Book Review: The Misogyny Factor by Anne Summers (Australian Women Writers Challenge 2014)

This year I am reading and rereading children and young adult ‘classics’ written by Australian women. Read more here. However, I am taking a short break from them to read some of the books from the Stella Prize Longlist. Read more about that here

misogyny factor

The Misogyny Factor by Anne Summers
(2013, NewSouth Publishing)

Own copy

This was the first of the Stella Prize Longlist I have read, and it was a good introduction to the 12 books selected this year.

Summers tackles the economic aspects of feminism in Australia, detailing the fascinating history of the ‘Equality Project’ through different federal governments, as well as examining the extraordinary treatment of Prime Minister Julia Gillard and the subsequent feminist revival.

This is a short, but beautifully written book, particularly the history chapter which brings political to-ing and fro-ing to life. It can be very easy to get bogged down in details and definitions and Summers avoids that for the most part.

While the writing is engaging, the content is at times problematic. Summers refuses to deal with race, religion or sexuality, leading to a strong impression that this is a book for straight, white, middle/upper class women. Her focus on economic factors leaves one feeling that feminism is all about money – not enough money to be safe or comfortable in the future, but the amounts paid to CEOs and top company board members. (Plus, the impression that we should all be heading for CEO/Board member positions, instead of being happy with ‘lesser’ jobs). To focus on child care did little to offer solutions or alternatives (I really wish we’d talk more about family daycare in those discussions – I have 2 friends with their sons in family daycare – they’re happy and less inclined to get sick than in the big centres, plus it costs a lot less for the parents (and therefore the taxpayer with the rebates) and is a lot more flexible. Worth learning more about)

Particularly insulting was Summer’s attack on women who choose to stay home with children. This is the only time Summers chooses to attack a particular group of women, and it is an attack full of tired stereotypes and generalisations. In the following section, Summers writes that we can judge feminist progress by the respect given to women – while she refused to respect a whole group of diverse women (disclaimer – this group includes me).

This is very much a ‘now’ book – I think its time is already over. The history section was good, but it feels really outdated, considering how much has changed in Australia since January 2013 (The undermining and ‘comeback’ of Kevin Rudd. The amazing grassroots campaign in Indi which unseated one of two women in the then-Opposition ‘line up’. Julia Gillard’s graceful move away from public life) Personally, I’d prefer this book if it had been written more from a historical perspective – it feels a little rushed into publication.

Would I recommend this book. Yes for good non-fiction writing and the historical chapter. Otherwise, hold on for the inevitable books about the Gillard era – a little distance will make for better books in this case.



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