Despite the considerable 'wins' of the women's movement and subsequent related legislation, gender issues continue today. Thirty years ago, sexual harassment remained undefined, and women were treated as second class citizens. Women were trapped by a fixed societal image.
When finally recognised as an issue, sexual harassment remained misunderstood then as now. In 2010, a male colleague remarked in response to the settlement of the sexual harassment case brought by Kristy Fraser-Kirk against retailer David Jones' CEO: "I'm still waiting to be harassed. You wouldn't hear me complain." That comment reflected my long-term observation that many men have difficulty understanding the difference between sexual attention and harassment. In the first decade of the 21st century, when I talked to women under thirty, beneficiaries of the women's movement, I found widespread negative reaction to feminist values and agenda.
By 2011, feminism and fundamentalism seemed to be equated as extremist principles that are out-of-place in the mainstream western world. Even glossy high-profile women's magazines print interviews where young women deny the values of their feminist forbears. Today, nearly thirty years after legislation against sexual harassment, mainstream women seem intolerant of anyone who find such harassment wearing and distressing. The tide seems to have turned against women who believe a stand against sexual harassment has to be taken.
That tidal change is clearly seen in an interview in USA Today with actress Christina Hendricks who played Joan Holloway of Mad Men - femme fatale, expert in using sex as coinage, and follower of the adage 'If you can't beat the system, use it.' Holloway was quoted as saying 'people think her character is hot because she's got fire to her. She snaps back, and men love her because she's in touch with her sexuality and femininity. The men in the office can play with her a little bit. They can tease her, and she's not going to be in the bathroom crying later.'
It's a sad comment in this day and age by any woman claiming to be modern. Hendricks does all women a serious disservice in her suggestion that Joan Holloway should be a role model. Women who use sex as coinage play a part in perpetuating a culture that supports sexual harassment.
In addition to intolerance of women who object to being sexually objectified in the workplace, it appears we live in a time of narcissism. A time where what we look like is more important than who we are and the values we hold. An era that is intolerant of physical diversity among women. The female gender, from ten years and up, is very aware of the pressure to be thin and to be a small size - preferably smaller than size 8. We also live in a time where no one escapes sexual objectification, not even in the fashion styles for children.
Being sexy appears to be the driving goal today not only among our youth but in the wider population. That goal is rivalled only by the drive to remain youthful - agenda sold to the wider world by Hollywood and the advertising media. We are beset by images of older actors who supposedly defy age through cosmetic surgery and by air-brushed images of women of all ages that denies reality. Unfortunately, cosmetic surgery cannot change the quality and integrity of our skin and so the result is a disturbing parody of youth. Air-brushing cannot conceal the reality of age. Some exceptions to this trend are Dame Judy Dench, Helen Mirren, and Sally Field. Not only have they embraced their age at every stage, they appear focused on what really matters - the roles we play in life and retaining personal integrity. They have resisted the pressure to conform to a fixed image of youthfulness. They remain liberated.
©Christine M Knight