Monday, April 9, 2012

Girls Just Wanna Have Fun

I'm slightly ashamed to admit that I don't know what "feminism" means in my life. I've always considered myself to be an Equalist, yet this morning, a friend tweeted a link to a blog post that contained this:

My pet hate is when people (particularly women) say “I’m not feminist, I’m equalist.”  Sometimes they misuse the word “humanist” to mean the same thing as “equalist”.  This is more internalised misogyny, that need to be polite, pleasant and “fair” to men so that they don’t feel threatened by women demanding to be treated as human beings.  Again, as though fighting for women’s rights would be directly removing rights from men – which is a complete fallacy.  This shaming of feminism, as if it’s somehow harmful or unreasonable, is carefully nurtured by those who are against women having autonomy over their bodies and lives, and those seeds are sown in the minds of women so that they remain compliant and work to police other women.
On first reading, I knew that this definition of equalism held no resonance for me. My personal brand of equalism is far closer to the dictionary definition of feminism itself.

fem·i·nism   [fem-uh-niz-uhm]  noun
1. the doctrine advocating social, political, and all other rights of women equal to those of men
2. ( sometimes initial capital letter ) an organized movement for the attainment of such rights for women.
3. feminine  character.

Nevertheless, it meandered in and out of my mind throughout the day, leading me to question my stance on feminism. I wondered when then the concept of equalism had emerged, and why. What was wrong with 60s/70s era feminism anyway? 

I got interested in pop music around the same time as Helen Reddy sang (and co-wrote with a man), I Am Woman. I grew up hearing about bra-burning, Germaine Greer and the birth of Cleo. My single mother worked. Never in my life was there a question around the legitimacy of women in any sphere. 

Ten years later, feminism was a non-event, despite there being a long long way to go for so many members of the Sisterhood. It was as though the hard work had been done; that there was momentum enough to carry women upwards and through the glass ceiling, never to return. There wasn't, of course, but Women's Lib was taught as "history", not as Current Affairs, and Girls Just Wanna Have Fun was the anthem for the next generation. 

Still, radical feminism flourished in quiet corners, emerging once in a while to remind us where we came from. Subgroups formed, labels appeared and disappeared. Believe it or not, I came up with "equalist" all by myself and for myself,  in response to what I saw was a lumpy playing field.

Particularly uncomfortable for me was a trend to associate certain careers with a gender. Think of some careers, and the stereotype is male - mining, construction, front-line military, plumbing. Others generate images of women: teaching, nursing, public relations and human resources. Still other careers seem to encompass both genders equally, and others are moving from one to another. Very few career options are closed to either sex now.

But is this gender association in some career areas more than just a reflection of the gender-biased strengths of men and women? 

I believe it is. There is still a vast imbalance in the opportunities and rewards on offer to men and women. For some women, there's a choice between career and family that rarely bothers blokes, while for other women, motherhood is not a choice but an imperative. For the rest of us, each step towards the bloody glass ceiling is still a triumph over the perceived limitations that come with having a womb.

And for this reason, I am an equalist. No, make that an Equalist. It deserves the capitalisation. I love being a woman, but I do not want to be identified, associated with or limited by my ovaries. I want my place in society to be equal to that of a man. Not superior to, not in conflict with, not the same as a man, but equal. Equal in standing, equally respected, equally able to take advantage of an opportunity - not because of my gender, or in spite if my gender; irrespective of gender. 

That sounds pretty close to the dictionary definition of feminism to me, and it has nothing to with the description (above) in FatHephalump's blog.

And this is where I had planned to end this post.

But wait! Instead of a free set of steak knives, I bring you news from America, that land where the ERA (Equal Rights Amendment), first proposed in 1923, has never became law.

The Governor of Wisconsin, a medium-sized state known for cheese, has repealed its law which guarantees equal pay for women. Why? Because it means they can save the state some money by paying female public servants less than males. 

How has this been justified? Well, apparently it's more likely that men are the family breadwinners. Therefore, men need money more than women do, since they have families to support. A prominent Republican state senator explained, “You could argue that money is more important for men. I think a guy in their first job, maybe because they expect to be a breadwinner someday, may be a little more money-conscious. To attribute everything to a so-called bias in the workplace is just not true.”

I hope Tony Abbott never gets wind of this. In Australia, the gender pay gap is still around 17%, and a range of studies have found the determining factor in that gap to be gender-based discrimination. 

I think it's time to dust off my Helen Reddy LPs. We may have been liberated back in the 70s, but we're far from equal.

1 comment:

  1. If all the women in Wisconsin refused to go to work until that bill was repealed, it'd be gone in a week. It also ensures that single parent families with a female parent are kept impoverished. It's revolting. What the hell is happening in the USA?