The question brewing into a small cyclone in the feminist sphere at the moment is the question of whether Gina Rinehart is a feminist – prompted by Alecia Simmonds’ piece over at Daily Life.
How can Rinehart possibly be a feminist, I hear everyone ask? She’s ‘obscenely’ rich, she’s mean, she hasn’t got a philanthropic bone in her body. She likes telling people that if they just worked harder, they could be rich like her too.
So let me say it outright, lest someone think I was defending her decisions: I don’t like Gina Rinehart’s politics at all. I don’t like that she can’t see her own privilege, and how out of touch she is with the lives of people who haven’t inherited billions of dollars and been groomed for power from birth. I don’t like her classist attitudes towards work. I don’t like her power-grabs at the media. I don’t like how she’s willing to destroy the environment if it means her empire will succeed.
I also think there’s a huge problem with the way we talk about her.
There’s a difference between criticising people’s politics and criticising them as people – and let’s face it, it happens mostly to women in positions of power. I’ve been seeing it more and more, lately. The way that we hold women in positions of power to obscene standards, where it’s suddenly not just their public decisions that matter anymore, but everything about them: their appearance, their marital status, their philanthropy, their personal opinions. Whether they’re a feminist or not, and how feminists can possibly allow a woman to not be perfect role models. Why is that acceptable just because someone’s a woman?
In response to Simmonds’ article, Kim writing at The News with Nipples hits the nail on the head. I really just want to re-post the whole thing here, so I highly recommend you read it. Because, she explains, if you look at the way the whole piece is written, it’s actually making little jabs at Rinehart all the way through, and in a really un-feminist way. In response to Simmonds’ claim that Rinehart refuses to conform to patriarchal beauty standards, Kim writes:
If you do a google image search for photos of Rinehart, you’ll see that in almost all of them she is wearing make-up (usually lipstick, often eye shadow), her hair is coloured (I’m making that assumption because in some photos there’s grey hair and in others there isn’t), she’s wearing the classically feminine accessory of pearls, and she’s neatly dressed in feminine clothing… So, what exactly is Simmonds talking about here? Is it a comment about her weight? Because I’m not sure that Simmonds wants to be in the place where she says that women whose bodies are bigger than slim/curvy-yet-still-slim automatically stop conforming to/caring about beauty standards.
Interestingly enough, Rinehart’s appearance has popped up in several conversations I’ve had. One I remember quite clearly was where an acquaintance called her a ‘fat, ugly bitch’ because he disagreed with her politics. That person recanted the statement when I asked him what exactly her weight and appearance had to do with her politics. (In short? Absolutely nothing.) But it goes to show how when women in power make decisions or say things that we don’t like, everything about their personal lives is fair game.
Furthermore, there seems to be this obscure double standard, where women are necessarily expected to be amazing philanthropists, and caring and nurturing and never say anything that isn’t nice. Again, Kim nails it:
Ah, Rinehart’s “obscene, unshared wealth”. I think we all have a philanthropic responsibility, because we’re rich people in a rich country. And I also think people can do whatever the hell they want with their own money. But when it comes to Rinehart, there’s an expectation – no, a demand – that she share her money (with who? With writers of opinion pieces?). Because women should care about others and help others and sharing her money with others is a nice thing to do and if she doesn’t share her money then she’s greedy and mean. And I’ll stop believing that this is what it’s about when I see an equal number of articles that casually mention that James Packer and Rupert Murdoch and Clive Palmer should share their “obscene” wealth.
Why is it that women in power are held to standards that men in power aren’t? Why do we never say that Tony Abbott is a failure to men for refusing to stand up for working parents?
It reminds me of a sketch in a community musical focusing on coal seam gas and the Lock the Gate movement, where three dolls of thee key female politicians were brought out, and sang a number on how ‘they just can’t say no’ to anyone. The whole song was about how female politicians should be ashamed of themselves, because they should know better; they should care more. And it made me a little sick, because here again, I was seeing just how different the standards for men and women in power are, and how deep the gender essentialist ideas of women as caring and nurturing and unable to properly handle leadership go.
So while we’re talking about Gina Rinehart and how she’s not a feminist, let’s also talk about how Clive Palmer isn’t a feminist, and how Rupert Murdoch isn’t a feminist, and how Campbell Newmann isn’t a feminist. Let’s stop insulting people on the basis of their appearance and other things that have nothing to do with their political decisions. And let’s have a good, close look at some of those double standards out there.