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Acting Labor leader Penny Wong says feminism is not just for the left wing

"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"Why would Australia's Minister for Women want to portray feminism as an outdated ideology of the past?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. 

77 comments

  • Yet another example of Penny Wong pushing an agenda of the Left - and of being so out of touch with mainstream reality. How many women living working in suburbia would want to call themselves feminists?

    Commenter
    Next Mini Ice Age
    Location
    Brisbane
    Date and time
    April 11, 2014, 7:04AM
    • How many women living working in suburbia accept the reality of life in Australia where men are the leaders, and woman's place is barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen ? Penny Wong should simply adjust and become a fembot.

      Commenter
      adam
      Location
      yarrawonga
      Date and time
      April 11, 2014, 7:27AM
    • I'm surprised the penny hasn't dropped for Ms Wong, we're all feminists now,
      otherwise you'd risk being a misogynist.

      Commenter
      SteveH.
      Date and time
      April 11, 2014, 7:36AM
    • "How many women living working in suburbia would want to call themselves feminists." Yes I'm sure they all want to go back to the pre feminism days when they were denied access to education and employment opportunities, when many died during childbirth, where they had no right to own property or to vote and where women were mere chattels of their husbands . It was feminism that brought these improvements. Feminism isn't something that just happened in the 70s & 80s - it has been a long process of improving women's status over the last two centuries. It belongs to neither the right or the left and most men and women have nothing to fear from it.

      Commenter
      Thomas Gale
      Date and time
      April 11, 2014, 8:04AM
    • The politicisation of the term feminist has inevitably brought us to where we are now - with the self-appointed high priestesses providing a prescriptive definition of what it means to be an 'acceptable' feminist (and, what is not acceptable).
      The best of those early idealistic and noble goals were hijacked by 'the Human Condition'; it is certainly time to be welcoming and inclusive - not damning and exclusive; who is to say what is the 'true' feminism?
      Respect for cultural, political, religious and 'age'/stage of life differences - surely paramount.
      This is not to naively say that all views on this topic are compatible with being a feminist - but, it is time to change the dialogue.
      Otherwise, the proselytising antagonists and purveyors of 'the Truth' appear no better than the inflexible bigots and intolerant combatants seen in religious struggles around the world.
      If that stark analogy (if perhaps a little colourful on my part) doesn't give cause for reflection, then nothing will.

      Commenter
      Howe Synnott
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      April 11, 2014, 8:08AM
    • WOW SteveH, as usual on track and sticking to the point! Thanks for your insightful input.

      Commenter
      Get Real
      Date and time
      April 11, 2014, 8:28AM
    • @Ice age. Typical ill informed comment from the frozen rightists. If you do not understand, or are homophobic, then a good politician like Penny Wong is labelled leftist and beneath contempt, regardless of her political ideology.
      We need people like Penny Wong to remind us all that we are in the 21st Century not stuck, like many women are, in slavery and servitude, brought upon them by fundamental religious and delusional attitudes of women as second class citizens, with no control over their bodies and minds.

      Commenter
      Nonrev
      Date and time
      April 11, 2014, 8:53AM
    • Feminism clearly belongs to the left as demonstrated by the number of women in the current cabinet. The LNP promotes on merit, I assume there are not many women of merit on the right side of politics.....are they at home washing the dishes?

      Commenter
      Bryan Currie
      Location
      Melbourne
      Date and time
      April 11, 2014, 8:54AM
    • @Next mini ice age.
      That's right brother, damn these women that want equality and won't stay in the kitchen. Pinko; commie; leftist; marxist women should only be seen when I call for them. GRRR!!

      I hope this will be the end of all those female celebrities that want a magazine cover photo shoot of their baby bumps. Seriously.....that is getting old.

      Burn all the midwives. Witches, all of them. Teach them to want equality.
      Lets' go get em brother Next Mini Iceage RAHHHH!!!

      Commenter
      Not enough sleep?
      Date and time
      April 11, 2014, 9:06AM
    • A feminist is any woman who does not want to be treated as a doormat. As we look around our world and witness the atrocities against women including the high rate of homicide of women by partners in Australia, feminism is needed more than ever. Feminism is women and men who stand together to improve our world by redressing the imbalance that is domination by masculinity out of control

      Commenter
      Kris
      Location
      Kanahooka
      Date and time
      April 11, 2014, 9:12AM

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