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No act of sexism is 'too boring' to ignore

Published: January 17, 2013 - 7:07AM

It doesn’t take long to whip up a feminist backlash. Women get a whiff of power and then people start freaking out that we can’t be trusted to handle it.  

But it’s not the blokes patronising the little ladies about ‘going too far’. This time, as the song goes, we’re doing it for ourselves.

2012 will go down as the year that women and enlightened men united to call out examples of sexism and misogyny with tools such as #destroythejoint and #notbuyingit.

Social media gave us a new and powerful avenue to publicly hold individuals, institutions and corporations to account for sexist and misogynistic behaviour.

But the technology is only part of the story. The real change was social.

Just as Julia Gillard let rip after years of enduring sexist nonsense, women across the county found the courage to speak out.

Up until this point, the fear of being seen as over-sensitive, humourless bitches had gagged women who were offended, objectified and belittled by sexist media, sexist corporations and sexist workplaces.

And for the most part, campaigns like #notbuyingit and #destroythejoint have been remarkably civil and abuse-free.

But as the victories started to mount — such as Alan Jones’ fall from grace, Carlton Draught’s backpedaling after its ironing promotion, the outing of St John’s sexist culture, a bar renaming its ‘Winey Bitch' and 'Red-Headed Slut’ cocktails, and the cancellation of a schoolgirl jelly wrestling contest — the muttering about whether it’s all got out of hand began.

The first cold shower came from Helen Razer writing for Crikey about the ‘confected feminist outrage’ regarding the Daily Telegraph naming Black Caviar Sportswoman of the Year. Razer wrote of ‘misguided feminists’,  ‘who deem this an exhilarating time in the history of feminism. Then, there are those of us who would prefer a return to core business.’

The Punch’s Tory Shepherd followed up by calling for a return to bread and butter feminism like focusing on the killing of female babies in India and gang rape on the grounds that, ‘We'll miss real issues amid sexism fatigue.’

And following the recent backdown, apology and charity donation by Kayser after its offensive #KayserMaleInsider tweet Jamila Rizvi at Mamamia suggested we may be overusing our feminist outrage.

Rizvi wrote: ‘[W]here one in five women experience sexual violence in their lifetimes, why are we bothering to get outraged about the semantics of some barely-out-of-his-teens intern at a clothing manufacturing company, when we could be channelling that outrage where it really matters?

Aside from the fact that Rizvi answered her own question — the reason we should be outraged at implications that women are obliged to have sex with men is because 20 per cent of women are forced to have sex with men — this attitude paints a pretty dim view of women.

I agree with Razer, Shepherd and Rizvi that we need to keep focused on issues such as rape and pay inequality. But are our minds so feeble that if we distract ourselves with the ‘small stuff’ we’ll no longer have the processing power to comprehend bigger issues? I don’t think so. What one woman may dismiss as inoffensive or only a little bit sexist to her may not be to someone else.

These views also show a narrow understanding of history. Big social changes don’t just happen. There is no straight line from A=sexism to B=egalitarian society. Social and cultural change evolves out of a meandering path of small victories. Seeds need to be planted and ground needs to be fertilized.

Every time we callout sexism and reeducate individuals, communities and corporations about what is acceptable, we are chipping away at the patriarchy. A boss that taps his secretary on the arse is enabled by the same patriarchy that blames rape victims. Yes, the scale is different, but the beast is the same.   

I’ve been a change management consultant for over decade and in that time I’ve learned that if you want to change a culture, focusing on all aspects of the culture — the big and the small — is the only effective way to achieve lasting change. There’s no victory in only half-draining the toxic swamp.

There are so many battles to fight on the road to equality, including the one within ourselves about power and entitlement.

The good news is that there are plenty of us to fight the fight. And most of us, thankfully, can walk and chew gum at the same time. But we need to remind ourselves that we are capable of managing, and deserving of the new power that we wield.  

Kasey Edwards is author of Thirty-Something and Over It: What happens when you wake up and don’t want to go to work. Ever again.

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