Category Archives: #thenewfword

What’s your childhood trauma?! Women CEO’s and what makes them good at being men

By the University of Queensland Women’s Collective,

A member of the UQ Women’s Collective was recently surprised and dismayed to come across an article in ‘Momentum’, the magazine of the UQ Business School. The article profiled male and female CEOs, essentially arguing that virtually all female CEOs have had dramatic or traumatic childhoods, which equipped them with the leadership and adaptation skills necessary for success in the business world. Meanwhile, male CEOs were seemingly endowed with these skills naturally – which, the author seemed to suggest, was largely due to the presence of a stay-at-home mother. As a collective, we were upset with the researcher’s methods, tone, assumptions and conclusions, and so we wrote a complaint letter to the magazine to tell them so.

To whom it may concern

On behalf of the UQ Women’s Collective, I am writing to register my disappointment at the publication of a recent Momentum article – ‘Women at the top’, by Dr. Terrance Fitzsimmons. While we welcome the fact that new research is being conducted on the phenomena of Australia’s embarrassingly low rate of female CEOs, we found this article to be offensive and damaging.

Firstly, we found Dr Fitzsimmons’ research methods to be questionable in the following areas:

a)    Self-selecting participants with no subject matching criteria.

b)   No verification of participant responses (e.g. the claim that most male CEOs were football captains. It is no secret that people can and do invent past achievements – for instance, the CEO of Yahoo blatantly lied about having a Bachelor’s Degree.)

c)    Bias introduced by having the interviews carried out by the investigator rather than a question script presented by a blind actor.

d)   Bias introduced again by the investigator coding his transcripts without using multiple blind.

e)    No consideration of the type of life events considered significant by patriarchal gender expectations (e.g. social emphasis on women; achievement emphasis on men). Instead the investigator asked only about significant life events.

f)     Interview times were significantly longer for female participants (70 minutes, as opposed to 48 minutes). If the interviewer emphasised certain areas repeatedly with only the female participants, the results are no longer valid.

g)    Conclusions not supported by statistics or even raw numbers of the contextual categories between groups, although they were supposedly coded. Statements are supported solely with exemplar quotes and blanket statements such as ‘a trend emerged’.

Reading Dr Fitzsimmons’ thesis, we were particularly troubled by page 184, which contained a diagrammatic representation of the different roles prescribed by male and female CEOs to their (heterosexual) parents. While female CEOs prescribe a spread of values to both their fathers (including equality) and mothers (including integrity, work ethic, leadership and self-efficacy), male CEOs label their fathers’ roles to include ‘dominance’, ‘maleness’ (as if maleness were a widely accepted trait as opposed to a contested social construction) and ‘self-efficacy’ and prescribe the sole value of ‘supports male’ to their mothers.

Dr Fitzsimmons presented these traits as fact, rather than participant opinion. We find it difficult to believe that there exist so many women who have no values at all except to support men, and would postulate that these data in fact reflect the blatantly sexist attitudes of male CEOs. From which one might pose the alternative hypothesis that such attitudes from current (male) CEOs either affects, or are representative of the attitudes of the executive boards that appoints new CEOs (and executive board members, and upper management roles etc), resulting in the under-representation of women in these positions.

Furthermore, we were troubled by Dr Fitzsimmons’ assertion that “[t]here is nothing you can do right now to fix the problem, no matter how much legislation you ram through, because you are talking about a deep-seated cultural issue”. This statement seems to offer an excuse for governments, companies and current CEOs to not even attempt drafting equal opportunity laws, employing more women in higher-level positions, or fostering a workplace culture that encourages and supports women.

As is surely obvious, people in positions of power do not willingly give away that power. They must be forced to, and often the only way this can take place is through changes to the law. In asserting that the CEO gender gap is a “deep-seated cultural issue”, Dr Fitzsimmons discounts and ignores the enormous possibility of legislation (as a tool and reflection of culture) to effect cultural change. (He also contradicts himself later, by stressing the importance of governmental support for extended childcare hours.) We offer the situation of Norway (now one of the most ‘equal’ countries in the world, following the introduction of a quota system) as an example of successful change through legislation.

We were also extremely disappointed by the lack of attention paid to men’s roles. The ‘conundrum of the working women’ is a trope that too often ignores the immense capability of men to assist with child-rearing and housework. Thus women find themselves working two jobs – one in the ‘formal’ workforce, and one in their own homes. Dr Fitzsimmons seems to recognise this latter point, but encourages increased childcare subsidies, instead of an expectation that men take an equal role in looking after the home and children that belong to them just as much as to their female partners.

Furthermore, childcare and housework services bring their own problems – although useful for working women, it is largely ignored that childcare workers, nannies and housekeepers are women of a lower socio-economic status, often women of colour. This perpetuates gender and race stereotypes at the expense of allowing a certain type of woman (white, upper-middle class) to ‘get ahead’ in the workforce.

We were especially disheartened by the lack of solution offered by Dr Fitzsimmons. If he discounts legislation, what is left? Does he wish to let time pass and hope the issue will resolve itself? As mentioned before, power is never given willingly – it must be taken, often after generations of perpetuating the ideal of a more just, inclusive and equal society. We feel that Dr Fitzsimmons’ research insults and damages the work that many are doing to advance towards such a society.

In disappointment

The University of Queensland Women’s Collective

The UQ Women’s Collective meets every Monday at 11am in the Women’s Room (Building 21A, upstairs). If you’re interested in heading along. You can greet them on Facebook by clicking here or send them an email here. Their fantastic women’s zine is available in the resources tab or by clicking here. You can read the original article

You know what, sometimes totally clever, intelligent, interesting young women still spend a lot of their time talking about boys or girls, soz lol old ppl, it’s a fact.

So, I’ve been watching (except that I haven’t because I couldn’t do so legally) and reading a lot about the new HBO series Girls. From the moment that it aired there’s been a lot of criticism of the show. Some of it may well be warranted, particularly the parts about it being a ‘white wash’ (read here, here and here)  While I don’t want to gloss over the serious lack of women of colour on our screens as a white woman for me to focus on them would be disingenuous and wrong. If you’re interested in this aspect of the show please, please, please write a blog because we’re sorely lacking the perspective of women of colour within feminist debate in NUS women’  The criticism I’ve most taken annoyance with is the criticism that these are smart young women and they just seem to be spending all their time talking about their relationships.

WELL, I hate to break this to everyone, particularly since it seems that it will burst some people’s bubbles, but sometimes, a lot of the time even, young women talk about boys, or girls, or whatever it is that takes their fancy. Some of them will talk about it endlessly, some occasionally, all of them will talk about it in some way or another.

Young smart, attractive, interesting women do talk about politics and the environment and literature and television, but it’s rare that they don’t also talk about relationships and love lives and the rest of it. Mostly, because that is one of the things that you will go running to your girlfriends and talk about. That doesn’t make you any less clever or interesting, it just makes you human.

There are parts of the show (which again, I have not watched) which I really enjoy and think are really wonderful. There’s a scene (allegedly) in the first episode where one of the main characters is asked by the total dick that she’s sleeping with about her tattoos. She responds that when she was in high school she got fat and it was her way of taking control of her body. This idea, of taking control of being out of control, is a really powerful one for young women.

So much of being a woman seems to be outside of your control, you can control how big your tits are, or how pretty you are, or how much people will put things on to you. A lot of the problems that young women face are about reasserting control over themselves. Anorexia, Bulimia, Self Harm, Suicide, they’re all on some level about trying to regain control over a situation which you feel you cannot change. That is a part of patriarchal control, the feeling that you don’t have the ability to affect change outside of yourself, which means you internalize those feelings.

There are parts that I don’t like so much about the show. The relationships to sex and relationships sometimes appear to be sending young men in the audience contradicting messages. In particular the relationship of one young woman to her boyfriend, where his respect and attempts at egalitarian heterosexual sex are mocked in many ways, or portrayed as being less than desirable. This is contrasted with the uncaring, selfish sex engaged in by another character. I feel that the show finds both lacking but offers no middle path. That said, this is an issue that raunch culture has required us to deal with, young women are meant to be madonnas and whores, often in the same relationships at the same time. How young women can be expected to be pure and porn stars has always been beyond me. I hope that in the coming weeks there will be a better job done at exploring these issues.

Girls is not perfect. It is not a perfect reflection of the way that young women and society exists today. However, that doesn’t mean that the show doesn’t have any value or that there aren’t things that can be taken from it by young women. There is a strong vein of friendship and feminism throughout the show. These women try and support each other, and love each other, for the imperfect beings that they are. To ask the show to be perfect is to ask that young women are perfect, which they are not, we cannot ask them to be.

Have any of you seen the show? What do you think?

A letter from suffragette Vida Goldstein: Coming to you from an 11 Year Old Georgia

ImageWhen I was 11 years old I went through a period of being fascinated with the history of the women’s suffrage movement. I admit, I was a bit of a nerdy child. For my grade six oral presentation I decided to speak on a women’s right to vote. Instead of speaking from first person, I decided to take on the persona of an activist in the late 19th Century, speaking to a rally for women’s suffrage. My mum suggested that I take on the character of Vida Goldstein, the first woman in Australia to run for parliament. I’m not sure if I got through to my fellow classmates, but my teacher definitely loved it and I think it was probably the first time I really identified as a feminist. After moving house recently, I found the speech, still on cue cards, and I thought it might be nice to share. I have copied it exactly as I wrote it back then, even with all the corny 11 year old phrasing I used. I had the words in bold to remind myself to give emphasis when speaking, I thought keeping them was interesting to see which words my 11 year old self wanted to place emphasis on.

Good Morning Ladies, and the small number of brave men that have arrived. My name is Vida Goldstein and I am proud to be a suffragist.

What is a suffragist? A suffragist is a person who campaigns for National Suffrage, the right to vote for all.

The year is 1895 and we are here today protesting because Women in Victoria do not have the right to vote! Our sisters in New Zealand were the first women in the entire world to achieve the vote in 1893. A year later, our fellow female citizens in South Australia also were given the right to vote for local council. But women here in Victoria and women in the rest of Australia still do not have the right to vote for the people who represent them! What makes us any different?

I quote from my sister in suffrage Elizabeth Bennick:
“Are women citizens?
Yes! When they are required to pay taxes
No! When they ask to vote
Does the law concern women?
Yes! When they are required to obey it
No! When they ask for a voice in the representation of the country”

Queens have ruled whole empires, yet other women cannot vote for their local government, let alone state or federal parliament.

Have you noticed that terms people use in everyday language are always favoring men? Why isn’t it herstory instead of history? Why is it always for the good of mankind, instead of for the good of womankind? Just these little things are the reason we do not have the vote in Victoria.

6 years ago Louisa Lawson, a fellow suffragist said: “A woman’s opinions are useless to her, she may suffer unjustly, she may be wronged, but she has no power to weightily petitions against man’s laws, no representatives to urge her views, her only method to produce release, redress or change is to ceaselessly agitate.”

I have never heard a good reason why men should have the vote. When did they launch their campaign? When did they go on protest marches, sign petitions, and rationally argue for their basic rights? The governors raise arguments against female suffrage such as the violation of motherhood ideal, destruction of family life, dishonesty and that we are “staining the fine character of Victorian Women“.

Are not some of these arguments eligible for men also? How will the vote destruct family life, it will simply make it stronger! They say we are too weak to vote. Are we too weak to bring children into the world? Something I am yet to see a man do. Are we too weak to raise a family? Too weak to cook, clean and support the men of Victoria? 4 Years ago, in 1891, we signed a petition with over 30,000 signatures of men and women alike in Victoria. They labelled it “The Monster Petition” as it was so big, several people had to carry it into the chamber. And they still ignored us!

We are not only fighting for the vote, but for equal justice, equal privileges in marriage and divorce, rights to property and the custody of children in divorce. We argue on issues such as contraception and abortion, family allowances, equal employment opportunities, education and respect for women’s domestic labor. Yet all of the decisions are currently being made by men, when they concern us!

We really just want people to respect women’s rights as workers, as mothers and women as citizens. People ask us why we want the vote, why it is so special. The truth is because there are only men in parliament and only men can vote, politicians only worry about the things men worry about. Things like land, and beer and sheep!

We can’t go up to a politician and say “I think it is outrageous there is not enough proper education or healthcare in this town, because they won’t listen to us. We pose no threat, because we don’t vote. Men’s issues take priority because they could put the politican out of a job. We can’t pass laws concerning abusive husbands because men are the ones who pass the laws, and the ones who vote on them.

Now if we ever do get the right to vote, I want all you women out there to remember, every time you walk into that polling booth, don’t just tick any old box and please do not vote informally. Really think about who and what you are voting for. Use your vote wisely because we fought hard for it.

It would not be until 1908 that Victorian Women would gain the right to vote in Federal and Local elections. But it was not until the end of WWI in 1918 that women could finally vote for State parliament. In the time between 1903 and 1917, Vida Goldstein would stand for Parliament 5 times unsuccessfully. This made her the first Australian woman to stand for Parliament.

Edith Cowan was the first woman to win a seat for her local government in WA in 1921. But Australia would not gain National Suffrage for another 48 years until 1966 when Aboriginals were finally entitled to vote. And I want all of you out there to remember how lucky you are to vote in a safe democratic election when so many women around the world still don’t have this basic right that so many take for granted.

On loving the body you have (as long as it isn’t fat, non white, small breasted, big hipped, not symmetrical, a bitch face, etc.)

I am so unbelievably sick of body image campaigns. Actually, if I see another one I think I might actually die.

No. Srsly. Fuck. Off. Why is it my responsibility to love myself and not the responsibility of society to love me for all of me, not just the way that I look?

My biggest problem is that none of these campaigns even remotely question why it is that women are valued entirely on the way that they look, they just remind us that we’re only really valuable for the way that a (male) gaze sees us.

Don’t get me wrong, body image issues are of a massive concern, particularly to young women. I read some article the other day about how many young girls go on diets, or hate their bodies, and it’s way too many, it’s really wrong. But, it seems like all the youth women’s movement does is talk about body image and – guess what- it’s not the skin you’re in, it’s the patriarchy stupid!

Lets think of an example – Dove ran their beautiful at every size campaign. Showing women that (so long as you’re still traditionally beautiful in the face and that) you can be beautiful at anything from a size 6 all the way up to, oh, size 12 (bigger than that isn’t beautiful see, cellulite sets in) same company that owns Dove owns lynx, who have been doing their part to fuck up young women (and young men’s attitudes to young women) since day one.

At the same time as Dove’s pretending it thinks you’re beautiful –EVEN if you are size 12- lynx is reminding you that you’re only worth objectifying (which to them means you’re only worth the oxygen you breathe) if you’re stick thin with massive fake breasts and covered in mud.

If you ever needed more proof that better body image campaigns are a part of the system that continues to oppress us you only need to look at who’s running them.

It’s not the campaign, it’s the patriarchy. In a lot of ways I feel as though campaigns that tell women to solve the problem of the way they view their bodies ignore the real problem, which is that we live in a patriarchal society which tells women to say not fuck you, but fuck me.

As a movement we need to stop giving into the idea that women are valuable because of how they look and start asking people to question why they care.

And that, is why I will never run a body image campaign.

What do you all think?

A letter from an activist to her pre feminist self

Dear Pre-Feminist Self,

At the moment you’re in a really awkward stage. You’re using foundation that a friend left at your house in a desperate bid to hid your pustules. You’re passionate, about something, but you’re not sure what. You’ve just stopped calling yourself a ‘non-conformist’ and your friends have breathed a sigh of relief that they can stop rolling their eyes quite so hard.

I wish I could tell you that you’ll get less awkward soon. The thing is that you really won’t. You’ll be 21 and you’ll be walking around with ash in your hair and every time you think of something vaguely witty to say you’ll get tongue-tied.

Here’s the beautiful thing:

You’ll be cool with that.

Feminism won’t be a cure all for your problems – but it will teach you how to stand your ground. You will start to understand why things seem so unfair, and you’ll realize what you need to do to fight back. You will realize that you’re more than a number on the scales, more than a uterus, more than a canvas for that horribly mismatched foundation.

And yeah, you’ll get really mad at times. Like when a pharmacist glares at you for buying emergency contraception, or you’re told you’re “too feminine” to be taken seriously, or people discuss your body as if it’s a car that needs work. But you’ll be able to deal with this bullshit so much better because you know that it is bullshit.

So don’t worry. You’re going to find an outlet for your passion. You’re going to learn a lot. You’re going to do a lot. You’re going to meet amazing people. You’re going to like yourself. Maybe not the ash in your hair, but that’s rather secondary in the scheme of things.

In sisterhood.

On Eating Ourselves Alive

I love having feminist friends. It’s one of the things I’ve most valued in coming to understand feminism as a core to the struggle. I’ve just come back from having coffee with one of the strongest feminist’s I know and she brought up the recent article written by actress Ashley Judd regarding discussions of her ‘puffy face’. The article, a scathing exploration of the way patriarchal power is enacted on, through and with women, is a powerful piece (read it here) which raises as many questions as it answers.

Patriarchy is not men. Patriarchy is a system in which both women and men participate. It privileges, inter alia, the interests of boys and men over the bodily integrity, autonomy, and dignity of girls and women. It is subtle, insidious, and never more dangerous than when women passionately deny that they themselves are engaging in it. This abnormal obsession with women’s faces and bodies has become so normal that we (I include myself at times—I absolutely fall for it still) have internalized patriarchy almost seamlessly. We are unable at times to identify ourselves as our own denigrating abusers, or as abusing other girls and women.

The point Judd makes is one which I have been struggling with lately, we as women, even as feminists, continue to aid and exist within the patriarchy. Why do we do this? We as women are not working effectively together, we are eating each other alive. When we as women put each other down we don’t help women, we don’t help the movement, all we are doing is perpetrating the myths and stereotypes which have assisted the patriarchy to keep us down for so long.

My friend and I commented today that none of us are innocent of this bias, this double standard. I certainly know that for all of my talk, and my strong belief, that we as a feminist movement need to bind together and support each other if we are to achieve equality, I still find myself making snide comments about other women within the movement. On their politics or their clothing. I am, as Judd says, trying to identify myself as one of those who is my own denigrating abusers, and abusing other girls and women.

My friend raised her voice and said of her own internal comments, “Why am I even doing that?!” why are we even doing this? It doesn’t help us, it doesn’t help the cause and it certainly doesn’t move toward equality. Men don’t do this to each other, not in the same way. Why do we even do this? How can we even stop?

Judd says,

“I ask especially how we can leverage strong female-to-female alliances to confront and change that there is no winning here as women.”

The question is not an insignificant one. Even those of us who work hard to create strong networks of women are not always successful. How can we as a movement stop eating each other alive? What do you all think?

The backlash isn’t over yet. It’s only the beginning.

I spend a significant amount of my time, both professional and personal, talking about female leadership. Why it’s important, why we need more female leaders and why, despite the fact we have a woman in the highest elected office in the country, women continue to have their leadership and authority undermined in society.

This is a problem that exists within almost every political situation and organisation. I speak to women who are presidents, convenors, elected returning officers and prominent within their workplaces and they tell me the same stories. They are being undermined by virtue of their gender.

Men continue to assume their supremecy in leadership, negotiation and relationship building. Worryingly, there are many women who also seem to believe this. They will undermine, undervalue and speak with disrespect about the abilities of female leaders in a way that they never do of men.

Julia Gillard was last week attacked by Germaine Greer on national television. Told she had a ‘big arse’ and that she needed to accept that. Sorry, what? That’s the level of the debate that we can now expect from one of the most celebrated feminists in Australia. Of our first female PM, you’ve got a big arse, accept it. A generation of women who may have looked at the Prime Minister and felt that the sky was the limit of their capacity can rest assured that the glass ceiling will remain, in the form of a feminist critique of your ‘big arse’.

Backlash against the gains made by women exists across the political spectrum, from the far left to the far right. A culture that celebrates and promotes women is a grand conspiracy against men. Affirmative Action targets endanger the assumed place of men within political organisations. Infuriating as it is, what we as women wear and who we sleep with continue to be used against us by both women and men.

We’re told to be quiet, sit silently and wait for the problem to be solved. Rowdy women seldom are promoted in the real world. This seems to go against how the fight has been won in the past. We need to speak up and stop being afraid of the consequences. If the worst thing someone thinks to say about me is I have a big arse and should deal with it, or that i’m a man hater, lesbian, slut then I’m cool with those consequences. Lord knows, I’d be in some quality company.

There exists an upside to this though, a community of female leaders that grows stronger with every part of this backlash. The women that tell me these stories and the women that support them. Because we have to fight to be recognised behind every strong and powerful female leader there exists a community of mentors, mothers, daughters, sisters, friends and allies who got her there. Strengthen this community, join it, our backlash isn’t over yet.

#thenewfword A letter to before I was a feminist

Dear Little Me,

 You don’t know what the word feminist means yet, you won’t for quite a while. All you know right now is that you’re a vegetarian ‘cos mum and dad say you are. There’s video evidence of this, at your birthday party your grand grandmother will try and give you a salad with bacon in it, it’s okay ‘cos Auntie Nikki will save you. Despite this your nan is right, you wouldn’t have known the difference is anyway.

 You’ll grow up a little and begin to understand, being a feminist is a pretty rubbish thing, being a feminist means that when your mum hears you and your friends giggling about sex in the backseat she’ll find the need to draw you an anatomically correct picture of a vagina and a penis. You still haven’t really forgiven her for that, and you’re a lot older now.

 You won’t have a lightbulb moment, you’ll read The Female Eunuch when you’re fourteen but close it in the section when she talks about tasting your own menstrual blood. For Christmas the year that you turn 15 you’ll get a copy of Gender Troubles by Judith Butler. You’ll never read the entire book all the way through. You’ll write three essays at university based on her theories and you’ll still never read an entire chapter. Because you don’t understand her you’ll say she’s stupid. Until I finish the book I don’t know if that’s true or not.

 People won’t really understand where you’re coming from, they’re about to start calling you names, ‘cos you’re different. Try not to let it get to you too much, it’s not really that bad to be a feminist. In the end you’ll actually find that it gives you the strength you need to make it through the hard times.

 You’ll be an angry hairy feminist for a while, you’ll spend a year flirting with lipstick post-feminism. Then you’ll have a lecturer who completely changes the way you think about everything. She’s pretty hated by a lot of people but she makes you radical. You won’t throw away your heels or cut your hair but you’ll become more empowered and questioning.

 When you’re 21 you’ll shave your armpits for an election pledge, it’ll get your campaign 500 bucks but you’ll still cry when you do it. It seems like less of a big deal after that. One of your teachers from high school will tell you that you paved the way for strong feminist women at your old school, you’ll cry at this too. Basically feminism means a lot of crying for you, but that’s okay too.

 For you #thenewfword is really just the old ‘f’ word. It’s never a dirty word around your house. Except for when your mum draws the diagram. That part sucks.

 There’s a lot of time left to go in your life, but I don’t think you’ll ever stop being a feminist. For now you can keep playing with your Barbie dolls. Kiri who’s your favourite won’t be yours for much longer though, you’re about to leave her in the sun and she’s going to melt. You won’t get over it for a week.

 In Sisterhood,

 Noni xx