Carlton, babies in bed, 8pm
One afternoon back in my highschool days, a group of girlfriends were at my place discussing the burning topic of who we would take to our formal.
“What about that guy?” one suggested, as we fawned over some photographs. “He’d be total man candy,” I replied. “Yeah, like a trophy date!” We all laughed.
A few days later, my father, who apparently overheard this exchange, arrived home with a book. “You need to read this,” he said and thrust a copy of the Female Eunuch into my hands. That day, a shorter pimplier version of myself sat down and learnt, page by page, about the idea of gender and gender stereotypes.
These teenage learnings were fresh in my mind this week when I met with Melbourne feminist author Monica Dux. In 2008, Monica published The Great Feminist Denial and is a regular public commentator on feminist issues. Far from being ‘dead’, she believes feminism is being renewed by feisty public debate and a new generation of adherents.
First up, what feminist issues do you think are most important right now?
I think poverty is a big issue because it relates to how women parent, how women work, how we negotiate our careers and how we treat older women. When look at the statistics its so shocking and yet we accept it. Another issue is how we structure work places. I think men need to be included a lot more in parenting but the workplace works against that completely.
I think the sexualisation of women is an ongoing issue; in particular, I am concerned about how we ‘pinkify’ young girls. Pink doesn’t mean girl or boy, it means passive and princess in our cultural context. If you put a girl in a pink dress with white shoes they can’t play or get dirty. Gender roles spread into how we see ourselves and I think they have become narrower for girls, which re-enforces for them they are sex objects from a young age.
We are often deeply influenced by our families in developing our views. What was your experience of gender during your childhood?
I had a great childhood but I had two older brothers and I really noticed how sexist things were. As a teenager, I would go out to town with my best friend and we used to pass a building site. One occasion really stood out in my mind where we were walking past this group of men at this site and they were leering at us just like we were a piece of meat.
Another example is when I got my first motorbike when I was 19. I’ve never encountered so much sexism about something as simple as riding a motorbike. I was sexually harassed by the roadside assistant guy and I used to get wolf whistled when I walked into the mechanics.
So how do your political views translate into your family life now?
When I was pregnant with my son I said I wanted to split it 50/50 with my husband Kris. So for example, I breastfeed and he does all the nappies and I do the cooking and he does all the cleaning. I think when women have babies, people look at the father and say ‘oh poor him he doesn’t know what to do,’ but women don’t know what to do either.
A recent Age newspaper article, Are We There Yet, argued workplace structures still favour men. Do you think that is why women, even without children, still seem to earn less than men?
The assumption that successful men have a woman at home looking after the children is [still] very pervasive. We got rid of one male breadwinner, but the hours people are meant to work still favour a male workplace model.
Also, I think women find it hard to ask for more. You often hear in relation to feminism that women are meant to feel very grateful for everything we have. When we talked about maternity leave last year it was seen as a gift.
Statistically, women make up 51% of our population. Is it difficult to define a feminist movement that represents all women?
There is not one feminist or feminist agenda. The burqa is a fantastic example where we are asked to speak about things we really know nothing about because we have vaginas.
Having said that, I think there is a lot more sophistication these days about cultural diversity. In the media feminists are represented as white, middle class, corporate women, which is very misleading. Feminism is very accommodating of difference and it is evolving as a movement.
What role do you think men have to play in feminism?
I often think why would men want to participate in feminism? What is the benefit to them? In terms of parenting, there are many benefits that men only realise once they are there. I think the only way men will come to the party is if women just insist.
Monica is currently writing her a new book about motherhood. If you wish to contact her, she can be found at www.monicadux.com.au.