URM… I’m like, totally a feminist man. Let me in to your friggin’ women’s room

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

Kate James is the Women’s Officer at the Monash Student Association. You can see their website here or join the women’s Facebook page here


3 thoughts on “URM… I’m like, totally a feminist man. Let me in to your friggin’ women’s room

  1. Laura

    Ms James, I just wanted to make a reference back to the statistics that you provided about women in the work force. I have absolutely no doubt that the statistics are correct, but it does seem to be lacking something of an analysis or even possibly trying to think of reasons beyond discrimination. I don’t deny that this is a possibility – or even a probability – in some situations. However you cannot be so shortsighted as to pin 100% of cases on discrimination, as your post seems to imply.

    I do not understand why these statistics are such a source of outrage. It may not be the level desired for female participation in the workforce at a management level, however I would like to suggest several explanations for this – all of those following, I personally know examples of.

    1) They may in fact be sexually discriminated, end of story.
    2) Some women may have a more traditional view on life and actually want to be homemakers.
    3) Some women may enjoy not having to work and are perfectly happy to allow their husbands or partners to be the breadwinners and are happy to drive around in their four-wheel drives, meet their friends for coffee in Toorak and shop.
    4) In areas such as CEO positions and the like, the women applying may not actually have the characteristics, drive, or professional aggressiveness that the male applicants have, and so their suitability for positions is not that of the other male applicants. (note – studies have shown that often men are naturally more outspoken and are more comfortable with promoting themselves vocally, displaying confidence. This is not to say that the women do not posses confidence in themselves, but if you’re choosing between applicants, you’re going to pick those who look the most confident, capable, etc.)
    5) Women may simply prefer other jobs – for instance the female-dominated professions such as nursing and teaching. (Could these professions be grounds for investigations into the discrimination against men?)

    It may be that you don’t believe that any of the above cases are fair, right, the way society should be. But to change that, you’ll have to change society’s attitudes and re-educate some women in the way they think. BUT, all the above points, except the first, do not necessarily mean that women are being discriminated against. If you want to re-shape society, I wish you good luck – you’re going to need it. But the stamping of feet, ranting about it online and plastering universities with posters is hardly going to do it.

  2. Kate

    Hi Laura,

    Thanks for your response.

    A woman’s choice to not enter or leave the workforce is a different issue to women who do choose to undertake paid labour facing gender-specific barriers.

    The concept of men and women having innately differing attributes is, of course, a bit of a hot topic. I would submit that both men and women are socialized – for example, aggression and drive are generally more acceptable and/or encouraged and/or seen as natural when exhibited by a man rather than a woman. This can lead to a self-perpetuating cycle in which “leadership skills” of such a variety are taught to and fostered within men, men are seen as more suited to senior managerial positions, and the idea that women are less suited to such positions is reinforced.

    In regards to wishing to enter other professions, I think that’s a seperate (althought obviously related – and important) issue to underrepresentation. What I wished to draw attention to was that within senior management positions women are woefully underrepresented. To use the same statistic: “Despite comprising more than half of all Commonwealth public servants, women make up only 37% of the Senior Executive Service”. So in this instance it is not a matter of women being underrepresented because they’re in a different profession – there are plenty of women in the field, simply not as part of the Senior Executive Service.

    Finally, I would dispute that “ranting about it online” is a waste of time. To be clear, I’m not under the impression that my humble post is going to trigger some sort of fundamental restructuring of social practice. However, I think that expression of opinion is important; I feel strongly about certain issues, and when presented with a forum in which to express them I think it’s entirely appropriate for me to do so. I would also like to think that my involvement with this movement extends beyond writing a blog post (and to be entirely honest, I don’t do nearly as much poster-plastering as I should).

    In conclusion, it is my opinion that the issue of underrepresentation is more complex and subtle than a hypothetical faceless man dismissing women candidates due to outright misogyny.

  3. Kate Rogers

    Nice article, and nice response to the first comment!

    A Canadian lecturer of mine once recounted how a handful of her male students had protested that the existence of the women’s room on their campus (which had been established in the 1970s) was unfair – how come there was no equivalent space for men? My lecturer replied that if they were so upset about it, why didn’t they organise a mens space? That was decades ago. There is still no mens space on that campus, not because they couldn’t qualify for funding, but because they weren’t bothered enough to fight for, set up, maintain and voluntarily staff one. Perhaps because their need was not as dire as the women’s (or queer students, who did bother to set up a space within that time).


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