How an Aussie Feminist Fares
Adviser to prime minister says her country's `Crocodile Dundee' image is out of date
AMERICANS, if they know her at all, may remember Anne Summers as one of the bold Australian women who bought Ms. magazine. Or maybe they've heard of her in connection with those rather frank issues of Sassy magazine that got conservative groups in the United States so upset.Skip to next paragraph
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Here in Australia, sitting in her paneled office in the prime minister's suite in Parliament House, Dr. Summers is still in the feminist business.
She wryly refers to herself as the "gender-gap buster," but as Prime Minister Paul Keating's special adviser on women and on political strategy for next year's election, she's in a key position to influence policy.
This is the latest step in a life geared to improving the lives of women. Summers wrote a feminist history of Australia in 1975; she's been a journalist and a foreign correspondent. She helped craft affirmative-action legislation in the Office on the Status of Women during the Bob Hawke administration. And she and her business partner bought Ms. and Sassy in the second women-led management buyout in United States corporate history. Summers lectured at top US universities. In 1989, she was made an Officer
of the Order of Australia for her services to women and to journalism.
Here are some of her thoughts on the changing status of women in Australia, Ms. magazine, and the twists and turns of her career:
Is Australia really as "macho" a society as it's been portrayed in the media?
The image of Australia as being an old-fashioned, sexist country is very out-of-date. Movies like "Crocodile Dundee" really were ... an exaggeration and stereotype of a certain kind of man. The more typical Australian man these days is a man who gets a present for the birth of his child. You see men now shopping with the children. This is such a dramatic change from when I was growing up; that would have been considered almost emasculating.
Having lived in the US, what differences do you see in the treatment of women there and in Australia?
The conjunction of the women's movement and mainstream politics is very different. In 1972, the women's movement in Australia was very energized: Women had plans, they were going to take on the world. In 1972, we elected the first progressive government. They created the first position of a woman's adviser. Now we have an Office on the Status of Women with nearly 50 people in it. There are women's advisory mechanisms throughout state and federal government - whereas, in the States at that time, you had N ixon. Nixon vetoed child-care legislation.
We hear a lot about violence against women here.
We do have a very serious problem with domestic violence, and sexual assaults are also increasing - or else women are more willing to talk about it. But the homicide rate is low by international standards. [In Australia, homicides rose from 330 in 1990 to 351 in '91.]
In New South Wales in the last seven years, the number of women taking out restraining orders has increased 20-fold. That shows that not only is violence out there and probably increasing, but that women now know they can do something about it. There's a lot of publicity given toward telling women their rights. And for the first time, there's been a National Strategy on Violence Against Women