Sexism And Misogyny In The Politician Sphere Cultural Studies Essay

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After having heard for generations with a tensed smile: just shut up and look pretty, most of women came to underestimate their abilities (Rosenkrantz, P., (1968); Furnham, A., (2000)) and have lost the desire to rebel. However, a couple of women still stand up for their rights and tries to communicate their opinions whatever it takes.

The statute and the legitimacy of women in the workforce are still issues of concern at the top of the hierarchy. These burning issues identified within the article are about how women are treated in organisation and in which way culture distorts our point of view.

The case study presented deals with sexism and misogyny in the politician sphere of the Australian parliament. Prime Minister Sarah Gillard responded to her direct opponent Tony Abbott during a parliament speech, exposing vehemently the sexism in politics and more generally the gender disruptions at the workplace that are the core issues of the article.

She indeed rose up against the lack of consideration of the work made by members of the female sex and against cultural stereotypes that slow down equality. Nevertheless, other underlying issues correlated to the perception of gender and to the notion of culture in organisation may be noticed and I will highlight them as well in this essay.

The article is extracted from the broadsheet The Guardian, in which, with objectivity and in the light of different interviews, the journalist has clearly oriented her discourse in favour of the defence of her gender.

I will provide an in-depth analysis of the case by using the following topics: Behaviour in Organisations, Gender & Politics and Organisational Culture and I will try to keep hindsight about the article and have a clear judgement of the situation.

As described, I will explore first and foremost the notion of behaviour at work, to understand what the breakthroughs are and what are the sources of tensions between male and female.

Powerful and confident women could be perceived as threats by their male counterparts. They have to make a lot of efforts to found their places in a world reserved to a male progeny.

The world of politics is no exception and it promotes a kind of 'Macho Management', that is a highly competitive and confrontal style (as said in the article: «set up a combative atmosphere"). Organisations are sites of inequalities and conflicts are common and inherent of organisations. In relation to the case study, the Prime Minister had to be as ruthless and fearless as her adversary and have to establish her legitimacy.

She feels obligated to come back with a smart answer, but always in bringing her male facade to show that she doesn't get shooke up easily. The article shows clearly that she has no intention to let him walk all over her and that "enough is enough". (Appendix 1)

But both men and women are expected to perform in gender specific ways. What behaviour is suitable for everyone in the bosom of an organisation?

Gender and sexuality are powerful forces in organisations and society which impacts significantly what is regarded as 'appropriate' organisational behaviour. But as we know there is no panacea to identify what an 'appropriate' behaviour is, that is why studying misbehaviour will lead us to understand what is not 'appropriate'.

Misbehaviour should be considerate as a deliberate action that goes "against core societal values and norms of proper conduct" (Vardi, Y. and Wiener, Y. (1996)). Moreover, "Misbehaviour to the organisation's structure and culture is what should not happen" according to Watson (2003), but should is not enough, because it still happens due to blurring boundaries, forbidden would be better but more delicate to apply.

Initially, there is a psychological contract between employers and employees about boundaries of the relationship, agreement as to areas of openness and privacy, in relation of trust… But what should happen when one compromises this contract and if, on top of that, it is the dominant one? What happens as soon as we get from an "I am Ok - You're Ok" state to an "I'm not Ok-You're ok" state? The impression to be exploiting by the organisation and to be abused by social principles strengthens. (Based on T. Harris (1969))

The 'I'm not Ok- You're Ok' state is often related to sexuality and gender crisis. Sexuality is an inherent life part of the organisations.

One of the most common explanations (but often denied one) is the presence of harassment due to a remaining sexual tension at work. Harassment states as a form of power in relationship. Men exert power over women. The article points out that "one in five Australian women has experienced sexual harassment in the workplace." (Appendix 1)

The fact is that boundaries between public and private are not clearly defined. It's considerate as an unwanted intrusion, with the use of misplaced words or acts. It is a current and recurrent misbehaviour that is not harmless. In Bentham utilitarian point of view, moral issues can be determined by measuring the consequences of actions.

It may become even a vicious circle when after being verbally or physically aggressed and that no way out seems to exist, they begin to use their 'Erotic Capital' (Hakim, C. (2011)). So they get into the game, thinking that their work conditions are bad, so as far as their femininity should serve them a little.

It also leads to bullying and targeting women. Gender attacks on workplace could be considered as bullying. We may consider for instance Mr. Abbott called Mrs. Gillard: "a witch and another man's bitch" and that she should "make an honest woman of herself" (Appendix 1). Indeed bullying can take "many forms by way of persistent insults, teasing, personal and physical abuse". Wilson (2010) rightfully said that the pressure felt at workplace could indirectly give scope to bulling to happen. She talked about an "institutionalised tyranny" that tends to separate employees and "reinforces the 'need' for conformity and compliance".

Furthermore, Mrs Gillard added in her speech that "violent things about her family" have been said and it "was said with no voice of objection", "none walked out of the room" and "none say that it wasn't acceptable". (Julia Gillard's Speech Over Opposition's Sexism, Misogyny - YouTube). So the importance of group dynamics may be stressed on. Ackroyd & Thompson show that it could be assimilated to a form of cooperation and compliance. Members collude to avoid conflict because they fear the dynamics of exclusion.

Above all, understanding the reasons why people behave like that is a key theme in order to understand what the triggers to change are. Why men seem to have such revulsion towards women at work?

Maybe the "alienation" described by Marx may lead us to such kind of explanations behind the misbehaviour at work. As for Weber, he points out that "formal goals can produce dysfunctional behaviour".

From a Marxist perspective, we are product of industrial society, and organisational misbehaviour is an "act of resistance, it is a response to the frustrations created by alienation". We may see a desperate move to gain some kind of control. Everyone has a range of comfort within they can feel steady and safe. Stress brings you out of that comfort zone. "They are a response to threats to identify and material interests when women enter male territories". (Thompson, P. and McHugh, D. (2009)

Some hypotheses then emerge. The desire to remain the Alpha men could be stronger and push them to misbehave. It maybe happens that men feel insecure regarding the rising place that women try to invest, and to the fact they dare more and more stand for what they believe is fair, as Prime Minister Julia Gillard did.

Maybe as Marx stressed out, the alienation as work is increasingly stressful and conducts men to come back to their lower instincts, using regression as a defensive mechanism. This is supported by Clampitt research that found that "without a healthy culture we are merely beast". The point is not to excuse them or applying an omerta about their misplaced acts, but to find the bosom of the problem.

This brings us to think about if politics is capable to influence people to detect and solve gender issues. In order to analyse this it is necessary to look at it from the perspective of gender and politics.

Does addressing the gender issue set against politics background allows having positive feedback or is it used as a tool in political bargaining, and then discredits the importance of the issue due to the bad image we may have about politicians and their rhetoric? Opinions are mixed. On one side, it is seen as "a defining moment for feminism in the country" and " a watershed moment" that the Prime Minister refused that sexism and misogyny gangrene the workplace anymore and the fact she "has experienced sexism" gives her more credit. But on the other side, the old-manly-fashion press has derided her, writing that her "judgment was flawed" and that it was a "political disaster" (Appendix 1). The doubt that she maybe was only "playing the gender-card" remains, because after all it is politics!

It appears that Australian women were receptive to Mrs. Gillard speech, but referring to a quote of the article "The dominant image of leadership in this country is overwhelmingly male", so would it truly have a huge impact? (Appendix 1)

Kanter (1977) highlights 'the pervasiveness of status levelling whereby women's status is levelled down and men's levelled up'. How to win a game where the rules are dictated by the opponent and if the former tells you how to play?

In the bosom of the parliament, it emerges that women are facing vertical segregation. Achieving an equal numbers of women in the Top posts will take again decades according to the Sex and Power 2011 Equality and Human Rights Commission Survey.

Furthermore, in western society, we may have the feeling that people think that it is all roses in the garden and have a low awareness of the pay gap for example. As it is mentioned in the case study, the gap between men and women's wages "for full-time adult employees was 17%". It could also be explained by the fact that workers don't want to say how much money they earn, otherwise rebellion would be deeper. And being greedy is seen as good as evil, so there is a taboo about money as well.

Moreover, a horizontal segregation between women's and men's work indeed takes place in the workplace due to the traditional view of the aptitudes of each one in the western culture.

Many areas of work are traditionally overlaid with masculine and feminine identities. Sexual stereotypes are still part of our lives, defining male as strong, insensitive, and rational, and in parallel women are supposed to be fragile, gentle and emotional, among any others. Looking at the Appendix 1, the opposition leader, Mr. Abbott, thinks that men are" better adapted than women to exercise authority and issue commands". On which basis?

Men are said to be better managers because they are "tough-minded, unemotional and authoritative" (Kanter, R.B., 1993). However, Gross (1987) stresses that "there is no doubt that males are, biologically, the weaker sex". Who to believe?

We are surrounded by several myths about sex differences. Hence, it appears that pure biology can't be considering as the roots of the problem and can't justify job segregations.

At the end, organisations have decided to apply Equal Opportunity policies to fight back the allegation on gender bias. According to Liff and Cameron, it supposed to ensure an equal treatment whatever the gender and to take stock of the distinctive characteristics of women which seem to disadvantage them in workplace. But isn't it paradoxical that women try to establish a relation on equal terms but keep saying that they are different? Benefiting from such special treatment leads to potentially hostility and resentment from men.

A masculine structure of order and control prevails diminishing therefore women's career opportunities and their degree of power. Top women manager are feared but often discredited because they don't fit the expectations of the society. (Kanter, R.B., 2009). This is supported by Appendix 1 stated that Gillard was 'neither married nor a mother so she challenged the norm'.

Gillard appears like the public face decrying the illness which touches all the organisations on the name of all women. She also symbolises the figurehead of change.

Prime minister's declaration was really symbolic and had directly impacted citizens' women's role perception. A US study shows that "[w]omen in public office stand as symbols for other women, both enhancing their identification with the system and their ability to have influence within it."

By saying a plea, Prime Minister Julia Gillard certainly was denouncing top-ranking politician Abbott's misbehaviour, but was also trying to initiate a strategic change in highlighting the altered vision of women at work. She has tried to establish a negotiation cycle in a social perspective and to influence her counterparts, and generally australian people, to share her vision. (Gioia, D.A. and Chittipeddi, K (1994))

She used her position and leadership, and tried to empower others to engage change. (Dunham J and Klafehn K.A (1990))

But change is not easy…

Both misbehaviour and gender conflicts are closely related to culture that is why we will pay more attention to the culture process.

Male misbehaviour towards women is deeply part of the culture. (Richards, J (2008))

The subordinate position of women is maintained by the everyday culture.

Alvesson and due Bilding (1997) suggest that we should first of all identify "what is culturally defined as male or masculine as well as female or feminine ways of thinking (knowing), feeling, valuing and acting", what I did previously, and then find how far "organisational practices maintain the division of labour between the sexes."

It appears that even if the organisation is expected to be a neutral no-man's-land decision-making area, it is marked by this masculine predominance which generates a gender bias. Organisations should be a neutral and rational institutions, so why gender make a difference? Because culture management is a form of control.

Organisations may reinforce thinking patterns and behaviour, and individuals may in their turn maintain and encourage such patterns. Like groups that ignore that harassment exists in their company and resign them to a 'laisser-faire' stance. Or women who said themselves the equal of men, but still are happy to claim their part of sensibilities to differentiate and push themselves forward. It's an overflow of hypocrisy.

But organisation is mainly permeated by social assumptions and beliefs that were built up over time and generated gender misperceptions. The cultural view is the "outcomes of the taken for granted assumptions and routines" (Johnson, G., Scholes, K. (1999)).

Culture is a driving force behind development and none dares challenging the legitimacy of its foundation.

It's 'a social glue' that doesn't allowed to deviate from it at the risk of being marginalised.

The patriarchal society we lived in considers as normal that women express their [preconceived] desire to be a mother and a housewife, and disregards the ones who make another choice. That's why a strong rejection feeling induced by the society pushes a lot of women to conform. Women feel a certain pressure to constrain and conceal their sexuality. As in politics, women are often discouraged to run for a high-placed office and leadership position due to the prevailing ideas of what the traditional role of women in society should be.

But it is not the case of Mrs Gillard, as the article mentioned it, she "was neither married nor a mother, she challenged the norm of what was accepted as appropriate femininity in Australian society". She is one of the first to shake up the dogma and the conventions to deliver "such a forthright attack on misogyny in public life". (Appendix 1)

How to deal with the women issue behind closed doors? The question remains. Culture also has its weakness and an anomy state takes place according to Durkeim (1897), because there is a lack of norms to guide people. The sadness of the reality is that people have no clue how to bring the subject on the table without to be claimed to be a feminist or being mocked, and even if some have attempted to loosen tongues about it no satisfying solution has popped up, so at the end society is at a standstill.

As Merton calls it, it's a 'breakdown of the cultural structure ' and there is 'a gap between cultural norms and the ability to act in accord with them'. (Merton, R.K. (1968))

That also lead to considerable disagreements as to whether or not culture can be managed. In this article a good diagnosis of the current culture is made. Prime Minister speaking on that agenda item was considerate as a symbolic means (corroborating what Brown has said) and the fact she used her position to exercise influence was taken as an invitation to change.

(Brown, A. (1998))

Organisational culture is constituted of diverse sub-cultures, and it appears that there is absolutely no consensus on the topic of women at work, only reticence and unspoken words, no clear general stance. That's the reason why organisational culture is fragmented about this question if we refer on Jeferson three perspectives, because there is a too much ambiguity and taboo on the topic. (Meyerson, D., Martin, J. (1987))

The differences of interest and beliefs between sub-cultures make things even more complicated and it seems simpler to avoid this tricky question.

Even if the Prime Minister tried to communicate her vision and said what is still wrong in today's society, she didn't try to articulate new suggestions…

We shouldn't also forget that, religion also plays a huge role in the life of australian citizens and the traditional approach tends to mould the idea of the role of each party.

Gender issue is so deeply embedded in organisation that you face a lot of difficulties to change underlying values and beliefs.

So the ability of an organisation to change could be put into question, as well as its willingness of attempting this change. We may think that managers try to protect before anything else the corporate culture at the expenses of the identity protection of its members

Fox's (1973) unitarist perspective shows that managers try to emphasis harmony and deny the very existence of misbehaviour.

Hence, gender identity is a social construct that may never evolve (or it would just be a window-dressing evolution).

So, as a consequence of the analysis, gender issues are deeply embedded in organisational cultures and wider society, and the causes of gender bias are multiple, complex and inter-related. It also follows that gender research is full of contradictions and confusions.

However, superficial reducing levels of discrimination are observed, but important gender oppositions remain in employment patterns. Although there is a body of evidence to confirm the status and lack of power of women in organisations (wages gap, the weak percentage of women of board members…)

Thus, structural and cultural factors are major contributors in inhibiting women's career progression. Dealing with organisational life is arduous, but equality issue should still be on the agenda of many organisations, and new approaches of the problem should be considerate. The proposal of Blakemore and Drake (1996) to focus to find a way "to resocialise men for Domestic work rather than women for paid work" could be adapted to today's society and a way not to address this sensitive issue head on.

Appendix 1:

The Guardian (London, England)

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Author: ALISON ROURKE, Sydney

Web link to access the article:

The Guardian: International: 'Sexism, misogyny' - Gillard holds up an unflattering mirror to Australian politics: Attack on opposition leader seen as call to arms: 'Angry and coherent - she showed enough is enough'

When Australia's prime minister, Julia Gillard, told the opposition leader, Tony Abbott, this week that if he wanted to know what misogyny looked like he should pick up a mirror, it was seen by many women as a defining moment for feminism in the country.

"I almost had shivers down my spine," said Sara Charlesworth, an associate professor at the University of South Australia. "I was so relieved that she had actually named what was happening. She was so angry, so coherent and able to register that enough is enough."

Gillard's denunciation of sexism in politics came during a debate about whether the speaker of the house should resign for sending text messages that denigrated women. Abbott told Gillard that unless she sacked Peter Slipper over the texts, she was just as bad as him. "I will not be lectured about sexism and misogyny by this man. Not now, not ever," she fired back across the dispatch box. "The leader of the opposition says that people who hold sexist views and who are misogynists are not appropriate for high office. Well I hope the leader of the opposition has got a piece of paper and is writing out his resignation."

It was the first time an Australian leader - and possibly any world leader - had delivered such a forthright attack on misogyny in public life. Gillard cited Abbott's past description of abortion as "the easy way out"; his characterisation of Australian women as housewives who did the ironing; and his suggestion that men were better adapted than women to exercise authority and issue commands. She listed Abbott's calls for her to, "politically speaking", make an honest woman of herself, as well as his appearance at political rallies in front of placards that described her as a witch and another man's bitch.

Professor Barbara Pini, who teaches gender studies at Griffith University in Queensland, said it was a watershed moment. "It's incredibly significant to have a prime minister powerfully state that she has experienced sexism and even more powerfully state that she will refuse to ignore it any longer," Pini said. "That the sexism, which is so deeply embedded in the Australian body politic, was named may give some women licence to express and seek to counter the sexism they have experienced in their working lives."

According to the Australian human rights commission, one in five Australian women has experienced sexual harassment in the workplace. A recent study by Monash University in Melbourne showed that 57% of women who worked in the media had been sexually harassed. It said women were badly under-represented in the top levels of media management, holding 10% of positions, compared with an international average of 27%.

The report's author, Louise North, said her findings might go some way to explaining why much of Australia's mainstream media concluded that Gillard's speech was a political disaster. "PM will rue yet another bad call," said one comment piece. "Gillard's judgment was flawed. All she achieved was a serious loss of credibility," said another. That response was in stark contrast to much of the commentary in social media and conversations between women around the country, which were alive with praise for the prime minister's stance.

"Leader writers are generally white, middle-aged men and they have no perception of gender bias," North said. "They don't want to acknowledge that it happens within their newsrooms, and they certainly wouldn't be open to challenging some of those positions."

There is little doubt that Australia's precarious balance of political power has produced some of the most aggressive politicking in recent years, partly because Labor is clinging to a minority government, but also as a result of Abbott's personal political style.

Charlesworth said Abbott's strategy had been to paint Gillard as untrustworthy, and as well as attacking her on policy he had repeatedly focused on her gender. "Abbott has set up a very combative atmosphere in which he has explicitly used sexist and misogynist language towards her," she said. "When doing this, he is invoking a deep suspicion of successful women, which resides in Australian culture generally. Part of that is that if women are working, they are not being mothers. It means women in the workforce are having to fight the sense they are not legitimate."

As Gillard was neither married nor a mother, she challenged the norm of what was accepted as appropriate femininity in Australian society, Charlesworth said.

The prime minister's political opponents were quick to accuse her of playing the gender card in her attack on Abbott, the Liberal party leader. But Suzi Skinner, director of Roar People, a company that specialises in women's leadership development, said this was unfair: "The dominant image of leadership in this country is overwhelmingly male. To accuse Gillard of playing the gender card goes against all the statistics, which tell us that gender is a major issue at leadership level."

Women make up 27% of MPs (compared with 22% in Britain). In business, the statistics are far worse: 8% of board members in Australia's top 200 listed companies are female.

The gender gap in wages in Australia has changed little in two decades. A government report in 2009 showed the difference between men and women's pay for full-time adult employees was 17%, compared with 16.2% in 1992.

Abbott's low blows

'But what if men by philosophy or temperament are more adapted to exercise authority or to issue command?'


'I think if the prime minister wants to make, politically speaking, an honest woman of herself, she needs to seek a mandate for a carbon tax and should do that at the next election'


'What the housewives of Australia need to understand as they do the ironing, is that if they get it done commercially it's going to go up in price, and their own power bills when they switch the iron on are going to go up'


'To a pregnant 14-year-old struggling to grasp what's happening, a senior student with a whole life mapped out or a mother already failing to cope under difficult circumstances, abortion is the easy way out. It's hardly surprising that people should choose the most convenient exit from awkward situations'


'If it's true . . . that men have more power generally speaking than women, is that a bad thing?



Prime Minister Julia Gillard said she would 'not be lectured about sexism and misogyny' by the opposition leader, Tony Abbott, below Photograph: Michael Nagle/Getty

Provided By: Financial Times Information Limited

Index Terms: Equal Opportunities & Discrimination ; General News ; Government News ; Political Parties ; Politics ; Business Labor Political & Like ; Organizations ; Executive Offices ; General Government Administration ; Other Services exc Public Admin ; Political Organizations ; Public Admin ; Religious Grantmaking Professional & Like ; Organizations

Location(s): Australia United Kingdom Australasia Europe Western Europe

Record Number: 101563165

Copyright 2012 Guardian Newspapers Ltd, Source: The Financial Times Limited

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The Guardian: International: 'Sexism, misogyny' - Gillard holds up an unflattering mirror to Australian politics: Attack on opposition leader seen as call to arms: 'Angry and coherent - she showed enough is enough'


Core text: ALISON ROURKE (13.10.2012), The Guardian, 'Sexism, misogyny' - Gillard holds up an unflattering mirror to Australian politics: Attack on opposition leader seen as call to arms: 'Angry and coherent - she showed enough is enough'