The minefield of celebrating female achievement

I came across a fantastic site recently: a list of 22 inspirational female Australian entrepreneurs. You can find the site here; it is a blog attached – slightly anomalously – to a website about credit cards, but this doesn’t detract from the content. Here, you can read some interesting stories, including that of:

  • Gina Rinehart, the richest woman in the world, who learnt the ropes of her father’s mining business from the bottom up, and who named a mountain range after him;
  • as well as … Caroline Treacy, the managing director of the architecture firm CORE, based in Queensland, who also spends time supporting and mentoring local and young would-be architects and businesswomen;
  • and also … Michelle Wright, the owner of Mishfit, a personal training service that educates and provides safe exercise care to pregnant and post-natal women, who was prompted to develop the service when she suffered from post-natal depression herself.

All the stories are fascinating, and in themselves a celebration of women’s achievements … the statement should end there, but it doesn’t, because the introduction to the website almost undoes the good it has done. Introducing the list of female entrepreneurs, the author writes:

“Move over men! Long gone are the days when women stayed in the shadows, forging a career in ironing, cooking and childbearing. More and more women are developing their own business empires, and some are even leaving the men trailing far behind. Read on to find out about some of Australia’s female success stories. Men, be scared. Women, be inspired.”

We want women to be inspired, and we want to hear their stories. We want, too, to recognise that women should no longer stay in the shadows of life, as they have had to do in many, many cases, for centuries (and still do in some cultures). BUT … this is not a competition between the sexes. This is not about men being “scared”, but men and women working together, equally and fairly. It is also about enabling women – and men – to have choices and for us all to celebrate those choices, whether it is working inside the home or working beyond its bounds. Biologically, women bear children; it is together, however, that parents should be able to decide how to raise their children. It is together, too, that they should be able to decide on work and life patterns.

Is this an over-sensitive response? Perhaps. But it strikes me that at a time when we are still working – hard – towards real social change in how men and women are viewed and treated by our society, then we have to be sensitive to nuance, and to anything that might undermine our progress. Misunderstanding, resulting in entrenched positions and a retreat into unhelpful stereotypes, is so easy. We must be on the alert – we must be genuinely open, fair and utterly dedicated to real equality.

And then we really will be able to celebrate.


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