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Do fourth wave feminists ‘get’ their second wave foremothers?

by | Dec 14, 2020 | News, Feature

Do young Australian women have any idea how fiercely their mother’s and grandmother’s generations fought to open the doors and opportunities they now take for granted? Opportunities as simple as equal access to a university degree; the right to control their own fertility and make their own sexual and reproductive choices; to get a bank loan without a husband or father’s signature; to take an employer’s unlawful discrimination to court. Such a list could go on.

Of course, it’s not just the tangible, legislative changes the Australian women’s movement gifted generations to come. Perhaps the biggest legacy is the powerful, irreversible social shift in attitudes that began to take hold back in the 1960s and 70s that has snowballed ever since: attitudes around the critical role women can and must play in shaping democracy, sharing the power and building our future.

The biggest legacy of second wave feminism is the shift in social attitudes.

As Chief Editor of BroadAgenda I am always delighted when young women and students write for us. When I recently watched the excellent film Brazen Hussies, billed as a powerful ‘documentary celebrating the bold women of the Women’s Liberation Movement who reignited Australia’s feminist revolution’, I was disappointed there was not a single young face among the audience. How much do Australian women in their 20s and 30s know and understand about the women who fought before them? For them?

The following piece is written by a 21-year-old UTS student who interviewed me for a documentary she is making about the ‘misogyny speech’. Amaani Siddeek was only 13 years old when Julia Gillard ripped into Tony Abbott about sexism and misogyny. She didn’t hear the speech back then, but a few years later when a school teacher played it in class, Amaani took her cue from the boys in the room and laughed and mocked the former Prime Minister for what they viewed as screeching hysteria from an unqualified woman, who had no right to the job she held. But fast forward several years, and this smart young student now sees Gillard, her speech, and most importantly the issues behind misogyny, sexism and the power of patriarchy, in a very different light. Age, education, critical thinking, and lived experience have all played a part in shifting this young woman’s views.

But during our discussion about ‘the speech’ I again found myself wondering how much these feisty young women at the forefront of feminist action today are connecting their work and thinking to feminist battles of the recent past? I asked Amaani to take some time out of her busy university and work schedule to go and see the film Brazen Hussies and then let me know what she thought. I am delighted, with her permission, to share her thoughts here today with BroadAgenda readers. Virginia Haussegger, Chief Editor, BroadAgenda.

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As I sat down in the back row of the small Newtown cinema, three things occurred to me: one, midday on a weekday is an awful time to watch anything; two, the view of five heads of grey hair was potentially indicative of which age group was most interested in the screening; three, in a room as small as this it was probably for the best that I didn’t buy any snacks for fear of being ‘shushed’ at by grandmas.

But, with as little information about the subject of Brazen Hussies as I had – and as I continued to watch – I began to see why women of all ages would be – and should be – interested in it. For the elderly women present, it must have been a trip down memory lane but for someone like me – young and emerging in a world (I assumed was) different from theirs – the film was eye-opening.

From chaining themselves to barstools to mass protests, what amazed me the most was how similar the dialogues surrounding feminism and women liberation was to the present-day narratives. Issues of gender equality, social equity, human/LGBTQI+ rights and abortion being raised in the 1960s to 70s are still being discussed and fought for today.

Amaani Siddeek.

I guess, what I naively didn’t expect, was the calibre of arguments back then. Women who would now be 70 or 80 years old, women who in the minds of many young people represent the epitome of traditionalist values and concepts, were really fired up by radical and proactive ideas and actions. The similitude of emotion and understandings around the issues we face highlighted the absolute need for undying perseverance. Women who, in the 1970s protested on the steps of the NSW Parliament for legalized abortion, waited nearly half a century for the same parliament to decriminalise it in 2019. I was on those very steps, as women and men marched, purple pro-choice signs high in the air. To see the same building at a different time for the same issue was weird – in the same way vertigo or deja-vu feels weird – and suddenly I could feel a ghostly presence of these older feminists filling up the room. The cinema didn’t feel so empty anymore and the age gap was bridged in that single shot.

Social media is a powerful tool, and movements such as #HeForShe, #MeToo, #TimesUp and so many more have spurred global awareness and education.

But where the film highlighted the power of a unified front, it was quick to reveal the underlying fractures and issues that became apparent throughout the movement – issues that I had become familiar with through academic studies and lived experiences. As it had become more apparent throughout the movement, we continue to see that feminism is more than just women’s liberation. It became obvious that the movement, while benefitting many white, cis women, left behind women of colour, Indigenous women, non-binary women and more – all issues that we recognise more fully now and continue to fight for today.

Social media is a powerful tool, and movements such as #HeForShe, #MeToo, #TimesUp and so many more have spurred global awareness and education that is accessible to anyone with a device and internet connection. At rallies I see white, cis, men (who in the film were often on the other side of the barricade) stand with women for their rights.

Women protesting in the 1970s

I think most of all, what I realised after watching the film was that I didn’t know how hopeless or lost I felt when it came to voicing why I and so many others need feminism and why women’s rights is still an issue. I am overcome with anxiety when I would see injustices perpetrated then and still happening to this day. Before watching the film I felt the concerns, including climate change mitigation, many young women were toiling for were going unheard. But what the film presses home is that with social issues of this magnitude, progress is slow and results are too often few and far between. But not impossible. If anything, the progress we’re seeing now is because people in the past pushed on unrelentingly. That was the biggest wake-up call. That I, a young woman, was impatient for something that just take time to unfold.

Amaani Siddeek is a  21 years old student in her final year of media studies at the University of Technology Sydney.

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