When conducting research for my Woman Crush post about local fashion designer Barbara Penberthy, I found a quote of hers that came from an intriguing sounding book; The Vote, The Pill and The Demon Drink – A History of Feminist Writing in New Zealand 1869 – 1993. With a heightened interest in all things feminist since the Women’s March in January, I knew I had to get my hands on a copy of this book by local author Charlotte Macdonald, to gain greater understanding of the feminist history of my home country. Being not a terribly current book, or commonly read (I’d imagine), it had to be dug up from the library basement archives for me!
I first got my hands on it in February, and I only just finished it up this month. It may not look that big, but it’s a meaty read! It’s not common for me to read something with so few visuals, and I read at such ad-hoc times, so I unsurprisingly had to renew its borrowing period a couple of times before I reached the end. But the end I did reach! And now I get to share with you what really stood out for me. I’ve shared quotes from various written pieces, from various times in history, where I thought the ideas discussed ring strong and true for today, as much as they did back then. Here we go…
Women in Our Criminal Courts: the need for reform – Eveline Cunnington (1916), for Women’s Column, Maoriland Worker
“The [sexual] victims are from the least protected of all classes. They are also little girls of retarded mental development, of arrested moral growth, the weakest and the most helpless of the community.
And the predatory man gets off and goes off. On what plea? Of previous good character, perhaps, or from a laudable reluctance on the part of the judge to send a first offender to ‘herd with hardened criminals’.
Now the grounds upon which these lenient positions are based are unsound and dangerous.
Imagine a doctor saying to a patient attacked with influenza: ‘This is your first illness, your previous health has been excellent, therefore I shall not attend you. I shall leave you to get well as best you may. I feel also unwilling to send you to a hospital to ‘herd with infectious patients’, therefore I shall let you loose on society’.
We should acclaim that medical man as a very shortsighted and foolish doctor. But this is precisely what we do to our first offenders. We fail to recognise the importance and significance of first symptoms in moral diseases. Assuredly if a person commits a demoral action, either from passion or premeditation, he is suffering from moral ill-health – acute or morbid as details of the case may denote: he has, therefore, a claim on our skilled consideration. We have no right to let him go free; it is wrong to him and to the public at large.”
This was a loud-and-clear bell toll, when I read it only a few months after Brock Turner had finished up his laughable 3-month stint in jail for sexual assault, amongst all other cases of “it would detrimental to him and his future to be sent to jail for this crime” that seems to play out a lot in the States at the moment.
What is The Working Women’s Movement? – Elsie Freeman (1935), for Working Woman vol.3 no.1
“Working Women’s Movement – Our Guide to Action
- Against Fascism and War
- For a Women’s Delegation to the Soviet Union
- Equal Pay for Equal Work
- No Discrimination against Married or Single Women in Employment Relief
- Support the N.U.W.M. Demands for the Unemployed
- Free Medical, Dental, Surgical and Maternity Attention
- Equal Facilities for Education in Town and Country and Provision of Books, Uniforms and Meals for School Children
- No Discrimination Between Maori and Pakeha
- Free Dissemination of Birth Control Knowledge and the Legalisation of Abortion
- Social Insurance for all Workers at the expense of the State and Employers.”
I found this a nice concise explanation of what being a feminist in the 1930’s was all about, and I found it very interesting how similar it is to the action points of current-day feminism. I mean, it’s both “yay, united women working for clear and just goals!”, and also “why are we still protesting this shit, some 80 years on?!” COME ON! Btw, Equal Pay for Equal Work has been a point of pain since at least the late 1800’s for women, and we still don’t have it right.
Women’s Role in Perspective – Beverley Morris (1966), for The Changing Role of Women: Lecture course held by the Linden Play Centre
“As John Stuart Mill writes: ‘Books, institutions, education, society, all go on training human beings for the old long after the new has come. Much more is coming and the true virtue of human beings is to live together as equals, claiming for themselves nothing but what they freely concede to anyone else.'”
I found this a really interesting concept, as it brought into question the way we are taught and conditioned into adults through our modern systems, with little emphasise on what form the world may actually take when we step out into it. If we keep teaching the same ideas, and spend most of our brainpower studying the old and known, rather than playing with the new and unknown, then we do a disservice to our future selves and the potential we could reach. Not only that, we see those festering hateful and derogatory ideas handed down from generation to generation, resulting in the slow-down, and possible stand-still, of positive progress (see above, Equal Pay fight lasting over 100 years).
Who Says I’m a Cabbage? – Bernadette Noble (1968), for Thursday Magazine, 3 Oct 1968
“Sessional employment is a system which divides the working week into tenths, or sessions, each remunerated separately at the rate of one tenth of what would be paid for the whole job. It is a system which would enable women to work just as much as they are able at any time, throughout their lives. ‘The arguments for it are multiple,’ said Dr Margaret Liley, who operates under this scheme herself. ‘It ensures “pay for the job”, continuity of employment and does away with the need for retraining women after their children have grown, because they are able to keep in touch with new innovations.'”
This I loved! I’m a part-time worker myself, and it’s freakin’ amazing! But in this day-and-age, part-time work is not the norm, and so if you want it, there’s only certain types of roles and industries you can work in. Yet, as more and more of the women around me become mothers, leaving their full-time 9-5 job for that first year of baby bliss, I’m seeing very few of them wanting to go back to how things were before baby. Full-time is too much, but not having some sort of out-of-the-home purpose also drives some of these intelligent ladies craaazy. And after reading the above piece, it sounds like it’s been like this for quite some time. The workforce has definitely changed since the 1960’s, but not enough to be flexible in the way that mothers (and fathers) need to get by. And not only parents, imagine all the wonderful creatives who could have more time available to experiment and invent and create things that could improve the daily lives of ALLLLL of us?! OR all of those lovely, warm and giving people who would so love to help out in their community and improve the lives of others, if it wasn’t for the fact they have to commit a full five days (at least) to their job/s. Free us up to let positive progress happen, dagnammit!
The book only touched on the very beginning of the 1990’s, and I’m sure there’s a lot more that could have been included, had the book been published in the 2000’s; as the 1990’s was a hot-bed for female action and loud female voices (see my previous post on Riot Grrrl history). It should be a lot easier to find publications of this work versus that of the 1800’s, however, so it’s a wonderful thing that The Vote, The Pill and The Demon Drink exists and has captured such important written pieces of our history.
As you can see, so many different types of ideas spoke to me and the things I care about. And those just scratch the surface of everything covered by the book’s content. There’s so much to take in, to think about, relate to, and take with you for future positive progress. So do I recommend it as a read for others?? Hell YES I do!
Use the learnings of past, to better inform the future