Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume. 33, Number 13. 1970
Teach-ins used to be the means radical groups proved their academic respectability, until Mr Muldoon turned academic responsibility into a contradiction in terms for the average government supporter. The Womans Liberation teach-in on August 8th was needed, on some kind of academic support, dubious blessing and all as it was, to extracite the new Wellington version of radical feminisim from the stranglehold of its present media image. NZBC camera crews and Evening Post reporters, though murmeruring 'I told you so' at the sight of the initially small audience, were observed to flinch visibly when they found themselves agreeing with a feminist argument.
Gerard Curry's impressive and cogent case for New Zealand acceptance of the present British abortion law was so reasonable and unhysterical that it drove the NZBC camera crew from the teach-in, after one hour of filming, never to return. All in all, except for the lack of publicity, a modest success for Women Liberation.
The mornings session of the teach-in was devoted to the questions of abortion and equal pay. It says much about the reason for the Women's Liberation Movement regarding itself as part of a wider movement for world social revolution, that the case for legalised abortion, as albatross around any politicians neck, was presented cogently and inteligibly, with superlative documentation by Gerard Curry.
In contrast, the arguments for the comparatively much more acceptable objective of equal pay as presented by Mrs King, Chairwoman of the Council for Equal Pay and Opportunity, and a leader of the New Zealand female establishment proved very hard to implement. Mrs King and her Council, in their thirteen years of existence, have only achieved, early in their endeavours, equal pay for public servants with the qualification that certain conditions presupposed equality e.g. length of service. Thus the average working woman for the public service still receives a lower salary than the average public servant. (Mrs King in her address forgot to mention that equal opportunity had got lost somewhere along the way.) The moral of all this, she told an incredulous audience, was that women would have to work harder at their jobs before they could expect equality. Most of the women present seemed to have heard similar advise from their employers, but did not expect to hear it from the female equivalent of a Federation of Labour leader. Abortion had been legalised in Britain by the relatively reactionary membership of the British Labour Party, while in New Zealand equal pay was being shelved by the male power elite's token women. These two facts, plus the open admission of loss of public support for this basic demand, are enough to turn any serious movement for women's freedom revolutionary.
If the teach-in's morning speakers had defined, unwillingly, the social situation from which women must free themselves, the afternoon's speakers emphasised the difficulties of achieving emancipation. Professor Houston, of Massey University Education Department, painstakingly clarified women's educational difficulties. Women become a minority in the education system at the upper sixth form, level, not only in New Zealand but in most of the world's affluent societies. Dr Houston stressed the hidden social assumption that girls are not expected or allowed to achieve potential. The aim of education should be to allow girls the same attitudes and virtues as their brother thereby breaking down the barrier to careers.
The Reverend Easton, with heterodox disregard of the Thirty-nine Articles, suggested that St Paul's male chauvinism had prevented women playing their full role in the church. (Christ had shown his attitude to women's liberation by refusing to condemn the women taken in adultery.) Increasing numbers of marriages at an earlier age showed the continuing popularity of marriage, in spite of Liberated Women's attacks on that institution; the small size of the average modern family, the average home having two children, showed that the family duties were becoming less onerous. As families became smaller, more women became free to re-enter the workforce in their thirties, and there was a growing demand for their services from industry. Women, though, were still regarded as visitors to the economy rather than permanent inhabitants of it and few women were reemployed after marriage, and child-bearing at the same level of responsibility they had achieved before marriage. Employers, Mrs Shields of the Council for Research on Women told us, did not understand women's problems.page 10
This brought us straight to the punch-line of the afternoon's speakers' cri de coeur; don't be too militant; you might worry the employers. According to Mrs Shields and Rev Easton all you need to do is to act as though you were equal and you will be treated as equal. Sex discrimination, equal pay, subservience to men? These are created by women's inferiority complex. Any businessman will be nice to a woman who plays the rules of this game efficiently. Note the sex: Businessman and the too possessive pronoun: his.
But this message is not entirely false, and this is its strength. Women must reject discrimination before they can defeat it. Women have to lose the Uncle Tom (is this the female equivalent Aunt Daisy?) mentality. They can only be encouraged to do these things, however, through organisation, which most of the afternoon speakers deplored. This is vital. In times of capitalist boon there are plenty of jobs for Islanders. In times of slump, women and Islanders are the first to be fired. Only organisation can give women a position relatively independent of economic change. The afternoon speakers saw the history of women's freedom slowly broadening down from precedent to precedent rather than as a record of a few mediocre achievements.
Pam McKenzie, the final speaker, concentrated her attention on how the family structure restricts women's and children's freedom. Women have been turne by society into creatures with interesting genitalia: they must become human beings. A science, which under male direction yearly created new poison gasses, could find neither the time not the money to devise a really safe method of birth control The division of labour incarnated in the family which condemned women to domestic drudgery was neither natural nor sacrosanct and could be easily and rationally changed.—Men because of their greater educational opportunities would have less detrimental effect on young children, whereas today women are expected to fulfil this role without the necessary qualities essential for good child development. Education, Pam, along with other speakers argued was dedicated to instilling in Women a completely inadequate view of their capabilities and possibilities: education must be revolutionized.
The New Zealand Women's Liberation movement is a long way from the kind of gang warfare on males quoted from Berkley Tribe in a previous issue of Salient. It is earning itself the right, by its ideas and activities, to be taken seriously indeed.