It appears that believing in women’s rights and equality is no longer a prerequisite for being the Minister for Women.
Or should I say, for being the Minister who assists the Prime Minister on women’s issues, because who needs a Minister for Women when we’ve got Tony, eh?
In fact, the woman who holds that very title has used the week of International Women’s Day to declare herself undecided on the whole ‘feminism’ thing.
Minister Michaelia Cash was asked by a journalist at the National Press Club yesterday whether or not she considered herself a feminist. To which the Minister deliberately dodged giving an affirmative answer. She said:
“I consider myself a very lucky person whose parents told their four children to achieve, you work hard… All I know is that I believe in women … but I also believe in men.”
Right. Thanks for making yourself so abundantly clear Minister.
But the Minister didn’t stop there. In an interview with Fairfax published today, the Minister was once again asked about feminism and whether she was reluctant to associate herself with the term. She said:
In terms of feminism, I’ve never been someone who really associates with that movement.
Even though Prime Minister Tony Abbott claimed to be a feminist this week, it seems that the woman assisting him on developing policies and strategies to advance the status of women in our community, ain’t so eager. Her ministerial colleague and Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party Julie Bishop doesn’t shy away from the label; nor does Deputy Labor Leader Tanya Plibersek or Greens Leader Christine Milne. But Minister Cash rejects the term despite the fact that her many and considerable achievements in public life would never have been possible had it not been for the feminist movement.
Sadly more and more, women are dividing over whether or not they choose to wear the feminist name tag. As if it were somehow a controversial thing to advocate for equality between the sexes. Surveys consistently reveal that as few as 30 per cent of women in Australia, Canada, the US and the UK consider themselves ‘feminists’. And the number of self-identifying feminists only decreases when you survey younger women.
Caitlin Moran in How to be a Woman asks the respondents to these surveys:
“What part of ‘liberation for women’ is not for you? Is it freedom to vote? The right not to be owned by the man you marry? ‘Vogue’ by Madonna? Jeans? Did all that good shit GET ON YOUR NERVES? Or were you just DRUNK AT THE TIME OF THE SURVEY?”
Somewhere along the way being a feminist has become associated with hating on men, rather than being equal with them. In her remarks yesterday, Minister Cash seemed anxious to clarify her positive statements about women and women’s achievements with an ‘I also believe in men’.
In doing so, the Minister gives in somewhat to the incorrect and plainly offensive stereotype that feminists are misandrists. Comments like this one are largely being used as insulation or protection from criticism, because after all, success doesn’t come to the woman who says ‘look at me, look at me, I’m a man-hater’.
But even beyond the political sphere and in our day-to-day social interactions, calling yourself a feminist triggers eye rolling, grimaces and complaints of political correctness having gone too far.
‘Feminist’ is a term that teenagers use to insult each other. What’s even worse is that we are now seeing women use their rejection of the feminist label as a way to endear themselves to men. Refusing to characterise yourself as a feminist has become code for saying “I’m all for equal rights and stuff but not in a scary threatening way cos’ I think boys are just the bees knees.” Calling yourself a ‘non-feminist’ is just another way of being more alluring or endearing yourself to the opposite sex.
For my part? I’m a bit jack of it.
I cannot comprehend why an intelligent, educated woman who has reaped all the benefits of her feminist foremothers is reluctant to apply the term to herself. And I want to know when we decided that it was okay to enjoy all the benefits of equal rights while disassociating ourselves from those who fought for those rights in the first place?
As a single, working woman in 2014, I stand on the shoulders of giants. I stand on the shoulders of the women who went before me. And I am grateful to them. I am grateful to the women who fought for my right to vote, to open a bank account, to own property and to order my own goddamn drink at a bar.
I am grateful to the women who said I should be able to keep my own name if I want to, the women who got rid of the ‘obey’ part in marriage vows, the women who said my life could be about more than a clean house and a well set table.
I am grateful to the women who were called evil, who were called baby killers and who were called witches. The women who took all of that crap, so that my girlfriends and I could control and make choices about our own bodies.
I am grateful to the women whose fight won me the right to marry the person I love and start a family, while still being allowed to pursue a career outside the home.
And what I fear more than anything else is that the women of future generations will not have anything more to be grateful for. I fear that the young women of 2064 will look back on me and my generation and wonder why we dropped the ball.
Because as far as we have come – there is still a huge way to go.
Women still earn around 80 cents for every dollar that men earn over a lifetime. And this isn’t just about who has the bits that make the babies. Australian women earn less from the very first year after they graduate from university and TAFE.
Women still carry the burden of around two thirds of unpaid work and caring duties.
Women are almost 51 per cent of the population and yet we hold less than 30 per cent of elected positions in the federal Parliament. We hold 8 per cent of board directorships and 10 per cent of executive management positions.
Nearly one in five of us will experience sexual assault, one in three will experience some kind of family or domestic violence in our lifetimes.
We earn less, we are heard less and we are hurt more.
And all of this pales in comparison, to the women around the world who still do not share the basic rights, safety, freedoms and equalities that here in Australia we all take for granted.
To every woman still reading my rant, I say this: Yes, you are a feminist. All that little word means is that you believe in women’s equality with men. It’s not scary, it’s simple. So let’s stop wasting our time ‘reclaiming’ words like c*#t and start reclaiming a word that really matters.
And let’s start doing that today.
Feminism is ours. It is an ideal, a thought, a vision that was designed by our mothers and our grandmothers and our great grandmothers, but it is still relevant today. It isn’t something we should take for granted and it isn’t something we should forget.
Let’s not let feminism become a dirty word on our watch.
Let’s give our daughters and grand daughters something to be proud of too.
And while I’m at it, I will add this.
Girls – your boyfriend should be a feminist. So should your husband and your brother and your mates and your son. Because just like I can be a supporter of the civil rights movement and not be black, they can be feminists without being women.
My name is Jamila. I’m an ordinary gen Y woman. I shave my legs, I own red lipstick, I wear 5-inch heels. I love my job and I love men –from the one who fathered me, to the ones I live with, to the one I love and want to share my life with. I’m a feminist and proud of it.
And you should be too.
Why don’t we take some time to flick through a gallery of inspiring women who are feminists?
This is an edited version of an original column that was first published on Mamamia.com.au in 2012.