26 May 2019

125 Years: Are We There Yet? Kim Hill leads a discussion about gender equality at WORD Christchurch 2018

From Writers and Readers Festivals

One hundred and twenty five years on from the historic law change that granted New Zealand women the right to vote, Kim Hill leads five other extraordinary Kiwi women in a discussion about how far we have come and how far we still have to go in the fight for gender equality.

Sacha McMeeking, Lizzie Marvelly (top), Georgina Beyer, Dame Anne Salmond (middle), Kim Hill, Paula Penfold (bottom)

Sacha McMeeking, Lizzie Marvelly (top), Georgina Beyer, Dame Anne Salmond (middle), Kim Hill, Paula Penfold (bottom) Photo: Word Christchurch

The speakers are: human rights activist Georgina Beyer, historian Dame Anne Salmond, musician and writer Lizzie Marvelly, Sacha McMeeking, head of the School of Māori and Indigenous Studies at the University of Canterbury, and Paula Penfold, consulting journalist on Stuff’s #metooNZ investigation.

Lizzie Marvelly recalls her time as a student at Auckland's King’s College in 2006 (26 years after girls had first arrived there).

She was greeted by a toast-based ranking system in which the boys at breakfast rated the girls based on their appearance.

Marvelly recalls walking into the dining hall in her first week at the school: "I was standing in line with my fellow boarding girls. And I turned around and I looked out at the rest of (mainly) boys who were eating breakfast already. I saw that a bunch of them were holding up pieces of toast.”

Puzzled, she looked a bit closer, and realised that what they’d done was drawn a variety of numbers onto different pieces of toast with marmite.

The boys held up the toast slices as the girls walked past, ranking their attractiveness out of 10.

Toast with marmite spread on it to form the number 4

Photo: RNZ / Paul Bushnell

Shield of Middlemore House (for boarding girls) at King's College

Shield of Middlemore House (for boarding girls) at King's College Photo: King's College

During her time at Kings, Marvelly also recalls a chant that went something like “Get back in the kitchen!” was heard at many a sports day and inter-house competition – always aimed the girls who were competing.

Marvelly's own leadership ambitions – she wanted to not only be a prefect but head prefect – collided with what was then a school policy that girls could not hold the top student leadership position.

“I realised that there was an insurmountable obstacle. I didn’t have a penis.”

Kings didn't change this policy until five years ago.

Marvelly had been brought up to believe in 'girl power' and was shocked to find herself in a “totally disempowering environment" at the private school.

At her mention of the Spice Girls, Kim Hill asks Marvelly how listening to a group who pranced around in revealing outfits singing about men has helped her development as a feminist.

“It gave me the language of girl power,” Marvelly responds.

“For a little girl to see a group of women who weren’t fighting against each other, and were at the top of the music industry at the time, was empowering. Us fourth-wave feminists were in our infancy, so our thinking was pretty superficial, but at that time simply seeing those women doing their thing was empowering.”

The Spice Girls performing in 1997

The Spice Girls performing in 1997 Photo: Wikipedia / Melanie Laccohee

Kim Hill responds: “I want to come back to that issue of choice. Because it seems to me fourth-wave feminism is saying that whatever women choose is feminist because women choose it.”

Marvelly disagrees: “I think that choice is about human rights, individual rights. Feminism is actually about equality."

Copies of the petition for women's suffrage in a wheelbarrow outside Parliament on the 125th anniversary of the Electoral Act 1893 being signed into law.

Copies of the petition for women's suffrage in a wheelbarrow outside Parliament on the 125th anniversary of the Electoral Act 1893 being signed into law. Photo: VNP / Daniela Maoate-Cox

About the speakers

Georgina Beyer is a trailblazer for the transgender community and the first out transsexual in the world to be elected mayor and to become a Member of Parliament. She championed both the Civil Union Act and the Prostitution Reform Act.

Dame Anne Salmond is a Distinguished Professor at the University of Auckland. One of New Zealand’s most prominent anthropologists and historians, she is the author of many best-selling and award-winning books.

Lizzie Marvelly is a musician, columnist and activist. She is the founder of Villainesse.com, a media project for young women, an award-winning columnist for the New Zealand Herald and co-producer of a web series called The REAL Sex Talk.

Sacha McMeeking is the head of Aotahi, the School of Māori and Indigenous Studies at the University of Canterbury, and co-founder of Tū Māia, a kaupapa Māori business which designs leadership and entrepreneurship programmes.

Paula Penfold is a journalist with Stuff Circuit. Best known for her work on the Teina Pora case, and ‘The Valley’ – an examination of New Zealand’s deployment to Afghanistan, she is also a consultant to the #metoonz investigation.

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This audio was recorded in partnership with 2018 Word Christchurch Festival. Its next season runs in May 2019, and the full festival returns in 2020.