opinion

The truth about nice boys and sexism.

On YouTube, there’s an animation series called ‘Feminazi’. You heard of it? The episode #GlassCeiling scored over a million views. There are lots of other episodes: Feminazi Getting Owned. Feminazi Fail. Feminazi Gets Triggered. Feminazi gets Reckt.

Note the use of gaming language; usually the province of adolescent boys.

I scrolled through a few of these clips which tend to show plump, bespectacled, trouser-wearing ‘feminazis’ raging away about their rights and gripes to some passive cartoon-bloke. Most of these clips are accompanied by a male voice-over pointing out how extreme, hilarious, hysterical and irrational such women are.

I hear my 14-year-old son’s guffawing from his room and then he calls me in to watch one of these hilarious clips.

Jessica the Feminazi. Image via YouTube.

'I can’t believe you’re watching this crap!' I say.

'Calm down Mum, it’s just a joke,' he says.

'It is not a joke. It’s sexism. Don’t they teach you anything at that school of yours?'

'Okay, okay. I’m sorry. Stop taking it so seriously. It’s just funny.'

I’m furious. I should be calmer, more matter of fact. I have to stop with the lecturing and hectoring. The more I suggest it's contraband, the more he'll want to see it, right?

Jessica the Feminazi. Image via YouTube.
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What are our schools doing to engage with and challenge what students are getting out there about feminism? Is the orgy of misogyny on the net winning over what we are trying to teach within school hours? And aren’t commentators and social researchers constantly telling us that in order to change public opinion and behavior, it’s all about education?

I tell my son that I’m a feminist, that he comes from a long line of feminists and doesn’t he realize, by the way, that feminism is about equality and equity between the sexes. Oh, and that Feminazi is a word invented by sexists. I didn’t say sexist pigs. I mean, what am I, some kind of 70s second wave feminist or something?

'That’s so random,' he says. 'Who’d be against all that stuff? Now, can you please get out of my room?'

Here’s what I have to confront: sexism isn’t something that only exists amongst sociopathic, violent, shady men – it’s much more insidious than that.

It’s often part of lovely, kind, open-minded boys and men in our own families, who would never think of themselves as anything other than supportive of equality. And yet there is this kind of disconnect that persists within the moral compass of many of them.

Hear it in the quiet chuckling between the fellas enjoying Eddie McGuire’s ‘joke’ about drowning his colleague Caroline Wilson, and hear it in the snorting laughter of my son and his friends watching these bloody awful Feminazi-type clips on YouTube. See it in the plethora of sexually explicit material that covers billboards and magazines and the Internet.

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Listen to Mia Freedman discuss Eddie McGuire on Mamamia Out Loud. Post continues after audio.

The thing is, once upon a time, our culture would’ve belly-laughed at all manner of racist jokes that would now be seen as being utterly not OK. It’s incredibly revealing, the lines we’re prepared to transgress and trample, and the ones we’re not. Women are still totally fair game.

There are some great, well-established programs working to engage students with issues around bullying, sexuality, racism, mental illness… In my home state of Victoria a fantastic program called Respectful Relationships is about to be rolled out to all of our state schools. It looks impressive; here’s hoping that teachers are not so overwhelmed already with all of the growing administrivia and an already over-stuffed curriculum, that they can integrate such a comprehensive new program.

Watch Penny Wong perfectly articulate what it means to be a feminist. Post continues after video. 

Video via ABC

But one day, I’d love to see the history of feminism taught as a mandatory unit in history, alongside other key social justice movements like Aboriginal land rights and industrial rights. I’d love to see more schools have explicit value statements and mottos around equity, and see more English and Literature classes study feminist texts.

Helping adolescents become more self-aware is part of it too, and helping them understand the links between attitudes, language, objectification and violence against women – because we’re swimming against a mighty media current with some nasty little rips.

Maybe then my son, and too many others of our young people, wouldn’t think that lambasting feminists on YouTube is so funny after all.

Elly Varrenti is a writer, critic and broadcaster and teaches in the Creative Writing Department at the University of Melbourne.

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