Interview

And the Award for Best Award Goes to…

We scoured the world to find The Ernie Awards, which recognizes the most sexist remarks of the year.

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The award for Most Meta Award goes to: us.  As we present our NOTscar award… for the Best Awards.

We scoured the world, using a tool we call Google, to find the most interesting award ceremony around… and we discovered The Ernie Awards. Which a group of women give out annually in Australia in recognition of the most sexist remarks of the year. According to their website, the ceremony is attended by hundreds of women and “A few brave men.”

Australian politician Dr. Meredith Burgmann presides over the ceremony. When she spoke to Rico from Australia, she told him how it all began.

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Dr. Meredith Burgmann: Well, it was actually 23 years ago. In 1993, a terrible old trade union official called Ernie Ecob announced that he was retiring from the trade union movement. And we’d been — the women activists in the union — had been fighting him for a long time. He was actually Secretary of the Shearers’ Union.

Rico Gagliano: Like sheep shearers, like wool?

Dr. Meredith Burgmann: Sheep shearers, yes. I mean, how Australian can you get?

Rico Gagliano: That’s pretty Australian.

Dr. Meredith Burgmann: He’d been famous for saying that women only wanted to become shearers “for the sex.” And of course, we kept querying that. What on Earth did he mean?

Rico Gagliano: Perhaps to have sex with other shearers, with male shearers?

Dr. Meredith Burgmann: Who knows what was going on in Ernie Ecob’s mind! But we had this lunch to celebrate his retirement. And at that lunch, I had picked up this trophy of a sheep rampant on a golden orb or something. And we presented it — jokingly, really — for The Most Bestial Remark of the Year.

And it really caught on from there, and now there are eight categories…

Rico Gagliano: What are some of the categories?

1999 Ernie Awards: Meredith hands out awards under the watchful eyes of her two heroes, Che Guevarra and Tony Lockett.
1999 Ernie Awards: Meredith hands out awards under the watchful eyes of her two heroes, Che Guevarra and Tony Lockett.

Dr. Meredith Burgmann: Well, there’s Media, Political, Industrial, Judicial, Sport… And then we’ve got Celebrity, and Clerical.

Rico Gagliano: I understand that there is also a “boo-off?”

Dr. Meredith Burgmann: Well, the boo-off… it didn’t start as a boo-off. I originally thought we’d do it like the Oscars, and I’d just read from an envelope. You know, “And the winner is…”

But in the second year, the women totally disagreed with the winner that I had chosen, and they booed me off!

Rico Gagliano: There were worse quotes, they felt? More sexist quotes?

Dr. Meredith Burgmann: There were much worse quotes. I think that year the one that really got up their nose was a series of articles in our most prestigious newspaper about “Why Professional Women Can’t Get A Man!” They thought that should win.

So, now as I read out each quote, the women boo, and we have highly skilled boo monitors who decide which quote gets the loudest boo.

Rico Gagliano: I see. And that’s the one that wins, I guess?

Dr. Meredith Burgmann: Yes.

Rico Gagliano: OK. Instead of, you know, judging the goodness of something by applause, you’re judging the horribleness of something by the boos.

Dr. Meredith Burgmann: Exactly.

Rico Gagliano: You’ve mentioned a few, but what are some especially notable remarks that have been… I guess “honored” would be the word?

Dr. Meredith Burgmann: In 2010, our woman premier of New South Wales had just been defeated in a big election. And the premier newspaper had a picture of her on the front bench, and then it ran a competition. The question was: “What do you think of Kristina’s new hair extensions?”

Rico Gagliano: Oh, my.

Dr. Meredith Burgmann: So, that’s the sort of casual sexism. And then the final one was… we’d just elected a first woman premier of Tasmania, another one of our states. And she was a radical, and she was single, and the headline was: “Leftist Lara Still Looking for Mr. Right.”

Rico Gagliano: Ugh. Of course, any single politician who’s male is not similarly, probably, called out for their singleness.

Dr. Meredith Burgmann: Well, you wouldn’t even know, mostly.

Suffragettes 2014 for Jackson

Rico Gagliano: What must it be like to be at the head of an award the very existence of which means that society is doing something wrong?

Dr. Meredith Burgmann: It actually cheers me up a bit because, in the past, I used to read the newspaper and think, “Oh! I can’t believe they said that!” And now, I sort of cut it out and put it in the folder, and I know I get my own back in a few months’ time.

Rico Gagliano: That’s right. They’ll get theirs, in the form of an Ernie.

Dr. Meredith Burgmann: Yes.

Rico Gagliano: Have you ever met one of the winners of these awards after he has won it?

Dr. Meredith Burgmann: Oh, yes, and occasionally they’ll come and ask me for the trophy! Because the trophies are very elegant pigs on sticks, you know.

Rico Gagliano: Are they doing that in some ironic way, kind of acknowledging that they messed up, or do you think that they’re proud of it?

Dr. Meredith Burgmann: Sometimes they’re quite proud of it, particularly the media guys. If they’ve said something appalling, sometimes they’ll come and say, “Can I have the trophy for a year?” And occasionally, I relent and go, “Oh, all right.”

Rico Gagliano: By the way, do you have something along the lines of Vegas odds that are kept up all year long? You know, the over/under on who’s in the lead, the way we do for the Oscars?

Dr. Meredith Burgmann: Well, the funniest thing that happens is that the women do their own lobbying. And you’ll often [be] out in the sort of smoking area, [with] the women going, “I’ll vote for your one for Media if you vote for Tony Abbott in the Political,” you know? And they’re sort of trading votes. It’s very political [laughs].

But in the early days, people always treated it as a bit of a joke. And now, it’s treated as really serious, and the results are announced in the evening news. And then immediately people start complaining that the right quote didn’t win. It’s exactly like the Oscars!