Saturday, 27 August 2011

Sometimes a red scarf is just a red scarf

Lately there's been a daily misunderstanding I've been striving to overcome.  Most days someone will assume I am in the NZ Labour Party.

I've signed people up to Labour (three at last count) and I've done stuff to help out (mainly by releasing my partner to do the masses of voluntary work he does for the party, or helping him to learn how to do vaguely technical online campaigning things).  I'm a member of a union (SFWU) which is affiliated to Labour, so some people reckon this makes me a member, but it doesn't really unless I choose to be active, which I don't.

The other day I was getting my photo taken by the Central Leader outside the future site of a Warehouse store in my constituency, which I've been assisting locals to oppose (on the grounds that it's a stupid place to put any big box retail, but that's a whole other blog post).   It was first thing in the morning and chilly with it, so I was wearing my black wool coat and a warm red scarf.  The photographer and journalist asked me if the red scarf was "because it is the Warehouse or because of the Labour Party."  I explained that I hadn't even thought of the Warehouse's colours, that I wasn't in the Labour party, and that actually it was because black next to my face makes me look really washed out in photos.  We all laughed about it. 

I've had this scarf since before I met my Labour partner, I think; it was a present from my Mum years and years ago.*  Twice in the last fortnight other people have assumed I'm Labour** based on said scarf.  On other occasions the nominal reason for the assumption is a red jumper or hand-bag or shoes.

Two things:
  1. The colour red does not belong to the Labour party.  In other contexts it might be assumed I'm in the Bloods, or supporting the Dragons.  How come when I wear green no one assumes I'm Green?***
  2. Because really the assumption is not about the scarf, or the jumper or the shoes or the handbag.  It's about who my partner is; i.e. a prominent Labour person.  
Interestingly, when I was very active in the Alliance, including being on the National Council, co-convenor of the youth wing, and an election candidate, no one ever assumed my partner (the same person as now) was a fellow party member.  Partly because it was commonly known he was in Labour, but also, I think, because there was a respect and assumption that he might have different political affiliations from me.

I don't entirely mind the Labour assumption.  I spend a lot of time with Labour people,**** and I have to say my local government electoral success was in large part a result of a lot of hard work from Labour supporters and members, who campaigned for me even though I wasn't one of their own.

But I do find the gender difference intriguing.  As is the label that I'm a "politician's wife".  I've been involved in politics since well before I met my partner.  If you want to get technical, I was a politician before he was by some measures, and started at the same time by others.  For several years now it's been clear that his political future, in terms of limelight, may be more significant than mine, but that doesn't reduce me to an appendage clutching my pearls on the sideline while my man does the real work. He definitely doesn't see me that way and neither do I.

*  Thinking back I suspect she gave it to me to get me to stop wearing my North Harbour scarf incessantly. 

**  I'm not Labour but I am definitely in the labour movement.  The difference is very clear in my mind.
***  Although someone did say I was "looking very National Party today" last week because I was wearing blue tights.  And here I thought I was looking like a Blue Stocking.  
****  Yes some of my best friends are in the Labour party.


Sue Moroney said...

Why has it been clear for several years that his political future is more significant than yours? how does that work?

Julie said...

Well it's been more significant to date, in terms of column inches anyway (which is what I mean by "limelight"). There's no reason to think that'll change in the near future, although frankly I think we're both making pretty big contributions, in our own ways. And that will continue, but I don't think it's unreasonable to think he'll get more media ("limelight") than me in the next few years at least.

Julie said...

As for who will leave the more significant political legacy, well 1. it's not really a competition and 2. we'll be lucky if we could tell that in our lifetimes and 3. most political changes are a team effort, engaging hundreds if not thousands in making positive shifts. If by the time I retire from political activism we have a better abortion law, routinely elect 50% or more women MPs, and have fair employment relation laws then I'll be stoked to have played a part.

Jackie Clark said...

If it's any consolation, Julie, one of my dearest friends wears a lot of red, and you couldn't get more of a National groupie if you tried. (Yes, we have some interesting political discussions.)

Deborah said...

I remember a few years back you commenting somewhere, perhaps in conversation, that sometimes when people worked out that you blog, they would ask if your partner minded, but never the reverse i.e. people asking you if you minded about him blogging. Same sort of thing i.e. in a heterosexual couple, a woman being expected to follow and go along with her partner's activities, but not vice versa.

Gina G said...

As you know, to routinely elect 50% or more women MPs (and have a better abortion law), I need (we all need) good pro-choice women to stand for selection, in seats and the list of the NZLP.

Julie said...

Agreed Gina, which is why I went along to the NZLP women's candidate fundraiser last week. This isn't really a post about why I'm not in the Labour party (which would be boring and counter-productive) but about how there seems to be an assumption that if my partner is Big L Labour then so am I. I'll be giving my party vote to Labour for the first time ever this year (unless the Greens are on the threshold) and I've been answering thus whenever I've been polled. I really respect a lot of the Labour people I've met, yourself included, and one day maybe I'll be in boots and all, but right now I'm not.

katy said...

Interesting! I have been involved in the Green Party as an organiser for four years since coming back to NZ and in that time (which has included two election campaigns) I have noticed that people assume he would also vote Green and provide active support to our campaigns much more than they would assume him to have different political values (if you know what I mean). Not sure if that is because as an Asian immigrant he couldn't have a mind of his own, or because people think the values that drive my involvement with the Greens are so fundamental I would share them with my partner?

katy said...

(he being the hubster)

Foggy in Nelson said...

Julie, you'll be pleased to hear that everyone assumes my partner votes Labour due to me and my affiliation (which is true, but still, the assumption sux). Not that I am at all trying to disprove your point! :-)