Tuesday, June 25, 2013


If there has been one single moment when Prime Minister Gillard blasted through the twin filters of her own spin team and partisan media interests, it was that afternoon when she stood her ground and stated in a tone as unforgiving as forged steel that she would not be lectured to by that man. The famous “Misogyny Speech” made international news, was viewed over 2 million times on You Tube and saw Prime Minister Gillard’s name amongst the finalists for the coveted position as Time Person of the Year.

Contrast that moment with today’s headline news. The Women’s Weekly, that final frontier of The Way We Were, reveals that Julia Gillard is knitting a baby kangaroo toy as a gift for Prince William and Princess Catherine’s baby. Awwww. Isn’t it sweet? Awwww. And so appropriately feminine. Would you like a cup of tea and a piece of home-made cream sponge while you knit, Ma’am?

It’s a solid gold, gift-wrapped, fur-lined ocean-going festival of punny witticisms for our glorious media. Headlines ranged from the Sydney Morning Herald’s “PM tried to knit herself out of the poll doldrums” to the Australian’s “Some yarn: Julia Gillard knits a royal roo”. Thank Dog Sue Lapperman still has her glorious sense of the absurd!

Former journalist and news presenter John Mangos was terribly serious:

“Julia knitting. Really? I am a strategic media consultant these days. And there is no way I would have approved of that.” 
He continued

 “I have nothing against knitting. Some of my best friends knit. I would rather my (Republican) Prime Minister try to run the country instead.”
Ignoring the condescendingly dull “some of my best friends are...” defence, John Mangos is not alone. Mumbrella is reporting that senior PR consultants have questioned the strategy behind the decision to feature this story in a women’s magazine. Out came the PR clich├ęs, including “trying to appeal to women voters” as a possible motive for what they see as an ill-advised decision. PR bigwigs are asking what the PM’s PR team was hoping to gain with such a soft issue.

That question suggests to me that those PR boffins are as lacking in creativity and perspective as those employed in the Prime Minister’s Office, not to mention the gormless media they serve. Priming the Prime Minister to appeal to women voters specifically is so terribly 2010, darling, and I’d be embarrassed to run a campaign like that, particularly in this political environment where favouring one gender over another is considered bad form. I just don't think the strategy behind Knittinggate is that serious.

In all likelihood, come September 15, Julia Gillard will not be the Prime Minister and Tony Abbott will be. A bit of knitting isn’t going to change that, for better or worse. There is nothing that the PM can do in a simple magazine shoot that would change the electoral certainty, so let’s get real.

The cat’s out of the bag, guys. The Prime Minister is a woman, and she knits.

My problem isn’t with the placement of the feature, but with the stylists, who should be strangled with their own made-in-Bangladesh designer-patterned tights. It’s the kind of photo you’d expect to see if you gave your grannie a discount voucher for a Glamour Makeover and Photography session. It’s safe and entirely unremarkable. Why not an action shot of the PM as Wonder Woman jabbing her knitting needles into the temple of a Tony Abbott Doll? Seriously, this photo concept rivals raw porridge for sheer visual excitement.

Let’s flip this around. Let’s assume that Julia is Julian, male, childless and living at The Lodge with his partner Tina, a hairdresser. Julian has a suitably blokey hobby: he does a bit of woodwork now and then to relax. There’s an election in less than three months time, and the polls say that Julian is unelectable. Julian’s media advisor suggests a photo of the PM whittling a kangaroo for the royal baby. The shoot is cute, and it goes to print in GQ.

What’s the reaction to the photos of the PM, appropriately decked out for a Canberra winter, in a handknitted jumper and jeans, sitting in his workshop out the back of the Lodge, whittling?

Certainly not the national outbreak of knit-mocking that seems to have overtaken the country, or at least my twitter feed. It’s knitting. It’s a hobby. Barack Obama loves a quick game of basketball. The Queen breeds corgis. Tony Abbott likes sports that require lycra, and posing for photographs while wearing the lyrca. Similarly, John Howard was a track suit model. Condaleeza Rice plays piano, Sarah Palin shoots moose, and according to Pravda – yes, Pravda - Yulia Tymoshenko, the former Prime Minister of Ukraine, has a passion for high-end fashion.

And the suggestion that the Prime Minister Gillard should stop with the handicrafts and get back to her job of “trying to run the country”? Is he really suggesting that a Prime Minister shouldn’t have a hobby, lest it detract from her job? Let’s not think too much about what Mr Mangos might be revealing about himself with that comment.

But feel the outrage! Australia is twisting itself in knots because a PM with a terminal popularity deficit knits a bit.

If it was Julian Gillard at his workbench, surrounded by the earthy aromas of sawdust and accompanied by his pet dog, would the reaction from the PR industry, the media and the public be as overwhelming?

One thing is certain. If Julia was Julian, conservative commentator and National Cleavage Censor Grace Collier would have less to say. In fact, I still don’t understand why Ms Collier thinks that women should dress like men in order to be “properly dressed”. It’s a fashion statement that harks back to the trouser suits of the 70s. Hilary Clinton might be impressed, but I doubt it.

And that’s both the problem and the solution. We know the Prime Minister is a woman and for about half the population, that should still be a reason to celebrate. What’s the problem with letting her be a woman, taking the cutesy photo for what it is, and getting on with the real news of the day – none of which involves the leadership of the ALP.

By the way, the late Baroness Thatcher had no hobbies. None at all.

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