If the ultimate aim of feminists is the advancement and equality of women, not just that of women who identify as feminists, shouldn’t they be applauding the Julie Bishops of the world?
Minister Bishop’s recent refusal to call herself a ‘feminist’ has led to the cry that she is sucking up to the man’s world, spitting in the face of her suffragette forebears, and even casting doubt upon her own womanhood.
It is certainly understandable that some feminists feel disappointed and indignant that Bishop does not describe herself, and indeed her beliefs about gender equality, in the same way that they might.
Indeed, it is understandable that feminists who have spent a lifetime fighting for the empowerment of women will find Julie Bishop’s statement that she “does not acknowledge” the glass ceiling which successive waves of feminists worked to smash ignorant and even naive.
But when they insist upon policing and judging a fellow woman, aren’t feminists simply lining up hoops for a fellow woman to jump through which they would never impose upon others?
Men of all kinds of qualities are rarely asked to define themselves by their backgrounds. When Shaoquett Moselmane was asked to reflect on becoming the first Muslim to be elected to the New South Wales Parliament, he remarked to an interviewer, “To tell you the truth, Simon, I, you know, as an Australian, irrespective of what one’s religion is, it shouldn’t be counted.”
If Ed Husic said that he saw himself first and foremost as an Australian, not a Bosnian Muslim, people would probably describe him as enlightened. If the youngest member of the Federal Parliament, Wyatt Roy, dismissed the idea of focusing on youth issues and instead wanted to drive economic reform, wouldn’t we admire his passion?
The truth is that Moselmane, Husic and Roy focus on the issues which drove them into Parliament, not the qualities that others allege were keeping them away.
But when Julie Bishop attempts to do the same, saying that she “neither accepts nor rejects” the label ‘feminist’, she is immediately branded as a traitor to her kind; ungrateful, unfeeling, undoubtedly wasting her singularly female seat in the cabinet room.
But why should women have to feel “grateful” for being in power? Didn’t previous generations fight for equality of opportunity so individual achievers wouldn’t have to turn around and say “thank you” for the fruits of their own hard work?
What does it say about us when we place a particular burden on women to be so metacognitive and grateful about their progress in the world simply because they are women? What does it say about us when we refuse to appreciate the very success stories of female empowerment we’ve been looking for because the author of that success story refuses to put anything down to feminism?
Well-intentioned feminists would do well to have a look inside their own ideology in their engagement with Bishop. Surely, one of the rights feminists should champion is the right to self-definition; the right to self-determination; indeed, the right to not be a feminist.
By its own admission, feminism will only have succeeded as a movement in situations where it is no longer necessary. As a capable, articulate and self-possessed member of our Federal Cabinet, a woman who lets her actions speak louder than her ideologies, Bishop is a glimpse at a world in which feminism has done its job.
She is the herald of a world in which the highest portfolios of power are open to women who work hard, overcome natural challenges and make difficult decisions on their own terms in order to accomplish their goals.
I can’t admire a brand of feminism which sees a woman hard at work, accomplishing all the things so many of us have been told are out of our reach, and refuses to acknowledge her for it until she agrees to become a postergirl for the cause.
The kind of feminism that I admire, and the kind of feminism that we need, can take its hat off to successful women merely for the sake of seeing a fellow woman succeed – no strings attached.
‘Leftsplaining Feminism to Bishop Misses the Point’ by Paula Mathewson, originally posted on the ABC’s Drum.