This morning, I heard that the actress Patricia Arquette had used her Oscar acceptance speech to speak about equal rights for women:
To every woman who gave birth, to every taxpayer and citizen of this nation, we have fought for
everybody else's equal rights... It's our time to have wage equality once and for all and equal rights for women in the United States of America (DePillis, 23 Feb 2015).
Journalist Lydia DePillis points out in her article on the event that Arquette's distinction is important in saying 'every woman who gave birth' because the gender pay gap is really a 'motherhood pay gap' (2015). In the USA, for instance, whilst the overall gender pay gap has been shrinking, the discrepancy for mothers has been growing, and it gets wider every time another child is born (DePillis, 2015). Often women return to work after taking time of for children to reduced hourly rates of pay and discrimination (DePillis, 2015). A psychological experiment found, for example that people will often perceive mothers as less competent and less committed to work than non-mothers (DePillis, 2015). This affects hiring and promotion.
In Australia, the 2008, the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Report entitled: ‘Gender equality: what matters to Australian men and women’ found that there were three key themes that resonated with both men and women. These were: economic independence for women, balancing work & family life, and being able to live free from harassment, discrimination and violence (2008). Issues such as the gender pay gap, saving for retirement, the lack of leadership positions for women, sole parenting, the need for more flexible work practices, paid maternity and parental leave, affordable and available child care and gender related violence were all discussed in a research project that directly asked the community for input.
Whilst this particular event may not directly address all of these issues, there will be moments when participants touch on some of these issues. For instance, I’ve heard on various occasions of Tania Ingerson’s experiences of working in the very male-dominated technology field, and the fact that discrimination can operate quite subtly; it’s not always out in the open.
Essentially, the aim of this event is to inspire. Certainly, I have gathered together a group of exceptional women who will tell their own stories about their particular life journey: Elise Lavers, Julie Wallace, Sandy Vaile, Keitha Haycock (Young), Jennifer Russell, Karen Montgomery, and Tania Ingerson. These women’s life experiences range across fields as broad as environmental activism, yoga teaching, novel writing, small business (running a ‘green’website), entrepreneurship (a seed-saving festival), food production and education, working in the corporate and the not-for-profit sector.
So, why had I chosen an all women’s panel for this inaugural event that I hoped would be part of an ongoing festival series called Provocative Conversations on the Fleurieu? In fact, the idea of choosing an ‘all women’s’ panel had initially drawn shock and criticism from the festival’s volunteer program co-ordinator’s group, who perhaps saw me as some sort of Bolshie 3rd (or 4th) -wave feminist setting out to exclude men from public discussion. This reaction came as quite a surprise to me – especially since there were very recent precedents in Adelaide for this kind of format, in events such as She Leads and Women of Letters.
Anyway, if I needed to justify my idea, evidence seemed to pour forth from the universe at every turn. Indeed, my proposition – that it was valuable and worthwhile for a group of women to tell their personal stories, as distinct from hearing men engage in the grand narratives of history – seemed to be supported by a plethora of oral and written narratives that I was discovering. Most recently perhaps, was the vicious personal attack on Human Rights’ Commissioner Gillian Triggs by right-wing commentators and politicians. Piers Akerman, right-wing journalist had used Trigg’s family situation against her because her profoundly disabled daughter was in foster care, rather than focussing on the content of her report into children in immigration detention. The federal government had called for her resignation because they were so unsettled by the content of her report, accusing her of bias, though unable to point to any factual errors in the report.
Of course, none of this is new. Many other female public figures have suffered dreadful attacks by conservative commentators: Julia Guillard, Anna Bligh, Christine Nixon to name but a few. As our one-and-only female Prime Minister, Julia Guillard stated about Tony Abbott in her famous misogyny speech:
The Leader of the Opposition says that people who hold sexist views are who are misogynists are not appropriate for high office... if he wants to know what misogyny looks like, he doesn’t need a motion in the House of Representatives, he needs a mirror...
Guillard went on to detail Abbott’s record of sexist comments about women’s place in society. Needless to say Abbott showed himself to be a true-believer when it comes to misogyny saying that men are more adapted or suited by temperament to exercise authority.
In Sydney last year, I discovered a copy of Best Australian Essays – edited by Robert Manne. As I opened the book, my eyes glanced over Rachel Nolan’s essay entitled ‘Men of a Certain Age’ (2014: 128 – 139) in which the author listed all the ‘old white males’ who had been given positions of authority in the Abbott government: Peter Cosgrove replaced Quentin Bryce as governor-general, Dick Warburton (climate change sceptic) was appointed to review the Renewable Energy Target, Dyson Heydon was appointed to lead the royal commission into unions and the list went on and on. In the cabinet, Abbott only appointed one woman – Julie Bishop as Minister for Foreign Affairs; though he later promoted Sussan Lee from Assistant Minister for Education to Minister for Health and Minister for Sport, perhaps to assuage criticism of the gender inequity in his government. To add ‘insult to injury’ as the saying goes, Abbott appointed himself Minister for Women!
Back in his university days, Abbott said: ‘
It would be folly to expect women will ever dominate or even approach equal representation in a large number of areas, simply because their aptitudes, abilities and interests are different for physiological reasons (Nolan, 2014: 131).
Sadly, Abbott did not grow out of this view. In 2010, he showed how little he’d changed when he suggested that ‘the housewives of Australia’ would reflect on the carbon price ‘as they do the ironing’ (Nolan cited in Manne 2014: 131).
Back home in South Australia, I got stuck into an in-depth read of Nolan’s essay. Perhaps for me the greatest revelation, (according to Sheryl Sandberg Facebook CEO), is the empirical evidence showing that women are less likeable the more powerful they become. Needless to say, this trend does not seem to apply to men (Manne, 2014: 134).
I had to turn my mind away from these horrific thoughts. I re-read my diary entry from January 7, when I was staying in The Blue Mountains. After a dinner-party with three close women friends, I had written: ‘I love all these women. What powerful, interesting, brave, feisty, talented, sweet, affectionate, spontaneous, generous, amusing and passionate people they are!’ (Pentecost)... and I could say the same of all the women I have chosen to be part of My Passionate Philosophy.
My most fervent wish now is that I can gather an interested audience to debate some of the issues that will be raised by my group of powerful women. Seven weeks to go and I hoped that I wasn't tilting at windmills - that locals and non-locals alike would want to know more about My Passionate Philosophy.
To book: Please click on the link on the photo.