Yesterday was one of those days. A day that pierced the wall of false contentment and well-being. It started like any other day, listening to the ABC, going to the gym, attending to a few chores and putting off overdue work on a novel I’ve been working on for far too long.
My awakening came in the form of a washing repair man. Large and jolly and on time for a promised ‘later in the morning’ house call. Efficient and competent he fixed the ailing washer in no time and presented me with the account. I decided to pay him on the spot and went searching for my wallet. It was during this time that my husband appeared from his study.
‘All finished’ he asked the tradesman.
‘Yep, that’ll keep her off your back mate.’ My husband looked a bit uncomfortable and I chose to ignore the remark. I then asked my husband if he had smaller notes as I didn’t have the correct amount. He reached for his wallet on the bench and the tradesman grinned at him.
‘You’ll never get that back from her mate.’ The repairman chuckled. I then handed him the money.
‘Good girl.’ he said and grinned.
I haven’t heard this language for a long time. And yet the guy wasn’t rude and he wasn’t unpleasant, he obviously liked a joke but he didn’t have a clue about the impact of his sexist language and how that might have felt for me. Now, I’m not shy of standing up for myself and being assertive when I have to be but what was the point, this man obviously had no idea.
The washing machine was back in action. The day raced by and before we knew it we were settled in watching Q and A for what is usually informative, entertaining and sometimes controversial television viewing. Then the unravelling began. An audience member asked a question regarding domestic violence. He used his own very sad and sensitive story relating to his own sister being murdered in very recent times, to highlight the serious and horrendous issues relating to gender issues and family violence. The young man also asked if the recent events of a male sporting panel headed up by prominent businessman and sporting club identity on television, may have negated attitudes toward women.
One of the panelists, a Melbourne veteran radio broadcaster responded, in my view, in a very insensitive manner. He ignored the basis of the question and focused on supporting his male counter-parts and described the incident as having been blown out of proportion. He claimed it was just a ‘bunch of blokes’ joking. It was clearly obvious that he ‘didn’t get it’ and moved to defending his mates. I thought it was disgraceful, so did many in the audience. The young man whose sister was murdered and who has raised the question held his head in his hand.
It was then that a female panelist, who happened to be a feminist newspaper journalist took him to task. She articulated the values that drive language and behaviour that demean women and give rise to aggressive and violent behaviour. She made her point with strength and conviction backed up by knowledge and intellect, she also took some time to deliver her message, she would not be silenced. He, the broadcaster then turned to her and accused her of ‘being hysterical’!
‘Hysteria’ is to my knowledge, a historically oppressive term used for women who spoke out, stood up for their rights and objected to the dis-empowerment of their times. Some women were institutionalised and locked up under the term of being deemed ‘hysterical’. A very demeaning and silencing phrase.
There was obvious shock and belief in the studio and I suspect in homes around the nation, well especially of decent, thinking and informed people.
I remember thinking at the time, ‘this is 2016, I can’t believe what I’m hearing.’ But, you know, I can sort of believe it at some level. I’m not sorry to say that I mainly mix with people who have a reasonable understanding of sexist issues so I when I’m confronted with blatant language and behaviour that I thought was outdated I’m taken aback somewhat. So what is it that drives men to continue this unpopular and destructive behaviour?
In my view sometimes its ignorance, other times arrogance as well and there’s no prize for guessing the categories of the examples I give above. Entitlement plays a big role in this and underpins attitudes that have existed for centuries. But nevertheless its the combination of ignorance, arrogance and entitlement that perpetuates sexist and demeaning behaviour toward women. No, it is not okay, it’s dumb, it’s offensive and it’s dangerous and maintains and drives gender values that lead to violence and dis-empowerment of women.
It is 2016 but I’m not sure how far we have come.