There has never been a moment in my life when I have not been aware that I could do anything; have any career, live anywhere and exist exactly as I set my own mind to do. Gender, like sexuality, was not something that my firmly left-leaning family surrounds discussed as such. Our Inner northern Melbourne social environment was made up of single mothers, lesbian couples, part-time working dads and independent mothers, and everyone sharing a hatred for Howard. It was not until I was in high school that I realized that not all my fellow private schoolgirl families home life was as my own; a mother who continued on higher education pathways whilst working in women’s organisations, the construction industry and then the education sector and who was often absent due to work commitments, a struggling artist father who made a living as a nurse and cooked us dinner every night plus picked us up from school (both commonly a few hours late) and no one who exactly took on any domestic duties such as clean the bathroom or vacuum the hallway. Germaine Greer espouses in The Female Eunuch that gender is a social construct and our household did not exactly mirror the mainstream status quo of gender-orientated responsibilities. I read a lot as a pre-teen; Judy Blume mixed with Salman Rushdie alongside Marilyn French and The Women’s Room was an early favorite. Freedom of expression and choice was of paramount concern in our family and as a result feminism is intrinsic to the construction of my identity as a human and I thank my parents so much for grounding me with this belief.
As said it was not until high school that I began to have to articulate my humanist and feminist beliefs to an audience. I attended a school which championed the idea that women could do anything and yet in the “playground” it was still very clear that as females looking good and speaking in the acceptable social language was kinda paramount. I always felt that what we were being told did not quite mesh with the society that we lived within. So I became ardently feminist at a young age. I talked about it to the hushed classroom and often got asked if I was a lesbian, like there was something wrong with that or that feminism equated directly to sexuality and worse, man-hating.
I guess that is why I have always felt so defensive when talking to people about my feminist beliefs though it is hard to escape the roll of the eyes and groan of the throat when the word “feminism” and “feminist’ are let out into an open conversation. Like a kamikaze pilot I feel immediately exposed, alone and my whole being suddenly on a downward trajectory of personal judgment as the strained and pained looks on my fellow conversationalists attempt to feign interest in any words that follow this loaded term. I am frustrated and enraged by this reaction as being able to openly discuss such issues means that persistent discrimination can be addressed.
As a concept, people, on the whole, seem to be pro-equality by nature (it is ridiculous to read that sentence back!) and yet place the actual terminology – the f word – into the conversation and these very same people seem to run a mile. This is further discussed in The Great Feminist Denial by Monica Dux and Zora Simic. It is as if people believe equality to be so entrenched within today’s society that any further questioning immediately marks the questioner as a separatist. I feel angry that women and men, young and old, are so derisive to further discussions on the fundamental human rights issue of the equality of the sexes and I am even more shocked that people maintain that full equality has been met and any further discussion on the matter is indulgent. Yet looking around the world it is clear that equality does not exist between the sexes and requires constant questioning and monitoring.
Women today have benefited from the first and second wave feminism movements and are able to pursue education for the purpose of careers, yet in many instances women are pursuing education as a means to meet their future husbands. I was shocked when living in Mexico that this was considered a normal pathway for young girls and it was further supported by the fact that there were no positions for these graduates to seek employment in. Parts of the world still legally and culturally view beating and killing women as an act of honor and even our fairly liberal and modernised legal system can still be shockingly negligent when handing down sentences and closing archaic and downright brutal legal loopholes that discriminate against women. Don’t forget that it was only a few years ago that the eastern suburbs millionaire James Ramage strangled his wife to death for leaving him and was handed down a mere eight years sentence due to claiming ‘provocation’. It has taken Julie’s death to change this law in Victoria and that is due to the open and democratic way in which women and men are able to voice their dissent over inequality and discrimination that continue to exist within legal, cultural and political avenues.
This time last year the debate over female playwrights and directors being severely under-represented in all major theatres in Australia was being discussed within the media. Of the eighty plays produced in Australia in 2011 only eleven were written by females. Augusta Supple blogs on the subject here and I further challenge anyone to argue against the case of the rampant sexism displayed by Australian theatre programmers. If it were not for journalists and bloggers discussing the issue and demanding attention then this instance of overt sexism would continue. Looking at the 2012 season I note that of the seventy three plays produced for the 2012 season twenty one are written by females and eight co-written. This is precisely why being able to discuss misogyny within any arena is so vital as it promotes awareness and demands change. Should there be ratio regulations about how many women sit on boards, hold upper management positions as CEO’s and, for instance, are represented in theatres etc.? I am unsure and not entirely comfortable with this sort of ‘positive discrimination’, but what I am sure about is that the debate should be happening and more often.
Personally speaking I am proud of the fact that I identify openly as a feminist despite the fact that feminism has not reared her beautiful head much in my everyday thoughts. Except of course whenever I watch tv, open a magazine, read the credits on a movie, or walk down the street. Yet despite this I did not think about feminism in the ‘call to action’ type of way until recently when my husband and I began the journey to birth our second child at home. My son was a large baby who I labored nine hours at home with and followed up with 40 minutes at the hospital in the birth center. I had no drugs and recovered well after a tear. I am in excellent health and wanted to have my second child at the birth center again, however, due to my son weighing in at 4.9 kilos when he was born I was banned from having an non-obstetric birth in the hospital. This weight limit did not take into account my and my husbands elevated height nor his Dutch ancestry. Having an obstetric birth would mean that I would be monitored constantly, my movements during labor would be restricted and there would be a high possibility that a caesarian section would be advised late in the process. In fact the obstetrician was counseling me to begin to rationalise myself with a caesar…I was six weeks pregnant! Suddenly my right to make informed choices was severely curtailed. I then met with several midwives, spoke to three obstetricians and educated myself on the large baby issue and home birth in general. There is so much written, debated and experienced on the subject. One fantastic blog is by my midwife Joy Johnson and can be found here. Sarah J. Buckley, MD, discusses in Gentle Birth Gentle Mothering:
“Birth is a women’s issue, birth is a power issue; therefore birth is a feminist issue”
and I could not agree more.
Tara Moss writes that women and men who choose to birth at home are demonized by general society and I have felt that acutely. My, and my husbands, intelligence, freedom of choice, and autonomy have been derided by family, friends and the general community because we are saying no to the paternalistic and medicalised approach, with high levels of intervention, that has become the status quo for hospital births. Ina May Gaskin, CPM states in the foreword of Buckley’s book;
“feminism is about courage and strength and celebration of feminine power. True feminism does not disrespect the woman who finds power in giving birth without medication or unnecessary interference”
Now I am not saying that all women should give birth at home or without drugs. But I am stating that all women should be able to choose to do so and have these informed choices respected.
Cynthia Nolan Myers is a Melbourne born mother of one (and a half) who currently works in the community arts sector and is looking forward to welcoming her second child at home in March. She believes that the arts foster and strengthen community dialogue through cultural exchange and holds a Bachelor of Arts and Masters in Arts Management. Cynthia is considering further study post March as undertaking a Ph.D whilst breastfeeding with a newborn baby and a tantrumming three year old seems like a great idea….
Image taken from the collection of Zac Nolan Myers whose other work can be found here.