Is feminism still relevant?

Ms Samantha Bolton, Dean of Studies

We live in a nation with a female Prime Minister and a female Governor-General. We live in a State with a female Premier and female Governor. In this context is feminism still needed? Is it relevant? As International Women’s Day 2012 draws to a close it is timely to reflect upon this. There are questions to be asked about feminism and its significance as a word and a concept in the twenty-first century context. These questions are particularly pertinent in a school of 1160 young women for whom the limitations of gender appear meaningless.

Clearly such thinking dominates the discourse surrounding gender politics if the myriad publications relating to the topic are anything to go by. The popularity of works such as Susan Faludi’s Backlash (1991), Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner’s The F-word: feminism in jeopardy: women, politics, and the future (2004), and The Great Feminist Denial by Monica Dux and Zora Simic (2008) suggest that discussions about the place of feminism in contemporary society are of import to many people. It is imperative that young women, as members of a thinking society, engage in these discussions. This will enable them to become more cognisant of their own views of feminism and develop an understanding of what it means in both a global and personal sense. There is no one size fits all approach to this topic – its complexity means that each individual must grapple with its meaning and relevance in their own lives.

Undoubtedly the notion of feminism has evolved since writer Rebecca West claimed in 1913 that, ‘I myself have never been able to find out precisely what feminism is. I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat’. This evolution of feminism since the early twentieth century has not been a smooth and uninhibited path though, as evidenced by the claim made by American minister, televangelist and political activist, Pat Robinson in a letter to the New York Times in 1992 that feminism was a political movement that encouraged women to ‘leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians’. Such an assertion is obviously extreme in its censorious nature. In the same year author Susan Faludi’s statement that feminism ‘asks that women be free to define themselves instead of having their identity defined for them’ tends to be a more widely accepted definition.

The nature of feminism and what construes a feminist was discussed in a most thought provoking way on Radio National’s Sunday Extra programme as recently as last weekend (Feminism and the Thatcher legacy, 2012). The session was launched with the question of whether Margaret Thatcher could be viewed as a feminist. This was a point of disagreement amongst feminists Eva Cox, Monica Dux and Sabine Wolff. Dux’s comment that Thatcher was a spectre that haunted feminism because she wielded power but did not help other women was supported by Cox who articulated a view that feminism was not just about being pro-women but rather about shifting our culture so that women do not always have to function within constructs which are largely masculine. As with any political, social, cultural or religious movement, those who write or speak about feminism have strong convictions and are committed either to its promotion or to its denigration. As such, those seeking to gain an understanding of its meaning must be prepared to approach their readings and discussions with a critical eye and an inquisitive mind. Fortunately there are opportunities within the curriculum at this School to do just that.

Embarking on a unit encompassing a case study of second wave feminism with my Year 12 Modern History class in 2010 gave me more clarity regarding how the students viewed the term feminism. Interestingly it also gave the girls a greater insight into the concept and its place in their lives. What began with a discussion characterised by comments such as ‘I hate talking about this’ and ‘it’s stupid’ and ‘we can do whatever we want’, ended with sentiments which were quite contrary to this. These young women discussed their own experiences, including the reality that at times when they found themselves in joint (male and female) activities requiring them to speak and contribute on topics of social and political importance there was a tendency for the girls to remain silent and for the discussion to be dominated by the boys. These Modern History students, through their reading, were also able to confront the reality that they were in a privileged minority of the world’s women, most of whom live lives that are constrained by their gender in a variety of ways. Thus as the complexity of this thing called feminism, which they had compartmentalised as irrelevant to them, became clear, it was fascinating to watch many of the girls rethink their understanding of the word.

The assumption that as a nation with a female Prime Minister, Australia has moved beyond many of the issues confronting women in positions of power was addressed by Anne Summers in a recent Sydney Morning Herald article.  Regardless of political viewpoint one must agree that Julia Gillard has been subjected to treatment both in the media and in parliament which has been shaped by her gender. She has been described as ‘deliberately barren’ in reference to her childless state, as ‘coquettish and giggling’ in her responses to President Obama and as a ‘menopausal monster’ on talk back radio (2012). Summers’ article links Gillard’s experience to the barriers that are still present for women seeking careers in politics or other forms of public leadership. Journalist Gillian Guthrie added to this commentary with her article in the Sydney Morning Herald this week, in which it particularly focused on the way that Gillard has been defined in terms of her childless state by fellow politicians, the media and voters.

Interestingly, the notion that having a female political leader can actually work against the ideals of feminism has been discussed in some forums (Feminism and the Thatcher legacy, 2012). Elements of the population may in fact see such a situation as meaning that women have now achieved equality, a dangerous assumption given that only twelve percent of private sector management jobs are held by women (Bastow, 2012), that only 25 of 100 people listed as Australia’s National Living Treasures are women (Robotham, 2012), and that women are still struggling to achieve representation in the country’s boardrooms (Pow, 2011).

While the relevance of feminism to young women in contemporary society is certainly contested, an examination of global political, economic and social statistics/trends would suggest that there are many layers that need to be unpacked in order to understand its importance. Understanding the plight of those women who do not fall into the category described as ‘white, reasonably well off, employed and/or university educated’ (Bastow, 2012) is a good place to start in this quest. Such women may be disadvantaged by poverty, religion, politics and geography. As critical thinkers it is also important that young women confront the possibility alluded to by Bastow that ‘the misogyny around them is so internalised and institutionalised that they don’t notice it’ (2012). Wherever one falls on the spectrum of feminist ideology, it is vital to continue to question the representations presented in the media of what it means. The stereotype of a feminist being a ‘man- hater with unshaven arm pits’ (Bastow, 2012) undoubtedly trivialises a movement that has been responsible for significant change in the lives of many. If one accepts Eva Cox’s explanation of feminism as being to put on the agenda issues which have been sidelined because they have traditionally been the domain of women (Feminism and the Thatcher legacy, 2012), then it has a collective relevance to our students, who will be the mothers, employers, employees and leaders of the future.

Feminism is not a dirty word. It is not an aggressive word despite the negative connotations that seem to be associated with it for many people. Feminists do not come from a single group in society. They cannot be defined in terms of age, colour, religion or socio-economic status. Some may say that in contemporary society feminists cannot even be defined by gender. The last century has seen immense change for women in Australia in terms of the law. As a result of the work of first and second wave feminists in particular, legislation has been passed to allow gender equality within the political, economic and social framework of society. The challenge for feminists in 2012 is to build upon these changes so that what is possible becomes a reality. For that to happen we need to do more than pass laws. We need to address the attitudes and beliefs of women and men so that the limitations of gender cease to exist for both groups.


Bastow, C. (2012, February 27). Do young women feel uncomfortable about Feminism? Ideas at the House. Retrieved 6 March from

Dux, M. & Simic, Z. (2008). The Great Feminist Denial. Melbourne: Melbourne University Press.

Faludi, S. (1992) Backlash: The Undeclared War Against Women. London: Chatto & Windus.

Feminism and the Thatcher legacy. (2012, March 4) [Radio broadcast] Sunday Extra, Radio National retrieved 5 March from

Guthrie, G. (2012, March 6). Put a stop now to mother of all insults. The Sydney Morning Herald Retrieved March 6 from

Pow, H. (2011, May 21). Australian boardrooms still full of men, women under represented. Adelaide Now. Retrieved 6 march from

Robertson letter attacks feminists. (1992, August 26). The New York Times Archives. Retrieved 6 March from

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Father who won compensation after his dream holiday was ruined is a convicted drug dealer Jay Mortimore was jailed for three years after being found with 1,000 LSD tablets when police searched him believing he may have been carrying fake money The father of a family awarded thousands of pounds in compensation after they were forced to cancel their holiday abroad because fellow passengers refused to let them sit together is a convicted drug dealer. Jay Mortimore was jailed for three years after being found with 1,000 LSD tablets when police searched him believing he may have been carrying fake money. When they raided his home in Exeter, Devon, they discovered £2,000 of drug money hidden in his freezer and a lethal knuckleduster stashed in his car. He was hauled to court and sent to prison - a sentence that he claims helped him turn his life around and transformed him into 'one of the top heavyweight cage fighters in the country'. Speaking to The Sun today, he said: 'I am a hard worker and I have nothing to do with drugs any more. I just work and provide for my family. pre bonded hair'In 2008 I went to prison and I have done my time and I was away from my family for 14 months. 'Of course, I regret it, but it is in my past. 'I changed my life around. I fought across the world and had major sponsorship deals. I have imparted my knowledge to train others. There is no way I would have been able to do that if I was still into drugs. 'I could not have done anything like that if I was still involved in crime.' The 35-year-old was yesterday celebrating after being awarded more than £4,000 in compensation following the cancellation of his family's half-term break to Tenerife. He and wife Carolyn had spent £2,300 to head to the sun with children Brayden, seven, and Ryley, 12 - only to be kicked off their flight because there was not enough space. The 35-year-old was celebrating after being awarded more than £4,000 in compensation following the cancellation of his half-term break to Tenerife. He and wife Carolyn spent £2,300 to head to the sun with children Brayden, seven, and Ryley, 12 - only to be kicked off their flight because there was not enough space

They were initially denied full compensation for their holiday last week - but EasyJet and Thomas Cook made a U-turn and offered them nearly twice the original cost of the getaway. It came after the family suffered the heartbreak of arriving back from the airport after their failed trip to find that their beloved dog had to be put down. Following the publicity and a massive outpouring of public sympathy, the travel giants agreed to give the Mortimores £3,640 plus £600 worth of holiday vouchers. Mr Mortimore, 35, said: 'It's not the holiday we wanted, but they have done us a good deal and given us back more than we paid. 'We are still angry, especially as the boys have gone through it hard this week no matter how much money they give us. remy hair extensions'It's all gone crazy since we shared our story. It's still rubbish what we've been through but we're trying to make the most out of it. They were initially denied full compensation for their holiday last week - but EasyJet and Thomas Cook made a U-turn and offered them nearly twice the original cost of the getaway Brayden, who was hoping to go on his first foreign holiday, and Ryley, watch as their flight departs without them 'Later in the year we may use the holiday vouchers to go away for a long weekend or maybe we might have a small holiday next year in Spain.' EasyJet had initially defended its policy of overbooking flights to limit the effect of no-shows, but later performed a U-turn. A spokesman said: 'We protect families from any overbooking, so this situation should simply not have occurred. 'We should have been able to seat the Mortimore family together to enable them to travel and they will be fully compensated for their experience. 'EasyJet does everything it can to seat families together and has a sophisticated algorithm which seats families together more than 99 per cent of the time. 'On the rare occasion where this hasn't been possible we'll ask passengers onboard to move to accommodate families with young children. It is very rare that passengers aren't prepared to do so although this was the case on this flight.' Thomas Cook added in a statement: 'Once we became aware we contacted them to offer our full support. 'We have reassured the family that we are taking this matter seriously, and that we have asked EasyJet to investigate why this occurred. 'We're pleased the family has accepted a full refund as well as the payment they are entitled to from EasyJet for denied boarding. As a further gesture of goodwill we have given them a voucher towards their next holiday, for which they are very grateful.'

Caitlyn Jenner's docu-series has officially been cancelled after two seasons. The 66-year-old confirmed weeks of rumours that I Am Cait is coming to an end on her Twitter page on Tuesday. 'After 2 amazing seasons of @IAmCait, it's time for the next adventure,' Caitlyn shared. 'Thank you E! & thank you to the best girlfriends I could ask for!' Coming to an end: Caitlyn Jenner (pictured last month) confirmed on Tuesday that I Am Cait has been cancelled after two seasons The news doesn't come as a surprise following much speculation that the show would not return due to low ratings. I Am Cait debuted strong in July of last year, with 2.73million viewers tuning in for the series premiere. perruques cheveux naturelsHowever the show failed to hold onto its audience in its second season. Just 860,000 viewers watched the season two finale, with ratings dipping as low as 480,000 during the season. 'Thank you E!': The 66-year-old announced the news on her Twitter page and said 'it's time for the next adventure' Sharing her story: The docu-series followed Caitlyn after her gender transition

'There just weren’t enough viewers,' a source told Radar Online earlier this month. 'The show can’t compete with other programming.' E! released a statement shortly afterwards saying that 'no decision had been made' at that time regarding the future of the show. I Am Cait followed the life of the Olympian, who was born Bruce, after her gender transition. The series was announced by E! immediately after Caitlyn's 20/20 interview with Diane Sawyer in April 2015, in which she revealed she identifies as female. Losing its audience: The show debuted strong, but failed to hold onto viewers during its second season Call me Caitlyn: The series was announced by E! immediately after Caitlyn's 20/20 interview with Diane Sawyer in April 2015, in which she revealed she identifies as female Caitlyn starred in the show alongside other members of the transgender community, including Jennifer Finney Boylan, Candis Cayne, Chandi Moore, Zackary Drucker and Kate Bornstein, and famously clashed with her co-stars over her support of the Republican party. Jenny shared on Facebook following the news: 'It's official as of today-- I AM CAIT will not be renewed for season 3. I am so very proud of being part of this show, and of its creators Andrea Metz and Jeff Olde in particular, who directed us with passion and grace. perruques cheveux'I am grateful for the warm friendships I made with Chandi Moore and Candis Cayne and @katebornstein and Zackary Drucker and @ellagieselle and all of you. (and Kip Zachary and Courtney Nanson, who made us look so fine!) There is more work to do, and I send everyone my love.' 'I am so very proud': Jennifer Finney Boylan shared a Facebook post thanking her cast-mates following the cancellation 'It was one of the best times of my life': Kate Bornstein also tweeted after hearing the news She added: 'Official word from the network today- a hard choice for them, I know. I'll have more to say about this in weeks to come, but for now I'll simply say I'm proud of everything we accomplished, and I send everyone involved my very sincere gratitude, and my love.' And Kate tweeted: 'Ah, #iamcait is done now. It was one of the best times of my life. Made such good forever friends. #allshowsclose.' Caitlyn's ex-wife Kris Jenner, daughters Kendall and Kylie Jenner and former step-daughters Kim and Khloe Kardashian also made appearances on I Am Cait during its run. Support network: The Olympian was joined on the show with fellow members of the transgender community, including (L-R) Chandi Moore, Candis Cayne, Ella Giselle and Jennifer Finney Boylan

Lady Gaga is to star in the remake of THE hit musical A Star Is Born alongside Bradley Cooper, who also makes his directorial debut with the weepie. The movie is due to start production next year in California and Gaga will compose and perform new music for the soundtrack. The 30-year-old's name was first mentioned in association with the project back in June but her casting was confirmed on Tuesday by Deadline Hollywood. lace front wigsShe was born for it: Lady Gaga, seen at Tony Bennett's 90th birthday bash earlier is August,  is to star in the remake of hit musical A Star Is Born alongside Bradley Cooper The movie tells the story of a young singer-actress who finds fame and romance after she captures the heart of a fading movie star, to be played by Bradley, 41. As his plummeting career and alcoholism take their toll, her star continues to rise. The new film is the third remake of the original love story released 80 years ago in 1937.

Back then, Janet Gaynor played the ingenue and Fredric March was the falling star. Judy Garland and James Mason had a go at it in 1954. Double hitter: The 41-year-old actor, pictured at the Los Angeles premiere of War Dogs on Monday, will also makes his directorial debut with the weepie In 1976, Kris Kristofferson played a fading rock star with Barbra Streisand as a songstress on the rise. cosplay wigsIt's the first starring role in a movie for Lady Gaga, whose real name is Stefani Germanotta. However, the Born This Way songstress has been building her acting creds by co-starring as The Countess in FX's Golden Globe winning American Horror Story. Ups and downs: The 30-year-old stars as a young singer-actress who finds fame and romance after she captures the heart of a fading actor, to be played by Bradley Meanwhile, the movie has been a long time in the works. Beyonce was earlier pegged for the role of the young star on the rise, but the casting fell through after the Crazy In Love singer became pregnant with her daughter Blue Ivy, now four years old. 'The world is in for a treat as these great artists craft an all new vision of A Star is Born,' Greg Silverman, Warner Bros. president of creative development and worldwide production, said in a statement. Small screen to big screen: The Born This Way songstress has been building her acting creds by co-starring as The Countess in FX's Golden Globe winning American Horror Story