Tits and Balls - Sexism in Australia



Wow. Australia really knows how to tackle the big issues. First we had Eddie McGuire suffering from an abhorrent case of foot and mouth disease, bringing racism in Australia in to sharp focus. Now we have a rogue shock jock questioning the sexuality of our Prime Minister’s partner, hot on the heels of her seriously misguided attempt to paint the opposition party as sexist by claiming things like abortion would be taken out of the hands of Australian women if they are to be elected to power. Sexism, it’s your turn now.



We cannot deny that a culture of sexism exists in this country, and right around the world. Strong and healthy, it is slowly retreating to back alleys and boys clubs, indicative of the fact that pursuers of this belief system are finally being called out for what they are doing. But a beast this strong never lays permanently dormant. It reared its ugly head in October of last year, when Prime Minister Gillard rose up and delivered a staggering and timely force of a speech right at the feet of Tony Abbott (Australian opposition leader). Wholly accurate too, and the content was widely applauded by almost everyone in the Western world. Abbott deserved every speckle of spit that smacked in to his forehead. A traditionalist by trade, his views on women have been proven to be outdated and at times offensive, a viewpoint he is so concerned about his wife felt the need to stand up in the public forum and claim he is not a misogynist and that he respects women and their rights. Sure.



It’s usually inevitable that when a politician brings attention to themselves in this manner, a national debate is sparked. Is Tony Abbott misogynistic? Is the LNP too conservative a government for a fast paced political world, where gay marriage talk is rife and women are drastically increasing their political and corporate roles? More so, it focuses questions inwards. How do we really feel about women? Does a glass ceiling exist in the workplace? A 16.9% pay gap in 2010.. Yet women represent higher numbers of those who are enrolled in university. You might think “this is 2013 and we live in Australia, sexism is meekly cowering in the corner.” It’s not. It’s not even lurking in the shadows, it’s an elephant in the room that only ever speaks when the media gives it a voice.
Now, I’m not about to suggest that Australia is the worst offender. I’m sure you’re all well aware of the way other religions and cultures treat women (and that’s even before we discus Silvio Berlusconi). Whilst it may be surprising and difficult for us to process, this is the way these cultures and religions have existed and operated for the entirety of their lifespan. Even so, it is my belief and I hope that of the majority of fellow Australians that all humans are created entirely equal, and discrimination, debasement, or any form of unequal treatment is unacceptable. Let’s forget about other cultures though, we cannot change viewpoints that evolved over centuries in mere days or months.



Where are our trouble areas? Where is this stain the strongest, the hardest to scrub out? The military put their name on the list recently when it was discovered that ’90 serving officers might be guilty of producing “highly inappropriate material demeaning women” and distributing it across the internet and Defence’s email networks. Clearly a systemic problem exists, such was the passion with which General David Morrison spoke following the discovery on rooting this problem out and ensuring that women were treated with the same respect that men are. Interestingly, the article linked makes heavy reference to that fact that in the Australian military, switching genders is accepted and practised. What this highlights is one of the main problems with sexism in this country. On the surface, things seem fine. Laws are up to date, industry leaders and politicians (generally) are well versed in how to present to the media and the public. Dig a little deeper though.
How many of you have spent 5 minutes in your local pub? How many males play a team sport? How many work as mechanics, or roofers, landscapers, chippies, brickies, sparkies? Now you’re nodding your heads. Yes, the places women dare not tread. The inner sanctum of the alpha male, the breadwinner, the hunter. The dressing room, the sports bar, the job site. Such fertile breeding grounds for this culture. My mum is still appalled that our local pub has topless bar tenders Tuesday and Thursday nights. I said you should spend 5 minutes inside the pub on a Wednesday night after work. She’d be positively shocked.



And yes the sports field is a major offender. Just last week we saw Holger Osieck remarking that “women should shut up in public” in Latin, before saying “I say it to my wife at home, it is a private one, OK”. A silly thing to say, especially after we’d just won a brilliant game of football. You might even sit there and think “he should’ve kept that one in the dressing room,” and yes he should have, but even better he should’ve kept it to himself, and even better than that the national coach of one of our major sporting teams shouldn’t really be having thoughts such as this, even if he is from a foreign country.
If a situation can arise where a Prime Minister is judged by her appearance, by her marital status, by the clothes she wears, there is a systemic problem. No media personality would have dared ask John Howard whether his wife was a lesbian. Even if she worked as a diesel mechanic, drank Toohey’s Old, and played golf, the office of Prime Minister would always be treated with more respect than that. For a stunt then to be pulled where Julia Gillard’s body is the source of a crude and juvenile menu item: “It emerged yesterday a menu linked to a Liberal Party fundraiser held in March in part claimed to offer: ‘Julia Gillard Kentucky fried quail-small breasts, huge thighs.’ “It then makes a third, cruder reference” (Read more here.) shows the contempt someone truly has for a women in power. The third reference, by the way, is that it is served in a big red box. Yep. Someone actually wrote that on a menu, about our PM. Imagine if Abbott was PM, and someone offered a menu at an ALP fundraiser with “small, shrivelled spatchcock served with well matured, juicy meatballs”. It just wouldn’t happen, and I am appalled that it happened to Julia Gillard. She is still being attacked this week, with claims she is showing too much cleavage in Parliament. The woman must have an iron constitution to put up with these kind of insults, and it’s a tribute to her intelligence and grace that she’s really only had 2 major outbursts over this. She got it woefully wrong recently when she tried to use abortion as a bargaining chip to gain the feminist vote, but can we honestly blame her? It’s her first major slip up on gender despite being tirelessly attacked by her detractors, including Tony Abbott, and let’s not forget Alan Jones and his dismal ‘died of shame’ and ‘women are destroying the joint’ outbursts.



I don’t think we need to throw our hands up in the air and rush to the valium cabinet. Burying our heads in the sand, and I know I can be accused of doing that, seems appealing. I’m not advocating a call to arms, though, I’m merely observing a worrying trend. Like racism, this isn’t a problem that will go away. Younger generations may harbour a higher percentage of tolerant individuals but there will always be that minority that exists. Are you going to be the bloke who stands up in the dressing room when something sexist is said? When your boss makes a comment about a woman on the street, your best mate disrespects the girl he brought home last night, your rugby skipper jokes with you about his boss at work who happens to be a woman? That’s your call to make, and mine too. But like racism, if we keep quiet, the fire will continue to burn.

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