Changing women’s lives, Rosemary du Plessis

Springs in My Heels: Stories About Women and Change
Alison Gray,
Bridget Williams Books, Wellington, 1991, $27.95

Ladies a Plate: Change and Continuity in the Lives of New Zealand Women
Julie Park (ed),
Auckland University Press, Auckland, 1991, $29.95

Both these books are about change in the lives of New Zealand women. Springs in My Heels documents the way some women in their middle years have embraced new styles of life, learnt new skills and challenged old conceptions about their sexuality, their physical capacities and their creative potential. Ladies a Plate looks at intergenerational change rather than those in the lives of individual women.

Springs in My Heels is the ideal book for any woman over 35 who is beginning to sniff the wind and reflect on new possibilities. Bub Bridger, Helen Chambers, Pauline Cara, Alison Mary and the other women who spoke to Alison Gray reflect with enthusiasm, honesty and openness about the delights of making changes in their lives. They talk of how they went back to university, started writing and publishing, became flower growers, farmers, artists, health activists, travel agents, scuba divers, competitive runners, probation officers and development workers in Palestine, the Yemen and Eritrea.

These interviews tend to suggest that all that stands between women and change in their middle years is their own conception of what is possible. Ladies a Plate looks at some of the continuing demands on women to care for others which persist across generations. It explains why some of the women interviewed for Springs in My Heels only sprang off in new directions when their children grew older.

The contributions to Ladies a Plate were all involved in a national project on the place of alcohol in the lives of New Zealand women. Material from that project encompassed much more than women’s relationship with alcohol, and these essays explore socialisation, identity, women’s relationships with others, stages in women’s life cycles, and the significance of food, as well as a fine chapter by Cathy Banwell entitled ‘I’m Not a Drinker Really’. The experiences drawn on cut across the rural/urban divide, and include fragments from the lives of Maori, Cook Island, Samoan and Pakeha, older and younger women, women working at home and business and professional women.

While Springs in My Heels may be picked up and read in a single sitting, Ladies a Plate is more demanding. Julie Park’s introductory chapters and her conclusion provide a sophisticated analysis of variety, change and continuity in the experiences of women in Aotearoa/New Zealand. An international anthropological literature on gender is connected to the specifics of women’s lives, including the traditional injunction: ‘ladies a plate’. Together these books make an excellent and complementary contribution to the development of increasingly sophisticated understandings of women’s lives in the last years of the 20th century in Aotearoa/ New Zealand.


Rosemary du Plessis teaches Sociology and Feminist Studies at the University of Canterbury. She has been involved in women’s studies and feminist research for the last 16 years.





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