June 08, 2014

Auckland Writers Festival 2014: Eleanor Catton, Jessica Jackley, Ngahuia Te Awekotuku and Sandi Toksvig in "Gender Divides"

Guest post by Angela, Readers Services, Central City Library.

I settled in with the packed crowd at the ASB Theatre for what I was sure would be an entertaining and informative discussion on the gender divide and I definitely wasn’t disappointed. Dr Judy McGregor led the discussion with Man Booker Prize-winning author Eleanor Catton; broadcaster, comedian and writer Sandi Toksvig; former academic and author Ngahuia Te Awekotuku; and entrepreneur Jessica Jackley.

All of the panellists came to the topic from different perspectives. Jessica Jackley, a social fundraising entrepreneur, talked about the lack of access poorer women in the third world have to finance and loans and how micro-financing platforms can help them start small businesses. This wasn’t something I’d thought too much about, but she talked about how giving women the ability to earn money helps increase the prospects of children in poorer parts of the world and helps narrow the economic gender divide.

Ngahuia Te Awekotuku talked about traditional gender roles on the marae and how, on some marae, women don’t have speaking rights. She also lamented that Maori women are underrepresented in Maori academia. The women do most of the academic research but it is the men that get the jobs. Ngahuia and Judy laughed at the fact that they both had the distinction of being expelled from Rotorua Girls High, though Ngahuia’s recollections of the racism she experienced there from the teachers was horrifying and sad.

Eleanor Catton was asked to comment on the uproar her comments about male reviewers had caused. She clarified that it was more about the disparity in the number of male book reviewers to female and that books written by men are more likely to be reviewed by well-known publications than books written by women. She also discussed the extra pressure put on women to represent their gender as a whole, not just themselves.

Sandi Toksvig also talked about this pressure: you feel as a female comedian that you have to be funny, or otherwise people will say that women just aren’t funny. Another topic she discussed was the ageism experienced by women in the broadcasting industry; most of the female presenters on British television are young and women seem to be let go once they reach a certain age. Sandi was a delight, I remember seeing her on various British comedy shows when I lived in Britain and she’s just as funny as I remember. She brought a great levity to the discussion.

All-in-all it was a fun and inspiring talk. The panellists also discussed the female thinkers who inspired them, the pressure put on women about their appearance and the inherent biases in their respective fields. I found it thought-provoking and thoroughly enjoyable.

Ditulis Oleh : Karen Craig // 21:00


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