Flick on almost any TV show, rifle through a magazine, listen to most of the top 100 songs on the radio and you’ll learn the truth: there’s a big scary problem in the world today. That problem is angry women.
The internet is full of advice for the poor dears who have been forced to deal first hand with this disturbing phenomenon. When you Google “angry woman”, the first result that comes up is a Men’s Health article explaining that if you are forced to face this fearsome adversary, looking her in the eye and not providing her with more information will stop her ever escalating, uncontrollable rage.
Women are made to feel that we have to play nice all the time. Our anger is unappealing. We’re meant to feel lucky to live in a world where every product, whether a music video, a soft drink or a new line of tampons, features a cavorting scantily clad woman staring back at us with a vacant expression. Women have our sexuality repackaged and sold back to us.
While sexuality pervades every aspect of our lives, women’s sex lives, instead of being a source of pleasure, are often a source of anxiety. A 2011 study by the National Council for Research on Women found that only 41 percent of women reported being satisfied with their sex lives. This is hardly surprising when we are meant to feel empowered by having our sexuality bought and sold.
While fathers who have careers are looked upon as stable family men, women are accused of “trying to have it all”. We are forced to straddle the contradiction that the roles we are meant to perform are both contradictory and unattainable – that we must be successful, confident women in the workplace as well as being Martha Stewart in the kitchen and a porn star in the bedroom.
While women are not expected to be stay-at-home mothers, we are still expected to do the vast majority of looking after children. Women don’t do this because of abstract ideological pressure – although that pressure clearly exists. A 2012 Productivity Commission study showed that Australia has one of the lowest levels of public expenditure on early childhood services. Only 19 percent of non-working mothers said that if they had access to affordable child care, they would continue to stay home.
The stereotype of the kind, caring and nurturing mother is also used as an ideological battering ram to justify underpaying women in the workplace. In Australia women earn 67 cents on the dollar for the same work as men. This, combined with the difficulty men face is getting access to paid parental leave, forces women in heterosexual relationships to continue to be the primary caregivers.
Often we hear the refrain that if only we had more education, then we could teach people to treat women equally. The problem is not education; the problem is that you can’t educate people to believe they’re equal when they’re blatantly not. The problem is not that women and men are told that women are unequal – the problem is that women are unequal.
Who has it good?
The lie that “we’ve never had it so good” is true for a tiny minority of women in Australia. For ruling class women, it’s clear that they’ve never had it so good. Take Gail Kelly: she’s the CEO of Westpac and last year took home a salary of $9.6 million, making her the second most highly paid CEO in Australia. For women like Kelly, their experience of life has nothing to do with that of working class women.
Kelly will never be forced to decide whether or not to have children based on whether she can afford it, or if she is financially able to leave an abusive relationship; she’ll never have to rely on social services or have to worry about finding affordable child care or housing. What did she do to earn that money? Last year Kelly got rid of 565 jobs at Westpac. She also campaigned against penalty rates. In Gail Kelly’s ideal world, we’d have a 24/7 economy, and workers would have no rights to be paid more for working long, unsociable hours.
There has been systematic use of sexism against Julia Gillard. But that doesn’t make her our “sister”. Gillard has thrown tens of thousands of single mothers into poverty by pushing them off parenting payments. She is responsible for locking up refugee women – mothers and their children – in concentration camps. She presides over the occupation of Aboriginal women’s lands and has set up an apartheid-style system in the Northern Territory. She has allowed giant mining companies to rake in billions of dollars, while refusing a free universal child care scheme. She is part of the problem.
It’s clear that the scary thing in the world today is not women who are angry about sexism; it’s how pervasive sexism continues to be. What we need is more women – and men – who are angry about it. Only by having more loud, confident fighters will we be able to challenge a status quo that breeds inequality and oppression.