*Pic: Josie Young and son Mandela. It’s Mandela’s first day of Prep, 2014
There are those who say that feminism has gone too far, those who claim “I don’t need feminism to protect me – I am not weak. And perhaps in some way they have a point. While there was once a time in Australia when a woman could not vote, instigate a divorce or own her own house, a woman in contemporary Australia can theoretically do all of these things. One might argue that the days of a woman’s place being in the kitchen has passed, existing now only in the memories of our mothers and grandmothers. Today, women are doctors, lawyers, MPs and CEOs. Surely this indicates that in contemporary Australian women can have it all? Assuming of course that “it all” refers to professional success.
I would ask those lamenting about the condescending nature of feminism however, if Australia has reached the point where feminism is obsolete as women can now stand on equal footing to men in all realms of life; why are so many women suffering from domestic violence, why are we still being judged by our appearances? Why is our role as mothers not appreciated by society? Why are our female MPs asked “what they look for in men?” rather than legitimate political questions? And why does every song played on mainstream radio, and every image strewn across the silver screen break women down to body parts?
Feminist is more often hurled as an insult or used to describe a “complaining woman” rather than being celebrated as a brave stance calling for nothing more than an actualisation of freedom and equality for men and women.
If we are equal, if I as a woman do not need feminism, if I do not need feminist values to be shared and celebrated by Australia then why, even after a decade in my field, am I still referred to as “sweety” or “love” in professional settings, while my less qualified male counterparts are called by name. And why when I object to being identified as “female” rather than “professional” am I asked if it really matters and told “it’s not like Australia is backward like some of the third world.” I feel like saying “ok, maybe it doesn’t matter, but if I called you “Muscles” or “Big Boy” in a staff meeting, would that be okay?”
While it is certainly true that I have more freedom living in Australia than I would in Saudi Arabia, I would ask, does Australia aim to “not be as bad as Saudi” in respect to how we treat our daughters, or do we aim to be a country which leads the world in our attitude towards and respect for all of our inhabitants – male or female.
Professional success is only one measure of success, and whilst women are out enrolling men in dentistry and other traditionally “male dominated” fields, which is amazing, and is something that Australian women and men (let’s not forget these women have male fathers and some male teachers). The professional participation and success of some Australian women however cannot be used alone as a measure of the equality of all women in Australia. If we do so, we risk stunting the progress of women from socio-economic, geographic or family backgrounds who have not yet had the opportunity to access the educational opportunities that are available to the urban middle class of Australia. So perhaps, if you are one of the fortunate women – and yes I am one of them – who has had the opportunity to be educated and raised in an environment supportive of my potential we shouldn’t be claiming “we don’t need feminism” perhaps we should be shouting from the roof tops – great job so far Australia, but let us not stop here, I don’t want my sisters to be left behind.
People tell me that it is liberating for a woman to be able to choose how she dresses, who she sleeps with and marries or does not marry and for each and every women to choose how she wishes to portray herself and not to be judged for it. I could not agree more, but when the number one songs are “All About the Base” with a chorus line which states that it’s okay to have curves because they make boys want to sleep with you, or Redfoo’s horrendous track which says “your annoying cos your lips are moving… So shut the f@ck up” in reference to women, and this is being celebrated (well Redfoo is less celebrated, but still accepted and permitted to make money off his rape culture accepting track) by the mainstream, how are we able to claim that we are even remotely respectful to women? Or that we have a society in which men and women are afforded the same treatment? I don’t know any songs which objectify men or break them down into mere body parts the way we have come to accept women being objectified. As a youth worker and a mother I am at a loss as to how I can teach young women that they should be respected by men and indeed themselves when the community’s “sound track” is so sexually exploitative.
As liberating as the sexual revolution was, as I believe that both men and women should absolutely have a choice when it comes to child bearing, sexual partners and sexual expression, I wonder has an overemphasis on the physical appearance of women in the name of liberation (yes, Nikki Manaj I’m talking about anaconda) led to the exploitation of women? I don’t know about you but seeing near naked women jumping around on day time TV, seems to have led to a mindset in Australia where we are happier to accept the sexualisation of girls as young as 6 wearing T-shirts depicting cartoon kittens and slogans which crassly read “pat my pussy” and babies wearing onesies with jokes about blowjobs on them are more socially acceptable than a 30 year old woman who chooses to cover her cleavage and sport a hijab. We say babies can’t read, and six year olds do not understand the innuendo, but really, as the adults in the community – do we really find this okay?
I have no objection to women wearing bikinis, mini skirts, the niqab or high power corporate suits … Whatever you are comfortable in and whatever is appropriate for your life and the weather … Wear a crucifix, wear a pentagram – make it your choice and you have the right to insist that we treat this choice with the respect you deserve. Why? Because whether you are black, white, fat, thin, feminine or masculine in appearance should be completely irrelevant. When a man walks into a business meeting assuming he is clean (showered that day) then his colleagues will listen to the words that come out of his mouth. Women should be treated with the same dignity – rather than her knowledge held on par with her cup size and her IQ evaluated against her hair colour. I have a masters degree and am writing a book, but recently when I left a place of employment, where I performed my role to the highest standard and was actually replaced by two staff members as they could not find one person with a skill set that matched mine, how was I last described? “She’s nice and pretty.” Complementary sure, but how is this even remotely connected to my job performance? If I were a man, how would I have been described? I recall an instance a few years ago where I was the victim of sexual harassment in the workplace which I found to be unacceptable – so, always one to follow procedure, I took my grievance to the union representative. His response? He invited me out to dinner and would not help me when I turned him down. If I were a man, how would I have been treated?
Gender representation in the popular culture and the way women can be treated in the workplace regardless of their level of expertise may seem like minor issues to the men and women who have never called victim to them. Domestic violence, any form of violence towards women however should enrage each and every one of us – but does it? Every year in Australia one woman is murdered every week by a partner, husband, jilted x-boyfriend, father or other male. This is more per year than the total number of Australians who were killed in the war in Afghanistan between 2011-2014. Are we outraged? No. But we are concerned about men, women and children who seek asylum in Australia.
In 2005 approximately 72,000 sexual assaults and rapes occurred in Australia, approximately 66,960 of these attacks were against women. Many of these rapes went unreported, I know mine did – but why? I can tell you it was not because women feel that they did not believe they were wronged, or because they could “cope” but rather because due to the sexualisation of women in the mainstream and a widespread belief that a woman is somehow to blame for rape due to her attire or behaviour prior to an attack. This leads to victims not reporting the assault either because they blame themselves, they fear the perpetrator, or worse fear everyone – they fear that no one would believe them and the would be dragged through the court system like a criminal, only to see their attacker walk free.
I write this article from my quiet Hobart suburb where I hear my neighbour playing Redfoo at full volume. The lyrics “shut the f@ck up” are literally causing my house to vibrate, and I am crying for a generation of young women who hear this track rather than Stevie Wonder singing “Isn’t She Lovely” and still believe that they don’t need feminism.
*All about Josie Young: I am a writer, a community worker, an activist and a lover of all things chocolate and coffee related. More importantly however I am a mother, I have a son named Mandela. As a mother I want to make sure that everything I do – the words I write, the food I cook, the causes I support – makes my son’s future brighter. In 2014, I decided I would write more as another way through which I can fight for the future that my son deserves. One day, in the future, my five year old son Mandela will look at the world and ask me, “Mama, how could you have stood by and done nothing in the face of such injustices?” When that day comes, I hope I will be able to answer him. I have spent the past ten years working in community development in Tasmania, Western Australia, Adelaide, and Africa. I have also worked with the Department of Immigration and Citizenship, interviewing and assessing asylum seekers claims for protection, within Immigration Detention Centres (shame on Australia for the harm we have inflicted on good people), and as a volunteer assisting in humanitarian resettlement. I hold a Bachelor of Arts in International Relations and Public Policy (2007), and a Masters of International and Community Development (2009).