On the inconvenience of periods and pregnancy

Cross posted

The New Zealand Herald contacted me yesterday, wanting a comment on this invitation being sent out by Te Papa (the New Zealand national museum).

Te Papa storeroom tours

A behind the scenes tour of Te Papa’s collection stores and collection management systems
Te Papa, 10:30am- 2:30pm, Friday 5th November 2010
Places are limited to 7 people

A chance for Local regional museums to visit various Te Papa store rooms and meet the collection managers of:
- The Taonga Māori collection – Lisa Ward, Moana Parata, Noel Osborne
- Photography and new media – Anita Hogan
- Works on paper – Tony Mackle
- Textiles – Tania Walters

Conditions of the tour:
* No photographs are to be taken of the taonga, however some images can be made available.
* There is to be no kai (food or drink) taken into the collection rooms.
* Wahine who are either hapü (pregnant) or mate wähine (menstruating) are welcome to visit at another time that is convenient for them.
* We start our visits with karakia and invite our manuhiri to participate.

Who is it for?
- This tour is for representatives from small museums, art galleries, heritage organisations, the arts and cultural sector or iwi organisations.

(I’ve edited the layout and fonts and so on, to fit on the screen, and the emphasis is mine.)

The Herald reporter suggested that I might have something to say about the practice of excluding menstruating and pregnant women being sexist and archaic. However, I didn’t. I sent back these three quotes.

It’s fair enough to respect cultural protocols, but maybe Te Papa could say that, instead of their mealy-mouthed request for pregnant and menstruating women to come back at a time that “is convenient for them.” I’m perfectly able to function when I’ve got my period or when I’m pregnant. It’s far more inconvenient to have to make special arrangements to come back at another time.

I don’t understand why a secular institution, funded by public money in a secular state, is imposing religious and cultural values on people. It’s fair enough for people to engage in their own cultural practices where those practices don’t harm others, but the state shouldn’t be imposing those practices on other people.

It’s up to Maori to work out if and how and when cultural practices should change for Maori, within the traditional freedoms of liberal democracies. If it is important to Maori people that pregnant and menstruating women aren’t included in the tour, then maybe the tour shouldn’t take place at all.

The story appeared in the New Zealand Herald this morning:

Anger at Te Papa ban on pregnant women

It’s interesting to see which of my quotes was used in the story, and how it was used.

Stuff also has a story about the invitation. They contacted Boganette for comment.

Pregnant women warned off Te Papa tour

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20 responses to “On the inconvenience of periods and pregnancy

  1. I really liked your comments Deborah and I totally agree.

    I am enjoying reading the comments on the Stuff piece.

    “So please, stop worrying your pretty little head about it. ”
    “Lady, take a chill pill.”
    “get off your high horse and start screaming about something that is actually worth screaming about”
    “get over your self”
    And my fave “stupid feminist blogger” x3 in one post.

    Ummm did someone say Bingo?

  2. Wow, a lot of the comments seem to think that feminists are looking for an excuse to bash Maoris/Maori culture. Thanks, media, for constructing this as Maori vs feminists. I’d like to hear from some Maori feminists to get their take (of course the media couldn’t have thought of this).

    Your comments are sensible Deborah, but of course they picked the least-reasonable-sounding one to be printed, and put an inflammatory headline on the article.

  3. Well, I am a bit confused here. There was an earlier post on this topic that I posted a comment on, but now both seem to have disappeared. The gist of my comment was that I disagreed with your assertion that this aspect of Maori culture was being ‘imposed’ on us, because this is an exhbition that we are entirely free to choose whether we visit or not rather than something that we have no choice about (say, for instance, if it was part of the school curriculum). We respect Maori values in many other ways – for instance if we visit a whare (house) we remove our shoes. If we sleep on a marae we all bed down on mattresses on the floor communally. Respect works both ways – we want others to respect our values; we should respect theirs.
    However there are times when Maori protocol does not sit comfortably in modern society, and one of these is the issue of women not having speaking rights on marae, as Helen Clark found out at Waitangi in 2004. I think you put it well in the third paragraph of your comments to the Herald.

  4. Thanks, Carol. I’m not sure what happened to your earlier comment, and I can’t find it in the backroom. Lost when I was getting the cross-posting links right, maybe.

    I’ve got a longstanding aversion to religious and cultural values being desseminated through state institutions, such as Te Papa. For instance, I loathe the opening prayer at Parliament. However I’m perfectly happy to be quiet and respectful if I visit a church, or a marae, or whatever. It’s the intersection between state funding and cultural values that annoys me.

    I was also thoroughly annoyed by Te Papa talking about it in terms of “inconvenience”. Mealy-mouthed bullsh*t.

  5. Carol – I think your earlier comment is actually on dimpost.

  6. Hey, I completely agree about the mealy-mouthed bit. You called that just right.
    And I thought it was pretty shocking how the Herald used your comments to set up a ‘conflict’ when your comments were actually more subtle and thoughtful than they were represented by the Herald.

  7. Yeah, what a mystery! The missing post/comment have appeared on DimPost. Must be those ghosties.

  8. I am a bit confused, if the purpose is to ptotect the women or the taonga from the tapu clash then why would it be okay for the women to visit at a different time?

    Plus, I agree with Boganette and Deborah, Te Papa is a public institution and so there is no justification for restricting attendance for such reasons.

  9. She said there was a belief that each taonga had its own wairua, or spirit, inside it. “Pregnant women are sacred and the policy is in place to protect women from these objects.”

    If nothing else, this is proof for G. K. Chesterton’s quip that once some people stop believing in God, they start believing in anything.

  10. The Australian has copied the ‘prominent feminist blogger’ stuff using your name, but not the explanatory quote. It looks like you are saying that it has no place in modern society. There is no option to leave a comment, but perhaps you could contact them and say they have taken you out of context, perhaps quite deliberately I suspect.

  11. other comment got spaminated. Deborah, The Australian has chopped up the NZ herald article and in the process taken your comment out of context.

    http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/breaking-news/new-zealand-museum-bans-pregnant-women-from-attending-exhibit/story-fn3dxity-1225937575344

  12. Third time lucky? Deborah, The Australian has an article on this which takes your comment out of context. Comments have not been enabled on the article.

  13. oops, got it, ignore my dumb question!

  14. Crikey, Deborah. Unlooked-for fame in Australia’s national newspaper. The media have hardly covered themselves in glory here. As Julie put it very well on The Hand Mirror, it’s not like there was an angry swarm of feminist blogging on the subject, which might have been newsworthy – they came to you and winkled a comment out of you, and then tried to set it up as feminist outrage, while ignoring the nuances of what you actually said. Gah.

  15. Yes, I’m feeling quite gah about it. I just had a call from an NZ newspaper looking for someone who would go down the Angry Feminist route, but they’re finding it hard to get anyone. It turns out that most of us have quite nuanced views about the issue, and of course, that doesn’t make good copy. The reporter I spoke to was very thoughtful about the issue.

  16. The other aspect is that Chris Finlayson was keen to tone things down by emphasising that this is an ‘advisory’ (read: polite request by iwi to respect their beliefs) rather than a ‘ban’, which has different connotations in terms of infringing people’s rights of access. Quite nice to see an anti-inflammatory approach.

  17. Yes I did a radio interview with Radio Live on the subject earlier and I think he was annoyed at my moderate position and that I didn’t get my rage on. Unfortunately I can’t find it online so haven’t heard how it came out in the end, but a friend who heard it said it sounded v edited, which worries me. We have had more contacts by media on this issue today than we’ve ever had before on anything, mostly before anyone had written on it. I’ve turned down an invitation to go on a Close Up panel about it.

  18. The gist of my comment was that I disagreed with your assertion that this aspect of Maori culture was being ‘imposed’ on us, because this is an exhbition that we are entirely free to choose whether we visit or not rather than something that we have no choice about (say, for instance, if it was part of the school curriculum).

    @Carol: I keep hearing from others that this isn’t a “real story” (bingo!) as opposed to “more serious issues” (double bingo!) because it doesn’t affect public areas, and only a handful of “regional curators” are involved.

    Could I respectfully suggest that perhaps these women don’t have the luxury of arranging their schedules around the vagaries of their menstrual cycles that aren’t anyone else’s damn business anyway.

    And I know this is going to be provocative, but I’ve seen a hell of a lot about Maori cultural attitudes towards women that don’t have my respect, or deserve anyone else’s. You’re right that respect is a two way street — I’m not an angry feminist, but I pretty damn pissed that a major public cultural institution seems rather blasé about it’s own equity policy and statutory obligations under the Human Rights Act.

    I’ve just talked, off the record, with a female friend who works at Te Papa and says she feels very unsafe about raising her objections because her contract is up for renewal at the end of the year. Might want to think a bit about the power imbalance between a lot of women at Te Papa and senior management.

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