After a long hiatus – kicking off a new stream of Sexism Matters Around the World – SM’s Commonwealth Correspondent brings a fresh perspective on sexism in Austrralia:
There have been some interesting fluctuations in Australian politics over the last few years, and not least where sexism is concerned.
We had our first female Prime Minister elected, Ms Julia Gillard. She lasted three years and three days to be exact, and faced what Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has now described as “outrageous sexism” in that role. Many of you will have seen the triumphant response Ms Julia Gillard gave to accusations of sexism, from then opposition leader, Tony Abbott. Triumphant in that she turned the accusation back on its assailant, with whiplash force, in what is now known as the misogyny speech. It has over 2.5 million views and counting. Lauded by leaders from France to India, and watched around the world, the celebrations were short-lived as Mr Abbott won the domestic election in 2013 and took the reigns as Australia’s current Prime Minister.
Despite a well-timed conversion to feminism at the International Women’s Day Parliament breakfast, the Hon Tony Abbott MP has some very questionable politics when it comes to women and their rights. These views are well documented. Forming a government with only one female Minister in its Cabinet was disappointing to say the least. Mr Abbott has also described abortion as “the easy way out”, famously characterised Australian women as housewives preoccupied by ironing and right at rock bottom suggested men were better adapted than women to command authority and issue directives. Woe.
But all is not lost. There has been a new voice emerging on the YouTube hit list, empowering and enabling women down under. It comes from perhaps the last place you might expect. Lieutenant General David Morrison AO is the Head of the Australian Army, and has become a YouTube sensation of his own. In 2013, Morrison ordered an investigation into Army emails sent over a three year period that were highly degrading to women, especially women in the armed forces. And then, just to convey how serious he was, a notably irate Morrison took to the Army’s official YouTube channel telling sexist members they were welcome to “get out.” Morrison said “I will be ruthless in ridding the army of people who cannot live up to its value… [i]f you are not up to it, find something else to do with your life. There is no place for you amongst this band of brothers and sisters.” He was resolute in his dedication to create an inclusive armed forces for Australia, that much was obvious.
Last week Morrison was called upon to participate in the four day Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict, hosted in London. Here Morrison sat beside British Foreign Secretary William Hague and UNHCR special envoy Angelina Jolie, and arguably stole the show. Morrison’s speech encouraged militaries around the world to open up all areas of service to women as a way of promoting tolerance and strength, arguing that it “sends out a clarion call to all those who serve that talent will prevail, not gender.” Going further, Morrison argued that when witnessing sexual violence a soldier has only two choices – to be a protector or a perpetrator. He said “I have deliberately excluded a third choice, to be a bystander… there are no bystanders – the standard you walk past is the standard you accept.” A powerful message that can be taken beyond the realm of armed conflict.
Australia can once again be proud that a voice is speaking out on gender equality, not only in Australia, but resonating in nations beyond our territorial borders. Proud of one more voice, but perhaps also a little sad that these voices are so rare that they need to be celebrated. Sad that, as Morrison himself has said, condemning sexist and inappropriate behaviour should not be unusual, it should simply be the norm. Sad that it has reached critical acclaim because we are so unused to people in positions of power speaking to these issues in such a compelling and genuine way. But not sad that this voice was male. The legitimacy of a man’s voice in the debate on issues of inequality he has not directly experienced (and arguably informed by a small minority of women) often comes into question. Undoubtedly a subject for a broader and more complex debate, suffice to say that gender equality is about men and women. It is about changing a culture that we are all part of, and there is equal place for men and women to have a voice in that space. For a man already glittering with honours, as Sheryl Sandberg wrote it is “a badge of honour for men to sponsor women.”
So though there may not be enough voices, the choir is being heard. By the close of the conference, 155 countries had signed a declaration to end impunity for rape in war. Australia was one of these signatories. A declaration that was long overdue, and perhaps largely symbolic in nature, but a continuation of slow progress nonetheless. Morrison’s YouTube video has now reached 1.5 million hits, and no doubt this conference will see it receive a few more, as people outside of Australia start to wonder about the serious-looking man in uniform sitting beside Angelina Jolie. The man behind the microphone saying in a thick Australian accent “I’m no sociologist…but I’m certain of this…we live in a world where squandering women’s talent, the traducing of potential, is a global disgrace.” Though Julia Gillard’s own YouTube sensation currently stands at 2.5 million views, I’m sure that Julia is hoping he’ll soon catch her.
We’d like to applaud Equinox for making this change and realizing – crazy as it may seem – that women work out for other reasons than just being “sexy”. We work out for our physical health, our mental health, to be better athletes, and to live better lives. And, YES, sometimes we work out to be “sexy” – but let’s be clear – your definition of sexy isn’t the same as ours. (stilettos on stairmasters? breaking all the rules of pool? #whodoesthat?)
We’re proud to have been a part of this conversation and we hope Equinox and other organizations take the time to think through the impact of their ad campaigns and not just their shock or sex-selling value . Promoting physical and mental health means more customers, doesn’t it?
Health sells too.
I didn’t grow up in a household with abuse, or hierarchy or judgement. I didn’t grow up in a tough neighborhood, or a big city. When my Ken doll’s legs broke off, I built him a wheelchair out of Legos, so he and Barbie could still go on adventures together. I was the kind of kid who didn’t see limits, or black and white, or social status.
So some days it’s shocking to me just how changed I am, from the little girl who wanted to be the President, hated dresses, and didn’t know a single curse word or what it meant to be “cool”. (Somebody literally had to explain to me what it meant to be cool in second grade). I feel like I fell straight out of a movie – I grew up on a different continent, but somehow ended up assimilating into a plastic culture that I can’t even comprehend.
Some days I am blessed enough to not see it, or have to think about it. Some days it hits me in the face, over and over again like three tons of bricks. My life has been a training in how to be one of the cool crowd, but I certainly didn’t start there.
I remember being in elementary school when I was little, and playing by myself most of the time. I was a nice kind by all accounts (especially my mother’s), but for some reason the other kids thought I was weird. The girls didn’t like me very much, I think mostly because I wasn’t afraid of anything; that and, I didn’t care one bit about what I wore or how I looked. I liked to play soccer and tag, and swing high and sing freely. The other girls liked to play with my-little-ponies on the play ground. The boys didn’t want to play basketball with a girl. I quickly learned what it took to be “cool”. Play house with the girls sometimes, and don’t object when they say “No, you can’t be the hunter. The Daddy hunts.” Don’t block any of the boy’s shots on the court, they hate “being stuffed by a girl”. And most especially, don’t tell your second grade teacher that a group of seven first-grade boys pushed you down and kicked you until your nose bled, because you asked if you could play soccer with them. She won’t care, you shouldn’t be playing with the boys anyway.
Needless to say, elementary school was like an alien planet to me. But, I’m a quick study. Just a few grades later I was drawing hearts on my text books with boy’s names inside, and shopping at the cool stores in the mall. I found a few girls who liked to play sports too, and a few boys who didn’t mind competing with a girl. Middle school was a different story (it always is). One of the first days of class a note was being passed around about me. “Doesn’t she know she’s supposed to take the board out of the shirt before she puts it on?” Yes, I was flat chested. I only let it bother me a little, but I longed to be beautiful and have breasts that boys noticed (gag). I had boyfriends in junior high and one or two in high school, but for the most part I found myself blissfully outside the high drama of dating and sex, and finding meaning in what boys thought of me.
It’s amazing how quickly you learn the rules of the game in college. Frat boys will be frat boys, and sorority girls play their parts. After those four years go by in a drunken haze, you learn the rules of the real world. Find husband – get the biggest diamond you can out of him – have ridiculously expensive wedding – be “happy”.
When I look back at my five year-old self, I sometimes wonder what she would think of who I’ve become. In the last twenty-five years I’ve learned how to be “cute” so guys will like me. I’ve learned how to navigate the work place as a competent, but still demure young woman. I’ve taken sexual harassment and everyday sexism in stride. I’ve plucked my eyebrows, waxed all sorts of things, spent excessive amounts of cash on clothes, and starved myself on occasion so I’ll look good in photos.
But I’ve also stood up for myself countless times. I’ve stood by others who’ve needed my help. I’ve been kind and kept myself free of many of the judgements that society has tried to brainwash me with. I’ve been assertive (though, probably not enough). I’ve taken risks (not nearly enough). I’ve chosen relationships with good partners. I’ve surrounded myself with strong friends who support me. I’ve also spent a lot of time thinking about my place as a woman in the world, what I want, and how I can help other women achieve their goals.
Still, I think five-year-old me would be a bit disappointed. Did I just let someone bully me? Did I just brush off something that made me uncomfortable? Did I just “let it slide” when someone made an outrageously sexist comment in front of me, because I didn’t want to be “uncool”?
I want to be a person my five-year-old self would be proud of. My life has been a training in how to be one of the crowd, but I certainly didn’t start there. So now I’m trying to find my way back.
A fraternity at Georgia Tech has emailed their brothers a guide to “luring rapebait”. Somehow their tag line “no raping” is supposed to absolve them of the steps they propose to disrespect, degrade, and defile women.
“A short guide consist of the 7 E’s of HOOKING UP! 1. Encounter (spot a girl or group of girls) 2. Engage (go up and talk to them) 3. Escalate (ask them to dance, or ask them to go up to your room or find a couch, depending on what kind of party) 4. Erection (GET HARD) 5. Excavate (should be self-explanatory) 6. Ejaculate (should also be self explanatory) 7. Expunge (send them out of your room and on their way out when you are finished. IF ANYTHING EVER FAILS, GO GET MORE ALCOHOL.”
Check out the article:
As if rape culture doesn’t exist…
The billboard has come down!
Whether or not the gym took it down “as scheduled” or our little-petition-that-could made a difference – it’s a win for the Bethesda community. A great thanks to all those that have signed, written, called, quit, and stood up against sexism. It may be a “small” victory, but we can’t sit by and expect change to happen all by itself.
Victory is sweet, but there is much more to do. The goal now will be to make sure that Equinox doesn’t put up a new billboard that is equally offensive or worse. We’ll be keeping an eye on Equinox, among other habitual offenders, and if you’d like to stay informed follow/like us on Twitter/Facebook/Tumblr/Wordpress.
Thanks again, and Congratulations!!
Sexism is easy to point out when it’s overt, in-your-face, and/or public. It’s much harder to identify when it’s subtle, implied or routine. While many of the most blatant forms of sexism have been diminished in our culture, we are inundated each day with a different form of sexism. It may subtle but it’s no less insidious. It’s in our schools, on TV, and demonstrated at the highest levels of government – when women and men are boxed into gender roles, hypersexualized, or degraded for their sex. It doesn’t help that this more subtle sexism is seemingly everywhere we turn. It’s overwhelming, but is still often hard to identify. Where do we draw the line between sexy and sexist in advertising? When does appreciation of beauty (female or male) become objectification? How do the images and stereotypes of the super-thin female model, and super-buff male action star shape our perception of gender?
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” Margaret Mead
It’s been 7 days since the launch of Sexism Matters.
In that time:
- we’ve inspired almost 900 thoughtful citizens to support our petition against Equinox Fitness’ sexist billboard in Bethesda.
- we’ve seen this discussion blossom in new forums, large and small, all over the world.
- we’ve heard from supporters and detractors, and started a real dialogue about sexism in our society.
- we’ve just gotten started.
We may be starting small, but every step counts. Sexism isn’t always blatant, intentional, or newsworthy, but even in its smallest form it diminishes the capacity of our society. There is much to do, and we’re up to the challenge.
Dear Adin and Judy:
I understand that you are the managers for the Equinox Gym in Bethesda.
Two weeks ago I was in Bethesda and saw the billboard posted prominently on the facade of your fitness spa.
I was struck with the following thought: what in the world is this trying to sell – A billiard parlor or an escort service?
While I am sure you are more than aware of a petition being circulated which stresses the concern that it is a sexist and degrading image, I have a more important question.
If you are trying to advertise the merits and benefits of your very high end fitness center/spa, then an image that reflects that would be a better idea. I would suggest that Equinox replace the current puzzeling billboard with something a bit more tasteful and more reflective of the business Equinox is in.
If you want to feature “hot bodies” then do so in a way that shows what business you are in – feature them in fitness wear that feature how toned and sexy the physique is. Your company clearly has the high end marketing budget that could do it in a way that I am sure would be artful and sexy without going into the territory of being skanky.
However, if what Equinox means to advertise that the facility has pool tables or that Equinox also offers escort services, then by all means, keep the sign.
Dear Adin and Judy,
I would like to express my distaste and disappointment at the sexist advertisement at the Bathesda Equinox Gym. This advertisement is degrading to women and should be removed immediately. Not only has the image absolutely nothing to do with fitness, it promotes the dangerous idea that women have to be sexy and scantily clad to be considered beautiful. The photo of a muscular female athlete would have been a far more positive image to promote and I hope that you replace your advertising as soon as possible.