Hi there! It’s Roshni here, your friendly neighbourhood Women’s Officer. In case you’re not sure what the Women’s Officer does, here is a friendly infographic.
Today is International Women’s Day, and surprisingly enough it is a day to celebrate the achievements of women while acknowledging the ongoing limitations that women-aligned and gender non-binary people continue to face. However, a lot of us don’t understand the ins and outs of gender equality, problems faced by different groups of wom*n in their lived experiences and as a result, International Women’s Day can receive a lot of undue criticism.
For this, I have compiled a list of questions and statements that I might generally hear about feminism, the Women’s Department and being Women’s Officer, and tried to respond to them in a way that makes things a little clearer. I hope these answers can help you, and help inform the way you look at feminism and gender equality today.
“Why don’t we have a Men’s Officer?”
If I had a penny for every time someone asked me that question, I could probably singlehandedly fix the gender pay gap.
In response, I’ll say that I hope that at some point, it has occurred to you that we live in a society in which men and women are not equal. As a student union, the Guild recognises this and that’s why we have an officer and a department that represents and advocates for women-aligned and non-binary students. End of story.
“Can men be part of the Women’s Department?”
Short answer: no.
Long answer: the Women’s Department is run for women, by women and advocate for women’s issues. Issues that historically have been silenced, ignored, and ridiculed by men. Issues that are topical nowadays – #MeToo, the gender pay gap, domestic violence – are only topical because there were once brave women who dared to speak up about it in a time when they were taboo. Without these women’s voices representing themselves, we wouldn’t have these on the agenda and being fought against.
Yes, a lot of men care about gender equality issues and that’s super important; men are part of the problem, and therefore must be part of the solution. But when speaking about a space where we resist the institutions that have been designed for and privilege men, it seems fairly stupid to include them here too. So no. Men can’t be a part of the Women’s Department, it’s the one place we are able to speak for ourselves.
In saying that, men can be allies – small things like calling out jokes about women being in the kitchen and taking your female friends seriously when they talk about an issue they face, can go a long way in changing the tone of the conversation.
I don’t believe in feminism, I believe in ‘equalism’”
It seems sensible enough, and I’ll admit that I have said this in the past. Without digressing into semantics, I’ll say that what you’re (hopefully) trying to achieve by ‘equalism’ is already addressed by the feminist movement. People generally think that feminism is about women’s rights, and it predominantly is. However, more broadly feminism questions the role of gender in society, and how expectations placed on us from our gender limit us. More recently, it has taken a look at how gender is not independent of other identities such as race, sexuality, disability status, class, etc., and how people have different experiences based on the compounding of these identities. Being a feminist is a lot less radical than it sounds – not if you think equality is a radical concept.
“Not all men are sexist/misogynists.”
It isn’t necessarily about being a sexist or a misogynist for most people, but thinking about how your words and actions demonstrate the privilege men and masculinity holds in our society.
Simple test – raise your hand (metaphorically) if you:
- Called someone a p***y
- Told a mate to ‘toughen up, princess’
- Said to someone they should ‘grow a pair’
- Have called a woman in power ‘bossy’ vs describing a man in power similarly
- Know more about Jacinta Arden’s (the New Zealand PM) pregnancy than her foreign policies
All of those are examples of how gender influences they way we think, and demonstrate how we view masculinity as desirable and femininity weak or derogatory. It filters into every part of our lives, and it’s these attitudes – whether evident or not – that affect us all.
“Men experience discrimination too.”
Once again this is true. Men also are affected by mental illness, domestic violence, sexual assault and harassment. And this is awful. And we never said this wasn’t true.
What we are saying is that in almost every metric, women are likely to be worse off than men. At this university, women-aligned staff and students have to worry about problems like rape culture, slut shaming and unconscious biases affecting their job prospects and academic work. These problems are worse if a woman is from an ethnic or linguistically diverse background, Indigenous, a member of the LGBTQIA+ community, from a low socioeconomic background or has a disability and/or mental illness. Women at university are three times as likely to be sexually assaulted and twice as likely to be sexually harassed. There is a problem here that is clearly related to gender, and it should be treated as such.
So, today is a day to acknowledge your privilege and celebrate the women in your life. The theme this year is #PressForProgress – it’s the perfect opportunity to start these difficult conversations around you, in order to change the culture.
Roshni Kaila | Women’s Department
Roshni is the UWA Student Guild Women’s Officer for 2018. Forget avo, she’d rather have smashed patriarchy on toast.