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BLOG: You can't fight something nobody will acknowledge.

It's been a good week for women.
It’s been a good week for women.

By MIA FREEDMAN

How many times can the words “deeply offensive to women” be said in a single week? I’ve lost track. The past few days have been astonishing, depressing, and exhausting as the news spews an avalanche of sexist incidents that range from the puerile to the grotesque.

The menu describing our PM’s most intimate body parts in explicit terms as though she is meat.

The Socceroos coach ‘joking’ that women should shut up in public.

The radio announcer questioning Julia Gillard about her sex life and her partner’s sexuality.

The defence force scandal revealing an organised network of more than 100 high ranking soldiers distributing obscene images of women they’ve had sex with along with graphic, revolting descriptions.

But you know what? I think it’s been a good week for women. And I say that without sarcasm.

Army Chief Lieutenant General David Morrison
Army Chief Lieutenant General David Morrison
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While like many people I’ve been left reeling by each successive story of sexism, I’ve also been strangely buoyed by one thing: we’re talking about it. We’re condemning those involved and we’re treating the topic as worthy of public debate.

There have been consequences. The radio announcer has been sacked. The socceroos coach was stalked by the media and forced to apologise in a humiliating press appearance.

The defence force chief David Morrison immediately stood down the main perpetrators of the email sex ring, gave a blistering smackdown to all those involved and delivered a ‘get out’ message to anyone in the ADF who thought sexism was acceptable.

A generation ago, none of these incidents would have even come to light let alone be condemned so resoundingly. They would have remained backroom jokes, implicitly condoned and without consequence. All at the expense of women.

I don’t believe for a moment that we’re seeing a sudden spike in sexism in this country. The jokes, the off-hand remarks, the dissemination of degrading material is nothing new.

What’s new is the way sexism is no longer being allowed to stay hidden in dark corners.

So why not? Quite simply, two things have changed.

The first is technology. What could once be kept in-house can no longer be contained. On the wings of social media and a voracious 24 hour news cycle, dodgy words and deeds can now immediately reach an audience of millions in minutes.

What happens in Vegas doesn’t stay in Vegas. It gets uploaded to Youtube.

Julia Gillard giving her amazing misogyny speech.
Julia Gillard giving her amazing misogyny speech.
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The second thing that’s reframed sexism is Julia Gillard. With her misogyny speech, she brought a word and an idea that was once confined to feminist circles into mainstream conversation.

Prime Ministers have the power and influence to do that. Whether you voted for them or not, the gravity of office means a Prime Minister can shape public thinking and help to reset attitudes.  John Howard did it with gun control. Kevin Rudd did it with the apology to the Stolen Generation.

And Julia did it with sexism. By calling out the sexism as she saw it in front of the parliament, the media and the world, she put it on the table. Shone a light on it. Suddenly, we were debating what sexism means. We were sharing our experiences. We were arguing about the definition of misogyny. And feminists were thrilled.

Because you can’t fight something nobody will acknowledge. The first step towards changing an attitude is to admit that attitude exists.

This is how societal standards of behaviour change. This is how we learned it wasn’t acceptable to pinch a woman on the bum at work.  And it’s not just sexism. Racism and homophobia have come under the same microscope in recent years.

The fact that the fall-out from ‘jokes’ about apes consumed public debate for a week is a GOOD thing. Because not long ago they would never have been newsworthy. Anyone who dared complain about such a thing would have been mocked and derided for having no sense of humour and condescendingly told not to get their knickers in a twist.

Not any more.

And whatever you think of Gillard and her politics, bringing sexism into the light in itself is not playing the ‘gender card’. It’s a community service and one that is clearly very much needed.

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