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September 8, 2008 | by  | in Opinion | [ssba]


I found it uncharacteristically difficult to know where to start with this editorial. Bearing in mind that feminism is a dependable impetus for various colourful rants, this was perplexing. When I chanced upon an article by Noelle McCarthy in the ‘Life and Style’ section of the New Zealand Herald, I was thrilled to be given such motivational material.

Unlike me, McCarthy doesn’t think there is much more to be said on the topic of feminism. She believes that we live in a world defined by irony and postmodernism, and as such all the ‘isms’ that had their heyday in the 1970s are now both redundant and passé. If ever she were a feminist, the triumph of parody means she cannot be any more. Women of her generation have better things to do, namely spend their ‘equal to men’s’ earnings or go about the business of being married and having a family ‘in a non-traditional manner’. Moreover McCarthy thinks that the disproportionate burden that women in the third world continue to bear is a problem that will be solved by “global economics, rather than feminist dogma in action.”

Frankly, I didn’t know where to begin. Her assumptions about the average woman of her generation’s life, strangely, differ little from her own experience. McCarthy seems to think that, since feminism has given her a chance to complete higher education, hold a well paying job and engage in relationships as she sees fit, its relevance is over. Ah, myopia. A lazy journalist’s best friend. Anyone would only have to look to the news section of the same newspaper to discover that this chardonnay drenched utopia is a fallacy.

On average, highly-qualified women still earn $14,000 less than men with similar qualifications. This trend continues amongst those with a school qualification ($10,000) and no qualification at all ($8000), according to 2006 Census data. To continue on this statistical bender, let’s look at the fact that 1 in 3 women in New Zealand will be a victim of physical or sexual violence from an intimate partner in their lifetime. Domestic abuse continues to affect women disproportionately in this country, and I don’t think McCarthy could make a good case for the irrelevance of Women’s Refuge, just because it’s solely intended to help women. Nor do I think that the internal contradictions of her piece can be ignored: acknowledging that she owes the “thankless struggle” of the women’s movement for modern equality, but insisting that poor women only need market regulation to improve their lot. Furthermore, there is no good reason to believe the vast amounts of unpaid (‘care’) work that women still do would be solved by better paid working conditions.

It has been said I shouldn’t expect piercing social critique from the style section of a notoriously boorish newspaper. Well, that’s really not the point. McCarthy’s piece is part of a wider trend toward abandoning the partisan politics of feminism in favour of ‘humanist’ approach, neatly stepping away from the perceived vitriol of the gender debate. Why? Because feminism ‘isn’t inclusive’. Philosophically, this is known as a false dilemma. Using feminism to address some ongoing misogynistic trends in society doesn’t mean you can’t also be a humanist, or an equalist, or adhere to any other ‘ism’ that you think is really neat. We need feminism to address things that really are about the ‘gender gap’: unequal pay, unfair distribution of parenting responsibilities, domestic violence and representation in mainstream media. Not to mention that outside of our emancipated little island, many women elsewhere have never heard of gender equality, let alone lived it. Maybe this is my INTP major rearing its head disproportionately, but I happen to think feminism was championed to improve the lives of all women, not just those living in liberal democracies.

In 2005, Salient editor Emily Braunstein decided not to run a women’s issue, because both she and Women’s Rights Officer Kerry O’Connor perceived no malecentric bias in Salient’s weekly diatribes. They figured women’s issues could be discussed at any time during the magazine’s long and glorious run. Nonetheless. We may be a bastion of emancipatory thought, but one need only look elsewhere to realise that this idyll isn’t worldwide, or even countrywide. And that’s why I think this issue is still relevant. Student media has the enviable privilege of being able to print whatever we like, and we can and should use this right to improve awareness about pressing social concerns, women’s rights included. If we need a specially themed issue to encourage this, so be it. It doesn’t mean we’re sexist every other week of the year.

I’d hate to fall into a McCarthyesque trap of believing my current status as guest Editor, and its related powers, to be indicative of women’s status outside of this office, so I’m thrilled to introduce this year’s Femlient. I don’t think that makes me passé, out of touch, or blind to our postmodern condition. Our age of irony does not have to be an age of anti-realism.


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  1. Matthew_Cunningham says:

    You raise a very good point.

    Having achieved ‘legal equality’, I think that many people forget about the far more subtle yet equally pervasive concept of ‘cultural inequality’. I see this as a lingering social predisposition towards traditional biased tendencies – whether they be based on gender, race, sexuality, or other grounds.

    Too many people will casually dismiss the various ‘-isms’ in society, including feminism, on the basis that we all supposedly enjoy legal equality now. The reality, however, is that various forms of bias are still ingrained in various areas of society. This is far from ubiquitous, however, and I like to think that it is on the wane. But in the meantime, there are still industries where the upper echelons of management are tratidionally “boys’ clubs”; there are still women who, despite their talents, end up earning less than their male counterparts; and there are still unacceptably large numbers of women who are the victims of domestic abuse.

    I think the solution to this will come from a wider perception of just what ‘cultural inequality’ is, so as to help people break free of the perceptive mould of ‘legal equality’. Possessing the legal right to do something is not enough – the behavioural patterns that inhibit the true spread of equality need to be broken.


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