Feminism is about choice. It is about the choice to live your life as you want, to have autonomy over your body, to have financial independence and security, and to be free of physical, emotional and psychological harm.
Choice can mean different things to different people. When we talk about ‘suffragists’ or women who advocated for their rights in the 19th century there is a tendency to view them, their lives and activism, as homogenous. Through this lens people and history become one dimensional: all suffragists were teetotalers; all suffragists were middle-class; all suffragists were Pākehā. But we know this isn’t and has never been the case.
So who were the women activists of 19th century Aotearoa? Auckland Museum’s exhibition Are we there yet? Women and Equality in Aotearoa brings us face-to-face with women whose stories challenge the idea of who a ‘suffragist’ was and what fighting for women’s rights meant in 19th century Aotearoa.
Anniversaries like this year’s suffrage commemorations give us an opportunity to take a closer look at historical narratives, to refocus and turn our attention to underrepresented histories, and redefine the parameters around well-known narratives. Through the lives of these three women we are able to tell a rich narrative around 19th century women’s rights and activism. Each one tells a different story - about their particular context and what led them to stand up or speak out. They teach us not to simply reduce women’s history to easily consumable, homogeneous sound bites but to view it in all of its complexities.
Cite this article
Finigan, Nina. ''Choice - Women in 19th Century Aotearoa, Auckland War Memorial Museum - Tāmaki Paenga Hira, Published: 19 09 2018.
Polly Plum,”Correspondence,” Daily Southern Cross, Volume XXVI, Issue 3987, 2 June 1870 - https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/DSC18700602.2.17?end_date=31-12-1870&page=2&phrase=2&query=Polly+plum&start_date=01-01-1870
A Woman, “To the Editor of The Herald,” New Zealand Herald, Volume VII, Issue 2108, 27 October 1870. - https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/NZH18701027.2.31