By Rose McCann
SYDNEY — On March 6, the day before Sydney's annual International Women's Day march, Helena Pollard had her car radio tuned to the Doug Mulray breakfast program on 2MMM.
The program included a skit that involved a woman being shot by her partner because of her indecision about what clothes to wear. It also featured a woman reading weather announcements while making loud orgasmic noises (something women are good at, Mulray noted). He concluded the segment, which also included references to "bimbos", by saying this was his contribution to International Women's Day.
Helena and her friend Janet Fraser are members of a collective responsible for organising the IWD march and rally.
Helena rang Janet and the two of them set in train a series of actions, including newspaper, television and radio interviews that have widely publicised women's anger at the incident. The Australian Broadcasting Tribunal has agreed to the collective's request for an investigation under the provisions of anti-discrimination legislation.
Mulray and station manager Graham Smith have responded by saying that it was just a joke, and by dragging out the old "humourless feminist" bogey. Losing his cool after a particularly harrowing week (in which his program's rating slipped from first to third), Mulray eventually blew his top and accused the 23-year-old Janet of being "dangerous" and of creating trouble for him and the station "for years".
While the accusation is pure fantasy, Janet observed that among the numerous women she has spoken to about the incident, particularly in the media, the universal comment has been that they "can't stand Mulray" because of his constant sexist jokes and misogynist attitudes.
Janet explained: "Mulray's reputation has always revolved around his 'bad taste' style of humour, his off-colour jokes. His stock in trade is poking fun at the lifestyles of particular groups, and in some cases, like his take-off of the stockbroker set, he can be very funny. But making women out to be the sexual playthings of men is not okay and it is not okay to shoot a woman in a skit.
"It is so backward looking, so patronising and so boring of him to come out with these sexist jokes all the time.
"Of course you can tell jokes that are funny about women, but you don't have to tell these nasty, destructive jokes that we've all heard before.
"It's not that feminists don't have a sense of humour, it's that women are tired of being the butt of stupid jokes."
Asked how important she thought it was for women to challenge sexism in the media and popular culture, Janet responded: "It is very important because it does hold up to scrutiny community stereotypes and myths. And stereotypes are reinforced through humour. There comes a time when you have to realise that you are actually entrenching something very dangerous; by laughing at something which is very dangerous, like violence against women, you are making it acceptable.
"A couple of nights beforehand, a woman was hit over the head and killed by a man in the street; that's the reality of violence against women and that was what he was making out to be funny.
"The sort of sexism displayed by Mulray is a symptom of a much greater illness in our society, the 'it's okay to trample women underfoot' attitude. Women die all the time from the repercussions of this sort of attitude, and we don't really talk about it.
"Yes, it is vital women do complain, to say we're sick of it and we're not going to sit back and take this crap for the rest of our lives. Besides, getting Doug Mulray wrapped over the knuckles is an achievable goal and that is important for us too."