Feminism in Twelve Easy Lessons

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LESSON NUMBER ONE

Beware of anyone using the words ‘respect’, ‘traditional’, ‘family values’, ‘honour’, ‘unacceptable’, ‘morality’, ‘uncalled for’, ‘inappropriate’, ‘unnecessary’ or ‘offensive’.
Particularly beware of the word offensive.

It’s code for ‘Pipe down princess, back in your box’.

Offence is taken not given and more harm is created by taking offence than giving it.

Offence is subjective.
Just because you are offended does not mean you are right. You’re offended? Block, unfriend, change the channel, switch stations, turn the page, talk to someone else or call the wahmbulance. No one has the right not to be offended.

Offence is used as a mode of social control. Do not be oppressed by feeling you’re supposed to lie down in some chalk outline drawn for you by a society that once upon a time would have burned you at the stake for such unladylike behaviour. Now all they can do is accuse you of transgressing some social norm constructed by the patriarchy to put you in your place. And the reason you have to be put or kept in your place is in order to fortify their place. And their place would be the one with disproportionate access to power, control, decisions, leisure, money and the ability to control women’s bodies.

Watch language. Language is a friend to joint destroyers. Men have opinions, women are opinionated; men speak, women are outspoken; men are passionate, women rant; men have mouths, women are mouthy; and when was the last time you heard a man called feisty, bitter, sassy or shrill?

As Laurel Thatcher Ulrich said, Well-behaved women seldom make history.

LESSON NUMBER TWO

You are not imagining it. You are not overreacting. Women are not being listened to, and when they are heard they are told they are dominating. Not only are they discouraged from speaking, when a woman does speak and is not enabling the patriarchy, she is used as a human piñata to set an example for others and keep them in their place.

Twenty years ago I came across a cartoon, which I have kept in front of my desk ever since. And it is as true now as it was then. The scene is a boardroom table. Five balding men in suits. One woman. The caption? ‘That’s an excellent suggestion, Miss Triggs. Perhaps one of the men here would like to make it.’ I’ve always said I wished there was a scientific way to prove that women who colour outside the lines cop a thousand times more vitriol and it’s a thousand times more vicious. There is. I appeared on Q&A in 2012 with Anglican archbishop, Peter Jensen, and copped a bucket load. Academic, historian and writer Chrys Stevenson undertook a detailed study into that particular episode.

‘According to comments on the #qanda Twitter stream, Deveny is: an ugly, extremist, stupid, unintelligent, idiotic, thoughtless, self-righteous, self-centred, self-absorbed, nasty, confused, frustrated, bitter, twisted, humourless, unfunny, unreasonable, unrespectable, disrespectful, sarcastic, mocking, catty, hateful, boorish, blustering, bullying bitch.

‘What’s more, she is: combative, vicious, shouty, loud- mouthed, arrogant, aggressive, angry, abrasive, childish, silly, garbled, inarticulate, intolerant, hypocritical, pathetic, disgraceful, disgusting, rude, condescending, bigoted, preachy, patronising, dogmatic, offensive, immoral, discriminatory and “up herself”.’

According to the mob, which included everything from private messages to national broadsheet newspaper editorials, I ‘rudely talked over fellow panellists, shouted, yelled and dominated the conversation’.

Stevenson not only found Peter Jensen spoke twice the amount of words as I did (his 36% to my 17%) but we both interjected/interrupted four times each, host Tony Jones only asked me to speak four times and asked Jensen eight, and I was asked twice to ‘keep it brief’.

Stevenson consulted an audio engineer, who found my voice was at the same consistent level as the other panellists and the host. And she ascertained my contributions were argued eloquently, politely, passionately and tolerantly.

So what was my crime? Until recently, the Powers That Be, the Masters of the Universe, the Captains of Industry and The Gatekeepers of Information have been able to control who says what, how and where. And it seems us Joint Destroyers are really taking the jam out of their donuts. Keep in mind they are still the ones with the donuts.

LESSON NUMBER THREE

Collect statistics. Keep statistics. Use statistics. Spread statistics.
The following week on Q&A, Liberal MP Christopher Pyne interrupted the host and other panellists a total of 34 times. And no one, apart from Chrys Stevenson, mentioned it, which is the only reason I know how many times the mincing poodle ejaculated into the show.

Dale Spender coined the ‘one third rule’ in her book Man- Made Language. As soon as women are: more than one third of the speakers at a conference; more than one third of the members of the house; more than a third of the authors on the review pages of the papers; or one-third the contribution to the conversations the impression is – for both genders – that women are taking over.1

In late 2012, Chrys Stevenson completed research into how women are represented in Australian newspapers and found, by her comprehensive byline count and content analysis, the percentage of stories written by women with women as the subject, quoting women or using women as an expert or in the photo is between 20% and 30%, similar to findings from separate investigations all over the world.

LESSON NUMBER FOUR

It is about numbers. Be aware of the Gender Adjusted Representation Scale.

Here’s part of a piece I wrote for International Women’s Day for The Age newspaper in 2009:

This newspaper itself reflects the ingrained gender imbalance in media. It’s not uncommon for the opinion page to feature a middle-aged, middle-class white man in a suit, followed by another middle-aged, middle-class white man in a suit, followed by another middle-aged, middle-class white man in a suit, followed by Peter Costello. Of the last 69 opinion pieces published by The Age newspaper, only thirteen have been written by women. Four from The New York Times’ Maureen Dowd and of the nine left, only three had opinions. The other six were just ‘sharing experiences’. And why, with the ratio of 56 men’s voices to every thirteen women’s on the page, is it not called ‘A Men’s Page’. Because if you inverted the numbers and it was thirteen men’s voices and 56 women’s I can guarantee it would be called ‘A Women’s Page’.

Time and time again when a typical television show, opinion page, radio station, court bench, ballot paper, board table, conference or church altar has a line-up of 80%, 90%, sometimes 100% middle-aged middle-class rich white straight (or acting), god-fearing (or pretending) men I ask people to subvert the gender balance to the same ratio of women. It then becomes clear that if this really were the case it would be considered a women’s show, newspaper, radio station, political party, company board or religion. Why are people so blind and/or accepting and consequently enabling of such discrimination?

If aliens came down they would take one look around and have no other choice but to make the assumption rich old white men were the smartest people on the planet.

Panel shows are perfect microcosms of the accepted gender bias. The ratio is about one woman to every four men. The one female gives an illusion of equality, which shows how accustomed we are to the token nod. One woman, it seems, is equal to four men, if you’re lucky. I call it the Gender Adjusted Representation Scale.

You call it when you see it, Destroyers.

LESSON NUMBER FIVE

Don’t just look at numbers look at the culture.
The all-women morning show The Circle used to regularly get mentioned when gender representation and women’s voices come up. People held it up like proof there is equality.

Of course, The Circle was axed. Why?

Again, beware the Gender Adjusted Representation Scale.

OK, The Circle. One show. From the hundreds on air every week. On at nine in the morning. The female presenters were expected to be bubbly, pleasant and not at all controversial. The show was promoted as a little bit opinionated on a few inconsequential topics. But it was mostly, ‘Later in the show we’ll be talking to Marina Prior about her workout tips and after the break we will be cooking cupcakes for our audience of pregnant mummies!’

What? From Egypt?

The Circle was promoted as smart and relevant, the Australian version of The View. Which it most certainly was not. But it was most certainly smarter and more relevant than any ‘women’s show’ in Australian television history and its foreseeable future. The Circle was a good house in a bad street.

The show’s marketing spin told us the women were smart, opinionated and funky. The reality is they are far, far more fabulous off screen. If the presenters were allowed to be themselves on screen the show would have been called ‘provocative, controversial and offensive’ and, let’s face it, wouldn’t have made it to air. The choice of women and the limited versions of themselves they were permitted to show is a perfect example of the Smurfette Principle and goes part of the way to illustrate how women are less likely to support each other professionally because of the perception there are only a few spots for a female and only certain kinds of women need apply.

If there is only one ‘women’s show’ on television (which, if one show is described as a ‘women’s show’ the rest are, therefore by default, ‘men’s shows’), why these women? And why this show? And even more curious, why when there is only one ‘women’s show’ on Australian television, when one presenter goes on maternity leave (Gorgi Coghlan) they have a guy (Colin Lane) fill in?

So The Circle was axed late 2012 because, despite its popularity, Network Ten had to cut costs and it was cheaper axing the whole show than getting out of a six-figure contract with unpopular breakfast host Paul Henry. An amount they never would have agreed to pay a woman.

Having The Circle was fine. We just need as much variety and diversity of women’s shows and women on television as men and ‘men’s’ shows.

But don’t just count the women, look at how they are expected to be, look, act and respond. How integral are they? I recently did a presentation on Women in Australian Television. The title was ‘Garnish’. That’s what women in Australian television are. Not the meal, the garnish.

LESSON NUMBER SIX

What all women should be encouraged to achieve is FOS: Fuck Off Status.
When I was nineteen, I met a woman called Patricia O’Donnell, who I am still buddies with today. O’Donnell is a successful restaurateur, businesswoman and all-round brilliant. When I was nineteen, she didn’t know me. But I was sitting at the bar of her establishment, The Queenscliff, waiting for some of my mates, her staff. She said to me, apropos of nothing, ‘You know what you need, young lady? You need Fuck Off Status. You need to have your house, and your business and be able to tell anyone you don’t want to deal with to fuck off.’

Best advice I have ever been given. We need to encourage all women and girls to aim for Fuck Off Status – not to dream of just marrying a footballer – and encourage all men and boys to enable and support it.

Women are 50% of the population, do two thirds of the work, earn 10% of the money and own 1% of the land. What do we want? Fuck Off Status! When do we want it? Yesterday!

And while we are on tips, I am often asked what tip I would give women wanting to be successful, so here they are:

  1. Stand for something.
  2. Never have any more children or any larger mortgagethan you could manage on your own.
  3. Use public schools, public healthcare and supportpublic housing and affordable, accessible, high-quality childcare and the rights of carers and the disabled. All these things enable number 4.
  4. Aim for Fuck Off Status. I got mine in December 2012, aged 44, when I finally had a mortgage and a house title in my name alone.

LESSON NUMBER SEVEN

Don’t buy the argument that women have less because we live in a meritocracy.
We don’t. It’s sexism.

I can’t walk out my door without tripping over a woman who has something to say. And could – brilliantly, passionately, articulately and repetitively in print, on telly, or on the radio. No problem. Given the chance. Or lead in government, corporations, the law or religion. Given the chance. So why aren’t they given the chance? Because they’re women.

It’s not a meritocracy. It’s sexism.

LESSON NUMBER EIGHT

Don’t placate strangers.

Women out alone attract a huge amount of unwanted attention. If there is a drunk, nutter, pissed bogan or sleaze, they will hassle the woman on her own. They will walk past the group of tradies, the bunch of old women, the couple on the bench, the young man in a suit, and pester or inflict themselves in ways that always appear to be random and spontaneous outbursts.

You don’t have to feel sorry for any drunk, nutter, pissed bogan or sleaze, or be kind to them or nice to them or excuse them as pissed, old or deranged. You do not have to give directions to, have a conversation with, tell the time to anyone, if you don’t want to. You do not have to be kind or nice if you don’t want to. Why do we so often override our own unease only to find ourselves in a vulnerable position?

If a stranger walks up to you and wants the time, directions, spare change or a chat and you don’t want to interact, don’t.

You never have to engage with strangers. It’s another form of harassment.

Here’s how to avoid finding yourself involved in unwanted conversations, even those that begin harmlessly enough: always have a line up your sleeve to nip unwanted intrusions in the bud. Don’t let them escalate into annoyances or into huge liberties taken by a stranger – or worse.

Here’s mine: ‘Sorry brother, I’m in a hurry.’
And just keep walking.
If they persist I just tell them in a deep and low voice to fuck off.

I know we shouldn’t have to need to do this but how many times have we been nice and kind – our default setting – and finding ourselves in an unpleasant, annoying or unsafe place with a total fucking stranger.

I am very friendly. I see men as brothers not predators, I routinely give directions, spare change, a loan of my phone and even the odd dink to guys I don’t know. But I use my instinct, which, like a muscle that gets flexed, is very strong.

Don’t feel sorry for them if you don’t want to. Let someone else. If these random guys really are losers, drunks or nutters, why are they always so able to contain their unwanted attention until when they come across a woman on her own?

Fuck that.

LESSON NUMBER NINE

Do not assume a woman in a powerful position is automatically a feminist.
And do not assume a male in a powerful position is necessarily a misogynist.

I have had as many males as females support me in my life and career and as many females as males be obstructive.

Where did the assumption come from that patriarchy advantages all men and disadvantages all women? Plenty of women – many of whom present themselves as champions of women, see editors of women’s magazines for further examples – are actually utter chauvinists and sexist creeps bursting with internalised misogyny and being rewarded for it. These women have joined what they consider the only game in town in an attempt to get power, position and privilege.

According to Germaine Greer: ‘The present condition of men is nothing to aspire to.’ Greer also asserts feminism is the last great revolution and reckons the women’s liberation movement hasn’t even begun.

Patriarchy damages us all and the axis of evil – patriarchy, religion and the state – is being dismantled, dissolved and detonated at an unprecedented rate by the holy trinity of atheism, feminism and the internet. But the axis of evil is still putting up quite a fight. It was never going to be easy.

The truth is, there is not one feminism, but many feminisms. And just because you are pro women does not mean you are anti men. In fact, I think one of the main reasons I am a feminist is because I love boys and men so much and I have hated the way society has expected them to live, love and be. Feminism is not anti men. It’s anti arseholes, misogynists, pricks, creeps, thugs and bigots.

LESSON NUMBER TEN

Clothes don’t turn women and girls into sluts. We do.

The most dangerous place for a woman is in her own home and she is most likely to be injured, abused, raped or killed by a man she is related or married to.

Babies get raped; old ladies get raped; boys get raped; men get raped.

Clothes have nothing to do with it.
There is only one cause of rape. And that’s rapists.
If anyone tells you not to walk the streets alone or take care or to be scared or to get a man to walk you to your car, you say, ‘Don’t tell me not to walk my streets. Tell people not to rape me.’

What is a slut? I’d like to get a series of pictures of a female from birth to old age: a baby, toddler, school girl, teenager, young adult, pregnant, with her children, mature, aging, each wearing the normal transition of clothing, and ask people to point to pictures in which she looks like a slut.

What is a slut? A woman who likes sex? Wants sex? Has had a lot of sex? Who dresses in short skirts, high heels and low-cut tops? What is the definition of a lot, short, high and low?

So what if we could all agree on the universal definition of the word slut and we could accurately identify a slut? So what? Women should be able to do what they want and expect not to be judged, shamed or punished for it. And if they are, they need to speak out.

Women have the right to wear what they want, enjoy sex and have sex with as many people as they like.

There is nothing wrong with being a slut. Whatever that is.

Clothes are not safe or unsafe. People are.

When I asked my boyfriend if he was coming to Slutwalk with me, he said, ‘Sure. ’Cause you’re not allowed to rape sluts either.’ Couldn’t have said it better myself.

BONUS LESSON

Listen to the gospel according to Gloria.

The truth will set you free. But first, it will piss you off.

Gloria Steinem

Any woman who chooses to behave like a full human being should be warned that the armies of the status quo will treat her as something of a dirty joke. That’s their natural and first weapon. She will need her sisterhood.

Gloria Steinem

I’ve yet to be on a campus where most women aren’t worrying about some aspect of combining marriage, children and a career. I’ve yet to find one where many men were worrying about the same thing.

Gloria Steinem

LESSON NUMBER ELEVEN

Loving your body exactly the way it is is an act of civil disobedience. Do it.
Sometimes I think people are most offended by my confidence in who I am and how I look. The fact I am not just happy but thrilled with who I am. The absence of self-deprecation and apology for not fitting into their idea of who I should be. And how I should feel about it.

Someone out there would kill to have your body. Seriously, they would. And the owner of the body that you would kill to have is probably as dissatisfied with their body as you are with yours. Same goes with level of health, amount of money, value of assets you own, troubles you have.

Let’s stage a coup on dissatisfaction. The constant portrayal of the skinny, teenage, heterosexual, white and able body as the ‘only’ desirable body is unfair and untrue. I’m furious with people who manipulate the world to make women feel not good enough. And even more furious with women for being sucked in to it.

It’s a choice between fear and love. A choice. You choose.

I watch people look at old photos of themselves and exclaim, ‘I looked so slim, so young and so gorgeous! No wonder the fellas were gagging for me back then! I had no idea at the time how beautiful I was. I wished I’d known and just enjoyed it. I hated my ankles and thought my skin was too blotchy and my body too fat.’

Women seem to go through life always thinking they are not good enough. There will be a moment in our lives when we will be the prettiest, the thinnest and the happiest we’ll ever be, but we will never know when it is.

I was in a supermarket once and I saw this skinny, withered old woman, maybe 75, flicking through a magazine called Slimmers, and I wanted to tap her on the shoulder and say, ‘When are you going to stop worrying? You are good enough.’

I have only been thin twice in my life, when I had cancer and when I was suffering severe depression. It was awful. I would have paid a million bucks to be twenty kilos bigger and happier.

Stop buying those women’s magazines – they are self- loathing manuals. Buy clothes you love, that you look and feel great in and surround yourself with images of diverse body shapes.

Loving your body is about feeling well and healthy.

LESSON NUMBER TWELVE

Who we should remember and how we should try to be remembered.

Hi Catherine,

I don’t know if you remember the end of an International Women’s Day lunch you did at Monash University a couple of years ago, where a young lady at the end asked a question about ‘what was going to happen to me?’ etc., etc. I was that chick. At the time I was working part time, trying to finish my thesis, and looking after a baby (and in a shit relationship) – the works. I actually wasn’t even attending the lunch – technically I was working, handing out sandwiches.

You answered my question so well, quoting Winston Churchill (‘when you find yourself in hell, just keep going’). And you gave me the flowers that were presented to you after giving your talk.

I thought I’d drop you a line to let you know I’ve just finished my PhD thesis – the bound copies are on my desk now. After I submit them to the Chair of Examiners I’ll be well and truly done with it.

Thank you for those words that day. I did keep going and things did get better. Hope everything in your work and life is truly good.

I can’t say how much that unexpected little interaction turned things around for me – I felt very brave that afternoon. I’m so happy I’ve had this opportunity to thank you.

Warmest wishes,

Jane.

I have written many of these letters myself and also received a few. When I met Patricia O’Donnell again for the first time twenty years after meeting her when I was nineteen, I opened my greeting with ‘you probably don’t remember me but you told me to aim for Fuck Off Status’.

She didn’t remember me. But her words made such a huge impact on my life.

We have to support each other, brothers and sisters. Start where you are, do what you can, with what you have. When you don’t know what to do, do anything.

Don’t ask for your rights. That suggests someone else has the power to grant them.

Demand your rights.

This was originally published in Destroying the Joint: Why Women Have To Change the World edited by Jane Caro. 
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