Wednesday, April 10, 2013

On feminism

In writing this post, I want it to be understood that I am in no way tarring and feathering all men with the one brush. What I am expressing is not misandry. It is instead an attempt at an explanation on why feminism is important to me. 

A couple of days ago, a friend of mine wrote this post. After extensive reflection, plus a couple of things that have happened in the media since then, I feel like it warrants a reply. As JR suggested at the end of his post, I'm writing this in the hopes of helping people to understand the issue. And my thoughts were rather too extensive for a comments section...

On Monday night, the television program Q&A had an all female panel for the first time. JR asked why the media doesn't feel the same way about all male panels, and how it can be considered equality. First of all, it was a panel discussing women's issues in the twenty first century, hence the all female panel. And it's equality because there have been ninety one episodes of Q&A. The vast majority of these episodes (and yes, I went through the full list, checking each panel) have featured male dominated panels. According the Australian Bureau of Statistics, 50.27% of Australia's population are female. How it is equality that we have sat through 90 episodes of male dominated Q&A?

JR's post stated that he didn't think it's right for companies to have policies outlining minimum numbers of female staff, but not minimum numbers of male staff. He didn't provide examples, so I'm not sure if he had specific companies in mind, but I've never heard of a single company having a policy stating this. (In Australia, at any rate. I can't speak for the rest of the world) Companies may state that they're equal opportunity employers, which is less to do with employing women, and more to do with a diversity policy, ensuring that potential employees will not be discriminated against because of their ethnicity, race, religion, physical capabilities or gender.

But since it's been brought up, why WOULD such policies be required? Because women are still seen by many employers as a liability. Once hired, women may seek access to long periods of maternity leave. They may return to work part time, or ask for flexible work arrangements to fit in around their family commitments. They may require time off during the school holidays to care for their children. This is not to say that men don't want to work part time, or require time off to care for their children. It's simply that companies are more likely to consider a woman's child bearing potential as part of their hiring process.

Feminism in no way argues for elevating one gender above another. It does not lead to the disempowerment of men. Instead, it argues for us to be treated as equal. For us to have the right to go into any field of work we choose. For us to earn equal pay for the work that we do. For us to be judged for our worth rather than our appearance.


So WHY do we still need feminism in 2013? 

I need feminism because I'm sick and tired of old men around the world making decisions about what women can and cannot do with their bodies.

I need feminism because if we say yes, we're sluts and if we say no, we're frigid. Our choice doesn't matter. We're simply objects.

I need feminism because women like Hillary Clinton and Julia Gillard are constantly being called bitches and judged for their outfits or hairstyles rather than their policies or their arguments.

I need feminism because in high school, I was taught to type and cook and sew, but not to balance a budget or change a tyre.

I need feminism because of journalists who ask deep, philosophical questions to Robert Downey Junior and Christian Bale about their characters, but then turn to Scarlett Johansson and Anne Hathaway, and ask them what their diet was to fit into their costume.

I need feminism because a man who was going to retire in six months was once deemed a more appropriate fit for my job than I was.

I need feminism because Heidi Klum saved her son from drowning over the weekend, and the media instead reported on the fact that she had a "nip slip" while doing so.

I need feminism because out of my high school class of 70, ONE went on to a degree in technology or engineering.

I need feminism because women deserve to have their opinions heard, and not be told "Wow, hormonal much?" in response.

I need feminism because I am more than an incubator. I am more than a pair of boobs. I am a human being, and I deserve to be treated accordingly.

I need feminism because of the assumption that single women over twenty five are lesbians.

I need feminism because a colleague once said to me "Hey Kirsti, you're a girl. Could you sew this button back on my shirt for me?"

I need feminism because of Johnny Rotten telling Carrie Bickmore last night to shut up because "when a man is talking, you do not interrupt".

I need feminism because women are told to wear whatever they like, but that they take responsibility for the consequences.

I need feminism because pretty much anything to do with being female is used as a euphemism for weakness.

I need feminism because under the Australian GST, pads and tampons are deemed "non-essential items".

I need feminism because the friend zone is bullshit.

I need feminism because if we speak our minds, we're bitches, and if we stay quiet, we're doormats.

I need feminism because I should be able to walk down the street at night without being afraid.

I need feminism because "strong female characters" are the exception, not the rule.

I need feminism because Little Miss A told me recently that I should wax my arms because "you're not pretty otherwise". She's SEVEN.

I need feminism because of the generations of women before me who didn't have a voice, who were treated as property, and who stood up and fought for their rights anyway. And for millions of those around the world who still are.

I need feminism because being whistled at or shouted at from a passing car is NOT a compliment.

I need feminism because women in one canton of Switzerland didn't have the right to vote until 1990. And because women in Saudi Arabia still don't have the right to vote.

I need feminism because two thirds of the world's poor are women.

But most of all, I need feminism because I want Little Miss A, and Em and Matt's twin daughters, and millions of other girls around the world to live in a world where they DON'T need feminism.

K xx


  1. So much love for you and this post, Kirsti. My hero.

  2. I LOVE IT. Great post! I think you've given some real clarity about why feminism is (sadly) still important.


  3. I absolutely LOVE your post!!! Looks like a lot of bloggers are blogging about feminism this week...I have 2 posts myself. Sharing this post for sure...

    1. Must have been the week for it!! Thanks for sharing :)

  4. First of all, thank you for taking the time to read my post and consider it. You are far more considerate than the person who inspired me to write it (particularly the final paragraph).

    In hindsight the companies having policies for number of women part of my post was inaccurate, I only know that one company does this, and I know because I was told not to even bother sitting down when I went into a job interview.

    This was because “It doesn’t matter how qualified you are, we won’t hire you because we’re under quota for women.” When I asked what he meant I was informed of the policy that at least 40% of staff should be women, I did ask if there was a similar policy for men and was informed there wasn’t.

    That’s discrimination, whether you view it as positive discrimination toward women or negative discrimination against men it is still discrimination.

    Would it be so hard for the policy to state that at least 40% must be female AND at least 40% must be male?

    I want to say more (probably as much again so sorry for the long comments) because I feel this is an interesting discussion that I would like to continue, but I want to do you the same courtesy you did me of taking the time to consider what you've written first.

    1. If there should be a quota for 40% women and 40% men. What is supposed to be in that 20% gap? Aliens? Animals?

      Not saying that I support such quotas because I'd much rather be hired because I'm the right fit for the job and not the right gender but whatever. If the company in questions says that they need to hire at least 40% women than that still leaves 60% of men working there. Men are still in the majority. There wouldn't be a need for a minimum quota.

    2. The other 20% could be either gender, "at least 40%" doesn't mean 41% isn't allowed.

      I don't support quotas like that either, for the same reason as you. That said, if a company is going to have a quota like that then I want it to be fair.

      The assumption that there isn't a need for a minimum quota for men inherently assumes that societal change won't occur. Just because men are in the majority at the moment doesn't mean they will continue to be and isn't a reason not to protect their rights, particularly if specific measures are being taken to protect women's rights.

    3. JR, I think you're worrying about a problem that doesn't exist and isn't likely to in the near future - and it's blinding you to an actual, current problem. If there comes a time when women are swamping men in the workplace, I'm confident that a 'man quota' would be considered.

      I'm female and work in construction, so I estimate that this will become a real problem in about 2143.

    4. You may be right that I'm worrying about a problem that will never exist, I honestly don't know how this set of issues will develop. However, I don't understand how acknowledging and speaking up when men's right aren't being adequately addressed is blinding me to any other current problem.

      I want the societal discrimination against women to end but I don't want it replaced with discrimination against men. I believe the way to ensure this is to oppose such discrimination when I encounter it, be it against men or women.

    5. As Nikki stated below, that particular company had clearly misinterpreted the Australian EEOC regulations, and should be held accountable for developing that policy. But the fact that they HAD such a policy makes me wonder what their gender balance in the workplace was like...

  5. I'm going to have to ask a question of logic here, JR:
    Why would the company bother to call you in for an interview if they knew they weren't going to hire you in the first place? Having worked in human resources in the past, I can say that they don't particularly enjoy doing that. Most places aren't going to do it to 'keep up appearances;' it wastes everyone's time. (And we also don't enjoy interviewing people who clearly don't want to be there. We'd rather interview potential applicants to place in current or upcoming positions should there be a match.)

    Next, I was a bit confused by the 40% number you pulled out, so I started digging for information about 'quotas' in Australia. I know more about America's EEOC and beliefs in affirmative action, but I figured it'd be nice to learn more about Australia's diversity policies. Considering I live here now, it's a good idea.

    There are exceptions regarding hiring of one sex over another, but they're all in relationship to something involving physique (acting, modeling, and so on) or when you're touching a person (like why you won't see a man working in a bra shop). Those exceptions all make sense.

    This 40% number comes from the 2010 Gender Equality Blueprint. It's from Recommendation 7; it's not a mandate, and it's not policy or legislation. It also isn't "female only;" it asks for at least a 40% representation of EACH gender. So perhaps this company misinterpreted available publications, but it most certainly isn't legislation or public policy.

    1. I can only speak for my own experience here but I certainly can't fault your logic, I have asked that question myself. I assume that one person made the interview appointments and another interviewed candidates, and that they had different information or something.

      The interview was for a local newspaper, which I'm not entirely comfortable identifying beyond that here, but it was in early 2011 so your suggestion that it was a misunderstanding of the Gender Equality Blueprint may well be accurate.

      Whatever the reason for it, I was offended by the discrimination.

    2. I can see how you would have felt personally discriminated against in that particular situation, but I hardly think it's discrimination to insist that less than half of a workplace should be made up of women. Sadly, the probable reason this place didn't feel they needed a policy stating that 40% of their workforce must be men is because you are living in a society where men are the default. Women are still the exception.

    3. How can it be that I was personally discriminated against due to this policy but it isn't discrimination?

      Also, it wasn't insisted that less that half the workforce had to be women, it was insisted that no more than 60% of the workforce could be men. 100% of the workplace could be women and it would be in keeping with the policy.

  6. *applause*

    Terrific post. Very well-said.

  7. Oh hell yes. To all of this. I couldn't have said it better myself.

  8. Yes.
    A huge reason why I feel my Women and Gender studies degree complements my education degree. It's why I am constantly telling my students there are no such thing as "boy books" or "girl books" and anyone can read what they please. Same for "girl colors" and "boy colors" Um, what? Colors are for all of us to enjoy. I need it because I aborr the girls wanting to count calories at the age of eight, otherwise they are going to "get ugly." I encourage the boys to articulate their feelings, both comfortable and uncomfortable feelings. It why I teach about managing money and sewing. It's why I have the girls run in the dirt and the boys work with watercolor. The human experience is too broad, too great, to be arbitrarily limited by social norms.

  9. I need feminism because being asked to cook coffee in an office just because I'm a woman is wrong. I don't even drink coffee and I never learned how to so no. I won't be cooking anyone coffee. It's not my job, especially if I don't even drink it.

    I need feminism because I shouldn't be asked whether I'm a lesbian because I hate men. I do not hate them. In fact I like them very much, most of my closet friends throughout my life have been men but I'm just not attracted to them. On the other side I have never heard a gay man being asked if he was gay because he hates women. According to this it's considered acceptable to hate women but not to hate men.

    (Maybe that last point is taking things to far or I got it wrong. I've not been a gay man before, so please correct me if I'm wrong but I don't think I am.)

    1. The other one that infuriates me is "You're a feminist, you must hate men". Um. No. Why do the two have to go hand in hand?!

    2. Exactly, those things are not mutually exclusive - one doesn't necessarily equal the other - yet it's the first thing that's associated with feminists.

  10. This is awesome! I agree with you 100%! Very well said indeed.

  11. Well said, K. I too was watching that Q&A program, and found it interesting how many people commenting via # mis-identifed feminism as being about the rights of women, when it's actually about equality across the board - a better deal for EVERYONE, not having one elite (the white male middle-class) at the expense of all others.

    I proudly call myself a feminist, but I fear many women of my age and younger (wrongly) associate the term with radical separatism, man hating, etc. Actually I was interested to see your use of the word 'misandry' - I'm not sure when this word was legitimised (is it?), but the existence of 'misogyny' without a common antonym surely says it all - the hatred of women is universal enough to give it a word, but why would anyone hate men?

    1. I blame the media for the association between feminism and radical, man hating, separatism. Actually, I blame the media for a LOT of things. Stupid media...

  12. You write beautifully and you echo my thoughts so very well. Your points about expressing opinion especially as it seems as women we're not meant to have opinions at all, especially you know if they dare to be different to a man's. And I hope your Little Miss A develops into a strong feminist woman too :)

    1. Thank you! And thanks for sharing on Twitter :)

  13. Ok, take two on the long comments, sorry about that.

    I hope you don't think I’m against the ideals of equality that feminism stands for or that I think poorly of you or anyone for calling themselves a feminist. I am, however, against the women and (surprisingly) men who equate feminism with female superiority and who advocate the disempowerment of men as an inherent part of the empowerment of women - definitely not what feminism is supposed to be about or what you have put forward here.

    The problem is that (in my experience anyway) the loudest voice of feminism is the extremist all-men-are-scum viewpoint, I don’t want to be associated with that viewpoint but unfortunately because I choose not to use the label feminism I am often told that therefore I must disrespect women. I can believe in equality without necessarily identifying with the word feminism.

    I’m also not trying to deny that a great deal more discrimination is aimed at women than men, but let’s not ignore that discrimination does go both ways. Consider the bias in child custody towards mothers or the fact that I wasn’t allowed to study cooking or sewing beyond year eight whether I wanted to or not. All discrimination is wrong, no matter who it is aimed at.

    Perhaps there is still too much inherent bias in society for us to talk about a person’s rights rather than a woman’s rights, but my opinion is that the best way of looking at this issue is that people need equality with people. I personally feel that in 2013 the word feminism carries a lot of baggage (inappropriately) that impedes this, although I respect that not everyone shares this view.

    I found Monday’s Q&A particularly interesting and I don't want all female panels to stop, I just wish that they could be called "panels" and that there didn’t need to be a fuss made about it. I also wish that if the most appropriate spokespeople for a particular issue happen to all be men, the media would be more comfortable acknowledging that too. I hadn’t considered the fact that the majority of the previous panels have been male dominated but I agree that should be addressed, although I’m just not entirely sure how.

    Your post and the other comments here have given me a great deal to consider about my views and I’m sure it will continue to influence me well into the future, so thank you for that.

    1. I feel like there are two points in particular that you're missing in this debate. The first is that the bias in child custody towards mothers has nothing whatsoever to do with feminism. Instead, it's the product of a patriarchal court system imposing stereotypical gender roles onto a situation. Therefore, it's not feminism that's disempowering men, but the continuation of a patriarchal society who think that men can't cope with child raising, and that the woman's place is in the home.

      And the second is that you've mentioned two very specific incidents in which you felt discriminated against because of your gender. I'm not belittling the fact that you felt discriminated against, because no one should have to feel that way. But the reasons I mentioned regarding why I need feminism? Those are things that, for the most part, women - myself included - have to go through on a daily basis. Not one off occurrences, not "one time, Q&A had an all female panel" type stuff. But constant, endless objectification and judgement and pigeonholing simply because of our gender. Check out for further examples.

      So yes, I agree with you that no one should feel discriminated against. I just think there are much bigger fish to fry before we deal with discrimination against middle class white men in western society.

    2. I am aware that the bias in child custody, like many forms of bias against men, is a product of the patriarchy. The fact remains, though, that feminism has mostly ignored discrimination against men and I was using this as an example of it.

      Why is it that when you were “taught to cook and sew, but not to balance a budget or change a tyre” it is symptomatic of greater social issues but when I wasn’t taught to cook or sew it was a “very specific incident”? This dismissal of ingrained societal discrimination against men as a set of isolated incidents stops people from understanding that it is an issue and needs to be dealt with.

      You mention objectification of women, but objectification of men happens a great deal as well. The premise of Sex and the City, for example, was essentially four women sitting around objectifying men, if the reverse was true no producer would touch it. It is often assumed that men should be doing all heavy lifting or mechanical work and there are plenty of women who believe this is all men are good for.

      Finally, I can’t accept that one group being discriminated against is more important than another. Would you say that it is more important to deal with discrimination against disabled women in Uganda before discrimination against homosexual women in Iran? Placing more emphasis on dealing with one form of discrimination over another (say viewing rape as the fault of the victim over an expectation that all women should be able to sew) I have no problem with, but generalising all discrimination against one social group as less important than all discrimination against another social group is just as discriminatory as the patriarchal system.

    3. Sorry that this is going to be done in multiple parts, but it has to be done.

      I’m going to start with this: Your entire argument is a logical fallacy and full of distractors. The problem with this is that you’re making an entire argument out of illogical arguments. By saying that feminism “doesn’t address” or “doesn’t care about” certain issues, you’re creating a distraction argument that provokes me into explaining that I care about both but that they’re not entirely related. As a result, I don’t think I should have to address them because it’ll detract from the issue at hand.

      Another problem is that you believe that feminism has ‘largely disregarded’ any discrimination against men in certain aspects. The fact of the matter is that women’s groups are the biggest groups for child advocacy; they know, like others, that children should be with the best possible parent and in the best possible home. They do not advocate for the current system. They realise that children should be in good homes that are filled with nothing but love and care, even if it’s not with their biological family.

      Similarly, women’s groups have historically been the primary advocates for other major groups: drug prevention, mental illnesses, poverty, conscription and war, etc. Being a feminist doesn’t exclude the views on the other, but your arguments create a distraction from the discussion of inequality between men and women and the impact of that inequality on society.

      There is not an “ingrained discrimination against men” in society. None. The moment that men, as a generalisation, systematically have opportunities ripped from them is the moment that there is an ingrained discrimination against them. The things you're talking about stem from stereotypes that say women are instinctively the better parent because we're "well-equipped" and "biologically predisposed" to motherhood. Yet, somehow, single mothers are the most affected people by the gap in income by gender. The discrimination that occurs to men occurs to certain types of men. But, when you look at the discrepancies between women and men of the same groups (related to race, socio-economic level, etc.), women are still viewed as less equal than their male counterparts.

    4. I can say with a fair amount of certainty that if we had the exact same background and training for a job, you would be more likely employed for it should we apply at the same time. Why? Because of the social stigma that I’m going to use my uterus and claim maternity leave one day. Because of the same social stigma that swears I’m going to become a stay-at-home mother and never want to be back in the workforce. If we were to go into a male-dominated field, I get people who see me as a novelty. I have no reason to be there other than to 'meet a quota,' which is a policy that doesn't exist in Australia. "Oh cute, she thinks she's a scientist!" Even in female-dominated fields (social work, teaching, nursing), women are paid less for the same job when comparing similar qualifications.

      The same social stigma states that men care less about their families and are more employable because they’ll care about their job more than their family. If we change one, we change the other; if we advocate for women to be in the workplace on equal terms and values, we can advocate for an increase in paternity leave and the acceptance of stay-at-home dads. The fact is that when you make something better and equal for one group, you increase the chances of changing it for another. You know who doesn’t want these changes? The same people who benefit from the current structure of our patriarchal society.

      It is also a fallacy of logic to compare the severity of a woman in Uganda to that of one in Iran; it is a logical fallacy to compare rape culture to the expectation of domesticity. They are both harmful in different ways; they are both horrible and disgusting and ridiculous, but they are not comparable. There is no ranking of issues; they are mindsets that should always be challenged. They are mindsets we can challenge simultaneously; they are not things that we have to address at different points in time.

      I suggest you read this article by John Walker, in regards to the video game industry. In regards to this, I really suggest reading Part 3 because it’s especially relevant to the fact that you’re doing nothing but distracting from the issue.

  14. OMG this post.

    I love it LIKE WHOA. Love-love-love.

    Just brilliant and perfect and spot-on and OH the love I have for it...!

    I shall send this to everyone who's against or on the fence about feminism. Thank you for writing it and saying exactly what I think.


    And here's an essay on feminism ("Yes, You Are") from the awesome Sarah D. Bunting, one I read almost 10yrs ago when I was 18 and I was all, "Wow...yes, THIS."

    1. That essay is brilliant. Like you said, "YES, THIS."

  15. Kirsti, you have hit the proverbial nail on the head with all of your 'I need feminism because' comments. My love for this post is... let's just say I like it a lot. A+ would recommend.


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