There are more women working in media than men. There are countless admirable female journalists producing successful stories and sweeping national awards. You could be forgiven for assuming sexism is over and feminism is more of a concept than a cause.
Speaking at the 27th Women in Media event on March 31 at the WA State Library, Jenna Price let the audience know this is not the case. Journalist, academic and creator of Destroy the Joint, Price says the media can still be a hostile place for women but sees many people fighting to change this.
Over 70 women and three bold men attended the evening for the opportunity to see Walkley award-winning journalist and West Australian assistant editor Colleen Egan interview Price on topics ranging from activism and politics to family and careers, and the media coverage and treatment of women.
Price says a particularly visible example of the media’s reaction to ambitious women was the treatment of our first female Prime Minister.
“The way that Julia Gillard was treated over the course of her time as Prime Minister was really shocking to me,” she says.
“I think that Julia Gillard reaching the top job was the moment for all these people who prefer to have a society where the competition is only among half the population … to really focus on trying to drown her.”
In August 2012 the popular 2GB broadcaster Alan Jones let off a tirade about then Prime Minister Julia Gillard which included his suggestion that the Prime Minister should be thrown out to sea in a chaff bag, and the now infamous line “women are destroying the joint”. This served as a call to action for Price and other concerned women.
Following Jones’s comments, Destroy the Joint became a Twitter hashtag, first used by author and social commentator Jane Caro, before becoming a Facebook group led by Price and a friend with the aim of encouraging others to join them in the fight against sexism and misogyny. The page now has over 42,000 members and share posts that can reach up to 250,000 people.
Of Alan Jones remarks and the snowball effect that followed, Price says what really had her in a tearing rage were Jones’s comments that Gillard’s father had died of shame because of his daughter’s conduct as Prime Minister. “It’s great to talk about someone’s policy and to dissect it and say I disagree with the policy but that kind of personal, vindictive, vituperative way of discussing someone, that’s not really the issue.”
Egan offers up challenging questions throughout the night, asking Price whether Destroy the Joint risks classifying any insult against a woman as a sexist attack when it could be a comment against any person in a position of power.
Price says the difference is the media does not discuss powerful male figures in the way Gillard was spoken about. “There was just a kind of catastrophic list of things that were about the fact that she has a vagina, not the fact that she’s got terrible policies, if that’s what you think she’s got,” she says.
Following Jones’s comments about Gillard’s father dying of shame, Destroy the Joint ran a campaign inundating his advertisers with emails and tweets asking them why they were supporting Jones. Over 70 sponsors withdrew their ads from the show. This led to Macquarie Radio Network, which owns Jones’s radio network TGB, withdrawing all remaining advertising, a move which cost them $3 million. In their end of financial year report, the network named Destroy the Joint as a reason for the loss in profits.
Price and Destroy the Joint have also run campaigns to help improve laws about the treatment of Aboriginal women during domestic violence cases and forced changes in a Sydney college when it was revealed the board was ignoring complaints of rape against female students.
Price could not overstate the importance of social media in the campaign. “We used to be able to organise cake stalls for P&Cs, that used to be on a very small scale, but now I can ask someone to donate who lives several thousand kilometres away and they will share their Facebook status and retweet and they’ll write letters,” she says.
“We’ve done a really good job of being at the ground level of quite a lot of feminist organising. “We’ve been able to make changes and that’s what makes it work.”
A self-confessed fan of any next new thing, Price is passionate about the online world and Twitter, her enthusiasm apparent as she tweeted on-and-off during the WIM event.
“I think that for journalists social media is so important because it’s a way of doing research, it’s a way of connecting with other journalists, and it’s a way of disseminating your stories that was just not possible in that way before,” she says.
Egan makes the point that it is interesting to use social media for a feminist campaign when the objectification, harassment and stalking of women on social media is some of the worst she’s ever seen. Price agrees but says it can be powerful for women to fight back and address these issues publicly.
She shares her experience of being repeatedly harassed on Twitter by an anonymous man until she tracked him down. Once she found out who he was, she called and informed his boss and then his wife of his behaviour. She hasn’t heard from him since.
Price has been an activist since she was 16, and balances her activism with journalistic integrity. “I think it’s very difficult to be objective because we are the creation of everything that’s come before us,” she says.
“We can’t honestly go into anything and think, ‘I do not have a view about this’ because we’re not blank slates, but it’s really important to be fair.”
When Egan, playing devil’s advocate, asks Price is it possible that men are just better, Price is quick to parry. “It’s not about being better,” she says.
“It’s about being on the stronger-and-more-grounded-in-the-institution team.
“It’s not an invention. It’s about the fact that there’s still a 17 per cent pay gap if you do exactly the same job as a man,” she says.
“We have a million dollars less in super than men, we’re not on boards, we are not even in senior management.”
A recent University of the Sunshine Coast study found that while 55.5 per cent of journalists are women, only 7.4 per cent of senior managers in media organisations are women. In Western Australia, the gender wage gap is larger than the national gap, at 25 per cent.
Price saves her best advice for those newly entering media.
“I think for young women developing the skills of resilience and ignoring what fuckwits say about your appearance is really important,” she says. She counsels against relying on the mainstream media, which “can’t and won’t cover everything”.
“If you’re an ordinary person who can type and take photos and make lively memes, you can change things.”
Women in the media are changing things.
Words by Annabeth Bateman