flatline

IS FEMINISM FLATLINING?

Once upon a time, not too long ago, women started a movement, a second wave of feminism, because we were tired of living in a public world made for and by men.

We looked at how masculine power, resources and values excluded us from jobs, resources and influence over what happened, and we decided it was time to make changes. This was the early seventies and changing our society seemed very possible.

The post war Baby Boom was over and we had the pill. Betty Friedan’s Feminine Mystique had outlined the problem with no name that affected housewives, and Germaine Greer’s The Female ...

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34 Comments

  • Reply November 12, 2012

    Old bag

    It’s an unpopular thought, but I don’t think we’ll see genuine systemic, structural change until there is equality among the sexes. This means not only men taking on more domestic tasks, thoughtwork and career hits, but also women stepping up to be financial equals by seeing their jobs as not secondary or contingent on their partner’s job. Until women cease to be the only ones exercising the work/not work choice, there can’t be the shift we need.

  • Reply November 12, 2012

    Sharont

    I couldn’t agree more with Old bag.

  • Reply November 12, 2012

    Carley

    Yes, I think the shift to valuing caring roles is crucial, as well as a change in the very model of caring that dominates. ‘Mothering’ is the dominant model of caring, and this is so sex-aligned that men being involved in caring roles is seen as gender transgressive and therefore undesirable for many.

    We need to see alternative models for how to care for people, and a true valuing of all of those various ways of forming social bonds. Current models mean men and women are limited in their choices and everyone loses.

  • Reply November 12, 2012

    RudiMax

    I couldn’t agree more with Dr Cox’s ideas for a good society.
    I would also add that a good society looks after its Indigenous people, has equal opportunities for people no matter what ethnic background, rights wrongs of the past and values different types of knowledge.
    I also agree with Old Bag and Carley.
    I don’t think we’ll see a fair and just society in Australia until we start properly listening to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Our society is built on a violent and unjust past – and you can’t have harmony built on injustice.

  • Reply November 12, 2012

    Carz

    I think that one of the major issues is that many people, not just men, see feminism as a war. They believe that if women gain something then men must lose it, as if there is a finely tuned balance that mustn’t be upset, where as the reality is quite different. The awareness that was raised by feminism regarding the rape and sexual assault of women and children resulted in the development of services that address these issues for all people.

    To me the solution to the stalling of feminism and its progress needs to come down to not just the development of a ‘good’ society along Dr Cox’s lines but also an acknowledgement that there are some people whose minds you cannot. change. Extreme feminists standing toe to toe with extremist men’s rights groups screaming at each other changes nothing and manages to put many moderate people offside. The moderates, the swing voters, the ones who don’t really have an opinion are the people that need to be targeted to help facilitate change. They are the people who can be convinced of a causes worthiness, which brings not only supporters but also helps to develop specific aims and set realistic, achievable goals.

  • Reply November 12, 2012

    TheHuntress

    A wonderful article. I am a proud feminist in a time where it’s almost unfashionable to be a feminist. I don’t understand why, surely all women want the right to choose how we live? While I can understand that feminism is sometimes associated with being ‘anti-men’ ( which should NOT be the case at all), I still see great importance in keeping feminism alive and strong.

    As I explained to my feminist husband the other day (he is in fact feminist, but sometimes feels unsure) the more opportunity we spread to women, further opportunities and choices can also be offered to men. Both sexes will benefit by offering women true equality. I’m sure there are many men out there who would enjoy the options for flexible working hours, time at home to care for their family or spending some time as a primary care giver in the family. While we are seeing expansions for men in these areas I am certain that we could do better and the answer is equal opportunites and pay for women.

    Personally I would LOVE to support my husband to stay at home and raise our son, have some time off and to do all the household stuff I’m so terrible at. But I can’t as I have little hope of earning enough money to support myself, let alone a whole family paying a mortgage. So until that changes (as well as a few other things) I will proudly identify as being a feminist.

  • Reply November 12, 2012

    Sarah

    In Singapore, I see an increasing number of men as ‘trailing spouses’ following their Australian wives sent on international assignments. These are career women, with partners who have quit their jobs to follow their wife’s career. And a lot of the time, the men become the primary carer of the family.

    But you know how it is all so possible – live in maids to cook, clean, care and do all the other stuff. If Australia had more available/affordable domestic service options, I think it would help Australian women and men follow careers as well.

    • Reply November 14, 2012

      Billie

      Dear Sarah
      While I appaul those women forging careers in Singapore and their men giving up their work and following, I do have to ask: Why don’t those men take up the household work? Why do we need low-paid (usually female) maids to do this?

      Dear Eva
      Your article is great. However, due to biology, it is often necessary for women to stay at home while having babies and breastfeeding (and I know its possible to work when you have babies but I also know how exhausting expressing milk and going to work is). I believe one simple development could change so much – superannuation for women who stay at home to care. That would give us so much freedom and equality.

      • Reply November 14, 2012

        Billie

        Applaud, not appaul

  • Reply November 12, 2012

    ro.watson

    I don’t think either the brain,heart,or indeed the entire body of feminism is flat-lining. The thing I notice these days is there is less a sense of several movements~ and a greater diversity of voices being heard~ which has to be good~ in the long run!!.

  • Reply November 12, 2012

    Old bag

    Sarah, why do men need maids and live in housekeepers to be primary carers? Women don’t.

    The Huntress, are you suggesting that if you hadn’t married you’d be destitute? Because that’s what it sounds like, and it feeds in to what I said earlier about women taking their careers seriously so they are just as equipped to support their families as their partners are. Otherwise, you’re denying your husband the choice to be at home with his children while exercising your own choice to work or not work as you desire.

  • Reply November 12, 2012

    Diana

    I think the feminstic message is often undone by women. Young women, old women….women who don’t want to be independent or self sufficient or don’t want to voice what they may believe because of the possible backlash.
    There was that ridiculous comment by Miranda Kerr where she said she wasn’t a feminist….despite following a career path that was only possible by her inner strength (and beauty) and focus and dedication. Why did she bother saying it? I suspect to position herself as a girly girl and one not tarnished with such things…..to appeal to future business partners. What a terrible role model for our easily influenced young women.

  • Reply November 12, 2012

    demynw

    Great article Eva. Stimulates my thinking and causes me to reflect on my teenagers values: lots of ribbing and humour along with a deep sense of the opportunity available through partnerships. My 19yo son offers much wonderful insight and support to his 18 and 15yo sisters especially in pursuing their studies. All seem to do well in the maths and sciences and the two older ones are looking at careers in business and engineering. I think we all make choices and those choices can unsettle others. Some days I question whether I’ve done the right thing in directing more time to my family life than my economic life. It really depends on what you’re looking for as to what you see in society. I see lots of mothers looking after their children. I see lots of adults looking after their parents. I see lots of men looking after kids in the sporting and community arena. I see lots of men caring for each other through their apparent “blokey” bravado in ways which is deeply moving. I see lots of families of all configurations creating as good a life for themselves as they are able. I thought feminism was all about empowering individual choice. We still need to keep the conversation going and check that we comprehend the impact of the things we say and do. We have come a long way since the 60s and 70s. I also think it is a good time to restate or redefine our desire for a good society and identify those criteria by which we might measure it. I think these points you raise are felt by many men and women. Feminism has enabled the questioning (and undermining) of established ways of being. It has called into question many things we all thought were set in stone. I find it interesting to ponder whether the current revelations of clergy abuse would have been possible in a world without a feminist discourse.

    I would like to add a criterion to measure a good society. That we also consider that we share the planet with the plant and animal kingdoms and that our call for of ‘liberty’, ‘equality’, and humanity (‘fraternity’) be extended to ‘biology’ so all living forms are valued within the measures of a good society. That we aspire to the eradication of cruelty and gratuitous exploitation of the non-human populations.

  • Reply November 12, 2012

    ro.watson

    Demy ~ I like a lot of what you say eg about plant and animal kingdoms. On the other hand~ I am not so sure about how we can predict in advance~ what the consequences of what you,I, or we say will be….

  • Reply November 12, 2012

    ro.watson

    At my last latest entree in to the academic world where “feminism” was a gone by term~ the buzz word was “hegemony”…which basially sorted feminism. I do not think a hegemonic utopia or dystopia is something I would want for me or anyone I care about~feminists fight about real things in a real world and I still reckon that is a good thing~ like not dropping social and financial support for single parents raising children..

  • Reply November 12, 2012

    ro.watson

    I just heard an announcement by the Prime Minister about creating a Royal Commission into how institutions have dealt with allegations of child abuse. The reference terms have not yet been decided. In a good world, this should be a matter everyone cares about. There are wrongs to be righted~still…As a feminist~with vigour and rigour~ such an inquiry is long overdue. There have been past inquiries and tons of paper pointing out previous deficiencies~eg in relation to wards in various states~ we need a robust system to support and protect kids~ with federal support on how this can be done….and how abuse can be stopped and controlled by those with authority and power to act…

  • Reply November 12, 2012

    rosie

    Eva Cox, what a wonderful and concise article. I agree with you that feminism is flatlining because most women are too busy to think about what they have and haven’t got. Or they are young and think they already have it all, equal pay anyone?
    Thinking about feminism being a dirty word, I realised it (the word feminist) has never once come up in conversation, certainly not since I have had children. And never with younger friends (under 30). And yet I know plenty of strong, outspoken, intelligent women who fight for things to make life better for their children. But not themselves. Motherhood has taken over as the issue for women in this country at least. Women are not just mothers, though.
    I liked that you mentioned women’s ability to appreciate time more. It does seem that today we are made to choose between time and money. Is that why women live longer on average?
    I loved the points for a good society, when can we start? Also a point, never say just in that context of “just broad notes” or “just my daughter” (which I have heard with my own ears) or “just a mother”. We must start by valuing our selves and our ideas more.
    A great article.

  • Reply November 12, 2012

    Olinda

    So many good ideas in this terrific article and great responses. After studying the social construction of gender during the ’80s it has been a huge disappointment to me that people are still so rigid in their ideas of what makes and females “should” be like. The traditional gender roles seem tighter than ever, and they are so limiting.
    I challenge the endless exhortions via advertising and sponsorship to find happiness by jumping on the roundabout of consumerism. To buy more stuff that will soon become land fill. This connects with the stereotyped gender roles as manufacturers and advertisers prey on our insecurities (is looking beautiful really that important?) in order to persuade us to buy the latest, the scientific breakthrough, the magic potion face cream etc. Always more, always something newer. It is very difficult to resist an entire culture and some of the most creative minds in the country urging us to buy all the things.
    I am proud to be a feminist. I work with kids and challenge their thinking. I say firefighter, and police officer, not fireman and policeman. I wonder, “What makes you think it is a male?” when we notice an animal and they tell me what “he” is doing. I say girls can do anything, and boys can do anything too.

  • Reply November 12, 2012

    Rhoda

    The trouble is that women’s contribution has always been discounted – by men and yes, we are our own worst enemies. What are we worth? Do we know it?

    Women were mobilized during the war to work in factories, man the railways, you name it. And they kept house too. Had to. The government came to their rescue with childcare. We did the rest. Then in 1945 the soldiers came back and women were told to go back to their broomsticks. At least we don’t get that any more. The discrimination these days is more subtle. And we need to take it personally. We are penalized for being working women in more ways than one. There is the pernicious stereotyping of successful women for instance. On display in Parliament House no less. That our PM stood up to this is one of the most encouraging moments I’ve seen in a long time. And then there’s the cronyism – gender or otherwise. After all the workplace has been white and male since the industrial revolution.

    But we haven’t resolved the question of how to preserve the home and the sphere of motherhood and nurture. That some fathers are happy to stay home and let their wives bring home the bacon doesn’t address the vexing question of what we do when they’d rather not. Parents can outsource the task of bringing up babies but is that a forever solution. Some would rather not for a start. Too much like putting them in a facility. You don’t go there unless you have to. It also places children on the same busy schedule as their parents. In and out of cars, being socialized in a formal way, structured play instead of time to just be or to do their own thing. And let’s not mention holidays, sick kids and inflexible work hours. Do we need the stress. And all the rest that goes with domesticity – division of labour – and making it the place both partners want to be when not at work.

    Thing is men aren’t going to support us on this journey if we’re going to ask them to take our place. Men don’t want to be sitting round the house all day any more than we do. And to get all women on board they have to know paid working women aren’t giving them the finger because they would prefer to do their own nurturing and domestic work. It’s a job like any other. Whether or not they are good at it is beside the point. Working in the workforce don’t have the monopoly on perfect.

    We still have to figure it all out but I’m hopeful we will. There’s no going back. Wouldn’t hurt if children were taught a little bit of social history either.

    We’ve got the smarts. Let’s use them.

  • Reply November 12, 2012

    ro.watson

    Spelling is a funny thing~ sorry I meant to say”basically” not “basially” (but that sounds strong under the skin!!)and I liked Dale Spender’s work and Mary what ever her name was. Language~is real and important for meaning-making. I don’t like the term “fisher” which reminds me of the term “fissure”~ and I don’t like catch and release programs~ catch to eat or not at all..I don’t like people being played with~ I think guilt is a useless emotion..Thanks Audre Lorde. I am one of those woman that thought I would keep working~ looking after others’ kids’ futures.. I reckon that saying”it takes a village to raise a child” holds truth~ and I think kids need a parent available close in~ and not just before bedtime or rushing off to work. Other people can be paid or offer to make do in the absence of a parent or parents~but this is not good for the parent or the child~ in the long run~ and I like the notion of flexibility in work arrangements for all people…..

  • Reply November 14, 2012

    Dorothy

    Couldn’t agree more. Until caring, nurturing and creating are valued as much as all other roles in our society, we will not be truly “liberated”.

  • Reply November 14, 2012

    Elle

    Economics and law intersect these things – this doesn’t apply to me, but as I crudely understand it, people are taxed as households, which means that sometimes it just makes economic sense (unfortunately) for the lower income-earner – usually the mother (still have 18% gender pay gap in this country!) – not to work, rather than for her to work, be taxed and pay for childcare. Then, she’s screwed from the other end, in the form of superannuation: new poor are elderly women with dead or divorced husbands who receive far smaller superannuation payouts. Don’t get me wrong, a lot of this is about taken for granted assumptions around care and what it means to be a carer and embedded institutions, but some of this could be helped with changes to tax, superannuation and childcare/elder care systems.

  • Reply November 14, 2012

    sally walsh

    At the same time isn’t it interesting how easily men can convince the Family Court to make equal access orders to children after separation (which I am not saying is necessarily a bad thing)

  • Reply November 14, 2012

    evacox

    Thabnks for the feedback, and semd in many more ideas for the good society please!

  • Reply November 14, 2012

    vanessay

    I think feminism is in danger of becoming an interesting historical footnote. Events such as the PM’s speech about misogyny coinciding with the cutting of the single parent benefit are contributing to confusion over what feminism actually means and stands for. We (Australians) realise that the economic and educational advancement of women in developing nations as a whole is important for the overall development of a country, we support such schemes through overseas aid and through the UN, then we throw a substantial number of women in our own country into the poverty, low education, no qualification, poor mum, poor kids cycle.
    We make a huge fuss over the death of one woman in what was not in any way a preventable murder and say nothing about the murders of women by men who are bought before the courts on numerous occasions for breaking restraining orders because these murders were “domestic” in nature.
    Another telling landmark(s) which show where feminism is today is the number of,and reaction to, comments about rape made during the American election. The “some girls rape so easy” Republicans should have been universally castigated and run out of town. Instead, they became the butt of many jokes by comedians and there was no questioning of how men in the modern world came to have such outmoded ideas about women and their bodies.
    I am 56 and was once removed from school many years ago for wearing a female power badge (it was purple, a fist inside a female symbol). I have been a feminist since my high school years. I just despair over the fact that we are still having this discussion. Recent events,such as the US election and the upcoming Royal Commission into Child Abuse show that our present structure is sick, from its patriarchal top to its poverty stricken bottom. Only real change to the basic structure of power will fix this.

  • Reply November 14, 2012

    Siri May

    I don’t agree with Eva’s approach on this.
    In the years following the close of last century I have witnessed a world full of vocal, vibrant, radical and strong young and older women who have, and continue to, expand, challenge and subvert dominant paradigms (including second wave feminism).
    I have also witnessed radical men and those who live beyond such binaries, challenge the restrictions of gender in positive and productive ways. Their actions add value to a society in which the fluidity of social constructs such as gender and sexuality is becoming more visible.
    I see a world of post-colonial theory and practise that questions the centrality of white middle class versions of feminism and that can move beyond Freidman and Greer – not everyone had to burn their bras… many non-Anglo women didn’t even wear them first place.
    Quotas of women filling roles defined and measured by a patriarchal system is an overused and limited tool for measuring the ‘success’ of Feminism.
    If we are waiting for the next definitive feminist textbook, or for a revolution in the form it was dreamt of in the street protests of Paris to Sydney – I suspect we will be kept waiting…
    A glance through social networking spaces, blogs, community organisatons and in the realm of contemporary art will reveal daily revolutionary acts, thoughts, theoretical frameworks and…progress… Lots of progress since 1998!
    We can learn from each other. I can learn from Eva, she can learn from me. We can certainly both learn from others.
    But wiping the efforts and achievements of countless women and feminist allies by declaring a stalemate on feminist progress through the lens of second wave theory is probably not the most helpful or inviting way to do it.

  • Reply November 14, 2012

    Alison

    I have a bit of a conspiracy theory. When we were travelling in Sweden – where parental leave is pretty much mandatorily shared bw parents – we noticed how effectively the buses and trains supported families. The trains had whole carriages dedicated to fold down only seats with space for prams, bikes and pram-bikes! The buses always had low easy access for multiple prams, not just one or two. All public transport was designed to accommodate people with kids.

    I don’t think Sweden’s public transport system would be so well furnished if the parental leave were mother-heavy like it is here. My theory rests on the assumption that the design and engineering jobs are mostly with the men.

    Our PT is so unhelpful. I find it hard to explain, but a scenario might help… if you consider a single mum in a new or outer suburb, the PT is so paltry she’s usually forced to maintain a car, further stretching her income. Of course a single dad would be in a similar situation. In fact all families suffer similarly because PT is impractical enough to demand two cars for do many families.

    It’s just that while we have in equality in the non-paid sector I think the hurdles women face in public systems, not just transport, will remain so until that load is better shared.

  • Reply November 14, 2012

    clelia koch

    Agree Eva. Since childhood I have seen ‘women’s work in all fields under rated. I can recall learning in history how Elizabeth MacArthur did most of the work in the breeding of the merino sheep because her litigious husband was away in England. Who was on our $2 dollar bill “the father of the Australian wool industry” John MacArthur. There are probably lots of other instances when women have done the work and the male partner has taken the credit. Clelia

  • Reply November 14, 2012

    Chris

    Sure lets ‘Revalue skills and remove the biases of gender that assume soft interpersonal and creative skills are worth less than technical and financial ones.’

    So does that mean you are against the ASX mandating that women should be on all ASX company boards. I am all up for women being on boards but lets do it on skills and ability not because they are women! Women wanted equality and respect well lets do that but in a fair basis on skills and ability not just on gender! Its time for women also to stop being super sensative. if you fight ever fight eg like DESTROY THE JOINT are attempting to do, you become irrelevant and petty!!

  • Reply November 15, 2012

    Tony W

    “Is feminism flatlining?”

    For anyone who lived through the 60′s and 70′s it would be easy to form that conclusion, but as someone who takes the long view on these things, I’m inclined to see it differently. What happened back then was a revolution, and revolutions don’t last forever. But they do bring lasting change, and we will not be revisited by Friedan’s “problem with no name” ever again. The concept of women occupying a place in the world outside the home is irreversibly established in western civilization now. That was definitely NOT the case when I was a child, and given that it’s the most radical reversal of gender roles in human history, I consider it to have occurred extremely rapidly.

    The challenge from there is to make that concept a reality for all women, the target being equality with men in terms of opportunity and reward for their contribution to society. That will take rather longer! We can’t expect to overturn millions of years of patriarchy in a few decades. We can lay the ground rules, ie. equality under the law, but it remains for individual women to compete successfully in a market driven economy. That means competing with men for a slice of their pie, so we can expect them to employ any means fair or foul to hang onto it!

    That’s where I see feminism today – women competing on their own merits with the deck stacked against them, knowing it’s the only way they can earn their stripes as women. They don’t want any favours, they have self belief now, they want to make it on their own as individuals. They don’t want to be identified with the sisterhood, it only damages their credibility in the workplace, and intrudes on their relationships with men.

    I’m not sure what more we can expect of women today – as Eva herself says, all the equal opportunity laws and support systems around child care “were all pretty much in place by the early nineties.” It’s now up to women to prove themselves individually in competition with men, so that collectively they can break down the old stereotypes. Eventually they’ll achieve critical mass in positions of power and patriarchy will pass into history. It’s inevitable, it’s been obsolete since female contraception arrived.

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  • Reply February 21, 2013

    Action! | natasha smith

    [...] young women necessarily realise that they have a right not to laugh at them without being branded that most unfashionable of things: a “feminist”. I could go on to talk about the widely-discussed controversy over telling women “don’t [...]

  • Reply March 8, 2013

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    [...] Is Feminism Flatlining? [...]

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