Penny Wong, Corrine Grant, Christine Milne, Wendy Harmer, Stella Young, Tara Moss…the list goes on. It is a long list of accomplished, intelligent, articulate women who have written articles for this book. Achievers, success stories them all. Surely we don’t need feminism if women are achieving the great heights these women have achieved? Surely we already live in an equal society? These women are allowed to speak, to write, to have their say in our democracy.
No. We are not there yet, and this book proves it beyond any doubt.
I am a feminist, loud and proud. I have been since my undergrad days when I first discovered the insidious ways our patriarchal society has of silencing women. Reducing women. Harming women. And girls.
A lot has changed since my undergrad days. I have had a successful career in my previous profession in a couple of male-dominated industries (banking and IT). I have married and had children.
And recently I have watched with horror what happens when women really do reach the heights of power in my society. You would have had to be living under a rock not to notice that Prime Minister Julia Gillard has attracted hatred and vitriol unlike any other PM in Australian history. Why? What has she done to deserve it? Some lay the blame at how she came into power – she ‘knifed’ the elected PM, Kevin Rudd. It’s not the first time a sitting PM has been ‘knifed’, though. Let’s look at policy for a second (please don’t go to sleep, I promise it will be brief) – Gillard has pushed through the NDIS, ensuring more support than ever for the millions of Australians with disabilities. She has pushed through the Gonski reforms, ensuring all Australian children will get a first rate education. She has pushed through environmental reforms that hold big business accountable and will go a long way to protecting our planet. We have low unemployment and low interest rates while many countries around the world teeter on the edge of the fiscal cliff. The rest of the world looks at us with envy while we whine.
All this in a highly hostile parliament. She shows grace under fire. She holds her head up under gruesome attack. She doesn’t shy away from battles. She’s tough. Is she perfect? Of course not. Has she made mistakes? Of course she has. But is she good at her job? You could be forgiven for not knowing, because all we hear about is her cleavage, her thighs and her big red box.
Yet she’s destroying the joint. When Alan Jones made this comment in 2012 he finally voiced, openly and without any fear of reprisal, what many Australians were thinking. Women are destroying the joint. A joint so wondrously managed by men. Ahem.
Well, good on you Alan. You unleashed a sleeping giant. You pumped the bellows on the women’s movement. If there was ever any doubt that women still needed to fight, you killed it. And women (and men) responded by fighting. Social media sprang into action with a campaign that valued calm, civil debate and reasoned argument. This collections of essays and short stories, edited by Jane Caro, is another outcome of Jones’ comment. The essays are alternately humorous and devastating. It is possible to feel overwhelmed when reading the statistics and stories of systematic, entrenched sexism and misogyny in Australia.
‘Girl Talk’ by Lily Edelstein is particularly heart-breaking – this is the story of how young women in Australia view their rights and their place in society, and how they are attacked when they try to stand up. It might make you weep for your daughters, except for the fact that Edelstein is unfailingly certain that girls are powerful and capable enough to make a change.
(And if you think that experience is limited to Australian girls, read about how girls in the UK are impacted here.)
Who would I recommend this book to? Well, Alan Jones for a start. He could do with a little education. But seriously, firstly I would recommend this book to young women. Let’s shine a light on the realities that we so often dismiss or ignore. Let’s tell young women they can expect more. They should expect to feel safe, they should expect to reach the heights of their talents, they should expect to have the same choices as boys and men. I would also recommend this book to mothers and fathers of daughters and sons. Education about girl’s and women’s rights begins in the home, just like everything else.
And finally, in the interests of not man-hating (because, contrary to a belief in some circles, that is not what feminism is about), I can highly recommend these two articles.
In this, John Birmingham writes a call to action for men. The act you walk past is the act you accept. Man up!
And in this piece, Army Chief Lieutenant General Morrison speaks out against inequality and sexism in the armed forces in a powerful statement for the rights of women.
It’s so easy to love these two men. They are beacons of enlightenment at a time when we desperately need more. It will take more men like these, as well as feisty strong women, to bring about equality. Let’s celebrate them and cheer them on, as well as cheering on the brilliant women in this essential collection.