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All sexism is offensive but not all that is offensive is sexism

By Sonia Bowditch - posted Tuesday, 18 June 2013

You will often hear uttered, from women who don’t subscribe to the whole feminism package but who nevertheless wish to add their voice to the gender equality debate, that well known phrase “I’m not a feminist, but…”

You are less likely to hear, however, the phrase “I am a feminist, but…

This is because the tenets of feminism these days are so restrictive that one is forced to sign up to the movement lock, stock and barrel. The feminist creed has become so unforgiving that it has almost gotten to the point where there are no “buts” allowed. Nuance is not welcome. You’re either in or you’re out.


Are you a Christian? You’re out. Do you agree with the late Christopher Hitchens, who told Jennifer Byrne that a woman should not have to work unless she wants to? You’re out, too. What about Slut Walks? Do you believe in those? No? Sorry, you’re out. Deviate from the script and you will be brandished a traitor to the cause.

But if I am going to take issue with the way our government, spearheaded by Julia Gillard, has fueled the gender debate in recent times (which I am) then I need to use that rarely uttered phrase, so here goes...

I am a feminist but, unlike many, I do not believe that women have to fight every day to keep the enemy at bay. And I refuse to encourage a way of life that pits women against men in this way. Yet this is exactly the sort of practice that our Prime Minister is endorsing. Gillard is using her admittedly unfortunate status as the victim of some truly vile behaviour to her advantage by deliberately intensifying the “us versus them” mentality in our society. In doing so, she is creating increased discord between the sexes.

Women who are concerned about sexism in our country have a legitimate and important point to make. However, the political landscape at the moment is such that some now feel disinclined to lend their voices to the discussion. For, like it or not, when we talk about sexism and misogyny in our society, Julia Gillard is now the key player and her actions (or words, more to the point) are enormously influential. And say what you like, her motivation for responding to her attackers is not just about trying to achieve equality for Australian women, it is also about power and her trying to hold on to it (surprise, surprise).

The menu incident at Mal Brough’s fundraiser was appalling (but, then again, so was the offensive joke about Abbott and his female chief-of-staff at a union function last year) and shock jock Howard Sattler was a fool to ask Julia about Tim being gay; but all the same, Gillard’s deliberate propagation of the gender wars for her own political purpose is disgraceful. Claiming that abortion rights would be revoked under Tony Abbott is not only ridiculous but also downright deceitful. Abbott has never sought a change to abortion laws, which are governed by the states anyway.

As Jacqueline Maley claimed in The Age recently, Gillard has deliberately set up a false debate around gender:


“The only conclusion women can draw, even the ones who cheer the fact that we have a female Prime Minister, even the ones who grinned at their televisions last October when they saw Gillard speak so passionately against sexism, is that she needs the issue. She needs to set up a false debate about female self-determination. She needs to scaremonger about Abbott's true attitudes to women and women's rights. She needs to paint Abbott as dangerously retrograde. She needs to because she is politically desperate. And this puts Australian feminists in an invidious position.”

I concur.

In response to Sattler’s questioning of Mathieson’s sexuality, Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick expressed concern that women might now feel discouraged from entering public life. Bloody hell; toughen up a bit, ladies.

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About the Author

Sonia is a Canberra-based freelance writer who likes to pitch her thoughts on society and culture in Australia. She has a Bachelor of Arts from the ANU and a Masters in Writing from Swinburne. Her website is

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