The issue of equality and opportunity for females continues to raise itself in mainstream and social media with feminist theorists asserting “we really do have a long way to go” to achieve equality with men. Mary Barry, CEO of Our Watch, was commenting on a recent survey of 600 16-19-year-old females undertaken by her organisation and Plan International Australia that revealed half the young women felt they were never appreciated for their brains over their looks, with less than one in ten feeling they were treated equally to young men. The overwhelming majority believed being born female disadvantaged them at school, at home and on the street; everywhere. Listing a range of gender disparities such as income, unpaid work including childcare and housework, numbers on boards of ASX listed companies, superannuation income and violence experienced, Barry claimed discrimination “exists because of the inequality that precedes it”.
A couple of days before, renowned Australian feminist, Eva Cox, professorial fellow at University of Technology in Sydney, argued “we need more men to recognise the seriously inbuilt macho bias in almost every field of endeavour”, positing “the continued high prevalence of violence against women and the increasing hostility to women who are outspoken or in the public view suggest we are still dealing with the effects of continued masculine dominance over almost everything.” She suggested “it may be the changes of the last two decades have undermined radical feminist expectations of further change by our accepting limited sharing of the status quo”.
Casting men as the culprits for female inequality must be critiqued in the context of other surveys and research that suggest a contrary and more complex reality, illustrated in 2015 by a 16-year-old ambitious girl at co-ed Fitzroy High School in Melbourne who explained that some bright, high achieving girls at school did not believe they were “smart enough” to aspire to leadership or powerful positions. Their apparent lack of self-belief was not about ‘macho bias’ in school, but how they perceived themselves and their intellectual acumen. Earlier this year, female academics at Melbourne University surveyed young female doctors about their specialist choices concluding these doctors may not have the confidence to enter male-dominated specialties such as surgery and instead choose more traditional female training in obstetrics. In January 2014, female TV media celebrity, Lisa Wilkinson, articulated her belief that women too can be ‘unkind’ to women.
Can these conflicting realities be reconciled and understood? For too many decades in my life, I’ve read, heard and discussed the blame game against men as if women were somehow incidental in our society, ‘unsuspecting victims’ as the prey of a patriarchal conspiracy controlling their lives and proscribing their aspirations. It may be that women are complicit in not just enabling men to ‘control’ their destiny, but ensure they can, perhaps unconsciously. Most women and men too, want a stable relationship and family, usually engendering diverse gender realities and outcomes. It is well documented that women seek a ‘good provider’ partner maybe because they do not believe they can provide for themselves as they want.
In the Our Watch survey, one in three girls remarked “If only I were a man – it would be so much easier to get my dream job.” These young girls, most of them still at school I’m assuming, seem to already believe in ‘macho bias’, but are their beliefs based on reality or delusion? Where are they obtaining this so-called information and from whom?
The issue as I grew up was that too many women simply did not want radical change, content with the status quo and marrying their good provider as compensation for their personal insecurities. The problem I confronted in my late twenties was when particular women, usually a minority but including myself, were ambitious and did want leadership and powerful positions it wasn’t just men who blocked their ascendancy, but many women, too. Women can indeed be ‘unkind’ to women.
Moreover, if female adolescents already feel looks matter more than brains what are they doing and how are they behaving? Have none of them ever taken a sexed-up selfie to send to male friends? Are they abrogating their personal responsibility to choose their future by retreating into the catch call of male bias? Are they already brainwashed into blaming men if they cannot achieve their dream job or that it’s men who will offer it to them? What about trying to create one’s own opportunities?
Unconsciously in my teens I undermined my intellectual performance as I stopped wanting to be the ‘best’ in class as I was dux of Year 7 but never again, though still achieved well enough to win a scholarship to Melbourne University. A couple of years later at work in the media I felt conflicted about my success, encountering much jealousy and antipathy from colleagues at work and friends, both female and male. In my mid-late twenties I understood I had then unconsciously put myself down so as not to be a ‘threat’ to both men and women, but also wanted to ‘fit in’ with the status quo, despite feeling frustrated and depressed at the same time. Recognising this, I rejected the status quo and the social norms most females deemed desirable as well as refusing to associate with anyone who put me down only to incite criticism and contempt from many friends and family members. Clearly, I had all the problems. Maybe most women accept limited sharing of the status quo because the alternative of eschewing a conformist and conventional lifestyle is too daunting, frightening and indeed, uncertain and insecure, both financially and professionally. There is a powerful fear about being alone.
The 70s women’s movement rhetoric that we could have it all with the great career, the great family and the great income implying love, sex, power and money  for ourselves resonated loudly in my psyche as possible. Just a decade later, I confronted this as no more than mythical fantasy. Reality demands choices that render this improbable as implicit in this agenda is receiving respect and support, having financial security and above all else, enjoying long, hard hours at work. I believe most women and men don’t desire relentless work schedules and/or have the other elements to make it real. Things go missing along the way for a myriad of reasons.
To want and achieve change by proclaiming ‘macho bias’ presupposes females have no ‘control’ over their life choices. In my late twenties I reflected ‘I should have been a man’ but it wasn’t because it would have been easier or because of consistent discrimination by men. It seemed more about the kind of female I was; outspoken, aggressive and with interests in politics, sport and sex usually regarded as normal for a male but an anathema as a female  Some of the young girls in the Our Watch survey are already sadly imbued with the illusion that men just get what they want for no other reason than being male. Some men in my life didn’t achieve what they dreamed about either and having equal opportunity doesn’t always equate with equal outcomes. The young girls need a reality check to appreciate it’s not necessarily easier for men. What we may obtain involves a hard slog; persistence, determination, discipline, confidence and resilience among other things. Self-belief is critical. A young girl needs to put herself out there, take a risk and be ready to accept possible failure as any young boy does. The female philosophy should be as Tattslotto once implored: Don’t dream it, do it! Work. A ‘dream’ job may exist, but it won’t happen in a ‘dream’ as it’s a very difficult road to making a dream real. Mary Barry doesn’t even start to address how ‘out of touch’ these young girls are with reality and Eva Cox does not even countenance that many women may just NOT be interested in radical change, happily acquiescing to limited sharing of the status quo. That’s not to deny gender discrimination exists with glass-ceilings in so many fields, but alleging ‘macho bias’ ignores the innate complexity of the issue and the interest of females to resolve it.
Many social norms proscribe both male and female behaviour but it is more about what kind of male or female one is and the opportunities he/she individually wants. I could never kow-tow to male or female bosses in the workplace as I was unable to revere any person just because of their status or prestige per se. My belief was my  ‘work’ should ‘speak’ for itself. I never believed in or played “political games” with all their expectations, losing respect for my bosses.  A few male bosses did recognise how good I was at my job but I wasn’t interested in their opportunities. It was too late. I still felt ‘put down’ intellectually, professionally and financially because they didn’t know me and assumed too much. At the same time, I also appreciated I ‘achieved’ brilliantly in the UK,  arriving there as an unknown journalist from Down Under at nearly 23 and offered my ‘dream’ job five years later. I no longer wanted it, changing my mind and walking out of the company. The personnel manager refused me a pay rise as well as then being offered a job that undermined my experience. A few months later, I pursued a real ‘dream’ job I did want at a more senior level in another media workplace to be glibly dismissed as “a social butterfly.” The man I saw had already spoken to a contact-friend in my previous company  whose ‘information’ about me counted for more than anything I could say. I knew who the contact-friend was, and this man was no different, with no respect for my experience, understanding, intelligence and confidence, let alone no understanding about my strong self-belief. He wasn’t remotely interested in even learning about me.
Maybe I wasn’t typical and indeed am still not, but I don’t regret my choices. And nearly 40 years ago, the media was far more male-dominated than it is now. Confusions, conflicts and contradictions pervade the whole issue and clarifying what the rational and logical explanations are for the continuing disparities at work, at home and at play are problematic. So too all the consistent inconsistencies in socio-economic political perspectives about the equality issue. Young people must accept responsibility to dictate their own destiny as well as understanding how the real world is in order to change it. The truth may be that discrimination is irrational, based not on facts and knowledge but on generalised assumptions that deny individuality and difference for both genders. Equality may also be irrational as no two people are the same nor do they produce the same work with the same outcomes. Equality of opportunity is a far more complex issue. Accepting the status quo can be far less difficult but blaming men for female inequality ‘undermines’ women’s independence, intelligence and their right to choose. No doubt the discourse will continue.

Advertisements