(Australia Edition) Monday 21 September 2015
Deep down women still accept it is their role to be God's police
By Anne Summers
Julia Gillard's example shows that women can still only be either 'good' or 'bad', be a mother or have a career. We need to redefine the role of women
Dr. Anne Summers speaking at The Great Hall at Sydney University during the State Funeral for Faith Bandler, Sydney, 24 February 2015. (Dean Lewins/AAP )\
In 1975, when Damned Whores and God's Police was published, it did not occur to me that I would have the opportunity four decades later to look back on the world I had described and analysed.
But here we are, doing just that.
The first question everyone asks now is: how much has changed since 1975? In particular, do the stereotypes still apply?
The second question is: are we better off today than we were then? I think we can say with confidence: yes, we are.
After Sunday's ministerial reshuffle, the new frontbench team is sworn in at Government House. All the developments from Canberra, live
I would summarise how I see things as: We have changed a lot. But we have not changed enough.
The Australia I wrote about in the early 1970s has changed. It is not totally beyond recognition, but I expect young people today might be astonished to learn what life used to be like for women.
Even as late as 1975 there were so many things women were unable to do. Some of these restrictions were self-imposed cultural restraints but in many cases they were underpinned by an absence of laws to enforce equality.
Even though in 1975 we were three years into the Whitlam government - the first federal government to commit to and legislate for women's equality - there was still no federal anti-discrimination legislation.
Nor were there any state laws outlawing discrimination.
It seems almost unbelievable today, but until the late 1970s it was perfectly legal for women in Australia to be treated as inferiors. Jobs were classified by sex and advertised as being for "men and boys" or "women and girls".
There was rarely any overlap between the offerings, which meant that women were excluded from even applying for many positions.
And there were certainly no laws governing how women were treated in the workplace.
Women had no legal redress if, for instance, the boss asked you to sit on his knee to take dictation. Like many terms I used in the book, or situations I described, "taking dictation" is now archaic.
I found it quite illuminating myself to re-read this book, as I did recently. I had forgotten just how bad the everyday constant denigration of women used to be. (Although the television series Mad Men is a painfully accurate reminder).
We are entitled to take comfort from the barriers that have been broken and the triumphs of individual women in expanding the possibilities for all of us: the first prime minister or state premier, governor-general, high court judge, CEO of a major corporation, the first jockey or football umpire or chemical engineer.
All of these triumphs were over the horizon in 1975.
It was only with the laws designed to end legal discrimination against women that they even became possible.
In the 1970s, 80s and 90s - some states were slower than others - we saw the passage of various anti-discrimination laws that were intended to provide a legal basis for equality. These included the landmark federal Sex Discrimination Act 1984 which outlawed discrimination against women in employment, education and the provision of goods and services.
As a result, things changed, big and small.
A small example: the signs on the toilet doors in the federal parliament had to be repainted. "Women" or "Men", instead of "Senators" or "Members".
A bigger one: Deborah Wardley, seeking a job with the now defunct Ansett Airlines, won an anti-discrimination action which took four years and went all the way to the high court before she was eventually employed as a commercial pilot in 1979. Of course she could not have launched the action - nor won it - without the Victorian anti-discrimination laws.
When we compare then and now, the changes are impressive. The statistics on employment, prescription drug use and other contemporary matters that I set out in the book are now almost quaint in how little bearing they have on how things are today.
Many, if not most, women still accept, deep down, that it is their role to be God's police.
Parts of the book read rather like an historical archive. It is a snapshot of how things were: in 1975, and in the convict, colonial and other periods that I wrote about.
I think it is well worth revisiting those eras to recall, or learn for the first time, our history and the story of Australian women's evolution towards equality. But reading the book also reminds us how much language has changed. And some of the language changes reflect attitude changes of course.
It seems extraordinary today but in the mid-1970s we did not use terms like "domestic violence", "sexual harassment", "date rape" or "glass ceiling" because they had not yet been coined.
We had not learned to give names to some things even though they certainly existed. It is quite amazing that I devoted almost a page in the book to the setting up of Elsie Women's Refuge in 1974 and never even used the word "violence", let alone "domestic violence".
It is almost disconcerting to realise how ill-equipped we were back then to talk about such important issues. It makes us realise the importance of language.
Because we have become so preoccupied these days with measuring change, we may have lost sight of some of the important concerns I tried to address in this book. These days we are preoccupied with "how far have we come" and, its corollary, "how far we have left to go".
But today we do not talk so much about what in the book I called the "invisible barriers" - the ways women limited themselves and collaborated with the culture of oppression.
We need to resume that conversation because while we might have made major changes and mapped a path to full equality, I am not sure if we have sufficiently reinvented ourselves.
The core argument of the book was that Australian women had been defined and constrained by stereotypes that both prescribed and proscribed certain ways of behaving.
I drew on Australian history and used the terms "damned whores" and "God's police" to give the classic madonna/whore dichotomy a local resonance.
My argument was that women in Australia had been kept in check by the God's police stereotype, both by the ways women were deemed by society to see motherhood and family as their ultimate aspiration, and by the social exclusion they suffered as a result of being castigated as a damned whore if they refused.
The major impediment to female rebellion, and that which keeps women physically and psychologically bound to their family-centred roles has been the absence of any cultural tradition which approved of women being anything else.
We should be asking: is this still true today?
Are Australian women still constrained by the social imperatives of motherhood? Are women expected to fit everything else they do around this, still primary, role as mothers? Do working women always pay for the childcare? Are flexible work places all about making it easier for women - not men - to juggle kids and jobs? Do women feel guilty about being in employment? Do men?
We have not fully confronted this fundamental question.
We have not said: women might be the ones who bear the children, but their entire lives should not be defined by that one capability.
We have changed a lot but we have not changed this.
Many, if not most, women still accept, deep down, that it is their role to be God's police.
They believe they are responsible for the emotional as well as the physical management of the family; it is their job to monitor and, where necessary, censor the behaviour of their husbands and their children.
And there is wide consensus, in Australia and elsewhere, that this is the way things should be.
As an example look to a tweet sent by former US president Bill Clinton to current president Barack Obama in August this year:
Ha ha. Here's the woman - in this case Michelle Obama - forbidding the man a treat.
We still tend to infantilise men and to mock them, however fondly or jokingly, for their inability to manage domestic affairs. The "Mere Male" - the name given to a popular column in a women's magazine in the 1970s - is alive and well.
And why wouldn't men want to hide behind this trope? It beats having to do the housework.
Many women today want to add to, and modernise, the God's police role rather than redefine, let alone abandon, it completely.
I am struck by how many women today aged in their 30s and 40s with big, full-time jobs and two or three children have chosen to take on additional domestic roles such as baking or sewing or other time-consuming (and, I would argue, unnecessary) tasks that once fully occupied women who had no choice but to be what we today like to call "domestic goddesses".
Why do they feel the need to do this?
Of course it is true that women do have more choices today.
We can decide to not marry, to not have children, to live openly in a same-sex relationship, to live happily alone - the word "spinster" is another that has disappeared from our vocabulary.
Our choices - whatever they are - are more likely to be accepted than was the case four decades ago. But we have not overcome the dualism. We have not disavowed that motherhood is still the central, preferable and most admired option for women.
We might not overtly punish women who are not mothers but we have our ways of letting them know they have fallen short of the ideal. By calling them "deliberately barren", for instance.
We still differentiate between "good" and "bad" women. Emily Maguire, the novelist, examined this proposition in Princesses and Porn Stars (2008) and concluded that the stereotypes have not vanished, they have merely been updated: the "choices are still either/or", she wrote. "You can be a mother or have a proper career. You can have orgasms or respect. You can be independent or adored."
This conclusion is depressing because it confirms the enduring nature of these cultural shackles.
And we have had recent confirmation that this view of women is still an - if not the - organising principle of this country. Take the example of our first female prime minister.
The ascension of Julia Gillard to prime minister was not one that we as a nation were capable of embracing. (Mike Bowers for the Guardian)
The ascension of Julia Gillard into that role in 2010 was a significant milestone in the march of Australian women towards equality but it was not one that we as a nation were capable of embracing.
As Gillard wrote in her memoir in 2014:
As early as 1975, in her book Damned Whores and God's Police, feminist and author Anne Summers explained that during our nation's history, women were always categorised in one of these two roles. It felt to me as prime minister that the binary stereotypes were still there, that the only two choices available were good woman or bad woman. As a woman wielding power, with all the complexities of modern politics, I was never going to be portrayed as a good woman. So I must be the bad woman, a scheming shrew, a heartless harridan or a lying bitch.
A telling recent example about the continued and embedded nature of our view that women, in their role as mothers and guardians of the family, are expected, even required, to play the role of God's police was the recent announcement that Australia would accept a large number of Syrian refugees.
In making this announcement, the then prime minister Tony Abbott said,
… our focus for these new 12,000 permanent resettlement places will be those people most in need of permanent protection - women, children and families from persecuted minorities … I do want to stress women, children and families - the most vulnerable of all.
As the media was quick to point out, this was code for "no single men".
We did not want our society disrupted by an influx of uncontrollable men who, the assumption goes, would be an unruly and disorderly presence in our society.
Caroline Chisholm could hardly have put it better herself. She did not use the language of national security as Tony Abbott did, and she was referring to emigrants rather than refugees, but the assumptions are the same:
For all the clergy you can despatch, all the school-masters you can appoint, all the churches you can build, and all the books you can export, will never do much good, without what a gentleman in that Colony very appropriate called "God's police" - wives and little children - good and virtuous women.
The media made no comment about whether single women would be included in this refugee intake. In fact, if you just went on media reports, you could conclude there are no single Syrian women.
Would they, too, be a disruptive force?
Is the new damned whore the woman in a hijab?
If we still have God's police then we must also still have her opposite, the bad woman.
So who are today's damned whores?
In 1975 I identified prostitutes, lesbians and women in prison as replacing the female convicts as the modern-day damned whores. They were "the other".
They were repudiated for their sexuality or their other transgressions. They were spurned for not being the way women were supposed to be: subservient, submissive, dependent.
We still punish contraventions but who are today's bad girls?
You can make a case that Lindy Chamberlain, Schapelle Corby and Pauline Hanson are all women who have transgressed in some way and so are "bad girls". One of them possibly killed her child, or so was the thought at the time; one of them has possibly smuggled drugs, and Pauline Hanson was guilty, if you like, of fracturing the political consensus in this country. She said things that were unacceptable at the time, though they quickly became acceptable, about Asians and Aborigines and other groups that previously the political system had been far more tolerant of.
So perhaps our notion of "bad" is more fluid than it once was.
I want to suggest that the damned whores of the early years of the 21st century are not just women like Chamberlain, or Corby or Hanson - or those who become prime ministers.
When young women today march in Slut Walks, asserting their right to dress as whores once might have, does this category even make sense any more?
Maybe the great affront to Australian society today is the woman who covers her face or refuses to show us her body.
Is the new damned whore the woman in a hijab? We need to talk a lot more about this.
Last week in Melbourne Quentin Bryce told a group of schoolgirls: "Be bold, be bold, be bold". This is the most important advice women of my generation can give to the young.
I am reminded of the famous feminist song, "Don't be too polite, girls" by the late Melbourne singer-song-writer Glen Tomasetti. It was known as the Equal Pay Anthem and it began:
Don't be too polite, girls, don't be too polite
Show a little fight, girls, show a little fight.
We need to know that despite the palpable gains of the past 40 years, our fight is far from over.
It is not just that we still have so much unfinished business: equal pay, equal representation in parliaments and elsewhere, freedom from violence. To name just a few.
The frightening reality is that there are forces in Australia, and globally, who would strip away what we have already won.
It is sobering to realise that there has not been a UN conference on women since Beijing in 1995 because of the realistic fear that the principles of the Beijing Declaration and Platform of Action, especially those pertaining to women's reproductive rights, would not be re-affirmed today.
In other words, if we were to convene a new global conference of women, as we used to every five years between 1975 and 1995, we would lose ground.
So for 20 years, we have stood still or been required to use other mechanisms, such as the Millennium Development Goals or, coming up, the Sustainable Development Goals, to maintain the global women's agenda.
What this means is that young women are going to have to fight.
They are going to have to fight to keep what we already have and they are going to have to fight to enable us to keep moving forward.
They are going to need to be brave and to be bold and they certainly can't afford to be polite!
This is not a job for God's police.
The fact that four decades later and despite so much progress, so much of my description and analysis is still so true is unnerving.
It is also frightening.
There is a shocking increase in violence against women in Australia, more and more of it fatal.
The Counting Dead Women site on the Destroy the Joint Facebook page put the number of women killed in Australia so far this year, as of Sunday, at 62.
We are at week 39 of 2015 and already 62 women have died violent deaths, most of them at the hands of their current or former partners.
In addition, we know that every three hours around Australia a woman is hospitalised with injuries inflicted by a partner or family member. We count the deaths but we not yet found a way to count the injuries, including the permanent physical and psychological wounds.
This violence is undoubtedly due to a great many men being unable to accept women as equals let alone as independent beings. For these men, women belong - and should stay - in the preordained and subordinate roles the stereotypes laid out for them.
As Rosie Batty, the 2015 Australian of the Year and a tireless campaigner on the issue of family violence, has pointed out, we cannot address violence without addressing gender inequality.
Elizabeth Broderick, until recently Australia's sex discrimination commissioner, has made the same argument.
When I interviewed her earlier this year for a profile for my magazine Anne Summers Reports, she said: "Men's violence against women is Australia's most significant gender equality issue. It's both a cause and a consequence of gender inequality."
This is a startling, and sobering, assessment.
I could never have made such an assertion back in 1975. We had not yet made those kinds of connections. As I have already indicated, it was difficult back then to even speak about violence. It was beyond comprehension that we could have seen a casual connection between women's inequality and the rise in violence against women.
Yet Broderick has taken the argument even further, arguing that it is not only the most significant gender equality issue in Australia, but that it's the most significant gender equality issue in the world.
She stated that 1.2 million Australian women are either currently or have recently lived in violent relationships.
Just think about that … that's the Telstra Stadium 10, 15 times full of women. In fact, here in New South Wales, last week, we had two women murdered by their intimate partner. We've had 35 women murdered by their intimate partner in the first 14 weeks of this year.
If there were 35 people being killed by terrorist attack or falling off a train or whatever, we'd be doing something about it.
She said that on 7 May this year. 35 women had been killed since then.
It is now 21 September. In just four months another 27 women have been killed. As Liz said then, if 35 Australians had been killed in any other way, there would be outrage. And there would be action.
Two young boys were killed as a result of random violence on my street in Kings Cross last year. As a result the liquor laws were changed, venues have closed and there has been a dramatic decrease in violence in the area.
When are we going to react in a similarly serious fashion to the ongoing deaths of women?
Why does the prime minister and the leader of the opposition attend the funerals of soldiers killed in war but not the funerals of women killed as a result of domestic terrorism?
When are we going to treat this as the national emergency it is?
This is an extract of a speech given by Anne Summers to the conference 'Damned Whores and God's Police at 40', on Monday 21 September 2015 at the University of Technology, Sydney. It is published here with the permission of the author.
(Australia Edition) Monday 21 September 2015
Four decades later Anne Summers asks: have things really changed for women?
By Gay Alcorn
Author of Damned Whores and God's Police celebrates changes, but says Australian women are still defined and constrained by stereotypes
Anne Summers: 'Are Australian women still constrained by the social imperatives of motherhood?' (Dean Lewins/AAP)
Anne Summers finished writing what would become a feminist classic, Damned Whores and God's Police, in a Sydney house known as "cockroach castle" in 1974. She was 29. She's now 70, seemingly tireless and as entitled as anyone to be recognised as one of our elders.
Summers has organised an eclectic conference to celebrate the 40th anniversary of her book's publication, to consider its legacy and to tussle with a new feminist agenda, as contested as that will inevitably be - welcome Lavender, from the Coalition of Activist Lesbians Australia.
Day one of this three-day conference began with a Summers stir. There are a lot of 1970 feminists here, ageing a little, committed still. There are bureaucrats and academic and researchers and community organisers. On my count, there are three men in the room.
The younger women will barely recognise the 1975 world Summers outlined. There were no sex-discrimination laws in Australia. Jobs were advertised for "men and boys" or "women and girls". There was nothing improper about your boss asking you to sit on his knee to take "dictation". There had been no female premiers or prime ministers, and feminism was called "women's liberation".
Summers emphasised the importance of language - in her book, date rape didn't exist - she called it "petty rape". Domestic violence didn't rate a mention.
And then she got to the nub of it. Celebrate the substantial changes, she said, but what about the central premise of her book? Had that survived the passing of 40 years?
The book's argument was that Australian women - in an even more rigid way than women from England, for instance - were defined and constrained by stereotypes. They could be "God's police" - society's ethical and moral guardians - or shunned as "damned whores" if they didn't conform.
"The major impediment to female rebellion and that which keeps women physically and psychologically bound to their family-centred roles has been the absence of any cultural tradition which approved of women being anything else," wrote Summers in the 1970s.
On Monday she wondered whether this was still true.
"Are Australian women still constrained by the social imperatives of motherhood? Are women expected to fit everything else they do around this, still primary, role as mothers? ... Are flexible workplaces all about making it easier for women - not men - to juggle kids and jobs? Do women feel guilty about being in employment? Do men?"
According to Summers, in 2015, "many, if not most, women still accept, deep down, that it is their role to be God's police", responsible for the emotional and physical management of the family, and censor of their husband's and children's behaviour.
It was one of the themes of the day, and a contested perspective.
The 70s feminists were often criticised for scorning women who stayed home with babies, for believing the world of paid work was the only meaningful work. As the academic Dennis Altman said during a panel discussion, these days, the debate has flipped. Politicians, even conservative ones, don't want women at home looking after children any more. They want them to do more paid work for the sake of the economy. Many women and men would like to spend more time with their children.
Editor Georgina Dent said the issue now was that we are "so deeply wedded to mothers as caregivers" that issues around family - paid parental leave and child care, for instance - remained almost entirely "women's" issues. The question I had, as unfashionable as it is, is whether at least some women - educated, informed - actually were choosing to define themselves in some profound way as mothers.
The agenda Summers and co-organiser Jenna Price have put together for this conference is a rough outline of what a modern feminism might look like, as impossible to define as that is. The British-Somalian activist Nimco Ali spoke of her own female genital mutilation (FGM), and of its political meaning.
In her view, labiaplasty or cosmetic surgery on western women's genitals for non-medical reasons had something in common with FGM. "It is the internalisation of the misogyny we face on a day-to-day basis," she said. I intensely disagree that the two are comparable in anything but the most superficial way, but the debate was fascinating and worth having.
On Wednesday the former governor general, Quentin Bryce, will talk to the former sex discrimination commissioner, Elizabeth Broderick, about domestic violence. There'll be lectures and discussions on women and work and the intersection of race and gender.
Already there are business cards being swapped and corridor discussions about abortion rights in different states and the threats to reproductive choice in Australia. Forty years on, some things never change.
The Guardian (Australia Edition) Monday 21 September 2015\http://www.global-sisterhood-network.org/gsn/images/Guardianlogo.gif
Damned Whores, 40 years on: women still stereotyped, says Penny Wong
Women in politics still treated in a sexist way, says Senator Penny Wong at conference celebrating Anne Summers' Damned Whores and God's Police
The opposition leader in the Senate, Penny Wong, says she has been described as shrill and hysterical by attorney-general George Brandis. (Mike Bowers for the Guardian)
By Gay Alcorn
Women have made big strides towards equality in the past 40 years, but they are still treated in a sexist way in Australian politics, says Labor frontbencher Senator Penny Wong.
Wong said at a conference to mark the 40th anniversary of the publication of the landmark feminist book, Damned Whores and God's Police, that remarks about women in parliament were too often belittling and stereotyped.
"When we look at politics, sometimes I feel we haven't come far at all," she said. "Eric Abetz has gone and been replaced by George Brandis and that's not much better." In prime minister Malcolm Turnbull's ministerial reshuffle this week, Brandis replaced Abetz as government leader in the Senate.
Attorney-General Brandis has described Wong as "shrill and hysterical. I'm well known for that," she said. Former Greens' leader Christine Milne has been berated for "throwing a tantrum".
"They're so blind to it, so accustomed to belittling women it's just par for the course," Wong said. "There's a long way to go in terms of how people talk to each other."
Turnbull has distinguished himself from the Abbott government by appointing five women to his cabinet - the same number as former prime minister Julia Gillard appointed. Abbott chose just one woman for his first cabinet, foreign minister Julie Bishop.
Wong said she was once dismissive of the importance of critical mass, but saw that it had made a difference in Gillard's cabinet.
"It did change the dialogue, the dynamic, it changed how we interacted," said Wong, who was finance minister under Gillard. "It meant it was easier to speak and that matters."
The Sydney conference is discussing the impact and legacy of the book, written by prominent feminist Anne Summers.
Summers told the conference that Julie Bishop, who was Abbott's deputy before shifting support to Turnbull last week, had been described as Lady Macbeth by some critics, the same insult hurled at Gillard when she toppled Kevin Rudd as prime minister.
"Malcolm Turnbull, no problem," she said. "Women can't wield a knife, but men can."
Summers believed it was a "major thing" having women foreign and defence ministers in the new cabinet. "We have a prime minister finally who is at least modern, who understands that women are equal and are entitled to equality."
In her keynote address, Summers told the audience that while much had changed for the better since she wrote the book in 1974, women remained constrained by their family-centred roles.
The book's key argument is that two rigid stereotypes of women deny them their own identity and real choice. They are either bad girls - such as prostitutes and prisoners - or good girls, mothers assumed to be ethically and morally superior to men.
Today, women's choices have expanded exponentially, but their role as mothers remained a fundamental question that needed confronting, Summers said.
"We have not said: women might be the ones who bear the children, but their entire lives should not be defined by that one capability. We've changed a lot but we haven't changed this.
"Many, if not most, women still accept, deep down, that it is their role to be God's police.
"We have not disavowed that motherhood is still the central, preferable and most admired option for women."
• Damned Whores and God's Police 40 years on. Its impact. Its legacy. Our Future. 21-23 September, University of Technology Sydney