Perspectives on the Chris Gayle, Jamie Briggs and Peter Dutton sagas seem shrouded in semantic confusion by public commentators and private personalities about what is indeed paramount in these ‘supposed’ misdemeanours. The three men have all been slammed as sexist; even misogynist, demeaning women with disrespect with their inadvertent advances and comments. What is erroneous about this condemnation is that in the circumstances of both Gayle and Briggs, their overtures to the females involved was ‘sexual’, not sexist. Dutton’s email was different in nature; contemptuous and discriminatory in the words he used – ‘mad, f—– witch’ and while Briggs resigned as Minister for Cities, Dutton remains in his immigration portfolio. Moreover, Gayle was fined $10,000 for his ‘indiscretion’ followed by calls to ban him from future BBL games in this country.
There is a definitive difference between ‘sexual’ and ‘sexist’; yet, it appears as a society we are angered and disturbed more by casual ‘sexual’ innuendoes than we are by seriously ‘sexist’ attitudes. Moreover, we do not, or cannot, seem willing or interested in distinguishing not just the difference between the two words and significantly, their meaning, but we also too easily understand these words as one and the same ‘crime’. Is it that sexist subsumes sleazy, sexual overtones and is berated for that, irrespective of intent? Suggesting Gayle is culpable of sexism is to obfuscate not just his attitude in suggesting ‘a drink’ to the Channel 10 reporter, Mel McLaughlin, but his intention. Or is asking a woman to have a drink a criminal offence? Maybe his timing was askew as it was ‘on camera’ and she was professionally engaged, but to denigrate him as a sexist is not just linguistically invalid, it is ignorant and diminishes the malevolent and negative force of real sexism in our society. He may ‘think’ and/or even ‘feel’ sexy when he sees a woman reporter, but that’s not discrimination against her as a woman per se. Indeed, it may even be a celebration of her as a woman, albeit sexually, but I’m not attempting to read his mind. It may be discrimination; a positive, though, limited one at that. In the Briggs’ affair, too, ‘kissing’ a female diplomat on the neck et al is also ‘sexual’; it wasn’t about her quest for equal opportunity in the Department of Foreign Affairs, or not as far as I’ve understood. Dutton’s email is another matter altogether, irrespective of his professional relationship with Samantha Maiden. It is abusive, disparaging and malicious; discriminating against her as a female per se as ‘mad’ and a ‘witch’; words historically hurled contemptuously at women who dared to defy conformist convention. That is sexist!
According to The Macquarie Dictionary, sexist is defined as ‘an attitude which stereotypes a person’ based on gender or sexual preference, ‘rather than judging on individual merits; and ‘pertaining to sexual exploitation or discrimination esp. in advertising, language, job opportunities etc.’ Sexual is defined as ‘pertaining to sex…having a strong sex drive or having the ability to arouse strong sexual interest’ The two words are clearly very different, yet, we denigrate what is ‘sexual’ as ‘sexist’ and this societal tendency only sullies our attitudes to sex as if the two words are inextricably linked. Gayle and Briggs might have both acted inappropriately, but decrying them as sexist is to miss the point and undermine the more profound and urgent need to address the prevalence of sexism in our social milieu; be it with surgeons, the police, politics, sport or business boardrooms.
At the same time, we must recognise that sexual behaviour is just that; a part of our human tapestry that transcends titillation; even if some men may not appreciate the finer points involved in a romantic interlude. Gayle and Briggs may entertain delusions of grandeur about their own sexual power, but neither of them committed a ‘crime’ against the women. Dutton’s comment, by contrast, has the invective of vitriol that could be regarded as not just more offensive, but ‘criminal’. Sexism is illegal if you can of course prove it; by words as well as deeds. Social reaction to these events has been mixed; but the pertinent issue is we must lucidly and rationally understand the perilous persuasion of words per se. Sexual banter at the right time in the right place and in the right context with the right person should be applauded; sexism should never be tolerated and allowed to flourish unchallenged and we need to ensure we no longer confuse the former with the latter. This need for clarity might just facilitate an appreciation of sex per se in our society instead of besmirching it as sexism. Then, we could move on to enable real justice to be administered.