The New Right and Women Who Want to Be Women in Australian Politics in the 1980s

Article excerpt

We feel that the decade of the eighties belongs to those who understand that the sexes are equal but different, and the more women are prepared to stand up and say they are women who want to be women (not unisex persons), the quicker the sick, anti-male, anti-child influences of women's lib will vanish.(1)

Feminists attempting to breakdown and subvert the social and moral attitudes of Australian society had a field day -- resolutions promoting abortion on demand (fertility control), homosexuality (sexual orientation), the provision of contraceptives and abortion to minors without the knowledge or consent of parents (confidentiality between doctor and patient!) and a denial of the differences between men and women (counter-sexist education) were passed overwhelmingly, plus demands for government handouts for this, that and the other.(2)

Those anti-feminist groups which began to develop in Australia in the 1970s were not a reaction to feminism as such. Rather, the immediate cause of their growth was the election of state and federal Labor governments with a commitment to women's rights and a determination to use their legislative power and administrative authority to promote equal opportunity in Australian society. This commitment was reflected in governmental recognition of reformist feminist groups like the Women's Electoral Lobby (WEL) and their inclusion in routine consultative processes.

Furthermore, by the end of International Women's Year in 1975, the other two major political parties (the Liberal and the National Party)(3) had come to recognise women as a new political constituency, and equal opportunity as a new item on the community's political agenda, and had amended their party platforms accordingly. Their victory in the 1975 Commonwealth election did result in a lower priority for women's issues(4) as the removal of the Office of Women's Affairs from the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet to the new Ministry of Home Affairs in 1977 indicated. However, while the coalition government was much less prepared actively to promote equal opportunity than its predecessor, its establishment of the National Women's Advisory Council (NWAC) in 1978 indicated that it too accepted the legitimacy of reformist feminist groups and was prepared to include them in policy-making processes.

The anti-feminist backlash, then, grew out of the fear that feminists had succeeded in capturing the policy-making processes of Australian politics and were attempting to bring about social change through legislation.(5)

The most visible anti-feminist groups in Australia during this period have been the Women's Action Alliance (WAA) and Women Who Want to Be Women (WWWW). They have used the public forums provided by the media, parliament and the consultative processes of the NWAC to challenge the tenuous consensus that was beginning to develop about the importance of gender equality, suggesting that the role of women in Australian society is a controversial and emotive issue. Results have come quickly. A year after it was formed, the NWAC found itself under attack by WWWW as unrepresentative and sexist. The Commonwealth government decided not to introduce anti-discrimination legislation in 1980 and failed to ratify the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, despite this having strong support from the NWAC and reformist feminist groups. The delegation of Australian women that was sponsored by the Commonwealth government to attend the 1980 United Nations Mid-Decade Conference on Women included three anti-feminist activists but no representative of WEL. In 1981, the new membership of the NWAC included the New South Wales President of WAA. As the Commonwealth government moved increasingly to limit its role in social welfare, it withdrew from direct funding of women's shelters in 1981 and, in 1982, began to give priority to commercial rather than community-based childcare services. …

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