Happy International Women’s Day for 2013. I’ve been meaning to write for a very long time about why feminism is still required and how the fight for true equality has a long way to go, and what better day than today to write such a post. The saddest thing for me is that since I first conceived writing this post, with a title more along the lines of “Why we still need feminism”, I’ve continued collating frequent examples of sexism, violence, double standards, misogyny, etc. These stories are not single instances of bad behaviour or individuals whose attitudes date back to the 50s, all of these stories are current, the issues, violence, at horrible attitudes being things that women have to manage daily. This isn’t good enough and society (and I’m looking at you men) needs to do better.
As Elizabeth Broderick, Australia’s Federal Sex Discrimination Officer said at the recent TEDx Women event in Melbourne, women have fought and gained a lot in the past 100 years, but it’s time that more men joined the fight with us, because it’s time that men started changing men’s minds.
Some of the amazing achievements that women have gained in the workforce since the late 1800s are in the IWD’s video put out by the ACTU.
To obtain these workplace rights, many of which are now taken for granted, women have fought, gone on strike, argued for the support of their fellow male unionists, fought more, and worked hard to ensure that they could stand beside men as “equals”. Of course we’re still not there as statistically women with the same qualification and experience as men are more likely to be paid less, more likely to be expected to take time off to care for family, more likely to be subjected to violence, harassment and to face sexism on a daily basis.
Let’s start with journalism, because what the media reports on, how it reports on issues and who writes the articles, shape the culture we live in. In the UK (March 2011), a study by Women in Journalism looked at who makes up the front page of national newspapers, they found:
The study found that 74% of news journalists on the nationals are men and that men also dominate political and business journalism. Somewhat less surprisingly, just 3% of sports journalists are women
Among other eye-opening findings are that The Independent had the lowest proportion of female staff. Just 25% of its editorial team are women. The Sun the Daily Telegraph were little different, with just 26% of female staff.
Male journalists also people areas that researchers regard as “traditional subjects that women might have been expected to dominate”. So 49% of lifestyle reporters are men and 70% of arts reporters are also male.
It was clear from the study that women are less likely to be in senior positions. Eight out of the top 10 newspapers having almost twice as many male editors as women editors.
That gender divide penetrates the whole newspaper industry with women making up just 30% of all newspaper journalists. [from the Guardian]
When the study was repeated in Australia by Chrys Stevenson, she found that that statistics weren’t good for women here either:
In the 80 front pages analysed for this project, I counted 287 bylines: 70 per cent were male and 30 per cent were female.
It’s a result that accords with Strong and Hannis’ 2007 analysis of more than 15,000 articles from major Australasian newspapers. Their count found that only 34 per cent of bylined articles in Australian newspapers were written by women.
Taking a closer look at the content of the front page articles, I tried to identify who the story was about or, alternatively, who was the major source of information for the story. Of the 231 people I identified as the ‘focus’ of front page articles, 72 per cent were male and 28 per cent were female.
718 people were either quoted or mentioned on the front pages I studied – three-quarters of them were men. Disaggregating these results, females comprised just 24 per cent of those quoted in front page stories and only 27 per cent of those mentioned.
The Sydney Morning Herald achieved the highest score for Blokeyness with an average male representation score of 82 per cent based on the six key indicators (see table below). But it was a close race, with the Daily Telegraph scoring a whopping 80 per cent on the Blokeyness barometer. Neither paper yielded a female front-page byline in any of the ten editions I reviewed.
To be fair, in true tabloid style, the Tele tends to feature only one story on their front page, so the sample size of articles was not as large as it was for broadsheets like The Australian. But it’s no excuse. The Herald-Sun and the Courier-Mail follow much the same front page format as the Tele and (along with The Australian) these were the least blokey of all the newspapers studied, with a testosterone tally of 62 and 68 per cent respectively. It’s not a result to be proud of, but at least women were given a little more exposure in these papers. And kudos to the Courier-Mail, the only paper in which women contributed more front page stories than their male colleagues: 38 per cent males to 62 per cent females.
Of the more serious broadsheets, The Australian scored best with 32 per cent female representation across the board. There was a Gillard factor however, with The Australian’s front page focusing far more on our female PM than the other papers. Taking the Prime Minister out of the equation brought female representation in The Australian down to just 28 per cent and changed their equitable 50/50 result for story focus, back to the now predictable 70/30 male/female split. [from Kings Tribune]
Stevenson continues with a relevant point that ties neatly into the fact that feminism and International Women’s Day continue to be necessary:
It has been argued that women’s poor representation in news stories is what’s know as the reflection hypothesis – that it simply reflects the gender inequity of society in general. To some extent, that’s true. Women comprise only 30 per cent of all parliamentarians in our state and federal parliaments. Women account for just 23 per cent of Commonwealth ministers. In the Commonwealth Public Service, women hold only 35 per cent of government board appointments and, in the private sector, only 8 per cent of board directorships are held by women. Although over 61 per cent of all law graduates are female, women hold only about 22 per cent of the most senior positions in law firms.
Dr Louise North, a former journalist, now Australia’s leading expert on gender equity in the media, rejects the ‘reflection hypothesis’ as an easy excuse for male editors to ignore the problem in the newsrooms and in their papers. There are plenty of women in business, politics, academia and the law who could provide comment for news stories, North insists. What is missing is a serious commitment to address the institutional problems that underlie the appalling lack of gender balance in our media.
Certainly, women are poorly represented in many areas of public and corporate life, but the papers don’t just reflect that – they reinforce it. Newspapers are not just an information source, says North, they are a socialising force.
Candice Chung writes at Daily Life, “How bad is sexism in newsrooms?“, and the answer is very bad. Women make up the majority of journalism students, but not the majority of journalists. Women are systematically shunted into reporting “women’s interests” and denied ability to gain promotions for reporting on meaty issues, like politics, the economy or business:
For the first time, these aspiring female reporters will also get a taste of the kind of news stories they’re likely to be assigned (often lifestyle, ‘colour’ pieces); and what it’s like to pitch a story in front of a testosterone charged audience, wondering whether anyone would take their ideas seriously.
While it’s easy to dismiss these as rookie concerns, statistics paint a different reality. A new study – the first of its kind in 16 years – surveyed 577 female journalists across all media platforms in Australia and found that there is still widespread gender discrimination in our newsrooms.
Louise North, senior lecturer in journalism at Monash University and the author of the new nationwide study, found that the mainstream news media in Australia are still dominated by men at almost every level today. “Women journalists are typically located en masse in low-paid, low-status positions, struggling to attain real influence in editorial decision making roles across all media platforms,” writes North.
The problem is most pronounced at the top. As at August 2012, not one woman is entrusted with the editing role in a daily edition across the nation’s 21 metropolitan newspapers. Only three women currently edit a weekend paper.
What’s more, half of the 577 female journalists surveyed had never been promoted – even though the majority of respondents have been in their current roles for anything from 4-20 years.
Can we trace this back purely to a boy’s club culture? Or is something else amiss here? After all, if the modern workplace is founded on a delicate ecosystem of meritocracy, then surely the most talented reporters will prevail. Why on earth wouldn’t an editor promote female journalists if they manage to keep turning out quality pieces?
The short answer, according to North’s findings, is that female reporters are less likely to be allocated the kinds of stories that make it to page one. More than half of the survey respondents (57.3 percent) agree that the more coveted news areas – such as politics and sports – tend to be assigned to male reporters, with female journalists being pigeon holed in what’s traditionally seen as lady rounds like “women’s issues, fashion, health, the arts and education.”
And since most promotions are decided on a subjective basis by editors, with little to no “formal performance review”, it’s easy to see why (male) reporters with ‘meatier rounds’ are more likely to rise through the ranks. It’s a worrying trend – and one that is echoed globally. We only need to look at the 2012 UK study on front page bylines (78 percent male versus 22 percent female) conducted by Women in Journalism, to get a glimpse of the gender bias in action. [Daily Life]
In conjunction with the Women in Journalism study into media representation of women for newspapers, Kira Cochrane at The Guardian also investigated the representation of women in TV and radio. It is ironic that The Guardian decided to print this article in the “Life & Style: Women” section of their website.
During that four-week period, I also logged the gender of reporters and guests on the Today programme. (All the shows I looked at, including Today, were on the BBC, which reflects the agenda-setting nature of the corporation.) It is well-recognised that the main roster of Today programme presenters is male-dominated – John Humphrys, James Naughtie, Evan Davis and Justin Webb, with Sarah Montague the only woman. But I wondered whether this 80/20 split spilled over to its other contributors.
Using the breakdown of each morning’s programme, published on the BBC website, and discounting the lead presenters, I added up the number of reporters and guests who appeared on each episode – counting each reporter only once if they were, for instance, appearing repeatedly on a single show to relay the business or sports news. On Tuesday 5 July you had to wait from 6.15am until 8.20am to hear the one female contributor who appeared alongside the 27 male contributors on the programme: arts correspondent Rebecca Jones talking about the Hampton Court Palace flower show. Overall, across the month, discounting the main presenters, Today had 83.5% male contributors and 16.5% female ones.
I spoke to the editor of the Today programme, Ceri Thomas, on Friday 11 November – a day when only two female contributors appeared on the programme. The day before there had been just one. I asked if there was a strong enough female presence on the show at the moment. “I think nearly every day there is not,” he said. “And within the programme it’s a very active discussion. And not just a discussion – it’s pursued actively, too. Every producer on the programme is aware we’re trying to increase the representation of women on air. People such as the planning editor, who is in a position to do a bit more about it, have it as a specific objective.” He adds that the show’s listenership is about 50/50 men and women, “and I’m bound to say to you, it almost never comes up as an issue from the audience … I suppose it might be two letters a year, or something of that nature.” He makes this last point, in different words, three times in our 10-minute conversation.
The analysis I did of every Question Time episode this year, up until 3 November, found that, including David Dimbleby, the show featured 71.5% male contributors and 28.5% female contributors. If you exclude the presenter from that count, it was 66% male contributors, 34% female. There were 13 programmes out of 34 that featured only one female panellist. There were no programmes in that period that featured only one male panellist – all had at least two.
I also did an analysis of every episode of the current affairs radio programme Any Questions?, presented by Dimbleby’s brother Jonathan, from the start of the year to 4 November. In that case, including Dimbleby himself in the count, the contributors to the show were 70% male, 30% female – excluding the presenter, 63% male, 37% female. Across all these examples, women’s representation never tended to reach much more than a third. It reminded me of a conversation I had with Dr Katherine Rake a few years ago when she was leading the women’s rights campaign the Fawcett Society. She told me: “The number of women at the top often hovers around a third, and then stalls.” Once women reach that level of visibility, she suspected, there was a feeling they were everywhere, and their presence was becoming a bit too dominant.
As Nagarajan says, the absence of women, and particularly black and ethnic-minority women, on current affairs programmes is deeply problematic. “When I was doing my count,” she says, “it was the early months of the year, when revolutions were happening in the Middle East and north Africa, but very rarely did you actually see a woman from any of those countries speak. You occasionally saw the men speak, but never the women, which I think ties into the whole idea of black women’s vulnerability and invisibility. So black women never speak for themselves – other people speak for them, and over their heads – when it comes to their rights. And the image you see of them is as weak, vulnerable and not being really important agents for change.” [The Guardian]
Clem Bastow in Daily Life talks about the representation of women on Australian TV and radio:
If the media is a portal through which we see the world, how does the conspicuous absence of women and their voices skew how people experience the world around them? Across the board, the facts show that women are significantly absent from that mirror the media reflects back onto society. Women operating in the public space are constantly reminded that their presence is a privilege, not a right – and that privilege can be taken away any time they break the rules.
Consider our commercial talkback networks. Until recently, there was only one woman in the whole of the country hosting a weekday solo commercial talkback show. Now there are two – Belinda Heggen in Adelaide (who replaced Amanda Blair) and 6PR’s Jane Marwick in Perth. I looked at 8 of the largest commercial talkback stations around Australia and found that of 140 presenters whose identities were promoted across all the networks’ websites, only 17 were women. 17 lone female voices up against 123 men, on the nation’s airwaves week after week.
It should also be noted that the majority of women ‘allowed’ to host talkback radio do so for weekend shows about gardening or entertainment or, bizarrely, as psychics. Many of them have male co-hosts. And because on-air jobs for women in talkback radio are so scarce, few complain. Women are expected to be satisfied with having slivers of the pie saved for us – the subtext being that if the system were really sexist, we wouldn’t be allowed pie at all. So because we are, the unequal representation that exists must just be down to the fact that we’re not trying hard enough or, as I have also heard too many times to count, because people don’t like listening to women’s voices or anything we have to say. I spoke with Ben Fordham on his 2GB Drive show a few weeks ago about this very thing and received an email afterwards – from a woman – telling me that people didn’t want to listen to women on radio because they were either boring or know-it-all, and their voices were monotonous. It bears pointing out that there is no research or data to support the idea that people on the whole don’t enjoy listening to women speak – yet these excuses continue to be thrown up by broadcasting management. How long does a feeling need to be expressed before it is assumed as fact?
But if women suddenly began outnumbering men consistently in newspapers, panels, boards, editorial meetings, commercial talkback stations, expert opinion, senior management and simply in the sheer numbers of people given space and room to speak – in short, if the accepted gender ratio were reversed – there would be a public meltdown. Unfair! would be the catchcry, with people railing against quotas, political correctness and being ‘forced’ to listen to issues that don’t affect everyone. If Q&A, a show on our national broadcaster whose charter dictates that they express equal and fair policies when it comes to gender, suddenly had week after week of three female guests with a female host and only two males (as the opposite routinely occurs) people would tune out in droves. The ABC would be accused of pandering to political correctness, and ruining the format by stacking the panel with shrill, aggressive, squawking voices that have nothing of value to say.
When society internalises the message that there is something so incomplete and foreign about the female gender that it only deserves to contribute to 20-30% of public life, then women learn to shrink in upon themselves rather than expand. They learn to be so grateful for the scraps of attention they are *allowed* to claim that they won’t push for more, in case their provisional trial period of being allowed to speak is snatched away and given to a woman who can better hold her tongue. This is a society in which it’s accepted that men set the public agenda and drive it, that they have more things of value to contribute, that their voices are more important and therefore deserve more space and more respect. By giving women less as a rule and teaching them this is all they can expect, they learn to battle ONLY for their spot in the 30%. [Daily Life]
Chloe Angyal writes in Daily Life about how women in male dominated environments, such as Wall Street, have to appear less feminine and to ignore sexual harassment – because being yourself in such an environment may mean that you are taken less seriously:
As I conducted the study over the course of a year, I heard these ideas repeated over and over again. Every single one of these women had ways in which they tried to seem less feminine, in order to survive in so masculine an environment. In sociology, it’s called managing the performance of gender. Sometimes it’s about the emotions you’re allowed to show; as Jasmine said, there’s no crying in commodities trading. Sometimes it’s about the clothes you wear: one woman told me that if she wore a skirt or a dress on one day, she made certain to wear pants the next. Sometimes it means ignoring or explaining sexual harassment, like the woman who told me that she didn’t report the man who was very much her senior, and old enough to be her father, when winked at her and called her “sweetie” and “honey,” because “he’s old-school” and “didn’t start his career in the P.C. generation.” They weren’t aping masculinity – they weren’t, for example, wearing boxy suits and ties like the very first women who worked in this environment. They couldn’t hide the fact that they were female, but they could deliberate suppressing their femininity. They were unsexing themselves, creating a new gender that Jasmine had dubbed “a dude in heels.” In a workplace where success, power, and masculinity were all synonymous, they didn’t really have a choice.
For now, the kind of power that counts – the kind that runs companies and countries – is the masculine form of power, not the sexy, feminine kind. It’s the Wall Street kind of power, and what we know about women who wield that kind of power, or aspire to, is that they often have to sacrifice their femininity to do it.
We know that women who want to get ahead in the corporate world feel pressure to downplay their femininity – they deliberately don’t display photos of their kids in their offices or don’t befriend their women colleagues. We know that once they get into positions of power, that pressure continues – they deliberately avoid tackling parental leave policy or shy away from identifying as feminists. To get to the top, and to stay on top, they have to unsex themselves. Of course, femininity is a fluid concept, and one that’s often forced on women. We’re socialised from an early age to, say, appreciate a nice bunch of flowers, and it’s frowned on if we don’t. And then, if we want certain kinds of careers, certain kinds of power, we have to mask that learned appreciation. It’s complicated, and exhausting, and easy to screw up. There’s a reason why they call gender a performance. [Daily Life]
For those who argue that women perhaps are not as meritorious or as ambitious as men, or that perhaps women are less naturally talented than men, I laugh in your general direction – and seriously you need to try and tell the women in your life that. Let’s look at some figures from Tara Moss:
Let’s look at some facts: It took 109 years to have a female Australian Prime Minister, only 4 women in the US have become Supreme Court justices and no woman has been a US President solely because of lack of merit among women. And it isn’t just in the fields of writing, politics and justice where women lack ability – it took 82 years for a woman to win an Oscar for Best Director (Kathryn Bigelow, Hurt Locker, 2010) and in the UK’s National Gallery, out of 2,300 works, there are only 10 paintings by women because of lack of female artistic talent. Out of 573 listed statues commemorating important people around the UK, 15% are of women, with a large number of those being characters from Greek and Roman mythology, as there are so few real women who have done things. Further, 78% of front-page articles in the UK are written by men and 84% of those quoted or mentioned are male, and during 6 months of election coverage in the US, 81% of quotes about the issue of abortion were made by men because they were more qualified.
The facts are just staring us in the face – the majority of women simply lack merit in their opinions and career endeavours. It is an uncomfortable fact, but there it is. Forget that according the Australian Bureau of Statistics, more women than men aged 20-39 now have university qualifications, the fact remains that women naturally lack ambition and ability. This lack of merit is well documented, yet some people just don’t understand the beautiful meritocracy we live in.
Those who argue that inequality still exists are ‘drama queens’ (Nicolle Flint, The Age, June 2012). Their claims are ‘playing the ‘woman’ card…hypocritical and unsubstantiated’, even downright ‘damaging to merit-based success’ (Flint again, The Age, Nov 2012). Those who bring up the issue of sexism are ‘playing the gender card‘.
It should be – and further more it always is – about the best person for the job. Conscious or unconscious biases about gender, race, political leanings, religious beliefs and personal friendships and histories don’t enter into it.
Strangely, a paper was published recently in PNAS, examining the results of a randomised double-blind study where half of a group of scientists were given applications with a male name attached, and half were given the exact same application with a female name attached. ‘Results found that the “female” applicants were rated significantly lower than the “males” in competence, hireability, and whether the scientist would be willing to mentor the student.‘ The scientists also offered lower starting salaries to the female-named applicants. Apparently the scientists who judged the applications were both male and female, showing – the authors of the study claimed – that a bias against women exists in both genders. [Tara Moss]
When it comes to women in senior roles in businesses in Australia, our representation is clearly lacking. It’s not because we’re less capable, or less ambitious, it’s because it’s a big boys club, has always been a big boys club, and it’s going to take a lot more than general guidelines for that to change.
But in Britain last week, Timewise Jobs, with Ernst & Young, published a list of examples of senior-level part-time workers in Britain. There were 50 on the list. That’s not the only top people – but they were the ones chosen in order to show that it was possible to work part-time and be influential. Or be powerful.
Of course, some commentators were moaning that on the list of 50, only six are men. Which shows that it is still women in Britain (and universally) who take responsibility for most of what we call juggling – the balance of work and family life….And all this comes as Helen Conway, director of the Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Agency, today releases the 2012 Australian Census of Women in Leadership.
The results are completely infuriating. The past 10 years have seen almost no change for women in the top ranks in Australia. Or the changes are from such a low base that it is hard to applaud the increases.
While it is true there has been a 20 per cent increase in the number of women who hold executive key management roles in ASX top 200 companies from 2010 to 2012, we are talking about a move from eight per cent to 9.7 per cent. It’s glacial. And there has also been a tiny increase in the number of companies that have at least one female executive key management personnel. That’s gone from a little more than 38 per cent to just more than 39 per cent. About two-thirds of ASX 500 companies have no women – at all – in their senior management team. In fact, there are only seven women who are chief executive officers of companies listed in the top 200 listed Australian companies. And that’s where the real power is, of course – running the entire company. That’s how you get to manage culture and make change….But even at the more symbolic level, as directors of companies, the percentage is ludicrously low. Women hold a little more than 12 per cent of ASX 200 directorships. It looks like a massive increase from 2010, nearly 50 per cent. But then that’s just because two years ago the figure was a little more than eight per cent. [Canberra Times]
A recent study has concluded that women in senior management roles are not perceived as leaders, and that they are not taken seriously:
But a research study by a Sydney-based business coach has found a deeper issue is not only the lack of women in these roles but how the women who have been promoted to these roles identify themselves as leaders.
In addition to running her own business, Selftalk (selftalk.com.au), Suzi Skinner was also the research lead in a three-year study on women in leadership that was supported by the Institute of Coaching at Harvard University. The study reviewed the careers of 11 senior women who had worked with executive coaches to provide some new insights into the development needs of women.
Skinner says Australian companies are still failing to promote women into senior management positions despite the calls for quotas.
“There has been an increase in the number of female directors from 8 per cent in 2010 to 9.7 per cent in 2012 but this still means the split is 90-10 in favour of men,” she says.
Skinner says Australian companies are good at ensuring a gender balance at graduate intake and middle management level but it is at senior management level where the imbalance occurs.
“I found even when women become leaders in a senior management role, they often find they are still not treated as they should be,” she says. “It might be that in meetings they are not being listened to, or people will talk through their presentations. One of my core findings is the need to create an environment where women are taken seriously and that will entail a major mindset shift.” [Gayle Bryant at Daily Life]
And it’s not just the office in which women find it difficult to be taken seriously and to participate equally with their male counterparts, a recent competition by Lynx to send a team into space came with the byline, “Leave a man, return a hero”:
Fifty years ago, Valentina Tereshokva got in a spaceship and fucked off to space – one small step for Valentina, one giant leap for gender equality. Unfortunately, instead of spending the subsequent half-decade getting fairer, society appears to have been travelling backwards, possibly in a space-time continuum. Yep, now there’s hella sexism in outer space. Intergalactic prejudice.
Buzz Aldrin, space hero, is the guy in charge of selecting “a few brave men for the opportunity of a lifetime” to leave our planet. But Buzz, did half the planet’s invites get lost in the mail? Aldrin personally calls for someone to become, “a member of this privileged group”, asking “Are you ready to make history? Then leave a man, come back a hero.” Okay, so that’s just lazy rhetoric, right? If you decide to run a competition like this you can’t restrict the entries by gender, can you?
Perhaps it’s not so surprising; space has always been a sexist bastard. Back in the day, it was deemed impossible to even test a woman’s potential capacity for space travel. It was thought that women’s cycles made it impossible to reliably test anything on a body that might be changing throughout the month. Collective lol?
“It really does connect then to a larger history,” explains a lol-less Margaret A. Weitekamp, a curator of social and cultural dimensions of spaceflight at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. “If you want to think about the history of women’s political development, of their social development and cultural development in the 20th century, part of that also goes back to what people thought women’s bodies were capable of”.
The first woman in space was a Russian named Valentina Tereshkova in 1963, followed by Svetlana Savitskaya in 1982, and Sally Ride in 1983. Fifty years on and only 55 women have been to space, in comparison to nearly 500 men. Weitekamp explains, “by the time Sally Ride becomes the first American woman in 1983, she’s only women number three. There’s 20 years there where you’ve only put three people out. The 47 plus come in the last 30 years. The pace has been slow and there are more women who are interested and see this as achievable but the pace of that change is still slow.” [Camille Standen at Vice]
The cost of the gender gap in Australia is estimated to be $195b or 13% of Australia’s GDP. That’s a big number, and not enough is being done about it.
AUSTRALIA is missing out on $195 billion or 13 per cent of GDP by failing to close the workforce gender gap, says the chief economist at Goldman Sachs, Tim Toohey.
Mr Toohey said living standards would rise, productivity would increase and pension liabilities would fall if certain policies were introduced to help close the gap.
But he warned if it wasn’t priority for both sides of politics, it would have a detrimental impact on economic growth. ”As a nation we will be lucky to get labour supply growth of 1 per cent going forward. That means Australia will simply grow by a slower rate than we have become accustomed to.”
As of January, male participation in the workforce was 71.5 per cent, while it was 58.7 per cent for women.
Figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics show that female participation in the workforce fell in the 15-to-19, 20-to-24 and 45-to-54 age brackets over the past three years.
Figures compiled exclusively for The Saturday Age by Goldman Sachs reveal that in dollar terms this equates to an estimated $33 billion in GDP foregone between now and 2016. ”Lifting female participation is one way to do this and, given the politics around immigration, it is the most politically expedient path. It also utilises a highly educated resource that Australia has already invested in,” he said.
The debate on female participation comes as corporate Australia pushes for a greater role for women on boards and in executive ranks. A diversity report released by the ASX on Friday says 93 per cent of ASX 200 companies have a diversity policy, and a further 82 per cent of companies have set measurable objectives. ASX director Jillian Segal said she was ”pleasantly surprised”. [Adele Ferguson at The Age]
And when we’re not struggling to get ahead at work because of our gender, family responsibilities (actual or perceived), we’re struggling to be seen as full people in our own right, and not just a collection of body parts:
There’s an annual Secret ritual that is, at the very least, anthropologically bizarre. It involves the people of the village Victoria gathering together a gruesome collection of human parts from disparate sources – legs, lips, scalps, eyes, breasts – and assembling them into a “best of” list.
In a presentation that straddles the ordinarily expansive divide between robotic and desperate, the body bits are awarded the “sexiest” by women who are themselves directed to emphasise the sexiness of their own parts in contrast.
What is really sick about it is the reduction of women into isolated elements. I can only imagine how mortified serious dramatist Jessica Chastain is at being boiled down to the “sexiest smile” or how breakout star Jennifer Lawrence feels about having her eyes plucked out, Hunger Games style, for their beauty. While Emma Stone’s sense of humor is no doubt impeccable, I question whether it is ebullient enough to support its “sexiest” tag. What does “sexiest sense of humour” even mean? And why does it nestle next to “curves” in a list of outstanding qualities?
On the surface, it seems easy to dismiss such a list as ridiculous nonsense. It certainly presents itself that way. But a mere month after its publication, a study came out revealing that it is not just Victoria’s Secret that looks at women more as collected lumps and orifices of varying appeal than as whole and sentient creatures: it’s everyone.
A study conducted at the University of Nebraska found that people were more likely to look at and recall particular parts of a woman’s body, rather than a woman as a whole, while men were more likely to be looked at and recalled as whole beings. This tendency was found in men and women. The difference is a matter of local or global processing, and the researchers found that the inclination to look at women locally rather than globally could be quickly wiped by getting trial subjects to consider other things (like a letter H made out of teeny tiny letter T’s) from a global perspective first.
This finding, and its easy reversal, does not suggest a chicken and egg situation where we objectify women more because that’s just how our brains do. It’s more a matter of cart and horse, and unfortunately in this metaphor, our thinking patterns are very much being carted around by the way we’re socialised to perceive women. [Alyxgorman at The Vine]
Away from the meatspace and into virtual space, women are subject to an incredible amount of online harassment, threats, and misogyny for being perceived to either taking over a space that was deemed to be male only (computer games for example), or attempting to make a space safe for women to participate. Laurie Penny at New Statesman writes *trigger warning violence*:
Like many women who have public profiles online, I’m used to messages of this sort – the violent rape and murder fantasies, the threats to my family and personal safety, the graphic emails with my face crudely pasted onto pictures of pornographic models performing sphincter-stretchingly implausible feats of physical endurance.
This one, however, was a personal message from Richard White, the owner of “Don’t Start Me Off!”, or DSMO. This was a racist, misogynist hate-site based in the UK, dedicated to trashing and threatening public figures. Last week, after Cambridge don and national treasure Mary Beard wrote about the “sadistic” abuse directed at her by the site, DSMO shut itself down.
“The misogyny here is truly gobsmacking [and] more than a few steps into sadism,” wrote Beard, bravely confronting what many other victims of online harassment have not felt able to say. “It would be quite enough to put many women off appearing in public, contributing to political debate, especially as all of this comes up on Google.”
Don’t Start Me Off! Was just one site. The attacks on Mary Beard, however, have focused public attention on just how viciously misogynist the internet is getting right now – particularly British-based sites, and particularly to women who are in any way active in public life. It doesn’t matter if we’re right-wing or left-wing, explicitly political or cheerily academic, like Beard. It doesn’t matter if we’re young or old, classically attractive or proudly ungroomed, writers or politicians or comedians or bloggers or simply women daring to voice our opinions on Twitter. Any woman active online runs the risk of attracting these kinds of frantic hate-jerkers, or worse. I’m not the only person who has had stalkers hunting for her address, and last week I needed a security detail after several anonymous trolls threatened to turn up to a public lecture I was giving. I could go on.
It’d be nice to think that the rot of rank misogyny was confined to fringe sites populated by lunatics. Unfortunately, not only are men like White clearly at least minimally sane enough to hold down desk-jobs, their school of misogyny has become an everyday feature of political conversation online, particularly in the UK.
It’s important to stress that people like Mary Beard and me are not outliers in having this experience, although some women do seem to be singled out to be made examples of. We are not even the only women to have been targeted in this way by the blogs I’ve mentioned. There are lots more hate-sites like this, more comment-threads full of vitriol and threats, and threats to hurt and kill are hardly less distressing when they don’t come with an explicit expectation of follow-through in physical reality. These messages are intended specifically to shame and frighten women out of engaging online, in this new and increasingly important public sphere.
If we respond at all, we’re crazy, hysterical over-reacting bitches, censors, no better than Nazis, probably just desperate for a ‘real man’ to fuck us, a ‘real man’ like the men who lurk in comment-threads threatening to rip our heads off and masturbate into the stumps.
The idea that this sort of hatespeech is at all normal needs to end now. The internet is public space, real space; it’s increasingly where we interact socially, do our work, organise our lives and engage with politics, and violence online is real violence. The hatred of women in public spaces online is reaching epidemic levels and it’s time to end the pretence that it’s either acceptable or inevitable.
The most common reaction, the one those of us who experience this type of abuse get most frequently, is: suck it up. Grow a thick skin. “Don’t feed the trolls” – as if feeding them were the problem. The Telegraph’s Cristina Odone was amongst many commentators to imply that Mary Beard should have done just that rather than speaking out this week. “Come on, Mary,” wrote Odone. “Women in public arenas get a lot of flak – they always have. A woman who sticks her head above the parapet. . . . is asking for brickbats.”
Asking for it. By daring to be a woman to be in public life, Mary Beard was asking to be abused and harassed and frightened, and so is any person who dares to express herself whilst in possession of a pair of tits. [New Statesman]
Caroline Criado Perez at The Independent adds in relation to online harassment *trigger warning for violence*
“Don’t feed the trolls.”
So tenacious is this mantra’s grip on our collective conscious that any deviation from the one true anti-trolling path results in a barrage of advice which basically amounts to two words: “shut up”. The theory, like that strange childhood belief in the invisibility of those who close their eyes, being that if you don’t react, the troll can’t hurt you – or at least the troll will get bored and go away.
Now, this is all very well – and perhaps it works in those cases of trolling when the sole intent of the troll is to disrupt conversation and, this time like a naughty child, gain attention. But what if, like other sectors of the human race, trolls aren’t a monolithic mass? What if, rather than wanting to disrupt conversations, they just want to stop them permanently? What then?
In solidarity with Beard’s stance, and in recognition of the damage online abuse does to women’s willingness to contribute to public discourse, I started the #silentnomore hashtag from The Women’s Room Twitter account. Within half an hour the tag was attracting its own “trolls”. Women sharing stories of having their addresses and contact details posted online alongside threats of rape were told in various permutations, some more aggressive than others, to get back to the kitchen. The popular gagging order of shoving dicks in our mouths was issued. Pictures of domestic abuse, one with the memorable tag-line of “because sometimes you have to tell her more than once” were posted. One charmer was pretty direct about his reason for being on the tag: “just shut up bitches”. Another went one further, writing, “are they still whinging about online abuse on #silentnomore? if so, the best way to stop it is log off”.
To some perhaps, this response proves the adage; by talking about abuse we were “feeding” the trolls, so we got what we deserved. This was certainly the interpretation of some tweeters, who described the tag as “a red rag to a bull”, a “liability to women”. The women on it were “seeking victimhood” (whatever that means), and “attracting” a “backlash” by being so mouthy.
These people are wrong. Not only because they’re putting the blame on the victims rather than the perpetrators; not only because the trolls on the tag needed no direct interaction as encouragement – they got that by high-fiving each other; not only because of the women who got in touch with me to say they wanted to add to the tag but were scared off it because of abuse they had received in the past. No. They are wrong because these men (and they were all men) didn’t want to derail the tag. They didn’t want to make it about them. They just wanted the “whining bitches”, the “ugly cunts”, the “fucking dykes” to “shut the fuck up”. To “log off”. [The Independent]
Of course women don’t only experience harassment, threats of violence, actual violence, or stalking online. Lots of that actually happens in meatspace, and far too often women are either blamed for someone else being violent towards them. Often violence towards women is not seen as a serious issue, and it’s hard to report sexual assault and groping from people if no one takes you seriously.
Hollaback Melbourne documents accounts of women in Melbourne who have been inappropriately propositioned, threatened, and assaulted all for just being female. *trigger warning for quote relation to sexual assault*
So the cause of the “drama” was not a man molesting a woman against her will, but the woman objecting to it.
The bar manager said he wouldn’t eject the guy because he was part of a large party that had booked to be there. The fact that he saw, did nothing, and then still did nothing once confronted about it shows how confident he has learned he can be in the face of these kinds of situations.
By refusing to take seriously what he saw with his own eyes – and let’s be honest here, even if he doesn’t think it’s a big deal to be groped by a stranger, the law on assault is pretty clear – he sent a strong message to me and the other women in our group.
The message was this: sexual assault is just part of life. Men grope women when they’re drunk. It’s a woman’s lot – get over it. I care more about the money I’m making from this group’s booking than I do about your physical integrity.
To be constantly subjected to “low level” violence like groping and cat-calling is to be constantly reminded that we are vulnerable, and that at any moment we could be overpowered and raped. These acts exist on a continuum of violence that serves to maintain the status quo where women live in fear. [Hollaback Melbourne]
Karen Pickering wrote about her experience of reporting a graphically violent image to Facebook and having Facebook tell her that the image did not violate their terms of service. *Trigger warning for graphic content*
An FB community, Being Feminist, shared a picture that was so disturbing they were calling on supporters to officially report it for removal from the site. … The picture showed a woman lying on the floor, covered in blood, apparently having been beaten or stabbed. The (meme-style) caption read THAT WILL TEACH YOU NOT TO DO DISHES and down the bottom NOW WALK IT OFF AND GET BACK TO THE KITCHEN.
I wanted to share this for a number of reasons. First, to demonstrate that Facebook is a law unto itself and has no intention of ever acting on reports made regarding the ‘community standards’ that it trots out. The replies to my reports had to be automatically generated (arriving as they both did within roughly thirty seconds of me lodging my complaint). Second, in what version of reality does an image like this not constitute hate speech against women, or graphic violence? Third, I want you to know (if you don’t already) that as women, we stumble across shit like this all the time. I have had stuff like this expressly sent to me, as I’m sure have other public feminists. It’s incredibly traumatising for survivors of abuse, it feeds victim-blaming, it trivialises violence against women, and it just plain terrifies us. [Karen Pickering]
Yahoo! News’s coverage of International Women’s Day covered the creation of the #shoutingback hashtag which is part of the Everyday Sexism Project, which documents the daily harassment and fear that women experience *trigger warning for street harassment and threatening behaviour*.
‘Nice legs’, ‘Hey sexy lady’, ‘Now I know where you live’, ‘Get in the trunk, bitch’.
For many women and teenage girls these remarks are not a rare but a daily occurrence.
Coupled with lewd remarks and gropings comes a prevailing attitude that this is simply something women should put up with.
Laura Bates was the target of such behaviour and knew it was wrong but didn’t know what to do about it. It was only when she shared her experiences with her friends that she realised she was not alone. And that was when she decided something needed to change.
The 26-year-old freelance writer hit upon using Twitter to collect women’s stories and empower them and in April last year launched ‘The Everyday Sexism Project’. She invited Twitter users to share their experiences of harassment through the hashtag Shoutingback thereby giving women a modern tool and a platform with which to fight back.
Within five days it had 3,500 tweets.
Laura, who since launching the project has received death threats and threats of rape from men, said: “When a women is shouted at on the street the silence of people around her says volumes. There was an instance when a women on a bus was cornered at the back by men saying lewd and threatening things to her – no one stepped up and intervened. People just thought these experiences were just part of being a women.”
Laura has since launched another hashtag called ‘followed’ which encourages women to tweet occurrences when she feels she is being pursued. Like Shoutingback, the experiences are common and heartbreaking to read.
So far 20,000 experiences have been shared and the project has had the backing from MP Stella Creasy and ‘Double Jeopardy’ actress Ashley Judd. [Rebecca Lewis at Yahoo! News]
Bianca Hall at Daily Life is sick of constantly being told that she has to be afraid of sexual assault and violence, and that she bears some responsibility for protecting herself against same. The comments (don’t read them) are the predictable, “don’t generalise that all men are rapists”, as well as agreement from other women that this is something that they are all sick of hearing *trigger warning discussion of victim blaming and rape*.
Girls grow accustomed to the male gaze early, but as we grow up we also become accustomed to the implicit criticism of women as victims. She must have asked for it. She shouldn’t have walked alone. At night. What was she wearing?
This week I read a shocking account of an 18-year-old young woman who walked home alone after a Sydney party, which police described as a fairly tame affair (read, she probably wasn’t too drunk), and who was accosted by a group of five men in a passing car.
Police said the men pulled over to ask directions, and then pulled the woman into the car and gang-raped her. The news wire first reported the story in a manner-of-fact way; who, what, where, why and when. But, in the final version of the story, which was reprinted dozens of times, the story read:
‘‘Police are urging women to walk in groups and stay in well-lit areas after a group of a men preyed on a teenager as she left a party in Sydney’s northwest.
‘‘They are hunting a pack of five men who abducted and raped the 18-year-old just after she emerged from what police called a ‘‘sober’’ gathering at a house on Merindah Road, Baulkham Hills, about 1am (AEDT) on Sunday.’’
Personally, I’m tired of women being implicitly blamed for random attacks committed against them. If they walked on brightly-lit streets, this theory implies, they might somehow escape random attacks of this kind.
When do we start blaming the attackers? When do we start blaming, in all circumstances and at every opportunity the men who, for inconceivable reasons, egg each other on in a homo-erotic joint sex attack? When can we read a news story quoting a police chief warning young men who feel tempted to behave in this way that they will come after them, they will pursue them through the courts, and they will jail them?
It’s almost as if our society takes it for granted that men will always be one step away from random and opportunistic attacks on women, and it’s better than women be vigilant against attack than the other way around.
But most men don’t rape. Most men would be appalled at the suggestion they might. And statistically speaking, women are far more likely to be attacked by someone we know. We are more likely to be bashed, raped and sexually abused by our fathers, grandfathers, brothers, uncles, husbands, partners and lovers. The Australian Institute of Criminology says about 70 per cent of homicides are committed by people known to the offender. [Daily Life]
And now away from the daily violence experienced by many women and onto men themselves, and the idea of “benevolent sexism”:
Do most people recognize sexism in their daily lives? And what does it take to get them to shake their sexist beliefs?
In a recent study titled “Seeing the Unseen” psychologists Janet Swim of Pennsylvania State University and Julia Becker of Philipps University Marburg, Germany, set out to answer these questions.
Over the course of three separate, seven-day-long trials, Swim and Becker asked 120 college undergraduates (82 women and 38 men, ranging from 18 to 26 years old, some from the U.S., some from Germany) to record in a journal sexist comments they encountered on a daily basis. According to Swim, she and Becker hoped to determine whether forcing people to pay attention to less obvious forms of sexism could decrease their endorsement of sexist beliefs.
During the trials, subjects were instructed to note instances of sexist behavior toward women, ranging from unwanted sexual attention to blatantly sexist jokes and derogatory comments.
They were also asked to record subtler actions that many would consider harmless: men calling women “girls, ” complimenting them on stereotypically feminine behavior and sheltering them from more “masculine” tasks. Swim and Becker described this less obvious sexism to participants as “benevolent sexism,” a term coined by psychologists Peter Glick and Susan Fiske in a 1996 study to refer to “a paternalistic attitude towards women that idealizes them affectionately,” Glick told The Huffington Post.
Researchers found that after recording the sexist incidents they observed, women were more likely to deem the behavior less acceptable. Men, on the other hand, continued to endorse sexist behavior even after becoming more conscious of it.
But when asked to empathize with the female targets of specific sexist incidents, male participants were less likely to sanction blatant sexism.
In one example, men who were told to consider women’s feelings were less likely to think women overreact when responding negatively to sexist behavior.
When it came to instances of benevolent sexism, though, men’s attitudes did not change. According to Swim, men did not consider statements including “a good woman should be put on a pedestal” or “in a disaster, women should be saved before men” to be sexist.
But ignoring sexism has consequences, she said. Often the acceptance of subtler forms of sexism can lead to the acceptance of broader forms of gender discrimination.
According to Glick, benevolent sexism can often unintentionally become hostile sexism when a woman breaks out of her assumed role. He used the workplace as an example.
If a man offers to help a female coworker set up an office computer, Glick said, and she accepts, she is perceived as warm, but lacking a level of competence. If she politely refuses, however, she is often viewed as a “bitch.” Men who accept help are also seen as vulnerable, Glick said, but they do not suffer the same repercussions for trying to do things on their own. [Laura Stampler at Huffington Post]
So effectively this is a very long linkspam of why feminism is still needed, why the fight for equality is not won, and how women are not getting a good deal. There is so much more to do, even though we have achieved so much. Kaz Cooke said on International Women’s Day:
When Australia’s Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, turned on the Opposition Leader in Parliament recently and gave an incendiary speech, she said what many women were thinking. We’re sick of being disrespected simply because we’re women. We’re sick of sexualised insults and wrong assumptions about what we are capable of. We’ve gained so much and come so far that it can seem astonishing as well as frustrating that we also keep being confronted with the same old dismissive rudeness.
While other politicians and the elite media completely missed the story, around the world women watched the speech and cheered and shared the link with other women. Whichever side of politics they favoured, other women were transfixed by the idea of a public cry from the heart of a woman who said she was sick of sexism.
Because we all know that discrimination hasn’t gone away. We’ll always live in a world where it exists, and we’ll always need to stand up against it, bravely on our own, and just as bravely together. While we all grapple with personal goals, global politics, local attitudes and shared problems across cultural and national boundaries, not to mention maths homework, there are some simple singular pleasures. [Kaz Cooke at The Age]
* It should be mentioned most mainstream media prints stories about women’s lack of representation in various fields in their “women’s” sections and not actually in the main body of the newspaper. This is just a continuation of the idea that news that is about women is only of interest to women – even if we’re fighting for equal representation.