It’s not the women that are broken, it’s the system – a counterargument

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.

Dear Goddess Greer

Dear Goddess Greer,

I am writing to discuss with you your recent column, published in the Good Weekend section of The Age. I am one of your many unworthy minions, out there every day supporting and defending feminism against the crazy imbeciles who have next to no idea about what feminism actually is. In short, I am unworthy – but please take pity upon me for a moment, because we need to talk.

Specifically, we need to talk about your opinions on this other strong, independent woman:

Good ol’ J- Gillard. J-to-the-nizzle. Joo-lee-ah. Jooooles. Aka, our current Prime Minister.  One who is, albeit, struggling in a wee bit the polls, but who nonetheless deserves a bit of respect for simply obtaining the Prime Ministership in the first damn place. *insert feminist cheer and high-five here*

Germaine. Ms. Greer. Your Professorship. I am not here to tell you what to do (mostly because I am afraid you will destroy me with a single, withering glance). Rather, I am here to express my disappointment about the aforementioned article you wrote last Saturday.

Shall we begin?

“Few issues can be less important than what the Prime Minister wears. As long as prime ministers are male that is. Nobody knows how many suits a male prime minister might have, and nobody cares. An appearance before the public in a brown suit might cause a frisson, and blue isn’t seen all that often, but as long as the general impression is subfusc, he will pass muster. The issue of collar and tie has been resolved in even the torridest parts of Australia in favour of that combination.”

I cannot agree more. And yet, how hideous is it that this is the case – that a woman is still judged more on what she wears, rather than what she does? Why don’t we all stop this hoo-hah right now?

“For women heads of government the issue of what they wear is crucial. No matter how heavy her workload the female prime minister must appear ”groomed”, that is, with not a hair out of place, uncreased and uncrumpled. She must smile…..A female politician is expected to look serene and unruffled; if she looks as if she has any appreciation of the momentousness of what she may be called upon to say or do, she will be described as looking grim or worried. Julia Gillard wears her face like a china mask; even when she is sneering bitterly at an opponent, her face is smooth, her expression of the blandest. Her smile may not be dazzling but it is ready.”

Again, I agree that what women wear is crucial – and yet, I try to place as little emphasis on it as possible. I instead try to focus on what they do. Given, if Julia turned up to work in a bikini and board shorts (or, Lord forbid, some budgie smugglers) I might have a little trouble focusing on what she’s saying – but all this crying and pearl clutching over her jackets? No.

I am also in agreeance that Julia “wears her face like a china mask” – in that yes, she does sometimes appear to be a bit impassive. She’s probably wondering about what she’s going to have for dinner. If I had Julie Bishop and Tony Abbott bleating at me from across the floor in the House of Reps, I too, might tire of this after a while. And if I were her, my solution would be to get a bit more angry occasionally. But then again, I am not a political advisor, and nor am I Julia (because if I was, I would have marched across the House of Representatives to stick a well placed heel up Abbott’s arse. But I digress.)

My point here is this: by simply adding to the continuing commentary and criticism of Julia Gillard’s appearance and expressions, you are not doing anyone an ounce of good. Attack her politics, by all means. Attack her carbon tax, or her stance on gay marriage, or any other form of policy that has seriously pissed you and got on your goat in the last few years. But please, please, PLEASE do not attack her appearance. Because by doing this, you just add to the overloaded pile of shitty, snarky comments about What Women Wear and Why They Are Wearing It Wrong. And no one needs to hear that.

“Julia Gillard isn’t a clothes horse. She’s a hard-working professional politician, but she isn’t allowed to look like one. Hence the dreaded jackets. Underneath are her workclothes, the same black pants and black top she once would have worn under her gown for court appearances. The jackets are intended to brighten up her image, each one fresh out of the box. Instead she looks as if she’s wearing clothes that don’t belong to her, like an organ-grinder’s monkey.”

I am a little confused about this paragraph. Are you critiquing the system in which Julia is not allowed to look like a politician? Are you simply saying that she should dress more like a hard-working politician?

If it is the first one, by all means – carry on. If it’s the second, well, I am still confused. Because surely we can tell that she is a hard-working politician without consulting her wardrobe?

“There must be decent dressmakers left somewhere in Australia but Julia’s wardrobe-meisters haven’t found them. A jacket that rides up and creases between the shoulder blades is worse than no jacket at all. If Labour is not to be annihilated in the next election, something has to give. The Prime Minister’s stage-managed image is less interesting and engaging than the real person we used to know. I think Australians are big enough to cope with the sight of their female Prime Minister in shirt-sleeves.”

Okay. I see. In this part, you are critiquing the stage-managed image of Julia Gillard here.

If you were one of my university students (please, dear God, make this happen. But give me sufficient time to gird my loins beforehand), this would be the point at which I add a little comment saying, “You need to make this part clearer. Move this point up a few lines, and emphasise that you are critiquing the stage management of Julia Gillard, not the woman herself. Otherwise, it appears that you simply have a deep-seated hatred for Julia’s jackets.”

Make it clear, Goddess Greer. Make it clear. Because otherwise, you appear to simply be joining the uninformed masses in criticising a woman’s image, and not her actions.

Look, Germaine: you stand for a lot. You are everything I want to be when I grow up. You deal out snarky, cranky opinions on every single topic that pisses you off. You attract equal amounts of love and hate wherever you go, and you made a dent the size of an asteroid in the field of feminism. And for that, I adore you.

But it makes me immensely sad to see one woman critiquing another’s appearance. I understand that it happens, and that everyone does it to some extent. But your voice is so wonderful for feminism, and so loud, and so well-known that I can do nothing but beg you to please use it more wisely. Can we please not turn this into a Fashion 101 session for women, and instead focus on Julia’s politics?

Yours in true servitude and awe,

xxxxx

How to cure a feminist

It appears I’m serving up a larger-than-usual dose of feminism lately, and this post is no exception.

I came across the following image a few years, and was outraged then as I was now. Except back then, I hadn’t quite perfected my ability to insult an individual or a company in such an articulate manner. Back then, I probably would have called the people at Maxim “knobs” or “dick heads” and have moved on.

Now? Now, I’ll quite happily call the people who invented this particular article a pack of festering, feeble-minded, crap eating apes.

See? This is what five years of university gets you. An ability to insult people in an eloquent manner (as a side note, hi Mum! I promise, I really *am* educated! Really!)

But in all seriousness, the illiterate, weak-minded people at Maxim must have realised what a drivelling pile of crap they were serving up. Or perhaps not. Seriously, how to cure a feminist? Because clearly Maxim magazine and its readers have SUCH A HUGE insight in the depths of the female mind? And of course, they know the ins and outs of the ENTIRE feminist debate, so they are well equipped to pass judgements on its campaigners?

Way to be a bunch of fuck wads, Maxim.

Now, let’s break this down. Maxim (along with many others) have succumbed to stereotypes. In particular, they have bought in to the Patriarchal Mind Fuck. This is what I call the stereotypes that exist about feminism. You know, the idea that all feminists don’t shave their legs, wear combat boots, are lesbians, and want to cut off ALL THE PENISES. Excluding the fact that this is next’s month’s topic at my Feminist Meeting (sarcasm, people, sarcasm) this is entirely wrong.

Anyway. I have taken upon me to reverse this particular situation. Ie, “How do you turn Maxim’s version of A Babe into a Raging Feminist?”.

Step One: Get the lady out of the lingerie. Remind her that she doesn’t exist on this earth to please men. And ask her how comfortable that g-string actually is. Ask her how comfortable that ridiculous hip-thrusting pos actually is. Anything to remind her that it’s okay to not always be “sexy”.

Step Two: Introduce her to the idea that women and men deserve to be equal. I know. It’s a shocking concept.  Consider mentioning the pay gap, and the fact that, on average, she’s getting paid 15% less than her male colleagues.

Step Three: Open her eyes to all the other inequalities in the world. Throw everything at her. Female circumcision. Maternity leave. Sexist advertising. Pro choice arguments. Victim blaming in rape cases. Domestic violence cases. Body image perceptions. Give it everything you’ve got. Show her exactly what makes up a feminist – young, old, male, female, gay, straight, bisexual, asexual, Caucasian, Asian, African-American, Latino, Aboriginal, and everything else in between. Break every single goddamn stereotype you can think of. Heck, go crazy and shave your legs in order to demonstrate to her that feminists CAN DO THIS.

Step Four: Remind her that the Maxim article was correct – well, one tiny sentence is correct. A feminist IS just like every other woman. She’s as equal as every other woman. She’s no better or worse for shaving her legs, or wearing combat boots, or kissing boys or kissing girls or heck – not kissing anyone!

Yours in eternal pissed-off-ness,

xxxx

Dear Jackie O…

Dear Jackie O,

Yesterday, I wrote a blog post on women who refuse to call themselves feminists. Now, less than 24 hours later, you have told the Sunday Life (or, as I like to call it, the Sunday Wife) that you’re “not a feminist”. Instead you just “do what you love”.

Additionally, you also don’t like your middle name, Ellen, because “it’s a bit lez”.

Where do I even begin?

For starters, if you’re not a feminist, I hope you’re earning a lot less money than Kyle – and that you like this. I also hope that you don’t enjoy voting, being able to wear pants, being able to voice an opinion – heck, I hope you don’t even like talking too much (which seems a little strange for someone who is a radio host). Because all of these things were fought for and won by feminists.

I also hope you enjoy being a stay at home mother. Oh, wait, what’s that? You went back to work a month after giving birth, and your husband is a stay at home dad? And you were upset over all the criticism about you returning to work so early? Honey, feminists DID THAT FOR YOU. They fought damn bloody hard just so you could have the joys of yabbering away on the radio with Kyle Sandilands a month after you had your first child. And you’re still calling yourself not a feminist?

To paraphrase what of my Twitter followers said, you’re enjoying all the spoils of the hard work the feminists have done, and yet you’re refusing to get your hands dirty. Instead, you’re resorting to telling the world at large that you just “do what you love” – vaguely implying that feminists aren’t “doing what they love”, they’re simply rage-fuelled, man-hating weapons of mass destruction.

And as for the comments regarding the name Ellen being a “bit lez”. Grow up. Quite simply, GROW UP. We’re not in Year 5 anymore, and having the same name as a world-famous woman who is host of a successful chat show, AND an icon for gay rights, is nothing to be ashamed of.

You have a successful career, a child conceived through IVF, and the simple right to speak out and speak up. You have a voice. And by choosing to say “I’m not a feminist”, you disregard the hundreds of years of hard work that men and women have done so that you can HAVE these very things.

I wish you had displayed an understanding of what feminism actually is. I can tell you right now, it is NOT simply burning bras, refusing to shave your legs, hating men and never wearing dresses or high heels. What is IS all about is equal rights, and the understanding that although men and women are different, they deserve to be treated equally.

Before you decide to comment on feminism again, I suggest you take a moment to reflect on where you are, and how you got there. Because I can assure, none of it would have been possible without feminism.

Sincerely,

Jess

Julia: Why The Face?

Uh, Julia? Yes, YOU, Julia. It’s me, the obnoxious one with too many opinions.

No, not THAT one. I’m better looking than her, and much younger.

Ahhhh. I see you remember me NOW.

Jules, let’s get down to business. I’ve seen a lot of carrying on in the last few days, some of it you, some of it Tony, and a little bit from good ol’ Browny (bless him, he tries).  And look, for the most part, I understand. No, really, I do. Don’t give me that look. No, put it- PUT THAT FINGER AWAY, JULIA!

Now. Have a Tim Tam. That’s better. I’m not here to criticize your sense of style, or your hair or make up- I’ll leave that to the moronic media. I’m here because I want to give you a bit of a heads up- you haven’t convinced me that you’re fully worth voting for yet.

Now, sit back down. Deep breathes. It’s nothing personal - I mean, you’re not Tony Abbott- it’s just…..you’re a bit ‘meh’. You’re so ‘meh’ in regards to climate change, and so ‘meh’ in regards to gay marriage, that I think you may need to adopt a new slogan. “Meh-ing Australia Forward”?. No, really, Jules. NOTHING’S CHANGED. There’s still no ETS, there’s still no equal rights for homosexuals, there’s still no…you know what? Meh.

No, I will not talk to your hand. Put it down Jules.  I simply wanted to inform you of my opinion, and my perceived opinion from quite of a few other (relatively well-informed) Gen Y-ers (Christ, I hate that term. I mean, WTF is a Gen Y-er. Why do I need to be associated with a letter, and the letter ‘Y’ at that. Y is such a lame letter.)

Now, pay attention, Jules. This is the stuff that’s important, and how you’ll get some lovin’ (metaphorically, of course) from the ‘youth of today’:

  • SHUT UP about asylum seekers. Let them into the country, and process them. Don’t call them illegal immigrants. Welcome them in, help them set up a life. And tell anyone who is afraid that these asylum seekers will ‘take over the country’ to fuck off back to the Dark Ages.
  • GAY MARRIAGE. Make it happen already, Jules. I mean, you’re not married, and I get it. But homosexual couples can’t even MAKE THAT CHOICE. So, give them a CHOICE, Jules. Just a choice.
  • Help us to develop a decent environmental policy. Starting by getting good ol’ Bobby Brown in (while he’s there, have a chat with him about gay marriage, will you?) and learning about climate change. Because you NOT developing a policy is NOT HELPING.

There’s more, but we have 31 days until the election. I want you to go home, have another cuppa (yes, two in one day. Desperate times, Jules, desperate times) and think about what I said.

And for chrissakes, stop harassing the children.

The children cannot vote, Jules. But I can. Now, go drink your tea.