Categories: Meeja

It’s on again. And it’s been on multiple times this year: repeated attempts by the media and some parliamentary hotheads to convince us that the PM should be rolled and replaced by a bloke.

If this was to happen before September (or if she stays, and the Libs win), what does it mean for women in Australia?

I’m sure there is no need to tell you that the PM is on the nose for many sections of the Left. Many of us are ambivalent. Just as she made us all punch the air with the speech which is going down in history as “*the* misogyny speech”, her government changed the law to further disadvantage single mothers. They commissioned the Gonski report, then announced their intention to take funding away from tertiary education. To feminists, it seems that with one hand she giveth, and with the other she taketh. I’m frequently bitterly disappointed by Gillard and the policies she supports. Unfortunately, some Gillard opponents think that you are either For her or Agin her, and if you’re Agin her (politically) this can be separated completely from any feminist issues. This simplistic view fails to take into account the damage done to women if Gillard loses the September election or is replaced by a man from her own party before that. It now appears that damage will be inevitable.

Screenshot of a letter to the Age by Tony O'Brien of South Melbourne. "Come on Tim, now's the time to do the right thing by Julia - propose to her. A June wedding is about the only thing that might save her in the polls."

Why do people talk about the PM in terms of weddings and proposals?


Australians have had a hard time coming to terms with the first woman Prime Minister. If you’re one of those cheery souls who genuinely doubt entrenched sexism still exists, you might want to put on a hazmat suit and read for a while in the comment threads of any of our news outlets. There’s no shortage of both men and women in these fora, or just in the pub or at the tram stop, who maintain that they’re not at all sexist but the PM is just incompetent, for some reason they just can’t explain properly, well they just don’t like her…et cetera.

And so many of the cartoons, comments and other references to Gillard make the point again and again that, by the way DID YOU NOTICE SHE WAS A WOMAN? A FEMALE TYPE WOMAN? As if that notion had to be reinforced and kept in the forefront of our minds. I wonder why that would be?

Tandberg cartoon. Julia Gillard looking diffident in a wedding gown while a M-F couple look on. Man:

More wedding imagery. You just can’t have enough of it!

I would accept this notion that the criticism and abuse of Gillard is just normal par for the political course if it was framed in the same terms as it would be for Paul Keating or Tony Abbott. But it isn’t.

The problem is with the way in which actions by women and minorities are deemed to have meaning for the entire group. We might say that Whitlam was “Brilliant but flawed” or that Latham is “brilliant but flaky” and so on, but it doesn’t reflect on the fitness of white men, as a category, to govern. Those who would tell us that Gillard’s treatment is no different from the normal inter-male cut and thrust of political stoush are not noticing the media / political obsession with her gender.

Time and again, our news outlets remind us of Gillard’s female (=outsider, from the point of view of the PMship) status. Time and again she is described in a frame of her genitalia, fertility or lack thereof, domesticity or lack thereof, f*ckability or lack thereof. News articles on political alliances used metaphors of marriages, weddings, dates, divorces. We’re never allowed to forget that this person isn’t a member of the default group, but one of the other. She is to be understood in the context of sex and relationships and clothes, not power and governance. That’s how we are used to talking about women. The perpetrators will swear till they are blue in the face that there’s nothing gendered about their remarks and that it’s all exactly the same as aggression between men in politics.

(The outrage from conservative sources at Gillard’s remarks about blue ties is interesting considering the obsession with the PM’s hair, jackets, shoes and everything else about her sartorial life.)

XKCD cartoon, How It Works. (1): Two men write maths problems on a whiteboard. One says to the other:

XKCD cartoon “how it works”. xxxxxxxx

It doesn’t matter that Gillard’s perceived “incompetence” is largely a construct of lazy journalists and hostile political and media opponents. While Gillard is hardly the PM of my dreams, with her support for cruel policies for asylum seekers and single mothers, she’s hardly incompetent compared with the male leaders we’ve had up to now. Even giants like Whitlam and Keating had their weaknesses, as we know. But no matter. The story has been set – Gillard’s incompetent. And the corollary to that, whether you’re on the pro-Rudd Labor or Liberal side, is: Bring back a man and put him in charge.

If Gillard had been Julian Gillard, this would have been seen as a problem pertaining to Julian Gillard. But since it’s Julia Gillard, society’s perceptions of women come into play. She will be judged (again), but we’ll all be judged along with her. There won’t be another woman PM for quite a while, as our deeply sexist society will dismiss her time in office as “the experiment that failed”, “failed political correctness” or some other smugness. The criticisms of Kevin Rudd’s working methods, or the loopiness of John Madigan or Cory Bernardi, on the other hand, won’t prompt people to form any conclusions about the fitness of white men to govern. That’s how stereotyping works.
Crossposted at Hoyden About Town

… that it’s possible to care about more than one thing at the same time, without having to explain it to other feminists, too.

Destroy the Joint image

The title of this post was swiped with permission from Orlando, commenting on this post, by Mindy on Hoyden about Town, on Helen Razer’s popular article Destroy the Joint misses the point.

I am weary, so very very weary, of reading “Where are the Feminists” type articles where the topic is anything “feminists” are failing to write about this week. In some cases, this is taken to be proof that feminists do not care about the Thing that should be written about, or they excuse the Thing due to their excessive PC-ness. The fact that we might be unpaid feminists blogging in the cracks between work and family and real-life activities (which might include activism, personal or family illness, or a million other things) isn’t an excuse for our failure. Because the world is absolutely chock full of Terrible Things, and feminism is fighting many systemic problems on lots of fronts, it’s inevitable that we will often write about things other than the Thing which should be written about. Proof positive that we are horrible.

Helen Razer, a celebrity opinion writer with something of a media megaphone, has decreed that

Feminism is the struggle against masculinsed violence and feminised poverty. Or, the acknowledgement that physical violence is enacted disproportionately by men and poverty is experienced disproportionately by women. That’s it, really.

Just to mention the article by Jenna Price of DtJ she’s describing as “twaddle”: Razer wastes quite a few pixels claiming Price is claiming women in power will be nicer, which is indeed a horrible old relic of the Victorian “Angel in the house” image still held by some well meaning people. Reading Price’s article, she says no such thing. She does, however, point out that women are still underrepresented in power networks generally and are hived off into “life and style” media ghettos which are deemed suitable for our overheated ladybrains. Not earth shatteringly new information, but I don’t see how Razer can dismiss this as “twaddle” or trivial.

I had thought that feminist writers and bloggers do write quite a lot about masculinised violence and feminised poverty. I also get the impression that Razer, who has made this complaint more than once, doesn’t write much about these topics at all, preferring to write articles about how much other feminists suck.

In her article about Lingerie Football (Again, aren’t modern feminists pathetic, etc) she missed the opportunity to write about how that “sporting code” demonstrated exactly how feminised poverty works by writing about their very different treatment, in terms of pay and conditions, health and safety etcetera, compared to male footballers. She left it to other bloggers to pick that up.

Google searches on “”Helen Razer” violence” and “Helen Razer” poverty” have so far failed to locate any articles or blog posts specifically on these topics. Come on, Helen; you can’t criticise other people in at least three articles for not focusing on the big issues without writing about them yourself. Go on. Hit us with your best shot.

To be fair to Razer, and to get back to the general topic of this rant, this attitude is not unique to her. I wish I had a dollar for every Tumblr social justice blogger who has blasted “feminists” for not writing about the Terrible Thing which she has decided is the Thing which must be written about du jour. Next thing you know she’s posting about nail art or some favourite food. (This is perfectly OK by me, by the way – I’m not the one wanting to make a huge deal out of blogging/not blogging any given topic. But consistency, y’know.)

This has percolated into academe, with Swati Parashar’s Drum article on the failure of local feminists to blog about the gang rape in Delhi. Clearly, this meant we did not care, or even excused it because of our excessive pee-cee.

Razer’s broadside included a Twitter hashtag, #DestroyThePoint, which portrayed the DtJ group as a bunch of airheads making hilarious non-sequiturs. Now any large facebook group will naturally have a few airheads in it, but I don’t think DtJ was a particularly terrible offender.
Moreover, I think feminist writing over the last few years has effectively put to bed the notion that the treatment of women in the media and everyday life is somehow separate to the Big Questions of Power and Money. Sexism is the notion that men are the default humans and women are the other, the sex class, less serious. It’s all linked. As Tigtog says in a comment on Mindy’s post, “it strikes me as a crucial omission to overlook the role of microaggressions and double standards in perpetuating masculinised violence and feminised poverty.”

These things are connected with veins and nerves and connective tissue. Try to cut them apart and you’ll be left with a bleeding mess. And that’s what I see when I look at things like the Razer article.

Razer has a schtick, and it’s being the Cool Girl of Australian feminism, scolding other feminists for sweating all that small stuff which is small, and neglecting to focus 100% on the Terrible Things (about which she doesn’t write much herself). #DestroyThePoint and other snarky tweets were greeted with You Go Girls! and Woohoos! (a description, not a verbatim quote) from numerous male media figures with recognisable names. Cool girls, of course, don’t call people on their day-to-day shit, they keep their powder dry for the Terrible Things, so they make men feel so much more relaxed and comfortable. People who think #EverydaySexism might feed directly into the big issues are so irritating and boring and serious. No, wait – they’re not serious enough, because they’re not off writing articles about masculinised violence and feminised poverty? Are you completely confused now?

When the “How much Other Feminists Suck” topic has become a subset of feminist writing in itself, it’s time to ask how valuable adding another dead cat to that pile has become. If your criticism is that feminists aren’t writing about the important topics you have chosen, guess what?

It’s time to go off, sit down and write some articles on those topics.

More from Monica Seeber and Jennifer Wilson.
Crossposted at Hoyden About Town

31 Jan 2013, Comments (3)

Freedom of speech. Shut up!

Author: Helen

Tim Mathieson said something naff in an attempt to be all jokey about prostate examinations; When challenged on it, he realised what was wrong with it, and apologised, because he’s a grownup. If only there were more grownups in the commentariat.

No, criticising privileged white men who make unfunny jokes about women and other ethnic groups isn’t an attack on our freedom of speech. It’s the opposite. It’s the extension of freedom of speech to the former targets of these jokes, who are now talking back. Get used to it, Mark Baker (“Poor Tim, prostrated by a prostate gag that gets him the finger”) and Tony Wright (“First Bloke Back in Doghouse after poking fun at prostate”).

Who are the worst enemies of Freedom™? Those annoying feminists, of course! Baker paints the new confidence of women resisting sexism in politics and society as “confected’ and “phoney”. Like other members of the old media, he fails to understand the significance of Gillard’s “misogyny” speech and the chord it struck with the lived experience of so many women. This failure in the journosphere didn’t go unnoticed in new and social media elsewhere.

Baker and Wright fire familiar damp squibs from their bunkers, hoping to chase these annoying people off their lawn, like “straighteners” and “correctness” and “puritan”. We know these are code for “STFU”. So who’s on the side of free debate here?

While people with money and privilege have used the courts to stifle the speech of others for generations, Baker sees this unseemly deconstruction of blokey jokes as the thin end of the wedge which will lead to legislative “threats to media freedom and individual speech”. The present situation is the reverse: People are daring to talk back to and challenge the chorus of guffawing lads (his words), and they really don’t like it.

It’s bash the bloggers season again, I see. There have been several “Oh, how about those bloggers!!” articles in my favoured dead-tree daily lately. I guess the recent carnage in the Fairfax group and promise of carnage-to-come in the News Ltd group has prompted a fresh outbreak of insecurity and defensiveness in journos and trollumnists alike. We’ve had the usual slew of commentators making the incorrect assumption that blogging equals “citizen journalism” and complaining that bloggers want to replace journalists. NO. Just… for the ten thousandth time… NO.

Most bloggers are essayists, or diarists, not citizen journalists. Sometimes we write about the news. In fact, those of us who write about things we see in the news generally include links – something the AGE and Herald Sun are just beginning to learn to do – which give many more hits to their journos’ columns than they would otherwise get. (If the “citizen journo” myth has any merit it would be that many bloggers are filling in the details on local events which mainstream news outlets only skim over, or providing an alternative view on material easily obtainable from primary sources –press releases online, the Gonski report– which reward discussion or which haven’t been well served by the media.)

Christine Croyden writes in the SMH:

I’M VISITING Paris, where newspapers and books written in English are expensive and can be hard to locate, so I’ve taken to reading a wide range of blogs. I find most are written by people who give expansive accounts of their dealings with the world, yet are not particularly attentive to the world’s responses.

Oh, you just know this is going to go well.

The headline of the article puts two stonkin’ great cliches in one line: “I blog, therefore I am. Life in modern times”. Charmian Clift, eat your heart out. But perhaps we can blame a sub editor for this, if there are any left, so we’ll pay that one for now.

”Look at me, let me tell you what I like, where I’m going, what I think about anything and everything in the world, what I had for breakfast and how fascinating I am” is the gist of most.

And that tells you everything you need to know: it’s another anti-blogging article of type 2663a/C, “I haven’t actually done much blog reading, but I feel knowledgeable enough to write a trollumn for the SMH telling them what numpties they are.” Have we been here before? Yes, we have! With all the financial problems besetting Fairfax, couldn’t they just pick one example of type 2663a/C and republish it every three months?

Croyden’s critique is rather amusing in the light of the article itself which is a feast of the very I – statements about her own fascinating trivia which she complains about in the writing of others. “I’m visiting Paris”. “I’ve taken to reading a wide range of blogs”. “I recently found myself uploading photos onto Facebook”. “I’m of a certain age and not right up with every new thing… I am mother to three young adult children…” et cetera. (Can you handle the excitement?) Yairs, Croyden is not narcissistic for publishing all this trivia because… because… well, because she is a playwright, as opposed to a mere desk jockey, which means she is allowed to talk about her trivia in this manner. Legitimately. And Shut Up, you there up the back.

(Ms Croyden, since you asked, “Do I want people to know I’m away?” when you post on Facebook? No. You don’t. Upload the photos when you get back. This has been a public service announcement. Also: part of your article is conflating Facebook with blogging. They are not the same thing.)

Thing is, there are plenty of writers out there who aren’t snobbish about blogs. The literary critics, expert makers, polymorphous polymaths, fiction writers, environmentalists, contrarians, academicsso many academicsscientists and writers on subjects like feminism on which mainstream journalism/commentariat just seems to spin its wheels. As for the personal (or personal-political) bloggers like me, we’re just doing it to learn how to write. Some more successfully than others, but the blogosphere is much more than a bunch of ninnies wittering about nothing.

Truly, some blogs offer fresh social and political opinions, some do a decent theatre or restaurant review, and there are a few specific interest blogs of value. But these are far outnumbered by the ”look at me” variety.

Most people are familiar with the adage that ”everyone has one novel in them” or the latest, and even sillier idea, that anybody can write, as demonstrated by the thousands of bloggers who give it a red-hot go every day. So why discourage them? After all, the only way to improve writing is to keep at it. But in most cases, although style may improve, it doesn’t mean everyone can become some sort of contemporary seer.

Thanks, Captain Obvious. But I see from this interview at Australian Stage that Croyden worked as a nurse and midwife for 10 years before getting a professional writing gig.

AS: So how/when did you get started as a writer?
CC: I’ve always written – I’d rather write down how I feel and what I think of something than talk about it any day. My first short story was published in 1998 but I’d spent many years writing and crafting short stories prior to that and still love the form. I read a lot of short stories.

So at one point, Croyden herself was an amateur, a writer for the sheer hell of it, “writ(ing) down how I feel”. But someone else doing it on the Web is “narcissistic”. I imagine at some point someone in the writing world gave this aspiring writer a break. I wonder whether anyone sneered at her and told her to stick to changing catheters. It’s a shame she can’t do any better than snipe and carp at other aspiring writers (and many others that are fully fledged) because they publish online.

My wish is that before bloggers decide to post another word, they read a few good books, think about what it is they want to say, wonder for a while about how often it’s been said before, and, once they realise it’s been said in many more insightful, well-written and interesting ways on numerous occasions they go to bed and forget about “their blog”.

You would have to have a pretty high opinion of your own talents to write something so dismissive, belittling and downright patronising, especially having been on the other side of the fence yourself.

But is the article even sincere? In a final egregious example of “it’s all right for me but not for them”, in googling information for this post, I found she runs a blog herself, and has done so since 2008. And here’s an instance of her commenting on an activist blog. That sheds a different light on the “I’ve just noticed this thing called blogging and I’m not really up with all this newfangled internet stuff but it seems loopy to me” boilerplate. It appears it’s not just mean and ungenerous, it seems like a bit of a performance as well. Maybe some anti-blogger screeds on the mainstream media sites are written to order and purchased by the yard. Maybe the editor just says “Hey, get me another type 2663a/C, thanks.”

Manga character says "Girl Cooties"!

All right.


I wasn’t going to take the bait. Trollumnists want attention and clicks, and it’s all very well to take my frustration out on the blog by pounding out a reply – that’s one of the reasons we blog – but it gives them the attention the advertising manager of their media outlet craves, and sends the signal to the media outlet that more trollumning is required. But to hell with it, I can’t leave rubbish like this unfisked.

Here, Elizabeth Farrelly protests: “Here’s the truth. I’m not a misogynist. It’s 13 weeks, give or take, since I was accused of misogyny in these pages… but in the intervening weeks I’ve searched my soul and decided no, not true.”

Trouble is, Farrelly goes on to demonstrate some sterling misogyny in the very same article.

Feminism always had a strategic choice; either to escape the sewing circle or to make it legitimate. I’m with the escape artists. Most of what passes for feminism these days, however, just legitimises girliness.

Scorn for crafts and pastimes associated with femaleness? Check.

I don’t usually read women authors but not because they’re women. Because they’re boring. My female friends are shocked by this, urging me to revisit my Margaret Atwood or Jeanette Winterson. But I tell you, if I never read another intelligent female devoting her first page to how she felt when her husband left her it’ll be too soon.

Valorisation of male writing over womens’ writing? Denigration of womens’ writing in its entirety (with a few exeptions-which-prove-the-rule thrown in to convince us she’s being fair)? Using an obvious straw-writer (all novels written by women begin with a woman musing about how her husband has left her, O RLY) to provide some weak argument for this? Check.

In part this is an aesthetic thing. I like writing with a higher IQ and lower pH than most women can manage: tougher, edgier, stringier. But it’s also, unavoidably, political.

Praise for attributes coded by the writer as “male” (without stopping to consider whether these attributes are intrinsically “male” or whether she just assigns these to maleness in her personal world view)? Claiming men ipso facto have a higher IQ? Check!

To my mind it is the task of writing to lace the personal into the supra-personal – bridging from the self to the political, the abstract, the cosmic. To fail in this, to wallow about in the personal, is a muscular dystrophy of the mind.

Associating women with the “personal” (domestic, earthed, grounded)? Associating men with the cosmic, transcendent world of affairs? Check.

Remember when people used to take offence at women athletes being called ”girls”? Now it seems feminism has given up. Far from liberating us into the tough, exciting world, it has simply stretched the circle, like some outsize marsupial pouch, to encompass it. We’re all girls now.

This makes no sense. The feminist objection to the use of the word “girls” for grown women is to do with infantilising female adults, not hating the very notion of girls and girl-ness. Moreover, Farrelly uses the term “girls” to patronise the reader a few paragraphs on.

I hope you don’t think men escape Farrelly’s beady-eyed gender policing:

At the gym you hear men earnestly sharing tips on diet products. Over coffee they dissect fashion, babies, relationships. “I said, then she said, then I said …” Neo-boys’ natter.

Fearing some kind of contamination of male society by female qualities? Check.(Don’t forget, this is the woman who fears modern building codes and environmental oestrogens are effeminizing our little boys and putting the entire nation at risk. seriously. Obviously, these girly-men are those poor kids, grown up.) See also.

Just as suddenly the Women’s Weekly, which for me growing up symbolised everything frilled, dumb and domestic – everything I did not want my life to become – is a cultural icon, with its own TV drama and a National Library project to digitise it as “nationally significant material”.
Now you can catch up on all those stain-removal tips and sponge-making recipes online, secure in the knowledge that you’re engaged in something of national significance. Super.

Thinking that womanhood or girlhood is defined by womens’ magazines? check. Assertion that material aimed at women can have no archival, educational or historic significance? Check.

Everywhere you look there’s women’s stuff. Websites, blogs, zines and e-groups. The explosion of social networking, and not just the ability but the expectation that you indulge, is a symbolic victory for the X chromosome. But how feminist is it, actually?

Interpretation of proper feminism as abandoning anything which could be coded “girly”? Obsession with avoiding Girl Cooties? Check.

But it’s more than that. The sub-heads of the Parlour blog, for example, go unconscious bias, leadership, mentoring, pay equity, career paths, work/life, and so on.) It’s run by writers and academics but none of it – not a word – deals with architecture the stuff, the content, the juice.
It makes me want to scream. Stop self-obsessing, girls. Leave the sewing circle. You want respect as architects, get on and bloody do it. Build something brilliant, funny, sweet, enchanting, weird, crazy – I don’t care. Do it, and they’ll come.

Women concerned with building professional networks as “self-obsessed”? Check. “Sewing Circle” (Girl cooties, eww!) used as insult? Check. (Have the Melbourne Club, the MCC and other male social networking organisations anything to do with the actual work their members do? What might be the role of a magazine like the one she’s bagging?) Use of “Girls” to denote adult women? Check.

I have a lot of time for Zaha Hadid for this reason alone. I recall her as a young thing in London, sweeping all before her with her retinue of black-clad gay boys like the Persian princess she was. She didn’t bother whingeing about work-life balance. Balance be damned. She just did it.

Yes, “gay boys” are so useful as a social/interior decoration prop, aren’t they? We wouldn’t want to only patronise women, after all.

I believe Greer is right (she too is labelled misogynist, as is Paglia, so I’m in good company). There is a level at which men hate women, for a very simple reason. They’re jealous. Women are core, men are luxuries.

After such a litany of “Girl cooties, eww! Be more like men!”, suddenly Farrelly is concerned to show she’s really on the womens’ team. Somehow, it rings less than true. And Camille Paglia “good company”? I guess if you believe environmental chemicals and female teachers are wrecking society with their “oestrogen-heaviness”, Camille Paglia suddenly seems quite rational.

But this very core-ness can turn us into ruminants, and saying so is not misogynistic. Quite the contrary. It’s recognising that it’s bigger than us. The world needs heroic females more than ever; it needs us out there, muscular, mindful, purposeful and strong. That’s funny.

Women compared to “ruminants”, i.e., cows? Check!

Well, Farrelly’s protestations have failed to convince me that misogyny has no place in her world view. We’re being asked to accept that someonewho looks like a duck, quacks like a duck and walks like a duck may not be one. A goose, perhaps.

(TW for racist dogwhistling and insulting and offensive language)

Here’s a wonderful cartoon from Crikey’s First Dog on the Moon describing Andrew Bolt’s shock (SHOCK!) that his readers, told to go and “review” Anita Heiss’s new book on Amazon, indulged in angry trolling and race-baiting in his defence (as they saw it).

…Obviously I am not suggesting my brave readers unleash an anonymous torrent of racist abuse and cruel one star reviews on Anita’s Amazon page, that would be all incitey and I’m not that sort of person.
…What?…No… Who are these MONSTERS? Is it I who have inadvertently released this dusky genie from its bottle? Surely not. I was simply mourning free speech in my little way…

Jeremy Sear at Pure Poison drives the point home: Andrew Bolt does not support “Amazon Bombing” critics’ books, and he wishes they would stop following the link he gave them!

Of course, no one except his loyal followers believed him for a minute. Bolt then switched to denying that the comments on Heiss’s Amazon page were racist in tone, at all:

(N)ot one comment I saw then was “openly racist”.

And, in response to a couple of AGE articles,

But how curious. You know my reputation for calling things by their blunt names. If I were a racist, wouldn’t I just say so?

Yes, because that’s totally how it works, isn’t it?

Hmm. I took some screencaps on Friday, and it’s technically true that no one gets up and yells “Hey, I’m a complete friggin’ racist!” As the First Dog would know, some dog whistles are so well known in Australia even a human can recognise them.

Racist limerick on Anita Heiss's Amazon page

Some people who claim to be blacks
Gorge on the teat of our tax.
Though lacking in melanin,
Don’t ever try tellin’ em;
You’ll be sued for stating the facts.

See? Completely not racist. Unless you’ve lived through the Hanson era of the internet (shudder), in which case the dogwhistling is loud and clear. I’ll give them doggy identities to distinguish them:

14 Mar 2012, Comments (5)

Doonesbury: Signal boost

Author: Helen

Doonesbury’s cartoons about the new Texas HB-15 legislation, requiring women to have an intravaginal ultrasound before they are allowed to have an abortion are up in their entirety at Gawker.
Update 15/3: Well, that didn’t take long. They’ve been pulled. Trudeau publishes the strips on his own site, but not in their entirety at the moment – the story’s still unfolding. As this is a dynamic page, if the strip has moved on, look for March 12 2012 and go from there.

Part of the Doonesbury "Shaming room" strip. Doctor reads from a sheet: "On behalf of Governor Rick Perry, we welcome you to your compulsory transvaginal exam."

US newspapers are avoiding publication of these strips, so I thought I’d pass them on.

The aforementioned mainstream media were all pearl-clutching about the reference to these compulsory sonograms as rape (using scare quotes, as in, “rape”.) Garry Trudeau, on the other hand, is under no illusions.

Texas’s HB-15 [bill] isn’t hard to explain: The bill says that in order for a woman to obtain a perfectly legal medical procedure, she is first compelled by law to endure a vaginal probe with a hard, plastic 10-inch wand. The World Health Organization defines rape as “physically forced or otherwise coerced penetration — even if slight — of the vulva or anus, using a penis, other body parts or an object.” You tell me the difference.

Good on him.

The other day I stopped to let a woman do an U-turn in front of me, taking the opportunity to drool at her car. A lovely, lovely FC holden, built around 1958-1960, two-tone paint and chrome immaculate. The driver flashed a smile at me: she had hair and makeup to go with the car, the full Betty Page Lindy Hop lipstick and black bangs. I do love retro and the people with the time, patience and money to do it well.

I just think the retro thing shouldn’t extend to our social mores.

I’ve meant to write about the awful journalistic habit of identifying women by the former contents of their uterus whenever they’re in the news: e.g. Mum, Mother of Three, Mother. They don’t even have to go as far as Kevin Rudd with “childless” (and we all remember Bill Heffernan’s “Deliberately Barren”) in order to give the impression that we’re just worth more when we’ve fulfilled our biological destiny given birth. usually, of course, the woman being a mother or not is irrelevant to the news item, except as a kind of muttered subtext. Fatal car accident – Orphaned children. Attainment of high office, prestigious award, etc – neglected children.

Both the Hun and the AGE ramped it up a notch yesterday with “married mother”. Married mother??

Screenshot of link on the AGE Web page - Three boys jailed for their roles in raping a young married mother...

(The HUN treatment of the whole thing is a complete dogs’ breakfast of intersectional fail, as Bolta pounces, gleefully, on the attackers’skin colour, because as we all know, white people never rape.)

Obviously, the articles imply, we would not give a toss about her having been raped if she was one of those slutty, slutty unmarried mothers.

I was happy to see that someone else noticed, too, and got a letter printed in the AGE about it.

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 leadership his 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?

13 Feb 2012, Comments (14)

Agony Arndt At it Again

Author: Helen

Weapons, baby!

“Who let Bettina Arndt out again?” complained someone on Twitter. Yes, someone at Fairfax editorial has enabled this abuser of women, again, to peddle her hatred of “liberated women” in the opinion section.

And just as an aside, haven’t the merry punsters of the subediting profession had a field day with this one. It’s largely (snerk! snerk!) about breasts, you see. So the AGE had “Booby Trap” for the title of Arnd’s outpourings, the SMH had “Busted”: the politics of cleavage”, WA Today had “Tit for Tat”… Hilarious and so original!

Arndt pretty much takes Sheikh Hilaly’s Uncovered Meat and reheats it with a serve of pseudoscience sauce. The issue: women wearing clothing that shows skin, particularly where breast cleavage is involved.

“Increasingly, women feel they are entitled to dress however they like,” she begins. The cheek! It’s time they were slapped down, and Arndt is the woman to do the slapping.

Women “dress provocatively but bristle if the wrong man shows he enjoys the display.” They have their “goodies on display”. (Commodification 101, yes?). They’re “half naked and pandering to the male gaze”, and “proudly proclaiming their right to dress as they wish” (Again! this must be stopped!). They “dress sluttishly just to make themselves feel good”, but they are just “flaunting women’s sexual power” and “making “an “UP YOURS” gesture of the most provocative kind”. They’re “advertising (their) wares to the world” (there’s that commodification problem again, Bettina.) Their way of dressing is “sexual arrogance”, like “like schoolchildren who bring something tasty to class that they are not prepared to share”, but at the same time “an act of aggression in which they use the power of their sex as a weapon”, subjecting men to “constant just-out-of-reach titillation”. Yet they have the temerity to “hate men’s ogling” and “protest (their) caveman shenanigans”.

But what about the men, because you know in the Arndt world of today it’s always What About the Men!

Men are “biologically programmed to scan for life-giving breasts for (their) future offspring” (she’s keen on tabloid-level EvPsych Mars-Venus factoids). But they’re in a “total state of confusion”, due to the womens’ terrible weaponized bazonkas. The “Alpha males” are fine, but For the “Beta Males”, “the whole thing is a tease. They know it and resent it,” They’re “angry”, and most likely to “behave badly”. Serve those teasing women right for making people angry with their agressive breasts, right? Then the “sensitive males” are “wary, not knowing where to look. Afraid of causing offence.” (I don’t know where they stand in Bettina’s alphabet soup. Perhaps being “sensitive” makes you too unmanly to even rate a letter.) They describe cleavage as “a form of biological sexual harassment” and an “assault against men”. Behaviour such as catcalling is only “a defence mechanism used by low-status men against women flaunting themselves publicly”. They find “the constant just-out-of-reach titillation men now face confusing, irritating and even insulting.” Another dude thinks that low-cut garments in the workplace are a deliberate ploy to throw their concentration.

And we know this is all true, because she quotes at least three reliable witnesses, including…Peter Griffin, The Dad in Family Guy.

Oh give us a break.

And if you detect a whiff of threat and rape apology in the above, you’re not alone, although Arndt tries to evade it with the classicly formed “Of course, there’s never an excuse for sexual violence…But…”

I must inhabit a different universe, because in my world, women often wear singlet tops and the like purely for reasons of comfort. And every warm day, we encounter topless males, from loungers at the beach or sporting facilities to builders’ labourers. Out walking the dog in my aggressively harassing tank top and sports bra, I’ll see old guys watering the lawn in their shorts and thongs and nothing else. I envy their freedom to experience the soft breeze on their skin. The closest we get to it is a singlet top, but apparently that’s too weapony. Heaven forbid we ever do something that’s just for us.

And where the motivation is pride in your physique, well, I haven’t notice the more toned topless males and buffed singlet-wearers hold back with their flaunting. Maybe we should make them cover up, too? Ha, ha, joking – women don’t have the uncontrollable, animal libido that makes being visibly female such a risk!

It’s surprising and sad, as a fifty-plus woman, to think back to the 1970s where Arndt was a self-described “sexologist”, which sounded slightly ridiculous then, and still does, and writing alongside libertarians like Greer and Humprhries in Forum magazine, encouraging women and men alike to embrace their sexuality and throw off the old shackles. Now she reads more like a member of Family First. It’s hard to see any merit in this article, but of course, we know what it is: linkbait. And I’ve fallen for it.

More fool me. But there’s more I want to say about this steaming pile, er, article, so there will be a part two of this post.

More from The Sarah Monologues, Jane Caro and others.