Yesterday was International Women’s Day March 8, 2015, ostensibly a celebration of women, for women and by women (men, too?) but what underlies that celebration? What indeed are we celebrating when so much of what I read in newspapers, hear on television and discuss with younger and older women suggests to me that since the nascent days of the Women’s Movement in the late 1960s we haven’t really achieved any meaningful and worthwhile change in social attitudes, economic remuneration and political privilege and power. Over the past few months, there has been a plethora of articles about women still not really enjoying sex and still being labelled sluts by both males and females for daring to enjoy themselves, an increasing pay gap between the genders with males earning nearly 20 per cent more overall, only 23 per cent of the top 200 ASX companies in Australia boasting female chief executives and board members, male surgeons discriminating against and bullying junior female trainees and still a dearth of powerful female politicians in Parliament, both federally and state wide. Moreover, it seems the word ‘feminist’ and whether a female calls herself one or not, is centre stage as the focus of the female voice for change, as if a label can really influence and shape social populist attitudes, behaviour and thoughts. To adhere to this so-called modern 21st century parlance is to miss the quintessential points of the arguments about female equality; namely, that for me, it’s something of an enigma that we are still steeped in centuries past mythologies and philosophies about females per se. I could easily point the finger at religion as some women, and men, too, do; the subjugation of women as traditional home-makers and mothers, still belonging in the kitchen barefoot and pregnant. The reality is however, that more than ever in the western world at least, women work outside the home, but continue to earn less than men as they work in traditionally lower paid jobs for both genders. The business world still seems to support the glass ceiling mentality and few females have been able to shatter it. But I ask the question: do more women really want to enter that world, or the political sphere or any sphere for that matter where male norms predominate? I can’t answer that question, but even in the medical sphere, the layers of sexism and bullying of women medicos has been exposed, not that I’m surprised by it at all as the female shrinks I’ve seen, both as a patient and also interviewed as a journalist, sadly evince the same male behaviour and attitudes as the norm. Are there references to females in the DSM? What norms of behaviour are we talking about when one female shrink I knew from school told me when she was practising in her early 40s that psychiatry had nothing to do with ideology! Furthermore, even a female Liberal Minister Assisting for Women in Abbott’s Government last week recognised that physical appearance is more significant for females than males (and people make judgements about that consequently) but she urged younger women to think about a political career because it’s ultimately about hard work. And I’ve written before about how Julia Gillard et al copped it for her apparel, her arse and her accent! The scenario is depressing to say the least, but what really upsets me more in some ways is that too many women still blame male patriarchy as the reason for women still being the second sex; wanting, expecting men (?) to liberate us from our shackles when I contend that it is up to individual women to accept their own responsibility for self-liberation. The comedy theatre Lysistrata, penned by Aristophanes in 411 BC, tells the story of one woman who wins support of other women and persuades them to withhold sexual privileges from their husbands and lovers in order to end the Peloponnesian War and make peace. In jest (only partly) and in a more encompassing manner, maybe more women need to refuse to participate in our male patriarchal system not by associating with only women, but by simply not accepting lower wages for the same work, refusing to have sex and getting pregnant, and abdicating their roles as cheap, home utensils. At work, at home and at play, how would most men cope without their supportive women by their side? Of course, this is an extremist revolutionary proposal, one I don’t actually support, but I do find it amusing even intellectually challenging to think how our society would function without women at all present. Perhaps the reality is it wouldn’t function at all and we’d die off without procreation. It’s also interesting for me that many women do NOT want to be male equals; they do indeed want to be mothers and look after their children first and foremost; yes, many want a career too, but for most heterosexual couples, the male is still the major breadwinner. Does having children obfuscate the arguments about female equality when undoubtedly, babies and children need looking after and even with childcare facilities and more affordable costs, it’s still the mother assuming the responsibility for their care in most relationships (from what I’ve read and heard).
So what is equality really all about? And why did I stop calling myself a feminist in my late 30s when I did so in my 20s? The Oxford Dictionary defines equal as the SAME (my bold) in number, size, value, degree, rank, musical pitch etc and uniform in operation (equal laws) evenly balanced (fight etc) and same pay for same work done….but I do not believe that we are indeed the same at all, on so many levels because it undermines our essential uniqueness as individuals. I have penned some of this previously, but the word –equality – is heavy with so much social, economic and political misunderstandings and assumptions that it has become a word that is an enigma for me. I certainly don’t want our society, our world, to regard us all as the same; we are all so different and therein lies one of the problems for me with the word equality; I not only don’t want to be perceived as the same as others; be they male or female, I don’t necessarily want to be treated the same at work, at home or at play, either. But YES, I do want, expect and need the law to be applied to me the same as it’s applied to others but I’ve written before how the rich and well-off can only afford the services of the top barristers etc in this western world. What of the jury, too? The men and women who comprise juries today are not the same either; the verdict of one jury may not be the same as another 12 men and women. So how does the law operate as the SAME or EQUAL in practical and realistic terms? It doesn’t, and moreover, I don’t believe it can. We may like to think our judicial system operates with equality re men and women but it doesn’t even operate equally with ALL men and/or ALL women, too. So much in our justice system is vulnerable to money, attitudes, race and religion so that gender is just another differential to add to the enigma. As for the same work done – do two people, of whatever gender, ever work the same? I don’t believe so; superficially, it might be that their job descriptions are the same, but how those descriptions are applied and carried out can be so dissimilar as to make the notion of same work done seem completely superfluous and irrelevant. And we all of course look different; just for starters, so is the notion of equality what we should be talking about?
I’ve written about equality of opportunity and the rights we should all share and derive benefit from; but the sad, albeit depressing reality is that it’s not just females who are overlooked, ignored, jettisoned or belittled because they don’t have equal opportunity or equal rights in nearly all spheres of our society and our world. I believe so many males, too, are equally without genuine opportunities or rights as so many women are, for a myriad of reasons where gender is not ultimately the defining issue. So I contend that we need to stop bandying around the word equality and find some words that realistically and practicably address HOW to ensure both males and females of whatever colour, race, religion, sexual preference or age are regarded uniquely and individually and NOT erroneously lumped together as the SAME only because of gender. It may suit some women, and men, too, to talk about our patriarchal world, but women in the west do vote, are educated (there’s another word full of misunderstandings-another blog) and are just as responsible for their choices and opportunities as men. As a woman, I have never relinquished my individual responsibility for my life and how I chose to live it to anyone else; be they male or female. Too often, it’s easy to apportion blame to some nebulous entity called a patriarchal world as if women have never been, and still aren’t, an intrinsic part of that world. What have women really done to change so many injustices not just for women, but for men, too? Playing the gender card is easy, simplistic and obfuscates the complicated and at times bedevilling scenario of how to make this world, and our own immediate societies, better places to live. There are just so many factors to consider about how to create a more just and equitable world for us all. And it’s not about equality per se, but about fair play; perceiving each and every one of us as different with our own unique intelligence, understanding, talents and skills. If we all wanted to be the same, go and live in a totalitarian society where people are just a number on a production line to fulfil a role that is dehumanising and gender neutral. I know because I’ve lived in both a socialist and fascist society where I was supposedly treated the same as everyone else and I didn’t like it. Indeed, my whole being rebelled against it, relatively speaking.
The word feminist is also burdened with inappropriate and self-righteous meanings that deny our individuality; and I wrote about why I opted to call myself a femmosexual in my first blog more than five years ago. The word is just as irrelevant as the word equality and I argue even more vehemently now than I did previously that actions speak louder than words. And words are cheap; all of us with our own understanding of what words mean for us as individuals. See my other blog on the meaning of words.
So it’s sad indeed that we even need (or some women think we need) an International Women’s Day at all when we should all link arms and celebrate being human and even more importantly, work, play and live together for a world that celebrates our common humanity more than anything else. In being human, we are indeed the same; same species if nothing else, nothing more than that either.