Happy International Woman’s Day.
It is strange that a day of celebration can be the cause of so much outrage, vitriol and hatred, directed at women, sometimes BY other women.
I just want to say: Feminism is not a dirty word.
Feminism does not mean the negation of men, nor ignorance of violence committed against men. Rather, feminism is an acknowledgement that disproportionately, overwhelmingly, it is women who violence is perpetuated against and often die because of. And overwhelmingly, it is at the hands of men.
And overwhelmingly, this has been the case for a very long time.
And overwhelmingly, continues to be so.
And overwhelmingly, violence against women can only make men suffer.
For how can violence be anything but the deprivation of freedom and the usurpation of self happiness?
Feminism is a call for equality, a recognition of the importance of not allowing our biological and physiological differences cloud our judgement of each other’s capabilities. It is a call for standing up for and respecting human rights.
Feminism means people like the late Rosa Parks, or even Maya Angelou, two of the most courageous women who gave a powerful voice to the voiceless and restored the dignity and pride of African American men and women. (If you ever get the chance, read Angelou’s poem ‘Still I rise‘.)
Feminism means people like Caroline Norton (1808-1877), who almost single-handedly helped change English laws affecting women. Her husband beat her regularly and when she eventually left him, he would not allow her to see their children. Largely because of her actions, and those of her male supporters, the Infant Custody Bill (1839) and Marriage and Divorce Act (1857) were passed.
Feminism means Shirin Ebadi (1947- ) an Iranian lawyer who has fought for human rights in Iran and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2003; Hanan Ashrawi who likewise fought for Palestinian rights and in 2003 was awarded the Sydney Peace prize.
Feminism means Billie Jean King, the US tennis great and the winner of 20 Wimbledon titles who famously beat Bobby Riggs in 1973 in an exhibition match dubbed “The Battle of the Sexes” after he said to her that men were superior athletes.
Feminism means friends like Abi, who opened a cake shop in India and faces daily struggles against rampant sexism of what a woman can and can’t do; like Pallavi, one of the fiercest intellectual warriors I have ever met, challenging her students – and me – to become better critics and students of the world; like Lisa, who tirelessly works at a special school, trying to give the kids their best shot at education; like my mum, who sacrificed a lot for her family and delayed her own education so that her children could have their own; like ALL the men in my life who encourage me to aim higher and not let my fears, doubts and insecurities get in the way.
Feminism means me, and my hope that my own girls (if I ever am blessed with them) would not have to deal with what I or other woman have had to deal with: the harassment and grotesque, lewd physical behaviour of men on public transport and on roads, both overseas and in Australia; the belittling of opinion with words such as ‘bossy’ and ‘argumentative’ should we disagree; the threats of rape and retribution online; the sexual exploitation of the female form to sell everything, from a microwave to a yacht; the constantly drummed in message of ‘you are not perfect’ by men and other women that is also adversely and increasingly affecting men.
Sure. There are a lot of feminist opinions that are extreme, one-sided and self-defeating, but isn’t that the same with proponents of almost any subject matter? Just because I call myself a feminist doesn’t mean I have to agree with every single one of them.
Sure. Women in Australia have it relatively better than women in other countries, but we remain way behind Australian men politically, socially and economically, despite on average living longer and attaining higher levels of education.
To put things into perspective, Australia lags behind Afghanistan in female political representation; a country which Australia touts as working towards ‘instilling’ democracy in.
We have a male prime minister who when in opposition, accused the then prime minister Julia Gillard of playing the gender card during her time in office, yet without batting an eye lid claims sexism as being behind calls for the resignation of his female advisor; honours a survivor of domestic violence with an Australian of the Year award yet cuts funding to the very organisations supporting victims of violence. This is a man who makes inflammatory, highly damaging, sexist comments seemingly on a daily basis:
‘The problem with the Australian practice of abortion is that an objectively grave matter has been reduced to a question of the mother’s convenience.’
‘I think it would be folly to expect that women will ever dominate or even approach equal representation in a large number of areas simply because their aptitudes, abilities and interests are different for physiological reasons’
‘What the housewives of Australia need to understand as they do the ironing is that if they get it done commercially it’s going to go up in price and their own power bills when they switch the iron on are going to go up, every year…’[more here]
And perhaps most incredulously, the self appointed Minister for Women (why have a women represent women when men can do a better job?) defends the hosting of the IWD by a major political party at a private men’s club as a triumph of feminism.
So if anyone thinks that feminism’s work in Australia is over, then they have not realised, that it has only just begun.
And if that is not the message of ‘feminism’ that is being projected to you, then it means that we need to all work harder to make sure that feminism challenges AND works in the society you come from so that you are never left with the belief that feminism deprives you of any of your rights as a HUMAN BEING.
So Happy International Woman’s Day, y’all. May you empower and be empowered by all the wonderful wonder-women in your lives
*The absurdity doesn’t end there. We have people comparing the hosting of this event to ‘female only gyms’, failing to recognise the vast historical differences of the origin of each of these two forms of private clubs; the exceptions in Australian equality laws that allow both to function; the symbolism of holding a day celebrating women’s rights at a venue where women can not themselves be members of; and the utter ridiculousness of the comparison (can you ever imagine a day celebrating men ever being held at a female only gym? Or know of any political events held at female only gyms? No? That’s the best you can do??).