Backlash – Revision of Rights and the Impact of the Men’s Movements.

SPEECH TO RED HEARTS (CHRISTCHURCH LABOUR WOMEN’S BRANCH) FOR INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY, March 2010. (Part 2)

Within this renegotiation of basic rights – democratically elected representatives, privacy, the right to a fair hearing, there is a broader groundswell which affects women.

We have recently had a High Court case on abortion in which the legality of most of the abortions in NZ was queried. The Court of Appeal has conveniently for them side stepped the issue. On top of this, Medical Council requirements are being challenged by physicians with personal objections to abortion. They oppose being required to advise women who are doubtful about pregnancy that abortion is an option.

The Press recently ran a headline about our “Sexist DHB funding” questioning the allocation of funds for women’s health.

Our education system is challenged because girls are succeeding and boys aren’t beating them.

Our Family Court is frequently touted as being full of feminists, biased in favour of mothers and shrouded in secrecy.

Domestic violence has been re-framed as family violence. While, on the one hand, it rightly acknowledges that violence in families ranges wider than between two partners, I feel the gendered nature of violence has been diluted. How often have you heard the phrase “but women are violent too” as if that justifies male violence.

Last week, The Press ran an article about fathering. One of the comments was that since feminism, men do not know what their role is. I have to ask, “since which feminism?” Have men been uncertain of their role since women got the vote? Since women started to gain a level of financial independence? Are those men also confused when women date other women? And why is this stated confusion about men’s roles blamed on women?

Within women’s movements, there has been the development of theory. It might be Charlotte Perkins-Gilman and the sexual economics of marriage. Or Mary Ann Muller penning the first pamphlet for New Zealand women’s suffrage. Germaine Greer and the Female Eunuch or Naomi Wolf and the Beauty Myth. We’ve argued radical feminism, separatist feminism, lesbian feminism, the feminism of race and so on. We may not always agree but the feminist movement has been one of radical ideas and discourse.

To me, the men’s movement doesn’t seem to have the same kind of analysis, theory, debate and so on which the women’s movement has. When I hear the issues raised by men it seems to have as part of the argument an attack on the gains of women or assumptions that continue to suggest that men should have an advantage over women.

For example, funding for prostate screening is often paired with an argument that women get screening for cervical cancer and breast cancer. It’s raised as if that is an unfair advantage, undeserved or to the detriment of men’s health funding.

That boys are failing at school is coupled with an underlying assumption that girls, by rights, should not be excelling at school better than boys.

That is not to say that men’s groups are not making a valid point in raising the issues – access to health etc. But we need to be cautious that the gains women have made are not undermined in addressing issues reasonably raised by men.

Over the last few years, how many time have we heard that women have made it? After all, we have a female Governor-General, Prime Minister, Chief- Justice, Attorney-General and Speaker of the House. New Zealand is run by women so what are we women  complaining about?

But of course, now we don’t – with the exception that Sian Elias still holds her role.

How fleeting was our time in the sun.

Just as justice is not a pie with finite slices, nor is gender equity. A gain for women or a gain for men should not be a jeopardy for the other gender. There is always enough equity available for all.

We must just move forward together.

[End Speech]

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