The Wise Witt of Jean Kittson
Comedian, writer, and social commentator Jean Kittson has the ability to distil complex ideas into commonsense. Jean is one of the national treasures in conversation with Mandy Nolan and Fiona O’Loughlin at No Eggs for Breakfast, a comedic chat themed around life beyond fertility! It seemed remiss not to ask Ms Kittson on her take on the debacle that is federal politics and gender equity.
Jean, can you tell me how events unravelling in Canberra regarding our government’s treatment of women has affected you?
This is a bipartisan, tripartisan all-parties sleazathon. There are really only two parties in Parliament House, the members and the help, and the help has the same protection against abuse and lechery as a chain gang. You know, none. According to my source, there are ten thousand helpers in all the Australian parliaments and no HR. No-one to hear their complaints except the member and the chief of staff, who lift a corner of the nearest rug and call for a broom. It is appalling to think that our parliaments are worse for women than a football club. I hope these new laws and regulations will make it easier for victims to complain, and harder for predators to get away with anything.
Have you experienced similar treatment in your life?
I have not experienced anything as traumatising as Brittany has experienced.
My first experience of sexual harassment was in school. In year 8 there was a boy called Zack. Zack’s hormones and psychosis must have kicked in early because he spent the whole year crushing girls up against the corridor wall and sticking his fingers up our dresses. He left school in year 9 to become an apprentice carpenter and I heard that he lost two fingers on a circular saw. Justice. Happy ending.
An early mild-by-comparison workplace sexual harassment was as a young actor in my first television role, which was on the soap Young Doctors.
I had a walk-on part. I had to provide my own dress and, because I was playing a sex worker (say it ain’t so), I wore my blue, pure nylon toga-style frock, tied on one shoulder – so, no bra – with a split up the side. The costume department thought it was highly suitable, and nervous and slightly clammy I walked onto the studio floor and into Bunny’s Bar. The studio is not only cold, but hundreds of cables and lights made the entire atmosphere highly charged and my dress immediately clung to my body like I had just dived into a pool. I looked like I had entered the wet toga competition. As I tried to peel my dress off my skin, I looked up at the television monitors all around the studio, and on every one of them was a close up of my breasts. My fingers came into the shot giving a vigorous two fingered salute. The costume department appeared at a run and fluffed talcum powder up my dress to stop the static while the makeup department came in and sprayed water up my dress. So, with a light coating of clag, and feeling like a piece of KFC, I did my scene and had to be unstuck from the barstool. I think the set department used metho.
Why do you think we are finally being listened to?
There’s a difference between heard and listened to. We are heard because brave women have fronted up to a microphone and cameras and gone public and loud. But we will only know we’ve been listened to when the MPs and their male staffers learn how to behave, and how to respect the women they share their workplace with, and everything goes quiet – in a good way.
Do you think what is happening now will change anything? What would you like to see happen?
Things have changed. The response to Brittany Higgins’ courageous speaking out has been swift and in many ways extraordinary. As of this week, sexual harassment in the workplace is officially set to become grounds for dismissal. And MPs and judges will now be subject to the Sex Discrimination Act.
I would hope this means that women in any workplace shouldn’t have to risk their jobs for the right to go public.
What do you think this tells women of Australia about how we are regarded?
Women of Australia should be encouraged by this development. Remember, most politicians aren’t a public menace to women. But for those who are, it is a loud reminder that women also vote.
The Dalai Lama said, ‘The world will be saved by Western Women’. Western women can change the world; we have the resources, we have the opportunity, and we have the responsibility. The responsibility to argue for equality for all women in all workplaces – including financial equality – and for the right to respect, and the right to feel safe and to be safe.
We should speak up.
In your ideal world, Jean, what would Australian politics look like?
I would like to see less political bias, less team support, and less point scoring when it comes to listening to women and hearing women. No, it is not okay to abuse or stalk or belittle a woman simply because she represents the other party or works for the other party. When it comes to equality and safety, all women deserve to be heard regardless of their politics.
Why do you think patriarchy is broken?
I think we should ask any number of women if the patriarchy is broken – perhaps Christine Holgate this week. The patriarchy seems to be going strong.
Andrew Laming ‘upskirted’ a woman by taking a photo of her bending over stacking a drink fridge, saying he was taking a photo of a woman working hard.
If we had restorative justice in place, what would you like to see happen to him?
Exactly what has happened to him. He has been given the contents of his desk and invited to examine the outside of the doors of Parliament. He has lost his job before he could lose his seat, and any credibility he may have had.
Okay, Prime Minister Kittson, who would you make The Minister for Men?
Naturally it should be a woman. I am going back to Christine Holgate here. I would like to see her take a big swinging broom to the big swinging dicks. They seem to be asking for it.
Jean Kittson appears in conversation with Fiona O’Loughlin and Mandy Nolan in No Eggs For Breakfast, the Sunday morning brekkie and chat at The Byron Comedy Fest – Sunday 16 May. Tickets and program info to byroncomedyfest.com.