Yesterday I noticed a bit of bother on Twitter over an opinion article by Nicolle Flint in The Age titled Handbag Hit Squad hypocrisy damages merit-based success. Intrigued, I read the article. In my view, Nicolle had some valid points however she destroyed her argument by wrapping it up in a political rally cry for Tony Abbott.
Her first shot is at the “Handbag Hit Squad”, calling their campaign against Tony Abbott “hypocritical and unsubstantiated by fact“. Clearly Nicolle hasn’t checked Tony Abbott’s history. She could start with the facts Julia Gillard presented in her now world famous speech. I don’t buy the fact Tony employs a female chief of staff and does charitable work for women in need as evidence of him not being sexist. A chief of staff is essentially what used to be called “Office Manager” in the old days and was traditionally seen as a good, safe job for a woman. Doing charitable work for women means what? Tony is a sexist, not a misogynist! He would see this as “protecting the little women”, good old patriarchal stuff!
As for hypocritical: I disagree. There was considerable debate among women at the time as to whether Slipper’s texts were sexIST or just sexUAL. The majority seemed to run with the latter. Slipper might be a lot of things, but taken in context were his texts sexist? I would argue no. So no hypocrisy, just protecting the principle of due process. Did Julia Gillard take advantage of an opportune political moment? No doubt and good on her for doing so!
Where I DO agree with Nicolle is on the issue of women not promoting themselves. This ties in with the article I wrote recently about women not negotiating their salaries and subsequently earning a lower salary than male counterparts. Nicolle would be far better educating young women on ways to promote themselves rather than wrapping her argument up in a political rally cry for the man who could conceivably win the title of “Most Sexist Australian in Public Life”, although I think Max Tomlinson gives even Tony a run for his money!
Sexism IS alive and well in Australia. My husband’s visa denial decision document is a classic example of what could be termed reverse sexism. One of the reasons given for denying the visa was my husband hadn’t sent me any money. Let us look at the reality here. My husband had been kept without working rights for two years then forcibly returned to a third world country where he had four children to support but he was supposed to send me money? Why? Because he was a man and I was a woman? I am prepared to wager had the genders been reversed and I was the man and the person returned to the third world country had been a woman, the decision maker (a woman) would not have suggested the woman in the third world country should send the working, professional man in the first world country money!
Nicolle doesn’t like affirmative action. I gather she is quite young and hasn’t lived through the days some of the older women in Australia lived through. Days when women who got married had to resign from their council jobs. When women were not allowed to wear trousers in the office. We have indeed come a long way, but the battle isn’t over while we have people still writing about Independent Women Syndrome as if it is an illness to be cured. Racism and sexism are very similar in the economic and social impacts on the oppressed. I have published Tim Wise‘s argument for affirmative action before. While he delivered this argument during a debate about affirmative action for black people in the USA, the fundamentals of his argument can be applied to sexism. Do not forget it is not that long ago women in English society were mere chattels! No voting rights, not allowed to own property and educational opportunities were very limited. No PhD studies for women back in those not-so-distant days!
I agree with Nicolle about merit-based assessment. Personally, I would hate to think I was appointed to my position merely to make up some legislated quota of women. I don’t think I ever have been in my life. I work for a company where the board of directors is 50% women and looking at their resumes I believe they are definitely merit-based appointments. I do believe we have made considerable progress in the working world, however I am not convinced we are there yet. Like Nicolle, I don’t like legislated quotas either. I did once read an article that asked the question, “Are there enough women out there who not only are qualified for the jobs, but actually want them?” Fair question. I think women tend to take jobs they want: the jobs they want are not necessarily CEO positions.
Work is different to the arts, however. Gender equality in the arts is the focus of Nicolle’s argument. Perhaps we need to consider the question of equality versus sameness. I recommend you click on that link and read my argument before continuing!
Perhaps our assessment systems are inadvertently biased towards males, simply because we haven’t changed the systems over the years. Perhaps it is the assessment methodologies that need tweaking to take into account females. The Miles Franklin Award started in 1957, as Nicolle reminds us. What was the place of women in society in Australia in 1957? Are the criteria for the award still the same? Do the criteria take the gender differences into account or simply assume if we are equal, we are the same?
Whether in work or the arts, do women have to adopt male behaviours in order to be “measured” equally? It seems to me Nicolle is suggesting yes, we do. I disagree. I don’t wear a tie in the office or a man’s suit. I shouldn’t have to, I am equal but I am not the same.
If society recognised and celebrated the differences between the genders while at the same time ensuring equality there would be no need to “play the woman card” as Nicolle claims. I agree we should not cry “gender discrimination” without valid reason, but we have a long way to go before we have true equality in all walks of life. When the Max Tomlinsons of this world are no longer, when we can ensure the gender differences are considered and included in everything, then perhaps we can let our guard down.
Women tend not to negotiate salaries. Should we have to? Should society work that way? Men are more geared, it seems, to negotiate; so that is the way the business world works. Women are not so geared to negotiate. Should women, to achieve equality, have to develop the male trait or should society adapt and reduce the need for negotiation? I don’t know the answers. Do any of us yet?
While society works out answers to these questions it might be prudent for writers, women in particular, not to use an article proporting to be about gender equality as a political tool to support a politician. This, unfortunately, was my overall assessment of Nicolle’s article. Write about politics, by all means. Write about sexism and gender equality. Write about the intersection of the two in a fair and balanced manner. Don’t write about one while pretending to write about the other. 🙂
Tara Moss wrote a very interesting article back in February about gender bias in publishing, titled The Count is Out. Very good reading. Tara asks some interesting questions. Seems we both like lots of questions! 😀