I am not an ‘equality feminist’. We live in a patriarchal society where standards are determined by institutions of male power and what is male is considered the ‘default’, like whiteness and heterosexuality. Therefore the standard against which women’s progress towards ‘equality’ is measured is based on a male norm. Instead I believe in women’s liberation — in a complete reconceptualization of womanhood as worthy and valuable. And I don’t mean the cartoonish performance of femininity, which reinforces male power. I mean universal womanhood: life-creation and/or the ongoing sustenance and care of the next generation, reproductive health, cyclical notions of time, knowledge sharing, etc.
I feel so discouraged when examples of women assimilating into a patriarchal, white supremacist, capitalist culture are celebrated as a win for feminism: Women on the military front line, women on boards of exploitative companies, women directing pornography. This isn’t women’s liberation, it merely validates hegemonic masculinity.
What would real liberation look like then? I’m not entirely sure, but at 25 and planning to start a family I often think about this question. I think it starts with having real control and power over our bodies. We’ve been made to feel by a third-wave of feminism co-opted by liberalism that sexual autonomy equates to having lots of sex. But in a culture where ‘sex’ invariably means ‘penetration’, despite a majority of women not being able to orgasm from penetrative sex, and where women bear most of the burden of pregnancy prevention/termination, is this too narrow a focus? Academic legend bell hooks was laughed at on stage at the ‘Are You Still a Slave?’ event for suggesting that celibacy might be an option for women seeking sexual liberation. Perhaps that is too far along the other end of the spectrum, but are we so afraid of being labelled as puritans that we can’t see the potential freedom such a choice could bring?
I also think real liberation means returning to a focus on material support for mothers. A majority of women will have at least one child by the age of 40. Under capitalism, the broken patterns of work she experiences because of this will leave her with less money to retire with, and fewer opportunities to access full-time work and promotions alongside her male counterparts who enjoy uninterrupted employment. The abolition of a motherhood endowment once accessible to all women, and the extremely modest allowance for single mothers in Australia, show that the government does not view raising strong, moral, capable children as worthy work. Feminism is guilty here too. Almost all liberal feminist discussions of mothers now centre on financial incentives to get her back into the workforce where she can recommence her duty increasing the nation’s beloved GDP.
Why have we let male culture define the pillars of our lives, including work, sex, and parenting? I am not advocating for a return to the domestic/public binary where women are financially dependent on others and excluded from decision-making. I dream about just the opposite, where womanhood is a source of power — not imagined, subjective power, but real, material power.
Thanks. There wasn’t a particular moment, it’s a feeling that’s reaffirmed all the time and grows stronger as time passes. However, I think when my mum and sister started telling me how much they liked him and imagining us having kids together, that was really significant. Winning over the men in my family isn’t too hard, but it’s very difficult to get the approval of the women. I think for me it would have been a different story if we didn’t have a past together. It would have taken longer to feel the same familiarity and security. Now we’re approaching two years together and it’s just great, he is such a sweet soul and I just love every little speck of him.
I love reading transcripts of political speeches from past decades. Check this excerpt out from former Labor Prime Minister Paul Keating in 1970 on women in the workforce. Imagine a politician saying such a thing today…
“Husbands have been forced to send their wives to work in order to provide the necessaries of life. Family life is the very basis of our nationhood. In the past couple of years the government has boasted about the increasing number of women in the workforce. Rather than something to be proud of, I feel it is something of which we should be ashamed.”
I’m horrified. The end of universal healthcare, the beginning of a US-style university fee system, a significant rise in the pension age, more expensive fuel, a new debt tax, billions taken from foreign aid, and Indigenous programs gutted. And all for a very modest improvement to the deficit. This is an IDEOLOGICAL budget, nothing else. It isn’t about good fiscal or social policy. They are trying to drastically restructure Australia’s economy to benefit the rich, hollow out the middle class, and demoralise the poor even further.