“In terms of feminism, I’ve never been someone who really associates with that movement. That movement was a set of ideologies from many, many decades ago now.” – Senator Michaelia Cash, Minister assisting the Prime Minister for Women, March 2014
Senator Cash was born in 1970, the year I started high school. Even though feminism, or women’s liberation, was a burgeoning movement, all girls were still obliged to do sewing and cooking and all boys had to do industrial arts.
A few years on and Gough Whitlam came to speak at my school. The world was changing for people my age in so many ways. Anyone could now aspire to go to university. But there were many places that we could not go and there were many men and women, including Tony Abbott’s mentor Bob Santamaria, who saw no reason to change the status quo.
Pubs had Ladies’ Parlours where a few adventurous women wearing hats and gloves sipped politely on a small shandy while their husbands held court in that male bastion, the public bar, where women were most definitely not allowed. As women began questioning their right to be considered a member of the ‘public’, we were told that they swore too much in there and we wouldn’t want to be there. I remember telling a publican that I would forgive them their lack of vocabulary. He didn’t let me in.
And then there was the snooker room. If you went to the club together, it wouldn’t be long until the men disappeared downstairs to that other female-free zone, the snooker room. Having played a lot of pub pool whilst at University, I rather fancied myself at the game, so one day my girlfriends and I decided to join the boys in the snooker room at the club. We set up the table but before we could break, the club manager was straight over saying we had to leave. When I asked why he said it was the rules. I said “Yes, I know. I want to know why it is the rules.” His response was that we would hold up play so I promptly challenged him to a game.
By this stage every guy in the room was listening and they all started urging him to take up the challenge and I must say, with a smile and good grace, he accepted. He wasn’t quite as jovial after I beat him though he did shout me a drink. The rules changed a month later at that club. It took much longer elsewhere.
Fast forward to a few years after marriage, both of us working full-time, no kids, no debt, deposit saved for a house. Off we go to the bank manager for a loan to buy my parents’ house for a very good price. We were rejected because I was “married and of child-bearing age so your wage cannot be considered”. This was the mid 80s.
We have much for which to thank the feminists of the past but for Michaelia Cash to say “that was an ideology from many, many decades ago” is unbelievable. This is the woman who is supposed to be representing women’s rights at a decision-making level and she seems to find the word feminist to be some sort of derogatory label for ungrateful women who just can’t move on.
As Jamila Rizvi reminds us
“Women still earn around 80 cents for every dollar that men earn over a lifetime. And this isn’t just about who has the bits that make the babies. Australian women earn less from the very first year after they graduate from university and TAFE.
Women still carry the burden of around two thirds of unpaid work and caring duties.
Women are almost 51 per cent of the population and yet we hold less than 30 per cent of elected positions in the federal Parliament. We hold 8 per cent of board directorships and 10 per cent of executive management positions.
Nearly one in five of us will experience sexual assault, one in three will experience some kind of family or domestic violence in our lifetimes.
We earn less, we are heard less and we are hurt more.
And all of this pales in comparison, to the women around the world who still do not share the basic rights, safety, freedoms and equalities that here in Australia we all take for granted.”
A feminist advocates or supports the rights and equality of women. Isn’t that what our Minister assisting the Prime Minister for Woman should be doing?
Feminism is aimed at defining, establishing, and defending equal political, economic, cultural, and social rights for women. This includes seeking to establish equal opportunities for women in education and employment.
Feminists have campaigned for women’s rights such as women’s suffrage, equal pay for women, reproductive rights for women (including access to contraceptives and abortion), and the right to enter into contracts and own property. Activists have worked to protect women and girls from domestic violence, sexual harassment, and sexual assault. They have also advocated for workplace rights, including maternity leave, and against forms of discrimination against women.
Feminism is mainly focused on women’s issues, but men have also reaped many rewards from the feminist movement.
It gave our economy a huge and long-lasting boost as women entered the workforce. It has led to better relationships and more satisfying sex for all concerned. It heightened awareness of gender discrimination helping men who were also victims. Contraception gave men and women more sexual freedom and abortion also gave them an option other than an unsatisfying marriage. It caused the definition of rape to be changed to include men. It gave men more time off to be with their kids. It demanded that the media change its representation of men from the stereotypical macho muscle man and encouraged men to rethink outdated masculinity standards and gender roles. More men entered fields like nursing and teaching.
Feminist is not a gender-specific term. It applies to men and women who recognise the equality of the sexes, the right to equal opportunity and pay, and the shared responsibility for unpaid work. So it’s rather off-putting when our federal minister responsible for women says it is “ridiculous” that identifying as a feminist should be a prerequisite for her job.
When asked by a journalist at the National Press Club during the lead-up to International Women’s Day in March, whether or not she considered herself a feminist, Senator Cash replied:
“I consider myself a very lucky person whose parents told their four children to achieve, you work hard… All I know is that I believe in women … but I also believe in men.”
Right. Let’s not alienate the men, as advocating for women’s rights is bound to do. Know your place and don’t cross the line or you will be labelled a misandrist. Just ask Julia Gillard.
And as for working hard, Michaelia decided to work hard at entering politics from a young age. She is the daughter of Western Australian state MP George Cash and, by age 18, was an executive member of the Curtin University Young Liberals from 1988 to 1990 where she studied public relations, politics and journalism, and then the Western Australian Young Liberal Movement, where she held numerous positions including state vice-president. She is a member of the state council and was the president of the Moore Division. She also served on the party’s state executive.
Ms Cash also expressed her admiration for Julie Bishop, describing her as “stylish” and admitting she has “a bit of a passion” for the Foreign Affairs Minister. It is obvious she is trying to emulate Julie’s style if not quite with the same aplomb.
On rare occasions, politicians make inspired speeches that strike a chord. On even rarer occasions, these words reverberate around the world. Julia Gillard’s misogyny speech was one such moment. Not only did millions around the world sing its praises, some very talented young Australians turned it into song, literally.
And then there was Michaelia Cash’s vitriolic rant in the Senate directed at Penny Wong after Rudd replaced Gillard as the leader. Listen to the way she spits out the words “her own sisterhood” and “Emily’s List” (a political network in Australia that supports progressive women candidates to be elected to political office). Listen to the sneer with which she emphasises the word MISS Gillard – the barren adulteress.
During a Women’s Day event, Tony Abbott referred to himself as a “feminist”. In comparison to Michaelia, Tony’s looking almost good.
Categories: Social Justice