I have spent a large portion of my life thinking that feminism was something that happened in the 1960s and 1970s. I was grateful for the efforts of people like Eva Cox, Germaine Greer and Gloria Steinem.
I was all too happy to study their activism and achievements at university, not to mention benefit from the fruits of their efforts. But I never really felt that feminism was for me. After-all, I could vote, go to university, forge a career in any given profession. I appreciated feminism, but I wasn’t in need of feminism. I have peddled this rather condescending ambivalence most of my adult life.
Until now. I am a 42 year old woman who is, as the media keeps telling me, in need of age-proofing my life (yes that was the title of a recent feature in the latest Sunday Life magazine). I have spent a small fortune on an assortment of creams, lotions, potions and bags of make up that will hide the flaws, or as they are actually defined; natural signs of ageing. I have agonised over my weight and carefully curated my exercise program and wardrobe so that I can ‘age-proof’ my life and keep my muscles ‘toned and youthful’ even though they have been moving me non-stop for more than 4 decades and feel in no way ‘youthful’.
Appearances aside, I have dealt with unwanted attention from men that has bordered on the terrifying. I have been asked to take a pay cut for a promotion (much less than my male predecessor was paid). I have been told to ‘dress more Hollywood’ (whatever the fuck that means) by a boss. I have been grabbed, groped, vulgarly propositioned and treated like a man’s possession, all while trying to get a drink at a bar.
These experiences are mild in comparison to most women.
I now realise with the unfolding zeitgeist of #Metoo and #TimesUp that I have needed feminism. As a white, middle class female with good parents and a stable upbringing, I fell into the trap of thinking that feminism only comes from extreme suffering. While it certainly can, and often does, it also comes from unblinkering ourselves, identifying and then calling out the inherent misogyny that exists across our society.
Feminism has created the space for the plight of women of colour, LGBTIQ women and men and those who do not identity as a specific gender, to be communicated. Feminism has moved, evolved and shaped how we as a society respond to discrimination, gross neglect and downright unfair practices. We still have a long way to go before any of these issues are resolved, but what feminism does is ensure there is a movement of people and shifting of minds to tackle such issues.
Feminism is a subject that was broached daily at the recent Sydney Writer’s Festival. The conversations were amplified by current events such as the cancelling of the Nobel Prize for Literature amidst sexual abuse claims. With Zinzi Clemmons confronting Junot Diaz with allegations of misconduct. With a bizarre attempt by one of Australia’s prominent columnists to blame gender quotas as the reason why banks have behaved so appallingly.
Writers, who are infinitely smarter and more eloquent than me, have made painfully accurate observations on the need for feminism. Most poignantly these observations point to the need for feminism to be intersectional, to lift the plight of all women who suffer discrimination and abuse.
But not all of the conversations have been about the need for feminism. In fact there has been a contingent of women and men, mostly audience members at festival events, who have approached the microphones of Q&A sessions, hands wringing to ask whether “feminism has gone too far?”.
Their apprehension towards feminism and its social accelerant, #MeToo, is born of a fear that men are being unfairly targeted. But here is the problem; this fear masks the very real issue that women, when they disclose, are not really believed unless they are part of a pattern, one of many who have been effected. To paraphrase Irin Carmon, it’s as if a woman is a quarter of a person when making an accusation; and that’s the thing that should frighten us.
The painful truth is this; we live in a society that still protects and over-empathises with the discriminators and perpetrators. A society that serves up every abuse and harassment story with the obligatory grain of salt. A society where we still think it is ok to devalue a woman’s work. Until feminism has been taken into the fundamental power structures of our society – politics, law and order, education, health, business and the media – the answer to the question “has feminism gone to far?”is a resounding NO. It’s only just warming up.