May 3, 2008
The Canberra Times
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How many knobs does it take to distort a TV perception?

Sam Newman is probably right about grabbing a lingerie- clad plastic doll on the crutch. It’s hard not to.

When dragging a near-naked girly mannequin around, Newman reckons you have to grab it on the crutch because otherwise the legs, head or torso will fall off. Obviously this ageing Footy Show host is well experienced with such things, because he was pretty clear about it when defending himself this week for playing dress-ups with his favourite naked doll on television.

As for cutting out the face of a well- known sports journalist and using a staple gun to attach it to his sexy doll – well, he couldn’t see a problem with that either. After all, the silly girl was probably asking for this underwear- clad humiliation. What’s a nice girl hanging around AFL football for anyway?

Since Newman’s mannequin stunt on The Footy Show a couple of weeks ago, the ratings have soared. This week audience numbers were the highest for the year and 20 per cent up on last year. But that’s not all that’s got the fat gobs around the Channel Nine boardroom salivating. It’s their joy at the depth of female dumbness. It would seem the more disgusting, the more abusive and insulting the boys on The Footy Show are, the more the dumb broads love it. On Thursday night more women watched Sam Newman and his misogynistic merry-making than any other show on television.

Assuming you weren’t one of them, let me fill you in. And it’s worth taking note, as this is instructive stuff about how the degrading of women is so commonplace in Australian culture that men – and apparently some women – just don’t see it.

Caroline Wilson is one of the very few women journalists who has managed to break through and distinguish herself as a serious football writer on – The Age – and commentator – on Channel Nine’s Footy Classified. According to the leathery old Sam Newman, with his penchant for dating women young enough to be his daughter, Wilson is so impressive that ”People are inspired by her”. So, a few shows back, in mock celebration of her inspirational status Newman decided to give ”Caro” a make-over by improving her wardrobe. Hence his use of the mannequin dressed in silky, lace underwear. To ensure the audience understood he was taking ”the piss out of Caroline”, he nailed Wilson’s face to the dummy, then proceeded to rub a boob-tube over the doll’s groin and clutch at its pert breasts. As he pretended to be unsure about what bits of clothes went on which bits of body, Newman’s co-host quipped ”It’s been a while since you’ve put clothes on a girl”. Ah, tremendous laughter and applause. The audience loved that. Fumbling around with slinky cloth, Newman stood back, eyed his sexy doll in her undies and bra, and thrust his 62-year-old hips at her saying, ”I tell you what, she’s a fair piece, Caro.”

And that’s about the sum of it. ”Caro” is indeed nothing more than ”a piece” to Newman and his TV mates. Not only have they reduced her name – Caroline – to something cock short and blokey, but this intelligent and successful woman has been reduced to the universal female – a collection of body bits. Stiff, silent and plastic, now ”Caro” is ripe for groping. The degradation is complete and the humiliation of this woman is extreme. They could have started sticking pencils up the mannequin’s bottom. But perhaps it was time for a commercial break and they ran out of time.

Apparently Wilson received an apology of sorts from Channel Nine’s managing director, who says she ”generously accepted” it. As she will no doubt continue to accept the Channel Nine pay-cheque she receives each week.

But a group of women who won’t accept a simple apology – which is just as well because they’re not getting one – is the collection of influential AFL women who wrote and complained to Channel Nine. All board members of various AFL clubs, the women want the TV network to introduce a new code of conduct for The Footy Show, and some counselling to explain to the hosts why degrading woman on TV is bad.

Yesterday, one of the signatories to that letter, Dr Susan Alberti, said there has been no indication the network intends to act on either of those requests. And why would it, when the smutty humiliation of women pays audience dividends.

For his part, Newman can’t understand the fuss. ”What would I be apologising for?” he said when told about the AFL women’s letter of complaint. ”They are liars and hypocrites,” he spat on radio, suggesting woman had no place in footy anyway. A Nine executive then told The Age the letter was ”ham- fisted”, and that the women who wrote it want to turn this issue into a ”feminist platform”.

Alberti assures me she has no interest in a feminist platform, insisting she loves football, and has all her life. It’s just that she was ”disgusted” by the mannequin incident and the many others like it.

I do have an interest in a feminist platform; however, I’m struggling to maintain an interest in a football code that is so often associated with the debasement of women.

When the AFL produced a DVD earlier this year to ”teach” players that it was wrong to have sex with your mate’s girlfriend, or shag a girl when she’s drunk, it presented a list of sexy scenarios and multiple- choice answers.

Perhaps one for Sam Newman should ask: what do you do when a smart woman crosses your path? A) strip her to her undies and grope at her crutch, or B) get out of her way – you knob.

Virginia Haussegger is a Canberra journalist and director of the 50/50 by 2030 Foundation at the University of Canberra.

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