Thursday, November 13, 2008


I first remember Rosemary McLeod from my youth. She was a cartoonist and columnist for the Listener. My mother, a nascent femisist, also had a book of her collected writings. She was clearly a significant thinker, commentor and agitator for women's rights. She seemed to be able to address serious matters frankly and with humour.

Later, McLeod became a more angry voice, primarily for the Dominion. In my student politics days, she wrote a very critical piece on comments I'd made about marriages of convenience. Shortland St stars Nick and Rachel entered a marriage of convenience to obtain student allowances and I'd commented that these marriages (they did in fact exist) were "a rational response to an irrational situation". McLeod was incensed. I was selfish, naive, a thief etc etc etc. It was a slightly unhinged response.

Today McLeod gives us her judgment on Helen Clark. There's some direct praise, but it is overshadowed by comments about her marriage, her dress-sense, her academic career and her failure to have kids. It's a good piece of writing however, because it almost obscures McLeod's envy. Clark, unlike McLeod, was in the game, not sitting on the sidelines barking disapproval.

This has been what I've realised about McLeod. She disapproves. Disapproves of sexism, of course, but disapproves also of a woman who's succeeded in politics. Rather than celebrating the achievements of Clark's government, McLeod concentrates her attention on developing a catalogue of her disapprovals. This list includes a disapproval of the newly elected Member for Wellington Central because he's gay and had the audacity to pinch his partner's backside. Grant Robertson's is at the beginning of what will certainly be a successful and influential career. He'll face far sterner criticism that McLeod's. I doubt for a minute he'll be distracted by her latest gripe.

I tell my youngest to be wary of the disapprovalists. The usually insecure, rigid thinkers who need everyone to follow simple stereotypes to make themselves feel good. Fortunately for now, they are kids who are seduced by appeal of conformity, but McLeod proves they can and do grow into adults.


The ex-expat said...

I read that piece and it was the oddest piece of writing I've read.

As an aside, I've actually become concerned in the last little while about the rise of the 1950s style social conformity in New Zealand. Perhaps I viewed my home country with rose-tinted glasses while I was away but I must say, this pressure to get married, make babies and complain about the so-called pink agenda is concerning.

backin15 said...

My take was the McLeod thought she needed to say something about one of NZ's pioneering female leaders but didn't have the grace simply to say she was jealous. I'd've respected that more frankly.

I don't have a sense, anymore, of the cultural trends in NZ. My friends, almost all in Wellington, are typically unmarried and don't yet have families so I haven't experienced it. Still, there's a babyboom in Sydney at present and there's nothing like the arrival of kids to seriously moderate your life. Still, this doesn't mean you automatically become curmudgeonly?

Deborah said...

McLeod is odd... motivated by too much hate at times, I think. Yet she also has good insights, and has done some fabulous work, like her book on women's crafts.

And what's not to like about Grant Robertson? A happy man celebrating with his partner - how can anyone disapprove of that? I didn't hear McLeod dissing Barack Obama and Michelle Obama for hugging and kissing as they celebrated the US election result... A little bit of homophobia, perhaps.

backin15 said...

It's hard not to come to that conclusion I agree.