Everyone has a Different Gender Experience or Modern Feminism and Choice

March 15, 2017 § Leave a comment

Earlier I wrote about the difficulty that trans-people pose to the feminist movement. Basically the idea that gender, specifically the idea of being female, is a social norm that places females at the bottom of a power structure. For example Hilary Clinton being unable to break the ‘glass ceiling’ of US presidency, wives being expected to stay at home and only carry out domestic functions, and even tiny things like pencil-skirts-and-high-heels dress codes (which limit movement/mobility).

As a trans-female you may claim to adopt certain aspects of female identity (make-up, dresses etc.) but you have never experienced the disadvantages of being female all your life. In fact, your previous life experiences have been shaped by male privilege.

I wrote and later realised that all gender deviants are punished. Most likely, a trans-female would have been punished when she was a boy for being so girly, and barred from claiming any male privilege (even if she wanted to).

Everyone is punished for deviating from gender norms, how this fits in with the feminist movement is very interesting though.

As an ideological movement, feminism to me has always had a multi-faceted and confusing culture and history around it. I think part of the reason why feminism is so hard to get your head around (and why some people hesitate to commit to being a feminist) is because it is always changing and incorporating new ideas, making it hard to keep up with and hard to know what you actually mean when you claim to be a feminist.

First wave feminism was about attaining suffrage and concentrated on very concrete ideals of political rights. Second wave feminism started to tackle more elusive concepts i.e. a sexist power structure which, though more abstract than political rights, was more omnipresent in society (e.g. in education, in the workplace, in the family home etc.). Wikipedia suggests that third-wave feminism was about bringing inter-racial perspectives to the feminist movement and that fourth-wave feminism (probably the most nebulous of all) has something to do with technology. There is of course, also a criticism of the wave theory.

If the third-wave happened at all, it would’ve occurred when I was in primary school and probably too young to notice. But I feel I can fully reject fourth-wave feminism as something to do with technology. Race and technological perspectives may provide important insights to the movement but it doesn’t yet compel a normative direction for feminism (noting race is perhaps more useful than technology since feminism has progressed differently in different cultures, but technology is ultimately just a tool of society).

In my mind, we’re still in third-wave feminism which is about (among other things):

  • recognising that everyone has a different gender experience and that anyone who deviates from the binary structure of gender experiences punishment
  • moving beyond breaking down the sexist power structure that oppresses women (i.e. the cultural infrastructure and social systems) to becoming aware of, and changing, societal biases and gender stereotypes of not just women (i.e. tackling prejudice in the mind and systems that allow and don’t prevent that prejudice)
  • reconciling the group-ish foundation of feminism (i.e. a group composing of members who identify with the female struggle reminiscent of second-wave feminism) and current-day liberalism which aggressively champions individual rights and freedoms including:
    • rights and freedoms in relation to gender and sexual orientation,
    • rights and freedoms in relation to race and religion,*
    • rights and freedoms in relation to a consumer society,** and
    • rights and freedoms in relation to global and social mobility.

Because individual rights have become the rallying cry of the Left and liberal democracies have become increasingly (and perhaps exclusively) focused on individualism (and with it, the fracture of traditional institutions like Church and Family), it’s hard to find what can still unite people to a feminist movement which will always have (and keep re-contextualising) aspects of the first and second waves which were about belonging to and bettering a particular (more well-defined) group.

Current-day feminism, in addition to encompassing equality and rights for anyone who is experiencing gender differently, is also trying to balance and reconcile:

  • how it represents the collective aspirations of its members, and
  • the deeply individualistic idea that women should be given the choice to do whatever they want.


*The kind of issues modern feminism will have to consider are, for example: whether there are feminist implications for wearing a burqa? And can a woman wear a burqa to identify with her religion yet denounce that it is a symbol of female oppression or ever was?

**Consider the second-wave feminist implications of, for example, buying and choosing to wear a revealing outfit. Modern feminism is also about empowering female consumer choice.


Revisiting gender

September 28, 2016 § 2 Comments

This is a postscript on two articles that I previously wrote – gender issues are complex and my understanding of them is ever-evolving.

Where’s the gap?

In Where’s the gap?, I said this:

I think it’s unproductive to focus on the overall statistic that on average, women earn less than men, because that puts too much focus on the gender, and I don’t think gender is the real cause of the gap (though I stand to be corrected), the real cause are factors such as career choice, parental leave and so forth. These issues need to be solved by policies targeting the specific factors.

However, I’ve come to realise that gender can factor into our career choice – I would go so far as to say that in most cases, it does. When a person is exposed to gender norms/social cues over a long period of time, it can affect what job they choose. When society continuously suggests to a young girl that maths is very hard, she is probably less likely to study maths in the future.

This means that to tackle pay inequality we will probably have to:

  • encourage girls to join fields they are traditionally discouraged from joining
  • remove gender-based expectations on what boys and girls should study
  • make sure all industries are gender-inclusive

Unfortunately they basically come down to one thing – shifting our norms.

Why do we have gender?

Many females feel trapped by the female stereotype that their families and society has imposed on them. And there are other drawbacks to being female – you are more likely to be paid less men; you are more likely than men to experience sexual or domestic violence or abuse. This is why transgender people presented a challenge to Germain Greer’s feminism. A man claims they feel female. But what does it really mean to be female? How can they claim that they feel female when they would never have been exposed to the sort of social conditioning that females receive all the time?

I wrote this partly because, as a male, society gives you certain privileges that it doesn’t afford females (and vice versa – although because female voices feature more in the gender debate, we don’t hear as much on the privileges afforded to women that are not afforded to men). However, I recently watched an episode of ABC’s ‘You can’t ask that’ where they spoke to transexuals. Their responses both challenge and support my view:

  • A trans-female who had not received any hormone therapy or surgery said that as a male, she had never received any male privilege anyway. People picked on her because of the way she dressed and looked.
  • A trans-female who had undergone surgery said that as a female people take you a lot less seriously and sometimes you are immediately shut out from a conversation.
  • A trans-male who had undergone surgery and hormone therapy said that his facial expressions were no longer a commodity, ‘you can be as frowny and loud as you like’, others said that assertiveness was rewarded and you were generally given more room to speak.

Why do we have gender?

May 4, 2016 § 1 Comment

I have several drafts not ready to go. Among the topics I want to write and really think about are: negative gearing, an emerging ‘superficial’ social conscience (much more on that later) and of course something else to do with feminism (and while I’m on the topic, if the word ‘feminist’ troubles you, just remove it and call everyone not in favour of gender equality, sexist – that might help, it might not, also more on that later).

But this has been bugging me for a while. Why gender? I don’t mean the strictly biological kind where a female has two x-chromosomes and can carry a baby. Being a member of a particular sex in our society comes with all the trappings of socially imposed gender stereotypes.

And this is where I encounter problems with being transgender. It has been growing on me ever since I read this article by Lionel Shriver. That I should have any issue with being transgender is troubling enough. Aren’t I liberal? I’ve always supported full autonomy, including that people can choose their gender.

But in an ideal world, people shouldn’t feel the need to pick a gender. In an ideal world, your gender should say nothing about you except whether or not you’re XX or XY.

This is my current philosophical predicament. Some people might identify with being female purely on a biological level – I have no comment on that. But others might feel like they are female because they identify more with society’s construct of the female. For example, that the female is graceful; she is patient, kind and nursing. She is beautiful, she has long hair and wears dresses. Third wave feminism is about transcending gender norms. But the idea of choosing to be female because you are drawn to the female stereotype undermines this movement.

And there’s a whiff of the gender-equivalent of cultural appropriation. Many females feel trapped by the female stereotype that their families and society has imposed on them. And there are other drawbacks to being female – you are more likely to be paid less men; you are more likely than men to experience sexual or domestic violence or abuse. This is why transgender people presented a challenge to Germain Greer’s feminism. A man claims they feel female. But what does it really mean to be female? How can they claim that they feel female when they would never have been exposed to the sort of social conditioning that females receive all the time? Underpinning all this, of course, is that gender is a social construct. When you pick a gender identity, you are not so much picking a gender, as a set of social norms and behaviours that you identity with (and that many women may in fact not).

This is why Lionel Shriver argued that this social construct of what it means to be a particular gender is useless. It should go. Gender doesn’t tell you anything about a person’s personality or attitudes. Arbitrarily placing everyone on a gender spectrum is unhelpful and sometimes hurtful. If we didn’t prescribe certain expectations of behaviour to certain genders then no one would feel the need to pick one over the other.

Of course, on the other hand, being transgender is subverting a gender norm. So now my theory is all in a heap again. Help me get my act together.

Where’s the Gap? Follow-up post

April 12, 2016 § Leave a comment

A friend read my previous post and made some comments to me, and I thought it might be a good idea to address them in a follow up post.

Why the bit about HECs debt and super?

The HECs debt is rising, and there is little chance of government recovering all of this debt. A recent Grattan report suggested lowering the repayment thresholds in order to increase the number of people repaying their HECs debt by nearly 50%. Future policies in this space will probably focus on how to get this debt repaid.

More than half of tertiary graduates are females, we can make a crude but reasonable extrapolation that more females than males will shoulder HECs debts. Because of the gender pay gap, females are more likely to take longer to pay off their debts, or indeed, fail to pay all of it. This means the cost will fall to taxpayers.

The situation with super is similar. Australia has an ageing population, and there are more females than males in higher age groups (e.g. over 60 yrs), this means that over time, we will get more and more elderly females living off their super.

Because of the gender pay gap, these women have probably accumulated less super then men, and will therefore rely on welfare benefits to meet the gap between their living needs and their super payout. The cost of providing welfare will also fall to taxpayers.

The impetus for providing these arguments is to say that in addition to equal pay being a good thing in principle, there are also economic incentives to eliminate this pay gap. Making sure there is equal pay benefits us all. My primary argument is still that equal pay is something that we should strive for on principle, but for those skeptics out there who think the pay gap is just the result of women making poor life decisions (and therefore why should we help?) these arguments show that the gender pay gap can affect everyone, and that more equal pay benefits us all.

Should we be aiming at gender-neutral policies?

My friend mentioned that parental leave policies should aim to be gender neutral, and that in fact this whole debate about the gender pay gap should be discussed on gender neutral terms. It’s about empowering both sexes to do things outside of their traditional gender roles, which will help address the differences between male and female working hours, and therefore level their pay.

However, I believe that the time has passed for entirely gender-neutral policies, at least for parental leave schemes anyway. We are at a point where the norm is still stacked against the female. The norm is that the mum stays home to look after the kids while the dad works. To proactively combat that norm, we need policies in place that still allow mothers to take time off work to look after children, but also does more to encourage fathers to take leave. For example, a period of parental leave that can be taken by either parent, and an additional, say, 2 month period that is reserved for the father on a take it or lose it basis.

Where’s the Gap?

April 6, 2016 § Leave a comment

A feminist bake sale at University of Queensland proposed to sell goods at prices proportionate to the gender pay gap. For example, a man would pay $1 for a cookie, but a woman would pay $0.7. The organisers of the bake sale have been subject to threats of rape and violence as a result.

Gender pay gap is an issue that I’ve struggled to reach a position on because I’ve realised it’s not a black and white problem. I used to be frustrated when I raised the gender pay gap with male friends and they would remark that it was because women give birth to children and take maternity leave, so of course there’s gap, because they simply work less. I think that’s an unsatisfying explanation to the problem, and I also think women shouldn’t be singularly penalised for giving birth to not just their own, but also their partner’s child.

But back to that issue later. Where does the gender pay gap exist? Why does it exist? And is it fair to say that it shouldn’t exist when the factors underlying the difference in pay has nothing to do with gender discrimination?

Should a garbage collector complain about the pay gap between garbage collectors and doctors? Can a person without a university qualification mount a legitimate argument for why they should be paid just as much as someone who did go to university? Education, career choice, amount of time spent working, are all factors that can contribute to a difference in pay. What causes the gender pay gap? And is it purely due to gender? I believe that pay discrimination purely based on gender is wrong. But if say, a nurse is paid less than a doctor, then I see nothing wrong in that. The issue of course, is that there are more female nurses than male nurses, and there are more male doctors than female doctors, which means that when aggregated, females in the health sector earn less than men.

For example, ABC Factcheck found that in law, the median salary for female graduates is $62,000. For male graduates it’s $70,000. That’s semi-useful, because it removes the effect of maternity leave since graduates aren’t usually at that stage of their life yet. However what the industry break down? Are women earning less because more women work in the community legal sector while more men work in corporate law firms?

While it’s important to raise awareness of the pay gap, I think in general that a sufficient level of social awareness has been reached. I think we need to move on to the next step of how to close the gap. I think it’s unproductive to focus on the overall statistic that on average, women earn less than men, because that puts too much focus on the gender, and I don’t think gender is the real cause of the gap (though I stand to be corrected), the real cause are factors such as career choice, parental leave and so forth. These issues need to be solved by policies targeting the specific factors.

The pay gap should not be solved by individual women in more privileged jobs advocating for a higher salary, leaning in to their job, and trying to take as little parental leave as possible. Cheryl Sandberg’s solution completely disregards large segments of female employees such as nurses and teachers, whose pay is determined by enterprise bargaining agreements, not by how much they lean in. Unfortunately, Cheryl’s advice does not give a comprehensive solution to the problem, and what’s more, puts the entire onus on women.

We need policies that focus on increasing female workforce participation, and to open up women to more career opportunities by, for example, making sure that throughout their education they are engaged with STEM subjects. This doesn’t just go one way. In order to increase female workforce participation, we need to encourage men to take time off work. A father taking paternity leave, for example, should be just as normal as a mother taking maternity leave. Dads shouldn’t have to face any stigma for doing so. In addition, men should also be encouraged to consider jobs that tend to require care and compassion, without copping flak about being sissy or girly.

There are also economic incentives for making sure women have the freedom to work more, and their partners consequently, being able to take time off work to look after the family. As Annabel Crabb points out, more women than men hold tertiary qualifications. We can make a crude extrapolation that more females than males therefore have student debt. Tertiary debt is currently ballooning and it is in the taxpayer’s interest that student debts are paid off. But if women are earning and working less than men, then a large proportion of student debt will take a long time to be paid back, or not paid at all.

In addition, there are more females in the higher age brackets, and therefore possibly more females now living off their super (another crude conclusion), but how can we decrease their demand on the public welfare system when women in general accrue less super over their lifetime because of the pay gap, and we lack the policies to empower women to participate more in the workforce, and in sectors where people are paid more?

Personally, I like the idea of reforming how paternal leave is used in Australia, and to make sure that more men are using it. That would be my starting point for addressing the gender pay gap.

My thoughts on ‘Rich Dude becomes PM’, backstabbing and Gillard

September 15, 2015 § Leave a comment

An article on The Daily Life appeared which alleged that Australia will forgive Turnbull for backstabbing Abbott in a way Gillard never was, because Turnbull is male and did it second. I disagree, although this is just my personal view on the matter. While I believe that Gillard was, in many instances, criticised differently because she was a female prime minister, I think that the way I (at least) perceived the Labor spill had less to do with gender biases and just more to do with the political context.

Maybe I paid less attention to politics during the Labor leadership spill, but I remember being very surprised when Gillard challenged Rudd. Perhaps I wasn’t following the polls, if I had, I would’ve known that Rudd was trailing. Interestingly, I don’t follow the polls now either, but I don’t have to follow them to know that Abbott is very much disliked by the nation. I put it down to the fact that on camera, Rudd looked and sounded like a much more able politician and legitimate leader than Abbott. So, first and foremost, it felt like Gillard had deposed someone whom I thought was capable. On the other hand, Turnbull has just deposed someone whom I always thought was incompetent.

Secondly, besides trailing in the polls, Rudd had lost the support of his party because of his authoritarian working style. I never realised this until after the spill. While party members might feel this keenly, the rest of the electorate doesn’t have this insight. In this sense, I felt a bit blindsided by the spill. On the other hand, Abbott had clearly failed the people, and his party openly gave him six months to turn things around before his leadership would be challenged. It’s probably easier to forgive something you can foresee.

Thirdly, this is not Turnbull’s first leadership challenge. His intention to be the Liberal party leader has therefore always been present (and I imagine this is where most of the ‘it always meant to be you’ comments are coming from). This is probably why some people have called this a ‘frontstab’ rather than a backstab. On the other hand, Labor worked really hard to market Rudd and Gillard as the dream team in the 2007 election, for this reason, I always thought they supported each other, which makes Gillard’s leadership challenge hard to reconcile.

Naturally, this is the second leadership spill and Liberal is in the lucky position of being able to learn from Labor’s mistakes. I also think however, that part of the reason why Australia sees Gillard as a backtabber is because the Liberal Party did such a good (and relentless) job of selling that notion. Labor Party, take heed.

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