Crawls in Seattle and San Francisco last year. The organisers are keen for us to become part of the Lit Crawl family but there is already a LitCrawl (note different spelling!) in Wellington and we don’t want to detract from that. But the New Regent Street space was an excellent way to test the waters for this kind of event, and I hope it will become a regular feature of future festivals. It added so much character to the festival.
Any kinks you want to iron out for next festival or any things you want to redress?
Yes, but I’m keeping those to myself as they kinks mostly happened behind the scenes and we need to maintain the image of a swan gliding across a still lake while its legs work furiously below the surface!
What were the personal highlights of this festival for you?
Oh, so many! I’m not supposed to have favourites, and as I was behind the scenes, I missed much of the festival. But I will say I was pretty proud to have Ivan Coyote and Caitlin Doughty, and the Hear My Voice event and Flying Nun event gave me goosebumps. I thought the Stars are on Fire showcase went perfectly (but I am biased), and hearing Tiny Ruins debut a beautiful new song just about had me in tears!
What are the perks of being the festival’s literary director?
Meeting interesting writers! Championing books, especially New Zealand books. Getting to travel to other festivals and to collaborate with them as well. I get a lot of free books, which is a big bonus of course.
What ideas have already sparked for the next festival?
As it’s two years away, I’ll be reissuing invitations to some people who couldn’t make it this time around. But look out! We have an amazing line-up in the planning for our Autumn Season in May, in partnership with Auckland Writers Festival, and will also have a programme of events within the Christchurch Arts Festival next year.
What do you do when you’re not planning literary festivals?
I should be writing books! But the festival takes up too much of my headspace at the moment, so I’ll say I like walking and reading, spending time with my kids. And I have recently taken up horse-riding after a 25 year gap, so that is my current obsession.
Thank you very much, Rachael, for your time, and congratulations once again on the success of the festival!
On 19 September 1893 women in New Zealand got the vote. Campaigners, led by Kate Sheppard, had fought for years for Māori and Pakeha women’s suffrage.
The Press editorial on 20 September 1893 stated:
We believe that a very large number of women do not desire to vote. 
Election day was Tuesday 28 November 1893. The Press reported:
The pretty dresses of the ladies and their smiling faces lighted up the polling booths most wonderfully, and one envied the returning officer and poll clerks whose duty it was to pass in review such a galaxy of beauty.
About 10,000 Christchurch women voted, with only a few incidents:
At the Provincial Council Chamber some peculiar scenes took place. In one instance a man and his wife and daughter came to vote. The man first wished to go into the recess to instruct his wife how to vote. The poll clerks removed him. Then he went into where his daughter was recording her vote and wished to instruct her. This also he was prevented from doing much to his chagrin.
40 years later the first woman was elected into the New Zealand Parliament. Christchurch woman Elizabeth McCombs had been heavily involved in working for the community. She won the Lyttelton seat in a by-election September 1933, after the death of her husband James. She held the seat until her death in June 1935. 
100 years after women got the vote, the Kate Sheppard Memorial was unveiled by Governor-General Dame Catherine Tizard. The words on the Memorial end with the words of The White Ribbon editor, Nelly Perryman, from 1918:
We, the mothers of the present need to impress upon our children’s minds how the women of the past wrestled and fought, suffered and wept, prayed and believed, agonised and won for them the freedom they enjoy today.
This feature was first published in our quarterly magazine, uncover – huraina. It is our newest channel to help you explore and celebrate the resources, content, events, programmes and people of Christchurch City Libraries, Ngā Kete Wānanga o Ōtautahi.
Monday 19 September 2016 is Suffrage Day / White Camellia Day – On 19 September 1893 women in New Zealand got the vote, and the white camellia was the symbol of the suffragists.
Here in Christchurch, there’s a celebration honouring the achievements of women from 12 to 12.30pm by the Kate Sheppard Memorial on the corner of Worcester Street and Oxford Terrace. Mayor Lianne Dalziel will speak, and the Kate Sheppard Memorial Award 2016 will be presented. The finalists in the Lois Middlemiss Award will read their poems, including Beth Walters, Aranui High – “East Side Youth: Our Voice”. (info from The Christchurch Mail)