Tuesday, 18 December 2018

STEMinist – The Female Engineer Syndrome

A few months into joining my current company, I got pranked by my work friends with a USB stick that controlled my cursor, making me accidentally archive/delete emails, type words within words, and discard drafts. This prank had been making the rounds since before my time, and everyone had had a different reaction to it; some called IT immediately, while others smelt a rat and found the culprit. My choice of reaction was to spend two whole days updating mouse firmware, rebooting, reinstalling Outlook – basically to try to find what I believed was a genuine problem in my computer on my own – until I finally gave in and called IT. The colleague who pranked me (a friend of mine) christened it the Female Engineer Syndrome.

Image 1 by Sara Alfageeh @TheFoofinator / http://sara-alfa.com/

The Female Engineer Syndrome is, at times, a by-product of the Imposter Syndrome (self-doubt of abilities in one’s own field of expertise), and at other times it is a reaction to others showing doubt in your abilities. At all times it’s a form of defense. 
Female Engineer Syndrome: A constant need to prove yourself to either yourself or others that you are a capable engineer, often leading to overcompensating by trying to do everything yourself in a bid to be aggressively independent. 

I’m certain this applies to female professionals in many other fields of work as well, particularly in industries that are male-dominated. In situations where an “I don’t know” would be perfectly acceptable, women suffering from this syndrome will spend personal time to research the ins and outs to know so that they never have to be caught not knowing again.
This tendency is not to be confused by the general need to know everything. There are plenty of people who strive to learn new things in their industry and like to stay on top of things. This inclination stems from having faced bias for being part of a minority in an industry. It traces its roots back to being treated unfavorably by professors and classmates, not getting picked for class projects, being mansplained to at every opportunity, and being judged by one’s looks and physical attributes rather than talent. Coming out of a college education full of partialities, women typically either lose confidence in themselves and develop the Imposter Syndrome or become fiercely competitive and unwilling to be caught off-guard by peers (male or female). The consequence of both directions, however, is the same: a propensity to overcompensate.

I suspect that there is a there is a broader category of women in such situations – women who defend their engineering skills to feel validated by the male population as a capable colleague. While it is hard to even talk about, many women have grown up being taught that male endorsement is a sign of success. It makes perfect sense if you think about the fact that most industry leaders are male. In fields that are male-dominated, one may want her father’s approval much more than her mother’s. The male scientists are celebrated, the male innovators are awarded –many aspiring girls grew before the days of Googling illustrious female physicists to have a more relatable figure to look up to. I spent years shopping for smart suits for professional settings rather than the skirts and dresses I was attracted to because I wanted to be taken seriously. The result is more than evident in the masculine, tough-looking female bosses who have been alone in male-dominated fields since the 80s.

The easiest way to slowly get rid of this is to have better female representation in male-dominated fields, and to expose our girls to the same world full of opportunities that we give to boys. As an Indian, I’m so proud to see such a massive number of girls from my country contributing to the rising number of women in STEM around the world. I wish nothing more than to see more of that everywhere.

There is nothing wrong with trying to be the best at what you do. But speaking from experience, it’s a lot of pressure that maybe I don’t always need to feel. Being the only girl in my class and most work teams hasn’t been a smooth ride. I find it naturally easier to befriend men a lot easier than women, most often because of my interests and hobbies, but because of that, everything was always a scramble for me to be considered a part of the competition by my peers. While I enjoy the ability to push myself to do better, I now realize that I often forget to calm down and accept my shortcomings, and everybody has those.

So, to all the women who are either pushing their limits or feeling short, my personal advice is to treat yourself as you would like others to treat you – equally. Accept your inadequacies, embrace your flaws and introspect on your strengths. No one human being can be everything – it is not expected of men, so do not expect it of yourself or the women around you. Be comfortable in the niche you bring to your industry. But most importantly, be unapologetically proud of who you are and your contribution to society as a whole.

By: Shreyasi Mukerji

Tuesday, 11 December 2018

Gender Reveal Parties: Prescriptive gender identity through public ritual and display

Gender reveal parties are the latest celebration for expecting parents,  increasingly visible on all forms of social media.  If you type ‘gender reveal party’ into Youtube, you will be inundated with videos of expecting parents announcing the sex of their unborn child to the world. Parents-to-be announce the gender of their child, based on the sex of the child provided by a medical assessment by doctors between the 16th and 20th week of gestation. Similar to their well known analogue the baby shower, these events routinely employ stereotypical representations of gender to indicate the child’s sex. Typical symbols include pink, princess themes for girls and blue, cowboy decorations for boys. Gender reveal parties often employ dramatic techniques to reveal the unborn child’s sex, such as fireworks or the release of confetti or balloons. The once private moment for expecting parents has transformed into a public display, with these parties inextricably linked to social media. Critics state gender reveal parties ascribe gender to an unborn child based merely on their anatomy and place an unhealthy  focus  on gender norms and stereotypical representations of femininity and masculinity. Social rituals, such as gender reveal parties, emphasise the commodification of reproduction and the pressure on women to fulfill social expectations of motherhood. 
The distinction between sex and gender has become confused with the ritual of gender reveal parties. Gender refers to social roles and personal identity, whereas sex is based on an individual’s biology and anatomy. Expecting parents are actually revealing the medically assigned sex of their unborn child, based on sexual characteristics assessed by medical professionals. In respect to both sex and gender, gender reveal parties enforce a binary of male or female and masculine or feminine. In this way, this social ritual excludes individuals who do not neatly fit into these categories, including 4% of births that result in intersex children. An exclusive focus on binary gender categories also prescribes gender roles to children on the basis of an assumed biological characteristics. Prescriptive gender roles and stereotyping has been linked to poor health outcomes in children, but the long term effects of gender reveal parties on pediatric health are still unknown.

The commodification of identity and gender is nothing new, but gender reveal parties provide a new opportunity for the market to exploit consumers.  The combination of social media influence and the power of social ritual, places increasing pressure on expecting parents to conform and participate in the trend of gender reveal parties. Parents-to-be are increasingly searching for new and innovative ways to reveal their child’s sex to others, and this leads to dramatic and sometimes dangerous displays. In November 2018, the US Forestry commission released video of a gender reveal party that went too far. An explosion was used to indicate the child’s sex with blue smoke, but almost immediately the explosion blew sparks into grasslands, sparking wildfires in Arizona, USA (see: https://edition.cnn.com/videos/us/2018/11/27/arizona-gender-reveal-wildfire-orig-video.cnn). Closer to home, an Adelaide couple is facing backlash after their burnout gender reveal caused their car to light on fire (see: https://au.news.yahoo. com/burnout-gender-reveal-fail-car-goes-flames-110407938.html)
Gender reveal parties further entrench social norms around reproduction, and place value on women based on their reproductive status. Feminist literature has highlighted the historical tendency of women to be socially valued on the basis of their reproductive ability or status, and women are often exalted during pregnancy and motherhood. These social norms are intertwined with female gender roles that are associated with the home and motherhood, and historically restricted women’s status to caregivers. Despite the female revolution into the workplace, many women are still plagued by social expectations of reproduction and the provision of care. Gender reveal parties promote fertility and pregnancy, and reinforce these as rites of passage for women through social ritual. The use of social media reinforces gender reveal parties as a social norm by encouraging parents to participate, further entrenching gender roles socially.
The increasing popularity of gender reveal parties highlight the centrality of gender and its cultural role as the foundation for understanding individual identity. To feminists, however, gender reveal parties present many challenges and may leave many of us feeling uncomfortable. We may cringe at the pink and blue stereotypes and question the gender roles parents assign to their unborn child. They are however an important reminder of how far we have yet to progress, and how prescriptive gender norms and stereotypes influence children long before they are born. Pediatricians have raised concerns about the long term effects of gender stereotypes on children, yet gender reveal parties are encouraging parents to publicly gender their children as early as the 16th week of pregnancy. Many expecting parents are merely excited about the arrival of their child and may be looking for an interesting way to share this experience with family and friends. It is important to consider, though, the cultural ideas, norms and values we promote, particularly those we impose on our children. 

By: Irene Squires

Butler, J (1990) ‘Gender trouble’, Routledge
Giesler, C (1997), ‘Gender reveal parties: performing community identity in pink and blue’, Journal of Gender Studies, Vol. 26 (6), April 2018, pp. 661-667
Gomez, M (2018), ‘Border patrol agents gender reveal party sparked Arizona wildfire, lawyer says’, The New York Times, October 2, 2018
Miller, C (2018), ‘Gender reveal parties place great expectation on a person who isn’t event born yet’, UWIRE, May 2018
Nahata, L. (2017), ‘The gender eeveal: Implications of a cultural tradition for pediatric health’, Pediatrics.
Pasche-Guignard, F (2015), ‘A gendered bun in the oven: the gender reveal party as new ritualization during pregnancy’, Studies in Religion/Sciences Religieuses, Vol. 44 (4), pp. 479-500

Tuesday, 4 December 2018

Book Review: The Feminine Revolution

Now more than ever, the need to discuss traits traditionally considered feminine, is paramount. Luckily for us, Amy Stanton and Catherine Connors have opened up the dialogue in a strong and welcoming way. ‘The Feminine Revolution’, serves as a great introductory text for anybody looking to learn more about gender theory and how these archetypal feminine traits came to be.

Framed around 21 core traits that any female should embrace, ‘The Feminine Revolution’ celebrates female modes of being which include, but are not limited to: crying openly, being a dreamer and unleashing your wild woman. This piece of literature can be commended for a multitude of reasons but ‘The Feminine Revolution’ should primarily be celebrated for its unapologetic stance for acknowledging a wide range of ways to express feminine power.

Stanton’s and Connor’s book is a great example of a passion project gone right. By making the point to ensure that the concepts discussed within this book are coupled with actionable steps, via How-To Guides, and personal anecdotes, ‘The Feminine Revolution’ makes the point to ensure that their message is universally accessible. It’s ability to provide all who are willing to listen with a seat at the table is a great trait and it is one that should be congratulated.

However, this collaborative effort is not without some faults. While this piece of literature is great at connecting with individuals who are not well-versed in gender theories or gender studies, ‘The Feminine Revolution’ does run the risk of coming off as a tad too basic for those who commonly engage with these schools of  thought. So, for those of who tend to engage with texts regarding gender studies and feminist works more often, you may feel yourself feeling little unchallenged.

But that’s okay! This work ultimately comes off as a book that was written to be a positive affirmation which urges humanity to embrace the feminine traits that society has pigeon-holed for far too long. It is because of this ‘The Feminine Revolution’s’ accessible nature is an overall positive. Knowing that this book includes an extensive list of recommended further readings such as ‘Bad Feminist’ by Roxane Gay and ‘Gender Trouble’ by Judith Butler, it can be fair to imply that this book is intended as a springboard for any new or prospective feminists.

When deep-diving into the content written within the book, the chapter that tended to leave the most lasting impression was the chapter titled ‘Cry Openly’. In a time where this reviewer needed it most, that chapter in particular resonated with me and helped me find acceptance within myself. Being known as a crier myself, it was quite liberating to read that other women felt equally as challenged by the rhetoric surrounding the suppression of tears within a professional environment.

Through anecdotal stories and tidbits of philosophical thought from varying influential figures, the notion of crying being tethered to a lack of comprehension or weakness is rightfully obliterated. When these nuggets of wisdom, stemming from professionals including Ad Vingerhoets and Dr William Frey, are coupled with an unapologetic and actionable How-To guide to openly embrace your emotions, this chapter joyfully plays with the utopian vision of a society where expressions can roam free. In a world where society equates tears to weakness and ultimately sees tears as a stranglehold on success, the chapter openly celebrating womanly sensitivities and emotions as a Godsend.

Another chapter that left a long-lasting resonance was the one that dealt with the notion of ‘Embracing the Supporting Role’. While I feel like this chapter may come off as somewhat problematic at first glance, once engaging with it fully those preconceived notions quickly subsided. Upon closer analysis, this section within Stanton and Connors works really and illustrates just how much thought and affection went into the crafting of this novel. By carefully deconstructing the notion that the only place for power is atop the pyramid and by illustrating that true power can be wielded at any point in the hierarchy, this novel aims to provide power through acceptance, peace and gentle ambition. By blending conversational language with graspable examples such as The Prince and his counsel (to demonstrate where true power lies), ‘The Feminine Revolution’ provides a positive starting ground for anybody wanting to embrace their feminine side.

Ultimately, ‘The Feminine Revolution’, serves as a great starting point for any readers out there with a curiosity to learn more about what traditionally qualifies as a feminine trait. It also lays the groundwork for anybody wishing to break out of the boundaries of what is traditionally considered male or female. By openly encouraging feminine traits such as intuition and sensitivity, Stanton and Connors take great strides in reclaiming these attributes and, rightfully, renaming them as a positive. This work by Stanton and Connors is one that I can see young women picking up after a tough day in high-school when in need of guidance. It is the kind of novel that I can see becoming a source of wisdom for those of us who occasionally fail to appreciate our feminine traits. If personified, I see this book like an old friend who is always willing to grab a cup of coffee with you and celebrate your greatness.

By: Liliana Occhiuto

"The Feminine Revolution: 21 Ways to Ignite the Power of Your Femininity for a Brighter Life and a Better World" was published in November 2018 and is available to buy online.

Friday, 30 November 2018

STEMinist – Sexism in the Workplace

13 years ago, as I prepared for college, my father (a mechanical engineer himself) warned me that mechanical engineering won’t be easy, that I would be working out in the field and getting tan, not the most desirable look for a good Asian woman, and I pish-poshed – silently, as would a good Asian woman – because that is precisely where I wanted to see myself in a few years’ time. What he meant is that I would be overlooked, second-guessed, objectified, undermined, spoken over, spoken about like I’m not right there, maybe even underpaid, and explicitly told at some point in my career that I was surely a “diversity hire.” 

Being in a field of work that is infamously rampant with toxic masculinity isn’t the only reason he was right. Women struggle on a daily basis to be considered as qualified as men in every field. The gender pay gap is a commonly quoted example of this. Based on the Workplace Gender Equality Agency under the Australian government, statistics from gender pay gap data collected as of August 2018 show that the national full-time gender pay gap is around 14.6%. This means women, on average, earn about $245 per week less than men. The graph below represents the fluctuation of the national pay gap over the last 20 years.

The agency goes on to show pay gaps by industry over the last year. Financial services, health care, STEM fields and arts show the highest pay gaps, ranging from 20 to 30% gap in pay. At the managerial level, women earn close to $90,000 less than men. The idea is that the higher the amount of technical qualifications asked of the employee, the higher the pay gap tends to be. In other words, women are trusted even less with work that demands expertise in each industry. So at this point, we aren’t talking about female representation lacking due to various societal pressures or predispositions. We’re talking about mistreating existing, qualified professionals. We’re explicitly talking about sexism.

In light of the #MeToo movement, companies have become more diligent about dealing with situations such as sexual harassment, which is good news for women in the workplace, although there is still a long way to go with that. Additionally, governments are becoming more conscious and diligent about trying to close the pay gap, which explains why gender pay gap in the public sector has steadily decreased and is, therefore, significantly higher in the private sector. Laws against sexual discrimination have improved over the years, and now include protection against discrimination during pregnancy and breastfeeding. Progress has definitely been made.

But overt sexism is easy to spot. It may be easy to find and stand up against unequal pay or sexual harassment, but most women will tell you that it’s the microaggressions that go unchecked. The one woman in a team of men will be the official card writer for birthdays, or the one organizing team lunches. The female designer will be given supportive projects while her male peers get the major assignments. An engineer is told to ‘smile’ while she is working. These are all personal anecdotes from my career or from those of female professionals around me. Recently, a supervisor emailed my male colleague about getting this one job on the factory floor done for me. While these examples sound reasonably benign, this behaviour is a major indication of women not being taken seriously in their careers. While this is a massive issue that roots all the way back to upbringing and cues from society, the question is, what do we do about it right now?

I believe that the foremost reason that elusive sexism at the workplace is allowed to go on is due to the fact that many women are desensitized to microaggressions and consider it a battle worth dropping in favor of bigger ones. The first step of solving a problem is identifying that there is one – and making those who don’t see it aware of it. One of the amazing things about the #MeToo movement was that so many men were completely blindsided by what constitutes ‘abuse’, and how common it was for women. So for those who haven’t faced it, it would be difficult for them to understand subtle sexism in the workplace unless we point it out as unprofessional behavior. Speak up at work; talk to your manager. Stop starting to share your opinion with an apology. Confront the aggressor directly. Take on and escalate people and situations that challenge your professional abilities. Ask for better projects. Say no if needed. Treat yourself as you would like your colleagues to treat you.

Lastly, but most importantly, educate yourself on laws that protect you from sexual prejudice at work. The Sex Discrimination Act 1984 protects you from discrimination in various scenarios. Read more about it at https://www.humanrights.gov.au/employers/good-practice-good-business-factsheets/sex-discrimination

By: Shreyasi Mukerji

Tuesday, 27 November 2018

Not All Men. But More Than Enough

If you've spent enough time in feminist circles and enough time engaging with allies, you are practically guaranteed to have heard the term "not all men!" If you had an automatic eye-roll reaction, I'll understand, and if not I'll explain. It's the sentiment consistently expressed by men in the face of stories about problematic male behaviour. Not all men, they will say. Not all men are rapists. Not all men are misogynists. Not all men are violent. All of these sentiments are true. But the expression itself is toxic - and I for one will no longer engage with anyone who employs this diversionary tactic any longer.

The reason is simple: it's not rhetoric that signals someone is a legitimate ally, it's a logical fallacy designed to derail an important conversation back to a topic they feel is more deserving - namely, men's problems. You might remember something similar in the #alllivesmatter response to the Black Lives Matter movement. There it was designed to accomplish the same thing - to divert attention away from a serious issue in order to accommodate the feelings of those who have no skin in the game. The men who descend like a swarm of flies on any feminist post simply to decry "but not all men!" are neither the victim nor the perpetrator in these scenarios - so what is it they'd like to accomplish by derailing the conversation?

I will address the rest of this essay to men. If you'd like to be an ally, listen and listen closely: we as women should not have to take the time out of our lives to pat you on the back for behaving like a decent human being. Indeed, it's alarming to suggest that the only reason you might have for behaving decently is the external validation it garners you. Rather, in an ideal world, if you read a headline, as you very well might, taking about the fact that 1 in 5 women have experienced sexual violence from men by the age of 15, or that 1 in 2 women has experienced sexual harassment at the hands of men during her lifetime, or that one woman on average a week is murdered by her current or former partner, you should not take that as an opportunity to let everyone know that you, as a man, have never murdered or harassed everyone. Literally no one is saying that you did - and taking issue with the phrasing of what is a statistically true sentence is a disingenuous act of derailing that needs to be stopped in its tracks, each and every time it's encountered.

The simple statement that men, as a collective, need to change, persecutes no one - and if you feel personally attacked by that statement, and aren't capable of understanding that if it doesn't apply to you, we are not talking to or about you, then you and your tone-policing, disingenuous rhetoric are no longer welcome at the debate table. So instead, let me just tell you what I do when I'm faced with a similar situation.

Recently, I came across an article in The Atlantic that was about the concept that, as the headline put it, "Women prefer male bosses." This sentiment doesn't reflect my lived experience - I've had both female and male bosses and tend to prefer the former. But here's what I didn't do: I didn't run to the comment section of the article to get belligerent and angry and bleat about how that wasn't true for all women. Instead, I acted like a reasonable adult and recognised that The Atlantic was employing a collective use of the word "women", which obviously applied to a large enough group to warrant the label statistically, acknowledged that it didn't apply to me, and just... Carried on with my day. Astonishing, I know!

When pondering this issue, Margaret Atwood's famous quote comes to mind: "Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid men will kill them." That's what all this really comes down to. Women's lives, versus men's feelings. It is a statistical fact that the overwhelming amount of sexual assaults and homicides are committed by men. No one is saying that all men are murderers. What we are saying is that it is an identifiable fact that most murderers are men and that this is a very legitimate issue affecting the lives of women, not only in Australia but around the globe. If men have a problem with that statistic, why don't they use that anger and hostility and direct it towards the perpetrating men giving the rest of them a bad name, instead of, once again, directing it back towards women?

There's a very good reason why - because it's not really about the problem at all. Rather it's the sort of creeping alarm about the changing status quo that indicates men's anxiety about having to make room for women's stories. When you're accustomed to privilege, equality feels a lot like persecution - which is perhaps where the #notallmen victim complex originates. Join me in refusing to engage with these logical fallacies - because it is not all men. But it is more than enough.

By: Siri Williams

Friday, 23 November 2018

Tales of a Former “Edge Lord”, or, “I Went to Anti-Feminism and All I Got Was This Crappy T-Shirt”

It feels like a lifetime ago that I was supporting my best friend in leaving an abusive relationship.  It had honestly never occurred to me that the battle would begin after she had moved out. I should clarify, though, that she was the abuser, and he was the abused.

Prior to that point, my feminism had already been waning. A lot of it had to do with the fact that I had been misinformed in my feminism from the start, to the point where my beliefs and actions had begun to feel quite extremist. There was another part, though, that was rooted in the fact that my male friends had started to consider me a sort of safe space, and an overwhelming number of them had been approaching me to describe relationship situations that were causing them significant harm. With these revelations, I became more and more disillusioned with what it meant to be a feminist. I started to notice the way domestic violence helplines were gendered, so that the only helplines targeted to men had already assumed their only role was the abuser. White Ribbon Day popped up again, and I was suddenly acutely aware of how specifically men’s violence against women was being given the spotlight, but nobody seemed to be offering a safe space or awareness platform for men in a similar situation.

The real nail in the coffin came, though, when my best friend returned from an appointment with a therapist that I had requested he see, feeling uncomfortable and entirely invalidated. He had tried to discuss his circumstances with this woman, and she actually responded to him with the following:

        Why didn’t you leave? What was in this relationship for you?
        I find it interesting that you feel like you were abused. Men aren’t victims of abuse. (Apparently being raped and told that you were going to be murdered in your sleep is an everyday relationship activity, nothing to be too concerned about.)

As you can imagine, this was…not the kind of thing one wishes to hear when seeking help. And it was this exact thing that led me to spend a great deal of time on men’s rights forums, and eventually establishing myself as a member of an anti-feminist community. Yep, even bought the Meninist t-shirt.
(I know you can only see the top of it, but it’s very obviously there. Oh past me, what were you doing?!)

I spent a couple of years in this community, engaging in what I thought was debate (that really turned out to be a massive circle jerk), and what I took away from it ended up very significantly informing the feminism I would later find my way back to. For the most part, I never considered myself, or the people I surrounded myself with, to be hateful. They were – for the most part - intelligent, kind, and compassionate human beings that were legitimately concerned with gender equality, but who did not want the “Feminist” label forced upon them and wanted to explore what this meant on their own terms.

What I thought I might try to address are some common criticisms and misunderstandings, and where these disconnects are coming from.

Misconception: “I don’t disagree with Feminism overall, but ‘modern’ feminism misses the point, and is ultimately socially damaging.”

Part of the issue here rests in the fact that Feminism does not align itself under a single, clear, and recognisable goal. Let’s be frank, it never has, but the beauty of hindsight is that all of the achievements made by Feminists in the past appear to have been as a result of specific and targeted resistance. Being in the thick of things as we are now means that these outcomes are yet to be determined, and as such, cannot be sourced as a means to “validate” what feminism aims to achieve.

The other part of the issue is that the description of Feminism as something that happens in waves is deeply flawed, and assumes that Feminism only pops its head up when certain issues become pressing and in need of attention. The reality is that Feminism has existed as a consistent social undercurrent for a very long time, and the peaks of these supposed “waves” are, again, outcomes that can only really be viewed in hindsight.

Misconception: “But the battle has already been won! Feminism isn’t relevant anymore, and at this point is only around to suck the fun out of everything.”

Typically, this boils down to not only not understanding the issues Feminists are addressing, but also not being aware of the fact that these issues

  1. have always been part of what Feminists have been rebelling against
  2. are still very real issues, but are typically expressed in way more insidious ways as a result of laws passed to combat these issues.

Being able to address these issues in a way that is not necessarily rooted in personal anecdote and is widely observable can actually go a long way towards communicating the ongoing relevance of Feminism. Personally, I would LOVE for Feminism to no longer be relevant. Nothing would give me more pleasure than being able to kick back and see that the fight is over. Sadly, I don’t foresee this being a reality within my lifetime.

As for Feminists “sucking the fun out of everything” or “not being able to take a joke”…well…unfortunately a lot of people who whine about society becoming “more P.C.” don’t tend to understand that the people that constituted the butt of these particular jokes were mostly being polite when they laughed along, and never really found it funny. It’s best to give these people the tried and true Greta Garbo blank and move on.

Image Source: http://nosmokingintheskullcave.blogspot.com/2006/11/great-movie-icons-greta-garbo.html

Misconception: “Feminists just want to play the victim.”
Female edition: “I don’t consider myself a victim, therefore Feminism doesn’t apply to me.”

This particular misconception is one of the most disheartening of the bunch, as it speaks to the way in which women’s very real problems are consistently devalued. Often, within the anti-feminist community, what constitutes victimhood tends to be rooted in one of two things:

  1. A general lack of belief that what women are revolting against are actual prevalent social issues, or that the real issue lies in a woman’s approach to her own trauma, essentially meaning that “victimhood” is a choice;
  2. The stand-out examples are often either sourced from feminists who are not as well versed in feminist theory and aren’t able to articulate themselves as well as they will be able to one day, or are pulled from highly sensationalised examples – often from college campuses – of students protesting gender issues and seeking to carve out safe spaces for themselves. (What a safe space represents to an anti-feminist is in itself an issue, and is more likely than not a problem that stems from a distinct lack of empathy, but can also arise from just not fully understanding the purpose of such a space,)

As far as anti-feminist women are concerned, a lot of this argument comes from a reasonably legitimate fear that being identified as a victim has the potential to undermine their strength or their achievements. This is a difficult thought pattern to break, and certainly isn’t helped by the ongoing perception of high profile Feminists as “professional victims”.

Misconception: “But you’re referring to men so generally, and I, a man, have never done these things, therefore Feminism is garbage.”

Apparently the same people who would refer to Feminists generally with no consideration of nuance don’t apply this same logic to themselves. Personally, I have a saved (and reasonably detailed) script that I send to people that argue “not all men”, because the required answer is almost always something that can be cut-and-paste with no alteration, but it’s really up to you if you can be bothered with this. I will say that providing a sufficient answer to this particular complaint can actually go a long way in maintaining the attention of someone offering their criticism of Feminist discourse, but I also understand that not everyone can be arsed explaining something that really should not require such an explanation.

Misconception: “Feminists don’t do anything to support men.”
Bonus Round: “Toxic Masculinity is really just another way to say ‘everything it means to be a man is bad.’”

I’ve saved this one for last, because it’s soooooo mind-numbingly common, and is really the basis for the majority of anti-feminist arguments.

For some reason, a movement designed to bolster women’s status by campaigning for gender equality is supposed to simultaneously coddle and boost men’s sense of self-worth. There’s no denying that the advent of Feminism has had the side effect of men’s primary social roles becoming displaced and unnecessary, and there hasn’t really been a significant movement that aided men in finding where they belong socially, and that empowered them to establish a new role for themselves now that they are no longer able to reasonably fit the role of “provider”. This has resulted in a visible backlash against moves to empower women, and as more and more historically male roles are now being shared across the genders, men are more or less being left stagnate.

That’s not to say that Feminism is wrong in its ambitions, as it’s certainly not. I’ve made this point to illustrate that there is a sense that men are being rendered unnecessary, which I’m sure you can imagine might be a little bit scary for them.

Compounding this, the components of the Feminist movement that have been developed to empower men in tandem with women’s empowerment are largely misunderstood. One such concept is that of Toxic Masculinity, which seeks to address and hopefully remedy the unfair expectations placed on men by pointing out aspects of traditional masculinity that might be damaging to men. In theory, this should address a number of issues experienced by men, including (but not limited to):

        High male suicide rates
        Poor treatment of men’s health (both physical and mental)
        Men’s unwillingness to speak up against sexual, physical, and emotional violence perpetrated against them

Where this falls apart is twofold. Not only is what Toxic Masculinity represents often poorly communicated, like much of the language fairly specific to Feminists, it’s also inaccessible to anyone that isn’t deeply familiar with Feminist theory. (Patriarchy also suffers from this inaccessibility, as anyone who has ever tried to explain Patriarchy to someone that has had limited-to-no exposure to Feminist theory will no doubt understand.)

What is often lost on people who make arguments of this nature is that not only do many Feminists absolutely give a shit about things that happen to men (you know, not being man-hating harpies and all), but often they are also big contributors to men’s causes. Unfortunately this does not quite fit the “Feminists just want to establish a matriarchy” narrative, so anti-feminists don’t tend to entertain the notion that this might be the case. Not much that can be done for wilful ignorance, I’m afraid.

There are ways in which Feminists do contribute to these misunderstandings, despite how understandable this might be. For one, after continuously beating your head into a wall trying to explain why Feminism is still relevant, it can be taxing to be placed in the position where you have to police your words, or educate someone on concepts they either don’t (or don’t want to) understand, or just plain bare your damn soul in an attempt to explain why Feminism matters to you.

On top of this, a lot of Feminist push back tends to be quite aggressive, and to someone who is of the mind that they have only asked a simple and reasonable question, the anger wrapped up in the response provided can be quite jarring. I’m not suggesting we sit down and be nice about what we have to say. Fuck no! We’ve been doing that for centuries. But I am saying that regularly engaging in self-care might address a lot of the burnout that accompanies ongoing participating in Feminist discussions, leaving you more capable of enduring these discussions. I would also recommend keeping notes on your phone that address and explain common points. I promise you, easy scripts make these discussions way less draining than constantly having to start from scratch.

Unfortunately, people outside of Feminism don’t seem to understand that the reason these issues are so tangled into our emotions is the fact that these issues comprise our personal, every day realities. Of course we’re upset/pissed off/worn out! We’re damn tired of having to explain to people that we are deserving of respect and equality, when such things should be a given.

So, how did I find my way back to Feminism?

Well, there’s no easy answer to that question. To some extent, Milo Yiannopoulos had something to do with it. Watching him “tear down Feminists” while not actually addressing their concerns made me realise that a lot of anti-feminists were doing much of the same. More to the point, this damaging, purposely contrary figure was actually being held up as a sort of icon within the community, and I found that more disturbing than I care to explain.

The realisation that every time I engaged with a Feminist in discussion of Feminist issues resulted in me constantly selling myself out as a woman, disregarding my own concerns and mistreatment, really drove me to explore what it was Feminism was fighting for. I started reading Feminist texts and writings, making a mockery of them as I engaged with other members of the anti-feminist community, but more and more it dawned on me that I agreed with the majority of the points being raised, and could not in good conscience continue to rip it to shreds. Instead, I allowed myself to absorb it, and forced myself to become better informed than I had been previously.

In addition to this, a girl I got along with that had been in the anti-feminist community as long as I had announced that she considered herself a Feminist after private, comprehensive research. Prior to this, I had honestly believed that this community did respect women, and did respect me, but the response to her admission was just so sexist and violent that I couldn’t view any of the people that I had considered “my people” in the same light. What she experienced really opened my eyes to the fact that these people did not care about me, the person, rather, they cared about me only as much as they could point to me and say: “See! Even women think Feminism is garbage!” I only mattered to these people to the extent that I was willing to degrade myself and deny the injustices I was becoming increasingly aware of. I couldn’t lie to myself that way anymore, and more to the point, I no longer felt safe around a lot of these people.

Finally, I no longer wanted to associate myself with a political statement that didn’t actually stand for anything. The fact is, anti-feminism doesn’t have any clear goals of its own. It has no platform on which it rests, and doesn’t seek to achieve a damn thing. While so many people that consider themselves anti-feminists are actually decent, kind, and compassionate beings (I’d like to think that my existence stands in testament to that), anti-feminism as a concept exists only to tear something else down. I’ve heard people refer to it as a movement, but in truth, I disagree. It’s not trying to enact change, it seeks only to perpetuate hatred against a legitimate movement that DOES want to work towards change, and DOES take steps to realise this change.  I don’t know about you, but I’d much rather spend my life fighting for the things I believe in and pushing to make the world better, than trying to destroy the people who do this.

By: Roxie Gray

Tuesday, 20 November 2018

Forgotten Femmes - The Great Women in Australian Art

The common rhetoric blasted across our societal landscape is “The future is female”, but what if the past already was?

When you think about the art world, across a myriad of artistic movements, the main majority of modern artists were men. Whether it’s Duchamp, Matisse, Picasso, Dali, Warhol or Da Vinci himself, it’s clear that the mainstream rhetoric alludes to the masters of the art world’s past being predominantly male. Yes, there are the few outliers such as Frida Kahlo, Marina Abramovic who have managed to make a name for themselves over time but they tend to be the exceptions.

For every master of the art world, there is more than likely a female equivalent working within the same time period who is creating equally as innovative work yet has managed to go practically unnoticed as time has gone on. One classic example includes the previously neglected works of the Swedish artist known as Hilma af Klint. Klint was an abstract painter who was creating paintings within this visual style long before Wassily Kandinsky came into prominence in the 40’s. With her works now finally getting recognition, as seen with the recent exhibition in the Guggenheim, it is clear to see that the tide is finally beginning to change.

So, to further celebrate the works of powerful women artists, we at The Sydney Feminists have decided to shift the focus onto some of Australia’s finest female artists. Inspired by Zing Tsjeng’s ‘Forgotten Women: The Artists’ (2018), we’ve developed a thorough and comprehensive guide honouring some of the great Australian female figures who helped shape the art world. By placing a feminist lens on this revisionary approach, we’re doing our bit to help give these underappreciated visual artists the accolades that they deserve.

  1. Emily Kame Kngwarreye
The first Australian artist featured on this list is the Emily Kame Kngwarreye, a major figurehead within the Australian art world. Despite having no strong knowledge of the art world prior to her brief, but brilliant, eight-year art career, Kngwarreye’s unrivalled artistic skill allowed her to thrive until her death at the age of 86. Best known for her works including “Alhalker” (1992), ‘Awelye’ (1994) and ‘Emu Woman’ (1988-1989), Kngwarreye was celebrated for meticulous touch, distinctive brushwork and striking compositions. By creating over 3,000 works within her artistic career, Kngwarreye established herself as an accomplished artist who positively impacted the art community within her hometown, Utopia. At present, Kngwarreye’s artwork titled ‘Earth’s Creation’ (1994) has been reported to have been purchased for $2.1 million AUD. Her legacy continues to inspire artists both in Utopia and beyond.

Earth's Creation (1994)

 2.  Dahl Collings
Dahl Collings is an exceptional artist, heavily influenced by the Bauhaus movement, whose impact on the Australian landscape must be celebrated. Known for a variety of artistic talents including graphic design, painter, photographer, filmmaker and commercial artist, this multidisciplinary artist has impacted the Australian landscape by blasting through the Australian visual trends of the 1930’s through the establishment of The Design Centre in 1938. Working with her husband, Geoffrey, Collings, she sought to introduce then modern art and design principles, such as Bauhaus, to the Australian Design industry. [2] 

This modernist style can be seen in Collings’ commercial and non-commercial artistic pieces. These principles can be seen in her designs for magazines such as ‘The Home.’ The sample below was created in 1940.  

Image Source: The Home (1940) https://collection.maas.museum/object/135087 

When looking at paintings such as ‘Textile Design’ (1950-1953), it is clear to see Bauhaus elements were sound influences throughout her works.

Image Source: https://collection.maas.museum/object/123667

Collings ability to work on both personal and corporate projects harmoniously has paved the way for artists to be true to themselves while also supporting themselves financially with their craft. With works ranging from abstract paintings such as this piece [4] to award-winning films such as The Dreaming’ (1964)[5], Collings proved herself a prominent multi-disciplinary artist who visually shaped the Australian landscape through education and artistic creation.

  1. Davida Allen
Davida Allen, a painter best known for her Archibald Prize win in 1986, is praised for her expressionistic brushwork that celebrates the emotions that come with motherhood. Allen’s influence stems from her ability to depict the range of emotions and experiences that come with family life. With textured, vibrant and heavily emotive paintings, Allen illustrates emotions ranging from tension to joy to turmoil throughout her impressive body of work. This mother, teacher and artist is best known for her painting titled Dr John Arthur McKelvie Shera’ (1986)[6].

With a painting career spanning over four decades, Allen has had the time to refine her expressionist style as she continues to create works addressing her role within her life with her family. As Allen transitions from mother to grandmother, she finds her new works such as ‘Hoping the donkey will take the carrots’ (2017) centering on the love and excitement and the small things that children do."[7]  Allen’s example has shown that it is possible for Australian females to have a lucrative art career well into motherhood and beyond and for that, she should be celebrated.

While these are some exceptional examples of influential Australian female artists, it is important to ensure that awareness within the Australian landscape goes beyond online articles. As it stands, in Australia 40% of artists represented in commercial galleries are female despite the fact that 75% of art degrees are obtained by women. When this is coupled with the recent findings that women earn approximately 81c to the $1 of male artists, it is clear to see that more needs to be done to validate the place of these talented female visionaries. [8] 

By supporting organisations such as The National Museum of Women in the Arts (https://nmwa.org) or the Art + Feminism Movement (artandfeminism.org), you can help do your bit to improve female representation within the art world. To have direct impacts on your local art scene you can show your support for exhibitions and non-profit art spaces striving for gender parity or, if you’re an artist, try and start an artist-run initiative and strive for change by organising your own event. Improve accessibility to the art world by doing your part to fight for equal representation among genders now.

By: Liliana Occhiuto


[2] https://www.daao.org.au/bio/dahl-collings/biography/

[2] https://www.agda.com.au/inspiration/hall-of-fame/geoffrey-(1905-2000)-and-dahl-(1909-1988)-collings/

[2] https://www.artrecord.com/index.cfm/artist/2446-collings-dahl/

[2] https://recollection.com.au/biographies/dahl-collings

[2] https://collection.maas.museum/object/123667

[4] https://collection.maas.museum/object/361960?utm_source=api&utm_medium=api&utm_campaign=71fc9826acb0491

[5] https://www.daao.org.au/bio/dahl-collings/biography/

[6] https://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-05-14/archibald-winner-davida-allen-art-on-show-in-brisbane/9742364

[6] https://www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au/prizes/archibald/1986/14517/

[6] https://www.cbusartcollection.com.au/artists/?id=1

[7] https://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-05-14/archibald-winner-davida-allen-art-on-show-in-brisbane/9742364

[8] https://nmwa.org/advocate/get-facts

[8] https://news.artnet.com/market/artnet-news-100-most-collectible-artists-717251

[8] https://www.ninedotarts.com/gender-in-the-art-world-a-look-at-the-numbers/

[8] https://www.guerrillagirls.com/

[8] https://nmwa.org/sites/default/files/shared/getthefacts_master-statistics_5womenartists.pdf

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