Friday, May 01, 2009

Things I Miss about New Zealand, part 14

I miss how totally blasé New Zealanders are about the fact that they've had two elected female Prime Ministers.

Not only were they, as a nation, sufficiently progressive to elect a capable and qualified female Prime Minister (twice!)... they've even gotten over thinking there's anything unusual about it. Moreover, Kiwi news reports would focus on what Helen Clark would SAY, not what she was WEARING. Imagine!

Aside from the political sphere, New Zealand has a culture that rewards assertive women. This is likely a functional byproduct of many different aspects of NZ culture, including population, isolation, founding cultures (Maori, Pacific Islanders, British, Dutch), and interestingly, the relative lack of men.

For instance, if a (hetero) Kiwi gal is at a bar, and thinks that guy over there is cute, she can't just play with her hair and hope he comes by to say hi. Since women outnumber men, chances are other girls have spotted him too -- so if she's hoping to talk to him, she'd better hop to it before someone else beats her to the punch.

Also, I suspect the lack of men also compromised the (old/white) boys-on-top corporate model that we Canadians know so well, creating a vacuum for a few assertive, qualified women. Once those pioneers are settled, a few more women join in. Soon, a woman in charge is no more surprising than a man in charge, with *merit* being the overwhelmingly dominant evaluating factor in either case.

The equality then begins to perpetuate itself; when you're running an OECD-class country with only 4 million people, there's simply too much work needing to be done to play favourites about who does it. Man? Woman? Gay? Straight? Maori? Pakeha? Ach, who cares, just get the job done. Or, as the Kiwis say, "Give it a go!"

(Note, I am NOT perscribing having fewer men around -- I happen to be a very big fan of men. Do consider, though, that in a world with fewer princes, Rapunzel might well have figured out have save her damn self!) ;-)

In my experience, I found Kiwi culture to be, on the whole, much further along in the path to equality between the sexes. Not to say that New Zealand has everything figured out -- there are other social issues, such as racism, that Dave and I encountered much more acutely there than here -- but seeing a society in which women were that much more respected and active, I was inspired.

Men and women are different, but equal, and both have valuable contributions to any aspect of life. A profession dominated by one sex, either one, is poorer for its monoculture.

Compare that to Canada, who is comparatively backwards. Our national stance on women's rights has been crumbling in an alarming silence. I'm not sure which sickens me more -- that Bill C-10 got passed, or that I didn't hear about the (farcical) "Public Sector Equitable Compensation Act" portion until now, completely by accident. For those of you unfamiliar with this act, it revokes federal public service employees' rights to complain to the Canadian Human Rights Commission when pay equity is not honoured, and FINES unions that assist the employee. Let's think -- who is at risk for pay inequity? Working women. This is clearly a blow to closing the pay gap between men and women. Moreover, the fact that Ignatieff helped C-10 along deeply sours my hopes for him as a prospective leader.

(And furthermore, why wasn't this all front page news? Where is the outrage?)

Yep, sexual equality in Canada is a ways away yet. But I'm grateful for New Zealand, who shows us that not only can men and women work together as partners, but perhaps eventually we may not see anything unusual about it.


Anonymous said...

a big nail/spike in the Conservative coffin

Karla said...

I wouldn't be so sure as to think the Conservatives are solely guilty on this one. There is a lot of guilt to go around.

Yes, they had penned that sinister, socionormative bill, but Tories alone could not have passed it into law without Liberal help (which is precisely what happened).

Anonymous said...

You're a real 'prairie girl' with your views (which I agree with, by the way). Nellie McClung
would be proud of you!

metawidget said...

How did NZ wind up short on men? Are there lots of random bald NZ economists wandering around the rest of the Commonwealth?

Karla said...

LOL, that's a fun mental image. ;-)

Basically, a Kiwi rite of passage is the OE, otherwise known as the overseas experience. Basically, you save money by working at a decent job for 1-2 years after graduating university, and then take off for a year or more to work in Oz or the UK (where the pay is generally better).

After living abroad awhile, it seems that men are less likely to return to NZ than women, thus making a man-shortage for the post-OE age ranges.

metawidget said...

So, what you're saying is yes :)

Anonymous said...

Hi there, just stumbled upon your site looking for more images of Piwakawaka and was pleased to read your comments about NZ being onto it with equality for women and men. YAY for the kiwis! Being a kiwi myself it is nice to read something we are doing well with, and that has been noticed and appreciated. It is a step towards a better place. Pity about the racism, but all good things take time and I see it and am ashamed, however slowly I see progress there. I think as you said about our female president's not being a big deal, that is when we are focusing on the right stuff. Cheers and thanks for opening my eyes to see another good thing in my awesome country.

P.S. 4 million is plenty but we always have room for friends :)

Anonymous said...

Oh yeah, by the way, as I have learned, the piwakawaka is the messenger from the other side. Lot of people with feel very uncomfortable having a piwakawaka come inside the house. They can be bringing one of two messages. Either it is a omen there will be a death in the whanau (family or close friend) or that a loved one who has passed is sending you a message they are ok, smile...that sort of thing. Depending on the state of the fantail, depends on the message. If it is agitated, urgent and persistant it is the not so great message, if it is playful, acrobatic and not so insistent, it is the later message. All in the interpretation!

Karla said...

Kia ora, kiwi! :-D Yes, New Zealand is a country that is VERY easy to fall in love with. You guys have a lot of important things figured out... but thankfully for the rest of us, not everything! lol ;-)

If all the worlds' countries could assemble, bringing to the table their best achievements to help and inspire others, Canada might bring social/patriotic-cohesion-despite-extreme-distances, and winter jacket technology. New Zealand would bring equality between the sexes, and flat whites. ;-)