Feminism has become a dirty word of late — across the world, across social media and unfortunately even in the streets of Brisbane.
So much so that I deliberately left it out of the heading of this article, such is the eye rolling and withering stares it tends to induce. Most unfortunate of all is that the majority of these eye rolls are coming from women themselves. But really, ladies, this is no time to drop the ball.
Research shows Australian women are paid 17.5 per cent less than men for doing the same work and that’s not about to change anytime soon. Closer to home, it’s my own experience that Brisbane women are particularly hesitant to dip a toe in the feminism pool. On more than one occasion I’ve witnessed women in the Brisbane workforce advise younger female co-workers to ‘turn on the tears’ when dealing with senior male colleagues or to ‘play the victim’ and ‘make them feel like a man, ask for their advice and let them save you’. I have to say this terrifies me more than the thought of Monday morning without a triple-shot coffee.
Just recently I was out to dinner with a group of lady friends and the topic of feminism came up. Once again horror struck me when, one by one, each of my friends denied they were a feminist. These are women who have chosen to work, who have chosen to travel or have chosen to spend their time at home raising children. A world of choice has opened up before them, yet they deny any involvement in the movement that made it all possible. “I just don’t believe in bra burning, or anything like that,” one of them tried to gently explain when she saw the look of utter dismay on my face.
Well, I’m not so much into bra burning either. Firstly because I’m afraid of fire, and secondly because this act is in no way intrinsically linked with the feminist movement. We can have one without the other.
Enter Ita Buttrose. The iconic role model for women in the workplace, champion of health causes and Australian of the Year was actually in town for the ALH Breast Cancer Fundraiser, but it’s my belief that Brisbane women unintentionally sent up the Bat-signal. Wherever women are in need of some gentle encouragement and a kick towards taking action, Ita Buttrose will appear.
According to the trailblazing magazine editor, TV presenter, author and more than a hundred other titles I could fill another article with, women need to embrace feminism and take their career into their own hands.
“We have a very long way to go,” she said when we sat down together at the ALH Breast Cancer event. “Women are still very underrepresented in the upper echelons of decision making and there are too few female CEOs. There are too few women on boards and too few women in the federal cabinet.
“There are certainly more groups now encouraging these things, so at the end of the day it becomes a leadership issue. It takes a managing director or a boss to bring in gender diversity. We need to take positive steps forward; let’s stop talking about it and improve the situation of women in our companies. All the research shows that if you have more women in upper management roles and on the boards your bottom line results will be better.
“I was brought up with three brothers, who claim to be the reason why I’m successful, and there may be some truth in that. I certainly grew up being competitive and I thought I could do everything the boys could do. I never wanted to be left behind. That line of thinking has stayed with me throughout my career. I’ve never been afraid to put my hand up and volunteer for a job. I was not afraid to let people know I had ambition. I think that’s something you’ve got to be able to do. Nobody can tell just by looking at you that you have ambition. You have to say it.”
But isn’t there too much riding against us? What about the recently released Oxfam report that showed it will take 75 years before women are paid equally to men?
“We’ve got something to look forward to, haven’t we?” she laughs. “It’s pretty depressing but then again women aren’t good at asking for pay rises. They aren’t good at valuing themselves. They think that if they work hard they’ll be rewarded but you’ve got to be able to push yourself forward.
“You have to look around you and think if a male colleague is getting paid more than you, but is doing less work, you have to think about why. Maybe he asked for a pay rise. We need to emulate men in that regard, we need to think we’re worth more.”
However, that’s easier said than done. It is my belief that it’s becoming harder to ask for a pay rise, harder to call out sexism and harder to believe that you can push ahead and call out discrimination without looking like you’re playing the gender card. Especially with so many women taking to social media of late and holding up placards declaring they ‘don’t need feminism’.
“I don’t know why some younger women have decided that feminism is not for them,” Ita says. “I’m a feminist and I haven’t got a problem with that. All it means is that men and women are equal in every sense of the word. That’s all it is. We need equal choices and equal pay. I think some younger women don’t understand what it really means. They should think again.”
So there you have it, ladies (and men who identify as feminists, because there’s room at the table for you too) — don’t shirk away from asking for what you want, dare to ask for more, and let’s quit turning our backs on the movement that made it all possible.
And maybe if you do, Ita Buttrose will appear.
Are you a feminist? How do you think we can bridge the gap between men and women?