Jun 11, 2014

Rundle: gong for friendly feminist a sly move for Abbott

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?

Guy Rundle — Correspondent-at-large

Guy Rundle


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.

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11 thoughts on “Rundle: gong for friendly feminist a sly move for Abbott

  1. Vincent O'Donnell

    Don’t worry Guy, God is in his heaven. For balance,Hetty Johnson, she of vilify Bill Henson fame, got gonged too.

  2. AR

    Both seem appropriate for the vision of the current Minister for Women.

  3. David Russell

    Perhaps you thought it as a nice quip to close with, Guy, but it is actually a very snide, insidious put-down of women to suggest they are forced to do all cleaning. Gender stereotyping of the worst kind.

  4. Dez Paul

    Its mystifying why any “progressives” have accepted gongs from this awful gumint.

    Oh, and stuff Lizzie’s birthday…. “Queens Birthday Honours List” – what an anachronism. How about a “Mabo Day Honours List”?

  5. Djbekka

    Hey Guy,
    So Haussegger once wrote a column that wailed about having waited too late to have children. Yeah, I was annoyed that she blamed it on me. Yeah, I doubt that the ‘feminist mothers’ were the main promoters of having it all and taking however long it took to do it. Emotional pain is not necessarily soothed by theory; face it, writers write when confronted by pain – think of all those love gone wrong poems and songs. She’s been writing about a lot more since then. So, I hardly think she was awarded an honour for that 2002 cry from the heart. Feminists don’t sing in unison any more than any other diverse group of people interested in a cause do.

  6. Kfix

    David Russell, you really need to get your sarcasm filter checked. It appears to be clogged, and is seriously impeding your reading comprehension.

    Thanks Guy, nice skewering of the motives behind the token gong. It’s not completely fair to dismiss Haussegger entirely, and in that new op-ed she does go Abbott to an extent for the make-up of the panel set up to review Australia’s military strategy (surprise! no women), but she is very much the nice “safe” feminist.

  7. John Webster

    With the exception of the new knights and dames the selection and approval process for Australian Honours is independent of Government so Abbott had no say in Ms Haussegger’s advancement.

  8. Tom Jones

    The unbalanced awarding of the honour list is is in no way balanced by one award to a female who is just as deserving as many of the men who gained a gong. It seems that Guy wants to have a go at straw men. Yes over a decade the writer wrote a piece blaming other women for her own decisions, it was unreasonable at the time as it wasn’t the mothers who made that decision. It was mother blaming which men engage in as well. Now that would be a story.

  9. Marie Coleman

    This somewhat random attack on one woman is hard to understand. There is a clear misunderstanding/misrepresentation of the processes of the Honours system, for starters. Then Mr Rundle seems to suggest that campaigning for the rights of women in war-torn countries not to be violated isn’t worthy of recognition.
    Why not attack the merits of some of the other individuals who have been recognised? Are contributions to the economy more worthy compared to the rights of women? Surely many of those recognised will have made statements in earlier lives which they may not wish they hadn’t? This is an odd rant.

  10. Kfix

    OMG you people, Guy was pointing out that the problem is not that a feminist is finally being recognised by our archaic establishment-driven awards system, but that the only feminist being recognised is a “safe” feminist who felt it appropriate to attack and blame for her problems the real radicals who actually fought for change rather than the system that caused the problems.

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