It’s not often I take the time to read opinion articles before 8:00 am. I’m typically bleary eyed, in need of caffeine, and not predisposed to be incredibly open-minded. This morning was an exception, and boy, do I regret that decision.
Over my morning bowl of cereal, I commenced reading the article entitled ‘Handbag Hit Squad hypocrisy damages merit based success’, by Nicolle Flint, a Ph.D student at Flinders University. Within three minutes, I was making muffled noises of outrage around my mouthfuls of cereal, and my boyfriend was slowly edging further and further away from me across the breakfast table.
In the first instance, the very headline itself is problematic. The term “handbag hit squad” is unnecessary, and prejudicious; as is Flint claiming that Monica Dux recently ‘bemoaned’ women being written out of a literary world. She did not ‘bemoan’ this issue, and nor did any of these female Labor politicians hit anyone with their handbag (metaphorically or literally). What they have both done is highlighted a long-standing trend, both within and outside of, the literary world. Quite simply, they discussed inbuilt, institutionalised sexism.
The claim by Flint that Tony Abbott is not sexist is, quite frankly, laughable. Simply because he “does extensive charity work” and “employs a female chief of staff” does not immediately equate him to a champion for equality. Allow me to refresh everyone on some of Tony’s Abbott’s more pernicious comments:
“The problem with the Australian practice of abortion is that an objectively grave matter has been reduced to a question of the mother’s convenience.”
“I think it would be folly to expect that women will ever dominate or even approach equal representation in a large number of areas simply because their aptitudes, abilities and interests are different for physiological reasons”
“I think there does need to be give and take on both sides, and this idea that sex is kind of a woman’s right to absolutely withhold, just as the idea that sex is a man’s right to demand. I think they are both they both need to be moderated, so to speak”
Now, this is just a small selection of quotes – I have plenty more where they came from. What these quotes do demonstrate is an underlying concept of Abbott’s that women just aren’t as inclined to dominate ‘certain areas’, and their bodies are not necessarily always their own when it comes to marital sex.
What else would you call these quotes, but sexism? They’re certainly not humanist. They’re not supporting the idea of equality. In every quote mentioned above, the idea is about controlling women. Controlling their reproductive rights, controlling how and when they have sex, and even attempting to control their ‘aptitudes, abilities and interests’ – because of ‘physiological reasons’, of course. And no matter how many episodes of ‘Downton Abbey’ Tony watches, it will not change the fact that he still believes these things.
Moving on, and Flint proceeds to discuss the “inconvenient truth” related to women and work – namely, a growing body of anecdotal research from the literary and theatrical spheres that suggest that women bear a large degree of responsibility for their alleged, and statistically questionable, under-representation in both fields. She then makes the somewhat unrelated claim that women are “less likely to pitch” for work with The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald (this is ‘journalism’, and is not heavily related to ‘literature’, and the Miles Franklin Award).
Putting aside the fact that evidence is anecdotal (as a fellow Ph.D student, I quite frankly expected her to have better research), there are facts in this piece that ring true. For example, Flint presents a study that found that of male and female professional artists in Australia, only 48% of men felt that their children had restricted their work, whilst a whopping 81% on women felt the same way. Another study found that there was a lack of women in playwright and directing roles within Australia, and that women in theatre are much more likely to have a ‘flexible’ career path, and work part-time to support their partner’s career.
However, Flint’s conclusion to this evidence is to simply suggest that “if women are not applying or pitching for work… and are assuming moe responsibility for their domestic life and their partner with the resultant career ramifications, claims of industry sexism and prejudice and tenuous indeed”.
(This was the point where I spat out my cereal).
Again, this suggestion is both at best laughable, and at worst, insulting. Did it not occur to Flint that perhaps it is the system that is broken, not the women? That workplaces need to do more to accommodate women’s careers, and their families?
It’s incredibly telling that 81% of women in the theatre industry felt that having children restricted their work, as opposed to only 48% of men. Is this simply because the women actually do more with their children than the men (not to mention the oft-cited ‘second shift’, whereby women also do the majority of domestic labour)?
Finally, Flint’s suggestion that women “need their own special award to be recognised” is insulting to the previous winners of the Stella Prize. Again – it’s not the women that are broken here, it’s the system. I don’t intend to remove agency from women here, because up to a point, it is their own choice about children, ‘flexible’ careers, et al. However, the system does not always work in their favour, and will not support their choices (see: every single interview of a woman aged between 25-35, and the interviewers trying to scope if she intends to have children any time soon).
If women cannot always *fix* the system, then they can damn well create an alternate. This goes for literature, for theatre, for workplaces that have paid parental leave, , and for any other situation in which women simply try to even the playing field. I would suggest that Flint go away, and examine the multitude of articles discussing sexism in the workplace, and how it is not simply a case of saying that it is entirely a woman’s fault that she is left holding the mop, broom and children.