Tony Abbott is a misogynist, however the dictionary defines it

January 7, 2013 § Leave a comment

I had this piece published on The Conversation late last year:

As an academic, I often become obsessed with the meaning of words. They lure me in with their conceptual promise, and then I get hooked and tangled on distinctions and disciplinary nuance.

Perhaps unsurprisingly then, I find myself fascinated by the Macquarie Dictionary’s recent decision to change the definition of misogyny.

In the wake of Prime Minister Gillard’s speech on misogyny in parliament, in particular from Opposition Leader Tony Abbott, Sue Butler, Editor of the Macquarie, made an announcement. She stated that Macquarie were moving from the definition “hatred of women” to reflect current usage, which is as a “synonym for sexism with a stronger edge to it.” She said:

You’re not really saying that they have a pathological sickness, that they should be on a psychiatrist’s couch discussing their relationship with their mother… they merely have what we would think of as sexism, an entrenched prejudice.

In the days leading up to this announcement, I had been bothered by the dithering of commentators over the word misogyny, and in particular the debate over whether or not Tony Abbott deserved to be tarred with it. Julia Baird surprised me on the Drum by equivocating over whether he should be labelled as such.

I have always understood and used the word in its old sense, exactly a hatred of women. And I remain convinced that Tony Abbott, along with many others, is worthy of such a label. Why would I think so, when he clearly does love his wife and daughters, and likes many other women? The answer is that I do not think of hatred merely as a feeling, but as an act, a verb. Macquarie currently defines the word as a noun.

This distinction is important. Tony Abbott is a politician. This means that his main calling in life is to make, and spend his time trying to make, policy that has an impact on your life and mine. He represents his constituents. He speaks in parliament. In all of these forums he has acted in ways that are hateful to women.

I was coming of age politically when the debate over RU486 exploded in Australia in 2005. Despite the AMA’s view that the drug provided a useful and safe alternative to surgical abortion, Abbott used his ministerial discretion as health minister to make the drug widely unavailable.

He argued that this was because it was too risky without medical supervision, focusing almost solely on access to the drug for women in the bush, despite the claims of Nationals Senator Fiona Nash that the drug would be an important step towards evening out abortion access for country women. This situation has only recently been reversed.

Abbott’s actions were hateful towards people who wanted to obtain a medical abortion. Women in Wagga Wagga, for example, are not able to have surgical abortions in their home town but must travel to Albury for what is often a traumatic procedure, adding time, cost and difficulty to the experience. Abbott’s actions directly prevented them from being able to obtain a medical abortion in their home town. This is a hateful action, and as a hateful action, constitutes misogyny.

The capacity to control one’s body is essential to feminism. Feminism cannot simply be about liking women. Frankly I don’t really care whether people like women, though I think they’re missing out if they don’t. What I do care about is whether people, politicians in particular, have an active acceptance of and support for another’s capacity to control her life and body, uterus included.

If being a feminist does not simply equate to liking women, misogyny is not a mere feeling of hatred towards them. It is an attempt to prevent women controlling their own lives, or an attempt to shame them out of participating in public life à la Alan Jones.

Rather than change the meaning of the word, Macquarie should add the second usage while retaining the old one, and note that misogyny is a verb as well as a noun. If we cannot have one definition, we should reflect the diversity of meanings, despite the hooks and tangles this might entail.


The latest

June 8, 2012 § Leave a comment

Femmos get loud

Well, it’s been a while and I’ve got two things to add, both from the F website.

I edited a post by Eva on income management in Bankstown:

In March this year, there were around 80,000 parents on the parenting payment officially registered as job hunters. There are maybe another 50,000 or more sole parents who have already been placed onto Newstart as their children are eight or more. They will be joined shortly by most of the 80,000 job seekers above, as announced in the budget. Managing on the sole parent payments is already hard, but doing it on the lower rate of Newstart is almost impossible.

So any changes to policies on these payments is of interest to feminists.

I also put together a storify story on F’s latest forum. You can join the conversation on Twitter with the #fcollective tag.

[View the story “Doing feminism: media representation and family violence” on Storify]

The gorgeous image above is from Flickr using Creative Commons License, by Caterpiya.

F Collection: Fuck yeah, feminist reading group!

May 9, 2012 § Leave a comment

I want to be holding in my hand a concise, fairly easy to read and understand book; not a long book, not a book thick with hard to understand jargon and academic language, but a straightforward, clear book – easy to read without being simplistic. From the moment feminist thinking, politics, and practice changed my life, I have wanted this book. I have wanted to give it to the folk I love so that they can understand better this cause, this feminist politics I believe in so deeply, that is the foundation of my political life. (…) I have written this short handbook, the book I have spent more than 20 years longing for. I had to write it because I kept waiting for it to appear, and it did not (hooks, 2000).

Since you’ve read that quote now, I don’t need to tell you that bell hooks is awesome.

What I do need to tell you is that F is reading her handbook, which she called Feminism is for Everybody: Passionate Politics.

Cover image

On body hair, that trivial beast

April 28, 2012 § 1 Comment

Cross-posted at F Collective.

Recently I’ve been reading about body hair, on one of my favourite corners of the lady-internet, Already Pretty.

I don’t shave at all most of the time. This habit formed sometime at university. During the second year of my arts degree at the University of Newcastle, despite my avowed feminism, I still felt compelled to shave. I saw body hair on women as ugly, and ugly was (is) a powerful thing.

Then I started spending a lot of time with another activist. Let’s call her J. J wasn’t so much an outspoken feminist like me, but she was an amazing part of Newcastle’s environment movement, and a bit of a hippie. J was hairy, and she was beautiful.

I spent a lot of time with J, working on things we both cared about. After a while, I just couldn’t see body hair as ugly anymore, when she was so lovely in every way. I stopped shaving, and found I rather liked my underarm hair, despite the fact that I am very hairy, and dark-haired.

I realised shaving and hair-removal had taken an enormous amount of time, and cost me a lot of money. More importantly, it had always been painful, itchy and uncomfortable.

I came to be glad I had stopped shaving.

Nonetheless, I still find my hairy body a challenge sometimes, in how I dress and in how others perceive me.

Body hair is intimately connected to other aspects of bodily presentation. It impacts what I wear, sometimes directly, sometimes indirectly. I love art, I have a sometimes grudging love for fashion and clothes, and aesthetics remain important to me, and to how I engage with the world. Different clothing styles play differently with body hair – and since I love to play with aesthetics, I notice. I find that while body hair ‘goes’ with some things I wear, it’s jarring against some of the more vintage styles I like, which are otherwise comfortable and suited to my body type. Body hair seems to clash with the more ‘classic’ dresses I might wear to formal  occasions, like a friend’s wedding or farewell.

Photo by Tinker*Tailor Loves Lalka

These styles and occasions are socially constructed as much as as my body hair or lack thereof. A 50s style dress on a body that isn’t playing by the rules of the traditionally feminine can be seen as ironic, and sometimes I’m ok with that. At other times I wish my body wasn’t a small-scale visual, stylistic and representational battleground.

To say my body’s appearance and indeed, my body, is socially constructed, isn’t a dismissal of the power of the constraints on women’s bodies I’m discussing. As Stephen White (1) puts it, what could be more powerful than social construction? We are all social animals.

My body hair can be an affront to others without me saying a word. Sometimes other women look at me with distaste in the gym. Woman on woman misogyny is very real when it comes to appearance.

At least two of my more serious partners, while not daring to tell me to shave (cue fear of my feminist outrage!) have used their ‘preference’ and social pressure to indicate disapproval. What to do, what to do? I try not to blame myself in these situations, for whatever choice I make (hypocrisy be damned if you want or need to remove hair – feminism teaches us our bodies are our own!). But for all options there are costs, however minor. As I said, it’s physically painful for me to shave, quite apart from how torn it makes me feel.

I think that even though it’s popular to believe we have agency on the body choices front, women’s bodies and body hair are powerfully socially disciplined and constrained. I do have agency when it comes to my body, clearly, as do you. Yet my preferences and those of others are shaped by beauty norms and the beauty industry, an industry that under capitalism needs to sell us stuff to make a profit. This is a powerful motivation to keep people unhappy with their bodies. So I have a constrained agency, and there are social costs for my ‘choices’ not to shave.

That my agency is constrained is the case for me even though my body is privileged in a lot of ways – white, buxom, medium weight, cisgendered. As a white woman, I can be seen as ugly or angry or making a statement if I don’t shave. If I were not white, I might be seen as representative of a ‘people’ who are ‘naturally’ ugly or dirty. For trans women, body hair might be seen as validation of the notion that they are not real woman. The threat of violence in this case is never far away.

One thing I think we can do as feminists, is take responsibility for not shaming other people for their choices about their bodies. This is especially important if we are in a position of looking like the ‘norm’ or are otherwise privileged. Those odd looks and judgements about my body hair are responses I could do without.

I have questions unanswered.

How are feelings about body hair influenced by different social scenes and identities?

What is it like for YOU being feminist and negotiating your body hair?

Hair, elsewhere: Hair/VeilAll locked up, Body hair revisited, There’s a DMZ in my knickers, Quick Question.

(1) White, Stephen K. “As the World Turns: Ontology and Politics in Judith Butler.” Polity 32, no. 2 (December 1, 1999): 155–177.

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