In any other year an audience at Byron Bay would have quite satisfied been with a discussion about inequalities in Australian society between men and women – inequalities that Anne Summers covers in forensic detail in The Misogynist Factor; such as the skewing of Australia’s highest honours towards men in business and finance, to the point there is a business to train you to get a Companion of the Order of the Australia.
Community service is recognised at the lower tiers of the awards structure and this where greater numbers of women are awarded. “How do we define what’s of service to this country? Why is community service deemed to be of lesser value?”
Summers and George Megalogenis looked at the past forty years. In any other year a Byron audience would have been happy to dwell upon the advances made for women in the eras of Gough Whitlam and other Labor leaders, and how these regressed under John Howard government. “I recall running the Office Of Status for three years in the early eighties,” said Summers. “I used to talk to how quickly pay gap was closing. Thirty years later it’s gone back.”
We hadn’t understood we’d get a government that would turn our progress backwards, she said “We placed rather too much faith in government,” said Summers. “We thought it was just a matter of changing the law.”
There was a refusal to see women as having a role of outside of the home and it is now back with a vengeance, says Summers. “We never realised there would be this upsurge of hatred against the first female Prime Minister Julia Gillard and against us.”
In any other year, some at least in a Byron audience, would have relished, discussion of how former Prime Minister John Howard used taxation polices on social welfare to create disincentives for mothers to return to work.
The best response would have been a general strike by women, said Summers.
By the time Megalogenis, started discussing the fall in male full-time jobs and how this may have fed in to recent events, there was urging audible within the audience to go directly, do not pass go to the topic everyone was there to discuss. Before long there was heckling.
Megalogenis went on to mention the substantial increases in law graduates citing the changes between when former Prime Minister John Howard and his daughter Melanie studied law at Sydney University. Summers countered that few women of the women studying law remain in the field full-time, and that the female work participation rate is lower in Australia than many other countries in the OECD.
There was one more topic that Summers’ said is now up in her top three priorities – the alarming increases in violence against women, and in general. In Victoria, the police are now called out every 10 minutes to incidents of domestic violence.
In any other year the Byron audience would have been up for a much longer discussion. But now the discussio reached the topic most were there to talk about – the deposing of former Prime Minister Julia Gillard and the part played by the misogyny factor, and where that leaves us now.
This will be covered in a post all on its own.