I’m starting to feel pretty worn down by the commentary surrounding the Prime Minister’s speech on sexism and misogyny.
Not because the debate has been heated (it has) not because it’s been partisan (it has) and not even because it has been used as a springboard for even more sexist insults directed not just at the PM, but at women in general (if you are a masochist, have a look at the comments on Andrew Bolt’s blog).
No. What’s depressing me is how reductive and pointless the majority of the arguments have been.
If one more person starts their speech or article with the phrase, ‘the dictionary definition of misogyny is,’ I will go postal.
For a start, unless you’re on a high school debating team, you really should be capable of an argument more complex than ‘I looked up a word. So there.’
Secondly, as any high school debater will tell you, ‘the dictionary’ does not exist. This isn’t Lord Of The Rings, there is no one dictionary to rule us all. A fifteen year-old can tell you that you have to actually reference which dictionary you’re quoting from.
Labor Minister Bill Shorten defined misogyny on Q and A Monday night as a hatred or prejudice against women. It’s a subtle but important difference to the definition that’s been used by the majority of the media that defines the word as simply ‘hatred of women’. The definition Shorten was referring to exists. Firstly in the Oxford dictionary and as of today, in the Macquarie as well.
In explaining their updated definition, the editor of the Macquarie Susan Butler (pictured right, image via AFR) said, “The extended meaning was not created (during the current debate), just made highly visible. And so we felt the need to keep the record of the language up to date, and to adjust the entry at misogyny to cover its current use.”
While referring to the modern definition of misogyny, Shorten was lectured by host Tony Jones who said, “you’ve redefined a word that’s in the dictionary to suit your own means”. This was then backed up by a male audience member, who continually kept quoting this same mysterious ‘dictionary’ as if it was the bible. The same argument had also played out in The Australian over the weekend.
It was at this point that I started yelling at the television, “Which bloody dictionary? If you’re going to dismiss an entire debate, at least quote your source!”
And then I sat back and thought, who the hell cares about the definition? Seriously, how the hell did we allow the opportunity for an important discussion to be hijacked by such pedantry?
We should be discussing how misogyny manifests itself in our society. We should be talking about how the gendered abuse directed at our Prime Minister is affecting all women.
Quibbling over definitions is utterly trivialising the issue.
During the same episode of Q and A, Jones asked the panel to comment on whether former Speaker Peter Slipper’s text messages were sexist or not. It was a serious discussion and along with the women on the panel both The Project host Charlie Pickering and Bill Shorten offered a strong point of view.
Later in the same episode—and it was at this point that I lay down on the couch and feebly gave my television the finger—the discussion turned to cosmetic surgery.
Comedian and author Pamela Stephenson gave an eloquent, personal and dignified reply to the question, as did Liberal frontbencher Sophie Mirabella and journalist Catherine Fox.
Tony Jones then turned to the two male panellists for their opinion. Grinning, Tony said, “You can see how dangerous it is for a bloke to get involved in these kinds of discussions, even asking questions creates…”
To his credit, Pickering cut Jones off and answered the question with sensitivity. But the audience had tittered along with Jones.
The joke of course is that women are touchy about their appearance. So touchy, in fact, that even daring to have ‘these discussions’ is ‘dangerous’. However, if you want to tell women what is and isn’t misogynist, without even referencing where you’ve got your definition from, then go ahead. You can lecture a woman on how society works, but don’t attempt to talk to her about appearance, eh lads!
I don’t think Tony Jones meant it like that. I think he believed he was making an amusing joke that showed his sensitivity towards women. And the reason I don’t think he was being deliberately callous is because, as the tweeter @RedheadEdition puts it, “Sexism is so ingrained in us we can’t even see it”.
This is the discussion we should be having: there is an all-pervasive sexism that isn’t deliberate, but serves to continue to stereotype and limit women.
We should be able to have this discussion without being called touchy or manipulative. We should be able to talk about these issues without being shouted down by dictionary wavers. We should be able to make informed comments about politics without the mainstream media lecturing us and telling us we don’t understand context or the meaning of words.
You can bet your bottom dollar there will be articles published in the next couple of days saying that the Macquarie dictionary is a tool of the left. You can bet that the definition will be ridiculed—because, of course, language is only a living, breathing, evolving thing if it serves your own purpose, isn’t it?
Updated definitions. The Macquarie Dictionary a ‘tool of the left’?
Yesterday, Tony Abbott held a press conference and suggested it would be better if the Prime Minister ‘stopped complaining and started governing’.
In other words, calling out sexism is nothing more than having a bit of a whinge.
I’d suggest that we keep up our girlish whining. And maybe, if the only way to have any kind of debate about gender in this country is to play the dictionary card, we ask Macquarie to change the definition of complaining to “women defending their right to take part in public and private life without being ridiculed, negated or abused on the basis of their gender.”
MORE ARTICLES 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.