After today listening to the speech by the Prime minister of Australia, Julia Gillard, regarding sexism and misogony in our Parliament, I take the unusual step of re-blogging this post I made on Oct5th.
For many ordinary Australians, today is a day to feel profound sadness and anger. Today Jill Meagher will be buried, quietly, in a private ceremony. This young married woman was raped and murdered whilst walking home from a night out with friends in Brunswick, a Melbourne suburb. This dreadful crime has caused caused horror throughout Australia and in many parts of the world, especially in Ireland, her home country.
Perhaps it should provoke us to look at the treatment of women all over the world.
Sometimes I despair that true equality between the sexes will ever be a fact of life. No, I don’t mean I wish men and women were the same – I enjoy the fact that they’re dissimilar, in fact I revel in the separateness between the sexes. I like a man to be manly and a woman who’s not afraid of her femineity. What I mean is the treatment of women by too many members of the opposite sex.
In many parts of the world, violence against women is still tolerated. A recent ‘honour killing’ in Afghanistan was reported, where men stood around cheering while watching a woman being shot. Slavery and forced prostitution still exist, while female genital mutilation is regarded as normal in some countries. In Saudi Arabia a de facto law prevents women from driving. Many issues of the violation of women’s rights are swept under the rug.
Women in the western world are fortunate in that male attitudes towards women have become more enlightened over the past century, although there is still room for improvement, particularly with regards to professional discrimination, which is where gender inequality is alive and well. For instance, we now have a female Prime Minister in Australia, but she is subject to vilification and disparagement that has never been so strident against former Prime Ministers, all male. The ‘glass ceiling’ is still there for women. Rape still happens and domestic violence is a problem.
But there is a lot of room for hope. Jill Meagher’s brutal killing evoked a response from ordinary people, both men and women. It caused a completely unorchestrated walk through Melbourne streets by people who abhorred this act of violence against a member of the physically weaker sex. Totally unplanned, a few friends decided to walk against this aggression. They emailed a few others, who then put it on Facebook. Twitter took it up, and over 30,000 people turned up to walk peaceably through the streets of Melbourne. A walk for peace, for an end to violent acts against women, a walk that asked for our streets to become safe for everyone, day and night.
The treatment of women has come a long way from the nineteenth century, when the research for my historical novels revealed to me that women were regarded as intellectually and emotionally inferior to men, when everything a woman owned became her husband’s property when she married, and the law upheld the rights to male dominance over women. Women were discouraged from using their brains, and a ‘nice’ woman was not expected to enjoy sex. She was expected to be a good home maker and bed warmer for her husband, to produce his children and attend to all his wants, without expectation of enjoyment herself.
Yes, we’ve come a long way in the western world. Let’s hope those countries that still subjugate their women will follow before too much longer.