Rachel Smalley is a radio host for Newstalk ZB. Listen to her between 5am and 6am every weekday morning.

Rachel Smalley: Are you a feminist? The question many politicians won't answer

Are you a feminist? Do you believe in equality of the sexes? Photo / 123RF
Are you a feminist? Do you believe in equality of the sexes? Photo / 123RF

Now. Feminism. That word. That label. That title.

The term so many politicians grapple with.

I watched a report on Newshub last night where, to mark International Women's Day, that question was put to politicians.

"Are you a feminist?"

Stephen Joyce said he was wearing a purple tie, so he thought that might be a sign that he is.

Winston Peters wasn't sure.

Hekia Parata wasn't either.

It all comes down to the issue of definition, it seems.

Many said it depends how you define feminism.

Well, there is only one definition, isn't there? If you believe that both sexes are deserving of the same rights and opportunities in life, you're a feminist.

On that basis, I think most people would put their hand up and say "yes, I'm a feminist" wouldn't they?

So why is it such an issue? Why is it a question that many struggle to answer? I think what trips up most people is what they've historically associated with the term ''feminism''.
Bras on fire. Angry, protesting women. Hairy armpits. Man haters. The 1970s.

That was very much at a time when women were oppressed, either consciously, or unconsciously.

And change came. Change is still coming. The gender pay gap, diversity on boards: we're still working on this.

Some of our politicians say they don't like the label.

In fact, when I interviewed Paula Bennett when she became women's minister, she struggled with that question a little.

She umm-ed and ahh-ed and then she said yes, she was a feminist, but some days more than others.

Her response was similar to Hekia Parata's.

So I did a bit of a test in the newsroom. I asked Mike Hosking if he was a feminist this morning.

"Of course," he said, and then he went back to drinking his little cup of hot water with two slices of lemon (always two).

I asked his producer, Glenn, as well.

Glenn said he's not sure if he's a feminist because he thinks women are now superior to men in every way. In fact, he muttered something about not knowing why men are even here anymore: "Let's face it, you don't need us for anything!"

Then he wandered off, looking slightly glum if I'm honest.

I asked some of the guys in the sports department, too. "I haven't really thought about it," they said, and went back to watching the cricket.

But, joking aside, it's the word that polarises, isn't it? It's not what it stands for. If we're asked if we're sexist, or racist, or an atheist, we can easily answer those questions.

If we're asked "are you a feminist" then what we're really asking is "Do you believe that men and women should have equal opportunities?"

Is it important to define yourself one way or the other? No. Not for Jo Blogs. But if you're a politician, I think it is. If you're making decisions and creating policies and helping to steer the course of the country, then I think you should answer that question.

Are you a feminist? Do you believe in equality of the sexes?

Yes or no? Quite why so many of our politicians see that as a potentially politically-damaging question is beyond me.

- NZ Herald

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Rachel Smalley is a radio host for Newstalk ZB. Listen to her between 5am and 6am every weekday morning.

Rachel’s career in journalism is extensive. She has reported from Europe, Africa, Asia and America, covering elections in Britain, the United States, France and New Zealand. She joined Newstalk ZB as host of KPMG Early Edition in 2013 and also works on TVNZ’s Sunday and Q&A current affairs programmes.

Read more by Rachel Smalley

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