Another year. Another brouhaha over the Aussie day lamb ad (are they becoming too political?) and the Australia Day honours list. Honestly, after last year’s national convulsion over the awarding of an AM to men’s rights activist Bettina Arndt, you would have thought that the committee who decides these things would have been a bit more thoughtful about a repeat performance. But no. They chose to throw another grenade into the national conversation by upgrading Margaret Court to an AC. You’d have to have been living in a wombat hole in the Warrumbungles not to be cognisant of Court’s homophobic and anti-transgender rhetoric – which has rubbed a good number of very vocal people up the wrong way.
It’s got a lot of people asking what the relevance of the Australia Honour Awards are. As Jacqueline Maley and Nigel Gladstone so compellingly point out, over their 45 year history, the awards have been heavily weighted towards wealthy, male, pale and stale recipients.
Last year’s list, which included Arndt, “rendered the idiosyncrasies of the system in technicolour”. As one insider said: “It cracked open people’s uncertainty about the honours. It had a few too many rich people and a few too many pollies.”
And so 2021 was a repeat of 2020, like a screening of Groundhog Day on a never-ending loop. Yet again, women were rendered in a minority, being named as just 36.8% of new recipients.
Seriously. While it is undeniable that there are very many deserving recipients over the history of the awards, are men 63.2% more likely to be good and noble citizens who contribute to the national wellbeing?
On the upside, the unconnected Australian of the Year awards embraced the national zeitgeist. As Virginia Haussegger wrote in BroadAgenda: “There, up on stage, all 32 state and territory award winners shone in multiple shades of skin colour, age, background, ethnicity, mobility, socio-economic background, even fashion sense! It was a truly colourful collection. Which also happened to be majority female.”
Sexual assault survivor Grace Tame was named Australian of the Year. Tame is an extraordinary and fearless young woman who had found the courage to speak up and force legislative change to allow sexual assault victims to talk publicly of their ordeals. The year before she had “received national attention when she called on the Governor General to rescind the AM given to Betina Arndt. The right-wing commentator had published an interview with the paedophile jailed for repeatedly raping Grace when she was a 15-year-old school girl. In the interview Arndt accused Tame of “sexually provocative behaviour”.
The recognition of Tame might have righted one wrong, but there is still a long – too long – way to go.
Meanwhile, there is an attempt to right another massive wrong – in India of all places. A new political party, founded by actor Kamal Haasan, has vowed to recompense women for their unpaid domestic labour if elected.
Say what? Their argument is that by monetising the hidden work of homemakers, women will be empowered and the economy will be given a massive boost. Just how big in a country like India would require a supercomputer to calculate. As Virginia told ABC Canberra, modelling in Victoria calculated that unpaid work in the home was valued at $206bn a year. That’s a lot of rupees.
Referring to the rationale of New Zealand economist Marilyn Waring, Virginia noted that men aren’t going to give up a system in which half the world’s population work for nothing without a fight.
“The fact is unpaid work is always going to exist,” she said. “Someone is always going to have to look after the kids and clean the house. The question is: how do we share it more equally.”
Of course, the paradox is that we are told be economists and policymakers that increasing women’s workforce participation will have significant economic benefits – including $12 trillion boost to GDP by 2025 – if we close the gender gap. But (there’s always a but) despite being more highly educated, the private assumption in the majority of Australian families is that it will be the woman who sacrifices her career while the children are young.
Which brings me to the wonderful Caitlin Moran. Moran, you may remember, wrote a book last year (More Than A Woman), which updated her best-selling and paradigm shifting book from the 1980s called How to be a Woman. In it, she wrote that for most women, their glass ceiling is the person who shares their bed.
In an article in The Guardian from last August, Moran wrote that: “Social media has reminded us of the most intriguing yet exhilarating fact about feminism: there is no feminist bible. Feminism isn’t a science. It’s just an idea; a completely freelance, voluntary, crowd-sourced and brilliant idea, in which women and, yes, sometimes men, go about identifying, then trying to solve the problems of girls and women.
She goes on: “The female population of the Earth is also a set of answers. It’s a billion seeds of potential. It is a field of blossom, just waiting.”
How incredibly and profoundly true. Joe Biden, it seems, is already switched on to those billion seeds of potential. He has nominated a record number of women to serve in his cabinet, including the first ever female Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen. (Yellen was also the first woman to chair the Federal Reserve).
But how can we speak of Joe Biden without dwelling for just a moment on his inauguration. Instead of millions there were just 1000 people who witnessed first-hand the extraordinary words of former Youth Poet Laureate, Amanda Gorman, a “skinny Black girl, descended from slaves and raised by a single mother” who envisioned a hill that can be climbed.
“The way forward isn’t a road we take, the way forward is a road women make,” she recited.
Indeed, Gorman’s vision was one of collective hope for a new future that will lift up young women and girls to dream – as Kamala Harris recently posited – that they too can one day be president. Amen to that.