Q&A: Why we don't need Alan Jones to call himself a 'feminist'

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Is Alan Jones a feminist?

On Monday night's Q&A, Alan Jones found himself caught between Penny Wong and Mia Freedman when the question was asked, 'Alan, are you a feminist?' Vision courtesy ABC.

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Of all the things to happen on the International Women's Day Eve episode of Q&A, Alan Jones being labelled a 'feminist' was the last thing anyone expected.

But in Mia Freedman's desperation to include everyone in her watered-down definition of feminism, even the man who said "women are destroying the joint", that the father of Australia's first female Prime Minister "died of shame" and that she should be thrown in a chaff bag and drowned at sea, is apparently a 'feminist'.

Jaw-dropping stuff. And why? Because ostensibly he thinks women and men are (or should be) equal. 'Ostensibly', because when pressed on live public television, he wasn't about to admit otherwise.

But then again, perhaps it should have been expected. Feminism is no longer a dirty word, which is great. But if in 2016 being a 'feminist' just means being someone who won't publicly state that they believe men are superior to women, then we've got a damn long way to go.


The conversation came about because an audience member wanted to know why Australia's Minister for Women, Michaelia Cash, doesn't call herself a 'feminist'. And if Australian women should be troubled by her refusal of the label.

Mia Freedman's response was to say "if you look like a duck, if you quack like a duck, then you're a duck."

Well, she might well be a duck. But the jury's out on whether she quacks like a feminist - and her refusal to call herself one is just part - though a significant part - of why.

In response to the question: Australian women should definitely be troubled by the fact that the Minister for Women doesn't think feminism is worth aligning herself with. But the answer isn't forcing her to accept a label she doesn't believe in.

The label of 'feminist' is one that should be proudly earned. Not grudgingly accepted.

So perhaps we need to reconsider how we define feminism. Mia Freedman, the publisher of Mamamia, said "words are important" - but in labelling the likes of Alan Jones a feminist one has to ask if the word carries any meaning at all.

In her 1986 review of A Feminist Dictionary Marie Shear famously defined feminism as "the radical notion that women are people". Her words are often cited to show people how 'easy' it is to be a feminist. How feminist ideals already align with what many people already believe - in equality between the genders. But should we really take Shear's words literally?

Should we literally define a feminist as any person who thinks women are human? Because I know plenty of people who accept women are human beings but have no interest in dismantling patriarchy, fighting for sexual freedom or questioning the entrenched sexism that underpins our social structures.

There is no point in making it this easy for people to call themselves 'feminist' while doing nothing to contribute to the cause of ending gender oppression and inequality.

Calling yourself a 'feminist' should mean more than the bare minimum of believing in gender equality or the fact that women are human. It should also mean that you act on those beliefs and you work to end inequality and oppression, in your actions and your interactions. Every. Single. Day.

It's time to raise the bar this International Women's Day.

We don't need to embrace conservative politicians who think the term "feminist" is unhelpful or irrelevant to them, because they're not interested in shaking up the patriarchy or aligning themselves with the types of women who do identify as feminist and fight every day to end inequality and oppression.

And we certainly do not need to count the likes of Alan Jones as one of us.