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IWD: I'm angry at other women

Ani O'Brien: International Women’s Day has become a farcical parade of corporate pink-washing overlaid by a nepotistic circle-jerk of privileged & influential liberal women giving each other awards
Ani O'Brien
Editor - Digital, Contributing Writer
March 8th, 2022

OPINION: Every 8th of March the most frequently asked question on the internet seems to be ‘when is International Men’s Day?’ The answer is ‘November 19th’.

Why is this question repeatedly asked today, on the 8th of March?

Because today is International Women’s Day, of course. This irritating ‘what about us’ rhetoric is symptomatic of the oppositional nature of discussions about women’s rights and men’s rights in 2022. Men are often perceived to be defensive and dismissive, while women can be perceived to be aggressive and vengeful. Misogyny and misandry clashing with little resolved or gained.

Fundamentally, how we understand, discuss, and manage the differences between the sexes and the challenges that arise from them is utterly dysfunctional and conducive to nothing but further tensions.

Historically, the patriarchal organisation of most human societies has ensured that women have been subordinated and disadvantaged. The legacy of that continues today in many ways despite the tremendous gains that have been made. There is still no denying that in most places on this planet being born male sets one up with certain advantages.

Today should be a day in which we celebrate the gains and discuss the issues that we still must grapple with to make life fairer, safer, and just generally better for women and girls. However, a quick read of the articles written for International Women’s Day in our mainstream publications elucidates why it is difficult for some women to buy-into the day and so easy for men to dismiss the very real oppressions women and girls face.

In New Zealand - and perhaps elsewhere - International Women’s Day has become a farcical parade of corporate pink-washing overlaid by a nepotistic circle-jerk of privileged and influential liberal (mostly white) women giving each other awards at champagne breakfasts. 

And the issues they focus on? Usually not particularly high on the priority list for your average Kiwi woman - certainly not for those who are under-privileged. 

What's more, despite a plethora of crucial issues facing women to choose from, often the topics of discussion are so embarrassingly redundant that it is no wonder that men don’t take them seriously. For example, a headline in Stuff today laments 'Property price surge widens gender wealth gap'. However, upon reading the article one discovers that “women exclusively owned 23.5 per cent of property, while men owned 24.2 per cent”. Radio New Zealand also reported on these statistics.

Seriously? A difference of 0.7 per cent?

In another Stuff article from this morning, the headline reads 'Women bearing work-from-home load, research shows'. This is hardly surprising to most of us as we can all agree that even with the advent of the ‘modern man’ women tend to carry more of the household chores burden. However, the research the article cites found that only 56 per cent of women self-reported as saying they do most or all of the home schooling. Presumably the other 44 per cent responded that the load was split evenly or their partner carried most of it.

Meanwhile, the New Zealand Herald dedicated their editorial to the idea ‘International Women’s Day should be everyday’. Cute. Except they incorrectly quote the Human Rights Act

“it has been almost 30 years since the Human Rights Act Declared New Zealanders cannot be discriminated against because of gender”.

Gender is not protected under the Human Rights Act; sex is. This is an important distinction for women because the act protects us from discrimination that pertains to our physical biology (sex) including discrimination in relation to pregnancy. 

‘Gender’ has become more fashionable among those who wish do away with sex categories and have a system of self-identifying in which anyone can simply chose if they are a man or woman. 

Setting that complex and fraught argument aside, the New Zealand Herald nonetheless chose to misquote one of our most important pieces of legislation in order to satisfy its ideological and political leanings. I’ll let you decide if that is misinformation or disinformation.

Speaking of politics, the Herald also published an article about 'Five Kiwi women who left their mark last year'. They couldn’t go past Lisa Carrington who had an incredible Olympic Games and young Jemima Gazley, whose life was taken far, far too early, but who raised $700,000 to fund research on brain cancer, in the weeks before she died. 

However, only yesterday the Media Council of New Zealand found that Stuff had published completely false accusations made by Dr Siouxie Wiles about some of her academic colleagues. Her inclusion in the five seems inappropriate. Was there no other deserving woman?

Women of Influence event

Naturally, today we have seen a number of sport and business articles and these cannot really be faulted. The specific subject areas traverse the usual issues of representation, resourcing, investment, and respect.

I liked the Stuff piece that focused on Chelsea Roper, a young woman working in the trades, and the piece in the Herald about women in Tourism. A shout out must go to Newsroom who published a much meatier report on historic and present economic hardship suffered by women.

The pay gap was front and centre in a number of publications and while I agree that there are definite disparities between men and women’s incomes, the way we talk and report on them is wrong. Instead of comparing men and women’s pay in comparable roles, it seems most statistics are derived from averaging out all employees.

The issue here is that women are often over-represented in more administrative roles while men are over-represented at the top so their pay is understandably uneven and that is what we should be looking at. Are we as a society and as businesses doing all we can to provide a platform of equal opportunity for women to advance through to higher paid jobs? Furthermore, what can we do to provide equal opportunity and support for Māori, Pasifika, and disabled women?

What are not mentioned, in any International Women’s Day article I have seen, are the issues which, in my opinion, we should never stop talking about: harassment, violence and sexual violence against women.

Despite all the lip service our parliamentarians give the issue - although it is unfashionable to name ‘women’ anymore, now it’s ‘family violence’ - nothing changes. On the New Zealand Police website they state “the most common types of family violence reported to Police involve violence against women and children. About 85% of victims reporting to Police are women.”

We have all seen the statistics and they are hideous. The men in our lives know they are hideous too because, yes, ‘not all men’ are violent abusers. A minority of men are simply prolific. We should attempt to get buy-in from men on this because they are often better placed to intervene or call-out other men. Fostering an environment of ally-ship and support rather than oppositionality would go a long way.

Separately from International Woman’s Day reporting, today Newshub reported on a culture of sexism and harassment at Fire and Emergency New Zealand. A real, live, active issue facing women. However, Internal Affairs Minister Jan Tinetti, who also happens to be New Zealand’s hapless Minister for Women, has “rejected firefighters' claims sexual misconduct, bullying and mishandled complaints are as rampant now as they were three years ago”.

Minister Jan Tinetti

Maybe we could have a conversation this International Women’s Day about what point there is in having a Minister for Women who is particularly adept at throwing us under the bus?

I’d like to discuss the issue of women in prison; why are so many of them incarcerated for crimes committed in the aid of criminal men? Why have so many of them experienced abuse and violence? Why are prison policies of self-identity being allowed to put them at risk?

What about the mothers who become known to Oranga Tamariki? What can we do to protect their children and support them so that they can remain whole as a family in healthier and violence-free circumstances?

And, probably our most vulnerable women, those with disabilities? They can be horribly invisible at times and at risk of victimisation. We need to talk about carers also; whether in the family or external, carers are almost always female. Underpaid, undervalued, and under-staffed these workers do vital work in difficult circumstances.

We need to talk about the gritty, ugly, and uncomfortable things. It is much more fun to congratulate big corporates for pink-washing at catered awards ceremonies, but any feminist worth her salt knows that is not what feminism is really about. 

Unfortunately, the women running our NGOs, ministries, companies, and occupying seats in Parliament seem too distracted by being in the 'successful women clique' to bother with the women who cannot afford nappies for her child or who whistleblow on sexual assault in the workplace.

They spend more time speaking in jargon and dreaming up trendy policies like ‘gender neutral toilets’ which are to the detriment of women and girls. They would be horrified if a woman surviving on the dole was to speak at their events in honest terms. How uncomfortable would they be to hear of her experiences with police, MSD, and Oranga Tamariki? She would invariably speak in much cruder terms than they are used to and might even have some taboo opinions.

Reader, you may sense my bitterness. It is true, I am angry and frustrated with the women who have the power, influence, and resources to help those of us most in need. I have become fed up with their self-importance and tendency towards cancellation. They wear the cloak of feminism, but they have not earned it.

So, this International Women’s Day I am not celebrating. I am angry - and mostly at other women. 

Ani is a writer, political commentator, and the Editor of Digital for The Platform.