I am not a clubable woman. I won’t even join a book club, because my contrarian nature would get me kicked out. Naturally I am not a feminist. Not just because it is a club, and a pretty exclusive one at that, but because as a teenager listening to the likes of Germaine and Co, I was repulsed by modern feminism’s preoccupation with killing their unborn young. On International Women’s Day, 2001, I wrote an opinion piece for the Australian in which I said that modern feminism had failed women and although we are better off in many ways than we were in the past, by other measurements we are not. They closed the letters page after two weeks on the subject, which confirmed my suspicion that despite their ‘I am woman I am strong’ mantra, feminists of my generation were fundamentally insecure – the sort of girls who did alright as head prefects, in their little club bossing everyone else around, but did not do too well in real life.
The old feminists were always on about ‘role models’. My mother was mine. Aside from going to university in 1947 at 16, and having a career, mum was chief cook, bottle and nappy washer, and encyclopedia Britannica to 8 kids. The ‘fems’ on the other hand despised motherhood and saw the natural family as destructive. Their mantra was gender equity and economic power – but only for girls in the club. You were really out of the club if you had children, didn’t particularly want to sacrifice them to your ambition or your sanity, believed in marriage and the sanctity of human life and did not mistake economic equity for true equality.
The left still do old-style feminism. I received a press release for something called ‘Team Tanya’s’ women’s issues forum. The line up is Anne Summers, the CEO of Marie Stopes International, (Australia’s biggest abortion provider) Jane Caro, general known know-all, and an editor of Mamamia, representing the trendy mummy blogger set. Very representative of regular Australian women: not. The whole boring show to be facilitated by Tanya Plibersek MP. Talk about dinosaurs.
Younger feminists have figured out that they need to incorporate motherhood into their ideology, although they won’t give up on abortion. They understand at least that women want to have kids – and also work. Fair enough; there is some evidence to show that if women are free to work, and NOT to work when they have children, they actually have more children. I have always supported this. However, the new feminists are floundering on the very issue of mothers and work. Australian mothers have very low rates of full time workforce participation, and they have always preferred to work part time – not fulltime.
So in order to boost productivity, mothers of infants are now being smilingly cajoled and coerced into the great capitalist enterprise. The most generous family benefits are now aimed at the dual income family. All tax relief for single income families is heavily means tested and there is no income splitting. Meanwhile dual income families can receive two tax free thresholds and a non means tested child care rebate. The single income family has been hung out to dry. This is meant to push mothers back into work earlier, and full time – as is Abbott’s mooted paid parental leave scheme. Along with that we have a push to expand childcare now called ‘care and education’. Apparently leaving an infant in the care of strangers is legitimized if it is an arm of ‘education’.
So called anti-feminists, like Julie Bishop and Peta Credlin, (who, to confuse things even more, has set up her own club), are just as inclined to support policies that push women into the work force in the name of ‘careers’ and ‘economic equity’ as the left are. Feminism is no longer a left/right issue. The right are doing the same thing the left have been doing all along; talking about mothers, not as essential to the social fabric and well-being of children, but as mere economic units, cogs in the great capitalist enterprise. Of course this is very annoying for old fashioned feminists of the left like Caro and Summers, because the PM and the women of the right have cleverly adopted their own gender equity strategy, to which Abbott tells us he was converted by his own three daughters. By trotting out Credlin, Bishop and the other right wing ladies, the right has incorporated its own subtle feminism into its seeming anti-feminism in order to promote more women in the workforce – the classic old lefty feminist preoccupation.
Support from other women is just as important in Credlin’s club as it is in Caro’s and Summers’. Did Credlin really think they should support her just because she was a woman? Everyone knows women mostly hate other women. If you went to an all girls school you figure that out by the time you are about 10. Credlin can cope with clumsy personal missiles. Somebody who is really secure and independent of mind and spirit doesn’t need the support of other women. I wish I had a buck for every time I have had to endure an oblique attack on me which landed on my children, or came in the form of some unimaginative, but startlingly pornographic gynecological metaphor.
But the most important reason I have no time for Peta and Julie’s club, any more than Jane and Anne’s, is that whether they are called old or new feminists, anti-feminist, or even anti-feminist feminists, is that the women of Australia who really need help are no more going to get it from this lot than they did from the old lot. Politicians and their various hangers on talk about women till they are blue in the face, but mums are still trying to figure out how to have kids, and pay the mortgage – on as little work as they can manage. Their families are what’s important to them, not government productivity targets. If you are cleaning people’s floors or standing up in Target all day talk of ‘career’ sounds pretty pointless. Many women in Australia labour under great difficulties; immigrant women get by without adequate English; some have large families and are the objects of hostility particularly if they wear the hijab or veil. Many Aboriginal women and girls live in hellholes of physical abuse and drug addiction, their children at the mercy of an environment over which they have no control. The new rhetoric of feminism Tony Abbott has gleaned from his beautiful designer-clad three Graces can’t help these women. Only sound policies, crafted by sensible men and women can.
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