It’s been the week that’s just kept on giving in Australia. Politicians, sporting stars, commentators and shock jocks all entered a competition to see who could best serve up a plate of misogyny with a side of offensive asinine comments. The winner of the competition is still being disputed, but the losers have unanimously been identified as both women and political discourse in this country.
For those of you who missed out on all the fun, let me recap.
The masterclass started rather predictably with Holger Osieck, the Socceroos coach claiming that “women should shut up in public“. Thankfully Osieck cleared the matter up by saying he’s not actually sexist as he been “married to for a number years” and is “pretty happy” about it. His inspired words came from an old latin saying that Osieck often says to his wife, so really it’s okay.
When I however took initiative and put the expression ‘mulieres taceres in ecclesia’ into google translate, I found it actually meant “soccer coaches should stick to talking about soccer”. Something clearly got lost in translation here.
Moving right along and not to outdone with mere words, Mal Brough, a prominent former Liberal party member physically wrote up a menu describing how seriously the Coalition takes the issue of sexualization of women – which is to say not seriously at all. The now infamous menugate incident involved a menu at a Liberal National Party fund-raiser which offered up the Prime Minister in the form of Kentucky Fried Quail – Small Breasts, Huge Thighs, and a Big Red Box. Appetising don’t you think?
It has since come out that the menu was in fact the brainchild of Joe Richards, the restaurant owner and had absolutely nothing to do with Brough. If this is in fact true, Brough’s apology for the menu came before he was even supposed to know it existed. It’s fascinating that even with his magical powers of premonition; he couldn’t see that the menu was a bad idea.
Just as we all thought that Brough and menugate were sure to win gold in the weeks idiocy contest, Howard Sattler came along and demonstrated that we were all just wildly optimistic. Sattler, a professional announcer asked the Prime Minister on air if her partner Tim Matherson was gay. Sattler then went on to justify his question by stating that Matherson was a hairdresser and “it wasn’t him saying it” therefore the question was valid. The conversation when further when Piers Akerman went on the ABC’s Insiders program and supported Sattler by again bringing up the rumours of Matherson’s sexuality.
Guys, just a heads up, the problem isn’t the question or where it came from, the problem is how you both thought it was appropriate to ask it. Now that we’ve cleared that up please take the time to step out of your retro-sexist time machine and join us back here in 2013.
Next cab off the rank this week were various sporting personailities putting in time in building their reputations as disrespectful chauvinistic pigs. Firstly we had Blake Ferguson, the NSW State of Origin player who was charged with assaulting a women in a nightclub. Then the Stephan Milne story broke whereby the St Kilda star was charged with 4 counts for rape for an incident 9 years ago. There has been much talk during the week as to whether he’ll play for the rest of the season. On The Footy Show, Nick Dal Santo, Milne’s teammate, stated that the most important factor in the decision was Milne’s welfare. Then Sam Newman weighed into the issue by labelling rape as a ‘misdemeanour’. Why the Channel 9 legal department ever let Newman open his mouth is beyond me but the comments made are endemic of the patriarchal boys club the footy world is run by.
Naturally, Milne has a right to the presumption of innocence however in the multiple articles and news reports I’ve read about the matter, not one has mentioned the victim in the situation or her potential feelings (or that of other rape victims/women) towards Milne returning to the field. If he is allowed to play before the charges are dealt with, what message does that send about the seriousness of rape? We’re quick to forget that this isn’t just about Milne’s welfare, it’s also about the welfare of the young woman involved and those like her.
The latest development in the story is that Milne is expected to be allowed to play in round 15, after Women’s Round in round 14. Because you know, the AFL is sensitive to this issue and if they let him play in Women’s Round that might cause controversy.
And as for Newman’s comments; with the threat of global warming upon us, the Amazonian basin simply cannot afford enough paper for me to explain just how hurtful and idiotic they are.
Add to all this the Australian Defence Force sexism scandal, Nigella Lawson’s strangling photographs, the continuing tragic Jill Meagher story, and Serena William’s blaming of the 16 year old victim in the Steubenville rape case and you have yourself a smorgasbord of sexism and a very sobering week when it comes to women’s issues and our progression towards equality.
At the beginning of this week, Julia Gillard (prior to all these incidences) made a speech about misogyny and women’s rights. For her efforts, people who didn’t even bother listening to the whole speech or understanding the context it was given in went into an uproar about the mention of ‘blue ties’ and then dismissed her ideas as ‘using the gender card’. Cue the outrage and booing.
It’s no wonder sexist incidents continue to happen when that’s how we greet a speech delivered by a Prime Minister.
Everyday, ordinary women experience misogyny and sexism; yet when women raise their voices in protest they get labeled as femi-nazi, man-hating, whinging, shrill witches and bitches.
We need to remember that playing the gender card isn’t a game or a desperate measure. Proclaiming it as such or mocking people for using it only serves to further justify the ongoing inequality we experience. If we accept the things that have transpired in the past week without discussion or reflection, then this cyclone of retro-sexism will continue to gather force.
Many excuses, apologies and explanations have been given up in the past week and many times I have read or heard people suggesting that they’re only words or single instances not a reflection of society. But how many sandwiches need to be thrown or how many cases like Jill Meagher need to come to light for us to realize that maybe they’re not just single instances and are reflective of how we view and treat women.
They may just be words. But the words hurt. The language used to depict Julia Gillard is one no other Prime Minister has ever had to endure. And the language that’s been used this week to discuss domestic violence and sexual assault seems to flourish in society where women are less valued than men. Australia simply isn’t the utopia of equality people seem to think it is. Just today the World Health Organization released a study showing that one in four women in Australia are victims of intimate partner violence whilst one in six have experienced non-partner sexual violence. On a global scale the number jumps to more than one in three women.
We have to reflect on the past weeks events and realize they form part of a continuing problem both on our shores and in the world. We have to stop pretending it’s not real and all just in women’s heads. We have to develop a basic level of respect towards all women irrespective of the power or position they hold. And we simply have to stop accepting such blatant misogyny and sexism from our politicians, commentators and sportspeople.
In response to the ADF sexism problems, Lieutenant-General David Morrison eloquently stated “the standard you walk past is the standard you accept”. Accuse me of using the gender card if you will; but I am not going to be one to ever accept such a low standard. Frankly, you shouldn’t be either.