BY DEBORAH GRACE HADY
The museum might close at 5 pm normally, but on some special nights, Auckland Museum comes alive. LATE brings together inspiring and intelligent people from various walks of life, unpacking various topics. Tonight, we were discussing the #metoo movement, a movement that first started as a hashtag, and has become a global symbol against sexual assault and harassment.
The night complemented the well-curated, interactive exhibition currently showing at Auckland Museum titled “Are we there yet? Women and Equality in Aotearoa”. The exhibition displays powerful photographs of how far women have come since the suffrage and discusses how much further we still have to go. It was highly engaging, inviting the audience to write their thoughts, choose their causes, share compliments with strangers and even confess their sins. It came with shocking statistics and empowering quotes. With Instagram-worthy photo walls and using Facebook as a media to present stories, the exhibition proves that museums are not boring, and women’s rights in NZ are not just old news only adults should care about, but something that the youth has to get involved in.
This sentiment is echoed by the panellists at the smart talk, 5 very intelligent and passionate people who shared their own personal experience with #metoo and what this movement meant to them, particularly in regard to their workplaces, their professional lives and their personal lives. The panel, moderated by Noella McCarthy, consisted of journalist Kristy Johnston, Rhonda Tibble, Henry Law, and Zoë Lawton. Before the panel, we were treated to a performance by Saraid Cameron titled “Drowning in Milk”, an honest, thought-provoking piece about her struggles as a female, and as someone coming from mixed ethnicity. She pours shots for you as she monologues about the discrimination and harassment she faces – these aren’t in the past, some happened to her just last week. Then, straight into the talk.
Noelle introduced the panellists – all of which have made waves and impacted lives, whether through their teachings, their journalist stories, their blogs, or through satirical parody videos. One of the things that really stood out to me was Rhonda’s brilliant, highly thought-provoking answer to whether she was a feminist. She proudly explained whakapapa, having come from a long line of inspiring Wahine Maori leaders balanced that with her humble understanding of women’s need of feminism as a tool to get through the struggles of daily lives. She was a confident speaker who brought a depth into the panel, sharing Te Ao Māori views on feminism and the #Metoo movement and the disparities that Maori women face. She also explained Māori stories and recounted the intergenerational sexual harassment than women have always faced but told of how powerful Māori women have continued fighting against that.
Zoë’s blog “All This Shit Is Crazy” and her legal research work shone light into the stories of women. So often the statistics we hear get lost amongst all the other facts and figures we’re cramming into our brain. While the cold hard data can be frightening, she reminds us to remember the stories behind these numbers, and the importance of providing an avenue to speak up and a voice for women. Her blog, https://www.zoelawton.com/metoo-blog.html, provided an anonymous and safe way for law students and professionals, in particular, to share their stories on sexual harassment. The blog showed just how ingrained this culture of sexual bullying and sexism was in a professional workplace, and the breadth of sexual harassment that people experienced was shocking. It gained massive coverage nationally and led to hate emails and threats, but Zoë continues to bravely speak out for women and #metoo.
Henry Law, a 5th-year law student whose shared insights on men and the #metoo movement, the news that broke this year on sexual harassment at Russel McVeagh. He stresses that “This is not just a Russel McVeagh problem or other law firm’s problem”, but that sexual harassment and discrimination against women was endemic in our society. He explained “the lad culture” and how it is so easy for men to turn a blind eye or be oblivious to the discrimination that their women peers face, too often distracted by the exciting promise of new careers. Despite his young age, his creativity as Wellington Law Revue Director led to “New Rules”, a satirical parody that allowed the students to take a stand against the sexual bullying that occurs in their workplaces, in particular, the harassment young women lawyers faced. The video is a must watch, exploring the sexual bullying that women in workplaces have.
Kristy Johnston recounted a story of how publishing a piece on harassment during a night out led to hundreds of hate emails, tweets, and rape threats. “What all of us is trying to do is difficult”, she said, explaining the myriad of barriers and obstacles victims of rape and sexual harassment had to go through just to get their stories heard, much less believed. Her journalism work in bringing light to stories of sexual violence and harassment has to be commended. It is certainly courageous and reminds us of the importance of good investigative journalism to change our society, from the legal system to workplace policies, and our own personal behaviours and attitudes. She was insightful and knew just how hard it was for women to be heard, especially ethnic minorities and those facing racial or socioeconomic discrimination.
The panel all concluded that we have to “believe women” and “be kind to them”, something that we can all practice in our daily lives. The discussion was so interesting and engaging that we, unfortunately, ran out of time quickly, and there was only a short period of opportunity for questions and discussions from the floor. It was a real shame as it was a really cool space and forum to hear different views on the movement, and perhaps share more practical ways to keep the momentum alive. As the next generation, we need to ensure that this hashtag translates into real, tangible things, whether changes in law or workplace policies, to further women’s progress in NZ.
Check out http://www.aucklandmuseum.com/ for more LATE events and the #metoo movement on your social media!
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