No act of sexism is 'too boring' to ignore

There's no shortage of sexism to be spotted.

There's no shortage of sexism to be spotted. Photo: Sebastian Costanzo

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. www.kaseyedwards.com

42 comments

  • Excellent, so true. Thank you.

    Commenter
    Commentor
    Date and time
    January 17, 2013, 8:47AM
    • We only have a certain finite amount of energy that we can spend on things, and there's only a certain number of hours in the day. We care about lots of things, sexism being one of them. Racism, climate change, homeless, aging, single parents, etc etc, and that's just in our own backyard. To say that we can't devote our entire beings to any or all of those is just plainly obvious.

      If you want an example you only have to look into your own article. Alan Jones is happily chirping away on the air, spouting his filth for all to hear. People get tired, people get bored, and without constant and careful management people drift away from activism.

      This is not to say that Tory was correct and we should focus on 'real' feminism, because I think the tweet is a perfect example of the anti-women attitudes that are having a real negative impact on women today. But the idea that some acts of sexism should be given lower priority isn't in itself wrong.

      Commenter
      Regularchap
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      January 17, 2013, 10:09AM
      • I think what you are trying to say is choose your battles wisely... and I agree.

        Commenter
        Fiona
        Date and time
        January 17, 2013, 10:43AM
      • I disagree with this. That's like saying 'I'm so worried about the fundamentals, like eating and breathing, I just don't have the hours in the day to properly talk to people.' The thing is, you can do all of the above because you are a capable human being! I'd also love to see statistics on how the shaming of these sexist companies on social media impacts the wider community. My hunch is that even if you're some old bloke in a corner office, you'll at least get the message from the online articles that spring up as a result of the social media fracas that maybe chicks don't like it when you treat them like objects. So maybe, as an old bloke, you might think twice before you show her an off-colour youtube video. And that is exactly what progress is all about.

        Commenter
        Sheba
        Date and time
        January 17, 2013, 11:08AM
      • Sheba, I really don't have time in my day to follow every racist, sexist, ageist, homophobic comment that apparently 'needs' attention. I care a lot about those things, but I only have a finite level of care in me, and some battles are more important than others.

        Commenter
        Regularchap
        Location
        Sydney
        Date and time
        January 17, 2013, 12:46PM
      • @Regularchap

        That's fine, then only give your attention to those that you feel you can. The issue is, just because you, or Helen Razer, mightn't have enough energy to give to some other sexist issue doesn't mean that issue isn't worthy of attention by those who have the energy for it,usually people who are more directly affected by whatever the issue is. I say, it's good that there are different people able to engage on various issues, that way,as the author asserts, more gets done.

        Commenter
        Drspacegirl
        Date and time
        January 17, 2013, 1:17PM
    • I think that we could look at the responses we give varying degrees of sexism.

      Rape culture in India and abroad? My word, may there be protests and judicial activism.

      Some dickhead on the bus calling me a bitch because I politely turned his offer of a seat down? Derisive laughter and pointing is far more enjoyable and a totally appropriate response.

      Sometimes, some little moments/throwaway comments are so unintelligent, so thoughtless and so illogical that a measured, intelligent, researched response to them is unnecessary. Howling gales of laughter and mockery are a social shaming tool for a reason, and why not employ them where they will match the effort and wit required to have come up with the sexist incident in the first place?

      Commenter
      bec
      Date and time
      January 17, 2013, 10:35AM
      • bec
        "Howling gales of laughter and mockery are a social shaming tool for a reason, and why not employ them where they will match the effort and wit required to have come up with the sexist incident in the first place?"

        I read many of the articles posted on Daily Life and I often ask myself "what can I do to be a better man?" after reading the article. But after reading your response I asked myself "what would I do if someone declined my offer of a seat?"

        I think it would depend how it was done. "No, thank you!" from Bec, and we are both happy. "Gales of laughter and mockery" and Nogbad is an unhappy Nogboy. Clearly in the example you described, the guy felt affronted and behaved poorly. But even a casual review of the flame wars in these comments reveal that many men and women hold very different views of what is appropriate behaviour.

        So responding to sexism with "howling gales of laughter and mockery" is unlikely to achieve anything other than reinforce stereotypes. What would help? Engaging the men in your life with a discussion about the issues, and equipping them with the tools to discuss with other blokes. I don't think feminist blogs penetrate the male psyche at all, and so each of us, men and women, should discuss the issues in a social setting, when appropriate, and promote a reasoned view about the rights and wrongs of every day issues. I know i do that, and I know that I hear two sides of the story, and each retelling takes us closer to some consensus as to what is appropriate for each party.

        But I am yet to hear anybody suggest that humiliation is a way to achieve change...

        Commenter
        Nogbad
        Location
        Valerie Solanas Institute
        Date and time
        January 17, 2013, 4:02PM
    • "No act of sexism is 'too boring' to ignore"
      - except sexism against men and boys.
      - you can't have equality in a vacuum, you need equality with another group. To deny that men and boys suffer disadvantage or that women and girls, do in fact have some privileges, does not promote equality.
      - Sure some men and women say sexist and misogynist things, but likewise, some women and men say sexist and misandrist things too.
      - lets have an equality debate that is about equality - equality by definition addresses both sides, advantage and disadvantage.

      Commenter
      JohnA
      Date and time
      January 17, 2013, 10:36AM
      • When I see men try and draw the sexism argument back onto the conditions of men I can only think they feel in some way guilty. The fact that men face discrimination in no way lessens the discrimination against women. The fact that women face discrimination does not mean that all men should feel guilty. If you’re a good guy then just keep on being a good guy, but don’t try to suggest that sexism isn’t an issue.

        If you don’t think sexism against women exists then it would be interesting to hear your arguments. But to suggest that sexism against women is somehow less important due to the fact that men don’t have perfect lives is irrelevant. It’s like suggesting that we stop worrying about cancer because people die in road accidents.

        Commenter
        Tom
        Location
        Canberra
        Date and time
        January 17, 2013, 11:41AM

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