Privilege and the Other: Why We Need More Women In Politics
How can we be surprised by a cohort of white male politicians making decisions which benefit other privileged white males?
“Women have very little idea how much men hate them,” said Germaine Greer in her 1970 epoch-making novel The Female Eunuch. What tosh, thought I, a young woman who was only just beginning to experience the power and might of patriarchy and masculinity as an institution. Single, no children, and earning the same as my male colleagues, I had no idea about the social inequalities women are up against. Some twenty-something years later, I feel it. I hear it. From the Prime Minister, from state Premieres. It runs so deep I can see it. And I’m angry.
Of course I’m angry. I’m one of the Othered ones.
Women Taking Up Too Much Space in the Workforce, Says Australian Prime Minister, on International Women’s Day
If I ever needed proof, Scott Morrison, Australian PM of the moment, handed it down to me on International Women’s Day. It’s what I’ve long suspected, but no male politician dared utter it so plainly, publically or on a worse occasion:
“We want to see women rise. But we don’t want to see women rise only on the basis of others doing worse.”
Scott Morrison, Prime Minister of Australia
Who are the others he spoke of? Men of course. Days later he backed it up by denying 8 bi-partisan community women’s, children’s and Indigenous groups access to the budget lock-down on April 2. Since then Morrison ‘fixed’ his mistake by inviting just 2 of the 8 groups. Morrison was wrong on so many counts, including the Other. It’s not just a concept from feminist theory circa 1970: women are still seen as Others, and this is a problem for all of us.
South Australian Premiere Says Wicked Campers’ Overt Sexism, Disrespect and Misogyny is Unimportant — Again
In South Australia, the Marshall government adjourned Labour MP Katrine Hildyard’s private members’ bill — again. The bill would have closed the loophole controversial misogynist and owner of Wicked Campers is exploiting. Since Queensland, Tasmania, and the ACT all introduced legislation which creates meaningful consequences for Wicked if a complaint to Advertising Standards is upheld, the worst of the vans are being registered in SA. Kelly O’Dwyer has made an effort to initiate action to shut Wicked Campers down before she retires from politics to her own caring role; it looks like all we can do in SA is cross our fingers and hope it happens at the federal level — the state government isn’t interested.
Wicked Campers is renowned for promoting illicit drugs using much-loved Disney cartoons, and emblazoning its vehicles with ‘amusing’ slogans like:
- “In every little princess there is a little slut who wants to try it just once”
- “A wife: an attachment you screw on the bed to get the housework done”
- And in 2008 Wicked leveled what Queensland Police considered a direct threat to journalist Lucy Clarke, driving a van with “Dear Lucy, I can already imagine the gaffa tape over your mouth” in the area Clarke lived in
- At time of publication, no action has been taken by Federal or State Governments (excluding Queensland, ACT, Tasmania)
A Sexist Joke is Never ‘Just a Joke’
As Jane Gilmore wrote, these slogans won’t turn a non-violent man into a violent offender. But they do normalise and legitimise the actions of men who already are, or are starting to think they might give a woman a back-hander.
SA Shadow MP Katrine Hildyard’s bill was adjourned again by a group of white men who do not care. The same group who happily don their white ribbons every year. The same men who talk of respect and how much they love their wives and daughters: I often wonder who they’re trying to humanise with these remarks — themselves, or their own Othered ones — the women and girls in their lives.
I’m so used to the state of play I didn’t even expect Hildyard’s private members’ bill to be passed. And I wasn’t overly surprised to hear the PM’s sentiments this past IWD. What I didn’t expect is how very angry I feel. These ‘Women’s Problems’ continually pushed to the side by men who are not targeted by sexism and misogyny, or limited by gendered barriers put in place to keep women in our place.
I’m angry to see in this day and age, government policies continue to work insidiously against women while the men continue the talk of how much they care. Childcare costs are prohibitive, with gendered tax benefits increasing so sharply once a woman returns to work more than 4 days a week, many of us make the ‘choice’ to remain part-time or stay at home.
At the time of writing, my own Centrelink Child Care Subsidy claim was still “pending” after more than 8 weeks of my child being in care. That makes the fees $101 a day. I cut child care down to 2 days a fortnight, and thought I would have to withdraw my child from care before they came to a decision on my claim. Thankfully, they finally got their stuff together, but this directly impacted my family finance, and my ability to run my business. The one I started (in part) to make more money for my family’s well-being.
Institutional barriers like this contribute directly to women like me retiring with just over 50% less super than men. I’m conscious that, like my baby-boomer mother, I rely strongly on my husband’s goodwill in keeping up his end of the parenting/partnership bargain.
Women of my mother’s generation are becoming a new homeless class when, after years of following the patriarchy’s rules, they’re left with nothing if their men leave them high and dry, or if their children don’t care for them.
I’m lucky to be in a happy respectful relationship, but let’s face it — no one gets married anticipating divorce, or becoming a widow while they’re still young. No one has children imagining they may one day be abused by them over property and/or a financial inheritance they think should be theirs. Even at the theoretical level, the weakness — the helplessness — of my potential future scares me.
When I was single, I felt safer on the streets than I did in a cab. I’d literally run the short distance through the streets of Canberra’s Inner North until I reached my home, just off Anzac Parade. And nothing ever happened to me. But I’d been conditioned to think it very well might. I’d call someone on my phone, I’d have my keys sticking out of my fist through my fingers in an absurd parody of Wolverine’s blades. I did most of the things Eurydice Dixon did — for me, it turned out alright.
The Blindness of Male Privilege
The average male can’t understand the quiet fear I live in as a woman, because although men are statistically more likely to be assaulted by other men, the constant fear that something could go wrong, a fun situation could turn bad, doesn’t seem to occur to them — at least at the same level. When a man is killed by a man on the streets, men are not told to be more vigilant, to stay off the street, to watch what they wear, to always walk home with a friend, to not get too drunk.
Men in the halls of power can’t put themselves in our place either. That’s why, when they speak of violence against women, they remind Other men women are their sisters, mothers, grandmothers, aunts, and daughters. That’s why a Prime Minister can address a nation of women and tell them they can’t succeed if it costs men something in the process; if men have to share the power and privilege.
If Men Were Women, What Might Change?
But what if the men in power did become women? I’m not talking about trans women, who are another Other — I mean hypothetically, what if the men who make the rules could be gifted a good few months of the female experience?
Meaningful actions might be taken. Fast. Abortion legalised. Paid maternity leave extended, for them and their partners too. A newfound appreciation for the demands of love and care; roses sent to their mums with tearful thanks and apologies; asking their wives if she’d noticed how clean the floor was. Childcare costings revolutionised , the system revamped and revised.
After a week or so of feeling their soft breasts, finding the clitoris again and again, and marveling at the mystery of their working parts, the self-consciousness might set in. They’d see the stares, hear the leers. They’d hear the lewd comments made about the dangerous, volatile, domitable bodies. Pinches on the bum might be seen as less “humourous” and more as indecent, unwanted contact.
Reams of paper would ripple through parliament, a new bi-partisanship found as bill after change-making bill would be passed — discrimination on grounds of sex a thing of the past. Laws would appear like lightning rods to protect women and punish violent offenders; but wait — we’ve seen this before — the Coward Punch law.
They’d dismantle all the hurdles they put in our way, assure us they know how we feel, and ask ‘Why didn’t you fix it yourselves?” Because having a quick go at life ‘as a woman’ wouldn’t remove them from the privileges conferred on them: their perspectives would still be blind to the lived experiences of women. And perhaps this should be expected.
Wanted — no — NEEDED: More Women in Parliament
That’s why women need to keep pushing, using the momentum social movements like #MeToo have created to keep calling out the inadequacies and structural barriers put in our way. It’s why we need more women in parliament — more of all the Othered Ones — who cannot turn a blind eye to the entrenched inequalities stacked against them.
This blog was party inspired by ‘From Mrs Tiresias’ (in The World’s Wife) by Carol Ann Duffy. Consider it recommended reading.