In the last two weeks, feminist group Destroy the Joint has taken Facebook by storm, to the point of being mentioned in this weekend’s edition of The Australian. The group was formed as a response to the language used in media commentary of women in the public sphere.
As consumers of mainstream media we could be forgiven for thinking that we are socially regressing to an age where sexism, racism and homophobia were commonplace attitudes.
Over the last month or so, we have seen Liberal Party political strategist Grahame Morris comment to ABC Local Radio in Sydney that ABC journalist Leigh Sales could be “a bit of a cow” after her interview with Tony Abbott the previous evening, followed by a defence of this turn of phrase by Gerard Henderson in The Sydney Morning Herald.
The recent airing of Go Back To Where You Came From on SBS included Melbourne shock jock Mike Smith, who spoke out against Australia taking in refugees and remained almost entirely unchanged at the conclusion of the series which saw him living in Mogadishu and refugee camps on the border.
However we can take heart from the responses that have emerged in response to these incidents. Numerous journalists responded to Grahame Morris’s comments, noting them to be unacceptable and highlighting the sexist language that currently permeates mainstream political commentary. Imogen Bailey, also from Go Back To Where You Came From, has been interviewed on commercial radio stations presenting the case for asylum seekers, the side of the argument that rarely gets airtime.
While women and refugees have legal rights, mainstream attitudes can lag well behind the exercising of these rights, and this is equally true for the gay and lesbian community. If we experience homophobic attitudes, subtle or explicit, we too have rights we can exercise to seek redress.
A few weeks ago the Australian Human Rights Centre launched its No To Homophobia campaign (www.notohomophobia.com.au) which focuses on the subtle homophobia we hear in everyday life. Much like the subtle racism and sexism that is part of everyday conversation, it may not an explicit attack, but is an insult nonetheless. Homophobic jokes might be jokes, but they are also still homophobic.
There is a fine line between being a party pooper and standing up for oneself, but we cannot be afraid to cross that line.