Paul Little at large

Paul Little is a Herald on Sunday columnist

Paul Little: Time for feminist tide to turn

The provocative Miley Cyrus has been castigated by Lorde. Photo / AP
The provocative Miley Cyrus has been castigated by Lorde. Photo / AP

After two wives and three daughters I was sure I had this feminism thing sussed. They could do anything they wanted and have happy lives untroubled by silly old sexism. In results that managed to patronise an entire country, the Global Gender Gap Report said that this was a great place to be a woman.

So when our 15-year-old pleaded with her mother and me to watch, with her, a documentary called Miss Representation, I acquiesced for the sake of appearing a father-who-always-listens while inwardly moaning "here we go again".

Hasn't all this stuff been sorted more than 30 years ago with just a few bits and pieces left to tidy up - percentage of women who are world leaders; numbers of women who are astronauts - just the boring things?

Miss Representation is annoyingly too much about documentary-maker Jennifer Siebel's interesting life and not enough about the issue.

Fortunately, a lot of information manages to get through.

The major theme is that the way women are represented in the media loses them respect and makes it harder for them to be taken seriously. In 2011, for example, only 11 per cent of protagonists in films were female. Siebel has dozens of these examples and the cumulative effect is depressing.

Internationally, and here, women now rule the music business, but only one - Lorde - has dared to point out that most do so by presenting themselves as perfect, willing sex slaves.

The contemptuous attitude to women in many contemporary song lyrics, especially hip-hop, has been widely observed, but you don't have to look outside the establishment for these attitudes.

Recently the Times ran a story headed "10 things women wear that men hate". Because if there's one thing women's clothing needs to do, it's not piss off men. The downstream result of such messages? In New Zealand, figures from the Human Rights Commission show, women make up a quarter of public service chief executives; "less than 30 per cent of judges, less than 25 per cent of senior academic staff" and 11 per cent of apprentices.

It's misrepresentation that leads, at its most extreme, to that aspect of the Roast Busters phenomenon and its aftermath that saw old male commentators making the girls involved responsible to some extent.

How did it happen after all that work was put in so many years ago?

At some point, the tide turned against feminism.

Perhaps it was in the 1980s when rating financial success above most other values became so acceptable. Feminism, which rates "womanly" values more highly, didn't sit too well with that.

The shift from the assertion that women could have it all - home, partner children, career, individual goals - to the belief that women had to have it all, didn't help. Women didn't feel free; they felt obliged to perform superhuman acts of versatility that no man would dream of or be asked to attempt. Crashing and burning ensued.

Whatever the reasons, they are undeniably complex and solutions are frustratingly elusive but they need to begin with acknowledging that women are still at a disadvantage and not claiming, as many men do, that women "have it all their own way these days" and men don't stand a chance.

Speaking of materialism, the internet and unintended consequences, the global internet trembled on Cyber Monday (December 2, US hemisphere time), a sort of global virtual sale to boost online commerce.

So if you're late for a deadline this week, feel free to tell your employer that the internet ate your homework and you had to do it all over again.

- Herald on Sunday

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