Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Destroying the Joint: Why Women Have to Change the World [Jane Caro] - review

This is a literature review I wrote for SYN Media. It's for the collection of writings, edited by Jane Caro, written and compiled in response to Alan Jones's comments on women supposedly 'destroying the joint'. It's available for purchase here.

Le cover

Destroying the Joint: Why Women Have to Change the World

When controversial shock-jock Alan Jones woke up on the morning of Friday the 31st of August 2012, I doubt even a man of his inflated self-importance could imagine the storm provoked by a seemingly offhand comment he would make on-air that day. After complaining about money put aside to increase women’s access to leadership and decision-making roles along with financial services and markets, and to help with violence prevention to ensure more women’s safety, Jones huffed and puffed and proclaimed: ‘Women are destroying the joint’.

Within hours, the Twittersphere was alight, and the now familiar #destroythejoint hashtag had been created. This hashtag and the prompt response of outraged men and women is credited with reclaiming what was intended to be a misogynistic insult, and using it as a weapon in the fight against sexism and discrimination in modern Australia. Now Jane Caro, a feminist of many different hats including writer, speaker and broadcaster, has edited a new collection, Destroying the Joint: Why Women Have to Change the World, which includes contributions from 26 women along with the Destroy the Joint Administrators of the Facebook group.

Alan Jones uses words to attack and discriminate, and women are using words to fight back. The definition of feminism has been widely debated for decades, and some definitions have been less than flattering. The negative (and incorrect) connotations associated with the word feminism have helped create a disturbing trend where women are afraid to identify as feminist. The phrase ‘I’m not a feminist but...’ is inevitably followed by expressions of desire for equality between the sexes and it is this precise definition that forms the basis of modern feminism. Privileged, sexist men in positions of power and with a radio station willing to air their misogyny (like Alan Jones) have encouraged women to feel shame at the thought of speaking out (read: complaining) for their rights. This patriarchal structure ensures women fear aligning themselves with a political movement created to strengthen the position of women, lest they be thought of as man-hating, shrill, and - God forbid - less attractive to the male gaze and sensibilities.

This book uses clear cut facts and statistics, along with humour, polemic, memoir, analysis, satire, fiction and even tweets to deconstruct the idea of feminism and what it means in 2013, as well as providing irrefutable proof of discrimination against women in politics, the workplace, the media, the home and in schools. Even the penultimate phrase that started it all has been redefined - as contributor Jennifer Mills puts it, ‘women are destroying the joint, insofar as that joint is patriarchy, and it was our intention all along.’ (p. 109).

This is a love letter to women everywhere, without placing women on a pedestal simply for possessing vaginas. Prime Minister Julia Gillard is, of course, discussed both fairly and critically and contributors explain their allegiance or lack thereof to particular government policies with clear and concise detail. Senator Christine Milne’s contribution is a timely commentary on sexism in Australian politics. Alan Jones would be quivering behind his microphone and sense of entitlement to read these fiercely intelligent writers as they systematically strip his credibility to shreds.

Length does not allow for this review to cover every contribution, but examples include the hilarious Corinne Grant - or possibly her male evil twin? - in ‘A Letter to Feminists from a Man who Knows Better’, and Steph Bowe and Lily Edelstein inspire with their present-day experiences of being teenage feminists. Also focusing on the next generation of feminists is Dannielle Miller, tearing down the negative stereotypes attributed to teenage girls and Monica Dux, describing the effect misogynistic comments can have on girls as young as two years old. Stella Young reminds feminists of the sense of equality they strive for, to ensure it is inclusive of feminists with disabilities and the ways to achieve this.

Emily Maguire takes us global, with simultaneously horrifying and bolstering reports of discriminatory laws and the women brave enough to challenge them, often at great cost to their personal safety. Chapters like this make the Destroy the Joint Administrators comments ring true - ‘it’s not about the individual. It’s about the collective.’ (p. 104). This can be applied to the sense of sisterhood in support networks for feminists across the globe, but is also representative of the wider message behind feminism. It isn’t about male and female and the differences between them. It’s about the collective, humanity as a whole. Breaking down the barriers to reach equality between the sexes is just one of a hundred little revolutions that need to take place in order to abolish all forms of discrimination, whether they are based on sex, gender, race, politics, religion, abilities or beliefs. This book is one mighty, thought-provoking leap in the right direction.

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