Whilst I was on my way into the city this morning by train, a man standing near me was listening to his iPhone and something seemed to be agitating him. All of a sudden he looked at me and said “what’s the opposite of a misogynist?” I said that the opposite would be a “person”. He responded by saying that surely there must be an opposite in the English language, it must not be that deficient. If misogynist meant a ‘hater of women’ then the opposite must mean a ‘women lover’. I said that just saying that you love women does not stop a man from being a misogynist or of having chauvinistic beliefs about women. Saying that they love women, is like saying that they love sailing or they love eating at good restaurants, meaning they love to consume something and potentially look at it as an object. That this view can differentiate a women from a man like they are a different species. It is too general and when directed at a gender indicates that they are thinking of that gender as totally separate, like a separate race of people, when in fact gender is just a socialized construct. It is a way that we have come to understand the generic behaviors of men and women, it is not a descriptor of the biological (physical and sexual) differences of men and women. In my experience when a man says that he loves women he usually means that he loves the sexual stimulation of being with women, not necessarily that he loves women because they are people. In fact, when you think about it, it really is a silly statement. It doesn’t recognize the diverse nature of a human being.
By his stage many of the women in the carriage were smiling, you could see the recognition on their faces, they understood what I was talking about. No doubt most had already experienced sexism and forms of misogynistic behaviour everyday in their workplace. Another man stood up to get off the train, and having listened to the conversation said that he thought “it (misogyny ) was just the nature of the beast” (meaning, I guess that misogyny was part of all men). Refusing to be drawn into this discussion, I simply replied, “no I am sure most people are not nasty by nature”. He responded by saying that they were and got off the train.
No doubt the first man with the question was reacting to the latest discussion in Australia about Prime Minister, Julia Gillard‘s response to the leader of the opposition, Tony Abbott in parliament earlier in the week. In a session discussing a motion to sack Peter Slipper, the Speaker, Tony Abbott started referring to him as a misogynist. This was because of lewd text messages that he had sent to his then staffer James Ashby about Sophie Mirabella, another sitting Liberal Senator. The Slipper text’s included references to Mirabella’s genitalia which many considered inappropriate. Slipper himself is currently embroiled in a sexual harassment law suit brought against him by James Ashby. This came after an already turbulent week where a well known Sydney radio broadcaster Allan Jones had said that Gillard’s father had ‘died of shame’ because she was such a liar. It was Jones that first termed the phase Ju-Lair which is often used by those in the Liberal party to refer to the Prime Minister.
By this time the small section of the carriage was listening to our conversation. Meanwhile the young man next to me, said the man did ask the exact right person about misogynist, as he had liked my answer that the opposite would just be a person. He wondered what had set the man off and I thought that it must have been the Gillard, Abbott discussion because there has been a lot of it in the media and many people are stirred up by it. I thought that Gillard had spoken for all women when she had given her now famous speech in parliament and so did he. We talked about Julie Bishop, a Liberal party senator who came out defending Abbott recently on ABC 7.30, saying that she had not experienced sexism in the Liberal side of politics since she had been in Parliament. This statement is pretty amazing to most women as we are not immune from sexism and discrimination in most workplaces. The young man next to me easily recognized this fact and identified her as a misogynist. These woman are socialised to believe that they have a place and often that place is still two steps behind a man, they can achieve, but only to a certain level. Julie Bishop seems content to stay in the background as Deputy Prime Minister, a women who doesn’t demonstrate the drive to actually be Prime Minister, she remains a minimal threat to male leaders like Abbott. Unlike Gillard who usurped Rudd in 2010 in an incredible display of guts, Bishop is your classic traditional female. She backs up and supports Abbott, even in the face of his documented anti-female, gender stereotypical retortic. I guess it is not strictly anti female; it is anti female who speaks her own mind and anti any female that doesn’t agree with his way of seeing things.
I think this is really getting to the heart of the matter in this instance of misogynist behaviour in the parliament and in society generally. It is not what they might say that is sexist or demonstrates misogyny, it is what they think in private that determines their behaviour in public, and sometimes this behaviour converts to something that they say that show their true colours. Take a look at these documented statements by Tony Abott;
Tony Abbott’s lowest blows
2011 “I think if the prime minister wants to make, politically speaking, an honest woman of herself, she needs to seek a mandate for a carbon tax and should do that at the next election.”
2010 “What the housewives of Australia need to understand as they do the ironing is that if they get it done commercially it’s going to go up in price, and their own power bills when they switch the iron on are going to go up.”
2004 “To a pregnant 14-year-old struggling to grasp what’s happening, a senior student with a whole life mapped out or a mother already failing to cope under difficult circumstances, abortion is the easy way out. It’s hardly surprising that people should choose the most convenient exit from awkward situations.”
1998 “If it’s true … that men have more power generally speaking than women, is that a bad thing?”
“But what if men by philosophy or temperament are more adapted to exercise authority or to issue command?” (The Guardian 2012)
The first statement (2011) show such judgement and gives you an idea what Tony Abbott thinks about a ‘women’s place’ in society. An honest women! As if being married has stopped countless male politicians from behaving badly.
I am not going to go through all of those statement here as they really speak for themselves. Suffice to say, inequality, sexism, misogyny and discrimination are still firmly entrenched in Australian society. When women speak up like Gillard they are castigated, not just for what they say, but because they have dared speak out of turn of what is expected from an ‘honest women’.
Bottom line is if Sophie Mirrabella and Julie Bishop say that they have not experienced inequality and in politics then they are in another world to the rest of us females. I don’t know why there aren’t more women in politics if we don’t have to experience sexism, misogyny and discrimination there, I’m joining!
Various studies have already shown that token women DON’T experience the harassment that many of the rest of us do because the men in charge know that they are a token, and therefore of limited harm. It is only when more women push through that there is serious kickback, when the boundaries are pushed and the status quo is threatened. Behaviors set up over centuries in male bastions are threatened when more women encroach. We have a habit of asking questions that should not be asked, we haven’t learnt to subscribe to bullshit and often start telling it like it is – unacceptable! We try to fix things that have been ‘unfixable’ for years and end up showing up some of those males that have been happy to accept the un-fixable on some mates advice – unacceptable! Worse still we question bad behaviour and curtail offensive practices that have previously been accepted by the mainstream even if they themselves became victims of aggressive bullying behaviors. Its no wonder that some men hate women, or think they do. What they really hate is change, they hate the fact that their hold on power, their comfortability is now coming into question. It is not only being threatened by these women, they are being threatened. They are being forced to face themselves, to look at themselves and really see who and what they are and for some men this is really difficult. Remembering that men have learnt over centuries to behave in a certain way, any new change is scary and threatens them. It is easier to blame women instead of themselves. It is easier to blame something else than to take a hard look at yourself and what you have helped to create, but the world is changing. There is far more awareness of inequality and this awareness will not only give choice to women, it will free men from the constraints that have bound business and political practice for centuries. It will shine a light on new and different way of being, it will take time and the journey will be difficult, but it will be worth it.
Definition of Philogyny – http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philogyny#section_1