The Rt Hon Dame Patsy Reddy was in Wanaka last weekend and took the opportunity to impart wisdom to students from Mount Aspiring College.
The Governor-General and husband Sir David Gascoigne were making a three-day visit to Queenstown and Wanaka to focus on the arts, sustainability and tourism. After attending a performance by baroque superstar Jordy Savall, at the Lake Wanaka Centre, Dame Patsy met with students at the Wanaka Yacht Club.
The theatre group were rehearsing ‘Permission to Speak’; an honest, personal series of monologues which speak the truth on subjects from feminism, to gender, body image and equality. The play is one of the many theatre performances on offer with the Festival of Colour.
Whilst issues facing teenagers today may seem a world away from issues in the 1970s when Dame Patsy was a student, she confirms otherwise.
“[These are] the same messages as I would have given when I was that age,” said Dame Patsy. “But when I was that age I had neither the chance nor the stage to say it.”
One current theme was articulated by Jessie McKenzie who questioned the blatant sexism all around her. She can stand up for herself at school but at home? “Why can’t I stand up to sexism from my dad?”
McKenzie questions why standing up to people closest to us is often the hardest thing to do and in today’s fractured environment where racism and sexism cause deep divisions, Dame Patsy had some wise words: “Some of the language [today] has changed such as ‘cis’ or ‘trans’ but the issues were the same and not much has changed at all. To those young people who are afraid to call out sexism or racism at home with their family, please know that there is strength in numbers. Please understand you are not alone when you call these things out--and please do! Call them out.”
Dame Patsy also urged students to not be afraid to own the word ‘feminist’.
“When I was a student in the 1970s it was the second wave of feminism and people were starting to take note of the New Zealand feminist movement. We thought we had a breakthrough with equal pay legislation in 1975 but then we got into our jobs and worked for a few years. When I looked up and looked around, there were no women anywhere,” she said.
Of New Zealand’s 24 Governor Generals, Dame Patsy is only the third woman. Of all of New Zealand’s Chief Justices, there has only been one woman. Equality, according to Dame Patsy, has definitely not arrived yet.
As for mansplaining and being talked over, she says emphatically, “Being talked over in the workplace? I know exactly how that feels.”
“The resurgence of feminism now can’t be stopped. And we have to recognise how feminism works for minorities because one young Asian woman said to me, it is not a glass ceiling, it is a concrete ceiling. So we have a lot of work to do.”
‘Permission to Speak’ is on until April 7 at the Wanaka Yacht Club. Tickets are available from the Festival of Colour box office at the Lake Wanaka Centre.