Arriving at work the other day I entered my office and logged on to Facebook (being my ritual procrastination before actually working). Apart from the usual trivialities, I was intrigued to find the following comment on my wall:
‘Hey Mr Jones, a question because I respect your opinion; what do you see as some of the most pertinent issues facing women in the west? What, if anything, do you propose needs to change?’
Initially, I thought this was a rather strange topic of conversation between two young(ish) males. After some thought, however, I concluded that it was a wonderful sign of the times. The second wave of feminism had an enormous impact on the baby-boomer generation of the 1960s and it is encouraging to see that, in some quarters at least, their male children have grown up aware and concerned about the unique plight and struggles faced by women. That being said, I think one of the dangers for the feminist movement is a completely fallacious sense of the job being done. I believe there are many clear cut areas where women in Australia, and the West in general, face discrimination and persecution because of their gender. I do not want this to be a painfully long note, however, so I shall bring up just three: sexual inequality, societal expectation and ignorance of the feminist movement by Gen Y.
[It has been written on ad nauseum so suffice to say gender-based inequality in the work place is still a huge issue with Tanya Plibersek, Minister for Women’s Affairs, announcing the pay gap between male and female earnings in Australia is a shocking 17.2 per cent.]
The Matthew Johns saga earlier in the year was plainly disgusting. It was revealed, for any who missed it, that John and some of his Cronulla Sharks team mates had group sex with a drunk 19 year old woman. Without the woman’s knowledge or permission several other players entered the room and proceeded to masturbate whilst watching.
The thing which stood out for me about the whole sordid affair was the palatable lack of sympathy for the victim here. Having initially agreed to group sex, she seemingly forfeited all her rights for dignity and respect. John’s television apology didn’t even mention her. “For me personally, it has put my family through enormous anguish and embarrassment and it has once again. For that I can’t say sorry enough,” he said. The anguish and embarrassment of the drunk teenager who opened her eyes to find half a football team masturbating over her seems to be irrelevant.
Sam de Brito, author of the Herald’s All Men Are Liars blog wrote about the topic in May. He concluded, “It’s just not right – and if we’d not want it done to our daughters, to our sisters, to ourselves, we shouldn’t tolerate it happening to a stranger.”
He received over 300 comments (about three times the normal response). The responses were varied but I was shocked at the number of men who concluded that her initial consent entitled her to all that happened. She was a slut and deserved what she got appeared to be the message.
This is indicative of an ongoing double standard. Women who reject the Victorian standard of womanly virtue and engage in an active pre-marriage sex life still seem to be categorised as immoral and less deserving of the respect and status which feminism was fighting for in the first place. This leads into my next point.
Interestingly, just as I began to write this I noticed another Facebook friend’s status: “clubs really exist – those who have kids and those who don’t. While not everyone is like that, some people I know certainly are and they alienate those who are not ‘mothers’. It’s ridiculous.” I’m not sure how comforted she would have been by one friend’s response, ‘time to bake up some babies … lol.’ Tongue-in-cheek? Certainly. Helpful? Hardly. Therein lies the crux of another problem facing women today – the weight of societal expectation.
For all the efforts of second wave feminists, women are still considered somehow odd or unfortunate if they do not settle down, marry and produce children within a certain time frame. It was demonstrated, somewhat pathetically, last month when the token female radio co-host of Eddie McGuire’s new breakfast show, Mieke Buchan, asked Deputy PM Julia Gillard how she juggled work and family. It was demonstrated in a much uglier fashion when Liberal Senator Bill Heffernan’s opined that she was unfit for leadership because she is “deliberately barren”.
Women in many cases are forced to make an unfair decision between work and family. The lack of child care facilities and backwards (albeit slowly changing attitudes) towards maternity leave exacerbate the situation. The fact remains, however, we consider it a bit of a shame when a man puts work before family. If a woman does the same thing she is considered absolutely peculiar and that says more about society than the Julia Gillards of the world.
Gen Y Women
There is an old axiom which rings true with regard to many Gen Y women; you don’t appreciate what you don’t fight for. You can see this plainly in many areas. During the nineteenth century Australian men and later women fought valiantly for the right to vote. During the twentieth, and today also, it is more common to hear people complaining about having to vote. In some ways it is similar with the feminist movement. The baby-boomer women fought so hard to fight sexual discrimination, you can appreciate the pain the veterans of the movement might feel when observing the current class.
A recent university study out of Texas revealed that one in ten female students had sex to “get presents.” Jill Singer’s response couldn’t have been more apt: “Wow, there was my generation of female students fighting sexual objectification by refusing to shave our legs and armpits, burning our bras and demonstrating for equal pay – and these girls are behaving like brain-dead, underpaid and over-waxed hookers. Why don’t they develop a bit of self-respect and study hard to get well-paying jobs so they can buy their own fripperies?” It is worth noting that Jill’s article, despite being aimed at women, received a torrent of vitriolic abuse from male readers.
I think this brings me back to my original point that the main problem facing women in Australia and the West is the assumption that the work of feminism is complete. In an ideal world women, like men, would be able to do as they pleased. Sadly we do not live in an ideal world. We live in a largely patriarchal world and women still need to work longer, study harder and perform better just to be treated as equals. Women today do not face the same obstacles as their mothers and are a world away from their grandmother and great-grandmothers. Women in Australia have more opportunities than ever before to become CEOs, politicians, in fact anything at all (except penis models as Joey from Friends once quipped). The opportunities still need to be taken. Gen Y women need to be aware of the enormous struggles their mothers endured to bring the feminist movement to where it is today. The onus is now on them to carry it forwards rather than back.
Quotes and stats were taken online from the Age, Sydney Morning Herald, Courier Mail and ABC.
Jill Singer’s excellent article on the demise of feminism:
Adele Horin wrote a wonderful article on the angry male response to Singer’s article:
Andrew Johns scandal:
Sam de Brito’s blog and responses:
Mieke Buchan faux pas:
Bill Heffernan’s diatribe: