How to respect women*

Dominique Strauss-Kahn smiles (pre-scandal) at an IMF conference in 2009.

Dominique Strauss-Kahn smiles (pre-scandal) at an IMF conference in 2009. Photo: Getty

Last week, social media – specifically, my Twitter account – was up in arms over comments made by former AFL player Dermott Brereton on a publicly accessible forum.

When former players’ agent turned professional buffoon Ricky Nixon took to his Facebook page to bemoan the use of truth and facts in an article written by Age journalist Suzanne Carbone, his followers were quick to mete out suitable punishment. Hearing that Carbone ‘obviously needs a good shag’, Nixon quickly nominated former AFL player Dermot Brereton. Brereton then quipped, ‘I don’t do charity like that..! Well, quite.

In a culture that prioritises women’s accessibility over intelligence, men like Brereton know that the only trump card they need is to denigrate a naysayer’s sexual attractiveness. 


Dermott Brereton insists he has the "utmost respect for women".

Dermott Brereton insists he has the "utmost respect for women". Photo: Getty

Ladies, know this – until Science discovers a more effective cure than a rutting penis for the troublesome burden of Having Opinions, you’d best keep your looks in line. Because these discerning gents don’t do charity, and you’d hate to miss out on the superior compliment of having them take you from behind.



Of course, Brereton’s comments aren’t wholly surprising. But what’s even less surprising is his follow up statement – that you’d probably find very few men who respected women more than he.


It’s the standard response from most prominent men caught in a moment of blatantly misogynist behavior. (See: Kyle Sandilands). We excuse it as the actions of Boys Being Boys. Blowing off steam. Having a laugh. They don’t really mean anything, because actually, you’d be hard pressed to find someone who respects women more than a man for whom the accusation of ‘fat slag with no titties’ is an appropriate response to a negative review written by a woman. Don’t we know that Brereton has done more than most people to improve the social etiquettes of males towards females, which is a phrase he probably even learned at Sensitivity Training? Why we gotta rag on him so much?


Unfortunately, these men probably aren’t lying when they claim to have enviable respect for women, precisely because they’ve packaged women into two identifiable brackets: women who behave, and all those other bitches.


Because of this, they exist in a vacuum of immaturity in which it’s not just acceptable but common practice to reward those who play nice with the extraordinary honour of penile validation. On the other hand, let it be known that women who challenge their position as Natural Born Rulers Of The Universe will be mocked and ridiculed as being beyond sexual consumption. Men, start your engines.


This brand of thinking was sadly demonstrated when the former head of the International Monetary Fund was questioned for two days over accusations of ‘abetting aggravated pimping by an organized gang’. Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s defense appears to rest entirely on the claim that he didn’t know the women present at the organized orgies he frequented were prostitutes – namely because they were introduced to him by senior police officers.


When questioned about his client’s case, Strauss Kahn’s lawyer Henri Leclerc claimed such a misunderstanding was possible because "in these parties, you're not necessarily dressed. I defy you to tell the difference between a nude prostitute and a nude woman of quality."


Ah yes. The problems really started when they stopped branding whores with scarlet letters. PC GONE MAD etc.


It’s a subtle variation on the Damned Whores and God’s Police dichotomy that walks hand in hand with the Madonna/Whore complex. Instead of sexual morality or social status alone dictating the split, the Prostitute in this variable happens to refer to any woman who behaves in a way that might emasculate a man or suggest he, and ergo his penis, is of little consequence to her. Because it’s apparently acceptable to treat Prostitutes with contempt, we can differentiate between the respect we afford real women and that which we deny their heathen counterparts.


When men use sexual taunts to criticize women who don’t pander to them, they aren’t being offensive to real women, because the only ones they know who fulfill that role do them in specifically non-sexualised ways: as mothers, sisters, daughters and wives. All other women exist for their amusement. These women are expected to like this arrangement; to play into it knowing good behaviour might win them a gold star and a pat on the bottom.


In a culture that prioritises women’s accessibility over their intelligence, men know that the only trump card they need is to denigrate a naysayer’s sexual attractiveness. The message is simple, and despicable: My only use for you is sexual, and if you don’t adhere to my rules I’ll deny you even that.


However repugnant, Henri Leclerc’s comments demonstrate just how women all over the world continue to be morally segregated. On our left, we have Women of Quality. They are mothers, wives, sisters, daughters, women who wear skirts no higher than the knee, women who claim they would never behave like those other women, women who know their place and women who know their role. These are the women who giggle when men make crude sexual references to other women because of the deeply ingrained fear that if they don’t, the poison darts will be turned their way.


Then there are Prostitutes. These are women who don’t play nice, women who are bold and outspoken, women who won’t get on their knees unless they want to, women who are called ‘ugly’ for disagreeing with others, women who keep disagreeing despite that and women who can differentiate between men who actually respect them and men who see them as walking vaginas.


Some men may not be able to tell the difference between Women of Quality and Prostitutes. But if a woman declaring her opinion is still a revolutionary act, then Prostitutes are all the women who consider revolution more important than validation.


I can tell the difference between that, and I know which one I’d proudly want to be.



  • Very well written and compelling. Thank you for the validation.

    Date and time
    February 28, 2012, 9:57AM
    • This is a brilliant article!

      Its witty, lighthearted and presents a clear, well thought out argument.

      Clementine I think you have just become my favourite writer!

      Date and time
      February 28, 2012, 10:11AM
      • Nice article, Clementine, and I agree with most of your arguments. But I have always held the idea that the one thing which unites men and women is their joint victim status. We wound each other and the unthinking among us blames the other. As an example, I point to the current crop of female comics whose currency is if not loathing, then certainly slagging off at men generally. i also point to the current fad in TV advertising for showing empowered women belittling the weedy little man. I am deeply offended by these actions. Back in the 70s there was a delightful book titled Media She and it showed a range of gender stereotypes - but with the genders changed. It's concept was simple: if you suspect something is sexist, change the genders. If it still seems sexist, then it was in the first place. My advice to men who "respect" women: if you don't mean it, don't say it.

        Northern Country
        Date and time
        February 28, 2012, 10:14AM
        • @Wayne Just tried to find a copy of Media She to read, sounds interesting.

          Reminds me of a sketch done years ago by I think the Comedy Company, where they parodied the Footy Show by switching the genders and making it about Netball.

          Date and time
          February 28, 2012, 10:55AM
      • Yes great article Clementine. My alienation at this swarm of misogynists running (if you could call it that maybe dominating is better?) the world has found a kindred spirit.

        Dr Christine
        Date and time
        February 28, 2012, 10:25AM
        • From our australian perspective, what you are largely seeing is a football culture of young men and their developing charcters and social success defined on 3 things...1 their sporting ability, 2 their ability to consume alcohol, 3 their ability to pick up woman. When they reach their 30's, 1 their sporting ability (if they had any) fades away, 2 their consumption of alcohol increases to fill the sporting void and to facilitate the lack of ability to socially communicate with people (in particular - woman), and 3 their view/treatment/association with woman plummets from its initial shakey foundation to all time lows. The sad part of it all, is that each generation of men pass it onto the next. I challenge anybody to sit in a footy club, late on a saturday night, and listen to the conversation largely about sporting ability, alcohol and woman, and then tell me that it doesnt exist. Its a huge challenge because its part of our culture, and the lads love it.

          Date and time
          February 28, 2012, 10:50AM
          • Thanks for this Clem. It chaps my hide that most women too buy into the whole madonna/whore scenario and identify themselves and other women in such a way - only being granted full human status in the role of somebody's daughter, sister, wife or mother. Not caring when the woman hurt is a prostitute or Paris Hilton types who are just playing the game set up by menfor men in the first place. Patriarchy has managed well to manipulate women and make us pull against each other, instead of moving in the same direction. I know men hate us but it's the female self hatred that is important. I doubt if I'll see an end to it in my lifetime but hope springs eternal.

            Date and time
            February 28, 2012, 11:07AM
            • "I know men hate us"

              Really? Wow.

              Date and time
              February 28, 2012, 3:08PM
          • Great article - although I fear the men who need to read it the most will fail to do so.

            Date and time
            February 28, 2012, 11:22AM
            • That's because they can't

              Keilor East
              Date and time
              February 28, 2012, 2:13PM

          More comments

          Comments are now closed

          Related Coverage

          Mossimo... what ever were you thinking?

          Oh no you didn't... Mossimo's wildly inappropriate and sexist new ad campaign is banned We doubt you're going to be surprised why… No one thought this was questionable idea? Really?

          Women of the World

          Every prominent woman available discusses every issue you can think of at the Women in the World Summit

          Why women still can't enjoy sex

          CLEM FORD Vs the rusty old thinking that determines if a woman is a Lady worthy of respect or a Slut deserving of contempt. men and women at a base level still aren’t viewed as being the same.

          Judgment day for Sandilands

          The media authority will hold its first press conference in six years today when it announces the results of a two-month-long investigation into radio personality Kyle Sandilands.

          Sexist TV: A Spotter’s Guide

          Come, frolic through fields of boofheads with CLEM BASTOW.

          Stop telling women what to wear

          The only thing ‘dangerous’ about women’s clothes are the ways they’re used to belittle an entire gender.

          'The surplus of women problem'

          What's the solution when all a country has is girls, girls, girls?