Anna Goldsworthy

Quarterly Essay 50 Unfinished Business

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On the surface, it seems the best time ever to be a woman in Australia. The prime minister, governor-general and the richest person are all female; women are at the forefront of almost every area of public life. Yet when Julia Gillard’s misogyny speech ricocheted around the world, it clearly touched a nerve. Why?

In the fiftieth Quarterly Essay, Anna Goldsworthy examines life for women after the gains made by feminism. From Facebook to 50 Shades of Grey, from Girls to gonzo porn, what are young women being told about work and equality, about sex and their bodies? Why do many reject the feminist label? And why does pop culture wink at us with storylines featuring submissive women?

Unfinished Business is an original look at role models and available options in the age of social media and sexual frankness. Goldsworthy finds that progress for women has provoked a backlash from some men, who wield misogyny as a weapon, whether in parliament, on talkback radio or as internet trolls. With piercing insight and sharp humour, she lays bare the dilemmas of being female today and asks how women can truly become free subjects.

‘There is a charmed zone for a girl, shortly before she is ambushed by puberty. At eleven or twelve, she is usually taller than her male peers; more articulate; and more confident than she will be for years. She probably spends a lot of time in front of a screen, words and images flickering in her eyes. Facebook, Slutwalks, Lady Gaga, Girls, Mad Men, gonzo porn, Twilight, Fifty Shades of Grey. What messages are being broadcast to her, and what messages is she hearing? Are they going to make her bigger, or smaller?’ —Anna Goldsworthy, Unfinished Business

‘Goldsworthy is a lovely writer: sly-witted, forensic and alive to the suppleness of language. This is an important exercise in joining the dots, showing how seemingly isolated incidents are shaped by the wider culture.’ —Suzy Freeman-Greene, Sydney Morning Herald

‘To me, Unfinished Business is a plea for more nuanced thinking, a plea for more civil and generous debates, and a plea for accommodating more shades of grey (in a non-E.L. James sense).’ —Patrick Allington, Adelaide Review

‘In an essay that is as timely as it is thoughtful, Anna Goldsworthy poses the question, what are our daughters learning from the way we treat our former Prime Minister? Surely they are learning that if a woman is in a position of power she will be attacked more personally and vigorously than if a man held the same position. In this thorough and intelligent essay. Goldsworthy looks at cultural norms, pornography, body shaming and celebrity to find out why this is so. A must read for women, men and their sons and daughters.’ —Krissy Kneen

Anna Goldsworthy is the author of Piano Lessons and Welcome To Your New Life. Her writing has appeared in the Monthly, the Age, the Australian, the Adelaide Review and The Best Australian Essays. She is also a concert pianist, with several recordings to her name.
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