By Kate James
At my campus – and many others – we have a space designated specifically for women. This space, sensibly enough, is known as the women’s room.
Apparently this is the worst thing that ever happened to equality.
This sentiment is incredibly frustrating to me. Most of the time I think it’s borne out of ignorance of just how much discrimination and oppression women still face. We exist in a social climate that promotes the idea that sexism is over, that men and women are on an equal footing (or even that women have gotten greedy and now men are the ones in trouble). This is, frankly, a load of shit.
I’ve heard the argument that men are being pushed out of the jobs they deserve to make way for women, however:
- Women chair only two per cent of ASX200 companies (four boards), hold only 8.3% of Board Directorships, hold only four CEO positions and make up only 10.7% of executive management positions.
- In 2008, women held 5.9% of line executive management positions in ASX 200 companies; a decrease from 7.5% in 2006. Line executive management experience is considered essential for progressing to top corporate positions.
- Women make up a third of members on Australian Government Boards and Committees.
- Despite comprising more than half of all Commonwealth public servants, women make up only 37% of the Senior Executive Service.
I’ve heard that violence against women is a thing of the past, a rare occurrence that is blown way out of proportion. Unfortunately:
- One in three Australian women has experienced physical violence since the age of 15.
- Nearly one in five Australian women has experienced sexual assault since the age of 15.
- Reporting and conviction rates for violence against women in Australia remain low. Only one in three women who experienced physical assault by a male perpetrator in the last 12 months reported the assault to the police, while just one in five who experienced sexual assault by a male perpetrator reported the assault
I’m no mathematician, but I think it’s safe to say that these statistics don’t paint the picture of a fair and balanced society, let alone some sort of conspiratorial matriarchy.
A woman recently told me that it was unfair that men aligned to feminism, men who actually believe in and fight for the end of gendered oppression, could not enter the women’s room. Shouldn’t it be a space where everyone committed to equality could congregate? Well, the thing is, I don’t think that being a man and believing in feminism makes you special or awesome. It makes you a decent person. It also doesn’t mean you forgo your privilege. And if a hypothetical man is actually pro-feminist, then I’m not sure why he would deny any of that.
There is so, so much in our society that does constitute discrimination. There are so many important issues to address. I don’t want to stifle discussion; when I’m challenged on the women’s room issue I genuinely try to be informative rather than defensive or dismissive. I’ll be honest, though: I find the rationale behind the women’s room fairly self-evident, and I think that if you’re going to be passionate about something to do with gendered oppression there are more pressing topics – topics that actually do constitute oppression, for a start.
All statistics taken from the Australian Human Rights Commission Gender Equality Blueprint 2010, available at http://www.hreoc.gov.au/sex_discrimination/publication/blueprint/index.html