- Reasons to be a feminist
- By Sarah Stephen and Sarah Cleary Perth IWD
Because we are still told that what we look like
is more important than what we think
From a very young age,
women are taught to judge their own worth by
whether they measure up to the supermodels
promoted by the multi-billion-dollar cosmetics
and fashion industries. These industries profit
from undermining the confidence and self-esteem
of women. More and more advertisements are using
women's bodies to sell products.
Anorexia nervosa affects
1 to 5% of women. Bulimia affects a similar
number, but among tertiary students it's as many
as one in six. More than 90% of cases are
adolescent girls or young women.
The women's movement
since the 1970s has done a lot to expose the
corporations that profit from sexism. It has
asserted that women can, through collective
action and struggle, be strong and confident in
themselves, and free from the misery and
obsessiveness of the endless pursuit of
capitalist society's definition of beauty.
Because access to abortion is under attack
access to legal abortion is part of women's
fundamental right to have control over our own
bodies. Yet abortion remains on the Criminal Code
in all states, and everywhere the anti-choice
crusaders are on the offensive.
In Western Australia
last year, two doctors were charged with
performing an abortion, sparking a strong public
campaign to defend abortion rights. The laws were
modified, but restrictions remain and evidence
has begun to accumulate in the six months since
the legislation was introduced that fewer women
under 16 years of age are accessing abortions.
In May this year, the
ACT government will introduce new restrictions on
women's access to abortion, spearheaded by
right-wing MP Paul Osborne. Women will be forced
to view photographs of foetuses at successive
stages of development to help them decide whether
they still want an abortion. Women who do choose
abortion are often subjected to harassment and
intimidation by the so-called Right to Life, who
picket abortion clinics.
It's time to re-ignite a
strong public campaign to defend and extend
women's right to access abortion, free from state
restrictions and moral coercion.
3. Because women
continue to face sexist violence every day
and sexual harassment is endemic in today's
society. One in three women are likely to be
raped at some time during their lives. One in
four women will be sexually assaulted before they
reach 18 years of age.
women's economic choices are eroded by high
unemployment, low wages and cuts to government
funded childcare, they find it more difficult to
escape physical and sexual violence in the home.
funding for rape crisis centres and women's
refuges, already minimal, is under threat as
governments cut spending on social services.
Because women still do two-thirds of the world's
work, most of it unpaid
more than 50% of women are now part of the paid
workforce in Australia, their income is seen as a
secondary income supplement the family
breadwinner's wage. This idea is used to justify
women's lower wages.
The majority of women in
work today are doing the same sorts of jobs that
their grandmothers did. More than half of women
workers are employed as clerks and sales people.
Female gardeners used to
have a different wage rate from male gardeners
doing exactly then same job the argument was that
the man had a family to support. Such blatant
inequality was abolished through the equal pay
campaigns of the 1970s.
Yet women still earn a
mere 70% of the average male wage. This is
because of the massive sex-segregation of the
workforce. Men are concentrated in very different
jobs from women. Women's jobs (nurses, clerks,
domestic cleaners, shop assistants, teachers and
childcare workers, etc.) generally have lower
wage rates than men's jobs (mechanics,
fire-fighters, miners, managers, etc.) without
the discrepancies being obvious
together, we can change history.
hundred years ago, women had no formal right to
go to university, no right to take up a whole
range of jobs; and they couldn't vote because
they weren't considered capable of making such
The women's rights
movement at the turn of the century organised
mass strikes for better pay and working
conditions, and for the right to vote. They
pioneered the first massive changes in women's
position in society and forged a lasting change
in social consciousness about the role women
should be able to play in society.
The upsurge in feminist
campaigning in the '70s took those changes even
further. It's only now that that mass movement
has substantially declined and that governments
representatives of a society which still benefits
economically from women's subordinate status have
increasing confidence to roll back the gains of
feminist struggle, and get away with it.
We should draw
confidence from the struggles of the past
century, the enormous achievements of millions of
women, and the need to escalate the struggle for
women's liberation into the next millennium