It’s not about sexism – it’s about the rate of change

The print, radio and talk show chatter has lately been focused on claims of misogyny (hatred of women) and counter claims of misandry (hatred of men). The spark for this debate has been a heated parliamentary exchange between the leader of the Opposition, Tony Abbott, and the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, in which each was accusing the other of sexist attitudes.

Such debates clearly play to the various audiences of these media channels, but on a more serious note, confuse political conflicts with gender sensitivities.

The different perspectives were very much on show with the weekend media presenters brandishing repeats of the previous week’s exchanges, suggesting a desperate desire to rekindle the leadership debate in the hiatus before the Treasurer Wayne Swan is ready to tell us how he is going to balance his budget.

The issue is not whether Opposition leader Tony Abbott hates women, or whether his wife and family have asserted that he is a “softy” and respects the women in his life. It is not that Gillard is an unmarried, childless woman.

The issue is the fact that, according to The Australian and The Contrarian raft of male commentators, she is alienating their readers by becoming aggressive for the “wrong” reasons. So it is worth examining the influence that various audiences have had on the debate.

Roberta Hamilton, in her book Does Misogyny Matter? (1987), stated: “Misogyny is not a word useful simply for describing particularly nasty bits of behaviour, but rather it directs us to a set of relations, attitudes, and behaviours that are embedded within all social relations.” Violence in the form of linguistics is in fact a form of physical violence, Ellen W. Gorsevski wrote in 1998’s The Physical Side of Linguistic Violence.

American academic Tracy Dietz’s examination of violence and gender role portrayals in video games establishes a range of implications for gender socialisation and aggressive behaviour.  

Dietz states that the concept of masculinity has come to be associated with sexual aggression. And the response to aggression is important: it is thought that audiences of unpunished violent behaviour, compared to audiences of punished violent behaviour, are more likely to develop violent attitudes and emotions.

Interestingly, we see a difference in the response of commentators according to their audience.

The media with the highest male audience has had commentators rush to the dictionary to find definitions of misogyny as “hatred of women and girls” and the misandry as “hatred of men”. Media with a balance of men and women in their audience have taken a broader definition of misogyny as meaning sexual discrimination, denigration of women, violence against women, and sexual objectification of women.

This is evident by comparing the commentary between 2GB mornings (with 56% male listeners) with 2UE (with 51% female listeners). Or look at Sunday’s The Bolt Report (58% male audience) against Ten News on weeknights with 49% male viewers. The same differences can be seen in The Australian and The Australian Financial Review (more than 60% male readers) compared with 54% for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age (52%).

Commentators might appear to be biased according to their own gender, but an initial review of media responses suggests that the editorial line is more likely to reflect the political leanings and business interests of the editorial desks and the age of the commentators rather than gender differences.

Viewers of programs such as Today Tonight and A Current Affair with a more female-based set of presenters attract a minority of male viewers (39% and 43%) with Q&A getting an even split.

Readers of The Australian are much more likely to be older, more affluent, male supporters of an early election to put Abbott into the seat that they perceive is rightly his, but for Julia’s ‘lies’ and her deals with the independents.

Similarly, two-thirds of the audience for the The Bolt Report are from single-income households.

Viewers of Andrew Bolt and Meet the Press are twice as likely to be “over 50s” as viewers of A Current Affair or Today Tonight.

Their attitudes to women reflect their age. More than eight out of 10 viewers of Meet the Press and The Bolt Report believe that women should just run the home and leave running the country to men, three times more that the Q&A audience.

Nine out of 10 viewers of The Bolt Report indicate that they do not trust the current Australian government and seven out of 10 believe that threats to the environment are exaggerated.

The most conservative and dictionary-bound definitional approach comes from the most business-oriented programs. The Australian Financial Review and the ABC’s The Business have about 70% male audiences, compared with The Australian’s Wish magazine, which has only 45% male readers.

Whether it’s the chicken or the egg, we need to find out whether the audience is adopting the definitions of the media or the media is pandering to its audience.

All this suggests that attitudes to the role of women in leadership are about age and income distribution and personal identity. Alan Jones is only doing his job by giving a voice to the feelings of insecurity of those who say “There’s too much change going on these days.”


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