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“Utopia Girls”: I’m disappointed

Me, elsewhere: this is a crosspost of something I wrote for the Australian feminist blog Hoyden About Town. If you’re interested in comments, you should check there as well as here.

About a week ago, the ABC aired Utopia Girls: How Women Won the Vote, a documentary about women’s suffrage in Australia. I’d seen a few positive mentions on Twitter and Facebook, so this afternoon I went and hunted it down on iView and watched it.

The documentary opens with the narrator, Dr. Clare Wright, stating that:

These days, we all enjoy equal rights and seemingly endless choices. But just one hundred and fifty years ago, women were far from equal.

It’s nice that she thinks inequality is in the past, but she’s deluding herself. It would be facile to list all the groups who don’t enjoy equal rights in Australia (same-sex couples who want to marry being just one current and obvious example) but even if we limit ourselves to women’s rights and choices, it’s far from true. Women still earn about 15% less than men for the same work; abortion is still illegal or effectively so in Queensland; and take a look at the sort of misogynist crap that’s flung at Julia Gillard, Gina Rinehart, or the latest victim of a popular footballer’s rape if you want to see what attitudes to women in our country are really like.

So, no, Utopia Girls, the smug “we all live in a 21st century feminist wonderland” attitude doesn’t exactly fly with me. It’s not just inaccurate, it’s dangerous. Should we really be telling women there’s nothing left to work or fight for, or giving anti-feminists reassurance that women’s current concerns are unnecessary?

If that was all that Utopia Girls had wrong with it I’d be annoyed enough, but it just gets worse. The main focus of the documentary are the stories of a handful of middle class, white Anglo- and Irish-Australian women and their work for women’s suffrage in Victoria, New South Wales, and South Australia. I can’t claim an exhaustive knowledge of the subject matter or the period, but it’s obvious even to me that there are voices missing here.
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