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Dec 24, 2012

Misguided feminism finds offence everywhere -- even a horse

The latest confected feminist outrage is over The Daily Telegraph naming a horse as sportswoman of the year. Here's why that just doesn't matter -- while there's plenty else that should.

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Australians have raised no idols save for an outlaw, Ned Kelly, and Carbine, a horse. This was the view historian Brian Fitzpatrick held of his fellows in 1956. But, that was a long time ago and our mythology’s expanded since then. The national tabernacle now surely includes those who fought and died in the Dardanelles and, of course, Phar Lap.

And thanks to a winning streak unequalled in a century, it seems a mare could join these heroes. According to The Daily Telegraph, Black Caviar is Sportswoman of the Year and galloping her way toward a pantheon dominated by sires and men who died badly for no good reason.

In a piece that nobody at News Limited expected any woman to read, Phil Rothfield and Darren Hadland took a “tongue in cheek” look at the year in sports. It looked like something that was knocked up in five minutes; there can be no other way to excuse the use of old s-x-and-cricket gag “bowl a maiden over” to describe batsman Chris Gayle.

The piece may have taken no time at all to write but it did dominate social media discussion for a good 12 hours yesterday. And today, a number of opinion pieces appalled at the s-xism, and, you guessed it “misogyny” of these writers have appeared.

As Fairfax has it, Olympian Sally Pearson had been “snubbed” by the Tele The decision to award an animal this honour over a human is, in the view of many, a disgrace.  This round-up of outrage did not stop the reporter from extending the analogy by declaring that Pearson had been “pipped at the post”.

Racing analogies come naturally to Australian journalists. As the ratbag Fitzpatrick observed so many years ago, we have long loved the thoroughbred as much as the outlaw.  So perhaps this reverence of a racehorse had less to do with the hatred of women than it does with a strange and long-standing national fetish.

But in a year in which discussion of (purportedly) feminist issues has occupied more space than usual, the peculiar love of tortured animals (and men) described by Fitzpatrick is not at issue here.  It is, instead, the gall of those who would dare call women horses.

Those able to chew gum and breathe in the same moment know, of course, that a “sportswoman” refers to a human female and not an equine one and that Pearson or any other human contender for the attention of the Tele never stood a chance. Unless they are diggers, bushrangers or, possibly, Don Bradman, Australian humans can never compete with a horse. Pearson was not pipped because she was never in the same race.  Or, species.

In short, this was not an insult borne of the late “misogyny” we have seen so regularly described this year. Rather, it comes from our rather sorry tradition of venerating champion horses even after they’re destroyed.

Identifying “misogyny” — a sort of s-xism with added guarana as I understand it — this year became a full-time job for many opinion writers.  I imagine I could have made a little more cash had I chosen to censure Alan Jones, Kyle Sandliands, the “s-xualisation” of children’s clothing and male comedians of which I have never heard.

There are those who deem this an exhilarating time in the history of feminism. Then, there are those of us who would prefer a return to core business.

But this conversation has become muffled in the year of Destroy the Joint.

In a sort of non-stop cultural studies tutorial, identifying s-xism has become a marathon project. One that provides more pleasure than it does practical end.

Matters like equal pay and workforce participation are no longer seen as key goals but things that will just naturally fall into place if no one tells unsavoury jokes or compares women to horses.

Short-lived feminist fury does feel good, though.  I have enjoyed it myself in the past. But without a goal nobler than its own expression, it’s content-free. Rather like the Gillard speech that launched these past months of outrage.

At the time, it sounded like a feminist herald of marvellous plans for change. A few months down the track, it seems about as profitable as betting on Black Caviar.

Helen Razer — Writer and Broadcaster

Helen Razer

Writer and Broadcaster

Helen Razer is a writer and broadcaster whose work has appeared in The Saturday Paper, SBS Online, The Big Issue, and Frankie. She has previously worked as a columnist for The Age and The Australian.

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28 comments

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28 thoughts on “Misguided feminism finds offence everywhere — even a horse

  1. Liz45

    Most people miss the whole point. It’s the mindset of those who wrote the original article that should be questioned? Whether they wrote it quickly or not is irrelevant. They THINK that way and THAT is the point. A good way to check if something is sexist/racist/ageist is to ask the question – If this was said about a man, aboriginal or older person would it be offensive etc? If the answer is ‘yes’ then it’s not fit to go to the printer? Easy!

    THEN another over riding fact is that articles like the original would not even be considered if the subject matter was men?

    The likes of Patriot and his ilk are dinosaurs and perhaps not until they’re all gone will this sort of attitude die out. The facts of awful violence against women around the world speaks loudly about how men rate women and their right to the same human rights as they enjoy! The need for feminism thought, actions are just as necessary now as a hundred years ago – sex slaves, child sexual assault/slavery etc, extreme poverty that mainly affects women and children; financial power and ownership of own home etc; rights to education and freedom of choice of profession. We’re nowhere near achieving a world where equality is the norm. Those like Patriot are doing very nicely in a sexist world – why would he want change?

    While we have this environment re women, we can denigrate them and not afford equal pay etc, and the same thing happens with aboriginal people. Keep making them out to be less worthy and capitalism flourishes! And huge profits remain the goal – at their expense!

  2. Dalit Kaplan

    So what? Razer’s observation that Australians revere horses may be accurate, but at the macro level, such a comparison has the effect of degrading women. ie. while I love my pet pomeranian, if I were to seriously assert that he is superior to my brother, then in a society that believes that humans are more valuable than pomeranians, I am degrading my brother. It’s that simple. While the intention behind the “award” may not have been deliberately laden with misogyny, one must not ignore the context of such comparisons, nor their symbolic worth.

    So, why are symbolism and language important? Welcome to feminism 101: Concrete changes that lead to greater gender equality (and we have a long way to go, even in Australia) will only come about with cultural and psychological changes in how society (both men and women) view the role and worth of women. Language, rhetoric and symbolism should not be undervalued. When I am compared to a horse, or any other animal for that matter, it makes me feel worthless, embarrassed, and less confident to demand that pay rise, that promotion, that state sponsored childcare so that I can pursue my career, etc. It makes me feel like my ambitions to become a successful sportswoman are not taken seriously. Telling feminists to grow a sense of humour undermines the possibility for a real conversation. I can still have a sense of humour and be a femanist (see above pomeranian joke).

    As to whether or not Crickey should have published the article – robust debate is never a bad thing. And Crickey should be open to publishing good quality journalism that examines issues, even feminist critiques, from all perspectives. But it must be good quality journalism, and I found this article to be a bit fluffy.

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