It’s considered a weakness to be a woman in Australia

A screengrab of Jinan Younis' piece for the UK Guardian.

A screengrab of Jinan Younis' piece for the UK Guardian.

Recently, I wrote that feminism was ‘finding a way of being a girl that doesn’t hurt’ a way for girls and women to re-negotiate our understanding of the world so that we can become a full and equal part of it rather than just a means of decorating it; to move towards a place where the mere act of being a girl isn’t used against us as both a threat and an obligation. Through feminism, I have found a peace of sorts from the sense that my femaleness required a constant apology so that I might be given permission to pass through these narrow corridors.

But it isn’t an easy transition. As schoolgirls in Britain recently discovered, there’s an irony in the fact that liberating oneself from unnecessary pain forces us to endure so much of it. When Jinan Younis started a feminist society at her all-girls school, she was met by ugly opposition from the boys in their wider peer group. As she wrote:

“The more girls started to voice their opinions about gender issues, the more vitriolic the boys' abuse became. One boy declared that "bitches should keep their bitchiness to their bitch-selves #BITCH" and another smugly quipped, "feminism doesn't mean they don't like the D, they just haven't found one to satisfy them yet." Any attempt we made to stick up for each other was aggressively shot down with "get in your lane before I par [ridicule] you too", or belittled with remarks like "cute, they got offended".

For Younis and her friends, the lesson was clear. By defending their right to be treated as equal human beings, they were given a swift reminder of just how little power they’re allowed to wield.

Advertisement

It would be rare to find a woman who hadn’t endured some kind of ridicule for stepping out of line. When the market dictates that a woman’s value is primarily attached to her looks and deferential behaviour, it’s the threat of sexually degrading insults that help to keep her in check. How many of us have weathered the experience of a man calling us ugly or fat, simply because we disagreed with him or didn’t want to entertain his attentions? How many of us bristle when a carload of rowdy men drives past, preparing ourselves for either inevitable demands that we show them our tits or unasked for comments on the paucity of our looks and knowing that if we don’t acquiesce to such an invasion of our personal space then the consequences for our self esteem will be much worse?

As I write this, an anonymous stranger is bombarding me with messages calling me “a stupid cu*t” who needs to “curl up and die”. “What have I done to deserve this shrieking harpy bitch?” he asks, as if it is me who’s wandered up to his house to scream random insults through his window. “How come all feminists are ugly?” he wonders aloud. “Do they become feminists after being constantly rejected by men?”

The battle for liberation is apparently the last refuge for women unable to participate in an economy that places their sexual availability at a premium. Having someone want to fu*k you is evidently more of an aspiration than wanting them to see you as an equal human being in your own right, with opinions and thoughts worthy of consideration and an autonomy that is yours and yours alone.

The arrogant belief that women are all ‘desperate for the D’, as Younis’ male peers might put it, is what drives much of this ridicule. It’s why women who speak out against rape jokes are told they’re just jealous that no one wants to rape them. It’s how the ‘shrillness’ of women’s opinions are thought to be curable through the swift application of a rogering cock. I can only presume this kind of withdrawal of erectile approval is why someone thought it would upset me to anonymously email the observation that I was ‘one ugly mother fu*ker’, and then follow it up by saying, ‘Wait, I don’t even think your mum is pathetic enough to fu*k you.’

The reasons for such vicious reactions to a challenge of entrenched power are perhaps best summed up by Younis, who describes receiving both physical and verbal assaults after protesting the sexual commentary of a group of men one day. In a situation all too familiar, Younis and her friends were catcalled from a car. When she chided them for harassing a group of 17 year old girls, they turned on her.

“Speaking up shattered their fantasy, and they responded violently to my voice.”

In June’s Quarterly Essay, Unfinished Business: Sex, Freedom and Misogyny, Anna Goldsworthy writes, “Within parliament, a successful sledy is one that is both particular and recognisable, such as Keating’s characterisation of Hewson’s performance as being “like being flogged with a warm lettuce”. A successful sledge homes in on a perceived area of weakness, including appearance: Kim Beazley and his girth; John “spot the eyebrows” Howard. But what message is being conveyed to our daughters when being female is the weakness, is the Achilles’ heel?”

In our current society, it is considered a weakness to be female and a treason to protest this. Highlighting inequality results in aggressive insults and threats, all of which are propped up by the repeated narrative now that women are ‘playing the gender card’. And this is the final insult. That of all the unfair things associated with women - the violence and insults, the financial oppression, the very undermining of our worth as human beings - it is the acknowledgement of these inequalities that gives us some kind of unfair advantage over the men who benefit from them.

83 comments

  • I moved to Australia 8 years ago from the UK and while there are many, many things to love about living here I have been shocked by the level of sexism and women-as-lesser attitude inherent here. It's deep-grained and I don't think it'll shift for a couple of generations.

    Even some of the most educated Australian men I have met here (with sisters and good relationships with their mothers) have come out with some outrageous statements about women and what we supposedly can and cannot do. It's really tiresome. And laughable.

    This attitude is completely different to the UK and to much of Europe, where women are considered different but equal in value. New Zealand has a much better attitude to their women, they rule the roost over there.

    Commenter
    hearty
    Date and time
    June 25, 2013, 9:29AM
    • By the look of the article re the British schoolgirls' 'Feminist Society' Hearty, things may have changed in the 8yrs you've been away from the UK.

      Commenter
      Weeze
      Date and time
      June 25, 2013, 10:12AM
    • Hearty, I have to agree with your comments, I too moved here from the UK (about two years ago), and have been shocked at the level of sexism in Australian culture (despite loving everything else about the country).

      I think it is abhorrent the way that Younis and her peers have been treated in the UK (and yourself Clementine) unfortunately what is most upsetting is that the reaction they have received is not overly surprising, why is it that men (not all may I add) react so critically to a female voicing her opinions and highlighting injustices? And why do their responses revolve around a females aesthetics, and the lack/ need for sex that will ultimately shut us up from voicing our own opinions?

      Oh I'm sexually satisfied therefore I have lost all self worth and opinions??!! This is unfortunately the view of the ignorant and uneducated, and what is more unfortunate is that some females re-inforce these opinions. I am proud of girls like Younis that are standing up for what they believe in from a young age, and I hope that the critique they are receiving will not stop them from continuing, there needs to be more young women like them everywhere.

      As a side note, I have to say that this is not a blanket statement directed at all men, I for one have a fantastic partner, who is just that my partner, equal and always supportive of my opinions and strength as a woman and that of others. I just wish that he could teach the young men berating Younis a thing or two about equality........

      Commenter
      In Agreement
      Date and time
      June 25, 2013, 10:12AM
    • I'm just sick to death of it. Sick to the stomach actually. Something has to change and I think it starts with formal education about sexism, the politics of privelege, and constructs of power. I honestly think that men react the way the do because they genuinely have no idea what the hell we're on about. My father is one of the most influential feminists in my life, and even he said the other day that girls should watch what they wear in certain areas at certain times in the interests of their own safety. This attitude is ingrained. It is what we are taught. So lets start by teaching something different.

      Commenter
      Jessem
      Date and time
      June 25, 2013, 10:41AM
    • Oh yes! UK and europe are sooo progressive!! Hey, can you tell me where i can sign up for the EDL?

      Commenter
      JordyBordy
      Date and time
      June 25, 2013, 10:47AM
    • I agree too Hearty. My sister and I both moved here from NZ in 2000 and noted the level of sexism immediately. I too do not think it will change in my generation (X), and prefer to remain single and free to please myself (at least in my personal life). NZ had female PMs two decades ago, and even a transsexual mayor at one time in the 90s. No one even blinked. I do recall one of the female PM's having some innuendo about having a 'fake' husband, but that was it. Never recall comments on looks, clothing, lack of children, gender wars etc. As much as it's disappointing to see these attitudes apparent out there to women, I find it quite bemusing as well at times. Just get on with your life your way, I say.

      Commenter
      Katie
      Location
      Melbourne
      Date and time
      June 25, 2013, 11:13AM
    • Thanks for your contribution to the debate Clementine, it's invaluable. We need to keep this issue front and centre until we break the back of sexism and misogyny in this country. It's been too long just held in check in the public domain behind a thin veneer of policitcal correctness. But that's not solving the issue, that's just hiding it. And as we can see by the treatment of our first female Prime Minister it can break out and rear it's hideous head at any time.

      When I think about all of the insidious ways that sexism is perpetuated, everywhere, I would have to disagree with hearty @ 9:29AM, I don't think that the majority of Australian men are more sexist than in the UK and Europe and I've lived and travelled there. I think it's more a case that the silent majority of men in Australia are loathe to say anything lest they become a target of the sexist bullies. But we all need to remember the truism:

      The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that 'women and' good men do nothing.

      Commenter
      havasay
      Date and time
      June 25, 2013, 11:44AM
    • I'm an older guy who was raised by a feminist, single mum. Maybe that's why I see sexism more clearly than most. It's not a men vs women thing. My next-cubicle neighbour at work is horrendously sexist: as a 50 year old woman she treats women subtly, but relentlessly, as inferior beings. SHE'S not, obviously, but she gets her own sense of worth from being equal to a man - so most women are therefore inferior.

      It's insidious. People don't know they're doing it. That's not a reason to slack off - quite the opposite, it's a reason to keep pointing out sexism every time you see it. (but remember that most are doing it without realising it, so try to stay, um, "gentle"). People need to shift their points of view, because we're hobbling the development of half our population by our prejudices, and that's not only embarrassing and sad, it hurts all of us.

      Humans are built to keep believing what they've always believed, and behaving the way they've always behaved. These traits have has strong selective pressure. We need to look, cold and hard, and why we think such stupid stuff, and fight it. We need to teach our kids to do the same.

      Commenter
      Magpie
      Date and time
      June 25, 2013, 11:54AM
    • Totally agree Hearty.

      I'm a kiwi who lived in England for 10 years. I moved out here 3 years ago and have been shocked by the regressive attitudes to a great many things in this supposedly progressive country. From refugees, same sex marriage and gender equality, Australia seems to be stuck in the 1950s.

      Of course, if you decide to open your mouth and mention that a particular view would be more appropriate coming from an neanderthal you get royally shut down...usually with reference to the size of your breasts....oh the irony!!!!

      Commenter
      Liv
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      June 25, 2013, 12:29PM
    • Yup, Australia is at the arse-end of the world, and so is our culture and gender-relations.

      Thing is, traditional masculine stereotypes are maladapted to the modern era. Physical violence (often expressed in sexual violence) remains the mainstay of traditional masculinity. The role men play in society must change. It is changing, but slowly. The focus needs to shift to encouraging each person to maximise their individual potential, and the necessary education and legislation put in place for that to happen. At the moment, the Scandinavians lead the world, especially Sweden. Gender pedagogy is taught at preschool and kindergarten: it's what we need to be doing. Leaving it up to parents, who themselves are often ignorant about gender-relations, isn't enough.

      http://www.sweden.se/eng/Home/Education/Preschool/Reading/Equality-at-daycare/

      Commenter
      Mythbuster
      Date and time
      June 25, 2013, 12:49PM

More comments

Comments are now closed