Sociology of Swearing

Young man wearing sun glasses with a t-shirt that reads 'Let me hear the f*cking bass'

Why is swearing on TV more offensive than graphic depictions of violence?

In December 2011, The then-Australian Minister for Communications, Senator Stephen Conroy, created a media controversy when he swore during a live address on the national public broadcaster, the ABC. This live gaff had me thinking about swearing, the power of ‘bad words’ and the regulatory bodies that set and enforce the standards for television programming. It’s popped back into my mind as I’ve been thinking and reading a lot about power dynamics and the changes in linguistic practices.

Speaking to the National Press Club about the proposed tax for the National Broadband Network, Conroy said:

“If a tax goes up, God, that is sovereign risk, but if a tax goes down, its fucking fantastic. Excuse me – that is fantastic.”

This comment went to air during 12:30 pm and 1:30 pm. As Aidan Wilson (2011) points out, Conroy’s offence was not simply using a ‘vulgar’ word, but also that his address was followed by the ABC’s afternoon children’s shows.

The language guidelines for TV shows can be confusing. Why are some words allowed in some contexts and not in others? It’s not simply a timing issue – some swear words are only allowed to escape the mouths of thespians late at night but not during the day. This makes sense if you’re trying to protect children from being exposed to certain swear words.

The again, some words are generally considered to be more offensive than others – but the social norms on this are not clearly articulated by law.

Continue reading Sociology of Swearing

Islamophobia and the Public Persecution of Feminist Yassmin Abdel-Magied

Yassmin Abdel-Magied

In February 2017, conservative Australian media began a sustained attack of a young feminist leader, Yassmin Abdel-Magied. That started a racist petition calling for her to be fired from ABC TV, Australia’s public broadcaster, simply for having participated in a TV panel show, Q&A, where she spoke articulately about her feminism as a Muslim-Australian woman (see the clip below). For weeks, the ABC refused to give into these racist demands.

At the same time, three One Nation candidates were running in the Western Australian election making openly racist, homophobic and sexist comments. These candidates had no political expertise, but somehow their bigotry is not offensive enough to warrant endless national debate. Yet the feminism of an educated and successful young feminist draws ire.

In late April, Abdel-Magied was subjected to further public condemnation over a brief social media post expressing her condemnation of war. One month later, a White male editor incited violence towards her employer, the ABC, and Abdel-Magied was caught in media turmoil once again. This is a case study on the deep-seated elements of Islamophobia (fear of Islam) in Australia, and its real life consequences on young women of religious and ethnic minority backgrounds.

Continue reading Islamophobia and the Public Persecution of Feminist Yassmin Abdel-Magied

Racism and Sexism in the Media

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Rugby star Sam Thaiday (above) who is Torres Strait Islander, made a sexist and racist comment during The Footy Show, a very popular, long-running TV show that is dominated by White male athletes and comedians who are infamous for racism and sexism. Thaiday “joked” that he once had dated “dark women” as part of a “jungle fever phase” that he then grew out of (his wife is a White Australian woman, with whom he has children).

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander commentators, artists and researchers were swift to condemn Thaiday’s words. Their activism was effective: they called on action from Deadly Choices, an Indigenous-led health initiative in Queensland that promotes Thaiday as one of their key ambassadors. This led initially to a statement denouncing Thaiday’s damaging message, and today they announced that Thaiday was removed as their ambassador. Continue reading Racism and Sexism in the Media

Interview: Crimes on Facebook

I was interviewed by TRT World on the crimes being broadcast on Facebook. I discussed the sociology of public violence over time and why technology companies need to be more proactive in revising their algorithms and reporting practices. The local studio was in Rozelle, just outside the city of Sydney. Here you see the green screen and the room where I was filmed. Continue reading Interview: Crimes on Facebook

Australia Day and Intersectionality

People at a stall on Survival Day event, with an Aboriginal flag in the background

I am writing to you from Sydney, land of the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation, who have looked after these lands for over 75,000 years (and much earlier by other accounts).

Today is a painful day for Indigenous Australians; the 26 January is a date commemorating the day British ships (”the First Fleet”) arrived on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander lands. It is a day that marks the decimation of First Australians; the dispossession of their land; the removal of children to be raised in Missions and in White foster homes with no ties or knowledge of their culture (“the Stolen Generation”); amongst many other human rights crimes. This history impacts Indigenous life chances in the present-day.

Australia Day was only observed by all states and territories from 1935 and it was relatively recently that it was made a national holiday in 1994. Indigenous Australians have been protesting this date since 1938, on the first ever Day of Mourning, 150 years after colonialismSince then, Indigenous Australians have also held both Invasion Day and Survival Day events to continue resistance against colonialist, patriarchal views of what it means to be Australian.

Join me through three case studies about the problems arising from Australia Day celebrations. First, I analyse a national advertisement that has been lauded as well as critiqued for its depiction of colonial arrivals. Second, I discuss a funding campaign to reverse the removal of Australia Day billboards featuring two Muslim girls. Third, I reflect on sociology’s role in the change the date protests, given the colonial origins of our discipline.

These three case studies will allow us to think about the limits of mainstream feminism and the gaps in sociological practices. I end with advice about how we might contribute to the change the date protests.

Please note that in this post, I use the phrase Australia Day to contextualise recent national debates about the celebration held on the 26 January. This phrase is hurtful to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and I use it only in context of discussing its colonial origins.

Continue reading Australia Day and Intersectionality

Sexism Does not Justify Racism

TW: Rape. Today in White people justify racism: two examples of how sexism is used as racist scaremongering.

West Indies cricketer, Chris Gayle, who is Black, was sexist during an interview with an Australian woman journalist, Mel McLaughlin, who is White. Gayle issued a non-apology, saying he was joking. Sexist jokes are not “jokes;” it is sexism. Gayle’s behaviour is unprofessional and profoundly damaging given his prominent position, and also because women everywhere deserve to go to work without men objectifying them, regardless of their job or the stature of the person indulging gender inequity. It’s the second time Gayle has behaved this way to a woman journalist; in his homeland, feminist groups have called out his behaviour. This pattern is toxic. Gayle has been fined $10,000 for his comments. Good! This is an appropriate response; a better response would be to require that he additionally undertake gender equity training.

The Sydney Morning Herald, in their infinite wisdom, decided to publish a racist response from a White man, sports writer Malcolm Knox, which is written as a White man emulating his White view of how Black West Indies people sound like:

“Unlike dem Australians wit their BS about PC, me know where you comin’ from, brethren. Me know you got a good lovin’ heart like all we Jamaican brethren.”

“Satire” does not mean that White people get to be racist to teach Black men a lesson. The fact that this was published in a national paper is yet another daily reminder that racism is both reproduced and celebrated by the media. Continue reading Sexism Does not Justify Racism

Oscars Recognition of People of Colour: The “Politics” of Hollywood Racism

A new LA Times article, written by a White man, suggests that if the Oscars this year finally acknowledges people of colour, it will be “political.” “If it’s all-White again, nobody’s going to be happy and there might be a growing perception that the academy is out of touch,” says USC history professor Steve Ross, who then went on to muse that voters may choose a Black actor over a White actor due to “politics” and to avoid backlash. This article even quotes F. Gary Gray, director of Straight Outta Compton, and a Black American man, saying he won’t allow “politics” to govern his voting.

White actors getting an Oscar is not seen as political. That’s just business as usual (obvious and yet taken-for-granted institutional racism). People pointing out racism of the Academy and demanding that people of colour finally get recognition by an industry that sidelines diverse stories, is politics. The underlying presumption in this narrative is that people of colour can only ever achieve an Oscar statue through tokeism and because eliste White people are temporarily afraid of being called out for their racism.

Continue reading Oscars Recognition of People of Colour: The “Politics” of Hollywood Racism

Publication: Sexism in Science Reporting

This article was first published in DiverseScholar, on 20 April, 2015.

In my previous DiverseScholar article, I showed why the study behind The New York Times Op Ed (claiming the end of sexism) was methodologically flawed and ideologically biased [Zevallos 2014]. I showed that a focus on an individual choice narrative to explain why women are disadvantaged in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) is fundamentally unsound when understood alongside the long-standing empirical evidence from the social sciences. Here, I will review several science controversies related to the editorial and institutional decisions within STEM. These patterns show that everyday interactions contribute to gender inequality, from the use of images, to dress, to the way distinguished women scientists are described in the media. I start with a selected timeline of events highlighting gender inequality in STEM. Continue reading Publication: Sexism in Science Reporting

Women and Girls on Film: “Inequality is Rampant”

Storify is closing and over the coming weeks, I will be migrating my posts to my blog. This is an archive of my article first published on Storify on 24 September 2014. 

In September 2014, the United Nations, the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, and The Rockefeller Foundation published a study on the representation of cisgender people on film. Here I report on the major findings and include some of my related social media posts.

The study conducted by Dr Stacy Smith, Marc Choueiti and Dr Katherine Pieper included 120 globally released movies in 11 major film regions: Australia, Brazil, China, France, Germany, India, Japan, Russia, South Korea, United States, and the United Kingdom. The study included almost 5,800 speaking or named characters. The researchers find that, globally, only 31% of speaking roles in films are given to women and less than a quarter of films are centred on a woman protagonist (23%).

The study finds that girls and women are slightly better represented in the UK (38% of speaking roles), Brazil (37%) and Korea (36%). Women and girls’ representation in Germany (35%) and China (35%) is relatively worse, but gender inequality is even more entrenched in India (25%) and the USA and U.K. (24%). This is especially alarming since Hollywood is the biggest exporter of films globally and they are clearly leading in the wrong direction.

Only 28 films in the sample (23%) feature a woman or girl in the lead role or otherwise sharing the story with another main character. The study also considers the gender balance of film casts (where 45 to 55% of characters are women or girls). Only 12 films met this criteria (10%). When women characters are featured in the main storyline, they appear in highly femininised genres. For example: women feature in 33% of comedy roles; 34% of dramas; and 29% of animated movies, but they make up only made up 23% of characters in action/adventure films.

The study included 1,452 film makers and people working in key roles behind the scenes. Women make up only 7% of directors, less than 20% of writers, and 23% of producers. The UK (27%) and China (17%) are comparably better, while France, Japan, Korea, Russia, and the USA are below the industry average of 7%.

Around 60% of younger characters (children and teenagers) are boys while 40% are girls. While 34% of men are cast as characters aged 40 to 64 years of age, only 19% of women are depicted as middle aged characters. The researchers find this is especially problematic given that the younger women who do appear in films are highly sexualised.

Women are more than twice as likely to wear sexually revealing clothing (25% of women vs 9% of men). Women are more likely to be thin (38.5%) in comparison to men (16%). Women are also more likely to be partially or fully naked (24% women vs 11.5% of men). Women characters are also five times more likely to have their looks commented upon by others (13% vs less than 3%). Younger women are more likely to wear revealing clothing, but women across the ages of 13 to 39 years are equally likely to be sexualised.

Women & Girls on Film

Continue reading Women and Girls on Film: “Inequality is Rampant”

Vaginal Mysticism: Women’s Health and Celebrity Culture

Many people understand that celebrities are not health experts, yet the media persist on giving them a public forum to share their health and lifestyle advice. Journalists insist on printing celebrity musings without critical insight. This is dangerous. We see this in the anti-vaccine movement, but it’s pervasive in other ways. Over the next couple of days I’ll present a couple of case studies focusing on why it’s especially damaging to present celebrity ideas about women’s health without consideration to the social impact.

First up, I show the problems of presenting scientifically invalid ideas about vaginal health. A popular young American actress, Shailene Woodley, has reportedly suggested that genital yeast infection and other genital conditions can be cured by exposing vaginas to sunlight. She says she read this advice in an article by “an herbalist.” The media has repeated this advice and even recommended it with relish.

Young women who have limited access to sexual health education and who may not understand their bodies do not need to be exposed to pseudoscience. The individual musings of celebrities can be ignored at the individual level. At the social level, however, the media have cultural authority and a responsibility to inform readers about health issues. This is done by drawing on expert advice, not egging on damaging celebrity endorsements.

Let's talk about vaginal health in an honest and informative way.
Let’s talk about vaginal health in an honest and informative way.

Continue reading Vaginal Mysticism: Women’s Health and Celebrity Culture