22 Apr 2010, Comments (19)


Author: Helen

When laptops and notebook computers appeared in the land (and mobile phones started sprouting more features), a favourite advertising tactic was to portray young hipsters or rugged professionals sitting on a remote mountain peak, or resting their handsome calves in a deckchair (half-submerged in a sapphire sea) as they tapped away at their gadget of choice. Words like freedom and spontaneity were sloshed around. No more stuffy office!

It was perhaps about a nanosecond before people started to wake up to the ugly reverse side of this. Even at the top of that mountain peak, the office now followed you. We now have a situation, previously only known to slaves and indentured labourers, where there is no longer such a thing as time off. And if you can be “at the office” 24/7 with your gadgets, well, then soon perfect strangers might want to know what you do and where you go in your “free time”.

If you live outside the state of Victoria in Australia, you might not know that the ex-police Commissioner, Christine Nixon, has been roasted slowly over coals in court more than once in the last week for having the temerity to eat dinner (with no alcohol) on her day off. A “day off” during which she went to work.

As her detractors will point out, it was no more than her duty to go to work on a day of catastrophic bushfires, as she was a senior figure (not the senior figure, as they’d like you to believe) in the Emergency Services. But she did. I’m not the only person to find the hatefest engendered by her decision to break for dinner in a hotel!! (or, as one ABC commenter breathlessly said, a pub!) somewhat bizarre.

I don’t need to defend her, as Jeff Sparrow and Moira Rayner have done a great job here and here. Nixon attacked bullying and corruption when she was Police commissioner and made some powerful enemies. But let’s just think of it in terms of the 24/7 worker here. So she went for a meal at a pub with two friends (ZOMG the Roman decadence), on what would normally be her day off. I’m assuming here that a public figure like Nixon would have her phone on her all the time. If she wasn’t actually in the office, what did it actually matter? And what difference did it make that she was in “A Pub”!!1! The way the journos made it sound, you’d think we were back in Victorian times where it was unseemly for a Lady to set foot in Such a Place. You can imagine how differently it would have been spun by a male police honcho. “We repaired to the pub to refuel and made it our centre of operations for a couple of hours.”

As it was, as a rotund and middle-aged woman, she was pilloried with images of Food and Eating and everything Fatty-fat-fat, which is also, for women, code for lazy and sluttish. Of course, there are no fat men in the higher echelons of the Emergency services. It was instructive to see the equal and opposite reaction to the fainting Julia Gillard (and also, no-one in the armed forces faints on parade…right?) This time the link to the article is “Gillard must remember to eat!” But that’s different, because you see, she’s the society-approved shape!

Also, outsourcing your meal to the local, rather than spending more time buying ingredients and cooking, seems like an efficient thing to do on a day when you might well have more to do. But, you know, while people are all foaming about Responsibility, they’re really just after a really good performance. In the theatrical sense.

FX Holden summed it up perfectly.

She should have commissioned a khaki, Steve /Bindi Irwin outfit, complete with hat, rolled up the sleeves and had a TV camera follow her out to the Dandenongs where she should have handed out sandwiches,to CFA volunteers, shook a few hands, grabbed a hose and splashed a bit of water on a burnback, rubbed a bit of ash across her sweaty face and said to camera “Geez I’m too busy here fightn’ fires to talk to youse”
Then she’d be a hero.
Would have helped the effort not one bit and may have even caused resources to be diverted from real effort.
But she wouldn’t have been under fire at the RC from bloody lawyers, none of who have run anything more complicated than asking their PA to get their wife a birthday present.

Next time you read a “why aren’t there more women in the top positions” article (complete with comments mansplaining that feminism was all a mistake and where is the female Beethoven), remember that somewhere a woman might be weighing up a choice to apply for one of those positions. And she’ll know that she’ll be judged, not only on everything she does whether she’s at work that day or not, but on her appearance. But if she uses her day off to do anything about her appearance, or to eat, that’s wrong too, if all hell should break loose before she realises it. And if she’s not built to the required fuckability-template of the day, that’ll be fully taken in to account in our shallow and insecure society.

Comments (19)

  • Shelley says:

    Nice to read some sane commentary. I’ve been completely unable to work out what all the fuss is about. Still unsure what these people think she ought to have been doing. Trying to piss on a fire to put it out perhaps?

  • Ann O'Dyne says:

    not matching the farkability template leads to getting farked-over.
    A-grade post Ms.Balcony. Bravo.

  • Helen says:

    Thanks both of you!
    not matching the farkability template leads to getting farked-over.
    Damn, that would have made a snappy title if I’d thought of it.

  • faithh says:

    Well put. Just incredible this whole story, that it is even a story?

  • shiny says:

    Thank the Almighty Ceiling Cat someone is talking sense on this. And you’re right, it totally links in with fat shaming and a lurking sense that equality at senior level is all well and good, but when lives are on the line you don’t really want a woman in charge.

    Great post.

    [Thanks Shiny – and sorry you had to languish so long in the mod queue, I didn’t check it for too long. My bad!]

  • Neil says:

    Leaders lead. That’s their job. Nixon is a career beurocrat who wants systems and layers of beurocracy so she can avoid making decisions. She wont take responsability for anything. By leaving at the crisis time she confirmed this.

  • Muliercula says:

    This is spot-on Helen. I’d also like to add applause to Christine Nixon for not resigning from her current job, as some of the Inquisitors have been demanding. In her position, it would be tempting to say “bugger all of you ungrateful sods” and go off on the extended and well-earned overseas holiday she’d been planning before the fires.

  • TimT says:

    Yeah, according to the MSM these days apparently the perfect public figure has got to be an workaholic-anorexic-heterosexual-supermodel-insomniac-sports-loving-hypocritical-decisive-hardline-politically-hypersensitive-instantaneously-right-on-every-question-ever-asked-thoughtful-confident-but-humble. But fun! And with a sense of humour!

    Can’t think of who fits the bill.

  • Kath Lockett says:

    Top Grade article, Ms Balcony. Your last paragraph is utterly brilliant and sadly very true.

    …Did John Brumby dare to have a bite to eat on that day?

  • armagny says:

    “under fire at the RC from bloody lawyers, none of who have run anything more complicated than asking their PA to get their wife a birthday present”

    Surprised that bit of sexism got past you CIB. I don’t know if Rachel Doyle SC’s got a wife, but it still seems a bit presumptuous. I had the impression she’d earned her stripes in a male dominated profession, running uncomplicated stuff like the Esso case and battles for workers’ rights.

    And she was entirely right to test evidence the way she did.

    It’s the relative weight given to that by the media (compared with other much more pertinent revelations that have come out) that tends to back your argument that she’s been unfairly targeted… which in general I would agree with!

  • M-H says:

    Bloody orsum all right. I am so angry about this. It is a really awful way for Nixon to be treated after the fabulous way she broke those bastards in the police union.

  • Ben says:

    Ah, good ol’ trial by media – the thumbs go down and you’re thrown to the lions! (NB. Did you know your Larvatus Prodeo link has too many https?)

  • Helen says:

    Thanks, Ben – had a look and the http:// is there all by its little lonesome. Maybe your browser’s chucked a hissy?!

  • Angie says:

    Well said. I was appalled at the way this trial by media witch hunt happened. Thanks for posting on this.

  • Ben says:

    What’s coded in the page is “http://http://larvatusprodeo.net/”, which is wrong. It’s possible your browser has ignored the extra code, but the link’s definitely squiffy.

  • David Irving (no relation) says:

    I realise this is not strictly relevant, but although sometimes soldiers (and Ms Gillard) collapse on parade because of low blood sugar or dehydration, sometimes it can be because they vague out, or even get a slight anoxia from forgetting to breathe.

    Anyway, back on topic, I think Nixon has been treated appallingly. All those twats who’ve been wittering on about leadership have obviously never done any, or even encountered a good leader, in their lives. I reckon it’s just the Police Association having their revenge for losing a few nice little earners.

  • blue milk says:

    Nice analysis Helen, spot on!

  • Oh – I should call in more often – makes me feel like and academic to be quoted. If I was a real academic I’d be quoting myself.

    armagny – I did write that on a web blog and it was a bit of hyperbole as you surely realise. I do now realise the QC/SC was a woman.

    But it’s hardly sexist to assume most QC/SCs are men? Adn most QC/SCs at the RC are men – Is it not true ?

    Anyway – aside from colourful web writing the point I was making is that the RC /legal system is built on an adversarial model whereby someone is wrong – the loser and someone is right – the winner. The system isn’t designed to find out the truth but to determine a winner and a loser. This works pretty well in criminal matters like murder.

    It doesn’t work when you have complex systemic issues of responses to complex circumstances. Like a bushfire.

    The questioning by the SC is designed to seize on minor matters or utterances and take them out of context and highlight them in a way that is barely one step up from the Truth newspaper of old and around the standard of tabloid newspapers.

    wtf different would it have made had Nixon not had a haircut on that day?

    WTF difference does it make that she had a meal at a pub rather than at home or a pizza at headquarters?

    You know and I know the answer is SFA.

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