The house is divided in half
Concern as illegal booze in Bougainville triggers violence

PNG women can (and should) do anything. Let us be loud and bold

Bell_Rashmii AmoahRASHMII BELL

THROUGHOUT the past nine months, PNG Attitude has been both a sanctuary and platform where I’ve sloughed away at topics about which I’ve felt, in equal measure, opinion and passion.

Given Keith Jackson’s recent announcement that his blog site is to come to an end in February, I am somewhat inconsolable.

There goes the history lessons, the poetry, the debates, the giggle. But above all, I hate goodbyes.

That aside, I’ve been the beneficiary, in response to my writing, of often insightful commentary. On this I have two observations.

One: it’s been predominantly males who’ve engaged in discussion to agree, object, educate or muse. With many thanks to Phil Fitzpatrick whose responses have often had me immersed in critical thinking.

Two: there are some women who’ve agreed (to varying extents) with what I’ve had to say.  The popular trend has been to contact me via personal emails, private messages on my social media pages, or words of support through a friend of a friend of a friend. Their objections have also travelled along the same routes.

I have to say that it is the women (especially the Papua New Guineans) who’ve expressed their responses publicly, whether they agree or not, that I cherish. And it is their assertiveness on which I model my writing.

Australian writer Jack Kilbride recently published an article in New Matilda expressing his view on ‘Why courageous Clementine Ford is not the answer’. Ford is a prominent feminist social commentator and writer and, although it’s in its infancy, my interest in feminist theory is fast developing.

Whilst I do agree with some things Ford has said, her writing style discomforts me. She is an admirably and even insanely strong-willed woman but she isn’t someone I’d sit down with for a chat and tea. Each to her own.

Nevertheless, I do have is a defined set of reactions to Kilbride’s (unintentional, he claims) overtly sexist article. Not only because his remarks parallel those often expressed in PNG society but because of the backlash from devout feminist Ford supporters.

An internet search of ‘feminism in PNG’ cites a 2013 article by Sil Bolkin published in PNG Attitude. The article, ‘Women advocates confuse gender equality and feminism’, was written under the Phil Fitzpatrick Writing Fellowship.

Bolkin’s article articulated a similar disdain as Kilbride’s more recent piece.

It’s a load of… well it’s confused!

He opens with a statement that PNG women leaders have misconstrued their mission for gender equality through over-reliance on feminist principles and, in doing so, only amplified the inequalities.

Bolkin defines feminism as a “collection of movements and ideologies aimed at defining, establishing, and defending equal political, economic and social rights for women”. He also tells us that a feminist is “an advocate or supporter of the rights and equality of women only”.

Meanwhile, Kilbride, whilst acknowledging his biology, declares he is a feminist. But he leads himself to his crucifixion by proposing that it is women and their “vitriolic” writing who drive the wedge of inequality.

In short, Kilbride barks out a “how-to” list to those women who are insistent on going about the crucial business of the lobbying for equal access and the exercise of rights that have been so long afforded to men.

However, there is a point expressed by both Kilbride and Bolkin with which I strongly agree.

As I canvassed in ‘Let’s disempower the double standard’, advocacy for equal rights for women must simultaneously include, support and invest in advocacy for men.

But there is so much that I reject outright in what Bolkin and Kilbride have said. Space doesn’t allow it all, so I point to just a few of my objections.

Kilbride’s preliminary accusation is that it’s a “feminist’s mission is to make (these) men change”. Well no, it’s not a woman’s job to transform a man. It’s actually the individual’s job to choose whether they will change for the better.

Bolkin scapegoating Loujaya Kouza MP for her husband’s indiscretion is hardly a question of political competence but mere victim-blaming fuelled by misogyny.

I sensed this again when Bolkin drew a comparison between the atrocities committed against women in Rwanda and his statement that PNG women “have never experienced such ugly inhuman behaviour from their menfolk on the mass scale like Rwanda”.

Bolkin said that “individuals are often subject to deplorable behaviour from their menfolk but never in a large, organised way”. Evidently the psychological, emotional and physical consequences upon the girls and women of PNG were beyond consideration.

I have faith that Sil Bolkin has had a paradigm shift in the past two years.

Kilbride’s “vitriolic” writing as a precursor to starting fights with men is reminiscent of a playground scuffle. I did it but she started it, shouts a pompous Jack. And we’re all adults. Allegedly.

I don’t express my opinions in writing with expectations of facilitating overnight transformations. But I write with the consideration that it may enhance another’s way of thinking.

I’ve had some people agree with me , I’ve had some whom haven’t. Some agreed ‘just because’ and some sent me to school with informed objections. Then I’ve had those whom I suspect have been driven by hidden agendas or ulterior motives and argue relentlessly.

Deciding which battles are worth my time (and sanity) is proving to be the trick.

I only just got started and now PNG Attitude is drawing the curtains. I’m stumped as to where I’ll now take my thoughts, opinions and attempts at humour - my writing.

I’m a woman and an advocate for the equal rights of women and men. Where does that place me on the continuum of feminism? I’m not sure.

A disciple of feminist principles or not, I’m a Papua New Guinean who, like other PNG Attitude readers and contributors are finding their way to being as loud in public as they are in private. About important issues. Issues that concern our nation, our people.

PNG Attitude has been an absolute gift. Especially for Papua New Guinean women who write and, my goodness, Papua New Guinean women can write! How I wish good things didn’t come to an end.


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Rashmii Bell

Thanks Marlene:) I have, in a separate conversation, expressed to Phil Fitzpatrick that I believe written expression is the way forward for PNG women.

Irrespective of genre, if more us can practice at articulating on paper what we so often don't get to vocalise, perhaps we will see the positive developments we want.

I do agree with what Ed (and Robin) has said and so would be willing to be part of something after Feb 2016 - in the capacity of essays and opinion articles. It'd be fantastic if you were able to steer the short story side of things.

! In the interim, I've put my hand up to help out with the Crocodile Prize 2016. Feel free to contact me on [email protected]

Marlene Dee Potouraii

Yes Rashmi..I want to admit that I love reading your articles, essays opiniions.. So well expressed, I usually am always on your side, no comments....
I for one too have this creative resreservoir of short stories set above my shoulders, and am now struggling where to rant it all in 2016..
I see only you to lead.. Save me, save us all!


Thanks Robin:) I won't say 'never' and I'm always open to collaboration.

Ed Brumby

Robin beat me to it, Rashmi: 'things' don't have to come to an end. Keith and Phil's well-deserved 'retirement' presents not just an opportunity, but, in a sense, an obligation for someone like you and other PNG women (and men) to develop a successor to PNG Attitude: a platform for all PNGeans to continue to air their views about the issues of the day and a vehicle to present the wealth of writing that Keith and Phil's tireless efforts have elicited.

`Robin Lillicrapp

Well, there it is then, Rashmi.
As Keith and Phil transit to retirement regions, an opportunity for you to supplant the Fitzpatrick "mischievous streak" beckons from the wings.
Perhaps this is the moment that PNG women travail in literary labour under your insightful leadership in producing a successor to PNG Attitude.

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