I did a stupid thing the other night. Really f**king stupid. I know better, but I did it anyway. I discussed politics over dinner. Idiot. And I’m still mad as hell about what went down.
To set the scene, my dining companions were in their late 60s. They’ve been retired for a number of years, have two adult daughters, a grandson and a granddaughter. Their personal position is “comfortable”.
It started innocently enough – I was asked for my view on politics, given the recent state election in Victoria and the huge swing away from the Liberal party, including in my own electorate. My response was that I find the entire Australian political landscape disappointing and dysfunctional. I gave the example of that day’s news about Senator Sarah Hanson-Young who has been relentlessly sledged in Parliament by four conservative colleagues with “disgusting slurs and attacks”. What happened next still makes me feel physically ill.
Both my dinner companions said Senator Hanson-Young “was asking for” those disparaging comments. I thought I mis-heard, but no. That’s what they said. And they drove home the point repeatedly referencing her choice in clothing. Typing this right now brings bile to my throat. Because this is exactly the behaviour that I have fought against in my career.
There were several other points of disagreement, which I won’t detail here, but I’m still really shocked. I didn’t think anyone in the first world – let alone parents and grandparents of girls – held this belief any more, and certainly not the rational people I know and love. I try really hard to be optimistic about how much progress has been made for gender equality in the workplace, and in society, but this was a strong, hard slap in the face and I’ve been feeling despondent as a result.
Everyone is entitled to their opinion and I’m happy to have a logical, fact-based discussion. The simple matter is that neither of my dinner companions could back their views with facts and that, for me, is confounding. On reflection, I’m most galled by my female companion’s views because she had no sense of sisterhood, no empathy for women in Senator Hanson-Young’s position.
Ironically, I was reading an article about the so-called ‘war’ between princesses Kate and Meghan which contained these words: There is nothing more terrifying to the status quo than a woman who thinks for herself.
I’d always thought it was men who were the status quo in that statement. But I now understand that the status quo is the population whose personal beliefs are challenged by the changing attitudes towards gender politics. The status quo is the people whose own sense of self is defined by those long-held beliefs which have existed for generations and cannot stand stable when the shifting sands of attitudes bring a sense of unease.
I’m feeling deflated, but more determined than ever to do everything possible to ensure that my niece and my friends’ daughters have a better experience in the workplace than women experience today. My passion for equality is not just about addressing the gender balance, by the way. It’s about every minority group being treated with respect and dignity and being afforded the same opportunities as white middle-aged men.
I know I’ll never change the attitudes of my dinner companions, but I want to help with a broader change in Australia. I don’t know where to start. Can anyone help me?