The campaign for gender equity needs bold ideas, powerful technology and the potent rage of a new generation
When I was a girl growing up in Regan America, I yearned to have been born in different times. To me, the 1960s seemed to be a golden era of egalitarianism and inclusivity, far more aligned with my own values than the “greed is good” mentality that was dominating the 1980s.
Only now do I recognise that it is those born from 1965 that are truly blessed. Gen X, Y and the post-millennials have opportunities to redistribute power and achieve radical equality that was inconceivable to previous generations. Not since the dawn of human time have the downtrodden had such significant and plentiful opportunities to bypass the restraints of self-interested power, define liberation on their own terms, and achieve it.
Why? Because to quote American self-help speaker and author Earl Nightingale: “Everything begins with an idea.” Before African-American civil rights activist Medgar Evers was assassinated in 1963 for his brave stand against racism, he declared, “You can kill a man, but you can’t kill an idea.” Even Stalin understood the power of this, noting, “Ideas are far more powerful than guns. We don’t let our people have guns. Why should we let them have ideas?”
If ideas are a key ingredient in the “change the world” recipe, then digital and communications technologies that allow those ideas to penetrate quickly and widely are potent indeed. Those currently holding the reins of power describe such technologies as “disruptive”. Those seeking to see that power distributed more fairly might choose words like “emancipating” or “liberating”. But whatever the term is used, the potential for change remains the same. Instability and critical mass are the preconditions for the paradigm shifts that precede massive social shifts.
Once it took a year for a monk to copy a book in Latin — a book which would typically be chained to a desk in a library and read by few outside the scholarly elite. Today, a few keystrokes can see ideas replicated and ricocheted around the globe. The speed and penetration of new ideas radically destabilises all aspects of the status quo: what we do, how we do it and our understanding of why.
Sadly, most commentators have focused almost exclusively on the downsides of such instability. Namely, the feeling of insecurity, dislocation and even fear it can provoke.
This fear is real, but it’s not the whole story or even the most important part. Instead, we could be focussed on the radical potential such instability provides. Namely, the provision of multiple opportunities for “tipping points,” or moments where large numbers of people adopt a new behaviour and a significant social shift gets underway.
For women, the opportunities for emancipation offered by the Information Age are legion. We now have the chance to use technology to organise and mobilise on issues like equal pay, family-friendly working conditions, equal opportunity and abortion rights — campaigns fired up by generations of Australian women before us.
Our time is now, not just because of the extraordinary opportunities offered by the Information Age, but because of the special attributes of Generations X and Y who are the first of their kind to take the basic justice of the feminist position as read.
As a feminist educator and activist, I find it energising to observe those moments when young people who are initially sceptical that gender inequality persists, are presented with irrefutable evidence that it does. Suddenly, they begin to see the world differently. It is the potent alchemy of this generation’s bewilderment and rage, coupled with their mastery over the powerful communication tools of the 21st century, that lasting gender justice can be achieved.
So where do educators fit in? The most recent Global Gender Gap Report tells the story. Commissioned by the World Economic Forum, the report quantifies gender-based disparities across four key areas, including health, education, economy and politics. Overall, Australia ranked 24th in the world, with particularly poor scores on categories like ‘Political Empowerment’ and ‘Health and Survival’. However, when it came to measuring gender-based access to education, including levels of enrolment and literacy rates, we were ranked number 1.
Australian educators should be proud of the work they have done in providing equal opportunities for girls and women to participate in education at all levels — and supporting them to achieve at least as well as their male counterparts.
Our challenges now is to move with the times, embracing both the tools and our special place in human history as more opportunity than threat. The journey has been a marathon and we should feel rightly proud of the tracks to gender justice we’ve laid. Let us continue to cheer and applaud our daughters, nieces and granddaughters as they grab the baton and continue the race towards victory.
The time for women is now AEU News: Magazine of the Victorian Branch of the Australian Education Union