Message to Geelong mayor: why sexism is not trivial

A protester speaking at the rally on October 12. Photo: Kosta Srbinoff.

Geelong Trades Hall Council president Jackie Kriz gave the following speech on October 12 at a rally protesting against Geelong mayor Darryn Lyons wearing a sexist tshirt. She is a member of the Australian Nurses and Midwives Federation and the Socialist Alliance.


We have to ask ourselves — is what the mayor did really that bad? I mean, he only wore a tshirt depicting a naked lady with some captions.

We've heard the comments — it's only a tshirt, or it's political correctness gone mad. What's the fuss? It's a trivial matter.

We hear this rhetoric all the time, but it is not a trivial matter.

Sexism and misogyny is "hardwired" into our society. It is woven into the very fabric of our institutions. It is in our schools, out sporting clubs, our workplaces, our churches and our council. It is everywhere and it is institutional sexism.

It has become acceptable and made acceptable through the TV shows we watch, the video games our kids play, the products we buy, through the media, magazines and through advertising and through imagery — imagery such as the mayor's tshirt.

The objectification of women and the sexualisation of women, and now girls at a young age, is having dire consequences on women in our society.

Why are we so angry about this? The trouble is, and the mayor must be living under a log if he hasn't heard this, we are in the middle of an epidemic of violence against women.

Let's look at the statistics again just for another reality check.

In Australia, one in three women and one in six men will be sexually abused before the age of 16.

One in five women and one in 20 men reported to have experienced sexual violence since the age of 15.

One in three women will experience physical assault in their lifetime; and two women are killed every week in Australia by their partner.

That is the real terrorism of our modern era — violence against women.

How do we fight the ever growing hatred and violence against women? First of all we have to be brave and we have to challenge it, we have to speak out when it is so obvious and so very wrong.

Many of us are mothers, sisters, aunties and we are daughters. I am a proud nurse, president of Geelong Trades Hall, and a member of the largest union in Victoria, the Australian Nurses and Midwives Federation, which is a predominantly female union. I am also a committed feminist. I am therefore compelled to expose the mayor for what he is — a sexist and a misogynist. I don't want to be standing up to speak out against the big mayor with all his power. But I have to.

You see I have a son. And he admires the mayor. He looks up to him. And so do a lot of other young men and women. They see him as successful, flamboyant, confident, and rich.

He is a role model to many of our young people. Now as feminists, we have to undo what he has done. This is not about one tshirt, this is about our elected leader, influencing our young men — with a t-shirt advertising that when women want something, they have to use sex to get it.

I don't accept the excuse mayor Lyons has given us that he didn't read what was on the tshirt. We know that appearance is very important to him and the fact that he didn't know what was written on his tshirt is highly unlikely.

So, when we analyse the mayor's tshirt we have to say, "This guy is not working for us". He has let us down.

He has a lot of power to change the system, to be a guiding light, a role model, a "pole star" if you will. Unfortunately he is none of those. Instead he just feeds misogyny and negative attitudes towards women.

This tshirt is a symbol of his disrespect for women. It directly contravenes the mission statement of City of Greater Geelong Women's Committee: To uphold "Equality, inclusion and respect for women in greater Geelong". He has gone out of his way to do the opposite.

If we can't rely on our elected leaders in office, who can we rely on?

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