Daughters of Dystopia

Dystopia: relating to or denoting an imagined place or state in which everything is unpleasant or bad, typically a totalitarian or environmentally degraded one.

I love a great dystopian novel, it’s a genre that can veer into classic science fiction, but the ones I love the most are the ones you can imagine happening in your world, if the circumstances changed just slightly, a world power got that much more control, a disease could not be contained or the general populace let things that are deemed as unacceptable become acceptable, little by little. Ordinary people trying to survive, railing against the system or changing it forever.

When I began reading Gather the Daughters, by Jennie Melamed, it was no surprise that both the victims and heroines of the story were young girls. Melamed is a psychiatric nurse who specialises in working with traumatised children. The girls in this debut novel slowly come to the realisation that the only world they have known is filled with lies and not as idyllic as their leaders have taught them it is.

The girls live on an island, living a puritan life, where everyday decisions and everyone’s lives are constrained by a set of rules set down by “The Ancestors”. The male descendants of these original peoples who fled The Wastelands across the sea run the island along rules to suit their own needs. Young girls are married off to older men as soon as they come into ‘fruition’, at puberty.The rules set down, called Shalt Nots, include practices that are definitely of benefit to the elder men, not their young daughters.

Every summer until then, the children of the island run rampant, rarely going home, sleeping rough and enjoying their freedom until the shackles of childbearing and helping the community survive are placed on them.

Told through the eyes of the older girls who are all about to reach fruition, chapters are given over to each girl in turn and I enjoyed the pace of the book and the way the author slowly revealed the horrors of being a young girl on the island. Little is shown of the feelings of the young boys, or the men’s justifications for their actions.

The main heroine is Janey, who should have reached fruition at 17, but is so desperate not to be a woman and succumb to the demands of a husband, she is slowly starving herself. She and Vanessa, who has access to her father’s library of books from past days, give the other girls knowledge and courage, trying to find a way to escape, or at least effect change.

Janey wakes early the third morning, at the first tint of crimson shattering the black night sky, as if someone had shaken her from slumber. She takes the precious moment gladly and watches the girls sleep peacefully. Let this last, she prays, she knows not who to – certainly not the ancestors, or their puppetmaster God. Just for a little while, let them have this. Let them have it. Please.

It certainly had a hint of Lord of the Flies or The Handmaid’s Tale at times and I kept imagining it as a film, but I’m never sure if that is a good thing.

If you love a good dystopian tale about strong young women who decide to take a stand, this is your book. I powered through it in a few days, which is pretty amazing for me. I was in turn heartened and horrified but kept on turning the pages, wanting to see the fate of these young heroines clinging onto their childhoods to save their lives.

Gather the Daughters
by Jennie Melamed
Published by Hachette New Zealand
ISBN: 9781472241719

Podcast – Human trafficking

Speak Up Kōrerotia logoChristchurch City Libraries blog hosts a series of regular podcasts from specialist human rights radio show Speak up – Kōrerotia. This show is created by Sally Carlton.

One of the major human rights problems facing the world today, human trafficking is a growing – and worldwide – problem. Ralph Simpson from NZ-founded anti-trafficking organisation Nvader, Nikki Prendergast and Michelle Pratt, founders of NZ group Child Labor Free, and anti-trafficking researcher Christina Stringer (the Human Trafficking Research Coalition – ECPAT NZ, Hagar NZ, Stand Against Slavery, and The Préscha Initiative), join Sally to talk about the issue, and our responsibilities in this sphere.

  • Part I: What is human trafficking and who does it affect?
  • Part II: Scale of the problem; motivations for engaging in trafficking
  • Part III: Anti-trafficking measures; what success?; prosecutions, including 2016 prosecution in NZ
  • Part IV: Systems in place to protect victims; suggestions

Transcript – Human trafficking

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Podcast – Human rights in the era of Trump

Speak Up Kōrerotia logoChristchurch City Libraries blog hosts a series of regular podcasts from specialist human rights radio show Speak up – Kōrerotia. This show is created by Sally Carlton.

This episode discusses Human Rights the era of the Trump presidency specifically –

  • increasingly inward-facing politics
  • the overarching importance of the commercial sector and the impact of economics and equality
  • the disconnect of the political elite from the people they are supposed to represent
  • foreign and domestic policy decisions
  • the role of the media
  • decisions being made about women’s and other’s rights

Preceded by reflections from long-time human rights advocate John Pace, listen as panellists Peter Field (University of Canterbury), Howard Klein and Laurie Siegel-Woodward (expat Americans) and Kevin Clements (National Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies, University of Otago) discuss this huge topic.

Transcript – Human Rights in the era of Trump

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Podcast – Women in the workplace

Speak Up Kōrerotia logoChristchurch City Libraries blog hosts a series of regular podcasts from New Zealand’s only specialist human rights radio show Speak up – Kōrerotia. This show is created by Sally Carlton.

This episode discusses issues around gender equality in the workplace such as –

  • Women’s Empowerment Principles
  • Pay inequity
  • Ethnicity and disability in the workplace
  • Representation of women on boards and in senior management
  • Gender quotas
  • Workplace policies for family violence and parental leave

The panel for this show includes host Sally Carlton, Dr Jackie Blue, Equal Employment Opportunities Commissioner at the NZ Human Rights Commission, Angela McLeod of UN Women Aotearoa and Erin Ebborn of Ebborn Law.

Transcript of the audio file

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Speaking Out: Tara Moss — WORD Christchurch

Tara Moss has worn many hats — model, crime writer, journalist, and now author of two non-fiction titles, The Fictional Woman and Speaking Out. Where The Fictional Woman is part-memoir, Speaking Out is designed as a handbook for woman and girls, full of practical tips on how to speak out and how to deal with the backlash if you do. There’s a whole section on surviving social media (don’t let the trolls get you down), which unfortunately gets more relevant every day.

So why did a crime writer choose to write a nonfiction book that isn’t about death? Well, she says, here’s a powerpoint presentation I prepared earlier. There followed twenty minutes of increasingly depressing statistics about the lack of voice and representation of women in media and politics. Suffice it to say, we can do better. (Except Canada, phwoar: fifty/fifty representation in parliament! Be still my beating heart.)

Tara Moss at WORD Christchurch.
Tara Moss at WORD Christchurch.

When we are silent or unheard our ideals and perspectives, our needs, our pain, and our struggles remain unknown or unacknowledged; and often for this reason, unchanged. — Tara Moss

This just emphasises what I’ve been hearing from many of the other panels. If we don’t hear indigenous voices, if we don’t hear LGBT voices, then we’re not representing our society. As someone who’s been nosy all her life I’ve never quite understood why we haven’t figured this out yet. Listening’s not that hard, is it? We might learn something.

Tara Moss. Image supplied
Tara Moss. Image supplied

The reality is not that women talk more … but that we want and expect them to talk less. — Soraya Chemaly

Oh, right. That’s why. Even about issues that you’d expect women to have an equal say — birth control, parental leave, women’s rights — we’re still deferring to male opinion. And let’s not even talk about violence against women. No wait, let’s. Did you know a woman dies almost every week in Australia at the hands of a current or former partner? Did you know one out of five women experiences sexual violence, worldwide? That violence against women and girls remains unchanged despite a downward trend in all other crime?

Cover of Speaking OutThis can all seem incredibly depressing (it is), but at least things have changed since the 20th century. We can improve this situation; it’s not static, it’s not just the way things are.

The more we speak out, the less easy it will be to silence others … Toxic silence does a lot more damage than oversharing; silence has never solved anything. — Tara Moss

So here’s your homework: read Speaking Out. Speak out more, and listen to those who are already. Comment on this post. Tell your own story. Once we have an equal voice, everyone will be better off.

See more photos of Tara Moss and her fact-filled presentation on our Flickr.

WORD Christchurch

Suffrage Day and Women’s Rights

Today is Suffrage Day. It’s the day we set aside to commemorate and celebrate the efforts of women (and men) who, 122 years ago campaigned long and hard so that women could have the right to have a say in how New Zealand is governed.

You could argue that the suffrage movement was just part of the broader role that feminism, and the fight for female emancipation, has played in securing modern Kiwi women the rights they enjoy like –

  • being able to own property (1860)
  • allowed entrance to university (1871)
  • voting (1893)
  • running for parliament (1919)
  • the right to body autonomy (before 1985 a husband could force his wife to have sex with him. Legally, this was not rape.)

Things have changed a lot since 1893, or even since 1902 when this infamous poster was created by a not very forward-thinking Mr Henry Wright.

Notice to epicene women [poster]
Wright, Henry Charles Clarke, 1844-1936. Wright, Henry Charles Clarke, 1844-1936 :Notice to epicene women. Electioneering women are requested not to call here. 12706 – Alex Ferguson, Printer, Wellington. [1902]. Ref: Eph-B-WOMEN-1902. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/22872683
“Epicene” is not a word that gets used a lot in everyday conversation, but it means “of indeterminate sex”. The implication being that women who showed an active interest in politics were not really women at all. Lovely.

Posters like the above help to illustrate how very committed and brave those suffragette campaigners were. To keep on fighting for what they knew was right when many in the community considered them offensive or even freakish shows great fortitude and strength of character.

I’m personally incredibly grateful. We honour them by remembering their struggle not just for themselves but for all women.

Learn more about the suffragettes and votes for women –

Feminism is a feminist issue

WORD Christchurch and UC College of Arts joined forces to present How To Be a Feminist, a live broadcast from the Sydney Opera House’s All About Women festival on International Women’s Day, Sunday 8 March.

The panel includes Germaine Greer, Roxane Gay, Anita Sarkeesian, Tara Moss, Clementine Ford and Celeste Liddle. The broadcast was followed by a Christchurch panel.

You can watch the Sydney panel discussion here:

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The Ōtautahi panel

The panel was ably chaired by Rosemary Du Plessis.
How to be a feminist panel

Dr Gina Colvin identified as a “womanist” and spoke about Mormonism, and women as the “first voice on the marae”.

Sionainn Byrnes, president of UC FemSoc spoke of the university as a “site of struggle”. Women are disproportionately represented in departments that are under attack, and there is a general “erosion of local democracy”. She mentioned a sanction of uni clubs meaning they can’t say anything against other clubs.

Kait Nelson is a trans-health advocate and she said “Feminism has always suffered from matters of privilige”. As a trans feminist, she said “We all share the same misogyny; we’re in the same battle”. Kait talked about the trans community wondering whether it should stay within the LBGT community, as maybe there are more commonalities with feminism. She observed the lack of trans women on the Sydney panel and made the valid point “Nothing about us without us”.

Beck Eleven, journalist at The Press, called herself a mini-feminist with training wings. Her eyes were opened last year after working on a feature Modern feminism – do women have equality? “The minute you start paying attention, you see systematic oppressions.” Domestic violence is 84% men against women, but there are always the people who say “But men are hit too”.

Dr Erin Harrington’s area of expertise is popular culture. She raised the point that every time we spend money on something, we are giving it a tick of approval – something to consider when there are sexist books and movies. Do we want to endorse them? We could try challenging ourself in our viewing and watching. We also need to “be careful about our own internalised misogyny”.

There were a variety of the comments from the floor, and the kind of free and frank talk that fits what Gina Colvin called these “delicious” and “half kitchen-table” conversations.

What I learned

“Choice feminism” is not good, as it emphasises only a narrow, hyper-individualist empowerment. Feminism’s strength in its collective nature – it needs to include young and old, women of colour, trans women. As Roxane Gay said “We have to take all women with us when we smash the system”.

Tweets from the Christchurch event

Photos from How to be a feminist

Recent reading in the New Zealand media

Feminism is not a four letter word

cover of Harpies & HeroinesI sometimes feel like a leaky tap. Drip, drip, dripping onto a huge stone, and the noise probably drives everyone around me crazy.

My life long  reason for harping on? The position of women and their rights in the world. More recently, I have noticed how most younger women take what they can do for granted and don’t realise how recently some of their ‘rights’ have been ‘given’ to them. New Zealand was the first country in the world to grant women the vote in 1893. This event is celebrated on 19 September each year and it is a good time to take stock of where women are in our society.

Many young women I’ve talked with think every woman has always been able to go to university, work full time, be a doctor, run a company, or own property.

Do they worry, I ask them, that female Rock and Pop artists still have to shake their bootie and let it all hang out to be a star? Their answer is that it is their choice, their way of showing strength and self empowerment. So why do the male artists not have to strip to be famous?

Cover of The Stalking of Julia GillardRecent news tells me we certainly haven’t ‘come a long way baby’. An English woman was bombarded with rape threats and other offensive abuse for campaigning to have a woman celebrated on a British banknote.

Whether you like a woman’s politics or not, female politicians are still vilified for so many reasons other than their political beliefs. Questions are asked such as why do they not have children, or if they have children, why aren’t they at home raising them? Female politicians can  vilified for being too fat or thin, or a bad dresser.

I have yet to hear a male politician criticised about his ties, or whether his haircut befits a leader of the nation.

cartoonWomen are still being criticised for breastfeeding in public, but you don’t have to go far to find pictures publicly displayed of women showing more than a woman feeding her baby would.

As Suffrage day is upon us again, I feel proud of the women who came before me and made my life better and proud of the things I have done in my life to increase awareness and make change, but I also feel frustrated by how much there is still to do and the stubbornness of our society to give half our population a fair and equitable deal in all things.

There are so many examples of New Zealand women fighting the good fight and living amazing lives. Here are some Christchurch connected stars who led the way:

  • Elizabeth McCombs was the first woman to be elected as an MP, in 1933, when she won the Lyttelton seat.
  • Elsie Locke was a prominent author and political activist, feminist and peace advocate
  • Ettie Rout is most famous as a safe sex campaigner in World War 1, setting up a safe sex brothel and designing a safe sex kit which was officially adopted by the NZEF and handed out compulsorily to all soldiers going on leave.
  • Kate Sheppard  became the leader of the fight to win the right for women to vote in elections. She organised petitions to Parliament asking for the right to vote for women and persuaded Sir John Hall, a leading member of Parliament, to support them.

To call yourself a feminist still seems to mean you are seen as uptight, man hating and with no sense of humour, when in fact being a feminist just means you believe in every person in every society being given equal rights, and the ability to live the life they wish to, unfettered by prejudice or laws that hinder this.

Do you care about women’s rights, or do you think women have equal rights, and there is no more work to be done?