Income management, a feminist issue

Interview by Julie Cooper, Story by Amanda Parkinson

Megan Clement-Couzner is a doctoral student at the School of Humanities and Communication Arts, University of Western Sydney. She is a commentator on gender, and social and economic change. She is a lifelong feminist and a member of F, the Sydney feminist collective. (Bio from The Punch.)

“I am over being thin for capitalism, just want to look fun for the revolution,” says Megan Clement-Couzner. She goes on to explain how we can’t separate consumerism from gender, as advertising relies on gender constructs to sell products. “We buy products which don’t only market a product but the idea of femininity,” she says. “When I said this I just wanted to put on my fun frock, wear my favourite scarf and twirl in the park. I reject the constant longing for thinness that capitalism creates.”

In an article published by Meg called “On body hair, that trivial beast” she writes: “Woman on woman misogyny is very real when it comes to appearance.” Women’s body image, femininity and self esteem are all interwoven and advertisers play on our societies psyche to manipulate the individual, she says. “I have agency when it comes to my body … yet my preferences are shaped by beauty norms and the beauty industry, an industry that under capitalism needs to sell us stuff … Feminism teaches us our bodies are our own.”

As a political theorist Meg has written a number of articles expressing her concern with pay inequity. In 1969 equal pay was won and three years later equal pay of equal value became law. Meg explains how equal pay is now about “chipping away at the pay gap”. The case won by community workers with the Australian Services Union and other applicant unions in 2011 was an important victory in what has been a traditionally feminised field. With this case now set as a precedent, Meg hopes to see similar victories for hospitality workers and cleaners. “I think we need to rethink of how we formally value work and discuss economics politically if we are to see pay equality across all fields.”

The F Collective has recently taken a stance on income management via its involvement in the expansion of the Northern Territory intervention into five high welfare dependent communities. F Collective is also trying to raise awareness of income management in Bankstown through forums and community engagement art projects, the subject of the most recent article on their website, “Income management, a feminist issue.” Meg says, “this is a feminist issue because it affects mostly women [the highest number of welfare recipients are women] and impinges on the gains women have made towards the right to manage their own financial affairs.”

Since the introduction of income management in the Northern Territory violent crimes and domestic violence has increased. Yet the federal government has named the scheme a success and begun trailing it across the country. “The reason it can’t achieve these things is because the people who are affected are disenfranchised by an economy that doesn’t provide them with jobs. It is impossible to manage your money when you are forced to live below the poverty line.”


The F Collective, Sydney-based organisation of feminist activists


Featured image: Megan Clement-Couzner, used with permission.

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