Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Quick hit: Is NZ a less sexualised society for women?

A recent post from Jo Christie-Smith, a Lib Dem activist in the UK, includes the following excerpt:
I’m not long back from New Zealand plus a long weekend in Sydney. Lucky me!

But lucky New Zealanders as well. Because one of the most striking differences I noticed between the UK and NZ was that there seemed no pressure on women to be sexual objects at all times – although there did seem to be a lot of excessive baking going on.

Perhaps, they’ve yet to catch up with us, but I don’t think that’s it. New Zealand is way ahead of us in many things and especially in terms of diversity, particularly in its parliament. It’s already had two female Prime Ministers and 33.6% of it’s current MPs are female.

In fact when I spoke about how worried I was about the sexualisation of young women in the UK, they were kind of mystified - it was clearly not as much a problem there.

It is hard to say which came first.

Does New Zealand have more female MPs and therefore any over sexualisation of women and girls in public spaces has been nipped in the bud; or do more women feel able to go forward into parliament and are taken more seriously when they get there because they don’t feel any pressure to come over like a sex object?

One New Zealander that I know well, is not sure how New Zealand women became free from the need to be a sex object at all times, but thinks that it may be because women get organised in NZ. Perhaps female MPs and groups would lobby companies that wanted to produce overtly sexist and sexualised adverts and products and therefore preserve their public space for everybody, not just those who want to use sex to make money from it.

In any case, the sexualisation of young women and the pornographication of our public spaces is not inevitable; we can stop it and we can say no to handing over our public spaces to those who would be happy with the lowest common denominator.
Click through for the whole thing.

What say you, given that most of you are here in eNZed? Are we lucky?


Anna said...

The NZ I grew up in (rural, about 25 years ago) was noticably free of the sexualisation of women. That just wasn't a part of rural life in NZ - or the bit I saw. Women were workers, and were regarded as such - they were very practical in all matters, including in how they dressed and acted, and the idea of women being there to be 'decorative' was a bit foreign. There were some repressive aspects to this, but good ones too.

Things have changed, though...

Anonymous said...

When I moved from Wellington to Sydney in 2000 one thing that really hit me (so to speak) was the abundance of enhanced cleavage on display in Sydney. Sure, it's warmer so you don't get frostbite from waving your bits, but even more covered-up boobs seemed to be bigger and more forward than I was used to. I decided that the average kiwi woman wears a sports bra, and the average Sydney woman wears a wonderbra.

Things are changing in NZ, but more slowly than even in Oz.

Awful thing for me was one guy I know on a local photo forum shot one of the awful child porn catalogs for David Jones, and justified it on the grounds that he did whatever paid as long as it was legal. He couldn't afford to get a reputation for being ethical or he'd lose work.

One thing that occurs to me is less the backlash and more the power. If girls see that they really can be prime munster and see other powerful woman it becomes harder to tell them that they have to be sex objects to be noticed. Like my cousin going to a summer camp for baby feminists in Canada, coming home and saying to someone way up in the Bank of Canada hierarchy "mummy, the glass ceiling sounds like nonsense to me".


Lucy said...

I think that's true to some extent - the first-years on campus with their uniform bleached hair and hotpants make me eyeroll a lot, but for every one of them there's a girl in a rugby jersey and trackpants, or something in-between. There isn't *no* pressure to look "sexy", but there isn't a lot of it, and what there is tends to be in certain peer groups more than in society at large. But I think that's just part of Kiwis being more casual about dress overall - for both sexes.

Anonymous said...

I am more comfortable wearing my bikini on a beach in NZ than I am on a beach in Sydney. I don't feel like I'll be judged in NZ

Kimberley said...

Have lived in London for three years and definitely think NZ society puts less pressure on women wrt to this. I agree about the casual dress culture.

Jo Christie-Smith said...

Anon 1

I agree about the difference between NZ and Australia - that's where it first really struck me. I think kiwi's are a lot more casual in their dress and when I went to Sydney I really noticed that fashion, high fashion was a lot more noticeable.

So, it's more a historical thing rather than having serious female role models, is it? (as opposed just having Maggie Thatcher)

Lucy said...

Our female role-models don't tend to be models or actors, which probably helps. I definitely think it's more a case of, say, Helen Clark wearing trousers to dinner with the Queen because she'd spent her entire professional life wearing trousers, rather than Kiwi women feeling that Helen Clark doing that suddenly gave them permission to.