December 2014

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03 Dec Is the Pope a Catholic?

It would appear that we can no longer assume that the Pope is a Catholic. It used to be one of those handy rhetoricals, along with bears pooping in the woods and the less popular but equally trusted, “Is the Minister of Women’s Affairs a feminist?”


Because we’ve lost that last one and suddenly all ground seems uncertain under our feet.


Louise Upston has been our Minister of Women’s Affairs since October. On Monday, she announced a name change to her portfolio – now simply the Ministry for Women. The day before, she had declared that despite being our top government advocate for women’s issues, she is not a feminist. In the same breath, she managed to reduce the proud history of feminism – the one that won us the vote, equal pay, reproductive rights and the right to be elected to parliament to do a job like hers – to “flag-waving”. That’s a helluva slap in the face to a lot of great women from our great-great-grandmothers right down the line to us and our daughters.


I’m pretty sure if the Minister really thought about it for a moment – the tragedy is she hasn’t – she’d realise that being a feminist was the very least she could do. It’s her job to advocate on behalf of women for greater economic independence, more women in leadership and increased safety from violence.  It says so on her Ministry’s website. Which is the very definition of feminism – political, social, economic and cultural equality. So we have a problem when the Minister says she “doesn’t want to be seen as having a feminist agenda”. Because that’s exactly what she’s got.


Upston recently went to a “Miss Tokora” beauty pageant and thought it was awesome. It was like she’d never seen a beauty pageant before. And hadn’t heard that the women’s movement has been protesting against them since 1968 on the grounds they objectify women and judge them according to a prescribed standard of beauty. It’s as though 50 years of thinking, discussion, writing and hard-won experience by millions of smart women have gone completely unnoticed by the Minister.

“What are the things that make a difference to young girls, and setting their sights high?” the Minister asks, and then answers with, “It’s about confidence, it’s about having belief in their ability.” In their ability to do what? Their ability to meet a standard of beauty?


Women do believe in themselves. We’d like a society – and our Minister – to believe in us too. And to fight for equal career opportunities and pay equity. To cease victim-blaming. To acknowledge we have a right to be safe. To be valued as equals, not viewed as objects. And we’d like to be encouraged to enter beauty pageants just as often as men are. As in, never.


“I don’t ever want anyone to look at me,” Upston says, “and say ‘she’s there because she’s a female’.” Sorry, Minister, but so far I can’t find any other reason why you got this job.


— Michele A’Court

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