In April, Prime Minister Rudd named Quentin Bryce as the first woman to hold the
position of Governor-General in its 107-year existence. The constitutional powers of the
G-G are to exercise the authority of the British Queen, although both act on the advice
of the Australian government. Now this anachronistic vice-regal office, a bastion of
the feudal monarchy, has a female as its head. Bryce is the second woman chosen by
the Rudd government to hold a lofty office. Julia Gillard is Australia’s Deputy Prime
Minister. This makes two more glass ceilings broken. Cracks in structures built to shut
out women, people of colour and minorities are always good.
What’s more, Bryce is unabashedly feminist. She states, “All women need to be
reminded it was radical women behaving in outrageous ways who won us the right to
own property, vote, work when married and complain about unfair treatment in the
workforce.” Bryce herself has a professional history of anti-discrimination reform as the
first Director of Queensland’s Women’s Information Service within the Office of the
Status of Women, Federal Sex Discrimination Commissioner and Queensland Director of
the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission.
She’s a liberal feminist who believes that the system we now have is capable of liberating
women. She lauded her anointment as a message to “Australian women and Australian
girls…that you can do anything, you can be anything.” She also believes in the monarchy
— well, a woman sits there, too.
This is where Radical Women and the Governor-General part ways. Sisterhood does not
address, let alone eliminate, the basis of women’s status as the inferior sex in this society.
An economy that feeds on and perpetuates private property and profit will keep women in
their lower place, while accommodating some Bryces and Gillards who strive to enter its
exalted positions of power and privilege. Bryce will earn $400,000, while most women
will continue to cope on wages 16% less than men’s and do their unpaid domestic roles
as mothers. The country that made Bryce G-G denies women universal childcare and paid
maternity leave. They won’t enjoy her kind of housing and lifestyle. In low-paid, dead-
end jobs or stuck in the welfare trap and denied reproductive choices, they can’t pursue
Bryce must be the last Governor-General. That’s a basic democratic demand. But
abolishing the monarchy is not enough. We need a society run by working people, of all
genders, races and abilities — where thrones are museum pieces, boardrooms are turned
into childcare centres, and plush governor’s residences are put to communal uses. A
world where everyone receives what they need and contributes what they can.
That requires another radical action, the overturn of this rotten regime of bosses and
aristocrats. Off with their privileges!