I am so sick of hearing the term “feminist” being used in a derogatory fashion… It seems to me, and this is from my own perspective so others may have a different experience of this, that a woman who steps up to speak for herself, pays for a lunch herself, expects to be treated equally in her community and receive the same rate of pay as her male counterparts is ‘vilified’ as being a ‘feminist’. The term feminist is often used as an insult and a put down… a way to make a woman feel bad for speaking up for herself and being independent.
Strong words? Yeah, they are. Are they ‘universally’ true, no – but I believe that the word “feminism” has been subverted to a rather distasteful term. So much so that, until recently, I shied away from applying the term to myself – now, I just simply don’t care.
[box type=”note” size=”large” style=”rounded” icon=”none”]I believe in equal rights for everyone. I believe people should be treated the same regardless of their gender. Therefore, I AM a feminist[/box]
I was stunned how our country responded to having a female PM. Whether or not you like her politics, what has her gender; marital status; whether she has children; or her weight / shape ever have to do with her policies and ability to actually govern or lead our country? Rather than debating policies, we were distracted by the never ending crap that was dished out about her personally. We’ve never asked our male leaders if their partners were lesbian or deigned to delve into such a personal issue; we have most certainly had (extremely) overweight male politicians – but did we hear any debate on whether they were fit to lead us or participate in the leadership of the country – NO! So why is it different because our PM is a female? The real answer is it shouldn’t be and that fact that it was, is disgraceful.
I recently entered a discussion on the following statement:
Boy Scouts is a sexist organisation. Girls Scouts is a “valuable protected space” for girls.
I feel that this issue pretty much exemplifies my feelings on feminism.
The ensuing discussion highlighted to me, how much the role of “feminism” in our society is misunderstood – what gender equity really means and why there is still the need for “positive discrimination” and “affirmative action”.
According to the dictionary, Feminism is “The advocacy of women’s rights on the grounds of political, social, and economic equality to men.” but somehow, this seems to have mutated to a feeling of “if you’re a Feminist, you must be a misandrist (someone who hates men)”. That is simply not true. I LOVE men – I love and respect my husband, father and my son, I respect and admire my male colleagues – but I still wish to be treated as their equal and not judged by my sex.
Getting back to the statement above – the issue becomes that there are organisations that have been created solely to support to women, many are designed to help women develop into active Leadership roles in our community. It is the seeming double standard of allowing ‘female only’ organisations, when Men can’t do the same. I get it, I really do. It rankles my equalitist’s heart no end. However, let’s look at a few simple truths:
- In Australia, Women make up approximately 50% of the population
- According to the Workplace Gender Equality agency, February 2013 Gender Workplace Statistics At a Glance:
- Women make up 45.7% of the working population
- On average, Women earn 17.6% less than their male counterparts (and this is an increase in disparity from 17.4% in February 2012 and 17.2% in February 1996 – we’re going backwards! ref: The Conversation)
- 87.8% of women aged 20-24 have attained year 12 qualifications or above, compared to 84.1% of men in the same age bracket
- 15.4% of directors in the ASX 200 are women
- 52 ASX 200 companies do not have women on their boards (26%)
- In politics, women comprise only 30.3% of all Australia’s parliaments
The fact is, we are NOT equal YET. Women earn 17.6% less than their male counterparts and are not representative in the leadership of our country OR our companies. Until these divides are closed, I honestly believe the need for ‘women only’ organisations that mentor, encourage and support women (and young women) into jobs that receive the same pay for the same work and leadership roles are an absolute necessity.
When I was at school and just entering the workforce, it was called “Positive Discrimination”. The idea was to ensure that a certain percentage of job applicants for a position were Women and people of colour (POC), that a certain percentage of roles were FILLED by Women and POC. Certainly, I received a number of interviews that I didn’t expect to get because I was the ONLY applicant (in some cases I was asked to apply and I knew it was to “make up the numbers”). I took every opportunity I was given though – to gain experience in interviews and to show them what I was made off – and it paid off.
When the ‘girl only’ Science classes were introduced at highschool in the mid 1980’s… I was offered that opportunity and didn’t take it. I found the competition in interacting with the boys better suited my style and I never felt truly connected to my female school colleagues… That probably had a lot to do with the fact that I knew I was equal, I liked learning and I did a lot of unusual extra curricular activities – Judo and Dirt Bike Racing (MotoX and Flattrack) to name just two. However, many of my friends took these classes and learned to love Science – this was a good thing.
As a 15 year old, I was pretty amazed that they thought they needed such mechanisms in place to encourage girls into the Sciences and Technology. At this side of my life looking back, I think I was the only girl who frequented the Computer Lab (yep, we had ‘real’ computers – well Acorns anyway)… and the antics of the boys in the lab were pretty boisterous, enough to intimate many girls from entering if they simply weren’t sure.
Even today, I speak to so many intelligent young women and ask if they are interested in the Sciences or Technology – and in a lot of cases they tell me they “aren’t smart enough” or something about it being too scary as it’s a “Mans” field.
I reckon I’ve done a pretty good job at raising my daughter to be independent and motivated and yet, we found she was ‘dumbing herself down’ so she could fit in with her peer group. We did a number of things around this and as result, she was 1 of 50 young women invited to the UBS Young Women’s Leadership Academy. On her return from this Academy she was a changed woman – she could see how she could make a difference, why ‘stepping up’ into a leadership role was important and that being smart and driven was a good thing. You can read about her experience at the UBS Young Womens Leadership Academy on HerCanberra.
At the graduation dinner for the Academy, I had the privilege to hear Julie McKay, Executive Director of UN Women, speak. During question time, I asked Julie how she felt about Positive Discrimination and whether it was still necessary. I was pretty stunned when her sentiments reflected mine: when she first entered the workforce she didn’t see them as necessary but today, with the hindsight and experience she has, putting in place measures that ensure we achieve Gender Equity is something we must have. She even mentioned that she felt in some cases, we were regressing ….
Over wine one Friday evening, friends and I were discussing that exact point – for all the strides forward in equality that our Mothers (and we) made in the 1960’s through early 1980’s, we haven’t maintained that momentum and, as our current statistics show, our pay equity is going backwards. Why is that? Did we become complaisant or is there some more insidious that is underlying this? Certainly a topic for another another discussion.
One final anecdote before I close out this ramble – I recently took two young female trainees down to the Canberra Institute of Technology (CIT) to look at some further education options for them. The gentleman we spoke to was pleasant enough however, when he turned his back to me and told my trainees that they “wouldn’t get a real job without xxxxx”, I was pretty taken back. Hello…. I’m sitting here at the table, I’ve introduced myself as their employer, I’ve explained how we are structured – “not a real job”? I shared this experience with a male colleague who told me he thinks it was a form of discrimination – oh, you’re just a woman and a small business, you can’t possibly have a real business. Needless to say, the CIT will not be receiving our business.
Until we can overcome the:
- Gaps in pay between the genders
- Fact that difference in pay equity is growing wider again
- Fact that our Country and Company leadership is not reflective of our population
- Fact that we still think of jobs and industry as a ‘male or female’ domain
Positive Discrimination, Affirmative Action or whatever else you want to call it is absolutely necessary. Yes, I am speaking from my Feminist Heart however, everything that I say about equality for women applies to equality for all – we should be assessed and paid for our ability to do a job, not our colour, not our gender, not our age…