The reverse troll
My mum always told me that if a man should expose himself to me, I shouldn't act shocked, horrified or upset, but laugh at him. Laugh and point. As a product of sixties London, where flashers on the Tube were a common sight, Mum knew what she was talking about. The theory was that by being laughed at, the flasher loses the power. He is instead exposed for what he is: pathetic.
The moment came ten years ago when I was living in Japan. One morning, as I walked along a Kyoto street, a car blocked my way. Forced to squeeze past the driver's side, I saw that its occupant had begun masturbating - evidently for my benefit. Mum's words resonated in my ears. I swallowed my horror and began to laugh very loudly and to point, before pulling out a notepad and writing down the creep's number plate and physical description - teeny, tiny willy included. Disappointment, then humiliation, registered in his eyes before he floored it, mission unaccomplished.
On Friday, broadcaster Alan Jones lifted his grubby overcoat and flashed us. Criticising Julia Gillard's mission to promote female leadership in the Pacific region, Jones told his listeners, "She (the Prime Minister) said that we know societies only reach their full potential if women are politically participating. Women are destroying the joint - (former Victoria Police chief) Christine Nixon in Melbourne, (Sydney lord mayer) Clover Moore here. Honestly."
What exactly Jones exposed I'm not sure. Whether it was his teeny, tiny intellect, his sad and lonely lust for publicity or his throbbing bigotry, I can't decide. But it actually doesn't matter. What matters has been our reaction to it. I can't remember ever enjoying an act of breathtaking misogyny as much because instead of reacting with anger, shock and bile, we have treated Jones exactly as he deserves to be treated: we have pointed and laughed. The "shock jock" was stripped of his power - the power to upset us - and made a laughing stock.
How was this done? Simply and beautifully. Responding to a suggestion for action by Sydney media personality Jane Caro, hand surgeon Jill Tomlinson urged her Twitter followers to join an online movement by circulating tweets with the hash-tag, or subject, #destroythejoint. We were urged to tweet the ways in which we could #destroythejoint further: from proclaiming our feminism, to wearing flat shoes, to heading 83% of single-parent families.
Never was standing up to a bigot such fun! The tone of the discussion was entertaining and positive; an antidote to the overwhelming negativity of much of the political and intellectual discourse in Australia. I loved watching as #destroythejoint moved up the Twitter popularity ranks - known as trending - and the suggestions veered from serious to witty to downright hilarious. A Facebook page was swiftly set up and there was an inspiring swell of communion online; I met kindred spirits via Twitter, some of whom I hope to meet in person at the Women's Electoral Lobby's 40th anniversary dinner in October, to which I was invited by the fabulous Jenna Price during online banter. The campaign reinforced my passion for intelligent conversations with both men and women in which we push forward the status of women, and reminded me of the importance of giving idiots the intellectual hip and shoulder. The next step is for the campaign to spread offline and into the mainstream. I hope that #destroythejoint can do for women's rights what the Reclaim the Night movement has done for highlighting violence against women.
My own Twitter pledge was to ensure that my first child, due any minute now, will be a #destroyerofthejoint - whether it's male or female. When Price gleefully invited me to "bring the sprog!" to the WEL dinner, I thought, yes! Let my first child's first social outing next month be a dinner in celebration of women's rights.
I adore the irony that despite trying to block my way by parking himself behind his microphone and committing a vile act designed to shock or upset me, Alan Jones has instead spawned one more opponent in his fight to keep women down: what will be a four-week-old #destroyerofthejoint. May we all continue to outwit Jones and his ilk, and to keep laughing and pointing.