What real feminists want


The Great Feminist Denial cover image[Feminism is] a socialist, anti-family, political movement that encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians. –Pat Robertson

During the last week, a fight broke out in the media over the place of feminism in Australian society. It's not a new fight. It's an old fight. A fight that's been going on ever since women broke out of their bloomers and demanded the vote.

What's the deal, feminism?

Last year, Australia was ranked 21st out of 130 countries in the World Economic Forum's Global Gender Gap Report, apparently making us one of the world's most equal societies in terms of gender relations. As a nation, we were awarded a score of 0.724, with 1.00 being totally equal relations between women and men.

Not bad, right? Only .276 away from equality?

What's all this constant complaining about domestic violence and elderly female poverty, then? And can't you just take a breather from whining about women in other countries being stoned to death or forcibly sterilised or whatever? When is near enough good enough for you people?

The starter siren for this latest public stoush over the real meaning of feminism was let off by Jill Singer in her article 'Don't Take it Lying Down' in Melbourne's Herald Sun, where she ranted in full tabloidy glory about how women still face discrimination.

The article provoked a mass of vitriolic responses online, and not from the young women such as myself whom she accused of being 'brain dead, underpaid, over-waxed hookers'. The vitriol came mainly from men.

This backlash prodded Adele Horin to pen an appalled call for civility in the Sydney Morning Herald. An article which was quickly followed by a widely read blog from Janet Albrechtsen at The Australian accusing feminists of ruining the debate over gender in Australian society.

Albrechtsen used the recent stand-off between Labor and Coalition women in parliament, and the articles of the preceding week, as a launching point for her attack. 'Feminists are screwing up feminism', wrote Albrechtsen.

The feedback to all the columns seemed to agree with her, as if feminism has been the problem for the span of human history, rather than our first and oh-so-fragile attempt at a solution.

In their 2008 book The Great Feminist Denial, Monica Dux and Zora Simic deal in-depth with the way in which the media portrays feminism as 'over' . But it seems that no amount of reasoned investigation will stop the continual belittling of feminism's work in some circles.

Albrechtsen says the fundamental mistake most feminists make is in wasting their time in hoping that the world will turn into a utopia where women are treated as equals by men.

Which, of course, is not feminism's fundamental mistake, but feminism's fundamental strength, the vision which all feminists hold in their hearts and which keeps them going.

You have to have a remarkable lack of imagination to look at the world and not see the possibility for something much better. And if you can imagine a better, more just world, then not to act on that vision is unforgiveable.

The unimaginative are simply stupid. But the cynical are criminal.

The hope that our daughters, and our daughter's daughters, will one day live in a world where they can stand as equals before the law in any court on the globe, utopian or not, is what keeps feminism relevant and fighting. A world where men love them for their strength and their laughter and not for their silence and their giggles.

Where they are not stoned for adultery by their families, where they are not aborted in favour of boys, where their life is counted as worth equally as much as that of their peers.

Where they are not judged by their genitalia, but by their ability. This is what feminism is about.

And this is what real feminists are working towards. Real feminists are out there getting their hands dirty. I hate to think that anyone could be fooled by the recurrent slanging matches in the press over feminism into thinking that these sorts of debates represent the glorious complexity of what feminism has done in the past and the things it is trying to achieve for our future.

Feminism is about improving people's lives, about helping people. Helping people and changing the world is a complex business, and there will inevitably be disagreements. That feminists have in the past fought over the right paths to take is natural. Not all women need the same freedoms, just as not all men do. As humans, we're not bronze figurines cast into gender binaries, but atoms flung across a vast gender spectrum.

And every day, in every corner of the world, feminists young and old, male and female, are shaving their legs or letting their leg hair grow as they go about their business in domestic violence shelters, court reform projects,  counter-trafficking programs, health clinics, universities, NGOs, governments, kitchens, clubs, classrooms, taxis, homes, halls of worship, on basketball courts and in tropical jungles, hoping and working and looking into the future for the day when that utopia arrives, and when we are all treated equally, regardless of our gender.

And that is what feminism is about.

Ruby MurrayRuby Murray is a writer and researcher currently living in Jakarta, Indonesia, where she works in media and communications. She is co-founder of The Democracy Project. Ruby's blog



Topic tags: feminsm, Jill Singer, Janet Albrechtsen, Adele Horin, The Great Feminist Denial, Monica Dux, Zora Simic



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Existing comments

"loved for their strength and their laughter"

Delightful language to help us see what many of us have tried to achieve over the years for ourselves, our daughters and grand daughters. It is far from the norm having watched both daughters and granddaughters enter their various worlds. I have at times despaired to see and hear the old cliches repeat themselves in each generation.

"the glorious complexity of what feminism has done in the past"

A real insight into the complicated business of human relationships and especially those gender relationships in a plethora of contexts.

Thank you Ruby.
Judy | 28 September 2009

There's a wonderful energy in Murray's writing, giving us a prompt to sit up and take notice and plenty to consider. I really enjoyed reading this article.
Cis | 28 September 2009

A very well writtten article! It brings a very well balanced view to 'the feminism debate'. I am thankful that a young woman like yourself has chosen to write such a piece as I am sure it will help other young (and other women generally) to understand feminism much better.
Julia Trimboli | 28 September 2009

Good on you, Ruby. Thanks for an excellent article. Keep up the good work.
Sara Dowse | 28 September 2009

It is a century since Gregor Mendel's discovery (that the female contributes as much to the offspring's inheritance as does the male) was unearthed, thus providing the scientific underpinning for modern feminism.

There's still a long way to go, but remember that a century after Koch discovered that germs caused inflammation people were still saying they had a poisoned finger, and that's trivial compared with the issues of feminism. Never let up.
Michael Grounds | 28 September 2009

People see me as feminist but sometimes I'm not sure - what I believe in is equal opportunity to reach potential, and important is the potential for parents to compliment each other in caring for and educating our next generation. Our society still sees women as having responsibility for the caring role within families (children and aging).

Workplaces grumble but find it acceptable for a mother to rush off to collect a sick child in an emergency. It is much less acceptable if a father wants to do this . We have a very long way to go but at least we have negotiated the first steps and I trust will keep gaining momentum.

Hopefully one day we will learn to respect the needs (NOT DEMANDS) of each person male and female.
Margaet McDonald | 28 September 2009

What a satisfying, richly felt and beautifully reasoned piece.
Joe Castley | 29 September 2009

Thank you, Ruby Murray.
elizabeth Kos. | 03 October 2009

In the last 30 years we have seen a revolution (in Western societies), but there is definitely much more to be done, here and overseas. Revolutions cause lots of ongoing issues. In that 30 years since I have pushed a pram in a supermarket, when seeing a man with a child under eight caused heads to turn, to today's commonly-accepted sights of men with strollers and baby pouches, I have seen a wave of that revolution, but there is much, MUCH more to be examined and challenged.
Right on, Ruby.

Gabrielle Bridges | 07 October 2009

Exactly!! It is a great help when one may believe that a good God created women and men as equals and that we are loved. Then there is not a lot of reason for petty name calling. It doesn't touch us, but we hopefully, automatically need to desire justice in our world, Sometimes I feel if women could accept their equality and self -worth, they may be a powerful influence. For those women who are not allowed to feel this way, because of cruelty, we need to defend and protect them.
Bernie I ntrona | 10 October 2009


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