Women for Aotearoa: feminism and Maori sovereignty.
|Abstract:||A 1993 publication of women's organizations in New Zealand excluded Women for Aotearoa. The group, which had members with varying feminist backgrounds, was formed as an offshoot of another publication that dealt with Maori sovereignty. Meanwhile, Pakeha feminists considered Maori sovereignty as critical. The Pakeha attitude is conditioned by the development of Marxist thought in the feminist movement.|
Philosophy, Marxist (Analysis)
Maoris (Demographic aspects)
|Publication:||Name: Hecate Publisher: Hecate Press Audience: Academic Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Women's issues/gender studies Copyright: COPYRIGHT 1994 Hecate Press ISSN: 0311-4198|
|Issue:||Date: Oct, 1994 Source Volume: v20 Source Issue: n2|
The impetus for this paper, prepared for the Women's Studies
Association Conference in Wellington in 1994, came after the publication
in 1993 of Anne Else's book, Women Together: A History of
Women's Organisations in New Zealand,(1) which did not include
Women for Aotearoa. The paper concentrates on providing a history of the
activities and political position of the group, relates them
ideologically to the concept of Maori sovereignty, and seeks an
explanation for our exclusion from Anne's book in the largely
ignored position of Marxist feminist theory of Aotearoa/New Zealand.
Ten women met in Ponsonby, Auckland, on 17 August 1982 to discuss Donna Awatere's article on Maori sovereignty, which had appeared in the June issue of Broadsheet.(2) The women were Marvin Allen, Margaret Crozier, Camille Guy, Wendy Harrex, Joce Jesson, Alison Jones, Jill Newall, Gay Simpkin, Kitty Wishart and Jenefer Wright. Seven of those women - Alison, Camille, Gay, Jenefer, Jill, Joce and Marvin - continued to meet intensively, with other women members from time to time, until 1984 and thereafter sporadically until 1990. Women for Aotearoa was a group of women with a variety of feminist backgrounds who organised around the theory in Donna's articles. Why a group of Pakeha feminists should regard Maori sovereignty as critical, is the subject of this paper. Setting out the explanation necessarily involves an account of some aspects of Marxist feminism in New Zealand.
Donna published two further articles on Maori sovereignty in Broadsheet. They appeared in October 1982 and the January/February issue in 1983. The three articles were titled "The Death Machine," "Alliances," and "Beyond the Noble Savage" respectively. Women for Aotearoa spent the first four months of our existence reading the articles, we summarised and debated them with each other. As one member of the group puts it, reading and discussing the articles was the early focus of the group and a vehicle for arriving at some collectively held responses. Another member believes we explored Donna's articles to the limits of their potential at that time. All agree that those early days were a time of great intellectual excitement. We looked forward to the meetings and returned home drained. Later, action as well as theory became important and the group was involved in protests over Waitangi Day and in republicanism particularly in relation to the Royal Tour of Charles and Diana in early 1983.
What was it that appealed in Donna's articles and provided such stimulus? On November 11 we wrote a collective letter to Broadsheet and congratulated the magazine on publishing the Maori sovereignty articles. The contents of the letter explained our thinking thus far. We stated that Donna's totally Maori-identified politics challenged us as Pakeha feminists because for once we were forced to find our theory in New Zealand. The emphasis on Pakeha was important as that focused us on what made us New Zealanders and not how British colonial history defined us. We questioned individual property ownership and the social structures that control access to land and work. We connected this with feminist theory which we saw as relying on crutches and catchphrases such as 'the personal is political', 'women are a class', 'destroy the patriarchy', 'sisterhood is powerful'. The letter went on to state the political belief which was to distinguish our approach to anti-racism from those of many other feminist groups of that time. We said, "Effective political action comes from the proper identification of our own political interests, not from guilt." That is, we were involved with Maori sovereignty because it was in our political interests to do so not because we were outsiders feeling sorry for what we had done to Maori. We also mentioned Donna's question of a possible alliance between Maori and feminist groups, stating, "No alliance is possible until we feminists understand that Maori sovereignty is not just another issue."
We moved on to work on an article, interrupted by political action in January and April. This was published in the June 1983 Broadsheet. We wrote six individual sections which were published together under the heading "Pakeha Women Respond to Maori Sovereignty."(3) The separate responses were a sign that, despite our commitment to collective action and common interests, we still suffered from "severe problems of individualism" as we stated in the introduction. However, our pieces were all informed by communal discussion.
Jill related the ideas of Maori sovereignty to her feelings of alienation from Pakeha New Zealand culture, and its glaring societal inequalities after she returned from several years living in Zambia. She then talked about Pakeha fulfilment of the individual, versus the communal life of Maori. She wrote that there is a limit to self-analysis and self-improvement and a limit to recognising racism intellectually. Implicit in her analysis is the alienation from self brought about by capitalism and that a response arising unquestioningly from within our culture can not be radical. This viewpoint has much in common with radical feminist analysis of patriarchy.
Alison expressed this viewpoint in relating her renewed sense of political direction to the stimulation she had felt at feminism's fundamental criticism of New Zealand. She placed Maori sovereignty within the context of feminist theory. She saw New Zealand feminism as having lost its radical potential, and that Maori women radicals were transforming Pakeha society as they were transforming Maori society. Maori sovereignty was radically anti-individualist and offered all Pakeha the opportunity to develop their own identity based in the Pacific. She related the different strands to one another: "For me, the vision offered by Maori sovereignty is of a non-capitalist, community-oriented Pacific-based Aotearoa. The struggle lead by Maori women gives it its feminist potential . . ." The future must be guided by a dynamic interplay of Maori sovereignty with women's liberation. They are both total political perspectives. Feminism must not, then, relegate Maori sovereignty to the level of just another issue.
Joce set out the contradictions between Maori society and Pakeha capitalism. "The driving force of capitalism is the economic push for growth. Relationships occur through the medium of the marketplace." Therefore "being Maori means that their entire way of life is constantly being eroded by the individualist nature of society around them." As a Marxist, Joce stated her belief in change through conflict. Maori sovereignty is in opposition to British sovereignty and is therefore a call for a radical restructuring of our society. Guilt is an individual response arising out of western capitalist Christianity and has no potential for radical change.
Gay puzzled at why Donna should regard the feminist movement as a possible ally when it looked so unpromising. She drew a picture of a movement divided by theoretical differences with little constructive dialogue between them. The conclusion she reached was that Maori sovereignty forced us to face the fact that not many feminists were radical in the sense that not many realised that a challenge to the patriarchy was also a challenge to white supremacy and capitalism. Concentration on male/female oppression ignores the complexity of society. She concluded that Maori sovereignty offered us a way out of individualism as we can't overcome individualism individually. Maori sovereignty was a collective response and was using a left-wing strategy for social change. Analyse, Act, Review, Feedback, Support. Women for Aotearoa followed this strategy also in its activities over the several years it was in existence.
Camille analysed the feminist response to assertions of Maori sovereignty. To do this, she looked at correspondence to Broadsheet. She noted several divisions. There were those that responded positively and those that responded negatively. She also noted that there were those who responded personally to the Maori content and those who responded politically. She analysed this further to illustrate the negative effects of the slogan "the personal is political" on the women's movement. The personal responses were both negative, personally offended, trashed, resentful, hurt, angry at the Maori content; and positive, personally shamed about racism, ignorant and guilty. "In other words all three women focussed on their own personal and individual gut reactions to the ideas and actions of the Maori women. And stopped there." She explained that Donna's articles worked on three levels: 1) description of the damage done to the Maori people by Pakeha colonisation 2) rejection of western capitalism in its entirety 3) examination of the political dynamic of colonisation in order to derive a Maori political program. Camille concluded that many feminists grasped Donna's article on the first level, responding personally and individually, but sadly few grasped it on the second and third levels which provided a stumbling block for those who wanted to go beyond the personal to political action.
Jenefer saw the white culture that Donna portrayed as little different from the male culture which feminists reject. She addressed an issue which was becoming increasingly difficult to discuss in the wider anti-racist movement of that time. It seemed crucial that lesbian and non-lesbian feminists work together, and yet "the differences between lesbian and non-lesbian feminists can still develop into such chaos." Unless the two could learn to talk to each other constructively she felt pessimistic about a broad movement for radical social change. She ended with a plea that feminism not be left behind on the way to Maori sovereignty.
There were no responses or comments on our article when it was published. Other women did, however, express an interest in the political position we were taking and we held a couple of 'open' meetings where we talked about our ideas. Eleven women not initially associated with our group attended a meeting on Sunday 28 November, 1982. A few expressed further interest in joining our group and some formed their own. We have difficulty remembering why we didn't expand at the time. We think it may have been that we thought it would be disruptive to have new people when we were developing our ideas and moving into action. The more romantic of us think it may have been because we had a vision of 'cellgroups' splitting off from the parent in the manner of socialist tradition. Irene Johnston and Anne Salmond were both part of the group for some time during 1983/1984. Anne Magee also attended for a period of time in later years.
The appearance of the Maori sovereignty articles, the interest they engendered, and the appearance of anti-racist groups such as ours did not occur in isolation from what was happening politically elsewhere. 1981 had been the year of the Springbok tour and protests against it. By the end of the tour, those middle-class whites who were protesting had been challenged to face racism here in New Zealand by Maori protestors who had been active in earlier political movements. 1982 saw a development in awareness of Maori land claims and their relationship to the Treaty of Waitangi. Anti-racist groups amongst politically active New Zealanders were being formed not only in the feminist movement but in groups associated with the organised church and amongst those active against the Springbok Tour. In the time leading up to the Waitangi Day celebrations in 1983, a coalition of groups called People Opposed to Waitangi (POW) was formed to co-ordinate protest at the celebrations.
Because Maori sovereignty had resonated so strongly with our other political beliefs, Women for Aotearoa now felt ready to become active and work hard towards bringing about our new vision and communicating our analysis. Because there were so many other Pakeha groups active in anti-racism at the time, many of whom were feminist, I guess we had a naive belief that the time for a really radical feminism that went beyond the patriarchy and incorporated economic analysis and post-colonialism had come. Without articulating it, we believed that the logic of our analysis was so compelling that those interested in Maori sovereignty could not help but see it. Donna had taken our analysis forward, others seemed to be committed to Maori sovereignty and, we assumed, must have arrived at the same conclusions as ourselves. Alas, this was not to be and guilt and moralism about racism and its cure prevailed. After outlining our practical projects of the years 1983/1984, I will look further at this.
We became active in POW about the end of 1982 as the anti-racist movement prepared for protest on Waitangi Day 1983. The first recorded meeting we attended in the wider anti-racist movement was a meeting held at WEA "for women to discuss Waitangi." It was organised by a lesbian group against racism and addressed by Rebecca Evans. Rebecca's message was that we white women should get into groups and sort out our politics before coming to Waitangi so that the Maori didn't have to look after us. Joce took the opportunity to talk about Pakeha being concerned about British colonialism and therefore 'owning' Waitangi. This was not taken up. Jane Kelsey of Waitangi Defence Komiti asked if we wanted to form a women's coalition for Waitangi Day. Nobody else did. After this meeting we decided we should join POW. We worked quite hard within POW, and were always looking for ways we could make our contribution.
Some of us also had links with the Republican movement and it was inevitable that protest against Waitangi celebrations became linked with protest against the pending Royal Tour in March of Charles and Diana. Republicanism and Maori sovereignty had the same target for protest - continuing colonialism and institutional racism symbolised in the person of the Governor-General and other symbols such as the Union Jack on the New Zealand flag. Women for Aotearoa were active in both protests and used some of the protest material produced for Waitangi during the Royal Tour. During January, we prepared small paper New Zealand flags with the Union Jack missing. The inspiration for this came from the flags handed to children during royal tours. We gave them to children during the protest on Waitangi Day and at marches leading up to them. We ran them off on a proverbial left-wing printing press in the Jessons' garage.
Leaflets were prepared about the Treaty of Waitangi which listed information about the Treaty highlighting its use in imposing British colonialism. We made the link to the stifling of Maori language and culture ever since and ended with the paragraph: "We must build a New Zealand identity based in the Pacific. Join with Maori protestors and re-make Aotearoa." A sign of the times was that these were produced at 1 cent a page on a Gestetner. That Waitangi Day of 1983 was spent by some of us under the hot sun on the hill between the bridge and the Treaty House handing out these leaflets, pausing to talk, linking up with others of the group and POW periodically and standing in the protest group at the tense moment when young Maori confronted kaumatua and the issue was resolved peaceably.
At that time we participated in all POW meetings and continued to attend after Waitangi Day in our belief that major changes were occurring. We made a great banner in red with suffrage colours attached and Maori symbols that had been checked for cultural appropriateness - symbol of our theoretical roots and newfound synthesis of left-wing, feminist and Maori analyses. We carried the flag in the marches that were occurring in the time leading up to Waitangi Day in the hope that others would join us and identify with our political position. One of us remarked recently that they thought women did march behind our banner, to which another replied: "Yes, but probably inadvertently." Cynicism aside, there were a few women who related to our approach and who wanted to find a response other than guilt to the accusations of racism from Maori. We carried the banner on the Ponsonby/Karangahape Road march on 3 February and at Okahu Bay and round the bays organised by the Churches on 6 February. The first time we carried it the wind held it back so we had to cut holes in the vowels to let the wind through so it wouldn't act as a windbreak.
We produced a reading list for those who wanted to know more about the issue of Maori sovereignty. At this time also we started Maori conversation at the beginning of all our meetings. Some of us were involved in a soup kitchen in April held to draw attention to the visit of Prime Minister Muldoon to one of the more expensive hotels in town. This is remembered as a very positive experience in the midst of the difficulties experienced in acting within POW.
POW continued through the Royal Tour but, by the end of 1983, had largely served its purpose. The tensions of differing political positions became more open after the Royal Tour. By 29 May they were so bad that the Pakeha were sent away to sort ourselves out. A large meeting of all the Pakeha groups involved in POW and anti-racism was held in Knox Hall in Parnell. We were given 10 minutes each to explain our position on anti-racism. Attending were the Republicans, Women for Aotearoa, HART, WCL, ARM, ACCORD, Churches Action Committee, Nuclear Free and Independent Pacific Movement, an informal group of lesbians, and some individuals. For Women for Aotearoa, the difference between our perspective of our own political interest and the moralistic approach of others was shown again in the questions asked of us. What accountability did we have to Maori groups and did we have a Maori monitoring group? How could we work together if we had no one ideological position? What about other racial minorities? Was this just an intellectual exercise for us or did it affect everything we did daily? Other tensions between and within other groups were also apparent and the meeting collapsed, literally in a terrible scene. POW was never the same after that and Women for Aotearoa attended only sporadically with steadily decreasing optimism about radical change in the anti-racist movement and amongst feminists. Two of us in January 1984 attended a weekend in the Waitakeres of Women Opposed to Waitangi with similarly dispiriting results. We came to expect the derision with which our ideas were normally met. In retrospect, it was probably because very few people related to our ideas that they were ignored.
The members of Women of Aotearoa were interviewed for this paper and almost all commented on how wearing it was continually to put an unpopular point of view within the group of those who were most logically our allies. As one said, we tended to get offside with just about everyone. The Maori in POW gave us a real dressing-down once for not being prepared to be cannon fodder. Because other groups were prepared to be penitent about racism they tended to be more acceptable to the Maori within POW. We saw guilt as the easy position to take and would argue our position in the increasingly hopeless belief that politics was about debating and compromising in order to be able to act together. This belief was overwhelmed by the moral one that there was a correct line and all should be brow-beaten into submitting to it. Unfortunately, all the Pakeha groups in POW had different correct lines so the moral approach led to political paralysis.
Another Women for Aotearoa member describes our uncomfortable position at that time as one of constantly being in the position of 'the other.' Maori saw us in terms of a Pakeha racist stereotype. The Churches and others saw us as refusing to atone for past guilt. Other feminists likewise adopted guilt as their political stance and could not relate to the economic and materialist strands of our analysis. The Communist parties could not relate to our feminist beliefs, and could not understand why we gave Maori sovereignty pride of place over class. We acted as a constant irritant to others. Alison was, however, asked to chair the Parnell meeting which we took as a sign of respect and faith, at least in Alison, so we probably do tend to remember only the more negative aspects of holding an unpopular position. One of us at least believes we were leaders within POW at that time because we had a sounder basis for our activity.
We retreated to the group and looked elsewhere for places to put our energy. Joce ran a magical history tour round places of historical colonial interest in Auckland for Waitangi Day 1984. Jill created some pictorial explanatory charts pinned to notice boards about the Treaty. We took these to Vulcan Lane and discussed them with passers-by on several late shopping nights in the time leading up to the 1984 Waitangi Celebrations. This was the year of the hikoi. We were asked to select photographs and write the captions for Donna's Maori Sovereignty book to be published by Broadsheet. We regarded this as an honour.
In early 1984 we began researching material for a play or film script. We talked to Don Selwyn, Tony Thompson, Mervyn Thompson, Merata Mita and Geoff Murphy about using the material. To our pleasure and dismay, Don wanted a script within two weeks and we had to point out we were researchers, not script-writers. We met with Merata and Geoff several times and they were enthusiastic but vague. Mervyn Thompson was very interested. We all began to undertake sections of research with the aim of highlighting the colonial nature of the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi. Alison researched in the Hocken Library when she was down in Dunedin. This project was brought to an abrupt halt when Mervyn Thompson was tied to a tree. In this latter period of intellectual endeavours, Anne Salmond was part of the group.
In July 1984 the Labour Government came to power, and issues other than Maori sovereignty began to claim the attention of everyone. Women for Aotearoa continued to meet for many years after this, but never reached the same level of activity. Camille's article, "Getting Away from Racist Guilt," published in Broadsheet in September 1986,(4) is a good summary of the position of Women for Aotearoa and its differences from other parts of the women's movement in New Zealand.
In order to understand the rapidity with which Women for Aotearoa identified with Maori sovereignty and also our faith in the validity of our arguments it is necessary to look at the history of the women concerned in the Women's movement and our political beliefs generally. All of us agree that there is no doubt that a Marxist feminist theoretical position dominated the group, although only four out of the seven would have termed themselves such. A fifth would have moved to that position from a radical-feminist perspective fairly rapidly. A sixth was another radical feminist and the other would term herself a liberal feminist then and a liberal feminist now. The latter two are particularly interesting because they seem to demonstrate that while there is no necessary link between Maori sovereignty and Marxist feminism, nor does espousal of other feminisms exclude an analysis which perceives the limits of guilt as a motivator for action. Nor does it preclude an analysis which perceives the limits of patriarchy and feminism as a world view and that other factors must be considered in order to explain such things as institutional racism. Hence, our puzzlement at why women's liberation at large did not relate to our analysis.
In many ways it is not surprising that we should find our views so closely matching Donna's arguments. In 1971, Joce and Donna were both members of Women for Equality, a group of socialist women who believed that the liberation of women would only be successful within a socialist society. Their analysis therefore laid emphasis on economic issues and the position of women in capitalist society. Donna's paths and those of three of us often crossed throughout the 1970s as we periodically found ourselves attending the same Marxist study groups, both within the loose Republican group and sometimes those run by socialist party groups such as the Socialist Action League.
Some of us had been involved with radical feminism in the early 1970s, but increasingly felt the need to return to socialist or Marxist roots to rectify an analysis of the world based only on patriarchy. We were part of a Marxist study group in 1976/77 in which we read Marx and discussed the first two volumes of Das Kapital. While it was a group of men and women, it was dominated by the strong feminist women who returned with confidence and assertion from consciousness raising groups to take up their rightful place in left-wing groups on their own terms rather than those set by the men. The most useful part of these discussions for us was encountering in Marx a description of capitalist society not based on moral rectitude. As Camille put it, "what Marx claimed was that Western capitalist societies could no longer be understood in terms of the oppression of one group by another. Though appropriate for feudalism, personal oppression wouldn't work as a basic explanatory principle, whether of rich over poor, of white over black, or of men over women. Instead Marx described a society based on the impersonal economic mechanism of capital, driven by its own momentum and out of our control. He took an amoral view of it, arguing that exploitation wasn't the result of injustice or wickedness, but was what the system required."
It was at this stage we started to call ourselves Marxist feminists to distinguish ourselves from those who called themselves socialist feminist. In New Zealand, socialist feminists came almost exclusively from the organised Communist parties and groups such as Socialist Unity Party, Workers Communist League and Socialist Action League. We would have perceived the political analysis of these groups as limited in terms of Marx's own analysis. Marx rejected anarchism, utopian socialism and his own earlier thinking of the Communist Manifesto. The Communist parties espoused analysis developed from the Communist Manifesto, be it Lenin, Mao or whatever. Interestingly, this distinction by us between socialist and Marxist feminism appeared to be accepted by the women's movement. During the discussion at the Piha Conference(5) as to whether or not to expel the SAL women, termed "the socialist women," we were not under scrutiny. If I remember the 'discussion' right, the grounds for expulsion would have been their involvement with male theory. We Marxist feminists were certainly just as theoretically contaminated by men. Maybe we were more 'respectable' because we were active in other radical feminist activities although so were many of the socialist feminists. In the UK and Australia this distinction does not seem to have been necessary, as socialist feminism has a very proud and significant place in the development of feminist theory in both countries.
This Marxist feminist history meant not only a rejection on our part of guilt and moralism as a guide for action and theory, but it also meant we had experience of considering different 'oppressions' and trying to make sense of them in a theory of capitalist society. We were familiar with the tripod theory of oppression, a theory which argued that capitalism rested on the triple oppressions of class, race and sex. Donna's Maori sovereignty cut through the tripod theory and presented a theory of New Zealand society that not only incorporated the isms but provided a common way forward for all, via Maori sovereignty.
The vigour with which Maori sovereignty was pursued by Women for Aotearoa was also related to the events of the Piha Conference in 1978, a turning point for New Zealand feminism, when the different divisions of the movement met each other head on. Camille, who had been active in various radical feminist activities such as abortion and who had been part of the Marxist study group, decided she would like to take Marxism back into the feminist movement. She initiated a conference which came to be known as the Piha Conference, and an organising committee was set up. Camille's thoughts at that time were that it would be interesting to test the different strands of feminist thought against one another and that much could be gained from constructive debate. Little did she anticipate that, while several exciting strands of feminist theory did come to fruition at that time, the result would not be creative debate but personal trashing. Both Camille and Joce had written papers for the conference, Camille's on Marxism and feminism and Joce's on Marxism and anarchism. Camille was prevented from delivering hers and Joce's was received less than enthusiastically. Camille's paper was denounced "as the offering of a middle-class intellectual wanker who put the thinking of a male theorist who treated his wife badly before the gut experience of women." Camille and Alison have documented the effects of the conference on feminist theory in their 1992 article, "Radical Feminism in New Zealand: from Piha to Newtown."(6) The primary theoretical outcome of the Piha Conference was to establish the ascendancy of the personal, gut perspective over a political one.
Women for Aotearoa was the first attempt by those of us with a Marxist feminist perspective to make a come-back into feminist theory. I know that I had been silenced by the repeated viciousness of response if you dared to question the prevailing feminist hegemony in the years 1978-1982. I became a closet Marxist feminist, avoided radical feminist circles and became active in a liberal feminist group, Feminist Teachers, where I did not need to keep my Marxist feminism closeted. During that time I did participate in one article for the Republican,(7) the result of the communal thinking of our Marxist study group. In it, I exorcised Piha by theorising radical feminism as necessitated by the move of middle-class women into the work force in large numbers and their needing to acquire confidence and skills in order to be able to compete with men there on equal terms. Luckily for me, no one reads the Republican.
This, then, was the atmosphere in which we gleefully greeted Donna's articles. As one of us puts it, we were survivors of radical feminism, a 'victim' support group. The most cynical perspective on our attitude towards Donna's articles would be to say that here was a Maori woman articulating all the stuff we'd been saying for years to no effect and we knew the feminist movement would be more inclined to listen to her. So it was a good idea to push. However, this would ignore the very real frontier Donna crossed with the articles.
In interview, the final analysis of its members was that Women for Aotearoa was "spectacularly unsuccessful" in influencing the politics of the day. There was an ideological struggle occurring within the radical movement which mobilised around Waitangi. Our perspective was defeated. This mirrors the previous attempts of Marxist feminism to influence feminist theory and the events of the Piha Conference. A subsequent attempt to question the moralistic approach of radical feminism was also silenced after the Newtown Socialist Feminist Conference. This time we did get to give our workshop but it was not reported in any of the publicity afterwards. This has been documented in the article by Camille and Alison.
I have attempted in this paper to document the work of Women for Aotearoa, to relate its evolution and theoretical position to Marxist feminism and to describe its invisibility within feminist theory in New Zealand. Other members of Women for Aotearoa have not written articles on feminist theory but Women for Aotearoa was equally significant for them. I will leave the last word to them.
Jenefer: "Hearing a lot more about Marxism . . . my horizons broadened. I think I felt some relief to be able to shift away from what had become increasingly a movement of moral outrage and correct thinking. It was certainly wonderfully liberating to be in a group where people could express whatever views we wanted without being jumped on for our lack of awareness or whatever. I would have become more realistic, less idealistic, have seen the value in trying to work with other groups if possible. The ideas discussed seemed more down-to-earth, practical, reasonable, than those I had been earlier exposed to. And there was the follow-through to some action arising from discussion. This seemed to lend value to the hours spent on 'ideas.' . . . I now saw more clearly the dangers of the heavily moral line. It was the only place we could safely laugh at some of the things being said in the name of feminism. I think the moral stance had always made me uneasy, but I was able to learn words to analyse it a little better."
After the Springbok tour protests, Marvin interviewed women involved for an article and came into Women for Aotearoa primarily from an anti-racist perspective. She sees the group as definitely significant in that, as far as we know, no other group discussed Donna's articles as deeply. Our achievements were in being an irritation, a prickle to others, questioners of an orthodoxy which made others think more deeply even if they didn't agree with us.
Jill believes we had a wider and deeper analysis than others. She always thought of it as a Marxist feminist group. The Marxism gave us a better understanding and it was therefore inevitable that our picture was more compelling. We were a good mix of ideas and practice. Our symbols, such as the flags and the banner were essential. They were very exciting and heady times politically, particularly in finding out about Maori culture. She had Maori friends and did not find the hostility to our political ideas uncomfortable. It was a stimulating and growing time and she is very proud to have been part of it and part of Women for Aotearoa.
(In appreciation for much, both personal and political, received over the years from my friends Marvin Allen, Camille Guy, Joce Jesson, Alison Jones, Jill Newall and Jenefer Wright.)
1. Anne Else, ed., Women Together: A History of Women's Organisations in New Zealand, (Wellington: Daphne Brasell Associates and Historical Branch, Dept. of Internal Affairs, 1993).
2. Donna Awatere's book, Maori Sovereignty, was published by Broadsheet in 1984, and included the three articles, and an additional part, "Exodus."
3. Jill Newall, et al., "Pakeha Women Respond to Maori Sovereignty," Broadsheet (June 1983).
4. Camille Guy, "Getting Away from Racist Guilt," Broadsheet (Sept 1986).
5. Women's Liberation Movement Congress, held at Piha in 1978.
6. Alison Jones and Camille Guy, "Radical Feminism in New Zealand: From Piha to Newtown," in Feminist Voices, ed. Rosemary Du Plessis et al. (Auckland: OUP, 1992).
7. Gay Simpkin, "The Problem of Marxism for Feminists," Republican (Sept 1979).
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