Sydney sisters build empire with ‘man-repelling’ Orthodox Jewish fashion

Posted February 11, 2018 09:00:00

Growing up in the beachy Sydney suburb of Coogee, sisters Simi Polonsky and Chaya Chanin stuck out like a sore thumb.

“On Saturdays everyone is wearing bikinis, shorts, guys aren’t wearing shirts,” Ms Polonsky remembers.

“It’s really just a fun, chilled beach vibe… and as a kid you just want to fit in, except we had to go to Synagogue.”

Her sister chimes in: “And my mother would buy us these frilly, collared dresses and patent shoes with matching bows … and it’s a really hot summer Saturday in Coogee!”

As Orthodox Jews and daughters of the local rabbi, the sisters were expected to follow the Torah’s teachings of tznius: modesty.

The Dos and don’ts of Orthodox dressing

The most common interpretation of tznius requires women to cover their elbows, knees and collarbones.

“If you do want to wear pants, leggings, trackies, jeans, whatever it is, it’s with a skirt or a dress over it,” Ms Chanin explains.

“We don’t wear sleeveless [clothes] and no plunging necklines.”

Married Orthodox Jewish women are also expected to cover their hair, but unlike in the Muslim faith, this is generally done with a wig.

“Once a woman gets married she covers her hair, whether it be with a wig, a scarf, a hat… any sort of level you’re comfortable with, but it’s covering the hair,” Ms Chanin says.

“I think it’s also beautiful that we make our wigs look like our [real] hair, because it just proves the point that this is a holy, special thing and it’s not for anyone else.

“Nobody even needs to know that I’m covering my hair.”

Making modest fashionable

What some might view as a restriction, Ms Polonsky and Ms Chanin saw as an opportunity.

Throughout their teenage years the pair nipped and tucked their conservative clothes, added extra fabric to on-trend outfits and spent countless afternoons paging through Vogue.

So when both sisters found themselves living in the United States working in unfulfilling jobs, fashion that promised a pathway to brighter things.

Inspired by glossy magazines and a phonebook of well-dressed female friends who were happy to sell last season’s wears, the pair organised their first pop-up.

“Our husbands were schlepping and carrying garbage bags full of clothing to this florist that we rented,” Ms Polonsky recalls.

“[The shop] was the first of its kind in our community, first of its kind in the Orthodox Jewish world of women, fashion, clothing… it was exciting.”

Numbers-wise, the sale was a hit, attracting more than 600 customers on the first day.

But not everyone in the community was impressed with their approach, or style.

“We photocopied four different images from Vogue, cut them up, made a collage … then by hand plastered them all around the neighbourhood,” Ms Polonsky says.

“We got phone calls — people said, ‘The posters put up, was that by you guys? It’s not appropriate! The girl’s wearing blue nail polish’.”

Their business, The Frock NYC, grew, and so did their families. Babies were born, the label received write-ups from Vogue and Vanity Fair, and sales spiked internationally.

It wasn’t just Jewish women purchasing their clothes, either.

“Over the past few years we’ve had hundreds and hundreds of women emailing us, and they would say things like, ‘I’m Jewish or I’m Muslim or I’m Mormon or I’m Christian, and I never felt connected to my faith because I didn’t like the way they dressed and I couldn’t figure out how to combine the two, but when I see you guys I’m like, maybe I can’,” Ms Polonsky says.

“That’s our whole ethos, we’re respectful of all different levels of religiosity, and people that aren’t religious at all.”

When tragedy strikes

In October last year, the family was struck with a tragic blow.

Ms Polonsky’s husband Yeshua — fondly known as Shua — contracted a rare and rapidly debilitating virus.

“My husband was the healthiest, fit, young guy and three months ago he had the flu,” she recalls.

“We rushed him to hospital because he was so dehydrated and it turns out it wasn’t the flu, it was a really bad virus that attacked his heart.”

For three weeks the family stayed by his bedside.

“I believed with every ounce on of my soul and mind and heart that he was going to make it,” she says, her voice beginning to break.

Mr Polonsky passed away on November 9. Prayers couldn’t keep him alive, but an online fundraising campaign to support the family has amassed more than $1 million from 9,000 donations.

Ms Polonsky, who’s expecting her third child, is still struggling with the loss.

“When I told my daughter… I came home and I had to tell her the news of what happened to her daddy,” she says, tearing up.

“She cried and then she said to me, ‘I’m so mad at HaShem — God — but I still love him’.

“I realised that I’m right now in a black hole with no light, stripped bare, and I’m here alone, but God’s with me.”

To get through the darkness, Simi has dived back into The Frock NYC with her sister.

They both see the business as a testament to Mr Polonsky, who loved fashion and even appreciated their label’s “man-repelling” styles.

“My husband didn’t mind that I wasn’t wearing some sexy number, he was excited about the fashion and the out-of-the-box thinking that we shared with thousands of other women,” Ms Polonsky smiles.

“He just loved all people — Jewish, not-Jewish, black, white — and his outlook on life, and on people, translates so much into our business and the way we look at women of [all] faiths.”

Topics: judaism, women, religion-and-beliefs, fashion, family-and-children, death, spirituality, coogee-2034, united-states, australia

Prisoner actress speaks up about sexual harassment

Updated January 10, 2018 13:52:56

An award-winning Australian actress claims she has been sexual harassed throughout her career but has been “too frightened” to report it.

Theatre, film and television actress Amanda Muggleton, known for her role in TV drama Prisoner, said she did not speak up because she feared she would not work again.

“I’m not talking about a pat on the bum or anything like that, I’m talking about verbally and physically being touched where I shouldn’t have been touched,” she told ABC Radio Melbourne.

“I’m from a generation where you didn’t speak out, you couldn’t speak out for fear of losing your job.”

The Helpmann Award winner recalled one time she was harassed just before going on stage.

“Things have happened to me in the wings in the darkness of theatres, and always just before I was going to walk onstage,” she said.

“[It’s] very, very scary, [but] what can you do? You can’t slap someone.

“I pushed this particular person and I grabbed him somewhere where I shouldn’t have and I squeezed very, very tight and said very quietly, ‘Don’t ever do that again’, and then I had to go onstage and be a certain character.

“That’s one instance that I will never forget, but there has been many.”

Muggleton’s comments come after three women made allegations they were indecently assaulted and sexually harassed by Craig McLachlan during the 2014 production of the Rocky Horror Show.

McLachlan has strenuously denied all the allegations.

Victoria Police have confirmed they are investigating reports of sexual offences from two of the women.

Sexual harassment in the film and theatre industry has been in the global spotlight in recent times.

High-profile stars campaigned for a change to the treatment of women at this week’s Golden Globes ceremony, and a speech by Oprah Winfrey calling out sexual harassers went viral.

‘People thought I was fair game’

Muggleton, who reprises her role of renowned soprano Maria Callas in Melbourne Theatre’s Company’s Masterclass this month, said sexual harassment was still going on in Australia’s theatre world.

“It is going to stop but I would say there are plenty of men in this country who are quaking in their shoes at the moment for fear of what will come out.”

She said she believed people “took advantage” of her after she appeared in plays which required her to perform nude scenes.

“I think people seem to see that as a cue that I was fair game. Terrible,” she said.

“Then you start getting a reputation for … she’s easy game because she takes her clothes off.

“No. No, never.”

Bound by fear

Muggleton said she was still worried about coming forward and praised those people in the industry who had spoken out already.

“I think these women who have come out are so brave, they’re much braver than me,” she said.

“There’s something in me that wants to stand up and be counted with them, and maybe I will, I don’t know.

“It’s a very big step to take and I don’t particularly want that kind of publicity … I don’t want that notoriety.

“Because I am the age that I am … I am still completely bound up in that fear of you’ll never work again.”

Topics: film-movies, women, arts-and-entertainment, feminism, sexual-offences, melbourne-3000, vic

First posted January 10, 2018 13:30:14

We don’t need to ban men to stop sexual violence at music festivals

Updated January 10, 2018 13:00:12

This year’s summer music festival season has again been marred by several incidents of sexual assault.

Three incidents of sexual assault were reported at the Falls Festival at Tasmania’s Marion Bay, in a repeat of similar incidents at last year’s festival. And disturbing footage of a man groping a woman at the Rhythm and Vines Festival in New Zealand on New Year’s Eve quickly went viral.

A groundswell of activism around sexual harassment and assault at music festivals is taking place. Australian band Camp Cope’s It Takes One campaign is calling on organisers and artists to change the culture underpinning sexual violence at festivals.

Similarly, the Your Choice movement, which was launched in 2017, promotes cultural change and encourages bystander intervention at music events.

Internationally, the UK-based Safe Gigs for Women works with venues and festivals to eliminate sexual harassment and assault.

All of these developments are occurring alongside an increasing public outcry about the pervasive and systemic nature of sexual violence.

But what do we actually know about sexual violence at music festivals? And what is it about these spaces (and their patrons) that facilitate acts of sexual violence?

How common is sexual violence and harassment?

Social media campaigns like #MeToo have demonstrated that sexual harassment and assault are widespread and not limited to any one social or cultural setting. Nonetheless, a string of high-profile incidents and campaigns suggests that music festivals could be a hotspot for this type of violence.

There is virtually no research on sexual violence at music festivals; we are aiming to change this with our current research project. This lack of research makes it difficult to know how prevalent sexual violence at festivals is beyond high-profile, anecdotal cases that have been picked up by the media.

However, we can draw on research on sexual violence and harassment from other settings to gain some insight into what might be happening at festivals.

Young women are consistently identified as the age group most at risk of being sexually harassed or assaulted. In Australia, women aged 18-34 are the most likely to have experienced sexual harassment in the past 12 months. Also, 38 per cent of 18-24-year-olds and 25 per cent of 25-34-year-olds have experienced sexual harassment in the past year.

Gender- and sexuality-diverse people also face disproportionately high rates of sexual harassment and assault.

These statistics suggest we need to look at the social and cultural locations that young people inhabit when thinking about sexual violence.

Although most sexual assault takes place in private, residential locations between people who know each other, younger people are more likely to experience sexual assault in a wider range of locations and to be assaulted by someone other than an intimate partner.

So, sexual harassment and assault are common experiences in general. There is no reason to assume this is any different at music festivals. Music festivals tend to be geared toward young audiences, and, as such, may constitute the site of sexual harassment and assault against younger women, and gender- and sexuality-diverse people.

Research in analogous settings, such as licensed venues, suggests that sexual harassment and assault are commonplace. One of the co-authors’ research on unwanted sexual attention in licensed venues in Melbourne found that young people perceived this behaviour as being pervasive and commonplace.

A Canadian study similarly reported that 75 per cent of women in their sample had experienced unwanted sexual touching or persistence in bar-room environments.

Music festivals share many features with licensed venues that are likely to facilitate sexual violence. Large crowds of patrons, and the anonymity this provides, can enable perpetrators to sexually harass with apparent impunity.

Consumption of drugs and alcohol in these settings can also work to perpetrators’ advantage. For example, it can help downplay their own behaviour (“they were drunk and didn’t know what they were doing”), or target those who may have overindulged and become incapacitated.

Gender inequality

Australia’s music industry is male-dominated; male artists tend to dominate festival line-ups.

Gender inequality permeates the entire industry. Research shows that women (and, almost certainly, gender-diverse people) are underrepresented, undervalued and underpaid in virtually all facets of the Australian music industry.

Sexual violence is known to be more likely to occur in contexts of gender inequality. This suggests music festivals — and the Australian music industry generally — may provide a cultural context in which the preconditions for sexual and gender-based violence abound.

Changing the beat

Given all this, it’s reassuring that efforts to prevent sexual violence at festivals, and to generate broader cultural change within the industry, are taking place. However, change is slow, and pockets of resistance persist within the sector. This has led some to call for festival boycotts or to ban men from festivals.

The current campaigns feature some promising elements, particularly in their focus on bystander intervention, and encouraging influential artists and industry leaders to call out inappropriate behaviour and take a stand against sexual violence.

More can be done

However, there are many other steps festival organisers could take to prevent or reduce sexual violence, and to ensure they respond appropriately when it occurs. These include:

  • introducing a policy on sexual harassment and assault that takes a zero-tolerance stance against this behaviour. This should include specifying consequences for perpetrators (like being ejected or banned from the festival, and potential legal ramifications). This should be clearly communicated to festival patrons, staff and volunteers, and consistently enforced;
  • training all festival staff, security and volunteers to identify and respond appropriately to incidents of sexual harassment and assault;
  • encouraging artists to take a stand against sexual violence, and to call out any bad behaviour they witness from the stage;
  • running high-profile prevention and bystander intervention campaigns; and
  • ensuring there are clear avenues for patrons to report incidents that occur at festivals.

Such actions need to occur alongside more widespread efforts and interventions. Ensuring all young people receive comprehensive sexuality and respectful relationships education is vital. And continued efforts to tackle the broader issue of gender inequality in the music industry are required.

Bianca Fileborn and Phillip Wadds are lecturers in criminology at the University of NSW. This article was originally published on The Conversation.

Sexual assault support services:

  • 1800 RESPECT: 1800 737 732
  • Lifeline: 131 114
  • Beyond Blue: 1300 224 636

Topics: music, men, women, assault, sexual-offences, internet-culture, australia

First posted January 10, 2018 12:35:04

Long before #MeToo, Italian women railed against ‘bunga bunga’ sexism

Updated January 08, 2018 10:39:07

Italy has long been regarded as being backwards when it comes to gender rights and sexual harassment.

So in many ways, its reaction to the recent wave of revelations about sexual harassment by men in positions of power all over the world was depressingly familiar.

But, at the same time, it also revealed the strength and diversity of grassroots feminism there, despite the odds.

Simona Siri, a US-based Italian journalist, pronounced recently in The Washington Post that “the already present and strong sexist Italian culture now seems almost impossible to reverse”.

This came following the startling backlash against Italian actor Asia Argento after she gave an interview to Ronan Farrow for The New Yorker in which she accused Harvey Weinstein of a horrific sexual assault.

Siri argued that Italy’s entrenched misogyny, embodied by the figure of Italy’s former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, made fighting back futile for Italian women.

Argento’s story was one of the accounts that ignited the #MeToo movement internationally.

But in Italy, she was attacked, and left Italy, troubled by persistent social media victim-blaming.

Many asked why she had continued to have a relationship with the producer after the alleged assaults.

One particularly harsh headline in the right-wing paper Libero read “Prima la danno poi frignano e fingono di pentirsi” — “first they put out, then they whine and pretend to regret it”.

The article featured a particularly provocative photo of Argento and questioned why she hadn’t asked her powerful father, acclaimed horror director Dario Argento, to help her expose Weinstein.

The bunga bunga legacy

Italy’s image as lacking in feminist culture is in no small part due to Mr Berlusconi’s tenure as prime minister — a period marked by multiple sex scandals.

But this also unleashed a successful, popular social movement called “Se Non Ora Quando” (If Not Now, When?) in 2011.

Nearly a million Italians took to the streets to protest against the objectification of women and the so-called bunga bunga culture propagated by those in power.

Alongside the street movement came social media activism.

In one project, Italian women shared 142 videos under the heading “A Country for Women: Words to Say It”.

Each reflected on their lives in Italy and their own experiences of sexism, such as the woman who talks about losing her job due to pregnancy, or the woman who, trafficked to Italy, works to help other vulnerable immigrant women.

Now, many established Italian second-wave feminists are speaking out strongly in support of Argento.

Ida Dominijanni, left-wing journalist and feminist philosopher, and prominent academic author Michela Marzano are among them.

The group “Non Una di Meno” (Not One Woman Less), which campaigns against violence against women, organised a huge protest in November that brought tens of thousands of people to Rome.

They also wrote an open letter in support of Argento. Intersectional feminist blogger Abbatto i muri (I Break Down Walls) also spoke out in support.

Meanwhile, radical collectives from all over Italy such as the Cagne sciolte (Wild Bitches), which fights for LGBTQ and migrant rights, often in an uneasy relationship with their more bourgeois sisters, added their voices too. Cagne sciolte tweeted out in support of Argento:

“Here how we’ll explain it. NO MEANS NO. IF YOU TOUCH ONE, YOU TOUCH ALL OF US.”

A breakthrough

It is important to pay attention to these voices. They are too often neglected in the rush to paint Italy as hopelessly behind the times on gender politics.

And while it may feel like change is impossible in a country where 69 per cent of female university students report having suffered sexual harassment, incremental improvements are happening.

The international context of #MeToo provided impetus for the Italian hashtag #quellavoltache to take off.

This gave Italian women the opportunity to recount their own experiences.

Now, 10 women have accused successful director Fausto Brizzi of harassment. It may not seem like much, but it does represent progress within a sexist film industry that the allegations were immediately perceived to be damaging to Brizzi.

It is clear that Italian women still have a long way to go in the struggle against sexual violence, harassment, and gender inequality at an institutional level.

But the movement is building: as the Cagne sciolte collective wrote before the November protest in Rome (little reported outside Italy):

“We will flood the public space to assert our rights, our practices of daily change, mutual support, and solidarity: the strength of thousands of women, trans and queer together who acknowledge one another in #MeToo, to transform it into #WeTogether.”

Catherine O’Rawe is a reader in Italian film and culture at University of Bristol; Danielle Hipkins is associate professor of Italian studies and film at University of Exeter. This article first appeared in The Conversation.

Topics: sexual-offences, feminism, film, film-movies, women, womens-health, human, human-trafficking, italy

First posted January 08, 2018 10:34:19

Aboriginal artists return to renowned workshop in Mittagong

Posted December 14, 2017 16:52:04

It was the early 1970s when five young women from the remote Ernabella community in South Australia travelled from the deep desert to the lush Southern Highlands of New South Wales.

There they undertook a ground-breaking weaving residency at the Sturt Workshop in Mittagong.

Now, nearly 50 years later, a group of Ernabella artists, including one of the original women, has returned to the Sturt Workshop to showcase their vibrant art.

The exhibition, In These Hands, also marks the 70-year anniversary of Ernabella Arts, the oldest Indigenous art centre in Australia.

No time to be homesick

Wandering through the grounds of the Sturt Gallery, Atipalku Intjalku recalls her experience as a wide-eyed teenage girl out of her community for the first time to attend the 1972 residency.

“I’m remembering all the people that helped me, and the good times that we had here at Sturt,” Intjalku said.

“Was I homesick? Simply put, no.

“There was so much to learn, everything was new and exciting, everything was different — the trees, the food, the weather, the people and even what we wore!

“I was here for a long time, a few months, learning to weave on a new kind of loom, and a different kind of coloured wool, not the plain white and grey fleece wool that we used from the shearers in Ernabella.”

Historic connection

The sister relationship between Ernabella and Sturt was forged from a chance meeting at the Spinners and Weavers Association in Sydney in the mid to late 1960s.

Winifred Hilliard, Ernabella’s craft room advisor, and artist Nyukama (Daisy) Baker were in town attending an Association workshop.

Sturt’s master weaver Elisabeth Nagel, who was also present, was intrigued by the pair and by Baker’s art.

Their initial conversations sparked a lifelong friendship between the three women and forged the unique relationship between the two art centres.

In 1968, at Ms Hilliard’s invitation, Nagel travelled by mail plane from Alice Springs to the missionary community of Ernabella, on APY Lands, surrounded by stunning desert country.

Nagel was impressed by the work coming out of the art centre, and by the spirit of the community, and hatched a plan to have some of the young Ernabella women come to the Sturt workshop to extend their knowledge and skills in weaving.

Creativity blossomed with confidence

Slavica Zivkovic, co-curator of the In These Hands exhibition, spoke with a now elderly Nagel to gain an insight into the residencies that took place in 1971 and 1972.

“Elisabeth Nagel recalled that the young Ernabella women were immediately delighted by the great skeins of colourful commercial wool hanging in the studio,” Ms Zivkovic said.

“At first, Nagel’s weaving instructions were purely about technique — such as warping that required accurate counting methods — and the young women needed constant support.

“But as the young artists slowly grew with quiet confidence, their creativity blossomed.

“In the evening, the artists would do their coloured-pencil Walka drawings — patterns based on their surroundings.

“These would be translated into tapestries and floor rugs, incorporating a thread palette selected by the artists.

“The young artists became very much a part of the Sturt family and for Nagel, the residencies were not just about teaching techniques, but encouraging self-development and acceptance of culture.”

Intjalka has her own fond memories of Nagel from the 1972 residency.

“Miss Nagel looked after us the whole time,” she said.

“She taught us weaving and we taught her a little of our own language, Pitjantjara.

“On the weekends, sometimes we travelled by train to Sydney, we went to the harbour and caught a boat to the zoo.”

Australia’s oldest Indigenous arts centre

The skills and life experience the young artists gained at Sturt helped to shape the direction of Ernabella Arts, and continue to have influence as their knowledge is passed onto the next generation.

Original Sturt residency weaver Atipalku Intjalka has been accompanied on her return trip by several Ernabella artists who are visiting their sister arts centre for the first time.

They include ceramicist and exhibition co-curator Alison Milyika Carroll, ceramicist Lynette Lewis, and current chair of Ernabella Arts Tjunkaya Tapaya.

Tapaya is quietly proud of Ernabella Arts’ achievements.

“The Ernabella craft room started in 1948, the year before I was born, and it was the first art centre of its kind in Australia,” she said.

“When it first started it was only for women, and they were spinning sheep wool and making rugs and as I watched on as a little girl, I decided that would be the work I would do when I grew up.

“Then a new craft room was built, and then the young girls, young boys, and men started coming in to learn art and learning from the old people.

“Over the years, Ernabella artists have created work using many different materials and methods, including weaving, fibre arts, ceramics, and now painting as well.”

Art carries stories for next generation

As they move the through the Sturt Gallery, getting a sneak preview of the exhibition, the visiting Ernabella artists reflect on their art works.

Both Intjalka and Tapaya practice Tjanpi weaving, using natural desert grasses, seeds and feathers, together with commercially-bought raffia, string, and wool to create dioramas and large-scale installation sculptures.

“In the missionary time, we’d all go to church so I’m remembering this time from when I was a kid,” Tapaya said of a beautiful little church she has crafted.

Carroll said she feels it is all about the stories contained within the art.

“Telling stories, you know, stories, Tjukurpa,” she said.

“When we paint, and weave, and make art, we talk to the young people about Tjukurpa, dreamtime stories, and the stories are in the canvas and ceramics.

“Now it’s getting big for young people to work and learn about arts.

“When we’re gone, the art centre will be still there for our young people to make beautiful things for our future — the young people.”

In These Hands, Celebrating 70 Years of Ernabella Arts, runs at the Sturt Gallery in Mittagong until February 11, 2018.

Topics: contemporary-art, visual-art, arts-and-entertainment, indigenous-aboriginal-and-torres-strait-islander, indigenous-culture, community-and-society, library-museum-and-gallery, art-history, women, ernabella-0872, mittagong-2575, alice-springs-0870, sydney-2000

First rule of Boys Club — don’t mention sexual harassment

By Tracey Spicer

Posted December 01, 2017 10:29:12

“I didn’t see a thing. Anyway, what about all of the women who sexually harass men. Are you doing a story on that?”

This is the response from one of the dozens of men who worked for decades with Don Burke.

Our conversations over the past month provided extraordinary insights into the gendered responses to allegations of indecent assault.

Most took the opportunity to unload after decades of bullying.

“He set out to destroy people,” one man said.

“Psychopathic or sociopathic, not sure which,” according to a former manager.

“Well, he hit me once over the head, really hard,” a sound assistant said. “But he was worse with women. He was a monster.”

Many regretted their years of inaction. But not one would go on the record.

“I’ve got a family to feed,” was the common refrain. (To which my reply was, “What about the women who’ve spoken out. Don’t they need to eat, as well?”)

Perhaps the most telling responses came from the camera and sound operators who’d spent decades on the road with the show.

I’ve been wondering whether they were victims or enablers. Or was going along with it all simply a symptom of the Boys Club?

Dr Michael Flood from the Queensland University of Technology says men tend to overestimate other men’s comfort with sexual harassment.

“Men are less likely than women to recognise it as a problem: they define harassment more narrowly than women, see harassing behaviour as ‘normal’ or ‘harmless’ or ‘fun’, are more tolerant of unwanted sexual behaviour, blame victims more, and fail to recognise harassment’s impact on victims,” he writes.

Consequently, they fear how other men would react if they intervened.

In other words, they don’t want to upset the codes of mateship.

Sexual harassment ‘normalised’

Years later, Burke’s long-time camera operator is a broken man. He was teary on the phone this week talking about Bridget Ninness, who reached a settlement with Burke’s production company after claiming she was bullied relentlessly.

Still, he refuses to speak on camera about what he saw.

Interestingly, a longtime colleague of Burke opted for fight instead of flight, offering the quote at the top of this story.

According to the Australian Human Rights Commission, female harassment of men accounts for only 14 per cent of all cases.

Yet this was his line of defence.

“I’d be interested in covering such stories if you could share them with me,” I replied, after taking a deep breath.

“Er, well, I don’t know any,” he said. “But women can be bullies, too. And, you know, not all men are sexual harassers.”

UTS academic Jenna Price says this reeks of deflection.

“Every time we say ‘not all men, not all women’, we deflect from the seriousness and the prevalence of sexual harassment, which has now been normalised,” she says.

“Whatever your experience, acknowledge the experience of others, particularly those who have been hurt and damaged.”

Men socialised to see women as objects

It’s too simplistic to categorise these men as victims or enablers. They worked in an environment of toxic masculinity, the dog-eat-dog world of commercial television. And they were socialised to see women as objects.

But there are actions they could have taken.

“This means calling out sexist attitudes and behaviours with your mates, colleagues or family,” CEO of Our Watch, Mary Barry, says.

“It may be a little awkward, yes. But if your actions save even one woman from being sexually harassed or assaulted, it’s an uncomfortable minute well spent.”

These are also important messages for our sons.

“We need to teach young men that they don’t need to conform to antiquated models of masculinity,” Dannielle Miller, the founder of Goodfellas, writes.

“What’s interesting is that when we unpack these models (by discussing men and emotion, what defines real strength, how they can be ethical bystanders when they see acts of violence or harassment etc.), they show an obvious sense of relief.”

Perhaps it would also improve their eyesight, as well as their insight.

Since our discussion a month ago, the aforementioned colleague suddenly remembers seeing Burke’s behaviour.

“It really was as bad as they’re saying in the papers,” he’s telling colleagues. “Dunno how I worked in that environment for so long.”

He’s not alone.

Tracey Spicer is a journalist and author.

Topics: sexual-offences, sexuality, work, women, social-media, media, television, australia

Burke accused of heaping vile abuse on couple who lost family in Bali bombing

Updated November 29, 2017 07:53:23

Embattled gardening guru Don Burke is facing fresh claims about inappropriate behaviour, including allegedly calling a couple who lost relatives in the Bali bombing “c***s” and “wogs”.

Key points:

  • Burke did a garden makeover for a couple who lost family and friends in the Bali bombing
  • The TV host allegedly referred to them as Mr and Mrs “C***y C***”
  • Burke has yet to respond to latest set of allegations but has denied complaints of indecent assault and sexual harassment

It is also alleged he made unwanted advances to a Japanese translator while on a work trip and was kicked out of a Victorian pub for making lewd comments to younger women.

It comes in the wake of a joint ABC/Fairfax investigation that has uncovered claims of indecent assault, sexual harassment and bullying of women against Burke in the late 1980s and ’90s.

Burke has strenuously denied all the allegations, saying: “The Harvey Weinstein saga in Hollywood started a witch-hunt.”

A TV researcher who worked for Burke’s Backyard in 2003 told the ABC the office was always tense and, “we were never working fast enough or long enough”.

“People were always a bit nervous. Was the phone going to ring? Was it going to be Don … on the phone? Were they [Don and his crew] going to come in? When were they going to come in?

“They would all ring each other on the phone to say they’re here, they’re in the carpark.”

She has backed stories of the psychological games that went on at Burke’s production company, CTC, and said researchers had to undersell ideas to stop the TV star from shooting them down.

But it was a garden makeover for a couple who lost family and friends in the Bali bombing that was the final straw for her.

“We took it upon ourselves and gave them a beautiful garden,” she said.

The researcher said it was well-known in the office that while filming the segment things took a strange turn.

“I understand he was just swearing at them quietly and smiling at them like a Cheshire cat, while actually he was telling them what he really thought about them and calling them terrible, terrible names like, ‘Mr C***y C*** and Mrs C***y C***’.”

Burke also suggested the couple should have olive trees because they were “woggy”, despite the pair’s objections.

“He said, ‘F*** you, I’m paying for this, I’ll put olive trees in if I want to put olive trees in and if you don’t want orange trees, I’m going to put in more citrus’. He just didn’t care what people thought.”

Burke denied the original complaints of indecent assault and sexual harassment, saying they were made by former employees with grudges.

He has yet to respond to the latest set of allegations but told Channel Nine on Monday he had undiagnosed Asperger’s syndrome and did not read people’s reactions to his remarks.

“I am sorry and I might have gone a bit far,” he said.

Burke said he believed he deserved some criticism, “but not for sleazy, sexual stuff”.

‘It was a bit like going to the gynaecologist really’

Two former staff have also confirmed to the ABC that while on a work trip to Japan in 2003, Burke reportedly made lewd comments to a Japanese translator, which was later discussed in the office.

“She clearly spoke English yet he apparently spoke to her in such vile and toxic tones about what we wanted to do to her, taking her up to his hotel room, how he would do her, what he would do to her. It was just incredibly unprofessional,” one former production staff member said.

Another woman, who only wanted to be known as Michelle, said she was dating a well-known Australian actor when the pair were interviewed for the celebrity gardener segment in the early 1990s.

She said two female producers who turned up for the shoot warned her about Burke.

“I remember I was wearing like a cross-over-type style dress and they were buttoned right up to the top — they had their jackets on right up to their necks,” she said.

“I said, ‘Aren’t you hot?’ and they said, ‘No, no’. They said, ‘Look, you should put a jacket on, cover yourself, because Don Burke is a bit of a perv so his eyes will be all over you’.”

The interview went ahead as planned but she said afterwards Burke made a lewd comment.

“We were sitting around a table in our kitchen … and he looked over at me and he said, ‘That wasn’t so bad, was it? It was a bit like going to the gynaecologist really’.”

“We all just sat there a bit stunned actually. Nobody knew what to say.”

‘Every time his show would come on I had to turn it off’

Another woman, who only wants to be known as Nicole, said she was a young ballet dancer when she was asked to be in an advertising campaign with Burke to promote the arts in Sydney’s Botanical Gardens.

“We all had to be in our tight ballerina tutus with our hair all done up and our ballet shoes on, and we had to stand in a huge pot where Don Burke was supposed to [be] watering our feet,” she said.

“But he had to pour water into the pot and we had to lean over quite close to our bodies, which were in these super-tight ballet tutus.

“I can’t remember exactly what he said, he was remarking how tight our ballet tops were and he just was leering and it just made me feel completely uncomfortable.

“At that time I’d never even had any interactions with boys whatsoever, I was 16. Every time his show would come on I had to turn it off because I just felt so disgusted.”

A former employee of the Isle of Wight Hotel on Phillip Island in Victoria has also told the ABC that in 2002 Burke’s behaviour also came up during a shoot there at Ventnor Common, a wetlands area.

“They put an advertisement in the local paper saying any local tradesman with machinery, etcetera could come out and donate their services for free and get their names on the TV,” the employee said.

“On the Friday night of that weekend the cast and crew put on a meet-and-greet with the contractors at the Philip Island apartments, we went there had a few wines and a few beers.

“Afterwards, we went to the Isle of Wight Hotel, which was approximately 200 metres away.

“Later on that evening, Don Burke was asked to leave Isle of Wight Hotel for making lewd comments and misappropriate [sic] behaviour towards young women.”

Topics: community-and-society, arts-and-entertainment, television, television-broadcasting, information-and-communication, broadcasting, women, australia

First posted November 29, 2017 07:35:17