Categories: Politics

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

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.

17 Sep 2012, Comments (8)

The Recent Unpleasantness

Author: Helen

…Not the zombie Apocalypse the Herald Sun and sundry dickheads are making out.

The smugness and gloating on facebook and other media has been truly cringeworthy. Again the implied narrative was: How terrible “they” are, and how wonderful “we” are. “They” don’t deserve to live in our society!

A spoofed image of the kid with the "beheading" sign at the Sydney Muslim protest - instead of the original message he has a sign saying "If anyone has any Cookies i would like some please"

Little boy at the protest with a sign more suited to his age and inclinations



Unfortunately, a little boy was placed front and centre in the hate-fest. (This picture is spoofed, of course, but the original is all over the internet now.) To paraphrase the stupid movie which sparked this thing – and to throw its hateful words back at it – he is innocent. There is no way he understands death and consequences at this age. His mum and dad, of course, are the complete nangers in this scenario.

Accounts of the demonstration by “reasonable people”, though, as exemplified by Waleed Aly in the Fairfax opinion pages, place this ratbag minority at front and centre, as if that wasn’t done daily by the tabloids and by popular social mythology. At the very end of his piece, he mentions – in passing – that not one, but several Muslim associations in Australia condemned the action. No matter. Aly’s piece sticks to the tabloid picture of Muslims: Miserable, disengaged, violent.

Aly says:

This is the behaviour of a drunkenly humiliated people: swinging wildly with the hope of landing a blow, any blow, somewhere, anywhere. There’s nothing strategic or calculated about this. It doesn’t matter that they are the film’s most effective publicists. It doesn’t matter that they protest using offensive slogans and signs, while protesting against people’s right to offend. It doesn’t matter that they object to insulting people on the basis of their religion, while declaring that Christians have no morals. This is baffling only until you realise these protesters are not truly protesting to make a point. The protest is the point.

It feels good. It feels powerful. This is why people yell pointlessly or punch walls when frustrated. It’s not instrumental. It doesn’t achieve anything directly. But it is catharsis. Outrage and aggression is an intoxicating prospect for the powerless.

And more in that vein. But isn’t it easy to counsel positivity and self-empowerment and not being outraged when you have a drivetime radio program and lecture at university? What about the responsibility of the trolls not to troll?

And what about the fact that the Western invason of Iraq and Afghanistan have killed hundreds of thousands – there were probably few people at the protest who hadn’t lost relatives. Many are displaced against their will. And they find themselves in a society where a sizeable section of the population continually abuses, others and baits them. This blog doesn’t condone the violence when it erupts but hell, I think I can dimly understand the sadness and anger.

And the usual suspects are moving in, gleefully, to capitalise on these events.

There are a hell of a lot of things people are forgetting here.

The Cronulla riots were largely absent from the discussion: the call to arms by white thugs and ne’er-do-wells in the name, not of religion, but their equivalent – a distorted version of nationalism – and the shock jock (the equivalent of the methhead movie maker) who incited them to attack. Also absent from the collective memory were the deranged killers thrown up by Western society.

There was no mention of the notorious WEF demonstrations where young, white demonstrators were similarly demonised for a very similar “riot”, which was, naturally, over-egged to the hilt by the popular press and right-wing commentators. Any mass demonstration where pushing and shoving take place will, in Australia, result in such demonisation, but despite the blanket condemnation of WEF protesters, this was not taken as a sign of the irrationality or inferiority of Australians generally. And despite the hyperventilation in the press, society didn’t collapse.

The condemnation of the Sydney demonstration by the Islamic Council of Victoria, Muslim Women’s Association, the Islamic Council of NSW and Australian Muslim Women’s Centre for Human Rights, and the setting up of a Facebook page and twitter hashtag – Muslims Against Violent Sydney Protests and #MAVSP. These have been reported, but they aren’t getting the attention they deserve, I think, among all the shouting about the impending imposition of sharia law. They should get more than a passing mention. After all, the Bolts and Blairs and other opinionistas set such store by people “refusing to condemn”. These people, and numerous internet commenters and tweeters, have not refused to condemn, but the fundamentalist woman with her sadly exploited little boy remain the go-to image for the demonstration.

One of the contents of the invisible backpack of White privilege is the ability to fuck up without people projecting your actions onto your entire group (See Breivik, Anders or Bryant, Martin.)

Above all, with “trolling” such a hot topic in the media last week, there seems to be very little recognition of one of the protagonists as a classic troll. I refer, of course, to the person who, under false pretences, shot and disseminated the film which caused all the trouble. Like Alan Jones’ Cronulla quote, it was a deliberate attempt to provoke.

Before you fire up the knee-jerk “freedom of speech” and “looking to be offended” response, have a read of this. Freedom and responsibility: they go together.

On Twitter, I compared this situation to yelling “FIRE!” in a crowded movie theater – something that actually is illegal in the US. A user I follow responded to me, “This isn’t just yelling fire, it’s loading the theatre with kindling & putting gas in the sprinkler line & toying with a Zippo.”

We can’t be responsible for how every individual reacts to our opinions or expressions. But some misconstrual or mild disagreement was not what happened here; what happened here was that a former meth-dealer, a militant racist, and an extremist from a different religion got together and created a hateful portrayal of another religion to debase 23% of the world’s population. Any claims that these people didn’t know exactly what they were doing and what the end result would be are patently false. The filmmaker who was ejected from Egypt after calling for the US to attack the country specifically promoted his film in Muslim countries. He dubbed it in Arabic and sent it to Egyptian television statements in the days before September 11th – a date which is always charged with tension for Muslims inside and outside the US.

(H/T Guerillamamamedicine).

What else was forgotten? Why, this. I think the methhead filmmaker, a Copt, forgot it too.

We can enjoy our superiority and have fun throwing things at an Aunt Sally other, but we shouldn’t be shocked and horrified if we help to bring into being the very thing we’re supposed to be so afraid of. I just hope that little boy has a good school counsellor, and some good friends who won’t give him a hard time as he grows old enough to know what has happened to him.

28 Jul 2012, Comments (3)

Grans Lock On

Author: Helen
Two 60+ year old women sitting under a huge piece of machinery, locked on to defend logging coupes near Toolangi. Photo from RegnansTree FB group

Photo from Regnans Tree Facebook group

VicForests has been clearfelling coupes near Toolangi (Mt St Leonard) in the Central Highlands of Victoria. This cool temperate rainforest is part of the tiny remnant which remains to us in this, the most cleared State in Australia. It’s the habitat of the increasingly rare Leadbeater’s Possum, our State emblem – evidently the Victorian Government would like to join Tasmania in having an extinct species as a faunal emblem.

These forests survived the 2009 Black Saturday fires. The residents of Toolangi and Castella fear for what will happen when they are surrounded by spindly young commercial regrowth instead of wet forest.

A group of grandmothers has locked onto machinery in truly terrible winter weather. Their spirit and determination absolutely blows me away.

Toolangi resident Bernie Mace says the works are destroying the environment and it will take specialised equipment to remove the women.
“Well they’ve used some pretty elaborate apparatus which is going to require police search and rescue to remove them from this equipment,” he said.
“Well the desperation is just palpable, no matter what we do the trees just keep coming down.
“It’s a very serious matter as far as the community is concerned.”
VicForest us urging the protesters to undertake “more constructive dialogue.”

“Constructive dialogue”? Like when My Environment took them to court and won, so now they’re seeking to move the goalposts (i.e. water down the Flora and Fauna Guarantee act) to prevent that happening? Like when they obfuscate and mangle the language to try to convince others that what they’re doing is “sustainable” and “harvesting” and not at all damaging to the environment we’re all supposed to protect for future generations? Right.

Googling the womens’ courageous action today, the reponse from our mainstream media appears to be…crickets chirping. They did report this, which throws their bravery into even sharper relief.

You can make a donation to the campaign here, if you have any dollars to spare.
 
 
 
Crossposted at Hoyden About Town



We used to describe the Liberal party’s attitude as “born to rule”. Seems that attitude has seeped into the Labor party, both State and Federal. Labor is keen to portray the Greens as naive and starry eyed idealists, unfit for the pragmatism of real government. I’m sure the Labor party would have been similarly portrayed back in the day when it, too, had principles and some genuinely social democratic policies.

So, Daniel Andrews, your party won the seat of Melbourne (Jennifer Kanis, Labor, v. Cathy Oke, Greens) by a bee’s dick pretty much. Yet you’re described by the Hun as having “taunted the Greens for blowing their chance”, yada yada. Really.

I’d like to think that if I were the leader of a party which had scraped in on the back of the preferences of an ultra-right party like Family First, and my opponents had won the largest number of primary votes, I’d be pulling my head in and keeping a bit quiet about it instead of crowing and preening as if my mob had actually achieved something to be proud of. 51.4% to 48.6% two-party-preferred isn’t exactly a rout, you know.

Rather than carrying on like nerny-nerny-ner schoolboys I’d be going away to think up a few policies for the next State election, actual progressive ones that is, instead of just “overdevelopment, freeways, coal, woodchip, hooray!!”

That is certainly a wonderful speech – I think that’s the kind of thing people mean when they say “speaking truth to power” – and I certainly hope you found it. It’s not the “Melbourne Grammar speech”, but the “Scotch College speech”. Since it seems to be so much in demand, here’s a new link, republished by Maloney with an accompanying gloss. I’ve added it to the Resources page too. I’m glad it’s popular, since it’s more pertinent than ever.

There’s another link to this article and many others here, too.

Or for a more snerk-inducing take, here’s First Dog on the Moon.

If you’re interested in the fight for public education, please read the Gonski report and “like” this page.

Picture of a Mayan temple with words 2012 DOOMSDAY
There’s a hilarious discussion over on Facebook between my niece, former officeholder of the Australian Youth Climate Coalition, and her friends.

Niece: IT’S THE EVE OF THE CARBON APOCALYPSE EVERYONE FIND YOUR LOVED ONES AND HOLD THEM CLOSE

Friend 1: I’ve used my $160 from the gubbament to construct a rudimentary shelter from the carbon. That’s what it’s for, right?

friend 2: Am I to understand this Carbon Tax will tax me a vital organ per month?

I’ve already had the smarmy letter from our electricity purveyor:

The variation follows a review of Neighbourhood energy’s costs and mainly reflects the impact of the Australian Government’s Carbon Pricing mechanism and Neighbourhood energy’s increased operating expenses.

Of course the red mist is supposed to descend after “Carbon Pricing mechanism”, obscuring “increased operating expenses” AKA “Spending on infrastructure we got away with not providing when the SEC was carved up and privatised and which now is going tits up on a massive scale.

This is my prediction. Thousands upon thousands of businesses will take the opportunity to jack their prices up and blame the carbon tax. The increase will be out of all proportion to any real cost increase the carbon tax has caused. Then the Herald Sun and various other mouthpieces will come out to say “see, we told you so!”

5 Jun 2012, Comments (7)

Catastrophe!!!!

Author: Helen

More Liberal party hyperbole on ABC Radio this morning. Apparently, Four Corners has uncovered a medium sized criminal who the Federal police failed to catch, probably because they were too busy spying on ordinary people. Anyway, according to Scott Morrison, this is “catastrophic”.

Scott. This is a catastrophe.

This is a catastrophe.

This is not a catastrophe.
 
Infogram showing how tiny the percentage is of asylum seekers arriving by boat.
 
 
World Refugee Day Rally & March 2012
20 years too long! End Mandatory Detention
Sunday 17 June, 12 noon
Gather State Parliament House, Spring Street, Melbourne CBD

Australian Olympic Committee president John Coates was disappointed but philosophical when informed that PM Gillard will not be able to attend the Olympics or the Prime Minister’s Olympic Dinner, due to a clash with the G20 Summit and Rio+20 United nations Conference on Sustainable Development.

“Of course I’m disappointed, but it’s a matter of priorities. The Olympics are a big deal, yes, but not as big a deal as multilateral talks concerning our economic prosperity and sustainable development, nor are they really the business of government. You might say that it’s crucial that the Prime Minister make Australia’s voice heard at international meetings like G20 and Brazil.

“Snub”? No, that’s just silly. Of course she would have wanted to go, but again, isn’t sustainable economic development, rather than a sporting event, a more appropriate focus for the PM?

I think it’s vital that we show the world that we do understand these priorities and that we’re not simply sports-mad musclebound meatheads who only open the newspaper at the sports section and don’t give a toss about our participation on the international stage except where lycra, liniment and ligaments are involved.”

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.