New Millennium, Old Tricks

Art: Alyssa Korea

Art: Alyssa Korea

Words: Jordan Oldbury

There are people who deny that sexual harassment in the workplace is an issue. There are people who deny gender inequality is still a problem. These people usually also deny the theory of evolution and believe that bombing 'Agrabar' is a sensible thing to do.

If you keep up to date with the news you'd be forgiven for thinking we'd recently traveled back in time. It's not just the new Star Wars movie taking us back to the 1970s, but the several cases of sexual discrimination reported on recently.

Chris Gayle is now the most talked about cricketer in the world. Unfortunately not because of his prowess on the crease. Instead he's in the headlines because of his choice to subject sports journalist Mel McLoughlin to a bar-room style pick up attempt on live television. If you haven't seen the interview, please check it out. It's like watching one of those sexual harassment training videos where they bring in a celebrity to add a bit of star power and make it a bit showbiz. Unfortunately in this instance it looks like the star is completely unaware of the subject matter. What's more disturbing, other than his attempt at an apology, is the reaction this inappropriate behaviour received from some commentators. "He was just having a laugh", "She should lighten up", "You can't say anything these days." 

This type of behaviour and the reaction to it is all too common in the workplace. What makes this headline worthy is that it's a very public display of something that is usually confined to confidential HR meetings. Sexual harassment is a real issue both in and out of the workplace. If you're not disgusted by this you should be. By condoning this incident you're suggesting that McLoughlin isn't a professional journalist trying to do a job, but rather an object of desire who should know better than to flaunt her attractiveness at the poor, helpless cricketer who can't be blamed for his totally unacceptable actions. If you don't understand how wrong this is, for the good of the gene pool, please rethink procreating.

If sports star indiscretions aren't your thing then how about politicians? In an almost unbelievable coincidence, two Australian MPs are seeking alternative employment after details of two separate incidents of sexual harassment were reported. I know, I know, you're shocked and aghast that members of parliament could be anything other than upstanding, law-abiding public servants. I'm with you, I'm flabbergasted. Jamie Clements (no not the guy from Flight of the Conchords) resigned after being accused of sexually harassing a staff member. He, allegedly, pushed her against a wall and tried to kiss her. Clements must not have had any idea he was doing anything wrong. Presumably he gets pushed against walls and kissed at work all the time and assumed it was normal. He was probably just trying to be friendly, or sweet, and definitely not sexually aggressive? Women like that right?

Then we have Jamie Briggs, another fallen from grace MP who also likes to act inappropriately around staff members. Briggs is alleged to have made advances towards a young female staffer on a night out during a business trip in Hong Kong. Some have broken out the age old response... "If she didn't want it she wouldn't have gone." A stupid argument when you think about it. Let's say you're on a business trip with your boss. He invites you out for dinner. You don't know anyone else, you're in a foreign country and you want to make a good impression. You also like your boss, he's not a horrible guy and although he occasionally stands a bit too close to you, you're sure he doesn't mean anything by it. I'd go. I always go for meals out with the boss. But I'm a bit of a brown noser that way. So you go for what you think is going to be a nice business meal and your boss starts making comments about your eyes. You're uncomfortable but you decide to let it go. He then starts getting close to you, closer than you feel comfortable with. You mention this to other senior staff but it's ignored. Then he starts making comments about your appearance and kisses you on the cheek, the neck, maybe gets a little closer. This is all while you're at work! Doing your job! If my boss started doing that to me I'd be horrified. I certainly wouldn't expect to receive any backlash from the public about reporting it and I'd expect my boss to get at the very least a stern talking to and a bit of re-training. 

It's easy to pick apart these encounters, as evidenced by the internet trolls quick to blame the victim in these situations. The women dressed too provocatively they say, they were too attractive they cry, they were asking for it they type, as they sit behind their screens safe from any real world confrontation. We're never going to progress as a society until we start taking responsibility for issues like this and fixing them. Malcolm Turnbull made a positive start for women's issues by not following in Tony Abbott's footsteps and actually appointing a female Minister for Women. But his responsibility doesn't stop there. As the Prime Minister of Australia, Turnbull should be the first to condemn these acts of sexist stupidity, especially when they take place in his cabinet or by sports stars representing the country he leads. Sometimes I'm disgusted at the attitude of men towards women and I'm ashamed that by not taking more of an active stance against it, I'm condoning this behaviour and adding to the problem.

Art: Ambivalently Yours

Art: Ambivalently Yours

If in 2016 women still don't have parity with men's wages, still aren't properly represented and still face discrimination and harassment then we should be looking at our leaders and demanding to know why things aren't any better than they were 50 years ago. We're well and truly into the new millennium now, let's act like we deserve to stay.