MY 12-year-old niece broke it off with her “boyfriend” this week, telling me yesterday: “He acts one way around me, and another around his friends.” “Ah, mixed messages,” I told Miss Twelve, who didn’t quite understand the concept, despite deeply feeling the hurt. “He was shocked,” she added. And who said feminism was dead?
If we needed any convincing that feminism wasn’t dead it was this week’s outstanding performance by Prime Minister Julia Gillard who stood up for herself, and the women of Australia, to Opposition Leader Tony Abbott. In her 15-minute speech in Federal Parliament during which Gillard never once stumbled, she did what was a long-time coming. She told the man who has taunted her with cruel jibes among which have included standing in front of a banner which labelled her a “witch” and a “bitch”, that she would “not be lectured about sexisim by this man”. Regardless of your politics, I implore anyone who hasn’t seen it to go to YouTube and see exactly the kind of mettle of which a woman scorned is made.
The best Abbott could do this week was trot out his wife and three daughters as a poor example of how this somehow made him a feminist. The mere fact he did this was a sexist act in itself. It’s a bit like telling someone “my neighbour is gay/indigenous/disabled”. Worst of all for Abbott, even if this did score him a couple of cheap political points, with possibly another year to run before the Federal Election, he’s potentially pulled out his trump card a little prematurely. So now he has to rely on his character.
Let me be very clear. This is not a political post. I, like many other Australians, have been deeply disappointed by the argy bargy and broken promises of both sides of the Parliament in recent times. Yet, sometime in the next 12 months, I will have the opportunity (a result of feminism) to choose one side. This is a blog about feminism. It’s a blog about basic human rights.
We live in interesting times. Despite the fact 60% of university undergraduates are women, in 2012, Australian women earn approximately 17.5% less than men. We’ve all been privy to the recent abhorrent behaviour of a certain football club’s end-of-year antics and their lewd comments towards a female television reporter who was simply doing her job. And then there’s a certain male radio announcer who decried Australian women as “destroying the joint.”
Globally, things are far worse. This week in Indonesia, a 14-year-old school girl victim of child trafficking was expelled from her school because she had “tarnished the school’s reputation.” In Pakistan, a 14-year-old girl is fighting for her life after being shot in the head by the Taliban. Her crime? She believed women should be allowed an education.
I’ve always been proud to call myself a feminist and for anyone who wonders what this means to me, it means I think women should be receive the same pay as men for the same work; that they should be able to walk down the street in whatever they choose without fear or favour; and they should be afforded the same opportunities as men. Women should be treated with the same respect as men.
And yet, in recent times, even I’ve been led to believe there is something wrong with me. This week, when a male friend sent me a private email making a lewd comment about my breasts, I was deeply offended. I told him so, and he apologised, yet it didn’t stop me choosing the baggiest blouses to wear all week and slouching my shoulders, something I haven’t done since I was a teenager. Through his comments, I felt that I should somehow be ashamed and embarrassed of my womanhood.
This weekend I’ve found myself waiting for a phone call from a man I’ve never met, who enticed me with the promise of a coffee date. That phone call never came. In the scheme of world events, and how women are treated, it’s nothing. It’s a very First-World problem and possibly even a luxury to have such a light-weight worry. But it still hurts, as did my mate’s comments. As these blokes would never denigrate their male friends like that. And doesn’t it simply come down to that? It’s not whether you are male or female. It’s how you would treat another human being.
This week, through Prime Minister Gillard, and people like my 12-year-old niece who wouldn’t have a clue what a feminist was, we saw a glimmer of hope. A spark.
Maybe feminism isn’t dead after all. Like myself, after 40 odd years fighting the good fight, perhaps she’s just been having a long-deserved beauty sleep. And there is nothing wrong with that.