‘It was infuriating that my opinion didn’t matter’: Women across Te Papa talk about their voting experiences

Next year will mark the 125th anniversary of women’s suffrage in Aotearoa. Given that we are in an election year, we thought it timely to think about voting so we asked women across Te Papa to reflect on their experiences with voting.

Today is the third and final in a series of three posts featuring personal anecdotes and memories on the topic.

Lucy Jackson, Imaging Coordinator

Lucy Jackson

Lucy Jackson, 2017. Photograph by Tim Onnes. Te Papa

I do not remember much about my first or second voting experience. I was 19 years old when I first voted, and I can’t really remember where, who I was with, or any details of the actual voting process.

It is only through trying to recall these memories, and realising that I cannot because it seemed so normal to me, that I realise the privilege I have in the 21st century. I am a woman, I can vote.

I am so grateful to have grown up when voting is not a privilege, but a right. I cannot even begin to imagine what it would be like to watch my father vote and not my mother, my younger brother vote but not myself, and then further on my partner vote when I could not take part.

Reflecting on this now, I am so grateful that previous New Zealand women paved the way for women’s suffrage, so I did not ever have to consider fighting for my right to vote. These women changed things not only for themselves, but all the women that followed.

Unfortunately, although I have the right to vote, I can’t help think of the many women around the world that still do not have this right. Let us hope that in less than 125 years, these women can vote, because they have the right.

Rebecca Rice, Curator Historical New Zealand Art

Rebecca Rice

Rebecca Rice, 2017. Photograph by Tim Onnes. Te Papa

1992: The brutalist architecture of Otago University’s Student Club building offered a daunting setting for my first time voting. The occasion was the referendum that would determine whether New Zealand would replace FPP (first-past-the-post) with a more proportional voting system. Perhaps my experience as a seven-year-old in 1981 had primed me for this moment.

Flashback to 1981: St Joseph’s Primary School, Oamaru, mock class election

I had a soft spot for Social Credit and was pitching for them but Peter M, who was leading Labour, won most votes. In the ‘real’ election Social Credit won 20% of the popular vote, yet gained only two seats in parliament.

It really didn’t seem fair.

The referendum felt important. It was. We were watching governments break promises and serve the interests of the marketplace rather than the people. As students, we were protesting, already feeling the weight of being the first generation to carry the burden of student loans into our adult lives.

It really didn’t seem fair.

Our vote could make a difference. It did. MMP (mixed-member proportional representation) has resulted in a more representative government.

But still…

Fast-forward to 2017: It’s clear that we need to keep doing our bit to ensure our government maintains its diversity of representation. Voting matters. Make yours count.

Steph McDonald, Exhibition Renewal Outreach Manager

Steph McDonald

Steph McDonald, 2017. Photograph by Tim Onnes. Te Papa

This isn’t the story of my first vote; it’s the story of the first time I missed out. In my final year of high school, the election fell just three days before my 18th birthday. I was 72 hours too young to vote.

Most of my friends were old enough to vote – and many of them just didn’t. They couldn’t be bothered or didn’t care or had sports and other stuff on that day. Even worse, one friend cast her vote as a joke. I don’t think I would’ve cared so much if I’d had that choice to make too – but not being able to vote, I felt powerless. It was infuriating that my opinion didn’t matter, when my friends’ did and they were wasting it. I couldn’t imagine having to spend an entire life like that: not being counted, not being heard.

By the time the next election came round, I was so ready. Missing out that one time made me so grateful for every opportunity I get to have my small say in how our country is run. It’s just so important to be heard.

Chelsea Nichols, Curator Modern Art

Chelsea Nichols

Chelsea Nichols, 2017. Photograph by Tim Onnes. Te Papa

“Nice women don’t want the vote.”

In 1914, a prominent politician said this to Nellie McClung, a Canadian suffragist who was campaigning for women’s voting rights in Manitoba. Like most kids growing up in Canada in the 1990s, I learned this while watching snippets of Canadian history called ‘Heritage Minutes’ that were screened during TV commercial breaks. It lit a fire in my little feminist heart.

I was granted permanent residency in Aotearoa last year, so the upcoming election will be my first time voting here. I am very proud to be joining such a long tradition of New Zealand women voters who are “not nice”. For me, voting is an important milestone in becoming part of this country, and I feel a deep sense of responsibility for my role in shaping its future for my young daughter.

I’m glad that “Nice women don’t want the vote” sounds so absurd and antiquated in 2017 – it shows that real shifts have taken place over the last century, and makes me hopeful that other major change is possible too. But, now, it is the duty of those same “nice women” to step up and face deep-rooted social issues like racism, poverty, and climate change. I believe that exercising our right to vote is an important first step in this.

Read the first blog
Read the second blog

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2 Responses

  1. Rachel

    When did the blog at Te-papa become a thinly veiled attempt to push the left wing view point ? As a taxpayer funded institution you have a responsibility to remain neutral on such things especially during an election campaign.

    Reply
    • Wendy Lee

      Oh for goodness sake! This article is clearly about women’s individual experiences of voting and nothing to do with Te Papa’s institutional view of the elections. Even public servants have a right to an opinion in a democracy.

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