How Feminism is Relevant to YOU

 

 

This speech was given at the Open Forum, at Humanist House on the 27th February 2013. I’d like to thank Dave Duffy for inviting me to give this talk. The topic: Why Feminism is Relevant to You. By: Tessa Barratt

 

“Some people in this room may already be feminists, while others might question why we still need the word, or how indeed it can be applied to them. Some might have some negative preconceptions about the term and what it stands for and others might simply be confused. I aim to clarify what feminism is and how it is useful in each and every one of our lives. To begin though, I will start with a common definition of feminism, as can be found in various dictionaries and encyclopaedias: it is a movement founded on the belief that women are entitled to the same rights and opportunities as men, and that these rights should be always upheld, defended, and codified. Given that definition, most of the people in this room could probably identify as a feminist. Today, in the West, women have many more freedoms and opportunities than their predecessors. It is a well-known fact that women have been oppressed as a group for a very long time. But has this always been the case? Have men always dominated women through physical force? Many people believe this; however a more detailed analysis of human history reveals a much more complex story and historians and anthropologists have not always agreed on certain areas.

 

A Marxist reading of history would have us believe that women's oppression is a recent phenomenon, coming about only in the last 10,000 years with a change in farming techniques. According to this view of history, based on the works of such 20th century scholars as Friedrich Engels and Lewis H. Morgan, women used to work the fields as well as tend to the young, but with the plough and domestication of cattle, men began to till the land and possess it, creating wealth that became inherited through the patrilineal line. This increasingly relegated women to the household and disenfranchised them as class societies took hold. Women were then seen as valuable commodities in that they produced future labourers and were thusly restricted to their reproductive roles. This theory became a tenant in second wave feminism and is still held today by socialist feminists. Before this, humankind supposedly lived in more egalitarian tribes and clans rather than in nuclear families where men were the head of the household. Some believe that prior to the invention of class society, there were numerous matriarchal tribes. However, the existence of matriarchal societies in prehistory is hotly contested today. This is also because the word matriarchy has various interpretations. Some believe that matriarchy actually stands for an egalitarian social structure, whereas others see it as opposite to patriarchy. There is no historical evidence that the latter kind of matriarchy ever existed, but ample evidence that matrifocal (where the emphasis of a culture is on the role of women) or matrilineal (where property and/or status is inherited through the mother) tribes and clans have existed. Indeed, several tribes of Native Americans practised matriarchy in the egalitarian sense, such as the Iroquois and the Hopi. Division of labour based on sex does exist in these tribes, however, the tasks performed by both genders are equally valued and in the case of the Iroquois property and leadership status is inherited through the woman and women appoint the chiefs of the tribe or remove them as they see fit. Native American feminist scholar, Susan Lundquist, has written about how colonisation and the introduction of European religions have resulted in a drastic change in egalitarian tribes, some of which now have the highest levels of domestic violence in northern America.

 

Today there still exist matrifocal or matrilineal cultures, such as the Mosuo, a small ethnic group living in Yunnan and Sichuan in China. The Mosuo have no word for father or husband, as marriage is not practised in the traditional Western sense, nor is monogamy.

 

The subjugation of women and utter oppression of the female sex did not happen uniformly across the globe at any one time, but came as a result of a variety of factors, such as technological advancements, religion, ideologies and class societies. Today, there has been a shift in the argument as to why women have been oppressed and that is that it is biologically determined. Proponents of this ideology suggest that the reason women have been relegated to nurturers and carers is that they are biologically programmed that way, whereas men are programmed to be aggressive and domineering. Biological determinism suits a patriarchal and capitalist society very well as it offers an explanation for the current social status of women as being somehow natural. Popular books such as Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus have taken hold in the public imagination and reinforced antiquated notions of feminine and masculine ability. However, a more scientific reading into the so-called differences in the sexes has resulted in ample evidence that proves there are very few differences in the male and female brain and that there is currently no scientific basis that supports biological determinism. Australia's own Cordelia Fine has written extensively on the subject in her book, Delusions of Gender, which reveals an astonishing amount of popular science books that invents studies that have never been done, distorts data, misquotes scientists and leaves out important facts to further their agenda.

 

So if modern evidence demonstrates that men and women are evenly matched in intellectual capabilities and biological theories about women's roles hold no water, then why is it that women are today oppressed in a variety of ways? Research into the subject provides no clear answer, but does indicate that at various times in various cultures there was a shift from viewing women as equals to men, to being inferior. Sexist doctrine in religion has opposed women holding any roles of power for a long time, going as far back as 370 A.D. when the female philosopher and mathematician Hypatia was murdered by a Christian mob for having the audacity to teach others what she knew and to hold no belief in God. Judaeo-Christian beliefs are patriarchal by nature in that God is referred to as "He" and the institution of these religions is male dominated. Many older religions gave females power, from the Greeks to the Hindus, and women were valued for either being Earth mothers or strong Warriors. The Goddess Athena was a God of War, after all. According to archaeological evidence women occupied powerful roles as warriors and priestesses in the Sauromatian culture, dating from the 6th to the 4th century B.C.

 

Drawing upon examples of egalitarian and matriarchal tribes and peoples, feminists of the second wave made the case that there was no sound reasoning behind the oppression of women and that women deserved equal rights and status of men. Before I elaborate on second wave feminism, I will give a brief overview about the first wave of feminism and where it got its roots. Contrary to popular belief that women only began to write in a scholarly fashion from the 1800s, women in the 15th century, such as Christine de Pisan and Isotta Nogarola, used humanist discourse in their vision of the roles and value of women in society. De Pisan is frequently credited as being one of the first female scholars to defend her sex at a time when scholarship was seen as the domain of celibate men who touted highly misogynistic views of women. By the time of the Renaissance, it was in courts, where women could mingle with men and act as patrons, that they frequently argued for their rights to education. By the 17th century, many notable scholars, such as Poullain de la Barre, were dismissing the Artiostotliean view of women as ‘an error of nature’ or an “incomplete male”. De la Barre rejected this notion as an irrational prejudice, a view which would underpin humanist arguments for the emancipation of women in centuries to come.

 

By the late 19th century, women in parts of Europe, the USA and Australia were beginning to recognise that their lot in life was not going to improve until they could exercise the right to vote. The first wave of feminism concentrated on women's suffrage and Australia is a very special country when it comes to this movement. Women first achieved the vote in New Zealand in 1893, but it was in South Australia that they first achieved both the vote and the ability to stand for Parliament. This happened in 1894 thanks to the hard work of many women, the most famous of which was Mary Lee, a widowed mother of seven who in 1879 stepped off a boat from England into the foreign city of Adelaide to come to care for her sick son. After he died, she couldn't afford the trip home. She was devastated but decided to channel her grief into a push for women’s suffrage and over the decade became a great public speaker and letter writer, building up a tremendous network. She gained the support of the labour movement and encouraged working class women and men to work together to end the terrible conditions that they faced when performing their duties in factories and sweatshops. In 1891 the United Labour Party officially endorsed votes for women and as South Australia was the only colony with a non-conservative upper house, the Adult Suffrage Bill was passed. When Australia became a federation, Frederick Holder, the Treasurer, put a clause in the convention that stated that individual states would not lose rights that had previously been fought for. This ensured that votes for women were not revoked in South Australia and were in fact instituted across the entire country, making Australia one of the first countries in the world to allow women to vote and stand for Parliament. Unfortunately, the act excluded aboriginal women and men, who in South Australia had previously enjoyed the right to vote. Aboriginal activists campaigned to regain this right for another 60 years.

 

There were a number of key players in first wave feminism in Australia, but most people remember Vida Goldstein as the poster child for the success of Australian women's suffrage. While Vida Goldstein did tremendous work, many of the women before her, who worked towards this goal, died in poverty and obscurity, including Mary Lee. Indeed, Vida Goldstein’s death in 1949 went largely unnoticed.

 

The second wave of feminism came about in the 1960s and gained momentum by the 1970s. Second wave feminists were chiefly interested in addressing inequalities in the workplace and in the home. They argued for parity in pay with their male counterparts, laws against marital rape, gender equality in education and so forth. There were many victories all around the world in the 1970s, but at some point the feminist movement in the West collapsed. The most commonly cited reason for this was the infighting in the movement when it came to the subject of pornography. There were feminists who declared themselves and anti-pornography and on the opposite side there were feminists who declared themselves sex positive. Anti-pornography feminists were concerned with the way that women were depicted and degraded in porn and picketed films like Snuff, an infamous, low-budget, B-grade film whose producers started a rumour that the brutal murder of a woman at the end of the film was in fact a real death. Even though this was later proved a lie to generate publicity for the movie, women in the anti-porn move movement were furious that the torture and the death of a woman was used as entertainment, particularly in a sexualised way. Sex positive feminists worried that antiporn feminists were giving out a moralistic, old fashioned and preachy view on how women should feel about sex; they argued that porn could have a place in women's lives as well, and that people were as diverse as the pornography they watched. Known casually as the Feminist Sex Wars the movement lost the cohesion it had enjoyed in the late 60s and early 70s.

 

Third wave feminism picked up again in the early 90s when women realised that the battles that were fought in the 70s, such as to close the gender pay gap, had not been won. The gender pay gap had not closed and had, in fact, widened in some areas and women were still not being treated equally in the workforce. Attacks by conservative groups on hard-fought-for rights to reproductive choice were also a warning sign that if women were not vigilant about the rights they’d gained, they could lose them. Today it is uncertain whether we are still in a third wave of feminism or whether we are now in a fourth wave. Opinions differ on this but the goals of third wave feminism are yet to be achieved.

 

Therein ends my history lesson. I hope it wasn't too dull. I do think, however, it is necessary to know the history of the movement before you can fully understand the present state of it. Contemporary feminism has suffered from a number of things, not least of which is that the word itself now conjures up negative connotations for many people, particularly the youth. Many surveys have been done of young people in the West and what their opinion of feminism is, and the general consensus is that feminists are hairy legged lesbians who hate men and who want ultimate power for women. The Conservative right wing has been behind a lot of the smear campaign against feminism and has been responsible for such charming words as “Femi-Nazi”. The media tells us that we live in a "post-feminist" world, or that feminism is dead. We are frequently told that women have equal rights, that there is no more need for feminism because it has achieved its aims and there is nothing left to fight for. Importantly, many women are completely unaware of the discrimination that they face day in and day out, or they have accepted it as the norm and that this is "as good as it's going to get".

 

The reality is that in Australia the gender pay gap has increased to almost 18% in the past few years. In the state of Western Australia, it is 25%. Women are paid less than their male counterparts from the day of graduation and this has been confirmed in numerous studies, some of which have aimed to disprove the argument that women are only paid less because they take time off to have children. In fact, in the past year, the gap in pay between male and female graduates has doubled. And while we have powerful women in government, Australia ranks 12th in the world for gender representation in Parliament, behind countries like Ethiopia, Burundi and Afghanistan. According the Australian Bureau of Statistics women comprise of less than one third of all parliamentarians in Australia's parliaments. And ironically, South Australia remains the only state to have not had a woman premier or Chief Minister. In the 110 years of Australia Parliament there has been only one woman Speaker of the House of Representatives and as of the 1 January 2012, women comprised just 23.3 per cent of the Commonwealth ministry.

 

In business, the picture is also gloomy:

Just four Australian boards have women as chair (2 percent) and four companies have a female CEO (2 percent);

  •  in the ASX 200 only 10.7 percent of executive managers are women and 8.3 percent are board directors

  •  the number of companies without women board directors is 51 percent;

  •  the number of boards with two or more women directors is 11.5 percent

  •  the percentage of companies with 25 percent or more women board directors is 6 percent

  •  45.5 percent of companies have no women executive managers

  the percentage of women board directors and executive managers in Australia is lower than in Canada, New Zealand, South Africa, UK and the US.

Most notable was the finding that the number of women on boards and in executive management positions had declined since 2006, and in some cases reverted to pre-2004 levels." [The 2008 EOWA census report]

 

In the household, the situation is also bleak: females spend two hours a day more than males on unpaid work, while males spend two hours a day more than females on paid work. While approximately 60% of males’ work is paid, almost 70% of females’ work is unpaid.

 

And the increase in plastic surgery and other cosmetic procedures is indicative of the way women feel about their bodies. If we look at dollars spent per 10,000 people we find Australians are spending almost 40% more per capita than their northern hemisphere counterparts at $454,500 per ten thousand people, compared to $328,000 per ten thousand for the USA. The terrible reality is that with so many women hating their bodies, the rate of self-harm and mental illness in young women has increased. The mortality rate for chronic anorexia is 15-20% and the suicide rate for anorexia is 32 times higher than average. Disordered eating has increased two fold in the past decade in Australia in males and females 15 years and older.

The fact is that women who are fighting towards feminist goals are battling fires on all sides. In New South Wales abortion is still a criminal offence, violence against women is still very high with one in five women abused or sexually assaulted in her lifetime. Women are constantly fighting sexual harassment in the workplace and the infamous but real glass ceiling when it comes to moving up in their careers. Up until recently Australia was ranked one of the worst developed countries in the world to be a working mother, as there was no maternity leave to speak of. Now either parent can get up to 18 weeks on minimum wage, after which they have to choose between having a career or staying home and raising the child. Given the extortionate costs of childcare, along with the fact that they are on average being paid less than their partner, women are often forced to stay home and give up their jobs.

 

Feminists are trying to raise money in not-for-profit organisations so that they can support crisis centres and women's refuges. Crucial services and centres are always struggling against cutbacks and public abuse. Abortion clinics are frequently picketed by religious groups and women are shamed as they go in for the procedure. Women who are sexually assaulted or raped have a choice between keeping silent or reporting the act to a police force that often doesn't have a female officer around to talk to. And to get a conviction is exceptionally difficult. Only a tiny percentage of rape cases end in conviction and the process in court is extremely traumatising for many women.

 

Feminists also struggle to get heard. Serious issues that affect women, both poor and middle class, are often not addressed in mainstream media. And they have to fight to get certain subjects noticed; in rare cases where they are reported they are often done so in an off the cuff or in a superficial manner. I can speak from experience when I say that it is extremely difficult to get funding or grants for work that involves fighting for women's rights. How do you make a case to an ignorant population that what you are doing is important and necessary? It is a vicious circle. With so many women hitting the glass ceiling, positions of power are still held by men. We still live in a patriarchy and that reflects across our society.

But it is not all bad news. Contemporary feminism in Australia is still alive. Even though people debate the use of the word, there are many women who are determined to see change and to defend our rights. Two years ago there was a huge push in Sydney and in other cities to stop the unfair pay gap that exists between what is typified as feminine labour and masculine labour. For example, it is well-known that teachers, nurses and social workers are paid minimum wage or sometimes less, are overworked and undervalued. The rallies and lobbying resulted in a decision by the Australian government to increase the pay in these sectors by up to 40% over the next seven years. Australia is the first country in the world to recognise that some jobs are paid less simply because they are feminised.

 

Perhaps the biggest challenge that feminists today have to face is convincing other women that they have a stake in this too, that feminists are fighting for them and that they need to get involved. So many young women blame themselves for what they perceive as failures in their lives. They fail at looking perfect and beautiful, they fail to reach a top position in a career, they fail to be careful enough coming home at night, they fail at being the perfect girlfriend, or mother, or wife. They think it is okay to blame other women for being raped because they were drunk and wearing a miniskirt, they think it's okay to shame women who refuse to shave their legs or wear make-up, they think it's normal to receive jeers and honks from male passers-by in trucks and cars as they walk to the shops . They don't know that they're being paid less than they should. They don't know that often men will go off to strip clubs or gentleman's bars to discuss business deals without their knowledge. They don't know that the banks are hesitant to loan them money if they are unmarried. How do we reach these women? How do we get them to see that it doesn't have to be this way and that it shouldn't be this way? Feminists seek to change society, to make it fair and egalitarian, to make choices genuine for women and to free them from the shackles of preconceived gender notions. They want to educate people about these problems and get them on board in the quest to seek solutions.

 

Engaging women is only half of the battle. The other half is engaging men. There has been the recent phenomenon of the male feminist or pro-feminist. Increasingly, we are seeing men standing up and saying to other men that feminism can work to their advantage to. How is this so?

 

Feminist theorists have long been analysing gender roles and their inherent restrictions. While women are expected to behave in certain ways, so are men. Such traits as passivity, submissiveness, being emotional, caring and intuitive are applied to women; when they are assertive they are told they are aggressive, when they take a lead they told that they are domineering nutcrackers, when they are strong they are often told that they are hard. One only needs to look at the election campaign of Hillary Clinton and the abuse she received for being confident and powerful to understand just how difficult it is for women to operate outside of their traditional gender role. Equally, however, men are restricted by their gender role. They are told that they need to be strong, tough, hard, dominant, powerful and confident. They are encouraged to look or at least act the part. This is so clearly demonstrated in high schools, where young men posture and perform around their peers, often doing and saying things that they may not believe but feel they have to in order to fit in. Any deviation from the restrictive "man box" can result in ridicule and abuse. If men don't act heterosexual enough, their sexual orientation is brought into question. Gay men are often bullied because they are seen as a willingly acting like second-class citizens, because to act feminine in any way is to be second-class. This is the same reason why it is appropriate for a woman to dress like a man, wearing trousers and shirts, because they are seen as attempting to upgrade their status. For men to wear a dress, or skirt, they are seen to be downgrading their status, and why would any self-respecting Man do that? Men are confined to acting in a specific way and this results in a great deal of harm to them. Men are famous for not admitting emotional stress, not seeing the doctor, refusing to talk about their problems and engaging in reckless behaviours. Men are four times more likely to commit suicide than women, visit their GP less often and are less likely to participate in programs that help with depression. It's not that men are less likely to feel depressed or get sick -they aren't- they are told from when they are little that boys don't cry and that to admit to any kind of personal problem is to show weakness.

 

Feminists and academics involved in gender studies have pointed out these problems and men are slowly waking up to it. Famous anti-sexist speakers and scholars, such as Michael Kimmel, Jackson Katz, Jean Kilbourne, Byron Hurt and Australia's own Michael Flood are attempting to engage men in understanding how predefined gender roles, and patriarchy in general, hurts men as well, and how they too have a responsibility in working towards social change. Many men who have responded to these programs have become supporters of the feminist movement or outspoken feminists themselves.

 

In my work as a feminist activist, I have encountered many inspiring men who have joined forces with women in trying to change the status quo. I have even met men who are more comfortable calling themselves feminist than their sisters or mothers! The younger generation of feminist are generally very happy to accept men into the movement or at the very least as supporters of it. The older generation of feminists are often a bit more sceptical, and understandably so, considering that they were the ones who broke ground first and who received a great deal of abuse from men in trying to do so. The occurrence of the male feminist has sparked debate over the past few years and this year in April, at the Ideas at the House Festival at Sydney Opera house, one of the key topics of debate is whether or not men can be feminists.

 

When I was growing up, it was cool for guys to disrespect women and to make jokes at their expense. This is still the case today, as can be seen in countless examples in media. Most recently, Seth McFarlane came under fire by some women after his multiple sexist jokes at the Oscars. The girl-bashing “Bro Code” is very popular amongst young men and has far-reaching consequences. Telling our men that they have to be tough and that they have to show their dominance to be considered a real man, telling them that they can't cry and that they must ignore their problems, telling them that in order to make themselves feel big they have to put down others, especially women, is one of the key contributing factors to gender-based violence. Domestic violence in this country is very high as it is in almost every country in the world. According to UNICEF, globally, women aged between fifteen and forty-four are more likely to be injured or die as a result of male violence than through cancer, traffic accidents, malaria and war combined. Men's violence against women is a serious problem that urgently needs to be addressed.

 

While women run shelters and refuge centres for victims of domestic violence, and try their best to raise awareness about the issue, it is a losing battle unless men themselves engage other men in changing. This is why the work of educators like Jackson Katz is so important. Jackson Katz goes into schools, colleges, prisons and the military to talk to men about masculinity and the pitfalls of being confined to restrictive ideas of what it means to be a man. Unless we teach our young men that it is okay to be a full human being, that they can display a full range of human emotions without fear of ridicule, the psychological trauma that many men suffer will continue to manifest in violence against themselves, their peers and their loved ones. It is a shocking statistic that in Australia a man is more likely to be murdered by his friend than a complete stranger. Equally, a woman is more likely to be harmed by an intimate partner, or a trusted male friend, than a stranger.

 

We have also seen men taking the initiative to end gender-based violence. The White Ribbon campaign is an international movement that encourages men to take a pledge to never commit or stay silent about violence against women. White Ribbon ambassadors around the world are engaging their fellow men in addressing this problem. White Ribbon has a presence in Australia and can be found at numerous events throughout the year.

 

If feminism is the belief that women deserve the same rights and opportunities as men, then in my mind there is no reason why men themselves cannot share this belief. Feminist academic, Shira Tarrant, has written a book called Men and Feminism, in which one can find multiple examples of male feminists throughout history. A few weeks ago, I gave a talk about the connection between humanism and feminism. During my research, I discovered that many humanist men, as early as the 15th century, began to support women in their quest to obtain education and equal treatment. Famous humanist physician, Antonio Musa Brasavola, denounced the abusive treatment of wives and advocated for a more humane attitude towards women.

 

So when people ask me can a bloke be a feminist, I say absolutely. All men should be feminists. In my own organisation, roughly one third of the members are men and we always get a strong male turnout at events we hold that focus either on women, or on masculinity. This brings me to my next and final subject: the modern landscape of Australian feminism.

 

As previously mentioned, Australian women broke a lot of ground when it came to the suffrage movement. And there have been some successes in modern times. The reality is, though, that feminism is very fragmented. Over the last few decades feminism has split along political lines. It has also moved from being a socially cohesive movement to one of individualism. Every person has his or her own feminism and while it is important to allow people to identify with the movement in their own way, too many differing opinions and arguments within a movement can fracture it beyond repair. Unless feminists work together to attain common goals, persistent problems like the illegality of abortion or the gender pay gap will continue to exist. I cannot speak for all states as I am only really familiar with the feminist movement with New South Wales. I do know, however, that there is a strong pulse in Melbourne. The recent death of Jill Meagher galvanised a great many people into action and last year's 30,000 strong march in protest of what had happened to her, along with the 1000 strong Reclaim the Night March indicates that there is a strong sense of communal spirit when it comes to fighting for women's safety.

 

There are women’s organisations in all states, including this one. Each has their own approach or focus. I moved to Australia in 2010. In late 2011, I began to search online for a feminist group that I could join and support. And while there are numerous women's organisations, ranging from groups that support Asian migrant workers’ rights, Latina women, refugees from Afghanistan, immigrants from Africa and so forth, I did not initially find any group that outwardly defined itself as feminist. For this reason, I founded a feminist social group on the website Meetup.com with my partner. Our little meet-up group stayed small and quiet for the first few months, but we campaigned to get others interested in the subject. The first thing we did was purchase powerful films about sexism in modern day culture from the Media Education Foundation. We began screening documentaries such as Generation M: Misogyny in Media and Culture, and Killing Us Softly: Advertising’s Image of Women. We also screened films that dealt with masculinity, such as Jackson Katz’s Tough Guise: Violence, Media and the Crisis in Masculinity and The Bro Code: How Contemporary Culture Creates Sexist Men. All of these films worked well in engaging the public on various topics, from the way women are depicted in films, to body image and advertising, to breaking free of gender restrictions. We also supported as many women's organisations, rallies and events as possible.

 

In the space of one year we grew from two people to over 300 and every day we are getting new people joining our group. Our aim is to teach people that feminism is just as necessary today as it has always been and that it has a place in everyone's lives. One of the facts we like to cite to sceptical men is that if his partner’s wages were to equal men's, over a lifetime they would have approximately 1 million more dollars to spend on anything from the mortgage to upgrading their Xbox. New research by the National Centre for Social and Economic Modelling (NATSEM) found that pay inequity costs $93 billion per year to the Australian economy or 8.5% of GDP. Men with children earn almost double what women with children earn. The gender pay gap hurts couples, families and the country as a whole. These facts really open the eyes of people who come along to our events and it is heart-warming to see them signing up to a newsletter and frequenting ours and other feminist or women's events.

 

Sadly, there seems to be a lot of apathy in the city of Sydney when it comes to social justice. Although certain movements have gained some traction, feminism is not one of them. I was at a rally recently to protest the terrible cuts made to single parents who have now been put on Newstart. Most single parents are women and the changes mean that from now on, a single parent whose child is eight years of age will have to survive on the Newstart Allowance of $245 per week or just over $12,000 per year. The rally in Sydney attracted approximately 50 to 60 people. Politicians took to the podium and ranted and raved about the cuts, preaching to the converted as most of the audience was made up of the feminists who had organised the rally and a few single parents. But where were the supporters of single mothers? So many people are brought up by single parents, so where were they? Why wasn’t there more of an outcry? Why weren’t there thousands of people marching to Parliament demanding justice?

 

Another campaign that received virtually no media attention was the One Billion Rising campaign. Famous playwright, Eve Ensler, who wrote The Vagina Monologues, launched a charity called V-Day in the late 90s. Every year, women put on productions of her plays to raise money for charities and women's shelters around the world. These efforts have so far raised more than $80 million, which is an incredible accomplishment. In 2012, Ensler announced that she wanted to mobilise 1 billion people to protest against the horrific levels of violence against women. Globally, one in three women will be beaten or sexually assaulted in her lifetime which equates to the shocking figure of 1 billion women. And so Eve launched a powerful social media campaign and managed to get 200 countries to sign up to staging events in their country. Her idea was to have flash mobs, which are choreographed dances by hundreds or thousands of people in city and town centres, all around the world to create a media storm and draw attention to the issue. And while some countries boasted thousands of attendees, Sydney barely managed 300 people and there was no press coverage of it whatsoever. February 14th 2013 was meant to be a day that would go down in history, that people would talk about for generations. But the press weren't interested, and as a result, the movement Ensler and her supporters had hoped to generate looks like it might fizzle out. Subjects that are important to feminists are rarely reported in a media that is heavily dominated by men. When one considers that in the US only 16% of writers, directors, producers, editors and cinematographers are women and only 5.8 % of women own a TV station and 6% of women own a radio station, this is hardly surprising.

 

The good news is that people are starting to pay attention to the problem of gender-based violence. Recent events, such as the deaths of Jill Meagher and Sarah Cafferkey, the terrible gang-rape and murder of a young woman in India and the recent trial of Oscar Pistorius, a star athlete accused of murdering his girlfriend, have made headlines. Gender-based violence is starting to make news and generate reports. And once people start to pay attention to gender-based violence, they ask why it happens. We need people to start asking these questions and more importantly we need people to start researching the answers. When people begin to realise that everything is linked and that achieving gender equality would improve so much in our world then we will be able to generate the push that is needed to effect social change in this country and around the world.

 

Everybody has a woman in their life that they love and respect; be it their mother, sister, partner, daughter, niece or friend. To show that you care about these women is to support efforts to improve their quality of life, opportunities and well-being. Humankind as a whole will benefit from the social change that feminism seeks. It is for this reason that feminism is relevant to each and every one of us. We can all participate in the movement, even if it is only in a small way. You don't have to go out to rallies and marches if you don't want to. You can effect social change within your own family. You can encourage your sons and daughters to be all that they can be, to feel free to express themselves fully and truly and not to diminish them or restrict them based on traditional gender notions. You can tell women who feel insecure about their weight or their looks that they are beautiful, no matter what the media tells them; if you are in a position of power, you can consider female candidates in the same way as you consider male candidates, looking past their gender and focussing on what they can bring to the table.

 

I hope that this talk has been thought-provoking and perhaps even inspiring. I thank you all very much for listening and would like to open up to any questions you might have. Thank you. ”

Tessa Barratt is the founder of The Sydney Feminists. She has a degree in English Literature and Creative Writing from the University of Warwick and a certificate in Feminist Political Thought from the University of Sydney. She has written for publications such as The Scavenger and DiscordiaZine.

 

Bibliography:

Plibersek, Tanya. "Gender pay gap costs $93 billion each year " alp.org.au. 16 March 2010. Web. 25 Feb. 2013. < http://www.alp.org.au/federal-government/news/gender-pay-gap-costs-93-billion-each-year/>.

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