According to the World Economic Forum’s Gender Parity Report, women will have to wait 99.5 years for gender equality.
By that measure, my granddaughter’s great-granddaughter will be the first of my descendants to experience it. It’s a stark reminder of how far we still have to go.
From Grace Tame to Brittany Higgins, our daughters and granddaughters are leading by example. I recently witnessed an exchange between two women in a classroom setting that brought home the divide.
The teacher – a woman of my generation – had described as ‘naughty’ an illustrated depiction of a man pulling back a child’s bedcovers. The younger woman – who worked with survivors of sexual abuse – politely but firmly called out the teacher’s choice of descriptor. It was an uncomfortable moment but a necessary one.
It’s this kind of courage we baby boomers would do well to emulate.
I’m lucky enough to be one of four generations of a female bloodline still sharing this earth. My mother’s life spans 90 years. She was one of the few women in the 1950s who gained a university education. It was at a time when only one in five students enrolled at university were female.
But she was also a product of her era: She married young, left the workforce when she fell pregnant and never went back. Her overwhelming ambition was to have children, and lots of them. She never held her academic achievements in high esteem.
“You all get your brains from your father,” she would say whenever one of us achieved anything of an academic nature. Her natural modesty was fed by the popular view that men were somehow superior beings by virtue of genetics.
Not so, says Canadian physician and scientist Dr Sharon Moalem. In his 2020 book The Better Half, he suggests that women have a genetic advantage over men, courtesy of their XX chromosomes. According to the author, having two X chromosomes is like having two toolboxes, one from each parent.
“One toolbox may have a broken hammer, so you use the hammer from the second box. But the broken-hammer box might also have a really awesome screwdriver.”
My mother may take some convincing of her superiority. The idea of a woman’s right to equal treatment at home and in the workplace was not one to which she gave much thought as a young mother of five. Even now she is apt to dismiss men’s bad behaviour as boys being boys. But not always.
The recent disclosures of sexual assault by men in positions of power shocked us both. Together, we watched with horror Brittany Higgins’ televised allegations of rape at Parliament House.
“She looks like someone I know,” said my mother.
I was thinking the same thing. Brittany Higgins looks just like my daughter. The difference between the Prime Minister’s wife-induced revelation and my own was that, for me, it wasn’t essential to my comprehension of the gravity of her story. It is any woman’s worst nightmare.
Like many women of my age, I have done much soul-searching following this and other similar revelations. I think back to situations in my own past and wonder how much I excused men and blamed myself for their predatory behaviour.
The avalanche of accounts of sexual assault and predation by men against young women in the wake of #MeToo has made me question whether I and other women of my generation have been complicit in the situation in which younger women now find themselves by our silence. It’s only now that I see the many ways in which – by omission or commission – I have been part of the problem.
From little things, equality grows. It’s in the gifts we give: Colour-blind clothing and gender-blind toys for the grandchildren, Julia Gillard misogyny aprons for the children. (Those aprons went down an absolute treat with my sons as well as my daughter.)
But by far the best legacy we can leave them is to call out inappropriate behaviour when we see it. By doing so, we may just help to bring forward gender equality by a generation. Or even two.