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.
ARAB WOMEN CSW 57 CAUCUS CONCERN ABOUT GOVERNMENT POSITIONS ON WOMEN’S RIGHTS
03/13/2013 – We, the undersigned organizations and individuals, as represented in the Arab Caucus at the 57th Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), are deeply concerned with the role of the leadership of our countries in the negotiations on the crucial issue of violence against women and girls. At this session, our governments are increasingly using arguments based on religion, culture, tradition, or nationality to justify violence and discrimination, to allow the violations against human rights to continue with impunity. This violence is particularly targeted against women, girls, ethnic and religious minorities,people who dissent from or challenge normative gender identities and sexualities.
The current positions taken by some Arab governments at this meeting is clearly not representative of civil society views, aspirations or best practices regarding the elimination and prevention of violence against women and girls within our countries. We are in fact concerned that many of our governments are taking positions, which undermine the very basis of the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights, which is the universality and indivisibility of human rights.
We, as non-governmental organizations, struggle on a daily basis to provide sexual and reproductive health services, reform laws that discriminate or violate human rights, including sexual and reproductive rights, provide comprehensive sexuality education, combat violence against women and girls, including marital rape and sexual abuse, reach out to and protect groups who have been marginalized and minoritised on the basis of their ethnicity, religious sect/and or sexual orientation and gender identity, and break the cultural and societal taboos associated with sexuality.
We underline that the taboos and politicization of issues around sexuality are major hindrances to gender justice and the elimination and prevention of violence against women and girls in our countries. The denial of the existence of youth and premarital sexuality, extra-marital sexuality, sex work and same sex practices constitutes a dangerous threat to the well-being and public health in our societies. As well, as we work towards a more inclusive, just and equitable societies, the intersection of violence, poverty, race, national origin, and sexuality must be at the center of our social justice framework, language and negotiations on the status of women.
We are alarmed that the language proposed by some governments severely compromises the very intention of this meeting and in fact takes us a step back rather than forward. As members and leaders of civil society, we think that the goal of this UN meeting should be to further strengthen the commitments, language, discourse and action of many institutions and government entities in our societies.
We would like our governments to take into account that where there is any perceived conflict between States’ obligations to respect, protect, fulfill and promote human rights and social, cultural or religious norms, human rights instruments clearly state that the obligation to respect, protect, fulfill and promote human rights takes precedence.
This requires that our governments move away from an emphasis on religious and cultural specificity and relativism, and instead put their efforts to ensure restorative justice, inclusivity, and holistic policies that recognize intersectional spaces and identities women and girls of different backgrounds exist in.
Taking into account the above commitments and challenges, the Arab Caucus at the 57th Commission on the Status of Women calls upon governments to:
- Stop using justifications based on religion, culture, tradition or nationality to block the progress of laws at all levels, including in the sphere of international law and at this 57th session of the CSW. These justifications must be challenged. The violence they cause is unacceptable and cannot ever be condoned or tolerated.
- End the harmful use of religion, tradition, and culture to safeguard practices that perpetuate violence against women and girls.
- Reaffirm past agreements and resolutions and recognize the rights of women and girls already existing in our countries, and work on enhancing those rights, not undermining them.
- Adopt a definition of violence against women that encompasses violence against all women across their life spans, including girls.
- Clearly denounce all practices which perpetuate violence against women and girls, including those which are sought to be justified on the basis of tradition, culture and religion, and work on eliminating them, including female genital mutilation, early and forced marriages, marital rape and marital captivity, femicide, and intimate partner violence.
- Recognize the serious and particular situation of women and girls in countries of transition (like Egypt Tunisia and Libya) and to take all necessary actions in cooperation with local actors to ensure that women’s rights in transition are respected, protected and fulfilled.
- Ensure that the international community and governments investigate all violations against women and girls, in particular the escalation of violence during transitional periods and in situations of armed conflict (such as in Syria and Iraq) to put an end to impunity for the perpetrators, both state and individual actors.
- Recognize the sensitive situation of Palestinian women living under apartheid in the occupied state of Palestine and in Israel.
- Ensure that the international community and governments will take responsibility to conduct investigation on all violations against women living under apartheid and stop all kinds of impunity for the perpetrators.
- Include recognition of, and recommendations to address, violence against women human rights defenders who are at particular risk from both State and non-state actors (such as families, community members, paramilitary groups and extremist groups) because of their gender as well as the work they do.
SignatoriesThe Coalition for Sexual and Bodily Rights in Muslim Societies (CSBR), International
alQaws, for Sexual and Gender Diversity in Palestinian Society, Palestine
Muntada: The Arab Forum for Sexuality Education and Health, Palestine
Association Tunisienne des Femmes Démocrates (ATFD), Tunisia
Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), Egypt
The Egyptian Association for Community Participation Enhancement, Egypt
Association des Femmes Tunisiennes pour la Recherche sur le Développment (AFTURD), Tunisia
Women and Development Association in Alexandria, Egypt
Arab Women Organisation, Jordan
Sisters in Islam, Malaysia
Aliansi Remaja Independen (Independent Young People Alliance), Indonesia
Pilipina Legal Center, The Philippines
Women Living Under Muslim Laws (WLUML),
InternationalRealizing Sexual and Reproductive Justice (RESURJ), International
Women’s Global Network for Reproductive Rights (WGNRR), International
Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID), International
Women Worldwide Advancing Freedom & Equality
UN CSW 57 has concluded in New York with ‘agreed conclusions’ from member states. As in 2012 CSW 56 ended without agreed conclusions, concerns were great that this negative outcome might result in 2013. Hence, the women’s caucuses – based on regions – met solidly over the period of CSW, discussing ways of effectively lobbying nation states to ensure that they would stick solidly to the notion that the ‘zero draft’ prepared by UN Women would indeed remain the zero draft, and that it would be built upward, without any detractions. Caucuses also published statements emphasising women and NGO’s solidarity and support for proper and effective measures against violence against women and girls would be included in agreed conclusions.
This is the African Women’s Caucus Statement, published on 13 March 2013
AFRICAN WOMEN’S CAUCUS STATEMENT
African Women’s Caucus Position Statement 57th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women Elimination and Prevention of All Forms of Violence against Women and Girls
The African Women’s Caucus representing African civil society organizations from all the five sub-regions of Africa and the diaspora committed to advancing women’s human rights, call on Member States to declare zero tolerance of all forms of discrimination and violence against women and girls and to prioritize preventive measures in the fight to eliminate violence from the lives of women and girls.
Women’s Human Rights are non-negotiable and in this regard, we reaffirm the commitments made by UN Member states in the Beijing Platform for Action; the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women; the United Nations General Assembly Resolution to Ban Female Genital Mutilation; United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security and its supporting resolutions; and those reflected in African regional instruments such as the Maputo Protocol on the Rights of Women in Africa and the Solemn Declaration on Gender Equality in Africa. We therefore call on all Member States to match these commitments with national action plans where they do not exist, gender-responsive budgets, evidence-based research, time-bound targets and indicators as a matter of urgency. Violence against women and girls constitutes a gross human rights violation and should be duly elevated to crisis status so that it is addressed with urgency.
We are deeply concerned that in 2003 during the CSW47 member states failed to arrive at Agreed Conclusions on this specific issue of Violence Against Women and Girls (VAW/G). There was a repeat of this situation in 2012 when the CSW56 Session ended without Agreed Conclusions on the theme of Rural Women that was of great relevance to African women. Furthermore, we are greatly concerned that some member states make attempts to go back on commitments already made on the rights of women and girls by recalling rather than reaffirming their commitments to full implementation. We however, commend member states that have recognized that women’s human rights are non-negotiable and have moved progressively.
Discrimination and inequality, which are the root causes of violence against women and girls, must be addressed in order to end this global challenge through the engagement of men and boys, as well as traditional and religious leaders amongst other strategies. Only by addressing the root causes will women and girls reach their full political, social and economic potential.
Manifestations of VAW/G including harmful traditional, customary and contemporary practices such as child, early and forced marriages; female genital mutilation; torture; intimate partner and domestic violence; rape; trafficking; and violence in the media must end now.
Factors that perpetuate VAW/G such as increasing militarization including the proliferation and trafficking of small arms and light weapons must be curbed.
We call on Member States to embed issues of gender equality and violence prevention in school curriculums from early childhood level.
we call on our leaders to ensure that:
- Women participate fully in all sectors and decision-making spaces.
- Survivors have a right to regain their bodily integrity and autonomy.
We urge Member States to strengthen multi-sectoral services and responses to violence against women and girls, including provision of services to secure their sexual and reproductive health and rights, psychosocial counseling and support, as well as long-term assistance and reparations.
We remain deeply concerned and stand in solidarity with all of our sisters in conflict zones globally with particular regard to those in DRC, Mali, Central African Republic, Somalia, Sudan and South Sudan. Women’s full and effective participation in peace building processes is critical for prevention, mitigation and a durable end to conflicts. We are further concerned that women continue to be excluded from formal peace negotiation processes. Therefore, we strongly urge member states to maintain specific reference to UNSC Resolution 1325 and supporting resolutions and commit to their full implementation.
We call on Members States to ensure that peace agreements tackle the issue of sexual and gender-based violence in conflict and post-conflict situations, and to ensure that perpetrators are brought to justice and impunity is dealt with decisively.
We further call for the recognition and protection of those who defend the rights of women and women human rights defenders.
We strongly recommend that the elimination of violence against women and girls be reflected as a priority area in the post-2015 development framework.
We strongly support the Addis Ababa Declaration of the Africa Ministerial Preparatory Meeting for CSW57 and urge African Member States to use it as a basis for their negotiations to reach Agreed Conclusions on this critical priority theme of the 57th Session of
CSW towards the well-being and prosperity for women, girls and society as a whole.
Background – In 2012, United Nations CSW 56 – The Commission on the Status of Women, held annually at the United Nations – failed to come to agreed conclusions. This was the second time in the history and herstory of CSW that no agreed conclusions had been reached. Women are now meeting in New York at CSW 57, which commenced on 4 March 2013 , urging nation states to ensure agreed conclusions are arrived at in the context of the 2013 theme – ‘Ending Violence Against Women’. Below is a statement published by women’s organisations in New York to all nation states at CSW 57, women being determined to ensure that agreed conclusions are the outcome of CSW 57. The statement was issued on 8 March 2013, International Women’s Day or The International Day of the Woman.
STATEMENT OF FEMINIST AND WOMEN’S ORGANISATIONS
ON THE VERY ALARMING TRENDS IN THE NEGOTIATIONS OF
OUTCOME DOCUMENT OF THE 57TH SESSION OF THE UN COMMISSION ON THE STATUS OF WOMEN
We, the undersigned organisations and individuals across the globe, are again alarmed and disappointed that the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) is wavering in its commitment to advance women’s human rights as demonstrated in the constant negotiation of the language in the outcome document continues. On the occasion of celebrating the International Women’s Day we call on the states to reaffirm its commitment to agreed upon standards in promoting women’s human rights as articulated in the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women, the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action and the International Conference on Population and Development Programme of Action as well as other international humanitarian and human rights law. We say NO to any re-opening of negotiations on the already established international agreements on women’s human rights and call on all governments to demonstrate their commitments to promote, protect and fulfill human rights and fundamental freedoms of women.
It is alarming that states are continuing to negotiate established standards that they themselves have agreed to as we are witnessing in the last few days of negotiation. Considering the lack of an outcome document last year we hope that this is not the pattern when it comes to advancing women’s human rights agenda. Women’s human rights are not to be negotiated away. Similar to last year, we strongly hold the position that given the progressive development in the international era on standard setting there should no longer be any contention on any issues related to the definition and intersectionality of women and girls experiencing violence against women, including in relations to sexual and reproductive health and rights, sexual orientation and gender identity, harmful practices perpetuated in the context of negative culture and traditions, among others.
We remind states that the CSW is the principal global policy-making body dedicated exclusively to gender equality and advancement of women with the sole aim of promoting women’s rights in political, economic, civil, social and educational fields. Its mandate is to ensure the full implementation of existing international agreements on women’s human rights and gender equality.
We strongly demand all governments and the international community to reject any attempt to invoke traditional values or morals to infringe upon human rights guaranteed by international law, nor to limit their scope. Customs, tradition or religious considerations must not be tolerated to justify discrimination and violence against women and girls whether committed by State authorities or by non-state actors.
Given the current global activism around violence against women it is imperative that member states take the lead is agreeing on a progressive outcome document that reaffirms its commitments to universal human rights standards. This is an important moment as we are planning the post 2015 process. The outcome document has to advance women’s human rights and not lower the bar for women’s human rights.
Future international negotiations must move forward implementation of policies and programmes that secure the human rights of girls and women.
We call upon the member states of the UN and the various UN human rights and development entities to recognise and support the important role of women’s groups and organisations working at the forefront of challenging traditional values and practices that are intolerant to fundamental human rights norms, standards and principles.
Center for Women’s Global Leadership (CWGL)
International Women’s Rights Action Watch Asia Pacific (IWRAW Asia Pacific)
ANIS – Institute of Bioethics, Human Rights and Gender – Brazil
Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development (APWLD)
Asia Safe Abortion Partnership
Fiji Women’s Rights Movement
Namibia Women’s Health Network
Rutgers WPF, Netherland
Women’s Environment and Development Organization (WEDO)
Women’s Global Network for Reproductive Rights (WGNRR)
During the 1972 Australian federal election, the publicity of the Women’s Electoral Lobby on the campaign to assess prospective parliamentary candidates’ awareness of feminist issues coincided with my conviction that only positive action would overcome male dominance and female subservience. I read the published results of the survey of candidates with a growing conviction that this was what was needed to expose the biases of those ruling the country. I joined WEL in July 1973. My first meeting was in the Sydney Bradfield electorate. One topic was death duty laws. In those days, since most family assets, if there were any, were held in the husband’s name, when her husband died a widow often had to sell the family home to pay heavy death duties. If the wife predeceased her husband, because few assets were in a wife’s name, a widower usually paid a negligible amount of death duty, or none at all. The meeting asked me to convene a probate action group to research the problem and present lobbying tactics for WEL to follow.
My life took on new meaning. The need to change unjust laws that had no negative effect on men, just women, fired me. I sent out letters to numerous consulates for information on death duty laws operating over seas, and followed up the lettters with as numerous phone calls. The group and I researched the position in Australia and drew up documentaion for WEL. In Western Australia Senator Negus had earlier been elected on the sole issue of abolition of death duties; his New South Wales’ representative accepted an invitation to speak at the inaugural meeting of the WEL probate action group. At a later meeting we decided not to support Senator Negus’ proposal to abolish all death duties; instead, we lobbied for abolition of death duties on estates passing between spouses only, because the law was discriminatory against women. This decision became WEL policy throughout Australia as a result of resolutions passed at the 1974 WEL National Conference in Melbourne.
Throughout 1974 all members of federal and state parliaments were lobbied and responses and queries individually answered. Toward the end of that year, a federal parliamentarian asked for a WEL submission on probate reform, offering to circulate it throughout federal parliament. The submission was drafted in January 1975 and a follow-up was produced in March 1976. Most of the work of the probate campaign (except in Queensland, where Gold Coast WEL took on the load) fell to me, but would have been impossible without the total support of WEL during the three to four years it ran. For a woman who had felt she was alone in a fight against inequality and put-downs of women, it was like ‘coming home’ for me to find in WEL so many women who understood the nature of the problem I had railed against for years.
Early in 1977 the campaign succeeded. Governments around Australia had abolished or promised to abolish in the near future, death duties levied on estates passing between wives and husbands. Soon after, state and federal governments abolished all death duties. (The Premier of Queensland, Joh Bjelke Petersen, led the way.) This had never been WEL’s policy, which was aimed directly at sex-based discrimination.
As the probate campaign neared its end, the research that had been done on the law showed up other areas of injustice. As result, the group drafted submissions to the New South Wales Law Reform Commission’s inquiry into the legal profession. Complaints were received by WEL about inadequate and inaccurate legal advice to widows by solicitors regarding probate.
Because WEL took this up, other injustices were reported to WEL. One was the reluctance of victims of rape to report the crime, due to the trauma of police and court procedures. At a WEL general meeting, a drafting party was established to produce the WEL draft bill on sexual offences. I was in the group, taking the reins as convenor when the permanent convenor was absent overseas looking at the law in Michigan. In May 1980 WEL was represented by Kerry Heubel, another memberof the group, and myself as delegates to the First National Conference on Rape Law Reform, held in Hobart by the Australian Institute of Criminology, the Tasmanian Law Reform Commission and the University of Tasmania law school. The conference endorsed the principles of the WEL draft bill, and later they formed the basis for law reforms in New South Wales, the Northern Territory, Western Australia and South Australia, and proposed in Tasmania.
Meanwhile, throughout 1977 and 1978 the WEL (Sydney) office had been receiving an increasing number of complaints about family law and Family Court practices. The WEL Family Law Action Group was formed to investigate these complaints, to research problems arising and if necessary to propose reforms and lobby government. The vast majority of complaints were about property division on divorce. The broad discretion vested in judges under the Family Law Act and the flow-on effect of their decisions, affecting settlements before registrars and out of court, was causing problems, particularly for women.
The group set down to looking at the sexism inherent in judicial decisions and registrars’ and lawyers’ advice. Our work showed that despite marriage being called an ‘equal partnership’, economic equality for women and men does not exist under present marriage and divorce laws and arrangements. Each marital partner can legally claim ownership of assets each financially contributed during the marriage, with money contributions in fact being more ‘recognised’ than non-financial contributions, because judges schooled under the old Matrimonial Causes Act1959 (Cth) remained committed to a position that did not recognise women’s work in the home as having any real legitimacy or economic value.
Because pregnancy, childbirth and child-care responsibilities usually fall on women and interrupt women’s career and income prospects, the value of a wife’s financial contribution is ordinarily much less than her husband’s. On divorce, assets are divided according to the judge’s individual opinions about respective contributions. Women are frequently disadvantaged in the process. That a few men may sometimes be financially disadvantaged on divorce is often used in debate as evidence of the court’s ‘even-handed’ approach. Yet the way the law was implemented did not accord with the hopes of the Attorney-General who put the new Family Law Act before the Parliament. Lionel Murphy had sought recognition of women’s economic contribution as equal to that of men, through unpaid work and psychological support in the home as well as any paidwork they might undertake being fairly recognised.
The WEL Family Law Action Group set out to remedy this wrong, making numerous submissions to federal members of parliament, appearing before parliamentary inquiries, and drafting provisions to reinstitute equality into family law, divorce and custody of children, for women’s responsibility for children had a huge impact on property settlement and outcomes.
WEL proposed a new regime of ‘equal rights to marital assets’ to ensure that non-financial and financial contributions were equally recognised as having economic value and contributing to the accumulation of family assets. A book arising out of our work – For Richer, For Poorer – Money, Marriage and Property Rights – was published in 1984, co-authored by my fellow co-convenor of the WEL Family Law Action Group and me. It had a huge impact on Family Court outcomes, and generated discussion, academic articles and conferences. Much, however, remained to be done.
Di Graham (c) 1987
Di Graham joined the Women’s Electoral Lobby (WEL) in 1973, becoming a driving force within the organisation and introducing lobbying methods having a profound effect on law reform and building huge respect for WEL amongst federal and state politicians, women’s organisations and the community. Prior to becoming involved in the women’s liberation movement, in the 1950s she joined the Aboriginal-Australian Fellowship and later became a member of the Federal Council for the Advancement of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders (FCAATSI) and a foundation member of the Aboriginal Education Council of New South Wales, of which she was at the time of writing vice-president.
This is an extract from ‘Through Life in Pursuit of Equality’ by Di Graham, published in Different Lives – Reflections on the Women’s Movement and Visions of its Future, Penguin Books Australia, Melbourne, Australia, 1987 (Jocelynne A. Scutt, ed.).
There’s a snake in my caravan and I don’t know what to do. A nasty dull-black sinuous thing that has made its home in the back of a large electric fridge that’s in storage, with other furniture, in the caravan annex. It has bitten my dog (which barely survived) and forced me to install my latest batch of hijacked hitch-hikers in the front bedroom of the little old farmhouse where I live. If I could pluck up the courage to get after it with the ’12 bore’, the only result would be a dead caravan. The snake would then settle down to a snug winter and a productive spring in its comfortable, new, all mod. cons. accommodation. I can envisage the scene sixty years from now: my daughter, Amanda, then seventy-five, leaning on her walking stick while gesturing expansively at a tangled heap of alumium and steel, a tatter of canvas still fluttering defiantly through the bracken and weeds, as she explains to her hijacked hitch-hikers ’there’s a snake in the caravan, so you’ll have to stay up at the house’.
With just a cursory glance and a swish of its tail that snake has reduced me to utter powerlessness. Inadequate, ineffectual, I fall into the pit of what must be the ultimate of peculiarly female ‘downness’: I am no longer in control of my life. My caravan, the private space in which I write, is denied me. Yet this feeling of powerlessness is all too familiar. In 1971 I was a suburban housewife, the mother of five children. The youngest, then seven years old, was severely retarded and epileptic. Then I became pregnant again.
In those days, one could get a legal abortion only on grounds that the pregnancy presented a danger to the physical or mental health of the mother. Unaware that I would have qualified for a termination on medical grounds, and having lived the previous seven years on the brink of a total breakdown, I signed myself into a mental institution. I did not have an abortion. I was told that I was ‘too sane’. I had not come in dripping blood. They suggested I ‘have her adopted’. This decision, made by others, was the beginning of my conscious desire for real control of my life.
I had been married for fifteen years. The fifth child was placed in an institution for the intellectually handicapped just one month before the youngest was born. Married life was soured even before the handicapped child, whose illness created a social and economic barrier to our ending the marriage. The marriage disintegrated with frighteningly violent scenes.
Being of mixed racial origins, my identity resolved and focussed on my Aboriginality more and more throughout the years. Childhood and marriage (to a first cousin on the Aboriginal side of the family) led to an incredibly isolated existence providing no real protection against continuing racist barbs. However, during 1971 I was increasingly active in the Aboriginal land rights movement, visiting a number of Aboriginal reserves throughout New South Wales. At easter, 1972, I attended the National Land Rights Conference in Alice Springs.
The land rights movement would not have survived had it not been for the role of Aboriginal women. The Gary Foleys, Paul Coes, Mick Millers and others fought long and hard throughout the 1970s, and into the 1980s. But the strength of nameless hundreds of women, tempered by years of direct conflict with bureaucracies (police, welfare agencies, schools) in defence of their children, played an important role in the development of Aboriginal organisations and the general demand for land rights. Yet while the land rights issue has passed from the hands of the young male miltants of the late 1960s and early 1970s to the National Aborignal Conference (predominantly mature males), Aboriginal women have consistently demanded that the needs of women be taken into account in land rights. So far, little has been achieved.
In April 1972, I took the baby and left my home in Sydney’s outer western suburbs, daughter joined me, and in December 1973 the remaining children came to Canberra for the christmas holidays, and stayed.
I participated in the activities which saw the brutal but triumphant demise of the Aboriginal Embassy in Canberra in August 1972, and stood as an independent ‘Black Liberation’ candidate in the 1972 federal elections in the ACT [Australian Capital Territory]. In 1973 I became the first non-matriculated mature-age student at the Australian National University.
As a child I had been fascinated by the distant white gleam of buildings at the University of Queensland at St Lucia. I gradually realised that working-class kids don’t go to university. At least not unless you were a ‘real brain’. High school didn’t enter my thinking because, in my day, you didn’t enter high school until you were thirteen or fourteen. I left school at fourteen, beginning a ‘career’ in factory process work. Years later I realised how lucky I was to be in school at all. Until 1948 (the year I was ten), any principal could refuse to accept any Aboriginal child into his school.
When a friend first suggested I go to university, I laughed. I laughed again when Liz Reid suggested it in 1972. After dropping out for a year in 1975, I completed my degree in 1977 at the age of forty. Six years after arriving in Canberra, I worked for more than two and a half years as a project officer in the Department of Social Security’s ‘Aboriginal Unit’. The frustrations of working in the bureacracy, together with health and other problems, led to my resignation in January 1981. For the next two years I lived in ‘rural retreat’ near Grafton.
To grasp the real impact of women’s liberation on my life requires an awareness of the tremendous dynamism of the women’s movement in 1972 and my relationsip with the Bremer Street Women’s House in Canberra. Early in 1972 Bobby Sykes and I were invited to speak to a group of Canberra women about land rights, the Aboriginal Embassy, and other issues of concern to Aboriginal women. It was the day Canberra Women’s Liberation took formal possession of the Bremer Street house. This was my introduction to Women’s Liberation. One week later, I arrived in Canberra, penniless, with a five-month-old baby – to stay. After three weeks, still penniless, Amanda and I moved into the Bremer Street meeting room, having passed from hand to hand among some of the ‘sisters’ in a vain attempt to find a less incovenient niche for us.
The atmosphere at Bremer Street in 1972 was electric. Hardly an evening passed without some sort of meeting, with twenty to sixty women. Consciousness-raising was a twice-weekly event. General meetings, action groups, and the embryonic Women’s Electoral Lobby (WEL) had a weekly time and space. Days were filled with the comings and goings of newsletter production, the prepartion of leaflets, classes in screen printing, the establishment of the feminist library, or just dropping in.
I was an active participant. Not only by choice, but also because baby Amanda and I couldn’t go to bed until the meetings ended. We stayed for about six weeks. Then, when I lost my recently acquired public service job as a temporary clerical assistant because of my activities in the Aboriginal Embassy, I also lost my accommodation in a government hostel. Amanda and I returned to Bremer Street.
Pat Eatock (c) 1987
Pat Eatock was born in December 1937. She graduated BA in 1978 from ANU (Australian National University), majoring in history and philosphy, with sub-majors in history and sociology, including specific units on urban Aborigines and Women’s Studies. She has published articles and papers on Aboriginal attitudes to abortion and contraception; racism and sexism; and campaigning for political office.
This is an extract from ‘There’s a Snake in My Caravan’, published in Different Lives – Reflections on the Women’s Movement and Visions of its Future, Penguin Books, Melbourne, Australia, 1987 (Jocelynne A. Scutt, ed.).
I belong to a large extended family. Many members of our family have been active in Aboriginal affairs, going back to grandfather William Cooper, whose name is wellknown within the Aboriginal community in Victoria. Grandfather Cooper died in the late 1930s or early 1940s, the year before or the year after I was born. The stories of his activism have come down not only through my family, but through the Aboriginal community generally. He was one of the people who established the Aborigines League, members of which later on established the Aborigines Advancement League. The Aborigines Advancement League is historically one of the major organisations in Victoria to have dealt with Aboriginal issues. Today, the Aborigines Advancement League Incorporated is situated in Thornbury, one of the northern suburbs of Melbourne.
I was raised by an aunt and uncle. It is not unusual in the Aboriginal community for this to happen. Many of us have been raised by various members of our families, particularly grandparents or aunts and uncles. As for activism, it was not so much that I learned about it through talking about it. You were in it. It was a way of life, part of your everyday life.
In the early 1940s Mum (my aunty) was active in mainstream communities working on behalf of Aboriginal people. My mother was an active member of the Save the Children Fund. As well, education committees were set up at the time, and also committees working to provide housing for our people, on which she was active.
I was born in Mooroopna, then, shortly after, we moved across to Cummerangunja, the main mission reserve in the area near Shepparton. (Most of our people, the Yorta Yorta people, come from the reserve.) When I was three or four we moved back to Mooroopna and lived on the flats between Mooroopna and Shepparton. A large number of Aboriginal people lived there, many of whom came across from Barmah, Echuca and other areas for the fruit picking season. After fruit picking came the tomato picking season, and there was also a tobacco factory in the area; my Dad worked there for a time.
Mum’s involvement with the Save the Children Fund meant she helped set up a preschool or kindergarten for the kids living on the flats. A band of people from the Save the Children Fund came regularly to bring toys and other items, and everyone sat around under the trees. I sometimes accompanied my mother, because to me it was fun, but I know a great deal of hard work went into running the Save the Children Fund.
Later on, simply because I was there, like everyone else I became involved as a matter of course. There were no demonstrations in the early 1940s, so I was not involved in this way, but there were some bad times which required the community to be activist. People were forced to come out of the flats and into the town or into other fringe camps around the state. My aunt and uncle were one of the first families, along with the Briggs family and uncle Lyn Cooper, who lived in the town. On a gradual basis, through the work being done in Melbourne by those who are now our elders, people gradually moved up into Mooroopna to a little village called Rumbalara. It was established as a transitional village. A lot of the people didn’t want to move into Rumbalara, but as soon as they moved out of the places down on the flats, the council came along bulldozing the houses. This meant the people had nowhere to go. Either everyone accepted going into Rumbalara or moved on. From Rumbalara, one by one the families moved into housing commission homes in Mooroopna or Shepparton.
My great-greatgrandmother is the matriarch of many of the families coming from Cummerangunja. I am descended from the Coopers and Atkinsons: my greatgrandfather was John Atkinson, my greatgrandmother was Bess Murray, and my grandmother was Kitty Atkinson and grandfather Ernie Clements. That is the Aboriginal side of my family. My father was not an Aboriginal person but I was brought up as in an Aboriginal community and didn’t really know my father, although I know who he was. My mother, Lilly Charles, married Stan Charles and my mother’s cousin, Amy Cooper, was the aunt who brought me up. She married Henry Charles, Stan Charles’ brother, so we are all related somewhere. It was from the age of five or six that I was raised by my aunt and uncle, Amy and Henry Charles, whom I call Mum and Dad.
It was mainly through the Save the Children Fund that I received encouragement outside my family. The fund contributed to the cost of my school uniforms and books. If I went away on school camps or other excursions the fund made the necessary payment. Many Koori children from those days would very likely say the same thing: the Save the Children Fund was instrumental in our gaining an education.
Because of the way things were, most of the family didn’t go much further in their education than Grade 7 – that was the final year of primary school. It was an achievement for Koori kids at that time if any of us arrived at high school, particularly if one did one or two years. If a Koori child went to Form 3 or Form 4, that was a huge achievement. I went to Form 4, ‘intermediate’ in those days. The choice that was open to girls was to go into the professional course, or into the commercial stream. Being in the professional course meant a student could go on to Year 12, then to university, with the likelihood of becoming a doctor or a lawyer or working in another professional field. The commercial course was for those who wanted to be secretaries or work in administration. I wanted to be a nurse, but the family put a veto on that, because three or four members of the family had been to nursing training and they were not treated well: they suffered racism. Also at the time Mum worked in the hospital in the children’s ward as a cleaner. She didn’t think it was the best area for me to go into.
My family wanted me to work in a bank, and in those days a child’s parents had a great deal of say in which the child’s career would be. In the general community, a child went into the family’s or parents’ business, or worked in grocery stores or banks or whatever other businesses were in town. There were also the orchards and the army.
A young person was lucky if she or he managed to go into a job in the town. It was in the 1950s and early 1960s that the move began of the younger people away from the small country towns where they grew up, into the larger towns or into the cities. This move was necessary in order to gain employment.
I took the commercial stream at school. When I completed Form 4, my Mum dragged me around to almost every bank in town. Thank goodness there weren’t any vacancies! Next we went off to the government employment service (it wasn’t called the Commonwealth Employment Service – CES – at the time). I put my name on the list and was referred to an engineering firm, W Konigs. They manufactured orchard equipment and machinery for farming. I was the junior typist.
After I had worked at Konigs for some nine months, Pastor Doug Nichols (who later became governor of South Australia) visited the family. He was looking for someone with office skills to work in the office they were setting up in Melbourne, to work toward establishing a hostel for young women …
Daphne Milward (c) 1996
Born on 30 March 1940 at Mooroopna, near Shepparton in the north east of Victoria, Australia on the Goulburn River, Daphne Milward attended Mooroopna State School and Shepparton High School. She worked for many years with the Aborigines Advancement League and remains a member of the organisation.
This is an extract from ‘Descended from a Matriarch’ inLiving Generously – Women Mentoring Women, Artemis Publishing, Melbourne, Australia, 1996 (Jocelynne A. Scutt, ed.).
Women, state, nation – is ‘women’ the odd word out? Or do women adhere to notions of nation-state so as to conform to expectations of nationhood, patriotism and the divisions that can be so much a part of states and statehood? These were questions underlying presentations at the Women’s History Network annual conference, held at Cardiff University from 7-9 September 2012.
Are women equally committed as their male counterparts to nation-state ideology and construct? Do women play an equal part in the construction and configuration of states and nations? Do nations and states themselves construct or significantly inform women’s identity as women – whether women conform to notions of ‘race’ and ‘ethnic identity’ or reject them in the search for solidarity amongst women, as part of a Women’s Movement?
Under the title ‘Women, State and Nation: Creating Gendered Identities’ , academics, graduate students and independent scholars grappled with issues ranging from ‘Indigenous Feminism in Eighteenth-and-Nineteenth-Century China’, presented by Yang Binbin of the University of Hong Kong; Rachael Attwood’s ‘Unwelcome departures? The National Vigilance Association, the Jewish Association for the Protection of Girls and Women, and the British Fight Against Sex Trafficking c. 1899-1910′ (University College, London); ’The Girl’s Own and the Great War …’ with Alison Enever of the University of South Hampton; Queen Mary, University of London’s Pamela Schievenin on ‘Reconciling home and work: Women politicians and the reform of Italy’s welfare state (1962-1971)’; and from the University of Versailles-Saint-Quentin, ‘The unscottishness of female rule …’ by Dr Arnel Dubois-Nayt.
Papers were presented variously under themes, with parallel sessions providing, as always, dilemmas for conference participants – whether to commit to ‘Gender and the Nation – Crises and Responses’, to ‘Feminism, Female Agency and Activism’, or to ’Imagining the Nation: Art, Fiction, Drama and Music’, or to range between them, endeavouring thereby to gain an insight into each. Fortunately, whichever path chosen by individual participants, three keynote addresses provided insights into each of the themes.
Dr Padma Anagol of Cardiff University analysed ‘Women’s role and participation in the birth of the Hindu Right in colonial India’, where women’s rights, responsibilities, activities and everyday lives were directed in accordance with the proposition that women’s every action and engagement should be dictated ‘In the interests of the nation’. Next, under the title ‘National suffrage spectacle and transnational transfer: a comparison of British and Dutch suffrage activism’, Professor Mineke Bosch of the University of Groningen looked at ‘supremacy’ not from the perspective of religion-and-nation, but in terms of ‘birthplace-and-nation’. She spoke of the way in which the early 20th century suffrage movement lionised and elevated the struggles and gains of British women, yet passed over or downplayed those of equally active and committed women elsewhere, providing the instance of one of her own countrywomen. Religion did arise for her, in a question whether Jewishness may have played a part in the overlooking of her principal protagonist, who held no official positions in the suffrage movement organisations to which she belonged.
Finally, Professor Elsa Barkley-Brown of the University of Maryland entertained and informed with a critical look ‘On play and citizenship: African-American women and the undisciplined body’. She returned to the history – and herstory – of slavery, the Statue of Liberty and the modern-day inheritor of women and men’s claims against the owning of persons, in the person of Michelle Obama and her unique contribution to what it means to be ‘First Lady’. Professor Barkley-Brown posited that Michelle Obama’s engagement in ‘play’ – playing with her appearance and identity through dress, and dressing not as might be expected of a US First Lady and particularly the First Lady of African-American heritage. Illustrating her presentation with images, sketches, photographs and cartoons – one depicting the Statue of Liberty as an African-American woman, with the caption ‘frightening’ the masses rather than ‘enlightening’ them – she spoke of the way in which the African-American woman’s body has been depicted in US culture and history, including an excerpt from the 1934 film ‘Imitation of Life’. Here, the juxtaposition of ‘black’ and ‘white’ woman as friends was alleviated (so as to quell propositions of equality between them) by dress, body/physiology, and placement-on-screen. Hence, ‘white’ equalled slim, smartly dressed, fair-haired and ‘being served’, whilst ‘black’ was shown as plump (‘Black Mammy’ personified), apron over cardigan over cotton floral dress, serving … Ironically, said Professor Barkley-Brown, Michelle Obama is able to express herself in unorthodox (for a First Lady and for an African-American woman in a position of reverential-power) dress without being seen as ‘out of control’ – a body undisciplined – because she has taken on a prominent role in the obesity debate. Leading publicly on the importance of ‘body control’ for young women – and here, particularly, a role model for young African-American women – she is able to dress her own body as she pleases. Not inconsequentially, too, her body is seen as athletically ‘acceptable’ – the body upon which the unorthodox dress is displayed is one that does not offend as ungainly or lacking in conformity to the (acceptably athletic) ideal, whether ‘black’ or ‘white’.
The US culture (or cult) of the First Lady and woman-of-power held attention earlier when addressed in a panel entitled ‘The New Political Woman: at work in the White House and Embassy Row’, chaired by Katherine Sibley of Saint Joseph’s University. Nancy Beck Young of the University of Houston led off with ‘The Idea of the First Lady’, followed by Catherine Forslund’s presentation on one (generally overlooked) First Lady – ‘A Victorian Modern in the White House: Edith Kermit Roosevelt’. Beatrice Mckenzie of Beloit College then presented on ‘”You can’t do political work … You have to be a man to do that”: Constance Harvey’s Foreign Service Career, 1948-1955′ – addressing a woman in power in her own right, in a high-level post in the US administration, whilst Carol Jackson Adams provided an analytical summation as discussant. One question that may be asked here is why it is that US First Ladies are held in such reverance and high esteem, with a prominance not extended, generally, to ‘political wives’ in other countries – Britain, Australia, Aotearoa/New Zealand, France, Germany, the USSR (as it was). Not addressed by the presentations, it remains an issue for historical and cultural exploration and analysis.
As is usual with Women’s History Network conferences, independent scholars played a significant part, with a number of presentations during the conference. Notably, too, the Women’s History Network has determined to encourage scholarship further where not supported by institutions, in the launching of a Women’s History Network prize for this field of endeavour.
Jocelynne A. Scutt (c) September 2012
Dr Jocelynne A. Scutt’s presentation at the WHN conference was entitled ””As a woman I have no country”: World War One, political activism and patriotism’, drawing upon the proposition stated so clearly by Virginia Woolf – ‘As a woman I have no country, as a woman I want no country, as a woman my country is the whole world ..’
In her book ‘There’s Always Been a Women’s Movement – This Century’, feminist Dr Dale Spender points out that at the end of the 19th century the English-speaking world was awash with women’s magazines, particularly those presenting a feminist perspective. ‘Time & Tide’, published in the United Kingdom, showcased feature writers whose articles addressed social, cultural and political issues and challenged patriachal orthodoxies. A regular column contrasted sentences for property crimes with sentences imposed on crimes against the person. The former outweighed in length and seriousness sentences handed down in respect of the latter. The tenor of this column was that crimes of violence – mainly rape and other sexual offences committed against women victims and survivors - were not taken seriously. At least, the seriousness with which they were taken was far less than the seriousness of property crimes. At this time, male property ownership far outweighed that of women: it was only during the last half of the 19th century that women’s right to own property during marriage was recognised by statute.
In Australia, the redoubtable feminist Louisa Lawson published ’The Dawn’ with an all-woman staff: writers, printers and page-setters. Through promoting women’s industry and right to engage in paid employment at all levels of publishing, Louisa Lawson ran into the demands of male trades unionists for ‘closed shops’: ironically, the trades unionists wanted to limit paidwork to members of unions. As there was no printers union for women at that time, women would – on the alter of trades union rights – be sacrificed to join the ranks of the unemployed. Louisa Lawson fought on, together with her staff. ‘The Dawn’ continued publication until 1912.
Vida Goldstein, in 1903 the first woman in the British Empire to stand for Parliament, ran ‘The Woman’s Sphere’ and ‘The Woman Voter’. Where Louisa Lawson concentrated upon issues such as criminal assault at home and other forms of domestic violence, Vida Goldstein mainly addressed women’s political rights in the sense of parliamentary representation and voting. These issues were the subject of feature articles and columns in both ‘The Dawn’ and ‘The Awakening Dawn’, however, true to their respective spheres of primary concern, Lawson and Goldstein made their publications their own: vehicles for expressions of women’s rights in the public world and the world of domesticity. For them, the personal was political and the political was personal.
In June 2012, women and magazines, and women’s magazines, was the subject of academic and activist debate and discussion in London, organised with support of Kingston University, Women’s History Network, The Women’s Library, London Metropolitan University and SHAW - Society for the History of Women in the Americas.
On 22 and 23 June at Kingston University, the conference ‘Women in Magazines: Research, Representation, Production and Consumption’ saw papers presented on myriad ways of seeing and understanding the magazine industry as impacting upon women. Keynote addresses were combined with streams featuring simultaneous panels ranging from ‘Women as Editors’ through ‘Targetting Specific Racial Groups’, ‘Women as Writers’ and ‘Discourses of Humour in Women’s Magazines’, along with many others.
Noliwe Rooks, Associate Director at Princeton University’s Center for African American Studies (and as from 1 July Associate Professor at Cornell University), gave a keynote address entitled ‘Black Women and “Real Beauty”: The Rise and Fall of the Dove Beauty Campaign’ analysing the way ‘black women’s bodies are used to market products to consumers who are not black, in a cultural moment, desperately seeking to evade race’. This sparked off extensive reflection, both in the session and outside it – in corridors, over coffee, lunch and dinner, and in other sessions - on magazine culture, advertising, beauty products and campaigns, and the place of women’s bodies and colour in promoting cultural sameness and difference.
Senior Lecturer in Sociology at the University of Manchester Penny Tinkler gave the second keynote address under the title ‘”What Every Reader Knows”: Using Girls’ and Women’s Magazines to Explore the Past’. She began by observing that girls’ and women’s magazines ‘exert a strange fascination’, leading to her being ‘drawn to study them’ whenever she undertakes historical research. Her presentation reflected upon the reasons for these magazines being ‘such an attractive and productive historical resource’, as well as considering ‘ways of using them to address questions about the past’. The session took on a practical perspective, with many questioners and discussants raising issues going directly to ways in which researchers might access women’s and girls’ magazines, where archival material might be found, and how these resources and sources may be used to expand upon knowledge and understandings of past and present.
One of the parallel sessions was particularly relevant to this perspective: Jayne Shacklady, post-graduate student at Edge Hill University, looked at the role of editor in girls’ magazines, focussing upon a particular edition of ‘The Girls’ Own Annual’ – the 1923 edition under Flora Klickman’s editorship (which spanned more than twenty years, from 1908 to 1930). In ’Flora Klickmann’s Editorial Interventions in “The Girl’s Own Paper”‘, Jayne Shacklady suggested that Flora Klickmann’s editorial position ‘allowed her to respond publicly to social changes experienced by the female readership and engage openly with topics such as women’s mental health, … interlacing the personal with the public and the domestic with the professional’. Klickmann ’addressed middle-class women’s concerns by utlising her autobiographical work and personal experience suggesting a blurring of notions of public and private’. Jayne Shacklady thus brought into the debate her own practical research into the archives of the magazine, with an eye directed toward the politics of editorship and the need to delve into the personal to determine upon the direction of particular publications. Women’s and girls’ magazines are thus revealed as a repository of information about the place of women-in-the-world as subjects and as operators in determining how women and girls might be represented.
This, then, comes full circle to Noliwe Rooks’ perspective on the way in which product manufacturers and advertisers may influence what appears in women’s magazines and how editorial direction may be enhanced or undercut by the broader demands of economics and women’s power (or otherwise) as editors and audience.
‘Women in Magazines’ began and ended on a high note, with participants glorying in the knowledge that the field is replete with research, perspectives of varying hue, and both academic and popular investigation. All this ensures that women’s and girls’ magazines will continue to provide a resource for historians, political scientists, psychologists and general researchers into women’s writing and editorship, and how publishers regard women and girls as readers and consumers.
JAS (c) July 2012
Dr Jocelynne A. Scutt’s research presently focuses on women’s bodies as sites for consumerism, medical and surgical intervention, and objects for ‘treatment’. The ‘moral panics’ brought to light by the (now somewhat old) ‘new’ criminology are being replicated in body panics directed toward women’s perceptions of body-as-real and body-in-need-of-treatment. Dr Scutt’s books include ‘Taking a Stand – Women in Politics & Society’.
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