Firstly, Australia is definitely a very conservative nation. To be blunt, there is nothing very progressive about wider Australia. I have to remind myself this because in my upbringing and the social circles I run around in, I tend to forget this simple fact. In conservative societies, certain expectations are placed upon women-generally fairly 'backward' expectations.
Lately, in the news and media there have been repetitive articles arguing over the issues of 'the choice to remain childless'. It is still a very real expectation that a woman's biological role is to have children (more so than men I think). To choose to remain childless is to be labelled 'selfish' or to be constantly pitied upon. The most recent article I read in the Guardian discusses recent research showing that intelligent women are less likely to have children. This dubious researcher's conclusions are that these women are 'losers in life' and 'unnatural'.
Needless to say, these types of judgements are obviously heinous and yet fairly commonly accepted, but why is this? I don't know the answer to this, although it is no doubt a complex interplay of issues: jealousy, pity, irrationality, but above all else the underlying issue is that women are expected to be mothers. The role of mother is considered to be their most crucial role in life, and it is fairly gender specific. If a man chooses not to have children he is not nearly condemned the way a woman is, and may in fact be congratulated. The roots of these sentiments are of course fairly biological- to quote Tony Abbott:
I think it would be folly to expect that women will ever dominate or even approach equal representation in a large number of areas simply because their aptitudes, abilities and interests are different for physiological reasons
Australia wasn't even remotely prepared for a female prime minister (Julia Gillard) and her recent disposal was basically accepted without question. The fact she even got in is a wonder to behold. Chloe Hooper's recent headlining article in The Monthly was fairly insightful as she spent all her time with Gillard in the days leading up to her deposal. She lists the litany of overt sexism and prejudice littered upon her before and particularly during her time as prime minister- even Germaine Greer was guilty of sexist comments against her!!!
Hooper also mentions the jibes against her regarding her childlessness, "bigotry around her childlessness seem all the crueller; and makes her choice to give everything to her vocation rather than become an absent mother , a choice her male colleagues don't appear to have to make, seem all the more crueller." Yes, it would appear that negative sentiment around childlessness generally usurps positive sentiment around career choices, even if they are for higher public office!!!!
A woman's right to choose childlessness should be respected, admired, or not be an issue- after all, they are subsiding through their tax dollars privileges of parents and their children AND simultaneously not contributing to the over-population of the planet! And who could not empathise with the fact that having a child is a hard and arduous task-a task where simultaneously keeping a highly demanding job may not actually be viable or possible! This is not made easier by the fact that child-care is very hard to obtain and expensive! However, it will be a long, long time -if ever- before these kind of cruel prejudices and sexist attitudes die. Particularly in Australia, which appears to have a fairly entrenched, patriarchal hierarchy both reflected in the work place and in general attitudes.
Looping back to feminism-where is it at indeed? I don't actually know, as I can't name any feminists of note currently in Australia (although surely they exist?). I suppose they all move to Europe or something once they get enough money! Australia is a great country; however, the brief reign of Julia Gillard (however 'illegitimate) served to show the high levels of sexism and prejudice against women's choices that still exist as deep undercurrents in our society. Hopefully some good will come of Julia Gillard's brief tenure, for our recognition of such serious issues is surely a first step towards a solution.