The Australian 24Apr2021
“Women are cautious. If you even smile, meet the eyes of a bloke, or call a boss by his first name, that can be read as an invitation. So, we don’t smile, keep our eyes down and never use the man’s first name until we know him really well. Power is using first names without fear.”
According to these pearls of Twitter wisdom posted last week by Australian feminist Jane Caro, I am a very powerful woman.
I have always used the first names of my male bosses without fear, and I haven’t known any of them particularly well.
OK, I came to know one so well that we married. But that was back in the halcyon days well before prime ministers made it government business to impose bonk bans.
To be fair, there was one man at work I didn’t dare call by his first name. It had nothing to do with avoiding mixed sexual messages. Old Mr Page was on top of the firm’s letterhead. He was a legend, in a different stratosphere to a firstyear lawyer like me. Everyone at the firm called him Mr Page. It was like showing respect to God.
Using Caro’s measurement of power, I was a commanding 14-year-old girl too. I called my first boss by his first name. At 18, I called my next boss by his first name too. Next job, same thing. And so on and so forth. I smiled at my bosses, too. And I met their eyes.
Vanity Fair writer Judy Bachrach coined a sharp phrase some years ago. In her book, Tina and Harry Come to America, Bachrach wrote about the refusal by legendary magazine editor Tina Brown to kowtow to “the imposed bonhomie of contemporary feminism”.
We could do with more free agents who break away from the imposed bonhomie of the Australian sisterhood too. The alternative is that we, sisters, all stick together and then collectively hurtle down Caro’s bizarre rabbit hole.
Disagreeing with Caro doesn’t mean denying the very real issue of confronting and condemning sexual harassment. But can we please have some balance and common sense?
Let me posit a different view based on my firm belief that my BS detector trumps Caro’s power detector.
Caro must live in a miserable, maybe even fictional, world to imagine that she cannot use a first name or smile or meet a man’s eyes without him treating that as an invitation to ravish her.
In the real world, we’re not all anxiously cautious women, with eyes downcast and tightly drawn lips. Many women work with male bosses very differently to Caro. We look at them. Smile. Joke with them. We enjoy banter with men, if the men are game.
Some women might even look at their male boss in a certain way that is absolutely an invitation to dinner or more. Pity the poor fool man who takes a woman up on that today. Regardless of the consensual, flirty to-and-fro between the two adults, that is very risky business for a man.
The recurring problem among a cohort of left-wing feminists, especially those of a certain age, is they seem to think that they have assumed some kind of mystical status that allows them to speak for all women.
Sure, they can speak confidently about themselves. They may even speak somewhat authoritatively about other women who also spend a good chunk of their time worrying about the perils of smiling or making eye contact with men.
But they don’t get to drag the rest of us into their narrow, shallow world comprised of two kinds of people: enfeebled women and menacing men. It takes an unhealthy dose of ignorance or narcissism or deliberate manipulation to imagine that all women want to bathe themselves in this kind of victimhood.
Even when it comes to more serious issues about the treatment of women, views differ starkly. Some think we should give it our full attention. Others, not so much.
Polling by the Nine newspapers last week reveals that other bigger policy issues are driving voter choice ahead of the treatment of women.
The new survey by research company Resolve Strategic shows that, at the federal level, sexual harassment, assault and gender equity are listed as important by only 5 per cent of voters. Among that figure, 3 per cent of voters said that these are the “most important” issues for them when voting. In other words, not all women are the same. It’s not rocket science. Or even news. But as Shelby Steele wrote a few years ago, exaggerating an issue into a full-blown societal menace is an old left-wing trick to claim control over morality. Social movements in the 60s dealt with serious issues.
This period also taught the future left a formula for power, wrote Steele: locate an issue then inflate it into a menace, because “the greater the menace to the nation’s moral legitimacy, the more power redounded to the left”.
There is something especially creepy about women who try to conflate and catastrophise issues by making sweeping generalisations about women in order to get attention, and gain power.
If men made generalisations about women in the way that Caro does, she’d be furious. And rightly so. It’s not OK when a woman does it, especially when it infantilises us.
Caro aside, when shrewder women also conflate serious issues to gain attention, there really is something rotten about this feminist fad.
Former Australia Post CEO Christine Holgate had good reason to be aggrieved over her treatment. But wearing a white suit to the Senate inquiry to mimic the suffragettes was a conflation that only damages her reputation as a smart and sensible woman.
There are bigger costs to catastrophising than some women undermining their own credibility. This overreach drives normal women to despair about feminism’s future as a movement focused on female empowerment. Think of how Caro’s worldview would fundamentally change how men and women interact. It sets up a terrible double standard where men and women are treated differently; women are hapless victims and men are prowling predators. This is not the mark of an equal society.
The other problem with catastrophising an issue into a full-scale menace is it sets the stage for even more mob justice than we have today. People are already subjected to modern day witch hunts, minus a courtroom trial, due process, the presumption of innocence and the need to present sufficient evidence to establish guilt.
All it takes is an allegation to kick off an all-out campaign to publicly shame someone, strip their job away, destroy them. Christian Porter found himself at the centre of that kind of very modern maelstrom, led by the ABC, without any consideration from his media accusers of due process.
Not even Bob Hawke’s political legacy is safe. Some women have lodged complaints to the Australian Electoral Commission against plans to name an electorate after him because he glorified “excessive drinking”. Not to mention being a lech towards women, they say.
If death does not put a lid on these matters, no wonder human resources department in workplaces across Australia keep complaints, even settled ones, hanging over the heads of employees. Old complaints have become triggerready weapons, sitting on the books to be used again and again if there is a hint of a promotion. Forget any rule against double jeopardy, or even triple jeopardy in the workplace.
Whereas society agrees that a criminal conviction should be seen as spent after a period of time, and convicted crims are given the chance of redemption, no such forgiveness is offered in the wild west of the workplace.
Smile at a woman? Make eye contact with one? Use her first name? Maybe men should be the more cautious ones. How many women, apart from Caro and her cohort, want to live in that sterile world?
The Mocker reminded me this week that, after the 2019 Australian election, Caro wished that she was a New Zealander because “truculent turds … voted to turn us backwards”.
What a hoot. If we followed Caro’s path, we would be guaranteed to be stepping backwards to dismal puritanical lives.
Ms Caro, New Zealand has reopened its borders.
JANE CARO (ABOVE)