Challenging bias

penny mulveyPENNY MULVEY

International Women’s Day (IWD), held on 8 March for the past 105 years, had its origins at an international conference of socialist women held in Copenhagen in 1910, which had, as its foremost aim, international suffrage for women.

While the definition and expectations of gender equality vary greatly depending on an individual’s place of birth and socioeconomic, religious and ethnic background, IWD is a rallying call for women in their struggle for economic, social and political equality.

Sometimes I wonder how far we have progressed. As women seek to raise their collective voice, some males, strangely threatened by women having an opinion, become both verbally and physically aggressive…and they become deeply personal!

Women who are brave enough to engage in the public square, via social media, will be ‘trolled’ by anonymous males, threatening both physical and sexual violence.

Recently, comedian Lawrence Mooney didn’t see the humour in a female journalist’s critique of his performance at the Adelaide Fringe Festival, and took to Twitter to attack her integrity. The commentary around the fallout between best friends and fellow television hosts, Gary Lyons and Billy Brownless, apart from gutter journalism, seemed to presuppose that Nicky Brownless was a piece of property to be fought over.

Destroy the Joint keeps count of every woman in Australia who dies at the hands of a violent man. As of 21 February, DTJ reported eight women have been killed this year, four of them in Victoria. Tragically, 79 women lost their lives in our nation last year because of violent men.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics 2015 Gender Indicators report, only 17 per cent of chief executives are female; 35 per cent of our politicians are female; three quarters of the top two awards within the Order of Australia system were given to men; women on average earn 10 per cent less than men and have considerably less superannuation balance as they approach retirement.

Positive discrimination by employers can be met with cries of ‘what about jobs based on merit?’ Women are still judged on their appearance, and report being verballed or physically assaulted by men for being too fat, poor mothers, terrorists, and a range of names which cannot be printed.

‘Unconscious bias’ is a term to describe our unconscious attitudes and beliefs. Our particular bias has been developed over years, within our society, home life, workplace, media and peers. It is deeply held and unnoticed. My unconscious bias will come out in conversation, in the way I respond to others and in choices I make. Cultural change is hard. Racism, sexism, religious intolerance are often part of our unconscious bias.

We have all grown up with complex and deeply held views around gender. If we truly believe that men and women are created equal, then each of us has a part to play in not just calling sexist behaviour, in speaking up for women and supporting women in leadership, we also need to look inward, at our own unconscious bias. It is from within that we can bring about lasting change.

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