I had to ask for access to a bathroom once a month because I had my period! So eventually instead of access to a bathroom, they got me access to a Toyota so that I could drive away to a toilet. So the entire crew knew exactly when I was cycling every single month. And … they used to piss in the connecting pipes for me to discover when I got back from the drive. And looking back on it now I also realise that the blokes were also pissing on my boots when I was gone – I see now but at the time I was just so confused and baffled by it all. – Female miner, aged 21
A week ago I had the honor of speaking at the launch of Whispers from the Bush, a new book by ANU academic Dr Syke Saunders (from which the quote above is taken). Publisher Federation Press describes the book as follows:
Australian women are enduring a cultural epidemic of workplace sexual harassment in remote and rural workplaces – the experience is rife, rampant and as hard to contain as any infectious disease. Whispers from the Bush – The Workplace Sexual Harassment of Australian Rural Women is the first book to focus upon the nature, pervasiveness and reporting of sexual harassment in rural Australian workplaces. Drawing upon 107 interviews conducted with rurally located employees and employers about their experiences and observations of sexual harassment at work, it shines a light upon a phenomenon largely hidden or minimised by silence, distance and an atmosphere of ‘saturated masculinity’. The book seeks to give voice to the ‘whispers from the bush’ by exploring themes such as:
• the impact of male dominance and mateship on the nature and prevalence of sexual harassment within the rural workplace;
• the complex survival behaviours adopted by many rural women in response to sexual harassment as it occurs – most surprisingly, extending to women blaming women;
• rural employee and employer attitudes towards the disclosure of sexual harassment; and
• the limited reach and effectiveness of laws against sexual harassment in rural Australia.
The Women Lawyers Association of the ACT, together with the Women’s Legal Centre and Legal Aid Commission (ACT) hosted the launch as which I, Syke Saunders and Deputy ACT Discrimination Commissioner, Belinda Barnard, spoke.
Reading Skye’s book was an intensely personal experience. I had to re-visit my experiences and those of other women I knew, which I’m only beginning to process decades later. A literary journal has expressed interest in a contribution based on the whole speech, so I’ll let you know when that is published. For now, here’s an extract from my launch address.
When Skye first asked me to write an endorsement for this, her new book Whispers from the Bush, my first thoughts were: at last.
This book fills a gap. It gives voice to women we rarely hear from.
Beyond the romantic notions held about life in the rural frontier – the ‘bush imaginings’, ‘the imagined embodiment of the iconic rural ideal,’ there are stereotypical patterns of male dominance and ‘rampant maleness’ in the rural heart of blokeland – identified in Whispers from the Bush as ‘the dominant male bush construct’ and the ‘masculine architecture of rural life’. This pattern of dominance contributes to female inferiority and submission, discrimination, marginalization, histories of violence and – as this book attests – sexual harassment as a cultural norm.
The highest rates of violent crime such as sexual assault have consistently been in rural Australia. As Skye writes: “The further from the metropolitan capital the higher the per capita rate becomes for violent crimes, such as assault, domestic assault and sexual assault. Numerous other reports have concluded that the rate of crime and abuse in rural and remote Australia are much higher than any set of data has suggested, primarily because of the growing levels of under-reporting.” Recent studies also reveal a “consistent pattern of higher rates of alcohol consumption and consequent harm within regional and rural Australia than in urban areas.”
95 percent of gendered harm is not reported in the bush.
Reading Skye’s book has forced me to confront aspects of what happened to me growing up in a country town.
I am the daughter of a farming family in rural Victoria…
It is only fully now, decades later, that I look back and see the entrenched sexism that, being young and lacking the language to describe, I didn’t know how to deal with.
The editor in chief’s hand on my leg in his car and comments about my breasts (taking me ‘under his wing’ as a work experience student – how do you make a complaint when the perpertrator is the man in charge?), the sexually loaded jokes about my body, descriptions of sex acts I didn’t understand (especially when a male radio announcer and close friend dropped by – he was gay, but that didn’t matter), the male bonding over assessing the bodies of any woman passing through the building, the porny calendars on the walls of the print room (I was so pleased to see Skye include pornography as an expression of sexual harassment in the workplace).
A male editor used a piece about cancer caused by sun exposure as an excuse to publish an image of a topless woman.
Possibly the worst incident was the metal ruler up my skirt. I was made to feel I’d asked for it and told to stay out of the ‘lay out’ room where the man worked night shift, though I had to walk through that room to get to the ladies’ toilet (After the incident I had to walk around the building and climb rough cement steps to access the toilet). When I read Chapter 5 ‘When the boys come out to play’ I saw myself there – a paragraph on the humiliation of women in the workforce included: “rulers are thrust under skirts”.
…To be both young, unformed in feminist thinking and not knowing I had any rights, made speaking out almost impossible
One of the first pieces I wrote as a cadet journalist was about the opening of a women’s refuge in my town. These experiences were the seedlings of my later feminist activism….
I commend Skye for giving voice to women in rural and regional areas whose lives have been harmed by sexual harassment.
May Whispers from the Bush break the silence of rural women.
May it empower and strengthen them to speak out and no longer put up with mistreatment. May it contribute to solidarity among our sisters in dusty, remote places.
All of us who live or lived in these places – and have parts of our heart remaining there even when we have moved on – owe Syke a debt of gratitude.
Whispers from the Bush: MTR to launch new book on sexual harassment of rural women
I was honored when Skye Saunders asked me to launch her significant and timely new book Whispers from the Bush on Friday in Canberra. I’ll be sharing a little about my experience growing up and working in country Victoria and praising Skye for naming a problem that rarely gets mentioned.
A hotel worker’s allegations of sexual assault by IMF chief and possible French presidential candidate Dominique Strauss-Kahn are disturbing. But also disturbing is the way the case is being reported in some sections of the media.
Strauss-Kahn has been arrested on charges of sexually assaulting a woman at his expensive hotel suite in New York. This is a summary of the story from the New York Times:
According to the law enforcement official, the woman entered Mr. Strauss-Kahn’s suite early Saturday afternoon by saying “housekeeping.” She heard no answer and believed that the suite was unoccupied. She left the door open behind her, as is hotel policy.
She went to the bedroom and a naked man rushed from the bathroom to the bedroom. She apologized, the law enforcement official said, and tried to leave.
But according to the official, the man chased her, grabbed her and shut the door, locking it. He then pulled her toward the bedroom, the official said, and tried to attack her there.
He dragged her to the bathroom, the official added, and forced her to perform oral sex. The police said the woman eventually escaped from the suite and reported the attack to other hotel personnel, who called 911.
So how did Crikey headline this story yesterday? Like this:
Although it is common in American usage, the word “maid” used to describe the woman also conjures up pornographic fantasies of Fifi the French maid in a skimpy frilly apron. But Strauss-Kahn was charged with a criminal sexual act, attempted rape and unlawful imprisonment. How does a report of these charges warrant Oh la la, an expression of feigned surprise with a salacious undertone?
When the journalist Lara Logan was assaulted in Cairo, was that characterised as Oh la la and a “sex scandal”? Of course not. But allegations made by a hotel cleaner against a French high official seem to be attracting a different approach.
Other women who have had dealings with Strauss-Kahn allege a history of reckless indifference to consent in sexual matters. Strauss-Kahn himself had predicted in a recent interview with Libération that this history would lead to him being the victim of a set-up:
He said he thought he was under surveillance and named the three principal difficulties he foresaw if he was to stand for the presidential elections. “Money, women and the fact I am Jewish.” He added: “Yes, I like women … so what?” He said he could see himself becoming the victim of a honey trap: “a woman raped in a car park and who’s been promised 500,000 or a million euros to invent such a story …”
Jean-Marie Le Guen, a Socialist party MP who has known Strauss-Kahn for 25 years, said the story was “not credible” and inconsistent with what he knew of the politician’s character. “Seduction, yes, but no way would he use constraint or violence. A certain number of facts, and certain aspects of the story we are hearing from the press, make this not credible.”….
Le Guen said his friend knew he would be the target of mud-slinging but added: “What they are asking us to believe … it’s just hallucinations. I’m a doctor and I know this can happen. We knew there would be hyper-violent attacks on him [Strauss-Kahn]. We could hear the knives being sharpened in preparation.”
Seduction? That is not what the women allege. For example, Anne Mansouret, the mother of Tristane Banon (the goddaughter of Strauss-Kahn’s second wife) claimed on Sunday that Strauss-Kahn had attacked her journalist daughter in 2002, in the course of an interview. In a 2007 television program, Banon named Strauss-Kahn (it was bleeped) and she described him as a “rutting chimpanzee” in telling how she had struggled with him:
It ended very badly, because we ended up fighting … I told him clearly. … We fought on the ground, it was more than a couple of slaps, I kicked him, he opened my bra, tried to open my jeans. … It finished very badly. …
I got out of there and he immediately sent me a text message saying “So, are you scared of me?”… I had said the word “rape” when we were struggling to scare him, and it didn’t seem to scare him, as if he was used to it. After [the incident] he wouldn’t stop sending me text messages saying “Are you scared of me?”
And yet the story here continues to be depicted as that of an aging libertine who has unfortunately been a little naughty with the hired help – unfortunate because of the consequences for his career. The Australian headline today read: “Brought undone by his sex life”. Sex life?
Little has been said about the possible impact on the woman. The New York Times reports that she is an African immigrant with a teenage daughter. Hotel employees were instructed not to speak to her about the allegations, but to give her a hug, “Because she is sad.”
Some French journalists are reporting that the allegation is unlikely because the woman is “très peu séduisante”. Very unattractive. Strauss-Kahn, who has not used his twitter account since Christmas 2010, posted a tweet today citing this report: (basic translations)”the lawyers were surprised at the appearance of the arrival of a very unattractive young woman”.
All this plays into Oh la la: charming old French admirer of women couldn’t keep from helping himself to the feminine attractions of a chamber maid. Albeit an unattractive one. (They should get their story straight on the “honey trap” scenario here.)
Strauss-Kahn has not has his day in court, and I am not assuming he is guilty. What I am taking issue with is reporting along lines that are very common in rape mythology. Men attacking women is not charming or romantic. They cannot be excused as ‘unresistant to feminine attractions’.
The unfolding story here of an unrestrained sense of entitlement to any woman from a journalist to a hotel worker. There’s nothing remotely Oh la la about any of it.
Virginia Haussegger is right to lament the status of women in other countries and the brutalities and indignities they suffer daily.
But attitudes towards women in our own so-called liberated western democracy desperately need an overhaul as well.
While I frequently write about the objectification of women and girls, this issue has been unrelenting of late. Sexism is alive and well. Is it really the 21st century?
Lynx sexual performance in Martin Place
Last Thursday global brand Unilever staged a ‘Pop-up spadate’ in Sydney’s Martin Place to promote its ‘man-cation’ travel destination, the Lynx Lodge. Young bikini-clad women splashed about in a hot tub. The amply breasted models had shower gel splattered across their chests (a reference to ejaculation, for those unfamiliar with the porn genre).
Nina Funnell described the scene in The Sydney Morning Herald yesterday:
“… Martin Place was transformed into something resembling a cheap porn filmset…The hot tub was placed on a raised platform, blocked off by rails. Male suits pulled out iPhones to take photos through the rails…Other Lynx models pranced around in tiny French maid outfits. Another had set up a masseuse table and was busy giving a semi-naked man a massage. Unsurprisingly men ogled the women, slapping each other on the back, while making comments like “she’s a bit of all right” or “I wouldn’t mind a bit of that”. I felt like I’d walked into a middle aged man’s seedy buck’s night. It was 9am on a Thursday morning.”
Did Sydney City Council and its female Lord Mayor approve this sexual display in the middle of Sydney city? No qualms about sending men off to work all aroused? No second thoughts about the message to boys that they are entitled to ogle women in public places?
The Lynx Lodge appears to be parent company Unilever’s foray into the sex industry, with all the trappings of a brothel without identifying it as such. “Lynx Lodge – Get Laid Back” declares the website:
“The ultimate man-cation destination to get you back to your primal roots”
“Get laid back, as lodge staff pamper you with breakfast in bed and on-the-spot massages”
“Golf range: Grab your wood”
“Pool hall: Scared of being beaten by a girl? Some of our guests quite enjoy it.”
“Ball Games: Teamwork is everything, so be sure to focus on your partner’s backside to make out her block signals.”
Women are advertised as ready to do a man’s bidding and to entertain and excite him.
A video ad shows young women lonely and desperate for men to arrive at the lodge. Helpless and passive, they need a man to serve and give them attention. One girl wades naked into the lake waiting for him to arrive.
You can see just how mainstream sexism has become. Woolworths is in bed with Lynx, co-branding in the promotion of borderline prostitution at the Lodge.
Yet Woolies claims a “high level of social responsibility”.
How is supporting a view of women as subservient sexual slaves acting responsibly? Woolies, the women-as-fresh-meat-people?
Does this look like one of your fresh food mums, Mr Michael Luscombe, Managing Director and CEO?
Evidence of the Lynx Effect can be found on its Facebook page.
“DO I WIN A BLONDE , NICE ASS , LARGE NATURAL BREASTS,NICE EYES ” asks one man. About the spa girls:
“you no [sic] that you would ruin that all night long”
The Gold Cost Turf Club: Parading women like animals
The Gold Coast Turf Club is planning a special summer carnival in which women in bikinis take the place of horses. Herded into horse barrier stalls, they will be released to sprint down the straight for a prize.
The entry form calls entrants “mares and fillies”. The club takes no responsibility for “injury or death”. Women must wear a bikini and “acceptable running shoes”. Of course, her feet must be supported but her breasts need be free to bounce around for the entertainment of male punters.
The responses from Women in Racing and the Brisbane Women’s Club were lamentably weak. Women in Racing Director Jennifer Bartels said: ”We love anyone who will promote racing, but perhaps this isn’t quite racing. Good luck to them though.” Good luck to them?
Turf Club CEO Andrew Eggleston wants to see elite sportswomen take part. Just not in their usual sportswear.
Calvin Klein violent billboards
Then I was sent this billboard image from a woman in Sydney. Another example of violence against women being promoted as sexy, with intimations of the gang rape of an inanimate young woman. Where the hell is the Advertising Standards Board on this and others like it?
Yesterday my sister contacted me from Byron Bay about the three Wicked Campers she’d just seen with slogans: “Jugs” “Random Breast Testing” and “Shaved Pussy” across their vans. Sexism on wheels.
Everywhere they look, women and girls get the message that they exist for male gratification and pleasure. Their reason for being is to serve men and meet their every need. They should enjoy sexual harassment.
Fortunately there is a grassroots uprising against this. You can find it at www.collectiveshout.org. We’ve had enough. Vive la revolution.
I was so encouraged to read in the SMH the strong comments of women who rebuked Microsoft for hiring Gold cost meter maids to provide the entertainment at a Tech conference this week.
It’s not easy to take on powerful corporations – especially if your living depends on them. But a number of women did so – and got an apology.
Microsoft says it had no idea the “meter maids” it hired to titillate attendees of its TechEd conference on the Gold Coast would be half naked after the promotional stunt backfired spectacularly.
The company has apologised after it earned a stinging rebuke from its own staff members and a number of the 2700 IT workers it was trying to court at the conference, which is designed to encourage developers to write software for Microsoft platforms.
The meter maids, iconic figures on the Gold Coast with skimpy gold bikinis that leave little to the imagination, were present at the welcoming reception earlier this week. Ironically, a key session at the conference was devoted to “women in IT”.
IT worker Kate Carruthers said:
And Tracy Fellows, Microsoft Australia’s managing director, said on Twitter that she felt the stunt was:
This is what Microsoft did next:
In a statement, Microsoft said it would like to “sincerely apologise for any offense caused by the promotional staff”.
“We were unaware of their exact costuming until the day of the event, at which time it was too late to be addressed,” the company said.
Unaware of their exact costuming? Maybe Microsoft should have googled the words “Meter Maid”? What were they expecting, full body covering?
What can be achieved when women speak out
It’s great when women speak out. Refusing to be silent has resulted in some recent good results in the ongoing struggle against women being seen as merely sexual adornments for entertainment purposes.
Not long ago the AFL had to step in and cancel a deal between restaurant chain Hooters and an U16 football club (also on the Gold Coast). Acting following criticism, the AFL said the arrangement was not in line with its promotion of female equality.
And just a couple of weeks ago, this bus, which women have campaigned against for five years, has finally been removed (great work Julie Gale and all who forced the Advertising Standards Board to act). (Submission here).
When a woman makes a joke about sexual harassment and claims she wishes she had been ‘touched up’ by the man at the centre of harassment claims, you see just how entrenched is the idea that harassment is just a bit of fun and that women really want it.
When that woman is leading fashion designer Alannah Hill and she’s making the comments at a fashion show to parade the works of a major department store facing a massive sexual harassment claim, then you see just how far we have to go.
Two days ago, former DJs publicist Kristy Fraser-Kirk launched a record claim against former chief executive Mark McInnes and the company. She alleged McInnes made repeated and unwelcome sexual advances towards her. McInnes resigned mid June and admitted behaving as a manner “unbecoming of a chief executive”.
According to The Australian, three victims of alleged sexual misconduct referred to in Kristy Fraser-Kirks legal action have resolved their claims and still work for the department store.
‘I wish he’d touched me up’
Only a day after lodgement of Fraser-Kirk’s claim, Alannah Hill leapt to McInnes’ defence at the launch of DJs spring/summer 2010/11 collection. She said she had always had a crush on him, that she wished he had touched her up, wished he had invited her to his Bondi apartment, and that she threw herself at him, but he resisted. She claimed to be the brunette McInnes told Fraser-Kirk he could have had, but rejected because he wanted her instead. She described the case as a “glitch”.
But it’s not the first time Hill has gone to McInnes’ defense. In June she told the Daily Telegraph she was “devastated” Mr McInnes had been forced to resign.
“It’s a total overreaction. It seems such a shame that this incident has brought him down,” she said.
“I had utter respect for him and I liked that he liked women.”
I commented on the issue today on Sunrise and The Morning Show (included both because I was more awake in the second one. Some readers might also like to see Alex Perry appear with me on Sunrise, given I’ve had a little bit to say about him recently).
I argued that the comments trivialised sexual harassment and provided permission to those in the community to view women as up for grabs in the workplace. And while Perry tried to argue that David Jones was made up of many people, the fact that Mark McInnes was the Chief Executive Officer (and not the teaboy), is significant. The rot starts at the top.
Now She’s Sorry
Hill has now apologised on Melbourne radio, though I don’t think she’s got the tone quite right.
“I’m here with a priest, I’m on my knees and I’m doing my confession,” she told Melbourne’s Fox FM.
“I’m so gutted … I feel like such an idiot.
“Look, I know they are really serious allegations and I’ve never really worked in the corporate sector, and I understand sexual harassment would be unbearable.
“I know people get so stressed they can’t even go to work. I feel terrible for that girl and I feel stupid for myself and I really, really humbly apologise.”
Hill said her business partner was “so furious” about her comments that she would hold a “sorry sale” on Saturday, and donate half the proceeds “to some sort of a women’s shelter or sexual abuse (charity)”.
Asked what she would do with the other half of the funds, she said: “I might pass them on to the nice girl with the hyphen in her name. I’ve forgotten her name.”
The girl with the hyphen in her name (and I acknowledge the claims have to be proven) reminds us that sexual harassment is unlawful. Sexual harassment contributes to a hostile working environment. I’ve written about this before.
See also: Why didn’t the DJs board act against McInnes Sooner? Amanda Gome in Crikey today.
Clive Hamilton’s opinion piece on the DJ’s case.
This piece by Clive Hamilton in The Drum Unleashed today on the DJs sexual harassment case and his own experiences of being sued by the company, not all that long ago, over the issue of sexualisation of children in advertising.
How ‘playing the game’ contributes to a hostile working environment for women
Catching up on a pile of newspapers (new social media may have captivated me – sent my 1000th tweet on the weekend – but a stack of papers still gives me a thrill), I came across an article titled ‘The only way is up’ by Fenella Souter in The Age Good Weekend (May 1, 2010). I had to read it through a few times because I couldn’t believe my eyes.
Rebecca Smith – fake name because she’s “keen to keep her job”– is a junior associate in a small city law firm. She wants to advance in the company. To do that she watches cricket or tennis with the men in the boardroom, swears, talks badly about people, drinks with the men and doesn’t leave work early. They like her being “one of the boys”. But see what happens next.
At a commemorative dinner recently, she was fixing her collar and caught one of the senior partners starting at her across the table.
“Stop staring at my collar”, she chided.
“I’m not staring at your collar,” he said. “I’m staring at your tits.”
She was taken aback, but not astonished. There’s a steady stream of comments like that in the firm, she says. Usually the women try to ignore it or take it as a joke. “Mostly, the men don’t mean anything by it. They just say the first thing that comes into their heads,” Rebecca explains mildly.
Does she ever object? “One time I did say something and afterwards I walked into the boardroom and the managing partner said, ‘uh-oh, here she comes, the fun police.’ It’s like you’re some sort of extremist.
“I also want to become an equity partner of the firm one day and I worry that they would sit there and say, ‘Well, you know, Rebecca is a bit of a femo. If we made her a partner, she might start throwing her weight around and saying we have to do everything differently.’ So the more I can play the game, the better it is for me. I know that sounds like a complete sell-out.”
When I was a cub reporter on a country paper, working in a male-dominated environment, I encountered sexual harassment. Back then I didn’t really understand it as that or have the language to articulate it. I was barely out of my teens (actually I was a teen when I started work experience there). Sexual remarks, inappropriate touching, a ruler up my skirt, porn on the walls of the print room… I didn’t speak out. I wouldn’t have known if there was any recourse.
But Rebecca is living at a time when sexual harassment is recognised as inappropriate. Actually it is unlawful , (See Division 3. See also Dr Helen Pringle below). Sexual advances (like touching, grabbing) or sexual comments (that can be offensive and/or joking) that are unwelcome or inappropriate are included in sexual harassment.
Sexual harassment contributes to a hostile work environment. I’m not saying it’s easy to speak out, and often there are repercussions for doing so. But when women don’t object, it just means men continue to get away with “staring at their tits” and even admitting to it openly. Is wanting to get ahead worth putting up with this? Is it worth the price for new women entering the firm, who will also likely be subjected to unwanted remarks and possibly more?
Fenella Souter helps to identify a reason that young women like Rebecca play the game and keep the men in the boardroom happy and entertained. It is what American author Susan J. Douglas calls, “enlightened sexism”:
Enlightened sexism insists that women have made plenty of progress because of feminism… so now it’s okay, even amusing, to resurrect sexist stereotypes of girls and women… [It] sells the line that it is precisely through women’s calculated deployment of their faces, bodies, attire, and sexuality that they gain and enjoy true power – power that is fun, that men will not resent, and indeed will embrace… True power here has nothing to do with economic independence or professional achievement: it has to do with getting men to lust after you and other women to envy you.
Girls and young women, especially, says Douglas, are persuaded that now that they “have it all”, “they should focus the bulk of their time and energy on being hot, pleasing men, competing with other women, and shopping…And is women are increasingly objectified…that’s okay because they’ve chosen to be sex objects…”
Souter notes, “Apparently, women have achieved such completely equal status, it’s safe to go back to celebrating our “femininity” and our sexiness, source of the new empowerment”.
In Getting Real, I cite a 2006 article in The Guardian titled ‘Today’s ultimate feminists are the chicks in crop tops,’ in which Kate Taylor points out the advantages of wearing a g-string to work. It will cause men in the office to “waste whole afternoons staring at your bottom, placing bets on whether you’re wearing underwear.” You should let them, says Taylor, because you can “use that time to take over the company while they are distracted.”
The focus on bodies, clothes and sex as where our empowerment lies is acutely dissected by Laurie Penny in a piece a few days ago in The New Statesman, in which she characterises Sex and the City 2 as:
…a pernicious strain of bourgeois sex-and-shopping feminism that should have been buried long ago at the crossroads of women’s liberation with a spiked Manolo heel through its shrivelled heart.
Any woman who claims not to enjoy Sex and the City is still considered to be either abnormal or fibbing, at least by a certain strain of highly-paid fashion columnist whose lives probably bear an unusual resemblance to that of the show’s protagonist, lifestyle writer Carrie Bradshaw. For the young women of my generation, however, Sex and the City’s vision of individual female empowerment rings increasingly hollow, predicated as it is upon conspicuous consumption, the possession of a rail-thin Caucasian body type, and the type of oblivious largesse that employs faceless immigrant women as servants…
The type of feminism that gives serious thought to whether a girl should buy her own diamonds has missed something fundamental about the lives and problems of ordinary women… A fantasy feminism of shopping, shoes and shagging is not an adequate response to a world that still fears women’s power…
Lindy West feels the same way, though employing somewhat cruder expressions (to warn more sensitive readers who may click on this hyperlink)
SATC2 takes everything that I hold dear as a woman and as a human—working hard, contributing to society…and rapes it to death with a stiletto that costs more than my car.
And I can’t help but quote this SATC2 review as well: “the ugly smell of unexamined privilege hangs over this film like the smoke from cheap incense”.
In regard to the treatment of women in the workplace, American Apparel seems to think it is fine to use models depicting its own employees in sexualised photo shoots. While it’s good the Advertising Standards Board has acted on it, case report here there is nothing said in the ASB report about how the ad works to normalise the sexualised treatment of women in the workplace.
I’ve commented already on the Hooters Employment Handbook, in which their female employees have to agree that sexual joking is all part of the job and they won’t complain because it’s to be expected in their workplace.
If sexual harassment and objectification of female employees is going to stop, women need to take up their lawful rights and speak out. And they need to be supported, not penalised for doing so.
Call this flexibility? : Slave Worker Women
While we’re talking about women and work, here’s another item that caused me to do a double take.
I don’t usually read ‘The Deal’ magazine of The Australian, but it was lying around so I took a look.
In a piece titled ‘Women at Work’, (May 2010), Lyndall Crisp interviews ‘diversity expert’ Maureen Frank who calls for more flexibility and less tokenism in our corporate culture. She says women need to be courageous, think outside the square and “put together a compelling argument about how your flexible hours would work and then approach your boss.” So far so good. So how did she “buck the system”?
Almost 10 years ago, when she found herself a single mother of twin girls aged nine months, she had to reorganise her work schedule to spend more time with them. She’d arrive at the office at 4am, leave at 4pm and be working online at 7.30pm. [I’ve added the bold so you don’t miss it]… The cost of a full-time nanny left her, often, with only $50 at the end of the month. But it was worth it.
So Franks is working at least a 12 hour day, with three hours off. Gosh, all that free time to play with the babies! She’s then working again at 7.30pm. This is the deal women should fight for? This is how we are to see flexibility? This is the kind of arrangement that will attract women to go for high level jobs? So that they can be slave worker women?
I don’t think so.
Australian law on sexual harassment
Dr Helen Pringle, in the School of Politics and International Relations, UNSW, notes how the law on sexual harassment as it stands today got started:.
In Australia, the landmark in the recognition and treatment of sexual harassment was the case of O’Callaghan v Loder. Until 1983, discrimination laws did not explicitly cover harassment. The case concerned the NSW Commissioner of Main Roads Mr Loder, and a woman lift attendant in his department. Justice Matthews defined sexual harassment in this way: “a person is sexually harassed if he or she is subjected to unsolicited and unwelcome sexual conduct by a person who stands in a position of power in relation to him or her”:
If a complainant has been subjected to unwanted and unsolicited sexual conduct by his or her employer in such circumstances that the employer knew or ought to have known that the conduct was unwelcome, then it will amount to a contravention of the Anti-Discrimination Act in the following additional circumstances: firstly, if the conduct was such as to create an unwelcome feature of the employment… or to be a ‘detriment’; or secondly, if the employer secured compliance with his sexual demands by threatening adverse employment consequences; or thirdly, if rejection of the employer’s sexual demands led to retaliation in the form of loss of access to employment opportunities; or fourthly, if rejection of the employer’s sexual demands led to retaliation in the form of dismissal or some other loss of tangible employment benefits“ (O’Callaghan v Loder (No 2)  3 NSWLR 89).
Although Mr O’Callaghan lost because she didn’t establish that Loder’s conduct was unwelcome,the case nevertheless set an important precedent. The unlawfulness of harassment is now set out explicitly in the Sex Discrimination Act (Cth), under Division 3.
Just because it’s almost International Women’s Day, doesn’t mean a woman shouldn’t be reminded of her rightful place.
She may have overcome innumerable workplace obstacles to get where she is today. She may be allowed to join the boys in the boardroom. But that doesn’t mean her primary role has changed. She is still valued for her ability to turn them on.
This role of catering for a man’s sexual fantasies is central to the Crazy Domain advertisement made by The Brand Agency in Perth. The ad depicts a male work colleague drooling over Pamela Anderson (ooh porn-star-as-office-seductress, how original) and her assistant. Both women are wearing tight fitting business suits with lace trimmed cleavage revealed.
One of the men fantasises about the two women cavorting in gold bikinis while milk (get it) is sloshed all over them. When he snaps back into reality from his dairy spraying spree, the assistant leans forward asking him if he would like “cream” in his coffee. Because even in real life, it’s the women who pour his beverages. Naturally he gets a face full of breast as she bends over him.
As a result of complaints, the Advertising Standards Board has told the company to remove the ads. The web hosting company is now complaining, blaming “feminist bloggers” for stirring up a fuss. Of course, no-one else cares less, just those crazy feminist bloggers. Go Feminist Bloggers.
Crazy Domains managing director Gavin Collins said the decision made “no sense and is completely un-Australian”. Because, you see, the Australian thing to do is to present women as imposters in the boardroom who distract men from very important work with their seductive ways, leading them down fantasy lane as it rains milk and cream.
I do agree with Gav though about the inconsistencies of the ASB in allowing other sexist ads such as recent one for Coke depicting a woman covered in chocolate and whipped cream and Lynx (who haven’t met a sexist stereotype they don’t like) with their airhostesses meeting every male need.
Following my blog posts on the death-by-bullying case of Brodie Panlock, I asked my friend and colleague Sarah McMahon, (above), a consultant psychologist and accredited mediator who has counseled many victims of workplace bullying, to provide advice to those who are subjected to bullyling at work.
Keep detailed notes of events- and keep these as matter-of-fact as possible. Should the incidents need to be investigated these notes will serve you well. Therapeutically, including information about your feelings can also be very helpful.
Tell someone senior in the workplace. If you work for a large employer you will probably have an HR department- which is a good place to start. This can be more difficult if your employer is small, however begin by talking to your manager (or their manager if you feel this is not appropriate). Often you will be required to make a formal complaint, which can be daunting. However given that bullying and sexual harassment are serious offenses, this will usually enable an investigation and formal grievance procedure to be instigated.
Seek the counsel of friends and family. Having support from people outside the workplace- particularly if your workplace has a toxic subculture- is invaluable because family and friends can provide some perspective on the events that are taking place. Utilising this support can also prevent you from being accused of unprofessional conduct, such as discussing private issues with your co-workers.
Consult your GP. Being the victim of workplace bullying or sexual harassment can be stressful so it is useful to have the support of someone that can monitor your mental health. Your GP might refer you to a more specialised health professional, such as a psychiatrist or psychologist if they think this is required. If you develop a mental health condition such as anxiety or depression and work is considered to be a significant contributing factor, your condition should be compensable. This means that if you require time off work or psychological treatment due to the bullying or sexual harassment, this should be paid for by your employer’s workers compensation insurance at no cost to you.
Look for another job. Technically you shouldn’t have to do this- it is unfair that you should have to change jobs because of another person’s conduct (and of course there are times when standing up to a bully is important). However changing jobs can often be the simplest, quickest and easiest solution and thus an option that warrants consideration.
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