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.
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.