Written by Eva Cox, Illustrations by Cat Macinnes
We need to lead the changes!
Tocsin! It is our urgent feminist duty to fix the real macho mess made by those in expedient few in political power, because I fear what their most populist oppositions offer, will make matters even worse. The current mob of failing flawed fundamentalists have triggered wide retro macho, prejudice driven responses. Not only has the current neoliberal system stalled much needed progress to real gender equity, their alienation of a wide range of voters has created mass disruption and a desire to retreat to nostalgia. We need to promote feminist-driven progressive optimistic futures and devise the plans for getting there! This alone may rescue us from dystopian possibilities.
Signs suggest that the will to create feminist driven changes are still there. Women in Poland stopped retro fertility control recently, while millions of women marched across America and the world in the last few weeks. Most were responding to Trump’s win, but all were showing their anger at the continuing gender inequity in most Western democracies. Plenty of feminists are prepared to value the fact that we live in societies, not economies, so they require equity to ensure fair social cohesion.
Protests offer a starting point but alone are not enough to achieve real political change. We need to develop and promote feminist driven policies in order to fix the damage caused by the current patriarchal status quo and discourage further macho and prejudiced policy making in the future. Ergo the urgent need for feminist leadership to reset our current policy agendas.
I use the F word deliberately to make a clear distinction between just improving the status of women in current macho defined societies. I use macho rather than male as we all can benefit from creating gender equity in societies by removing stereotypes, power and value biases that favour men. We need to use feminist lenses to identify how to remove gender as a determinant of power and redefine the value of social well being, which encompasses most feminised roles.
We’ve done it before, so we can do it again. Australian women have a long track record of achieving good social goals via mainstream political agendas. I was there, as part of the disrupting social movements of the 1960s, which gave rise to second wave feminism. In the 70s we pushed our social and political agenda onto the government, to forge better futures. A badge we wore during the time stated ‘women wanting equality with men lacked ambition’ , because we intended to ensure that our changes were long term and radical.
We hoped, somewhat over optimistically, that having more women in possession of the levers of power would advance feminist changes. It worked for a while as many of us moved into crucial jobs as part of our plan to combine outside protesters and insider change makers. Too soon, however, this was truncated by protectors of slow change or the status quo, so most then appointed were loyal servants, rather than change makers. Women were afforded greater shares of the many male dominated roles but not much more.
Those two decades left a rich legacy of feminist social, political and policy changes. No longer was it legal for women to be paid less for doing the same jobs, or be excluded from jobs or promotion based on their gender. We funded community based child care, raised the welfare payments for sole parents, achieved fertility control funding, established women’s refuges and health centres, passed anti sex discrimination laws and increased female education levels. We contributed good social policies to the Whitlam, Fraser and early Hawke governments, which improved many lives, and expanded community based services which in turn validated governments’ involvement.
However, times were changing and by the 1990s the main policy was allowing more women to make it on male terms, as this type of change fit the individual market basis of the paradigm shifts in politics. The feminist revolution had stalled and gender equality was no longer about social changes. Younger women growing up under the market model were no longer exposed to the possibilities of utopian futures, just growing more GDP!
This shift also undermined other progressive big picture change agents over the last two decades. Political focus often shifted to more fragmented areas such as identity politics. Now we face the threats of populism via sexism, racism, isolationism and nationalism, as well as a multitude of other prejudices. These views seriously undermine the necessary levels of trust in other people and institutions, resulting in a reduced acceptance of diversity within our society.
The Sydney women’s march demonstrated that we have the diversity and numbers, and offered a wide mix of issues, which made me hopeful. Here, at least, are enough feminists with the will to act and hopefully the capacity to develop and deliver powerful political action. So the question for me is, what next? How do we get together to develop the program we need to counter rising local populist movements?
We need to tap into the residual belief in a fair go, our implicit social contract, to ensure it has a solid gender equity base. We could start by fixing some very current policy issues that will undermine many of the gains we made. These include fixing a very messy set of children’s services policies to ensure they are run for families and children’s needs rather than commercial profits and GDP. We need feminist reforms to the welfare mess; we need to consider whether a Universal Basic Income would work for women, and we need to increase the value of feminised skills and assumed choices, rather than just pushing women into STEM jobs but not pushing men into paid and unpaid caring jobs.
Creating broad feminist changes to public debates is not easy but we must start doing it! How do we recruit the women who have swallowed the neoliberal KoolAid and claim that economic growth alone would create equality? Some have powerful jobs and could be useful but it is up to us to offer good feminist leadership and ascertain whether prioritising fair social goals could recruit some angry voters and reassure them that governments can actually do good. Can feminists bring on this type of change which creates the good societies they want to live in without giving up on diversity and progress? Only time will tell.
But we need to start doing it, because if not us, then who?
Eva Cox AO was born in 1938 in Vienna, Austria, and being born Jewish was declared stateless by The Nazis. Fleeing Hitler, Eva and her family arrived in Australia in 1948. The early experiences raised her interest in social dysfunction. In 1974 she graduated with honours in Sociology at the University of New South Wales. Eva was an early member of the new Women’s Electoral Lobby. She worked at UNSW as researcher and tutor, then moved to NCOSS as director and was briefly a political staffer. In 1994 she became a senior lecturer and later program director of Social Inquiry at the University of Technology, Sydney until 2007. Cox’s currently is an Adjunct Professor at Jumbunna Indigenous House of Learning University of technology Sydney. She is still trying to create the more civil society she proposed in her 1995 ABC Boyer Lectures A Truly Civil Society. Throughout this time, Cox has become well known as a public commentator, passionate in her advocacy for women’s rights and the alleviation of social injustice. For her extensive contributions, particularly concerning the advancement of women’s welfare, Cox was appointed Officer of the Order of Australia in 1995, named Humanist of the Year 1997, and featured on a postage stamp, as an Australian Legend in 2011.
The 5th All About Women Festival will take place at Sydney Opera House 5 March 2017 For more information and tickets: http://aaw.sydneyoperahouse.com/