Prejudice, stereotyping, or discrimination on the basis of sex. It happens all around Australia, but what about in our government?
Just a few weeks ago, actress Pamela Anderson appeared on 60 Minutes demanding Prime Minister Scott Morrison to bring Wikileaks founder Julian Assange back home to Australia.
“Get Julian his passport back and take him back to Australia and be proud of him,” she said, “and throw him a parade when he gets home”.
When the PM was asked on commercial radio if he would listen to Anderson’s advice and celebrate Mr Assange, he quickly took the opportunity to belittle the woman who was simply voicing her political opinion.
“Well no, first of all, but next, I’ve had plenty of mates who’ve asked me if they can be my special envoy to sort the issue out with Pamela Anderson.”
Appearing on The Project late last month, Anderson – who says she would like to be thought of as an activist now and not just the former Baywatch star – said that the incident wasn’t shocking, but instead disappointing.
“It is very Trumpian actually to use a sexist remark to divert from the actual issue, the actual question,” she said.
“I assume he was doing it on purpose to shift attention to the lewd comments, and away from Julian – which is most important.”
Anderson called the response “typical of politicians”, but does that make it okay? Have we become numb to males disregarding female views and trivialising powerful women?
In April 2016, then Presidential-nominee Donald Trump said that Hillary Clinton was only getting votes because she was a woman, and had nothing else to offer.
“Frankly, if Hillary Clinton were a man, I don’t think she’d get five percent of the vote.”
Of course this wasn’t the first powerful woman he gave sexist comments about. He declared supermodel Heidi Klum “no longer a 10” because of her age, slut-shamed Angelina Jolie on a number of occasions, called former Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly a “bimbo” and said that his Republican primary campaign opponent Carly Fiorina would never be President because of her face.
In a 1994 interview, Trump even claimed that his marriage with Ivana didn’t work out because of her own professional success.
“You know, I don’t want to sound too much like a chauvinist, but when I come home and dinner’s not ready, I’ll go through the roof, OK?”
Sadly, sexism has been apparent in the Australian parliament for a while.
Australia’s first female Prime Minister Julia Gillard had to endure crude and sexist comments, political cartoons and headlines, and in 2012 she famously delivered her ‘Misogyny Speech’ in Parliament.
“I will not be lectured about sexism and misogyny by this man; I will not,” she shouted to then-Opposition Leader Tony Abbott.
The speech quickly went viral and was recognised as the first time a world leader has spoken about misogyny so openly, launching Gillard as a feminist icon.
But the speech failed to stop sexism in Parliament.
Earlier this year, Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young said that Liberal Democrat senator David Leyonhjelm told her to “stop shagging men” during a parliamentary debate about violence against women. When she confronted him and called him a creep, he told her to “f—k off”. Senator Leyonhjelm did not deny the altercation, nor did he withdraw his marks or apologise.
Last month Senator Hanson-Young was the target of more sexist comments in the Senate, this time from Senator Barry O’Sullivan. Greens leader Richard Di Natale was instantly infuriated at the “sexist filth coming from that man”, calling the Senator a “pig” and a “disgrace”, and was suspended from Senate for the rest of the day after refusing to withdraw the comments.
This all occurred on the same day that MP Julia Banks quit the Liberal Party to sit on the crossbench, which she said was partly due to the way women are treated in Parliament. The Herald Sun also reported that MP Kelly O’Dwyer spoke out about the Liberal Party a day earlier, telling colleagues that they are widely viewed as “anti-women”.
After the recent Victorian Election, the Labor party made history with the first gender-equal Victorian government ministry, following in Queensland’s lead who reached the feat last December.
While many may think that sexism in Australian politics is worse than ever before, independent politician and activist Tarang Chawla believes that we are simply seeing greater reporting and education, and strong women have had enough.
“I’ve heard politicians talk about how it is a ‘difficult time to be a man’,” he says.
“I would qualify that it is not difficult to be a man, but it is a difficult time if you are a person who wants to continue being sexist, because finally people are calling it out and others are willing to listen and help.”
After his sister was murdered by her husband in 2015, Tarang Chawla became a social activist, was a Young Australian of the Year finalist for his advocacy, and ran in the recent Victorian election for his independent End Violence Against Women party.
“There is a deep-rooted culture of sexism and misogyny that has existed across political persuasions and is held by a number of politicians, in Australia and abroad,” he says, “however, like many members of the public I feel underwhelmed by many of our current politicians.”
Gillian Triggs, former President of the Australian Human Rights Commission, recently said that gender equality has dramatically gotten worse since the beginning of this decade.
Since 2010, Australia’s overall gender gap ranking in the World Economic Forum’s annual report has dropped from 23rd to 47th in 2016, and currently 35th.
Earlier this month, the SBS premiered their documentary ‘Is Australia Sexist?’, featuring the results of the largest ever survey on the issue of sexism in Australia.
In a number of creative ways, the show tackled the gender pay gap, workplace sexual harassment, online harassment and street harassment. The released statistics highlighted that 62 per cent of Australians agree that gender equality is improving, and 72 per cent of men and 76 per cent of women believe that it is significantly better now than it was in their parent’s generation.
It is clear that sexual harassment and gender inequalities happen all over Australia, so should it be expected that this goes on in Parliament? What’s the solution?
The simple answer is respect.
Imagine if we had a Prime Minister who didn’t belittle a prominent activist as a sexual figure, but instead respected her political opinion. Imagine if the US President respected his female opponents and treated them for their ideas rather than their appearances. And hey, imagine if Parliament was a place where female politicians were respected and not slut-shamed, all cabinets were 50 per cent women, and female journalists were not wrongly kicked out for “showing too much skin”.
People are definitely speaking out about the issue more and more everyday, and it seems like times are changing.
Maybe our politicians should too.