Ever since Julia Gillard was elected, Australia has been forced to shine a light on its attitudes towards women – and more specifically, women in power. At times the ride has been exhilarating and empowering, and at times it has drifted towards the ugly and downright rude.
But the last 48 hours have really demonstrated to me just how far we have to go. So, without further ado, I present to you the last two days in the life of an Average Australian Woman:
Tuesday morning: Wake up, make a cup of tea, and read the front page of the paper. Try to keep your toast down as you realise that the murderer of Jill Meagher was on parole, and had been convicted of 16 other counts of rape. Your mind immediately jumps to how many others serial rapists are currently “rehabilitated”, and are now out in public.
Tuesday afternoon: You read that Julia Gillard has attempted to start a “gender war” – and remain somewhat confused, because you were under the impression that this particular war was started centuries ago. You realise that Julia Gillard is concerned about Tony Abbott’s views on abortion, which is, in all honestly fair enough. The man does have a track record.
Wednesday morning: You read the victim impact statements from the Jill Meagher case, and wonder if it will stretch on years. The answer, of course, is yes. You will think about it next time you’re walking down the street, or next time a strange man approaches you when you’re alone.
You jump to the next news section, only to read that the Australian Socceroos coach has told a press conference that women should “shut up in public”. You wonder what his mother, wife, and other female friends and family members think about this, before realising that it doesn’t matter – their voices probably won’t be heard in the media, anyway.
Wednesday lunch time: Your social media feeds spring to life, with the words “menu” and “Mal Brough” cropping up. It only takes you a minute to work out that yet another LNP member has had a serious lapse of judgement – this time, in relation to a menu, of all things. You scan through the articles until you finally reach the image of the menu in question – and find the phrase “small breasts, huge thighs and a big red box”. Your thoughts sway between immediate, explosive outrage for the PM and a sense of disgust that the menu ever reached the public eye. You also take a moment to note that although Simon Crean, Wayne Swan and Kevin Rudd are also mentioned, none of their menu ‘items’ feature a reference to their appearance (or, indeed, their genitalia).
Wednesday afternoon: You hear your two male colleagues laughing at something on a computer screen. You glance over, only to see an enlarged version of Brough’s menu appear. Your colleagues then ask you if you think it was funny – and when you reply that you don’t, are told that this sense of humour is “just the Australian way”. You point out that none of the male politicians that appeared on that menu were sexualised, or had attention drawn to their physical appearance. You then exit the room to get a coffee and bang your head against a wall.
Wednesday evening: You avoid watching the news or hopping on Facebook, because you don’t wish to buy into everyone’s outrage about a menu. You’re just as outraged as your friends and family members – but you’re also tired of nothing ever changing, and would prefer to spend an evening pretending that offensive menus never existed.
Thursday morning: You wake up to the news that a restaurant owner has taken responsibility for the ‘offensive menu’, and that the LNP party has “condemned the menu in the strongest terms”. You wonder if the LNP keeps a document on its shared hard drive entitled “Apologies for Sexism”. What would it read like? Perhaps, as this: “We apologise for [sexist comment] made by [sexist politician] here. We will try harder next time. Plz vote 4 us, c u in September, kthanxbai.”
Thursday lunchtime: You venture back to the wide world of the mass media, only to read the news that 17 Australian Defence Force personnel are under investigation over “offensive emails“. You don’t need to read any further to guess that the emails were related to women. Instead, you wonder how common these “offensive emails” in workplaces are, and recall the incident with the menu in your workplace yesterday.
Thursday evening: The media wrap-ups for the entire menu-related affair start coming through, and you brace yourself for a mention of the term ‘menu-gate’. You then reward yourself with a coffee when News.com.au and the ABC (yes, the ABC) follow through on your expectations for the most unoriginal journalism.
….. And these are just the local examples. I thought about including some of the international examples of sexism within this run down, but then I realise I would be typing this until midnight.
What does it say, when this is almost an “average” day in Australia? Firstly, it says that gender is still an issue, and will continue to be for quite some time (indeed, until the election results are counted). I’m grateful for the focus on the topic of gender – but some intelligent debate wouldn’t go astray. I’m tired of the petty name-calling, the exaggeration and simplification of all “news” content to suit the biggest audience. I’m sick of attention-screaming headlines, and “gender wars”. What I would like is an honest, forthright discussion about the current treatment of women within Australia. One that carries on up until the election, and spans across the issues of rape, domestic violence and sexual assault, attitudes of victim blaming, the representation of women in the media, the issue of female CEOs and politicians, paternity leave, equal pay, single parent (and mother) payments, and everything else I have simply missed. Of course, this is a vast discussion – but it is one that every single problem raised earlier shows we need to have. What we don’t need are any more infantile “menus”, or sports coaches with jacked-up opinions on whether women have the right to a “voice”.