The Poor Representation For Women In Politics: Never Has Gilead Felt So Close To Home

Photo by Abigail Keenan on Unsplash

Trigger warning: The following post may be a trigger to those meatheads who don’t believe in equality.

I know, I know… I should shy away from politics on this blog, but I can’t help myself. What can I say? I’ve got a big mouth and a soft heart.

However, before I take my latest leap onto the feminist soapbox, I would like you to know that I have heeded my own advice and taken some time for reflection before pushing the publish button on this rant.

And I’m glad I did, because that postponement has allowed me more time to become better informed about the real cost for women after the latest Federal election in Australia and the ongoing issues faced by women when they lack sufficient representation in politics. Suffice it to say, that uncharacteristic measure of self-control has done little to reduce my searing anger about what has been a disastrous week for the fairer sex – and in particular for those women in Alabama.

The results of the election last weekend added a liberal sprinkling of salt to the open wound created by Alabama. And although I won’t compare my tanty about the Liberal party’s re-election to the outright misogyny of certain states in the US, I would like someone to tell me what we can expect in terms of representation from a party that has so far governed with a cabinet (on average) of less than a quarter women?

And before you remind me – my legions of adoring male fans – I am fully aware that women make up only half of the population and that we live in a democracy. Nevertheless, silly old me truly believed when I placed my vote on Saturday that we were in the process of developing and changing as a nation.

I believed that as a nation we had recognised a need for growth – and not only in terms of the economy. I swear I saw the signs of compassion outrunning  greed in our future. I thought that this election would signal a transition from the narrow-minded views of a bunch of privileged, middle-aged tosspots and give another leadership the opportunity to narrow the distance between rich and poor, to tackle climate change more effectively, and to improve conditions for the sick and refugees.

So what happened? Why did Australia succumb to the resurgence in right-wing popularity that is gaining traction around around the world?

Because never has the fictional state of Gilead felt so close to home.

I can only assume that the Liberal party’s re-election is linked to fear of change or loss of control – Yawn! Which saddens me, when change stimulates growth and a stagnating government that refuses to listen either to its people or scientific evidence is as damaging and guilty as groups such as the anti-vaxxers.

What I will say – having reflected over several bottles of Chardonnay and several articles by women who voted for the Liberals last weekend – is that I do understand the need to put family above benevolence when it comes to putting food on the table, particularly when women are already penalised so heavily for having children. 

However, that’s as far as my empathy extends. I feel nothing but vitriol for the men who voted for the latest anti-abortion bill in the US.

These men are obviously confused about why women need control of their bodies. So why don’t they listen to them, rather than base their misguided opinions on the fictional (some believe) idealism found in antiquated books?

There was also a time when we thought that the earth was flat, guys!

How can they possibly understand what women have to consider in the event of an unplanned pregnancy? How can they slut-shame and brandish those women as self-centred child-killers when abortion is never an easy choice and usually connected to failure of contraception, threatening relationships, rape, and financial insecurity? Don’t they know that by refusing access to the procedure, many women will die because of what boils down to the religious aims of a radical bunch of nutters?

I have a better solution for avoiding unwanted pregnancies. Why don’t we force all men to have reversible vasectomies or make it a criminal offense for them not to wear condoms? Then they can see what it’s like to have someone take control of their bodies.

The election last weekend was an eye-opener. In a period of history when we have so much information about the dangers of narcissism and discrimination, a supposedly forward-thinking, evolving western country re-elects a party that refuses to move forward with the pace of the rest of the western world; a party whose priorities look more and more like self-service than public service.

I hear that Morrison will be offering two-for-one deals to Gilead very soon.

Abortion Has Never Been Something Women Take Lightly

I do not begrudge the third of Ireland’s voters who wanted to keep the existing abortion laws in the recent referendum, to protect the rights of the fetus; we are each entitled to an opinion in a democracy. Which is why I get to share mine so freely on this blog, and why you are welcome to chip in and disagree at any time.

That’s not to say that I will always agree with your views – but unless you become threatening to me or my handful of readers, or you discriminate against the fundamental human rights of others, I will respect them.

Obviously, though, that third of voters were completely wrong in their misguided attempt to continue to negate a woman’s choices about her own body.

Through history, many people have sacrificed their lives for the sake of our democracy; for the right to basic human rights such as these. Which is why I find it so appalling, (even after the event), that these hordes of women were forced to stream back to Ireland in their thousands to take back control of their OWN bodies. In 2018. (Although, please note that Northern Ireland will continue its own fight).

Because, while I haven’t stepped inside a church since I was a child, I do not oppose Catholicism. In my opinion, religion serves a purpose in our community for certain people. I can understand its appeal – the lure of its support and guidance and the promise of that all-inclusive holiday of heaven at the end in exchange for your last few coppers in the plate on a Sunday. And as long as it evolves with the times, and doesn’t impose its more archaic restraints upon its believers, or abuse its power, (as it has done in this debate), I have no problem with it.

But…

There were many aspects to consider in this debate, and in my opinion, the most disgusting was the implication that women would abuse abortion if it was legalized. Because, as author Matt Haig commented on Twitter, (fundamentally) ‘no one likes abortion,’ (although I should add that his comment was quickly shot down by a young Catholic woman who argued that she does like it, because it gives her power over her body), and to my knowledge, most women/couples will do everything in their power to avoid putting themselves in such a situation.

Yet, as any glass-half-full person like myself will tell you, life doesn’t always go to plan. Women are raped, men remove condoms, the menstrual cycle is neither regular nor failsafe, many young couples are simply not in the financial position to raise a child or look after a disabled child, and mature women can mistakenly interpret a missed period as a sign of menopause.

And what many of those who had the audacity to stand against this medical intervention underestimate, is the impact that both pregnancy and abortion have on the physical and mental health of women. Think of those young women in the fifties and sixties forced to carry their babies to full-term, only for them to be ripped away at birth and put up for adoption. Think of the girls whose lives have been compromised radically by having to raise a child alone, spurned by partners and family. Think of the adopted children out there that have been scarred emotionally by a sense of rejection at the start of their lives. And think too of the shame women have been made to feel for that ownership of their body.

The right to an abortion is not something that women take lightly, yet it remains fervently a woman’s right.

Man-Bashing Won’t Fight Our Cause

Since I’ve engaged myself more proactively in feminism, my involvement has opened my eyes not only to where women sit in society today, but also where men fit in.

 


Embed from Getty Images

 

As Max Olesker wrote in his article in the Guardian on Sunday – How To Be A Man In 2015 – the world that men now inhabit has seen some radical changes for them, too.

 

I am a relatively new feminist. It wasn’t that I didn’t believe in equality before, but like a lot of young women, for a long time I made the assumption that someone else would fight for it for me. I was what you would call a ‘silent’ feminist.

 

My voice is a little louder these days.

 

But I wouldn’t call myself an extreme or staunch feminist. I like men and I am not anti what they represent – in fact I like the differences between the sexes. Just as you can’t brandish all sharks as man eaters, I believe that you can’t label all men as sexists or sexually exploitative.

 

My husband is a belated feminist. Fortunately, as a result of his work with women, he has achieved an understanding of and an appreciation for them through experience. He has also been berated for any questionable judgment calls about women on the home front when either myself or my twenty-something daughter catch him.

 

Our seventeen-year old son is a work in progress.

 

Feminism is a complex subject area and one that provokes a lot of passion. And although I do not defend man’s tortoise-speed progress to come to the table of equality, I am aware that education and change don’t happen overnight. Ill-formed ideologies about women, that have been entrenched in men since time immemorial, alas, cannot be shaken off as quickly as we women would like.

 

And men are entitled to a period of adjustment, except in the case of violence towards women. But man-bashing won’t fight our cause.

 

We are seeking mutual respect; therefore women need to demonstrate that respect, too.

English: "Mind the Gap" goes feminist.
English: “Mind the Gap” goes feminist. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

We need to educate, not war.

 

Understandably, some men, who already consider themselves feminists are confused by the animosity of certain groups of women towards them – it’s not that they’re confused about equality, but by the accusatory attitude that all men are made of the same stuff. What is equally confusing is that not all women share the same ideals of how equality should look.

 

Because women are all different; just as men are.

 

Men don’t have to grow long beards, sport man buns and eat kale to be acknowledged as modern feminists, but many men are now afraid to commit any man-focused crime.

 

What goes on in their heads and hearts is what women really care about.

 

I think a lot of modern, educated men are feeling victimized, downtrodden and threatened by this new wave of feminism and there could be a backlash if women keep pounding at them. Many feel that women expect them to shed their masculinity completely.

 

Which is not what we expect at all.

 

Men and women can be different without having to be at war. Read ‘Men Are From Mars…’ or watch the polar-opposite antics of the two genders in I’m A Celebrity… – and celebrate those differences. They’re not ALL bad…(frustrating sometimes)…but not all bad.

 

Imagine if men and women were paid equal wages and shown equal respect from society, then both sexes would have an equal choice in how to live their lives. The woman who decides to pursue her career after giving birth would be able to: the man who wants to become a nail artist could do so, too. Couples would be able to make decisions about their careers and childcare based on their skills, passions and ambition; rather than salary.

 

Not all men exploit or abuse women. Not every man whistles or shouts obscenities at women in the street. The majority of men don’t beat up their wives, use their physical superiority to intimidate them or innately feel that women should feel grateful for what society has given them.

 

Sure, harmful and archaically sexist attitudes do still exist but they will die out as each new generation is born and educated and society progresses with equal opportunities. More and more women are working and there is the potential for even more in the workplace if governments would address the cost of childcare and workplace inequalities.

 

Which is progress. So perhaps we should refrain from griping and taking a pop at ALL men about gender traits or ‘mantisocial’ behavior, which don’t truly affect our goals and ultimately are just ‘different’ to ours. We want men on side, working WITH us, so we can unite our energies towards the issues about equality that will really make a difference to women – NOW.

 

Bullying tactics never worked. Let’s leave name-calling in the playground.

 

Most educated men are with us. They already see the benefits of having women in the workplace and not living in a man’s world, but if they feel threatened by a woman’s world, they could run straight back to the cave.

 

18 Penises Next Time, Please

Body
Body (Photo credit: Wendy Nelson Photography.)

The great thing about genitals is that they get people talking.

I know that if I put the word ‘penis’ in my headline, for example, my number of views will increase.

The continued fascination with and criticism of women’s bodies churns on – we are still being told what parts we can show, what we can’t show, what we can wear and how we should represent ourselves. From the hijab to the mini skirt, women are judged by how they look.

Not so, men.

Look at the reaction to THAT performance of Miley’s last week. Although I can’t defend her blatantly sexual ‘twerking’ moves because, (whether she likes it or not), she is a role model to young girls, male musicians have been dancing suggestively since time immemorial and no-one seemed to mind too much. Think of the uproar Elvis caused when he began shaking his hips, but he wasn’t accused of being a tramp. Yet when a woman demonstrates her sexuality or desire, it is met with a sense of revulsion.

Women aren’t supposed to enjoy sex, are they? 

How much longer will the genders be judged by such very double standards?

We all have our opinions about nudity, objectification and sexualisation but I love it when something more humorously controversial stirs the feminism pot, provoking a cat fight in the media.

The image of eighteen vulvas on the cover of the Sydney University magazine, Honi Soit, did just that.

Evidently, ‘one’ vulva wouldn’t have sent a strong enough message.

You can see the image here.

The aim of the editors’ was to demonstrate that women are fed up of female genitals being ‘sexualised and stigmatised’ and for men to understand that real vulvas do not look like the waxed and de-labia-ed versions that many men expect from ogling them on porn – (which is apparently how our male teenagers are now sourcing their sexual education). The magazine set out to prove that the vulva is just like any other body part.

But there weren’t eighteen penises for us to measure and compare too.

We discussed our personal reaction to the cover at the family dinner table, (as you do) and once Kurt and the old man had popped off for a furtive gander of aforementioned vulvas, followed by the predictable reaction of ‘they’re gross’, (proving where they got their sexual education), our reactions differed considerably.

Out of a sexual context, the boys thought the vulvas were uninteresting, quite ugly really. Nerd Child felt that the image was as liberating as the magazine had intended.

The cover certainly set the cat among the pigeons. The original cover with the vulvas on full display was deemed too obscene and controversial even for a student magazine to publish, so the editors were made to block out the offending vulvas with black bars, out of fear of litigation. Somehow (!) the offensive original cover made its way to the printing press and was released, and the rest is history.

My initial reaction to the image was one of gratitude. I have never seen another vulva up close and personal, and like many women of my generation I too had begun to believe the hype that ALL women now have Brazilians and perfectly formed labia. It was also reassuring, upon close examination, to see that like penises and breasts, vulvas are all so VERY different and individual in their own way.

It seems you can still be educated in your forties.

I cancelled my impending Brazilian and the old man’s Father’s Day present of a back, sack and crack immediately.

Nevertheless something bothered me about that image. I’m no prude but I question if that image didn’t serve to titillate rather than make people think. And was it really necessary? Men aren’t told what is appropriate for their bodies. Freedom of expression is a fundamental human right in this country, so why did this magazine feel the need to draw attention to women’s rights in such an intimate way?

How come we didn’t get eighteen penises to gawp at? And if we had, would they have made the headlines too?

As the editors wrote in the cover article, women ‘are tired of being pressured to be sexual and then shamed for being sexual.’

I certainly agree with that point.

If the image did successfully highlight the fact that women shouldn’t have to conform to the ridiculous ideal of body perfection that the media persist in promoting, great. The worry is, of course, that the cover merely provided another Benny Hill moment for men.

The main aim of the image was to take away the shame about women’s genitalia – personally, I have never felt ashamed of mine. I don’t believe that every man wants every woman’s vulva to be landscaped and perfectly shaped just as I don’t think that every man’s penis is 10” long and permanently erect.

As a biology lesson, it was interesting. As a stand against objectification and sexism, I’m not so sure.

Give me an image of 18 penises next time, please, and I’ll decide then just how effective the idea was for making a stand for women’s rights.

Embracing the F Word in Middle Age

Forgive me, readers, for I am about to commit a cardinal blogging sin with a ‘rant’ post.

I don’t do these often because I know you read my blog for some non-cerebral, light relief, but I am fed up of being verbally constipated on this particular subject, out of fear of alienation.

I need to get this mother*cker out.

You see, this week, at the age of forty-seven, I finally realized that I am a feminist. I have finally embraced the F word in middle age.

Was that ‘About f*cking time’ I heard you say?

Embracing the F Word In Middle AgeWhat can I say? I’m a late-developer. The great thing about life though, is it’s never too late to embrace new ideas, is it?

Of course Feminism is not exactly a new idea – I just never truly understood the underpinning implications of it before – for which I must humbly apologize and grovel to  Suffragettes and Bra-burners alike.

I have obviously always been a feminist, I just didn’t know it until now.

Unfortunately, I am not a literary wordsmith on the topic like Helen Razer or Anne Summers, but I do have opinions that matter, and I can and do identify with their beliefs. So indulge me, dear readers, and allow me to vent (in my own simplistic way) on my opinion of feminism in Australia today.

Firstly, how do I know that I’ve always been a feminist?

Simple. Because I’ve always believed in women having the same rights as men. In fact, the reason it took me so bloody long to realize that I was a closet Feminist, is because I naively assumed that women already had equal rights to men.

Derrrr!

The truth of it is, I may have actually been a teensy bit afraid of swearing my allegiance to feminists before, because I had this crazily warped stereotype in my head of what a feminist was – my most dangerous assumption being that they hated men. And I rather like men.

There are, in fact, many male feminists and many feminists that like men.

‘Feminism is not anti men. It’s anti-arseholes, misogynists, pricks, creeps, thugs and bigots.’ Catherine Deveny

But in any important movement, extremism can be a problem. There will always be radical, impassioned members at its core – we witnessed extreme Islam in Woolwich only last week. Often, the most militant members of a group are the ones that actually get anything done, and so unless they resort to violence to get their point across, I embrace and admire their fervency. However, occasionally that passion can become warped and turn to fanaticism, which comes at a price. Not only cost to life, but it can deter other, less confrontational followers from campaigning and supporting the group on its behalf. To remain powerful, a group needs members.

There have certainly been many times in my life where I have been a victim of sexism, have heard demeaning references to women, have witnessed the objectification of women in the media and seen their exploitation in pornography. Who can be unaware  of the levels of violence against women that still happen in Australia?

Six factors finally changed my perspective on feminism:

  • Julia Guillard’s ‘misogyny speech’ and witnessing the way in which she has been treated since taking on the role as the first female prime-minister
  • The increasing misrepresentation and objectification of women in the media
  • The effect that objectifying women has on the developing minds and attitudes on boys towards women
  • My increasing involvement in writing for women
  • Getting older and wiser and intolerant to bigotry and finding my ‘voice’
  • My daughter; who I am proud to say, is a staunch feminist at the age of eighteen

Last week I attended the ‘Women and Power’ debate at the Sydney Writers Festival, via the Griffith Review, and headed up by Anne Summers, Mary Delahunty, Chris Wallace, Yassmin Abdel-Magied and Julianne Schulz.

I don’t know what I was expecting from the debate, but I came away resolved in my  militancy. The impassioned debate ended in a call to arms for women to be more proactive in their challenge against inequality, because although there have been obvious successes in the battle for equal rights, there is still a lot of work to be done.

A lot of young women believe that equality in Australia is ‘done and dusted.’

Successes have obviously been celebrated in the previous waves of feminism in Australia, thanks to women such as Germaine Greer and Anne Summers, but these experts believe that a new wave of male supremacy is forming, due in part to the influence of the media (and particularly social media) and the continued lack of equality in the workplace.

Raising a teenage daughter, I have believed for a while now, that there is a distinct regression in the attitudes of some younger men towards women, and that misogynistic behavior is following suit. (Is Social Media Killing Teenage Relationships?)

We need to educate our sons to be respectful of women.

The apathy towards feminism by our younger generations of women (although it has recently regained some traction with the ‘Destroying The Joint’ debate led by Jane Caro) may be because they believe that they already have equal rights. Or maybe it is simply too hard? And of course the infrastructure to support women in the work place is still negligible.

So what can women do?

Women need to resume the fight and keep pushing back. They need to fight for quotas in the workplace to override the continuing sexism and hold of the old boy networks. There are still very few women in the top corporate tiers, and more and more women are choosing to opt out of corporate life altogether (due to the difficulty of climbing the corporate ladder) to take other options. Where will our voice be then?

Don’t be afraid to use the F word like I was.

Rally for Women’s health- National Mall by Amber Wilkie at http://www.flickr.com