Superwoman where are you? Social Policy and Women’s Experience
Celia Briar, Robyn Munford, Mary Nash (eds),
Dunmore Press, 1992, $39.95
Women and Education in Aotearoa II
Sue Middleton and Alison Jones (eds),
Bridget Williams Books, 1992, $34.95
The sweeping changes currently taking place in New Zealand leave little doubt about the power of social policy to shape the way we live and think. The publication of two collections of essays claiming to deal from a feminist perspective with the institutional, economic and political forces which shape women’s experience must surely be timely. But do they deliver all that they promise?
‘What’s Wrong with the New Right?’ provides an appropriately feisty starting-point for the articles in Superwoman where are you? Focusing on the ideological manoeuvring of the so-called ‘libertarian right’, it explores, among other issues, ‘language capture’, the mysterious process whereby words like ‘freedom’, ‘choice’ and ‘community’ have been dragged away to ‘Treasury island’ for ransacking before being returned to us with strangely altered meanings., The article conveys a sense of urgency which is hard to detect in most of the pieces which follow. They give the impression of being solidly researched and solidly written, worthy but dull. Nor is reader-friendliness enhanced by the lists of faintly inquisitorial questions that lurk at the end of each chapter and place the reader firmly in the role of acolyte. (‘Comment on the concept of merit and its relation to EEO’, or, for students not only on the ball but able to run with it, ‘What changes would you like to see in the Matrimonial Property Act, 1976, The Family Proceedings Act, 1980, and other legislation relevant to families?’)
Unfortunately, the absence of spark seems embedded in the methodology as much as in the prose. To these authors an altered climate of social policy has not, it seems, called forth an openness to new interpretive strategies. To use a phrase which the editors of Women and Education in Aotearoa might approve of, the contributors don’t seem to have examined their own discursive practices with a view to discovering how these generate the ‘truths’ which they present.
Perhaps the articles in Superwoman where are you? could have done could do with having an ‘I’ in the text, as one contributor to the anthology Women and Education argues in her essay on writing feminist educational research. Certainly, the pieces in this latter collection are made more accessible to the general reader by the personal style in which many are written and the wider range of approaches that have been used: autobiography, in ‘Becoming an Academic: Contradictions and Dilemmas of a Maori Academic’ and in ‘Writing Feminist Educational Research: Am ‘I’ in the Text?’; ethnography, in ‘Being Staunch, Boys Hassling Girls’. And, while the editors announce that some writers have been led to ‘incorporate postmodern ideas into their work’, they also hasten to reassure us that they have ‘deliberately kept the more esoteric theoretical content to a minimum’. This is a sign, perhaps, of their desire to make the book accessible to as wide a range of educators as possible.
Alison Glenny is a graduate in Sociology from Victoria University of Wellington.