Opinion: Gender matters like never before

DIVISION: Columnist Peta Hawker says that our society will get nowhere long as men and women are set against each other. "Power is what divides people."
DIVISION: Columnist Peta Hawker says that our society will get nowhere long as men and women are set against each other. "Power is what divides people."

I have discovered there is no need for such things as time machines in my life. Whenever I shop at the local supermarket, all I need do is close my eyes, and the background music transports me back to the 1980s. 

I constantly hear that the quality of goods and services are going backwards. I can't say I agree with this, unless they are going back to an era before the dawn of man. 

My grandparents, born in the 1920s, spoke of a time when things were much better. I myself, born in the 1960s, remember good mail and banking services, goods that didn't break so easily and could be repaired, and so on and on.

Before I start some quite justified eye-rolling among the under 30s, there are other areas where change has long been due and just hasn't happened yet – and may never.

The whole issue of gender equality, brought to the fore with the Harvey Weinstein debacle, is a case in point of a social “time warp”. As a student back in the 1980s, I recall women's rights being a very hot topic. Already, great social and legal changes had been made, and I was able to enjoy many of the rights and freedoms my brother enjoyed, and my grandmother missed out on. However, there was still disparity in pay rates between the genders, and female victims of rape, assault and family violence were so often treated with suspicion.

While abroad, I held positions of great influence and status, despite being a foreigner. In Japan, my gender was barely noticed in the workplace or when dealing with authority. It was lovely to be on an equal footing with male ex-pats. I am often asked about sexism in Japan. During the decades I was there, most of the sexism I encountered was from English-speaking males.

When I returned to Australia I was not prepared to still find disparity in pay rates between the genders, and female victims still being treated with suspicion. This was an unacceptable trip backwards in time, and while intentions towards equality are so very positive, in general I really don't see, within my lifetime, the day when a person's gender doesn't dictate their life.

Sadly, in the seven years I have been back, it would seem that a person's gender matters more now than before.

Affirmative action does have drawbacks and unintentional consequences, one being that suddenly gender is everything. When organisations have hiring quotas, rather than installing methods of recruiting that ensure individual applicant's gender remain unknown until final interviews, the only result can be resentment towards the very group they are intended to help. 

There are differences between men and women, but different is not a synonym for unequal. I feel now, more than ever before, there is a large gulf developing between men and women.

I have been told so often in the past seven years of who I am, what I like, and how I think, based on my gender. In my late 40s, I can shrug this off as so much rubbish, but I would hate to be a teenager negotiating my way through society.

The whole Harvey Weinstein affair has become a hypocritical circus. For so many years a blind eye was turned to his behaviour, Weinstein was a powerful person who was protected by his peers. Sanctioning him does little to stop the culture that created this situation in the first place. Sexual harassment and violence are power games – born of inequality.

As long as a person is treated according to their gender, and seen as their gender first, (or their sexuality or race), there will be inequality. As things slowly change for women, men need to be brought on board. As long as  men and women are set against each other, we will continue to get nowhere.  

Power is what divides people – not gender, race, colour, sexuality, and so on. I will never accept that my being a woman makes me anything less than a man, nor means that I am inherently less powerful. 

People together, regardless of gender, are powerful. Powerful enough to change a culture that allows the abuse of power. It really is that easy.