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With the Kyle Sandilands debacle going on, now is a good time to think about the misogyny often directed at Women With Opinions. Sandilands obviously has trouble accepting criticism, and arguably, has trouble avoiding the necessity of it to start with, but what has particularly struck me about the whole charade is his blatant misogyny.

Sandilands has had disputes like this before: in early 2011 he lashed out at Rove McManus. He let out a great deal of expletives over an incident, using words and phrases like “prick”, “asshole”, or “a piece of shit cable host”. Offensive, but compare this to his descriptions of female journalist Ali Stephenson as a “fat slag”, “fat bitter thing”, “little troll”, and “bullshit artist girl”. And then there are the memorable quips: “your hair is very 90s” and “you haven’t got much titty to be wearing that low cut a blouse”.

There is clearly a discrepancy between the sort of language Sandilands feels is appropriate for men, and that with which he feels comfortable calling out women. He makes “moral judgements” of a sort about Rove, but reserves slurs about hair, breasts and weight for his female critic. It’s absurd, and almost comical to imagine Sandilands declaring Rove’s haircut “very 90s” as a way of invalidating Rove’s point; and yet when he directs this comment at Stephenson it’s loaded with such venom as to, at least in his view, deligitimise her point of view.

In general, when Sandilands talks about Stephenson, his language is belittling and cruel. He doesn’t dignify her with the description of being a woman, but rather refers to her as a “girl” and uses the adjective “little”, suggesting a lack of experience and education (which in his view, he trumps). He is obviously trying to assert his superiority by any means.

And let’s take a moment to consider his use of the adjective “fat” as an insult, which is clearly how he intended it. I’m going to state the obvious and say that fat is not an insult, or at least that it shouldn’t be, seeing as size says nothing about the moral character of a person. Not only is Sandilands perpetrating sexism in refusing to acknowledge the comments of a woman and centring in on her appearance instead, he is also perpetrating a hatred of fat women that is entirely unfair and blatantly discriminatory, possibly provoking a whole heap of nasty insecurities.

The overarching problem with Sandilands’ responses in these situations is of course his tendency to make personal attacks on commentators rather than address their point, but what is most interesting is the degree of difference between his treatment of men and women. Why does he see commenting on appearance as an effective way of dismantling the opinions of women, but not men? It seems Sandilands didn’t get the memo when patriarchy went out of fashion.

What is worrying is that so many others also didn’t seem to get this memo. Sandilands is a misogynistic man, but his problematic attitude towards women is unfortunately backed up by a whole host of people, both men and women. Sandilands is not the only misogynist we know.

A lot has been said recently about the slurs directed at women writers on the internet. UK opinion columnist Laurie Penny recently spoke out about the harassment she has suffered at the hands of keyboard warriors. She described an opinion as “the mini skirt of the internet”, speaking from her own experience of receiving hundreds of abusive, sexist emails and responses commenting on her appearance and sexuality in an effort to shut down her point of view.

It’s frightening how common this sort of thing is for women, just in general. Harassment like this is everywhere, and the ignorance or acceptance of it perpetuates the idea that it’s ok. The good thing to come out of the Sandilands fiasco is that it’s finally being called attention to, and people are starting to recognise that certain types of language or outbursts are entirely inappropriate.

Kudos to Holden, The Good Guys and other sponsors for taking a public stance against the sexist behaviour displayed by Sandilands. The companies deserve all the good publicity pouring in after their actions for quite successfully sending the message that misogyny is not at all inconsequential.

In defending Ali Stephenson, one of the major troubles will be checking our own responses and resisting the persistent urge to call Sandilands ugly and “fat” himself (many have already fallen victim to this). Instead, let’s focus on Sandilands’ questionable moral character, and educate him through intelligent discourse about what makes a quality debate and/or considerate bahviour. Hopefully the memo will eventually get through that patriarchy isn’t really cool.

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Michelle

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