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Dilemma: Unintentional misogyny

March 4, 2012

Someone stuck gum on top of this building.

I have a small dilemma. Okay it’s a large dilemma. Here’s the thing.

Some men (and women) I like. Some I love, are unintentionally misogynistic. I say unintentionally 90% because I think it’s true and 10% because I need to believe it. I’m not saying they hate women. They don’t, but they participate in talking about women in a way that shows they don’t think we’re equals. They hint that on some level, although we can be quite clever, like a particularly talented Golden Retriever, we’re mostly just cute and entertaining; a comforting pet.

I was at a conference today and amongst some great discussion about entrepreneurship were these flags.

“Who here’s been to Koko?” shouts the MC into the microphone, explaining it’s an expensive joint in the Casino. He knows the private chef. A woman in the front row raises her hand. It must have been on a date, the MC assumes. The woman replies, inaudible to most of the room. “It was with a friend,” the MC repeats her response, booming it into the room of over 200 attentive young entrepreneurs. “I hope it worked. It better have worked.”

I can’t explain to a man how it feels to be a woman. But I can tell you something like the above is like being kicked in the guts. Kicked in the guts by a performing clown who was ‘just having a good time’. So if you call them on it you’re a PC nancy and if you don’t it simmers inside until the next trigger. Which wasn’t far away as it turns out.

It’s after break time. Music booms through the venue, building anticipation and calling attention to sessions recommencing. A video is played, a young female entrepreneur tells the business story. It’s clearly an edited collection of answers to questions she’s been asked. The audience takes about fifty seconds to pay attention and the MC takes the floor afterwards. “She’s got a business partner, not that you’d know it from that video. Women like to do that,” he opines.

Another excellent speaker quips about making money, “you can buy more shoes,” is the punch line directed to get the women in the rooms’ attention. It’s harmless.

Except there’s no example for blokes. There’s no example of any of the above for blokes. Because we don’t say these kind of things, about blokes.

I don’t think these are bad guys. One of these guys is an outstanding guy. They’re just part of a society where (admittedly less obvious) versions of the above are entrenched in the way we speak about women; the subtle clues that remind us that whilst we might be almost there in equality, we’re not quite.

Once upon a time all kinds of things we now consider completely off-limits (and rightly so) were acceptable. Once upon a time a certain type of person might have pondered aloud that if you were of certain ethnic descent you’d have been at Koko to wash dishes. And they probably would have got punched in the face.

I don’t have a solution. Since I was in my late teens I’ve laughed off sexism. I’ve seen it. I’ve been angered by it, but the unspoken rule seems to be that if you call it you’re overacting, you can’t take a joke, or you’re just an angry feminist. I get angry about other types of discrimination. I’d always call that, but I felt that sticking up for women would have me kicked out of the boys club. And it probably will.

I’m 100% for just being an example of a woman who isn’t a Golden Retriever. But we’ve had great examples for many decades now, and it’s not cutting through. From now on, I think a quiet word might be appropriate too. What do you think? I’m genuinely keen for advice!

53 Comments leave one →
  1. March 4, 2012 7:18 pm

    I remember once, there were no offices at work to hold a meeting, so one of the ‘boys’ suggested that they hold the meeting at The Melbourne Club as he had access to rooms, therefore excluding any females in the team attending (and at the risk of losing my job – it was Government…) . I dont think I ever spoke to him again after that . I dont know what to say other than it angers me too (on the upside, I know more about the innards of cars than my partner does)

    • LouPardi permalink*
      March 4, 2012 7:23 pm

      Hey Miss T, thanks for commenting! That’s quite the example you have there. I try to give people the benefit of the doubt. ‘Maybe they don’t realise,’ I reason, but with stuff like your example it’s so infuriating. Surely it’s obvious? So obvious we don’t need to point it out? But then if we don’t… that’s a predicament too.

  2. March 4, 2012 7:26 pm

    Recently there has been a lot of talk about misogyny. It’s come from some people who I dearly respect and it’s an important conversation to have. But, all too often I think the discussion can be more about the trees than the forest. The exact type of discrimination is happening to all walks of life: too young, too old, black, asian, too fat, too skinny, female, footy player, or wog – the list goes on.

    On one hand, it’s great that the conversation is about misogyny itself. Women today are in a position where they are able to highlight the problem, talk about it and hopefully remove the problem. But on the other hand I’d like to hope that the conversation doesn’t have to be about specific types of discrimination that we can talk about discrimination on both a specific level and an overall level.

    • LouPardi permalink*
      March 4, 2012 7:31 pm

      Hey Michael, thanks for the comment!

      Completely agree – discrimination on all levels needs to be addressed, and from some perspectives discrimination against white female women in Australia is certainly a #firstworldproblem. From my personal point of view I guess I find it interesting that I’d call out any discrimination other than that against myself.

  3. March 4, 2012 7:39 pm

    Yes you’re right – but then on some level aren’t we all guilty? older drivers irritate the hell out of me – am I discriminating? My mums 78 and drives. Im telling you now she shouldn’t because she believes that she has been driving for so long all the ‘new fangled’ rules don’t apply to her. Mother. Please.

    Womens magazines irritate me and are more responsible for this ‘tied to the train tracks damsel’ nonsense than ever – more so than any misogonystic MC. Pick up any weekly publication to see whos hot, whos not – best and worsed dressed – best diet tips. I saw the other day in a magazine that an avocado has more calories than a small serving of fries. STOP THAT! what message is that sending. Am I getting off track? maybe.

    There are very clear examples as you experienced today, but some very sinister hidden ones as well.

    • LouPardi permalink*
      March 4, 2012 7:44 pm

      Completely agree. Why start something between avocado and fries which does not exist. Why not whip the avocado into a guacamole and dip the fries in it. They can live in harmony.

      Also – yes. You are right, there are some sinister hidden messages around. And I do block a lot of those messages. I guess today seemed even more stealthy in some way, because I wasn’t expecting it. And somehow out of context… in a ‘professional’ setting.

  4. lindamciver permalink
    March 4, 2012 7:41 pm

    Speak up. Nicely. Politely. Just a gentle “I wonder if you have thought about how that comes across?”… or a male example… or even asking where the male examples were? It will keep happening if you don’t speak out. If you do, it might keep happening nonetheless… but it might not. I think it’s worth a try! The world needs more speaking out.

    • LouPardi permalink*
      March 4, 2012 7:45 pm

      Thanks! Next time. I will. Nicely. And stuff…

  5. March 4, 2012 7:56 pm

    “I wonder if you have thought about how that comes across?” will still be met with “crikey, shes a bit uptight, ain’t she?” I guess I am passionate about this because someone stepped over the line with me at work very recently – I stepped up and he (along with a few of his team) havent spoken to me since. I’m putting it down to childishness, but still irritating. I would have hoped for some respect for drawing the line, but instead I have copped a washing basket full of disdain.

    Dont get me wrong, if some one steps over the line again, I will do the same in a heart beat. I refuse to be the fodder for someones ridicule, which is essentially what this is about. isnt it, being fodder for others entertainment? Wasnt the MC being disrespectful for the sake of a few laughs? wrong-o.

    • March 4, 2012 8:02 pm

      (I’ve had wine – please excuse the spelling/grammar/punctuation/passion)

    • LouPardi permalink*
      March 4, 2012 8:08 pm

      Sorry to hear that.

      So incredibly difficult to get your message across without being put in ‘that’ basket. Nonetheless, the more it’s called, the less they can disregard it.

  6. March 4, 2012 8:02 pm

    Nice one Lou. Will be interesting to see how the Social Layer in enterprise impacts behaviours. Will increased openness reduce the boring bravado that doesn’t do anything to contribute to us getting “Things” done and harnessing the value people, whether male or female have to offer.

    • LouPardi permalink*
      March 4, 2012 8:26 pm

      Thanks P – Much as I would like to, I’m not sure the social layer will facilitate a resolution. There’s been discrimination face to face in biz for a long time. I think perhaps it needs to be called…

  7. lindamciver permalink
    March 4, 2012 8:18 pm

    I think the more often we speak up, the harder it is to label those who do speak up as uptight. Some people will always object to being called on their behaviour. But it seems to me that the silent treatment is intended to silence us. I’ve paid the price for speaking out too – all too painfully, and very recently. But if we let that silence us, we’re lost.

    Miss T – I admire your courage in continuing to speak out. None of us speaks out every time, and it’s easy to beat ourselves up about that. But the more we speak out, the easier it gets.

    • LouPardi permalink*
      March 4, 2012 8:32 pm

      Here here – congrats on you ladies who’ve spoken up.

      Strength in numbers too.

  8. March 4, 2012 8:39 pm

    I’ll never not speak up or out. My head heory is that if you have the guts to say it then surely you have the guts to hear it. Doesnt always work, but damn well worth the try. Thanks Lou.

    • March 4, 2012 8:40 pm

      Chuck a ‘t’ before ‘heory’. Last glass of wine in three, two, one…

  9. LouPardi permalink*
    March 4, 2012 8:43 pm

    you’re always welcome in these parts. 🙂

  10. Joanna permalink
    March 4, 2012 8:43 pm

    Nicely written post, and so, so accurate.

    The level of discrimination towards women hasn’t changed. We have more opportunities afforded to us than ever before, yet we are still considered inferior. This is why International Women’s Day irks me so much. Why are we highlighting to ourselves and men that we require a day to remind everyone that we are equal? It’s bullsh*t.

    My days at work are filled with misogynistic comments. Two recent examples: I joked that I should have spent money on a boob job instead of a commerce degree because I would be much farther along in my career by now. It wasn’t met with laughter from my male colleagues, it was met instead with a considered thoughtfulness and a murmur of “yeah, maybe.” The other example is when asked how the new (female) manager was, our client replied, “she’s pretty, and she’s punctual, that’s all that matters.”

    Never mind her excellent skills and professionalism.

    I can’t think of any way to address this either. I play along with it to ensure I remain included. And I think that marketing tactics such as Women in finance/property/law groups and stunts like International Women’s Day do us a massive disservice. We are just highlighting that we aren’t equal.

    It’s a tricky issue.

    • LouPardi permalink*
      March 4, 2012 8:49 pm

      Hi Joanna, Thanks for the comment. The whole woman’s group situation is hard to navigate – not sure how I feel about that. On one hand if we’re not in the boys’ clubs should we be banding together? On the other hand are we encouraging the separation?

      Tricky, tricky, tricky…

    • March 5, 2012 11:43 am

      Jeez, where in the heck do you work, Joanna?

  11. TheNorthernLights permalink
    March 4, 2012 8:51 pm

    I have this dilemma too. Having grown up in an extreme misogynist culture (outback Australia, anyone?) I’m used to shutting my mouth. Whenever I’ve spoken up in the past I’ve been shot down. Its a tough gig. No longer horrified when I encounter it in blokes I expect to know better. No idea what the answer is. Sorry lovely! I’ve been no help at all! Just that I hear ya.

    • LouPardi permalink*
      March 4, 2012 8:58 pm

      Thanks for your comment. It does help. I guess on some level I expected to hear that I’d imagined the issue. I’m unpleasantly surprised to hear it’s so common… and that so many of us find it hard to bring up.

  12. March 4, 2012 9:06 pm

    Your MC sounds like a douchebag…

    • LouPardi permalink*
      March 4, 2012 9:10 pm

      He did say some other stuff which was less douche-baggy

  13. March 4, 2012 9:19 pm

    I hear you!! The guy I used to work for was a decent person, but when I was having issues with a fellow [female] member of the leadership team not hitting deadlines, I was told I’d have to sort it out because it was ‘just a girl thing’, or it was just a ‘personality clash’.
    I spent years fighting misogyny in the corporate world, where healthy business debates were fobbed off as ’emotional’ by the women, only to be the ‘best new idea/direction by the males. Because I never let blatant sexism or discrimination go unnoticed or unchallenged, including hurling a maths book at the head of year 10 classmate, I am often labelled as ‘difficult’ or ‘feisty’. Tags I don’t deserve but will wear happily if it means you’ll at least watch your mouth around me. The result? I left the corporate world to work for myself, and only work with people who are modern minded.

    • LouPardi permalink*
      March 4, 2012 9:21 pm

      Thanks Meagan.

      Ok… I’m going to go out on a limb and say that hurling a book is a little feisty. 🙂

      I’m thinking we’re going to have to be a little difficult and a little feisty until there’s a little more consideration…

      I’m taking the very same approach professionally… thus going to an entrepreneurs day!

  14. Lisa C permalink
    March 4, 2012 9:19 pm

    I was at the Sydney #uncon yesterday and found it sleezy to be honest. One of the comments from the MC was that he doesn’t do Twitter, he has his “little girl in the Philippines” do it for him. The first 2 hours was terrible and had it not been for Stuart Cook, who showed a little business acumen and talked a few valuable things, I would have left sooner.

    I work in the Software Developer Industry, organise and attend many events with 95% of the room full of men. It can be intimidating to say the least. Especially in the IT world, a woman doesn’t always fit in like a guy. I understand this, and even respect it, however if something “misogynistic’ comes from the guy in the front of the room, with the mic in his hand, or the name tag ‘organiser’ it’s not acceptable.

    Yesterday’s room was 30% + women…and if I were them (and I was) I took the few nuggets of gold I could find, and left the building. It’s the tip of the iceberg, I can’t imagine what is said behind closed doors after a few drinks at the ‘after party’.

    The Startup world is tough enough, do we really need to deal with this crap as well?

    • LouPardi permalink*
      March 4, 2012 9:24 pm

      Hi Lisa

      Thanks for coming by.

      Sorry to hear that.

      There were some really great speakers in Melbourne, but these comments really let me (and in my opinion them) down.

  15. tigietoes permalink
    March 4, 2012 9:23 pm

    I am guilty , guilty of doing the same thing to men ,l have become aware of this as my son gets older ,l constantly hear myself saying typical male , or he’s thinking with his little brain, l have started to try to stop this as l feel l am somehow offending my son. My girls are also picking up on this kind of talk as well and l don’t like it. seems it can work both ways ,mere male in one mag is where men are derided for things they say and do,turn the page and its the womens turn best/worst dressed etc . l am so proud to be a women and l want my daughters to be proud to be women ,lwant my son to be proud of being a man . We need to respect each others strengths and be compassionate of each others weakness’s. l don’t take a lot of notice of dippy mc’s or mags as l never think of myself as anything other than a woman and l love being a woman on every level ,so cheap shots don’t apply to me they apply to the person making them it tells me more about them than anything else, it tells me they ignorant and totally out of touch poor them . We all need to think ,men and women, young and old ,all nationalities ,before we speak ,judge or condem sadly we do not live in an ideal world where we all live happily ever after, we live in the real world where change takes time lots of time ,but l do think we are slowly slowly getting there in some areas. just relax peeps and enjoy who you are negative comments don’t apply to you, when you feel very threatened or uncomfortable you of course must take action.

    • LouPardi permalink*
      March 4, 2012 9:28 pm

      I totally agree. All valid points.

      I’ll be trying to speak up more in future.

  16. March 4, 2012 9:33 pm

    Best unintentional misogynistic comment I ever received was, “for a stupid woman you’re actually really smart.”

    Sure that was a mighty kick in the guts and I reacted by going into robotic impress-the-socks-out-of-your-attacker mode and he went on to become a key supporter of mine.

    The world sucks and every time I feel like im accepted as a woman or as an Asian in Australia: BAM! It’s pretty amazing but then I just don’t understand tofu and struggle to taste or stomach it. My approach when dealing with tofu/racist/misogynistic comments is to ask:
    1. Do I have to work with this?
    2. What can I do to make this, tasteful?
    I usually then go into impress-the-socks-out-of-the-twat mode. I hate it but I also think it’s a chicken and the egg situation. Sure the world sucks but i feel that it’s my role as a woman and Asian to change perceptions.

    Funny story. I once changed the perception of a colleague re working with an “Asian”. Then he wanted to fuck me.

    • LouPardi permalink*
      March 4, 2012 9:39 pm

      So many levels of ugh.

      Not surprised you turn them around and impress them though, you’re outstanding.

      Good questions too, thanks Cheryl.

  17. Tim Cinel permalink
    March 4, 2012 9:40 pm

    Those are the kind of comments one might expect from a racist/sexist grandfather archetype, not an MC at a professional event. I cringed reading their comments, especially the one about shoes.

    I’m curious about the age group of the presenters because those comments seem so old fashioned. It’s a damn shame that nobody groaned at or heckled these presenters in response to such inappropriate behaviour.

    Bummer. Hopefully they see this article, hey?

    • LouPardi permalink*
      March 4, 2012 9:47 pm

      Thanks Tim.

      Although it’s an article about today, it was more a discussion about how I could respond in future. I call out these guys, sure, but the fact is their behaviour is not at all unusual.

      To answer your question they’re not old – if I was picking a box – 28 – 35?

      Young enough to know better…

  18. March 4, 2012 9:50 pm

    YES! Thank you so much for writing this. It’s something that has been on my mind a lot over this last year. I was at Uncon in Sydney and had similar thoughts.

    I agree, those small comments do feel like a kick in the gut. Isolated, these incidents seem forgivable. Retelling them to friends even makes them seem trivial at times. I usually just bite my lip, roll my eyes and move on. You have to pick your battles or risk being labeled a “crazy fem-nazi” – which is unfair.

    In terms of advice? I’m not sure. I try to speak up if a comment is really out of line. I blogging every day this month too, so perhaps I’ll share a post with some of my thoughts and experiences.

    • LouPardi permalink*
      March 4, 2012 9:53 pm

      Hi Hannah

      Sorry to hear about your experiences. So frustrating and such an energy waster.

      I hear you on the fem-nazi – such an effective silencer. For now.

      I’d love to read your post – please ping me if/when you write it.

  19. March 5, 2012 12:08 am

    I find the difference between “juvenile” and “mature” masculinity (in this case) lies in recognising and appreciating that the qualities so often described as “feminine” qualities are always already present (just often not identified with) within everyone are always available to everyone (although its a little more complex in practice). I think it’ll still take women speaking out as well as conversations between mature and juvenile men wherein mature men articulate show juvenile men how all the feelings that are so often associated with women are already present in themselves. I’m not saying it has to come from mature men – just that it also can come from us. An interesting example: Last night a male friend of mine (whom I was surprised to find had some fairly big blind-spots in relation to certain aspects of emotional intelligence with regard to relating to women) seemed to be on the verge of a breakthrough after having had a dream (the night before last) where he was in charge of an army of hermaphrodites. This just days after a mutual friend said that he had a dream in which this friend was both the mother and father of an infant. He was lost for what it meant and so I offered that “from an amateur-jungian perspective this might suggest a beginning of acceptance of ‘so-called’ masculine and feminine qualities of consciousness, integrating within himself and I encouraged him to get to know and uncover this missing massive part of himself. We’re so all in this together.

    • LouPardi permalink*
      March 5, 2012 9:19 am

      Thanks for coming by Bubbleosopher!

      We are all in this together. However one party’s had the upper hand for rather a long time…

  20. March 5, 2012 11:42 am

    OK I’m gonna be brutal, but you know me.

    1. This isn’t misogyny, it’s sexism. I don’t think these dudes hate women, do you? They have some sexist attitudes and – and – something you might not be taking into account – they have a really lame sense of humour. They need to up their grade on several fronts.

    2. I try to live by this: Always be assertive / Never be passive aggressive. In this situation, this means you need to just be assertive and go and talk to the people about it. Write a blog post if you want, but write a blog post about how you spoke to them, and what they said.

    I don’t think it’s too late. Have a coffee with the people (if you know them – sounds like you kind of know the MC?). Talk about other stuff, but talk about this too.

    I don’t need a reply, just a new blog post where you say that you spoke to (at least) one of these guys about how that day made you feel.

    • LouPardi permalink*
      March 5, 2012 11:53 am

      Hey Fox,

      Thanks for coming by.

      1. I think the MC’s behaviour does show a mistrust of women, and that is misogyny. You’re right, it’s also sexism. Passing off sexism as a joke is almost as dangerous as accepting it as one.
      2. Good rules to live by, for you. This was a blog not about being passive-aggressive (and I don’t think it is that) but about exploring the situation (and many others like it) and what would be an appropriate response. If I have coffee with every racist/sexist/person who offends me by their discrimination I’m going to be drinking coffee with a whole lot of people who I, quite frankly, don’t want to spend time with. I don’t have the time to invest in those people. I’ve got wonderful people around me and I don’t have time for them.

      You know I respect you, but (with respect) this blog isn’t about what you need. So I’m sending this reply. x

      • March 5, 2012 12:00 pm

        Do nothing, nothing changes.

      • LouPardi permalink*
        March 5, 2012 12:03 pm

        I’m not sure starting this discussion constitutes nothing.

        Through the discussions (above) I’ve decided to call it politely in future – i.e. “why would you say that?”

        This wasn’t a blog about addressing or calling attention to these guys, I don’t identify them. It was to ask advice about, and share the experience of, these kinds of things which happen all the time. Which it’s done.

        I think your approach is great, for you. It’s just not right for me.

      • March 5, 2012 12:14 pm

        Alright. I’m a gun for hire.

      • LouPardi permalink*
        March 5, 2012 12:14 pm

        You are SO on. x

  21. March 7, 2012 1:23 pm

    more Gryst for the mill… although it is from Limbagh so misogyny’s almost a given

  22. September 26, 2012 7:13 pm

    Nice one on the post Lou.

    It’s great to hear strong, independent women speaking up about this problem. I see what you’re talking about around our society and in our social patterns all the time, and speaking to my female and male pals it’s an issue that not a whole lot of people know how to tackle.

    Whether it’s old fashion values, attempts at humour, social positioning or whatever the case may be, it’s probably time to call it what it is; pretty inappropriate. There are lots of things in society we need to be tolerant of, but this isn’t one of them.
    It’s something we should be nipping in the butt. Especially if it means we can make way to a future of more confident women.

    You’re welcome at our boys club any time.

  23. September 27, 2012 11:29 am

    Oh, Lou. You’re so clever. Very well articulated.

    I find this one a really tricky issue to tackle. I find it really hard to call men (or women) on such comments, when I feel like society generally encourages these kinds of attitudes. I feel like as long as women are judged on our looks we will never be considered capable of anything beyond looking pretty. And that’s a large mountain to scale!

    Typically, I’m offended when someone tries to put me in a box by using stereotypes that just don’t apply to me. On the otherhand, if the stereotype proves to be accurate, sometimes I feel like I have to wear it!

    Good on your for opening this discussion. I feel like there will be a range of responses that work for different people. I tend to agree that passive aggressive won’t change anything, but at the other extreme I don’t know that “emotional” is the best answer – at least not for me, I don’t do it well.

    There must be a civilised, appropriate middle ground. And I think you need to pick your audience. And I have no doubt that you, my dear, can do that successfully. x

    • LouPardi permalink*
      October 9, 2012 11:50 pm

      Thanks honey – after much discussion on this with many clever peeps I now say, “Why would you say that?” I’m genuinely interested in why people do say things like this. Not sure what I’d do as an audience member… hopefully the same. x

  24. Janet permalink
    October 12, 2012 1:02 pm

    I speak up by teaching my children about respect. I respond quickly and succinctly if for instance my daughter is subject to a sexist action or my son makes a sexist comment. I demand equality for them and of them.

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