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