this post is by fellow saggitarian and writer Kahtia Lontis. (abovetheseaoffog.com) This post is interesting to me as not only was Flinders my alma mater, It shows how despite a belief amongst young women that we are living in an era free from harrassment in the learning environment or workplace, that these sorts of abuses continue and also need to be taken seriously as a form of violence.
Happy 22nd birthday Kahtia! thanks for sharing some insightful and timely remarks.
Since the publication of this article, the offending material discussed within has since been removed. This article now serves as an example of the possibilities of affecting positive change in our society, no matter how small they are. (writer’s emphasis)
I have been a student at Flinders University in Adelaide since 2009, when I was a fresh-faced teenaged high school graduate. I entered the institution with the naïve hope that I would be respected and safe there, and seen as an intellectual and social equal by those around me. I put my trust in the lecturers and the coordinators and the staff in general, with the hope that they would support me and protect my right to be viewed as an equal being, and would step in were I ever to experience any kind of unfair prejudice.
I was naïve.
Recently, I had the need to go to a location on the Flinders University Sturt campus that I have never had to visit before: the paramedics office. That is, the administrative office for the paramedic degree, not an office where we keep our special on-campus paramedics. Long story short, I have an associate (also female) who is studying paramedics and needed to stop at the office to talk to someone before we drove home. I have often walked past this office on my way to my own department, but have never gone inside. Idly attempting to look busy and as if I belonged there, I wandered over to the office noticeboard, which was crowded with newspaper articles about paramedics and Flinders alumni – inspirational stories about young people thriving in the industry and saving human lives.
And then, my eyes settled on something else. Despite the fact that it was prominently displayed near the centre of the board, this particular item was far removed from the inspirational stories and notifications of upcoming educational and industry-based opportunities for students. Something that caused me to do a double take, because I literally could not believe what I was seeing.
There are some things that you must keep in mind at this point in the story, the first of which being that this is the office of people in charge of the paramedics topics and students, at a university – a so called seat of learning, where a large number of the attendees are young people, some of them only eighteen and right out of high school, as I was when I started my studies. This is a place that should take the responsibility to take care of young people and to teach them about the world and about themselves seriously; a place that, I would have hoped, would also have a steadfast moral and ethical standpoint on issues such as gender equality and human rights, which the students would receive the benefits of. A university should be encouraging students to have immeasurable compassion and respect for other humans, of all genders, of all ages, of all nations, and encouraging in them a desire to experience their world firsthand and work together to find a solution for a sustainable and safe future for the planet and all of its inhabitants. Flinders University is, of course, co-ed – men and women are around in equal measures, interacting with each other in every instance, studying in the same areas, and all opportunities are equal.
Or, so we believe.
Sadly, I have come to the unfortunate conclusion that this is a pretty superficial smokescreen to conceal what is actually occurring within the halls and classrooms of this institution, and most likely, within the walls of many other educational institutions. It seems that we just cannot escape the stranglehold that chauvinism, sexism and raunch culture has on our society – not even at university. It seems that my money is good enough for them, as is the money of all potential female students who want to study there, but it would seem that we are still just not worthy of equal treatment, because we are female, and the judging criteria and rules are therefore different.
I have often wondered why so many of the young people I have encountered at Flinders University are either utterly ignorant about the history of the feminist movement and the relevance that it still has today, or who just think that feminism is a big old joke – a bunch of women who are just jealous of the physical attributes of other women, and therefore have an irrational hatred of men because they want the same kind of attention that men give to the women who’s physical qualities they secretly covet. The reason for this lack of knowledge in the area is simple – because, nowadays, everywhere they go, they are faced with the idea that women ARE just objects, despite anything else they might have heard. This underhanded reinforcement of these offensive and totally archaic ideals are EVERYWHERE, including, it appears, in our educational institutions.
I almost found myself confronting the poor woman at the desk in that office, because I could not believe what I was seeing. I could not believe that, in 2011, in a UNIVERSITY, a place where people have the formative experiences that will then form their character, such a thing would be deemed appropriate. I could not believe that a female sits in that office every day with this in her eye-line. Hanging on this noticeboard, in the paramedics office, where students who are learning to become medical professionals responsible for the lives of their charges go to speak to the people in charge of their educations – a photograph of a young man in a paramedic uniform, grinning, surrounded by surrounded by about 8 large-breasted, fake tanned, hair-extensioned women in bikinis, posing suggestively, below a sign that said : “PARAMEDICS: THE PERKS OF THE JOB!”
I wish I was joking. I wish that the consistent message that women are there to be objectified and men are there to be celebrated was all in my imagination. Sadly, it isn’t. It is everywhere, including in our educational environment.
The most ironic thing about this was that, if you consider what it actually takes to become a paramedic, the sheer strength of both will and body, compassion, care, the desire to help others, the intelligence and willingness to work extremely hard to both get into the program in the first place, to succeed in the program, and then to succeed in the work force – what do the female paramedics think about this message, that a perk worth mentioning was not, you will save lives, but, you might get to meet a whole lot of women in bikinis? They may as well directly be told that, sure, they can stick around and complete their studies and become fully qualified medical professionals, but they will never be truly respected until they strip off and oil up and pout for the camera or pout for some actual men. Because, obviously, that is what liberated women do – they don’t pretend they can be equal to the men around them by training for the same job. They know better.
Don’t get me wrong, there was another image, to show the perks of the job for a female paramedic – she gets to meet a male sporting personality! And, it gets even better – he will be a fully clothed male sporting personality, who will stand beside her in a photograph that only shows their faces and shoulders.
This is a representation of the problem in essence: many people CANNOT TELL the difference between the messages portrayed in these photos. This is why feminism has been swept under the rug in our society, this is why so many people are totally ignorant of what the actual reality is for women in our society today, this is why so many females feel that the only way to be validated is to pose and be sexy and become something desirable, instead of being the person who desires, and why that often manifests subconsciously. Because this message is EVERYWHERE. And it is shameful. No wonder everybody buys into it, if this is the message given to them at the university they are attending in order to get an education and move into a related area of work. I notice these things because I am actively looking for them, in the hopes that I can affect some sort of change – they are often so underhanded and almost invisible that I can easily understand how somebody would absorb them without actually deconstructing them first, hence the issue – people are not stopping to think about what they are actually seeing, and consequently, they have no idea about what is happening in the world around them.
The female paramedic gets to stand next to a man, a celebrity sportsman, which automatically takes the focus off her because he is the famous one. However, the male paramedic gets to stand in the centre of frame, surrounded by a harem of nameless, almost naked women with bulging breasts and oiled skin. The males in both photos are in the position of power in the situations. The women, on the other hand, are still only good enough to stand beside a powerful man and have a photograph taken, whether they be in a paramedics uniform or in a bikini.
Herein lies the paradox: this is sending out an EXTREMELY clear message about the values of our society, and yet a lot of people simply cannot see it. And, if they do see it, they dismiss it, because they look around them and see women who appear to be equal to men, which reinforces this notion that feminism is over because it has achieved its ultimate goal: equality between the sexes.
But, how would the parents of the young women enrolled in paramedics feel if they knew that this was on public display in the OFFICE of the people in charge of their children’s education and well-being whilst at university? Do we want our daughters to exist in this world? What about our sisters? Female friends? Romantic partners? How would people react if this poster was hanging up in a high school, or even a primary school? The eighteen year olds who finish year 12 and go straight to university are NOT adults. They NEED guidance and support from the environment around them. What is the difference between an 18 year old at a university and an 18 year old at a high school? Aside from a few pieces of paper and a location change, there isn’t one. The assumption that ANYBODY will reach a certain age, the magical age of adulthood (whatever that is these days), and automatically know right from wrong, despite the fact that they are bombarded daily with a conflicting message from the media and society, is ludicrous. There is a direct correlation between theory and practise – when the theory says one thing, no matter how unethical, immoral or illogical it is, the practise will NOT automatically become subversive. The media, advertising and all of those delightful things are still only concerned with ‘selling’ these bizarre and false stereotypes of what it means to be a woman or a man in our world, and while ANY of these messages are still being sold to us, the problem will still exist.
At a co-ed university, where men and women are taught the same things, they still feed us society’s message: at the end of the day, women are objects, whether they are practical or ornamental. They might be in the same classes as males, learning the same things, they might be smarter, they might produce better work, but at the end of the day, they are really only just there as a novelty. On the surface we pretend that we are equal, but right below the surface, not even hidden, is this second message. We will placate the feminists by allowing women into this university, but woe betide them if they think that they are truly equal to men.
I don’t know who put the picture up there. I don’t know what gender they were. I don’t know who wrote the chauvinistic sexist message to go along with it. I don’t even know if they REALISE what is offensive and inappropriate about it. I think that is the part that scares me the most, that there are people EVERYWHERE without the knowledge or even the bloody common sense to differentiate between a woman being objectified and a woman being celebrated.
And if you think that I don’t want to be one of the women in that first photo, you’re 100% right. I don’t want to expose my body for attention or put on a show of cartoonish stereotypical female sexuality to get attention, from males or otherwise. I prefer to attempt to gain respect and validation based on things with actual substance. But I also don’t want to be the woman in the second photo – the smart, educated, trained woman, at a level within her career equal to that of the men around her, who is still reduced to standing to the side of a ‘powerful’ man in a photograph, with a plaque that proclaims that this is her ‘perk’, her reward, for all her hard work and skill.