Sandra Sully and David 'Kochie' Koch won an Order of Australia Medal on the same day. Here's what this moment reveals about invisible gender bias

There was something about this year's OAM ceremony that really tickled year 12 student Ava Gillespie's feminist feathers.

Every year, on the 26th of January, some of Australia’s finest women and men are recognised for their outstanding achievements and service to Australian society with an Order of Australia medal. 

This year, two of the most well-known names in TV journalism, Sandra Sully and David ‘Kochie’ Koch took home the jackpot. Sully was specifically recognised for her coverage on September 11 attacks in 2001 and the Thredbo Landslide, as well as her contribution to charitable organisations and community. Kochie was recognised for his service to the media as a television presenter on Channel 7’s Sunrise, and economic journalist. 

Kochie and Sully both started their careers as journalists in the late 1980s, received OAMs in the same year, but it took less than one year after his retirement for Kochie to receive this medal, whilst Sully’s award was twenty years later. 

While the ABC’s reporting of the awards highlighted the fact that more women than men won OAMs this year, suggesting that we are moving towards gender equality, it subverts the hard truth that women in society are facing a silent and invisible epidemic of disparities around the timing of receiving awards. Women’s success is undervalued by the media and society, and the twenty year time lag in recognising Sully in comparison to a close industry peer of hers in Kochie is a modern day example of it. More women than men in the OAM lineup is a sign of progress, but we have to keep probing a little deeper to recognise the reality of invisible gender bias. 

Another example where the wrapping is prettier than the reality is International Women’s Day. As cheery “Happy International Women’s Day” sentiments fill the air, paired with cupcakes with purple icing smeared over the top containing hope for a progressive, gender equal future sit on the boardroom tables, promising equal pay - this feels woefully inadequate. We celebrate this day, aiming for better outcomes, for better pay and for equal opportunities, yet females are continually stopped in their tracks by an invisible gender bias, creeping up in many aspects of life. Leading Australian journalists are winning prestigious awards, two decades overdue, and the best we can do is celebrate these injustices through wearing a purple ribbon one day per year? Why is no one boggling their minds in anger about this?

From former Australian PM Julia Gillard’s co-workers supporting the sexist “Ditch the Witch” rallies outside Parliament House in 2011, to Margot Robbie not being nominated for an Oscar this year for hit pink fever film, Barbie, when her male co-star Ryan Gosling was - we have seen these injustices occur over and over again. Since the introduction of both International Women’s Day and the Order of Australia Medal in 1975, women in Australia are still not being appropriately represented in many areas of life, are underpaid, and overworked. This is why books like Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls are written, and are essential pieces of literature for society to read. So, why are we not taking action beyond the celebratory events? Why are we not speaking up, loud and clear, about the invisible gender bias that so many of us turn a blind eye towards? 

That email you may have received from your boss who ‘celebrates women’ but won’t pay you the same as your male coworkers and the decorations hung up in workplaces conceal the fact we live in an oppressive society doesn’t change anything. The cosmetic commercialisation of International Women’s Day acts as a camouflage to the real issues - gender pay gaps and recognising women’s contributions to public life and society in a timely manner. 

In the wise words of Taylor Swift, “I’m so sick of running as fast as I can, wondering if I’d get there quicker if I was a man.” This International Women’s Day, let’s rethink those purple cupcakes and bite deeper into challenging invisible biassed barriers in all aspects of life.