The Dawn Chorus

Fresh Australian Feminism

Posts Tagged ‘Politics’

Women we love: Emily Maguire

Posted by Nic Heath on August 20, 2010

Writer and feminist Emily Maguire is the author of Princesses & Pornstars (2008), reworked for a young adult audience as Your Skirt’s Too Short: Sex, Power & Choice (2010), as well as novels Smoke in the Room (2009), The Gospel According to Luke (2006) and Taming the Beast (2004).

One of the most prominent feminist voices in the Australian media landscape today, Emily has written articles and essays on sex, religion and culture that have been published in newspapers and journals including The Sydney Morning Herald, The Financial Review, The Age, The Monthly and the Observer.

In an interview on Radio National’s Book Show recently I heard Emily say that despite people regularly decrying the death of feminism, she thought it was doing really well. ‘I think the issue is that feminism doesn’t look like it used to look,’ she said. ‘It’s everywhere…there isn’t one monolithic movement’. Interest piqued, I wanted to hear more about her feminism, so I asked Emily about her fiction, writing for a young audience and of course, about the healthy state of feminism today.


How and when did you become a feminist?

My feminism emerged over a period of a decade or more. As a teenager I thought feminism was great, but over. By my early twenties I’d realised that our society was soaking in sexism and misogyny and I began to search for answers as to why that was so. Feminist writers helped me to understand why things were they way they were and gave me ideas about what I could do about them. I suppose I started to call myself a feminist in my mid-twenties.

I became an active feminist – meaning I began to speak and write about it – when I realised that I wasn’t the only one to have reached adulthood without being exposed to feminist ideas. So many people in the generation above mine (as well as those of my generation lucky enough to have been schooled in feminism at uni or home) think that it’s all been said, but there are many of us who more or less missed the 2nd and 3rd waves. Ideas and ways of thinking that some think of as elemental or tired are brand new and exciting to many others.

You’ve written three fiction books, with the latest, Smoke in the Room, published in October last year. Do you consciously work feminist themes into your fiction?

No. I am very wary of infecting my characters with my political views or of writing fiction with a ‘message’ in mind. However, I think that noticing is key to writing fiction; what a particular novelist notices about the world around them will inevitably make it into their fiction. So of course the way I view the world is coloured by my feminism (among other things) and my writing is influenced by the things I notice and the way I think about those things. Some people might call the creation of complicated, flawed, vibrant female characters feminist; I call it realistic.

What motivated the decision to publish Your Skirt’s Too Short, a revised young adult edition of your non-fiction work Princesses and Pornstars? What changes did you make to the original text?

I originally wrote Princesses and Pornstars out of frustration. I was sick of seeing and hearing sexism and antiquated gender stereotypes day after day, while at the same time hearing that we’re a post-feminist society and sexism is no longer a problem.

I also was terribly sick of the way teenage girls and young women were being constantly berated and shamed by media hype over ‘raunch culture’ and I was annoyed that many of those who claimed to be on the side of young people, who claimed to want to empower girls, were themselves perpetuating gender stereotypes, telling girls they’re princesses and talking about them like they’re delicate flowers who must be kept pure and protected.

My objective was to tackle the gender-coloured issues facing young people – porn, raunch, sex, romance, body image – in a non-academic way, a way that engaged with the culture that young people are immersed in rather than looked down on it. I also thought it was important to write the book through a personal lens, because I didn’t want to be placing myself above it all, speaking as an authority. I wanted to be speaking as someone who is still/or has in the past struggled with all this stuff.

After Princesses and Pornstars was released I started to hear from a lot of readers who were quite a bit younger than the audience I’d imagined when I was writing the book. In light of this, I – and my publisher – decided that a revised edition, especially for those teens was worth doing. So Your Skirt’s Too Short was born.

Some of the changes are simple updates – we’ve had a change of government since P&P was released and so I needed to update most of the information on legislation and policy. I also updated a lot of the pop culture references not only to be more current, but to be more relevant to younger teens rather than women in their early 20s. The tone is different in some places, too: I’m speaking to teenagers rather than about them. There’s also a new section on ‘sexting’ and a chapter about bitching, bullying and the idea that women are our own worst enemies (which is something I hear a lot).

In September you are appearing on a Melbourne Writer’s Festival panel looking at four feminist classics – A Room of One’s Own, The Second Sex, The Female Eunuch and The Beauty Myth. What do these books mean to you?

The Beauty Myth  blew my body-hating, self-loathing teenage mind. It had genuinely never occurred to me that anything other than vanity was behind the beauty rituals and obsessions of every woman and girl I knew.  A Room of One’s Own was incredibly important to me. I used to think I couldn’t be a writer because I was a high-school drop out with no contacts and no clue about how the literary world worked. I thought there was a correct way to go about it and if I didn’t know it I couldn’t do it. Woolf inspired me to ‘write all kinds of books hesitating at no subject however trivial or however vast,’ and to ‘dream over books and loiter at street corners and let the line of thought dip deep into the stream.’ I didn’t read The Female Eunuch until a few years ago. I was delighted that a book I’d expected to be dry and academic was so chaotic and emotional. It inspired me to be braver in my writing.

Australia is in the midst of a federal election campaign that has been fixated on gender, without too much discussion of policy. What do you think are the big issues affecting women that we should be talking about in this election campaign?

Pay equity is a big issue as, depressingly, Australia is going backwards on this. Paid parental leave and access to quality, affordable child care continue to be important. We should also be talking a lot more about the poverty suffered by older women who don’t have sufficient superannuation or retirement funds to live on thanks to all those years spent in unpaid caring work.

Of course, these are only the explicitly gender-related issues. Women make up half of the population and are responsible for a great deal of the care of another huge proportion of the population. It’s hard to think of a policy area that does not affect the lives of women.

What are your greatest concerns for young women today? What do you think feminism can offer them?

My concerns vary depending on the particular young women we’re talking about. Even if I limit my answer to concerns for young women in Australia, there’s no one answer. Domestic and sexual violence, lack of educational opportunities, inadequate access to healthcare (including reproductive healthcare), workplace harassment or discrimination – I could go on and each concern I mentioned would be relevant to some young women and not at all to others because gender injustice and inequity are compounded by other inequities and because sexism has many different manifestations.

I think of feminism as a super-flexible, multi-function tool. Whether you’re concerned about pay inequality or reproductive rights or domestic violence or one of a thousand other issues, there’s this amazing body of work created by feminist academics, writers and activists that can help explain the causes of the problem and suggest ways to solve it.

Looking at raunch culture, what needs to change to counter its spread?

I think the term ‘raunch culture’ has been misused and abused so much that it’s become almost meaningless. I mean, I’ve seen it used in relation to everything from children’s beauty pageants to footballer’s gang-bangs. If you’re using it in it’s original sense – as coined and defined by way Ariel Levy in Female Chauvinist Pigs  –  then I think its spread has already been countered, in large part thanks to the conversation begun by that book. Really, if you take a look at media and social commentary over the past decade you’ll see that, increasingly, overtly sexual women (whether that overt sexuality is authentic or faked) are far more likely to be shamed and stigmatised than celebrated.

In an interview on The Book Show on Radio National recently you spoke of how healthy feminism is today, despite detractors claiming otherwise. What signs of health do you see?

Well, to start right here, the feminist blogosphere is populated by a wonderfully diverse, argumentative, generous, creative, activist and ever-increasing number of feminists. Then there are the thousands of people who buy and discuss (in real world or online discussion groups) any one of the many popular feminist books that have been published in the past few years. (Just off the top of my head: Female Chauvinist Pigs, King Kong Theory by Virginie Despentes, The Feminist Denial by Monica Dux and Zora Simic, Full Frontal Feminism by Jessica Valenti, Living Dolls by Natasha Walter, Bodies by Susie Orbach.)

Then there are all the feminist women and men working in the community, in social services, in academia, in politics and in the corporate world. (The anti-feminists’ nightmare has come true – feminists really are everywhere!) Many of these feminists were in attendance at this year’s F Conference in Sydney which was a sold out event. Over 400 feminists from every walk of life spent a weekend engaging in discussions and workshops on everything from indigenous women’s knowledge to sex work.

What writing projects are you working on at the moment?

I’m working on a new novel. Right now, it’s a glorious, shining, amorphous thing that I adore but can’t describe. I may be able to talk about it once  I’m on to the third, fourth or fifteenth draft and no longer besotted.


Emily Maguire is set to revisit four classic feminist texts at Melbourne Writer’s Festival in From Woolf to Wolf, with Sophie Cunningham and Monica Dux, and hosted by Jo Case.

You can also catch Emily at MWF discussing young people and the media with SBS’s James West and editor of The Monthly Ben Naperstek.

Check here for dates and tickets.


Posted in Books, events, women we love | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Best of the rest on PM Gillard

Posted by Nic Heath on June 25, 2010

Australia might be ‘tickled pink at having its first female prime minister’, but what else is being said about the dramatic leadership change that saw Kevin Rudd suddenly ousted by Julia Gillard this week? 

Eva Cox at Crikey sees Julia Gillard’s achievement as the first step, rather than the end point, for those desiring gender balance in positions of power: 

‘We will know we really have made progress when women in top positions become normal and not worthy of comment. It will also mean we get better leaders, not just because many are women, but because we no longer exclude good people because of their gender.’ (register to read) 

Also at Crikey Shakira Hussein warns us that Gillard’s ascension to the top job means that some will think that feminism is finished: 

‘The danger now (well, one of the dangers) is that feminists will be told that the battle is won, that anyone who is still on the battlefield is just a whinger, that if a woman can become prime minister, then we have no further reason to complain.’ 

Annabel Crabbe acknowledges the sense of hope that has accompanied Gillard’s promotion:  

‘The approbation of her colleagues, seasoned with a groundswell of genuine delight at the elevation of Australia’s first female prime minister, give her an opportunity to make the sort of progress that eluded her predecessor.’ 

Catriona Menzies-Pike at New Matilda considers Gillard’s momentous caucus win and is left seeking answers: 

‘Once the fuss dies down, some of these questions will be answered and a bigger one will emerge: are Australians really ready to elect a female prime minister? 

‘There’s no doubt that Gillard’s promotion is an important symbolic victory for Australian women. But is this the exemplary trajectory for female success? To act as deputy until those whom you have vehemently opposed act to support you?’ 

 The Australian’s Caroline Overington sees evidence of change stamped all over our new PM: 

Julia Gillard is a woman, but that’s not the only extraordinary thing about her rise. 

She’s got a de facto. 

Imagine that, 30 years ago: an unmarried woman, living in sin with a man. Who is a hairdresser. And aspiring to high office. 

Leo Shanahan at The Punch believes Gillard could be the person to get the government back on track: 

Call me a honeymooner if you want, but in both policy and rhetoric Prime Minister Gillard made a lot of sense today, and that’s something that’s been missing from the Federal Government as of late. 

In Josephine Tovey’s piece at SMH, Gillard’s fruit bowl runneth over, Tovey wants women to stay on their toes: 

Just being a woman in power is not enough. There will be questions, rightly so, from women across the feminist spectrum. 

Will she, as Prime Minister improve the lot of other women, and make their paths to equality easier? 

But these are all questions for tomorrow. For now at least, we should all celebrate this landmark moment. 

 More excitement over at Femisting, with another reminder that all is not yet equal:

Julia Gillard, our new WOMAN PM – sorry, I can’t stop writing that in delighted caps – is a very impressive woman, and I have high hopes that this ouster will get voters’ approval in the upcoming Federal election. But one woman leader does not an egalitarian society make. 

At The Drum Helen Razer, enjoying ‘a little gynaecological bloat as Her Majesty’s female representative swore in the female representative of the people’, writes: 

‘A colony founded in masculinity, Australia can still feel like the land that feminism forgot. On this “historic” day, perhaps Overington, Wilkinson and co can be excused their greeting card gush.’ 

Mia Freedman briefed her readers about their new PM, adding: 

Julia Gillard is a remarkable woman. A fighter who has fought and won against many odds. A self confessed feminist and socialist, Gillard has survived the many attacks from the media and conservatives in Australia to become the Prime Minister of Australia, put in the position by the right wing factions that have previously tried to tear her down. 

Catherine Deveny sees Julia Gillard’s win as ‘a victory for all who do not fit into the category of white, middle aged, middle class, straight (or acting), god fearing (or pretending) university educated males granted a priority pass access to power (and therefore money, control, leisure and choice) at birth.’ Deveny affirms her faith in Gillard, writing: 

I believe in Julia Gillard. Not because she is a woman. But because she’s Julia Gillard. Smart, brave, strong, experienced and independent. I believe in equality and diversity. Which means knowing she can be a maggot and a mongrel when necessary. Delight and disappoint. Her promise not mine.  


If you have read any great comment or analysis that I have missed feel free to post it in the comments.

Posted in Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Julia Gillard Is Australia’s New Prime Minister

Posted by Clem Bastow on June 24, 2010

We’ll write more once the fallout from the spill has settled and we’ve had time to gather our thoughts, but – regardless of how it happened – Australia now has its first female Prime Minister. From The Age:

Julia Gillard has become Australia’s first female prime minister after Kevin Rudd stood aside at the last minute before this morning’s historic leadership ballot.

Ms Gillard was unelected unopposed, making her the nation’s 27th prime minister and its first female leader. She has chosen Treasurer Wayne Swan to be her Deputy Prime Minister.

Ms Gillard had the numbers – reportedly 74 of the 112 caucus votes – and the majority support of the party.

Yes, it would be nice – in an ideal world – for our first female Prime Minister to have been voted in by the public rather than a secretive party ballot, but Kevin Rudd has ended up a disappointment (not to mention certain election promises, like same-sex marriage, that evaporated completely) while Gillard has worked hard behind the scenes and will no doubt reinvigorate the party and government.

But quietly, we’re thrilled and moved that our first female PM will be sworn in by our first female Governor General, no matter how it happened.

Posted in Announcements, Media Watch, Politics, women we love | Tagged: , , , , , , | 9 Comments »

What the housewives of Australia need to understand…

Posted by caitlinate on February 8, 2010

What the housewives of Australia need to understand as they do the ironing is that if they get it done commercially it’s going to go up in price and their own power bills when they switch the iron on are going to go up, every year….

Or so said Tony Abbott today.

Because the only people that do ironing are housewives. In case you aren’t down with the lingo: woman housewife to Tony Abbott means someone who should be patronised and deeply condescended to. Apparently, women housewives are the disinterested and dim members of our wider society, best appealed to using only small words and simple examples they can personally relate to. Women Housewives don’t know or care about anything to do with climate change. All they care about is the tiny realm of household tasks they exist within (because you can be sure he thinks it’s a tiny realm). Lucky that the Mad Monk is here to inform women housewives about the really key and pressing issues of the day! Cos, you know, women housewives don’t need or want to understand anything about polar ice caps melting, rising sea levels, the increased risk of drought, fire and floods posed by global warming, the way changing ecosystems threaten the survival of wildlife, or the effects of this on the (indigenous) people living in the pacific region. Shit, all that information might explode the tiny, tiny brains of women housewives.

Nor does Tony Abbott believe that housewives would be interested in questioning the validity of the Rudd government’s ETS scheme because it does little to secure investment in alternative or renewable energies (and thus, our futures) or because it clings deludedly to the idea of ‘clean coal’. Nope, they only care about their fucking ironing.

Posted in Interviews, Media Watch, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 20 Comments »

Spill fever and the feminist fallout

Posted by Nic Heath on December 9, 2009

Politicians, pundits and the public alike have been giving women’s role both in the electorate and in elected office a fair amount of thought recently following the spill fever in federal and NSW state politics.

First off: the Liberal spill that led to Tony Abbott’s surprise ascension to Leader of the Opposition. As the Twittersphere lit up and the nation tried digesting this unexpected development one thread of analysis looked at Abbott’s somewhat erratic relationship with female voters.

I must admit I rarely pay mind to anything that flows from Miranda Devine’s pen, but now I’ve read her defense of Abbott’s inherent appeal to women (or rubbishing of “the aggressively secular, paleo-feminist, emasculating Australian broad, for whom unabashed red-blooded blokeishness is an affront of biblical proportions”) I might as well take a moment to disagree with her.

In Abbott’s real trouble is the sisterhood Devine’s premise is to refute the claim that the “popular perception of the new Opposition Leader is that women can’t stand his blokeish, confrontational style.” This is a deliberate misinterpretation of the reason women voters may steer away Abbott. By pinning the problem on Abbott’s style, Devine skips over the real problem – which is the substance of Abbott’s views on social policy.

What women voters are more likely to find worrying than political bluster is Abbott’s previous history of blurring the line between his personal religious beliefs and his public role in federal cabinet. A notorious example of this is Abbott’s handling of RU486. As Health Minister Abbott was seen to make a decision based on his personal morality rather than for the overall good of Australian women’s reproductive rights, which effectively constituted a violation of trust.

I would argue that the big issue here is not Abbott’s attitude to women per se, but how his Catholicism affects his political and social views. Is it acceptable in Australian secular society to have the country governed by leaders who have trouble separating religion and politics? It strikes me as dangerous territory.

So what makes Abbott potentially divisive to the electorate lies in his conservative views and whether you are sympathetic to them or not, rather than your sex. Miranda Devine for one is clearly unperturbed by Abbott’s views on abortion (she probably thinks he’s a bit liberal). It is likely though that an openly religious politician whose faith directly informs his politics such as Abbott has a greater chance of alienating women when his religious views clash with reproductive rights.

More worrying than his perceived ‘blokeish’ demeanour is Abbott’s reshuffled front bench. As Crikey’s Bernard Keane puts it:

“In the event of an Abbott election victory, this line-up would almost certainly drive action on abortion and other social policy touchstones in government. Eric Abetz tried to stop Medicare funding for abortions in the last term of the Howard government. Hardline Catholic Kevin Andrews first came to prominence striking down the Northern Territory’s euthanasia laws. Barnaby Joyce, another Catholic, has described abortion as “carnage” and has said he wants sexual assault victims to take a resulting pregnancy full-term. Bronwyn Bishop, Phillip Ruddock and Sophie Mirabella all voted in support of retaining the ban on RU-486”.

It remains to be seen whether this conservative shadow ministry will campaign on conservative social policy, or will Abbott as Opposition Leader put his electoral responsibilities before his faith? This comment made by Abbott on the 7.30 Report isn’t at all encouraging:

“Well, I’m not gonna try to pull the wool over anyone’s eyes – women’s or anyone else’s. I will be myself. I will not try to remake myself. I imagine that as my political circumstances change, people will see different aspects of my political character, and they’ll make up their own minds.”

It will be interesting to see how women vote in next year’s federal election.

Meanwhile, Kristina Keneally has the dubious privilege of becoming NSW’s first female premier. Dubious of course because it is NSW, and a privilege because Keneally has made one more crack in the glass ceiling.

Or has she?

Much has been made of Premier Keneally’s ties to factional heavyweights in the Labor Government, with the epithet ‘Puppet Premier’ appearing in dozens of headlines reporting her promotion last week.

So is it true, as Tory Maguire suggests, that “those looking for a feminist victory to celebrate should probably look elsewhere”?

Is it fair that every female politician in leadership roles be assessed for their suitability as a clear-cut feminist role model? What makes a ‘feminist victory’ anyway? Keneally is an imperfect candidate for the post of premier in much the same Nathan Rees was 15 months ago. She’s inexperienced and at the helm of a government flawed by its factions, so we’d best wish her luck.

So where do I look for my feminist victory? Can it be argued that KK makes the cut? Julie Bishop – Stepford Deputy?  Who in Australian politics constitutes a bona fide candidate for feminist success? Who can we be proud of?

My vote is for Julia Gillard, but comment with any other suggestions of female politicians who float your boat.

Posted in Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , | 10 Comments »

Crikey Wants To “Pull Chicks”

Posted by Mel Campbell on August 20, 2009

Online media outlet has been doing some audience research and is dismayed to realise that subscribers to its daily email service are 70 per cent male. Deputy editor Sophie Black points out today that this is despite a 50/50 gender balance in its editorial staff. Meanwhile, editor Jonathan Green says (tongue in cheek, I’d assume) that even the male staffers have “considered carefully the advances of feminism over the last few decades and placed ourselves within that context, while still pulling chicks.”

Initial fact-finding missions via Twitter uncovered a mix of potential reasons, which seemed to fall into recurring themes:

  • Women are too busy fulfilling myriad domestic responsibilities, on top of their work commitments and social lives, to sit around reading about Australian politics, media and business;
  • Women are not interested in the minutiae of party politics and the Canberra press gallery
  • While Crikey’s staff may have an even gender balance, freelance contributors are largely male
  • The editorial tone is blokey and macho, from the topics chosen to the way headlines are phrased
  • The industries covered in Crikey tend to be male-dominated
  • Women aren’t prepared to pay money for Crikey subscriptions, preferring to get Crikey’s emails forwarded from others, or getting their comment and debate for free on the web

I contribute occasionally to Crikey (and some of my writing at The Enthusiast gets picked up by their new aggregator-style website), and I feel a little embarrassed that my articles about stuff like fashion, media and advertising tend to look lightweight compared to the ins and outs of the Liberal leadership. Even though these are my professional interests, I feel worried that this kind of writing is considered “female-friendly” because, to be frank, many of my Crikey stories are deeply, gleefully silly. Although it’s come to seem that way, silliness is not “women’s interest”.

Crikey is considering starting a political blog written by women, possibly similar to Double X. But is the answer to its gender woes simply to increase its coverage of  “women’s issues” – and to ghettoise these on its website – when the original problem was an imbalance among its email subscribers? Perhaps a more pertinent issue might be Crikey’s definition of ‘politics’ – and its subscriber model.

In general I find Crikey’s current policy-wonk focus quite dry and boring. For instance, it does not intrigue me in the slightest that “ASIC, normally the country’s most timid regulator, is calling for bans on commissions and a slew of tighter regulatory requirements to end conflicted advice and impose greater responsibilities on financial planners.” (from Bernard Keane’s story in today’s email, Canning advisor’s commissions would be super start to reform.)

Perhaps women are more interested in social, cultural and sexual politics – that is, real-world politics. These are not just issues directly involving women, such as sex crimes, workplace and media sexism, consumer culture and work/life balance. Instead I’d suggest that women also respond passionately and empathetically to human rights and ethical issues of all sorts, from the environment to policing tactics, health funding to drugs in sport. These are not abstract policy debates but rather humanist debates.

Crikey’s email subscription model is also a linear method of content delivery – it’s sent out to subscribers, who can write back with comments, which are then sent out in the next issue. However, Sophie Black cites studies showing that women are heavy users of blogs and social media technologies. These are not linear but use metaphors of networks and communities. (In the past, Crikey subscribers have vehemently rejected the jocular name for the site’s community, “the Crikey Army”.)

In my experience as a woman (but, sadly, not “as an athlete, and a mum”), women like to share information by emailing their friends and joining in discussions at favoured online locations, whether these be Facebook, Twitter or The Dawn Chorus. Perhaps Crikey does have more female readers – but its 30 per cent of female subscribers are forwarding the emails to their friends. Perhaps online debate among women is happening in places that don’t have paywalls.

Why do you think women aren’t subscribing to Crikey? What kind of politics do you think women want to read about? And if you don’t read Crikey, where are you heading for your political reading?

Posted in Media Watch, Tech & Net | Tagged: , , , | 12 Comments »

On banning the burqa

Posted by Nic Heath on August 18, 2009

As has been widely reported in the last few months, French President Nicholas Sarkozy has the burqa in his sights. In June he announced to his compatriots that France would not accept a garment that made prisoners of the women who wear it. The latest controversy has seen a woman banned from wearing a burqini in a French public pool, ostensibly on hygiene grounds.

Sarkozy is the latest in a long line of politicians who have attacked aspects of Islamic dress in the name of women and their rights. These moonlighting feminists, by headlining their stance with a women’s lib tag, I think mask the true scope of their agendas – which in Sarkozy’s case could be to protect a certain aspect of a country’s cultural identity, or to marginalize another, or to assert authority.

As much as I dislike the burqa myself, vilifying the aesthetics of fundamentalist Islam – rather than say, focusing on the actions and beliefs of those who oppress women in the name of Islam – is a misalignment of energy and policy. Symi Rom-Rymer says it well in the Christian Science Monitor:

There are, no doubt, some women who are forced to wear this all-encompassing garment by their families, just as there are non-Muslim French women who are mistreated by their families in other ways. But to view the garment solely as a prison and as a symbol of male oppression, as Sarkozy does, oversimplifies a complex issue and may end up hurting the very women he’s trying to help.

If Sarkozy is truly concerned about the rights and dignity of these women, he ought to use high-profile speeches to discuss their needs, their concerns, and to focus on what they can contribute to and gain from French society, rather than on what they wear while doing it.

What will happen to women not permitted to wear the burqa in French public life (of whom there are reportedly 400 in France)? Will they happily cast it off and bare their exposed faces to shopkeepers and bus drivers? Will they enroll in university or vocational courses? Will they leave abusive husbands? Will it solve all their problems?

I have no definitive answers of course but I imagine that the result could be otherwise – could lead to further marginalization, could leave women further ostracized and isolated from the general community. As difficult as it is, if one is concerned about the rights of women wearing the burqa, it would be more useful to take a positive stance through giving those women support and fostering opportunities for their self-determination.

The wider Australian community also has a strained relationship with Islamic dress. The burqa perfectly manifests the other when held against Australia’s traditional cultural identity – laidback laconic larrikins living it up on the beach etc. The burqa threatens many people’s sense of self and of belonging. As Irfan Yusuf noted in July in The Age, Muslim women wearing the burqa provide the media a ‘potent symbol of Islam in the West’, one that is regularly exploited by news outlets.

When one Sydney Muslim man called for polygamy to be legalised, the Herald Sun website carried a photo of two burqa-clad women crossing the street. The website of its Sydney equivalent regularly carries photos of burqa-clad women in any story even mildly related to Muslims.

Julie Posetti, speaking at a forum at the ANU in July (which you can watch at ABC Fora), sums up my position pretty well. She argues that banning the burqa would be an oppressive move, and that much of the language used in calls against the burqa recalls cultural imperialism. She rightly says that the state has no place in a woman’s wardrobe. Imagine the government legislating against bikinis, or Catholic nun’s habits – it becomes an ethical minefield. Similarly murky of course is the boundary between cultural sensitivity, or regard for an individual’s rights, and cultural relativism.

Banning the burqa looks more like another symptom of France’s troubled relationship with ethnic minorities than a step forward for feminism and women’s rights. Policies of social inclusion and education would surely be more beneficial than those of prohibition and exclusion.

Posted in Faith and Religion, Fashion, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Madeline Grey: Challenging Women

Posted by Nic Heath on July 10, 2009

Last year we had cause in Victoria to reflect on women’s suffrage, as 2008 marked one hundred years since Victorian women were granted the right to vote in state elections.

It wasn’t until 1923 that Victorian women were eligible to stand for election, and then ten years later Lady Millie Peacock won a by-election to become the first female parliamentarian in Victoria.

Women – not just in Victoria, but also around the country and federally – remained under-represented in parliament right through until the eighties. I didn’t realise just how sparsely represented – during the early sixties there were only 15 women total in all Australian parliaments. Today there are 251.

Melbourne historian Madeline Grey has written a book, Challenging Women: Towards equality in the Parliament of Victoria, that looks at the increased politicisation of women in Victoria, from the foundation of the Women’s Electoral Lobby in 1972 through to 1997.

The first part of the book constitutes a small history of second-wave feminism in Australia, through a political lens. The origins of the WEL, born from the burgeoning second-wave feminist movement, are fascinating, as are the group’s early strategies, campaigns and achievements.

During this time the number of women elected to Australian parliaments increased, with 19 women in Victoria elected in the 1980s and 20 in nineties. Grey (in her introduction) attributes this rise partly to the work of second-wave feminists who from the 1970s sought to put women’s issues on the mainstream political agenda.

The feminisation of politics, granted a chapter in Grey’s book, is an issue that continues to resonate – think the storm in a teacup recently after Sarah Hanson-Young had her toddler ejected from the Senate. And yet it is a nod to how much has changed that she is a Senator and a young mother and was able to have her child with her in Parliament House at all. 

Despite the feminisation of politics, and the inroads made into changing the culture and practice of male-dominated politics in Australia, female parliamentarians are still treated differently. Look at Julia Gillard’s flak from Bill Heffernan regarding her decision not to have children. Likewise, I have heard Maxine McKew address her childlessness numerous times in the media and yet I have no idea if Greg Combet has no children or six.

The epilogue gives a view from 2009, appraising the performance of strategies to increase the representation of women in politics, as well as the reach of cultural and structural change and to what extent party politics constrain the scope of women’s success in parliament. Grey’s book includes lots of material from interviews with women who have served in Victoria’s Parliament, and the personal accounts are bracing.

Madeline Grey will be discussing Challenging Women at a free event at Kew Library next week. 

When: Thursday 16 July at 7.30pm
Where: Phyllis Hore Room, Kew Library, Cnr Cotham Road and Civic Drive, Kew
How to book: 9278 4666 or online

Posted in Books, events, Politics | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

Brief Thoughts On The Pauline Hanson Nude Photos “Scandal”

Posted by Clem Bastow on March 15, 2009

I can honestly say I never thought the day would come when I found myself expressing my respect for Pauline Hanson’s handling of any situation; the One Nation leader has been racist, bigoted, infuriating and beligerent, but I never expected this. Some back-story for those who are confused: if you’ve read the Sunday morning papers today (or browsed the News Ltd online offering), you will have seen that an ex-boyfriend of Hanson’s, Jack Johnson, has released some “provocative”/”seductive” (Daily Telegraph‘s words) photos taken when the pair were on a holiday some time between 1975 and 1977. Charmingly (though also, on some level, rather refreshingly – at least in the context of “former associates” who usually labour under false pretenses of “the public deserves to know…”), he has more or less admitted he only released the photos as he needed the money:

He said he was happy to give them back to the politician – “but sorry it’s come to this, sweetheart … that’s the way it is”.

It’s the same old sordid attempt to derail a woman’s political (or any) career – but what strikes me in this instance as notable is Hanson’s refusal to collapse into the usual press conference mea culpa expected of the victims of such “smear campaigns” (I use the air quotes because it always bothers me when apparently all it takes to derail a career is a healthy sex life – and for the record, I consider “healthy” anything two (or more) consenting adults decide to do together and don’t use it as a synonym for the greatly unhelpful “normal”). In fact, Hanson’s response – via her campaign office, in the Tele story linked to above – has been wonderfully brief:

Hanson was campaigning in Logan City south of Brisbane yesterday. Her campaign manager Bronwyn Boag said Hanson was too busy to come to the phone and they did not “care about photos”.

That is precisely the right response. Obviously politics is a field wrought with considerations of one’s electorate’s feelings and responses to anything that could spell a drop in votes, but how often do we see politicians selling out their lovers, sexual preferences and former associates solely for the ability to say, in essence, “but don’t worry, I’m okay now”? Saying “I don’t care” is the right response – because we shouldn’t care, either, nor should we be shocked or surprised.

The only person who should feel smeared by this rather sorry affair is Johnson; he’s the one who realised he needed to sell private photos in order to make a quick buck and descended into that grimy world himself. Hanson – while she should very much still feel ashamed of her politics, both personal and professional – should feel no shame at all. Perhaps she might wince at her mid-’70s choice of boudoir gear, or her hairdo (probably not), or her makeup, or remind herself why she didn’t end up staying with Johnson, but she should not – and, correctly, has not – fallen into a puddle of regret and hand-wringing simply to assuage the 1950s-worthy moral tut-tutting of the media commentators.

But the media needs to learn that women – even the ones we don’t like – have sex drives and sex lives. They vary infinitely from woman to woman, but the moral of the story is that revealing that a woman once took photos with an intimate partner (see also: Vanessa Hudgens, Jess Origliasso…) is not – or rather, should not – enough to derail a career. It is not “porn”, it is not a “scandal” – the only thing that brings such terms into play is the media itself, and the vultures feeding (and being fed by) the machine.

Posted in Celebrity, Media Watch, Politics, Sex And Love | Tagged: , , , , , | 24 Comments »

A Step in the Right Direction for Niger’s Slavery Laws (or Lack Thereof)

Posted by Sara Lewis on October 29, 2008

The Court of Justice of the Economic Community of West African States has charged the state of Niger the equivalent of AU$30,600 for neglecting to protect a woman sold into slavery at 12 years old. Adidjatou Mani Koraou, now 24, was sold for 330 euros (AU$673) and forced into domestic, agricultural and sexual labour without pay for the following ten years. The Age reported:

Adidjatou “served her master and his family for 10 years. She was never paid for her work and lived in a state of complete submission to her master, being subjected to regular beatings and sexual violence.

Her circumstances fall squarely within the longstanding internationally accepted definition of slavery,” [NGO Anti-Slavery International] said in a statement released ahead of the hearing.

The hearing and the conviction that followed mark an important moment for slavery in West Africa, this being the first time that the ECOWAS regional court has been asked to rule on a case of slavery.The result carries weighty implications for other West African states, and will hopefully be regarded as a benchmark case to be mimicked and built on hereafter.

Ms. Koraou said of the ordeal in comments published by Anti-Slavery International:

It was very difficult to challenge my former master and to speak out when people see you as nothing more than a slave. But I knew that this was the only way to protect my child from suffering the same fate as myself. Nobody deserves to be enslaved. We are all equal and deserve to be treated the same… no woman should suffer the way I did.

What’s important to remember here is that slavery is not limited to those at the extreme end of the spectrum. Slavery today occurs in an alarming range of ways and affects an even more alarming amount of women (and men) all over the world. Anti-Slavery International defines a slave as anyone who is forced to work, owned or controlled by an employer and dehumanised or ‘bought’ in any way. Examples include (but of course are not limited to) bonded labour, early forced marriage, forced labour, slavery by descent, trafficking and child labour. See this section of Anti-Slavery International’s website for the full picture.

[And while you’re there, send the automated e-mail – or adapt it into your own words – urging the President of the Phillippines to enact the Batas Kasambahay Domestic Workers Bill, which aims to pull Filipino domestic workers out of the private sphere and into the public legal system where their working conditions can be regulated and improved.]

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