June 12, 2014

My Sunday at the Writers Festival: female voices

Guest post by Ella, Readers Services, Central City Library

My morning began with a thought-provoking hour listening to a discussion between passionate, “radical womanists” Alice Walker and Selina Tusitala Marsh, followed by a talk by the brilliant New Zealand neuropsychologist Jenni Ogden. Already blown away by the strong female presence at this year’s Writers Festival I headed along to “Gender Divides”, a lively discussion of contemporary feminist and gender issues by a panel of fascinating women, led by the multitalented compare Judy McGregor.

Eleanor Catton
Celebrated New Zealand writers Eleanor Catton and Ngahuia Te Awekotuku gave a local and Māori perspective on gender issues, while American entrepreneur Jessica Jackley took things more global, discussing her work with small business owners (primarily women) in the poorer parts of the world. English broadcaster Sandi Toksvig rounded out the group and was a highlight of the event. As a comedian and regular panellist on BBC quiz shows such as QI and The News Quiz Show, Sandi seemed the most at home in the panel style format of the talk. Her humour shone and her “wit, wisdom and naughtiness” kept the crowd chuckling throughout the hour.

Despite all the humour and good cheer there were serious issues on the table. Judy McGregor asked the women whether they agreed with Germaine Greer’s statement that “it’s time to get angry again”. Sandi responded with a call to arms. It’s not enough to be angry, we need to be “enraged”. The talk took on a more serious tone as we were reminded of the dire situation for women in countries like Nigeria, as well as the ingrained sexism closer to home. Air New Zealand’s latest safety video was held up as a “particularly repellent” representation of women, as were some of the billboards on Auckland’s Karangahape Road.
Sandi Toksvig

The point was made that it is time to challenge the patriarchal structures of the culture we live in, rather than making it a simple question of men versus women. Each of the women interviewed has had to deal with her fair share of discrimination. Eleanor Catton has previously spoken out about older male reviewer’s reactions to The Luminaries and their attitudes towards women’s writing in general, and reiterated her point that in our culture there is a structural bias against female artists. These biases tend to exist across the board. Sandi Toksvig recounted similar experiences from within broadcasting; Jessica Jackley spoke about the difficulties for women to get funding for business ventures, due to the fact that most investors are middle aged, Caucasian males who tend to invest in those they can relate to. Ngahuia Te Awekotuku discussed gender equality in a marae context and issues surrounding this. She also brought gasps from the audience when she recounted the story of how racism had her expelled from Rotorua High School at age 12. 
Like much of the festival, the crowd was dominated by women; the group in the packed out ASB theatre was particularly vocal and responsive and the atmosphere was warm and welcoming. Judy McGregor closed the session by asking the women for the advice they would give to a twelve-year-old girl. Ngahuia Te Awekotu began, telling us “Never lose hope, always be hopeful.”. Eleanor Catton followed by asserting “You can do things you’ve never seen done before.” From Jessica Jackley came the advice, “There are very few rules that cannot be broken.”. Sandi Toksvig rounded things off with her two pieces of advice: “Being a grown up is better” and on further reflection “Look to the past and you will have the brightest future”.

My Sunday at the Writers Festival was a day filled with strong female voices that left me feeling inspired, energised and hopeful.

Ditulis Oleh : Karen Craig // 21:56


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