Feminsim Goes Again

05 May 2010

Last Saturday's Good Weekend was the annual "women's issue". These things have thankfully moved on from the days of glossy fashion spreads and beauty tips - interviews with women in power on the status of women today, and a lengthy article on feminism, specifically women in the workplace. Or more specifically, how women are obstructed from the career fast track in the corporate world.

Can the mainstream media talk about something else please? Yes, it is good to see feminism at least being discussed. And yes, the way that the structure of the corporate/business world prevents women from achieving positions of power is an important issue; I would be bitterly frustrated if I were one of these women. But yet again, feminism risks alienating many women through it's elitism. Most women aren't on a corporate fast track, usually through choice - there are many other fulfilling careers which women pursue than chasing corporate success. Yet these career women are the ones we focus on, possibly because they make more rich, powerful and outrageous copy.

One hears little in the media about the less "sexy" issues affecting women - particularly the millions of women who work in retail or clerical work, or whom rely on government benefits. The Henry tax review recommended several changes to the tax system to reduce the tax rates for women with children who work part time whilst their partners are in full time work - these were ignored, and there's not enough childcare places if they do go back to work.

The inherent sexism and prudery of the Centrelink system isn't spoken of much either. A woman receiving the sole parents benefit who has a partner stay the night more than once or twice is liable to be investigated and have their benefits cut off. It's irrelevant whether said partner contributes financially to the household; you cannot have a partner and receive parenting payment. Centrelink argues that financially, they must assess people as couples; assessing individuals would place too great a burden on the system. There's some truth to this, but the policies also hark back to the days of church based welfare - a woman must be chaste, deserving of her subsistence payments. A hussy with a live-in boyfriend doesn't meet these criteria. Of course these laws apply equally to hetero and homosexual couples of both genders, but women are overwhelmingly the ones disadvantaged as the prime recipients of the sole parent's benefit. Women end up having to choose between greater poverty, and living in fear of being caught - mostly going with the latter. When, whilst briefly unemployed last year, I informed Centrelink my partner had moved in with me, more than one staff member was surprised I would actually admit to this.

Feminism rarely touches these issues - sometimes, sadly, the movement seems so caught up in the rush to be inclusive it overlooks the statistical majority. A correspondent wrote, and I include with permission:

Feminism, as a movement, is having problems because it stopped being about .. feminism.

It's a popular cause - supported by the majority of the sane population. Everyone can get behind equal rights, equal pay, right to vote and all the basic feminist issues.

The problem is the Left Movement latching on and trying to bolt as many transient issues onto the side as possible. Everything from immigration laws to legalization of weed to capital punishment to tax reform.

Worse, the dialog gets drowned in rhetoric. It starts with "Some women are black, so racism is a feminist issue". Inevitability, somebody follows up with "But some men are black too, so it's not a feminist issue". And the stock reply is "Stop being an egocentric man; stop being 'that guy'; etc, etc". At which point anyone who's not invested in all the current activist causes tunes out and walks away.

I think it's less the academic side that loses people and more the activism at all costs - when activists (for example, the Candy Bowers you mentioned) conflagrate the issues, people walk away.

As for the insular nature of the movement, that appears to be by design. When women comment without using the correct jargon, they're told to go away and educate themselves before speaking. When men comment, they're told that they can't hold an opinion on the issue. When transgender persons comment on the issues, they're usually either ignored or asked to stop hijacking the movement.

I would rate feminism as something relevant to everyone, just part of being human. But the feminist movement in Australia in 2010 is really giving me the irrits right now. I've had a look at a few feminist blogs recently, and I just end up feeling depressed and overwhelmed; I don't understand the language and subtleties, but get the feeling that everything I do and say is wrong. Feminism will never get anywhere at this rate, whilst bogged down in a student activist mentality. Maybe we need to start again - a new dialogue, focusing on the big issues, making feminism a mainstream electoral issue. Then we can start analysing gender neutral frameworks. But for now can we get feminism out of the lecture theatres and into the ballot boxes?


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