Women of Influence

27 September 2017, Spiegeltent, Havelock North
Readers & Writers, HBAF

An intimate group of women, and a couple of male allies, gathered tonight to listen to a pair of influential women. Local Anna Pierard and ‘national treasure’ Lizzie Marvelly were both nominated for last year’s Women of Influence Awards in the field of Arts and Culture. Anna for her work with youth singers through Project Prima Volta, and Lizzie for her provision of a voice for young Kiwi women in her blog, Villainesse.com.

In a warm, engaging conversation, the pair discussed empowerment, the challenges of being a woman in the music industry and the public eye, and the need to deconstruct the patriarchy in order to progress as a society.

They spoke with real passion, backed up by their boots-on-the-ground achievements, about their desire to afford others the privileges and platforms that they had been granted. In Anna’s case, her family’s love and encouragement of artistic expression inspired her to galvanise others without the same natural support network to navigate past obstacles (not only of economic and cultural deprivation, but of anxiety and fear of judgement), and to ‘find the stage door’. Lizzie, having been on the receiving end of a media that objectifies and otherises women throughout her career as a musician, was spurred to address gender issues via her New Zealand Herald column, and give voice to emerging female writers through the platform of her blog.

Both divulged with bravery and candour, experiences of unwanted sexual contact within the context of their working lives. Their conversation explored the underlying power structures that allowed this to occur without consequence for the perpetrators, but also recognised that by speaking freely and without shame they were part of a slow movement that would redirect scrutiny from victim to violator and encourage others to speak out. Lizzie spoke about the online abuse that is part and parcel of being a woman with opinions on the internet. She is trying to mitigate the impact of the routine hate speech directed towards her by taking cases to court under the fledgling Harmful Digital Communications Act in order to set precedents that will aid others in her position without her power.

The thread that ran throughout the session was the need for a paradigm shift from top-down, hard-edged, patriarchal power systems, to something that is more inclusive, soft and supportive. Within their disparate organisations and respective roles, Anna and Lizzie emphasise listening as well as talking, learning alongside teaching. By allowing themselves to be vulnerable they show their strength, modelling a new standard of success that will ripple its way into our future through the youth whose lives they touch.

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