Is Gina Rinehart a Feminist?

Date

Chancellor's Postdoctoral Research Fellow, University of Technology Sydney

View more articles from Alecia Simmonds

Gina Rinehart, chairwoman of Hancock Prospecting.

Gina Rinehart, chairwoman of Hancock Prospecting. Photo: Bloomberg

In the twilight hours of every year humanity descends into a fever of list-making: worst words of 2012 (amazeballs; zombie apocalypse); best film of 2012 (A Separation NOT Skyfall) and most influential woman who has empowered other women (Julia Gillard).

Of course, the purpose of lists is not to bring humanity together in a cloud of consensus or a bear-hug of hatred. Lists exist to spark indignation on the part of self-appointed high-priestesses of list-making over the inaccuracy of other people’s lists. Last year, the Daily Telegraph sniped at Daily Life about our list of 20 influential women who empower other women. They agreed on Gillard as number one but thought that Miranda Kerr, Princess Mary and Jackie O should also receive gongs: Miranda because men think she’s hot, Mary because she’s good at breeding and Jackie O because… because… she excels at publicly humiliating 14 year-old rape victims? Sometimes it’s hard to fathom the gargantuan idiocy of the Daily Telegraph.

But what struck me most was the image of Gina Rinehart, possibly the most polarising woman in Australia, sitting at number two.

It’s quite likely that the writers of the Daily Telegraph don’t excel in comprehension and simply failed to understand the meaning of ‘women who empower other women’. We’ll never know. Yet seeing Rinehart’s name alongside women like Julia made me think: is it loopy to see Gina as a feminist icon? Other feminists certainly do. She’s a powerful woman in a male-dominated mining industry whose success may do much to normalize women in business. And she exhibits a delightful refusal to conform to patriarchal standards of feminine beauty.

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I definitely furrow my feminist brows when Rinehart is called an heiress while James Packer is called a billionaire. How is Packer any less an heir? When Julian Morrow quipped that Rinehart was ‘the elephant not in the room’, and Germaine Greer advised her to find a decent hairdresser I became a spit-flecked ball of feminist fury. Rinehart is held to a suffocatingly restrictive image standard that her counterparts like Clive Palmer and James Packer are not. We’re capable of discussing wealthy men without mentioning their hairy shoulders or wide girth. Gina Rinehart is reduced to her bingo-wings.

But defending Rinehart on feminist grounds is not to be confused with hailing her as a feminist hero. Feminism may be a broad church but you need to do more than combine the fact of your vagina with success in a male-dominated field to gain entry. 

In the spirit of New Year list-making let’s do a round-up of Rinehart’s feminist credentials measured according to the original Daily Life formula of acts that empower other women.

1)     Philanthropy: On the face of it, Rinehart’s philanthropic work seems admirable. She founded the Hancock Family Breast Cancer Foundation, she supports the Hope Scholarship Award program for girls and has made contributions to a cancer centre at St John of God Hospital in Perth. This would all be fine were her contribution to these funds not such a pissy proportion of the 29.17 billion that she’s worth. Jim McGinty was Health Minister at the time that Rinehart set up the cancer wing in St John of God Hospital recently told author Debi Marshall in her new book The House of Hancock: The Rise and Rise of Gina Rinehart, that ‘her contribution was negligible. I laughed when I saw it.’ Where Bill and Melinda Gates founded the most generous philanthropic foundation in the world, Rinehart is unknown in philanthropic circles.

2)     Economic Independence: It was feminists who fought for equal pay for equal work of equal value and feminist unionists who campaigned for a livable wage. How does Rinehart contribute to this fine tradition? Firstly, she campaigns for a restrictive economic zone to allow mining companies to employ people on lesser wages in poor conditions. She also applauds ‘Africans who want to work and are willing to work for less than $2 per day’. In seeking to destroy good Australian working conditions and diminish state regulation Rinehart is leaving the most vulnerable workers – people of colour and women – open to the rapacious savagery of an unregulated market.

3)     Social Justice: Rinehart is a strident believer in the individual. If you’re poor, then stop ‘drinking and smoking and socialising’, she barks. Success comes from hard work, not from the advantages of an inherited mining empire. This acontextual philosophy is completely opposed to basic tenets of feminist thought. Although feminism is sometimes thought of as an individualist ideology promoted by selfish women who spend their days contemplating their own intersectionally oppressed navels, it is and should always aim at collective justice. Feminists campaign for an equitable redistribution of power through attempting to redress structural disadvantages like gender, poverty and race that are beyond an individual’s control. Some of us don’t want to just smash the glass ceiling. We’d like to redesign the entire building.

Gina may be unfairly treated by sexist media but she sure as hell aint no sista. She’s a pearl-studded wrecking-ball that has the power to smash everything it meets: the environment, workers’ rights and, with her increasing influence on Fairfax, freedom of speech.  

Her philanthropic contributions to feminist organisations are negligible, she has campaigned to destroy decent working conditions and she refuses to see that opportunity is defined by social context. Let’s keep the obscene, unshared wealth of Gina Rinehart and feminism in opposite, warring camps, and focus more on the liberation part of women’s liberation.

34 comments

  • for the real truth on gina rinehart visit http://www.ginarinehart.info/
    the two articles dispose common myths that generic journalists continue to write about with no regard to the actual truth and fundamentally logical economic sense of gina rineharts actions.

    Commenter
    stelabeph
    Location
    Sydney
    Date and time
    January 09, 2013, 9:10AM
    • Hmmmm........ She owns 10% of Fairfax, does that count as Philanthropy?

      Commenter
      Carstendog
      Location
      Here
      Date and time
      January 09, 2013, 11:31AM
  • Packer and Palmer both cop a lot of ridicule for their looks even in a world where a man is primarily measured by the girth of his wallet (especially by attractive women). Packer even got surgery to aid his looks with gastric lap band surgery. Palmer doesn't seem to care but there's a lot of criticism hurled at him for his girth so stop treating this as if Rinehart is on her own in that department.

    Rinehart was highlighting the fragile state of the Australian economy when she compared workers on $2 per day. This highlights that it is easy for us to be undercut and our mining industries toppled rather easily. Industries that are often the largest employers in some areas. Her zone, whilst constitutionally invalid and unworkable, was more about tax rates rather than labour costs. You're creating a straw-man there.

    Rinehart shouldn't have to give money especially to "feminist" causes particularly when some of those causes want to redesign the building. This is little more than feminist propaganda from a bunch of parasites that just want to live off the largesse of what others have created: "gee, there's some rich people out there, lets force them to give us money so that things are fair". That's not fair. That's welfare for the undeserving. If you want money then go out and earn it.

    I don't care so much whether Rinehart is a feminist. She was handed an empire at the beginning of a boom and rode that wave as high as it would go. But the inaccuracies, straw-men and bias in this article cannot be unaddressed.

    Commenter
    Bender
    Date and time
    January 09, 2013, 9:15AM
    • Sorry why does it matter? If she is or isnt? Cant a person just be themselves? Why is there this suddenly push to label famous people feminists or not? Every time i read one of these stories (although the media lately) i think it is really sad that female readers are constantly having this "is she a feminist? question and the sad inference it brings. (Women who aren't feminist are some how worse people). We men are often criticized for our lack of empathy but i read unimportant things like this and sometimes think the greatest threat to woman's intellectual independence is the conflict that such articles brings. Why cant a person just be themselves? Every person in power (or spotlight like what happened with Christina Hendricks recently) doesnt HAVE to be a role model, it isnt in their job description. The world be a much better place if it wasnt full of people dictating to others what they should be. Feminists dont stand for men doing that to women, so why do they allow themselves to do that to other women? Labeling other human beings for any reasons isnt acceptable.

      Some women may find Gina empowering and inspiring, who are you to say otherwise, just because she doesnt match your criteria?

      Commenter
      blakeavon
      Date and time
      January 09, 2013, 9:24AM
      • Inspired to pursue a fit and healthy lifestyle maybe...

        Commenter
        Habib
        Location
        Geelong
        Date and time
        January 09, 2013, 9:52AM
        • If your looking for a feminist role model I wouldn't suggest Gina ; gina is in a position afforded to her by her father Lang Hancock who described her as a "slothful devious baby elephant" a woman who could show philanthropy to the indigenous population through education employment etc but chooses not to .
          There are far more generous models out there think mother theresa ,lady diana women who regardless of their personal wealth that showed true compassion and humility while trying to help others .
          Out of respect to decent people who are feminists I would hesitate to mention Gina in the same breath ....

          Commenter
          mark.t.malloy
          Location
          north wollongong
          Date and time
          January 09, 2013, 9:55AM
          • "Sometimes it’s hard to fathom the gargantuan idiocy of the Daily Telegraph"

            hahahaha!! I just fell off my chair!!!

            Commenter
            Miffy
            Date and time
            January 09, 2013, 9:56AM
            • "Last year, the Daily Telegraph sniped at Daily Life about our list of 20 influential women who empower other women."

              In the Telegraph's defence, the list of influential women on Daily Life included some people most Australian had never probably heard of. Clementine Ford and Jane Caro come to mind, and didn't include Julie Bishop, Deputy Leader of the Opposition, and Ms Rinehart, the World's Richest woman and 10% owner of Fairfax and Channel 10. Both these women maybe not "feminist icons who Daily Life consider empower women", but I would suspect they would considered more empowering to women than, with all due respect to Ms Ford and Ms Caro, to the average person in the street

              Commenter
              Carstendog
              Location
              Here
              Date and time
              January 09, 2013, 12:19PM
          • Would it not be just as easy to strike out Julia Gillard as a feminist icon given the above criteria?

            I do agree though that Rinehart is not a feminist icon (nor do I think she really tries to be one for that matter). You could argue she is a positive role model for women but she doesn't strike me as someone working for the betterment of the feminist sisterhood.

            Commenter
            Ando
            Date and time
            January 09, 2013, 10:00AM
            • The size of Ms Rinehart's philanthropy is less important than the fact that she is a philanthropist - fewer women than men are, or are in a position to be, and she should be congratulated, not vilified for her "negligible" contribution. I'm sure her contribution was more than my annual wage.

              The employment of overseas workers on wages and conditions that are much less than the Australian Award affects the rights of all mining workers. Given that mining workers are predominantly male, this issue is not relevant in arguing whether or not Ms Rinehart "empowers other women".

              Alcohol and tobacco are two money-draining habits (and sometimes addictions) that hurt women by consuming a male partner's income that might otherwise be spent on feeding and clothing dependent children.

              Was this article attempting to find another avenue of attacking Gina Rinehart, in addition to attacking her appearance and business acumen? Fail.

              Commenter
              Sarah
              Location
              Kew
              Date and time
              January 09, 2013, 10:02AM

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