UPDATED: The woman behind the campaign to sack Kyle Sandilands

Emily Hehir

UPDATE: Kyle Sandilands released an “open letter” to the media on Friday afternoon in which he said he had reacted “badly” to criticism of his Channel Seven TV special by news.com.au.

“I took my remarks too far and for that – and the offence caused to [journalist] Alison Stephenson and those exposed to my comments – I sincerely apologise,” he said.

“I regret the impact this has had on our clients and our hard-working staff, who have had to weather a storm of criticism in the media and on social networks.”

You can read more here.

As radio network Austereo surveys its own listeners about their thoughts on Kyle Sandilands, and as the show broadcast yet another tasteless rant about ‘killing a tranny’ from a listener, the woman who started the petition to boycott Kyle Sandilands has this to say:

Everything I have learned about being a successful woman I have learned from the media. As a girl forging an identity in this world, hoping to be approved and loved, I looked to strong narratives of women in our mainstream media for inspiration.

From Ship to Shore, to Dolly magazine, to the way the local newspaper wanted to style my photo when I was successful in my V.C.E, the media has taught me there is a space to be successful as a woman in our society.

Of course, it is a very specific space. Strong, but soft. Engaging, but not too serious. Intelligent but witty. Ambitious but not overbearing. Sexy but not slutty. Confident but not a bitch. Funny but not silly. Gorgeous but can hang with the guys. Thin, but fit.

Thin.

Above all, thin.

It is easy to learn how to become this girl: just look around! Stories of her and her success are everywhere, in the narrow narratives of women and the way their worth and successes are measured. The media have low tolerance of any woman who is not her, and so she dominates. Unless you embody this generated stereotype of success then around every corner is a reminder that: “You are not good enough”. In my experience, there is so much proof it cripples even the brightest and strongest of young women.

This week I also learned some crucial lessons from our media about how not to be a successful woman.

I learned a successful woman certainly doesn’t pass a judgement or express an opinion about a man. If she did, like journalist Ali Stephenson, she might end up being called a ‘fat, bitter thing’ or a ‘little troll’ by someone like Kyle Sandilands.

Much easier, isn’t it, for a women to stay inside that safe little space, where she can’t be targeted and hunted down? Easier to strive to be the type of ‘successful woman’ who will simply giggle, like Jackie O? Then at least she can be content that by striving to be palatable to us all, she is not vulnerable to criticism and rejection.

But Kyle and Jackie are just one slice of a much larger media machine that constructs for us the collective notion of “the successful woman”. And it would be a shame if the furore about Sandilands distracted us from the bigger issue of the impact of narrow representations of women in the media, particularly on younger generations.

So how do we begin to expand our understanding of a successful woman, and silence intolerance of anything other than ‘thin and pretty’?

We must make it clear to companies who promote and associate with these archaic attitudes that we won’t stand for it. This week I joined with over 26,000 others, calling on advertisers to boycott the Kyle and Jackie O show as long as it provided a platform for bullying, abuse and misogyny. The extraordinary public reaction to the petition I created – and the ensuing exodus of advertisers – shows that it will be harder and harder for brands to get away with perpetuating the lowest common denominator.

We must also start conversations that promote the infinite ways of being a “success” – and there are so many ways to create and promote these authentic narratives that don’t rely on stereotypes. We can start by encouraging compassion: towards ourselves and each other. We are so indoctrinated into criticising women that it is almost subconscious. Foster the beauty of diversity, nuance and imperfection in whatever way you can. The more it is honoured the more legitimacy it will have in our society.

We must also challenge the mainstream media to do better. Show us women who are courageous or smart, and not just as the subplot to their physical beauty. We have a responsibility to demand more from the media – if not for ourselves then for the younger women watching and listening – and challenge the attitudes that underpin the content on our airwaves. Attitudes that lead to a man thinking it is legitimate to pass judgment on national radio on the worth of a woman’s opinion based on her ‘titty’.

It’s unlikely Kyle Sandilands will ever truly change – whether he has an audience or not, he will probably continue to believe that he has the right to denigrate any woman that falls outside the pretty, skinny and submissive caricature.

The real opportunity is to raise the standards of the media as a whole.

If that happens, it might be possible to create the space for our own version of success – a space where our daughters have the mental and spiritual energy and capacity to live into their true potential, free from the stereotyped straightjacket the mainstream media tries to force them into.

Where do we go from here? How do you change the media?

Emily Hehir is a Melbourne law graduate and organiser of TEDxParkvilleWomen, an independently organised TED event. She was the creator of a petition on Change.org that more than 27,000 people have signed calling for an advertising boycott of the Kyle and Jackie O Show.

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