Is sexism real? Is feminism needed?Merle Thornton

Feminism is a real thing because sexism is a real thing. It is not a bunch of women complaining. The major complaint is that women do not have equal power to men in general. This imbalance of power is unfair. And the injustice has real consequences for women’s health and well-being.

Feminism, although it plays out in individual relationships, is not about psychosocial dynamics. Feminism only exists while there is an imbalance of power between men and women. When men and women have equal power in the workplace, at home, in public life and in artistic and sports arenas, feminism’s job will be done. When there is equal power, there will be no demand for feminism and feminists, and most of us feminists will go back to our writing, painting, investment banking, engineering, child-rearing, gardening, arguing, reading lives. Some of us will take what we have learned about privilege and disadvantage and use that knowledge and passion for social justice in another area where the injustice exists.

Sexism is not a minor complaint that can be dealt with by increasing shoe spend, time in the bath or hanging out with girlfriends, although those three things have sometimes been found to reduce the symptoms in the short term.

Sexism is not about being called a big girl’s blouse or being accused of having your period; those are symptoms of sexism. Sexism goes much deeper, and, in Australia at least, its roots are deep into our culture, entwined under the rocks and rovers of our attitudes and agendas, connecting up with bigoted views about Aboriginal people, Asian people, people with disabilities, LGBT people and anyone else who seems weird, for example, Julian Assange. (This connecting up is termed ‘intersectionality’).

Why do so many women agree with Julia Gillard?

Many women (across the political spectrum) agreed with what Julia Gillard said in That Speech because she said something that many of us have wished to say many times over to a man with whom we have to work, live or communicate. Even the men we love and who love us subject us to sexism. Some of the men we love are also misogynist in that they work against their wives’ and daughters’ best interest even when there is no zero-sum game afoot; they try to win even when winning would not make life any better for them and when it will make life  worse for the woman.

Why hasn’t this been a big deal until now?

Frankly, because it’s so deeply sunk into our everyday life that we don’t notice it; it’s the air we breathe.

Remember the old Palmolive dish washing liquid commercial? One woman rests another woman’s fingers in a glass saucer of Palmolive. They talk about how they worry about their hands getting ruined by the dish washing detergents they use. The older woman says she likes Palmolive because it’s “Mild on your hands while you do the dishes”.The punchline comes when she says, to the surprise of her companion “You’re soaking in it!”

We’ve been soaking in sexism for so long, we never noticed. But when that sexism means women’s health, wealth and safety outcomes are going backwards, and when it means our daily lives get just that little bit harder, we’re primed. And Tony Abbott’s accusations of hypocrisy to Julia Gillard, which sounded like every other barbeque throwaway line we women have heard a million times, the straw broke the camel’s back. And Julia Gillard answered. And we were glad.

Why it matters to women of my age (42 next week) and older

I was born in 1970. By the time I was in my teens, the world of work and the world of political power had decided to award women some of the things they’d been whingeing about, like equal pay and the right to not be discriminated against for being female. The arguments still raged about why less had been achieved (in the traditional, patriarchal view of achievement) by women in the last two thousand years than by men. (Some historians also looked hard at history and realised we’d been recording stuff with a pretty screwy agenda too). When it came to discussions of how to achieve better outcomes for women, the philosophy of affirmative action sometimes translated into quotas and similar hard-coded elements of law or convention, to ensure women got promoted and educated. But more often than not, affirmative action manifested in policies and programs that helped to educate and empower women from the outside or the world of business and politics; it was a firmly held belief by most that if women were educated professionally and trained to lead, parity would naturally follow. But this has not happened in Australia. This is why so many women are unhappy and angry. Because we genuinely did everything a bloke would do to get ahead and it didn’t work. It really was about raw power all along.

Here are some excellent pieces of commentary about sexism and feminism. You can read them, and come away with a better understanding of why Australian women are so mad at the moment. Or you can skip them, and continue to shake your head like you know better. Your call.

Tara Moss: All Women Hate Each Other?

Lindy West, on Humanism and ‘misandry’: If I Admit That ‘Hating Men’ Is a Thing, Will You Stop Turning It Into a Self-Fulfilling Prophecy?

Ellie Mae O’Hagan on Betty Friedan: Feminists can be sexy and funny – but it’s anger that changes the world

Blue Milk, the whole blog generally, including links: Sorry, is our struggle stifling your productivity?

Anne Summers: Her Rights at Work (R-rated version): The Political Persecution of Australia’s First Female Prime Minister. I was in that generation of women who read her book, ‘Damned Whores and God’s Police’ when it was relatively new.

Laura Barnett Why is there so much misogyny online?

Jennifer Wilson: Feminism. Feminists.

Melissa McEwan: Feminism 101

Melanie Tannenbaum: Benevolent Sexism: The Problem When Sexism Just Sounds So Darn Friendly…and Benevolent Sexism: An Addendum.

Anonymous: Derailing for Dummies

Rebecca Solnit: Men Explain Things to Me

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s