The Australian prime minister Julia Gillard’s labelling of the leader of the opposition, Tony Abbott, a “misogynist” has become the focus of intense debate both in Australia and here in the UK. What has been most striking for me is the recent news that Gillard received a huge boost in her Australian approval ratings immediately afterwards, with both men and women, and her disapproval among male voters fell by 5%. Further, 78% of respondents thought her reaction was right.
This did not surprise me, although it seems to have surprised many in Britain…
.. In Australia, perhaps because of the mode of its establishment – a European colony transported halfway across the world – women have had to be strong, and men have needed them to be so. So, while it would be disingenuous to argue that there is equality there, or that Abbott is our only misogynist, there is certainly a greater expectation and acceptance of women being able to act in a forthright and engaged way. Women’s suffrage in 1901 is a shining example of this.
What has surprised me the most is that the sort of women in Britain who, in Australia, comfortably describe themselves as feminists, are either reluctant to do so or have rejected the term outright. One could argue that this is simply a rejection of the label, but for me it is symptomatic of a greater malaise. The endless hand-wringing that goes on about the term “feminist” reveals a discomfort with the implications of feminism that I find disquieting.
From Peter Salmon in The Guardian with “Feminism is more advanced in Australia than Britain”. (Thanks to Robyyn for sending me the link).
I have to admit I felt very warmly towards Australian men when I saw the latest federal polls. And it has been men’s response to the speech that has intrigued me most. Several men in my workplace brought up Gillard’s speech with me because they were interested in discussing it. And male political junkies on twitter flooded my stream with outrage about how mainstream, conservative media tried to paint Gillard’s speech as ‘playing the gender card’. I have seen these same progressive guys, who are friends with a lot of us, feminists, on twitter sometimes sparring with us too, and clumsily tripping all over male privilege, but along the way they picked up a lot more feminism than we or they realised and when this all went down in Australian politics they really got it.
There’s a lot of ‘gut reaction’ going on in Salmon’s piece and not much in the way of evidence, plus, what do women think/experience? On many measures of equality Australia doesn’t score higher than Britain, but I get a sense that for our population size we have a bigger feminist voice than you’d expect – certainly, we do on the Internet. Australia, for all its limitations has a very healthy feminist movement. Why? I do think there is something about that idea that their is a significant machismo in this country among men but that it is matched by an equal sense of forthrightness from women. And that men, here, generally accept that forthrightness. (My advice for being in a relationship with an Australian man (from my generation) is don’t expect equality from him but do expect that if you are prepared to argue about it with him he will probably give ground and try to meet you halfway).
Cross-posted at Hoyden About Town.