Feminism demands equal lights

Another great milestone was reached for women’s equality yesterday, with the introduction of female crossing signals in Melbourne. For years, women have had to endure an oppressive and patriarchal traffic system that has served to ‘[exclude] women from public space’, as the local minister for women, Fiona Richardson, put it. The little green man has dictated when we stop, and when we go, for far too long.

The move was hailed by the governor of Victoria as being ‘a practical and meaningful way to demonstrate that in fact 50 per cent of our population is female’. The move has been welcomed by feminist campaigners and Twitter activists alike. The Committee for Melbourne, which is behind the new crossing lights, is aiming for ‘one-to-one male and female representation across the state of Victoria’. How exciting.

But some people are pointing out that the little green man was not really a man in any obvious way to begin with. After all, women quite often prefer to wear trousers rather than dresses. Others are describing the move as an act of ‘gesture politics’, lacking in substance. But what do they know? Why should women fight for real progress when symbolic progress is just as good?

It’s easy to laugh about the direction modern feminism is heading in. Whether feminists are prioritising the lack of pockets on women’s clothing, or banning images of skinny women on public transport, they seem to be acting as if there’s nothing substantial left for women to fight for.

The depressing fact is that there is still a lot to fight for in the battle for women’s freedom. In the West, access to contraception, abortion and affordable childcare – all factors that have a serious impact on women’s freedom and independence – is still woefully lacking. In other parts of the world, simply being born female can have a huge impact on a woman’s chances in life. Why are so many feminists shying away from these complex issues, and championing vacuous issues instead?

The argument that public space is hostile to women has been used against us for centuries. What’s changed is that this pathetic view of women’s capabilities and strength is now being espoused by so-called feminists like Richardson. Are the women of Melbourne so delicate as to be hurt by the ‘unconscious bias’ of a crossing-light symbol? Not likely.

Women don’t need officials to make public life more inclusive for us. We are out in the world every day claiming our place in public life for ourselves. But what we do need is a women’s movement that champions autonomy and doesn’t descend into victimhood, that fights for genuine progress rather than succumbing to empty gestures. If we want to get serious about building on the progress that the fight for women’s freedom has made over the last century, if we want to establish freedom and independence for women everywhere, we need much more than equal lights.

Milja Kljajic is a writer based in London.

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