Destroying the Joint: Why Women Have to Change the World Women & Power, Griffith Review 40
Edited by Jane Caro UQP, 295pp, $29.95 Edited by Julianne Schultz Griffith Review, 286pp, $27.99
THE idea radio shock jock Alan Jones should be taken seriously bewilders me. I’ve always thought of him as having a narcissistic personality fuelled by a second-rate mind, appealing mostly to an audience with one foot in the grave and delivering his jeremiads with the camp pomposity of a choleric vicar in an English sex farce.
It’s surprising, then, that those who do not listen to him or dislike him react badly to what he says. But last year Jones declared women leaders, headed by Julia Gillard, were ‘‘ destroying the joint’’. Author Jane Caro sent a tweet condemning Jones’s comments. This hit a nerve with many women and a Destroy the Joint page on Facebook developed an online following of more than 20,000 people.
The idea was to get Jones off the air and scare his advertisers away. The cyber lynching didn’t work and the troglodyte returned to the airwaves with an increased audience.
But as Caro makes clear in Destroying the Joint, the issue became larger than Jones. Women were protesting against sexist attitudes and behaviour in our culture. Given the constant male put-downs in public and the revolting and vile comments women have to endure from anonymous men online, it’s no wonder the women were furious.
Like all anthologies, Caro’s is an unstable mix of the good and banal. There are unsuccessful attempts at humour and dull essays by politicians, which only confirm that most of our elected representatives have little natural ability for writing. Most of the contributors are from the progressive side of politics and are avid consumers of the ABC’s The Drum, Crikey and The Conversation, so there is a sameness to their views that can become monotonous.
But there are pieces that stand out. Lily Edelstein, 17, makes a passionate plea for teenage girls to be taken seriously as they navigate the perils of youth and issues such as self-esteem. She argues online sites such as Tumblr are crucial to girls talking to each other about these things.
Stella Young’s essay The Politics of Exclusion is illuminating about how even feminists overlook disabled women and the problems they face: poverty, mental illness, homelessness. Emily Maguire’s concise and excellent survey of the difficulties women face in countries such as Burma, Libya and Afghanistan is a shocking illustration of the vicious misogyny these women endure daily.
The latest Griffith Review is an anthology titled Women & Power. This too is an uneven collection. The most interesting pieces are essays and memoirs. Jane Goodall’s piece is a sly and humorous look at the importance of clothes as visual manifestations of power. Jo Chandler’s report on the desperate struggle Papua New Guinean women face in dealing with men’s violence and women’s exclusion from politics is excellent journalism.
But the piece that enthralled me was by Yassmin Abdel-Magied. Here’s a Muslim woman of Sudanese background working as an engineer in that most blokey of worlds, the oil rig. Her descriptions of working in a stifling male environment, with all its sexism and vulgarity, is an eye-opener. She constantly has to be aware of her behaviour and the way she interacts with the men.
What comes through is the strength of her character and her awareness of how the job has reshaped her attitudes: ‘‘ It made me realise that it is actually OK to be a woman, and being ‘ strong’ doesn’t necessarily mean being ‘ masculine’. It’s ironic that it has taken a world renowned for its toughness to make me appreciate my femininity.’’
The problem with both these anthologies is that Kristi Mansfield’s report on povertystricken women in Sydney’s west and Maguire and Chandler’s pieces about women in the Third World make the middle-class concerns of some contributors seem trivial. It’s hard to get indignant about the tribulations of female boxers or surfers, the lack of women in talkback radio, whether more women should be on corporate boards or the difficulty of being a boarder at the exclusive Geelong Grammar.
But the most frustrating thing about Women & Power is that most of the pieces are about women’s powerlessness. Even the cover shows a woman with her mouth taped up. There seems to be a reluctance to address the issue of women and power head-on. We have a female prime minister, female chief executives and the nation’s wealthiest person is a woman. This raises some intriguing questions: Do women use power differently from men? Do they get off on it like men? What do they want from it and how does it shape their morality and sense of self? The questions are endless and the answers potentially fascinating but it seems feminists are reluctant to map this uncharted territory.
Alan Jones’s claim that women such as Julia Gillard, pictured with Governor-General Quentin Bryce, were destroying the joint’ provoked a backlash