It is likely that you have heard about a certain University of Melbourne student who interned with the Herald Sun and found the experience less than agreeable. Her report of the experience in Farrago, the University of Melbourne’s student newspaper, was widely publicised in national newspapers. She described her time at the “Hun” as “horrific” and said it made her reconsider her prospective journalism career.
Stepping back from the involved debate happening online at present over the student herself, let us look at her issues. We can separate them into the attitudes and beliefs of the staff of the Hun itself, and their behaviour to her. The student described their attitudes as transphobic, homophobic and sexist. These labels are currently deployed by many commentators in a somewhat loose way to combat viewpoints that they disagree with. When the student described a journalist saying “Why are they [the gay community] making such a fuss? It’s been this way for millennia, why change now?”, she was not necessarily describing a homophobe – she described a social conservative. There are many people who might baulk at same-sex marriage but still be completing accepting of queer people. But by grouping people who do not believe as she does as “homophobic”, she is able to create a quasi-objective way to denigrate them.
On the issue of sexism, the students claims she was subjected to “patronising attitudes” in being referred to as “little bud”, “champ” and “kidlet”. None of these terms are expressly gendered, and one assumes they were a reference to her status as an intern. To this day, it upsets me, a grown male of twenty-three years, when I am addressed as “champ” by a shop assistant. It certainly doesn’t affect my day so much that I feel the need to vent in such a shrill manner. She goes on to claim that the men were “continually and unnecessarily sexist” by opening doors for her and inviting her to leave the lift first. Despite the oxymoron that is “unnecessary sexism”, the student must realise that people of a certain age were taught from an early age to be polite for women. My grandfather still opens doors for my grandmother, despite her objections. Is it demeaning to women? Is it enforcing a patriarchal view of society? Perhaps, but it’s certainly not worth getting too upset about.
Perhaps the most obvious reaction is “what did you expect?”. If a left-leaning journalism student did an internship at the Australian Christian Lobby, what might ensue? The reactionary, tabloid, lowest-common-denominator leaning of the Hun is hardly a secret – indeed, it’s what keeps its circulation going. The problem with this student is that she thinks that she knows how the world should work. If people don’t conform to her expectations, it upsets her. Perhaps it is symptomatic of many starry-eyed university students, who believe that the people around them are simply too ignorant to know what is right and wrong. In a way, she is guilty of the same crimes as the Hun, by portraying the organisation as some sort of patriarchal monster with an aggressively conservative social agenda – much like the organisation portrays the marriage lobby and the climate lobby for instance.
In many ways, however, by airing her views in a student newspaper in a “you know what I’m talking about” kind of way, she is just enforcing stereotypical views for both conservatives and liberals. It might make an entertaining read, but does it change anything?