I was probably a feminist, even before I realised. As a young girl I observed the dynamics in my home and thought to myself, I’ll never put up with that, I’d never do that, no, my life won’t be like that.
But it wasn’t until I hit my 20s that things really crystallised. It might have been the sleazy boss at my casual uni job who made suggestive comments, or the even sleazier boss in my first professional job, who’d casually drop in to conversation, ‘She just needs a slipadicktome,’ whenever referring to an outspoken woman.
I was young, scared of losing my job and so I remained silent, but I never forgot. I’m a lot older now, more confident and I have found my voice. While I’m no expert on the theory or history of feminism, I am a feminist.
I believe in equal pay for equal work, equal rights to safety and freedom from violence, equal rights to make choices about our own lives and to not have those choices taken away from us. I also believe in the right to keep your surname at marriage, or change it if you prefer, the right to wear whatever clothes we feel like without punishment or fear, and most of all, the right to have control over when we start a family.
While it seems that there are so many issues to overcome, the one thing common to all of this, is the need for respect.
Sexism in sport
At the state athletics centre recently, my child was training with his relay team, alongside a girls’ team. A parent standing beside me called out, ‘You can’t let the girls win!’
‘You can’t let the girls win!’
Can you imagine? I don’t know whether I was more shocked or angry, but these were my instant thoughts:
- Firstly, it wasn’t a race. It was training.
- Secondly, I believe in fairness. The best athlete on the day wins, regardless of gender.
But perhaps the thing that stung the most, was that these words came from a woman, calling to her son, teaching him out dated ideas on gender.
I have two sons and I am their number one fan, but I will not stand by and accept others diminish the rights or dreams of girls, for it is this persistent infection of attitudes and daily language that oppresses girls and women.
I have lost count of the number of times I’ve turned off the radio because of the blatant sexism that pours out from the speakers. Almost every day, I hear commentary from male radio announcers on whether women look better wearing make up, or how only women under 30 should wear denim shorts.
At a barbecue recently someone brought up the topic of ironing. Exciting huh? When I said that I don’t iron, my husband was asked, ‘So, do you go to work with wrinkled shirts?’
Not only is it insulting to me, it’s also insulting to my husband, to assume that he’s incapable of performing the menial task of ironing.
A couple of years ago I took my sons to see the movie Pixels. I’m not much of a fan of kids movies, but it was the holidays and my two were keen. I checked the ratings and it all looked fine. Movie reviews always warn you of swearing, sexual references and violence, but one thing they often miss is sexism.
Photo by dbreen on Pixabay
There’s a scene in Pixels where the so-called ‘wonder kid’ Ludlow Lamonsoff flies into a rage, hurling insults at a line of soldiers.
He yells, ‘You maggots! You little girl maggots.’
I was horrified. I looked to my two sons, and they both looked at me. They knew it was wrong, the looks on their faces told me so.
If entertainment is a mirror to society, we have a long way to go.
We’ve all heard these expressions –
Run like a girl
Cry like a girl
Punch like a girl
You’re such a princess.
Every time we say these phrases, we reinforce the notion that girls and women are shameful and somehow inferior to boys and men. As far as I can tell, both boys and girls can be strong, fast and both boys and girls cry, but I’m of the view that neither should punch.
Violence against women
More to the point, some boys and men will punch hard and wind up charged with assault. In fact, the rate of assault by Australian males is approximately four times that of women (ABS 2017). Total imprisonment rates in Australia tell a grim story. In June 2016, there were 3094 women and 35,745 men imprisoned (ABS 2017). That’s right, there are over ten times more men in our prisons than women.
So why do we use ‘girl’ or ‘women’ as an insult?
And not only are females the minority in our prisons, they are four and a half times more likely to be victims of physical and sexual assault.
Across Australia, one woman dies every week at the hands of a current or former partner (White Ribbon Australia 2018), but these stories almost never hit the news. They are perhaps so frequent, that they are no longer news worthy.
I’ve had vile sexual slurs levelled at me while running along the beach. A man exposed himself to me at a local hardware store. A friend of mine used to walk her dog in a local bushland reserve, until a man began masturbating in front of her. No one should have to endure this.
Like so many women, I am careful when and where I go, because the next time, it could be worse. It’s a continuum.
Sexual violence in pornography
I recently watched a documentary titled Love and Sex in an age of pornography, an analysis of how pornography both reflects the society we live in and also influences it. Approximately 80% of pornography produced now involves sexual violence against the woman. 80%! I think the percentage was actually higher I but can’t bring myself to watch it again, just to check the statistic.
The industry claims it is responding to demands from consumers. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, given the rates of violence against women.
This is something we need to talk about.
It seems that women’s bodies are objects for the taking, including our reproductive organs. In Queensland and New South Wales, assault is a criminal offence. So is abortion.
In Queensland, abortion is a crime under the Criminal Code 1899 (Qld), unless the woman’s physical or mental health is in danger. In 2017, the Palaszczuk Government in Queensland ordered a review of legislation (The Australian 2017). Two private member bills were introduced to Parliament but were later withdrawn when it became apparent they would fail.
Similarly in New South Wales, abortion is a crime under the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW). In 2017, a bill to decriminalise abortion was defeated 25 votes to 14 (ABC News 2017).
I think it’s a simple concept, really. Respect for a woman’s body, and the freedom of choice of when to have sex and when to start a family, but for many Australian women, these freedoms are taken away.
It is time that we taught our children, all of them, respect. Respect for themselves and each other.
It’s also time to redefine the way we talk about girls and women in sport, in the playground, in the office, in our every day lives.
And it’s time to challenge attitudes about what is considered acceptable on radio, in music and our screens, because if we don’t change the small wrongs, we allow the bigger wrongs to continue.
ABC News 2017, New South Wales Parliament votes no on legislation to decriminalise abortion [Online], Available at: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-05-11/nsw-parliament-votes-no-on-abortion-bill/8517566.
Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) 2017, Gender Indicators Australia – Safety and Justice [Online], Available at: http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/Lookup/by%20Subject/4125.0~Sep%202017~Main%20Features~Safety%20and%20Justice~8.
The Australian 2017, Queensland orders review of abortion laws [Online], Available at: https://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/nation/queensland-orders-review-of-abortion-laws/news-story/49d97f14ca5f73cb9de45f8165e55113.
White Ribbon Australia 2018, Domestic violence statistics and figures for Australia [Online], Available at: https://www.whiteribbon.org.au/understand-domestic-violence/facts-violence-women/domestic-violence-statistics/