She’ll be right...right?
Updated: May 26
by Emma Gadd
When it comes to the way people view New Zealand, there’s definitely some key images and icons that spring to mind. Like fish and chips, L&P, rugby games, native birds and sheep farming. These things are omnipresent in our lives and get featured in media and advertising to strike a chord with us. Another aspect of classic Kiwi culture that’s baked into our national identity is the classic “She’ll be right!”mentality. This phrase is everywhere in New Zealand, and it’s become the default answer to our problems. The saying, attitude and mentality are quintessential to who we are as New Zealanders. At least, that’s how it looks most of the time.Most likely, you’ve had a mate or relative,or even a plumber or handyman say that phrase to you at least once. Guaranteed it’s also appeared in a Mitre 10 ad or two. She’ll be right! It’s a classic kiwi attitude!
Why exactly is this attitude so popular amongst New Zealanders? On the surface,
the idea that we don’t sweat the small stuff is admirable to a lot of people. We’re not fussy, we’re not hard to please, and we can shrug off anything. We don’t take anything too seriously, we just keep a cool head, no matter what. The phrase is optimistic, and people love optimism. The phrase isn’t particularly deep, it’s just a bit of broad positivity. By insinuating that she would, in fact, be right, a negative mood would be eased. At least, that’s the idea behind the phrase, and why us New Zealanders seem to like it so much.
But if one looks a little deeper at this phrase and its prevalence, it’s easy to seethe negative impacts this mentality has. Positivity is good, and it has its place in the world, but there are times where that kind of baseless positive sentiment feels counterproductive. As nice as it would be to live in a world where any and all negativity can just be shrugged away...we don’t exactly live in that reality. It’s 2020, a look at the news proves that alone.Different situations require different reactions. And in some more severe situations, simple and vague positivity isn’t particularly helpful. From personal tragedies to serious injuries, the idea that you’re just supposed to shrug away any negative feeling is a harmful concept. In some situations, you have to be able to feel things properly. It helps you process the emotions so you can recover quicker. As such, a pat on the shoulder and a“she’ll be right!” are both dismissive and counterproductive.
On the subject of the culture “she’ll be right!” inspires, the topic of masculinity in a Kiwi context comes up. “She’ll be right!” fits right in with this topic, it’s right there with beer, working with your hands, and (of course) rugby. “She’ll be right!” is generally used by more masculine types, as a kind of default answer to... anything, be it injuries or negative personal events.There have certainly been enough articles highlighting that plenty of men won’t be safe in a dangerous environment like water or care for their injuries or talk to anyone if they’re struggling emotionally. And they end up citing men’s internalised “she’ll be right!” mentality as a reason why these men are so resistant to medical care or counselling for depression and anxiety and the like. Not that mental health issues are strictly a masculine domain, we’re just not really encouraged to discuss mental stress with our male friends. The mentality isn’t the sole culprit, but because this phrase is propped up by our overwhelming blokey culture, it influences people. You can only be around absorbing a mentality for so long before it starts to affect your psyche. People just say “she’ll be right!”enough times and we’ll be influenced by it.
Furthermore, mental health in New Zealand is something that’s been brought up a lot recently. For a nation as developed and successful as we are, our depression and suicide rate is on the higher end of the scale. 16.6% of New Zealanders have been affected by depression and 11 out of 100,000 people have lost their lives to suicide. This data shows that New Zealand has some of the worst mental health statistics in the Western world. Additionally, men play a bigger role in those numbers than women.This shows that men are more susceptible to mental health issues. This isn’t entirely the fault of one mentality men have collectively internalised. But there’s a very strong case for this attitude influencing these statistics. “She’ll be right” can easily be used to bottle up emotions and let them fester internally. When you’re not encouraged to share your emotions because “she’ll be right!” you’ll have this emotional roadblock that stops you from seeking proper help. As such, you can easily see that this nationally approved catchphrase has its issues. It’s something worth thinking about, at least.