It is common knowledge that women in poor and developing countries suffer many inequalities, from forced marriage, to female genital mutilation, to the inability to drive in public or vote, to horrendous violence like honour killings and acid attacks. Set against these social ills, women in Western countries seem to be very well off indeed. Feminism seems to have won in countries like Australia, where women can vote, own property, run for politics and head businesses.
In our position of relative privilege, it is important for us not to forget our sisters in other parts of the world and to do what we can to aid them. However, it is also important for us to scrutinize the way society treats women in developed countries as well, because there are still serious inequalities within our own social system, albeit more subtle.
For example, did you know that in Australia…
The gender pay gap is around 17%, which actually costs the economy around $93 billion a year. [Source: Australian Govt. WGEA]
That in heterosexual couples where both men and women work, women still do 70% of the housework. [Source: Australian Bureau of Statistics ]
That 1 in 5 women will be sexually assaulted in her life time. [Source: White Ribbon]
That 1 woman a week is killed by a current or former partner. [Source: White Ribbon]
Australia ranks 49th in the world in terms of women’s representation in the lower houses of parliament, behind Rwanda, Cameroon and Afghanistan. [Source: Interparliamentary Union]
That acts like forced marriage and female genital mutilation occur within Australian borders, too. [Source: No FGM Australia]
Abortion is still a criminal offense in some states, including New South Wales
These are just some of a long list of inequalities women face in Australia and many other developed countries.
Women still encounter sexism in the workplace in terms of the very real Glass Ceiling [See Aus. Census report for more info], still get cat-called and wolf-whistled in the street, harassed in bars and blamed and shamed if they were intoxicated when they were raped or assaulted.
More subtle forms of sexism exist even in our everyday vernacular and practices: calling a man a “pussy” or a “girl” is the ultimate insult; when women marry, the majority still take their husband’s surnames, often out of social pressure; women are still ridiculed for not shaving their legs or under their arms; we still routinely refer to our own species as “mankind”, and assume gender in jobs such as “postman”, “handyman” and “workman”. We say women “chose career above family” and are “careerwomen”, whereas men can have both, often because women are the ones to give up work and stay at home with the kids in middle class families. In lower socio-economic families, both parents have to work and there still isn’t affordable childcare in Australia to cater for their children.
Sexism runs deep in our society and is so often accepted as the norm we no longer question it. Conventional notions of gender and gender roles inhibit the full human expression of both women and men and this hurts both sexes.
Feminism is defined in the Cambridge Dictionary as: the belief that women should be allowed the same rights, power, and opportunities as men and be treated in the same way, or the set of activities intended to achieve this state.
However, over years of smear campaigning by those threatened by feminism and various myths and misconceptions spread about it, today people think of feminism in a largely negative way and distance themselves from a movement that they, in fact, benefit from. The hard-fought-for rights that women now have are also frequently under threat by sinister bills posted in parliament and quiet governmental policy changes - even if we are unaware of it. Activists fight hard simply to maintain these rights. The tremendous battle over women’s health care, contraception and reproductive autonomy in the USA is one example, and that battle has spilled over into Australia, as well.
This is why organisations like The Sydney Feminists exist; to address the inequalities experienced by women regardless of class, ethnic background, race or sexual orientation. We aim to enforce the human rights of women both in Australia and, where we can, abroad, by changing social mindsets through education. You may think you have not (as a woman or a man) experienced sexism; but, rest assured, by living in a patriarchal, hierarchical society, you most certainly have. We all have a stake in the push for human rights, and upholding and improving the rights of one half of the world’s populations is, for so many reasons, the logical place to focus one’s efforts.
For a more in depth and detailed rundown on feminism, its history and its relevance to both men and women (and all other genders) today, we invite you to read the essay “Why Feminism is Relevant to YOU.”