Monday, June 17, 2013

The biggest rob in all this political sexism

It has been a particularly vile week or so of public and political sexism. It really just seemed to be one incident after another. To recap for those who have been living in a remote cave with no electricity, carrier pigeons or mental telepathy, it went down like this: Firstly some soccer jock talks about how women should shut up in public. Then we had the wonderful “Julia Gillard Kentucky Fried Quail” menu item developed for a Liberal Party Fundraiser that is now so reviled that it has its own Wikipedia entry. Then we had Gillard being questioned over her partner's sexuality by Howard Sattler, a radio shockjock. Of course, all these incidents were "jokes", but I must have a different sense of humour... Oh, and let's not forget the wonderful Grace Collier, who, on clearly wanting equal rights for women to be misogynists, tried to outdo "teh menz" with this puzzling focus on Gillard's boobs. Granted, there have been some highlights such as Sattler now being sacked for his grossly unprofessional conduct, and this amazing speech from Lt-General David Morrison taking a stand against sexism in the Army and stating that it will not be tolerated. All-in-all though, it has been a rather exhausting week or so.

The thing is though, all this has, by no means, been "out of the ordinary". When it comes to the sexism directed towards our female Prime Minister, this has been a constant feature. It was so constant that it led to Gillard giving this now world-famous "I will not be lectured on sexism and misogyny by this man" speech in the House of Representatives. It led to this completely amazing and horrifying lecture from Anne Summers entitled "Her Rights at Work: The Political Persecution of Australia's First Female Prime Minister" (watch this. You need to). The cartoonist Larry Pickering has pretty much made a career of promoting his disgustingly sexist pictures of Gillard, usually naked and sometimes being gynaecologically interfered with. But it's more than that. It's the daily commentary I have heard from peers, family, the broader community that reinforce my view that the sexism has been constant. 

What's more, people really don't seem to give it much thought. They have genuinely looked surprised when I have called them out after they have used some sexist trope to refer to Gillard as if this "fact" has some bearing on her politics. It seems to be so damn unconscious that it speaks volumes about how society views a woman in charge. People don't even think twice before referring to Gillard's allegedly annoying voice, or the size of her backside, whilst talking about her role in the country. An entire media campaign appears to have been built on these "criticisms" in order to topple Gillard from the leadership and get a more popular male reinstalled, yet not many seem to be too discerning as to where a great deal of misgivings toward the PM seem to have come from. A lot of it is sexism, pure and simple. If you doubt that then I suggest you really do click on the link of Anne Summers' speech above and watch it from beginning to end. Gillard's politics have been continually conflated with her gender, and it shows just how immature this country is when it comes to gender relations. Many women rule countries across the world and are treated as rulers, rather than great impostors, so when the hell will this country grow up?

Here's the real rob for me: I fell off the ALP bandwagon years ago. This fact is still a sore point for my poor mother. I come from a strong ALP family yet broke ranks over a decade ago because I felt, and still feel, that the party my parents so strongly believe in is not the one that actually exists. I am critical of their policies, disgusted over their continuation of the NT Intervention (however rebranded), their asylum seeker stances, their cuts to tertiary education, their non-complete roll-back of WorkChoices legislation, their watering down of a promised Treaty in the 1980s to mere constitutional recognition at this point in time. And I openly criticise these things. Yet at times I have felt disempowered to openly criticise what does actually need to be criticised. Why? Because the sexist mud-slinging kicks in from others and it is difficult to be objectively critical of the Prime Minister's policy standpoints when you are busy having to defend her as a woman.

On more than one occasion I have written a post on some social media platform that is critical of a Gillard government standpoint and the conversation has been derailed by sexism. If I had a dollar for every time I have written something critical only to get back "well what do you expect from a backstabber like her?" I'd be buying up that desert island and relocating with 10 dogs, no problems. FFS, people; Julia Gillard is not Lady freakin' MacBeth! She mounted a leadership challenge in a party which is historically rather infamous for such challenges and she came out victorious. The reasons for why that challenge was mounted (sating the whining of those poor struggling mining moguls) might not have been much to brag about, but that doesn't change the fact that she is not the first to do so. It's that simple, but because she's a woman, her leadership tilt was seen differently to, say, the two challenges Keating mounted against Hawke. She's a "ranga bitch" apparently, or so I've been told, which I'm certain has nothing to do with the fact that her government detains people trying to escape persecution. I should also add that whilst the right-wing has been relentless in their sexism, it's fairly safe to say that a huge majority of people who read and respond to my stuff are not from the right. What's more, the sexism isn't only coming from the men. So why are left-aligned people, particularly women, buying into this?

This is where the true sexism lies for me. Myself, and similarly-left-aligned and usually politically-intersectional people across this country, due to some deeply socially-embedded sexist attitudes, are denied the ability to judge the Prime Minister on her own merits as a leader. We are denied the right to criticise her failings as a leader, praise her gains as a leader, criticise her party, and to objectively analyse anything. We are drowned out by the stupid and inane gender-related comments, rather than simply being able to take to bits some policy that is inherently discriminatory. And if we're not in there criticising some policy items because we are frankly exhausted from having to deal with the misogyny then we run the risk of being accused of being blind to the ALP's failings because we are too busy sticking up for the sisterhood. Oh yes, this has happened to me, despite the fact that I think I have made it rather clear that I am no ALP supporter. It really feels like a damned if you do, damned if you don't scenario right now, and I would be understating things if I said I was a little over it.

What do I want? Well, in a nutshell, if people could get conscious of, and then get over, their embedded social misogyny that would be fabulous. It would be wonderful to have a good clean debate about the current ALP policies without hearing the "ditch the witch", the "blood on her hands" and the other, more subtle comments. I want to be able to open a newspaper and not read Gillard being judged in harsher and more arbitrary ways than her male contemporaries. I don't want to have to be sticking up for Gillard as a woman because I SHOULDN'T BLOODY HAVE TO! It shouldn't even be a factor as she is the elected leader of this country and deserves THE RIGHT to be able to do her job without this abuse. Whilst she can't just do that job though, you can bet your backside I will be doing the sisterhood thing and sticking up for her because she shouldn't be having to deal with sexism, and nor should any woman who comes after her. If Gillard was from the Liberal Party and was copping the same I WOULD STILL be sticking up for her as a woman who should not be having to deal with sexism. I will always be critical of her policies, but I want better for our women than what Gillard has been copping due to her gender, and what she is copping publicly at the top is a snapshot of what women face every day; from men and laterally.

So then: who's up for a discussion on why I think Constitutional Recognition is selling ourselves short? 


  1. "Yet at times I have felt disempowered to openly criticise what does actually need to be criticised. Why? Because the sexist mud-slinging kicks in from others and it is difficult to be objectively critical of the Prime Minister's policy standpoints when you are busy having to defend her as a woman."

    SO much this.

  2. Great blog, CL. I share your objections to the real, as opposed to the idealised ALP, which is not to ignore some great things they've done and/or tried to do (eg NDIS, the far from perfect MRRT, Gonski). You've perfectly voiced my dilemma. I am so busy defending Julia Gillard from the misogynistic deluge that I barely get time to critique her government's policies. And even when I do have time I baulk at it because I'm loathe to instigate more misogynistic crap. The other thing I have found so disturbing about this response to a female PM is that so very many women also mount the sexist critique! The sisterhood is not nearly as pervasive as I thought it was.

    Amanda Mack

  3. Thankyou!! You have stated the frustration I feel on a daily basis. Anne Summers lecture is a must read. It's also an excellent way of showing some balance in response to the awful comments that I hear.

  4. I think more than anything else Gillard has been a huge disappointment as a female leader for ALL who would hoped she might advanced the cause of women and pursued even a marginally left of centre agenda of furthering equality for all. Truth is (like many men and women) she has extremely conservative prejudices that she was driven to fulfil in office. i.e., cutting of single parent benefits, the forced imprisonment and mental torture of asylum seekers, her vigorous campaigning against gay marriage. As someone who lived in the UK during the 80s with Thatchers clause 28 effectively targeting the LGBT community with all range of penalties and advertising campaigns that focused particularly on gay men, I have witnessed first hand how vitriolic and nasty female leaders can be and there are many other examples throughout history.

    Ok Gillard was possibly a cigarette paper distance to the left of Thatcher but isn't the problem the conception that females are somehow fundamentally different to men ? When you agree there is no difference you begin to disenfranchise sexism.


  5. Brilliant! This sums up exactly what I've been thinking. Thank You.
    Patsy Black

  6. May God bless your country! Twice, thrice or better a hundred times: it n e e d s to be! Our Angela Merkel is maybe an incompetent and certainly a dangerous "there is no alternative"-politician - Nothing else. I'm grateful we can build up, over here, on certain things -My country is by no means perfect, especially when it comes to the treatment of illegal immigrants: so much illegal(!) things are done to them! But at least, we don't have to deal with such superfluous nonsense.

    Good Luck for you all!

    Greetings from far away

    Matthias Herrberg

  7. Just am watching Anne Summer's lecture now and there are talk back radio hosts who should be charged. Seriously