Wednesday, 19 December 2012


I live here on the basis of a 'dependant" visa, attatched to The Husbang's work permit.

This fact irks me no end.

I've been musing muchly over what it means to define myself as a feminist lately.

Now, before we start, let's get a few things clear. I realise by virtue of the fact I am white, educated and was raised in a First World country, the very fact I can 'choose' that label or proscribe to it, means I am in a position of privilege. I get that.

But I caught myself thinking about my personal feminism the other day, while my maid (haus mari) was ironing my clothes.

And rather than feel shame, it made me realise that any 'ism' is about context.

I don't work for money up here. So basically, I'm a trophy wife. I have a maid and a garden boy and guards and I don't have a car, so I rely on The Husbang to come and get me to take me shopping. The highlight of most days is thinking of something nice to cook for dinner.

In a first world country, I sound, on paper, like all the women I despised as Stepford Wives.

But here's where, more and more, I realise that being a feminist is a) a western construct and b) relative only in context.

My haus mari learns to speak better English by being employed by me. That makes her more employable. It empowers her up here. And maybe she'll teach her daughters, or sisters, thus empowering them. And maybe, rather than grow up to be haus maris, they'll feel empowered enough to do something else. Their English will open doors similar to having a Uni degree back home. They could work in a shop, or a business!

And she teaches me Tok, which empowers me to be able to communicate better with local women.

Yeah, ok, I don't have to have a maid to teach local women English, I get that. And yes, I have volunteered to teach English to local women via the local Lioness Club.

Employing Betty also means that she's paid. And paid very well. Which means she can afford to educate her son and sister in PNG where education isn't free (well, not yet anyway). She has saved enough money from being a mari to buy land. On which she is building a house. So that women and girls in her remote village in The Highlands, can come to a more urban locale and live a little safer.

Just a side note on pay scales up here. The average wage here is about K2.30, or about $1.15US an hour. Education for a child in primary school is about K500 per child per year. We pay our mari K30 a day. Not much by home standards, but an enormous wage up here. Why don't we pay her more? Wouldn't that be more 'feminist"? Let me tell you a story about Don.

Don was the brother of one of our original guards. Don worked as a private guard for a CEO up here. He got paid ten times as much as an average guard. The equivalent of $10USD an hour. One day, a new guard turned up at the CEO's house and said "Don doesn't work here anymore. I'm his replacement".

The new guard had murdered Don. Hacked him to death with a machete, all to take the job.

You walk a LOT of fine lines up here, and it's all about the context.

Being a feminist up here means there are no Reclaim The Night marches to participate in- although I am doing some work behind the scenes to maybe organise one. The safety issues of which would be ENORMOUS, btw.- there is no Wymyn's groups to attend or collectives to work in (not that they solely define feminist).

It means sitting under a mango tree in remote villages and holding pikininis while talking to women about their lives. And sometimes, very rarely, being honoured with stories of how men took their power. And rather than jumping up and suggesting a mass bra burning, you delicately ask IF-  not WHY, but if, the women want it back?

"Do you want it back?", I say. And watch as the seed gets planted.

Feminism up here is about our choice to adopt a girl from a village right in the heart of Misogyny Central and walk the fine line with her between Western empowerment and her cultural roots.

Feminism up here is about calling out white men, some of which might be CEO's, when they "STTTTT"  for a female waitress down the Yoti (it's a very specific sound, somewhere between a hiss and a whstle, ending in a plosive T, and it's how men, both white and brown get a woman's attention)

It's about calling them out on that fag/bitch/whore joke they think is so fucking funny.

It's often about being ridiculed and having rumours of being a lesbian circulated about you. But that's not specific to PNG, as we all know!

Feminism up here is about joining anti-Violence groups, yet needing a guard on your compound gate 24/7. It's about not being able to go to a meeting for the Mari Seif Haus (women's shelter) because there are riots in the street.

It's about joining something as anachronistic as the Lioness Club, and fund-raising to provide training for women in prison, or hustling for donations to print pamphlets on Breast Cancer awareness.

It's not about designing a huge YES, YOU CAN! banner for a mass rally, it's about gently telling a young girl who wants to be caddy at the Golf Club; "yes, you can", and then making sure you take responsibility for planting that seed by ensuring she doesn't get raped or beaten for wanting to do something so culturally inappropriate.

It's about access to resources and empowerment and opening eyes and ears and doors EXACTLY the same as it is in the West. The context is just to very different.


  1. Great Post - its all about finding that balance & redefining what it means to be a feminist within your new cultural milieu! - Soyi

  2. Hey Soyi, Thanks for dropping by! Indeed it is. I went through a wee phase of believing I had somehow 'sold out' by having a mari, but I realise now that just because I can't Reclaim The Night, I can't empower local women to reclaim their own lives. I walk a fine line between cultural sensitivity and colonialism. Which is a post that's brewing as we speak!