Thankfully, the Prime Minister of Australia has made a demonstration that it’s okay to talk about feminism again – it’s been a hushed public topic for too long. The prime minister has always had a role in directing public discourse, and Julia Gillard has finally been moved to speak up about routine misogyny in her own workplace.
With all of the offensive tripe tumbling from the maw of Tony Abbott over the years, what gets to me the most is the suggestion of some shadowy “physiological differences” making women inferior candidates for leadership positions or occupations comprising any form of intellectual capital. However, Abbott’s view also demonstrates the problem of articulating contemporary feminism: as in select corners of the globe women’s participation burgeons in the workforce (and I stress we are only at the beginning of a long road to equality; there are plenty of statistics available on current inequities), the problems faced by women move to the less quantifiable realm of attitudinal disadvantage – which is notoriously difficult to scientifically analyse. But it is possible: recent research into our concept of women scientists shows how far we have to come.
So it is important not to shirk conversations of women’s involvement in leadership roles and the obstacles they face, despite difficulties in perceptibility, which may have made it harder to present the case of gender bias.
However, here’s what I have to say: there’s a grander narrative at work here, and in a way a more urgent one, which is a global issue. I’ve turned it over in my head and no matter which way I look at it, women’s involvement in working life seems to be the greatest contributing factor to some of our foremost measures of “progress” per se.
First of all, women’s participation in government is undeniably correlated with a reduction in global violence and warfare, the reasons for which were recently outlined by Steven Pinker in his book “The Better Angels of Our Nature“. It may or may not be directly causal, but a relationship is clearly observable; beyond theorising interminably about causes and effects, it does seem to be a good idea to keep ahead with anything that appears to be working to reduce war worldwide.
But then there’s global population increase also, which is at least partially responsible for our climate change dilemma.
I have good news: women in the workplace are solving this one too. One of the grand narratives of the last century has been the colossal change in lifestyle that comes with mass urbanisation. Humans are now predominantly urban, and as the world is urbanising, the total fertility rate (or the rate of population growth) has also begun to decline. It’s a continuing story in the developing world, where we still find the highest population growth: as people move to cities, they begin to have less offspring. Apparently, access to superior education, labour pooling and its attendant variety of working opportunities and environments, changes everything.
So the education of women and workplace participation in parts of the world lagging in gender equality – as well as those on the vanguard – can be thanked for a great many improvements to the lives not just of women, but everyone. We all gain from this process. Check out even more correlations between women’s rights and human development markers.
Calling for or justifying any kind of exclusion from this process, as has Abbott, woefully protected by other members of his party, is in part a call to slow down mutual human progress toward a more equitable, peaceful and sustainable world for everyone. And this is to say nothing of the sense of purpose and meaning brought to the lives of those women who are simply good at leadership, and experience the flow of working in an occupation they were born to enjoy.