On Monday night’s episode of Q&A, Michaelia Cash, Mia Freedman, and Penny Wong engaged in a complex debate about the use of the label ‘feminism’.
Cash maintained that she doesn’t like to label herself (despite very publicly labeling herself as a Liberal and a Catholic), while the other women on the panel found it problematic that Australia’s Minister for Women doesn’t choose to describe herself as a feminist.
It was a colourful discussion, with several moments of brilliance for anyone who is sick of high-profile women rejecting a term that simply refers to ‘advocacy for women to have political, social, and economic equality with men’.
What is there to disagree with?
But I was particularly moved by a passage read by Penny Wong, which put words around something I've been feeling for years, but haven't quite been able to articulate.
She quoted Australian feminist Dale Spencer, who wrote:
“Feminism has fought no wars. It has killed no opponents. It has set up no concentration camps, starved no enemies, nor has it practiced cruelties. Its battles have been for education, for the vote, for better working conditions…for safety on the streets…for child care, for social welfare…for rape crisis centers, women’s refuges, reforms in the law. If someone says, “Oh, I’m not a feminist,” I ask, “Why, what’s your problem?”Advertisement
Wong's words were understandably met with loud applause. You can watch it here. (Post continues after video).
She prefaced the quote by explaining why it's important that both her and Cash proudly adopt the label of feminist. She said,
"I call myself a feminist because it associates me with a set of political beliefs that I believe very passionately in. It is also an act of respect. It is recognising that the reason that I can run for Parliament, that I can vote, that I can have equal pay, that we have women's refuges and so forth is because women went before me and fought for those rights. That's why we are in Parliament."
Why can't I just be Penny Wong?
The conversation got me thinking about Michaelia Cash, her role as minister for women, and what she represents.
On International Women's Day, Cash stood as one of the six women currently in cabinet, which is a significant improvement on the total of ONE we had not too long ago, but still isn't enough.
And she knows this. In her IWD speech, she said, "It is vital that the government demonstrates best practice on gender balance on boards, as we need to lead by example in order to drive change in corporate Australia."
She also called on the government and employers to "take a good hard look at practices that hinder women's workforce participation and change them."
She's integrated her roles as both the employment minister and the minister for women to economically empower women, and is dedicated to encouraging men and women to enter non-traditional occupations.
She told the National Press Club earlier this week that "working full-time and being the primary breadwinner is too often seen as a 'choice' that men make in the same way that working part-time is seen as a 'choice' for women. But neither is a genuine choice. Men and women are 'funnelled into' these choices by societal and workplace expectations of women as the 'ideal carer' and men as the 'ideal worker'."
As Mia Freedman said, if it walks like a duck, and talks like a duck, it's a duck.
I'm sorry Michaelia Cash, but to me, you sound like a feminist.
While you can decide to not label yourself as a feminist, you can't decide whether I label you as one.
And for me, a woman who fights for women's rights, and deeply believes in the inequalities faced by women and girls, is a feminist.
Michaelia - you're a feminist because you embody the set of political beliefs that are entirely consistent with feminism.
So I'd like to slightly edit the brilliant Dale Spencer quote, used by Penny Wong. "You've battled for better working conditions…for child care, for social welfare…for women’s refuges. So when you say “Oh, I’m not a feminist,” I respond, “Yes, you are.”