the return of the feminist agenda

dale spender 9th December 2013

Feminism is back on the agenda. The F word has become the favourite word of many young women – and the older ones are coming out of cold storage where they have been confined for the past decades.

Mission Australia, not known for its radical views (or leading questions) has found ‘for the first time’  (that might be an historical by-pass) that young women ranked equity and discrimination as the Top issue facing the country.

Of course its not the job of Mission Australia to ask why this would be so. (And they probably wouldn’t be able to quote the answer if they did.) No one has come right out and said this response could have something to do with the Top man in the Top job – and his impaired vision. Should have gone to spec-savers and then he might have seen that there were more talented women on his back bench than in his old men’s cabinet.

Or maybe women, young and old, have heeded the call of the shock jocks and decided that the only remaining option is to destroy the joint! They just need to get organized. There is a hive of feminist activity in evidence everywhere. Real and virtual.

TedexSouthBankWomen at the State Library of Queensland last Saturday produced a bevy of talented women who raised issues of equity and discrimination – without apology or reservations. Julia Gillard is speaking to sell out audiences in our capital cities – and at every Big Ideas Festival, Writers Festival, Forum or Gathering – the word is out! Women want a better deal.

Books have been written – with Hanna Rosin’s THE END OF MEN AND THE RISE OF WOMEN being the centre piece of festivals, and confirming another part of the new jigsaw; that one of the most amazing things is the extent to which women are now better educated than men! Across the western world. (Which is difficult to explain – given that males designed the system and they only let us in just over 100 years ago.)

40% of wives now earn more than their husbands in the United States; (its 25% in Queensland). Only 18% of men are breadwinners in the USA – and 1 in 5 men of working age is not working! Women are approximately 60% of the graduates, dominate in just about every professional field except for IT and Engineering – and this is why many of them are earning more.

Like the young women that Mission Australia interviewed – US college women are more interested in establishing a career than getting married. They are the ones who are earning the money – and are rapidly becoming the ones who wont commit! As the real estate agents have found in Australia, young women are more likely to own property (an asset) and young men – a car (a liability).

The first principle that was ever put forward by feminists centuries ago was that there would never be equality until women got financial independence. And many (but not all) women are well on their way. But financial independence of its own doesn’t guarantee equality – or a safe environment.

Anne Summers’ book, THE MISOGYNY FACTOR documents the abuse and discrimination that faced Julia Gillard at the workplace when she was Prime Minister. It was abhorrent and sufficient to cause post-traumatic-stress to even the most resilient person. Had she been anything other than the CEO of Australia she would have won a sexual harassment court case hands down!

But she probably did something even better when she gave her now famous misogyny speech that went unnoticed by those who also didn’t go to specsavers!

Some women instantly recognized it: some were exhilarated – some were distressed. But that speech turned many heads: the PM was no more safe than they were.

And the effect was astonishing; the PM’s speech is now up there on the international charts among the most influential speeches and many a mother recounts it every night as a bedtime story for girls – who have the slightest inkling that one day their prince will come.

Even better; it has been set to music and there is a choir in Oregon USA rehearsing it for international release if they can get the rights. A lullaby no doubt.

The misogyny factor remains. Anne Summers’ book on the topic is painful reading for most women who have encountered abuse and discrimination online and in real life. But the reality is that when you are financially independent – you are more likely to be in a position to name it.

It isn’t just about how many women are in the Cabinet or on the Board – though equal representation of women’s view of the world at this level is vital. It’s about the increase in Domestic Violence and the fact that one woman a week in Australia is killed by her partner or ex-partner – who once looked like a prince (and still does to many!).

It’s about the right to be safe on the streets, and the right to wear what you want without ‘asking for it’! It’s the right to have quotas – 50% male on the board, in the cabinet, as principals of schools, as CEOs, Members of Parliament, and househusbands.

It’s the right for a woman’s word to carry the same weight as a male’s. And that’s going to take some doing.


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