For everyone When ‘gender blind’ means ‘can’t see women’

My definition of feminism underwent a sea-change a decade or so ago when I read Hugh McKay’s book What Makes Us Tick, in which he outlined the ten desires that need to be met before you can live a satisfying life. The first, and he claims most important, is the desire to be taken seriously. That is when I had my epiphany; that feminism was the fight by one half of the human race to be taken seriously by the other half.

But before you can be taken seriously, you must first be seen.

The day after the release of the Federal Budget, CEO of The Parenthood Georgie Dent, wrote an excoriating article for Women’s Agenda about its lack of support for women. Despite comprehensive evidence that women have been hardest hit by the COVID-related economic downturn, the budget has been utterly blind to the needs of women – so much so that only one third of 1% of the budget’s spending was directed at women, Dent explained. To put it simply, women’s right to hold onto paid work, economic independence or an adequately funded retirement were not taken seriously.

Later that day, Dent received a phone call from the Prime Minister’s office telling her she was wrong and that no other ‘credible’ commentator was making such an analysis. This served to add insult to injury, leading to outrage on social media. Within hours, the hashtag #crediblewomen was trending, and numerous commentators spoke out about the many ways in which women had been ignored in the budget, despite their greater vulnerability. This perception was not helped by the tacked-on ‘Women’s Economic Security Statement’ that, as Dent described it, was tokenistic at best. These women with ‘no credibility’ had hijacked the narrative of the budget.

This refusal to see the very real obstacles that face women as they try to juggle paid and unpaid work is a special kind of blindness.

In response, the Morrison government sent out some of their (few) female ministers to make the argument that this budget was not sexist but merely gender blind or neutral. This, according to the LNP, is what true equality means; as long as women are not specifically excluded from a measure, then it’s not biased. So, for example, the $2.8 billion spent on an apprenticeship scheme is apparently gender blind, even though only 14,000 of the 180,000 apprenticeships supported so far have been taken up by women.

In this neoliberal world, a lack of equal access to such benefits all comes down to ‘individual choice’. Much like women ‘choosing’ to work in lower paid, female-dominated occupations, which have so far received almost no stimulus, unlike industries such as construction and manufacturing. In this view, the fact that women work for an average 14% lower wages (a gap that gets worse the higher up the ladder we climb) or retire with half the super of men on average, or nothing at all, is based on our choices.

This refusal to see the very real obstacles that face women as they try to juggle paid and unpaid work is a special kind of blindness – one that does not recognise the difference between equity and equality.

Not only does Morrison want women to put up with their greater level of financial and economic difficulty during this recession, he wants them to shut up about it.

The female ministers trotted out to defend the budget did not exactly cover themselves with glory, some of their attempts merely adding fuel to the fire. Families Minister Anne Ruston’s remark that women would benefit from the budget’s infrastructure investments because they could also drive on the roads it built brought a particular howl of derision.

Unmoved, the PM dug in and labelled those criticising the budget as voices of disruption and division, whose aim was to fight rather than build. In other words, not only does Morrison want women to put up with their greater level of financial and economic difficulty during this recession, he wants them to shut up about it.

The Prime Minister is not even prepared to pay for our silence. The budget contained nothing to help the fourth most expensive childcare system in the OECD become more affordable. The cost of Humanities degrees has more than doubled, further hobbling women’s opportunities – particularly those from more disadvantaged backgrounds. And early childhood educators (underpaid and overwhelmingly female) have so far been the only group taken off Jobseeker.

Of course, it’s not just women who have been ignored. Indigenous Australians, refugees, people of colour, those who work in the arts and entertainment sector, universities, older workers, people with a disability and the long-term unemployed – this budget can’t see them, either. Like women, their future, their needs, their despair and their fears have not been taken seriously.

In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.

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