So it’s 2011 and we’ve just celebrated the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day, in its own words – Each year around the world, International Women’s Day (IWD) is celebrated on March 8. Hundreds of events occur not just on this day but throughout March to mark the economic, political and social achievements of women. Let’s pause for a recap from a mostly Australian perspective.
Our recent political history –
- Our Governor General is Quentin Bryce
- The State Premier of New South Wales is Kristina Keneally
- The State Premier of Queensland is Anna Bligh
- The State Premier of Tasmania is Lara Giddings
- And, of course, our Prime Minister (and the only person in the country capable of making Tony Abbott seem like the lesser evil), is Julia Gillard
And in remembrance of things past, the first female State Premier was Carmen Lawrence in Western Australia (1990); shortly followed by Joan Kirner in Victoria (same year); former Chief Ministers of the Australian Capital Territory were Rosemary Follett and Clare Martin and perhaps most notable of all, Edith Cowan MBE – first woman elected to parliament in 1921.
That leaves South Australia as the odd-woman-out that has never had a female over-fiend. Paradoxically, South Australia was the second place after New Zealand that allowed women to vote in Parliamentary elections1. I refuse to entertain any conclusions from that, or even consider it relevant. Just a curious footnote I found. Outside of direct government –
- Gail Kelly is the CEO of our second biggest bank
- Dr. Elizabeth Blackburn, was winner of the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine (2009) and a shitload of other prestigious awards
- Germaine Greer is still spitting on Australia comfortably from abroad and still milking the teat of the “public intellectual” blab-circuit for all it’s worth (and good for her)
- And a very long list of superb journalists that put many of their male counterparts to shame (though it has to be noted the yellow journalism ethical bankrupts likewise have punched above their weight)
So, I think it is somewhat unfair to still keep flogging away at this dead horse that there is some kind of institutionalised culture of female oppression. Some of the rhetoric gets so sharp, you’d think we were in the Middle East and not a 21st century liberalised democracy.
And it is against this backdrop that, once again, the question of quotas raises its ugly head –
Governor-General Quentin Bryce has supported quotas to ensure more women are appointed to company boards.
The Federal Government says it will take action unless companies boost numbers voluntarily, while opposition treasury spokesman Joe Hockey has called for a 30 per cent quota.
The Governor-General says the progress of women at the highest levels of business has been slow.
“There is disappointment in many quarters about the poor representation of women in some decision making in Australia,” she said.
“They have been given a good push along by some measures that have been taken by the Australian Stock Exchange with their guidelines.
“I think that we need to build on that. This is a matter that at long last is getting serious attention.”
[much, much more, pro- and con-]
Try as I might, and after all the years of the sisterhood’s struggles, I can’t look at this sentiment and see anything other than an admission of defeat. Similarly, out of all the smart and educated women I have met professionally and privately, I have yet to find one that agrees that quotas are a good idea. In fact, most of them seem to view it with extreme distaste – considering it both demeaning and patronising. And I tend to agree. What kind of equality is there to be had if it’s in a sheltered workshop and you are merely making up the numbers?
What disturbs me the most is the number of these women that make an effort to get to know you beyond dry, business small talk, usually very early in the piece find themselves compelled to state some variation of “I am not a feminist…” – they have this need to distance themselves from what has been described by various commentators as the “hive mind”. This is not an artifact of the PatriarchalConspiracyTM – this is a phenomenon that is self-birthed. These women have an absolute need to assert their independence – especially from the collectivised cocoon of what much of the public face of feminism has become. This sentiment was expressed rather glibly in a chat I had with a female skeptic friend –
me: the word “feminist” needs to be de-villified
s: nope, they poisoned it. We need another word
How did it get to this? I think in large part it has to do with dwelling morbidly on perceived injustices whilst ignoring success. This is the recipe followed by any movement that chooses to employ propaganda (via the nicer label of “public relations”) to manipulate opinion and promote the idea of an alleged state of oppression (this is called “consciousness raising”), without allowing reality to play any role in the matter. Ted “Unabomber” Kaczinski summarised this kind of tall poppy hating, retrograde thinking beautifully (though he was referring specifically to “leftists” it’s pretty universal to any of the professional victim classes) –
The leftist is antagonistic to the concept of competition because, deep inside, he feels like a loser.
Or to paraphrase George Bernard Shaw2 –
Those that can, do. Those that can’t, whine.
I mean, what is it actually that we’re looking here with this idea of quotas, and why is it given sufficient weight to be raised by our Governor General? That this type of radical remedial action is being considered as a legislative solution to an alleged problem that has as its foundation a vague generalisation and assumption. An abstract feeling of unease is being given the weight of quantifiable fact. This is very disturbing.
The question of equality itself does not seem to be in question. The only people to dispute equality are in such a fringe minority, predominantly with a theistic base, as to earn the label “nutjobs” and to not be considered as having a point of view that is even worth taking seriously.
So if equality is accepted as a given by the clear majority, that only really leaves one other possible reason for wanting to justify a quota system – that endemic and organised repression and discrimination against women exists and we actually are talking about a PatriarchalConspiracyTM without actually saying so or providing any evidence. Which is news to me and I want to know why I’ve been missing out on my slice of the pie my entire life.
No matter how you look at this, it has way too many similarities to playing the race card – a game is not proceeding to a party’s satisfaction and they want to change the rules mid-stream by alleging despicable behaviour on the part of the other. Whilst the idea of the gender card does get raised in discussion often enough, it is curious to note it does not have its own entry in Wikipedia. Is this omission out of fear of the gender card being played should someone choose to write it up? Wikipedia is a hypersensitive beast – it has to be, with the amount of baseless derision it receives.
But that’s what this talk of quotas is, a gender card play and it is a throwback to the days of affirmative action. The jury’s out on that one, and I doubt it will ever return a coherent, spite-free verdict. But what affirmative action did spawn was a few unforeseen, and not entirely desirable, consequences for the gender politicos.
First up, the gender card players got dealt their own race card – that the only real beneficiaries of affirmative action were white women at the expense of coloured minorites.
And second, was the emergence of womanism – originally a theological movement that became a flavour of black (now generally any non-white) feminism who believe a large chunk of their oppression is a direct result of white feminists. This is one of the many blogs that ruminate at length in this vein (which in my ignorant, testosterone befuddled mentality I am going to assume is representative).
Such are the perils of the politics of division – the division you delineate may not necessarily stop where you want it to and further fragmentation may result that turns around and bites you. Suddenly, the quota needs to have its own sub-quota. Ever wonder where black, lesbian, midget amputee political correctness jokes came from? Reductio ad absurdum – often, the only way the human mind can respond to the incomprehensible is to feebly attempt humour.
So maybe the problem that is alleged to exist is not actually all that much of a problem and we simply have a case severe mis-diagnosis, exacerbated by gender politics bloggers and pundits that find these discussions to be an endless source of material. This is not that far fetched – if you are going to focus all of your attention on isolated examples of negative conduct and exclude from your view all of the examples of positivity, like the fact that women are currently dominating our political leadership, then your perspective is going to end up jaundiced no matter what. These exact same arguments could be framed for any socially constructed partition you would care to erect. There is not now, nor ever has been, any talk of quotas for gays, Jews or dyslexics. But there could be, given the time, effort and monomania. It is the height of absurdity to create an artificial divide, that most of us don’t see or experience, and then campaign about the unfairness of the very same divide you have created.
The greatest disservice of this quota talk is the depersonalisation of the women that are out there and building careers off their own bat. That even when they are striding ahead and winning, there is the mass behind them hanging back and telling them they are not good enough to make it on their own. That there are dark forces all around, just waiting to pounce and crush their female frailty and weakness, and that they need support and they need organisations and legislators to speak for them because they’re really not up to speaking for themselves. This is Nietzsche’s slave morality in its purest form – it is easier to drag others down than lift yourself up.
In my travels, I have seen women driving 400 tonne mining haul trucks in bauxite mines in the tropics3; been outnumbered by female metallurgists pouring hot metal in smelting plants; spent a decade reporting to female managers in my stint in IT engineering4. All self-made women, more than competent and all united by the fact that if you told them they need work place quotas, they’d scratch your eyes out.
Can’t we just give all this nonsense a rest and get back to what we are already doing – existing and cooperating as mutually respectful individuals – and not have have this relentless pressure to fabricate and catastrophise problems that simply don’t exist on the scale implied. Please?
1 – according to the cesspit of lies anyway. It was certainly before either the US or UK. Of course I will accept correction.
2 – variants of “Those that can do. Those that can’t teach”. Also attributed to Mencken, but I believe Shaw was first.
3 – I think this was something of a butch lesbian Nirvana. The biggest, meanest bull-dykes I have ever seen.
4 – Perhaps that was a “sexist” environment. The nuts-n-bolts engineers were (easily distracted) guys, but it took women to keep us on time, on budget and on-focus to the tasks at hand. The other interesting note – the managers were responsible for hiring and firing. They never employed chicks for the technical roles. IT is often described as being hostile to women – but how much of it is to do with discrimination by FEMALE management?