A few weeks ago I wrote about my disappointment when former Prime Minister John Howard dismissed Julia Gillard’s speech about misogyny as “nonsense”. Imagine my dismay this morning to read another former male politician in a national newspaper deriding Gillard’s book and publicity tour as a mechanism to “cash in commercially on a specific social grievance”.
According to the author, the strategy for selling copies of Gillard’s tome is “based on appealing to women who have been done over by blokes: whether it’s a husband who shot through or an employer giving his female staff a tough time.”
Like with Howard’s observations, the insidious undercurrent implicit in these comments is the notion that Gillard merely contrived sexism for her own personal advantage. What that advantage might be remains unclear. But, most troublingly, it overlooks the reality that whether you like her or not, or whether you agree with her politics or not, Gillard was subject to sexism.
Perhaps the reason women are buying her book or attending her events is because they relate to her experience in some way. Does that mean Gillard manufactured sexism or does it mean sexism is familiar to half the population?
The propensity of some men and women to dismiss the existence of sexism is something the founder of the Women’s Leadership Institute Carol Schwartz AM has considered at length. In her opinion the definitive response came from overseas.
“The fact is I don’t think that I have to comment any further than citing Hilary Clinton’s observation of the ‘outrageous sexism’ Julia Gillard had to deal with,” Schwartz said. “The fact that a major global personality and political figure has made a point of calling out the sexism that Gillard had to deal with surely confirms, that even if we in Australia don’t see it, those overseas do. Even if we think things are ok, and the sorts of behaviour that women in leadership in this country deal with is ok, the fact is we have observers from outside the country – who say actually this is not ok. You’re dealing with outrageous sexism. That is really powerful.”
But leaving Gillard and her book aside the snippet from today’s paper that caused me to nearly choke on my toast was this:
“Outside the political bubble, women have never been more successful in society, dominating university graduations and high-profile professions such as the law. The complaints of political feminism relate almost entirely to the career paths of political feminists.”
The delicious hypocrisy is that in the sentence immediately preceding this gem the author accused Gillard of overlooking “inconvenient facts”.
So let’s talk inconvenient facts, shall we? Feminism is not simply relevant to opportunistic female politicians. It is relevant to any person – man or woman – who believes men and women should have equal rights. It is relevant to any person – man or woman –who believes success and pay and opportunities should be determined by the individual not their gender.
Believe it or not I’m an optimistic person but the only way we can accept that women are currently more successful than ever before is to accept things were once dastardly bad and they’re now marginally better. These inconvenient facts hardly paint a picture of women flourishing.
What about the fact there is a single woman currently in Cabinet? Or the fact that 3.5% of CEOs of ASX200 companies are women. Or the fact there is a 12% chance gender equality will be achieved on ASX200 boards by 2050? Or the fact that women earn 18.2% less than men? Or that females hold 17.4% of equity partnership positions despite the fact that, yes, for over 20 years females have dominated university positions in law?
If you’re tired of these facts, rest assured, I am too. It’s tedious having to bring them out. But not quite as tedious as it is to read another male writing about sexism being a tool women want to use, without a skerrick of recognition that the assumptions upon which his argument is formed create and entrench sexism. Though perhaps that’s the objective.