BY JENNIFER DUKE
Standing in front of the magazine shelves in the 1990s as a child, I thought they were the most beautiful things I had ever seen. I also thought they were colour coded. How certain magazines had specific colours they used, that they largely stuck to, and how the racks were grouped – fluoro and bold, black/charcoal and blue, pastels. It wasn’t until several years later that I reflected back on this thought.
When I was asked to write this article, about what feminism is to me, I thought it would be straightforward. I delayed, read up about it and delayed some more until I was forced to just ask myself “When did I start using the term feminist?” This somehow answered everything.
Feminism to me is the antithesis of silence. Without realising it, many women today are feminists without the label. I certainly fell under this bracket for a long time, believing in being vocal when I thought things were sexist (to both men and women) and taking a stand to rectify the problem or at least call someone out on it. And yet, I never called myself a feminist.
The term feminism sounds very much like a political stance. Anything with an “ism” on the end immediately conjures up some sort of ideology and alliance. However, feminism is not necessarily political or religious or any of those things. It’s just one thing – equality. And yes, equality is a loaded word for many.
For me, my pursuit for equality for all people – women, men, intersex, LGBTIQ, whoever – is largely a vocal pursuit. Some women say that they express their feminism with their music, through demonstrations or through sport. I try to do my bit by writing when I think it’s necessary, and by changing my attitude from one of ‘ignoring’ injustices thrown at me, to one of writing about them and sharing them and hoping that, just maybe, we will all question what we think is normal.
Luckily, media is one of those few areas where people of all types are encouraged to be vocal. Yes, it has a long way to go (and we could talk about the inclusion of Indigenous Australians in this space here too), and coverage needs to improve, but it has been one of my safe havens. It is usually a space where homosexuality and outspokenness are embraced, rather than scorned.
When I write feature articles, one of my favourite techniques is to focus in on something tiny that I have noticed about a person or a situation. Something that struck me, and maybe not other people, that says an awful lot about the true meaning of what happened or the personality of that person. Perhaps it’s the way that someone holds their pen, or an odd way of phrasing something. These details are so often ignored in the daily course of life. And just as they are ignored, so is subtle sexism. For this reason, it’s usually the most dangerous as it’s the sexism that is talked about least.
Subtle sexism is everywhere and I encourage you to look out for it.
Or it’s the way that someone tells you that you have “man’s handwriting” because it’s blocky and messy. Or it’s the surprise that someone has when you tell them that the investment magazine you worked on had mainly female staff.
And then it’s in the way magazines are arranged at the newsstand, which brought me my first realisation as a child. The colours I had noticed being grouped together was actually related to the themes of the title. By and large, the titles relating to business, busty babes and sports are grouped together, with celebrity gossip, craft and fashion on the other. I know some people will argue this is due to typical human interests, and what is therefore more likely to sell the product, rather than sexism, and this is precisely my point. There’s a chicken and an egg situation in most of these arguments. Physically, hormonally, it would be hard to argue that women do not have as big an interest in making money or succeeding, or participating/watching sport. And it’d be hard to make a case that men are not as interested in fashion (I know many far more fashionable men than I’ll ever be).
My argument is that the environment we are in is a product of a more obvious form of sexism that women once lived within. Where a woman reading an investment title likely would have been preposterous, and a man reading a cooking title would have been laughable. This arrangement of titles now is a watermark of what once was, but it is a watermark that nevertheless still leaves an impression and that we should still think about. As an editor, it’s certainly something I think about regularly.
This is all subtle sexism. Not malicious sexism, not ‘going out of my way to stunt your life choices’ sexism, but the sexism that is ingrained in almost every part of our society due to what is perceived as normal.
Writing, having a voice, not being silent on issues that matter and those that maybe some don’t realise matter – this is what my feminism looks like.
Jennifer Duke is editor of Property Observer. She also writes about Jane Austen via The Bennet Sisters and loves to discuss feminism, human rights and animal rights. You can contact her via jennifersduke[at]gmail.com