The logic of popular debates about gender inequality

It’s time that media discussion and debate about gender inequality establishes some ground rules, namely logical consistency. Reading Clementine Ford’s opinion piece ‘Male privilege extends beyond the airwaves,’ written for the ABC’s drum, brings this to bear.

This is a cut-and-dry feminist argument that the lack of women in Australian media is detrimental to female equality in society at large. The evidence offered is quite staggering. For instance in talk back radio this time last year there were only 17 female hosts to 123 male hosts. Moreover, Ford’s critique of the ABC program Q&A is spot on, which regularly populates its panel of experts with a 4:2 ratio of men to women. Interesting she ‘guesses’ that if this ratio was in reverse, there would be a vocal audience backlash. To this last point I would caution that conjecture is not evidence.

It is, however, the logical inconsistency of Ford’s central proposition with which I take issue. Ford states: ‘Firstly, it is illogical and intellectually dishonest to treat women as if we are one homogenous group with a single set of characteristics to identify us.’

Throughout the article however, men are largely referred to as a single group united by their social privilege. This is fairly common amongst feminist arguments calling for an end to patriarchy and female inequality.

If it holds that women are characterised by diversity, it is illogical to proceed with your argument against inequality as if men are not also characterised by diversity.

Public debate about the representation of gender in media needs to reassess its position and adopt a more sophisticated approach to the workings of power. While public figures that adopt the role of mediator and adjudicator in programs like Tony Jones in Q&A clearly share physical characteristics, this is not evidence that all men are privileged within society.
Rather I would suggest that white, middle aged men with a quality education and a relatively affluent background are a particular demographic amongst Australian men who are more likely to enjoy a public life and profession. This is because their values are more likely to accord with those who own and run media, and because they are more likely to have the education and connections that grant them access to this type of profession. It is these types of factors that shape and reinforce public perception that a reasonable adjudicator of public debate is a well-educated white and middle-aged man, not a deeply ingrained distrust of a female agenda.

To my mind, there are two important points to take from this.

First, logical consistency must be established, along with a recognition that both men, women and indeed, transgender people, suffer inequality, though in different ways and in different contexts.

Second, those who seek change must take responsibility for creating change. Women who want these types of public roles should take advantage of the current changes in media production and consumption to carve out a public voice and cultivate new audiences. People are turning to the internet in droves to source their news, and for a variety of reasons. Examples abound of interested and engaged individuals who share their expertise on you tube, in blogs and online publications, and in so doing have built a solid reputation and loyal audiences. 

If traditional and male dominated media outlets lock women out, don't rely on them. Rather than insisting on costly and ineffective public action, use your unique feminine accumen to innovate new solutions (and don’t conveniently sacrifice logical consistency, it only undermines your own position).


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