As a teenage cadet journalist in the late 1960s in Melburbia, fighting against preconceptions (misconceptions?) of being female was all part of the game. Indeed, newspapers then were an almost all-male affair with only a sprinkling of women lolling about the media landscape and most of those all too often faced rampant discrimination and ignominious injustice. The catch-cry of the male bastion –“you’re just not tough enough” – was repeatedly heard with guiltless pity. I had learned to stand up for myself at a much younger age (to my parents, sisters and school teachers in particular), but it wasn’t just the aberrant nonsense called fair play that enflamed my fighting spirit. It was the glib assumptions that lurked secretly, albeit silently, beneath these comments and attitudes; based on nothing but naive ignorance, distorted insights and disturbed fear towards individual female human beings. I often pondered at home at night where these biased assumptions had come from; why and how did so many men choose (and it WAS a choice) to belittle, demean and humiliate us simply because we wore mini-skirts? (Moreover, it seemed sadly ironic that one of the first lessons I was taught as a cadet by my more senior male colleagues was to NEVER assume anything about people and their stories; yet, here were these same men assuming SO much about me and other women).
Certainly, I verbalised much of my disgust at these assumptions and demanded to be given a “chance” – and while I succeeded in covering crime (police rounds as it was then called; albeit for a very short time because I was given the worst shifts from 8pm till 4am every night) and State parliament; sadly, football of the Aussie Rules variety remained sacrosanct as an all-male domain! The Editor (male of course) who I hardly exchanged any words with, did treat me fairly as my by lines tumbled out in print (he promoted me to a higher cadetship level several months before my year had passed), but it wasn’t just having to harangue the Chief of Staff that tried my patience, but accepting all the sexy innuendoes about my big tits and long legs. I learned to abide the comments with a quiet nonchalance, and even found myself flirting back with the males when I could be bothered though most of them hardly deserved a cheeky riposte. Flirting is what I called it back then as the term ‘sexual harassment’ hadn’t been invented and men were labelled chauvinists, not sexists as they are now. I looked up the word “chauvinism” in a very old, huge Webster’s Dictionary my mother kept close at hand at home for our Scrabble competitions. It defined chauvinism as “absurd unreasoning of the opposite sex”. So, some men were irrational when confronted by some women; and of course, when we attempted to comprehend this twisted irrationalism, we were condemned as the ones being irrational. But it wasn’t only the men who discriminated against us, some women, too, evinced the same damning attitudes to other female colleagues, be it out of jealousy, bitchiness or spite.
As the years went by and it became the 70s when I was working in the UK in TV, the discrimination and irrational biases became even more pronounced. But no one, of course, would say it to your face. Instead, the attitudes were supposedly buried amidst the currents of change as the Women’s Movement gained momentum and many men soon espoused that women were as equal as men. It also became enshrined in law; the Sex Discrimination Act (SDA); yet, as I’ve detailed in other blogs, sexism stayed rampant; albeit of a silent kind obscured by smart semantics and spin. As I slogged my guts out it soon became all too clear that I, at least, had to work twice as hard to prove I was just as good for half the money. Inequality was the name of the game; injustice and irrationality reigned supreme as people (mostly men) dismissed me as not being aggressive enough, not being tough enough and seeming to be a man hating dike! On the basis of what? I queried alone at home. More distorted assumptions, more erroneous mistakes and more absurd unreasoning! To generalise about me as a female, without even talking to me or even trying to get to know me seemed no less than a fascist ideology which had generalised about not just the Jews under Hitler, but also the blacks, the homosexuals, the physically and mentally disabled etc It was truly horrifying as I realised these men (and many women, too) were on a power trip that remained covert, secret and even worse, silent. Yes, they mouthed all the right platitudes about female equality, human rights, economic and social justice but when it came to really living these attitudes, they were all revealed as contradictory and hypocritical liars; their words nothing more than a cheap diatribe and their actions belying their supposed convictions. A quiet, insidious fascism; steeped in malicious generalisations fed by self-hatred, personal inadequacy and inferiority, albeit unconscious. Too often, these same men AND women were arrogant, supercilious and condescending masking their superiority with pleasant panache.
Without doubt, these men became more circumspect about commenting on our tits or legs or arse; the SDA had done much to outlaw this verbiage now called sexual harassment, but it wasn’t that these comments were so offensive but more the factual reality of what else these men and women didn’t acknowledge or see. Their fascist mentalities blinded them from the whole perspective. Personally, I missed the flirting in the offices I later worked in; it wasn’t this that was the problem, it was the total inability of these people to realise that these women with big tits and long legs and a tight arse could also have a good, sharp and clever mind. Our bodies, our superficial appearance counted for all, speaking about us even when we said nothing because we were never asked. Our minds were rendered useless, worthless and incapable compared to what we looked like. But dare they say this? Of course not; they could be sued with the SDA (even though its application was so hard to prove); so instead, they just picked the prettiest and sexiest females hoping they were smart as well. As one 60 Minutes Executive Producer in Sydney is alleged to have said – you’ve got to be ‘fuckable’ to be on TV! For women, at least! And as one former female friend of mine once commented – if Laurie Oakes was a woman, he’d be the tea lady at Channel 9! I once told a male friend of mine(some 16 years younger than me) that I was considered a man-hating dike because I dared to stand up for myself as a committed feminist and no longer dressed as a Barbie doll! He laughed and said nothing. I felt sorry for him; sorry because he laughed, sorry because he missed how painful, hurtful and mistaken it was and sorry because he really had no idea about any of those issues. (And should it have mattered if I WAS a lesbian?)
Years ago, I was oft told I was TOO heavy, TOO serious, because I dared to voice what many of these men and women privately thought and secretly enjoyed; the power over others to limit and circumscribe their opportunities and chances. Fascism, as outlined in The Dictionary of Politics first published in 1971, is entitled, even obliged to control and direct the lives of its subjects. Claiming total domination, hence totalitarianism, it took charge of the citizen from an early age. And isn’t this what our so-called free democracies now do to millions of women? (Especially the shrinks who claim a monopoly over our minds and what’s supposedly normal!) The Sex Discrimination Acts in the Western world are little more than a farce, making a mockery of women’s serious attempts to achieve REAL fair play; they are but lip service for women who are humiliated economically, degraded socially and denied real fulfilment, prevented from reaching their full potential without money, without favour and without support with only contempt and disrespect accorded them. Oppression, as it was under the Nazis, Mussolini, Stalin, Franco et al still flourishes in the West; it’s just more subtle and well disguised by spin. I recall visiting the site of Dachau concentration camp outside Munich in Germany in 1975 and as I walked around it through the gas chambers and medical experiments’ rooms it disturbed me to think it was ONLY because someone was a Jew, a black, a homosexual, a gypsy, a communist or disabled or moreover that they had the audacity to question the authorities let alone defy them by refusing to succumb to their control that they ended up in the camp. Saying NO unfortunately heralded their demise. And ONLY as females are we too often subject to the same oppression. Dare to confront these men and women in power or dare to acclaim our own independence and we are the ones who are disturbed, irrational and mad! A threat to their power and self-acclaimed aggrandisement. For me, Sexism IS fascism; be it perpetrated by men or women; those calling the shots and in control to power it over many women who demand more than living off a rich man in the right suburb with the 2.4 children and 2.2 cars! Women who won’t adhere to these domestic norms and want more from their lives. The Prime Minister of Australia, Julia Gillard, (and how many times has she been condemned for being unmarried and childless) recently lambasted the country’s Opposition Leader. Tony Abbott, as a sexist and misogynist in Parliament because he had too often criticised her as a liar and stood alongside banners calling her a bitch and a witch. His wife, Margaret, came out and said he was of course, no such thing; (Stand By Your Man) he is wonderful to her, his three daughters and his sisters. Yet, there is an unspoken albeit silent doctrine of persecution that continues to undermine Julia because she is a woman. Or at least that’s what I believe. Her hair, her clothes, her arse are all fair game in the media, no less lamented than by so-called feminist Germaine Greer. So what have we achieved in the fight for female equality over the past four decades?
After Julia’s angry outburst, many young female journalists came out and said they had experienced much sexual harassment; so I wondered, what’s really changed since the late 60s? Sure, there are far more female journalists doing what in my day were male jobs only, but in terms of deep seated attitudes to women and how they fare in our society, not a lot has really changed. Yes, there are more women in previously male dominated professions such as medicine and the law, even engineering etc but economic and social realities for far too many women haven’t moved much at all. Assumptions and misconceptions still run rampant in our social milieu unless you conform by manipulating your mobile, focusing on Facebook, tweeting on Twitter and posting your latest indulgence on YouTube. Superficiality still reigns as the popular fervour of our society; don’t dare try to penetrate the layers of deceit, untruths and dishonesty that lie beneath the surface and silent spin lest you be labelled as mad as I have been. People love money and the power it evokes; controlling our lives so we all adhere to the norms of male and female behaviour, whatever they’re perceived to be, is the dictate of our society. And assuming we should all look beautiful, slim, fit, and energetic as women, despite what many of us have to encounter and experience in the hard grind of just staying alive, is part of the prescription for our lives. Sexism is alive and well and thriving and sadly, the assumptions and perceptions that limit far too many of us still pervade our society. I call it fascism; a kind of personal control and power over millions of females too often blind to what’s really limiting their potential. It’s not just education, but more to do with REAL equality of opportunity to fully participate in society not just as Barbie dolls but as complex and multi-dimensional human beings! It demands respect, trust and commitment to the cause not just because it’s fair and just, but because it represents genuine democracy as it should be so we no longer have to live in a quasi fascist state where pretence, lies and hypocrisy spin our world out of balance!