That damn feminist word again

Five days. I have been stewing over an article I read for five days. Most unlike me, I am sure most will agree: after all I rattled off “Who IS the boss around here?” in the heat of the moment. This time, however, my immediate reaction was confusion and self-doubt.

I hear some readers thinking “Robyn? Self-doubt? There’s never much of that in her articles!” Those readers would be right. Usually there isn’t.

Elle Hardy wrote in The Guardian:

The fight for compassion, legal rights, and justice are not unique to feminism. There are no values that I can espouse as a humanist that are anti-female, but there are a number of values of feminism that are alien to me – such as the notion that equality is more important than opportunity and choice, and that it can be legislated.

I agreed with her. Until I read it again. In my view equality IS more important than opportunity and choice, because from equality comes opportunity and choice. Equality can be legislated. I do agree there are some aspects of modern feminism I disagree with, more on that later.

Elle went on to say “modern popular feminism is an entirely political movement.” What were the suffragettes about, if not seeking a political voice? It was a political movement.

Elle did make some very valid points though. It does seem these days as if everyone and their dog is an avowed feminist to avoid being labelled a misogynist. I’m not sure that does the movement any good at all.

I also agree with Elle when she says, “Feminism was a movement of profound importance, securing the extension of natural rights to women, but its modern incarnation is a concoction of socialist values.”

Claire Lehmann I pretty much agreed with. I might have voiced my thoughts differently, but I understood her stance.

Then came Trisha Jha!

Until all women can enjoy the rights and social freedoms of a truly liberal society, there is still work for feminists of all stripes to do.


Paula Matthewson told me as a conservative I can’t be an activist. I didn’t know this, so I learnt something new.

Activism is the antithesis of what it means to be conservative. Women “of the right” support the status quo, and when change is needed then it must be incremental. They see activists, and the revolutionary change they espouse, as anarchistic and alien.

I am a big fan of Paula’s work, but this was the bit that left me confused. Maybe because I was not born here, but I was never under the impression “women of the right” supported the status-quo unless we believed it correct. As a humanist I can’t support the status-quo if it doesn’t meet humanist values. Subjugation of women, or any group, is definitely not humanist. On the other hand, I’m really not very good at activism and maybe that is the blood of the right flowing in my veins.

I spent a bit of time contemplating my political leanings as a result of Paula’s writing, but as we are not here to debate my political affiliation (I actually don’t have one at the moment), I’ll leave that aside and move on.

Paula also said:

It’s important to remember that as liberals, conservative women think of individual responsibility. That’s why we tackle gender equality at the individual and not the societal level.

Elle said, “the insidious notion of reducing individuals to groups.”

Whether we like it or not, humans are wonderfully gifted at grouping and stereotyping people. Individuals do not have enough political clout to bring about social change. That is just a fact we have to accept, right wing or not.

I wasn’t the only one who read this article in The Guardian and felt flummoxed. So did Jen on No Place For Sheep.

Matthewson’s observations settled on my soul like a dank cloud. I took to my bed, where I embarked on a period of extended navel gazing that led to me discovering enough lint, as my good Twitter friend @newswithnipples put it, to felt a blue tie.

Nobody could accuse me of being quiet on the topic of feminism. Here’s a sample, which you may read or not.

The general thrust, I agree, of several of those articles is expressing a disenchantment with the feminist movement as it exists today. After one particular round robin of articles Twitter ended up with a hashtag of , started by Sleepless Nights and FrogPondsRock.

Jen closed her article, quoted above, with this observation.

When a movement degenerates into mental masturbation about who is entitled to be in it and who is not, and disingenuous political exhortations to the effect that everyone should be, it’s a sign the movement has ceased significant movement. Like the ALP, feminism has disappeared so far up its own fundament, it’s blinded by the shit in its eyes.

Thank goodness, I thought, I’m not the only one! OK, I admit I knew that already, as after all, Jen’s Convoy of Cleavage campaign triggered at least one of the above mentioned articles.

Edit: Since I published this, Betty has entered the fray with “I’m All Right Jill or Stuff the Sisterhood“. A damn good read!

I’ve prattled on about this before, but many of today’s “feminists” weren’t even born when I started work. This younger generation never had to resign if they got married (because they’d be pregnant within a few months, right?), they never had to fight to be allowed to wear trousers to work. The older ones of us know so many other, harsher examples.

I don’t particularly like aspects of today’s feminist movement myself. Paula might say I am desirous of  hanging on to the old days (my status-quo) and she may well be right. Perhaps I am.

I believe in gender equality, very strongly. I see far too much of the lack of inclusiveness that triggered both the Convoy of Cleavage and #Iamnotaproperfeminist. I don’t see enough women in the current Cabinet. I do think affirmative action is appropriate to rectify entrenched, inter-generational inequalities, so I believe the Minister for Women should be a WOMAN. When I was a student at Monash University many years ago I refused to use the Women’s Room on the basis there wasn’t a specific Men’s Room. I was for equality, but didn’t then understand the impact of thousands of years of subjugation and what was needed to rectify the social and economic imbalance. I didn’t have Tony Abbott types smashing the wall beside my head. I’d been raised believing there was no gender inequality: until I witnessed and read and learned I thought we were OK. I could ride a motorbike, shoot and plough a field as well as any man – I thought the world was the same.

It isn’t.

My nails have stayed painted over the years, I will wear heels if I want to and the next time I see a fight on Twitter about shaving certain anatomical regions I’ll scream.

To the extent I believe and work for gender equality, I’m a feminist. If being a feminist means burning my bra, tossing my makeup out or giving up my high heels, then I guess I fail. Because, fundamentally, I am an individual.

None of which resolves my right/left/centrist dilemma! 😀

In closing, I am going to share, yet again, two videos I find wonderfully applicable.

The first is Chimamanda Adichie on feminism. This woman says it all for me.

The second is my old favourite, Tim Wise, of the merits of affirmative action. His argument is just as applicable to women as it is to Black Americans.

13 comments on “That damn feminist word again

  1. In being a feminist, I have no desire to be like a man. A feminist can still be a girly girl, if she chooses. I see feminism as being who and what you want to be and being it because you have chosen to be it, not because you have been forced into it by society. In gender equality, man and woman don’t have to be alike. The most important concept is that one is not subjugated or diminished by the other.
    In the 21st century, I am appalled that women, who make up 51% of the world’s population, are still (in general) treated like 2nd class citizens. Feminism is the strange notion that women are people too. Unfortunately, the narrative is often hijacked by those with their own agenda 🙂


  2. […] is categorically no doubt there are many sexist attitudes and behaviours in society and we certainly need to eradicate […]


  3. […] I’ve talked before about the differences between societies of collectivism and societies of individualism. Western societies are almost exclusively societies of individualism. We saw such individualism in my most recent look at the feminists’ debate. […]


  4. Thanks Robyn..missed this or would have been doing a major rant…Media dragging out feminism for another beat up .

    Elle Hardy espouses she is “humanist which is a value system rather than a feminist which is a political system”. What simplistic nonsense. Feminism is first and foremost a value system. The values imbued in feminism of equality, equity, justice, peace, fairness, non-violence and freedom have been at the foundation of feminism. It is these values which have and continue to drive political action.

    Others talk about the ‘women’s movement’ as if it one large homogenous group rather than movement’s in the plural representing the diversity of women and diversity of causes with layers of actions, strategies and activism.

    The focus on the article seems to ‘pigeon hole’ feminists as left leaning socialists. Is this an attempt to appease the only 2 women in in our right wing Cabinet, both of whom reject feminism.

    Senator Cash is on record as saying she doesnt beleive feminism is relevent to-day. Has she not noticed the increasing reported amount of violence against women, the gender pay gap remain stagnant, women’s under-representation in parliament, on boards and their over representation in low paid jobs, poverty and homelessness.

    So who takes up political action to address these and more if not the Assistant Minister for Women.

    Great pity the women in the article didn’t focus on the broarder face of the feminist struggle.


    • Not a word about FGM which is surging on Twitter today, I see.

      I read a level of distain for Labor feminists, which is just as bad as the movement appearing totally left or socialist.

      I am not sure what the way forward is, because I worry we will go backwards if we aren’t careful.

      Personally I believe my career has been the same as any man’s but one swallow does not a summer make, as they say.

      And we still have FGM happening and Saudi women have no voting rights.


      • Interestingly it was feminists that first lobbyied to have FGM on the legal agenda in Australia many years ago,, same with serial sponsorship whereby partners (mostly Australian males) could sponsor any number of women into Australia and either dump them or murder then and then press repeat. There are still countless Filipino women missing here. I cant think of any major issues improvining the position of women that hasnt been fought for by feminists. They are still out there doing this. I personally know hundreds. No fanare, not publicity and they are not all left wing radicals.


      • I was reading about Anne Summers dealing dope for 12 months to fund the first women’s refuge. Amazing stuff.


  5. Three years, Robyn. He was born in 1918. He was an abused child and had generally a horrid upbringing. My mother forgave him everything because he had a bad childhood. He was the worst spoiled brat you could ever meet. He once said that he thought he grew up alright so he treated us the same way. It is difficult to bring up two kids from scratch with nothing to fall back on and the only thing you can depend on is what you’ve learnt from books and ‘experts’ in the field. Flying blind. BTW, I was the eldest also. When I had my kids, according to my father, I did it right because my first was a boy. He was never given a reason to learn to be different. He was right and the world was wrong.


    • My father was born out of wedlock and raised in an orphanage. Not the most auspicious start to life. I have no idea about abuse in his childhood, but knowing what we know now about many institutions in Australia, I do wonder even though he was in NZ.

      Interesting how our fathers ended up so different isn’t it?


      • Maybe your father was spared the ‘enablers’ and had to work it out for himself. He sounds altogether a kinder and wiser person. Maybe he was just a kinder and wiser person to start with. I put half a world between us and when I was 23 and never saw him again. I didn’t plan on forever but it just turned out that way. My brother spent his life trying to get him to admit what he had done without success. A waste of precious time.


  6. I was born at home during the last year of the war. My father stormed out of the house in a rage because I was a girl. He blamed my mother. My father taught me to value justice and equality because I had none. He didn’t punch the wall beside my head. My brother was favoured without blandishments. I was less than, not as important, taken out of school when I was 13 because I was only going to grow up to get married and have children – I didn’t need an education. Oh, how I wanted to be a boy! I tried, as an individual, to get help to find someone with enough clout to stand up for me. I was betrayed by the minister of the church who told my father what I had said….My father tried to have me declared uncontrollable and sent to that horrible place in Parramatta so recently in the news. I was lucky – I had a caring and sensible social worker who told me she couldn’t find anything about me that backed up my father’s statements. I left home the only way open to someone who was owned – I was married. I was still owned and it didn’t last. I set myself free but only physically. I had one thing going for me – I didn’t love my father and as I looked carefully at the world I realised that my father was wrong and there were other people out there who were different. I tried to learn about the difference because I didn’t want to be like my father. I was married again and again I was owned. Then Germaine Greer happened and I read her book. I no longer wanted to be a boy. Again I set myself free but more than just physically and this time I found others on the same journey as mine and this time we had some clout ourselves and were listened to. We could not have done this individually.


    • Thank you so much for sharing your history.

      Your experience saddens me because I was the eldest. I have no idea if my father expected or wanted a boy because he never indicated that. Anything I could do, I was encouraged to do.

      My father was born in 1921. I wonder how many years were between your father and mine?


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