Why We Still Need Feminism

206411_1871353977186_1041219260_2102208_3737361_n Jessica Muslin argues that those on the right should embrace – not shun – the feminism label: 

I find it scary that ‘feminism’ is a dirty word nowadays. I find it disturbing that so many women I know don’t consider themselves to be a feminist. I find it frightening that most of my male peers simply view feminism as an instrument for affirmative action. I find it perplexing that many people do not believe that we still need feminism today.

As someone who is very active in a rather conservative political party, many people might find it strange that I consider myself to be an extremely proud feminist. This is because of the simple fact that I acknowledge the gender disparity that exists today, and confidently know that it needs to change somehow.

I have a lot of friends who think that feminism is outdated and no longer needed. Looking at the status quo, you might be forgiven for thinking that that is the case – women have pretty much all of the ‘formal rights’ they didn’t have a century ago, such as the rights to vote, work and run for political office.

However, the issues that women still face are as many as they are complex. The fact that women make up an extremely small amount of corporate CEOs in many western liberal countries upsets me. The fact that domestic violence is still so common in many parts of both the developing and western world enrages me. The fact that many men think that opinionated women “just need to calm down” disturbs me.

With that being said, what frustrates me most about the ‘feminism’ debate is the fundamental lack of understanding about the different types of feminism that exist. Not every feminist supports affirmative action. Not every feminist supports government paid maternity leave. There are an amazing range of ‘feminist views’ within society, and critics of feminism must learn to distinguish between them.

For example, most people who term themselves a feminist have completely different views on issues like prostitution and pornography. Most sex-negative feminists don’t support these industries on the basis that they perpetuate a stereotype of female sexual behaviour, thus constructing the way women are interpreted sexually. However, many other feminists believe that allowing women to make their own sexual choices, such as the choice to become a prostitute, is core to the notion of women making their own free decisions.

Feminists have a wide range of opinions about what the best approach is to deal with the fact that women still make up a very small number of high corporate and political positions. Yes, many feminists have advocated and supported the need for government intervention to deal with this issue – but just as many other feminists advocate a more ‘organic’ and ‘non-interventionist’ approach in obtaining better career options for women.

The point is – there is not one type of feminist. Feminism can mean a range of different things to different people and this is perfectly fine. The over-arching aim of feminism is to be constantly challenging the way both genders are viewed in society, and to be positively contributing to how we can make both genders respect each other as much as possible. You don’t have to support bra-burning or affirmative action to agree with this basic sentiment.

The biggest misconception about feminism is that it doesn’t care about men’s issues. Quite the opposite is true. Feminism cares about equality – it’s plain and simple. The great thing about feminism is that it essentially transcends gender. The debate doesn’t have to be exclusively about women. In fact, challenging popular notions of masculinity can be a part of the way men engage with and interpret feminism. However, society is only able to construct these dialogues when more men engage with the feminist discussion.

I wish I knew more men who proudly identified as feminists. It’s a shame that those who do always end up branded negatively. It’s probably a bigger shame that many women on the conservative side of politics would never dare classify themselves by the ‘feminist’ label, for fear of being viewed differently.

The misapprehension that feminism is intrinsically opposed to liberal or conservative ideology needs to change. The core basis of both liberalism and conservatism asserts that everyone deserves the same rights, freedoms and opportunities, regardless of biology. This idea is also fundamental to the feminist doctrine, and is something that the right-wing of politics should not only accept, but embrace.

I have no doubt in my mind that we still need feminism, and that all people, regardless of political persuasion, should be empowered to call themselves a feminist. The next time you hear the word ‘feminism’ being brought up in political discussion, please do not cringe, shy away from the debate or worse still, go on the offensive. It is only with more considered and informed discussion can we move past the idea that feminism is an exclusive club for left-wing female academics, and actually make a difference for gender equality.

Jessica is a 3rd year law and politics student at Griffith University. She is a member of the Young LNP and the President of the Griffith University Liberal Club.

The ‘Don’t Hurt People’s Feelings’ Act

206411_1871353977186_1041219260_2102208_3737361_n Jessica Muslin discusses Andrew Bolt and Freedom of Speech in Australia:

I’m an Australian-Italian that likes the best of both worlds. I like to cheer for Australia when it comes to sport, but criticise Australians for being too bogan. I like to embrace the fact that Australians are easygoing and laidback, but criticise the fact that you seriously cannot find good food in Australia, outside of the woggy parts of Melbourne. I’ll call myself an Australian when travelling overseas, but assert myself as Italian in Australia, because people tend to find me more interesting that way.

Under Justice Bromberg's interpretation of Section 18D of the Racial Discrimination Act, would be illegal to criticise me for my undoubtedly hypocritical ways? Ok, I know the Bolt case and my aforementioned hypocrisy aren’t exactly analogous, but you get the idea. Andrew Bolt criticised Aboriginal Australians because they received affirmative action based scholarships and prizes, on the basis that they were Aboriginal. The catch was that these Australians had white skin.

The error made on the part of Bolt, was that he claimed these Australians only ever asserted themselves as Aboriginals when it came to winning prizes, when in fact they had identified as Aboriginal people their entire lives. Apparently that is enough to “offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate another person or a group of people, which is done because of the race, colour or national or ethnic origin of the other person or of some or all of the people in the group".

I understand the point of view that Bolt made factual inaccuracies about the plaintiffs, but if he had damaged their good names, why couldn’t that be dealt with under defamation laws? Let’s consider two scenarios. Firstly, if the Racial Discrimination Act only applies to defamatory conduct, then it is redundant and already covered by existing law. Secondly, if the Act also applies to non-defamatory conduct, then we are essentially protecting people from having mean things said about them.

That is where I take issue with the Act. In short: people should harden up. If faced with queries about my aforementioned ethnic hypocrisy, I would simply tell those criticising to bugger off. If I was in a feisty mood, I would probably engage in a reasonable, rational debate, to try to convince those criticising that it is perfectly acceptable to love both meat pies and lasagna.

In the context of sometimes controversial arguments made by the likes of Andrew Bolt and Alan Jones, the best way to keep them accountable is to question them, and if necessary, make rational arguments against them. That sort of discussion should underpin a healthy democracy. If someone is saying something legitimately racist, then we should battle them with words, not lawyers. Silencing them achieves nothing. If we are to progress socially, then it must happen though organic change, not coercion.

Whilst the Racial Discrimination Act is the law, and yes, Bolt knew about the law, it is not as simple as “well, he broke it”. There is a firstly a case to be made that the judge did not reasonably apply the ‘free speech’ defense, in asserting that what Bolt said was not fair or reasonable.

It should not be unfair or unreasonable, and especially not racist, to question the legitimacy of certain affirmative action policies. I think the majority of Australian society would find it bizarre that a ‘white person’ could win an Aboriginal scholarship or prize. Whether right or wrong, in some way Bolt was representing a prevalent community opinion. If that happens to ‘offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate’, then that is unfortunate, but it shouldn’t stifle legitimate political debate.

There is secondly a case to be made that Section 18D of the Racial Discrimination Act is in fact unconstitutional, as it interferes with our implied freedom of political communication. This would depend of how far the High Court would be willing to broaden the definition of ‘political communication’, but there is certainly a case to be made that because Bolt’s comments were regarding hot political issues, they should fall under the scope of that implied constitutional right.

At the end of the day, it is foolish to simply point out that technically we don’t a constitutionally protected right to freedom of speech in Australia. This case and the media hype that has gone with it, is about more than just the law. This case is about a discussion of ideas. Whilst yes, there are no formal safeguards for freedom of speech in this country, that doesn’t necessarily mean that this should be the case.

Perhaps this case will reinvigorate discussion about the need for better protection of expression and opinion. Perhaps we shouldn’t simply be accepting what protections we have, but constantly be fighting for more.

After all, freedom of speech is only an issue when it is controversial. There is not ever a need to protect uncontroversial speech. It we can’t defend it when we don’t like it, then we can’t defend it at all. As George Washington once said, "If the freedom of speech is taken away, then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter."

Jessica Muslin is a law tudent at the Griffith University

Take Marriage Away From Government

206411_1871353977186_1041219260_2102208_3737361_n In post 2 of today's 4 part series, Jessica Muslin argues in favour that it isn't the role of government to decide marriages: 

It is rather frustrating that when politicians talk about the ‘marriage debate’, they only refer to two distinctly different choices; same sex marriage or retaining the status quo. This however, is a false dichotomy. Why should the government play any role in determining the private contracts that those in relationships make? Why is it up to the government to determine who is eligible to make contract-bound life-long commitments?

The only option that should, in theory, appease both the equal rights activists and the ‘marriage conservatives’, is getting the government out of the ‘marriage business’ altogether. Whether you want to call it privatising or deregulating, it simply means letting individuals make their own marriage contracts according to their conscience, religion and/or common sense. These contracts, like any other contracts, would be recognised as legal and arbitrated by the courts.

Proponents of same sex marriage always ask the question; why deregulation? Why can’t we simply legalise same sex marriage and have it done with? The problem is, even if same sex marriage was legalised, the government would still be playing a massive, but ultimately unnecessary role in what should be a private contract. Why should individuals with their own set of beliefs, have to conform to the ‘rules’ of a relationship, as government defines them? Relationships are inherently private and personal, and should never be defined by the state.

On the other hand, those against deregulation always seem to panic at the possibility of developing more ‘unusual relationships’. This concern ignores the fundamental basics of how contract law is governed. In any contract, when one of the parties is found to not have properly consented, it will be void or voidable. Therefore, concerns about bestiality, incest and underage marriage are mostly unwarranted. However, so long as all the parties in a relationship are consenting (for example, in many polygamous relationships), there is no valid reason as to why these individuals cannot make their own informed choices. 

The advantage of deregulating marriage is that same sex couples are given equal rights, whilst religious institutions are still able to retain their own definition of marriage. If some religious institutions wish to marry same sex couples, then that will be their right. If some religious organisations wish to only marry heterosexual couples, then that will also be their right. No church would be forced, nor should be forced, to marry anyone that they do not wish to marry.

There is nothing wrong with religious institutions wanting to uphold their traditional view of marriage. However, there is a fundamental difference between private discrimination and government discrimination. That latter can never be acceptable, which is why it is principally wrong for the state to advocate marriage for heterosexual couples, but only civil unions (or nothing) for same sex couples.

Legalising same sex marriage has good intentions, but ultimately fails at addressing the larger problem, which is the state’s role in marriage to begin with. The only way forward is to get the government out of defining personal, private relationships. Marriage deregulation is the only way to ensure that same sex couples have the same rights as heterosexual couples, whilst allowing religious institutions to retain their own definition of marriage.  

Jessica Muslin is a student at the University of Queensland