How feminism became the dirty new f-word
It’s time to put our “I Heart Germaine” t-shirts away for another year now International Women’s Day has passed. For some women it’s a day that fills their hearts with pride as they fondly reminisce about the marches and the combustibility of their C-cups, for other women it’s a day they cower nervously lest anyone slings the ‘F’ word their way- feminist.
Nearly 40 years after Germaine published The Female Eunuch and the second-wave rolled into town, how has feminism’s image slipped from that of a relevant, mainstream social justice movement to a of a blurry cultural reference point?
Gloria Steinem commented recently that feminism “is a revolution, not a public relations movement”.
But even a revolution needs PR to succeed in the battle for hearts and minds and slogan covered t-shirts. And boy, has feminism gotten some bad press of late.
Elle McPherson in an interview in the Guardian explained she thought the very word feminist was “one of those coined phrases that has a lot innuendo and not much meaning these days”.
The Body ploughed on, explaining that she thinks the concept of equal rights for men and women “doesn’t really sit with me in many ways”.
Germaine must have choked on her muesli as she read those sentences over her morning Earl Grey and Bircher.
Then there’s sometimes pants-wearing, sometimes not, Lady GaGa who told a Norwegian interviewer, “I’m not a feminist - I, I hail men, I love men. I celebrate American male culture, and beer, and bars and muscle cars…”
Miss Universe 2009, Venezuelan Stefania Fernandez in the question and answer segment of the competition suggested that women have overcome all the challenges in their way and had smashed through the glass ceiling. “I feel we have reached the level that men are at” Fernandez opined.
So, thanks for the bra burning and the marching and all those countless hours spent painstakingly painting placards with slogans about fish and bicycles, but feminism is all a bit passé really.
It is this perception, that feminism has done its job thank you very much, that is one of the underlying reasons so many women reject any association with the feminist label or movement.
The London Times ran a forum last year entitled “When did feminism lose the plot”. “I’ve never really related to it,” Carlene, 26, said, “It’s always portrayed as this Sixties bra-burning thing.” For another participant, feminism was an anachronistic relic with no relevance to today’s younger women because “all the battles are won”.
For many women, the question of gender equality, especially in the workplace, is a moot point. We take it as a given that we can wear the trousers and be the CFO of a Fortune 500 company, all while donning a pair of vertically challenging Christian Louboutin heels. We can demand respect in the office and twirl around a pole in the name of exercise and claim to be as empowered as the next PHD- toting girl.
We, both men and women alike, have been brought up to consider ourselves wholly equal, and thus there is an intellectual about- turn required to accept that feminism still has battles left to fight and win. To buy into feminism means we have to admit that, no matter how equal we feel, women are still the lesser- lesser paid, lesser represented, and lesser part of the global economic and political juggernaut.
No matter how empowered women feel, we are not equal. The proof is in the pay check. After having consumed a diet of Girl Power, Feminism-lite popularly peddled in recent years its time we took a look at the bottom-line.
It was reported last week that the parity between men’s and women’s wages was greater in 1985 than in 2009. In an attempt to address the situation, the ACTU has announced it is planning to put the fight for equal pay back on the political table, making the issue a “major union campaign priority” for 2010.
As of last year, women engaged in full-time work earned on average only 82.5% of what men did in Australia. Female university graduates, despite making up more than 50% of alumni, earn approximately $2,000 a year less than their male counterparts when they ditch the books and enter the workforce.
And we’re not doing so well compared to the rest of the world either. The World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index for 2009 rates Australia as number 20, behind Lesotho, Latvia and Trinidad and Tobago, having slipped from the 15th position in 2006.
Australia remains one of the few Western nations that do not have a statutory requirement to offer paid parental leave according to the Shadow Minister for the Status of Women Dr Sharman Stone.
Statistics suggest women earn about 5% less for each year they have been out of the workforce changing nappies than if they had kept their seat at the boardroom table.
Come retirement age, women face a much less secure future due to their stop/start work history and lower levels of super.
It is here, in the conflict between women’s overly- confident expectations and the reality of the impediments that still stand in the way of them pursuing with equal vigour as men happiness in their professional and personal lives, that feminism’s ongoing legitimacy and importance comes clearly into focus.
“We need to also acknowledge that women in Australia, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous, face a lot of unfinished business” Dr Stone has said.
A poll conducted in the UK in October last year revealed that one in three women and one in two men were not even aware there even was a pay gap.
Natasha Walter, author of “Living Dolls: The Return of Sexism” said in an interview, “There have been great changes to women’s lives…. But we’ve been complacent in the past decade”.
Let the PR war begin.
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@mooks83 sophisticated response. Think the kids parents saw it differently
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