This post explores gender and public policy and asks, “Does being an advocate for women and mothers make you anti-men?”.
I received positive feedback about the audio version of last month’s post, so I have provided it again (still unedited).
I grew up surrounded by women (see Care). It seems my second act is about observing the other side. In our house, it often feels like there are too many dicks on the dancefloor. Nonetheless, I view it as a realignment of my perspective.
The Chinese yin-yang philosophy says the universe is composed of competing and complementary forces, of dark and light, sun and moon, masculine and feminine. The balance of yin and yang is essential. If yin is stronger, yang will be weaker, and vice versa.
In the Women’s Circles I hold, we talk about how as modern women, we are praised for our yang. The yang is the masculine, outward energy of doing and striving. It’s the energy of patriarchy and capitalism, and leaning into it has been a survival strategy. Often when we’ve leant into our yang, we’ve disconnected from our yin, which is the feminine, slow, reflective energy. Consequently, we’ve become unbalanced, and it’s shown up in our health and relationships.
Our society is stuck in the yang. Despite the lessons of the last three years, we’ve resumed pre-covid life with vigour. I birthed during a pandemic and spent the early postnatal period navigating lockdowns and parenting, which immersed me deep in the yin. However, I too have felt the siren’s song beckon me back to so-called “productivity”.
In the past month, we celebrated my youngest son’s third birthday. When he was one, I established a social enterprise that advocates for gender equity and supports women’s matrescence. The seeds of Middle Ground Motherhood (MGM) were sown before he was born and grew as he did. From some vantage points, the focus of my work may seem anti-men. The vision for MGM is, after all, about creating mother-centred communities.
The three greatest loves of my life are male. I couldn’t be more invested in ensuring the future is fairer, safer and kinder for boys.
Balancing the scales for women and mothers is equally about balancing the scales for men and fathers. To borrow from another analogy, a piece of the equity pie for women does not mean less pie for men. Unfortunately, debate about gender equity is often reduced to being either pro-women or anti-men when the discussion is far more nuanced.
I am acutely aware the suicide rate for men is four times higher than for women. Suicide is the leading cause of death for Australian men aged between 15 and 44. The belief patriarchy serves men any better than women is a fallacy.
Steve Biddulph, author of Raising Boys, illustrates research demonstrating boys are more vulnerable from birth. Boys often require greater attention and soothing from their caregivers. My experience raising boys confirms this.
My eldest son was a Velcro baby. Throughout his first year, he was almost always in my arms. He still needs a lot of input to regulate and make sense of the world. His emotions are like a tidal wave, and I’m left drenched and bewildered in their wake. He cares deeply for his friends and loved ones. When his best friend moved interstate, it was like navigating a break-up. We had to talk through why he had gone, we wrote letters, and we took him to visit as a sort of closure ritual.
My youngest son is sensitive in different ways. He’s affectionate, but he also enjoys being alone and creating his own worlds. Each morning, I watch as he talks his toys through the day’s script. If he asks to see his grandmother or auntie, he means now, and he’ll wail at the window until we FaceTime them. When we’re out, it’s not long before he’ll come up and whisper, “Go home?”.
Knowing and loving their people is important to my children. I’m committed to tending to the village around them to help insulate them from the toxic influences that creep into boys’ lives.
Already my eldest son has hidden away the purple drink bottle he chose because someone told him it was a “girls’ drink bottle”. He’s already called me a bitch after hearing it said at school.
My ire was raised when he told me his dad was stronger than me because he was a man. I pointedly asked, “Who grew and birthed you?”. After repeating this narrative many times since, he now says, “Mum’s the strongest. She birthed us”.
Definitions of strength in our culture are so wrapped up in masculine constructs when true strength is often about what we don’t do – a lesson that presents itself to me repeatedly.
The insidious nature of patriarchy is so ingrained in every aspect of our lives that it creeps up when we least expect it. As a mother of boys, I wonder whether I’m harsher with them than I would be if I had girls. Research suggests boys aren’t offered affection and reassurance at the same rate girls are.
Trying to separate the patriarchy from the man is part of my life’s work as I raise and love the men in my life. I also want to see more men take up the fight to smash the patriarchy.
I volunteer with The Parenthood, and there is only one dad within the team advocating for policy that will make Australia the best place in the world to be a parent. Policy that has been shown to improve dad’s wellbeing.
Men have objectified and disrespected me in a range of settings, and I have rarely had another man step up to call them out. When the #MeToo and #marchforjustice movements took off, I witnessed the women in my life as they were reminded of and came to reframe the sexual violence they have experienced from seemingly “nice guys”.
The reckoning ushered in by formidable women like Brittany Higgins, and Grace Tame has changed the landscape. When I work with the younger generation and see them learning about enthusiastic consent and embracing more fluid notions of gender, I’m hopeful for the future.
For now, the fact remains that gender plays a significant role in our lives, as do intersectional experiences like disability, race, class, and sexuality.
As well as a gender pay gap and a gender superannuation gap, there is a significant gender investment gap.
As a “female-founder”, the gender investment gap is one I come up against. Only 22 per cent of Australian startups are founded by women, and in 2022 only three per cent of venture capital went to female-founded companies.
The Victorian state government has actively pursued policies to close the gender investment gap. In 2021 they established the Alice Anderson Fund, which has supported 11 women-led startups to unlock more than $12.5 million of capital. They have also developed a Social Procurement Framework, which requires government agencies to consider how they can support social enterprise. The Alliance of Social Enterprise Networks Australia (ASENA) is lobbying the federal government to recognise and include social enterprise in their wellbeing budget.
A different path forward exists, but it requires us all to let go of harmful and limiting beliefs about ourselves and others.
Each day, I try to listen more deeply and use my voice for good.
“As all advocates of feminist politics know most people do not understand sexism or if they do they think it is not a problem. Masses of people think that feminism is always and only about women seeking to be equal to men. And a huge majority of these folks think feminism is anti-male. Their misunderstanding of feminist politics reflects the reality that most folks learn about feminism from patriarchal mass media.” – bell hooks
“For me, forgiveness and compassion are always linked: how do we hold people accountable for wrongdoing and yet at the same time remain in touch with their humanity enough to believe in their capacity to be transformed?” – bell hooks