The Dawn Chorus

Fresh Australian Feminism

Loss of basic female skills or loss of basic journalistic skills?

Posted by Mel Campbell on January 31, 2011

(This post is cross-posted at Crikey.)

There’s an article by Helen Dow currently on News.com.au (originally in Queensland’s Sunday Mail) reporting on some findings from social research consultancy McCrindle Research in Sydney: namely, that Generation Y are losing basic skills of self-care and self-sufficiency. Here are some of the stats from the story:

  • Only 51 per cent of survey respondents aged under 30 can cook a roast, compared with 82 per cent of baby boomers.
  • Only 20 per cent of young respondents can bake lamingtons; 45 per cent of respondents aged over 30 can.
  • Only 23 per cent of young respondents can grow a plant from a cutting; 78 per cent of older respondents can.
  • And only 40 per cent of respondents under 30 can drive manual cars, compared to 71 per cent of older respondents.

Notice that I have deliberately elided the issue of whether the respondents were male or female, and I have not generalised out from the survey sample to the wider Australian population.

Looking at the stats alone, this could actually be an interesting story about our culture of affluence, disposability and general alienation from the means of production. Unfortunately, this report spuriously claims that these are “female skills”. (No, Sunday Mail, putting scare quotes around ‘female’ doesn’t absolve you of knee-jerk sexism, especially when you choose to illustrate your story with goofy pictures of women wielding cooking and cleaning equipment.)

This is a cheap, distasteful reporting strategy aimed at enraging readers who will circulate the story and comment on it, generating advertising revenue. At the time of writing, the story had 88 comments. However, rather than merely getting angry at the perpetuation of these cynically sexist ideas, it’s important to understand how stories like this are developed – and to demand better responses from journalists.

This story angle has most likely been generated by a McCrindle press release. The stereotypes about which skills are ‘male’ and ‘female’ were decided on by the research company and the angle was ‘packaged’ in the release.

Although there are no press releases on the McCrindle site pertaining to this research, another similar release came out from McCrindle on 29 November 2010, entitled “Men of 2010″. Obediently, both the Herald Sun (“Modern man is a bit of a drip”) and Daily Telegraph (“Men losing their traditional skill set”) reported on the decline of traditional “man skills”. The Hez story was a straight rip of the presser, while the Tele found a representative man to interview – probably via a site such as SourceBottle.

However, it’s the job of really good journalists to question the way PR-led stories are presented. The principles of journalism prize not taking things at face value: always getting two sides to any story and looking for the deeper causes of a situation. Rather than replicating the angle provided in the release, a much more critically engaged response from the journalist would have been to get on the phone and on the internet, and find out from independent sources whether the information is reliable.

For a start, I’d like to see some corollary statistics about the prevalence of automatic cars on Australian roads, the number of young people living in urban areas without gardens, the number of young people living at home where they’re not primarily responsible for cooking, and the consumer culture of disposability that means we think it’s easier just to buy things and throw them away rather than to make, maintain, fix and nurture.

If it’s difficult to find these statistics via the limited amount of research time that newsroom journalists have at their disposal, then they need to find an expert who does have access to them. A journalist could seek comment from someone not associated with McCrindle – perhaps an academic working in sociology or gender studies, or another social researcher who’s done similar work.

A journalist on his or her toes (and, sadly, they often seem to give this genre of story to female reporters) could even just call Mark McCrindle and ask him, straight up, to back up his claims with quantitative evidence: how did his company assign particular skill sets to ‘men’ and ‘women’? Did the survey respondents themselves associate certain skills with certain genders – or did the researchers design that association into their survey?

This story is the end of a chain of assumptions that nobody has seen fit to question. But the profession of journalism should make assumption-busting its first order of business.

Posted in Media Watch | Tagged: , , , | 13 Comments »

AFL player not convicted or charged, no one faints from surprise

Posted by caitlinate on January 29, 2011

Reading the (online) paper this morning, I saw that two Collingwood AFL players have been cleared of sexual assault charges by police. I don’t know very much about that case and don’t really want to say anything specific about it. More, it made me think about whether I could recall a single case where a football player had ever actually been convicted.

I can think of lots of cases where yet another football player has raped or sexually assaulted a woman. This seems to happen quite a lot. But I can’t think of a single time I’ve heard of a player being convicted of the charges laid against them. It seems I am more likely to read about police dropping charges, police not pursuing charges and the DPP not pursuing a hearing. What the hell is going on? Are players being convicted on the quiet or is there really a pattern of no convictions recorded against any footballers on rape or sexual assault charges? If I can think of five different instances of a footballer player raping or sexual assaulting someone last year I can only imagine how many other instances of this occurred. So why aren’t any of the perpetrators ever having to take responsibility for their actions? A few weeks suspended from the club and then a loud welcome back into the bro-hood does not = taking responsibility. How many women don’t come forward with what happened to them because they know nothing will be done? How many do come forward and are ignored, or are paid for their silence? Is it really true that we don’t hold AFL footballers accountable for their actions and their violence towards women?

I recognise that statistics for prosecution against non-AFL perpetrators aren’t exactly high. But for there to have not been a single successful prosecution of an AFL player for sexual assault ever – or at least in recent history – makes it seem like there is something more than your standard victim-blaming hetero-patriarchy happening here. I know that there are groups and organisations and individuals working with football players to try and teach them that, you know, sexually assaulting people is wrong. I know that the AFL and clubs are – publicly at least – trying to change the culture within football to eradicate this kind of behaviour. I would really like to believe that there is something changing. That these players are getting it into their thick skulls that rape and sexual assault are not okay, that treating women like your property is not okay, that consent is a really great thing. But I also wonder how well that message can sink in when at the same time all these (generally speaking) able bodied, heterosexual, white men are worshipped as heroes and given status, prestige and a lot of money. When they are repeatedly told that what they do for a few months a year is really important and should be taken really seriously at the exclusion of all else. When, every week, hundreds of thousands of people all over the country agree. The sense of entitlement these guys would be walking around with, the exaggerated sense of entitlement they display, is astounding but in the end, not really so surprising.

I’m not advocating for these dudes to all go to prison. I don’t think sending people to prison is going to solve rape or is going to actually stop any person – footballer or not – from raping another. I also don’t think that the people with the power to imprison others even have the fucking right to do so in these cases, considering their culpability in protecting rape culture. Cops, judges and AFL officials have repeatedly shown scant respect for the law or for the people who have been assaulted – far too impressed by the glory of the football player, far too invested in protecting these symbols of white patriarchal heterosexuality. The amount of effort that goes into protecting these players from being adults and taking responsibility for their actions is staggering:

Former detective Sen-Det Scott Gladman claims that a 2004 rape charge against Saints star Stephen Milne collapsed amid a campaign of threats and intimidation from inside Victoria Police and by powerful club backers.

-Source

The woman, known only as Kate, claims that in 1999 police waited two days before visiting the crime scene, failed to get the suspect’s DNA, and records of his interview with police disappeared. Kate has told ABC1′s 7:30 Report program while she has now reached a confidential settlement, she was originally offered $20,000 to keep quiet. Victoria Police declined to be interviewed because it says it cannot comment on any payments because of strict confidentiality clauses. The allegations come two months after former Carlton president John Elliott said the club had paid hush money to women who claimed they had been assaulted or raped by its players.

-Source

In 2007 Brodie Holland was fined $2,500 for his role in a fight with a young woman over a taxi cab. After Hollands fiancee was involved in a scuffle with the woman, Holland approached calling the woman a “stupid slut” before trying to tackle her, placing her in a headlock after which she bit him on the stomach, before striking her in the head with his fist. His court appearance was pushed back on two occasions so not to clash with his football commitments; once he faced court no conviction was recorded and no punishment handed out from his club, Collingwood.

-Source

The uncensored contract, obtained by AAP on Tuesday, states that Victoria Police could not comment on its own investigations into any AFL player, coach, board member or even staff without consulting the league. The football body was also given permission to “investigate matters of illegal betting” and other serious crimes from drug trafficking and domestic violence to sexual assaults. The police-AFL “relationship” was struck so both could investigate “any criminal activity that would be prejudicial to the interests of the AFL”, the contract says.

-Source

I think these men as individuals need to be taking responsibility for their actions, yes. This needs to not just be going to court and trying to avoid a sentence. It needs to not just be letting some gender studies lecturers from your local university come down and ignoring them while they explain to you why what you’re doing isn’t okay. It needs to be footballers finding ways within themselves and within the macho, football-centric social groups they are a part of to break down these ideas and attitudes that cause so much harm. Not waiting for other people to solve it for them but actually recognising what’s going on and doing something to change it. It needs to be AFL footaballers taking responsibility as a whole.

But it’s not just them. The clubs and the league and the coaches and everyone directly involved with AFL needs to be taking and continuing to take responsibility for what they encourage. I think that the legal system either needs to stop pretending to believe in the equal rule of law or actually apply it. And I think everyone who loves a team or loves the sport and spends several months a year telling a bunch of men with a ball that they are fucking awesome, that they are fucking heroes, that they are winners and champions and great, that what they are doing is important, that what they do is taken very seriously; I think those people need to think about what kind of culture it is they are actually supporting and what they can do to challenge it.

Posted in sexual assault, Sport, violence against women | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

Sexism in sport never seems to go away

Posted by Nic Heath on January 26, 2011

Sexism in sport never seems to go away.

Three members of the Sky Sports football commentary team in the UK have been taken off air for a variety of actions deemed unacceptable by management – perhaps a saving grace in the story.

Andy Gray, “the face of Sky Sports’ football coverage for the past two decades”, has been fired for offensive behaviour directed at colleague Charlotte Jackson (a harsher penalty than that given to our very own Sam Newman in a similar incident).

Gray’s colleague Richard Keys “had been reprimanded and removed from duty on Monday for making derogatory comments about lineswoman Sian Massey, former referee Wendy Toms and West Ham executive Karren Brady”, while another member of the Sky Sports football team, Andy Burton, was taken off air on Tuesday for his comments about a female official.

Closer to home, this week Network Ten ended the ‘two-year experiment’ that saw Kelli Underwood commentate top-level AFL for television. Underwood was the first woman to call football on Australian television.

Underwood has not been completely cut away. She will commentate netball and the AFL boundary-line for Ten and football for ABC. To Underwood’s credit, she has put on a brave face, telling “I was the first to do it but hope I am not the last. I would say to every girl out there you should go for it.”

That said she has faced an uphill battle trying to be accepted as a football commentator, polling as ‘most annoying commentator’ in the Herald Sun Footy Fans survey last year.

It is dispiriting that schoolyard notions of women in sport – like whether we can understand the offside rule, or call a match – still have currency in certain circles.

Lately women have been making short work of the glass ceiling, particularly in politics. Only last week Lara Giddings became Tasmania’s first female premier. A look at Crikey’s Friday editorial – a series of sexist headlines pertaining to stories about female politicians – shows all is not quite as it should be, yet*. But with most of the top positions of power in eastern seaboard filled by women at present, a sense of hope seems warranted.

In Australia and overseas, sport offers a less positive outlook.

*For more on the topic read Amber Jamieson’s interviews with Cheryl Kernot, Natasha Stott-Despoja and Fran Bailey at Crikey.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

Would this fly if we had a male PM?

Posted by Mel Campbell on December 21, 2010

This cartoon by Bill Leak, published in today’s Australian, isn’t garden-variety media sexism. It’s an appallingly ill-judged combination of callousness and racism surrounding the Christmas Island asylum seeker shipwreck disaster, and to make matters worse, there’s a jocular rapeyness directed at the prime minister of this country.

Readers, I’m talking about this:

“A hell of a hammering”? It really does beggar belief that Leak could think of no better way to dramatise the political trials Gillard faces over Australia’s asylum seeker policies than to show the prime minister as a distressed, brutalised object.

Depressingly, though, I almost suspect that Leak’s editor at The Australian knew exactly how tasteless and dull-witted the cartoon was, and approved its publication anyway in order to court controversy, and hence, boost circulation and pageviews.

I really struggle to think of any other political cartoon that degrades the holder of the highest executive office in this country in such an ill-conceived, unfunny way. Imagery of shipwrecks and stormy seas has been used extensively in political cartoons in the past – especially in relation to asylum seeker issues – but even a besieged prime minister is usually depicted as a captain going down with his ship, flailing in the sea or clinging to a life raft. Not battered and bruised, on all fours. Not with a police officer standing there, coolly refusing to help.

This is the second time in two days the Australian media have disrespected the Prime Minister. Yesterday, actual airtime and column inches were devoted to gossipy speculation over whether the very publicly unmarried Gillard had finally got engaged, since she was spotted at a press conference wearing a large sparkly ring on her engagement finger.

When asked about the ring, Gillard made light of it. “We have got to that stage in a press conference where it’s got a bit silly,” she retorted.

“I have had that ring for a long period of time and I miscellaneously wear it on my left hand or my right hand, depending on how much handwriting I’m doing. … If it will make you feel better, I’ll slip it back on to the right hand.”

If a male prime minister were spotted without his wedding ring, would the Australian media interrupt a press conference about the National Broadband Network to ask him if he’d left his wife? Let journalists criticise Gillard’s policies all they like, but to discredit them, and her, on the basis of her gender is appalling.

Posted in Media Watch, Politics, sexual assault | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

What Does The Assange Rape Case Mean For Feminism?

Posted by Mel Campbell on December 9, 2010

I’ve been very uneasy reading the commentary about the pending rape and sexual misconduct charges against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. Of course, I’m suspicious about the timing of Assange’s recent arrest in London, and the effort which international law enforcers put in to ‘catch’ him (whereas dude handed himself in, after keeping in touch with UK police for several weeks prior).

However, as Ms .45 has commented in relation to an earlier Dawn Chorus post, there’s been a pretty distasteful tone to the coverage. The media seem to want to both pruriently detail the allegations against Assange, and to suggest these charges aren’t that serious.

There have been various suggestions that the women were not really raped, but rather were embarrassed at having been ‘played’ by our snowy-haired Lothario (a media narrative we often see in allegations of sexual assault against famous men). Alternatively, they made up the rape allegations for political reasons: they want to ‘bring Assange down’.

Like Ms .45, I’m pretty disappointed that Crikey‘s WH Chong would think “the most sensible reading [of the 'sex by surprise' charge] comes from the mouth of babes, Assange’s son Daniel”. What? Someone on the other side of the world who knows as little about these incidents as anyone, and who hasn’t seen Assange for ages? Political commentary doesn’t suit Chong; he should probably confine his thoughts to arts and culture, which is the remit of his Crikey blog.

This Salon article is probably the best rebuttal of all the subtle, hearsay misogyny in other media coverage, while this Feministe post neatly rebuts all the disbelieving sniggering that’s been going on over the charge of “sex by surprise”.

But most troublingly for me, some media accounts have suggested that these vexatious charges could only have been laid in Sweden, where feminism has become institutionalised. As Salon’s Kate Harding sarcastically puts it:

The only reason the charges got traction is that, in the radical feminist utopia of Sweden under Queen Lisbeth Salander, if a woman doesn’t have multiple orgasms during hetero sex, the man can be charged with rape. You didn’t know?

The feminist project has long aimed to reach and reform the highest political institutions, and this has happened in Sweden, “where even conservative male politicians call themselves feminists”.

Swedish law has also eliminated many of the subtle anti-victim legal biases that we’ve previously documented here at the Dawn Chorus. The idea that women can withdraw their consent is the backbone of the ‘sex by surprise’ charge, and Swedish activists are now agitating for further reform which recognises that women can signal their non-consent in non-verbal ways.

But I’m getting the disquieting feeling that for the mainstream (and especially the conservative) media, Sweden is becoming a case study in the crazy, Kafkaesque shit that happens if we let those wacky feminists get their hands on the wheel. The central hypocrisy of the Julian Assange coverage seems to be that it’s a good thing for information to be free, but women should be kept down as much as possible – or where would society be then?

Posted in Media Watch, sexual assault | Tagged: , , , , | 10 Comments »

“Party rape”

Posted by caitlinate on November 24, 2010

[image caption: "Millionaire to stand trial - Melbourne property developer Paul Fridman accused of party rape"]

In case you were wondering, “party rape” is different to other types of rape. I’m not quite sure how but, there you go.

Posted in Media Watch, sexual assault | Tagged: , , , | 8 Comments »

A precedent set in Queensland abortion law, what next?

Posted by caitlinate on October 14, 2010

As many of you will be aware, earlier today Tegan Simone Leach and Sergie Brennan – charged with “procuring an abortion and supplying drugs to procure an abortion” – were acquitted at trial.

This is a fantastic result and one I’m sure the Cairns couple (as they seem to be universally known) were and are very relieved to hear. It’s also being hailed by feminists as a victory for reasons relating to the draconian laws currently in place in Queensland. Under the 110 year old law of that sunny state, abortion is illegal except to protect the mother’s life or her physical or mental wellbeing.

Which leads me to wonder if this is a victory not just because the couple have been acquitted but because of the legal precedent it sets. Apparently there is some feeling amongst those who have worked in women’s health in Queensland that an open challenge to the abortion laws currently in place would be a very precarious undertaking. That not only would any move to progressively alter the laws fail but that it might result in even more restrictive ones being put in place instead. There has been a lot of criticism heaped upon the Queensland Premier Anna Bligh (a self proclaimed feminist) for her failure to express solidarity with the Cairns couple or to undertake any party lead reform (she even went so far as to put a dampener on a colleague’s attempt to legislatively push for reform). I’m not necessarily adverse to criticisms of Bligh and I certainly don’t have much faith in politicians to actually follow through on their professed ideologies (though conservative politicians are generally more reliable on this account). What I wonder is if having this case go to trial and result in an outcome that declares that women in Queensland can take control of their bodies and their fertility without successful state persecution is better politically than a) the case being dropped or b) unsuccessful or further damaging attempts to legislate (without precedent).

I’d even go so far as to posit that the public outrage, media attention and political involvement of organizations like GetUp only came about because the case actually went to trial and that if it hadn’t we’d be stuck – loud in our feminist corners but still invisible in the mainstream – hailing that, rather than today’s outcome, as the victory it might not have necessarily been.

Obviously none of this might matter to Brennan and Leach who have probably had an unimaginably horrible time dealing with the public attention cast on them. I’ve read reports that they received death threats – a despicable and terrifying thing for both of them to have had to experience. I can only imagine the strain this would have put on their lives and their relationship and there is no reasoning that excuses or makes acceptable what they’ve had to endure. While I can argue that the way things panned out – while risky and awful for those directly involved – was a more successful route to change for feminists and women in Queensland, it’s distressing that no matter what path we take it still has to involve pain and suffering for those doing something as simple as seeking an abortion.

This wouldn’t have had to be the way change came about if members of the Queensland parliament listened to the 90% of Australians who believe abortion should be legal and stood together to legislate accordingly. As it is, my totally-not-legally-trained self sees this as a potentially good precedent. That’s really not enough. Let’s see the laws change now, before any more women have to stand trial.

Posted in law, Politics, reproductive rights, Women's Health | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Feeling assailed by feminism

Posted by Mel Campbell on September 28, 2010

As part of the Wheeler Centre’s merry non-question “Feminism has failed”, the literary centre asked Michaela McGuire to write a piece on questioning whether she was a feminist.

Basically, McGuire’s contention was that she doesn’t want to give much consideration to feminism, because in the past she has felt assailed and alienated by other women who called themselves feminists.

“This was the reason, I realised, that feminism, at least as I had encountered it, does not seem relevant to me. It has rules. Qualifiers. Hundred-year-old mottos that I am meant to apply to my own life.”

On one level, I totally get where she’s coming from. Several times in the past I have offered my honest opinions about women and have been greeted by a backlash from feminists whose views I found ideologically rigid.

I stopped posting on my personal blog for nearly four months after various people weighed in on this post, suggesting that I clearly didn’t love my vagina enough. (I’ve since switched commenting systems, so none of the Vagina Luv comments are there any more.)

And I stopped blogging at The Dawn Chorus for nearly a year after feeling as though the entire feminist blogosphere had turned on me because of this (admittedly, mischievously titled) blog post.

But these responses never led me to the conclusion that I wasn’t a feminist.

Here’s how I define feminism. It’s the belief that nobody should be denied dignity, respect or opportunities – personal or professional, in public or at home, as a citizen or in relationships – solely because of their gender. If you believe this, and you don’t like seeing people disrespected or disempowered because of their gender, you’re a feminist. That’s it. That’s the only rule. The only qualifier.

Most of all, feminism is not about consensus. Feminism is a personal commitment, and it’s worth pursuing even though individual feminists, and groups of feminists, may have vastly differing beliefs and engage in robust debate. Put it this way: men are not deterred from having convictions simply because not all men agree with each other.

I’ve felt assailed by feminists. I’ve felt personally attacked. I’ve felt crushed. I’ve felt ignored. But I have never abandoned my conviction that I am a feminist, or become less willing to point out and condemn gender-based inequity as I see it.

Posted in Blog Watch, Media Watch | 16 Comments »

Feminism Has Failed, not really, however, it will be debated tomorrow night

Posted by Rhiana Whitson on September 21, 2010

Don’t miss this event!

Tomorrow night! 6.30pm!

Feminism Has Failed

part of the Wheeler Centre’s Intelligence Squared debate series…

Featuring:

Author of The Feminist Denial Monica Dux, ABC journo Jennifer Byrne, journo Gay Alcorn and a few guys also…

I’ve gotta run, however, here’s what the Wheeler Centre has to say about tomorrow nights event…

After generations of effort, women still bear a disproportionate burden of domestic labour. Women are under-represented in the senior ranks of politics, business and the professions.

Women continue to be denied equal pay for equal work.

Perhaps more troubling still is the fact that the basic structures of power and influence bear the cultural marks of masculinity. In all significant ways, it remains a man’s world.

However, it could be argued that If feminism has failed, then it is because it has failed to mobilise women and that female acquiescence rather than male determination has preserved the status quo.

Or should feminists be celebrating a deeper victory in which a new generation of young men and women take equality for granted thanks to feminists who ushered in a deeper concern for justice – irrespective of gender?

Want more info? Check our Clem’s great interview with Monica Dux and Zora Simic posted here on TDC way back in 2008…

When?

Tomorrow night 6.30 – 8.30pm

Where?

Melbourne Town Hall

90-120 Swanston Street
Melbourne
Victoria 3000

Tix are  $20 full and $12 conc.

and are available online

Posted in Dawn Chorus Library, Interviews, Politics, reproductive rights, sex, Uncategorized, women we love, Women's Health | 2 Comments »

Street Harassment: tone vs content

Posted by Mel Campbell on September 8, 2010

Last week I read this excellent post on street harassment, which was republished in Jezebel.

Street harassment is not the same as offering compliments to strangers. It is an aggressive move to assert power over a woman in public space, to force her to interact with him, and to make her feel cowed and embarrassed. If confronted or rejected, street harassers often escalate their approach into a verbal assault on their victim’s attractiveness or sexuality.

Perhaps the worst part of street harassment is that our culture has internalised it to the point where women are accused of ‘overreacting’, being ‘humourless’ or ‘imagining it’ if they speak up about being harassed in public. Yet women who manage to escape harassment can feel ugly and unsexy, and that they ought to feel ‘grateful’ if it does happen to them.

Tonight, I was walking down Lygon Street in East Brunswick and a guy shouted at me from a passing car, “YOU’RE A BEAUTIFUL PERSON!”

It might sound comical – was the dude trying to evade feminist criticism by focusing on the beauty of my personality rather than my body? Yet how can this stranger possibly know what kind of person I am?

But at the same time, I wish I could communicate to you the tone of menace in this guy’s voice.

You’ve probably encountered the idea that online writing is flatter and less subtle than spoken communication, and thus more prone to misunderstanding and offence. Likewise, when women report being harassed or assaulted, and what is said between victim and perpetrator is brought up in official complaints and court cases, this tone of voice can be lost.

Sadly, I imagine many readers have experienced the aggression and venom that certain men are able to inject into words such as ‘slut’, ‘bitch’ and ‘cunt’. It’s a tone that can make the listener fear for her physical safety.

Even more innocuously expressed sentiments can sound far more intimidating to a victim than they might seem to a third party. Perhaps that’s why street harassment is often dismissed or belittled.

Posted in violence against women | Tagged: | 2 Comments »

 
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