INTERNATIONAL WOMEN'S DAY: Virginia Haussegger's opinion

Virginia Haussegger
Virginia Haussegger

Are you done with women yet? Sick of hearing about them?

I can't glance at my media feed, or scan a news website without the ''women thing'' wagging a vindictive finger. A preoccupation with women’s issues is jamming the airwaves.

It’s all giving oxygen to what anti-sexual harassment crusader Tracey Spicer proclaimed a “seminal moment in history”, at last weekend’s All About Women festival. Beamed via satellite from the Opera House to 30 locations across Australia and New Zealand, thousands of women cheered wildly when the festival’s star attraction, #MeToo spokeswoman Tarana Burke, declared the MeToo juggernaut “a movement of Joy!” It was a celebration of the empowerment women feel when their collective voice is finally heard. And back in January, when Oprah bellowed down the barrel “A new day is on the horizon!” I cheered too.

For years I dreamt of a moment like this. As a television journalist for three decades and a news presenter for half those years, I waged daily battles against sexism in media, and the lack of women on our screens as professional and serious players. 

So, what’s changed? What’s brought about this current media noise about the role and rights of women and the preoccupation with women in leadership?  In Australia it began when Julia Gillard became Prime Minister. The anger at having an unmarried, childless, non-conforming woman in charge of the ''joint'' was a game changer for the media. It rocked our traditional frame of what power was supposed to look and act like.

Since then, a confluence of global events, fuelled by the elevation of a self-declared sexist and male supremacist to the role of US President, has caused a seismic genderquake. The #MeToo, #TimesUp, #HeForShe and countless sister campaigns have awoken public consciousness to the truth of gender inequality and power imbalance.

Right now, on International Women’s Day with its #PressForProgress theme, we need to watch our back, because there is a devil hot on the heels of the zeitgeist.

Australia’s global comparisons are lousy. We rank No.1 in the world for women’s education, according to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index, but 48 out of 144 nations for political empowerment; 42 for economic participation; and a gobsmacking 104 for health and survival. Australia’s overall score is 35. In 2006 we ranked 15. That’s not progress people!

But worse is the brewing whiff of backlash. As women continue to push for progress, some men are clearly disoriented by the demands for change. And while the Minister for Women may help stifle the hate trolls by bringing social media companies in line, that won’t stop the seething hatred rooted in some men. But hate isn’t the only problem. The real sleeper here is a growing public grumble that good men are somehow missing out … as women move up. This poses a devastating threat to women’s progress.

When an ACT Liberal politician bemoaned that “if you are a heterosexual, employed, white male over the age of 30 you’re not really included in anything”, Mark Parton’s concern about a feminist attack on male privilege won him plenty of sympathy.

Which is why this week’s IPSOS poll on Global Misconceptions of Equality is not surprising. A third of Australians believe “when it comes to giving women equal rights – things have gone far enough”. Half  disagreed. Press for Progress is not a rally call to women. It’s a call-out to men.

Virginia Haussegger AM is director of the 50/50 by 2030 Foundation at the University of Canberra

This story Lot of media noise on the role and rights of women first appeared on The Inverell Times.