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March 12, 2018 | by  | in Editorial Opinion |
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Editor’s Letter

CW: sexual assault

I went to the Women in Suffrage 125 years anniversary celebration launch today. Dame Patsy Reddy spoke about how far we have come. “New Zealand laid the foundation for the gender equality we experience today… New Zealand has become one of the most gender equal countries in the world.” Did you know that? I sure fucking didn’t.

The 125 celebration was just that. A celebration. NZ gave women the vote 125 years ago. Well done us. The suffragists fought hard and copped a lot of flak, and now we’re eating canapés. Raw oysters slurped up and shell put back on the tray for the immaculate waitress in a gray waistcoat, mysterious green gloop in shot glasses, triangle sandwiches, juice out of wine glasses, smiling and greeting and cheek-kissing, this is a formal event you know, no jeans allowed, talking about how great New Zealand is. We done good.

I know that I should be grateful that we’ve already come so far. Wallowing in restless anger makes Louise an unhappy girl. And maybe I’m taking for granted the fact that yes, women do have the vote, yes, we do have a female PM, yes, maybe New Zealand is one of the most gender equal countries in the world. Pay gap only 12%. (and only 20% of that is accounted for by the facts that men and women work different occupations, women tend to work part time, and differences in education. Just in case you want to ask.)

But. #metoo. Russell McVeagh. It’s become slightly less taboo to talk about sexual violence, and now everyone’s talking about it. I’m real proud of everyone for speaking out. But it breaks my heart. I’m full of grief about the pain, fear, and trauma that women experience.

I’m also hopeful. I firmly believe that social change is possible, that in fact, social change is constant. I’m also confident that we’re close to a solution. We’re changing how we enact masculinity, so it’s not so terrified of being “feminine”. Destigmatizing femininity. Changing how we think about sex and relationships. And continuing to speak out about assault and harassment, pushing the message that it’s never ok.

Most of all, we need to learn to sit with discomfort. Sit with the understanding that we could have been wrong. For every #metoo, there is an #ihave, and guilt is a lot more of a tickly feeling than righteous anger. But there is so much value, world-changing value, in admitting to having fucked-up beliefs and behaviours, not hating on yourself or others for it, understanding that it’s from a wider cultural system we exist within, and being committed to change.

My boss at the soup kitchen called the recent tide of sexual assault allegations “pc gone mad”. “Soon we won’t even be able to look at a girl without getting sent to jail,” he said. I understand his fears. It’s his demographic that’s getting attacked.

But I think he doesn’t understand the reality that most women live with every day. Flinching at catcalls walking home at night (or don’t flinch, laugh it off you’re no pussy). Ass slaps in night clubs – inevitable (treat it as a joke, that’s the best way to deal with it, why are you whinging). The impossible “choice” of saying no when your mouth freezes body freezes is this ok I don’t know and it’s happening so fast it’ll be over soon if you grin and bear it…ha. Ha.

A Newshub reporter (I think his name was Simon or something) said “you’re from Salient? Aw cute”. Sarcastic smile. Hand over heart. and I said “haha yeah” or something because I was already uncertain and scared from the unfamiliarity and the red rope that the media had to stand behind and the fancy cameras and the important people and didn’t occur to me to tell him to fuck off for being so condescending.

We are at an event celebrating 125 years of giving women the vote. Don’t you get it yet?

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