In the mid to late 1970s, feminism was a dirty word for most people, women and men similarly, associated it was assumed, with man-hating dikes who advocated women-only clubs, organisations and affairs, with men castigated as MCPs and an enemy to women’s liberation. In this context, I started abandoning the word as a self-description as too many women, some my friends and others work colleagues, blamed men generally as inimical to women, responsible for denying them rights, opportunities and pay parity.
It was a difficult era to raise the complex gender issue so often distorted by unconscious bias, even fear, and traditional stereotypes which all contributed to maintaining the status quo. Men seemed to enjoy women adhering to these stereotypes despite educated, middle-class women working more and demanding increased career opportunities. However, in personal relationships, these women seemingly accepted men as the ultimate breadwinners of a superior, stronger status. This capitulation or complicity by women in a second sex syndrome was an anathema to me, but I soon learned to moderate my outspoken, vociferous aggression about the issue, rejecting the feminist label altogether. Not believing men were the enemy or intrinsically antagonistic to my ambitious pursuits, I actually liked some men, trying very purposefully not to generalise and meeting many good, supportive and encouraging males over the subsequent decades.
Sadly, more than forty years on, feminism still seems a dirty word, even though its critics adopt the rights, opportunities and pay parity the feminists of the 70s fought so hard for, with varying degrees of success. They eschew the word because it is still associated with females who disparage men as sexist, misogynist and potential rapists. The catchcry of the 70s, that at the end of every wolf whistle is a rapist, seems alive and well and thriving for many women today among those who call themselves feminist; if one believes Bettina Arndt and the statistics she quotes.
SBS-TV will show a new documentary on December 4, 2018, headlined “sexism is rife in Australia” that Arndt criticises as “undisguised sexist propaganda” as her participation in the film was deleted as contrary to its “feminist narrative”. Apparently, she would have represented “the majority view the survey revealed… how a minority feminist group is affecting men’s rights issues.” Her view, it’s claimed by one of the male producers, Darren Hutchinson, offered “a profound insight that (required)… a credible voice to give it context.” These comments were detailed by Arndt in an article in The Australian in mid-November 2018, in which she asserted the film presents a “male bashing dogma” with survey results (she doesn’t go into the survey’s details) suggesting a very different perspective. Hutchinson’s survey statistics Arndt claims, are revealing in that only “19 per cent of Australians identify as feminist. Almost half the population (45 per cent) feel feminism has gone too far and most (76 per cent) feel men suffer from sexism too.”
Apparently, the documentary shows how hard life is for women “dealing with the wage gap and the constant threat of rape. We see little girls being taught that boys always get paid more, women afraid to walk down the street.” What “gone too far” means about feminism I’m unclear about, but I believe it is not that feminism has gone too far, but that some feminists, indeed possibly, even probably a minority group, are mistaken about what feminism encompasses, still blaming men as the culprits thwarting their lives, ambitions and freedoms. They erroneously perceive men as the oppressors of women without appreciating how and why they participate in their own oppression; far less problematic to blame men instead of looking more profoundly into their own attitudes and behaviours. That nearly half those surveyed don’t ‘get’ feminism either is symptomatic that nowhere in Arndt’s article, or maybe even in the doco, is feminism defined and clarified, and as far as I’m concerned it is undoubtedly true that men who don’t conform to the traditional go-getter, alpha male stereotype can also suffer sexism too, from other men as much as women.
As for the wage gap, I can certainly relate to that and while I am unable to conduct my own survey it is pertinent that I earned considerably less than my male counterparts despite working extremely hard, for long hours (often 60-80 hours a week when I was younger) and was very good at my job, far better than these men. This was my reality until I was sacked at nearly 58. I don’t believe however it was just male bosses who were sexist and discriminatory about money, but women bosses too, as I had a few of both genders with no discernible difference in the paltry pay packet I earned.
As evidence that my generation of females did not want feminism on their agenda, apparently the film’s survey results “showed the number of feminists in the older demographic likelier to be watching SBS is even lower- 15 per cent for people older than 55.” What else is new? They weren’t interested in the 70s and they still aren’t; obviously content, if not resigned, to their lives, however inadequate and limited, I can only surmise. Arndt further contests that “every day I receive emails from people nationwide shocked at the treatment of men in their lives; a major reason feminism is losing its appeal.” She further contends that “The feminist grip on our institutions can’t be overstated.”
So is it the same, old 70s rhetoric of young feminists still decrying men as the enemy while other women eschew the label entirely even though they work, live and behave according to the tenets of feminism I accepted and understood in the 70s? Is the concept of feminism still being perverted by an anti-male cohort, albeit a minority, who misunderstand what I always believed feminism espouses.
Why is it apparently still such a dirty word among most women even though they live its credo, as I perceive and peruse in the media? Feminism was never about blaming men as a gender but about women living to their full potential at work, at home and at play and accepting responsibility for their choices, lifestyle and behaviours. Certainly, there were some men who regarded these women with unconscious fear and as a threat to their power, status and prestige however buried in their psyche, instead often focusing on their sexuality and/or their supposed promiscuous antics in bed. These men were not intrinsically sexist, just stupid, ignorant and naïve, unable to appreciate how their lives could be enhanced with an intelligent, capable, confident and strong woman as their equal alongside them. There was discrimination against them at work, even in the home, but it was more disrespect at play and men weren’t the only ones evincing this disrespect as women could be as critical and chastising of women who lived outside the traditional, conformist box of behaviour as I experienced all too often.
Sexism is discrimination against another because of gender and on the issue of pay I definitely believe many men, and women too, discriminate against women. Men too can be equally burdened if they don’t conform to the ambitious, million dollar breadwinner. . What the really pertinent issue for me is the tendency to extrapolate from the particular to the general and this is true not just for women but men too. This refers not just to ideas about what feminism is but about how to pursue your life, the choices you make and the opportunities afforded you. Arndt and many other critics of feminism are actually criticising these female feminists for their antipathy towards men but feminists like me have never condemned all men with this kind of abuse. I have particularised the men I have accused of being sexist, disrespectful and downright disdainful towards me and similarly, I have castigated many females for the same disparaging intellectual attitudes. Gender is not relevant in my understanding of who I criticise but it is clearly important to me as a female as to how I have chosen to live my life. I’ve copped abuse from women as much as men, particularly psychologically, and I proudly embrace being a feminist, horrified at Arndt’s limited and ignorant contempt of the feminist narrative. It is but ONE feminist narrative but not mine.
I take pride in being an individual who advocates for women to ensure they nurture and develop all their skills and talents, make their own decisions and accept responsibility for them. That is my essence of feminism and while some women and men may have been complicit in preventing me from fulfilling my potential in terms of the jobs I didn’t obtain, it is their cowardice, fear and sheer stupidity that was, and still is, significant. Personally, I pity them. I started my own blog over eight years ago to ensure I kept writing and developed my skills, and while I may not earn any money, I can be my own boss, answer to myself and please myself without having to “suffer fools” badly. I get on with my life as a person who is female, always now calling myself a feminist however others may want to pervert that perspective.
I do believe Australia is in some ways a sexist society, but it is sexism perpetrated by not just men against women but women too against women as well as men. Maybe the salient truth is people who don’t kow-tow to the powerful elites in our society, be they male or female, will be outside the box, be they feminists or ordinary others who deny that definition, thereby encountering discrimination for being different. There is a large element of having to “fit” within the parameters of social and professional attitudes, behaviours and standards, and anyone defying these practices, can incur the disrespect, discrimination and disdain of those who determine those practices. It is not a 21st century phenomenon but one entrenched in history and akin to a conspiracy of control against those who buck the system. It is disappointing that feminism as a concept is in the firing line of this conspiracy and I’m unsure as to why so many females discredit it as a reality as they live as if they are indeed feminists, especially many of the young generation now.
Maybe it will always be perverted because of the ignorance and naivety of others, gender irrelevant. What’s depressing is that women like Arndt seemingly lack the insight, understanding and historical knowledge to appreciate feminism and instead disparage it as contrary to men. There’s a long way to go to change the current perspective, if it will ever change at all!