Razer's Class Warfare

Jan 30, 2018

Razer: you can’t fix a problem like sexual harassment within existing structures

For all their honourable intentions and punishing labour, journalists of this #MeToo movement may not be helping as many women as they think.

Helen Razer — Writer and broadcaster

Helen Razer

Writer and broadcaster

Last year will be remembered as a one of change for women. Perhaps not all women, but for those with a professional headshot, 2017 was a time of glorious advancement. At the Golden Globe awards, Oprah Winfrey was appointed Fantasy President by a press she praised for “insatiable dedication” that bravely took place “under siege”. Locally, Tracey Spicer accepted an Australia Day honour for her journalism uncovering sexual abuse in the media sector. The magazine Time made the #MeToo movement its Person of the Year. If one were a media worker in 2017, it was difficult not to believe in an epochal transformation.

If one were a typical media consumer, though, 2017 was likely to look rather different. Journalists and celebrities may continue to believe quite absolutely in their power to transform reality. Meantime, media itself has been trashed in the public understanding. The reality that media workers seek, often very earnestly, to shift is one with which only media workers, and perhaps their admirers, are familiar. This is a “reality” that believes its own foundation to be communication. Communication is now perceived by media workers as the basis from which reality itself springs.

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10 thoughts on “Razer: you can’t fix a problem like sexual harassment within existing structures

  1. Karen Hutchinson

    Thank you. This is an acute and insightful piece you’ve given us. Would you go further and offer a practical method for those of us ordinary women – sans media/celebrity profile – to combat this exclusive domain being carved out by the aforementioned and have our voices heard without needing to employ the services of ‘Litigious & Long’?

    1. Helen Razer

      Hi, KH.
      The awful truth is: not all individual voices can be heard loud and clear to a broad audience. Another slightly less awful one is: hearing voices doesn’t change stuff in a practical way. Think, for example, about the media racket about “ending the stigma” on mental illness. So, maybe that has been achieved to some degree. I can say to you now, “I have been diagnosed with such-and-such” and it’s not a big deal. But, it is a big deal if (a) this illness stops me working and insecure work conditions mean I don’t get paid/get the sack and/or (b) there is no affordable treatment available. Both very likely. We have diminished job security and the most meagre GDP to mental health spend ratio here in Australia. But, some people (media workers, very well-to-do people with mental illness whose biggest problem is “stigma”, policymakers) are left with the impression that something has been done.
      I say in the piece that a push for secure work conditions (per Chifley Institute research from last year, 40% of workers in Australia are casual, contract or self-employed, ergo are without job security; underemployment is growing per RBA) would be a huge and instant boon for victims of any form of workplace abuse. If you can speak out without fear of job loss, that instantly changes the ability to be heard in the most meaningful place: where you earn your money and where you are likely to encounter abuse/harassment. If you and your co-workers can take action (as we have seen, strike action has been made legally impossible) then you have the power.
      Instead, this is the solution proposed by journalists: speak of individual elite stories and establish a legal fund to contest individual ordinary stories case by case.
      The assumption here is that those subject to abuse will benefit from a long legal process. Ugh. Goodness. Insurance claims are harrowing enough. I don’t want to relive what happened to me by describing it over and again to bureaucrats and medical or legal experts, but this is what will be required. I really don’t want my personal life up as an object for scrutiny and be confronted with the suggestion that I invited or misinterpreted harassment or abuse. And, if we think we won’t be on trial, we are misguided and so full of the thrill of “speaking out” at present, we have forgotten how difficult and traumatic such things are to contest. Suddenly, we will be heard sympathetically by old institutions and sexism will disappear and justice will prevail in all dealings? I don’t think. What will happen is that many people will lose and feel violated in a new way. They will confront all the solicitors large employers can afford. A few bastards will go down, and these will be claimed as a victory. Meantime in the real world, most will not imperil their chances at earning a buck and preserving their sanity. We’re not all Tracey Spicer and we don’t all get our gold-plated payout.
      So, what we can seek as a mass (men and women both) is job security and the right to industrial action. If women are inspired by this stuff (personally, I feel more beaten down by the endless descriptions and the reminder that they are actually impossible in current conditions to eliminate in workplaces where I have no standing beyond my next bit of piecework, like a lot of employees) then I imagine they can be inspired to work together in a mass.
      The assumption is that individual voices if heard will change the world. The reality, however, remains changed: only a mass movement changes things.
      I know it is not a fun answer: we must organise and fight for rights as workers. We must keep power in check at structural and not individual levels.
      It is, I believe, the only answer. And I see all this great will being expended on restating the assumption that individual stories change the world. Which they really don’t.
      It was in 1917 that women got together in a textile factory and said “no more” about unfair work conditions. On March 8 in Petrograd, the day that we now celebrate as International Women’s Day (for the longest time, International Working Women’s Day) a bunch of women started the great upheaval later known as the Russian Revolution. As we know, not a perfect result over the 80 years that followed! But, my goodness, what a movement. What strength in a mass that refused to be underpaid for labour seen as feminine, ergo less valuable.
      It has been done. Can be done again. But, we don’t do it. Because we think the act of individual declaration alone is an act of great rebellion, or “structural change”. It’s not. It’s an individual gamble.
      I hope this helps.

      1. Karen Hutchinson

        Thank you so much for your generous further contribution Helen.
        You’ve served up some hard and inconvenient ‘truths’ for your reader’s edification here.
        …and just anecdotally ‘Litigious and Long’ wouldn’t even give me the time of day because my pockets were empty anyway!

  2. AR

    If ever there were a need to reinstate a Lysistrata League then surely this is the perfect opportunity.
    Maybe reinstall the anti rape pessary used by Algerian women during the Independence War?

  3. Tom Jones

    Let us know if any woman trying to improve the lot of other women ever gets it right, won’t you. Also if the need is for structural change what would you suggest is the process to achieve that change. The world weary dismissal of the efforts of other women to make life better for other women is quite a drag.

    1. Helen Razer

      And, you make sure to let me know when you can see the difference between “women” and “mainstream media”.
      Just because a woman does something (say, orders an invasion, becomes a CEO of a financial institution or writes stories about famous male culprits in media) does not mean she acts well on behalf of a mass of women.
      It is either disingenuous or it is hasty of you to suggest that I propose no solution when the solution I am proposing to workplace bullying/abuse, which is to focus on the rights of the worker to have secure work and to be physically able to organise against unfair work conditions, is written down clearly.
      I admire the noble intentions. I do not endorse the method of paying for some legal representation and saying “presto changeo”.
      The funny thing about women is that they are really a lot like men. An influential man can say he is enacting a policy/media/awareness campaign on behalf of others, and a man, or woman, may say, “No. You are not working in the interest of the mass of people”. No one will say, “You must support him because he is a man.”
      I will not support proposals to change which are not just for women but all those subject to abuse and harassment just because they are made by women. They are made by an elite media class who haven’t thought things through.
      And you imply that I am sexist for not supporting a woman who says she is supporting women.
      If I were unkind, I would say that you are sexist for thinking of all of us as so paralysed intellectually that we cannot criticise each other’s methods.
      Please read again and do not expect all women to be good girls.

      1. Leslie Witkop


        Well said

      2. CathyS

        Absolutely spot on, Helen.

  4. Wallywonga

    Thank you for your more reasoned approach to this issue.
    There is something cringy about cause celebres being used to hijack the spotlight, or get a gong; difficult not to form that conclusion about TS, a seasoned pro who has dabbled in “contraversial” before.
    Imagine if we still had a more effectively functioning union movement, and workplace harrassment could be dealt with through well trained counsellors and negotiators, instead of Litigious and Long. Less public accolade, but better results, but I guess our fraught system just doesn’t want to work that way anymore does it?

  5. Tracey Spicer

    Hello Helen,

    Thanks for your insightful piece. Just wanted to correct a few misconceptions. The Australia Day gong wasn’t for the journalism associated with the #metoo movement, as it takes up to two years for these awards to be processed.

    Rather, it was for media and pro bono work, specifically with our union the MEAA, in working towards structural change.

    One of the campaigns we’ve been engaged in is ensuring that “all workers in the categories of casual, self-employed and contract — insecure work in which women are more likely to be engaged than men” are protected.

    Believe it or not, there are women in the media who want to create change that can benefit all women. It’s far from perfect, and any suggestions are welcomed. But we’re trying our best.


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