It wasn't easy to explain “Destroy the joint” to American friends and colleagues. “Wait, what is the joint?” one of them asked me.
To Australian women, though, it made complete sense. The outrage that erupted in response to Alan Jones's comments about women in leadership was visceral, a gut feeling for a populace who had finally had a gutful. Within hours, the witty and wonderful Jane Caro had coined a Twitter hashtag that had gone viral, and not long after that Jenna Price started the Destroy the Joint Facebook community page.
A few months later and the community has more than 20,000 members, all of whom are “sick of the sexism dished out to women in Australia, whether they be our Prime Minister or any other woman”. It's a remarkably active Facebook community, with new content – new examples of sexism in the media, new ideas about how to “re-build the joint” in a more equitable way – being posted all day, every day.
It's also been a remarkably effective community, exerting pressure on the brands that advertise on Jones's show until more than 70 of them pulled their ads. In an attempt to quiet the boycott campaign, 2GB management suspended advertising of their own accord, a bid to change the narrative in which Jones was being abandoned in a highly visible (well, audible) way by his supporters. But the damage was done: it had become clear that Jones, reigning king of radio, baron of biliousness, wasn't above reproof. There could – and had – been real consequences for his habit of slinging sexist rhetoric at any woman who dared to open her mouth and voice an opinion that he didn't agree with.
Neither the boycott nor suspension was permanent, of course, but it was clear that there was a new sheriff in town. Twenty thousand new sheriffs, actually, all of them with access to social media, and a belief that in the fight against sexism, there's safety in numbers and a big role for humour.
While journalist and commentator Price started the Facebook page, there are now hundreds of people – not just women, but many men, too – participating in the conversation and being spurred into action against media sexism. More recently Fox FM, a Melbourne radio station, was running a “Guess the Celebrity Boobs” photo gallery on its website. The celebrities were cut from the neck up, so readers could focus on the most important features without getting distraced by, you know, their identities. Joint Destroyers were on it: they flooded the station with emails and comments about how appalling it was to reduce women to just one – er, two – body parts, and within just a few hours of the call going out on Facebook, Fox had taken the competition down.
The cumulative effect of all these individual actions of good-humoured feminist outrage shouldn't be underestimated. Caro, the woman who coined the hashtag, says the impact of Destroy the Joint goes all the way to the top. No one but our PM should take the credit for her epic October floor speech about Tony Abbott's misogyny and hypocrisy. But Caro acknowledges that the volume and vociferousness of the Destroyers made it clear to Gillard that she wasn't the only one feeling pissed off.
With any luck, it won't just be big players like Gillard and Jones who feel the change in the wind. Caro thinks that the fun and success of Destroy the Joint has reignited Australians' interest in feminism. “We have people saying, 'I'm suddenly proud to call myself a feminist again,' or 'I haven't had this much fun with feminism and women's rights in decades.' ”
Of course, sexism isn't over in Australia – far from it. The next “Guess the Celebrity Boob” slideshow, the next sexist soundbite from Kyle Sandilands or Alan Jones or Tony Abbott, is still just around the corner. But it's clear that the Destroyers are here to stay. And after the year they've had, the fear of incurring their quippy wrath will make people think twice before they spout sexism aloud.
“Things build on things,” Caro says. “Everything plays its part.” Perhaps the greatest triumph of Destroy the Joint, apart from getting Jones's nose seriously out of joint, has been to give Australians who are fed up a clear and easy way to play their part. “It stops with me,” the Destroy the Joint pledge says of demeaning and public speech.
Without any real infrastructure, without any real leader or spokesperson, the Destroyers have nonetheless managed to build a real movement devoted to identifying and ending sexism in Australian media and in Australian society more broadly. And things, as Caro rightly says, have a habit of building on things.