Daniel Flitton’s “analysis” of the Leadership Thing in the AGE today was disgusting. In the last few days there’s been a lot of denial of the sexist cliches which follow Julia Gillard around; lots of “nothing to see here, move along!” But Flitton, writing for the front page of a national newspaper – one of the few remaining places in the media where we might expect people to write intelligently about these political stoushes – chooses to present the narrative of the Labor leadership spill exclusively in terms of sex, romance and relationships.
How a fine romance ended in a messy divorce. In Flitton’s narrative, there was an “awkward” “first date“, when Kevin met Julia (a reference to a romantic comedy, for the few people who might not be aware of that), a courtship rather than a romance, a proposition and a get-away (with a creepy suggestion of a threesome). and that’s just in the first paragraph! It goes on… and on. Rudd saw Gillard as a potential partner for life but it was a marriage of convenience ending in divorce and breakup which, in the manner of so many heterosexual breakups, was forcing people to take sides. (Oh, great FSM, how will they plan the dinner parties?)
This gendered trivialisation of Australia’s first female PM hurts all women. I often find Twisty Faster’s concept of women as “the sex class” useful to parse weird statements like this, and it’s spot on here. Flitton can only explain a prominent woman in terms of her membership of the sex class, with Mills and Boon and chick-flicks as essential props for her irredeemably female character. Also, a female person working with a male person must be subject to Unresolved Sexual Tension, by virtue of her female sexual force-field of which Bettina Arndt has so kindly reminded us. If that means that women can be excluded from positions of power or authority because they must distract the blokes, well, that’s just too bad; it’s just the way things are.
And bugger me, here’s Tony Wright channelling Angela Carter on another page (same day), comparing Kevin Rudd to St Kevin of the Wicklow Mountains. More light-hearted tosh than an attempt at analysis, it nevertheless manages to heap more gendered insults on a thinly-veiled version of Gillard:
St Kevin’s greatest distraction, legend has it, was a woman who was determined to relieve him of
the leadershiphis virtue. St Kevin threw himself into a bed of nettles to avoid being seduced and set fire to a handful of burning weeds to fend off his pursuer.
…St Kevin ”Hurl(ed) the maiden from the rock into the black lake shrieking”. But that, surely, was merely ghastly myth.
Maiden? Shrieking? Greatest distraction? Of course, this article has complete plausible deniability. That doesn’t mean Gillard. AT ALL.
It’s just a ghastly myth.
Nothing to see here, of course. Just robust debate. Of course Flitton and Wright would use precisely the same language and imagery for any incumbent PM. Wouldn’t they?