Hillary Clinton has been reduced to wrinkles in a pants suit. Maxine McKew’s skirt is centre stage. What’s the show called? “Misogyny in Da House”.

I’ve considered starving the issue – negative media representation of women in politics – of oxygen but this is a problem that clearly needs further public airing.

Why? Because when a woman of Hillary Clinton’s character, experience and intelligence is deemed unfit for the White House because of perceptions the voting public will be turned off by the prospect of watching a woman age before their eyes, it sends a message to the world that feminism is still several battles from winning the gender equality war. And, because far too many men just don’t get it.

Lest I be accused of being a reactionary man-hater (again!), I say this from the perspective of a feminist woman who is actually rather fond of men. I also have evidence – in the form of a s-xist backlash against my Crikey story from earlier this week on the Canberra Times’ attempt to diminish Maxine McKew’s defeat of John Howard with a demeaning front page photograph selected unapologetically by Editor, Mark Baker.

My story about the fiasco attracted a significant number of comments on Crikey and a similar number of responses via my blog. Then there were the emails…many of them were personalised misogynistic rants that displayed the most extraordinary ignorance. At Crikey, where 23 comments were posted, over 50% of respondents were men. The vast bulk of identifiably male responses took issue with my critique of the Canberra Times’ decision to run the tasteless “up-the-skirt shot” of Maxine McKew. Some were so s-xist they were laughable – like this one from Kevin: “Julie Posetti is showing signs of her damage at the hands of the Catholic eduction system. I commend Mark Baker for not backing down to the hairy chested feminists who exist in every newsroom”.

More seeth-worthy was the assertion from a number of male respondents that women offended by the Canberra Times’ treatment of Maxine McKew were whinging about nothing and that her choice of clothing was the real problem – that is, she “asked for it”. (Uncovered meat comparison anyone?). Take for example this comment from David: “Maxine sexualised herself with her choice of dress. Why should only male politicians should [sic] have a dress code?”

Meanwhile, as the media’s commentary on Hillary’s pants suits (a discourse which has distracted from coverage of her policies and intellectual gravitas) has proven, even women politicians who wear pants can’t escape gender bias in the media.

This was a point echoed by a Queensland correspondent to my blog “…so outraged by Maxine’s photo being published I can barely type…women politicians in Queensland are often described in the press in terms of their shoes…Hillary’s pant suits have featured in the last four articles I’ve read on her campaign. My five year old daughter just doesn’t get it and asks why they don’t put photos of men’s shoes in the paper?”

I wonder if this rampant s-xism is another product of the Howard assault on respect for difference derided as “political correctness”. Newsflash guys: feminism is no longer a dirty word! And, thankfully, this is a view shared by many men. Take, for example, the perspective of Crikey reader Malcolm: “I totally concur with Julie. Baker was caught out. His pathetic excuse in the Canberra Times , was exposed for what it was, when an appropriate photo of the same event appeared on p2 of the same days SMH, by the same photographer. The Times photo was crude”.

When I watched my third year students graduate from their journalism course this week at the University of Canberra I was struck once again by the gender shift among the ranks of junior reporters. I’m regularly asked by News Editors for the names of successful male students because their newsrooms are already “female dominated”. But while the ranks of women journalists have swollen dramatically over the past 20 years, most editorial management and senior reporting positions are still occupied by men. And newsrooms remain sexist workplaces (Channel Nine anyone?).

But we shouldn’t have to wait for equality in newsrooms for women to be reported equally by the media. Men are just as capable of understanding the consequences of female subjugation and stereotyping as they are of appreciating racist representation of black men from a white male perspective. But they have to want to remove their blinkers.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey