You can set your watch by this kind of outrage.
Every time a tweak is made to anti-discrimination laws, a small but loud minority starts wailing about how the “bitches”, “pansies” and “ethnics” are taking over the world. It’s a debate that almost always reaches its apoplectic apogee when someone mentions Hitler.
Watching it unfold online is a little like watching zombies learn how to type.
Australia’s Attorney-General, Nicola Roxon, announced this week that federal anti-discrimination laws will be changed in an effort to streamline the process.
As you would expect, the bigot brigade is already out in force, complaining that their right to vilify people based on their gender, sexuality or race is being curbed.
Eventually the debate lurches just that little bit more off the path, sniffs fresh blood and starts staggering towards affirmative action.
Raaaahhhh!!! This is the root of all evil! Rahhhhh!!!! Women are stealing men’s jobs! Rahhhhh!!!!
Most people recognise that refusing someone a job because of their race, gender or sexuality is bone-headed behaviour.
This is why the debate often turns to affirmative action: the underlying principles of affirmative action are not particularly well understood and it’s therefore easy to manipulate people with misinformation to ratchet up the fury.
Let’s clear things up: affirmative action isn’t about taking jobs away from white men, nor is it about giving jobs to unqualified or sub-intelligent women or minority groups. It’s about giving competent and qualified people the support they need to reach the so-called level playing field that white men are occupying on their own. It’s about trying to get more diversity into workplaces, onto boards and into leadership positions.
It’s not about minority groups taking over, it’s about them being represented in a way that accurately reflects the population and recognises that everyone is equally capable.
I can understand some men being angry and fearful of this. In a world where the unconscious bias of white males employing other white males seems like nothing more than a sensible business decision instead of instilled discrimination, the idea of giving the job to anyone else is challenging.
However, for affirmative action to work it must first be assumed that there are competent people out there to fill the roles.
This week, Jane Gilmore, the editor of online publication King’s Tribune, wrote a piece in support of affirmative action for women in online publications, but seemed to misunderstand some of the writing that women in that domain are already doing.
Her argument, in part, was that she can’t hire as many women as she’d like because there simply aren’t enough qualified women for the job.
It’s one of the classic logical fallacies: I can’t find them, therefore they don’t exist.
The most worrying part of the article was her assertion that the shortage of quality women was in some way attributable to women who wrote for “women’s sites” and were therefore probably not capable of writing about more serious topics:
“So, to get published, female writers are submitting work to the few outlets likely to consider their work – places like Mamamia and The Hoopla – and, if they’re any good and get repeat gigs, they become established not as a writer, but as a ‘Woman’s Issues’ writer. I’m sure I’m overlooking many a frustrated political writer because the only work they’ve been able to get published is on ‘women’s issues’ websites and that’s not where I go looking when I need someone to write about Tony Abbott,” she wrote.
As regular readers of The Hoopla would know, there are many articles on this site that cover not just Tony Abbott but state, federal and international politics from a variety of angles.
Near the end of the article, Jane encourages all publications to take the time to mentor the “bright but inexperienced” women and the implication seems to be that they can be saved from the “women’s sites” and trained to produce “high quality, interesting” content instead.
This isn’t affirmative action.
It’s a fundamental lack of understanding about what the so-called “women’s sites” are offering.
If editors of publications are ignoring the women who write for The Hoopla and other female dominated publications because it is assumed they lack the requisite skills to write about politics, then that needs to be addressed.
It concerns me greatly that Jane doesn’t realise that a lot of content on The Hoopla isn’t about lip gloss and cellulite and that both the writers and the readers are across more complex issues than fashion and boys. (Not to say that you can’t write a ripping, nuanced, articulate piece on skirts or lads by the way, I’m just saying that’s not the only thing you’ll find on this website.)
I applaud Jane’s call to arms to get more women in all publications, but it does concern me that a large number of women are being dismissed because they’ve purpose-written for a particular female audience. The requisite analytical skills and ability to form an argument should be evident no matter what the subject matter.
We saw this same prejudice pop up on Twitter last week under the hashtag #fakemamamia.
People used the social media site as a way to vent upon middle class women that were perceived as vacuous and shallow. It’s an unfair assumption and comes across as snobbish: if some women like to read articles about fashion and beauty occasionally, that doesn’t mean they’re stupid. And again, a quick look at Mamamia shows it is far more diverse than that anyway.
We have to be mindful of these subtle prejudices.
A site that is run mostly by and for women isn’t in some way lesser or lighter. It’s affirmative action at its best.
We shouldn’t dismiss publications because of out-dated beliefs as to what subject matter constitutes quality writing or that “women’s sites” publish nothing of substance in the first place.
Perhaps we could go some way to solving this apparent dearth of experienced, high quality female writers if the editors of the male-dominated sites broadened their search to include the places many of these women are already working.
MORE STORIES BY CORINNE GRANT
*Corinne Grant is a stand-up comedian, MC, presenter, writer and broadcaster and has performed both nationally and internationally. In addition to her years on Rove Live and The Glasshouse, she has appeared on everything from Spicks and Specks to Dancing With The Stars to Good News Week. She has co-hosted successful national radio shows, performed countless solo live shows and appeared everywhere from the Sydney Opera House to the Kalgoorlie Arts Centre. Corinne’s first book, Lessons In Letting Go: Confessions of a Hoarder (Allen and Unwin) was released in September 2010 and went into reprint just months after its release.