Welcome to Eureka Street

back to site


Africa's answer to militant feminism

  • 08 March 2013

Yahoo's CEO Marissa Mayer caused a furore last year when she said that she didn't have the 'militant drive' and the 'chip on the shoulder' that was required of the modern day feminist.

It was a statement that seemed directly at odds with her circumstances: the 37-year-old is one of the most powerful women in the technology industry, Google's first female engineer and now head of a Fortune 500 company. After the birth of her first child just months into her new role, she resolved the angst of mother-child separation by building a nursery alongside her office so that she could bring the baby to work.

Mayer might not call herself a feminist, but in smashing through the glass ceiling of a male-dominated industry she is standing, in part, on the shoulders of all those feminists from decades and centuries past who spent their lives fighting for gender equality.

While her comments have offended the women for whom the connections between modern-day female liberty and the feminist movement are still obvious and strong, they also highlight the way in which progress has transformed the feminist ideal in the western world.

Although women still earn considerably less than men for the same work, are not well-represented at senior levels in business and politics and are often valued for their youth and beauty rather than their skills and expertise, they exist in a largely egalitarian milieu when compared to women in developing countries.

In Australia, girls are outperforming boys at school, more of them are going on to university, and less of them are being discriminated against in the workplace. There is no need for militant drive and a chip on the shoulder when the fight has already been won.

Despite all this, feminism is still as relevant as ever, if only as a structure with which to maintain the advancements that have brought us to this point and to ensure that we don't regress.

But the lack of buy-in from women like Mayer, and the argument among women as to what constitutes a feminist, suggests feminism as a philosophy needs to expand its definition, to be flexible and inclusive so that it reflects the society in which we now live rather than the deeply inequitable era to which it