Feminism matters. And it's terrifying for some people

The reason people - and the dinosaurs in particular - keep making fun of feminists is because we're actually making a ...

The reason people - and the dinosaurs in particular - keep making fun of feminists is because we're actually making a difference. Photo: Stocksy

It seems the more power feminism gains in the public sphere, the greater the number of aging, retrosexist dinosaurs attempting to push back against it. In recent weeks, we've seen one given a plum position on a new weekly panel show.

Mark Latham (who has admitted to running a Twitter account from which he harassed and bullied women, and whose columns in the AFR were often not even thinly veiled attacks on the 'inner city feminists' he seemed absurdly paranoid about) now appears on Channel Nine's The Verdict. Last week, he criticised and sneered at a new gender equality program developed by students at Fitzroy High School. Because what could possibly be useful about discussing the importance of mutual respect with high school students?

The latest example of Old Media bro-ing down against the nasty pasty feminists was spotted in the West Australian over the weekend. Cartoonist Dean Alston offered six panels outlining his perception of the feminist movement.

Cartoonist Dean Alston 's sketch in the West Australian

Cartoonist Dean Alston 's sketch in the West Australian

In short, Alston depicts the inner workings of 'Camp Femdom' (which is apparently conveniently located near to a day spa). A group of angry, ugly, middle aged women (gross!) rally together, praising themselves for having "given birth to prime ministers, racing drivers, soldiers, statesmen and bankers" before going on to declare they'll take over the world. And then, the punchline. None of this will happen before they've "had a hot latte, been to book club, been waxed, had our hair done and been shopping".

Advertisement

"Hear! Hear!" the rest of the ladies cry. Aren't women silly?

Look, in the grand scheme of things I'm not especially bothered by Alston's comic. It's lazy and boring and completely reliant on retro ideas of women and feminism, but that's what I'd expect from a comic whose bio jokes that he's been "cartooning long enough to remember when politicians were real". Dean Alston is old and one day he will be dead, along with all the other puffed up, lazy cultural commentators left behind when the world decided to change will be dead. So who cares what he thinks about feminists, right?

Well, to an extent. Because the problem isn't that Alston gets a jolly good chortle out of joking about how women like to drink coffee and 'go to book club'. The problem, as always, is that news outlets who still hold a lot of sway (if a lot less than they used to) persist in giving platforms to these tired japes. Feminists are old! Feminists are silly! Feminists are lazy! Feminists complain about being treated with less respect than men, but look! They don't even do any real work! While men are out there prime ministering and race drivering and soldiering and statesmening and bankering, women are getting their hair done and quivering over 50 Shades of Grey at the book club! Men would give up all this supposed power and responsibility, but we can't because we're too busy working! Ha ha ha ha ha!

Inevitably, women who complain about this depiction are accused of having no sense of humour. But this isn't about being able to take a joke. Women have been taking jokes about ourselves for centuries, and we're always expected to smile and laugh along as if we agree that yes, we really are pretty useless and stupid about everything. More to the point, it's not as if feminists in particular are unused to being made fun of - what few of the jokers recognise though is how good feminists are at making fun of themselves.

And this is where the difference lies - intent. It's so easy for people are are used to never being made the butt of a joke (particularly not incessantly) to sit there and whine about how the targets of their humour need to lighten up and learn to laugh at themselves. It's easy for people who are always doing the laughing to get defensive and claim the moral high ground, arguing in favour of their own easygoing nature and light hearted approach to life.

Do you know who finds it the most difficult to laugh at themselves? Who complains the loudest and the longest whenever there's even a hint that people might be laughing at them and not with them? White people, men and white men in particular. In their minds, they are allowed to claim the moral high ground on humour because, ironically, they think they've never tried to claim it at all. They can make fun of feminists, brown people, disabled people, women and so on because they like to think anything goes and no topic should be off limits for comedy. The moment any of these groups fight back however, they're accused of being hypocrites. "Aren't you just as bad as the thing you complain about? You don't really want equality - if you did, you wouldn't stoop to this behaviour. Why do you hate men?"

But take heart. The reason people - and the dinosaurs in particular - keep making fun of feminists is because we're actually making a difference. The increased feminist voice in Australia isn't just changing people's minds. It's changing social and legislative policy. We matter. And that terrifies the old men who have always been made comfortable by a system in which everyone who doesn't belong to their ranks is expected to keep their place. Well might outlets like the West Australian and Channel Nine keep elevating the tired and increasingly erratic voices of men terrified at the changing of the guard. But if an old man yells at a cloud and no one's around to care, does it really matter?