“Women’s Libbers clueless after rational vote” screamed the headline in The Australian on Wednesday May 29, 2019, another disparaging rant against feminists; the semantics reminiscent of the conservative tirade of the 70s in the UK. At that time, women’s lib was denounced as irrational and insane, a movement of bitter and twisted women against the status quo. Sadly, the sentiment expressed in the headline suggests nothing has changed in the perception of some feminists, despite the reality that without these women’s often painful and punitive struggles decades ago, women would not enjoy the opportunities they do today.
That notwithstanding, there is some merit to Janet Albrechtsen’s article in which she narrates how some feminist journalists, bitchily referring to them as “grievance journalists”, commented that despite the policy success of the coalition and its victory, they regard the Coalition as having a “massive gender problem”. Albrechtsen called it “the banality of modem feminism”, singling out ABC broadcaster, Patricia Karvelas, as failing “to consider whether facts fit her claim”. On the ABC-TV “Insiders” program, Karvelas raised: “I think gender is an issue…I think the Coalition…(has) a massive gender problem, and this is a massive issue. This doesn’t go away just because they won…”
Given the increased numbers of Coalition women in parliament (nine new Liberal female MPs and four new Nationals) and the seven female cabinet ministers, a record for the highest number, Albrechtsen’s argument is valid, but her polemic polarises the feminists as factually misleading, even irrational. She only quotes Karvelas, though other female journalists and commentators have hitherto expressed similar discontent in the Twittersphere. I do agree that Karvelas and some other journalists are wrong, out of touch with reality and deluded by their own dogma.
However, highlighting feminism again, albeit to criticise and condemn it, Albrechtsen misses the historical relevance of the feminist fight over many decades for women to enjoy the equal opportunity for entering parliament and participating more fully in the political process. Asserting modern feminists en masse as “banal” diminishes the great achievements of many, even today, though I don’t always relate to their vociferous verbiage lambasting men on a broad range of issues.
Certainly, Albrechtsen concedes “There is still more work to be done to get more women into parliament,” but if merit is the definitive factor as she consistently has argued, and gender is irrelevant in choosing our MPs, then why is getting more women into parliament even pertinent? This comment contradicts her argument about gender and party quotas as why does it matter what the numbers of women are? Her arguments are illogical. She then posited: “the stubborn flaw at the heart of these unhappy feminists is when things don’t go their way 100 per cent, they find nothing to celebrate. Their blinding ideology …prevents them from factoring in the reality of women’s choices…” I contend that Albrechtsen too is somewhat blinded by her own anti-feminist ideology that fails to comprehend that feminists have never achieved 100 per cent of their aspirations and must keep fighting to achieve that. Being unhappy with the current status quo reflects there is still a very long way to go for women to be accorded genuine equality of opportunity. Women’s choices may indeed be relevant, but what demands understanding is the basis of these choices? Are women lacking in self-belief, confidence and political ambition or are they perhaps antipathetic to other women who do have a strong sense of self and political aspirations? Albrechtsen berates feminists per se seemingly without any appreciation of feminism as a philosophy of action to advance women’s equity in the same way as feminists such as Karvelas berate the coalition. Both miss the more profound complexity of why scant numbers of women are interested in a political career and that is one issue both Albrechtsen and Karvelas et al don’t apparently consider. Both sides distort reality to push their own argument, and both are irrational, one-sided and ignorant. Why should there be more women in parliament when it just might be that women don’t want that? If it’s all about merit and not a gender issue as Albrechtsen argues ad nauseum, why should more women choose a political career? Moreover, I countenance what difference would it make if there were more women in parliament as I don’t believe women necessarily support, care or are concerned about women more generally. One only has to recall that even as Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, a woman no less, cut the single parent supporting pension reducing it to the Newstart Allowance which was a poverty income and affected far more women than men. Historically, there is little to suggest that women MPs will actually act to improve women’s lives any more than some men. Gender is not the definitive issue.
Furthermore, Albrechtsen continues that “women who presume to speak on behalf of other women, rather than as freethinking individuals, should be prepared to be marked down for failing women when they stuff up,” implying women should apologise for their ideology as long as it doesn’t concur with her own. Taking her argument further, how can she then justify believing there should be more women in parliament; maybe only if those females epitomise her freethinking, individual ideology? The mistake is to believe women’s gender speaks for all women as this has revealed itself as fallacious for decades, if not centuries. Appreciating that reality, what then would more women in parliament achieve, promise or offer? Over my life, most women have been so out of touch with me that I never believed they speak for me, more often the contrary, so Albrechtsen can’t have it both ways.
While gender raises its head again and again in so much social discourse these days it is true I contend that in different contexts, for different reasons and at different times, gender can be significant in both positively discriminating for women as much as negatively against them. However, I don’t believe the feminists just want it 100 per cent their way; they just want to see change happen more quickly and fairly but I assert one: change is comparatively slow considering that women have been eligible to contest for parliament for over a century yet in 1980 there was only one HOR female MP and one female senator and two: in that perspective, maybe the reality is most women aren’t interested in entering parliament. Consequently, perhaps the discourse should focus more on particular women and their ambitions and how some women can undermine women similarly as men, as well as analysing why more women are not interested in a political career. That could be a new and stimulating debate to have.
Sadly, it’s all too much of the same old…feminism not a popular philosophy in our broad and overwhelmingly conservative social milieu. I’m sure this isn’t the last of it.