Trigger warning: Abuse, Sexual Assault
Feminism. It’s a big word in the media at the moment, a controversial one to say the least. A lot of people are scared by the word. They get defensive, they claim that feminists are just overreacting “man haters”. That feminism is not actually needed anymore, we got what we wanted, why are we still fighting? Well, we are still fighting because gender inequality is still a prominent problem in 2021, even if it’s not always seen. The problem is systematic and acts as the building blocks for the patriarchy our world is built upon. There is not the time or space for my personal stories with sexism and gender inequality, so instead I’m going to focus on the stories that have been in the news as of late.
A massive news story in March 2021 was that of an anonymous parliament member who had masturbated on a female co-worker’s desk and was later sacked. This man was defended by many of his co-workers. What was the prime minister’s response? While responding to the scandal Morrison stated, “as a husband and father”. This comment is harmful to women everywhere because it implies that without these women in his life, he would not care for women’s issues. The comment specifically undermines the importance of women as their own people, opposed to someone that has relations to a man, an accessory to his name, an extension of his identity, such as a daughter or a wife. The sexism that drives these events is often swept under the rug. The disrespect and complete disregard that anonymous man had for his female co-worker’s dignity, spells out how women are treated in parliament pretty clearly. Recently, this issue has come to light often within Australian politics.
Take Brittany Higgins as an example. Higgins alleged that she was raped by a senior colleague in March 2019 but felt as if she couldn’t report the incident to police out of fear of losing her job. Brittney alleges that she was under the influence of alcohol and asleep at the time of the assault. These accusations sparked thousands of other women to come forward to protest about sexual assault and toxic work environments for women all over Australia. Because these issues are so heavily rooted in parliament, they spread out from the government into the eyes of the law.
Another example is Grace Tame, who was named Australian of the Year in 2021. In her speech appropriately titled “Hear Me Now” Tame recounts how she was raped at the age of 15 by her 58-year-old paedophilic teacher. He was only sentenced to 19 months in prison and was then released into the community where he freely boasted to media outlets about how awesome it was. To quote Tame’s speech directly:
“Whilst [these stories are] disturbing to hear, the reality of what goes on behind closed doors is more so. And the more details we omit for fear of disturbance, the more we soften these crimes.”
But this is not just a parliamentary issue. Countless individuals have had experiences with sexism in their everyday lives. Every single woman has had some kind of disadvantage put on her simply because she is a woman. From the gender reveal party before she is even born, expectations are put on her. The expectations that she will become a mother herself one day and that she will be a warm nurturing person. A natural caretaker her whole life, cooking and cleaning for her husband and taking care of the kids while he is out working, earning money, or playing sports with his friends. As a child she is given baby dolls and barbies to push along that caregiver expectation and condition her into thinking about her physical appearance from a young age, whereas her older brother is given building blocks and toy cars to push the expectations of intelligence and problem-solving skills. When they grow up a bit more the girl is told how pretty she looks in her new pink frilly dress. She is gifted “babies first makeup kit” for her 5th birthday, reinforcing that her self-worth should be based on her appearance while the brother gets told how clever he is for building his new Lego set. When they go to school, the brother is encouraged to take “hard sciences'' like physics and chemistry and she is encouraged to take more “social sciences” like psychology or humanities. This is because “girls are just more understanding of people” and “boys can stick to the harder things”, because it’s just too hard for our simple girl brains to understand. When they go into the work force the brother gets chosen for the promotion because the business can’t afford to pay someone that might leave in a couple months to have kids, despite the fact that a man takes part in having kids too. And even when they were working in the same position at the same job, she makes $0.87 to every dollar he makes. This is not just a one off story.
In Australia the statistics for family violence and gender-based violence are astounding. Did you know that in Australia alone, one woman is killed every single week, by a partner or former partner. One woman every week. In 2020, 55 women were murdered by their intimate partners in Australia alone, and this is just the tip of the iceberg. 1 in every 4 Australian women experienced physical or sexual violence from current or former partners in their lifetime. 1 in every 5 women have experienced sexual violence, including rape. 1 in every 4 have experienced emotional and verbal abuse. And 1 in every 3 have experienced physical violence since the age of 15. And perhaps one of the most upsetting parts of this is how it affects children. Half of the women that reported a yes in one of the aforementioned statistics said that children had seen or heard it happen. Just think about how that can affect them. And this isn’t even starting on how these issues affect minorities, Indigenous women, and women of colour who experience higher rates of family violence and gender-based violence in comparison to white Australian women. An Aboriginal woman is 45 times more likely to experience family violence than a white woman and 16% of Aboriginal women over the age of 15 have been threatened with violence in the last 12 months. And physically disabled women and girls are twice as likely to experience abuse then an able-bodied person.
Even after hearing all of this, some of you will probably still think that feminism is too crazy, and that this is just the way the world needs to be to function. After all, it’s been this way for so long why change it now? But if you are going to listen to anything I say in this speech, make it this; feminism, sexism, and gender inequality affects everyone, including men. Before anyone says that “men matter too” I want to remind you all that the toxic gender stereotypes that are placed on men are almost always rooted in sexism towards women. The stereotype that men need to be big and strong is there because society says that women need to be smaller and petite. The gender stereotype that men can’t show emotion is only in place because the patriarchy says that women are overly emotional and that if you show emotion you need to “man up” or “grow some balls.” We still need feminism in Australia in 2021 because we have started to raise our girls more like boys. Accepting them for being more masculine, masculinity is seen as powerful and brave, but we don’t want to raise our boys more like our girls because women are seen as inferior, and femininity is not something that should be praised amongst boys.
In conclusion, feminism is still needed in 2021 as it impacts all aspects of Australian life and everyone has been affected by sexism. Everyone needs to help find a solution, and if that offends you, you’re part of the problem.