Sexism: What’s is all about?

Article by Kimberly Gillan /
Dolly /
January, 2013 /
Click here to view original /

Whenever Debbie and Sue’s boyfriends went surfing on Puberty Blues, the gals would sit on the beach waiting with meat pies in hand to congratulate their boys on a good session – because being girls, there was no way they’d be allowed on a board! But even more of an outrage was when Sue dared drop her boyfriend Danny Dixon, and was subsequently shunned from the “cool group”.

Thank goodness the Puberty Blues days of the 1970s are history. These days there are loads of gals surfing waves, and if a guy treats you like crap, you can totally dump him. Plus we’ve got a female Prime Minister and Governor General leading our country, and our parents and teachers are forever telling us that the world is our bright, shiny oyster.

But while it’s true that women’s rights have come a long way since the bra burning days of our mums’ era, unfortunately sexism – which is defined as prejudice or discrimination based on gender – is still alive and kicking in Oz.

Laws might have changed, but this isn’t always reflected IRL. New research shows Australian women are still paid 17 per cent less than men, and females only hold 14 out of every 100 board sets in Australian companies. Women aren’t getting the top jobs either – only five CEOs (Chief Executive Officers) of Australia’s top 200 companies are women. “We’ve got rights in terms of equal pay and there isn’t formal discrimination any more, but that doesn’t mean sexist doesn’t occur informally,” says Doctor Lauren Rosewarne, political scientist at the University of Melbourne.

So despite being promised the world, are we really on an even playing field with the boys? DOLLY investigates.

Let’s rewind back to the 1950s and ‘60s for a moment. Back in the day, women were seen as housewives and barred from certain jobs, while men were the breadwinners who could choose whatever career they wanted. Things were looking up by the 1970s, when anti-discrimination and equal pay laws began to be introduced meaning women were given a whole lot more respect in the workforce. Fast forward to 2012, and things are now better for females than they’ve ever been. Government-paid maternity leave was introduced to allow women to take paid time off work when they have a baby, plus in 2011, women in the military were granted the right to fight on the frontline at war.

But unfortunately this doesn’t mean the gals are totally on par yet. Career expert and psychologist Suzie Plush (suzieplush.com.au) says sexism is still common in traditionally male dominated industries, such as the police force, IT and finance. “It’s not as obvious as it used to be, but there are definitely ways that sexism is evident today,” she says. “It can happen in very subtle ways – like if a woman is working in an office with males, it might be assumed that she’s going to do some of the domestic things, such as the coffee run or taking notes.” A recent survey by The Australian newspaper found 33 percent of women claimed they regularly experience sexism, while only 10 percent of men said they experience sexist treatment.

It’s believed overt sexism happens in the professional sporting world too, with female athletes being notoriously paid less than their male counterparts. Tennis superstar Maria Sharapova was recently named the world’s highest-paid female athlete, pulling in a cool $US27.9 million in 2012. Not many of us would sneeze at such a hefty pay cheque, but that amount ranked her as just 26th in the top 100 sports earners list of the year. Maria’s pay is about half that of Roger Federer, the world’s top-earning male tennis player – and while some argue that male athletes pull a bigger audience to make them more lucrative for sponsors, others say it’s not fair. “There are many female athletes who have to work full-time jobs because they can’t afford to fully devote themselves to training. They don’t get the sponsorship to do so,” Dr Lauren says.

Workplaces and sporting arenas aren’t the only places where sexism can come into play for modern girls – it’s something that’s still alive and kicking in school playgrounds, whether you realise it’s “sexism” or not. Off-the-cuff comments excluding gals from kicking a ball “because you’re a girl” are just a form of subtle sexism, as it calling a girl a “sl*t” for engaging in sexual experience, while the guy gets labelled a hero. “A double standard exists where women still get judged harshly for their sexual histories whereas the men get applauded for theirs,” Dr Lauren says.

So how can we inject some more lady love into the world? The challenge for teen girls is to stand against gender stereotyping. The aim? Making sure we’re getting the same rights and chances as the guys. So, the next time a boy expects you to make the salad at a pool party, throw him the vegies and tell him to get chopping. “Surround yourself with positive people, as opposed to people who may you feel less worthy,” says Dr Lauren. And remember it’s possible to flex your lady strength without getting all anti-guys. “The key is not to be emotional or take it personally – be assertive,” Suzie says. By doing that, you’ll help trailblaze an era where gender is a total non-issue.