Friday, December 12, 2014

Feminist Friday: What is The Misogyny Factor?

For the next few Fridays I am going to try and review a book that discusses feminism or discuss some of the issues facing women.

Often the smallest books seem to be the most powerful and this little book is no different.

At only 162 pages, Anne Summers’ book was based on two speeches that she gave at the University of Newcastle (Australia) in August 2012 on the defamation of Australia’s first Prime Minister, Julia Gillard.

It is not about all aspects about the lives of women and doesn’t cover such as health or birth control but focus on economic issues. Like many other books that look at gender issues, this book is aimed at both men and women. 

Same, same but different

Like so many recent books on this topic, this book does briefly cover the importance of economic independence in ensuring that women can have control over their own lives and be able to make their own choices. Economic independence prevents dependence on men and liberated women from traditional gender roles.

It is also not into ‘men bashing’ but looks how the patriarchal paradigm affects the lives of everyone.

In line with much of the feminist literature, this book criticises the double standards women face. ‘Men can be fulfilled as fathers and workers, yet we still argue the toss about whether women can ‘have it all’. And increasingly we conclude, no they can’t, and they shouldn’t and they had better not’.

This book also looks at the history of the women’s movement and takes it one step further by putting it a modern day context. to answer why women aren’t considered equal (just look at the pay gap)despite, government legislation and Affirmative Action policies, getting the vote, having reproductive rights, and graduating from university in greater numbers than ever before.

The answer that Anne Summers is The Misogyny Factor’

Summers argues that there are three challenges that women face: inclusion, equality and respect. She maintains that while the structural factors are in place to support women, unless they are included, considered equal and treated with respect, nothing will change.  

What is ‘The Misogyny Factor’? 

Anne Summers argues that it’s more than just the hatred of women but a ‘set of attitudes and entrenched practices that are embedded in most of our major institutions (business, politics, the military, the media, church, academia) that stand in the way of women being included, treated equally and accorded respect’.      

It is the innate attitude that women only exist to fulfil a domestic role and ‘do not have a fundamental right to be part of society beyond the home’.

It’s common for among both men and women of certain ages and ideological persuasions to hold this view. Often they try and cover up their regressive thinking by pointing put that they have daughters and are supportive fathers but we know that this won’t automatically make an individual promote inclusion, equality and respect. 

Wait, the Prime Minister has rights?

Since the treatment of Australia’s first Prime Minister inspired this book, Summers cleverly devotes a chapter to analysing this treatment as if she was a normal employee, or more specifically, the CEO of Australia.

In her chapter entitled ‘Her Rights at Work’ (based on a highly successful trade union campaign called ‘Your Rights at Work’) she looks at what was said in the media and asks if she was a normal employee she would be able to take her employer to court under the Sexual Discrimination Act 1984, Affirmative Action (Equal Opportunity for Women) Act 1986 and the Fair Work Australia Act 2009 for bullying, sex discrimination, and sexual harassment.

There were many instances where personal attacks were made in regards to her gender. As Summers states ‘I came to the conclusion that these demining and offensive attacks are designed to undermine Julia Gillard’s authority as Prime Minister. They are an assault on her legitimacy and, because they rely on sexual and other gender-specific attacks for their potency, I have branded this campaign of vilification ‘misogynist.’

As the Youtube clip shows, these attacks were clearly aimed at her gender and a male prime minister has never been treated in this way.

What this clip shows is only a fraction of what happened. There were obscene emails that did the rounds and facebook pages that were just horrible. As Summers points out the images in the emails and on Facebook were ‘solely designed to demean and diminish her, humiliate and intimidate her’

It is not about agreeing with her politics. People might not agree with how she runs the country but it is unacceptable that she was treated this way.    

It is a shame that this sort of treatment is happening at the highest levels. I expect better from government as they should be an example and be setting the tone for the national conversation.        

Summers prompts us to say something if we get one of these vile emails or stumble on one of these Facebook pages and say ‘it stops with me’.

Anne Summer’s The Misogyny Factor might be a small book but it offers up a powerful analysis of the treatment of powerful women in Australia and the gender roles in the wider society.   

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