Balderdash indeed

Issue 

Backlash? Balderdash! Where feminism is going right
By Beatrice Faust
Frontlines pamphlet series, University of New South Wales Press, 1994
64 pp., $5
Reviewed by Trish Corcoran

This pamphlet made my blood boil. Beatrice Faust asserts that the backlash against women's rights is not that bad in Australia. Books like Susan Faludi's Backlash and Naomi Wolf's The Beauty Myth — both authors from the US — are not relevant to Australia, she says.

Faust points to the "many benefits" in Australia that are lacking in the US, including a solid union movement, compulsory voting, well-organised feminist lobbies influenced by the Women's Electoral Lobby (WEL) and a mildly sympathetic media.

The backlash is not as serious in Australia, she says: "With over 20 years of legislative reform at both federal and state levels, with sustained — if not always munificent — funding for women's initiatives, with equal opportunity and anti-discrimination legislation formulated and administered by representatives of their clienteles, Australia is doing alright [sic], sister."

Apparently rape, pornography, domestic violence and sexual harassment "are being addressed more effectively in Australia than in America". However, since there is no explanation as to how or if they are being dealt with in the US, it is difficult for readers to decide for themselves.

Faust continues: "Pay is still not equal but the problem is no longer simply rates of pay but differences between part and full-time work. The gap between men's and women's wages is slowly narrowing ... The reality is that there are hurting groups — women raped, battered, scarred for life by incest — but they are relatively few. The reality is that many women such as supporting mothers, widows and divorcees without marketable skills are tragically poor. Poverty — with its contributing factors in education, job choice, pay, divorce, and superannuation — is the big issue for women. It is being addressed."

Contrary to Faust's claim that the wages gap is narrowing, the introduction of enterprise bargaining has resulted in it widening. And despite her claim that "they are relatively few", one fourth of Australian women are sexually assaulted by the time they are 18 years old.

Poverty in Australia is not being addressed; it's increasing. Poverty in the US is certainly worse than in Australia, but both Labor and the Coalition are doing their best to make sure that this country catches up. Between 1982 and 1989, the combined wealth of the richest 200 Australians soared from $5 billion to $25 billion while wage earners' real incomes were cut by 25%.

Faust seems oblivious to such trends. Alongside increasing poverty, the push for increasing "flexibility" of the work force results in more part-time and casual jobs, predominantly held by women. Cuts to social welfare expenditure are attacking women's services established by feminists two decades ago. All of this is possible because of the backlash against women's rights in Australia.

Any suggestion that women are worse off than Faust has decided they are gets lumped into the "wimp feminist" category. In fact all "revolutionary" feminists are "wimp feminists", according to Faust.

Although those she dubs "revolutionary" come from extremely different political positions, from separatism to Marxism, Faust attributes to them the same opinions. She even writes the word upper case, as though to make us believe there's a formal group whose social role is to serve as her rhetorical scarecrow. "The Revolutionaries ... initially believed that women are pretty well entirely good and men are near enough to entirely bad."

In the world according to Faust, the feminist movement is made up of two groups — the "Revolutionaries" and the "Reformists". The "Revolutionaries" are wimps and whingers while those who do all the hard work to bring about gains for women are the "Reformists".

This pamphlet is a crude self-promotion which seeks to justify reformist politics. Its biggest flaw, however, is its underestimation of the seriousness of the backlash against women's rights. In concluding that the backlash is not serious, Faust undermines the attempt to fight it.