Much more than glass ceilings


Feminism is so 70s “ according to some. Not only out-of-date, but also to blame for leading young professional women to believe they can have it all: a career, a relationship and babies. Apparently feminists in the 70s spent a lot of time promoting the myth of ‘Superwomanhood’. Through their careless agitation for such things as subsidised childcare and equal opportunity in the workplace, they have placed untold pressures on today’s young mothers.

Joanna Murray-Smith, an internationally acclaimed playwright, can’t handle both a job and motherhood without being riddled with guilt, she says. To excel at one, she feels, diminishes the other. Dina Ross, a journalist, feels that ‘It’s time, finally, to throw guilt and self-doubt out of the window, along with many 1970s notions of feminism.’
Well, yes, she’s right. Those kooky ideas like: equal pay, an end to domestic violence, the right to safely walk the street at night (or day for that matter), safer conditions for sex-workers, legal and safe abortion, no sexual harassment in the workplace, equal representation in parliament, and equal representation in the media.

Feminists in the 70s (and those before them) actually appreciated and recognised the role of mothers and demanded respect and changes. Why has this all been forgotten? Check out the Women’s Electoral Lobby (WEL) website. Established in 1972, they are:
‘ dedicated to creating a society where women’s participation and their ability to fulfil their potential are unrestricted, acknowledged and respected and where women and men share equally in society’s responsibilities and rewards.’
Ah, there’s the rub. ‘women and men share equally ‘ Murray-Smith writes that one of feminism’s failures has been in not changing society’s attitude to mothers and mothering. Talk about shooting the messenger. An organisation established in the 70s took the above message to candidates at the recent Federal election. And it’s their fault nobody’s listening?
And what about that other silly 70s feminist idea – the one about beware of consumerism and don’t fall for advertising telling women they can be super-wives? You know the kind of ads; the ones that are reappearing in force now. Happy, smiling mums still doing the cooking and washing, handing out the cough medicine, keeping everything germ-free. The kind of advertising that 70s feminists mocked precisely because they cause the guilt and self-doubt that Ross and Murray-Smith talk about.
A substantial increase in living standards has led to far higher consumerism than the 70s.

Liz Porter, writing in response to Murray-Smith, talks of the ‘middle-class obsession with being the perfect mother’ which ‘is a product of books and articles published over the last fifteen years.’

What she calls ‘modern middle-class urban professional mother’s porn.’ And in the kitchen, for instance, Anthony O’Donnell* points out that the current fad for high-priced, exotic ingredients owes as much to ‘good old fashioned marketing and product placement’ as it does to ‘an increasing cosmopolitanism, sophistication and multiculturalism’.
Young girls are now being targeted by advertisers to the extent that pre-pubescent girls feel the need to buy matching lingerie.

Dina Ross wrote about ‘being bought up on diets of Cosmopolitan and Shirley Conran, gullibly digesting ideals of Superwomanhood.’ Will the young girls buying bras and mid-riff tops mistake these marketing ploys as some form of empowerment and then blame feminism when it all goes horribly wrong?

You can’t escape the marketing campaigns with age, either. For menopausal women there is a myriad of potions and lotions out there, produced by multinational pharmaceutical companies plying the market, which guarantee to keep women horny and happy, 24/7. Not so much the Stepford Wives as the Stepford Grannies.

The insidious message that comes across from all this advertising is that a woman’s role is to make others happy. If that’s not happening, of course it will produce guilt and self-doubt. The next step is not far away: ‘It’s my fault he hits me.’
Feminism is about so much more than glass ceilings. It’s about a man not being able to claim provocation because his girlfriend left him and thereby getting his murder charge reduced to manslaughter.

Hammy Goonan, in Issue 14 of New Matilda, wrote about how the right is getting good at mobilisation. ‘They are working from all levels from Andrew Bolt, to George Pell, to the Institute for Public Affairs, to grass roots organisations which ensures that every section of society is covered.’ Goonan called for action and consciousness raising. Women did this in the 70s.

If there’s been a backlash, then lets do it again.
Murray-Smith and Ross are highly articulate, passionate women – just like their feminist mothers. If they think there is something else that can be done “ they should write about it, report it.

Conservative male politicians can start up a debate on abortion, based solely on their personal opinion, and the media goes wild. We need to grab that attention. The politicians and the media need to know that feminism is so now.

* Overland Spring 2004

The Age:

Feminism’s booby trap by Joanna Murray-Smith

The gen X take on the failings of feminism by Dina Ross

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.