Why Natalie Barr Got Feminism And Gender Equality All Wrong

Natalie Barr says women blame men for their woes. We say, her views smack of ignorance to the broader population’s experience with gender discrimination and to the true aims of feminism and the fight for gender equality.

Last week, Channel Seven’s Natalie Barr published an article detailing her successful career, and appealing to the women of Australia to stop blaming men for their woes.

“Am I the only woman who’s not angry at men?” She queried before proceeding to tell her experience of equal treatment in the workplace.

Her story is a good one.  At each turn in her career she has felt able to approach challenges and colleagues without fear of sex discrimination.  She has worked her way to where she is now on merit and, as such, her success should be celebrated.

However, what Barr fails to recognise in her article is that the story she tells is one of great privilege.  While sharing the narrative of this privileged life as if it is a typical reflection of all women’s experiences in the workplace, she commits another wrong by dismissing our calls for equality as a way to “blame men” for our troubles.  The resulting article smacks of ignorance towards the broader population’s experience with gender discrimination, as well as the true aims of feminism and the fight for gender equality.

So, why is Barr’s story the exception, not the rule?  Let us start with her first job.

“A very nice person, who just happened to be a man, finally gave me a ­cadetship with a local Perth newspaper.  The pay was $142 a week. That was for a D-grade cadet, man or woman.”

Starting positions in any industry should work as Barr’s did, with equal pay offered no matter what gender the employee is.  However, last year the COAG Reform Council announced in their Tracking Equity report, that women are disadvantaged the moment they enter the workforce.  The average annual starting salary for a female graduate under the age of 25 was $5000 less than that of a male graduate with the same qualification.  This trend continues as we age, leading to an average pay gap of 17.5%.  Barr may also be interested to know that Western Australia, where her career started, currently boasts our nation’s largest gender pay gap, with women earning 26.9% less than men.  Her story of equal pay is truly exceptional.

Barr would have you believe that if you would just lean in, as she did, this gap wouldn’t exist.  If you disagree with this notion, you’re “blaming men” for your own flaws.

This view is a simplistic take on a large problem, which ignores the culturally ingrained challenges women face throughout their careers.  When we analyse the gender pay gap in Australia we need to consider the bigger picture, not just individual stories.

So why aren’t women making more money?

One reason, amongst many, is that women have traditionally taken on the role of the unpaid carer of children, the elderly and the disabled.  This cultural trend has not relented despite more women entering the workforce.  As a result, women are often over-looked for promotions. This is particularly common in the private sector particularly where employers are unlikely to invest in women’s long-term careers.

Related: Gender discrimination whistle blowers and self-made women billionaires

Furthermore, this culture means women are more likely to leave the workforce when they have children, whether they are the key breadwinners in a household or not.  Across the nation there are twice as many unpaid female carers than male, assisting in the care duties of sick, elderly and disabled family and friends.  That is a lot of pressure on a lot of women, who often feel that they have no choice as to whether they take these duties or not.

Thus, while Barr was able to ‘lean in’ and balance her work with her family life by taking minimal time off after her pregnancies, her story cannot be accepted as the norm.  She holds her experience up as a lesson to the rest of us about the realities of the workplace, and in doing so she has disregarded the challenges so many women face when family caring duties fall on their shoulders or when Australia’s notoriously expensive childcare facilities are not a viable option.

RELATED: The gender pay gap in Australia

Barr goes on to say that she is unsure of what her colleagues are paid. A 2013 report revealed women may make up the majority (55.5%) of Australia’s journalists, but they earn less, and are less powerful than their male colleagues.

We are not angry at men, and we are not blaming men.  Rather, we are angry at the cultural and corporate systems that make equal pay a dream for so many of us, and we are asking men to lean in and help us right this wrong.

While reading Barr’s article and admiring the photos that are peppered throughout, a far more dynamic piece by Tracy Spicer came to mind.  A former newsreader, Spicer wrote this cracking piece to all the misogynists she had worked with over the years.  The attacks she faced for her appearance in particular were relentless.

RELATED: Can women have it all or are we asking the wrong question?

Both Spicer and Barr are beautiful women, a privilege they can thank their genes for, however the comparison lead me to question how Barr has escaped the sexist comments and physical demands Spicer seemed to encounter constantly.

Maybe Spicer was just unlucky?

Or perhaps Barr has chosen to ignore the demands of our image-obsessed media?  If so, she again becomes an exception to the rule.  Where body image is concerned, the majority of women feel insecure.  In the 2010 Longitudinal Study on Women’s Health, it was revealed that only 22% of women within a healthy weight range reported being happy with their appearance; 74% wanted to lose weight.  Again, Barr’s confidence must be commended, as should the attitudes of her supportive colleagues, but we cannot assume that her story represents the majority of women who struggle with body image issues.

RELATED: The 7 myths about women and work

To my own surprise, there was a line in Barr’s article that I strongly agreed with.  It was her final sentence:

“I just don’t think “us” against “them” helps anybody in the long run.”

These words rang true to me, as I am someone who believes in equality.  What Barr has failed to recognise in speaking these words and directing them towards other women, is that when women question cultural norms or the structure of their workplace, they are not creating a divide by blaming men for their problems.  They are asking men to work with them, to see things from a female perspective, and to help improve the workplace for everyone.  Equality at home and at work leads to more productivity and greater satisfaction for both men and women, and while Barr may believe equality exists for her, the rest of us are still struggling to find it.

We are not angry at men, and we are not blaming men.  Rather, we are angry at the cultural and corporate systems that make equal pay a dream for so many of us, and we are asking men to lean in and help us right this wrong.


  • Good on Natalie for telling the truth. Give her the same time as they give Rose Batty to run men down. See the different type of women they. Natalie is a Lady. These women that run down men are a very bad influence on their children.

  • leave a comment

    Create Account

    Log In Your Account