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Jasmin Bedir: 'Fix the System. Not the Women.'

Innocean CEO Jasmin Bedir leads effective campaign work for clients while growing the agency’s capabilities and culture. She’s also the founder of Fck The Cupcakes, a social enterprise driving gender equality in Australian society and in the workplace. Last year year, Jasmin assembled a dedicated team to launch Be The Change, a year-round initiative helping men understand and reject casual misogyny, and become allies on the path to gender equality.

Watch Jasmin's keynote speaker set and read her opinion editorial for Mavens below.

'Fix The System, Not the Women.'

By Jasmin Bedir. First published in Mavens Magazine Vol 1.

As someone that is cursed with light sleep I’ve recently had a lot of spare time on my hands on my first international flight to Germany. If you have heard of the incredible Laura Bates and her Everyday Sexism Project, you will understand how her latest book “Fix the System, Not the Women” was hard to put down.

Everyday sexism and misogyny is still everywhere in the professional world. Study after study shows us that whilst society believes that women’s experiences in families, at work, when dealing with law enforcement, or even the law, may have improved for women and intersectional minorities, the sad reality is that not that much has changed for women in Australia (and elsewhere, for that matter).

Yet 1 in 2 men think we have done enough. In fact, Aussie men are the second highest to agree “gender inequality doesn't really exist” – one behind Saudi Arabia (IPSOS, 2022).

The days of open and blatant sexism may be frowned upon, but the cultural fabric of endemic casual sexism that is woven so tightly that some of us don’t notice anymore.

Even if we do, we’re being told that it really isn’t so bad and that these are just isolated incidents.

We’ve been gaslit when it comes to violence against women in forms of murder, rape, assault, misogyny and casual sexism. Normalisation breeds acceptance and the hundreds of moments of “just a misunderstanding”, “just a compliment”, “overreacting”, “just banter”, “he didn’t mean any harm”, or in more relatable office terms the moments of “mansplaining”, sexist jokes and sweeping stereotypes are more than isolated incidents. This systemic low level sexism becomes a springboard for serious abuse. It all takes its toll.

Once you join the dots it paints a pretty grim picture that you cannot unsee.

Realistically, none of this is 'new' news, it has simply not been treated as a priority by those in power as they are usually not the ones affected by it. “Because it isn’t true for me, it must not be true” is a standard privileged train of thought of deflection, afforded by those who simply do not share the same lived experience.

Over the past 12 months there has been some momentum in forms of various amazing groups of women stepping up, speaking up and pushing for change in our industry. Organisations such as Mavens, the Aunties, Mums in Ads, but also ShEqual, UN Women and the Unstereotype Alliance.

We have also seen the results of the first ever census from the Ad Council that gives a pretty clear picture of where we are at as an industry. Where women in advertising are six times more likely than men to experience gender discrimination, and one-fifth of employees are likely to leave the industry based on their experiences of discrimination and exclusion. If you’re an intersectional minority it gets inherently worse.

When you think about it, it seems ridiculous that we can believe even for a second that these statistics don’t have an impact on the work we create.

This is not about our latest Cannes performance as a country. It’s also not about coming up with more interesting creative that actually lands with our target audiences. Although I suspect I’d likely get more engagement if I wrote an article about how inclusion wins more awards.

The conversation we really need to have is about the magnitude of our missed opportunity to influence culture and drive change.

Being able to positively affect millions of people, their mental health, their self worth, the way they parent and ultimately their happiness, sometimes feels unfathomable.

We work in an industry that has the power to affect real change, at least that’s what we put in our polished agency credentials and award case studies, but we are in an industry obsessed with optics and theatrics. Introspection and analysis of narratives we create rarely go beyond a conversation around effectiveness.

The elephant in the room still is that the conversation needs to shift from focusing on women, instead of the group that has created the rules of the systems we’re confined to: Men.

Thankfully our industry’s creative departments have somewhat moved on from depicting women in the traditional stereotypes that made us collectively groan, or in my case wanting to put an axe through my TV screen.

However, I’m yet to see meaningful action by the mainly pale and male creative leadership in this country, that recognises that the narratives we’re creating for men deserve some serious overhaul. That in itself tells us everything that is wrong with how our agencies are currently set up. Toxicity in combination with masculinity is never a good thing.

Men are at high risk of depression and suicide, even more so in our industry. 58 percent of advertising professionals live with a physical or mental health condition.

Yet, the available narratives (shEqual 'Shift' Study) for men are harmful for all of us. Men don't do household chores; men should be the financial providers for their family; a gay guy is not a real man; straight guys should not have gay friends; a real man should have as many sexual partners as possible; a real man never says no to sex. In combination with the usual stereotypes of successful, straight, white businessmen, sports stars, larrikin beer drinking mates and happy gamblers are not only unrealistic, they tell a large group of Australian men who do not fit the mould that there is something wrong with them.

Men who are mentally not well cannot be the leaders, fathers, partners and friends we need them to be, so women can thrive and break free from the system we’re confined to.

We simply need better male role models of all shapes, colours and sexualities on Australian screens If we want the system to change. I’m not that naive to believe that advertising is the answer, but the output of a 40 billion dollar industry can hardly be minimised into something that doesn’t matter.

It all matters.

Engaging men in this topic has been incredibly difficult, but there are the small rays of light coming through the cracks.

Take for instance the men that have joined our FcktheCupcakes initiative, because they have recognised their responsibilities to drive change. Or the Boys do Cry campaign: men talking about their vulnerability in trade press would have been unthinkable not so long ago.

So progress is coming. Importantly, it will be achieved more quickly if we involve men on the journey, and have empathy for those who want to take action but aren’t too sure how just yet.

We have all been there.

Carly Pelham and Jasmin Bedir, Fck the Cupcakes. Photo by Melissa Cowan.

With special thanks to Garry Moore (Miss Bossy Boots) and Alex Christensen for capturing our keynote video content, and Alexandra Nel for motion design and video editing.


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