Friday, 25 September 2015

Opinion piece by Commissioner Kate Jenkins: Nothing funny in jokes that target women

So let's get it out of the way right at the start: the fun police are ruining the country. You can't make a joke about anything any more. The do-gooders need to get over themselves and have a laugh. And here's my favourite: it was just a harmless joke.

Of course it was, because you went to the trouble of differentiating it from other jokes, so it must be.

So when I'm confronted with Wicked campervan slogans that say "In every princess, there's a little slut who wants to try it just once" or fake numberplates that say "If it's got tits and tyres, it's trouble" or the one about "what do you call a women with
one black eye. ?" then I'm guessing it must be my problem if I'm not getting the harmless joke.

You know, the one about women asking for it. But what if I told you that casual sexism causes damage and it may be just as harmful - that's right, harmful - as the more blatant kind (not that you can get more blatant than a Wicked van slogan).

And what if I told you that sexist jokes or merchandise can affect women's mental and physical health?

That includes the health of your sister, neighbour, your mother, work colleague, your grandmother.

And what if I then told you that study after study has shown that when combined with pre-existing sexist attitudes, sexist jokes can potentially normalise hostile behaviour towards women that, in turn, increases the likelihood of women being
attacked and even killed by those closest to them?

Still think those jokes about rape and domestic violence are funny?

Sexist jokes are so normalised in our society - in a way that jokes about race or homophobia no longer are - that slogans such as these are seen as "edgy". 

But in fact what they really demonstrate is a shared tolerance of discrimination and valuing women less than men.

The truth is that while legislation has made some forms of harassment unlawful, a much bigger effort is needed to identify more insidious forms of sexism, particularly if they are dressed up as a "bit of a laugh".

Given we know that gender inequality is a key driver of family violence, that should make it easier to understand why there's actually no such thing as low-level sexism or less severe sexism because it all, in one way or another, contributes to misogyny
and discrimination and prejudice in our society.

From little things, big things grow. Just look at those horrendous statistics that keep growing: the human toll of violence.

Just ask the police officers who, across the country, attend to on average 600 cases of domestic violence a day, with a call-out once every two minutes to help a woman being controlled, abused and harmed.

Sexist jokes or slogans allow us to feel comfortable with sexism. They legitimise and allow sexism to become more acceptable.

So sexist slogans, T-shirts and jokes can never be harmless because they form part of the corrosive behaviour in society that stops any kind of positive change.

Furthermore, when you objectify a person, you say to them: you are worth less than me.

So when you hear or see any kind of sexist behaviour, don't stay silent, because it's not overreacting and it's never harmless fun when jokes or offensive merchandising result in women feeling intimidated, unsafe and harassed.

Call it out for the 63 women who so far this year have lost their lives to violence and for the ones who will inevitably follow unless something changes.

This article first appeared in the Herald Sun on 25 September 2015.