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Feminism, Hong Kong Deadline, Jack Spackman, Observations, Opinion, Politics

Sisters, sisters what are we fighting for?

Job opportunities and healthcare, that’s what. And we’re still fighting, after all these years…

I was 15 years old when I attended my first International Women’s Day event in 1978.

My father had been invited to speak at an IWD lunch at a prominent Hong Kong hotel and he took me along with him. He was the only man at the event.

The Big Baxter was hosting a morning talkback radio show at the time and was a bit of a local celebrity.

I presume he was invited to the event because a good chunk of his audience was female, and therefore he could be expected to draw a crowd, and he was a feminist.

He believed in equal rights and opportunities for women and recognised that equal rights for women did not mean diminished rights for men.

It was a simple concept and it holds up pretty well in 2012, in spite of the difficulties some people – men and women – have with the feminist tag these days.

Each place setting at the lunch included a complimentary bottle of perfume.

Before the meal was over those bottles had become a symbol of the casual sexism which the women regularly and, judging by the discussion, universally experienced.

The event organiser picked up one of the bottles and said to the Big Bax, “What are these even doing here? I didn’t order them. I don’t know where they came from.

“But because it’s a women’s event, the hotel’s obviously decided that we’d all like some perfume because, well, why?”

The frustration in her voice left a mark on me even though, at 15, I didn’t yet understand it.

“We’re not here to talk about hair and makeup, we’re here to talk about job opportunities and healthcare.”

In her honour, I thought I’d check out how we’re doing on those.

Here in Australia, International Women’s Day 2012 was dominated by Commodore Bruce Kafer’s return to his post as head of the Australian Defence Force Academy.

Kafer was sent on leave over his handling of the Skype affair, in which an 18-year-old female cadet alleged she’d been filmed having sex with a fellow cadet, while others watched via a pre-arranged Skype chat from another room.

The sex was consensual, the voyeurism was not.

The victim, Kate, went public about the incident, claiming the military had failed to act, and a criminal investigation was begun.

Kafer was roundly criticised by Defence Minister Stephen Smith for his decision to allow a separate investigation into alleged disciplinary breaches by Kate to continue while the Skype investigation began.

Smith was quoted as saying it was either “complete insensitivity or complete stupidity” for Kafer to allow unrelated disciplinary proceedings against Kate to go ahead.

On Wednesday the Kirkham Inquiry found there was no legal basis to prevent Kafer returning to his post.

On Thursday, International Women’s Day, Smith was under attack from Opposition Leader Tony Abbott and others for refusing to express confidence in Kafer and for standing by his criticisms.

Smith told the ABC’s PM program,

“In the face of an 18-year-old innocent victim of an alleged serious sexual abuse, I thought it was wrong then and I believe it’s wrong now – I haven’t changed my view.

“To bring her character or conduct into play was wrong in principle.”

Kate is no longer at the academy although she continues to serve in the Australian Defence Force, well away from ADFA.

Of the two alleged perpetrators, one has quit and the other is continuing his officer training.

But Kirkham, which got all the attention, was just one report into the Australian Defence Academy.

Smith released six reports on Wednesday, all ordered in the wake of the Skype scandal and covering a range of aspects of military culture, including alcohol consumption and use of social media.

Among them, an independent examination of around 1000 abuse claims from both men and women found 775 “plausible” sexual abuse claims dating back 60 years that could and should be acted on.

Statistically, that’s remarkably similar to the 74 per cent of female cadets who reported some form of sexual harassment to the Sex Discrimination Commissioner’s review of the treatment of women at ADFA, also prompted by the Skype incident.

On a day when it was shown that male and female cadets in Australia’s prestigious military academy are unsafe from sexual harassment and abuse, Smith was criticised for standing up for a victim.

It’s the right of all men and women to pursue their chosen career free from sexual harassment and abuse.

On the evidence to date, that right doesn’t extend to Australia’s military which is a bit more disturbing than whether the head of our prestigious officer school deserves an apology.

Turning to health care, and there’s more gloom to report with the increasingly vicious debate over women’s health care in the United States.

The Ugly American Rush Limbaugh has been bleeding advertisers from his radio show since he vilified a young woman for giving evidence to a congressional committee about health insurance coverage for contraception.

This was a special committee convened after an all-male panel set up to discuss the issue refused to hear from her, or indeed from any woman.

For three days Limbaugh insulted and denigrated Sandra Fluke. He didn’t just call her a slut and a prostitute, which is all he apologised for.

He subjected her to a relentless onslaught of abuse that included a demand that she post a sex tape on the Internet because he, as a taxpayer, was funding her contraception and wanted something in return.

The Republican presidential hopefuls, who had been ramping up the contraception issue as part of their attack on “Obamacare,” responded in mealy-mouthed fashion.

Santorum suggested that Limbaugh was merely an entertainer, while Romney thought the choice of words was poor.

The President stood up for the victim and so did 40-plus advertisers at last count in what, predictably, is being seen as a left-wing liberal plot to take down Rush.

If I could go back to that table of women in 1978, fuming over those perfume bottles, I’d have a hard time explaining why we’re still not there on job opportunities and health care.

If the Big Baxter had anything to say about it all, it would probably go something like this:

Daughters by John Mayer (video)

Further reading

Have you no shame Rush? By Maureen Dowd

Rush Limbaugh, ladies’ man

If you don’t feel that International Women’s Day is for you by Stella Duffy

When women used Lysol as birth control

Subject for debate: Are women people?

Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women

© Sally Baxter 2012

About Sally Baxter

Once I was a girl reporter, blogging as Sally Baxter. Now I'm writing under my name at www.mariaspackman.com covering the past, present and future of journalism and whatever else takes my fancy. All views my own.


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Your Girl Reporter is now filing as Maria Spackman at www.mariaspackman.com Same great content, whole new website. I’m leaving Sally Baxter up, as I can’t quite bring myself to let her go completely, but it’s time to honour my family name – and use it. Hope you’ll join me for the Further Adventures of a Girl Reporter. It’ll be fun.

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