Is Virginia Haussegger — the journalist who once caused a storm for blaming feminists for her failure to have children — the kind of feminist that even anti-feminists can like?
Who’s this in The Age op-ed pages? Oh hai, Virginia Haussegger, journalist and campaigner, newly gonged in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List. The move was a sly one by the Abbott government. They don’t like women much, and they like bloody feminists even less, but they know they’ve got to have one or two in the lists.
Haussegger fits the bill perfectly — ostensibly for her UN campaigning on issues such as rape in war, but largely for a single article she wrote in 2002, entitled (for once the sub was not taking the piss) “The sins of our feminist mothers”. Published at a time when The Age’s op-ed pages were a lively arena of debate — not yards of boring in-house prose — Haussegger’s piece argued that:
“For those of us who listened to our feminist foremothers’ encouragement; waved the purple scarves at their rallies … we’re now left — many of us at least — as premature ‘empty-nesters’ … While encouraging women in the ’70s and ’80s to reach for the sky, none of our purple-clad, feminist mothers thought to tell us the truth about the biological clock … I am childless and I am angry. Angry that I was so foolish to take the word of my feminist mothers as gospel.”
For those in childcare at the time — put there by evil feminist mothers, purple ones — the article caused a storm that raged for months. It contained two truths and a falsehood. The truths were that the professional world was structured for a male lifespan, not a female one, and that a certain Thatcherite-New Right individualism had taken bits of feminism to sell a “you can have it all” ethos. The falsehood? Haussegger and others then retrojected this on to the leaders of the second wave feminist revolution of the ’70s, such as Anne Summers, Germaine Greer and others — all of whom had been politically radical, anti-corporate, and advocating the very opposite of a possessive have-it-all individualism.
But the falsehood was more interesting than the truths, because it created a simple myth of blame and deceit — and one that gave a certain political imprimatur to female generational conflict of the “my mother, my self, my God” type. Haussegger somewhat faded from view after that stoush. But someone didn’t forget, and thus she has been honoured this week, no doubt for good works, but also as the sort of feminist whom anti-feminists can like. It’s a funny old world, but not if you have to clean it.