“Gender equity requires that men and women have the opportunity to think more deeply about what gender means both for individuals and for wider society. For example, creating spaces for students and faculty to examine masculinity might help to understand why the constant pressure on young men to demonstrate that they are “tough”, “strong” and “in control” often has long-term damaging consequences, including in multiple forms of male violence (against both women and men).
Men and women have the capacity to adopt feminine as well as masculine dispositions and practices. We need to stop thinking in terms of binaries and oppositions. It’s important to consider the consequences of cultural practices that implicitly encourage heterosexual forms of hyper-masculinity and hyper-femininity; gendered extremism that leads to destructive relations and symbolic, physical and sexual violence. Valuing both femininity and masculinity, while also understanding the constant potential for gender oppression, is a vital step. The bottom line is that higher education as a social institution must take leadership in creating the conditions for gender equity on campus and beyond.” – Penny Jane Burke
So here we are at International Women’s Day again. It would be easy to believe we have made no or little progress since the celebration of this day began. Some men are still grizzling and asking where their day is – just look it up and then do something about it if it is important to you! There is one! Others comment that every day is Men’s Day and most of us could have sympathy with that viewpoint if we live in a patriarchal society, a country in which misogyny is rife and violence towards women is abundant and accepted by many who are yet to see it is not just a women’s problem. How many of us have been abused or suffered violence at the hands of men and boys throughout our lives? I am haunted by memories of the things I was subjected to from an early age – a near abduction lives on in my memories with the intensity as if it was yesterday; assault, rape in marriage and psychological abuse. I am not alone or unusual, many women suffer more intensely, are subjected to more brutality and a great number lose their lives to those they know or are related to. In my country roughly two women a week die as the victims of domestic violence, many children also die or are traumatised by their experiences.
My country is suffering under a Government which has at it’s head a misogynist man who has appointed himself Minister for Women, in a gesture so blatantly ridiculing and astonishingly disturbing, that we have been dumb-founded, struck dumb by the audacity of it and the bullying disregard for the position and what it could achieve if taken seriously as it needs to be in a country where that very same prime Minister has appointed a courageous woman, Rosie Batty, as Australian of the Year. She will need all the courage and strength she can muster to survive having been appointed as a figure-head and spokesperson for victims of domestic violence. A very weighty burden has been placed on her shoulders and the expectations and assumptions are enormous. She has been used by this Prime Minister to make himself look good, caring and as if he is actually achieving something for women. It is but a few months since funding was withdrawn from many, many organisations assisting women and children to overcome domestic violence. This Government makes it up as it goes along, never thinks things through or views the consequences of it’s decisions – acting rather like an adolescent still learning what works and what doesn’t. Not a position our country can afford because it will be expensive to repair once this Government retire, as they will at the next election. They behave in the House like a bunch of over-grown school-boys shepherded by an indulgent nanny as Speaker, who allows them to get away with the things she won’t permit from others. It’s a shambles! In that mix is blatant misogyny, rude and profoundly offensive suggestions and comments. The women who endure them and respond with valour are scarcely supported by their colleagues who appear ineffectual, inefficient and weak.
And yet, all over the country industrious women are creating their own businesses, their own lives and managing to be productive, energetic, purposeful and self-directing. We see women achieving at all levels, in all places and doing their best to create something new, to develop a new way exist in a harsh world and an unforgiving country where we appear to have it all, but many live in relative poverty, are struggling, become battlers or sink beneath the ways of depression or take their own lives. The numbers of young men in rural areas who commit suicide is huge; often they work in a family business that has no plan and no real place for their input, innovation or new ideas. Drink, drugs and pornography are labelled as the big preventers in young teens, adults and older adults from forming satisfying, supportive, loving relationships which last long enough to raise healthy children. My generation has been labelled the stealers of the future, the ruiners of prospects for the next generations. Young women and country farmers complain that they can’t find partners and many men don’t seem to care. The privileged generation who had it all and are now in Government seem to believe the next generations should be doing it tough in a way they did not. It is very hard to make sense of it all, to see a way forward or to have goals and dreams. Some are managing it and they are beacons for the rest of us. Some are in the public eye, others working quietly and without fanfares in the tough jobs of family protection, child welfare, reform, support. Others volunteer their time and we still have the highest percentage of volunteers in the world. They come from all walks of life; from retirement, from corporations, from schools, Universities, small businesses; from all age groups and are men and women, girls and boys who want to help others, to promote change and to learn.
Where to from here? Hopefully with the hornet’s nest our Minister for Women has stirred up, women in this country will rise to the challenge, with men supporting them to actively do something about violence towards women and children by men – not just talk about it, set up royal commissions and other expensive delaying tactics. Perhaps this time we’ll find some solutions and begin to make changes, one misogynist remark or act at a time, one discriminatory law at a time, one unequal opportunity employer at a time. And while we’re at it, let’s look at how we treat women who live with disabilities, stigma and other areas in which they are discriminated against or disbarred from because they are female. Breastfeeding is a prime example – a natural, healthy way to feed a baby which needs to be undertaken whenever the baby needs it. Just do it, no fuss, no bother, quietly and with no pandering to prudes and those with strange ideas about the function of breasts. How did we get to a situation where even women are criticising other women instead of supporting and encouraging them? It is indeed a strange world we live in. Happy International Women’s Day!!