I’d like to think I’m functionally familiar with local feminist theory and history, but in all honesty I don’t know a hell of a lot about the halcyon days of the women’s liberation movement (WLM) in New Zealand. Some of the broad strokes things for sure – like the importance of Broasheet, or the massive United Women’s Conventions – but only that, broad strokes. As such, Christine Dann’s Up From Under: Women & Liberation in New Zealand 1970-1985 is a welcome addition to the Kiwi leftist library.
Detailing the WLM from the emergence of the first women’s liberation groups in NZ in 1970 through to the time of writing in 1985, Dann foregoes giving a linear retelling of the movement’s first fifteen years in favour of treating the subject thematically. Although the opening chapter gives a lightning run through women’s history over the course of the prior fifty years, the rest of the book is split into eight overlapping topics. Covering a vast gamut from interventions in parliamentary politics, to workplace organising, women’s art, women’s health, and domestic violence (to name a few); Dann ensures a thorough dive into the WLM in spite of the books’ short length.
In the introduction Dann acknowledges the issues of balancing detail with brevity, and attempting some degree of objectivity given her own position as a member of the movement and as such inherently sits closer to one tendency or another. At this she does a pretty good job dealing with the tensions between radical, separatist, marxist, and liberal feminism; as well as the splits along ethnic and class lines within the WLM. At no point does it seem like one tendency or another is downplayed to talk up its opposite within the movement. Likewise splits and fractions within the movement are examined with care, absent of any hint of acrimony, without covering up or ignoring the bitter differences within the WLM that splits emerged from.
A last note, Dann mentions fairly briefly a number of WLM film production collectives active toward the end of the ’70s and ’80s. Though the most well known of such projects (Even Dogs Are Given Bones – on the 1981 Rixen factory sit-in) has received renewed interest following the films digitization, I’m now maddeningly curious as to whether other WLM productions are still around. As it stands, there isn’t much else to say about the book from here given its relatively short length. This is definitely one of my highly suggested readings for local leftists and anyone interested in either women’s history or the social explosion of the ’70s in NZ. I’d say it’s a strong contender for required reading regarding the feminist movement in this country.