Jacinda to give Kate run for her money

Look­ing to­ward Suf­frage Day to­mor­row, his­to­rian Katie Pick­les sees shades of pi­o­neer­ing suf­fragette Kate Shep­pard in Jacinda Ardern.

The Press - - Perspective -

Dur­ing the cur­rent elec­tion cam­paign Jacinda Ardern has chan­nelled some of Labour’s old fathers – Michael Joseph Sav­age, Norman Kirk and Michael Cullen are mak­ing ap­pear­ances, and Aun­tie He­len Clark has done her bit. But is Ardern miss­ing her real his­toric dop­pel­ganger? Is Jacinda the new Kate?

There is a Kate lit­er­ally lurk­ing within Jacinda Kate Lau­rell Ardern. On first ap­pear­ances, could it be Kate Mid­dle­ton, with her glossy looks and long locks? Au con­traire, this is not about princess hair and an en­gag­ing smile. Ardern is ac­tu­ally Kate Shep­pard with her hair let down.

The sim­i­lar­i­ties be­tween Ardern and Shep­pard abound. Shep­pard was ed­u­cated, in­tel­li­gent and ar­tic­u­late, and the same def­i­nitely goes for Ardern. Both women have mu­sic in com­mon, find­ing creative out­lets as DJ Jacinda and cho­ris­ter Kate. Both women were of a sim­i­lar age when they took on and per­formed po­lit­i­cal lead­er­ship roles.

When it comes to be­ing charm­ing and pos­sess­ing im­pec­ca­ble so­cial skills, the two women set the bar high. Kate Shep­pard was con­sid­ered ‘‘fem­i­nine and not un­sex­ing of women’’, mean­ing that she ex­uded a non-threat­en­ing, ap­peal­ing wom­an­hood.

As for a moral com­pass, Shep­pard was steeped in Chris­tian­ity and dab­bled in Fabian so­cial­ism. Ardern had a Mor­mon up­bring­ing and has so­cial­ist ten­den­cies. Shep­pard lived her pri­vate life in quiet al­ter­na­tive fash­ion, at times liv­ing apart from her first hus­band, and mar­ry­ing her sec­ond hus­band whose home she resided in for many years af­ter he was wid­owed. Ardern has a part­ner in her pri­vate life and is an ad­vo­cate for mod­ern fam­i­lies.

Both women share be­ing tal­ented pub­lic speak­ers. Shep­pard was al­ways up for a feisty de­bate. When asked if she plans to have chil­dren, Ardern was will­ing to of­fer a fiery re­sponse, claim­ing the moral high ground and point­ing her fin­ger at those who had dared to ask.

Shep­pard ad­vo­cated for many is­sues in ad­di­tion to votes for women. She was con­cerned with women’s fi­nan­cial well­be­ing, and be­lieved in women con­trol­ling their own money. Equal pay for equal work, equal mar­riage laws, health and wel­fare re­form, and women’s ed­u­ca­tion were all on her agenda, as were peace and ar­bi­tra­tion.

Un­der­pin­ning Shep­pard’s pol­i­tics, and jus­ti­fy­ing her right to speak, was an emerg­ing 19th cen­tury be­lief in women’s place as ma­ter­nal lead­ers. It was women’s per­ceived in­nate abil­ity as moth­ers that equipped them as guardians of the home, nur­tur­ers of chil­dren, and pro­tec­tors of the fam­ily. Women were to gain equal­ity based on their dif­fer­ence from men. From that stand­point, it be­came in­creas­ingly ac­cept­able for women to have a say in the run­ning of the coun­try.

Ardern’s fo­cus on chil­dren and young peo­ple, and her mis­sion of end­ing child poverty, con­tin­ues in the foot­steps of Shep­pard. And Labour’s prom­ises of qual­ity, af­ford­able hous­ing, bet­ter health­care, more po­lice and free ed­u­ca­tion echo the con­cerns of ca­pa­ble ma­ter­nal fem­i­nists, as well as Labour’s found­ing fathers.

Shep­pard found that she could get on with con­ser­va­tive politi­cians. In­deed, an al­le­giance with con­ser­va­tive and ru­ral MP Sir John Hall and his ad­vo­cacy in par­lia­ment was in­te­gral in women gain­ing the right to vote. Shep­pard and Hall agreed that women had an im­por­tant place as moral civilis­ers of a rowdy, booze-fu­elled colo­nial fron­tier. Ardern and Bill English are both claim­ing to ad­vo­cate for chil­dren, youth and fam­i­lies in their cur­rent cam­paigns. The com­mon ground is once again an em­pha­sis on the im­por­tance of do­ing the best for fam­i­lies, how­ever, evolved and di­verse they are.

If He­len Clark took on the man­tle of Ed­mund Hil­lary, Jacinda Ardern has men­tioned Ernest Shack­le­ton as her mas­cu­line ex­plorer hero. Shack­le­ton was not ad­verse to a wee tip­ple. Here Ardern’s mod­er­ate in­dul­gence in al­co­hol sets her apart from tee­to­tal Shep­pard. And Ardern’s pro-choice stand on abor­tion links her to fem­i­nists of the 1970s, rather than those of the 1890s.

Women in New Zealand may have won the right to vote in 1893, but a bid to al­low them to stand for par­lia­ment failed. And so Kate Shep­pard was un­able to be­come a pub­lic sphere politi­cian. She in­stead be­came the pres­i­dent of a ‘‘women’s par­lia­ment’’, the Na­tional Coun­cil of Women, that was formed in 1895. Shep­pard was un­able to be­come an MP, but fast-for­ward to 2017 and Ardern is in the po­si­tion of com­plet­ing the cir­cle.

We know that women don’t al­ways vote for women can­di­dates, but back in 1893 one quar­ter of New Zealand’s women signed the suf­frage pe­ti­tion. If that Kate-in­duced fem­i­nist spirit has grown since, women’s sup­port for Ardern is look­ing like a force to be reck­oned with.

If Ardern keeps on em­brac­ing her in­ner Kate, it’s very pos­si­ble that she’ll give Shep­pard a good run for her money. There is a $10 note at stake. Will the im­age on it need up­dat­ing soon?

COM­POS­ITE IM­AGE

Labour leader Jacina Ardern has sim­i­lar qual­i­ties to pi­o­neer­ing suf­fragette Kate Shep­pard, writes Katie Pick­les.

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