Feminism and Discrimination

Congratulations to Tanya Plibersek’s on her magnificent defence today of feminism.

I agree with every word she says. However as a keen feminist, but not a fundamentalist about this, I want, never to excuse, but to attempt to explain the reasons for the common attitude expressed recently by Julie Bishop. Her attitude that people should not whinge but should “pull themselves up by their bootstraps” has been held by many others in all areas where discrimination occurs.

For a time, as a young feminist, I tended to be a fellow traveller with her attitude, advocating that the best way to influence was to take a lead in trying to break through barriers.

I first heard her attitude expressed by a radio commentator on 2GB, John Pearce, in the 50s and 60s. He was constantly railing on his program that anybody could overcome problems and make their way successfully in the world if he (I did not hear much mention of “shes”) just worked hard enough. His constant repetition of this theme in all situations seemed simplistic even to the young girl I was then. Age and experience have certainly led me to a different view.

The concept that people in the community are born with very different capacities to work hard and organise themselves did not seem to occur to him. I have very recently heard Tim Wilson, our Human Rights Commissioner, and over the years the likes of such as John Howard, also holding that overcoming disadvantage is best done by individuals striving and applying themselves, without any acknowledgement of different capacities so to do. That people are born into very different family situations with different abilities and wherewithal to provide support and encouragement does not seem to be acknowledged either.

How do many people even gain access to an aim towards which to strive?

It is much easier for those who only have to deal with one area of discrimination or disadvantage, perhaps only being female, perhaps only being from a poor less well educated family, perhaps only being homosexual.

But most of all it is easier if one is born with other advantages. Some of these advantages are ones of which the person himself or herself may be unaware.

Julie Bishop has the privilege of having been born not only with a very good brain but clearly with steely determination as part of her make up. Tim Wilson is equally clever and he has a compelling facility with the spoken word. Both appear to have come from comfortable backgrounds where they have learnt mainstream “social graces”. They may well assume that these assets come from their own efforts rather than from their birth.

It then becomes easy for them to criticise others for not following similar paths. Thus strident feminists are considered to be whingeing. Supporters of indigenous rights, such as the eloquent and emotionally involved Noel Pearson, are blamed for temper outbursts that people brought up in a restrained background may not find necessary to exhibit to successfully make their points. Those with different presentations, such as clothing representative of religions or ethnicities, are less listened to because they do not conform to the norm, despite equal hard work and considerable effort.

Some people with physical abilities but with outstanding skills in particular areas are respected as “strivers” whereas those without special skills are not similarly rewarded for their efforts.

These are the reasons I agree with Tanya Plibersek. Whilst so ever women who are not necessarily outstanding are not regarded as equal to men who are not necessarily outstanding; whilst those with disabilities who are not outstanding are not regarded as equal to those of us who are able bodied and not outstanding; while the poor do not have opportunities if they are also not skilful enough to display something remarkable although a richer unremarkable person might have better opportunities; then we must continue to speak out.

It is not enough to imagine one is doing enough by setting an example if we merely fight and make our own way, reaping our rewards as we do so.

We have a duty to speak for others and to recognise and acknowledge each advantage we have that may have given us a “leg up” along the way.


About Anne Powles

I am retired from paid employment. During my working life I have been variously and sometimes contemporaneously, wife, mother of four, lawyer, teacher and psychologist. I have also been a serial education junkie. As are we all, I have been an observer of the world around me. Here I have recorded some of my memories, observations and theorisings.
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