Saturday, 19 July 2014

Pat Rosier and Who We Remember

Pat Rosier died on 12 June. She was many things to many people and won’t be forgotten by any of them. Her death, from a heart attack at age 72, was unexpected, and it prompted an outpouring from all those whose lives she touched: both personally and politically.
Pat, left, and Prue; and Pat's son, David with partner, Julia
And it’s for both personal and political reasons that her life is important to remember; her death important to record. The personal is best left to those who knew her intimately, particularly her partner of 17 years, Prue Hyman and her son, David. I contacted Prue, wondering if it was OK to write something for The Hand Mirror about Pat: “As far as I am concerned,” she replied, “the more people write and talk about Pat the better.” The first thing you should probably read is what Prue herself has written, in a tribute titled “Pat Rosier – Shalom” and which is online at the Kapiti Independent. That piece also includes lots of links, including to Pat’s own blog and to the video of the 300-strong celebration of Pat’s life, held at Paekakariki where Pat and Prue lived together.
As Prue writes, Pat’s early life was relatively conventional. Her dad was a railway clerk, and she grew up at a time when no one in a working class family, “let alone a girl”, went to university. She married, had two children and trained as primary teacher, which was her job from 1973 to 1985. Then, something happened. Pat found Simone de Beauvoir, the Women’s Liberation Movement, lesbianism – and reinvented herself.
Pat chronicled at least part of that reinvention in the 1991 collection, Changing Our Lives: Women Working in the Women’s Liberation Movement, 1970-1990 (eds Christine Dann & Maud Cahill, Bridget Williams Books). Her entry was a spare but powerful three pages composed entirely of bullet points. Here’s a selection with ellipses indicating where things are missing (with thanks to Bridget Williams Books, Prue and Christine Dann for permission):

In 1970 I was:
• twenty-eight years old
• trying hard to be a good wife and mother, and succeeding rather better at mother than wife
• sure that men were more interesting to talk to than women, who were stuck in domestic and kid stuff (apart from one or two good friends)
• bored, bored, bored, but not recognizing it
• back-combing my hair, shaving my legs, and making my own dresses

Pat, left, and Prue
By 1980 I had:
• discovered Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex in a bookshop in Takapuna and read it with an increasing feeling that, for the first time, something made sense of my life
• bought an automatic washing-machine and a car
• realised that among women teachers I was considered opinionated and outspoken
• almost reached the end of my marriage
• noticed that there was something going on called a women’s movement and wondered how you got into it.

By 1990 I am:
• a radical lesbian feminist with both socialist and separatist tendencies
• co-editor of Broadsheet, New Zealand’s feminist magazine
• an experienced women’s studies tutor
• cynical about the media, the government and the state
• totally sick of everything to do with it being 1990, especially ‘celebrating’ a treaty that’s never been honoured
• hardly ever bored
• angry about phonecards, post office closures, user-pays education, and all the other exploitations of rampant capitalism
• more at ease with myself and my life than at any earlier time
• planning to become more outspoken and outrageous.”

It was in 1985 that Pat took over the editorship of Broadsheet magazine, getting the job after Sandra Coney stepped down, and holding it for the next six years. (She was also a co-founder of the Women’s Studies Association journal.)
Anyone wanting an understanding of the so-called “Second Wave” or “Women’s Liberation Movement” of the 70s and 80s would be well advised to spend some quality time with Broadsheet, which published its last issue in 1997 and is apparently in the queue to be digitised by the National Library. Even if you don’t have access to the magazine itself, Pat made sure there was another entry point. Been Around for Quite a While: Twenty Years of Writing from Broadsheet Magazine, (New Women’s Press, 1992) is a compilation of selected articles and brief history of the magazine’s first 20 years, edited and introduced by Pat.  
 Like the magazine it’s drawn from, the compilation is both uplifting and depressing. Uplifting for the impressive range and diversity and power of the writers and topics; depressing for how many of the issues are still with us. Or, as Pat put it in her introduction: “Few of the issues raised in Broadsheet have ‘gone away’ or in any way been resolved. New ones appear, and they all move in and out of the foreground.” Also in the intro, she chronicles some of the discussions, debates and phases, for want of a better word, that both Broadsheet and feminism went through, from abortion in the 70s (and still!), contraception, marriage
Sharon Alston's illustration of Pat's 1986 article 'Fighting Fat Phobia'
(and alternatives), child-rearing, equal pay, Māori women’s voices (and challenges to the WLM), lesbians (“with a ‘lesbian cover’ appearing in June 1973”), violence against women, rape in marriage, attacks on beneficiaries… and so it goes. In Broadsheet proper, Pat also wrote numerous feature articles, including in 1986 “Fighting Fat Phobia”, about “how hatred and fear of fat is used to control women”, and several in-depth pieces on reproductive technologies.
After leaving Broadsheet and Auckland in the 90s, Pat continued her activism and writing – turning to fiction, and eventually publishing four novels. (Details of her nine books are available here at her blog.) According to Prue, more publications are planned: “Her lesbian writing group is hoping to produce two posthumous volumes – the first their already planned group volume where they will attempt to use some of her partly written fifth novel (she and I were both convinced this would be the best – and the others were good). The second will be a book of her poetry – including some written for me and never yet published or seen by anyone else.”
Pat's 2004 novel
Those post-Broadsheet years were also marked by terrible sadness with the death in 1996 of Pat’s daughter Helen, then 32, from bronchial pneumonia. Prue quotes from something Pat wrote about this, the “saddest event in her life”:
“The death of a daughter changes my reality; everything after is different from what was before. The grief and pain are a blanket of fog for months and I welcome the fog, fear its ending. I grab and cling to the grief, the loss, the sadness — I cannot bear to lose that gnawing, grinding, consuming pain, for this is what I have of her; I must keep her always in my mind, my heart, be overwhelmed, or else she is fully lost to me… Time does go on. A year and more. The grief is just as intense, but smaller in size… I have a grief in me. My grief at the death of my daughter will not die, I will not ‘get over it’, it will not be ‘healed’ by time. She is in me for my forever, a forever I grasp fiercely, demanding joy.”

            I got to know Pat at a distance when she was editor of Broadsheet in Auckland and I was doing some writing for the magazine including a fairly short-lived “Our Woman in the House” column I wrote while working as a journalist in Wellington at the press gallery. I was insecure, she was supportive. More recently, she was just as supportive and helpful (and I was probably just as insecure) during the five years I was researching and writing my 2013 book on the abortion rights struggle, Fighting to Choose.
            Thinking about Pat these past few weeks also got me thinking about what an important role she played in the politics and culture of this country, and yet how invisible it probably is to those outside her circles. In turn, I began to wonder (yet again) how the WLM years will be remembered – or not remembered – given that we are starting to lose some of the women, like Pat, who were there.
I hope you will excuse the segue into a bit of research, but following these thoughts, I’ve started work on a longer piece about this question, (will, for example, our WLM/ “second wave” have to be “rediscovered” as the so-called first wave of feminism had to be?) and I’ve arranged a few interviews with older, middle, younger feminists. To that end, I would very much welcome any thoughts readers might have on these questions, just pop them into comments. (You can also email me directly at alisonmccull[at]gmail[dot]com)

More importantly, of course, do write about Pat. Reiterating Prue, the more people write and talk about Pat the better. (And for northern readers, a celebration of her life is planned for Auckland on Saturday August 30 at 1:30 pm . I will add location details to this post when they are available. Venue: Auckland Women's Centre, 4 Warnock Street, Grey Lynn.)
Kore rawa atu e wareware.
Above and below, flier for Pat's life celebration


Prue said...

Thanks for writing this moving tribute Alison. As a highly biased observer who cooperated on it, I think it's wonderful and hope many younger feminists and lesbian/queer women who may know little of Pat are led to think of past and present, read her work and help me ensure she and all our ideas then and now never die - and that we continue to work to make the world a better place for everyone. Love Prue

Hanzon said...

What a lovely tribute; she seems like a remarkable woman. Thanks for this beautiful and moving remembrance.
R.I.P. Pat

Ligs Hoffman said...

I didn't know Pat personally but did through her writing and as editor of Broadsheet. As a young lesbian coming out in the 1980's women like Pat were inspiring and made coming out that much easier. Her writing was powerful and made so much sense when a lot of the rest of the world didn't. I looked forward to Broadsheet eagerly each month.

Kia kaha Prue, Pat won't be forgotten


Ruma Rimu said...

Thankyou thankyou for this sharing HandMirror contributor. I was a pretty close friend of Pat's during her life here in Nelson. I was unable to attend her life celebration in Paekakariki however I hear there is to be a wee get together of bloved Pat devotees in Nelson on August 6. Like Prue said - the more that can be written and talked about over Pat the better - I'm hungry for it.
Pamela Stack