Archive for the ‘Sexism’ Category

Sexism versus feminism

This week Sexism versus feminism is all in the news. The high point of the week, that menu featuring our PM, Julia Gillard’s genitals and the outrageous question about her partner’s sexuality. This I think has caused a lot of people to sit up and take notice. Not so much about the feminism debate. Is it feminist to point out sexism? By some of the reactions you see, yes.

I’m fifty-three years old. When I was young sexism was everywhere, in the very fabric of our society. In my mind, I was used to it. It was part of me. Young girls older than me thought of marriage. For their birthdays after age 16 it was presents for the glory box, linen, tea towels, tablecloths. I remember the old folks, the aunts, cousins, friends of my mother talking about them, exclaiming over them. A lot of things were different then too. A man could support a family on one wage. If you were lucky enough to catch a bank teller or a school teacher as a husband you had it made. This might have a lot to do with my cultural and socioeconomic background. (We weren’t rich, but most of my relations had houses or were paying them off like us).

So in comes burning the bra and Germaine Greer. It’s a lot more than that. We lived in a patriarchal society. Discrimination against women was entrenched and many like me I suppose lived with it. As a child I was more interested in about being teased, or bullied or discriminated against because I was Roman Catholic, came from an abusive family (drunk father etc), where we all ran wild. I didn’t know what discrimination was as a concept but I felt the brunt of it. At this time, the Australian Public Service forced women who married to leave their jobs. I was chatting to Satima Flavell about this yesterday and she said female teachers weren’t allowed to marry for the first couple of years either. I’m afraid you can’t get more entrenched than that. Women in those days did not have the high paying jobs either.

Fast forward to my teens and things have moved along. Society has changed. Economies have fluctuated through the stagflation, the structural unemployment and oil shock. My mother was divorced. The children dispatched all over the place. The widows pension was made available to single mothers and divorced women. The pill was freely available. There was sexual liberation. There was still sexism.

In the late 1980s, I experienced sexism in the work place in a way that was hurtful and discriminatory.  But I remember another earlier instance. While in NZ in the 1970s I worked in a service area for a car retailer. I was pawed and pinched all the time by the mechanics and supervisor. When I finally said something about it. I coped it from the blokes. ‘You didn’t complain before’ etc. They became nasty when I stuck up for myself. I was 17 and felt unable to stand up for myself. I’d been sexually abused as a child. My first response to sexual advances was fear.

So anyway, back to 1987-88 and I was working for a stock broking firm in Sydney. I was being asked to train a young man who had written to the firm asking to for a job. I asked my boss why I couldn’t be trained. He said they didn’t promote women. Women got married and had children. I pointed out to him that I was divorced and had my tubes tied. He just shrugged. I even argued that the young men get trained then leave for other jobs with better pay. I felt angry about it, but not angry as I should have. I can’t even recollect if I thought it was discrimination or just the thinking that was prevalent in the industry. I don’t even know if there were anti discrimination laws back then.  I left the firm eventually and went on to study. I’ve never looked back. I went to study so I would be valued so I suppose I should thank my boss for giving me an incentive.

Now I work in the public service and I don’t think I see much sexism in recent years. But maybe in this environment I’m cocooned, from it. Maybe I’m so used to keeping my head down I don’t notice. I did have issues about 15 years ago now, when my boss would hold meetings at 5.30pm and I had to go home to the family, being a single parent. I’d come in the next morning at the two blokes had made all the decisions. I called them on it and asked them to hold the meetings earlier. I don’t think one thing changed as a result of my speaking up. They were people who worked best when late and couldn’t adapt to me.

What does this mean? Does sexism still exist? Obviously. Our politicians are tossing sexist mud pies, and govern like they’re in a scrum fighting over a ball.  The evidence is there for all to see. Maybe it’s a scab on a festering sore.

Is feminism alive and well. It is and it needs to be. Things are better. Women have fought for the right to be treated as a person and have gained a lot of ground. Younger women now have a lot we didn’t have. My daughters don’t face the same barriers. They lives weren’t moulded under the patriarchal society I was. They expect equal treatment. It’s not something they had to fight for. I hope they never lose ground.

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