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The curious thing that happened when Mamamia published this photo.

 

By AMY STOCKWELL

Last week, Julia Gillard came to visit the Mamamia office. Being visited by Australia’s first female PM is a pretty exciting thing, so we posted a picture to celebrate the occasion:

What we didn’t expect was the commentary that the photo immediately received.

Such as this tweet, which was prompted by a previous article Buzzfeed Australia did about the male-dominated workplace at Triple M:

Which then kicked off a debate. A debate which included tweets like this one:

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And this:

Over on Facebook, some readers found it hypocritical that a proudly feminist website would employ so many women:

And some readers found the photo confusing:

For the record: we do have men who work at Mamamia.

But the number of males in our office is not the point. The vast number of employees here are women. This is a fact that, as an organisation, makes us proud.

But that doesn’t mean that MM senior management indulges in concerted discrimination against men, which is often perversely called “reverse sexism”.

It doesn’t happen because “reverse sexism” is not a Thing. “Reverse sexism” is an ignorant phrase that lacks any basis in reality. It is also a claim that is used to paper-over serious systemic issues in this country, to silence women and to divert the course of important conversations (like, say, an interview with Australia’s first female PM degrading into a spat about the number of women in the room).

Here’s Mamamia’s Publisher and founder talking about it:

Even the phrase “reverse sexism” is ridiculous. The reverse of sexism is equality – it’s not discrimination against men. We actually want to reverse sexism. Training, appointing and promoting women is an excellent way to do that. So reverse sexism all you want, dudes. Wind it right back.

Claims of “reverse sexism” tend to be made where something happens that looks like it might marginalise men or a man (“That picture of Mamamia staff only has women in it!”) in a society where the vast majority of structures and events marginalise women.

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The gender wage gap in this country is now the largest it has been in 20 years. While a few more women are now making their way onto ASX200 boards (17.6 per cent in 2014 up from eight per cent in 2008), the last Census of Women in Leadership found that the last decade has seen a “negligible change for females in [CEO and] executive ranks”.

Despite more women participating in the paid workforce than ever before, women on average have little more than half the superannuation of men at retirement age.

And while Australia’s richest person is a woman, women are now more likely to slip into poverty later in life.

This is what sexism looks like. This is systemic gender discrimination.

It is not the story of one grievance. It is not about one person getting paid more than another. It is not a picture of a workplace filled with women. Sexism is the sustained and damaging misuse of power that has resulted in disadvantage faced by half the population.

Yes, they exist. Some of  men who work in the Mamamia offices. 

If an employer says, “where two candidates are of equal quality, I’m going to choose the woman”, that’s not sexism. That’s redressing a significant imbalance and recognising a powerful and destructive history of male dominance in the workplace. In the same way, it is not “reverse racism” to appoint an indigenous person, or “reverse discrimination” to employ a person with a disability. It is fixing something that is very wrong in our society. This doesn’t mean men are missing out – they are just competing fairly with everyone else in a way that they haven’t had to in the past.

This is not to minimise the struggles that men face in our society. There are many people in this country doing it tough – men and women. But there’s no point in trying to engage in a Discrimination Derby and attempt to outdo each other with stories of oppression and prejudice. Playing these games does a deep disservice to those who, in fact, suffer real and lasting discrimination every day.

If “reverse sexism” has no basis in fact, why do men get so riled up when they see a photo of a workplace dominated by women?

The truth is that people with power like it. And they don’t want to lose it.

So if you looked at that photo yesterday of a workplace where women outnumber men and it made you uncomfortable, angry or jealous, then I say: good.

Because now you know what women experience every day in the majority of Australian workplaces.

What’s the gender-balance like in your workplace? 

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