“Vacuuming the living room floor — with or without makeup — is not work that takes enough thought or energy to challenge any woman’s full capacity,” Betty Friedan wrote in her 1963 book The Feminine Mystique.
“As she made the beds, shopped for groceries, matched slipcover material, ate peanut butter sandwiches with her children, chauffeured Cub Scouts and Brownies, lay beside her husband at night — she was afraid to ask even of herself the silent question — ‘Is this all?’”
Betty Friedan would have turned 100 this year. While she is not without her critics, Friedan helped define second wave feminism to a generation of women by labelling “the problem that had no name”.
The same, it must be said, of the #MeToo movement. It too defined a problem which was silenced and brushed aside for decades.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, triggered by the January 6 insurrection of the Capitol during which she feared for her life, this week told 150,000 followers on Instagram Live that “I’m a survivor of sexual assault.” She went on: ”When we go through trauma, trauma compounds on each other.”
The actress Evan Rachel Wood also named her abuser. Marilyn Manson – a nom de plume for the much more ordinary-named Brian Warner – has raped her, threatened to kill her, deprived her of food and sleep, tied her up, beat her and tortured her. Manson has denied the claims, posting on Instagram that his “art and my life have long been magnets for controversy” and that his “intimate relationships have always been entirely consensual with like-minded partners.”
But he told Spin magazine in 2009 that he had called Wood 158 times in a single day after a breakup. “I have fantasies every day about smashing her skull in with a sledgehammer,” he said.
Trauma compounds trauma. But somehow women get on with their lives, creating careers and families and friendships – and occasionally finding themselves unable to get out of foetal position for a day or more at a time.
The #MeToo movement is without doubt one of the greatest social revolutions for women in our time. It has given them a voice. It gives them permission to confront their abusers and to tell of the trauma upon trauma that have been compounded on their lives.
But there’s a flip-side. The narrative that women are saints – nurturing, collaborative, supportive and caring at both work and home – isn’t always true. In Canada, former astronaut and (now ex) Governor General Julie Payette, has been exposed as a brutal and calculating bully. A recent report noted: “There was a victim in every meeting.” “A house of horrors.” “It was like a punch every time she spoke to someone.”
One article raised the issue of “moral injury” – a concept I hadn’t heard of before.
“Moral injury refers to the pain inflicted when one watches something terrible and feels guilt about having done nothing or been unable to prevent it. Good people suffer moral injury; bullies don’t even grasp the concept.”
Bullying is a question of power. Which takes us to Myanmar when Aung San Suu Kyi has been arrested. Just as in the US, the ruling militia questioned the authenticity of recent election results – which confirmed her enormous popularity among the Burmese citizenry. As Susan Hutchinson wrote in BroadAgenda this week, it has also give cause for some rethinking of the vitriol and abuse that was hurled at Suu Kyi during the Rohinya genocide.
“The question of power, and balancing power, is at the core of feminist analysis,” writes Hutchinson. “It has also been the greatest challenge to Aung San Suu Kyi’s leadership since coming to power. It was certainly a shock for most of the world to watch her defending the military in the genocide case at the International Court of Justice (ICJ). But maybe now, some critics can better see the very fine line she’s been trying to walk all this time.”
As 50/50 Foundation co-directors Kim Rubenstein and Trish Bergin also wrote this week of the US election: “The demagogic turmoil of the previous four years perhaps impressed upon the new incumbents … the need to exercise power differently, that its personal exercise requires inclusion, collaboration, separation and constraint too.”
On a brighter note, the New York Times ran a piece ‘How Women are Changing the Philanthropy Game’. It cites the case of MacKenzie Scott – former wife of the world’s richest man Jeff Bezos – who had given away $4.2 billion of her divorce settlement in the last four months of 2020. That was on top of the $1.7bn she had given away earlier that year.
An article in Vanity Fair had made the point that Scott was getting even with Bezos “by doing what he does not: sharing his unbelievable, unconscionable, indescribable wealth with those he makes his money off of, i.e. everyone else in the world.”
That’s a nice way to exact revenge! But the NYT argument also makes a powerful case for the fact that women have always been active philanthropists in terms of both time and money but it was usually done without fuss and often when “unrecognised or belittled”.
“Gender matters in philanthropy,” one researcher told the NYT. “Men and women engage in philanthropy differently. One is not better than the other. They’re just different.”
Indeed a report from Barclays found that among the super wealthy in America, women gave nearly twice as much as men do. Women also socialise their husbands into philanthropy.
This is my last BroadAgenda weekly wrap. It been a rollercoaster of a year for all of us and thank you for sharing some of it with me. I am departing the University of Canberra to write about universities – and TAFEs and schools – as the education editor for the Australian Financial Review. Follow me @harejulie.
Virginia Haussegger will take over the reins next week so you will be in good company.