[ Canberra Times ]

Rules change in wars of words

Date: November 5 2012

Mark Juddery

Words, as we know, change their meanings. ''Ye'', ''verily'' and ''forsooth'' used to mean something different, but now they just mean that the speaker is either extremely old or a big fan of Dungeons & Dragons (which probably makes them over 40).

You don't have to go so far back for other changes. ''Armageddon'' used to mean ''the site or time of a final and conclusive battle between the forces of good and evil'' (Merriam-Webster's), but last year in America, it simply meant ''raising the debt ceiling'' (according to Republicans) or ''NOT raising the debt ceiling'' (according to Democrats). ''Assassination'' used to involve killing someone, but now it simply means demoting them to the backbench. If only that was the case in 1963, JFK might still be alive.

Then there's ''misogyny'', of course. It's official, according to the Macquarie Dictionary (which is now up to speed with other dictionaries), that the word no longer means ''pathological hatred of women'', but merely ''sexism''. Like many other people, I enjoyed the PM's perfectly warranted rant in which she officially redefined the word.

Since that speech, I notice that sexism (or ''misogyny'', as we're now permitted to call it) is being used as an excuse for many things. Actually, it already was. Offended by the ravings of Sophie Mirabella? You're just sexist. Disagree with the PM? Sexist! Not watching any Nicole Kidman movies? Then just go watch your macho Jason Statham flicks, you … you … misogynist!

Of course, this is no trivial matter. According to a report last week, a quarter of women are still sexually harassed at work. This is terrible, though I was also surprised to discover another finding of the report: 16 per cent of men are also harassed. I'm sure that's true, but what amazes me is that they are game to admit it.

Happily, I don't think I was ever one of them, but ''sexism in the workplace'' holds a few different meanings for me. Back in the '80s, I eagerly accepted work experience as a journalist with the ABC, but that offer was suddenly withdrawn because Aunty wanted two girls instead of a boy (or even a boy and a girl). Appalled by that blatant sexism, I decided that I didn't want to be a journalist and I'd do something else - a plan that obviously didn't work out.

This was years before I heard that daft term ''positive discrimination'', which was being peddled in my very female-centric workplace in the '90s. Fortunately, I haven't heard the term in years. All I know is that I went for numerous promotions, only to lose them, usually to women. Were these women always the better choice, or was I the victim of (gasp) workplace sexism? (Actually, I'm willing to believe either possibility. Please don't answer that one.) All I know is that, when I heard of prejudice against women in the workplace, I was only thinking, ''Well, they should stop complaining and come to this one.''

There was an advertisement a couple of years ago in which women were offered a chance to purchase a false moustache, which they could then wear in order to be considered equal to men in the workplace. This was a funny ad (and yes, it was meant to be a joke), but I couldn't help thinking that it might have been misleading.

Warning: Here's where I start getting controversial. No, really I do. You know how the Church responded to Darwin when he propounded the Theory of Evolution? Some people I've known would get even angrier if they heard this one.

You see, my theory is that one reason women don't get promoted in the workplace so much is because (get ready for it) most of them have too much intelligence and commonsense. While men can expand their egos by competing for promotions and bigger offices, most women know that there are more important things to life than becoming a chief executive or helping to bring a gender balance to the House of Representatives. (Note that I said ''most''. Some women, I'll confess, are just as dopey and bone-headed as many men. See? I'm not as sexist as you thought.)

No, I don't mean they want to stay home and have babies. But actually, now I mention it, that's part of it. The nurturing instinct is natural for most women, and is part of the reason that our species has survived for so long. It also means that, even if their husband is happy to stay at home to look after the kids, most women would rather do it themselves, and what's more, they'd possibly do a better job. If any women are offended by that, I can only say: ''Are you serious?''

Just before I leave, I should change the subject (thank god) by saying that last week's column about Canberra-bashing received more emails and tweets than any of my previous columns, apart from the one two years ago about joys of not having children. As with that one, comments were overwhelmingly positive. Thanks to all those who commented. Naturally, I completely agree with you.

Talk to me on mail@markjuddery.com, or tweet me on @markjuddery.