The significance of the installation of walk/don't walk signs that show the silhouette of a woman (replacing the traditional male figure) is difficult to explain and too easy to mock. A scan of social media will show mostly criticism, and on seven news last night I saw Robert Doyle, Lord Mayor of Melbourne espousing “I’m not sure my daughters will feel more empowered as women because the city of Melbourne walk/don’t walk signs are men rather than women or the other way around”. Firstly, Robert tell us what you think rather than sharing your daughters' assumed view. Secondly, you are missing the point.
I attended an International Women’s Day breakfast yesterday and had the pleasure of hearing key note speaker, Tara Moss. Little did I know, that at the same time, just outside the venue at Federation Square, the walk/don't walk signs were being swapped over to show female figures rather than male.
Moss's first career was as a 'Paris thin' model, on the International modelling circuit. She threw this in once she realised that the modelling world was never going to be happy with her healthy self and become a novelist. She famously had to sit a lie detector test to face the accusations that she was just a pretty face, not a published author. She passed with flying colours. Today she has written 11 bestselling books, published in 19 countries and in 13 languages, she’s also been a goodwill ambassador for UNICEF and as of 2013 is UNICEF Australia's National Ambassador for Child Survival. She's completely gorgeous, completely humble and is out there advocating for gender equality and for women and children to have a voice.
When I think of giving women a voice, I think of the advancement of women in the workplace, women in leadership, women on Boards. But what Moss talks about is far less obvious and deeply ingrained in our culture. Let me share some of her stats regarding journalism and our media sources in Australia. In 2010 it was reported that 78% of television presenters were male and 75% of television reporters were female. When we read, hear or see the news 76% of experts quoted are men, and 79% of victims quoted are women. Talk about deeply ingrained unconscious bias. Did you even realise this was happening? I didn't.
Moss also talked about the Bechdel test. The Bechdel test highlights to us that since a young age we have been watching box office movies where women are underrepresented, barely represented or not represented at all. Here’s an easy to watch 2 minute video that will tell you more about it. Despite the research that shows that a movie with both a male and female lead will be 23.5% more profitable, this continues to happen.
Our media and movies are surrounding us with male voices. Experts are most usually male. But the thing that is most revealing to me, is that this is a shock. I hadn’t even noticed, like I hadn’t noticed that walk/don’t walk signs are male. Yes Twittersphere, women wear pants too, but I think we all know it’s a man instructing us when we can and can't walk across the road.
Is changing some of our walk/don't walk signs from male to female going to change the world? Well yes it is, because it is agitating and agitation is what creates change. As my son and I watched the news last night, after I had just commented on how particularly bad it was that day (7 March — police shot at, woman kidnapped and raped over 2-month period, old guy bashed by teenager) the story came on about changing the walk/don't walk signs at fed square. The reporter did little to explain why and the Lord Mayors quote did little to help (can you do some research next time Doyle?).
After the news story my son still had the question, why? This is what I told him. We often don’t see it, or realise it’s happening, but women aren’t treated as equal to men. I told him about movies, about the news, about experts and victims. I told him about his role in making sure women are heard just as much as men and how he can help.
Moss told us a story about a woman in a room full of men listening to a guest speaker. At question time, she raised her hand to ask a question. The roving microphone was passed amongst the men so they could ask their questions. Usually at this stage she would have put her hand down and given up. But she had just read Tara’s book Speaking Out, so although starting to feel awkward, and unwelcome, she kept her hand raised.
Even men who put their hands up after her were given the mic to ask questions, while she was overlooked. A man at her table saw this, and raised his hand. When the mic came to him to ask a question, he handed it to the woman so she could have a voice in that room. This was my message to my son. You can help by handing the girls the mic.
Last year at a Whitehouse summit on women, Barack Obama declared “I may be a little greyer than I was eight years ago, but this is what a feminist looks like”. At a UN summit, also last year Justin Trudeau declared “I am a feminist”. He said he will keep declaring this until people just shrug, until it’s normalised, rather than the crowd going nuts because they see it as such a bold statement.
So, what I say to the Committee for Melbourne who have funded the 10 female walk/don't walk signs is thank you for agitating and you have my support. Make people curious or furious, drive the trolls crazy, generate discussion and help us to see that the world, as it is currently designed, has been made for men.
I made my husband an egg and bacon wrap to eat in the car on the way to work today, to celebrate International women’s day. My son asked, why are you making Dad a wrap on International Women’s day? — my answer was ‘because he is a feminist’. Just like Barack Obama and Justin Trudeau. Just like my son.