Last week I wrote about the inappropriate representation of women on the mural on the Extreme Sports Stars ride at the Brunswick Carnival. It was a very straightforward thesis: men are represented in sports outfits as heroes and the women are represented in what looks like stripper poses, or something from a porn mag. The women need to be repainted as sports stars. Simple. Apparently not so. It has created a bit of a social-media shitstorm for both me and the local men who stood in silent protest against the representation on the mural. You might say we’ve stirred up a very angry mob. Some of the comments are almost Pythonesque, like one of my faves ‘I don’t speak cunt’.
Ironically the violence of the Outrage just proves the point. Images like this ARE about violence. They underpin it. They incite it. Right now in Bruns there is a small group hell bent on defending the indefensible. Deep down I don’t think any of them actually believes it. In any other context they’d agree that the image is not appropriate, particularly for children. But they are understandably worried their local carnival is going to up and leave so instead of saying: ‘Hey, the local community has been complaining about this for four years now, and it’s finally come to a head. Can we help do something about it?’ they’ve turned on the community who have expressed their offence.
As often happens, it’s degenerated into an ‘us and them’ kind of tug o’ war of ‘Locals’ versus ‘Blow ins’. The seething hatred a small section of the community has for what they see as a bunch of lefty feminist hippies boils to the surface and the conversation gets skewed into some very weird places. Some of the delightful Facebook feedback I’ve had includes: ‘You’re a bad mother’, ‘Why don’t you hippies do something useful and try and cure cancer!’ One woman went way out left field and said I was responsible for a farmer’s suicide!? And a typically hateful comment directed at me: ‘Who would want to rape her’. Thanks, I didn’t realise rape was something women were supposed to aspire to. (And BTW I have been raped; I must put a tick on my bucket list.)
Another bloke used the argument as a chance to share his meme that depicted a white stick figure kicking a rainbow (gay) stick figure viciously in the groin. That’s the way to do it. When intellect and reason elude you, resort to violence and abuse! It was like an audition for ‘Australia’s Got Cyberbullys’ or ‘Lord of the Flies on Facebook’. One woman actually told me I was jealous of the image because it depicted a fit woman. Clearly it was her way of calling me fat. Then she said I was picking on a woman. I had to explain it wasn’t a woman, it was paint. Some people just don’t get it, or don’t want to get it. In America you’d call them Trump voters. When challenged they get violent, hateful, threatening and abusive.
Most people defending the integrity of the mural don’t seem to be able to grasp why people have a problem with it and it was abundantly clear that, although many were tanked up on outrage, none them had actually read my article. One bloke abusing me for what I had written actually admitted it! Like kindy kids, many had clearly read the headline and looked at the picture. They thought because it was called Extreme Tits that I was offended by tits. Let me explain the title. It’s got two meanings. (Strap yourself in for this.) The first is taking the name of the ride and using it to explain what I can only assume is the women in the mural’s sport of choice – she’s an Extreme Tit champion. The second is the word tit has another meaning: It means idiot. This is what comedians call satire. ‘Satire is the use of humour, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose and criticise people’s stupidity or vices, particularly in the context of contemporary politics and other topical issues.’ And of course it’s got very, very personal. It’s a put the boot into Mandy Nolan Facebook fest.
People really don’t know how to have an argument without playing the player instead of a ball. I should add that I haven’t said anything negative at all about the carnival business, nor will I. Some called me out as a hypocrite for the shots in my underwear to promote my comedy show Women Like Us. The image that I use is a satirical joke on the objectification of women. It’s a joke. Lots of people get it but some don’t. (But I’m happy they keep sharing my posters; thanks guys, it really helps with the publicity.) A couple of people have attacked my kids on social media. One person even dredged up one of our family Xmas cards of our family that depicted A VERY Bogan Xmas. All the kids are dressed in character… as pregnant smoking teenagers, tattooed, etc. We’ve done zombies, hippies, bikies. A little off topic. But that’s what happens.
Most of the debate has drifted wildly off topic into hate speech. A lot of the ranting is because mural supporters think those aggrieved by the image are upset because the woman was showing her boobs. ‘Bodies are natural and beautiful,’ they said. ‘Should we start wearing burquas on the beach?’ said another. I wondered why it was so difficult to follow the argument. Some people said: ‘It’s Liz Hurley because it’s “stars”.’ Okay, so why isn’t Magic Mike up there wearing little jocks and pushing his balls up? It would still be an inappropriate image for a children’s ride, but at least the messaging would be equal. It’s actually not a moral issue at all – it’s political. No-one is whingeing about seeing titties. We all love breasts. We just like women to be represented equally to men. I still can’t see how that’s too much to ask?
The biggest stumbling block in the whole debate seems to be the inability to understand how culture works. Many seem to think that mothers and fathers are the sole providers of social messaging for their kids, and that images like this have no effect. But it’s the current narrative of the sexualisation and objectification of women that underpins violence against women worldwide. It’s why we die. It’s why none of the awareness campaigns, the help lines, the interventions have done anything to lower the statistics. To change a cultural epidemic of violence against women you have to change culture. The United Nations Commission on the Status of Women has stated exactly this on their Unicef website:
‘Sexual objectification contributes to harmful gender stereotypes that normalise violence against girls.’
Of course, these stereotypes are not only harmful for girls, but for boys as well. Boys see how their bodies are portrayed in relation to girls’ and learn to believe success or attractiveness is tied to dominance, power, and aggression.
Unfortunately, the media are not empowering women. The media send the message that girls need to be pretty, not powerful; noticed, not respected. And this is incredibly harmful, not just to a girl and her development, but to our culture at large. I know to many it seems like a non-issue. People say ‘get over it’. But to me that’s like saying ‘get over violence against women’. If we don’t stand up for what seem like small issues, then nothing changes. And I’m sorry, this is a bigger issue than a country town Xmas carnival. This is global. Forget the mindless outrage – it actually achieves nothing.
So the challenge goes out to the McGregor Family’s Carnival: Don’t leave, but don’t do nothing either. Do something Extreme. Change the mural. You’ll have the respect of a town, and a story you can tell a nation. Be part of creating a narrative for the future. Now that’s a ride I want to be on.