In 1997 when I was eight years old, singing (terribly) the Spice Girls into my hairbrush like so many of us did (or still do – no judgement here!) I would chant the group’s infamous catch phrase “girl power” and strike a diva-esque pose while the track faded out. Of course, at that age “girl power” loosely translated to “boys have cooties”. I’d have never thought at that pre-teen age that it was the pop quintets’ push (albeit a shallow one) for feminism. And I’d have even less considered that it would still be something I’d need to think about this much in 2017. Following the blow to the feminist movement in the US last November in the form of a still-mind-numbing election loss to arguably the most misogynistic man going around, International Women’s Day 2017 ignited the passion in so many of us. My Instagram feed has been filled with this year’s mantra ‘be bold for change’ I’ve had an overwhelming sense of empowerment in being united with so many women across the world based purely on our continued push for gender equality. In Australia, the national public broadcaster, ABC, filled all their TV and radio programming with all female presenters in a bold gesture to celebrate the day. On ABC Radio Melbourne’s Mornings program on the 9th March, a number of callers, some of which were female, accused the network of tokenism. One caller even suggested that women are given more than enough opportunities and needn’t be crying poor given where we once were. This is an easy argument to make, sure. We can compare our current place on the social spectrum and compare it to that of our Mothers and Grandmothers, the pioneers of our revolution. But in 2017, has fighting the good fight stagnated? We’re struggling over taxes on basic necessities, the gender pay gap and birth control, and of course the social expectations placed on women around the world – marriage, families, and work. Have we really come as far as we like to think we have or is gender equality within arms reach?
Feminism is not long engrained in me. I do not come from a long line of bra burning Gloria Steinems, urging me to push the boundaries and status quo at all times. My Mum is one of the most gentle women you’ll ever meet and gets so much pleasure out of being a wife and looking after her family. My Dad would sit down and have a beer each night in his nudie calendar clad garage and tell crude, sometimes sexist jokes to anyone who’d listen. Between the crass one liners and sage advice, never once was ‘when you’re a Mother’ or ‘when you’re married’ uttered to me. I was lucky enough to grow up not only understanding I had a choice; but also being unable to fathom not having one. I say ‘lucky’ because, having attended an all girls school in the northern suburbs, I was surrounded by many girls who didn’t believe, or even know, they had a choice, or had resigned to their parental determined fates of barely legal marriages and post teen babies after just scraping through high school. I see many girls my age now serving their husbands and children first and second, and themselves last, almost unaware that there can be so much more out there. And just to be perfectly clear, I have no issue whatsoever with the tradition on marriage and family – truly. But I have a problem with it being the 21st Century and women my age and girls younger than them not understanding that this should be a choice they make independently, not something expected of them simply because their bodies can bear children. Even now, as a 27 year old (a nearly 28 denialist, to be perfectly accurate), I find myself at odds with so many people asking me when my partner and I will be getting married and having kids, bypassing the fact that I, like many women my age, am in the midst of building a career after four years at university. I find myself having to defend my choices to total strangers who just assume because I’m a woman with a ring on my finger that I can’t wait to give it all up to be a kept woman. When I tell people what I do for a living, it’s often met with “oh, that’s a cute little job for now” as though I’m just biding my time until my real life can actually begin. Let it be known that I choose my choice. I choose to build a career over time at the expense of a family. I have friends who are choosing to settle down and have kids and start their own families. The key word in all of this is choice. We shouldn’t assume that because traditions were once a way of life, they still exist for everyone today. Whether a woman chooses to leave her job to look after her family or chooses to build up her career or chooses to travel the world, the only thing that matters is that we each choose our choice.
My oldest friend recently started a pre-apprenticeship in a predominantly male trade and during her orientation was told bluntly not to bother ‘if you’re a woman’. This is not okay. She walked away feeling completely deflated, discouraged, and despite being the smartest girl I know (Honours in Science, waddup), inadequate to do what she’d only hours earlier been so excited for. How is it that in 2017 a completely capable person can be told not to bother with a job because of their gender? If a man enters into a traditionally female lead role, he’s a trailblazer. If a man gives up his career to be a ‘stay at home Dad’, he’s heroic and lionhearted. If a woman gives up her career to look after the family, she’s not referred to as a ‘stay at home anything’. She’s called ‘Mum’ – because it’s just expected. Another good friend of mine recently started doing topless waitressing at bucks nights (you should see this girl’s rig!), and has lost count of how often the bucks, the groomsmen, and their sloppy mates have assured her that she won’t need to worry about doing this demeaning work once she finds a guy to look after her. All the while, she collects $400 for a three song lapdance while these guys oogle at her and scrape together another few hundred for another dance– who’s being demeaned now? Yet she’s made to feel as though she’s a victim of circumstance and should be eagerly anticipating the day her knight in shining flannel whisks her away from this horrible life she’s been forced into. Girlfriend has a house. And a brand new car. And a masters degree. And a really cool cat. She doesn’t need saving; she is a fiercely independent woman who has made her way on her own. And if this idea surprises you, then we haven’t come far enough yet.
I met for brunch with some female colleagues (current and former) over the weekend (sidenote – rather than dubbing ourselves Ladies who Lunch like our baby boomer counterparts, we refer to ourselves as Broads who Brunch – I believe everyone’s love for smashed avo and eggs (soz Bernard Salt) have lead to brunch being the preferred power meal) and we got to talking about the sisterhood and how fine the line is between blindly throwing ourselves at the beck and call of other women and trying so hard to be the cool girl that you inadvertently tell every woman in your life to get in the kitchen and make you a damn sandwich (I have been guilty of both of these at one point FYI – Mum didn’t take too kindly to the latter funnily enough). We agreed that throwing your support and love behind the sisterhood in its entirety left us open to criticism when we, well, criticised anyone contained within. Gender aside, some people just don’t get along – if you act like an arsehole, I’m going to treat you like an arsehole, regardless of the genitalia sitting adjacent to yours. The blanket ‘love every woman’ approach is essentially naïve and doesn’t allow for the complexities of human relationships. However, and it so saddens me to say this, I don’t know that we’re at the stage where we can be picky just yet. The focus on women’s rights and gender equality is more rife now than ever before with the newly appointed Trump administration playing tit for tat with Planned Parenthood in the US and the gender pay gap becoming an increasingly discussed issue in Australia, and I just think, as women, we need to stand together for the cause. The women’s marches held around the world and the planned global protest on IWD for ‘a Day Without a Woman’ are the first steps for the year in re-igniting the flame burning within so many of us, but we need to do and say more and do it and say it louder. As the old adage goes, united we stand; divided we fall the fuck apart. Any conflict within our own camp would de-legitimise everything we’re fighting for now, and have been fighting for for some time. We cannot stomp the moral high ground with no legs to stand on.
Social change, I feel, is the hardest to bring about purely because of its subjective nature and tendency to come from an emotional place. Things like legislation and policies come about from facts and figures that are clearly evident, but social change feeds off the human condition and requires the deepest of emotions to steamroll any movement. We need to celebrate ourselves and each other; truly empower the women closest to us and those further away; encourage our sisterhood so we can
bring about true social change. We need to make 2017 the year we, as women, stopped complacency in its tracks and pushed harder for gender equality in every possible avenue. Without leaps of imagination, or dreaming, we lose the excitement of possibilities. Dreaming, after all, is a form of planning