It is difficult to fathom the arguments being made in court about the ‘Gloriavale six’ – six women who revealed that women at Gloriavale were expected to do women’s work from a young age and, as adults, for around 90 hours per week. Slaves, they were.
The first issue to be confronted is that, at Gloriavale, women are barely human. I heard the argument being made that while there might be a case for employment rights for the men, because the work they do had economic value, the work that women did there had no such value and could not be considered work.
This is truly neanderthal thinking. How long would the men be able to do their brave money-making work for without clean clothes, houses looked after, food in their belly and someone to look after the hoards of children they spawned without thought?
But it was quite interesting to be reminded of the roots of the continued under-valuing that women still face today at work and at home in our society. The literal notion that women have no economic value – that all their value derives from men – is a sober reminder of the roots of women’s oppression.
The second issue at stake here is the treatment of these women. If they did not perform to the expectation of the men who led Gloriavale, they were starved, shamed, hit and otherwise punished. In short, they were treated more like dogs than like women, and indeed no compassionate person would even treat their dogs like that.
It is important to remember that the movement set up by Neville Cooper – the Cooperite sect – preceded the enlightenment era in New Zealand when women were, at last, able to be treated as persons in their own right, including fully participating in society on equal terms with men.
Gloriavale was based upon a men’s fantasy where women pleasured the master and looked after the men in every single way. The ‘work’ that women did to achieve this was not considered to be employment. Of course it wasn’t. It was their natural role played out in a perfect patriarchal society. Women were doing as God ordained. Having babies and looking after men was what women were and did.
So watching this play out in a modern courtroom in 2022 is particularly fascinating. There are all sorts of issues and contrasts at play. There are the women who drive over from Gloriavale each day to uphold the beliefs of the sect and stand as witness against these other, evil, women who seek to shake off their oppression. I have no doubt that the beliefs of the Gloriavale women will themselves be challenged as the arguments for freedom, for economic and social equality, and for a different lifestyle are layed out in the courtroom.
There are the lawyers, both white men. Brian Henry is a sort of lawyer to the stars in New Zealand, and is a pretty skilled and dogged advocate. While I wish the women had chosen a female advocate, I think he is doing a good job (but it is not that hard a case to make).
The other guy, who I do not know, is on a bit of a hiding to nothing. I do not envy him the role of having to go in, day after day, and defend the indefensible. Gloriavale is never going to win in a society where awareness of wider human rights has become so important.
The ties that bind Gloriavale together are threatened by encroachment from outside on numerous levels. There were the sexual violence claims, harassment, treatment of people with disabilities, the dreadful education system that limited views of the world and curtailed learning at age 15. After Cooper died – for he was apparently charismatic, a sort of glue that lasted for decades – people started leaving, despite the enormous barriers facing them in doing so – banishment, economic ruin and the threat of eternal damnation.
This fight to justify the oppression of women, the right to treat them as worthless and to rule over them, punish them and bend them to their will is really Gloriavale’s last stand. The sect was founded in the 1970s but I doubt it will last until the 2030s. And good riddance too.