The Lady Garden

Tea and Strumpets

An open letter to Pamela Stirling, editor of The Listener

Dear Pamela,

I often like The Listener. I was heartened by your balanced and reasonable feature on SlutWalk, I find most of your pieces interesting, and I like reading a publication run by somewhat of a rarity in your industry – a female editor. However, I am immeasurably disappointed that you, as a woman in leadership, allowed this piece of ”commentary” by Jonathan Milne on two young female leaders to be printed in your publication.

What purports to be an acknowledgement of the heavily gendered discussions on the battle for the Auckland Central candidacy between Jacinda Ardern and Nikki Kaye, devolves from the objective analysis that It probably reflects badly on the rest of us that we’re more interested in the political equivalent of jelly-wrestling than in debating the ins and outs of the candidates’ policies” into a salacious, sexist and surface-level critique of two very intelligent and capable young women.

The article contains:

  • a description of the lengths of both candidate’s skirts
  • the length of Ardern’s legs
  • both candidate’s marital status
  • whether said marital status (single) is a ploy to enhance their ‘babe cred’
  • the fact that Kaye wants a boyfriend
  • what both candidates are wearing for the photo shoot [there’s a photo, we probably didn’t need the description which included where things were belted and the sleekness of Ardern’s ‘number’],
  • how tired and worn Kaye looks,
  • jelly wrestling
  • the fact that their outfits for the photo shoot were selected for ‘competition’
  • an implication that a male came to assist Ardern for “only one reason”, which is reported as being the same reason Milne wrote this article, and why anyone would care about the Auckland Central candidacy;
  • and the cliché yet unanalysed toss-up for females in power between the yearning for a family and the sacrifices for their career.

I hazard a guess that none of this information would have been considered pertinent in a commentary on the battle between two male candidates. Something which Jacinda Ardern also points out in the article.

As the Coordinator of the Wellington Young Feminists’ Collective, eliminating sexism from discourse on women’s achievements is of great interest to myself and the 970 members I represent.

One of our members brought this article to my attention, and her quote that “If two intelligent feminists have to pimp themselves out like this to do well in their career, you wonder if there is any hope for other young women in NZ.” Is one of the most accurate, but disappointing critiques I have heard regarding New Zealand media coverage of women in leadership.

I don’t believe that Nikki Kaye or Jacinda Ardern endeavoured to “pimp themselves out” for this article. On the contrary, their discussions of the unwanted “Battle of the Babes” label is one of the few redeeming features of Milne’s piece. It seems to me that Milne angled for this salaciousness from the first paragraph (about Arden’s short skirt and legs).

Frankly, I am disappointed that you would allow something which is so clearly sexist to be published. Not only does this reinforce the validity of sexist journalism, it also gives a clear message to young female readers that should they ever want to go into politics, their policies and intelligence won’t get half as much attention as the sleekness of their clothes, the size of their legs, whether they have or want a boyfriend and how tired they look.

As a woman in leadership yourself, I hope that you will give greater thought to the advancement of women through your publication in the future. I also hope Jonathan Milne will realise that his ‘commentary’ on these successful women is as cliché as it is offensive.

I wish both Auckland Central candidates well, and I hope they realise that other women in New Zealand care more about their policies than their “sleek orange numbers”.


[Ya’ll know who I am]

5 responses to “An open letter to Pamela Stirling, editor of The Listener

  1. Emma October 17, 2011 at 5:02 pm

    Some things.
    1/Jonathan Milne has a long-standing and well-deserved reputation as an utter douche-bag. And not just because he writes for the Herald on Sunday.
    2/ I was actually astounded by the excellence of the Listener’s SlutWalk article. Mostly I expect shit like this from them. Or any number of their sleazy skanky exploitative covers. So, yeah, hardly surprised.
    3/ There are some really fascinating things you can learn about Jacinda Ardern. Clearly Milne was not at the LATE at the Museum she just did.

  2. Carol October 17, 2011 at 8:09 pm

    Bravo, Coley.
    You’re right that Ardern and Kaye are very capable and hardworking politicians and it is utterly shameful for the Listener to run this sleazy piece.
    As an aside, I wrote an email to both Kaye and Ardern on the subject of national standards, which they had both commented on in one of their head-to-head debates in the Herald. They both took the time to reply personally to me; Jacinda Ardern referreed me on to their education spokesperson, and Nikki Kaye phoned me at home and chatted for a good 20 minutes. I was impressed with both of them and I hope they both get back into parliament.

    • coleytangerina October 17, 2011 at 8:23 pm

      That’s fantastic! I hear they’re also really effective in Auckland Central and have a really high profile with students (even the non-political ones) which must be a bloody hard task.

  3. Laura October 18, 2011 at 10:30 am

    So often we say, “Oh but it’s just The Listener/ Stuff/ Herald/ TV3- this is all we can expect from them”- it’s easy for us to try and find other news, but these are the mainstream media, it’s how everyone else gets ALL their information (my parents, my brothers, my friends, my boyfriend). I think the mainstream media should be held to account for negative portrayal of women, people shouldn’t have to go searching for an alternative to every story. Regulation and standards aren’t dirty words. We have media companies running amok to fulfil overseas commercial imperatives, they don’t give a toss about what they are doing to NZ society

  4. Craig Ranapia November 6, 2011 at 9:50 pm


    Yup, I knew Nikki back in the day with the Young Nats. We weren’t always on the same side of policy arguments, but she was always a thoughtful, considered and respectful contributor. She also worked incredibly hard, and no just on the profile-raising stuff.

    And I think if I’d ever man-tronised her as a “babe” I’d have been torn a new arsehole for every day of the week.

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