Women and the inequality of mediocrity | Women's Agenda

Women and the inequality of mediocrity

I had reason to be especially cross this week. This was in addition to the usual frustration about cars going through red lights as I waited the extra seconds to do a right hand turn (cars tooting behind me), and shouting at my learner driver teenage son about the perils of getting his license. This was in addition to being on the road, in a car, a week before Christmas frantically trying to complete my ‘to do list’ desperately navigating tram works that closed off roads in practically every direction I wished to go, the journey taking ninety minutes when it usually takes fifteen.

The first irritation revolved around the appointment of a dear friend of mine, Sara Hinchey to the position of Victorian State Coroner this week. Earlier this year she was appointed a County Court judge. Cause for double celebration for a woman who has excelled in her career at the Bar, recognised for her intelligence, work ethic, communication skills and side splitting humour. At the time of her initial appointment I dismissed as begrudging, comments I heard from some who should know better, about the government’s ‘mission’ to appoint women to significant positions within the community.

But this week it was worse as the comment came from someone close to me. “I know you’re going to take this the wrong way (in what universe do you think this is an effective opening line?) and I know she’s probably deserving, but there really is a concerted effort now to appoint women to these roles. This means that equally deserving or more deserving men are not being considered.” Crikey – where to begin? After some deep breathing exercises, I explained in carefully modulated language and tone that finally effort is being made (albeit in very limited quarters) to recognise and appoint eminently worthy women to positions that previously they had not even been considered for. And if the balance is tilted slightly in the female direction, this goes only marginally to make up for decades of overlooking qualified, female candidates as predominantly men appointed other men in their own image. It goes only marginally to address the woeful state of inadequate representation of women in positions of responsibility in this state and country.

I was reminded about a phrase a previous female employer of mine used to use: “it is only when appointments of mediocre females are equal to the appointments of mediocre males that we can celebrate true equality”. This really goes to the heart of the issue for me: women need to have excelled and have multiple runs on the board not only to be considered by others but to agree to put their own name forward for consideration. Years of knock backs and put-downs has meant many women will not raise their hand first, or submit themselves for positions for which they are qualified. Indeed, they wait until they are over-qualified or allow the opportunity to pass them by.

The next cause for irritation occurred this morning, when reading the Sunday Life Magazine. I love the weekly, changing panel of female columnists with their unique insight into life’s circumstances. Being nigh on year’s end, it also had a page devoted to this year’s ‘hot reads’ of various genres. I almost choked on my iced coffee (it was already 35c in Melbourne at 10am) when three novels were listed under ‘Women’s Fiction’. One of my favourite novels this year ‘The Natural Way of Things’ by Charlotte Wood was listed. It’s a book about misogyny, violence and control, and it’s imperative that men read this novel. What are the chances of that happening when it’s categorised as ‘Women’s Fiction’? I searched for the ‘Men’s Fiction’ list but, alas, it could not be found.

It constantly annoys me when book titles and covers are particularly feminine, as if a woman would not consider it but for the pastel colours, girly drawings or female-driven title. Why alienate half the reading population?

While we have women only book competitions, women only film fellowships and blogs pitched primarily to women, they serve to even out the playing field, not to consign those books, films or issues to women only consideration. Indeed, they attempt to highlight matters that would otherwise likely go unnoticed or be overlooked as irrelevant.

Women, who at last count make up 50.2% of Australia’s population, are making progress, they’re taking up positions of power and being recognised for their value. This might cause for irritation for some, but perhaps snide comments are a reason to celebrate rather than despair. Because when hackles are raised, you know progress is being made.

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