No means no

No means no

Thursday, 9 May 2013

The many faces of feminism

I feel like I have hibernated for 20 years.  I went to sleep at a time when the feminist world was celebrating Gloria Steinem and Susan Faludi.  The world slipped quietly by and I heard only soft murmurs until I awoke very recently to the sound of feminist thunder.  In a very short space of time things seemed to happen which have galvanized activists the world over.

During the Queensland elections in 2012 I was disgusted at the personal attacks on Anna Bligh by the Liberal opposition.  I was appalled when Campbell Newman’s party was elected with such a huge majority and I could not understand how thinking people couldn’t see how bad he really was. To me, it was a backlash against a strong woman who threatened male egos.

In September Jill Meagher was raped and murdered in Melbourne. On 30 September, 30,000 people marched in her memory.

In November in Delhi, India, Jyoti Singh Pandy was raped, brutalized sexually with an iron bar and left to die. The world’s social media exploded.

In December I attended TEDx Southbank Women. Anne Summers’ talk on the non-stop misogynist attacks on Julia Gillard struck a deep chord.   

Some things galvanized me more than others.  The Jill Meagher and Jyoti Singh Pandy tragedies were so close to the bone. I began my website as a way to self-heal.  I led a team of One Billion Rising dancers in Brisbane in February this year to bring attention to sexual violence against women and girls. I performed in The Vagina Monologues in March with a wonderful group of women to support DV Connect, a Brisbane group which provides essential services to women and their children needing to leave abusive relationships. I joined the Reclaim the Night collective in Brisbane and look forward to being part of that event in October. I marched with Ipswich DV services in the Walk a Mile in her Shoes march in May. 

I signed up to feminist pages on Facebook.   

And then, for me, it started unraveling.

On “Destroy the Joint”, following outrage at a comment from Channel 10s’ Kochie from Sunrise, I expressed my personal opinion on breastfeeding in public and was attacked because my opinion did not mesh with the opinions of those with louder voices or quicker fingers.  For the record, I personally believe that breastfeeding is a bonding time between mother and child and should be done in a quiet, private area rather than in a noisy public place such as a shopping mall. Seems that opinion is not permitted.

On “Bra-Busters”, following what I thought was an innocuous comment suggesting that vitriol did not need to extend to all men, I was accused of being a male – and not just a male but one who needed to go practice self-flagellation with my right hand.  This was after I had given the link to my website, which any thinking person who bothered to read would realise was not written by a male.  I never received an apology.  It was okay for me to be trashed. For the record, I personally believe that in order to achieve true equality women and men should be working together. Education and communication are essential tools.  Seems that opinion is not permitted.

Is this really what feminism is about?

What gives you the right to disrespect me simply because I do not agree with you?

What makes your opinion more valid than mine?

If you say that my opinions are invalid because they are formed by a patriarchal society then you also invalidate my mother, my grandmothers, their mothers - because they are who formed me.  My mother had 5 children.  It was her goal in life to be the best mother she could to us, and she chose to do that within a traditional marriage relationship.  My father was the income generator. As well as knowing how to fix the pool pump and our cars, he also knew how to cook and use a sewing machine and a vacuum cleaner.

When men abuse women, sexually as rapists do, or verbally as Alan Jones did and continues to do, then I am 100% with feminists who want to rid society of these revolting types.  But men hate these sort of people as well.  Disgust and revulsion is not the domain of women alone. I will not turn away from a person who wants to add their support on the basis of their gender.  Instead I would welcome them, because we will only turn patriarchy around with the help of men who actually understand the problem.

So don't abuse me for my opinion.  Don't turn me away because I think differently than you do.  My history is different, my reality is different.  We are all different, and feminism is not a guarantee that all women everywhere will think, act or feel the same.  Differences of opinion are what makes the world an interesting place to live.

This week I attended the launch of two books - Destroying the Joint, edited by Jane Caro, and Griffith Review 40 Women and Power, edited by Julianne Schultz.  Both books have the potential to advance feminism in Australia.  I am reading them with interest.  I hope that the differences of opinion I will undoubtedly have with some of the writers will not be discarded by others who may identify as feminists simply because it doesn't mesh with their own thinking. Don't shut the door on diversity.

That, according to a very old saying that my maternal grandmother often used, would just be cutting off your nose to spite your face. 

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