Wellington New Zealand
This blog owes its formation to Rhubarb. Yes, that much loved delicious summer dessert that New Zealand families are so fond of. Having created a new vegetable garden in a relatively sheltered and sunny spot for windy Wellington, I decided to try once again to have a Rhubarb patch. So off to my local Mitre 10 store I went to make my plant purchase, one of those everyday small and seemingly inconsequential errands that comprise our lives.
Looking at the Rhubarb label, I found to my surprise an image of a black fish net stocking on a woman’s leg which was encasing rhubarb stalks, complete with black high heel. Upon closer inspection, I noted the name of the plant – Ruby Tart and the brightly coloured orange label. A very colourful composition indeed, or should I say exposition, with red Rhubarb stalks, green plant tops, a black fish net stocking, a name that screamed Tart, given in the largest of all the fonts, all wrapped in orange – a Mitre 10 labeled plant no less.
My initial response was not to support endeavours which used imagery that, by inference denigrate women. Can one not even go to a hardware store without having a Rhubarb plant conveying a sexual message? This is sexist I said to the sales assistant. The reply was, I thought, well considered. ‘This type of thing reflects badly on men as well ” and then went on to say, that ‘women are still denied the opportunity to serve in the Armed Forces’. This thought to the fore no doubt because it was the week before Anzac Day. I replied there is a wonderful Ted Talk which referred to research by Julia Penelope which describes the way language is used to portray a mans problem as the woman’s fault. (Jackson KATZ titled “Violence against Women”). The eyes glazed over before I completed this sentence. Perhaps having completed the required ‘two minute devoted attention to the client – time’, duty had been done. I left the store.
My destination was the lovely La Cloche cafe, some distance away, but one of the few, that has ambience, finesse and charm, where one is welcomed to the space, not herded in and out with machine like precision, like another French cafe I originally delighted in finding in ‘suit street’ Wellington. Nor does one have to walk zig zag fashion to avoid the advertising messages that blurt loudly when one walks by, as is the case in Mitre 10. La Cloche is a very pleasant place indeed.
Thinking about that Rhubarb plant over coffee, I decided that enough was enough. I would return to the store, buy that plant along with its accompanying visual imagery, for that plant was to herald the beginning of a blog – a first for moi. It is time for New Zealand consumers to stand up and say enough is enough. And that statement applies equally to moi. Yet Lady Luck was not with me that mid week morning as within two hours of my original visit “the rhubarb plant has been sold to a Chinese lady”. I wonder if she noticed what Ruby Tart was wearing? Or that Ruby was a tart? Who would choose to eat a tart Rhubarb anyway? And I wonder what are the mathematical odds of selling the one remaining Rhubarb plant within two hours of viewing. Wellington, the capital city has around 450,000 residents I believe. Not deterred, with assistance of the pleasant store people, available supplies were located and I drove to the Mitre 10 Mega Store in Upper Hutt. There were a number of Ruby Tarts, alas forgone, passed over for they had not sold in the summer months as expected. I wonder why – had other customers closed their handbags and said no to Ruby Tart?
So I bought Ruby Tart complete with stocking label. A picture is worth a thousand words and I wanted to share this with you dear reader. What do you think? Am I out of step. The sheer audacity of inference was palatably ‘not right’ in my view. Effectively Mitre 10, in choosing to have this product for sale, were sexualising the family pudding, calling mother cooks aka women who wear fish net stockings, tarts. Not nice. Remember each footprint matters and Mitre 10 in my view are making an imprint for all the wrong reasons. They are targeting what’s evidently become a societal norm, the diminishment of women for their own ends. Could those ends be all about money? Cashing in on the smirking response? Silly mistake – for I don’t expect many males buy Rhubarb but what do I, a mere woman – know. With commercial externalisation rampant, people are too weighed down by everyday living to have the energy to voice what matters most.
Up till now that is, for enough is enough.
Mitre 10 is a Company of some standing in New Zealand, particularly with women, who I imagine account for a growing percentage of its home handy person clientele, as women work out we can do it just as well, and maybe even better. I have a reasonably comprehensive tool kit the majority of which has been purchased from Mitre 10 over the past 30 years or so. Incidentally I was in the throes of writing to the local Mitre 10 Store Manager commending the plant division for the charm a women employee had introduced to the shove up a shack mentality that existed when the plant centre first relocated from Williams Garden Centre Crofton Downs. Actually, I had written the first draft that very morning. Men in business don’t rate charm, its off the list of priorities, yet some small steps had been taken – and what a difference it makes to the shopping experience. Credit where credit is due I have written that letter – and included a link to this blog.
Who are the parties involved with Ruby Tart’s arrival in Mitre 10 stores? Container Nurseries supplied the plant to Mitre 10 complete with bar code, so do we take it that they were responsible for the naming of the plant and the design of the Rhubarb Tart imagery ? And what is the role if any, of The Nursery & Garden Association New Zealand (NGINZ) who ‘are the industry face’ – ‘and the peak industry body for the production nursery and garden retail industry, and those who supply it’.
I wonder does the naming of plants and the choice of imagery need to meet any criteria of decency or sensibility at all? Clearly all these parties either directly, or indirectly if no guidelines exist, sanctioned a product that demeaned women. Did anyone think or is there no one left who can think anymore? Who has any regard for the customer for whom all the effort went into seeding, growing and preparing this product for sale? There is a misplaced link here. If a store wants to sell product and the customer wants to buy product, when did insulting female customers become a sport? What about regard and respect for the clientele.?
The demeaning of women has become an accepted norm if simply trying to buy a Rhubarb plant thrusts sex onto my pudding plate. The patriarchal society has been persistent in its conditioning of women to feel less than the equal members of society they truly are. What’s more, they have been clever in branding what is a mans problem as the woman’s fault. What is it they fear? The softening of the sentiments is a well used societal ploy, until worn down people become submissive. This case in point demonstrates that people are desensitised for naming and using sexual imagery when labelling a plant is considered fair game. Its not. I need to tell you Mitre 10, Container Nurseries and the NGINZ that behaving badly is not acceptable at all.
I invite Mitre 10 to comment on stocking (oops a pun) retail items condoning or at the very least sanctioning derogatory inferences towards its women clients though the use of imagery and names on Mitre 10 labelled plants. Secondly withdraw the item Ruby Tart from its stock – permanently. This is easy for Mitre 10 to action. A stroke of a pen by a considered gent, could delete – where there is a will there is a way. Perhaps the remaining items could be donated to Women’s Refuge. I wonder what they might think? I wonder what they might say? Or perhaps donate those forlorn Ruby Tarts, unhappy with their birth name and clothing, to the National Council of Women; a very considered group if judging by the correspondence they sent to John Key on his derogatory actions towards an Auckland waitress is anything to go by. Or better still how about working alongside Container Nurseries and renaming the plant Kate, after Kate Sheppard, for it was Kate that first voiced the phrase Is it Right?. With Mitre 10 having a representative on the NGINZ board he is well placed to bring more accountability to the industry.
It’s time women
stood up for their beliefs
rather than being acted upon
This is an opportunity for Mitre 10 and company, to change their imprint and enhance their community standing in the wake of Ruby Tart. Rebranding, its the common things these days to hide misdemeanours. Have these organisations the mettle to act? Furthermore I invite Mitre 10, Container Nurseries and The NZ Nursery Association to look at their moral compass. The shove up a shack mentality seems to be a metaphor for the culture of these organisations, if this Rhubarb experience is anything to go by. Think about the implications of behaviours and attitudes towards women.
This blog is a call for change in these particular organisations but more importantly this is a call to all, to pause and consider how we are all behaving – and responding to what is clearly not right. It’s time we acted on our store experiences and voted with our feet – walk right out of the store. Share your positive experiences and support those places that are gracious towards their clients. Simply voicing the phrase – “Is it Right”, when you encounter situations that are not palatable to you, encourages others to think. When we question, we expand our consciousness, thus waking up to the all pervasive societal conditioning. We are all infinitely powerful and collectively a voice to be reckoned with. So I ask you dear reader, to find a way to express the courage of your convictions if you find this particular Rhubarb too tart for your taste.
Femina …a thinking individual; an individual who thinks
Photo credits – In order of appearance Tarkay, privately owned, La Cloche Cafe Wellington, Ruby Tart, Mitre 10 and or Container Nurseries, Kate Shepherd Pedestrian Lights, Wellington City Council.