Images: Bernice Mene / Claire Chitham / Prue Kapua / Bronwynn Bakker / Caroline Herewini
Women are creatures of wisdom. Call it intuition, experience, insight, a hunch, whatever… the world would be a better place if women were listened to more frequently. To mark International Women’s Day, we’ve gathered together a collection of wisdom from Kiwi women from different walks of life. Today, we continue the series with television producer Bronwynn Bakker, Māori Women’s Welfare League president Prue Kapua, Te Whare Manaaki Wahine Refuge Kaiwhakahaere Caroline Herewini, former Silver Fern Bernice Mene, and actor Claire Chitham.
What’s the one piece of wisdom that has been the most valuable to you throughout your life?
Bronwynn: Everyone is replaceable! I love this because it keeps me grounded and makes me think about what makes me special and what can I add to whatever challenge is ahead of me. It makes me respect my life experiences, and use them to make the most of my professional and personal life. This statement, for me, is liberating and grounding.
Prue: Be strong in knowing who you are and that you are solely responsible for doing your part in a bigger picture.
Caroline: Family is the most important – be kind, caring, have faith, hope, & love one another, be forgiving, loyal and work hard.
Claire: A memorable one for me is This Too Shall Pass. I am not religious at all, it was ‘given’ to me by a magical massage therapist I had about 20 years ago. A constant reminder that during the bad times there will be good on the other side somewhere, and after the good there will no doubt come struggle and challenge so stay appreciative when you’re there.
Bernice: Can I have two? My mum always said “stand up tall, put your shoulders back and be proud of who you are and what you can do” and dad said “if in doubt just smile”.
Kristine: When I was little, my Nana Crabb told me the most beautiful words in language were ‘thank you’ and ‘sorry’. It was her way of teaching me that being grateful and humble are the most beautiful aspects of a person which guide you to live a strong and meaningful life.
What has been your greatest challenge, and how have you overcome it?
Bronwynn: Work/life balance - and I am not sure I have overcome it. It is a daily challenge! And now at 36, I feel it is more challenging than ever for different reasons than when I was in my 20’s. However, in the same breath, I have worked out that being good at your job doesn’t have to mean working 18-hour days every day, and answering emails at all hours of the day. I have proven myself in my industry, and particularly as a female, the challenge that now lies ahead for me is what I do with that, and how I work out how to ‘have it all’.
Prue: There are probably two challenges - one was making that first decision to leave home and go to University when you don't know anyone else who has done that before and you don't know what to expect. That was made much easier by a strong Maori Studies Department at Auckland University and the support we had for each other. The other (later) challenge is the issue of being part of the system (as a lawyer) and trying to challenge that system and its processes particularly from a Maori perspective and as a woman. I'm not sure you ever overcome it but you can't stop challenging it regardless of the response and you have to be resilient enough to take the flak and confident enough to not let it wear you down.
Kristine: Lack of self-belief and confidence - still a work in progress! I think it's part of being creative. These days I just accept everything for what it is, and give my self a lot of approval. That way, it's easier to let the hard stuff go, and fall in love with the good stuff.
Caroline: In my line of work, adversity is something we often encounter. In the face of adversity, we must learn treat everyone as you would like to be treated. And that is a challenge sometimes. Be kind, caring, have faith, hope, & love one another. Be forgiving and work hard.
Claire: My greatest personal challenge thus far, has been living with and then conquering the chronic pain and inflammation based illness, Crohn’s Disease. I was diagnosed when I was 12 years old. There was very little research or information around then about what it was and how to treat it. At the time I was going through this, I was working on Shortland Street, which has a pretty intense schedule. I learned to deeply listen to my body and put its needs first.
Bernice: Biggest challenge was sticking out or up literally. I was 6ft tall when I was 12 years old - lanky and uncoordinated, big feet, deep voice, and people can be mean – not just children but adults too. Being of samoan heritage but not speaking samoan was also isolating, growing up in Christchurch. To overcome these things I had to learn to be resilient, to build a strong inner voice, a thick skin, and surround myself with good positive people. A good friend once told me to “kill them with kindness”.
If there was one piece of advice you could give your younger self, what would it be and why?
Bronwynn: Back yourself. I 100% think believing in who you are and what you are is the hardest thing to achieve in life. I have recently come accustomed to the phrase “Imposter Syndrome” and I think a lot of people, women especially, feel this on a daily basis. There are days I think ‘how did I achieve that’ or ‘how did I get through that’ and at the end of the day luck has nothing to do with it, it’s self-belief that gets you there. So instead of feeling like you have to prove your worth and justify your place in the world, I have (on most days!) made a decision to actively back myself.
Prue: Go with my instincts. When I was younger I took a more precautionary approach and probably worried too much about what others might think or how they might act. When you know what is right or feels right then you know what you need to do.
Caroline: I have a few pieces of advice actually. Don’t be selfish ... it’s not just about me! And I think also of a whakatauki - He aha te mea nui o te Ao? He aroha, he aroha, he aroha! Essentially it means ‘without love the people will perish!’ I think there is something really important in that.
Claire: Stop panicking! Why was there always something to be ‘worrying’ about or ‘panicking’ about? Life ain’t that much of a problem all the time girlfriend!! I was always operating at such a fierce speed, like that was going to get me somewhere. It doesn’t get you anywhere faster than you were already going to go, so you may as well slow down and actually enjoy the experience. Whatever it is.
The rising levels of anxiety and depression that we are seeing in society are a sign that there is still far too much utterly, unnecessary panic going on. We are still living in a world of unrealistic expectations being placed on ourselves and each other and it has to shift.
Bernice: Work hard, laugh loudly, be proud to stand out, brave enough to “zig when everyone else zags” and don't forget to be good to yourself daily.
Kristine: Absolutely anything is possible. Your differentness is your strength and beauty for a far greater plan than you can imagine right now.
What would you like your legacy to be?
Bronwynn: The best I could hope for is that I have impacted people’s lives in a positive way. I spend a lot of my time wanting to be better, and thinking about how I can impact the world, but at the end of the day none of that matters if you are doing it on your own or at the expense of someone else. So for me, my legacy is tied into how I make someone’s day, life, or universe better on a personal and professional level.
Prue: I would like to feel that I used the skills and experience I had acquired throughout my life to make people aware and to hopefully understand the particular place we have as tangata whenua in this country and the need to actively address the devastation colonisation has caused.
Kristine: I would like my legacy to be that I created and inspired a fluid, honest idea of beauty in fashion.
Caroline: Every star has its own brightness. I would hope that everybody can find their brightness.
Claire: Firstly, I’m more interested in what I’m leaving behind right now, as opposed to when I’m no longer physically here. I’m here to sample everything I can of the human experience, learn about it and share stories about that experience with others. Ideally – the stories are reflective, relatable and teach others something about what it means to be human that they may not know, or may have forgotten.
Bernice: To have added value to all areas I have touched and hopefully inspired and assisted to grow a new generations of leaders.Support Villainesse