Doing the thing you’re complaining about

It’s become a bit of a thing lately for the mainstream media to run opinion pieces that criticise women for criticising women. I’m not suggesting that everyone needs to be nice to each other, but these articles certainly benefit the MSM in terms of traffic. And of course, the “women are their own worst enemies” is a classic misogynist move.

The latest is this one from SMH journo Stephanie Peatling: Why are women hell bent on destroying each other?

Hell bent on destroying each other? Really? The headline comes from a line in Peatling’s piece, so I can’t blame a sub editor for it. Look around you – how many women do you see being “hell bent on destroying” other women?

She starts with Time‘s breastfeeding cover:

It also provided an irresistible excuse for women to rip into each other.

People posting comments on parenting and women’s websites could not help but play the person, not the issue.

They justified their own choices, denigrated others, called mothers who did or did not breastfeed selfish and generally descended into a good old catfight. All this came 48 hours before Mother’s Day.

This is not about women ripping into each other. Look at the comments on any news story or opinion piece on a Fairfax or News Ltd site and you’ll see people ripping into each other. Yes, I think it’s worth discussing why so many people post nasty comments on news sites. But let’s not pretend that it’s women who do this. It’s some women, just like it’s some men. Besides, the blame for the comments becoming a “good old catfight” rests with the people who moderate the comments – they decide what gets published and they control the discussion. People can post nasty comments all they like, it doesn’t mean you have to publish them.

Women seem to spend the first third of our lives tearing each other down about clothing and weight before spending the next third, regardless of whether we have children, arguing about parenting techniques.

Maybe that’s what your friends are like, Stephanie, but my friends are not like that. Sure, I’ve met some women and some men in my 35 years who act like this, but they are in the minority. And in the workplace, in my experience, it’s more likely that men will be talking about a female colleague’s appearance/clothes. I’ve heard male editors in their 30s discuss the fuckability of female uni students on work experience. In two workplaces, the male editors and senior journos had ranked their female colleagues according to “hotness”. And there was always at least one idiot who thought that telling a woman she was near the top of the list would get him laid.

It is more than 20 years since the publication of Naomi Wolf’s book The Beauty Myth, with its powerful arguments about the pressure women put on themselves and each other to conform to a socially acceptable idea of attractiveness.

Ok, it’s been a while since I read The Beauty Myth, but that’s not what I remember it being about. (Check out Jessica Barlow’s piece at Lip mag.)

As a political reporter, I see every day the different standards by which female politicians are judged.

Before they open their mouths, their appearance is assessed as if, as one of my colleagues puts it, that was one of their key performance indicators.

I give you Exhibit A: a whiney piece by your newspaper’s state political editor, Sean Nicholls, saying it’s Kristina Keneally’s fault that he considers her haircut to be Important News:

Her decision to get hair extensions shortly after the election caused a media meltdown. In hindsight, it was the first hint of things to come but rightly, at the time, it was seen as her business.

How can something cause a “media meltdown” if it’s seen as “her business”? That’s just stupid. Also, it’s a complete load of crap because it was not seen as “her business” at all. At the SMH, Nick O’Malley wrote about it, Heath Aston wrote about it, Melissa Singer wrote about it, Damien Murphy wrote about it (and also seemed to imply that Keneally is the only female politician to be judged on her looks). And that’s just at Sydney’s broadsheet. The Daily Telegraph‘s political journos had a field day as well.

If you want to talk about the way female politicians are judged on their appearance and not what they do as part of their jobs, you need to start with the journalists. After all, the place where we have public discussions IS THE MAINSTREAM MEDIA. Derr. I’m sure Natasha Stott Despoja, Kate Ellis, Amanda Vanstone, Cheryl Kernot, Belinda Neal, Kristina Keneally, Lara Giddings and Julia Gillard would have a few things to say about the number of journalists at Fairfax and News Ltd who have written about their hair, clothing, shoes, handbag, ears, relationship, and status as a working uterus. And they’re just the ones in the last few years. It’s a shame that Peatling can’t see the role her colleagues play in this. It’s like those journalists who write about a “media meltdown” as though they weren’t part of it, and report that “the family has asked for privacy” without realising that the family is asking for privacy FROM THE JOURNALISTS CAMPED OUTSIDE THEIR HOME.

And then there’s this:

Are men sitting around on the milk crates of inner city cafes discussing how Fred’s latest pair of lycra cycling shorts isn’t doing his stomach any favours? No.

Are they regrouping in the pub after work to whisper how Mark only got that promotion because he flirts with the boss? No.

Are they secretly thinking Sam is a bit of a hippy because his kid wears cloth nappies? No.

And you know this, how? In my first week in one workplace, I was informed by two women and five men that the highest-ranked woman in that office was sleeping with the boss. Sure, this is just one example, but it’s of equal weight to Peatling’s evidence-free assertion that men don’t do this.

Peatling makes a good point at the end about letting adults make their own decisions without abusing them for it, but the rest of the article does exactly what she’s criticising women for.

24 responses to “Doing the thing you’re complaining about

  1. “Status as a working uterus.” GOLD!

  2. I love you.

  3. Great takedown 🙂

    • We are! The child on the cover of Time is going to cop hell for most of his childhood because of that photo.

      • Yeah, I didn’t really go into it but as a professional child rights advocate, I did have concerns about his privacy and capacity to give informed consent to be a part of it.

  4. I’m willing to bet money that there is a direct correlation between the “ripping each other apart” behaviour and boredom. Not the “I’m have nothing to do” kind of boredom but the “I am not doing anything mentally engaging” kind.

    A mentally engaged person who is focused on something doesn’t have the time to worry about asinine shit like gossip, politician’s garbs, breast-milk drinking 3 year olds or creating fuckability lists.

    As to why women are portrayed as the worst of the two sexes? I’d wager that it is due to the disproportionately high number of housewives and stay at home mums as opposed to their male counterparts. While it may be hard and busy work, I’m sure a lot of women wouldn’t consider it to most mentally stimulating thing they have done in their lives. It’s no coincidence that all the trashy media that fuels this rubbish is aimed at that demographic. They’re bored silly.

    • Just to further add, because women are targeted the most by trashy media, they get lumped with the stereotype which leads to even more trashy articles written about the stereotype, which further worsens the stereotype.

      It’s a ridiculous cycle being fuelled by magazine sales/page clicks.

    • I think you might be getting into dangerous territory here, Jeremy. I’m sure there are some stay-at-home mothers who are bored, just as there are some who find it stimulating. And probably many who find that it’s both.

      As for boredom being behind the fuckability lists, I think some people are just dickheads.

    • I am a stay at home mum and I don’t buy into the asinine shit you describe. Just because I’m caring for a baby doesn’t mean my integrity and brain begin to atrophy. I still read, talk to intelligent people (some of whom are also mothers) and try to keep up to date with current affairs. There are just certain people who are interested in the low brow stuff, whilst there are others that aren’t. I don’t think gender or parental vs. work status plays a part in that predilection, and I know that first hand. Making a generalisation that we’re all bored silly and that also motherhood morphs us into vacuous bitches is playing directly into the hands of the patriarchal mainstream media.

      • There seems to be this ridiculous view in the MSM that unless feminists have exactly the same opinions, then the movement is a failure. And unless all mothers have exactly the same opinions on raising children, then they’re bitches who are ripping each other to shreds. (And where are the articles on fathering?)

        Australian journalists use the conflict model of journalism (no middle ground, no nuance, just two directly opposing sides “slamming” each other) and it doesn’t help anyone.

      • WHen I was a stay-at-home mum I was bored silly so I read political and media analysis! Not trash-mags!

    • As a mother busy with children at home, I don’t have the time or the money to waste on trashy, gossip magazines. Nor do all the other mothers working with children at home. We spend our valuable moments of leisure on something more mentally stimulating and if we have time to be bored we alleviate it by seeking supportive friends.. The only people I know who do buy them are people in paid work who have money to waste and choose to destress with light, fluffy stuff that has very little resemblance to truth.
      My role as a mother is more mentally stimulating than you might think and calls on knowledge and skills I gained across my lifetime, including my university studies. A mother who takes her role seriously researches her options for the good of her family and engages with each of them in all their vicissitudes.

  5. Those workplaces you describe sound awesome. I’m jealous hotstuff.

  6. If Peatling were to have a proper look around website topic threads anywhere at all, what she would find would be that the ugliest, most brutal, most distressing comments come from men aiming at women. And yet we never see the headline “Why are men hell bent on destroying women?”

    Why do you think that is? (Only semi-rhetorical.)

  7. The very idea that women ‘shouldn’t’, ‘should’, ‘do’, ‘don’t’ attack each other is still making women out to be some sort of special subset of humanity.
    Men get to criticise each other for their politics, their opinions, their actions…their attitudes to parenting…without being accused of bitchiness or disloyalty!
    Seriously, when Joe Hockey hassles Wayne Swan over economics, no-one suggests he is letting the side down in ‘tearing another man to shreds’.
    It’s absurd.

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