On Tuesday I was watching a documentary about US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who when asked how many women would be "enough" on the Supreme Court always responds: "nine".
It always gets a laugh, because most men simply cannot imagine such a world and because women would never imagine to ask for the lot. Instead, in an effort to achieve equality, women ask for half and settle for less. But it makes for a nice thought experiment.
It is true that in 2019 being a straight white able-bodied man is still the factory setting in most situations. But imagine if we elected 151 women to the lower house at the next federal election and 40 women to the Senate (it’s only a half Senate election).
Imagine if we elected 191 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, or 191 Australian women from culturally or linguistically diverse backgrounds, 191 queer women or women with disabilities, or some combination thereof. How different would the country look? How different would our national priorities be?
Instead of spending $50 billion on submarines, perhaps our Parliament would prioritise a Makarrata Commission to begin "the process of agreement-making between governments and First Nations and truth-telling about our history".
Instead of spending $5 billion on franking credits for wealthy people, they might prioritise increasing the aged pension or aged care funding.
Instead of company tax cuts, they might prioritise 12 months of paid parental leave and quality public childcare.
Instead of prioritising gas exports that will increase extreme weather and the number of extreme heat days we experience each year, this parliament of women might think it makes more sense to invest in more public and social housing fitted with solar panels and battery storage, and to ensure public transport and all public buildings are accessible to all its citizens.
Of course, being a woman doesn’t guarantee you’ll make things better for women or for anyone else.
Whole towns in the UK had street parties when Margaret Thatcher died. In the past week Miranda Devine conveniently ignored the victims of child sexual abuse in her efforts to cast doubt on the conviction of George Pell, though she hadn’t sat in on the court trial.
Julie Bishop wasn’t so publicly concerned about the lack of women in the Liberal party until she was humiliated in a leadership ballot. Julia Gillard will always have the legacy of the Royal Commission into institutional responses to child sexual abuse and I have watched her incendiary "I will not be lectured about sexism and misogyny by this man, I will not" speech numerous times, but I also recall that on that same night her government passed cuts to welfare payments for single mothers through the Senate.
There is no guarantee a woman would do a better job of running the country, but we never look for such guarantees from men.
Australia is no stranger to a dud PM and women certainly deserve as many chances to fail as mediocre men are given. That’s different to being set up to fail; the government tried to hail its achievement in appointing Linda Reynolds to Cabinet this week as the most number of women (seven) ever appointed to Cabinet.
Firstly, that seven women is the record is sad and depressing. Secondly, with so many ministers abandoning ship and the government six points behind in the polls, Linda Reynolds’ appointment – merit-based though it may be – smacks more of a glass cliff appointment (that is, women only getting appointed to leadership positions in a time of crisis or failure) than one that smashes through the glass ceiling.
It’s not enough to be the first woman prime minister, or foreign minister, or defence minister, you need a second and third and 15th woman to back you up around the Cabinet table. As Senator Penny Wong has said “…It does change the dynamic. I’ve found it easier to speak because Tanya was there, Julia was there, Jenny was there.” I for one cannot wait for when women are in parliament in such great number we can stop counting them.
But sadly, there is no parliament of women, or even a gender quota for women in the Liberal party and it is because being a man is the norm, in Parliament and in life, that so many women are left out of the conversation.
In economic terms, men’s work is valued more than women’s work. Yes, the gender pay gap has narrowed, but a report in The New York Times showed that when women enter a male-dominated field, pay goes down.
If we look at all wages in Australia, including full time and part time workers, the median wage for men is about $65,000, while for women it is $46,000 – a gap of $18,000. If we look just at full time wages, the median wage for men is about $75,000, while for women it is about $66,000 – a gap of $9000 a year. Nine thousand dollars a year is more of a hole than a "gap".
This is the point at which someone, usually a bloke, interrupts to say that one explanation for the gender pay gap is that men gravitate towards higher paying jobs like doctor, engineer, or CEO. While women, as comedian Jeremy McClellan joked, tend to gravitate towards lower paying jobs like female doctor, female engineer and female CEO. The pay gap starts as soon as women leave school and persists through her entire life in virtually every profession.
By the time women retire, the pay gap has widened into a chasm – compound interest in superannuation ensures the inequality grows exponentially over a woman’s lifetime. Time out of the workforce taken to have children and care for them or to look after elderly parents – all of which is still primarily work undertaken by women – adds up to years of lost income and lost super – a tax on caring, if you will.
According to the latest data, the median super balance for men at retirement is $110,000 while for women it is $36,000 (a 200 per cent difference, a gender gap of $74,000). Half of Australian women have a super balance of $36,000 or less when they retire. Let that sink in.
Because of the pay gap, women miss out on the benefits of income tax cuts, which disproportionately benefits higher-earning men, but also the benefit of tax concessions. According to Australia Institute research, men receive approximately 70 per cent of the benefit of superannuation tax concessions, about two thirds of the benefit of income tax cuts (men will get twice the tax cut due in 2024-25 compared to women) and about 60 per cent of the benefit of negative gearing and the capital gains tax discount.
Conversely, when times are tough, governments slash spending on public services, which disproportionately harms women.
As another International Women’s Day passes, it seems it’s still heads: men win, tails: women lose.
Ebony Bennett is deputy director of The Australia Institute @ebony_bennett