Unfortunately for women, what these powerhouses achieved is not enough. What they did can be undone. Is being undone. Is being undermined every single day.
How do I know?
On Thursday night at a lavish Zoom function with bandwidth and sparkles to spare, the annual Ernie Awards were announced. What are they? Annual awards to highlight the most misogynist remarks of the last year. But who the hell is Ernie? Ernie Ecob was the secretary of the old Australian Workers' Union. Ernie thought women should be kept out of the shearing shed and kept in the kitchen. Sounds remarkably antiquated right? I wish.
Usually the Ernies are held at a fancy dinner event with 400 women (and a few blokes) in glamorous attire and full voice. Shouting, clapping, booing. Decisions are made based on the decibels of despair. Not this time. It was a COVID coven, making secret decisions based on who knows what evidence. This, instead, was the Ernies Council of Elders.
But direct from the coven, I bring you news of the winners across multiple categories, some of which are quite unusual, including Celebrity/Clerical (I can only think of a few who could actually fit both terms of that award, and let's not give them any more airtime at all).
These awards are not for those who harm women the most. If they were, you would almost certainly adorn Scott Morrison and Josh Frydenberg with barbed wire for cuts to JobKeeper and JobSeeker. The slashed payments - at a time when jobs are rarer than roosters' teeth - are so cruel, and the most heavily impacted by these cuts are women.
Every year, the Ernies Council of Elders receives about 300 entries. Of course, that is just a tiny sample of what women put up with every single day of their lives.
No, the Ernies explain the everyday sexism to which women are subjected, the thoughtless comments produced by men for whom women's rights are still a surprise and an affront. That kind of thinking starts young. In that controversial category, the Clerical/Celebrity, there were three entrants: Sydney's Archbishop Anthony Fisher, who referred to an abortion law reform bill as "the Kill Bill"; the Council of the Order of Australia for awarding an AM to Bettina Arndt for "significant service to the community as a social commentator, and to gender equity through advocacy for men", and - still so young but so entitled, so misogynist - denizens of a fancy private boys' school on Sydney's north shore, where students challenged each other to have sex "with a woman over 80kgs; aged over 40; or who is deemed to be a '3/10 or lower'".
The coven couldn't decide, so left the archbishop out. These Shore kids are probably 17, maybe 18, and are behaving like dickheads now. Imagine what they will be like when they are CEOs of AMP Capital or similar.
Speaking of AMP, it too had its own entry in what's called the Industrial category. Yes, two AMP directors, David Murray and John Fraser, promoted financial whizz Boe Pahari to head AMP Capital, despite sexual harassment complaints against him. Despite the fact that the victim of the alleged harassment was paid money to settle the complaint. Despite the fact that key shareholders did not want Pahari promoted. Apparently that incident wasn't bad enough for the coven.
Nor was the news that Perth nightclub owner Neil Scott said of a woman who complained about drink spiking: "She's not a particularly attractive girl. It's just implausible to imagine that she had her drink spiked ... she's just a very plain Jane type of girl." Tough competition, but the winner was Jayson Westbury, chief executive of the Australian Federation of Travel Agents, who objected to Tracey Grimshaw's reporting of a travel industry refund scandal by saying: "She needs to be given a firm uppercut or a slap across the face".
Westbury lost his gig with AFTA, but has now set up his own consultancy. By all means consult with him, particularly about what it means to threaten women with violence.
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For those of you who think our politicians have a clue about what it's like to be a woman in this country, recall the throwaway comments of Josh Frydenberg, who said the gender pay gap had closed (this man is in charge of this country's numbers), Craig Kelly (avert your gaze briefly) describing meteorologist and physicist Laura Tobin as an "ignorant pommy weather girl", Tony Abbott, Mark Latham and Adem Somyurek for a range of banalities and crudities - the list could go on and on and on.
And it does. Scott Morrison, who said women should be appointed "on merit" but doesn't apply the same standards to the men the Liberal Party engages (think Alan Tudge, who is a minister - still a minister - despite a Federal Court judge ascribing "criminal conduct" to Tudge for denying an Afghan asylum seeker his freedom). Anyhow, the winner of the Political Ernie was Senator Malcolm Roberts, whose view of the family law system included excuses for violence against women: "But when you're a father, and you can't get access to your kids, and you can't get access to the legal system properly, what else is there to do other than check out or hurt the other person?"
No wonder the Judicial category went to Queensland Detective Inspector Mark Thompson, who said police were "keeping an open mind" about the murder of Hannah Clarke and her three children after all four were burnt alive by Clarke's estranged husband. "Is this an issue of a woman suffering significant domestic violence and her and her children perishing at the hands of the husband, or is it an instance of a husband being driven too far by issues he's suffered by certain circumstances into committing acts of this form?" he pondered.
Every year, the Ernies Council of Elders receives about 300 entries. Of course, that is just a tiny sample of what women put up with every single day of their lives. Most sexist slurs aren't said by the rich, the powerful or the political, which means they are unlikely to make it onto the Least Wanted list or even the Ernie nominations and winners (if you can call them winners).
But for just this day of the year, we can joke about everyday sexism, the banality of it all, the constancy. Every other day, it's all about tears.
- Jenna Price is an academic at the University of Technology Sydney and a regular columnist.