From paleo princesses to PowerPoint psychopaths, Kiwi women reveal what gets on their nerves

Christine Fletcher

I can't help but notice the emerging generation of stylish mothers, with designer baby buggies and children who stride purposefully along the beach, sternly reprimanding folk like me about dogs and leads, yet walking past and ignoring the carelessly-strewn glass and plastic litter on the beach.

These power gals can be downright bossy about all manner of things, yet oblivious to the fragile environment surrounding them. Other people's litter appears not to be their problem.

It is also concerning that while these paleo-princesses are snubbing sugar, applying sunscreen and sporting Karen Walker sunglasses on themselves and their children, they are not encouraging their children in the serious business of unstructured play that creates learning.

Perhaps I'm old fashioned, but it's also concerning tome to observe families arriving at the beach with cartloads of expensive and distracting toys; I wonder - what about a child's chance to discover the world around them?

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I am concerned that these children are denied the experience for fear of the odd tumble or soaking. Kids only need a bucket and spade and some freedom to go for it. They might get a little colour from the sun from being allowed the freedom to roam from dawn until dusk, but they will be gathering invaluable life experience. Growing and learning involves eating a bit of sand along the way.

We need to give our children experiences that might seem a little bit risky in a relatively safe environment, says Christine Fletcher. Photo / Natalie Slade
We need to give our children experiences that might seem a little bit risky in a relatively safe environment, says Christine Fletcher. Photo / Natalie Slade

These paleo-princesses are snubbing sugar, applying sunscreeen and sporting Karen Walker sunglasses on themselves and their children.

I've put a rope swing in front of my place for kids to use. And from where I'm sitting, I can see where a nice neighbour has put a floating pontoon on a mooring so the children can swim out to it.

Council hasn't been involved with this, but I am aware ofwhat its response will be if someone is hurt, and consequently there are signs all over the pontoon saying "Climb on this at your own risk". I thought it was only in litigious America that people had become so risk-averse.

We need to give our children experiences that might seem a little bit risky in a relatively safe environment.

They know by swimming out to the pontoon there will be an element of fear. They can't walk to it, and they're not wearing life jackets.

But that is the sort of experience that provides integral and all important life skills necessary for a Kiwi way of life.

Margaret Wilson

The personal and societal cost of sexism is enormous, says Margaret Wilson. Photo / Claire De Barr
The personal and societal cost of sexism is enormous, says Margaret Wilson. Photo / Claire De Barr

Because I had cancer when I was 17, I never imagined what it would be like to be old. I sometimes feel I have raced through life to get everything done before death happens.

I therefore do not worry too much about being old because I feel I have been living on borrowed time.

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I realise, however, ageing has its positives and negatives. I have two 92-year-old parents, and know getting old can be tough and takes much courage. Personally I'm in a good space, however. Although the time that is left to me is constantly becoming shorter, I feel I've got more time, because I'm not as worried about things as I was once.


Young women are still treated as sex objects;
still receive unequal pay.

For example, I feel much more freedom to be plain-speaking. When you're involved in any form of public life you are constrained in all sorts of ways. If you want to be effective you have to be strategic in what you say and do,which means there are many things you won't say or do that you would like to. You have to be honest, but have constraints. It's probably worse today because the likes of social media mean opinion trumps facts and perception reality.

Finally, the continuing lack of gender equality bemuses me. I ask myself, after 40 years of struggle in this area, what more must women do to be fully contributing members of our society?

We have proved that with better education and opportunities we have the right to be treated with respect, which includes being treated equally no matter what our role. Yet young women are still treated as sex objects; women still receive unequal pay; sportswomen are judged on appearance and not performance; the role of mothering still lacks respect and support; and women are still not safe from violence in our own homes. The personal and societal cost of sexism is enormous.

I guess it means the task of us women of a certain age is incomplete, and we need to use our experience to continue to change society. I had thought us feminist baby boomers may be able to rest a little as we advanced in years. I fear our task is not done.

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Glenda Hughes

People who actually know what they're talking about don't need a script, says Glenda Hughes.
People who actually know what they're talking about don't need a script, says Glenda Hughes.

A business trend that lets people avoid responsibility is PowerPoint. These presentations are almost always developed by the presenter to pre-empt any form of constructive discussion or opportunity to contest the points being made.

You fire up your PowerPoint, flip through the slides and get to your conclusion. No one gets a chance to discuss it because, where you used to have to pause for breath, you now click from one slide to another.

This is perfect for inauthentic people. People who actually know what they're talking about don't need a script.

I don't like anything where someone has tried to put something in place to control my response and limit my ability to assess and analyse.

The main offenders are people who suffer from entitleitis - a word I've invented that I hope will spread. This is a condition found especially in businesspeople who, no matter how ordinary and untalented they really are, think that if they get a certain position, status or title it entitles them to certain rewards and privileges.

Some of those people are quite possibly psychopaths. Charisma is a common quality in psychopaths, as is skill at presentation management, which used to come up often at Parole Board hearings. The prisoner would have rehearsed his answer to every question you could possibly ask. My job then became to ask the totally unexpected question, at which point the prisoner's well-rehearsed presentation fell to pieces.

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It's worth remembering that psychopaths often possess these qualities, which also make them likely to succeed in business. I get angry that people think all the psychopaths are in prison, because my experience has been that they are everywhere.

Dame Pieter Stewart

Slack manners is something that really bugs me, says Dame Pieter Stewart.
Slack manners is something that really bugs me, says Dame Pieter Stewart.

Although language is always changing and expanding, I feel it's not only the phonetics of often familiar words that are changing quickly but also the accepted grammar.

Many of the changes today come from the richness of the multicultural society we live in, with words from other languages finding their way into the common English language. There is a melding of different ways and different language and we have had the privilege of having many people of different cultures involved with our family. All have their own way of saying thank you, showing respect, eating, etc - things we all enjoy.

But, although I'm no journalist, when did "sompthink", "nothink" and "anythink" become part of the English vernacular? It grates to read emails, sometimes from our office, when "your" should be "you're", "there" should be "their", "too" should be "to". And when did New Year become "New Years"?! Though long ago, I still remember school days where these simple rules were drummed into us, I wonder what rules are now important.

Once again, slack manners is something that really bugs me. It doesn't take a lot to be respectful and polite, and that's what manners really are.


When did 'sompthink', 'nothink' and
'anythink' become part of the English vernacular?

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In many situations, an email or text will suffice to thank someone, but few people find the time to write what we always termed "bread and butters" - thank you letters. But written letters to acknowledge gifts or congratulations for a special occasion I believe are still in order. I hope all my children still do this, even if it takes them a long time.

We have taught our children basic table manners and all are now trying to teach our grandchildren. Things such as holding a knife and fork correctly (penning a knife is very irritating) and not starting a meal until everyone has their food. Placing the knife and fork correctly to indicate you have finished a meal, and if someone is leaning all over the table, dribbling the knife and fork, I find it very hard to concentrate. I guess saying grace would put a timeline on this, but wouldn't go down that well with all our household.

But once again it probably doesn't matter, and it's clear it's not important to a lot of people.

I am a tidy freak and like straight rows of linen in the cupboard and drawers. My children make a big deal of anyone new coming to our table by showing them how I like the napkins folded - which they don't actually do themselves. I just refold them before putting them back in the drawer - old or stroppy, or both?

Jools Topp

You don't get on your horse until he can look at you for eight seconds, says Jools Topp. Photo / Michael Craig
You don't get on your horse until he can look at you for eight seconds, says Jools Topp. Photo / Michael Craig

There are only two kinds of people in the world - horsey people and not horsey people. That's black and white.

The biggest group of people getting into horse riding are middle-aged women whose kids have left home, wanted a pony when they were eight and never got one. When the kids are gone, suddenly there's a horse in the paddock and they know nothing about it or how to be around it. They tend to treat the horse like their babies.

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But that horse is a big animal that can hurt them if respect hasn't been taught. I see too many horses that are scared of their owner and scared of the saddle. It makes me grumpy when people don't take the trouble to communicate with an animal that has probably done more for us than any other animal in the world. Even a brand spanking new car is measured in horsepower. The only sporting event that can stop an entire country and make people dress up in silly hats is the Melbourne Cup.

Thousands of horses went to war for us, fought with us and lost their lives for us. As Winston Churchill said: "The outside of a horse is good for the inside of a man."

So it makes me grumpy when we let the old ways go. Lynda and I think of ourselves as old-school performers. We're not trying to be sensational, we're not trying to be outrageous with our lyrics, we're all about having the respect for what the entertainment business is about. You don't have to be technically fantastic, but we aim to be emotionally fantastic.

Lynda and Jools Topp. Photo / Michael Craig
Lynda and Jools Topp. Photo / Michael Craig

You have to work at things to get them right - entertaining or being around horses. People moan: "Things aren't good, I got bucked off my horse." Have they done anything to find out why?

My mum and dad are old-school hard workers and they made a lot of sense. Their attitude was that a young man who wants to make money can dig holes and be a millionaire. But there has to be discipline to make that happen.

The key thing is learning how to be around an animal. You don't get on your horse until he can look at you for eight seconds. Then you know he is with you and won't be leaving you.

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That's the bit that's magic. Magic is not just what magicians do. But the most amazing thing about magic is that with the right teacher, anyone can learn how to do it.

To read more, see the book Stroppy Old Women.