Sexist putdowns 'far too common'

MICHELE A'COURT
Last updated 11:00 10/07/2013
michele
Kate Little Photography
A'COURT'S OPINION: Little moments of sexism pervade NZ society.

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OPINION: There's nothing like a bit of casual sexism to get my dander up. And my dander has been remarkably elevated of late.

There has been the brouhaha, obviously, over a suggested quota for women MPs - though much of the sexism involved there was more formal than casual.

I'm never sure how men manage to make stuff that's not about them (affirmative action) all about them ("Man Ban") but, gosh darn it, aren't they good at it. I doubt the quota idea will fly, but it was worth a chat, if only so we can all remind ourselves what sexism is.

Sexism (like racism) is when the dominant group discriminates against the less powerful group, not when the less powerful group has a crack at catching up.

When women, who are under-represented in Parliament (and also on the judiciary, in boardrooms and on rich lists) look for ways to redress the balance, that's not sexism.

That's about achieving equality. You might have to find your own word for when you feel like you're losing your institutionalised advantage. Are we cool?

The parliamentary quota didn't provide last week's only moments of casual sexism.

We get a bit casually sexist in the way we talk about women when they do things someone didn't quite expect.

Here's a bit of that: a financial expert was quoted in my Sunday newspaper saying that when couples had kids the partner who stayed at home - often the woman - would take the lead with money.

"They become a mini-expert at all sorts of day-to-day financial issues."

Actually, they become an expert. Just because she's the little lady doesn't make her the mini-expert. She's actually life-size. The 1950s would like its adjective back.

Then at a youth leadership conference I attended last week, one of the organisers was giving feedback after a team exercise.

He gave a sort of "highly commended" mention to a woman who, he said, had supported other team members, ensured everyone was being included, encouraged her colleagues, and kept an eye out to make sure no-one was being left behind. "She was like a mother hen, really," he said.

No, actually she was like a leader.

And then there was an email asking for "respected New Zealanders and thought leaders to provide insights and views . . . on a topic related to women and influence . . . Possibly, something on one or two women who have had the most influence on you in life/career (outside of Mum!)."

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Here's my insight and view: the clear assumption here is that "mum" isn't a business leader or a politician or a dynamic member of some sector.

What if your mum was Hilary Clinton? Do we dismiss her because of her "mum-ness"?

It is a terrible assumption. Many of us are third generation feminists, and our mums and grans did a lot more than knit and bake. They certainly haven't lived lives that deserve to be dismissed with a patronising parenthetical aside, followed by an exclamation mark.

That's all I'm saying. Just casually. More formal reply follows.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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