Opinion editorial by Sue McCabe printed in the Sunday Star Times, December 7, 2014.
The f-word – feminism. The debate about what feminism is and whether it’s needed continually rages. It got new oxygen after last week’s Sunday Star Times article reporting that Minister for Women Louise Upston said she doesn’t call herself a feminist.
Reading between the lines her reluctance largely seemed to be because of the stigma attached to the word. The Minister’s response was not acceptable but it’s sadly unsurprising. Feminism has been and continues to be a minefield – anyone who calls themselves a feminist gets attacked and those who say they’re not get attacked.
So who is a feminist? At its most basic level if you believe women should have political, social and economic equality you’re a feminist. If you believe women should not be equal – you’re not.
This definition firmly puts Minister Upston and most New Zealanders into the feminist camp. To those still a bit unsure let’s bust some myths.
Myth one: We don’t need feminism – we’ve got equality. Government statistics show one third of NZ women will experience intimate partner violence or sexual violence; and that women earn 9.9% less than men. Women make up less than 15 per cent of directors on the NZX top 100 listed companies. Of the 121 seats in NZ Parliament, only 36 are women.
Myth two: Feminists are men haters. I guess some might be, but the vast majority aren’t. Just like some men have negative attitudes towards women – but most don’t.
Myth three: Feminism means men and women need to be the same. Wrong. Let’s celebrate our differences, but let’s do better at caring about the impact of what we say and do on other gender. Also, the gender differences are why equality of opportunity is sometimes not enough to get equality of outcome.
Myth four: Feminism means that all women should be career focussed and aiming for Board positions. Wrong again. Yes we need more at this level – but let’s value our full-time mothers and women undertaking important unpaid work in our communities. Part of gender equality is that men are freed from gender stereotypes and societal expectations so full-time parenting and community work seems more of an option for them.
Myth five: It’s men that suffer inequality because of a focus on women. Look at the aforementioned statistics – there’s a need for action. This doesn’t mean that men don’t have their own issues – it’s not mutually exclusive.
A Huffington Post survey highlighted the confusion around feminism. The 2013 survey had just 23 per cent of women and 16 per cent of men saying they were feminists. But 82 per cent of both women and men respondents said women should have social, political and economic equality.
It would be great to think that feminism can become an outdated concept – that we’re so successful we’ve transcended gender as being a barrier.
Until those official and independent statistics show we’ve got to a gender equal state, let’s shift our focus from criticising those who see themselves as feminists and those who don’t . This will free up head space and time we can put towards achieving gender equality. And we do need our ardent and learned feminists to guide us there.
Sue McCabe is Chief Executive of the National Council of Women and a proud feminist. Next year the council will produce a gender equality strategy. This will outline what a gender equal New Zealand looks like and what needs to happen to get there. Visit www.ncwnz.org.nz for more information about the council.