Women have made headlines recently for not acting “ladylike” at the Melbourne Cup, their “unfashionable cleavage” and for being “bad role models” for other mums.
Each incident sparked outrage on social media as women continued to ask why there was so much focus on the way they look.
Despite the strides women have made to break the “glass ceiling”, commentators and experts said recent incidents were just further evidence of Australia’s “deeply sexist culture”.
“It’s not a coincidence that these things seem to happen in groups — they’re kind of connected in terms of the policing of women’s bodies surging at particular times,” said Dr Meagan Tyler, author and RMIT research fellow specialising in feminist theory and gender.
“We have done away with some of the more obvious elements [of sexism] — legal discrimination, enforcing equal pay, we finally got rid of the ability for men to rape their wives in marriage — but we haven’t moved on in the cultural terms, in the more subtle ways in which there are sexist standards in everyday life.
“I think beauty standards is one of those key areas but I think, again, we are seeing a shift. We are seeing a backlash against beauty trends and an awareness — among women not shaving their armpits, things like that — and also a push back against that in mainstream press coverage of what women should be.”
Why do we have this standard for women?
On Tuesday, revellers around the country celebrated the biggest horse race in Australia this year, the Melbourne Cup.
But it was not just the race that captured a nation, as media outlets devoted a number of articles to the women shaming Australia.
There was “wheelie-bin girl” who made headlines around the world for riding on a wheelie bin at the Melbourne Cup and a News Corp opinion piece, written by a woman, about Australian ladies being an “utter disgrace”.
For Sydney author and columnist Kerri Sackville, the interesting point was that these conversations focused on “ladylike” behaviour, and made no mention of “gentlemanly-like” behaviour.
“I don’t think anybody is worried about whether [men] are behaving like Mr Darcy from a Jane Austen novel,” she said.
“So why do we have this standard for women?”
“It’s this imagined norm that often harks back to something that is long gone and it’s interesting that it came up in racing because it is an area where they play up traditional gender norms.
“The drinking and being raucous fits in nicely with what Aussie blokes do, but it obviously doesn’t fit well with our traditional notion of what Aussie women should do.
“It’s good to see in social media a lot of push back against this sexist coverage to a degree. I think there is a lot of awareness among women generally about the kind of shaming that goes on around not conforming to traditional notions of femininity.”
Women judged on ‘body parts’
There was also widespread criticism of Vogue’s Twitter poll on Wednesday, which asked women whether they believed cleavage was out of fashion or not.
— Sona (@shekhahaha) November 2, 2016
To see some of the push-back against that and the fact they were like ‘cleavage is out, but you should still show your back or you stomach or whatever’.
Feminist theory and gender author Dr Meagan Tyler
“It just emphasised the ridiculousness of it all.”
Sackville said it also showed how media coverage still focused on looks.
“It’s one thing to say this summer blue is and yellow is out, but to say a particular body shape is out is wrong because women are being told that a particular body shape is not OK,” she said.
“So it all comes down to a body part that women are being judged on and nothing else.”