2012 seemed to provide something of a feminist awakening for Australia, but it started with misogyny.
Sydney broadcaster Alan Jones talked on air about women in power who were, in his opinion, “destroying the joint”. Writer and commentator Jane Caro took to Twitter to reclaim the insult: “Got time on my hands this Friday night so am sitting around coming up with ways to destroy the joint, being a woman and all,” she wrote. “Ideas welcome.” Soon, the hashtag #destroyingthejoint took off, starting as a bit of fun but ending in a collective consciousness-raising campaign.
“For the first time, women didn’t have to cop insults about their gender in impotent silence,” Caro later wrote in an article. “Thanks to social media and the unmediated (by men) access it gave them to the public conversation they could – and did – make their point of view heard and heard loudly.”
Dr Anne Summers, an acclaimed writer and the former editor-in-chief of Ms. magazine, gave two landmark speeches about women in Australia that would result in more than 120,000 visits to her website. One was a systematic deconstruction of the ways in which Prime Minister Julia Gillard had been subjected to misogyny and sexism. It included a range of disturbing examples of hate-media, such as cartoons of Gillard naked with a strap-on and photoshopped pictures of her head on a large naked body. (And worse. Much, much worse.)
It had gone too far. Gillard herself hit out at leader of the opposition Tony Abbott for lecturing her about sexism. “The Leader of the Opposition says that people who hold sexist views and who are misogynists are not appropriate for high office,” Gillard said in her now-famous speech. “Well I hope the Leader of the Opposition has got a piece of paper and he is writing out his resignation. Because if he wants to know what misogyny looks like in modern Australia, he doesn't need a motion in the House of Representatives, he needs a mirror. That's what he needs.”
Gillard’s speech resonated with women all over the world and was met with huge support on social media, but the Australian media accused her of playing “the gender card” and sought to trivialise her.
These three occurrences last year, along with a host of statistics and well thought-out analysis of gender issues in Australia, are brought together in Dr Summers’ excellent book The Misogyny Factor. Summers argues that the treatment Gillard is subjected to amounts to discrimination and harassment – and that it serves to prevent young women from aspiring to leadership positions, either business or political.
As Caro wrote, building on the momentum: “Quite simply the message was: Don't aspire to high office, girlie, because this is how we will treat you. Women like me were growing weary of the excessive level of vitriol and sneering that was being directed at the PM mostly, it seemed, for daring to be a woman and hold such high office … This message was being sent to girls with every word of gendered abuse hurled at Gillard.”
The book, at 163 pages, is brief but impeccably well-researched. Most of all, it presents solid foundations for the argument that women still have not achieved equality; importantly, Summers points out that the illusion of progress does not mean success – that having a sprinkling of women in top jobs “destroying the joint” does not negate the reality of the gender pay gap, for example. That women who, like Gillard, stand up and say ‘It has happened to me and I don’t like it’ aren’t playing the gender card but in fact standing up for their rights.
Most delightfully, The Misogyny Factor is a brilliant take-down of the postfeminist myth.
This month, the Gillard v Abbott saga took another turn in the lead-up to the election this September, with Gillard launching a Labor fundraising group called Women for Gillard. (Astute readers with a mind for New Zealand’s political history will recall Citizens for Rowling – and shudder.)
“On that day, 14 September, we are going to make a big decision as a nation,” Gillard said. “It's a decision about whether, once again, we will banish women's voices from our political life. A prime minister – a man in a blue tie – who goes on holidays to be replaced by a man in a blue tie. A treasurer, who delivers a budget wearing a blue tie, to be supported by a finance minister – another man in a blue tie. Women, once again, banished from the centre of Australia's political life.”
Gillard was once again – predictably – accused of playing the gender card. Still, the feminist awakening continues.
The Misogyny Factor makes for astounding reading, yet it is simultaneously heart-warming and terrifying. It gives an illusion of an Australia stuck in the dark ages; an Australia no sane woman would deign to live in. New Zealand, even with its dinosaurs like Alasdair Thompson with his comments on women’s “monthly sick problems”, looks positively progressive by comparison.
The Misogyny Factor, by Anne Summers
June 2013, $24.99, New South