Dear Chilliwops,

Statistics show that women are under-represented in important positions in our society. There are far fewer women in Government leadership positions (Cabinet Ministers for example), in the judiciary, as chief executive officers in business, as Ministers of religion and in every possible position of influence and power.

Why is that so? What do you think? It is certainly not because women are less worthy of those key positions.

Perhaps one reason is that men tend to dominate the selection process for the key leadership positions. That alone would not be sufficient to cause the numbers to be so disproportionate all things being equal but what really makes the difference is the attitude of the incumbents.

By that I mean the views of those already in power in the major institutions in Australia. Perhaps the most powerful person in Australia is the person who holds the position of Prime Minister. Do you agree or do you think the most powerful person is the captain of the Australian cricket team? Only joking.

The reality is the Australian head of Government, the Prime Minister, has the power to influence so much in our country – economic policy, environmental policy, education policy, and so many others. Since federation (1901) Australia has had just one female Prime Minister and whilst we have had numerous female Cabinet Ministers the ratio of men to women has been very lop-sided.

Women have traditionally found it harder to be elected to the Parliaments of Australia. In Tasmania for example, women were permitted to vote from 1903 but it wasn’t until 1921 before women were entitled to contest elections for the Parliament. Women were given the right to vote and stand for the Commonwealth Parliament in 1902 but it wasn’t until 1943 that the first female, Enid Lyons, was elected to the House of Representatives. Believe it or not a married woman even required her passport application to be endorsed or authorised by her husband prior to 1983.

Most people will say ‘fortunately attitudes are changing.’ But are they really? Shouldn’t our political leaders be providing leadership on this issue? But here again we have a problem of attitude. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has increased the female representation in Cabinet from that chosen by his predecessor Tony Abbott. Former PM Abbott had historically demonstrated a reluctance to promote women and had indeed expressed negative views about women. Some have described those views as misogynistic. Now there’s a word for you – what does it mean?

A misogynist is a person who hates, dislikes, mistrusts, or mistreats women. Is that too strong, calling the recently deposed Prime Minister a misogynist? You be the judge. In a discussion about women being under-represented in institutions of power in Australia Tony Abbott said, “If it’s true …… that men have more power generally speaking than women, is that a bad thing?”

And then later when someone said to the PM, “I want my daughter to have as much opportunity as my son,” Tony Abbott said, “Yeah, I completely agree, but what if men are by physiology or temperament, more adapted to exercise authority or to issue command?”

Then when discussing women’s role in modern Australian society a person said to then PM Tony Abbott “I think it’s very hard to deny that there is an underrepresentation of women.” In an insult to all women Mr. Abbott replied, “But now, there’s an assumption that this is a bad thing.”

Now, I don’t want you to think I am having a crack at Mr Abbott but trust me, I am having a crack at his attitude and I didn’t like his policies. I also don’t like the attitude of male superiority expressed by the most powerful person in Australia – a person who has the capacity to give leadership in changing public opinion.

Seriously. Shouldn’t we demand more of our country’s leadership? Shouldn’t we expect more than just one woman in the Federal Cabinet of nineteen (19)? 18 men: 1 woman under PM Abbott! These are arguably the most powerful positions in Australia and there was only one woman. Outrageous, especially when there are capable women in the Parliament; in fact more capable than some of the men in Cabinet.

Don’t think this very poor ratio is unique to politics and Government. If you care to Google the top twenty salaries for Chief Executive Officers in Australian companies you will find those substantial salaries are all earned by men. No women in the top twenty salary earners.

Twenty companies is not a very big sample I hear you say. Okay, let’s look at a larger sample of companies. Take the top 200 on the Australian Stock Exchange. Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) figures show that just four years ago (2012) women were under-represented in the most senior corporate positions in the top 200 ASX companies. In those two hundred companies six boards (3.0%) had a woman as chairperson, one more than in 2010, and two more than in 2008. Some, albeit slow progress is being made with the position of Chief Executive Officer with seven companies having a female in that senior position. That is 3.5%, up from 1.3% in 2002 but still hugely disproportionate.

The ABS said, “The glass ceiling is a term that is often applied to women being unable to progress from middle to senior management. One reason for this may be due to unconscious bias towards leaders of a certain age, gender and race. Unconscious bias is not a concept that can be measured, but it is seen as a barrier.”

The stereotype of women not being strong enough or courageous enough to give leadership or make key decisions in government, business, or other positions of influence in the community is one perpetuated, sadly, by those who feel most under threat. The former Prime Minister’s comments are typical. Like so many men, it seemed he merely attempted to further strengthen his own machismo, his masculine pride.

Holding those stereotypical views actually says more about the insecurity of those who hold them. So they seek to perpetuate sexist views.

Yes, but I am just a small cog in a big wheel, what can I do to change this, I hear you say.

There is a great deal you can do. You will witness sexism in our community – at school amongst the teaching staff, in shopping centres where the shopping centre manager is invariably male and the check-out attendant is invariably a female, in the media where the older men are still regarded as good news readers or commentators but the older women are forced to retire (unless of course they have retained their good looks).

A small start is to recognise the inequality I refer to and having acknowledged it speak up or take action. When you hear the stereotypical comments don’t just accept it, tell the person making those comments that you do not approve. Your comments of disapproval might make a difference.

Well before you were born, back in the 1960s and 1970s, the feminist movement grew strongly, helped along by outspoken women such as a confident Australian woman, Germaine Greer. This was a time when married women were not given positions in the public service because they may leave to start a family. Policewomen, for example, could not remain in the police force if they married.

At the time I recall some men saying that Germaine was being a little extreme in expressing her views. But how does one make a difference by remaining silent and accepting the image of women as housewives with a sense of duty to spend a life ironing, sweeping floors, washing etc, etc.

You have seen a yacht listing heavily on an angle. How does one right the boat? Certainly not by standing in the middle, you must lean in the other direction. Think about that example. Do you see the point I am making?

Germaine Greer once said, “It takes a great deal of courage and independence to decide to design your own image instead of the one that society rewards, but it gets easier as you go along.”

I want my granddaughters to take that on board. I want my grandsons to acknowledge that women are entitled to use their talents and to be judged impartially.

I shall write again soon.

Love always,
Your Popple