Happy International Women’s Day 2013
We have the numbers to create our own wellspring of women to change the world!
Attending a 2013 IWD breakfast I noted much diversity and talent amongst the women attending. So I thought, why not meet, eat, and talk regularly and not just once a year? So, I would like us to set up a grass roots national and international organisation of older women. Grand Matriachs Worldwide – ordinary, everyday women who have lived at least 50 years. Non elitist but grand as in grandmother, grand plan, grand vision and grand stand.
I will start the ball rolling with these thoughts:-
Never before have we had such a large group of women over 50 worldwide.
Never before have we been as active in the community as we have been in recent years
Never before have we by our own activism achieved so much.
Never before have we been as connected to learn that much more needs to be done
Never before have women who have survived, been so supportive of each other.
Never before have we so many amazing women in the third world.
All those of us over 50 are members already with no joining process or fees. We are inclusive of all women who realise and understand what power we can wield. Just BEING what we are is a force of sheer numbers that can be so powerful. Worldwide, there are more than a billion of us over 50 who are matriachs. The huge numbers that we have must count for something.
Let us use our raw numbers to flex our muscles in all areas of life.
Every one of us counts if we cast a vote in any election anywhere.
If we march together our numbers demand political attention and clout.
We need to recognise and harness our collective femaleness into social activism.
We are friends even if we have not met as we have shared experiences
We are all connected because we are daughters, sisters, mothers, grandmothers etc.
Never, ever let us again be ‘just women’ who react as victims and are the ‘other’.
Let us meet, inspire, support, connect, network, mentor, learn, think and plan.
In our homes, families, schools, community neighbourhoods, villages, town, city, country.
Yes and worldwide via the internet so come blog on this website and tell us what is possible.
We do this now, wherever we are, in every way, every day, in all that we do.
In the small and big tasks we undertake daily in child and maternal health, girls education.
Resisting bias and taking steps to prevent and eliminate violence against women and children.
With our collective activism we can achieve in all the ways that we are already familiar with.
Let us take action now for our children, grandchildren, nephews and nieces and all children.
We can lobby for the lives of the future generation to be better than ours.
We can make a fairer, safer, more peaceful and sustainable world for women and children.
We can address the gender imbalance on resources with accessible credit for women.
In Australia we can support Julia Gillard, Australia’s first PM who has been vilified by men to destroy her leadership. As women we know politics and parties are less relevant than people and policies around the world. Julia has put this before electoral numbers, for our planet, our futures our children and grandchildren. Be part of us and never, let us ever again be ‘just women’ who react as victims and are the ‘other’.
Watch this space for news of the Grand Matriarchs Worldwide’s Blog.
Patmalar Ambikapathy Thuraisingham (c) May 2013
A Barrister and Children’s Rights Lawyer, Patmalar Ambikapathy Thuraisingham graduated in law from the University of Durham and is a member of Lincoln’s Inn. She practiced in commercial law in Malaysia, then emigrated with her family to Australia, where she practiced as a solicitor in Ballarat and Melbourne, before going to the Melbourne Bar. She was first Children’s Commissioner for Tasmania, taking a strong and positive stand to advance the rights of children. She is an active advocate for ending violence against women and children, standing up for the right of children not to be hit or assaulted in any way, whether in the name of parental ‘control’ or otherwise.
Globally, things are better, but not much.
Howard University’s Professor Caroline Byerly used a sample of almost 2000 editorial and administrative to conclude that in 2011 36.1 per cent of the world’s journalists are women. Her figures reveal that women’s participation in management roles might be creeping upward, now to 26 per cent of governing roles and 27 per cent of top management jobs around the globe in 2011, but that is still just one quarter of the whole.
Dr Louise North’s published research – and my rather unacademic Facebook foray – also show that the news industry in Australia continues to embody what she described in her academic paper as a “blokey and ego-driven” culture that’s for the most part ignored – and systemic and ongoing gender (and race) inequity permeates the workforce.
This was probably best illustrated several months ago when one of Australia’s best known female TV journalists and presenters wrote an excoriating speech which she titled ‘Dear Mr Sexist’. Driven to fury and what she described as an inferno in her belly, Tracey Spicer recounted the male excutive that shouted across the newsroom at her: “I want two inches off your hair and two inches off your arse.” And the radio executive, who, during a job interview said: “There’s a reason why you don’t hear women on commercial talkback radio. No-one wants to hear the whiney sound of a female voice. Us blokes get enough nagging at home!” And then there was the station manager who came down after her first night news reading, saying: “You need to stick your tits out more.” On and on it went, the executive who pointed at her forehead wrinkles and said it was time to give the youngsters a go, the sacking by email just after she had given birth to her second child (fought in court and won) and a litany of other stories so awful, you would be hard pressed to make them up.
Tracey Spicer’s experience reminded me of the editor who, on hearing I had been appointed Europe correspondent, pointed at my eyes and said: ” …‘a spell in the northern hemisphere out of the Australian sun will do your face wrinkles a world of good.” I hate to tell you but this one came from a woman.
During her 2012 research on women and newsroom culture, Dr North interviewed 600 female journalists in Australia – the biggest study of its kind. Her findings revealed that a staggering 57.3 per cent had been sexually harassed in the workplace, with the majority reporting that this had happened within the last five years. North found the problem infected all newsrooms although the commercial TV sector seemed to have higher rates than newspaper newsrooms or the national broadcaster.
Ironically, all this research has emerged around the time that Australia’s first woman Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, rebelled with such spirit against the mysoginistic culture she perceives both in the Parliament and among the media that report politics. I’m sure few of you would have missed that speech but you might not know that it went viral on Youtube globally, sparking headlines in Europe, America and the developing world but was virtually ignored by the Parliamentary reporters until they realised their blunder.
Which brings me back, sadly, to where I began – my informal ask-around for anecdotes about being a woman in a modern newsroom.
In a moment of odd serendipity, about 24 hours after I posted a request for my colleagues’ observations, a debate exploded about The Sydney Morning Herald‘s rebrand and renaming of what was previously called the ‘Daily Life’ section into ‘Women’s Perspective’ while the more masculine sections were rebadged ‘Executive Style’ – as if women can’t be executives. This move outraged not just the paper’s readers but the section’s editor herself who risked her job and broke ranks to blog about her own internal arguments against the name change with the all male editorial team. Hundreds of women tweeted and wrote comments along these lines: “Do you think it could have even been possible for you to decide on a more patronising tactic to show exactly which sections of the newspaper you think matter and which don’t?”
In this case, the men were forced to capitulate and the sections returned to its less offensive name.
While all this was going on, my colleagues started to email me: the first one arrived from an Australian colleague I worked with in Sydney, who spent a decade in the Middle East in Jerusalem and is now a well known TV face in Europe. She is also married to a reporter and described her conversation with an editor, requesting a payrise: “The editor looked at me outraged and said, what?! I have just given your husband a rise.”
Another told of internal 2012 research quietly testing suspicions that a new section editor was commissioning only men to write cover stories and this was then checked against by lines. “In a year or so of his editing that section there were zero cover stories from women, 100% from men,” my colleague wrote. “When we confronted him, he seemed genuinely shocked and seemed not to realize he had done this. We figured that perhaps it was personality related – he was not comfortable talking to women. . .net result was the same though. Zero result for us women”.
Another, currently stationed in the Middle East, described the first words of a new chief of staff as she reported back about a story: “ So luv, is it a ball-tearer or a blue-veiner?” She was quck to add that despite this, he turned out to be a “good bloke”. Another described a particular editor’s penchant for coming up to her and the younger women on staff and massaging shoulders while looking over copy. One remembers, as a young cadet, being warned by the trainee counselor that part of working in a newsroom was playing “the game” after she raised feeling uncomfortable with this behaviour.
The worst anecdotes, just as Dr North reported, came from colleagues in commercial TV newsrooms, with some truly shocking me. In one case, a 30 something reporter, winner of a recent prize in investigative reporting, told me how she asked privately not to work with a particular producer due to his insistent lewd comments and behaviour. She asked her superiors that her name not be mentioned as she did not want to make a formal complaint. The man was not only told of her complaint but he then turned the tables on her warning colleagues and cameramen against her and making her work life impossible. She has now moved and is working at the public broadcaster. Another described standing open mouthed as an executive, in his late fifties, stood beside her working his way through a list of pretty much every older woman in Australian TV journalism. With some, he asked rhetorically why they hadn’t just stepped aside, others he observed he felt sorry for them, still others he said blatantly that they were too old and shouldn’t be on TV. It was her second day on the job and she chose, like so many of us, to say nothing.
The stories keep coming in.
I haven’t painted a particularly pretty picture although all of us – young and older – agree that it’s much, much better than even ten years ago. In Australia, Julia Gillard’s feisty diatribe against sexism appears to have touched a nerve and many of you might have read about the extraordinary social media campaign #destroythejoint that harnessed collective female anger against a particularly mysoginistic radio host – and the subsequent loss of millions in advertising as commercial sponsors realised the dollar effect of women scorned.
And so, I leave the last words to one of my youngest colleagues – a TV reporter – and a colleague at the other end of the totem pole, one of the few very senior women media executives in Australia. The youngest put it this way: “My perception of ‘this day and age’ is that it is better, much better. Less overt stuff goes on and most men are much, much better in the workplace than they were.” But, as we all know – and researcher Dr Louise North has confirmed – when it does go on, unfortunately, too many women are finding that it still doesn’t pay to rock the boat.
My executive colleague was succinct in her verdict and I quote her email directly: “I asked all my most senior colleagues what a pair of testicles would mean to them in this industry. They all answered, without bitterness or rancour that being male would mean a minimum of $50,000 a year to them. And these women included a Sunday newspaper editor, an investigative editor, a chief sub editor, a magazine editor, Most were on well above the 140,000 range – so this was a significant proportion of salary.”
“The sad thing,” reported my friend, “is that nobody was ANGRY. They all answered with a kind of quiet, tired acceptance of fact.”
Paola Totaro (c) March 2013
Paola Totaro is a journalist who lives in London and worked with the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age in Melbourne, Australia, before coming to the United Kingdom as European Correspondent. She studied at the University of Sydney and the University of New England in Australia, and is presently enrolled in an MA (Culture & Criticism) at the University of the Arts, London. She includes French and Italian amongst her languages, and lists her hometown as Naples, Italy.
Caroline Byerly, 2011, pp. 9, 219
Louise North, 2009
Women and politics was high on the agenda at UN CSW 57, with attention being paid to politics in its broad and narrower sense. ‘Gender Sensitive Parliaments’ , discussing and debating the way to chage the culture of parliaments to ensure their responsiveness ‘to the needs and interests of both men and women in their structures, operations, methods and work’ was one topic holding enthralled all attending that side event. Another CSW 57 side event, also run by the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), covered the way in which parliaments around the world have taken steps to ensure representation, or greater representation, of women as members, as cabinet members, as speaker, as whips, and in other posts of parliamentary authority.
Aotearoa/New Zealand was the first country in the world to grant women the vote, acceding in 1893 to women’s demands for the introduction of real democracy, where ‘democracy’ had, in the past, referred to government by men alone. South Australia was the first state-entity in the world to grant women not only the vote, but the right to stand for Parliament. In 1894 the South Australian Parliament had before it a Bill to extend the vote to women and one member, seeking to disrupt the process and impede passage of the Bill, introduced an amendment whereby the vote would be complemented by the right to stand. Unfortunately for him, and fortunately for the democratic cause, the Bill passed – with both rights included.
In 1902 Australia became the first country in the world to extend the vote to women, along with the right to stand for Parliament. In 1903, three women stood in the Australian election. Although none succeeded, Vida Goldstein – the first woman to register to stand for the Senate, gained a goodly swathe of votes. She stood three more times over the years, up to 1920, despite not gaining a seat.
Just as men do not accept that the right to vote is sufficient – Parliamentary representation must be possible for all men, or at least all men are entitled to seek parliamentary places – neither do women accept that the vote is enough. Democracy means that women and men must have the right to vote for women or men as members of Parliament. Democracy means that women and men must have the right to stand for Parliament.
In the 1970s, the Australian Women’s Movement raised the slogan: ‘A Woman’s Place is in the House – and in the Senate’. This encapsulated the demand for democratic representation: women should be able to take their place in the lower house, the House of Representatives, and in the upper house, the Senate. The demand extended, too, to the state and territory legislatures when they came into being in the Northern Territory and the ACT (Australian Capital Territory – Canberra).
Although women were elected to state Parliaments, beginning with Edith Cowan in Western Australia in 1921, the numbers were few. Women were elected to the federal Parliament for the first time in 1942 – Dorothy Tangney going into the Senate, and Enid Lyons into the House of Representatives. In the 1970s for the first time three women sat in the House of Representatives – Joan Child from Victoria, Ros Kelly from the ACT, and Jeanette McHugh from New South Wales, being elected in 1983. Although Joan Child had been elected earlier and other women had sat in the federal Parliament from other states at other times, Jeanette McHugh was the first NSW woman ever to be elected to that Parliament.
Why so few, and why has it taken so long for women to be elected? Australia has for the first time a woman Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, yet this came about not by chance but through the Australian Labor Party’s adoption on affirmative action in the parliamentary sphere. In the late 1980s, the ACT led the way, adopting a 50% standard in local legisature elections. There, the voting system enabled this to be introduced relatively simply: with two seats, Canberra and Fraser, and a ‘list’ system, the proposal was that lists should be constructed on a ‘woman, man, woman, man’ basis down the list. Women gained first place on the ballot because that is the way the party voted, so that there was no need to promote women artificially over men on the lists. Yet the principle was established.
It was more difficult in the states and NT, and federally, for Tasmania (with the Hare Clark system) alone operates under a system similar to that in the ACT. All other jurisdictions operate on the basis of ‘one seat, one member’. In the 1980s, however, ALP women organised to ensure passage through the ALP National Conference of a resolution committing to a quota of 30% women preselected for all state and federal elections. Joan Kirner, first woman Premier of Victoria, was a leading figure in this struggle. She and others established Emily’s List (Early Money is Like Yeast – it helps women rise) to provide funds for women candidates who adhere to feminist principles, in particular the right to abortion.
The UN CSW 57 side event looking at getting women into parliament covered a number of ways in which parliaments and legislatures have sought to effect this change. The British Labour Party runs ‘women’s lists’ – where women only are entitled to stand for selection – and not only in unwinnable seats. Women’s lists must be run in winnable and safe seats, too. Burkina Faso adopted a policy of granting public fund bonuses to political parties succeeding in having women elected under their banner. Other countries have set aside a certain number of parliamentary seats for women, some have introduced quotas – which must be met by having women stand and win seats representing general constituencies, some have simply called ‘quotas’ ‘targets’ – on the basis that ‘targets’ are more palatable than ‘quotas’ which is taken to imply the use of coercion or at least a firm hand. ‘Targets’ as seen as ‘softer’, something to be aimed for rather than (necessarily) achieved.
It may be significant that it is generally ‘newer’ democracies that have taken the most significant steps to ensure women’s parliamentary membership. Whether they have set down rules in constitutions or statutes, or simply articulated policies, many African countries, in particular, are leading the way to ensure that parliaments are not populated by men alone. In this, they are following rapidly in the steps of Scandinavian countries, with Rwanda having topped the list in having more women than men in the parliament and cabinet. Beginning with a quota requiring no fewer than 30% of women in parliamentary seats, at the first election under that regime, women held 44 of the 80 seats.
In the 1980s, Senator Susan Ryan of the Australian Parliament commissioned research into voters’ views of women and men parliamentarians. The outcome was salutary. A majority said they preferred female to male politicians, as they believed the former to be ‘more trustworthy’ and ‘honest’. Voters were more prepared to put their and their country’s future into the hands of women. Clearly, political parties which do not recognise the importance of promoting women into parliament and thence into positions of authority and power at all parliamentary levels, are missing a sigificant feature of politics today.
Promoting women into safe and winnable seats will bring to the parties so doing, the opportunity of taking power and governing the country. On the basis of Senator Ryan’s research, they will also be ensuring that the country’s governance will be all the more positive, productive and progressive.
Jocelynne A. Scutt (c) March 2013
Jocelynne Scutt’s book, Taking a Stand – Women in Politics and Society, was published in 1996 as one of the ten volumes, so far, in the ‘Women’s Voices, Women’s Lives’ series. In the volume, women speak of their involvement in politics, whether standing for parliament, campaigning for women’s rights, engaged in the struggle to end violence against women, or as members and officials active in the trade union movement.
In the archives of The Women’s Library London the first ever political campaign by a woman politician is conserved. This valuable archival material, carefully preserved for posterity by Vida Goldstein, tells of her first political campaign in 1903 when as a woman of thirty-four she set out to win a Senate seat in the Australian Federal Parliament.
Her campaign was followed enthusiastically by women and men around the world with The Age newspaper reporting on 11 August 1903:
‘The people of Australia must be well aware that, in this matter, the eyes of the whole world are upon them.’
Vida Goldstein’s challenge in 1903 Australia meant she had to deal with thousands of years of discrimination to win over the public. At the heart of her campaign was her recognition of the power of visual technology, making Vida Goldstein the first politician in history to use visual technology for political purpose and gain.
The whirrings of the technological age had only just begun with photography and the (now defunct) ‘Limelight/Magic Lantern’ technology, a forerunner to the movie business, today a massive industry. Vida Goldstein elected to employ both. Radical and innovative, she made herself known, bringing in the crowds and spreading the message that women and men should be equal politically, legally and in society.
Vida Goldstein’s political photograph – the photograph used on all her campaign material and provided to media and supporters – was expressly designed for political distribution. She was the first in the world to do this, seeing the importance of how she was portrayed visually and that it was vital to exercise control over her own image. Greatly sought after, her photographs were reproduced in newspapers passed among journalists and between ordinary people, making her a political pop icon. She was the ‘first woman in the world standing for political office’.
Straddling high and low culture and championing the importance of appealing to every ‘level’ of the polity – ‘high’ and ‘low’, Vida Goldstein maximised the Magic Lantern or Limelight stereopticon technology, which involved projection through the use of lime as a light source of two still images on glass slides resulting in three dimensional images. This took skill and perspicacity, as well as care and attention to technicalities: the medium was sometimes prone to bursting into flame.
Vida Goldstein’s carefully crafted political campaign ignited the public’s imagination, attracting hundreds to each session. Calling it a ‘chat’, showing 52 stereopticon slides entitled To America and Back and charging a ‘silver coin’ for admittance, she primed the population for political revolution by aligning herself to the most powerful man in the world, United States’ President Theodore Roosevelt. Her description of her meeting with Roosevelt meant that the public immediately saw her as a powerful woman with powerful friends. Roosevelt was ‘the ally’ but also an ally who objected to ‘political corruption’: in this Vida Goldstein was and was seen by many to be encouraging and bringing on board ‘good men’.
‘I met President Roosevelt last year. I could not be in his presence for five minutes without recognizing his strength of character. You know that you are speaking to a man of dominating and magnetic personality. His whole public career has been one of continual work, of storm and stress, for he has been the uncompromising enemy of social and political corruption.’
Vida repeated the stereopticon lecture over and over again in towns and cities across Victoria and the neighbouring state of South Australia, recognising the power of conflating the two messages, as is evident in her own words:
‘I believed that people would come to my meetings out of curiosity to see the wild woman who sought to enter Parliament. They came, they saw, I conquered – that is, my arguments did.’ (V. Goldstein, 1943)
Injustice and discrimination were central to Vida Goldstein’s campaign, as in her statement:
‘We thought that we lived under a democracy, but it was a male-ocracy and the fact is that women want our political customs changed so that they can have a say in matters themselves.’
But just as print media is vital to the success or otherwise of a political campaign or politician so it was for Vida Goldstein. So skilled was she that her every word, gesture and political repartee was recorded. Yet as her campaign successfully gained ground the media men and their powerful counterparts throughout society embarked on a vicious campaign to discredit her:
‘The candidature of Miss Vida Goldstein for a seat in the Federal Senate can scarcely be taken seriously by the electors, but it nevertheless calls for comment. In the latter event it would perhaps be the best thing that could happen to the “emancipation” of “woman” movement if the temerity of this venturesome young lady was made to suffer the stern and effective discouragement of monetary penalty.’
This was a reference to the fact that if a candidate won fewer votes than a set minimum, the candidate’s ‘registation’ or ‘nomination’ fee would be forfeit.
Similarly the Warnambool Standard newspaper was clearly unapologetic about what they saw as the ‘problem’ – namely, that Vida Goldstein was a woman, so on 3 December 1903 saying:
‘The principal objection raised against her candidature is that she is a woman, and this is the feeling that she has to overcome if she is to be included amongst the successful.’
Despite doing extremely well in garnering votes, Vida Goldstein was unsuccessful in gaining a seat. She blamed the print media for her failure – particularly The Age. In 1904 she wrote an analysis of the campaign, concluding:
‘The world moves slowly my masters, woman’s world especially, but it does move, and that’s something to be thankful for.’
Vida Goldstein’s political campaign led the way for the women who have followed. Just over one hundred years later Australia has voted their first female Prime Minister, Julia Gillard. Nevertheless, albeit one hundred years later the discriminatory residue lingers strongly.
In the latest turn of events Prime Minister Gillard continues to be vilified by the media with Alan Jones, a radio personality well-known in Australia, suggesting:
‘Julia Gillard should be put in a chaff bag and thrown out to sea.’ (1)
And from the leader of the opposition Tony Abbott:
‘The trouble with Julia Gillard is that she just won’t lie down and die.’ (2)
Just as with Vida Goldstein the vilification centers on the Prime Minister’s being a woman – the world indeed ‘moves slowly’. Nonetheless, it does more. And just like Vida Goldstein Julia Gillard has said:
‘I will not lie down and die.’ (3)
Karen Buczynski-Lee © July 2012
Karen Buczynski-Lee is a Filmmaker, Writer and Researcher. This contribution based her MA (Research) Film and TV thesis, entitled ‘Mourning Becomes Electric: Vida Goldstein Takes On Politics’ and ‘When Vida Met the President: A Documentary Drama – Film Script’.
Editor’s Note: Karen Buczynski-Lee’s researches led her to find a small book written by Vida Goldstein, which had been mislaid amongst the Melbourne State Library stacks and out-of-print for decades. Karen Buczynski-Lee succeeded in having the Victorian Women’s Trust (VWT) reprint it for sale and distribution to schools and libraries: the VWT acknowledges it as the most successful production the VWT has ever managed, and the book continues to be reprinted regularly.
(1) Alan Jones quotation: www.youtube.com/watch?v=hsaVpepMyA8 (accessed 2 August 2012)
(2) Tony Abbott quotation: http://www.heraldsun.com.au/news/victoria/julia-gillard-wont-lie-down-and-die-says-tony-abbott/story-fn7x8me2-1226370429139 (accessed 4 August 2012)
(3) Prime Minister Gillard quotation: http://www.heraldsun.com.au/news/national/pm-offers-olive-branch-to-sydney-after-g20-snub/story-fncynkc6-1226426336093 (accessed 4 August 2012)
Owen Jones, UK Independent commentator, pinpoints sexism as the key to ‘rampant’ abuse leveled at women who speak up, speak out, and will not be put down whatever the invective. A predictable response dominates against articulate, determined, achievement-orientated women unafraid of power. Jones cites Louise Mensch, MP, viewed in some circles as an abrasive Conservative Party member, most recently featuring on the parliamentary committee reporting on Murdoch, the media and ‘hacking’.
Observing she is ‘a craven apologist for Rupert Murdoch, and deserves to be exposed as such’, Jones notes that this ‘does not distinguish [Mensch] from the Tory leadership, except that she is more honest about it [with] less power to act on her sycophancy’. She at least ‘had the courage’ to ‘ride to the much-maligned mogul’s defence’ on television’s Newsnight, only to receive a backlash constituted by ‘a torrent of violently sexist tweets’:
‘She was a “whore”, a “cold faced cold hearted bitch”, and far worse. “Louise Mensch … You would wouldn’t you?” tweeted Northern Irish “comedian” Martin Mor. “Given half a chance you’d strangle her!” Vice magazine proceeded to ask Occupy protesters if they’d have sex with her: just for the “lulz”, as the kids say.’
And, as Jones concludes: ‘No male cheerleader for the Murdochs – there are many – is subject to these chilling attacks.’ The same goes for journalism, he says, for although Jones is ‘no stranger to Twitter abuse’, his critics most often are ‘wound up’ by ‘what they regard as [his] excessively youthful appearance’ characterised by ‘Does your mum know you’re up this late?’ and ‘Shouldn’t you be doing your paper-round?’. Jones notes: ‘It is nothing compared with the poisonous misogynist vitriol that women in politics and journalism – such as colleague Laurie Penny – receive.’
Like commentators on online journals, Twitter ‘is an interesting insight into attitudes rampant in society, because it allows people to easily project venom most would never dream of screeching at a passerby in the street’. Twitter ‘… provides alarming evidence that sexism – of varying intensities – remains widespread among men’:
‘Whether purporting to be on the left or the right, there are all too many men who simply cannot bear to be lectured by a woman they passionately disagree with. “Who does this bitch think she is?” sums up their attitude; and if Twitter is anything to go by, what they say can be a lot more explicit than that.’
And although men may predominate in this form of discourse, women may also be implicated.
Returning, then, to Eleanor Roosevelt’s nomination of ‘age-old prejudice’. It is this – a phenomenon now termed ‘sexism’ – that dogged Hilary Clinton’s 2008 White House Bid. Misogynist invective came from the right, the left, and even her pre-selection opponent’s camp. Samantha Power, an Obama campaign worker, took the hit for the sexist comment emanating from the candidate’s office – but ended up on his Presidential staff in any event.
This phenomenon dogs the steps ofAustralia’s Prime Minister.
Childless – unwomanly or unnatural. Childfree – unwomanly and selfish. ‘Hard’, ‘uncaring’, ‘unfeeling’ – yet men alone (Bob Hawke, Malcolm Fraser) are allowed to cry or show emotion (Hawke, Kevin Rudd) and get away with it, even be praised for it. If a woman leader cries, she ‘can’t mix it’. If she resists tears, she’s ‘unwomanly’ or worse – even worse than Lady Macbeth, and who but a woman could be worse than this?
If she is assertive or simply able to stand up with conviction to deliver a message to the masses, she’s ‘tough as nails’. If she falters not a step, but an inch, a millimeter – she’s hopeless or ‘woeful’. And these are only a few – a mild few at that – of the misogynistic commentsAustralia’s Prime Minister has weathered.
Former Senator Bob Brown said it: ‘Quite a bit of the criticism [of the Prime Minister] is sexist and unfair and unrelenting …’ And when questioned by one commentator, the Prime Minister contrasted expectations of her predecessors:
‘… looking across Australia’s political history when Bob Hawke was there or Paul Keating … or John Howard …, I don’t recall there being constant demands for them to show more personality. I don’t remember people looking at John Howard and saying gee, I wish he’d be warmer and cuddlier and more humorous and more engaging in his press conferences. They looked at him and said, well he’s the bloke running the country, and I think the same standard should apply to me. I’m a woman running the country, I don’t ask people to come to the view that they want to have me round for dinner on Saturday night, that’s not what I’m here to do.’
Nonetheless, reason lies for hope that the prejudice is shifting. Not only did the Parliamentary Labor Party support the elevation of the first woman to the Prime Ministership. It shouldn’t go unnoticed that in the lead-up to the 2012 challenge, members of the caucus came out strongly in the Prime Minister’s support – Simon Crean, former leader and longtime parliamentarian, one of them. The ALP has long been seen as male-dominated, yet it has produced and supported the women coming forward as leaders, apart from the Liberal Party’s Kate Carnell, and Kerry Chikarovski as NSW Liberal Opposition leader (1998-2002) before her ousting by a male politician.
As Owen Jones concludes, responsibility lies upon men to end ‘the continuing scourge of sexism’, speaking out against it, not perpetuating it. This is not an invitation for men to ‘muscle in on’ the Women’s Movement. Rather, it is to recognise that ‘sexist abuse is a symptom, or a warning sign, of a society in which women overall are still not equal’. This inequality is colluded in and supported by those who attack the Prime Minister with invective rather than addressing policy issues as policy issues.
All who engage in the abuse or support it by failing to acknowledge it for what it is, standing up to speak out against it so as, ultimately, to end it, remain wedged in the territory of the ‘age-old prejudice’ Eleanor Roosevelt identified. This age-old prejudice not only militates against the rights of women holding posts of ‘high importance’ and power. It erodes the dignity and human rights of every woman. It demotes all women to the category of ‘non-persons’, denied the respect and rights to which every human being is entitled.
JAS © May 2012
‘This country is no matriarchy, nor are we in any danger of being governed by women,’ wrote Eleanor Roosevelt in a 1940 article published in the US magazine Good Housekeeping. ‘Can a woman be President of the United States?’ she asked, reiterating what she had ‘so often said’:
‘At present the answer is emphatically “No”. It will be a long time before a woman will have any chance of nomination or election.’
She concluded that even if ‘an emotional wave swept a woman into [the presidency], her election would be valueless, as she could never hold her following long enough to put over her program’:
‘It is hard enough for a man to do that, with all the traditional schooling men have had; for a woman, it would be impossible because of the age-old prejudice. In government, in business, and in the professions there may be a day when women will be looked upon as persons. We are, however, far from that day as yet.’
In 1940s Australia, the possibility of a woman as a political leader – whether Premier or Prime Minister – was equally remote. Not until 1943 was any woman elected to federal Parliament. Dorothy Tangney sat in the Senate, Enid Lyon in the House of Representatives, each the first woman ever to do so. Electors had put Edith Cowan into the WA Parliament some twenty years before and, following that lead, elections in other states saw occasional elevation of a woman as MP. Yet it took one of the territories – the ACT – to elect the first woman leader of any Australian government: on 11 May 1989 Rosemary Follett became Chief Minister. Carmen Lawrence (February 1990) and Joan Kirner (August 1990) followed as WA and Victorian Premier respectively; neither won an election as leader. Then the territories again showed the strength of voter sentiment by electing Kate Carnell minority government leader following the ALP’s 1995 election loss, whilst the NT elected Clare Martin in 2001 and again in 2005. In 2007 Anna Bligh became Queensland’s first woman Premier upon Peter Beattie’s retirement, then in 2009 was the first woman to win the Premiership of any state, serving until the 2012 Liberal National Party election win – with a man at the helm.
As for Prime Minister, names were bandied about over more than a decade before in June 2010 Julia Gillard took the post first by ALP parliamentary caucus vote, then through negotiations with independent members after the August 2010 election.This meant the ALP retained government, and she retained the top post.
Julia Gillard thus broke through the barrier recognised by Eleanor Roosevelt. Yet Eleanor Roosevelt saw more than simply gaining office as the goal. For her, it was necessary to make something of it, through implementing a policy programme of the leader’s own making. This, forRoosevelt, was a major barrier. ‘Age-old prejudice’ was the key.
How, then, does Australia’s first woman Prime Minister measure-up? Policy gains of the Australian government since 2010 election contradict Eleanor Roosevelt’s contention that a woman leader ‘could never hold her following long enough to put over her program’. Since coming to power the Gillard government has:
- Passed the climate change policy on carbon pricing and emissions, incorporating supports for householders and ways business can implement it whilst retaining productivity, and awarding $1.9 mill. toward geothermal exploration advancing renewable energy potential;
- Launched the National Broadband Network (NBN) aiming to ensure rural and remote access to contemporary communications along with urban dwellers and business;
- Negotiated a Mental Health National Partnership Agreement (NP), providing states and territories mental health project funding, commencing with $57.6 mill. over 5 years to NSW for services for those often ‘presenting at hospital emergency departments’ or at risk of ‘recycling’ ‘in and out of institutional settings’;
- Supported the Australian Service Worker (ASU)’s equal pay claim, endorsed by Fair Work Australia on 1 February 2012;
- Introduced the R&D Tax Credit policy aimed at generating high-wage, high-skill jobs through a 45% refundable Tax Credit for firms under a $20mill turnover, and a 40%r refundable Tax Credit for all others, retrospective to 1 July 2011;
- Passed ‘plain packaging’ laws effective December 2012, to ‘reduce the number of deaths from smoking-related diseases’, ‘giving [Australia] the best chance of having the lowest smoking rates’;
- Announced a new cash-payment plan replacing the Education Tax Refund, so ‘a typical family will get more than $720 extra each year’ from 1 January 2013, ensuring payment is automatic, ‘upfront’ and prior to the end of the tax year;
- Implemented and expanded a National Bowel Cancer Screening Program to reduce bowel cancer, and announced a ‘blitz’ on dental treatment waiting lists to cover 400,000 patients, ‘benefiting low income Australians’;
- Introduced the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS), from July 2013 operating from ‘up to four locations across the country’ ensuring ‘about 10,000 people … will receive support … rising to 20,000’ by July 2014 and meaning, in the government’s words: ‘For the first time in Australia’s history people with significant and permanent disability will receive lifetime care and support, regardless of how they acquired their disability’.
Far from exhaustive, the list omits policies coming under significant humanitarian fire: the NT intervention or ‘second invasion’ and asylum seekers and refugees policy – although recently modified. However, here the Gillard government has pursued policies supported by the Prime Minister.
For Australia, then, Eleanor Roosevelt’s assertion that a woman will fail as political head through ‘not lasting’ sufficiently long to carry through a platform falls.
Yet despite substantial policy achievements, many of which have major community support, and despite their being gained whilst leading a minority government, a Sydney Morning Herald poll: ‘How do you rate Julia Gillard as prime minister?’ shows confounding results. Of 16,832 votes, 15% rate performance as ‘excellent’, 17% ‘good’, 7% ‘average’, with the remainder devoted to ‘poor’ – at 10%, and 51% ‘woeful’.
Limited to Fairfax newspaper readership, such polls can include multiple voting. Yet the figures prompt the question why, defying substantial policy outcomes and an undeniable capacity on the Prime Minister’s part to effect this, a not insubstantial number fail to acknowledge it?
Part II to come.
Dr Jocelynne A. Scutt is a Barrister & Human Rights Lawyer, and Visiting Professor at the University of Buckingham. Her books include The Sexual Gerrymander – Women and the Economics of Power and Taking a Stand – Women in Politics and Society.