Farewell Jill Brasell

Posted: December 3, 2015 by daphna in Uncategorized
Jill Brassell

Jill Brasell

Today hundreds of people farewelled Jill Brasell in Wellington. She was a writer, mother, political activist, musician, and much loved partner of Don Franks. Jill died on November 30, aged 65, after a battle with cancer.

Jill was multi-talented, principled and widely respected. All her adult life she took part in progressive causes, marched and demonstrated, and gave a lift to many of those occasions by playing protest songs in bands such as Brass Razoo.

She wrote for Redline from time to time; always presenting considered ideas with clarity. 

One of the most frequently-read pieces on Redline is an excellent article on women’s liberation by Jill. It is reposted below.

Farewell Jill, you will be greatly missed and not forgotten.

Daphna Whitmore

Women’s liberation: time for a new movement?

Posted: June 13, 2011 by Admin in Women’s rights & women’s liberation

by Jill Brasell

If you ask a young woman today what she thinks about women’s liberation, chances are she’ll say either “What’s that?” or “Who needs it?”

She wouldn’t be alone in thinking that the fact that New Zealand has had a woman prime minister and women in some other high positions proves that there are no longer any barriers holding women back.

But does it? Have women really achieved the “liberation” we dreamed of in the 70s?

Back then, the goals of the women’s movement seemed clear enough. We fought fora future — just around the corner, we thought — in which:

• equal pay would lead to equal incomes for men and women

• opportunities for work and education would not be related to gender

• freely-available contraception and abortion would mean every child was a wanted child, and family planning would be under parents’ control

• women would share the breadwinning role, and men would share the housework and child care

• cheap, good-quality daycare would enable parents to work or study as freely as non-parents

• children would no longer be forced into stereotyped gender roles

• sexual freedom and social equality would bring an end to rape, pornography and prostitution.

The millennium seemed a long way off then, and surely time enough to bring these changes about, or at least get within sight of them. But with the millennium well behind us now, how many of those goals can we tick off as achieved?

Equal pay?

While we’ve won some legislation against sexual discrimination in employment opportunities and pay, the gender gap has scarcely narrowed at all in terms of income. Women may have equal pay rates, but can’t approach men’s incomes unless they can work like men (that is, not take time out to bear or care for children). Having a few women on high pay does nothing for the thousands on minimum wage.

Equal opportunity?

Women now have access to a greater range of jobs and careers than ever before, but they still face a conflict between family and work that men rarely feel. And in spite of anti-discrimination laws, sexual harassment and prejudice still effectively limit women’s choices.

Reproductive control?

Access to abortion is easier, and contraception more available, but a consequence of this that we never foresaw has been the new-right notion that having children is an individual “lifestyle choice”. According to this thinking, if you choose to have a child (as you might choose to get a dog), raising that child is entirely your responsibility, and you can sink or swim. (Never mind that you are helping to ensure the ongoing supply of future mechanics, doctors, cleaners, bus drivers, builders and so on.) Consequently, many women put off childbearing till it’s too late, and now infertility has become a social problem.

Shared roles?

Men (why were we surprised?) didn’t pick up the housework partnership idea with any enthusiasm, if at all. Instead of home-based parenting becoming a shared role, it has almost disappeared. Most women, unless they can afford nannies and cleaners, find themselves working at a job all day then doing a second shift of housework when they get home.

Socialised child care?

Just about the only goal of the women’s liberation movement that has come close to being realised is that of daycare for young children, which is now widely available and subsidised, though not free. But parents who want to care for their children at home (mostly women) are now under economic and social pressure to get back into employment as soon as possible. Looking after your own children is not considered to be work — especially if you are a sole parent.

Freedom from gender stereotypes?

The 70s conviction that gender is created by upbringing has swung back so far the other way that we now have the notion that men and women are from different planets (Venus and Mars); that is, they are so fundamentally different that equality is not only impossible, it’s unnatural. Take a look in any toy store, or children’s clothing store — where the vast bulk of products are aimed exclusively at either boys or girls, and very few at both — for evidence of gender socialisation far more extreme and rigid than it was even in the “feminine mystique” days of the 50s and 60s.

Sexual freedom?

Rape is still a constant threat (no good calling the police — they’re doing it too). Pornography is instantly and universally available on the internet, and prostitution is legitimate business.


Hardly. The principle of equal rights may be generally accepted in the developed world, but the practice lags well behind. Most of the issues of the 70s remain, sometimes appearing with a slightly different twist that we couldn’t have imagined back then, and new ones keep surfacing.

And let’s not forget (as we in the West are inclined to conveniently forget when we talk about “society”) that for billions of women throughout the world, nothing much has changed at all since the 70s, or in fact for centuries. Ancient forms of oppression still hold sway in many communities, and cultures in which women’s rights are more or less non-existent continue unperturbed by changes in the West. Women remain the very poorest of the poor in most places on earth. While all this remains true we can hardly speak of progress.

Time for a new women’s liberation movement? I think so.


  1. Nick S says:

    Rest in peace Jill. Farewell and thank you for all you did fighting for the working class.

  2. Admin says:

    One of the things I liked most about Jill was that she didn’t just go along with stuff. She wanted to know why, what the point of things was and if she wasn’t convinced she would make it clear that she wasn’t convinced and/or didn’t agree. She would also ask questions like “What are you doing that for?” Sometimes this could cause an initial shock, because it was something you just took for granted. Then you’d think about it and wonder, yes indeed, what are we doing this for? What is the point. She wasn’t someone for just going through rituals for the sake of it. She made people think.

    Jill was a product of the 60s radicalisation: the women’s liberation movement, the anti-Vietnam War movement and the new revolutionary left that was emerging at that time. The first time I met her was when I was at high school and went to Wellington to attend a radical school students gathering and I stayed with people in the SAL. The first day I went along to the Socialist Action League national office Jill was in one of the work rooms working away on a typewriter, banging out an article for ‘Socialist Action’ – she contributed to its women’s liberation coverage in particular – or a leaflet, next to several other SAL women, all of whom parted company with the SAL over the next few years. I don’t know about the others, but Jill never forsook the core ideals that she had at that exciting time in NZ history and the lives of all of us who were drawn into politics back then.

    Left political activity is, apart from rare short periods, a pretty thankless task in New Zealand. Don and Jill were very fortunate in having each other as life-partners, fellow musicians and fellow political people. They certainly didn’t agree on everything, but they gave each other great support through political and personal travails. Personally, politically and musically, they always seemed to work really well as a couple and a team, and as supporters of each other’s individual activities.

    The wider impact that Jill had, through her consistent involvement in anti-imperialist activities, solidarity with workers’ struggles and in the Wellington folk music scene, can be seen in the size and breadth of her funeral.

    Sixty-five seems a lot too young for someone to be taken, especially for someone as active and full of life as Jill. But what a wonderful and worthwhile life to have lived.

    Phil F

  3. Tribute Album just completed
    Jill Brasell was a talented energetic Wellington musician, performing for dances, concerts, theatre, weddings, funerals and protest marches.
    Jill taught herself guitar, bass guitar, double bass, Eb tuba and ukulele, but most of all she liked to sing. Singing was fostered in childhood, hearing her mother harmonizing to songs on the radio.
    Jill picked up this backup harmony singing ability, to the later benefit of many Wellington music groups.
    When I first met Jill in the mid ’80s she already had a big bag of folk songs, show tunes and pop songs. Constantly seeking new sounds, Jill went on to accumulate book after book of carefully transcribed songs with chord charts. Later additions to her collection were swing, Irish ballads, bluegrass, old time country and old time gospel.
    My own music journey with Jill went down many roads; Saturday night dancebands at the RSA, protest marches and rallies, supermarket promotions with “The Pitts” jug band, neighbourhood parties with our local street band “The Holloway Inmates” and traditional Chinese tunes with “Silk Road South”. That last musical connection was to land us a wedding gig in the People’s Republic of China.
    Firm favorites with Jill were Jazz standards and country gospel. When Jill was diagnosed with terminal cancer I persuaded her to record two programs of this music on my radio show. These 2015 recordings make up the sounds on this cd. They were each cut in one live take and have not been remastered in any way. This album is not aimed at any commercial release, it is produced, with love, for Jill’s many friends, a little memory of a wonderful musician and person.
    Don Franks
    (Anyone wanting a copy of this album please just mail a stamped self addressed envelope to me at 15 Holloway road Aro valley Wellington and I will send you a mailer cd)

  4. Marine Maid says:

    rearrange the pots on the deck of green number 20
    no more parsley, but maybe
    shit not much actually
    the birds waddle the plank
    they too are going to a forever home
    in Foxton with birdie lovers safe
    change a changing
    can’t fight, stop, pray, bargain with death
    can remember, share her stories sing with her still
    still there plinking plonking humming harmonizing
    with the wind