Our founder, Clare Sultmann sat down with social commentator, author, feminist and lecturer Jane Caro about Jane’s new book ‘The Accidental Feminist’ which is flying off the shelves. Over a coffee Jane and Clare discussed the book and all things women.
Yes, I do. I still think we have to ‘earn’ our right to exist rather than just have a right to exist. I think men feel they have a right to exist. Women are constantly feeling like they have to be doing things, constantly contributing or doing things for other people. I have to be earning my right or I have to be decorative; I have to ‘look right’. We are constantly seeking the right to have any space.
A simple example of fighting for space is when you go to the ladies toilets in any place where mass people gather. The queues to the ladies toilets are ridiculous. They don’t allocate enough space. Male architects still don’t understand women go to the toilet differently to men and women have to stand in queues. That means that men believe that our time isn’t as important and effectively think that they can waste our time.
I think we always have been. I just think in the past it was more class based. In Victorian England there were more prostitutes per percentage than any other country. At the same time men were incredibly puritanical about sex and covering up and very much about protecting women and it was classed based. We have always been sexualised. Whether it be forced to cover up or uncovering. Wearing little clothing does not necessarily mean you are being sexualised. I don’t think covering up is always about being modest. It might be because you are cold. I think the problem is when you start to dress according to the way men want you to dress whether covering up or uncovering then you aren’t living authentically as to how you want to dress. But I don’t think sexualisation is any worse because we see these images, but I think it’s more open and honest.
I mean basically what happened since 1960 when the pill became available was that women became liberated. Both the pill and tampon meant women could go out in the world in a way they had never been able to before. They had to have made quite considerable sacrifices to go out in the world before that- not have children or have considerable money and outsource childcare.
Suddenly in 1960 when the pill became available you could decide if you would have children, how many, the time between children. It created a huge change to women’s lives and really did liberate them.
The invention of the tampon was another huge step for women.
The tampon meant we could lose that feeling of smelling and of leaking. In so many ways you could forget you had your period. The tampon allowed women to participate as if they didn’t have their period.
I suspect it is still more of the case. We have higher standards about women and their expectations of behaviour. I often wonder when people talk about ‘their nasty female boss’. I question whether she really was nasty, or did she just behave like a man?
We have higher expectations of how women should behave. Men for some reason get away with behaviour that women don’t. Women must not appear to put ourselves on a higher level than any other woman in an organisation whereas men can. Men are allowed to ‘draw rank’ and see themselves as superior to women. That behaviour is allowed and expected. Not so for women. It’s unconscious sexism. Women are judged all the time and the trouble for women is that no matter what they do it will be seen as being wrong. There is no magic rick. The ‘system’ simply judges women negatively.
I think that women still find it very hard to shrug off those expectations. It is still mothers who feel guilty if a child has a dirty uniform. It is still mothers who feel terrible if the child doesn’t have fresh fruit in their lunchbox. Father’s don’t feel guilty about it and don’t get blamed for it. Mothers feel terrible if they can’t make a school concert. In most cases, fathers who can’t make it are a little disappointed but just don’t feel the guilt that mothers do. Similarly, women still, in most cases, feel guilt in terms of housework as the role still predominantly lies with them. In my case, if someone comes to my house they don’t think ‘gee that Ralph (Jane’s husband) is a bad housekeeper’.
Again, I think it’s the women who are still carrying the burden of pleasing everyone and living up to impossible standards. Some of it is happening at the top end. I recently went to a very prestigious girls’ private school and just before I spoke to the students the librarian said to me,
‘Please tell the girls that they are all not going to be CEO’s’.
You see, the girls today are supposed to be slim, beautiful, sexy, have a great career; they have to be absolutely everything to everybody. There is a huge expectation of what type of career they will have and as well as this they must be sexy, have great children, a good figure and so on. Ultimately this is exhausting and will see a lot of women leaving high paid jobs because they are just too overwhelmed. This in turn means they will lose their super and could possibly as a result, end up facing poverty in old age. It also means that they are reliant upon a man to look after them and provide for them. As I always say: they are ‘one bread winner away from the poverty line’.
The most important piece of advice I can give any woman is to own your own roof. Own it in your own right. If you own it, you can live off a small amount of money as long as you are not paying rent or a mortgage. As soon as don’t own a roof you become terribly vulnerable.
We need to pay them properly. Equal pay needs to be a fact rather than a theory. Similarly, it’s not acceptable that women are expected to do paid work and all the other work that is associated with home duties and caring for the family. Men need to change their mindset. We need men to do more of the ‘caring’ and women to do more ‘paid’ work.
Similarly, every time someone takes time out of the workforce to care for someone, we, the taxpayer, should continue to pay their super so that taking on the caring role does not financially affect them in the future or penalise them.