It's a Man's World: Feminists Shaken and Stirred

Consider this: the Leader of the Opposition and the media at large actively vilified ex-Prime Minister Julia Gillard, the “witch” of Australian politics. Lyrics from Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines condone rape, as three mostly naked women pose with a rabbit and stuffed goat, prancing around three men who earn the privilege of tailored suits by accident of gender. To advertise their upcoming ball, the UniLodge Ball Committee used posters from the original James Bond: From Russia with Love (1963) aligning sexualised images of women in provocative positions to a formal black tie event.

Nothing exists in a vacuum. Today, images of the naked Lana del Rey on the cover of GQ are all part of a politics of image-making that dehumanise and degrade women, allowing greater tolerance of sexual harassment and perpetuating rape culture. This is done under the banner of ironic sexism or retro-sexism.

Retro-sexism n.
Modern attitudes and behaviours that mimic or glorify sexist aspects of the past, often in an ironic way.

By this definition, using the original sexist imagery from James Bond should be understood as simple ironic. Nothing to get our panties in a twist about! It is a celebration of what he essentially is, which is the archetypal figurehead of misogyny. However, what some people call our present glorification of the past, others can still call the normalisation of sexism. James Bond, the good-looking, heterosexual, cis-male in an impeccably tailored suit embodies the idealised self-image of 20-year-old boys gearing up to pick up chicks at the Ball. He is sharp, sophisticated and most importantly, he is not exposed. The Alpha male is a powerful contrast to the women in the foreground, ornaments and objects, passive and subservient. There is no logic in the body language and posture.

The ethical question behind the tone of imagery is one of intent. If the posters were not intended to perpetuate a policy of discrimination, it can be argued that sexism is not a fair accusation. However, when residents found genuine offence and expressed concern about the derogatory imagery to the UniLodge Ball Committee, they were told that the images were considered appropriate and would remain unchanged. Here, the Committee harked back to a by-gone era that is chock full of chauvinism to sell a product.

Internalised misogyny is the greatest threat to feminism. To speak of the
patriarchy is to evoke images of sleazy beer-bellied men in football jerseys, benevolently patting their aproned housewife on the backside. However, a more insidious character exists, because to speak of the machinations of the patriarchy is to speak of the everyday woman, the “chauvinistic female pigs” that are coerced into objectifying women to be accepted into the Boys’ Club through sex appeal. We live in a post-sexist, post-racist society, she snorts. Indeed, the titty-bouncing and pert naked asses that run rampant in Blurred Lines are edgy and consensual, therefore the sexist imagery can be dismissed as ironic and absent of moral responsibility. This is problematic when considered with Robin Thicke’s assertion, “What a pleasure it is to degrade a woman. I’ve never gotten to do that before.” A poorly executed attempt at irony that could have turned itself on its head but wound up biting itself on the ass.

Debasing the anatomy of womanhood through image creation and propagation is a time-honoured tradition. James Bond: From Russia with Love was created in a context where “cheesecake” pictures of scantily clad pretty girls were a common method of retaining readership. Just 8 years prior, materials such as the Good Wife Guide (Housekeeping Monthly, 13 May 1955) were considered relevant reflections of gender roles in Western society. The notion that women can be empowered by their sexuality is true, however, more often than not, this is a trite excuse for objectification. Blurred Lines was the product of a female director.

Hyper-sensitivity is a word that is used to manipulate an audience into finding sexism acceptable. Inflexible political correctness imposes restrictions on freedom of speech, corrupting the language of art. Fiery feminists would argue that it is possible to celebrate the iconic James Bond without celebrating the misogyny. It is possible to celebrate the sexuality of women in music videos without degrading them by falling into the very grooves of archaic sexism. Risk aversion would suggest that applying marketing methods that have been tried and tested would sell products more successfully. While the recurring sexist formula may have gone undisputed in the past, it is now considered problematic and contrary to the dignity of a woman. Here, the feminist nods to the intelligent and stylish Vesper Lynd, a complex character who is both strong and vulnerable. The woman after whom Bond names his famous drink that is shaken, not stirred.

Feminism is not just a privilege of the white Western conglomerate that throws an unapologetic uppercut to the developing world. In Australia, unflattering caricatures of women undermine the fact that men are paid one-third more than women in male-dominated jobs, of which there are several. Out of Australia’s top 200 companies listed on the stock exchange, there are 5 female chief executives. The International Violence Against Women Survey found that 57% of women had experienced at least one incident of physical or sexual violence in their lifetime. The Women’s Safety Survey recorded that 16% of adult women had experienced sexual assault since the age of 15 years. These statistics are reflective of the cultural impact that the culmination of derogatory images have on our society.

There is a silver lining. While Diane Martel, the director of Blurred Lines has gone on record insisting that the content of the video was tongue-in-cheek but ignorantly stood by her creation, the UniLodge Ball Committee decided that the controversial posters would no longer remain on site. Nevertheless, next Thursday night, when drunken girls pose for photos, you’ll still find the 3-quarter angle head tilt and lowered chest for full-frontal breast exposure. It is not constructive to point fingers at Tony Abbott, the director of Blurred Lines or the UniLodge Ball Committee for Jessica Rabbit waistlines. It is the patriarchy, still standing and still functioning as a giant monolith that must be interrogated. Let’s take Australia out of the 1960s and call people out for being sexist. After all, it is not men that are to blame for the oppression of women, but every human being that refused to stand up for what they believed in.