International Women’s Day: we need more women to stand for local councils


The parade for International Women’s Day in Te Marae o Hine.

March the 8th is International Women’s Day. This year, there was a big celebration in Te Marae o Hine, the Square in Palmerston North, with a parade and puppets and singing and dancing. And speakers. I was honoured to be invited to give a speech.

I spoke from notes rather than from a fully-written out speech, so here is a reconstruction of what I said.


Tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou katoa!

Thank you for the great honour of asking me to speak today.

I’ve got three things to talk about. First, I’m going to celebrate some local women. Then, because I’m an academic, I’m going to tell you about some interesting research about women. And last, I’m going to ask you to do something.

Here are the local women I want to celebrate. From Manawatu District Council, the fabulous mayor, Margaret Kouvelis. She’s someone I really admire. And from her council, three more women who are district councillors, Barbara Cameron, Jo Heslop, and Alison Short. There’s a council of eleven people in Manawatu District, so that’s four women out of eleven councillors.

Here in Palmerston North, five great women who are on council: Aleisha Rutherford, Annette Nixon, Leonie Hapeta, Susan Baty, and of course, Rachel Bowen. (Rachel was the speaker immediately before me.) There’s sixteen people on council in Palmerston North, including the mayor, so that’s five women out of sixteen.

Our local District Health Board is pretty good. There are seven elected positions, and four of them are held by women: Diane Anderson, Ann Chapman, Karen Naylor, and Barbara Robson.


Me speaking at the 2016 International Women’s Day celebrations

Then there’s Horizon’s Regional Council. There are twelve councillors on the regional council. The women on Horizons Regional Council are Colleen Sheldon and Rachel Keedwell and …

And that’s it. Just two women on a council of twelve. If ever there was a council stuffed full of men, Horizons Regional Council is it.

So all up, there are about 46 elected positions on local local bodies, and about one third of them are held by women.

Ladies, sisters, we are under-represented. And we need to do something about it.

There are a couple of research findings that are interesting here.

When it comes to women being elected onto local councils, it turns out that numbers matter. Women are elected in the proportion in which they stand. So if a third of the candidates are women, then a third of the people who are elected will be women.

So we need to get more women to stand.

But here’s the other research finding. You know the old story about men seeing that they can do half the tasks needed for a job, and deciding that they’re a perfect fit, and women seeing one task that they can’t do, so they don’t apply at all? It turns out that for many women, getting them past that “I can’t do that” barrier is just a matter of someone shoulder tapping them. Someone saying to them, “Hey. You would be good at this.”

We need to start doing some shoulder tapping.

Here’s the things you can do to get more women onto local councils.

First up, think about standing yourself. We’re all active and engaged women, and we’d be good! So consider yourselves shoulder tapped.

If standing for council is not the right thing for you, how about shoulder tapping some other women you know. Maybe some of them would be good. Perhaps you know ngā wãhine Māori who have been working in their iwi and on their marae. Perhaps you come from a migrant community, and there’s someone there who would be great. Maybe you know a nurse, a mum, a business woman, a teacher – someone who would do a great job on council. Tell them. Shoulder tap them and ask them to stand.

While we’re thinking about great women, a shout out to some of the local women who had a go at standing last time around. People like Gabrielle Bundy-Cooke and Lorna Johnson and Karen Naylor and Abi Symes. They would all be great on our council.

And there’s one more thing you can do. After you’ve shoulder tapped someone, help her out in her campaign. Perhaps you can manage her campaign for her. Perhaps you can deliver leaflets, or drive her to meetings, or turn up at meetings to back her. She will have a lot of work to do, and she will need your help.

Kia kaha, sisters. Stand strong. And let’s look forward to celebrating many more women this time next year.

Happy International Women’s Day!



For the record, here’s what my notes for this speech look like.  This is why my post is a reconstruction, rather than a copy-and-paste.

Talking about pink

I was on Radio NZ Nights on Monday night, talking about the pinkification of women.

Click here for the audio: RNZ Nights – the pinkification of women – MP3 – 15’37”

I drew on this article for some of the discussion: When did girls start wearing pink?, by Jeanne Maglaty

You can find a story about the “Bic for her” pens here: Bic pens ‘for her’ get hilariously snarky Amazon reviews. The advertisement for the pens, and all the reviews, are on the Amazon site: BIC Cristal For Her Ball Pen, 1.0mm, Black, 16ct (MSLP16-Blk)

As I said on the radio, this is my favourite review of the pens.

I want to make sure other girls don’t fall for the misleading marketing like I did. If you use this pen, you STILL NEED TO HAVE A MAN CHECK YOUR WORK!

It was quite a light topic, which I needed after talking about rape culture a few weeks ago. I found that very draining.

Many thanks to the people who have contacted me after the broadcasts, by e-mail or by post or by phone. I appreciate the feedback, and the continuing discussion of the ideas.

More TV

I was invited to appear on Media7 this week, as part of a panel discussing misogyny on the internet.

Media7 – “This week Media7 examines cyber abuse and the disturbing trend of misogynistic attacks on women in the media.”

World famous in New Zealand, or at least in Greenhills, where a couple of people at places I go to regularly (like, the supermarket – exciting, huh) have stopped to talk to me about it. I was happier with the way that this discussion went, except that my pearls clattered against the microphone, so I had to take them off and wear them around my wrist instead. There goes my badge of middle class respectability. As ever, I thought I things I could have said, or things I might have qualified, or said better, after the fact. Oh well.

Many thanks for the invitation, Media7.

Special snowflake bingo

Alasdair Thompson, head of the Employers and Manufacturers Association, has opined that the gender pay gap exists because women take more sick leave every month, and they have babies.

For details on the story, see Women’s sick day comments outrage. You could also check what Tallulah has to say: I’m sick of this bullshit. Period. And what anjum says: Unequal pay is ok with employers. And Stef: This is what makes periods painful. And the other Steph: It’s like Carrie’s prom in here.

I’ve created a bingo square for Alasdair, taken from some of the special things he has said today. Thank you, Alasdair, for the inspiration.

(Description: Bingo card. Text for squares at end of post)

Sources: Newstalk ZB’s interviews with Thompson, KiwiPolitico’s transcript of part of the initial interview, TV3’s full interview with Thompson. The start of the TV3 interview has some very special moments, such as:
“Don’t interrupt me, otherwise we stop the interview.”
“Do we start from the top? (Reply – sure) Jeez!”
“I’m moving it to a higher plane.”
“I’ll say what I want to say without interruption.”
“I’ve given you the privilege of having an interview.”

I think that women around the country have been alternately been feeling a sense of dread that someone representing employers would say and think such things, and rolling around the floor laughing.


Bingo squares
1st row across: My heart is pure on this matter. / The truth is the truth is the truth. / I have data … Here in my own firm. From talking to other employers. / Once a month women have sick problems. / The person who takes the telephone calls (for sick leave) knows the data.
2nd row across: Women have babies. / I’m sure there are workplaces with some degree of gender discrimination. / Men and women are different. / I’ve been taken out of context. / I’m sorry if I offended you.
3rd row across:EMA support equal pay for equal productivity. / The socialists don’t like [the facts of life]. / Facts of life / [Giving staff information] will just lead to industrial unrest. / I’m not sexist.
Middle square: Facts of life
4th row across: Women should be paid more than men where their productivity is greater. / I don’t like saying these things. / The two highest paid lawyers in my firm are women. / Lots of men are unproductive because they’re in jail. / Women take the most sick leave.
5th row across: 90% of people would agree with the guts of my statements. / Women take time off to look after sick kids. / It might be the way I said it. / We’re a member of the EEO employers…. thing. / I have people of every religion and every colour and every race working for me.

Quick hit: It’s not pink!

Google has a special header up for Mother’s Day. And, in an appalling break with the pinkification of anything to do with women, it’s NOT PINK!

Purple google

(Description: “Google” in greyish-purple font, “L” as a tall, slender daisy style flower with purple petals.)

I didn’t see last year’s Google effort for Mother’s Day, but the 2009 one was fairly revolting. In Stef’s memorable phrase, it looked as if a flamingo had thrown up all over it. How pleasant to see something different this year.

Mind your language

Cross posted

In the Dominion Post this morning:


Blue lines on roads in Island Bay mark the furthest point that a worst-case tsunami has been calculated to reach.

Since the lines were painted in February, after consultation with GNS Science, almost every coastal suburb has expressed an interest in having them.

“If there was a big earthquake in Wellington, and you live on the coast and have seen that line on the street, then hopefully you grab your wife and kids and go to behind where that line is,” Wellington emergency management office senior adviser Dan Neely said.

You grab your wife and your kids…

So many possible meanings there. Maybe it’s because only men are capable of taking action, or because men are the ones who take responsibility for action, or because when it comes to disaster planning, we plan for men. Also, you will note that we only plan for nuclear families, and families that have a husband and a wife at that.

It’s such a small thing, but it’s revealing. It shows which people are regarded as being the norm, the average, the ones from whom all others are different.

And it’s so easy to fix. All he needed to say was, “… then hopefully you grab the people around you and go to behind where that line is.”

Maybe that’s what he meant to say. I’m sure he is concerned for the safety of everyone in Wellington. It would just be nice if that thought got out into public discourse too, instead of using language that reinforces notions of men as normative, and women as others who need to be cared for.

Pick me!

Last week Media 7 ran a show discussing, amongst other things, whether the demise of Women’s Studies programmes was in any way related to the increasing laddishness in contemporary media (witness the wretched ‘Win-A-Wife’ competition). Clearly they needed some people to talk about women’s studies programmes, and the media, so they got John Campbell, and Chris(topher) Trotter.

I’m betting that your first reaction is an almighty *headdesk*. Because it seems bloody odd not to have some women discussing the issues. Chris Trotter himself has raised an eyebrow over it, wondering why on earth the program couldn’t get at least one woman to front.

It wasn’t for want of trying. I know this because Media 7’s researcher approached me.

Media 7, Russell Brown’s show on TVNZ7, is next week looking at the demise of the Women’s Studies course at VUW…. it’d be great to have a discussion about what effect women’s studies had on those who work in media (particularly journalism) and if it disappears from our universities as a subject of serious research, how will that affect our media? It seems with all the male antics going on right now …, that a discussion of this sort is more important than ever. It would be great to talk to you about the possibility of being our guest for the show, on a panel.

I was delighted to receive the request, and I would have loved to have been able to say yes. But I said no. No, I would not appear on the program to discuss the decline in women’s studies programmes, and the increasingly boorish treatment of women in the media.

I couldn’t because I am not a Women’s Studies graduate, nor have I ever taken a Women’s Studies paper, nor even a paper that could be credited to a Women’s Studies major, and not even a paper in feminist philosophy, or feminist political theory. I have simply not been in contact with professional academic women’s studies. I have no expertise in the area.

I couldn’t because I am not a journalist, nor a person who studies the media, or a person who has any expertise in the media, at all. I have no expertise in the area.

I am not willing to hold myself out as an expert in these areas. End of story.

More than that, I now work in a university, in a completely unrelated discipline. But just down the hallway and up the stairs from me, literally, are people who work in media, even in gender and media. This is their turf, not mine.

These are professional and academic reasons for saying no. But some personal reasons counted too. Taking a day out to go to Auckland is not an easy matter for me. It can be done, but it takes a power of organisation, of juggling schedules and organising childcare and making sure that homework is done / school bags are packed / evening meals are planned. I find it very hard to be a last minute, or even a few days before, traveler.

This might all sound like me trying to plead that I am a special case, but I know I am not. I know that many women in academic jobs are not willing to trample all over their colleagues’ areas of expertise. I know that many women in academic jobs feel too vulnerable to speak out about particular areas of research and study. Critic and conscience of society is all very well, but critic and conscience of your own workplace’s management might be a DCBM matter. I know that women in public service jobs simply cannot speak at all. That goes with the territory of having a job in the public service. I know that women with children find it hard to simply take a day out, because they don’t have a wife at home to ensure that everything will run smoothly in their absence.

So when Chris Trotter asks what the hell is going on, and implies it is all the fault of the women who wouldn’t appear, well, whatever, really. Instead of asking why individual women felt that they could not appear, perhaps he might like to examine the systemic factors that constrain women’s actions. Alternatively, he might like to think about whether is is a good idea to hold yourself out as an expert in an area in which you know nothing. Chris himself works in media, and is conversant with left wing politics. I do not wish to criticise his own appearance on the show, nor Media 7 for asking him to appear. Nevertheless, I think he misreads the non-appearance of women on the show.

And… umm… Media 7, perhaps with just a little more lead time, we would have been able to come up with a woman who was able to appear on the show. Not easy, I know, in a fast moving media landscape, where timeliness is critical. But something that would be worth having an eye to, if possible.