Monday, 5 January 2015

Vaginas. Julie Bishop. Hairy armpits. Feminism.

Julie Bishop said she doesn’t find the word feminism useful today. That a woman in her position cannot comment on “the glass ceiling” and she does not label herself a feminist.
What is feminism? Am I a feminist? And is there a need for it? These were the questions I found myself asking after hearing Julie Bishop speak at the National Press Club in October last year.[1] Until Julie Bishop said she didn’t call herself a feminist, I never had either. The reaction her statements received from my friends and the media gave me pause to consider my own attitudes towards feminism.
What is feminism? The first images that come to my mind are women with hairy armpits, who don’t shave their legs, certainly don’t groom down below, and often don’t wear a bra or make up. This is clearly not me. I hate hair anywhere on my body, wear a bra so my boobs don’t sag (who really wants saggy boobs), and wear a little makeup. And I do this for myself.
While I have experienced sexist comments, domestic violence, and dislike the way women are sexualised from a young age, I have never considered that having a vagina might hold me back from getting where I want to go in life. I routinely wear bright coloured lipstick, pretty dresses, sunbake topless, am soon to be a PhD candidate, just bought a small unit, and work in Aboriginal policy for a national organisation. I can be a feminine and be successful.
I realised that after contemplating whether or not I was a feminist I actually knew very little about feminism. Surely it is more than hairy armpits! It turns out after a bit of research that it is. There are numerous schools of thought, and definitions however the long and short of it is women should have equal rights and opportunities but often are disadvantaged due to their gender[2]. I know this. You know this. It’s a captain obvious statement.
That leads to the second question, is there evidence to support the need for feminism?
I was on the bus today talking to a 77 year old retired gentleman who was currently reading Virginia Wolfe. He commented that things are better today for women then they were in the 30’s when Wolfe was writing but there still is room for improvement. When I got to work I was faced with more gender inequity on Aljazeera online. The headline “Six women murdered each day as femicide in Mexico nears a pandemic”[3] speaks for itself. Further research uncovered that in Australia the national gender pay gap as of May 2014 was 18.2%, an increase in the gap by 3.2% since 2004[4]. Not only is there a pay gap, there is a gap in position seniority as well. Among the 2012 top 200 companies listed on the Australian Stock Exchange, only 1.3% of CEOS were women, and only 8.1% of Board Directors and 8.4% Executive Managers were women[5].  Julie Bishop, in her speech at the National Press Club recognised this when she stated there was still discrimination in the workplace.
Author Margaret Atwood is quoted as saying “Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them.”
Malala Yousafzai.
Gang rapes of women in India.
Boko Haram kidnapping school girls in Nigeria.
Need I say more?
So the short answer is YES, there is a need for feminism. Women clearly haven’t don’t have equality.
What I realised by thinking about Julie Bishops comments is that many women including me, have and continue to benefited from, the feminist movement whether it is labelled as feminism or not. That the women who are capable of achieving, despite their sex are the very women who need to embrace feminism to continue to promote equality for those less able.
This has made me ask more questions. Why then has the word feminism and the concepts that go along with it become a dirty word? Is the denial that we need feminism contributing to the discrimination against women? Is the denial that discrimination exists a way of perpetrating discrimination against women?

So am I a feminist? Yes. why? I have realised that being a feminist doesn’t mean you have to forgo the advantages of wearing a bra. It means I can do whatever it is I want to do for myself. That’s my right as a person.
Am I a feminist because I have a vagina? No. It’s because once you take off the rose coloured glasses, discrimination against women clearly exists, and denying it doesn’t make it any less real.

[1] National Press Club, 2014, Women in the Media Launch, viewed 6 January 2015 http://www.canberraiq.com.au/downloads/2014-11-2-1.pdf.
[2] Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2003, Topics in Feminism, viewed 6 January 2015 http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/feminism-topics/.
[3] Judith Matloff, 2015, Six women murdered each day as femicide in Mexico nears a pandemic, Aljazeera America Online, last viewed 6 January 2015.
[4] Workplace Gender Equality Agency, 2014, Gender pay gap statistics, viewed January 6 2015 https://www.wgea.gov.au/sites/default/files/Gender_Pay_Gap_Factsheet.pdf.
[5] Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2013, Gender Indicators Australia, July 2012 (cat. no. 4125.0) viewed January 6 2015 http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/Lookup/4125.0main+features6110Jul%202012.