Why ladies shouldn’t shut the **** up

elly michelle clough

In a response to the ongoing debate on women in media leadership roles, Elly Michelle Clough argues that structural problems still need to be addressed.

I can’t believe we still have to explain this shit.

That dull thud you heard yesterday morning was no doubt the sound of thousand *head desks* as people read Peta Southcombe spectacularly missing the point on gender diversity in the media industry.

There is a big difference between overt gender discrimination and structural sexism. The positive thing about Ladies, could we shut the **** up? is that it shows that overt gender discrimination is on the decline. I mean, there was a time when all the CEOs of media agencies were men and all their assistants were women. Oh, wait.

It’s easy to identify a creepy male boss who leers at you, or being told not to go for a position because they’re ‘looking for a man’. It’s much harder to identify structural sexism in the workplace that subtly privileges male characteristics. If the concept of privilege is new to you, read this excellent article by John Scalzi that explains it beautifully, we’ll be here when you get back.

Calling out structural sexism and identifying privilege is not calling women victims. If you accept that there is no problem with structural feminism in the media industry, you are effectively saying that there just aren’t as many talented and capable women as there are men, and that is nonsense.

It is not calling women victims to point out that a recent study by Graduate Careers Australia showed that female university graduates earn an average for $5k per annum less than their male counterparts in their first year in the workplace. And it’s not calling Southcombe a victim to say that there are almost certainly men in her company, at the same level of seniority, being paid up to 25% more than her. If it was all just about working hard and “shutting the fuck up”, this would certainly not be the case.

Let me be very clear, feminism does not say you cannot have a male mentor (I have a male mentor; he’s wonderful. Hi Bruce!). Feminism does not say you cannot admire men. Feminism does not say that women should be promoted over more qualified men. Feminism says, let’s look at the structures in place that make it more difficult for women to succeed.

Up until 1966, women were forced to resign from permanent positions in the Australian Public Service when they married. The Sex Discrimination Act was passed in 1984. Less than 30 years ago it was legal to deny a woman a position on the basis that she was female, because she was pregnant, or because you were afraid she might one day become pregnant.

Women have only been roughly equal participants in the workforce for such a short time that the structures have not been rebuilt to support gender equity. We have tinkered at the edges with workplace flexibility and maternity leave, but what really needs to happen is a wholesale reexamination of how workplaces can be structured to support both men and women to achieve their own version of success in the workplace and in their personal lives.

Like Southcombe, I’m not interested in making a fuss about the odd bit of gendered language, (my female General Manager addresses most emails ‘Hi Chaps’, which I find endlessly endearing). Unlike Southcombe, I’m definitely not interested in joining the boys club. I’m interested in dismantling the system boys clubs grew out of and building a new model that supports diversity.

I can completely understand Southcombe’s concern that people saying, ‘she only got that job because she’s a woman’ could undermine her promotions or appointments. No one wants to be open to the suggestion that they didn’t get where they are through hard work. But there are so many reasons why people are promoted or appointed. Skill, hard work and competency are only ever part of the picture. Acknowledging that there are extra obstacles you have overcome by virtue of being a woman is in no way downplaying your achievements.

To be honest, I’m probably not much older than Southcombe, and probably just as naive to hope that structural sexism within the media industry can be overcome within the span of my career. But I hope she has the time to take a look at some of the links, and I hope some of these ideas open her mind the way they did mine not that long ago. Regardless, with her go get’em attitude and willingness to play the game, I’m sure she’ll go far.

Elly Michelle Clough is the publicist at Belvoir St Theatre in Sydney and tweets as @ellymc


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