"Some social conservatives mistakenly see gender equality as being at odds with family values.": Penny Wong.

"Some social conservatives mistakenly see gender equality as being at odds with family values.": Penny Wong. Photo: Andrew Meares

Acting Labor leader Penny Wong will urge women across the political spectrum to call themselves "feminists" in an address on Friday, arguing the term is not "extreme" and not an exclusive preserve of Birkenstock-wearing women of the left. 

Senator Wong is set to take issue with Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Women Michaelia Cash's refusal to label herself a feminist. 

In an interview last month, Senator Cash said she believed in equality and female empowerment, "but certainly, labelling myself as a feminist, if that is a prerequisite now for being a Minister for Women, that’s ridiculous".

Senator Cash also described feminism as a "set of ideologies from many, many decades ago now". 

In an address to the Jessie Street Trust in Sydney, Senator Wong will argue feminism is not "over".

"Why would Australia's Minister for Women want to portray feminism as an outdated ideology of the past? Are we all equalists now, but not feminists?" 

Senator Wong will acknowledge that some women are uncomfortable with the term feminist given some of the more "strident stances" taken in the 1970s and 1980s. But she will say she does not think "this is what is on Senator Cash's mind". 

"For some on the political right, rejecting the term 'feminism' is ideological. Some social conservatives mistakenly see gender equality as being at odds with family values."

Senator Wong, who is also Labor's leader in the Senate, will say gender equality is not an "exclusive preserve" of the left and that "there are many right-wing feminists," including British Home Secretary Theresa May.  

Last month during an International Women's Day event, Prime Minister Tony Abbott referred to himself as a "feminist" when he talked of the impact his three daughters had had on his attitudes towards gender equality.

In the address, Senator Wong also quotes feminist author Naomi Wolf, who had argued "right wing women ... crave equality as strongly as any leftist vegetarian in Birkenstocks". 

She will argue it is important to use the term "feminist" and "be proud of it" given the sacrifices previous feminists made for women's rights. 

"Rejecting the term 'feminist' is a political decision," Senator Wong will say. 

"It’s a manoeuvre many on the political right engage in to delegitimise the values of feminism, to undermine policies aimed at achieving gender equality and to turn back the gains of the past.

"Feminism is not an extreme term, it is a mainstream movement that has transformed modern Australia for the better."

Senator Wong was invited to give the speech as part of the Jessie Street Trust's annual fundraising lunch. Previous speakers at the event, which also honours the Australian human rights campaigner, have included former governor-general Quentin Bryce and High Court Justice Virginia Bell.