There is a difference between sexism and hysterical media outrage trolling, writes Lauren Rosewarne from the University of Melbourne.
In recent weeks we’ve been treated to some high profile cases of inappropriate workplace conduct: the Dutton and Briggs cases which I wrote about last week and more recently the highly misguided cricketer, Chris Gayle, thinking that propositioning a journalist live-to-air is all bit of a laugh.
Each case provided some useful looksees into the niggling torments women continue to endure at work and, more broadly, the challenges remaining in the struggle for gender equality.
As is often the case with the mainstream media, they’re all too keen on bandwagon-jumping. Thus, when a story gets some traction, the media will milk it and mould it and drag it out for as long as possible, exploiting and exhausting every possible angle. Invariably, this will result in a barrage of tenuous stories being reframed as further testimony to the gravity of an issue.
Cue this morning’s alleged groping being packaged up by news media as an extension of the Briggs/Dutton/Gayle men-behaving-badly stories.
I feel it necessary to note that I’m long convinced that every so-called ‘scandal’ centered around Sunrise or Today is conjured by the show’s desperate producers as ham-fisted vie for attention. (Which, needless to say, they keep getting, because the media loves nothing more than navel-gaving). Nonetheless, the accusation goes that on today’s Weekend Sunrise broadcast, Miss Australia, Monika Radulovic, endured a groping from weather presenter, Hamish McLachlan.
Last week I did a handful of radio interviews about the Dutton and Briggs stories. In each interview I mentioned that the only way we can change our culture is by calling out sexism when it occurs; that we need to create an environment where such behaviour is spotlighted and is shamed. I stand by this.
I therefore, consider myself ever so slightly to blame for the Weekend Sunrise story making news this weekend.
A point I (hesitantly) made several times during the Gillard prime ministership - and a point I will make more assertively now - is the need to be very careful about what gets called out as sexist, as misogynist. Notably when we’re doing on behalf of someone else. Once a scattergun approach is adopted – once we start considering every criticism of a woman as misogynist or, in this case, every flirtatious interaction as groping – then the term not only loses its punch but the mainstream starts to engage in a predictable backlash: construing this as yet another example of feminists whinging over nothing; dismissing every real case of impropriety as trivial.
Once a frequent viewer, I stopped watched the show in late 2014 after I become convinced that Sunrise was metaphorically pimping out Samantha Armytage to the press in an uncomfortable and anachronistic attempt at cross-promotion. I wasn’t watching, therefore, when the segment went live to air today. Several viewings of the clip however, and I’m going to call out the ensuing brouhaha as bullshit.
Note that Radulovic touches McLachlan’s arm first. Note that - outside of the well-chosen video still used on news.com.au - she doesn’t seem evenly slightly distressed by the “bear hug”. Both seem to have an easy and comfortable rapport.
An interesting aspect to the Dutton case was that the recipient of the “mad fucking witch” text message, journalist Samantha Maiden, apparently wasn’t particularly perturbed. Whether this was the truth or just strategic self-preservation, I’m not sure. Truth be told, I’m not sure I even care. That story was an issue for me not because I thought Maiden had been sexually harassed or somehow needed my protection, but rather, because it was just a timely and really ugly insight into how some Australian politicians feel it is okay to talk about women.
The Weekend Sunrise non-story therefore, can’t be viewed in the same light: nobody voted in McLachlan, and he’s certainly not making any policies limiting the freedoms of the already marginalised. Which thus leads us to a comparison with the Gayle case. Gayle propositioned a woman at her place of work while she was trying to do her job. Not okay. Conversely, during the frothy Sunrise segment, Radulovic had initiated - and thus consented - to a gentle kind of flirtatious banter with her interview. The fact that McLachlan ran with it, the fact that he put his arms around her, doesn’t make it groping, doesn’t make it assault and doesn’t make this yet another example of men being unable to observe boundaries in the workforce.
Bad behaviour and sexist conduct should be called out. Every time. Equally so should rubbish non-stories that feed the boring cycle of the media talking about itself.
Let us not water down the term misogyny nor trivialise real acts of sexism and harassment with the reframing of banter and frivolity.