Friday, March 19, 2010

Feminism now - a snapshot

Before going to the feminist conferences I thought I would take stock of where feminism is right now. See what has worked and what work is still to be done, and how we might change strategy in order to make change happen.

Globally, women are doing badly. Girls still die due to gender neglect. In developing countries, boys are educated before the girls, taken for medical care before the girls, so girls miss out. Women and girls are trafficked into the sex trade. In their millions. And worldwide, millions of girls are 'missing'. We know where and why women are dying, or seriously damaged, in childbirth, and which countries have low infant survival rates.

We know that investment in girls and women is an efficient way of raising a family, and raising a community, out of poverty.

In the developed world we still have the glass ceiling. There is still a big gap between women's and men's pay. There is a big gap between mother's pay and non-mother's pay. Women are under represented on most boards, and governments. We know that having women in positions of power is healthy for companies.

Women are still sexualised in the media. Women are still the victims of assault and abuse, particularly by men. A few years ago the NSW Police Commissioner stated that women are fundamentally disrespected in our society.

We now live in a raunch culture where to be sexy is paramount as shown on music videos and advertisements. Sexy clothes and toys are marketed to small girl children. Some feminists are speaking out about this. Other feminists are concerned about joining the conservatives and wowsers.

The Association for Research on Mothering in Toronto is in crisis due to lack of funding. The Australian branch is contemplating a name change, to be more inclusive. Perhaps this is the way to go. Perhaps it would be better to focus not on mothering, but parenting or care work, which could be shared.

Books about feminism are still being published and there is still much work to be done. None that I have read really point in a direction that would make change happen.

Middle class women can outsource child care and domestic work to working class women. Men still don't share the domestic load.

Most women I know who have children, whether they have a partner or not, work or not, say at some point that the experiment of living in a nuclear family has failed - we should live in a community of women and children where people share the load and pool their resources. Men can visit or not.

The single best strategy for a women married with children to avoid poverty is to stay married. Single women can build their own financial futures. Not so easy for single mothers.

If there were more women in powers of position, would things move faster?

Although I identify as feminist, I'm starting the believe we need to take action without gender lines. It is not just women who care. It is not just women who care for children, for the earth, and about poverty or about wellbeing.

Do I believe that, as a women, I am better than a man at cleaning the house, doing the shopping, and raising kids? No. Do I believe that as a woman I have more of an affinity with the earth? No. Do I believe that men are smarter than women, more capable, and deserve to earn more money or hold more power? No. Do I believe that the issues facing women also have impacts on men and children? Yes.

I've noticed that the Sex Discrimination Officer often couches feminists issues in terms of men's health, or children's development or just plain wellbeing. Perhaps focussing on feminism, which obviously hasn't been working too well, isn't the way to go.

Do I want to spend time working out what kind of feminist I am (essentialist, radical, Marxist, socialist, eco), or just get on with the job of doing what I believe is right. Not because I'm a feminist, or because I'm a woman, or because I'm a mother, but just because I am a citizen.

What is very interesting is, that while I'm thinking about all this, there are two (yes two!) public forums coming up in which to discus feminism. WOW! Even the Essential Baby forum has been discussing feminism: Is feminism compatible with being a stay at home mother? 38 pages of responses.

So, while I'm renewing my membership to WEL, and joining Women's Forum Australia, have a look at the upcoming conferences.

Info about the conferences here:

Why feminism still matters: A Sydney Ideas forum

The University of Sydney will host a panel of leading international and Australian commentators and political scientists to question how far women have really come in politics in the last 30 years.

The Sydney Ideas forum titled "Why Feminism Matters" will be held on Monday 22 March 2010 at the Seymour Theatre Centre and marks the month of International Women's Day.

In what promises to be a fascinating and robust discussion, the panel will debate the different approaches taken by men and women in politics, the impact women have had in shaping public policy and the political agenda in recent decades, and the role feminism plays in politics today. The panel will also reflect on the giant steps some women, including Hillary Clinton and Julia Gillard, have made in politics but will also examine why the top job remains elusive for women.

The panel includes top commentators and political scholars from throughout the world including Professor Mary Fainsod Katzenstein (Cornell University), Dr Fiona Mackay (University of Edinburgh), Professor Karen Beckwith (US feminist scholar), Dr Sue Goodwin (University of Sydney) and Rebecca Huntley (Australian social researcher). The panel will be chaired by broadcaster and former Olympic swimmer Lisa Forrest, one of the first women to make the move from professional athlete to a successful career in the media.

'Why Feminism Matters' is an Arts Matters forum co-presented with the University of Sydney Arts Association and the Faculty of Arts.

The panel:

Professor Mary Fainsod Katzenstein is a leading commentator on contemporary US politics from Cornell University, USA. Katzensetein has extensively researched political activism and social movements, feminist activism in the Catholic Church and US military, social strategies on poverty and issues of prison reform and incarceration. She won the 1999 American Political Science Association's Victoria Schuck award for the best book on gender in political science for Faithful and Fearless: Moving Feminist Protest Inside the Church and Military. She has co-edited Social Movements in India: Poverty Power and Politics and teaches courses on incarceration both at Cornell University and at the Auburn Correctional Facility in New York.

Dr Fiona Mackay, senior lecturer in politics and Director of the Graduate School of Social and Political Science at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland. Dr Mackay has provided research advice to women's organisations, politicians and government departments, and has represented the UK at numerous British Council international events on women, democracy and human rights. She has played an active part of the 50/50 campaign for gender parity in political and public life and also recently co-authored the book Women, Politics and Constitutional Change, and the forthcoming Gender, Politics and Institutions.

Professor Karen Beckwith is Flora Stone Mather Professor in the Department of Political Science at Case Western Reserve University in the United States. She was the founding lead editor of the journal Politics and Gender, and co-authored Women's Movements Facing the Reconfigured State (2003), and Political Women and American Democracy (2008). Professor Beckwith is the founder and organiser of the project The Comparative Politics of Gender, to be published this month as a multi-article symposium in perspectives on politics.

Dr Sue Goodwin, a senior lecturer in policy studies in the Faculty of Education and Social Work at the University of Sydney. Specialises in research on women's participation in public policy and motherhood in contemporary Australian social and political contexts. She is the co-author of The Sociological Bent: Inside Metro Culture (2005) and Social Policy and Social Change (2009), as well as the forthcoming The Good Mother: Regulating Contemporary Motherhoods. Is currently working on another book examining how gender and class intersect in occupational choices and pathways.

Rebecca Huntley, writer, social researcher and alumnus of the University of Sydney. Huntley is the director of the Ipsos Mackay Report, Australia's longest-running social trends report, and authored Eating Between the Lines: Food and Equality in Australia and The World According to Y: Inside the New Adult Generation. She also contributes regularly to Australian Vogue.

Lisa Forrest, panel chair, was the first woman to host her own national sports program, ABC TV's Saturday Afternoon Football, before moving on to general reporting on The Midday Show with Ray Martin, Everybody on ABCTV and her own radio program, The Evening Show, on ABC Radio 702.

Event details:

What: "Why Feminism Matters" Sydney Ideas forum. Sydney Ideas is the University of Sydney's international public lecture series.

When: 6.30pm on Monday, 22 March, 2010

Where: The Seymour Theatre Centre, Cnr of City Road and Cleveland Street, University of Sydney

Cost: $20/$15 concession. Free tickets are available for University of Sydney staff and students at Seymour box office (not online).Please bring ID.

Bookings: Phone (02) 9351 7940.


Contact: Katrina O'Brien

Phone: 02 9036 7842


The F collective presents

F: A Festival, A Conference, A Future

Feminism: What’s it to you?

F is a conference to reinvigorate the feminist movement

F is a vision for our feminist future.

We invite you to join us for two days of lively debate, workshops and discussion about where we are from, where we are at and where we are going.

Bring your best ideas and your best friends.

Participate, create and connect.


When: 10th and 11th April 2010Where: NSW Teachers Federation½39-41 Reservoir Street, Surry Hills ½ ½


Joannie said...


I am so glad that I read your blog this morning - it is so informative and thoughtful. And, yes, its great that there are some moves to revive discussion and debate about feminism today - we need it. It is so frustrating that, as far as I can see, there is little opportunity for online debate and discussion - can't understand why.

I will make it to one, or other, of these forthcoming events.

best, Joannie

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