Time for a Saturday pop quiz. Question: Tennis star Caroline Wozniacki stuffs paper down her top and pants in order to parody her friend, curvy black player Serena Williams. She struts around, showing off her great fake big boobs and butt to the cheers of fans. Is this racism?

Exhibit A

Question. Some Sydney pubs tell men to “give the wife a rest” because the “Carlton Draught girls” will do their ironing. It’s part of a promotion offering drinkers who bought a schooner a free ironed shirt. Is this sexism?

We’ll get to the answers in a minute.

Thanks to the new draft federal laws, there’s a whole new raft of ways we can discriminate against each other: not only on the grounds of sex, race, age and disability, but gender identity and sexual orientation as well.

I used to work in the equal opportunity field, but even I am worried things are going too far – and that’s a pretty big admission for me to take.

The problem is that the draft law now covers conduct that is offensive and insulting, and not just discriminatory.

And there’s not even a clause stipulating that it must be reasonable for the average person to be offended.  This means that if you’re hypersensitive and easily offended, that could be enough.

According to a number of commentators, this could mean affectionate terms like “old bastard” could be illegal and political nicknames like “Juliar” or ‘Invisobel Redmond” could be judged offensive.

This is ludicrous. Such terms are part of our Aussie way of life: any judge that rules otherwise is a deadset dickhead.

(See, imagine being unable to use such great terms like that).

As the ABC chairman Jim Spigelman said this week, we need to draw a very clear distinction between terms that are merely offensive or insulting, and those that are humiliating or intimidating, or incite hostility, hatred or contempt.

The fact that claims of discrimination will now be easier to make probably won’t help the situation.

Let’s save claims of discrimination for instances where there is actual harm, or serious hatred– not just hurt feelings or wounded pride.

The problem is that if everything is deemed to be offensive, then ultimately nothing is offensive.

I am arguing this because I passionately believe in anti-discrimination laws.

But I also believe in free speech, fair comment and a robust public debate – not to mention our right to call each other “old bastard”.

We have to make sure that we don’t conflate attacks on someone who may be female as automatically sexist, and attacks on someone who may be black or Asian or Indian as automatically racist.

This is why I think the parody of Serena Williams by Caroline Wozniaki was in poor taste, but wasn’t inherently racist, as some have claimed. The fact that Williams was black was not at the core of the attack, but incidental to it. (And it was an exhibition match, after all)

There are enough examples of real racism around without getting worked up about that.

For instance, there’s the men telling a French woman on a train to “speak English or die”.

Now, that’s racism.

And there’s also the Facebook page called Aboriginal Memes, which included comments such as: “How do you kill 1000 flies at once? Slap me in the face”.

That’s racist too.

Similarly, I’d suggest the Sydney pubs offering women to iron men’s shirts is not a serious example of sexism. These days many men iron their own shirts, and there was nothing stopping women having their shirts ironed by the pub’s ironing ladies.

Again, it was in poor taste, and played on outdated stereotypes. But it’s hardly female genital mutilation, is it?

Ferris Bueller once said: “A person should not believe in an ‘ism’, he should believe in himself”.

Unlike Ferris, I do believe in “isms”, but they should not come before commonsense.

Comments on this post close at 8pm AEST

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42 comments

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    • Angry God of Townsville says:

      07:01am | 15/12/12

      Question, If I am offended by the standard of journalism, should all journalists be banned? Is that where we end up, afraid to say anything or do anything in case we offend someone some how.

      The real incidents of racism are based more on the lack of knowledge and fear of the perpetrators. The majority of those you would label as racist are just failed bullies with no personal sense of being, too afraid to look someone in the eye, because they know that their hatred is not based on their victims strengths but their own weakness. It is their gutless fears that drive their pathetic anger.Same with sexist behaviours, the abusers are the ones who have the failures in life stacking before them.

      Funny, how the words racist and sexist are pushed by politicians on their foes, when the truth is, it is actually projection, what the accuser wants to believe rather than the reality. Sadly this then becomes the standard for political discourse, it enables the diversion from the real issues, and enables the accuser to demand proof against rather than provide evidence for.

    • ramases says:

      07:35am | 15/12/12

      There in lies the problem, there is no discernible standard of Journalism just wannabe hacks who hold sway over people because of some accident of job creation.
        I offend people daily by speaking my mind, something that I used to be guaranteed by Australian law but more and more we see even the right to free speech is being whittled away by those who are in power or who happen to be moderators on various blogs. To speak ones mind about an array of subjects is or was my right and even though I sometimes clash with the commonly held view I still should have that right.
        Just because these new laws may come into existence wont mean that I will curb my thoughts or written comments and let the chips fall where they may. I will not be silenced by a bunch of incompetents who bring these laws in to protect themselves against people speaking the truth or the truth as they see it. Men and women fought and died for our right to free speech and any Government that tries to curtail that is either a lost cause or one bent on making this a Communist nation.

    • Davo says:

      12:14pm | 15/12/12

      Spot on Angry, when can people be people again rather that a racist or sexist person, if you point the finger there are four pointing back at you

    • Davo says:

      12:14pm | 15/12/12

      Spot on Angry, when can people be people again rather that a racist or sexist person, if you point the finger there are four pointing back at you

    • Bob says:

      02:42pm | 15/12/12

      We’re getting there.

      I think it was Justice Spiegelman who said that the scope of the word ‘offended’ has been broadened to such extremes so as to become dangerous. Apologies if I have distorted this somewhat through paraphrasing, but I believe this to be the crux of the issue.

      Symptomatic of our broadening - and overuse - of this dubious term is the Attorney-General’s latest expedition into Orwellian legislation - the Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Bill 2012.

      http://www.ag.gov.au/Humanrightsandantidiscrimination/Australiashumanrightsframework/Documents/Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Bill 2012 - Exposure Draft 2.pdf

      A person is ‘discriminated against’ if they are ‘offended’ by another person’s conduct regarding any of the amusingly vague ‘protected attributed’ listed in section 17 of the Bill.

      Offended, being the all-too subjective term that it is, guarantees an almost oppressive use and sets us back immeasurably regarding the freedom of expression.

      Anything worth saying is likely to offend someone. No doubt a murder is offended to be called a murderer, just as a corrupt politician would be offended by being called corrupt.

    • Tubesteak says:

      07:26am | 15/12/12

      “We have to make sure that we don’t conflate attacks on someone who may be female as automatically sexist”

      Well there goes Labor’s entire campaign against Abbott: you can’t pick on me cos I’m a girl and if you do it’s cos you’re a misogynist

      Things went too far when we started worrying about causing offence. There should be no law against calling someone a name. The law should only step in when you say something patently untrue such as in Andrew Bolt’s case, for example

      It’s not racist to allege that hitting someone will kill 1000 flies if that person is covered in flies. It’s hyperbole. There is no contribution to discrimination because most people are capable of thinking for themselves and assessing something in front of them. To think otherwise is to engage in victim culture: I’m a victim cos I’m black/female/whatever

      Time to grow up and get a thick skin

    • acotrel says:

      07:45am | 15/12/12

      ‘Time to grow up and get a thick skin ‘

      I ntend not to be thick skinned when I am working ‘on contract’ at age 57 and my employer wants me ‘on staff ’  at lower pay.  Then goes on a routine of regularly mentioning how good it is that ‘we have a YOUNG team here ‘.  It is not the words, it is the INTENT !

    • marley says:

      07:48am | 15/12/12

      @Tubesteak - the problem is, that Bolt wasn’t nailed for defaming people, but for offending them.  And even if he’d been 100% accurate about the background of his targets, he would still have offended them.

      So far as I’m concerned, offending people shouldn’t be on the table at all.  Defamation yes, offending no.  Even if your offending statement contains inaccuracies or outright lies, it shouldn’t be enough to have you hauled into court.  Otherrwise, three quarters of the people who comment on the Punch would be hiring lawyers as we speak.

    • acotrel says:

      08:12am | 15/12/12

      Perhaps the law should excuse the exercise of summary justice where offence has been clearly given intentionally ?

    • DJ says:

      08:25am | 15/12/12

      BEst if Bolt is left out of this, it is hard to take someone’s complaints of being denied freedom of speech when he makes that case ona half hour tv show and on the front page of a major daily.

      Malicious innacuracies in the media are a different matter than generic behaviour but would be better to strengthen penalties for the media and defamation than these proposed laws. I would like to see apologies appear in the same slot that they were made - i.e front page story

    • andye says:

      01:11pm | 15/12/12

      @marley: “And even if he’d been 100% accurate about the background of his targets, he would still have offended them.”

      If he had been 100% correct about the facts, he wouldn’t have had a point left to make.

    • Tubesteak says:

      01:32pm | 15/12/12

      acotrel
      At 57 you should be the senior manager and staring down the barrel of retirement. The only people above you at that age should have Chief in their title. No point playing the victim at that age. Life is choice - cause - consequence

      marley
      I thought Bolt was done for defamation. Not causing offence. Ridiculous if that’s the case

      DJ
      Can’t disagree with you

      Off topic
      Queenslanders sure do know how to do infrastructure! 4 lanes each way from Brisbane to GC. Even though there was a lot of traffic it still moved at 100+kmh. The F3 can’t even do 3 lanes all the way

    • marley says:

      03:39pm | 15/12/12

      @Tubesteak - no, he was done under the Racial Discrimination Act, not under defamation laws.

      @Andye - the core of Bolt’s point, badly though he put it, was that middle class urban aborigines are benefiting from programs meant to reduce aboriginal disadvantage, and that remote area aborigines therefore don’t get a look in.  In other words, aborigines who are not in fact disadvantaged shouldn’t be getting fellowships on the basis purely of their aboriginality and not on the basis of their need.  Now personally, I think that’s a discussion worth having, but it could become impossible if these laws come into effect.

    • steiner says:

      07:32am | 15/12/12

      Caroline Wozniacki was having a joke.  Serena certainly hasn’t complained.

      And as for the idea that offensive comments should be banned by statute, it’s the definition of totalitarianism.
      Should an atheist be jailed for telling someone the idea of divine supervision is absurd? 
      You see the response to Salman Rushdie, and the Danish cartoons to alleged blasphemy.  Calling out any of the disgusting events contained in any of the scriptures would be considered offensive. Female circumcision in Africa, stoning of gays in Iran - are we to be told that we should not comment on such things because they are divinely inspired?

      Lying to children about a mythical ‘god’ should never be allowed, just as telling the truth about the beginnings of the universe should never been seen as blasphemous.

    • stephen says:

      11:55am | 15/12/12

      So what are/is the beginnings of the Universe ...  I’m dying to be offended.

    • Mouse says:

      04:35pm | 15/12/12

      stephen, I do know that there is a restaurant at the The End of the Universe, if that’s any help!  lol :o)

    • Mik says:

      07:43am | 15/12/12

      Money would be better spent just teaching common courtesy and manners.
      The proposed rules do nothing to prevent big problems like violence, domestic violence, child abuse, homelessness, unemployment where the grass roots issues of discrimination are.

    • marley says:

      07:58am | 15/12/12

      @Mik - true, but they may well stop us talking about them.  And if we can’t talk about them, how do we deal with them?

    • acotrel says:

      08:16am | 15/12/12

      @Marley
      ‘What goes around, comes around.’

    • marley says:

      11:46am | 15/12/12

      @acotrel - huh?

    • corryn says:

      01:02pm | 15/12/12

      @marley - huh?

    • StanleyG says:

      08:08am | 15/12/12

      This law wont be passed,so relax.lf it was,Steve Gibbons wouldnt be able to compare people to the KKK,or call people bimbos,Doug Cameron couldnt talk about wingnut ears,Nicola Roxon and Tanya Plibersek couldnt call Tony Abbotts wife and daughters incapable women,Julia Gillard would have to use words other than misogyny,sleaze and smear and negativity,so there goes 90% of her vocabulary,and John Mcternan’s job would be obsolete. lt wont happen.

    • Sirro says:

      11:51am | 15/12/12

      I would love you to be correct but the Labour Party in the UK introduced similar laws there not long ago. Hence various footballers having to appear in court charged with various types of sledging abuse. This is all Mcternan’s work. He is a poison on the ALP and they can’t even see it. Perhaps they will see how much his ways have alienated the working families of Australia on the day after the next election.

    • chuck says:

      08:14am | 15/12/12

      My goodness they will want to ban the Comedy festival next!
      There do appear to be some rather some sensitive souls about. Is there enough cotton wool and rose coloured glass to go round?

    • Adam Diver says:

      08:27am | 15/12/12

      “I used to work in the equal opportunity field, but even I am worried things are going too far – and that’s a pretty big admission for me to take.

      The problem is that the draft law now covers conduct that is offensive and insulting, and not just discriminatory”

      The author and her industry are just as much to blame, only the incredibly naive would believe such stupid laws such as discrimination would ever remain at an “acceptable” level. I am interested to know:

      1. How many people are prosecuted for discrimination and how it is proven
      2. What exactly does equal opportunity entail? The only cases I am aware of where there is an unequal opportunity would be in favor of the “oppressed” such as gender quotas and aboriginal specific roles.
      3. And this is the important one, a single organisation that has voluntary dissolved after its purpose has been achieved, rather than inventing further weak excuses to exist (im looking at you gender equality and equal opportunity)

    • Christian Real says:

      03:25pm | 15/12/12

      Andye
      Was responding to comment made by Chuck 08.14am 15/12/12 where he finished off his comment by saying"Is there enough cotton wool androse coloured glasses to go around?”

    • Christian Real says:

      08:35am | 15/12/12

      No all the Rose coloured glasses have all been sold out and there is none left in stock because the Liberal party,radio shock jocks and their supporters have already brought all the Rose Coloured glasses.

    • PJ says:

      10:36am | 15/12/12

      what sort of coloured glasses would you need to defend Slipper’s vile, sexist misogynist texts?

      Total Blackout?

    • Richard says:

      11:36am | 15/12/12

      Slipper’s “vile, sexist misogynist texts” TO an EMPLOYEE. I have never yet seen a miscarriage of justice so blatant where a CLEAR, undeniable, proven beyond a shadow of a doubt case of sexual harassment is waved away by a left-wing judge on purely base political rationale.

      I mean, imagine of those self same texts had been sent by Tony Abbott to a 31 year old FEMALE employee of his! Slipper clearly sexually harassed Ashby, but because Ashby’s a man and a Lib, the craven judge looked past the clear breach of law in order to score political points. Disgusting.

    • andye says:

      12:59pm | 15/12/12

      @PJ - Slipper is clearly a puerile immature twit. This is why the attempt to use the courts for a political attack in the public arena worked so well. It is much easier to frame a sinner than a saint.

      So what are we down to here? Private texts between two individuals, both of whom were clearly into it that would not have been made public except as part of a dodgy scheme that was clearly outlined in the judgement.

      So you are taking a safe line here. You attack the perfectly legal private texts between two individuals. Anyone who disagrees with you can be painted with the smear of the misogyny in those texts, while you ignore the judgement and it’s wider implications.

      As for what @Christian Real is on about, I have no idea.

      And @Richard - the same thing would have happened if it was a woman who had engaged in the behavior as well and never complained. It is not because Ashby is a man, it was because this was NOT sexual harassment. The lack of a genuine sexual harassment case is part of the evidence towards this being a plot.

      “the craven judge looked past the clear breach of law in order to score political points.”

      That craven judge was appointed by the Liberal Party. At some point you are going to have to stop railing against reality.

    • Pedro says:

      05:05pm | 15/12/12

      PJ and Richard - get a life and get over it. The Lib plot has been exposed - but it did what it set out to do. They got rid of their one-time colleague - the man whose marriage Abbott attended. No Labor people at that wedding - just LNP. Get it? Slipper is one of your own and he was done like a dinner by Broughie (at the behest of who we are yet to find out).
      Anyway who cares about his texts sent to a fellow grub in private?
      Ashby encouraged him and was not offended. It is nice you are offended for Ashby though.
      Move on. Next LNP hypocritical complaint pelase ...

    • Helen Murray says:

      08:56am | 15/12/12

      I’m one of the oldies who love my language and don’t like swearing.  I think I’ll make a fortune out of being offended!

    • Mik says:

      09:31am | 15/12/12

      Hadn’t thought of that. It is definitely one way dear old mum could supplement her pension (her test case will be against me using dear and old).

    • Helen Murray says:

      10:35am | 15/12/12

      Well, dear and old are not swear words, so I’m not offended.  I am old, and ‘dear’ is hopefully true as well.  But I’ve watched the abuse of the law over the years and this one thing I know - more laws create more opportunities for legal abuse, and these ill-considered laws create a minefield.  We’ll become a legal killing field together with all the exponentially exploding, irredeemable damage that can cause. Nobody will be safe.  Is this what Advance Australia Fair is all about?

    • stephen says:

      11:59am | 15/12/12

      I’m offended that another school shooting happens in America and a lobby group there has enough political clout to whitewash any serious discussion on gun-control.
      (Pity those 29 dead and I wish they had the courtesy of a killer to let them write at least 3 letters of thanks expressing regret - as the unfortunate Nurse did.)

    • Andrew D says:

      12:03pm | 15/12/12

      Context and intent are everything. The “Aboriginal Meme” joke is racist because the context it is delivered in is “us versus them” and the intent is derogatory. It’s being told about another group of people. The “Aboriginal” in the name gives that away.

      Did Wozniacki show she was classifying her gag as a mickey take of anything other than the womanliness of Williams? Did she blackface? Nope. She had a laugh at the T&A of a fellow player. Her own group (the context) and the race was not something mocked, but the physicality.

      Ach the world is too full of seriously bad stuff, for us to let the racists, sexists and bigots win by confusing the issue where there is no racism, sexism or bigotry and just comedy, whether it’s good or bad being a judgement call.

    • Tenet says:

      01:04pm | 15/12/12

      Yes Ben,
      because we all have subscriptions to partisan rags.

    • Kev says:

      02:09pm | 15/12/12

      Some people really need to grow a thicker hide. There are two problems with the criticism of the Wozniacki joke the first of which is that it demonstrates that some idiots are too precious, they take life way too seriously and wouldn’t know a joke if it came up and bit them on the arse. The second is that those who claim that it encourages racist stereotypes are assuming that the rest of us in the public are too stupid to make up our own mind as to whether a joke is just that or not. Get the fuck over it. You might find that you’ll enjoy life a bit more. It’s miserable enough for some people as it is, don’t make it anymore unnecessarily difficult. I’m tempted to put this issue into the category of first world problems.

    • marley says:

      03:41pm | 15/12/12

      Well, if we lose the right to free speech, it will indeed be a first world problem.

    • Too right says:

      04:02pm | 15/12/12

      I couldn’t agree more with the comments asking that people grow a thicker hide.

      Whenever I gently tease Australians about being brain-dead, lazy, racist, inbred morons living on the arse end of the world they get all offended!!!

      It’s a joke people! You aren’t that smart and you hate immigrants, so why all the offense taken?

    • PJ says:

      05:22pm | 15/12/12

      We all remember the OFFENSIVE SEXIST joke about Tony Abbott and his female chief of staff, both happily married, that was told at a CFMEU union dinner in Parliament House.

      A dinner with all the Gillard Government heavies in attendance.

      Mr Swan, Climate Change Minister Greg Combet, Trade Minister Craig Emerson, Small Business Minister Brendan O’Connor, and Employment Participation Minister Kate Ellis condemned the joke after it’s exposure, but most did not reveal whether they left in protest.

      No apology was given in Parliament for the offence caused..

      It followed shortly after we had to suffer sanctimonious lectures from the Labor party on sexism and misogyny, because as usual they had tried to steal the moral high ground on the issue. Totally offensive in itself.

      Worse was to come.

      At that dinner was, mixing with the Gillard Government heavies, according to Liberal Senator Eric Abetz:

      “[Ms Gillard] and her Labor ministers were deliberately dining last night with the CFMEU who have, amongst their officials, a man who has 60 CRIMINAL CONVICTIONS against his name.”

      The sexist joke from the comedian at the Dinner showed the Gillard Government cannot live up to it’s own standards on sexism.

      It showed that the Gillard Government does not hold the higher ground on sexism.

      it suggests that the Gillard Government is not really concerned about the issues of sexism and misogyny.

      It suggests the Gillard Government is only interested in sexism and misogyny…only as far as it can be used to score political points for votes.

      And for all of the about I am offended.

      http://afr.com/p/national/labor_sexists_and_militants_dine_ukkxGbCA0dZa65RMqmZjBI

 

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