Monday, April 14, 2008

Gender and Politics

At no time as I was growing up was it assumed that I would leave school early because I was only going to get married and waste all that education. My parents always encouraged me to reach for the highest level I could and would have been shocked if I hadn't gone to university although this was not as common as now. I was very lucky in this. Most of my peers did not have this luxury. Certain faculties still actively discouraged girls from enrolling - Engineering was one and although you could enrol in Law it was impossible to do your articles unless you had a family member or friend who would take you on. Women were encouraged to do 'feminine' subjects (usually Arts) and then they could work as librarians or teachers (so the holidays would fit in with the children's school holidays if you were unfortunate enough to be widowed) or you could be a nurse. You wouldn't be able to be a permanent employee once you married and had children, of course, because even if you did carelessly lose your husband you would probably go off and marry again (infrequently though that happened) but there was always work for casuals - well most of the time.

Then the world changed in the late sixties and early seventies. Women started to demand equality and in the space of ten years after I left University women were studying in all faculties and employed in a wide range of jobs that had previously been considered unsuitable for a woman. Life improved. Women no longer had to resign when they became pregnant - an enormous leap forward - along with a number of other empowering changes - and then it all slowed.

Women still haven't achieved true equality. Outside the professions, the income of many women is often less than men's for a number of reasons (part-time work, child rearing etc.) and fewer women than men hold positions of power in industry and government again for a number of reasons but largely because the structures are better suited to men's career options and interests. We still hear complaints that despite the increasing number of women in politics that the institutions of government are run as 'boy's clubs' and this is disheartening.

This is not meant as a feminist diatribe - just a reminder of how recent it is that even lip service began to be paid to equality. I have faith that the young men and women of today will realise that equality is something they should both aspire to and that they will work together to achieve it for everyone who is disadvantaged and that doesn't mean just gender.

What prompted this post was the headline in this morning's newspaper announcing the appointment of Quentin Bryce as the next Governor General of Australia. She is the first woman to hold this position and is an indication that this Government is taking seriously the fact that women form half the population of our country. We already have, again appointed by this Government, the first woman Deputy Prime Minister of Australia. Both these women are respected and intelligent and have been selected on merit.

Let's hope the Press treats them fairly and we don't see the sort of reporting that followed the audience of Prime Minister Rudd and his wife, Therese Rein, a business woman who runs a successful business bringing in millions of dollars annually, with the Queen. And what did the Press report on after the visit? What Ms Rein wore. Apparently no-one is interested in what the Prime Minister wore. This follows several reports on Ms Rein's lack of fashion flair. Why are reporters commenting on this? She hasn't been swanning around in a bikini or her underwear. She has dressed appropriately for the occasion and in what she feels comfortable with and why shouldn't she? It reminds me of when Nancy Reagan appeared in a red dress after her husband became President- a colour that suited her and which she wore frequently by the way - and the Press jumped on her for trying to upstage her husband. What rubbish.


Laura E. Goodin said...

On the other hand, I'm hearing very little talk about Hillary Clinton's gender as a factor in her suitability for the presidency. In fact, very little reference to her gender at all. There is progress!

Imagine me said...

Yes, it is good to see irrelevant issues being excluded. Let's hope the voters make their choice on who they see as most able and not on prejudice of any kind.