What Is Feminism And Why Does It Matter In Australia
Feminspire is on a mission to look at feminism on a global scale, and to follow up on those articles focusing on Britain, Canada and the US, this article will demonstrate exactly how alive sexism is within Australia. From simple things like comedy, such as the radio presence Kyle Sandilands who seems to be revered by much of Australia because of his “controversial brand of humour” (making a young girl confess to her mother that she had been raped on live broadcast, and then making light of it asking if she’d had any more “experiences”), to the complete lack of a feminist culture, Australia is sorely lacking in any semblance of a women’s rights movement.
First and foremost, I see feminism as the striving for equality between men and women, regardless of their race, sexuality or religious beliefs. It’s my hope that one day we will live in a world in which women’s reproductive rights are unchallenged, and their bodily determination completely their own. To me, feminism is a disdain for jokes that make light of sexual abuse, and a disdain for the desire to fit into subcultures that are traditionally male without being challenged on my “right” to be there. While this may not encompass every woman’s definition of feminism, I think this is a good place to start.
The representation of women within Australian government seems progressive at a glance, with Julia Gillard as our prime minister, but it’s important to note the huge gap between how male and female politicians are treated. In our federal government, only 29.2% of the representatives are women, and in my state, women barely make a third of the political voices. The leader of the Australian equivalent of American Republican party, the Liberal National Party, is Tony Abbott (see right), someone who thinks it’s okay to make rape jokes about his opposition, and then deny any claims it was sexist, while simultaneously spouting pro-life propaganda whenever he can manage it. Take, for example, this particularly horrifying quote from a post on TonyAbbott.Com.Au entitled “Rate of Abortion Highlights Our Moral Failings“:
Abortion is the easy way out. It’s hardly surprising that people should choose the most convenient exit from awkward situations.
Or perhaps even:
The problem with the Australian practice of abortion is that an objectively grave matter has been reduced to a question of the mother’s convenience. Aborting a first trimester fetus is not morally identical to deliberately killing a living human being, but it’s not just removing a wart or a cyst either. Even those who think that abortion is a woman’s right should be troubled by the fact that 100,000 Australian women choose to destroy their unborn babies every year.
While I respect everyone’s rights to their own beliefs, it’s clear here that Abbott, a candidate for Prime Minister, has quite a lot planned for the destruction of women’s rights if he manages to succeed. But before you start asking “is an opposition to abortion really the destruction of women’s rights?”, here are his stances on sex before marriage and birth control:
It [birth control] has been at least as liberating for men as for women […] some women are being taken advantage of as a result. [...]
I would say to my daughters, if they were to ask me this question … it is the greatest gift you can give someone, the ultimate gift of giving and don’t give it to someone lightly.
And while it may seem like Australia just suffers at the hands of male conservatives, our culture itself remains hugely unequal.
Currently, women in full-time jobs are being paid a meagre 82.5% of what men in the same position make. This is worse than how much women were paid in 1985. Abortion is illegal in New South Wales, the Northern Territory, Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania, and Western Australia unless the woman can prove that it is necessary for either health or financial reasons. While it is possible for women in dire situations to undergo an abortion, it’s usually costly, uncomfortable and difficult – the last thing a woman in this already traumatic situation needs is to be forced to prove her “need” for an abortion.
Just as harrowing as our financial and political inequality is the rape culture that pervades all of Australian culture. Not only do one in six Australian experience sexual abuse in their lifetimes, 45% of these women report that they experienced sexual abuse again. 57% of Australian women will experience domestic violence or sexual violence in their lifetime, 18% of women reported being abused before age 16, the Australian age of consent, and only 1% of the women surveyed were raped by a stranger. It’s clear that there is a huge problem in Australia with domestic violence and sexual abuse, but not that much is being done about it. In fact, in Queensland legislation, the definition of consent still allows for defence lawyers to say that “provocative clothing” is inviting “consensual sexual intercourse”. Bear in mind this is an extremely hot place where most women walk around like this:
Let’s not even talk about a song that made it to number 49 on Australian music charts with the lyrics:
I like you just the way you are, drunk and dancing at the bar, I can’t wait to take you home so I can do some damage. […] I can’t wait to take you home so I can take advantage
But is anything actually being done about the institutionalised discrimination of women, or the rampant rape culture in Australia? Short answer: no. While I have been lucky enough to have the opportunity to take several gender studies classes at my university and even participate in the few feminist groups my state has to offer, Australia is severely lacking any feminist community or culture. Saying that you’re a feminist results in people looking at you with disgust, or even deciding to make more rape jokes around you because it’s “funny how angry you get.” Jokes about the brutality of rape and domestic violence are found within nearly any group of drunk men, and a lot of sober ones too. Australia is a beautiful country, but the inequalities between men and women are destroying my love for it – along with many other women, just like me, who are fighting to feel like they belong in a country whose culture and politics are based on the ideals of conservative, straight white men.
Written by Jessica Bagnall
Jessica is a student from Brisbane, Australia and Feminspire staff contributor
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