Monday, 24 August 2015

Gender Equality: an Uncomfortable Truth

By Marcelle Liemant

Anne Summers is a leading feminist and the author of of Damned Whores and God’s Police, published in 1975. This session, Damned Whores and Gods Police: 40 Years On, hosted by the National Wool Museum, was a then-and-now look at gender equality. What has changed in the last 40 years, what hasn’t and what still needs to?

And how is Australia fairing?

Since the introduction of the SexDiscrimination Act 1984, along with the tireless efforts of women like Summers, Australia has been steadily moving towards equality. Jobs are no longer advertised based on gender and women have more choices about how they live their lives and what they want to do with their bodies. Australia has even had a female prime minister.

But that’s not the whole story. Summers believes that such easily measurable progress is not necessarily the most important.

Summers isn’t afraid of uncomfortable truths. She has not shied away from the injustice of gender inequality for over 40 years. But even she describes the continued relevance of her book to today’s society as “unnerving.”

In 1975 our language wasn’t able to describe the struggles women were facing. Terms like ‘domestic violence’ and ‘date rape’ weren’t vocalised or discussed as they are today. Society back then was not well equipped to discuss these issues but as the language has developed, so has the depth of the conversation.

But, although the language has expanded to allow for the complexities of these issues to be discussed and understood, women are still being confined and defined according to ‘God’s Police and Damned Whores’ archetypes. The polarity and simplification of a woman’s role in society, has not gone changed. Sure, women have the freedom to make more choices today, but Australia has not overcome its prejudice against them. It may not always be overt, but women are still expected to choose between being a mother and having a career. Women are still seen as either promiscuous, or prudish.

It is a case of “orgasms or respect”, as Summers bluntly puts it.

Damned Whores and God’s Police, offers a window into Australia’s all too-present past. The book calls for deep cultural change, such that women do not have their entire lives defined by their ability to bear children.

We need to understand why Australia is not an equal society and we need to explore ways in which how we can change this. We need to understand why domestic violence is still on the rise. So far, 58 women have been killed in domestic violence incidents this year alone. This is the tragedy that makes gender equality so potently relevant and important today.

What has changed for women in 40 years? Not enough.

1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732): 24 hour, National Sexual Assault, Family & Domestic Violence Counselling Line.

Edited by Anna Brasier

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