I was brought up in an era that strongly supported, encouraged and promoted equality, particularly gender equality. But, I’ve been wondering for some time now how I would feel if I was a woman in the current world.
In the context of the murder of a schoolgirl in broad daylight in a middle class suburb on a street I’ve walked on. In a context where women are killed daily in domestic violence events, where women are raped hourly, because some men want to exert their physical power or feel it is their right, or lose their self-control, through drugs or alcohol or pornography.
In the context of a country where there are only 2 women Ministers. In the context of a country where the Minister for Women is a man. In the context of a country where women with strong, challenging or controversial opinions expressed online are subject to torrents of abuse, harassment and physical and sexual intimidation. In the context where hardly any women appear in the intelligent media doing real jobs in real organisations. In the context where hardly any women’s sport is shown on TV or reported on. In the context where women are immediately judged on how they look, rather than on what they think or what they achieve. In a context where women are still paid less than men for the same work. In a context where women are still denied the right to determine what they should be able to do with their own bodies. In a context where the vast majority of jobs at the tops of organisations remain in the hands of men and quotas to force equality remain off limits. And much, more.
If I were a woman, I think I would want to band together with other women to form a women’s political party to focus on women’s issues and societal egalitarian issues, rather than the economic issues that dominate the male world. I would want to elect a majority of women to parliament, to get a majority of women making the decisions for the society, to have a majority of women as Ministers. I would want to legislate for quotas for women at the tops of organisations. I would want to legislate so that women no longer had to prove they had been assaulted, but that their accused attackers had to prove they did not. I would want to legislate for a woman’s right to choose, for the legalisation of sex work. I’d want women to use their economic and social power to force the society to change its attitudes to alcoholic abuse, sexual abuse, domestic violence, harassment, gender inequality and any other aspect of daily life that made it more difficult for women to achieve their full potential, in whatever ways they wanted to do so, and not be the second-class citizens that they often still remain, handicapped and limited by men, their actions and their power.
It seems clear that, unless women band together to force the society to address women’s issues, they simply won’t be addressed. Many men like me are sympathetic and will help and support, but the power structures in society are so strong that, unless women can themselves form major power blocs by acting together, women’s issues are going to remain second level issues. And women need to act together. It is clear that whistleblowers or glass ceiling breakers or even women with strong opinions are subject to humiliating putdowns in every way possible. Few individuals can stand this. Large groups are needed to change society.
When I grew up in the 60s and 70s, we wanted individual choice for everyone, but we also knew we had to act together to get the society to change. Somehow, while we have made a lot of progress on individual choice for women, at least for those with some economic power, we seem, as a society to have slipped backwards on major fundamentals of equality, of egalitarianism. Perhaps, in seeking individual freedom, we’ve lost the ability to act for the collective good. Now the pursuit of individual wellbeing, individual success regardless of who else gets flattened in the process, is the guiding principle of our society.
As a man, it’s taken me a long time to realise that what we sought in the 60s and 70s just hasn’t occurred, to realise just how much even this society continues to limit what women can do and say. When a woman feels she can’t walk in the streets alone, can’t say what she thinks, can’t do what she wants, this is not the type of society we should be satisfied with.
Helen Reddy’s anthem song, ‘I Am Woman’, was an important call to action for women in the 70s. Some of its words are worth considering again:
I am woman, hear me roar
In numbers too big to ignore
And I know too much to go back an’ pretend
‘Cause I’ve heard it all before
And I’ve been down there on the floor
No one’s ever gonna keep me down again
Oh yes, I am wise
But it’s wisdom born of pain
Yes, I’ve paid the price
But look how much I gained
If I have to
I can do anything
I am strong (strong)
I am invincible (invincible)
I am woman
You can bend but never break me
‘Cause it only serves to make me
More determined to achieve my final goal
And I come back even stronger
Not a novice any longer
‘Cause you’ve deepened the conviction in my soul
I am woman watch me grow
See me standing toe to toe
As I spread my lovin’ arms across the land
But I’m still an embryo
With a long, long way to go
Until I make my brother understand
At the time it was both a challenge and a celebration of what women could and had and would achieve. In our current context, I wonder how much progress has actually been made since then.
If I was a woman, I’d want women to say ‘We’ve had enough. We’re not going to take this anymore.’ And if women want to do that, they are going to have to find some collective organisations or institutions to use to organise against the current male-dominated power structure’.
As a man, I hope you do. What men have done to women, have allowed to be done, have conspired to stop being done, is shameful. Go girls. Take this world by the scruff of the neck. Some of us will help you as much as we can, but you are going to have to stand up for yourselves and do the heavy lifting yourselves. There’s a lot to be done, but you can succeed.