I once worked with a woman who was quite difficult to get on with. During the course of a particularly arduous conversation I put out my hand, almost subconsciously, to touch her on the elbow in a reassuring way and she snapped "Don't pat me down as if I am a dog!"
It taught me a valuable lesson about the way men often patronise women in discussion by this sort of gesture. I am pretty careful now about doing this sort of thing. Not the least because I recognised that I had no idea how deep my colleague's anger with me was until that moment. It did tell me that I am not always good at assessing other people's real feelings. It taught me that as a man I should not presume that I necessarily understand the emotional dynamics of a female. (With four sisters, a mother, a wife and three daughters...you would think I should know this!!)
I was interested last night to watch anti-nuclear activist Helen Caldicott seated between the advocate of the Australian Uranium Industry and Ziggy Switkowski, also a pro-nuclear advocate. They several times touched her in a way that would have been quite inappropriate if she had been a man.
It was almost invisible, and it was the same sort of reassuring pat that perhaps said "There, there dear when you live in the real world (of men) then maybe you will understand better."
To Caldicott's credit she didn't swerve away from the meat of her discussion to address the patronising tactics that were being used to belittle her, but it shouldn't have happened.
We should be alert to the fact that there are tactics in such discussions as well as content and that we need to read them as much as the words.
And the ABC should do better.