Lisa Shamseldin – New Zealand Law Society Standards Committee finds no offence with the term “Feme Sole” – “woman without a husband”‏

nz law status of women in nz

In New Zealand, a woman’s professional status could depend on whether or not she’s married

New Zealand Law Society Standards Committee finds no offence with the term “Feme Sole” – “woman without a husband”‏

New Zealand Women 2016 still dealing with oppressive, premodern “coverture”

Vestiges of the pre-modern and oppressive Doctrine of Coverture regarding the legal status of women in 2016 continue to haunt the New Zealand Law Society. In a recent complaint to the New Zealand Law Society Standards Committee, a professional but divorced woman raised her concern that a professional but divorced male Barrister had referred to her in official court documents as a “Feme Sole” – a woman without a husband. The term “Feme Sole” originates from the 1870s and relates to a woman who has never been married, or whose subordination to her husband has been invalidated through a judicial decision [divorce]. As the term “Fem Sole” originates from a time when a woman’s marital status determined her legal status, one would have expected, in 2016, that the New Zealand Law Society, Standards Committee would have pounced on such a discriminatory and sexist description of a professional woman solely on the basis of her marital status.

Not so.

The New Zealand Lawyers and Conveyancers Act (Lawyers: Conduct and Client Care) Rules 2008

Chapter 12 of the New Zealand Lawyers and Conveyancers Act (Lawyers: Conduct and Client Care) Rules 2008 (“the Rules”) provide that:

A lawyer must, when acting in a professional capacity, conduct dealings with others, including self- represented persons, with integrity, respect and courtesy

One would think and hope that referring to a professional woman in 2016 using only her status as married/unmarried would be an affront to the Standards Committee in terms of its role in promoting gender equality, sexism and rights of women within the law. Even more so, given there is no male equivalent to the term “Feme Sole”. The Standards Committee of the New Zealand Law Society decided however, that in 2016, the use of the term “Feme Sole” in relation to a professional woman does not does not breach the duty of the male, divorced, Barrister to conduct himself with integrity, respect and courtesy. The justification for the decision by the Standards Committee was the previous widespread use of the term. The Standards Committee seems to have ignored the previous widespread use of the term was during the 1800’s and early 1900’s. Coverture may have almost faded but remnants of this pre-modern device of women’s oppression clearly remain intact within the New Zealand Law Society and the Standards Committee. Professional women in New Zealand beware: descriptions of your professional status in 2016 may just depend on whether or not you are married.

By Dr Lisa Shamseldin PhD Law

12 thoughts on “Lisa Shamseldin – New Zealand Law Society Standards Committee finds no offence with the term “Feme Sole” – “woman without a husband”‏

  1. I would strongly like to warn women about the deep misogynistic attitudes of NZ men.

    I was raised by my UK parents to believe that both girls and boys should grow up and get professional jobs, following study at university. As you can imagine, it was a real shock for me when the lecturer at Canterbury University in NZ told us that women are second to men and always will be. I paid thousands of dollars for university tuition to better my career chances, only to be told by a NZ male lecturer it’s not really worth the time or money for women to get an education as it won’t ever make us equal to men.

    When I think back to those days I smile at how naive I was to be shocked by the attitudes of that NZ man. For the next ten years of my life in NZ, misogyny was my constant companion. NZ men love to shout at women, and intimidate and demean them (if you’ve ever wondered why NZ women look so timid and afraid all the time, it’s because they grew up with men treating them like that so they’re always bracing themselves for abuse). I’m petite for a woman, but NZ men seem to really get off on laying into small woman and belittling them, and they don’t view the size difference as anything to be ashamed of (in other countries it is considered cowardly to abuse people much smaller than yourself).

    While many NZ men are kind, the kind ones are too meek to stand up to the ones who shout at women in public places. I was once on a crowded train and a NZ man was taking up two seats while everyone else stood (he had his bag on one seat). I asked very politely, using my British manners, if he would mind moving his bag so I could sit down (it was a long trip – 45 mins). You wouldn’t believe the torrent of abuse I received in response. And not one NZ’er intervened. Afterwards when we departed the train, a man told me I handled the abuse really well without crying. That was a real giveaway that this type of thing happens all the time and women just cry while NZ men unknown to them verbally abuse them for rightly asking to sit in a spare train seat. Take a look at the high rates of domestic violence and you’ll see that abusing women is the “norm.” These deeply misogynistic attitudes result in men who are lonely and depressed because their wives have left them, and in turn they end up taking their lives, all because they weren’t raised to love and enjoy the company of a female companion. It’s sad because he’s only copying what his father taught him about how to treat his wife, and he doesn’t know what wrong it is.

    The number of examples of misogyny in the workplace are too plentiful to mention, but was the aggression and verbal abuse from strange men that really wore me down and was the motivating factor in my move to Australia. Please don’t raise your daughters there – think carefully about how few NZ women are successful compared to other countries and raise your girls in a nation where women are not “second to men and always will be.”

  2. To me this just shows how pathetic the feminist movement is. They will complain about legal phrases like this, and words like tradesman, fireman, policeman, and manhole cover (despite the fact that the vast majority of people in these professions are in fact MEN and describing them generically makes their gender invisible). Then they have the audacity to make up words of their own like manspreading that are clearly gender biased (the very word feminism is in fact sexist).

    The sad thing is that there is a clear feminist bias in the media, and this can be seen on numerous websites as well. One I came across recently had an article on suicide in New Zealand, yet failed to mention one of the most important statistics about it – the fact that 80% of suicides are men.

    • Macho culture in N.Z prohibits many males from expressing emotion or discussing feelings ,N.Z women seem to like this ,male friendships are governed by unspoken boundaries and conversations are limited to work and sports,deviation from this path will get a male labeled as gay.
      Hardly surprising that this kind of repression leads to a high suicide rate.

      • Men don’t generally deal with stress by getting emotional and discussing their feelings; these are the ways that women deal with their problems. This has nothing to do with “macho culture” whether in New Zealand or otherwise, but with biological and psychological differences between the genders. Men tend to withdraw, think things through, and then return to those they care about when they feel safe to do so. They require a VERY different type of support during troubling times.

        The approach that Western Society has, both in New Zealand AND overseas, doesn’t cater for these differences, providing support that is exclusively aimed at female needs, while ignoring male needs completely. The same approach can be seen in the education sector, where the approaches to teaching now favour girls.

        There is also a direct correlation between suicide in men and marriage breakup, specifically when men are removed from their children’s lives. Until recently, 85% of marriage breakups where children were involved ended up with them with the mother as primary caregiver, and 40% of the time the father was systematically eliminated from their lives. This often took place via the use of false domestic violence or rape accusations (approximately 60% of rape claims in New Zealand from women are false, which is why the real claims are often not taken seriously). This situation of women being given custody almost all of the time, only changed after a lot of work from men’s rights activists in New Zealand, who demanded better treatment in the courts. These same activists are also pushing for domestic violence shelters for the male victims of domestic violence, that make up at least HALF of the total victims.

        Men also make up 98% of workplace deaths, indicating that for many men, going to work is genuinely a life threatening situation, and medical funding for specific male related diseases is a fraction of that given to women (breast cancer funding is around 600% higher than that of testicular cancer funding despite nearly identical levels of occurrence).

        It is hardly surprising that when men are not supported right across the board in New Zealand, that many will resort to suicide as the only way out. This is a nation that, quite literally, is killing its men.

  3. Latin can be useful, often can a singe word replace a whole paragraph in English, but not here. “Feme Sole” simply means “single woman” or “woman alone”. No reason to use it at all. It was obviously intended as a slur and insult.

    New Zealand imported its legal system in the early 19th century from Britain, with all the class society and now archaic culture that then existed. Nearly 200 years later, not much has happened. New Zealand is a joke internationally and called “retarded” in much of the world today. It has stopped developing as other nations.

    I have much worse stories to tell. This is an insult, but the archaic law with its attached closed society of lawyers and judges can cause real personal destruction. This is one story. I have seen all the court papers.

    Jack, not his real name, was as a young man getting an OE in Asia. He fell in love with a young very charming local girl from a very poor family. They got married and moved to New Zealand. She was very honest about that she married him for a better life. He was a very successful high flier, earned a lot, and paid her education and supporter her family. She never bothered about a career, worked occasionally for fun, and lived a luxury life with jet setting, fine wines, cars, clothes and food, and they had a maid, and she never did anything for the marriage. The years passed, they had no children, and then disaster struck. Jack got seriously sick and the money flow stopped. He had invested his entire family heritage in their nice home, several generations of hard earned savings. Then she decided to cash in the chips. One day she simply took her special edition Mercedes, left, and filed for divorce. In the secret family court the judge decided that Jack entire family wealth was “matrimonial property” and should be divided. The judge openly colluded with her lawyer and gave advice, and it was not a 50/50 split, everything possible was tilted to her advantage. It broke Jack.

    In all modern nations, as EU and even China, at a divorce you get what you have put into the marriage – only. There is no splitting equally, there is no “money making divorces”. Doing the dishes and cleaning the floor does not translate to matrimonial property. Inherited funds stay with the family.

    The New Zealand system has remained in the era when a woman just married could be called to a meeting with the manager and asked to resign, so man who better needed the job to support his family could be employed. The world has changed since, but the closed incestuous legal fraternity of lawyers and judges and the law in New Zealand has not.

    Rick Harriss
    Retired Kiwi writer
    Hong Kong

    • I understand a prenuptial agreement isn’t worth the paper it’s written on either.I had a friend in a similiar situation to “Jack”. He bought a house with a large mortgage ,wife decided to split the country maxed out some large credit cards very quickly and pulled some other dirty deeds.My friend was emotionally distraught couldn’t pay the mortgage etc.The court failed to take into account all the funds the ex had absconded with,the house was sold for a song by the bank,(most likely to a bank insider), the entire balance of the debt was loaded onto my mate,no worries that the mortgage was also under her name ,she was gone so they decided to put her into the to hard to find basket and saddle the male with the entire debt,I’m sure if the situation had been different and had their been a separation with positive equity in the house she would have received half the money if divorced.I think N.Z just makes up the rules as they go along.

      • Also I meant to say ,there was absolutely no reason to mention the persons marital status in this case however I suspect that under sloppy N.Z law a sly lawyer can sneak in any inflammatory or derogatory remarks including ,marital status ,gender,race or sexual orientation without fear of significant consequence.

  4. I’ve been called much worse by lawyers when on the witness stand giving evidence they didn’t like (I.E. The truth.) Is it possible that perhaps someone is being a little too thin skinned? Lawyers often use anachronistic language that would not be appropriate outside of the arcane legal setting in which they operate. It is strange to hear a lawyer suddenly objecting to this, although I do agree that perhaps lawyers should in general modernise their language appropriate to the 21st century. What is wrong with using plain, appropriate language and being respectful to others in general?

    • While they’re at it they might want to change the system of making decisions based on some bodies character judgement,I mean who the hell has the right or information to make that call however it’s often used to make legal decisions in N.Z .Im sure until recently they would have given Ralph Harris an A+ character rating ,John Key is still a man of good character even though he has publicly assaulted a woman staff member at a restaurant by pulling her hair ,it would be funny if it wasn’t so serious.

      • And doesn’t egalitarianism mean a focus on BOTH genders? Why the continual focus on general experiences of New Zealand, or female experiences of New Zealand, with no focus on the male experience of New Zealand whatsoever? How men are treated here is one of the biggest myths you need to address, after all, it affects nearly 50% of the entire population.

        Here are a few areas to get you started: Why there are no domestic violence shelters for men? Why do men make up 80% of suicides and 98% of workplace deaths? Why are there no “woman attacks man” laws when the reverse is in place? Why are male related medical needs not funded to the same level as women’s? Why is it that there isn’t more focus on men when they make up 75% of the victims of violence? Why is it that only men can be charged with rape? Why is it that men get prison sentences that average 300% of the severity of those of women for the same crime? Why is it that paternity testing at birth is not a standard procedure? Why are there “Women’s Studies” programs at universities throughout the country, and no “Men’s Studies” programs whatsoever? Why is nothing being done to address unequal representation of men in female dominated occupations such as teaching, or in places such as university? Why are the majority of New Zealand’s homeless people men?

        These are just a few of the areas you could look at.

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