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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.


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.


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

  1. Ravenred

    Heh… a Marxist analyst might say you’ve got to look at the Base rather than just faffing around with the superstructure.

    But it’s also an argument for letting crap go by the boards because it’s not “important” enough. The one sexist jibe about a prominent female leader isn’t important because there are bigger things to worry about. The waitress getting felt up isn’t important because there are bigger things to worry about. That one woman being raped isn’t important because there are bigger things to worry about.

    Strawman? Yes, of course, but you’ve got to make sure that a sober call for perspective doesn’t become a dismissal of people’s lived experience of sexism.

  2. Daly

    Jokes underline journalists attitudes. That is why the Canberra press gallery missed the point of Gillard’s speech. This selection of a horse as Sportswoman of the year shows similar attitudes: women are not really in the game. If women protest they have no sense of humour; a gotya!

    I don’t buy any newspapers because journalists have these attitudes and the Australians I know are well past this sort of silly thinking about over half the population.

    If Crikey journalists, men or women, are no better I won’t renew.

  3. Jennie Fickling

    Silly article, and I’m disappointed with Crikey for publishing such a narrow-minded (and wrong) view of women’s issues in 2012. The issues that have been tackled have NOT been content free, and real progress has been made in many areas. What (if anything) has Helen done in 2012 that has tackled these issues in any meaningful way?

  4. Sarah

    This is a really bad article. It may be a fair critique that horses feature higher than humans (always women, but only sometimes men, as you proved) in our concept of Australian identity, but wouldn’t it be better to completely analyse this notion rather than jump on the feminist wowzers?

    I was left most stunned by the third last paragraph. The idea that somehow feminism should only focus on the ‘big’ issues, rather than the day to day experiences of women is something I would expect in the Tele, not here.

  5. klewso

    Of course Black Caviar can be “Sportswoman of the Year” – as judged by the “The Tele’s Tubbies”. Look at the women Murdoch has working for him in politics – the one end of a horse they are, with as much vision!

  6. Colleen Murrell

    I agree – it is a silly article. I don’t think anybody who thinks feminism is still “core business’ would consider that equal pay and workforce participation were no longer important. #Destroythejoint has done a great job at outing the blatant sexism in this country in everyday life.

  7. Colleen Murrell

    I realise of course that you can’t really ‘out’ something that is blatant so instead I offer that #destroythejoint has done a great job at broadcasting blatant, everyday sexism to a wider audience.

  8. drmick

    Daly has hit the nail on the head.
    Some men just keep missing the point. Not because they are stupid, but because they fail the basic test of humanity; to put yourself in the other persons shoes and walk around for a bit.
    Nurses do it all the time; it is why we were considered a vocation rather than a profession. Doctors however perfectly fit the picture and practice of journalists.
    Only a doctor would prescribe serepax and valium to a woman who is going through menopause and only a press gallery “journalist” could miss Julias speech for what is was and name a horse woman of the year.

  9. phyllis stein

    As Daly said, this underlines the attitude. When in any doubt, reverse it. I doubt the Tele would be as dismissive of a male athlete, and in fact they weren’t. What next? Give the award to a sailboat? They’re “female”.

    And it’s not funny, it’s lazy. Written quickly? That might be a defense but it’s not an excuse.

    “In a piece nobody at News Limited expected any woman to read” … what, we looked at a part of the paper not for us womenfolk? Or was that a joke too? ‘Cos, if it’s a joke, then I’ve got no right to be offended, and if I’m not to be seen as a humorless feminazi then I should smile and move on.

    Can’t wait for the follow up stories…. “Tele’s Sportswoman of the Year Covered by Handsome Stud” …pictures.

    If, as you say, identifying s-xism is a marathon project then you’re not helping with this thoughtless effort. And I am baffled by the following sentence “One that provides more pleasure than it does practical end.” Crikey Crikey…. this is a poor effort.

  10. James Butler

    We are heading to an age where Men will be oppressed by Women. Do Men deserve it? Probably , given the past atrocious oppression of women, guess its history repeating itself the other way round. Is it right? No it isn’t, we should have a balance and dissolve the whole “Gender wars” thing.

  11. Patriot

    I don’t understand why these hysterical, perpetually offended feminists aren’t outraged by gender segregation in sport – where women achieve less and are paid less – in the first place. If they’re cool with it maybe it can become a model for dealing with feminists in the workplace. Separate them from the blokes and give them less demanding roles with less pay. Everyone’s happy. I think I’m on to something here.

  12. Paula Thread

    Well Helen, thank you for this very helpful article. Perhaps you would like to help steer us poor ‘ol wayward feminists back on course by filling us in on some of your great achievements for this year? You know, by way of example of how it should be done. Or have you done nothing but sit back telling everyone else they’re doing it wrong? Is that what makes you an expert on what should and shouldn’t be important to women? Or perhaps your readership has just been a bit sad lately and you wanted to jump on and grab some of the attention those other chicks have been getting? Helen, if you’re happy sucking down the dull, daily diet of sexism in this country that’s fine. However, some of us have enough respect for ourselves and our children to insist on better. And you’re sitting around having a bit of a moan about it. So tell me, who should be doing something more useful with their time?

  13. Christopher Nagle

    Turning perfectly good descriptors like ‘sexist’ and ‘mysogynist’into rubbish by throwing them around indescriminately, simply blunts analysis and undermines the feminist project, eh Donna Quixote.

  14. Julia

    Helen, you wouldn’t even be writing this crap if it wasn’t for the feminist movement. So, here’s a novel idea…why don’t you try engaging your brain before putting your mouth into gear.

  15. Tom Jones

    Helen Razer joins that long list of women who try to succeed by deriding other women and trying to ingratiate themselves with the men. Bettina Arndt is another who is always telling women that they are wrong. However Helen wll probably find that women may or may not call them selves feminist but most will not believe it reasonable to have the sportwoman of the year as a hors. Does it include a comment about being ridden? Razer would do better tp look at the vast under representation of women in the sports section and their portrayal if they do make it. That’s if she is not too busy blaming women for their under representation.

  16. Renee Griffin

    I stumbled upon this piece doing some last minute Christmas shopping for my mother, as I intended on buying her a subscription to Crikey. I will no longer be doing so. I am extremely surprised that Crikey, whose progressive views have offered such hope in Australian media in a sea of bad analysis and reportage, even considered publishing such utter crap. As the social-media furore over this demonstrates, Razor certainly does not speak for Australian women. I wonder what type of coverage this would receive had it have been a male horse that was awarded the title, but then again I doubt this would occur if the gender was switched. This article stinks of all those of yesteryear, who when confronted by assertive women invented a medical illness for it, known as ‘hysteria’. As a journalism student I am deeply disappointed that Crikey, one of the last bastions of balanced reportage chose to entertain such a ridiculous piece. But then again, maybe the women of Australia and I are all just having our periods.

  17. phyllis stein

    @Tom Jones… I have a vision…. Bettina Arndt lying, Barbara Cartland like, on a chaise, dictating splenetic column inches to Helen Razor for their new book, “If Women Would Only Listen” and Volume 2, “Ladylike”- Feminine Feminism – You can Think It, But You Don’t Have To Go On About It.

  18. hern andog

    what better way to grab some attention and boost flaggin sales than confecting a big fat outrage about the sensitive topic of the day..

    hook, line and stinker.

  19. floorer

    I used to listen to Helen and Mikey (Robins) on triple j back in the day. Ran rings round anything commercial radio offered. Witty, thoughtful, relevant an intelligent. I don’t always understand or agree with her but this woman has strode her own road (that might be a tad melodramatic but a red or two will do that, I hope some of the previous posters have enjoyed whatever beverage they were consuming too). I read what Helen writes ’cause there’s a fair chance she’s going to come at any topic from an angle no one else does. Considering the tyre kicking standardness that gets foisted on us daily I will always have room for her.

  20. 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.

  21. Jara22

    Wow, really poor article. Completely misunderstands the social media phenomenon and the voice it is giving women. And completely underestimates the effect and meaning of Gillard’s speech. For how long have the key problems raised of equal pay and workforce participation been fought via traditional means and to what effect? Yes there has been some progress but it has been appallingly slow. So now, the social media raises it’s head and creates waves… big waves, and this writer belittles and demeans it. Really sad.

  22. Walker Alex

    Part of the problem wasn’t so much the piece but Rothfield’s response to it when challenged on Twitter. When Wendy Harmer questioned it, Rothfield told him to “pull her head in” — which from what I saw at the time, stoked the fires for many.

    Harmer’s piece went up around an hour after that exchange, and a lot of people reacted the same way.

  23. Hamis Hill

    Shoot the messenger!

  24. TheFamousEccles

    @ Renee Griffin,

    if you were shopping around for a subscription to something that allows opinions that don’t match your own, then Crikey is the place.

    However, as you seem so willing to judge and (as the article points to) take instant offence to anything outside your idea of correct, then I might hazard that your subscription won’t be missed.

    As for the rest of you –

    “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”

    This last sentence is key. It is all about the old guard and the paternal way of things, of which the Parrot (alluded to in the sentence) is front and centre. Whilst people are willing to take offence at a stupid article by a stupid columnist in an irrelevant, slowly dying rag, then the forces of paternalism are winning. This is the “core business” Razer is referring to, IMO.

  25. floorer

    “As for the rest of you -” it’s a long way down if that horse bolts

  26. 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!

  27. green-orange

    Would a stallion (or a gelding !) ever win “Sportsperson of the Year” ?

  28. Mike Larsen

    I think the outrage about this choice shows that the great majority of men also find this choice of award winner absurd.

    Our recent research shows that Australian women are actually 7% more optimistic than men about their career advancement opportunities which speaks volumes.



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