In the past decade, feminist activism has majorly impacted on many areas of law – including rape, self-defence, and sexual harrassment.  Just recently (April 6, 2008), three women won $42 million legal settlements that will compensate thousands of underpaid females and marks another step in the fight against sexism and unequal pay.  In this case, women working at New York branch of business alleged a macho culture ruled over by a bullying boss cultivated a fraternity house environment and subject females to lewd pranks……THE WOMEN FOUGHT & WON!!!!

 I believe this macho culture of sexism and discrimination doesn’t merely creep into workplaces, but its merged even into workplace policies.  Sometimes though we seek comfort in the fact that the law shall protect against discrimination, sometimes the law itself shows no partiality.  Rather, the law affirms that we ‘sex-up’ and ‘dumb-down’ women, in the workforce.  Therefore, what we need – ‘is more action and less talk’, from Government Speeches.

 The Ministry Statements and Speeches (March 13, 2008) stated that New Zealand would pay special priority to working with international community to uphold women’s rights and gender equality.  They strongly support a dedicated debate on the rights of women at the Council’s next session and hope that such debate can become a regular feature of the Council’s programme of work.  I would love to be sitting in the middle of their debating team.  I’m wondering what topics of debate they will present?  I wonder if they will action any recommendations for improvement, based on the common knowledge placed before them?  Properly not!

I read the (March 2008) release of ‘FEMALE LABOUR MARKET OUTCOMES’, which was published and can be downloaded from  Their findings found that females are somewhat more likely than males to be employed in high skilled occupations – but less likely in skilled.  A large proportion of females work in semi or lower skilled jobs, leading to a lower skill level occupational profile for females overall.  In addition, 41% of new employment for females over the last five years has been in semi or low skilled jobs, while only 19% of new employment for males has been in semi or lower skilled jobs.  I don’t know about anyone else…but those figures alarm me and I think that we need to do more about changing this…..than debating – THE FACTS ARE CLEAR!  I wait with antisipation that the Council’s next meeting may converse on the issues & the Government may set new quota’s like in corporate management, law, and other more ‘male’ dominant professions.

 Its known fact, that in some careers – being a women and climbing high in the corporate business world, or law – is a difficult climb to the top.  Talk about climbing Mount Everest, without any aid.  Skip the job training and mentoring – dig in your high heels & climb!!!!  Not all professions, will render a gold plater in front of us – sometimes though you wear the hallmark of ‘gold’ – although your achievement & accomplishments can be like endless ‘stepping’ stones, that should ‘readily’ be smooth climbing to the top.  Sometimes its a challenge…..sexism has never made it easy.  As I read Law Journals for my two years law – I decided for this reason – to switch to politics….I realised a lot, and please let me sign up to feminism any day.

You know, I read recently (April 2008) in Bell Gully Law Firm Publications, that if you want to see a really good example of sexual stereotyping in New Zealand Workplaces (for women), then have a look at the Movie ‘Miss Congeniality’.  I’ve never seen this movie, but apparently the essence of the story was about a successful policewomen, who was required to undercover and participate in a beauty pageant.  The purpose of the movie was to show sterotypes that we apportion to two different female roles.  How could we expect a police women to be delicate or femine?  In the same manner, how can a beauty contestant have the guile and skill to be a police women?  Mmm, well….I use to be an aerobics instructor last year (while studying law)….I had no difficulty being able to fit into different career roles – from instructing 6am cycling classes, running 5pm boot camps (in the rain & mud), working in Community Law Centre and then throwing on a suit, to go to my office job.  I don’t believe you can differentuate!!!!!

However, the relevance of this movie was played out in a United States Court, in the Case of Jespersen V Harrah’s Operating Company, Inc. (2006 decision of US Court of Appeals).  In the case before the US Court, Harrah’s which operates a chain of casino’s – on the basis of recommendations of an image consultant adopted standards for employees that included ‘gender specific’ requirements for hairstyling, make-up use and nail grooming.  A few months later, standards were raised even higher.  Females had to all wear face powder, blush, mascara and lipstick.  A long standing employee brought a law suit against Harrah’s on the basis that they had discriminated against her, based on ‘gender’.  The Court Of Appeal affirmed previous rationale that the grooming policy, was different – but equal to either ‘man’ or ‘women’ so therefore, different treatment could not be substantiated on the basis of gender.  Mmm, I wonder……So, did the Judges in the Court of Appeal really think that any ‘male’ that worked in a ‘casino’ would therefore have to be ‘transgender’, and if not – then wouldn’t that be suitable ground for damages in Contract/tort for loss and humiliation – that a fine/outstanding heterosexual ‘male’/employee was made to endure workplace bullying, for adherance to workplace policies, that are ‘unreasonable’ by standards of ‘common practice’, in the hospitality industy.  I find that rather obtuse.

The Court further stated that the appellant would have to prove that intentional sex sterotyping would have occured.  Which, is clearly difficult to prove.  It seems obsebed to me – how could a policy outside of Employment Relations Act (not directly a requirement of ‘job description’), be a measure of a women’s competence?  Not to mention, Top Law Firms accept and identify this, as being grounds for unfair treatment, under ER Act.  Emposing unrealistic expectations – are what Legal Critics point out happen in NZ in a number of workplaces.  This Case (above), is not rare!  Expect we don’t call it ‘GENDER INEQUALITY’, dare not say that name – instead lets call it for what it is…..’SEXING UP AND DUMBING DOWN OF WOMEN’S WORK!’

Dianne Avery from the University of San Francisco states that any dress code which mandates that a female employee wear SEXY revealing tops/short skirts and/or high heels could make for ‘EASY’ case of discrimination.  Which makes me wonder…..’Okay then, so if the law protects against discrimination & its easy to prove the opinion that women in the workplace are ‘sexed up & their work dumbdowned’, then whats the statistics of Case Law 2007, of these types of cases before the NZ Courts?  Well….if you did a search like I did on NZ Case Law…’ll find it a difficult task.  My question remains unanswered.

Dianne Avery also states that this type of ‘SEXUALISATION’ is not unknown in New Zealand and although difficult to establish, workplace policy which deliberately requires females to exploit their sexuality could be hold in breach of the human rights legislation.  Which highlighted the concern for me, – as should you be a women faced with this problem and decide to make a complaint through the Human Rights Commission, instead of through the Employment Court (as you can’t do both), then its a long process.  I undertook such a process (last year) and ended up realising my fight for ‘justice’ (so to speak) was not worth the time and expenses involved. 

 Although the LAW must be the basis of protection against discrimination…..we cannot always expect that the law will treat women equally in term of ‘gender’ equality.  This fact, was made aware to me last year during my law studies, before changing to politics.  I lived with two, first class honors Law students (males).  Who said to me, a number of times – ‘Cherie, you want to be a Lawyer….if you want to be successful & advance in a male dominated field….then how are you going to do so?  You must be aware that its a male dominated profession – all the Big Law Firms in Auckland prefer males…we know’.  I use to laugh of their remarks….but, it made me consider the fact.  Sometimes ‘inbred’ social beliefs will formulate as opposition to ‘equality’.  Sometimes the culture of a place, or people’s belief systems….you can not simply change.  We find comfort that the law will protect against discrimination, that Government will implement Employment Legislation Changes and workplaces will ensure compliance.  However, its not always the LAW-POLITICS & COMPLIANCE RATIO, that we must trust in.  Social reform and womens equality has come out of hard work & Labour.  Progressive feminism has brought about INCREDIBLE change – that has been the result of persistence.  As we persist more in seeing the rights of women in the workplace equal to men, then no doubt change will occur – with, PERSISTANCE-HARD WORK & PATIENCE.  Although I’d have to strongly disagree with my former flatmates views, on women in legal positions.  I’m grateful that my experiences inbred in me a passion to see women’s equality in all career professions.  I’d sign up for feminism anyday….sometimes its in the fight for equality that we find….WE ALWAYS COME OUT WINNERS IN THE END!!!!!


  1. Andi

    I think you make some really good points! Even though the law supposedly protects women from discrimination, it doesn’t. Instead, it gives the appearance that women are protected, and so it’s not considered an issue anymore: if there are laws against it, if it’s illegal, then surely it isn’t happening? Not true. The problem is that this ‘sexing up and dumbing down’ lies in the attitudes of individual people, in society, and it’s something that we have all unconsciously grown up with and internalised… As such, it’s hard to recognise when it happens, and many women just accept it – women should look sexy and sophisticated. My pervious work, as receptionist at a high end salon, stipulates in the handbook women must wear make up, dress fashionably, etc. men simply had to ‘be tidy’. Before that, I had a job which stipulated I had to always wear heels! Needless to say, I quit that job: I can work much better and more efficiently if I am not forced to wear high heels constantly. It’s just ridiculous. It’s an unfortunate fact that women are hired based on their attractiveness, but why do we let it happen? I enjoyed my job at the salon, and I accepted their ridiculously sexist dress standards, and yet, I could see clearly that it is a double standard – but I adhered anyway. Something more sinister must be at work here.
    And it’s not just that I, myself, dress as required, but that it’s expected, and not unusual. I think there needs to be a serious change in attitudes, a serious change in people’s expectations of what ‘men’ and ‘women’ should look like. It’s stereotypical and discriminatory. And it’s an expectation that’s reinforced everywhere.
    You mentioned that you want to see quotas in place to improve the imbalance between men and women in the workplace: do you think that quotas are the solution? I think they can be a good strategy, but I don’t think that simply adding more women is enough. Even if we have 50/50 male/female – I doubt this will change the underlying problem: women’s work is undervalued because women are undervalued – even if women have equal numbers in the workforce, there’s still the fact that the majority of women do most of the household cleaning, plus they may have to take maternity leave, after which their earning potential inevitably goes down, etc. I think that more needs to be done than quotas: I know I’ve said it before but society’s ideological perceptions of men and women need to be reworked. I’d like to see some serious education going on at these law firms as to what constitutes ‘discrimination’ and some serious breaking of those harmful stereotypes!

  2. Cherie

    I liked what you said about ” the problem is that ‘sexing up and dumbing down’ lies in the attitudes of people & its something that we have all unconsciously grown up with and internalised. ” Women accept it because we are expected to look that way. I find that we can place certain standards on ourselves because of the culture we are in and the people we are around. I find that even with church – i go to church & all the women wear dresses & look ‘perfect’ with the ‘best’ outfits on. I go to church in my comfortable clothing of a tea- shirt and sports pants. Not because i don’t have a suit or nice clothing for work – but because i’m not one to conform to other peoples expectations on how i should look; and to get the tick of approval. In the workplace i will need to look sharp and wear really nice clothing. But, i think that in other areas of life – it depends on the image you want to portray to others. I’m studying law at the moment – i think there is a tendency toward imbalance (that you mention). I’m praying that i find a husband that likes to cook and clean because i don’t agree wiht the ideological perceptions of men and women.

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