Meredith Burgmann, creator of the Ernies Awards, gives a wrap-up to the 2012 awards
While Alan Jones’ tasteless remarks about Julia Gillard’s father hit the headlines last week, he also made the news for winning the Gold Ernie for Sexist Remarks at the Twentieth Annual Ernie Awards the day before.
The Ernie awards began as a joke in 1993 when a terrible old sexist trade union official called Ernie Ecob announced his retirement. Forty women decided to celebrate the occasion and a trophy (sheep rampant on a golden orb, because Ernie was from the shearers’ union) was awarded for the most sexist remark of the year.
It has grown from there and each year 400 women gather for dinner at NSW Parliament House to award trophies for the most sexist remarks made during the year. Silver Ernies (piglets on plinths) are awarded in six different categories.
Each year I believe that no one will say anything terrible during the year and we will have to cancel the Ernies. Sadly this has never happened. In fact this year was worse than any previous year.
As Anne Summers has pointed out, having a female Prime Minister seems to have unleashed a tidal wave of vicious misogyny. Take for instance the winner of the Gold Ernie, Alan Jones. He won for his nasty comment,
‘Women are destroying the joint, Christine Nixon in Melbourne, Clover Moore here. Honestly! There’s no chaff bag big enough for these people’.
However it was a collection of his other snippets that should have won him the prize. He has repeated comments from his listeners about the Prime Minister, ‘she is brain dead’, ‘a lying bitch’, ‘bring back the guillotine’, and ‘I’m over this lying cow Gillard, what a horrible mouth on legs she is.’ He repeats these comments on air with no disavowal or discussion. It is gendered and violent language used routinely by a high rating radio personality. Misogyny is alive and kicking.
The gendered language about Gillard persists in everyday life. The Industrial silver Ernie was won by David Farley, CEO of Australian Agricultural Company. While demonstrating machines in an abattoir, he remarked,
‘So it’s designed for non-productive old cows. Julia Gillard’s got to watch out.’
Once again Bill Heffernan’s ‘deliberately barren’ comment echoes.
Some silver Ernie winners touched on areas that are sore points for the women who make the decision – the 400 attendees who boo as each comment is read out. For instance I really believed that the shoo-in for the Clerical Ernie would be the Sydney Anglican Diocese for proposing to bring back the word ‘submit’ into the woman’s bridal vows. However the winner turned out to be Family Voice Australia for opposing changes to the provocation defence because it would ‘effectively rule out the classic case of a husband unexpectedly arriving home to find his wife engaged in a sexual act with another man.’ Anything that smacks of justifying violence against women is harshly treated by the Ernies women.
Another hot button issue is anything that blames women for the sexual assault perpetrated against them by men. The winner of the Judicial Silver Ernie was a hapless Queensland copper who made the mistake of advising women against ‘risky behaviour and unsafe actions.’ It reminded me of the occasion in 2011 when a Canadian policeman sparked the world wide ‘slutwalk’ phenomenon with his ‘advice’ for women to not ‘dress like sluts’ in order to avoid rape.
The Sports Silver Ernie (the Warney) predictably went to Basketball Australia for sending the women’s Olympic team to London Economy class while the men went Business. An interesting thing about the last few years has been that sportsmen are no longer coming up with predictable shockers. They must have had coaching or employed PR teams. Whatever has happened it’s nice to see.
The Elaine Award for Remarks Least Helpful to the Sisterhood came down to a boo-off (a way to decide a tied vote). Once again, I thought that Germaine Greer would have walked away with it for her extraordinary admonition to the Prime Minister ‘You’ve got a big arse Julia, just get on with it’ but the eventual winner was Kelly O’Dwyer MP for calling Tanya Plibersek, Deborah O’Neill and Nicola Roxon ‘the handbag hit squad.’
It’s interesting to note that when Tony Abbott was asked about Germaine Greer’s comment he said,
‘I know, I know, I know. Germaine Greer was right on that subject.’
He must have known that what he said would be reported and that it would feed into the misogynist Tony narrative but he couldn’t help himself. When he was criticised for his sexist comment he came up with the defence that ‘I take directions from women every day – my wife, my daughters, my chief of staff, other senior members of my office. Look I’m an entirely modern man in this respect.’ I can remember a senior Left trade union official using a similar line to defend himself once – but that was 30 years ago. Tony Abbott really needs to move on.
Similarly when Barry O’Farrell said in NSW Parliament ‘I am not sure which other Member could be the hooker, perhaps the Member for Canterbury (Linda Burney)’, he must have known he would be reported and that his remark was inappropriate.
Finally the Good Ernie (for Men Behaving Better) went to Stephen Smith for his ongoing battle with the entrenched male culture of the Australian Defence Force. My personal favourite, because it sprang from an unexpected quarter, was Barton Lynch (former World Champion surfer) who said about the differing conditions for male and female competitions: ‘It’s so bloody sexist. To me it’s unacceptable.’
Author: Meredith Burgmann
Meredith Burgmann is a member of the Glebe Branch of the ALP and the founder of the Ernie Awards.