Yesterday, for International Women’s Day, I flew to Wellington. I’d been invited to Government House to celebrate #suffrage125. I was a bit flummoxed, but was persuaded to go, and I’m glad I did. Some Aunties kindly funded me to fly down there, and a friend picked me up at the airport and ferried me around. When I got there, there was a room full of buzzing women, and some men, all there to celebrate the same thing. All leaders in their field, whatever those fields may be. And most were ordinary people, like me. I listened to the speeches, caught up with people I knew, and felt a tiny bit of disquiet. I looked around the room and saw a diverse bunch of women, so I wasn’t entirely sure why I was feeling this disquiet. It was just a wee niggle. So I thought not much more about it and went on with my day.
This morning, I had been invited, again for International Women’s Day, to speak at an event at a corporate in town. I was delighted to be there, and made to feel very welcome. The room was diverse – women of colour, older women, younger women, some men. Again, the disquiet. It was starting to come into focus, but again, I sat with it, and didn’t quite know what it was, or where it was coming from. I spoke passionately, and looked around the room, who all seemed engaged. I spoke of my work, the Aunties work, how they could donate. And I listened to two of the women that work there as they spoke. Of struggles and triumphs. They both spoke their truths. Afterwards I had lunch with 3 of the women from that company – we didn’t have long enough, and the feeling was growing. They spoke passionately about what the problems were, and why there weren’t as many women as should be in tech. There were things left unspoken, I wasn’t entirely sure what they were.
And then I drove back across the city to see one of the women, who’d wanted my company and to chat. When I got there, she held onto me. Things had happened. Unfair things. So I listened, and they were problems I could help her with. I asked if she wanted the help, she said yes. I picked up the phone, started googling, ringing people to get done what she needed done. On the first phonecall, I passed the phone to her. She listened, said yes a lot, and then hung up.
“I didn’t understand what he was talking about”. I asked how she was feeling about it. The words she used were – judged, stupid, uneducated. He hadn’t been rude. He’d just spieled information at her. It had befuddled her.
So I rang back, got someone else. Talked it through. We sorted it, with her permission.
After the phonecalls, and making a plan, she looked relieved. We went to the supermarket and the petrol station to get gift cards so she could at least have food and gas before the documents required to access her bank account came.
We walked into the supermarket. ” I don’t like coming to public places. People stare”. I put my arm around her. She hugged me back. “I’m quite staunch” I said. “Nobody will try to mess with you”. We did the transaction required and I could tell how anxious it made her. How very uncomfortable. I apologised for her discomfort. I told her “you’ve got this”.
And then sitting in the car with her, I could feel myself getting angrier and angrier, and I knew why I had had that disquiet all day.
Yesterday, today, so many voices missing from the conversation needed, if we want to talk seriously about equality, and what that means. In White Feminism, it means equal pay. Being treated as equals. Women and men. (Where are genderqueer people in this equation???)
I would suggest that race is equally important. That actually the pay gap is racist as well as gendercentric.
So where, in these sentiments, are Māori and Pasifika women? When people aren’t only not equally paid but don’t even have equal access to power and knowledge, what then? How do you build that bridge?
You build it with policy, economic and social. You build it with education, freely available and for everyone. You build it with awareness that the chasm even exists. I think you build it with input from all. You build it by letting go of some power. Not holding onto it so tightly, if at all. You build it with love, and compassion. But built it must be.
That’s why I’m not really feeling #IWD18. I’m feeling sad and a bit despondent, and quite a lot impatient. Angry, and more determined than ever. Because I don’t really want to celebrate something that has passed by the women I work with, not when there’s so much work to do. Not until they have access to the very things they should have access to. Not until then.