Blog: Can 'femship' be a catalyst for change?

In the absence of a female equivalent of ‘mateship’, I will introduce to you the premise of ‘femship’. If mateship can exist, why not femship as well? Whereas, mateship supposedly applies only to males, femship can start where mateship left off and focus on encouraging women to work together. Femship advocates equality, friendship and solidarity between women. In a way it closely resembles the concept of sisterhood, the difference here is that femship encourages women to work and live together and bring about a collective change. We need to see ourselves as equals amongst our own gender, before society will treat us as such. Perhaps, if femship were added to the dictionary, this change would reflect a positive change in the status of women in our society. We all know what mateship is, so if women were to unite under the ideals of femship, could it not too serve to strengthen the sisterly bonds between us and rise to the heights of mateship, if not higher?

Blog: Can 'femship' be a catalyst for change?

Can "femship" be a catalyst for change?

Original pieced published by the Australian Women Chamber of Commerce & Industry July, 2013. Updated March 2021.

In the absence of a female equivalent of ‘mateship’, I will introduce to you the premise of ‘femship’. If mateship can exist, why not femship as well? Whereas, mateship supposedly applies only to males, femship can start where mateship left off and focus on encouraging women to work together. Femship advocates equality, friendship and solidarity between women. In a way it closely resembles the concept of sisterhood, the difference here is that femship encourages women to work and live together and bring about a collective change. We need to see ourselves as equals amongst our own gender, before society will treat us as such. Perhaps, if femship were added to the dictionary, this change would reflect a positive change in the status of women in our society? We all know what mateship is, so if women were to unite under the ideals of femship, could it not too serve to strengthen the sisterly bonds between us and rise to the heights of mateship, if not higher?

Defining Australia’s culture is challenging because ‘mateship’ continues to be a specific aspect of Australian nationalism and both its political and cultural identity (Simic, 2016). Mateship is entangled throughout Australian culture; has been a dominant force in shaping men’s negative attitudes and behaviours towards women; and as some have noted, includes ‘misogynistic’ and ‘homophobic elements’ that have dominated throughout Australia’s history (Dyrenfurth, 2007; Payne, 2019).

The lexicon of ‘mateship’ is “a code of conduct among men stressing equality and fellowship” (Macquarie Dictionary, 2020); the word ‘mate’ describes a substantial relationship between two males. Hage (2000) argued that a mate represented the “extra-class whiteness” prevailing among “Anglo-Celtic” males (p. 56). The concept of mateship has further developed into the idea of affinity, unity, and socialism (Dyrenfurth, 2007). The politicisation of the mateship concept has been a powerful discursive tool employed by political leaders to promote Australia’s masculine values. Dyrenfurth (2015) argued that conservatives reacting to radical explanations of the term ‘mate’ used it as a conversational tool throughout history. For example, John Howard, a former Australian PM (1996–2007) often used ‘mateship’ for effect and to promote his personal conservative ideologies. Howard asserted that “the concept of mateship runs deeply through the Australian character” (Dyrenfurth, 2007, p. 216).
Longstanding cultural and “social rules” have excluded women from the greatest areas of power for decades (Ortner, 1972, p. 8).

Mateship culture is exacerbated when women are not equally represented within a democracy and where political attitudes promote masculine values (Norris & Inglehart 2001). Additonally, Agius et al. (2021) wrote that the shift in the political narrative promotes the necessity of masculine strength, supposedly required to protect a nation without considering the negative affects of “toxic masculinity” that prevails within populist and “xenophobic parties” opposing human rights and global gender equality (pp. 433–434).

A typical scenario of where mateship is characteristically evident and that most would be familiar with, is at a barbeque. A personal experience is a barbeque gathering on a particularly cold winter’s day, where all the blokes had gathered over the barbeque to warm their hands. Each was eagerly eyeing the sausages that had not yet been burnt. Meanwhile, all the women had thought better of it and decided to hole up inside the house in order to keep warm; I admit I did the same. As I walked back outside to grab a drink, I noticed that two of the guys were wearing the same top and shared my observation with them. One remarked to the other “nice shirt” and they proceed to happily high-five each other, as if they’d just won a prize. The opposite is true when it comes to women, where it borders on a (fashion) crime to be caught wearing the same outfit as someone else. Witnesses prevent them from harassing each other, but there would be efforts to ensure everyone in the room is aware that the dress looks much better on them than it does on their rival. Dirty glances sometimes ensue and worst to worst, nasty words are exchanged. In this instance, I think that women have a thing or two to learn from mateship; namely that we should not be haters. We should accept one another, even if - God forbid! - we have the misfortune of wearing the same dress or shoes. Quit judging each other I say; we have enough challenges in our lives without other women adding to them.

According to the University of Stanford, ‘around the world collective impact is now seen as a new and more effective process for social change.’ Based on this principle, femship would be a cathartic initiative for women. It could very well be the vital impetus that precipitates change for the better.

Women are the majority in society and should be acknowledged as such; not forgotten about and considered inferior, or reduced to in-fighting with other women.

Much has changed nowadays. We are the majority in terms of who makes the consumer decisions and the ones to bear most of the responsibilities in a household. In addition, we also form the majority of university graduates; yet remarkably women are the most economically disadvantaged. Hitherto, women are still at odds with many establishments: some are still fighting for equal pay; others are rallying for human rights while the majority simply want to be treated like human beings with the same decisions and opportunities as everyone else.

If femship existed perhaps we would not be faced with the disturbing reality of women regressing in society. Like mateship, femship can develop over social engagements such as dinner parties and shopping. It is a sociologically well documented phenomenon that females form strong attachments with one another over shopping; it's called retail therapy for a reason, ladies. If you ask me, femship's a fantastic concept because it provides a rather holistic reason to shop.

Ultimately, if we supported and inspired one another, instead of vying against each other, the world would be a better place. Just think of what women as a whole can achieve!

So let’s unite together under the principles of femship and give mateship a run for its money.