by CHERIE DONNELLAN
This week, Melbourne University journalist student, now confirmed to be Sasha Burden, wrote a scathing review of her internship experience (read it HERE) with The Herald Sun newspaper which was published in her uni newspaper Farago.
It sparked a ferocious debate about the attitudes of both The Herald Sun newsroom and of the journalism industry as a whole.
Commenters on the media industry website Mumbrella were unimpressed and the gist of the reaction was pretty much this:
“So, the two big issues here are:The newsroom not treating work experience kids like seasoned, professional journalists; showing her some basic courtesies that they’d likely show anyone visiting the office. Can’t wait to see what happens when she gets an actual job!”
Yet, despite the field day I could have commenting on this (as a journalist myself), I won’t. Because there was one particular comment Ms Burden made that threw me.
Between lines documenting a senior journalist making discriminatory comments about transgender and homosexual people and other calling her “Champ” or “Kidlet”, she was also distressed by this:
“….men were also continuously and unnecessarily sexist, waiting for me to walk through doors and leave the elevator before them”.
The comment actually shocked me. I gawked at my computer screen, and checked that I had read the sentence correctly. Despite being a feminist (and proud of it) I have never had an issue with a man holding a door or elevator for me. I just see it as a nice gesture. Perhaps, because in my experience other women have paid the same courtesy, and I to them. But I was ultimately curious about whether I was alone in my opinion. So I turned to my colleagues and asked them (one male and one female) their thoughts.
As it were, my male colleague said he often held the door and waited to go through as a gentlemanly gesture. My female colleague, however, said it “frustrated” her and yes, it was sexist. I had never seen the sexist side but I was happy to consider the idea.
My male colleague made a poignant comment: “It will always be a subjective topic. I have been critisised by a woman for not doing it, and I have been critisised for doing it.”
He went on to say, that like me, he had extended the door/elevator-holding courtesy to a man, so he saw no issue with doing the same for a woman.
Meanwhile over on Mumbrella, where many were similarly shaking their heads at the idea of someone being offended by a man holding a door open for a woman, one commenter had this to say:
”I think you’ve missed the point….. men standing back and waiting for a young female intern to walk through doors first and leave elevators first, so they can leer at her arse like a bunch of depraved school boys, is not cool, or funny, or tolerable in the modern workplace. And if you’d like to argue it is, then good luck.”
To which someone responded:
Are you assuming that everyone who ever opened a door or waited aside for her to pass by only ever does that ‘…for a young female intern’? I always let everyone, no matter what gender, leave before me, holding doors open or back whenever there is someone else nearby.
My mother called this behaviour ‘good manners’ and I dread to anticipate her reaction if she saw me push my way ahead of others, even now. If you believe that every person who ever opens a door for someone else only does so to get a cheap perve, then I think that says much more about you than them.
The conversation enthralled me, and I can now see how a woman might see it as sexist. It almost surprised me that as a quite argumentative feminist, I have never found issue with it. But I’m still going to sit firmly on the side of “thank-you” and take it as what I believe is a just gentlemanly gesture. What I want to know is how you feel about it?
Over to you, ladies (and men, but I’d hate to discriminate). By pulling out a woman’s chair for her or opening a door, are men actually being sexist?
Cherie Donnellan is a Victorian journalist, twitterholic and occasional blogger. She hopes to one day own more shoes than Imelda Marcos. Follow her on twitter at @label_me_happy and read her blog at labelme-happy.blogspot.com