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 Eunuch offered ideas for radical change.
We wanted to have our say in ensuring that gender didn’t decide how we lived our lives. We wanted to make big changes, not just the right to be more like men. We had the vote and some property rights, but we wanted a society where what women did was re-valued and we shared the decision making.
Have we made progress since 1972? Definitely yes!
The two decades that followed saw many highly significant changes. Sex discrimination became illegal, so by the eighties and early nineties females were no longer formally excluded from any jobs.
Equal opportunity rules meant we could rise into higher positions on our merits. We increased our qualifications and more of us moved into paid jobs. We expanded child care and its subsidies, pushed for recognition of domestic violence and funding of services for victims. These changes were all pretty much in place by the early nineties.
However, have we come to the point where women have an equal say and share of power and influence?
Have we changed the priorities so what women traditionally do is properly valued?
Have we made the serious changes to the blokey cultures of workplaces, politics and power?
Is change still happening? The evidence before us suggests change has stalled.
Our ‘progress’ is still measured in tokens and exceptions. A female flag bearer was chosen for the Australian team at the Olympics, but 20 years after the last one. In many areas of significance to women and men we are under-represented. An article about a new female assistant orchestra conductor asks why so few women are in this role. Another asks why there are few female theatre and film directors.
A recent article on architects worries that few female graduates move to being practitioners; and another dealt with similar issues for female lawyers, who are now the majority at graduation but not in the senior ranks of the profession. And there are many other examples of our absences.
Yes, we do have a woman PM, AG and GG, as well as other scarce but obvious prominent women, but while these add to the many firsts for women, previous ceiling breakers were rarely followed by another woman for example: Joan Kirner and Carmen Lawrence.
“It’s a start,” they say, each time we have a small victory, but there are few signs that serious gender equity change is on the way.
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