Our Cringemaking Minister in Charge of the Ministry of Women
I hesitate to say that Louise Upston, newly in charge of the newly named Ministry of Women, should be put in the same category as those politicians and members of the media who court the ordinary bloke by deriding feminism. Too many of these faux blokes have little respect for women.
I think Upston was ill-informed and thoughtless when she proudly proclaimed she was not a feminist and supported beauty contests. This is a common response from successful women backed into a corner by journalists. It is cowardly and dangerous. It may undermine her government’s initiatives in respect of rape culture, further weaken its response to the handling of embarrasing sexual harrassment cases.
McCarthyism and guilt by association is implicit in such a statement. Will Upston proclaim she is not a union member, communist, activist, gay, lesbian, Jew, Muslim, Catholic? Such rhetoric has had horrible repercussions in history and the contemporary world. Think religious wars, pogroms, Nazism, race and sex discrimination. Think our Trades Hall bombing and the death of the caretaker, murderous anti-abortionists in the US, homophobic attacks, police excess in the UK (Blair Peach) and the US, our own Red Squad during the anti-tour protests, and the bombing of the Rainbow Warrior. Think internet trolls’ attempts to silence women commentators with threats to their and their children’s safety.
Feminism is a developing and contestable body of thought, philosophy. It doesn’t require women to pledge support. There is a resurgence of interest in it (I wonder why) and a drive by young women worldwide to reclaim the word.
1970s feminists were not unanimous in their opposition to beauty pageants. Those who demonstrated did not attack contestants. They drew attention to commercial exploitation and sex stereotyping. They exposed the hypocrisy of bestowing kudos on beautiful and sexually attractive women and harsh and punitive sanctions against enjoying sex, especially if it was in breach of male-dictated mores.
I helped organise a protest demo. Years earlier my father encouraged my sister to enter a bathing beauty contest at a local beach. She was a good swimmer, bronzed, barefoot, a bit salty. She extracted herself from the sea to join the queue of coiffed, pancaked, lipsticked, high-heeled contestants sporting pristine swimsuits. I, four years her junior, moved near a group of young men for a better view. Their comments on the contestants were foul, full of sexual overtones and grunts. They didn’t notice my sister.
Ms Upton should ask her staff for a briefing on feminism. She may realise an apology and recognition is due those who have been at the forefront of advancing the status of women.
Her staff need to watch the new sex education initiatives sparked by the Roastbusters activities. School Boards of Trustees have often failed in their legal obligation to establish programmes, law change may be needed and will require courageous leadership. Decriminalisation of abortion is long overdue. That law is based on the ‘she asked for it’ approach to women enjoying sex, deliberately intended to humiliate by subjugating women to invasive certification procedures. The process may require three days, travel to a licensed clinic, child care. All of these can be stressful and costly. Repeal would allow women to access the abortion pill from their local doctor. This will also require courage.
The ministry’s staff have been humiliated by a recent report which could not explain what they did. Ms Upston must front up on this, justify its contemporary role. With a weak minister it may indeed be useless and expensive charge on taxpayers.
Addendum: Here’s Family First on her voting record. Great they do the work for us!