Ernies mark 21 years of outrageous sexist behaviour

Ernie Awards diehard: Margaret Jones.

Ernie Awards diehard: Margaret Jones.

It's the awards night no one really wants to happen.

But, kept alive by a reliable stream of offensive comments, the annual Ernie Awards for Sexist Behaviour has become a uniquely Australian institution.

Laying claim to the most Ernie "wins" in the history of the awards and a near-perfect attendance record, 86-year-old Margaret Jones reckons the Ernies are particularly relevant to her generation.


While younger women can sometimes shrug off sexist comments as ignorance, such remarks are unwelcome relics when paired with the Australia Ms Jones grew up in.

"Women like me who had to listen to that shit all our lives really enjoy [the Ernies]," Ms Jones said.

It was an Australia where sexist comments were unexceptional, common and constant, ribald and obscene, Ms Jones said.

"We just put up with it," she said. "Then the Ernies came along and here was another way for us to get back at the blokes, because they had been laughing at us for all these years."

An "Ernie" officially goes to the man or woman who uttered the offending remark.

But the trophy, and the glory, belong to the woman who nominates the comments that are booed the loudest on the night.

As enjoyable as the Ernies are, Ms Jones is unconcerned by the prospect of a year without the awards due to a lack of contenders for the prize.

"I wouldn't worry, I'd be delighted," Ms Jones said.

But Ernies founder and former politician Meredith Burgmann said that each year the comments keep coming and "they're always dreadful".

"By making [the comments] public, it makes men aware of their sins," Ms Jones said.

While many men take the awards in good humour, Dr Burgmann said others seem to miss the point.

She remembers how Bill Heffernan rang to argue the toss with her, the year the Liberal senator was awarded the Gold Ernie for suggesting that Julia Gillard was not fit to lead the country because she is "deliberately barren".

"He said, but I'm a farmer, I know about sheep and cows," Dr Burgmann said. "It wasn't that he was offended, he just couldn't understand what was sexist about it."

The night attracts around 400 women each year, but Ms Jones is one of few who contribute to the award's success by collecting nominations throughout the year.

"It's obviously important to her, but it's really important to us too," said Dr Burgmann.

And the awards do mean a lot to Ms Jones. She protests that people, especially older women and women who are lesbians, are "invisiblised" by society.

But the awards night is one where she is unmissable.

"I'm with my sisters ... and I feel part of the tribe," she said. "That's important, you get a lot of support."

Ernie categories now include the Elaine (women unhelpful to the sisterhood), the Clinton (repeat offenders), the Warney (sport) and even the Good Ernie (for encouragement).

The awards are named after Ernie Ecob, who was the secretary of the Australian Workers' Union.

Mr Ecob's infamy within the feminist sisterhood was already well established when he proclaimed that women only wanted to be shearers because they're "after the sex".

The Awards were launched in celebration the year he retired from office. A sheep sits abashedly atop the Gold Ernie in his ongoing honor.

The 21st annual Ernie Awards will be held on Wednesday, October 9.

27 comments so far

  • Very excited to be attending tonight - I'm an Ernies virgin but have been reading and giggling along for years, since first finding the Ernies compilation book at a market stall.

    The awards as relevant now as ever, and perhaps more so. Don't write off the younger generation too fast, Margaret Jones ;) Many of us think you're a bloody legend.

    Red Pony
    Date and time
    October 09, 2013, 2:54PM
    • what about the awful sexist attacks on Sophie Mirabella? oh that's right, she's on the right. attacks on her don't count.

      Date and time
      October 09, 2013, 3:12PM
      • They count too. If you really cared, you could have nominated them. But I suspect you don't really care, because you seem to have missed the part where the award is named after a unionist.
        If you did read it, full marks for reading incomprehension. If you didn't read it, full marks for inattention span and commenting ignorantly.

        Sexism knows no boundaries, but conservative politics certainly lends itself to more sexist attitudes, so it's no surprise that Coalition pollies are regularly nominated.

        Date and time
        October 09, 2013, 5:33PM
      • Attacks on Sophie had to do with her disdain for those in her electorate and her ignorance of the suffering around her. She would have copped that had she been male.

        Date and time
        October 09, 2013, 5:59PM
      • Oh that's right, she's on the right. When we fail we play the victim card.

        Date and time
        October 09, 2013, 6:06PM
      • You must be joking Fabbz or related, Sophie Mirabella would be right up there as one of the most nasty maker of sexist comments in Australia's parliamentary history.

        Date and time
        October 09, 2013, 6:11PM
      • So very true. It is not what is said but rather the team you play-for. I still cannot comprehend how some of the worst comments about Gillard were ignored by the Left. Those were the comments by Germaine Greer (on Q&A?) about Gillard having a big backside and poor dress sense. If those had been said by a man, and particularly a conservative, the torrent of abuse would have been uncontrollable!

        Oh, really?
        Date and time
        October 09, 2013, 6:32PM
      • What sexist attacks? Put a after "thehoopla" thehoopla/mirabella-virtuous-victim/ and have a read.

        Date and time
        October 09, 2013, 8:09PM
    • hear hear Fabbz. Isn't it always the case with the left, not a word about the outrageous and genuinely mysogonistic attacks on Mirrabella. What about the Ernies being truly bi-partisan rather than just another excuse for tired old Trots like Meredith Bergman spreading hate and vile....

      Date and time
      October 09, 2013, 4:00PM
      • This sounds great, the ABC should televise it!

        Date and time
        October 09, 2013, 4:29PM

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