Saturday, March 9, 2013

Feminism, The Squeaky Wheel, and A Noisy Glorious Dinner Party

It was International Women's Day yesterday. Seems to me that it's been a sparky, fizzing, electrical year of ferment and debate and anger and outrage.  Something is stirring in our collective waters, perhaps.

This week, writer Jacinta Le Plastrier outlined an interesting theory of a 'global upsurge in protest against violence and misogyny' that could herald a revolution in feminism ( vive le revolution!), and the fabulous writer Jane Caro spoke of a 'powerful' and 'exuberant' Twitter response to International Women's Day.

I feel it too. Sexism,  misogyny and violence against women have been much in the public consciousness this year. Particularly horrific instances have concentrated our global attention and outrage,  like the the brutal gang rape of a New Delhi woman on a public bus that resulted in her death, and the Taliban attack on Pakistani schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai, who was shot in the head for trying to go to school, and closer to home, the violent rape and murder of Jill Meagher as she walked home from the pub.

That's big-picture stuff. But also, as we become ever-more connected and politicised on-line,  we seem to be noticing and highlighting the pervasive everyday sexism that saturates us, via the white noise of the marketing messages that commercialise women's sexuality on a continuous, degrading, insidious loop. Messages that define and create the society in which we live, and in which we raise our children.

A society in which urinals shaped like a woman's lips are installed in a public bar. 

Where little girls learn that their bodies are currency.    

In which 'rape comedy' is on the increase.  

It's so pervasive, in fact, that 'sexism fatigue' comes into play, where one can begin to feel powerless against the weight of the near-total reach of everyday sexism; in advertising, in the general media, in the standard attacks on women online, and in Hollywood. In  this years Oscars ceremony, for instance, host Seth McFarland's opening  number 'We Saw Your Boobs', demonstrated what the Vulture website  described as a 'black-tie celebration of the straight male gaze.' Railing against this kind of humour is often read as a kind of sour, uptight political correctness.

'I am tired of being called a shrieking harridan for pointing out inequalities so tangible and blatant that they are regularly codified into law', writes Lindy West in an inspired rant for Jezebel on the notion of sexism fatigue.  'I am tired of being told to provide documentation of inequality in the comments section of a website where a staff of smart women documents inequality as fast as our fingers can move. Like, you might as well write me a note on a banana peel demanding that I prove to you that bananas exist. I am tired of being asked to "cite sources" proving that sexism is real (that RAPE is real,  even!) because there is no way to concisely cite decades and decades of rigorous academia. Allow me to point at the fucking library.'

But hey, it sucks to be a woman in the gaming industry too. Oh, and on commercial radio. And you probably don't want to be a truck driver either. Or a female athlete in Australia. Or need an abortion in the USA. Or Ireland. Or live in a country where you may be forced into marriage, or be a woman in a refugee camp, or in a country at war.

I could go on, but I won't. My heart is hurting, and I've got mushrooms to stuff. (Incidentally, should I be stuffing them professionally I would be paid,  on average, 17% less for them than a man would.)

So where to from here, I wonder? What's  on the table? Is there a new framework, a new consciousness emerging? What will the 'new feminist' look like?

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg's book "Women, Work, And The Will To Lead' is published this week, and while there is something of a predictable backlash against her 'Lean-In' model that exhorts women to push themselves forward in the corporate arena, her brand of 'trickle-down' feminism has been taken up with gusto by young American women. Is she a good or a bad role model for them?

What about Marissa Meyer, CEO of Yahoo, who went back to work 2 weeks after her son's birth and has banned her staff working from home (a system that is generally agreed to benefit more women in the workplace than men.) Is she good or bad?

How about Beyonce, who runs a squillion dollar empire, graces magazine covers wearing only her very-smalls, and has called her new tour 'The Mrs Carter Show'. Is she a good or bad feminist?   What about our own Julia Gillard, the first female Australian Prime Minister, who made the thrilling and instantly famous 'misogyny speech' speech in October 2012, for which the Jezebel website called her a 'badass motherfucker'?

 Is she a good role model?

In my opinion: yes, yes, and yes, and yes.  Are they flawed? Yes, as are we all. But they are all confident and intelligent and powerful. They have successfully pushed back against the barriers of culture, subtle and overt, that hindered their achievement, and we have something different to learn from every one of them.

Let's not bring personality and political differences into play. Let's support them all. The more women in public life, the better. More uteruses! (Uteri? ) More! All kinds! Good-looking women and funny looking women and athletic women and older women and young women and childless women and mothers and women with disabilities and women of all races and religious persuasions and gay women and straight women and nerdy women and annoying women and the women we agree with and the women that we don't. More women talking.

Not talking, shouting.

Women shouting! Arguing the many cases and positions that make up the massive and unwieldy and deeply important package of 'women's rights.' There is room for all of us at the table. And the more of us that sit at that table, discussing and examining the issues that affect women, the louder and angrier and more powerful that dinner party will get.

Alice Walker says that 'activism is the rent we pay for living on this planet'. I love this, and in this instance, I would suggest that perhaps feminism is the rent we pay for living in a free democracy with a robust press. We have voices. We can upload our stories to the everyday sexism website. We can buy this t-shirt and we can wear it.  We can join the Destroy The Joint Facebook page, and others like it. We can sign petitions that support women's rights, such as this one that exhorts the Indian government to ban their 'two-finger' rape test.  We can start a Mamabake group in our neighbourhood and do our best to support, cherish and empower the women in our lives.

In the best possible scenario,  we can organise organise rallies like these suffragettes from 1921, who protested by sitting in public spaces in their bathing suits and eating pizza. Inspiring!

Mostly, we can keep talking, keep pushing women's issues onto the political and media agenda. We can make this dinner party really , really loud. We can be the squeaky wheel. We can be the revolution.


  1. Thank you so much for this inspiring and motivating post - I find it harder and harder each year to deal with sexism, to defend the need for feminism against men, and know the fatigue oh so well. But now I am all teary-eyed and motivated and up for the revolution!


  2. "My heart is hurting, and I've got mushrooms to stuff"
    Well if that doesn't sum it all up right there! We women-folk can be passionate & outspoken AND hang out the smalls & stuff the mushrooms, because although the domestic show must go on, we should be standing up for ourselves too.
    Absolute gold my friend - all of it.
    You have given birth to an amazing, worthy, well-written, kick-ass essay there and I couldn't agree more. I'll be sharing with the chicks (and blokes) in my life.
    Well done you x

  3. Love your writing..I have writer envy - but in a good way :)

    Sometimes I feel down hearted when I don't see as many feminists on the streets, in the thick of feminist action yet this blog (and Im assuming there are many many more from feminists of all genders)- demonstrate the capacity of people to participate in the transforming of how we behave, how we think, for the benefit of all of us, without the need to be in the 'thick' of it.

    All sorts of action from the every day by all sorts of people is what will pervade, is what will make a difference.

    1. Thanks for commenting Rosarela, I totally agree. Everyday action, small ways, incremental change (we hope) x

  4. Rach,

    This moved me to "Halloo!!!"

    In the office.

    And the Photo of your Peanut as the punctuation mark on the whole thing, connecting the planetary to the personal, was brilliance itself.

    Love, Sush xoxo

    1. I wore that t-shirt when I was a kid Sush! It makes me so happy to see the daughter in it. And also, to think of you shouting in your office. XXX

  5. Thank you for this Rachael. You have put into words so well the issues that face us all the time. Please keep it up.

  6. Thank you.

    As a long-time, committed, radical feminist I often feel exhausted at the thought of the long journey to women's freedom ahead of us. Especially on IWD when you have to comb through the mainstream media with a fine-toothed comb to find any mention of it. (Here in Canada, anyway.)

    Reading a good rant is always an uplifting experience. If for no other reason than it feels like I am not the lone mushroom-stuffing woman out there still waving her little protest placards!

    Let's hope that whiff of change in the air is really, truly, honestly so.

    1. I agree Furry. Something is afoot, and it needs to be. x

    2. And thank you, too, for always calling me "Furry". It's an impulse that few others follow :-)

    3. I have a nicknaming disorder! It's very Australian. I can't help but contract or lengthen or otherwise mess with somebody's name. Glad you are not offended Furballs.

    4. I will draw the line at Fuzza or Beezo, though. Just in case you're tempted.

  7. applauds. (but not from the sidelines)

  8. Very much enjoying catching up on your posts today, laughing and cheering. And eating my children's and other relative's easter eggs. Great writing, great ideas. Thankyou.


Thanks for talking to me. I don't got cooties. Oh, except for when I got cooties.