Three new books con­sider the chal­lenges of gen­der bias with long­stand­ing anger but also with a de­gree of op­ti­mism, writes Chris­tine Jack­man

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books -

First, a con­fes­sion. With th­ese three books, all writ­ten by women for women about over­com­ing per­sonal and col­lec­tive strug­gles, I felt not fist­pump­ing sol­i­dar­ity but jaded ret­i­cence. Worse, what sprang to mind un­prompted was a scene from Sex and the City, the HBO hit that be­gan as an ir­rev­er­ent romp about four in­de­pen­dent and sex­u­ally ad­ven­tur­ous friends in 1990s New York be­fore grad­u­ally dis­in­te­grat­ing into a tired and pre­dictable for­mula: hap­pi­ness = 1 boyfriend + 3 credit cards x un­lim­ited de­signer la­bels.

In this scene, the girls are chat­ting over brunch af­ter a big night on the town. Nurs­ing a cruel han­gover but no new ro­man­tic prospects, the Up­per East Side princess Char­lotte ex­claims petu­lantly: “I’ve been dat­ing since I was 15! I’m ex­hausted! Where is he?!”

Such are my feel­ings on equal­ity. Con­sider this: when I took on the freshly minted news round of “women’s af­fairs” at a metropoli­tan news­pa­per, Bill Clin­ton, Boris Yeltsin and Nelson Man­dela were the pres­i­dents of the US, Rus­sia and South Africa. Naomi Wolf had just fol­lowed her best­selling The Beauty Myth with Fire with Fire: The New Fe­male Power and How It Will Change the 21st Cen­tury, and US first lady Hil­lary Clin­ton was about to shock the world by trav­el­ling to Bei­jing to de­clare: “Hu­man rights are women’s rights, and women’s rights are hu­man rights.” Un­break­able: Women Share Sto­ries of Re­silience & Hope Edited by Jane Caro Fore­word by Tanya Pil­bersek UQP, 264pp, $29.95 Not Just Lucky: Why Women Do the Work But Don’t Take the Credit By Jamila Rizvi Vik­ing, 336pp, $35 Women Lead­ing By Chris­tine Nixon and Amanda Sin­clair MUP, 244pp, $32.99

More than two decades have passed and, like Char­lotte, I’m ex­hausted. Is it too much to ask: when can women stop fret­ting over this equal­ity stuff and live hap­pily ever af­ter? Well, yes, princess, it is. It is be­cause to­day, among full-time work­ers, Aus­tralian women earn 84 per cent of a man’s pay on av­er­age — a gen­der pay gap of 16 per cent. And be­cause a work­ing man is five times more likely than a work­ing woman to have some­one at home look­ing af­ter the kids. And be­cause in lat year’s US pres­i­den­tial race be­tween the afore­men­tioned for­mer first lady and a self-con­fessed “pussy-grab­ber”, the lat­ter re- ceived 80 more elec­toral col­lege votes — and the keys to the White House.

Of course, sta­tis­tics only tell part of the story. Num­bers, even big ones, are of­ten eas­ier to ig­nore than the voices and shared ex­pe­ri­ences of our sis­ters, moth­ers, daugh­ters and girl­friends.

Ex­pe­ri­ences such as this: “I’ve had death threats, rape threats. I’ve been as­saulted walk­ing home at night. I re­ceive a fair bit of cy­ber­hate. And I’m cer­tainly not the first woman to find my idea, or my joke, con­sid­ered bril­liant — when it’s re­peated by a bloke!”

That is how fed­eral Deputy Op­po­si­tion Leader Tanya Plibersek in­tro­duces Un­break- able, a com­pi­la­tion of es­says edited by Syd­ney writer and broad­caster Jane Caro, whose stated aim is to shine a light on hith­erto hid­den abuse and so help “place the blame … squarely on the shoul­ders of those who use their power to ex­ploit and dam­age oth­ers”.

As many of the con­tribut­ing writ­ers re­mind us, women are of­ten si­lenced be­cause a sys­tem or in­sti­tu­tion has nor­malised, ig­nored or even en­dorsed out­ra­geous as­saults. If this sounds too ex­treme, too fem­i­nazi, con­sider Cather­ine Fox’s ac­count of hav­ing an age­ing doc­tor sweep back the curtains of her pub­lic hos­pi­tal cu­bi­cle to con­duct an in­ter­nal ex­am­i­na­tion on her, with

Chris­tine Nixon with Vic­to­ria’s then po­lice min­is­ter Bob Cameron in 2008

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