When I was a student I got a job as a paralegal with a large commercial law firm which was acting for one of the parties in the Tricontinental Royal Commission. My job largely consisted of ferrying documents and files to and fro, and lots and lots of photocopying. Occasionally I had to go up to the Royal Commission and hand a brief to one of the barristers there. One day, after being in the Royal Commission, I got in the lift with a very senior male member of counsel. The lift stopped at a floor and a woman got in, realised that the lift was going down and not up, and in a slightly flustered way exited the lift at the next stop. It's the sort of thing I have done many many times. This esteemed barrister, probably then in his 50's, turned to me and said 'That's why we keep them barefoot and pregnant.'
The smile froze on my face. I had expected a genial comment of the sort that you share with strangers in a lift - 'Don't you hate it when that happens?', or 'She's not having a good day'. He obviously registered my shock and said, in a frankly vicious tone 'Oh, she doesn't find that comment amusing' talking to me about me in the third person. I hurriedly got out of the lift, still shocked that he would make that comment, but too gutless, too intimidated by his 'standing' and too vulnerable to say anything to him.
It has stayed with me, that incident, for more than 20 years. It represented a tiny little window into a world in which I would always be excluded by virtue of my gender. A world in which such a comment was perfectly acceptable.
Much has been written about Julia Gillard's misogyny speech and everything I would say has been said better by others. Today I read Tracy Spicer's open letter in The Age and felt that perhaps something is happening here. Perhaps what Gillard's speech did was open the door to a conversation that needs to happen, to start a public dialogue. The comments on Spicer's piece are depressing and predictable and yet still I have hope. If women, all women, but especially women in public life and in positions of authority, talk honestly about their experiences then perhaps we will really see change. As a young woman I didn't want misogyny to exist. I thought it was something from another era. But it's alive and well and it thrives on our silence. Let's keep talking.