In the last week Australian current affairs and politics has been peppered with reports of anti-women rhetoric and reference to anti-women behaviour and attitudes. When we hear about and read in the media of specific events concerning the deliberate and systematic maligning of women (such as within the Australian Military) we are hearing arguably about the tip of the ice-berg. If this is reflective of attitudes and behaviours within the wider Australian community it is difficult to confirm from my individual perspective. Arguably with the current mix of news items to select from it would appear to be reflective of attitudes of some strength in some quarters of our society. Though Chief of Army David Morrison does reflect the strength of the obverse view sexism and anti-women attitudes have never-the-less declared they are alive and well in 2013 Australia. Some might argue they had never left, for just a metaphoric scratch to a weakened section on the surface of our society allows them to burst forth like a hidden stream of magma.
As Prime Minister Julia Gillard discovered using sexism to promote a political agenda in order to create a more favourable political climate can misfire badly. Blow back for attack dogs can be very severe as well as Mr Howard Sattler is now discovering when cheap shots about sexuality backfire. When sexism is wielded falsely by men or women, particularly if politicians do so, the damage from backfire can range from being merely cringe worthy to explosively damaging, either way it is very public. The good that can come of it is that it is at least public where we can all see it, point out when it is used manipulatively and examine and investigate where demonstrated. The reputation of a politician on the sexism attack or the reputation of an attacker defending their sexist values can instead be truly revealed. The reputation of Government in the opinion of whom it serves is surely affected when bungles such as these are made. Of greater concern for us is when sexism is wielded secretly at the level of the political arena, the board room or in the home. It is out of public view that it is most damaging for women and harmful to society. Any disparaging anti-women behaviour that is hidden is a threat because it is hidden. Women who cannot rely upon the media coming to their aid find themselves at the mercy of social denial, apathy or fear of witnesses and the intransigence and belligerence of the perpetrator and the origins for the attitudes become reinforced.
Accusations of sexism must be based in honesty and truth. And, clearly sexist or misogynist behaviour must be exposed. If the former is manipulatively biased intending to achieve a political, personal or social agenda and is untrue or stretches the bounds of the truth the latter is effectively weakened. False claims affect trust in very real and true claims with the tarnishing accusation of "cry wolf".
Though they may be exceptional (in our modern so-called-secular democracy) such entrenched attitudes emerge from a deep pool. There must be a place, an origin for this belief - that women are inferior - that is kept safe from the light of reason and reality, and for where these attitudes have time to develop, form and become entrenched. It is difficult to comprehend some of these acts are viewed as reasonable (deserved) if not normal (accepted) to some people but they are. That women are weaker physically may be factual but is it a matter of her inferiority that she may be weaker physically than a male? Or more that too high a representational value is placed on physical strength alone. Some remarkably believe women to be mentally inferior - it escapes logic but founding psychiatry helped to endorse and entrench such spurious notions as scientific.
The psychology formed from the belief that women are second, are inferior to the male, are more susceptible to criticism as they have suspect characteristics is a result of religious and socio-cultural reinforced influences. Women are religiously maligned by the doctrines they are compelled to or do follow and some even believe it because their faith tells them it is so; by being created second, or as an after-thought (presumably by an imperfect creator), or as a play thing for the perfection of the male (formed in Gods image so the more perfect creation), or to be reward for a pious male, or merely available for the very messy but necessary pro-creation purposes.
Religion lumbers women before birth and throughout life with; original sin for their curiosity, cursed with a womb - that bleeds, or are just biologically compromised by it, hindered by childbearing - vacant, broken, barren if they do not bare children, hindered by a greater propensity for compassion, poorer of intellect and thus expected to be a supplicant in every realm of her life. The libellous disparagement goes on and on in religious doctrine. Texts which pervasively spill out their dogmas to inspire the destruction of a bus load of girls seeking an education through to endorsing cultural practices that determine female genital perfection is achieved through mutilation (FGM). The expression of anti-women attitudes can be brutal or more subtle but are never-the-less sinisterly linked to the concept of inferiority and subjugation. Strong words but when you are blown to bits or threatened with any measure of violence in order to subdue you are humiliated and subjugated as Charles Saatchi effectively demonstrates to his wife Nigella Lawson. Every so often it is demonstrated that these ill conceived malignant deceits pollute the secular domain too, though purportedly impervious to such inequalities, because attitudes that are entrenched run deep and are difficult to dislodge until we expose them to the light.
Women are diminished by religious doctrine which followers view as law, diminished historically and legally in legislation, diminished in the historic arts of medicine and psychology, diminished in society. But it is not all bad and women are not perfect either. The point is women are equal to men - I prefer to dispense with arguments about what is intended with the word equal however clarity for some is always required - equal as in unbiased and of the same status.
Women are strong, are intelligent and competent, are contributors, and fortunately for me the society I grew up in now officially recognises these unassailable facts with some gaps here and there at the fringes. Not anything we cannot fix in time. Society reinforces what goes unquestioned whether this might be good or bad and it reflects on us and changes our society for the worse if we do nothing, question nothing when behaviour or attitudes emerge that are not good. Men do have to contend with social hurdles, bigotry, disadvantage due to birth and geography, life can be difficult for women in those ways too. I'm not arguing equivalent disadvantage but a similar position for most men might be to consider where homosexuality or a perception of being less manly and more womanly (= inferior) is observed, construed or used tactically in order to diminish them. It is this underpinning and fundamentally flawed psychology that needs to change along with valuing human reason over religious dogma. It is important to diminish the powerful role religious doctrine plays in creating perceptions that devalue women.
Try to imagine living with the perception you are inferior to your gender counterpart, 24/7. It is a perception that exists, in some sectors of societies, in most major religions, I don't believe there is any purpose or reason to deny it by not pointing it out. If I were to compare the 1970s with the year 2013 I can say the situation with regards to sexism and the treatment of women has improved and is continuing to do so in this country at least. And, as this last week has demonstrated we have much to be vigilant about and need to vigorously promote change in attitudes as they emerge from the depths because such change will only benefit society. To those who may have a problem with this, to quote the fine words of Chief of Army, David Morrison, "...if that does not suit you then get out.".