The responsibility of men and women in the fight for gender equality
International Women’s Day (March 8) commemorates the movement for women’s rights and celebrates the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. So, TK this week and next is featuring the expertise, creativity and opinions of some of the women of Avondale College of Higher Education. Inspired by the International Women’s Day theme #pressforprogress, we’re taking over the press and making progress.
The conversations about feminism I have with my friends, colleagues and students are remarkably similar. A lot of people—men and women—feel they don’t know how to be feminist. They don’t feel oppressed or see oppression in the lives of the women around them, so it feels excessive and melodramatic to identify as feminist. Perhaps they don’t identify with the politics of womanhood. Perhaps they’re intimidated or unhappy with those who do. Whatever it is, think about the privilege that allows someone to say, “I’m not a feminist.”
But feminism isn’t just about gender parity for you—or your sister, mother or daughter. It’s about gender parity for all women. That’s half the world. And gender parity isn’t just the vote, or the choice to drive or to work. Gender parity is physical and sexual safety. It’s healthcare. It’s education. Saying you aren’t a feminist means you’ve given up the fight (and it is a fight—a long, legal and social fight for awareness and change) for other women. It’s saying those woman around the world, and possibly next door, who still suffer the effects of subversion because of their gender, are not your concern.
If feminism is . . . advocacy for social and political equality and opportunity for women, then I’m more concerned about what it means to not be a feminist.Lynnette Lounsbury, Lecturer, Avondale College of Higher EducationOne woman a week dies in a domestic violence incident around Australia. It’s the leading preventable cause of death in women aged 15-44 in Australia. That’s a gender issue. One in five Australian women since the age of 15 have experienced physical violence perpetrated by a man. A wage gap—which flows into an economic issue as women have less superannuation and less ability to support themselves as they age—still exists.1 But isn’t that because women choose to have children? Procreation is a biological imperative allowing for not only social but the economic growth that keeps our capitalist economy going in such a way that people have access to the taxes of the young when they need a pension. Every woman should be able to choose whether or not they have children, but if all women stop having children, you’d better be willing to work till you die to support yourself.
Do you vote? Do you see your mothers, sisters and daughters vote? Then you ride on the skirt tails of women who screamed in the streets for equality, committed to hunger strikes, stood in front of carriages, lived with the label “terrorists” and suffered physical beatings and humiliation for daring to suggest women should be able to choose their own representatives. That’s what it took to convince Western society women could make political decisions. It will take as much passion to help other women across the world achieve the same thing.
Women are still prohibited in some countries from voting, driving or receiving an education and in some churches from speaking publicly or being ordained. Rape victims are still blamed, stoned or publicly humiliated online. Dress code standards for girls are still different in some schools to boys because women—not men—are held responsible for sexual assault. This isn’t equality, and if it doesn’t affect you, you’re fortunate, but it’s still your problem. Until every woman is protected, supported and given the same rights as men, all women are less than we could be.
The theme #pressforchange is a nuanced hashtag arising out of the camaraderie, support and vocalisation of the #metoo movement. We’re now speaking about sexual abuse, sexual assault, sexual harassment and the generalised sexualisation that’s kept women in a constant, and exhausting, state of hyper-vigilance. The next step: to move from speaking up to speaking out. From Twitter to parliament. To get women—their achievements, issues, voices—into the media. To push for legislative and social change.
Imagine if men supported women in the ways—pay rises to reach equity and shared domestic and parenting responsibilities—statistics show us women need. Imagine if women didn’t have to waste energy protecting themselves from physical and sexual violence. History shows women can get incredible things done despite threat and disparity of opportunity. Imagine what equality will allow us as to achieve as a human race. It isn’t a competition for resources—there are enough. We’re on the same team.
I’m unafraid of the title “feminist”. If feminism is, according to the Macquarie Dictionary, advocacy for social and political equality and opportunity for women, then I’m more concerned about what it means to not be a feminist. If you do anything for International Women’s Day, perhaps you could thank a woman in your life for what she does for you, ask her what parts of her life keep her from her potential and fight for her ability to achieve that potential. If you want to give, look for charities that support education for girls. Change will always follow education.
Feminist, journalist and activist Gloria Steinem says it best: The story of women’s struggle for equality belongs to no single feminist nor to any one organisation but to the collective efforts of all who care about human rights. And remember this: gender equality means all women, everywhere. Let’s own our privilege, own our responsibility and #pressforprogress.
1. All statistical references from stopdomesticviolence.com.au and the Australian Bureau of Statistics (2012).