I'm outraged at the outrage created by the outrageous position taken by that outrageous institution, Te Papa.

I like museums. I celebrated my wedding in one - in the Otago Museum's "Animal Attic", to be precise. And now I have a toddler daughter, I'm rediscovering the joy of puttering around the exhibits looking at things like 18th Century Japanese pottery, dioramas of pre-colonial Maori village life and stuffed rabbits.

I even like Te Papa, despite its unhealthy fascination with exhaustively cataloguing "the-beer-can-through-the-years" under Phil's somewhat bizarre custodial watch.

But boy oh boy - when you see headlines like "Pregnant women told to keep away" and "Anger at Te Papa ban on pregnant women", you just know a hornets' nest is going to explode.

So ... boom, and boom, and boom, and boom.

However, before we all hop on board the outrage express to apoplexy station, let's take a few deep breaths. First up, Te Papa's "ban" isn't on pregnant and menstruating women generally. It relates only to a special, invitation only tour "behind the scenes" of the Museum. So Te Papa isn't (and nor could it be) telling anyone to stay away from the public displays.

Second, the "ban" doesn't actually appear to be a ban at all. As Arts, Culture and Heritage Minister Chris Finlayson makes clear in this later Herald story, "It's an advisory requested by the iwi, but it's for people to make up their own minds."

[Update: Te Papa itself has made this clear also, in this statement ... people should read it before rushing to judge what the Museum's position is.]

In other words, the cultural beliefs of the creators and donors of the taonga in question dictate that women who are menstruating or pregnant should not be around them, both for their own safety and to protect the wairau of the taonga themselves. But if a particular woman really, really wanted to see the taonga in contravention of these beliefs, they can choose to do so. I mean, Te Papa hardly are going to call on security staff to physically throw them out of the building!

Of course, you might ask why a pregnant or menstruating woman would wish to go on this privately arranged tour, knowing that the taonga they are going to view carry this cultural significance and meaning. I mean, even if I happen to believe it is silly not to eat pork products because of a purported instruction from G-d several thousand years ago, I wouldn't choose to wander through a synagogue chewing on a bacon butty. Nor would I choose to walk through St Peter's wearing a T-Shirt like this (possibly NSFW), despite my atheistic worldview.

"Ah!" you might say. "But this is different, because a synagogue is a private place of worship in which the religious group can dictate the rules of entry and behaviour. Te Papa, however, is a public, tax-payer funded institution, and discriminatory practices ought not to be allowed here. Equally, pregnancy and menstruation are not the same as a choice about food or clothing - they are intrinsically bound up with gender, which is not a chosen characteristic (or, at least, not as easily chosen)."

That really gets us to the crux of the issue. Yes, Te Papa is a publicly funded institution, and yes it is treating women differently to men. But it is doing so because it made a promise to those who gifted the taonga into its care that it would look after those taonga in keeping with their cultural beliefs, and those cultural beliefs view women and men as having different (albeit complementary) social roles. So to even have these objects for visitors to view, Te Papa has agreed to respect a worldview that thinks "discriminatory" practices towards women are not only acceptable, but necessary.

Furthermore, you need to view Te Papa's promise in light of museum politics and history. The way we've used museums in the past isn't that pretty. All those bones and skulls of "primitive people" dug up and stuck on public display (or piled up in boxes in the basement awaiting some PhD student's interest). All those objects of religious and cultural significance yanked out of context and put up as curiosities to walk past on a rainy Saturday afternoon. All that information about other peoples blithely presented as "the Truth", without any attention being paid to how they might see themselves.

Such mono-cultural, Euro-centric practices have sparked a backlash, such that Museum curators now are acutely conscious that the exhibits they oversee is not just "stuff" to get displayed in interesting and informative ways. They know that each piece carries a story and a meaning, which will shift depending upon who is viewing it. And they are aware that they owe obligations to a range of differing groups as to how each piece is cared for, displayed and explained.

(In fact, I suspect that most of the recipients of this invitation - "regional museum staff" - would have fully understood Te Papa's position on this issue. That might be why there's a conspicuous absence of outrage amongst the people who actually received the email - and a whole lot more noise from people who have nothing to do with museums at all.)

So what is Te Papa to do? If you want these taonga to be in the hands of our National Museum, as a part of our common cultural heritage, then the price is promising to respect the cultural traditions of its owners. Maori just aren't going to give up custodial oversight anymore without such an assurance in place. But if you think that our National Museum shouldn't ever make such promises, then you have to accept that no-one - pregnant, menstruating, or whatever - gets to see the taonga (unless the donor Iwi grants you private access on its own). In which case we'll have a "National" Museum that only holds and displays items that it can get hold of under a policy of "use and display according to non-discriminatory practices derived from Western enlightenment traditions."

Hence Te Papa's compromise position - whereby invited guests are warned in all seriousness of the risks that they face should they view the taonga while pregnant or menstruating, with it up to individual women to decide if they really, really want to visit under those conditions. This might strike some as a "mealy mouthed" approach, but I actually think it was properly respectful. I mean, what else was Te Papa to say?

"Yeah, look - we've got all this cool stuff from some Maoris, but in order to get hold of it we have had to promise them we'd warn women who are preggers or having their period that they might be harmed if they break tapu and view it. It's complete rubbish, of course ... I mean, c'mon! ... but anyway we had to tell you. But if you come anyway, we don't really care."

Would that be a better or more desirable approach for our National Museum to take?

Comments (58)

by Idiot/Savant on October 12, 2010

But it is doing so because it made a promise to those who gifted the taonga into its care that it would look after those taonga in keeping with their cultural beliefs

Doesn't matter.  Or rather, that promise cannot outweigh their clear legal obligations under the BORA and Human Rights Act, neither of which includes an exemption for "spiritual beliefs".

I get that they're trying to be respectful.  But that can't trump the law.

(And it wasn't a warning.  A warning would be "the owners of these artefacts believe X and that dire consequences will result if Y" and leave it to readers to decide whether they regarded it as any more binding than Scientology.  Instead, they effectively told these women not to come)

by Andrew Geddis on October 12, 2010
Andrew Geddis


Which is why Te Papa could not forbid pregnant/menstruating women from entering the Museum's public spaces and displays, even if this brings them into proximity to taonga that are tapu. (Although they could even there erect an informational panel explaining tikanga with respect to such taonga.)

However, there is no right to public access "behind the scenes" of Te Papa, hence the HRA 1993, s.42 doesn't apply. So you'd have to show that Te Papa is covered by the NZBORA 1990 when issuing this invitation - is asking people to come see their stuff a "public function, power or duty" as per s.3? And even if it is, doesn't the promise made to the taonga's donors constitute a "demonstrably justified" limit on the general right not to be discriminated against, as per s.5?

In short, irrespective of whether you think Te Papa acted rightly or wrongly, they don't have any "clear legal obligations" here.

As for warning vs. instruction not to come, we can argue semantics. But I accept that the clear implication of the email was "pregnant and menstruating women should not accept this invitation." And I still have no problem with it going out.

by The Falcon on October 12, 2010
The Falcon

Ah I love it when the media picks up on an instance of Maori culture unfairly discriminating against women. The PC lefties are caught in two minds, torn between their two favourite societal groups. Who will win this time? Stay tuned.

by Andrew Geddis on October 12, 2010
Andrew Geddis


You mean like when the Republican party splits between its social conservative "culture wars" wing and its fiscally-focused "profits first" wing? Like here?

Point being, life doesn't fit into neat little boxes, and anyone who thinks everything has one simple, pre-ordained right answer is probably a bit, well ... simple.

by Idiot/Savant on October 12, 2010

The people invited were apparently staff from regional museums.  So yes, its a public function, in that making their stuff accessible to such people is part of Te Papa's function.  But more importantly, even if its not, the making of agreements with donors certainly is, and the obligations of NZBORA must be considered in making such agreements. And here, I think there should be a very strong presumption against attempts to contract out of those obligations - otherwise, it becomes all too easy for the government to ignore them.

As for a justified limitation, while the preservation display etc of such artefacts is unquestionably an important public purpose, this clearly isn't rationally connected to that purpose (instead, it is irrationally connected), and an argument that agreeing to donors' terms constitutes rational connection with no examination of what those terms are is very dangerous ground (in that it permits arbitrary breaches by contracting out - what if they ask that people be forced to pray? Or be tortured?) And its very clearly not proportionate, both in terms of the demand and the denigatory effect on women in general.



by Andrew Geddis on October 12, 2010
Andrew Geddis


Others may chip in here, too. But I'd note that it isn't just the rights of those wishing to visit/see the taonga that are in play here. The donors also have rights under s.13 that Te Papa is obliged to respect (provided that the NZBORA applies to it when it is entering into custodial agreements - if it doesn't, then no legal issue). So we're in a rights-balancing zone here ... those of potential visitors not to be discriminated against and those of the donors to have their freedom of belief recognised and respected.

Further, there isn't a total ban on pregnant/menstruating women in place. Certainly, there is a strong expectation women in this state won't come near the objects (whilst they are "behind the scenes", anyway - on public display a different set of legal rules kick in). And that expectation probably is discriminatory, as per s.19. But is it really not "rationally connected" to protecting the beliefs of the taonga's donors? Is it really not "minimally impairing", given it isn't actually a ban at all? And is it so "disproportionate", given that without this measure there would be no taonga for anyone to see? I'm not convinced.

Finally, your slippery slope argument - "if this is allowed , then we'll have to allow donors to demand torture!" - is a bit, well, silly. Sorry.


by Dean Knight on October 12, 2010
Dean Knight
Idiot/Savant I've explored this in relation to the role of women during powhiri. Section 5 questions are not straightforward. There are possible arguments that section 5 limitation must take into account the State's obligations under Article 2 of the Treaty. Also, arguably, the respecting of such beliefs falls within s 20 of the Bill of Rights - presenting a rights-clashing / -accommodation conundrum. These are genuinely hard legal questions.
by Maureen Jansen on October 12, 2010
Maureen Jansen

Good article Andrew.

I sort of agree but this extract from the Herald story made my female mind boggle.

However, Margaret Mutu, head of Maori Studies at Auckland University, said the policy was common in Maori culture.

Women cannot go into the garden or on to the beach when they are menstruating.

"It's a very serious violation of tapu for women to do those things while menstruating."

She said the exhibition rule was quite normal. "It's just the way we are ... It's part of our culture, but it's just one that isn't well known and that Pakeha aren't aware of."



by Deborah Coddington on October 12, 2010
Deborah Coddington

Andrew, was your heading deliberately provocative or deliberately provocative? But veering away from the legalities of this, why can't we just respect other's customs? I'm with Margaret Mutu on this. The sky won't fall in if pregnant or menstruating women choose not to approach these taonga, surely, and respect the tapu? Those who are outraged at this so-called discrimination overlook the fact that all of us discriminate, in some way, every day. Would the feminist bloggers quoted in those stories, who said women, particularly pregnant women, should be free to do whatever they like, choose to climb into a car with a stranger, late at night, who stopped to offer her a lift? Particularly if he was a Maori male covered in tats, sporting a gang patch? I doubt it, but that's called discrimination. She'd probably call it keeping herself safe. Same as if I were a visiting museum person, and pregnant, I would take Mutu's advice and keep away from the tapu taonga, just to be on the safe side. And thank them for looking out for me.

The feminist blogger said Te Papa is a secular institution, but it exhibits many non-secular works. What's her point? We should do away with anything non rational in our public institutions?

Finally, we do discriminate against the public entering public art galleries, and so we should. Not just anyone should be able to wander around in any old manner, disrupting the peace. Staff don't allow people to hoon around, shouting and yelling. You're not allowed to approach many of the artworks because they are just too damn fragile. People must show respect to the artworks, the other patrons, etc. Isn't that a form of discrimination?

I guarantee none of these women would have cared a toss about these taonga before. Now they are demanding the 'right' to view them. Quite possibly most of the 'outraged' have seldom even been to an art gallery or museum.

It's like the fuss over the virgin in the condom, and back then I made the comment that as soon as you name an institution "Our Place", you get everyone wanting to have a say in how it's run.

by BeShakey on October 12, 2010

It seems a bit odd to be suggesting that simply because a donor made a stipulation we should respect that. What if the stipulation was 'no Maori may view this because they are sub-human'? Regardless of that (and of the legal rights and wrongs), living in a (supposedly) rational society, shouldn't we also be calling bullshit on beliefs that are simply wrong. rather than engage in some relativistic handwringing (of course the namby pamby kind of bullshit calling than the Paul Henry kind, but thats another matter).

by Ewan Morris on October 12, 2010
Ewan Morris

Thanks for your thoughtful and sensible take on this fraught issue, Andrew. This morning's NZ Herald article is probably deserving of a Press Council complaint, what with the misleading reference to a Te Papa "exhibit" when what we are actually talking about is a behind-the-scenes tour of material that is not on exhibit, and the headline reference to "anger" which had not in fact been expressed by anyone at that point. As Deborah Russel has since explained on her own blog, she was approached for comment by the NZ Herald and what they published did not reflect the comment she provided entirely accurately. Since then, of course, much anger has been expressed, which is no doubt exactly what the Herald was hoping for.

The position taken by I/S and others would undoubtedly lead to pressure for taonga Maori to either be removed entirely from public museums or subject to much tigher access restrictions (ie access would probably be limited to iwi members, authorised staff and perhaps some outside researchers who are willing to agree to abide by cultural protocols). Is that really what we want?

by MikeM on October 12, 2010

Te Papa is a publicly funded institution, and yes it is treating women differently to men.

It's also approaching some women differently from other women, and not in a persistent way. Not that it matters given how the issue's been misrepresented to the public by the press already and the small subset of people to whom the invite was addressed in the first place (and might have taken the following as automatically implied), but I wonder what people's take might have been if the invitation had included a note such as "For those wishing to respect the tapu who cannot accept at this time, we are happy to arrange additional opportunities on request."

by BeShakey on October 12, 2010

"Why can't we just respect other's customs?"

Surely we canrespect other cultures (and people)within acting as if everything they believe is true.  I think a lot of the actions taken by the Catholic church are abhorrent, but I can still treat individuals from the church with respect.

"Is that really what we want?"  On the other hand, do we really want to endorse irrational and discriminatory beliefs, simply because the people (or some of them) who hold the beliefs also have important relics and artifacts?


by Andrew Geddis on October 12, 2010
Andrew Geddis

@ BeShakey: "On the other hand, do we really want to endorse irrational and discriminatory beliefs, simply because the people (or some of them) who hold the beliefs also have important relics and artifacts?"

Umm - so what do you suggest? Perhaps forcible dispossession, followed by public display according to the whims and fancies of those who've done the dispossessing? Seems we've tried that already.

I'm not endorsing Maori views on the status of pregnant or menstruating women - it ain't my culture, I don't live in that worldview, and so am not in a situation to properly understand or judge. But it seems to me that:

(1) This is their stuff;

(2) It's been given to Te Papa to look after (and allow some access to) on the basis that the custody properly respect the beliefs of those donors;

(3) One of those beliefs is that pregnant or menstruating women ought not to come into proximity with this stuff (for both their own safety and the safety of that stuff).

(4) This belief can be accommodated with only minimal limitations on the ability of women to access the stuff (i.e. no-one is banned - just strongly encouraged).

Now, you, me and the bloke in the cornershop may think the underlying belief is silly ... but, you know what? All sorts of people believe all sorts of silly things. So the trick is to learn to rub along together despite this fact. And it seems to me Te Papa got it about right.

by Craig Ranapia on October 12, 2010
Craig Ranapia

But veering away from the legalities of this, why can't we just respect other's customs?

Jesus, Deborah, I know you're genetically hardwired to be a contrarian (especially if it gives you a change to piss on "feminists") but get real.  Once upon a time, it was customary to presume you couldn't be raped by your husband, weren't competent to vote (and even after that changed you couldn't stand for Parliament for another 25 years), and forget about that scholarship to Oxford.

I guess holding a principle is a little too challenging for you.

by BeShakey on October 12, 2010

"Umm - so what do you suggest? Perhaps forcible dispossession, followed by public display according to the whims and fancies of those who've done the dispossessing? Seems we've tried that already."


My point was more:

a) it isn't as simple as 'they have stuff so we should do whatever they want'; and

b) respecting other cultures/people doesn't require believing everything they believe

"I don't live in that worldview, and so am not in a situation to properly understand or judge"

That's a surprisingly relativistic position for a lawyer to take.  It suggests you are unable to judge people with other worldviews, and yet a large part of our legal system is about people judging others with very different worldviews.  More importantly, the vast majority of historical atrocities (insert your favourite example here) have been committed by people with very different worldviews to yours and mine (and there are lots of less grand examples eg female circumcision). I'm pretty sure I can still judge them and say they were doing something bad (while accepting they have a different worldview, beliefs etc and that they (rather than their actions) shouldn't be judged as if they held the same worldviews as me) - you sound like you would simply say 'I can't possibly say anything about it', which I find bizarre.

by Craig Ranapia on October 12, 2010
Craig Ranapia

And, no, Andrew, I'd rather public institutions not "rub along" with institutionalized gynophobia in the guise of cultural sensitivity, if you don't mind.  Oh, eternal sunshine of the spotless mind...

by Andrew Geddis on October 12, 2010
Andrew Geddis


Cultural relativism is a stupid position to hold. So I confidently say "Nazis are bad" without being either a Nazi or a part of 1930s German culture. But equally, condemning and seeking to extirpate the cultural beliefs of others without making some effort to understand them can have some pretty awful effects ... of which NZ history is replete.

So, my lawerly mind leads me to think that positions like "Te Papa is displaying institutionalized gynophobia" probably overstates things, and that issues of gender politics within Maoridom would be better worked through by Maori themselves. After all, if Prof Margaret Mutu - about as fearsomely strong a female as I've ever seen - is saying there are reasons within Maori tanga why
these beliefs about pregnancy and menstruation are held, my reasons as a pakeha male for saying "no - you're wrong" are ... what, exactly?

by BeShakey on October 12, 2010

Well I can agree with all of the first part of that reply, and I can agree that any simple response to this is likely to gloss over some important subtleties.  In response to your final comment, I think there are a couple of things you could say, firstly, is that belief consisent with the rest of Maoritanga, and, if so, is it consistent with the worldview of most Maori (the fact, if it is one, that it isn't doesn't prove anything, but it is a useful starting point).  And secondly, would you be happy for others to hold analogous views that discriminate against Maori (and in doing so I'd have to be willing to get challenged on some of my own views that might be inconsistent).  You can do all that while being respectful towards both Maori culture, and individuals who hold those views.


by Deborah Coddington on October 12, 2010
Deborah Coddington

Craig, you can just call me Deborah, no need for the Jesus, flattering though it be. But your point is, exactly?

by Mark Wilson on October 12, 2010
Mark Wilson

What a bunch of weasel mouthed hypocrites!

The man has it correct and no one is prepared to honestly argue the point.

If someone had genuine beliefs and wanted to put some restriction on Maori taking a tour of an exhibit that they had provided then you would calling for people to be fired, their bosses to be fired, public hangings etc (hang on where have I recently heard that hysterical response?).

But because they are Maori and despite them having a highly discriminating "world view" that it is unacceptable to the vast majority of New Zealanders you fall over yourselves to find some Orwellian double speak to excuse it. Talk about some being more equal than others.

I defy anyone to say with a straight face that they would take the same stance to the latter that they have to the former. No doubt there are some who will happily sell their soul and say it and with any luck will be struck by lightning by the God of Hypocrisy.   

Deborah you sadly let down the side of reason by suggesting that you would, if pregnant stay away to be on the safe side!

My only regret is that I am not a pregnant female so I cannot visit it and dare the tapu to come get me. Fortunately I have no doubt that there will be some qualifying members of the population who will do so.

I have no problem with people believing anything they want no matter how absurd because it usually means that it diminishes their ability to compete with those who have some passing relationship with reason, but no one should be able impose their "world view" on others. I will argue my corner but I don't try and impose my "world view" on others.

As I said how can discrimination be OK is some cases and not in others?

Of course the other elephant in the room is that the tapu will be lifted for the public viewing but not for the tour! The logic of that is?




by Mark Wilson on October 12, 2010
Mark Wilson

PS - Andrew wins this weeks Waikato University PC phrase award for his "world view" effort.


by Deborah Coddington on October 12, 2010
Deborah Coddington

Who said I was on the side of reason? It's unproven that drinking alcohol when pregnant harms your baby, but I'd still stay away from alcohol too, if I was pregnant, just to be on the safe side. Does that make me a hypocrite?

by Andrew Geddis on October 12, 2010
Andrew Geddis

I just don't know Mark - what is the "genuine belief" that requires that Maori not be able to take a tour of some exhibits? What is its historical and cultural underpinning? How is that belief being responded to? Are we talking about a complete ban - "no Maori under any circumstances!" - or are we talking about a preference? Got more details, or just flinging stuff around?

You see, unless there is some comparable case that really exists that has been treated differently, your cries of "hypocrite! hypocrite!" sound a bit, well ... silly, really. Almost as if you are trying to manufacture an issue where one doesn't exist, so as to meet your preconcieved ideological notions of how "the left" (that unitary, single-minded beast) behaves. Which is all very comforting for you, no doubt. But a little bit boring for the rest of us to have to wade through.

Oh, and when you say "the other elephant in the room is that the tapu will be lifted for the public viewing but not for the tour!", what exactly do you mean? Because I think the point is that Te Papa doesn't put these items on public display when there are issues of tapu.

by Maia on October 12, 2010

Andrew - I agree with a lot of what you said, but I think that the practical appplication of this is more onerous than you have allowed, and that Te Papa could go further to balance that.

From the coverage I am under the impression that this is a tour intended for those working for small museums around the country.

In practice, museums will be required to book  travel and accomodation for those attending the day in advance.  Therefore the tour won't be open not just to women menstruating, but any woman who isn't sure that she won't be menstruating.  Large numbers of women don't have regular cycles. This (and the fact that employers may not feel comfortable talking about menstruation with their female employees - if it is employers who are making the decisions about who should go) encourages discriminatory practices and for those museums to send men instead of women.

It looks like this day looks like it woul be a networking opportunity with other musesums, as well as an opportunity to see the collection.  I don't think think it's appropriate for a state institution to set up such an event in a way that encourages discrimination.  On top of that Te Papa's solution of seeing the tour at their own convenience is problematic in practice, because of the issue of not all women having regular cycles (the short notice that would be needed to book travel and accomodation would drive prices up and again encourage people to send men).

I think there is a solution to this, usually I think competing rights cases can are actually about lack of resources.  Firstly Te Papa couldmake it clear that the rest of the day is open to all, it seems as if the tour of Taonga is only one part of the day.  So that women museum employees who were menstruating wouldn't miss out on the day as a whole.  If Te Papa then volunteered to meet the costs of anyone who needed to make a second trip to see the collection then (as long as they were prepared to pay for the added ), then small mueseums wouldn't have a disincentive to discriminate among their employees and choose men over women (which I think hte current situation does).

I'm not a lawyer so I don't know how this relates to their legal obligations.  But I really don't think you've allowed for the full the practical implications of not allowing menstruating women to attend an event, when that event is organised for people who live in another place, and many institutions could send men in their place.

by Craig Ranapia on October 12, 2010
Craig Ranapia

But your point is, exactly?

You can put ex-MP on your c.v. because a lot of people had no respect at all for the customary assumption that your vagina made you incompetent to rationally cast a ballot, let alone hold public office.

You also happily studied at a university that, in my grandmother's life time, did not allow women to take degrees -- a state of affairs that had quite happily existed for centuries.

I can't say I found male only suffrage and forbidding women to pollute the hallowed precincts of Cambridge customs that were worthy of anyone's respect.  Nor do I mourn their passing.

Perhaps in 2010, we can stop respecting the idiotic idea that mestruation and pregnancy is either a disability or a disease?

by Chris de Lisle on October 12, 2010
Chris de Lisle

I belong to neither of the groups at issue here. But I struggle to understand why anyone who does not respect the beliefs about tapu which go with these artefacts would want to see them. Those beliefs are an inherant part of their context; just as much a part of the object as the style of carving, their origin and their composition.

On the subject of customs in my Western culture which were discriminatory and wrong. It is good that we got rid of them. I think the "we" is as important as the "got rid of". If some outside force shows up and demands that a cultural changes is not only unlikely to be effective, but also infantalising. (Sometimes these objections will be overruled by the sheer monstrosity of a given bad cultural practice, but I don't think this can realistically be identified as such a case).

by Craig Ranapia on October 13, 2010
Craig Ranapia

I belong to neither of the groups at issue here. But I struggle to understand why anyone who does not respect the beliefs about tapu which go with these artefacts would want to see them. Those beliefs are an inherant part of their context; just as much a part of the object as the style of carving, their origin and their composition.

Golly, Chris, last time I was in Melbourne I went to the NGV's major survery exhibition of Salvador Dali's work.  I was interested in it because he's a major figure in 20th century European art.  Had no idea I was also required to have any "respect" for his misogyny, extreme sexual fetishes (including coprophilia and necrophilia) or fascist sympathies.  Also managed to attend the notorious Mapplethorpe show at the City Gallery in '96 without feeling the slightest "respect" for his racist exploitation and fetishistic objectification of his black models

by Sammi on October 13, 2010

Having been living overseas for a long time, I lost sight of how fraught the relations between Maori and Pakeha were and - it seems- continue to be. It seems any opportunity there is to point the finger at Maori and say "oh look, you do stupid shit too" is taken up with relish and this is no exception. Four perspectives I'd like to offer and I fully expect I'll get nailed on every one of them but nonetheless...

The first is the notion of menstruation as a 'disease', as this seems to be how some have chosen to interpret the issue. It's not about it as an affliction or disease - it's about POWER. The energy and power associated with the creation and presence of new life - in my view as a woman I have read this matter as not at all being about shaming women but actually according them and their unborn children considerable respect.

The second is on the notion of this being Maori culture subjugating women which leads me to a memory of a PolSci lecture I attended at University years and years ago where an amazing guest speaker attended and for the life of me I can not remember his name but he was discussing the history of the Maori way of law and what was then laid over it by the Europeans.  One of the examples he gave was on the issue of rape. At the time of settlement in NZ, both cultures punished this crime with death.  Europeans punished this way because it was deemed the rapist had damaged another man's property.  Maori punished this way because it was deemed that the rapist had stolen mana from the woman, had taken something that was beyond the ability to value, something so irreplaceable the only thing that could compensate was to take the only thing the rapist had to offer that was similarly irreplaceable - his life.  Even back then I viewed the Maori accord and respect for women as far superior.

The third again is about the relationship between men and women in Maori spirituality - recollection of a typical women's political group on campus - lots of do-goody white girls making uber-PC so they could appear to be down with the Whanau while they planned their womens only event on a Marae. I'll never forget the look on their faces when the two Maori delegates told them it couldn't be done - that men had to be present. "But whyyyyy" whined one pasty faced protester. "Because we are two parts of a whole, you can't have one without the other" the Maori delegates explained. There was an uproar and amidst it all I remember these two girls just shaking their heads and looking at us all like we were five.

Fourth - a few years ago I brought a colleague to NZ for business. It was his first trip and he was absolutely stunned and awed by the presence of Maori culture everywhere. Being Australian, he simply had never experienced an indigenous culture that was so strong and everywhere he looked, there it was. Not just in the street signage and the names of landmarks and public spaces, but even in the people walking down the street - in the Maori guys walking by with Asian girlfriends, Asian guys with Maori wives and children - it's just not something that Australians see, having successfully pushed indigenous people either into the back of beyond and walled up inner city slums.

All this is to say - please, please, please - leave your outrage at the door this is not about gender politics. It's not about gender discrimination nor is it about one race being given privileges that others are not (although it's fair to point out Maori weren't given a lot of choice about respecting some very odd European beliefs and cultural systems after all) It's just about elements of Maori spirituality that are rare and unique and wonderful to NZ. I appreciate how much the entire issue just tires and angers many people in NZ, but from someone who has been long absent and has since seen the country through the eyes of many visitors, it's all fascinating and wonderful and part of what makes NZ utterly outstanding in so many ways.


by Richard James McIntosh on October 13, 2010
Richard James McIntosh

Great post Andrew.

I agree: it's their stuff, mate, and they set the conditions.

Learning about those conditions is an interesting thing, pretty much happens if you learn to speak Maori. I don't agree with the things the men constantly say about the women in the bars of Budapest. Sniping remarks about the Jewishness of the nose, or the Gypsiness of the skin-colour are not logical pick-up lines in my world-view. 

I can't understand it, it pisses me off, but I love living here. Reminds me of the Josie Bullock affair a wee while ago. I thought a lot about it at the time (who will win that one, eh Falcon? Maori or feminists?)

But in the end it's simple: who is anybody to make the rules in someone else's house? Ah, but the house is Te Papa...

It's ours, isn't it?

by Ewan Morris on October 13, 2010
Ewan Morris

Would it help (he asks, hoping against hope) if we tried to clarify exactly what the right of access is that we're talking about here? OK, I know we're talking about a right not to be discriminated against - presumably no one would have a problem if access was restricted on a non-discriminatory basis (say, to Te Papa staff only). But are we talking about a right of access to all of the physical space within Te Papa? Or a right of access to all of the artefacts held by Te Papa? Te Papa's Kaihautu, Michelle Hippolite, has clarified here that the reason for the blanket rule with regard to objects not on public display is that Te Papa has not been able to identify all of those taonga that may be tapu. But let's assume that tapu objects are put aside in a separate room (as no doubt some of them are) - would people argue that there should be access as of right to that room and those objects, and that no discrimination in access to the room or the objects is allowed? There is an interesting discussion here of Aboriginal secret or sacred materials in Australian libraries, museums etc. Some of these materials are restricted to men or women for cultural reasons. Do people really think that these cultural restrictions should be disregarded just because the objects have ended up in a public museum, and that Australian museums are in breach of international human rights if they restrict men from viewing sacred women's objects, for example?

by NiuZila on October 13, 2010

Great post Sammi.  I am a Samoan, and we have similar views on pregnant/menstrating women.  You're right, what a lot of people in this discussion are assuming is that the basis for the "tapu" is to make women a lesser equal.  But it is the opposite.  Pregnancy/menstration is not a disease, but are "tapu" because they are to be protected and valued.  Maybe we, as NZers, need a lot more cultural understanding of why Maori believe pregnant/mentrating women are "sacred".

by Mark Wilson on October 13, 2010
Mark Wilson

As usual I got censored for too many inconvenient truths not expressed in sufficiently coded Waikato University PC speak. To rephrase for those who cannot cope with robust debate -

The questions remain unanswered -

1 - Why is the tapu lifted for the public but not for the tour? How is that logical?

2 - Why is it acceptable for Maori to use a state owned institution to discriminate against pregnant women when if anyone else did the same there would be an uproar? Supposedly Henry's crime was particularly egregious because TVNZ is a state owned enterprise.

No one of the above comments fairly dealt with these issues. 

by Claire Browning on October 13, 2010
Claire Browning

Mark -- what bollocks. Nobody has or is censoring you, on this occasion. When we do, you'll know about it. Man up, would you?

[PS. If you'd said 'censure', by the way, you might have been correct.]

by Mark Wilson on October 13, 2010
Mark Wilson


Labour MP Trevor Mal­lard says peo­ple should boy­cott Te Papa’s behind-the-scenes tour of sacred taonga.

The Hutt South MP says the notion that preg­nant and men­stru­at­ing women would be in dan­ger from the taonga by mak­ing the back­room tour is idiotic.

The idea that women are in dan­ger from weapons in a one-off behind-the-scenes tour but not in a gen­eral exhi­bi­tion says it all,” Mr Mal­lard said.

He also said the Te Papa staff mem­ber who agreed to the advi­sory con­di­tion was an idiot and Arts Min­is­ter Chris Fin­layson needed to inter­vene and sort out the issue imme­di­ately. “Any­one who con­dones such an approach by going on one of the tours lacks principle.”

Hun­dreds of preg­nant and men­stru­at­ing women walked past sacred taonga at Te Papa in pub­lic exhi­bi­tions every week. He was aware of Maori women being per­ma­nently entrusted with car­ing for taonga at marae through­out New Zealand.

Those women don’t stop look­ing after the taonga just because they are hav­ing their periods

by Judith Tizard on October 13, 2010
Judith Tizard

One of the great debates of museology, internationally and here, is about who owns things in museums. The Elgin Marbles is the most frequently quoted case. Te Papa, very sensibly in my view, has worked this out on the basis of  kaitiakitanga (sometimes translated as guardianship). This has meant they don't assert that they own things -while their Act gives them clear legal title to their collection. It also means they have few rows about ownership and take a much more active role in consulting and developing relationships with donors and the descendants of those who made or have connection with artifacts.

I had lots of people from other international musems saying they were very envious of both the concept and the relationships.

It is not sexist to say that this is the tradition and warn those who want to observe these traditions a chance to do that.

I did, however, object to New Zealand's national museum adopting a kawa that made it difficult for women to speak on the Te Papa marae that had been created using taxpayers funds. I several times refused to speak "as a special dispensation" as Minister responsible for Te Papa when other women had been told they couldn't speak.

I try to be polite to my hosts, Maori and Pakeha, but I was irritated that I was sometimes prevented from doing my job properly.  It was explained to me as "protecting me in case I was pregnant" at the time.

They seemed to quietly dropped the ban after a while or perhaps with a woman Governor General, PM and Minister they were overwhelmed by force of numbers.


by Mark Wilson on October 13, 2010
Mark Wilson

Thanks to Whale Oil for alerting us to that.

OK leftys, mealy mouth you way out of this!

by Claire Browning on October 13, 2010
Claire Browning

Thank you, Judith.

Mark. Far from catching "the left" with its pants down, as you seem to somehow think, all I can say is, you're exposing a lot more of the right's ghoulie bits.

by Mark Wilson on October 13, 2010
Mark Wilson

If you won't give me a reasoned response to the two points made surely Mallard deserves one or are some more equal than others when you are dealing with the left as well?

by Claire Browning on October 13, 2010
Claire Browning

All I'm doing is letting you know: I've got my eye on the thread, and you. You're lowering the tone, and you're on a final warning.

by Andrew Geddis on October 13, 2010
Andrew Geddis


You get censored when we delete your abuse/trolling comments and replace them with bolded comments of our own. You get derided when you write non-abusive/non-trolling comments that are silly. That's the difference.

As for your "points":

1. Your whole "tapu is lifted for the public" point is opaque. These tapu items aren't on public display, and Te Papa (as I understand it) doesn't publicly display tapu items (of this nature). So unless you know something we don't ...

2. Te Papa's custodianship of these taonga according to tikanga Maori and Paul Henry being a racist douchebag are simply not the same thing. If you wish to show how and why they are, go ahead. But until then, epic fail.

3: Trevor Mallard is a tool, and frankly if this is Labour's way back to the top I'll stick with National and Chris Finlayson, thanks. Incidentally, Trev might like to look at who the last Minister for Culture and Heritage was ... didn't notice her expressing any disquiet with a policy that has been in place since 1998 without any particular problems.


Thanks for that contribution. I agree that there are genuine problems with combining Maori cultural practices and recognising the equal rights of women to participate in public life. These make for some pretty curly issues (the "powhiri for government departments" one being another classic example). However, the present furore just isn't one of these examples, no matter how riled up folks would like to get over it.

by Graeme Edgeler on October 13, 2010
Graeme Edgeler

2. Te Papa's custodianship of these taonga according to tikanga Maori and Paul Henry being a racist douchebag are simply not the same thing. If you wish to show how and why they are, go ahead.

Quite right. Only one involves actual discrimination.

by Mark Wilson on October 13, 2010
Mark Wilson

Te Papa has said that the items will be on public display after the tour and that the tapu will be lifted for that. Confirmed on Jim Mora's show yesturday.

by Andrew Geddis on October 13, 2010
Andrew Geddis


You're a bit late on this thread - want to go back and relitigate what Dean and I said with respect to s.5 analysis earlier? Otherwise - yes there is "discrimination", in that there are different expectations regarding men and (pregnant or menstruating) women visiting the collection. And your point is...?


Ummm ... no. I listened to that interview, too. That just isn't what was said.

by Mark Wilson on October 13, 2010
Mark Wilson

Listen to the last question that was asked by Mora.

from Stuff 12 10 2010: The policy is not in place for the general exhibition.

It was OK for Te Papa to deeply hurt many Christians with it's Mary in a condom exhibit. No hypocrisy there?

by Andrew Geddis on October 13, 2010
Andrew Geddis

The point is that some of the items currently kept in the non-public collection may, following consultation with the iwi they come from and any cultural onsiderations/observances considered necessary, be put on public display. That's hardly saying all the 30,000 odd items in the taonga Maori collection are going to get made public, or that all of those items will be considered suitable for public display. Which would perhaps give your point some substance.

Put it this way - if a catholic church is deconsecrated and subsequently used as a nightclub, does that say anything about the sacred status of catholic churches that haven't been deconsecrated?

by Graeme Edgeler on October 13, 2010
Graeme Edgeler

I believe I've understood the argument: An invitation that implies a group of people desginated by their sex are unwelcome does not involve discrimination if it's not enforced.

In short, I would have a problem with an advertisment for a business that said "Pakeha Clients Welcome" even if all clients and potential clients were treated equally.

by Andrew Geddis on October 13, 2010
Andrew Geddis

Of course you would. The Human Rights Act 1993 forbids it. Plus there is no good reason to have such a sign. Perhaps you'd like to deal with the actual issue at hand?

by Graeme Edgeler on October 13, 2010
Graeme Edgeler

Perhaps you'd like to deal with the actual issue at hand?

I believe I have. It is proper for a museum to advise people of cultural and other considerations relating to exhibits/items in their care. And it is good that Te Papa has procedures around this.

It should not however do this in a discriminatory way. On this occasion, it failed. It's invitation included:

"Wahine [women] who are either hapu [pregnant] or mate wahine [menstruating] are welcome to visit at another time that is convenient for them."

If they had said:

"Wahine [women] who are either hapu [pregnant] or mate wahine [menstruating] and who would feel uncomfortable are welcome to visit at another time that is convenient for them."

I would take no issue. But they didn't. And I consider that the invitation that was sent out is qualitatively identical to the advertisement I posit above.

What seems to have been intended was to make women feel welcome on the day in question, and on any other day. But that's not what is said - jast as the wording in my not-real advertisement may only have been intended to make Pakeha feel welcome, with no intended implication that non-Pakeha should feel unwelcome. Both fail. Both are similarly discriminatory.

by Graeme Edgeler on October 13, 2010
Graeme Edgeler

Here's my basic take on what happened:

Te Papa invites some people to view a private exhibit:

Someone is Te Papa thinks "these items are consider tapu by the people who have loaned them to us; some pregnant or menstruating women may be uncomfortable viewing them on that day, because some people from different cultures (with different worldviews, and in this case, some with a Maori worldview), would feel uncomfortable being near items that are tapu while pregnant or menstruating. It would be sad if they were to miss out, so I'll note in the invitation that they're welcome any time."

Said person then drafts invitation in way that implies that women are only welcome when not pregnant or menstruating. No-one realises. Invitations go out. Hilarity ensues.

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