Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Louise Nicholas is My Hero

For more than eighteen months I've had a patch that says "Louise Nicholas is My Hero" on my bag. 'I believe Louise Nicholas', or 'We believe Louise Nicholas', or 'Louise Nicholas We Believe You' have been on badges, leaflets, stickers, and banners carried by me, and the people I know.

I was worried that with our statement of belief in her we were turning her into a NZ feminist version of that photo of Che Guevara, while she was still alive. Or more, what if by doing this we were taking something away from her? That there was going to be less of her left afterwards. Or that we'd invented a version of her from the photos, interviews and newspaper articles - turned her into a cardboard cut-out version.

I saw Louise Nicholas speak tonight, and I don't think we're taking anything from her.

It was a strange evening - I wish I could have gone to the Auckland event, which was less glitzy and had people from rape crisis. The Wellington event was held at the Intercontinental - the most upmarket hotel in Wellington and cost $20. We sat in a wood-paneled conference room, more usually used for discussions on sales targets and surpluses.

Louise Nicholas was introduced by Tim Pankhurst who edits the Dominion Post, the whole event was a bit of a self-congratulation to the Dominion Post. Phil Kitchin broke the story in the Dominion Post and on TV1, and has returned to work at the Dominion Post (after he was made redundant from TV1, because apparently a news show has no need for investigative journalists). I think I'd normally have a problem with the self-congratulation - not being a huge fan of the Dominion Post. But when he was introducing Louise Nicholas, Tim Pankhurst appeared to be defaming Clint Rickards, and I'll like almost anyone for an hour or so if they do that.

Louise Nicholas was so staunch. I've thought of many different ways to describe her, but that's the one I keep coming back to. She was really powerful when she spoke, giving each word its due. She talked about her experiences, about being raped, but mostly about fighting back. When she was talking I thought she seemed so natural and strong. But just after she finished (the audience gave her a standing ovation) there was this look of relief on her face, which showed that however uncomfortable I was in this atmosphere, she was far more uncomfortable.

The crowd was mostly women, which didn't surprise me. I think there were about 15 men in a crowd of 100. I should be too old to be surprised about this, but I was increasingly astonished when the first four people to ask questions were all men. In total 11 people asked questions and six of them were men. They weren't even good questions. Most of them were completely obvious to anyone who had followed the case - and certainly to anyone who read the book.

I was really nervous about going up to get my book signed. On my way down I'd unpicked my "Louise Nicholas is My Hero" patch, and I wanted to give it to her. Only I was shy, and didn't want to impose. I was a little bit relieved when I saw that everyone was talking to her and saying thank you.

When I talked to her, I knew I hadn't turned her into a symbol, that we hadn't needed to people are more powerful and symbols. This is true of anyone that our contradictions and complications make us more real and relevant to this messy world than anything as simple as a symbol. But it's particularly true of Louise Nicholas. I do believe her, she is my hero, but because she's a person, not in spite of it.

1 comment:

  1. She's my hero too. I wish I'd been there.