When I caught a bus between my high school and my home there would always be a handful of boys sitting at the back heckling, making rude or dumb comments: I knew that was just their way of getting attention, and most days I would ignore them. But some days I would cave in and say something back. Just like I am going to do now with our man up the back of the bus this week, Antony Loewenstein, writing in the Guardian to tell us all what’s wrong with “mainstream”, “western” feminism. I’ve held my tongue for most of the week, but it’s hopeless: I can’t hold it any longer.
Loewenstein launched into his column/lesson by telling us he’s finally decided it’s time to give western feminists some “tough love”, to let us know where we’ve gone wrong. But before we jump in and write him off as the most douchebaggiest of all douchebags, he quickly lets us know that for a very long time he’s quietly held his own counsel – because, he says, he’s been “afraid” of entering the debate, of being “slammed” by female feminists for “gatecrashing a party”.
What, one must ask, is he afraid of? That Germaine Greer might suddenly realise what a totally awesome dude he is and ask him to be her Facebook friend? And then she might, I don’t know, start sending him flowers or something? I can understand his concern: before you know it she’ll be sexting him and then, well, god knows where it all end! But let’s just take a deep breath and relax Loewenstein: I promise you we’ll deal with that together when it happens (and look, I know there was that book The Boy, but really, she’s not that scary. Honestly).
In the meantime, let’s take a look at your argument – if that’s what we can call it, because like many a manly columnist Loewenstein seems to specalise in that art of banging on authoritatively about something-he’s-thought-little-about.
Loewenstein’s key argument seems to be that Gillard, she of the internationally chart topping misogyny speech, treated asylum speakers appallingly, supported Israel, and cut back support for single mothers.
I happen to agree with Loewenstein that there was often a large dissonance between Gillard’s rhetoric and her acts, particularly in her support for changes that saw single parents with primary caring responsibility – mostly women – losing money when they were thrown off pensions and onto the dole.
And I happen to agree with him that Anne Summers and Gillard may as well have been burning incense and taking one too many tokes on jazzy cigarettes at their road show last year – for a “love in”, as Loewenstein calls it, is an apt description of their packed to the rafters talks.
But pointing out that Gillard or Hillary Clinton have sold out or been co-opted is a bit like being shocked that avowed Christian and former union boss Bill Shorten is also running a punitive asylum seeker policy and is trying to loosen the union’s hold on the ALP now that he is Labor leader.
When you are surprised that politicians espousing high minded principles don’t always live up to those principals, you end up coming across like a whining music fan complaining that your favourite indie band got successful and really sold out with that commercial third album.
And to argue that Anne Summers and Julia Gillard – or a click-baiting feminist columnist writing about facelifts – are representative of western feminism is a bit like saying Alain de Botton represents all western male philosophers. Or that whatever George Clooney said about Syria last week is the position of, well, everyone else on the left. And to imply that Gillard or Clinton or Summers – heck, all western feminists – think with one brain is about as silly as saying that whatever a Waleed Aly thinks, so too must an Antony Loewenstein.
But when I think of the western feminists I know, I don’t, like Loewenstein, automatically think of Gillard or Summers. And I certainly don’t, like him, think about the author of an earnest column about face lifts and a woman’s right to choose.
I think instead of the senior union official I know who has campaigned for – and won – domestic violence clauses and breastfeeding rights in the workplace, and is now trying to get thousands of low paid home care workers whose jobs are being privatised the same rights to job protections and redundancy entitlements that were automatically given to workers in previous privatisation waves of male-dominated industries. And I think of another western feminist I know running a multi-million dollar overseas aid organisation that likes to focus its efforts on getting training and money and skills to women, so that they can make independent choices about their lives. And I think of another friend, another “western feminist”, teaching young women at university about how services for victims of sexual assault or domestic assault (where many of her students are hoping to work one day) are fighting for survival.
If Loewenstein really wants to “gatecrash” the feminist party, here’s a few ideas for him. Next time someone asks you to appear on TV, or to be interviewed on radio, or to write a column, why not get out the phone number of one those non western-ish feminist women you say inspire you, who don’t have a voice, and say to your interlocutor: “Thanks so much, but there’s this woman I know who would do an equally excellent job”. Or better still, if you really want to give us western feminists a helping hand, how about you come over to my place and look after my kids? But please, don’t even think about giving my daughter any lectures on how she can be a better feminist.