What women want

20:54, Nov 18 2012
WANTS AND NEEDS: Women want respect at work and at home.

It's an age-old question, but the answer to what women want might not be so difficult - just ask them.

We did, and here's what 1524 women told us about their bodies, relationships, health and career, challenges, hopes and dreams.

"The great question that has never been answered, and which I have not yet been able to answer, despite my 30 years of research into the feminine soul, is 'What does a woman want?' " - Sigmund Freud

Oh, Sigmund. Such a clever man, so stupid about women. He forgot one vital thing, possibly because he spent so long trying to fathom how a woman's mind could be occupied with anything but penises: just ask a lady and she'll tell you what she wants. Simple, brilliant, effective.

Suffragettes used to yearn for a world where women's opinions were sought, and heard: by journalists, political parties, and yes, even advertisers. These days the gender gap is not always understood, but it is tracked, targeted and recognised as important.

So let me try to answer, with a single word, at least one thing women want: respect. Which is defined by the Oxford Dictionary as: "A feeling of deep admiration for someone or something elicited by their abilities, qualities, or achievements; due regard for the feelings, wishes, or rights of others: avoiding harming or interfering with."

Women will always argue vehemently about exactly what it is that we want, and even the question has become a cliché. The suffragettes were bitterly divided, as were second-wave feminists in a century of conflict over women's rights. But through the anger, agitation, disagreement and activism has come the impetus for change and liberation that usually drives us to the right place: somewhere we can try to live free of artificial impediments, discrimination, violence; a freedom that allows us to love the people we choose, pursue the dreams we crave, try to create a sweeter world we can usher children into, charge up the mountains we want to conquer and topple off others.

We want to work without harassment. A 2012 Human Rights Commission survey found a quarter of women had been sexually harassed at work in the past five years. The vast majority don't report it, and a third who complain experience backlash, from further harassment to demotion.

We want to be promoted when we deserve it. Women have made many gains at an educational and entry level, but at higher echelons, the female ranks thin out. Women comprise almost six in 10 of commonwealth public service employees, for example, but only 38.2 per cent of senior executive service positions. More than half of all university students and academic staff are female, but they hold only 27 per cent of positions higher than senior lecturer. Six in 10 law graduates are female, but two in 10 senior lawyers are.

What of the corporate world? In 2012, women chaired only 2.5 per cent of Australia's 200 biggest companies, were board directors of 8 per cent, and held a mere 8 per cent of executive management positions. More than half of these companies did not have a single female board director. Things have improved with a change in reporting requirements; in October 2012, women held 15.1 per cent of AS X200 board seats.

We also want to live without fear of violence. One in three Australian women has experienced violence since the age of 15, most by a man they know, in their own homes.

It is not acceptable, it is not what we want. And it's not a secret code or complex algorithm that requires 30 years of research into the feminine soul. Aretha had it right: we want respect. We want feet kept off our necks, the removal of false barriers to achievement, equal representation, the control of our own bodies, and the ability to soar or stuff up the way men do. We want to love our families fiercely, to have time to nurture our children, to live lives of integrity, honour and meaning.

And here's a tip: if you want to know what a woman wants, ask.

- Daily Life