Tag Archives: sexism

Flexing my mussel

15 Oct

WARNING: this post contains images of shellfish and flowers that some readers may find confronting

I’m not at all disturbed by the disgraced Peter Slipper likening my lady bits to a shellfish, in one of many private text messages sent to his then new friend James Ashby.

For a start, as I have often said, one overlooks the insult (if indeed we confer on this text message the status of insult) on considering the source, and chooses not to waste one’s time and energy getting exercised about it.

Secondly, the comment is hardly original. Women’s genitals have been likened to fish of one kind or another many times before. Does anyone recall that scene in Bliss, the Peter Carey novel turned film, in which sardines cascade from Bettina Joy’s vagina? Yes. Well. Is it a boy thing?

For myself, I’m more inclined towards the Georgia O’Keeffe visual analogies such as this one:

But hey, whatever floats your fishing boat.

On the other hand, I find Opposition leader Tony Abbott’s comments on women profoundly disturbing. For example:

It would be folly to expect that women would ever approach equal representation in a large number of areas simply because their aptitudes, their abilities and interests are different for physiological reasons. 


The problem with the Australian practice of abortion is that an objectively grave matter has been reduced to a question of the mother’s convenience… Even those who think that abortion is a woman’s right should be troubled by the fact that 100,000 Australian women choose to destroy their unborn babies every year… When it comes to lobbying local politicians, there seems to be far more interest in the treatment of boat people, which is not morally black and white, than in the question of abortion, which is.

Why anyone would spend five minutes of their time worrying about how immature men describe female genitalia when we have an aspiring Prime Minister who thinks like this about women, is a mystery to me.

Then there is the semantic quarrel about the difference between sexism and misogyny. You don’t have to hate women to be sexist, apparently, but you do have to hate us to be a misogynist. Why do I not feel consoled by this distinction?

And let’s not forget hatred can take many forms. It does not have to be overt. It adapts itself readily to many guises. If I am treated as inferior because of my sex, as Mr Abbott suggests, am I to feel better about this if it is described to me as sexism rather than misogyny? Surely sexism is an expression of misogyny?

Tony Abbott has three daughters. He feels their virginity is their most  precious gift. He reduces his daughters to a hymen, a reduction I would argue denies them their full  humanity, as so many of Abbott’s statements about women deny us our full humanity.

What we need to ask is do we want a Prime Minister whose default position is to deny women our full humanity?

And why would he want to do this if he doesn’t hate us, however well that hatred may be disguised?

The REAL Gillard hypocrisy

11 Oct

In the brouhaha about sexism and misogyny, the passing of legislation to reduce single parent payments to the Newstart allowance when a child reaches the age of eight has gone comparatively unremarked.

The government will save some 700 million dollars through slashing up to one hundred dollars a fortnight off payments to about 150,00 single parents,the majority of whom are women.

With no evidence to support the theory, the government believes that forcing single parents into poverty and charity handouts will increase their ability to find work.

At the very least, one would expect that before taking this drastic action the government might have commissioned a study, an inquiry, a report, a something into what actually happens to people when you take away what little they already have. Off the top of my head I’d guess it makes them desperate. I’d guess it makes them depressed. Neither are states of mind conducive to taking charge of one’s life and neither are states of mind conducive to the best parenting.

Common sense would suggest that the way to get single parents off benefits and into the workforce is not to first reduce them and their children to crippling poverty.  The “we will make you and your children homeless and hungry and then you’ll get a job, won’t you” approach is punitive, classist and I believe sexist.

I have no idea what the ALP stands for anymore. I have no idea what kind of a feminist Julia Gillard is when she delivers passionate speeches about misogyny and sexism while at the same time making life so much more difficult for some of the most vulnerable women in society.

If ever we were to plead “Somebody think of the children!” then now would be the time. Because it will be the children of single parents who will suffer most as a consequence of the Gillard government’s cuts.

So Ms Gillard can make as many fancy speeches as she likes about misogyny and sexism, while she’s willing to condemn women and children to living on a Newstart allowance that almost nobody considers even remotely adequate, just to achieve a budget surplus, her words are little more than a noisy bell and a clanging cymbal, full of sound and fury and signifying nothing.

The footballer & the anti porn campaigner: not cool as FCUK

6 May

On Melinda Tankard Reist’s website today you’ll find this article about AFL footballer Lance “Buddy” Franklin. Franklin has another job as well as football: he is co-director of clothing company Nena & Pasadena. This company apparently specialises in tee-shirts featuring women in exaggerated sexual poses, sometimes handcuffed, and partially clothed. There’s often a slogan or two, in case we haven’t managed to interpret the images.

Reist asks: “What message does this clothing send N&P’s target market of young men about women?”

What message does this send about women?

Reist’s answer is that the message conveyed by Buddy’s shirts is that women are sexual objects, not human beings. She feels the images degrade us.  I don’t read it that way. To me, the shirts say nothing much at all about women, and everything about the fantasy lives of those who design, produce and wear them. These shirts say nothing about who women are, and everything about what the men who wear them want us to be.

I don’t believe another person’s fantasies degrade me. They don’t reflect on me in any way at all. This is what we need to teach our young. You aren’t what somebody else imagines you are. As we’re never going to control anyone’s imagination and ought not to try,  we need to focus on educating children to refuse the imposition of other people’s fantasies on their sense of who they are. It’s not rocket surgery. It’s being proactive. It requires us to dump the language of victimisation and replace it with the language of empowerment. We are in dire need of this paradigm change.

At this point I’ll refer you to this horribly sexist vintage ads site. While there’s definitely less flesh and far less overt sexual imagery, the message is the same. These ads are also a reflection of the desires and fantasies of some men, and say nothing much at all about women. They do say a great deal about a dynamic that remains consistent. These ads, like Buddy’s shirts, cast women in an inferior and tiresome role. We may have our clothes on in the vintage ads, but they are only a variation of Buddy’s fantasies.

When we protest that these images degrade and objectify us, we give them the power to do exactly that. There are always two sensibilities involved in the interpretation of any text: that of its author and that of its reader. As a reader I’m free to conclude that the text is not about me. It’s all about the author. I’m free to refuse the author’s construction of my sexuality, a construct based on the author’s desires. Why should I grant anyone that power over me?

Personally, I’ve never been attracted to clothing featuring pictures and advertising: I’m not a billboard. Even if such clothing isn’t pushing a brand, it is self-revealing: by my clothes you’ll know me. There are occasions like demonstrations, conferences when it feels good to state my position through what I’m wearing, and cartoonist First Dog on the Moon’s shirts I’ll wear anytime.

That said I do have a couple of FCUK tee-shirts, one that says “Cool as FCUK” and another proclaiming “Lucky FCUK,” neither of which I would be caught dead in outside the house, but that’s just me.

Reist then asks: “What does it say about men and women when clothed men wear t-shirts of naked women?”

A man who feels the need to wear an image of a naked woman on his tee-shirt is making a statement or a series of statements about himself, about his opinions of women, about his attitude to women. Such clothing says nothing about “men and women.” It says some things about some men. Again, women are not obliged to join such men in their fantasies and desires. We are not demeaned and objectified unless we accept the wearer’s world view. Unless we allow that world view to construct us and so become complicit in our own victimisation and dehumanisation.

That being said, I have no problem with letting Buddy know his tee-shirts say everything about him, and nothing about women, and what he’s saying about himself is pretty crap. I’ve no problem passing that message onto the shops that stock his wares, either. That’s the easy part. The hard part is changing the paradigm from first accepting then protesting victimisation, to refusal of men like Buddy’s interpretations of women and our sexuality in the first place. We do this by giving our children the tools they need to resist believing they are what somebody else says they are, and that they have to be what somebody else wants them to be. We’re never going to stop the Buddies but we can disempower them. We refuse the victimisation in the first place, then we don’t have to waste our energies protesting it.

Buddy, your tee-shirts reveal some weird things about you. You might want to think about that, mate.

Warning: this piece contains profanities and is not for the squeamish.

2 Nov

Just to let you know, in a remarkable coincidence I just this minute heard that “coarse language” is the discussion on ABC’s Radio National Interest program this evening at 6pm. Finger on the pulse, Sheep. Finger on the pulse.

Whenever I hear a man called a cunt I experience a disturbing frisson of indignation, as if my territory has been encroached upon by colonisers lacking any pretence to gender sensibility.

Please take note. A man cannot be a cunt. A man can be a prick or a dickhead but he cannot be a cunt. This is common sense. Nobody should have to be taught that only a woman can be a cunt.

On the other hand, women can’t be pricks and dickheads. This is the natural fucking order of things, people.

Now, if you have a situation in which an individual has undergone sexual reassignment you can then have a man who is a cunt, but a late-onset cunt. Likewise you can have a woman who is a late onset prick and dickhead. Simple.

In the case of non gendered people they can be cuntpricks, or prickcunts, and they can choose for themselves which sex they’ll accord priority at any given time.

Anybody can be a motherfucker provided they have a little imagination.

Why we don’t have fatherfuckers I don’t know, but it’s about time we did.

Then there’s no restrictions on cocksucker, that belongs to everybody.

I’m aware that the word cunt is regarded as more insulting than prick when applied to a man, suggesting as it does that as well as being a fucking dickhead bastard motherfucker, he has qualities society genders as female that are not considered honourable when they manifest in a human male. This is sexist bullshit and everybody needs to get over it. If we have to use our genitals to abuse one another, and it seems that we do, let’s be accurate about it.

As a woman, I think it is a little sad that men haven’t come up with an obscenity of their own to convey ultimate contempt, and have had to resort to co-opting female genitalia to do the job for them. It really doesn’t work, because everybody knows it’s stupid, and  biologically impossible. I’m not generally a fan of biological essentialism but in this specific instance it fucking well matters.

Personally, I’m rather fond of the term rat fucker and I learned that from Kevin Rudd when he said at Copenhagen that the Chinese were rat fucking him on climate change. Men could take that for their own and leave cunt where it belongs. I mean, how much lower can you go than fucking rats?

We’ve come a long way, baby: 25 horribly sexist ads

26 May

25 horribly sexist ads is worth a look if you’re interested in making comparisons of how things used to be and how they are now in the depiction of women in the world of advertising.

Copy such as “Every husband wants his wife to be feminine” in an ad for Demure liquid douche, not to mention Lysol as a remedy for vaginal germs. If you don’t attend to them your husband will reject you and you’ve only got yourself to blame, smelly.

Then there’s the ad for the sturdy Volkswagon’s resistance to dents inevitably inflicted by the wife:  “Women are soft and gentle but they hit things.”

My personal favourite is the man with his foot on a woman’s head. Her body, BTW, has been transformed into a tiger skin rug. Wow.

So, are things better or worse for women in the world of advertising? Is it better to be portrayed as a vaginally stinky, germ-ridden bad tempered car smasher who wants a Hoover for Christmas, but on the bright side, knows how to open a sauce bottle by herself, or half naked in your underwear, spreading your legs, sucking on a lollypop and miming an insatiable desire for a penis in every orifice?

Danged if I know.

Do as we say, not as we do: the moral code of the censors

27 Feb

Talk about hypocrisy!

In the above link to a post titled ‘Surrounded by a culture in which girls are all body and only body’ Melinda Tankard Reist objects to Lea Michele, star of hit television show Glee, appearing on the cover of Cosmo showing cleavage. Michele is in her twenties, BTW, and the dress is unremarkable.

Such appearances, claims MTR, teach girls that the only thing that matters is what they look like, and that it’s of prime importance that they look “sexy.” Who they are and what they do is subjugated to the imperative to cultivate and flaunt their sexual power.

All well and good.

So how  does MTR feel about her fellow campaigner, (who also trains those recalcitrant footballers in how to respect women)and frequent contributor to her website Nina Funnell, appearing in Cosmo October 2010, wearing a sexy mask, and stilletos  with slave girl ankle bands? (About as “offensive” as the cleavage shot.)

The occasion was a competition to find the year’s most influential woman. But before Cosmo selected contestants for their career and personal achievements, they first had to pass the Cosmo “look” test.

Every woman in the competition is styled within an inch of her life. There are no mature aged women. Odd, if we’re looking for influential role models. They are all slim, have good hair, teeth, and legs, and some of them show a great deal of thigh. As much if not more than we see of Lea Michele’s breasts.

by Clee Villasor via flickr

The women’s faces are partially covered in glamorous masks, I really don’t know why. The glamourous mask usually implies the possibility of anonymous sexual encounter. So what does that sexual implication have to do with being influential, and a mentor to young women?

‘Surrounded by a culture in which girls are all body and only body’, you might say, seeing as how they look is the most important consideration in this competition, and if they don’t have the look, they don’t get to enter, no matter how much they’ve achieved in their lives.

Not a peep from the Tank about this travesty. Maybe because her fellow campaigner is one of the stars?

Bottom line, the Cosmo competition is way more destructive than the Michele cleavage shot. The competition pretends to be about a woman’s achievements. But it’s really only about the achievements of a handful of women who have the right look. If you don’t have the look, forget it. No matter what you achieve you’ll never be a Cosmo influential woman of the year.

Flesh eating coffins and women in masks

28 Dec

by Rochus Wolff, flickr

Seeking respite from the Assange material last week, I opened an article in ABC’s The Drum irresistibly titled “Who says female corpses aren’t sexy?” written by Melinda Tankard Reist.

The article turned out to be the author’s objections to a 30 second video clip teaser of rapper Kanye West’s latest song. The author describes the video clip as “gendered violence”, and claims it is fetishizing “female pain, female passivity, female suffering and female silence.”

Tankard-Reist continues:

Expect to hear boys singing along to it soon. This is the message they are imbibing:

Women are slaves and bitches who can service a man’s sexual needs, even in death. Men are brutal and dominant, and have no empathy for women. Men enjoy dead women as sex and entertainment. The female body is to be devoured, reduced to the same status as meat. Female bodies should be displayed before men as a great feast for their consumption.

That was quite a lot to glean from a 30 second video clip, I thought admiringly.

But then it turned peculiar. I read: Then there’s these lines: “I put the p-ssy in the sarcophagus” (which, in case you’re wondering, is a flesh eating coffin) …”

What? I shouted, though I was alone except for the dog.  A flesh-eating coffin? How can that be?

And anyway, what about all those pharaohs buried in sarcophagi who when disinterred still had their flesh?

Dried, maybe, but certainly not eaten.

I then made my next mistake. I got onto the Comments. I used a pen name I’m not stupid enough to let these people know who I am. Quite quickly I became an embattled defender fighting off a full frontal feminist attack. (They said they were feminists but they aren’t like any feminists I know and love).

You’re pro male, they told me. Why aren’t you pro woman?

I’m actually pro human I replied. And there’s no such thing as flesh eating coffins, I added. You aren’t doing your credibility any good adding in rubbish stuff like that for effect, I told them.

You need to read Susan Faludi, they said.

I’d rather have needles in my eyes than RE-read Susan Faludi, I replied.

She writes about people like you, they said, she says you pro male collaborators in the gender wars are Uncle Toms.

Really, I replied. A few years back radical feminists used to say a “pro male” woman had a pr**k in her head. That was far more picturesque, I said. Dali-esque, in fact.

But the moderator didn’t publish that. They seem to have inconsistent moderating rules at The Drum. I can’t work them out. They let someone make nasty remarks about my “corrupted” children, and a few people got told they were sleazy pornographers who should crawl under stones and all that was published.

You people aren’t a feminist’s bootlace, I finally told the pro Melindas. Where are your manners?

(I refer to them as the pro Melindas because their posts included:

Melinda could be said to be awakening others to the suffering of women, and many have pilloried Melinda for her point of view, and Go Melinda! Many of us love and applaud you!)

Then someone posted the following:

What you need to know about this author:

1. She believes in god

2. She believes in flesh eating coffins

3. She’s up close with the Australian Christian Lobby.


Well. It was on then. Not a stone was left unturned. Derrida, Barthes, Picasso, Christians, lions, ethics, necrophilia, disclosure of religious affiliations, domestic violence, grandmothers, sex of all kinds, censorship, children, science, and the un dead; Madonna, archaic patriarchal religion, PhDs, Finns dancing, Finns singing, accusations of racism about Finns doing stuff; 70’s music, Tropic Thunder, Russian politics before the end of the cold war, corpses and raw meat. Oh, there was no stopping us. For four days and four nights we kept at it, we barely ate or slept. The ABC should award us with something.

The increasingly hostile exchanges between a pro Melinda poster and someone called Amazonia ended thus:

Pro Melinda Person: Those in favour of the video under discussion are getting fanatic. Now I’ll turn my thoughts to the homeless in our society and their extra plight with extreme temperatures about to begin.

Amazonia: I hope somebody warns them you’re coming.

The day before I succumbed to all that madness I had to go to the dentist. Uneasy in the waiting room, I picked up the October Cosmopolitan magazine as a distraction from what might be going to happen to me. I found that Cosmo are conducting a competition for the year’s most influential woman. The contestants were displayed in a three-page photo shoot. They were all young. Almost all of them wore killer stilettos, some with slave girl ankle bands. Most skirts were high on the thighs. The women wore masks, as if they were going to a masquerade ball or something much darker, and I think some of them were armed.

I studied these pages for a long time. It seemed to me that in order to be considered as eligible for this competition you first had to satisfy another set of criteria that has no obvious link to your ability to be influential and mentor young women.

I continued to think this through as the dentist apparently drilled into my brain. God moves in mysterious ways, and blessed distraction comes from the most unexpected places.

Now, I have nothing against killer heels, except when you watch someone trying to walk in them they inevitably lack grace, tilted as they are at an unmanageable degree from the earth. From behind, it’s not a good look. Wear them, darling, by all means. Just don’t try to walk in them. Maybe one of those nice men will carry you.

And I really am the last person on earth to tell anybody what she should or shouldn’t wear for any reason other than the aesthetic, and mostly not even then unless I know them very well.

But I do deeply object to the demand that before she can be considered to be influential, a woman must fit a certain physical profile.

This is the message sent to women who read Cosmopolitan. You can be as influential as you like. You can be an outstanding mentor to younger women. But if you don’t have the look, forget it. Whatever skills you’re offering, we aren’t buying.

I thought this was a pretty good example of mainstream objectification and denigration of women.

So, because I can be thick sometimes and not see what’s coming at me, I brought it up in the comments about the flesh eating coffin and the video clip.

Who are you to tell a woman what she can or can’t wear? The hostile forces howled back at me.

I suppose you want everybody to go round in a burka? They spat.

Stunned at how quickly I had become cast in the role of the clothes police, ousting the pro Melindas to whom it seemed quite naturally to belong, I didn’t reply for a few hours. I ate dinner, took the dog out, watched TV and thought that I really didn’t have to bother with these people any more. This last was encouraged by my household, which by now was heartily sick of me lurching obsessively from Assange to Melinda, and just wanted me to focus on buying their Christmas presents.

At bedtime, I couldn’t hold out any longer. I sat down and I wrote:

Well, I wasn’t saying what women should wear. I was just pointing out an example of sexism in a very popular women’s magazine. I thought it would be of interest to you as your goal is to eradicate sexism and the objectification of women. (Eradicate was their word, not mine. I objected to it on the grounds that it sounds like pest control).

You really need to stop lecturing people, replied one of the pro Melindas, and who wants to be in Cosmopolitan anyway?

What? I yelled at the dog, seeing as nobody else would talk to me about it.

Aren’t they supposed to be campaigning against sexism in the media?

Then I wrote: Well, if you’re going to be like that, who wants to be in a cruddy rap video, anyway either? Huh? And BTW does being pro male just mean you don’t want to kill them?

It’s been quite a year. Many of us are very tired.

P.S. It’s not over yet! Now a male poster has hit back: Just look at all the magazines in the supermarket talking about orgasms, he typed. Whose orgasms? Well, come on, whose orgasms? Women’s, he crowed triumphantly. Not men’s, oh no not men’s! All women’s!


This article first appeared in On Line Opinion, December 23 2010



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