Monday, June 17, 2013

Culture Shocking

Culture Shock

When I think about the last seven days, all roads lead to Australia’s first female Prime Minister, and the consistent tide of sexist invective she attracts. To some extent, this was inevitable; as the first female Prime Minister in an environment where the Opposition is becoming increasingly conservative, there was bound to be more than a few detractors.

Still, it’s difficult to believe that in 2013, there are still men and women who have difficulty accepting a woman leader. It’s not entirely an age-related phenomenon either: someone who is 70 years old now was born in 1943. They were teenagers during the birth of rock n roll, and young adults during the social upheaval of the 1960s. In fact, parents in their 70s and 80s now are the parents who raised their daughters in the 60s, 70s and 80s to be anything we wanted to be, right up to and including Prime Ministers.

I wonder if perhaps our mothers and grandmothers forgot to prepare their sons for that bold future where women are – let’s be honest here – not equal, but less unequal than a generation or two ago.

Women for Gillard

It was only last week that Prime Minister Gillard spoke at a Women for Gillard launch. Her speech was controversial, laden as it was with oblique references to Opposition Leader Tony Abbott’s difficulty in relating to women and his record on reproductive rights. The speech was not particularly well received, especially by some conservative women who feel that the Women for Gillard group was trying to lecture that only a woman leader can address women’s’ issues.

Michelle Obama, Hilary Clinton and Julia Gillard
That’s not the message that I took from the speech; I thought it was a fairly clumsy attempt to reintroduce Mr Abbott’s failure to address women’s issues effectively by exaggerating to the nth degree the probable consequences of an Abbott-led government. The men in blue ties will never succeed in banishing women from parliament, and wouldn’t even try...but it did serve to remind us all of Mr Abbott’s words from a 4 Corners episode in 2010:

“I think it would be folly to expect that women will ever dominate or even approach equal representation in a large number of areas simply because their aptitudes, abilities and interests are different for physiological reasons.”

There was a degree of backlash against the speech, but none as venomous or ill-considered Joe Hockey’s tweet:

“Gillard’s comments on abortion and the Coalition are desperate and offensive. She has never deserved respect and will never receive it.”

Yes, the speech did have that whiff of desperation, and I can see that the Opposition may have been offended by the contents of the speech. The second sentence in the tweet far surpassed any degree of offense in Ms Gillard’s speech though: it was personal.

After all of that, I’m still not entirely sure what Women for Gillard is. It seems to be a slogan related – possibly – to a Facebook page, but it doesn’t seem important or significant. In America, it’s perfectly normal to have female support groups for Presidential candidates – remember the Obama Mamas? – but then America hasn’t had a female Presidential candidate yet. In any case, my mother’s 90-something year-old neighbour Billie wants to join the Women for Gillard movement. Billie admires Prime Minister Gillard, and wants to support her. Somehow the message of “Women for Gillard” has been lost in the circus that followed.

A little ditty, tweeted by Grace Collier

As luck would have it, a certain menu was made public, and suddenly Ms Gillard’s rants about sexism and misogyny were more than just convenient for an unpopular female Prime Minister. They were fact. The Liberal Party approached high farce as firstly Mal Brough apologised for the menu, then the restaurateur sent a letter to Tony Abbott’s office, claiming the menu was a private joke. Next, May Brough was claiming that he was confused about the menu. Menugate was off and running, and despite many claims by conservative commentators and tweeters, there are still far too many unanswered questions and inconsistent “facts” to say that matter is closed.

Meanwhile, the business of governing moves on, and the business of selling the Gonski education reforms to the states waits for no-one. The Prime Minister ups her offer to Western Australia, and Howard Sattler opened his mouth and all but accused the Prime Minister of being a “beard” or “handbag” for her gay (obviously, because he’s a hairdresser) partner Tim.

All Hairdressers are Gay (and other stereotypes)

Social media, and media commentators went into meltdown for the third time in under a week as everyone twittered about whether or not Mr Sattler would have asked such impertinent questions about Janette Howard, or the late Hazel Hawke. Sattler was suspended and later sacked from his radio gig at 6PR, and was dumped from his job hosting a Liberal Party fundraiser later this month. Rumours are circulating that he may run for Liberal pre-selection for the seat of Perth and challenge for Stephen Smith’s seat.

That’s not the worst of the aftermath, though. Mr Sattler believes there is nothing offensive in what he said to the Prime Minister, he refused to accept a payout which included six months salary, and will be suing the station for wrongful dismissal. Points for conviction, Mr Sattler.

Howard Sattler & Piers Akerman

Piers Plunges In

By Saturday, it was looking as though Ms Gillard’s claims of sexist behaviour towards her had been proven, Mythbusters style. The conservative side of politics and commentary had been surprisingly though not entirely quiet…until the Sunday morning tv chat-fests. Controversy-magnet and conservative columnist with News Limited’s Daily Telegraph decided to defend Howard Sattler on national television by floating the idea that the Canberra Press Gallery has been whispering about Tim’s sexual preference since he moved into the Lodge with Ms Gillard.

I was particularly impressed by his determination that they couldn’t discuss The Issue (of Sattler’s termination) without discussing the possibility that Tim Matheson is homosexual. Actually, given that Tim’s sexuality was never the issue, yes you can. His bleating defence of his own folly appeared in the Online edition of News Limited titles some hours later. He should fiction to his resume; I'm sure he'd have a real talent for writing bodice-rippers.

There are petitions and campaigns to have the ABC commit to never having Piers Ackerman has a paid guest on Insiders (or presumably QandA) again.

They’re Called Boobs, Ed.

What works for Erin Brokovich is inappropriate for the Prime Minister, according to conservative Industrial Relations Consultant and occasional media commentator Grace Collier.

Erin Brokovich, her cleavage, and Julia Gillard
In an interview with Radio National yesterday, Ms Collier expressed her preference that the Prime Minister wears a blouse buttoned up closer to the neck with a jacket over the top. Observably, that’s Ms Collier’s preferred look, although the shirts tend to be of the Aloha variety, with wide lapels and colourful florals and patterns. It’s a good look for Hawaiian Shirt Friday, but for every day? No.

Honestly, I’d prefer Ms Collier wore a cross made out of duct tape across her mouth, but it wouldn't go with her brown jacket, so maybe not.

Ms Gillard and Ms Collier are going to keep on wearing whatever they like. It’s not as if Ms Gillard is wearing fishnets and a leather micro-mini…and as it turns out, the photo Ms Collier tweeted to prove her point was photo-shopped to make the Prime Ministerial top look lower cut than it is.

A quick stroll back through Ms Collier’s tweets and you’ll unearth all sorts of negative tweets about the Government, and yesterday was not the first time she expressed her opinions about Ms Gillard’s wardrobe choices. On May 29, she tweeted:

“In a first, the PM is seen sporting a propermSHIRT under her jacket. Is this the end for singlets and dumb chunky necklace under jacket look?”
Grace is no fan of the Prime Minister, as her Twitter feed confirms, but attacking any woman’s cleavage is stepping way over a line. Ironically, it’s the same line that Richards & Richards Restaurant stomped past with their ridiculous menu, and it’s an easy lesson: Don’t comment on any part of any woman’s body, ever.

Grace Collier, with accessories by the author
It’s Time

Despite the so-called trivial events of the past week that are distracting our media, our politicians and most of the rest of us, despite how unfair the whole thing has been for Ms Gillard, the waves of outrage are sparking conversations that we need to have. We need to determine what is acceptable. Do we really need to think about whether schoolboy smut is okay? Why do Kyle Sandilands and Alan Jones get away with their outrageous on-air performance but Howard Sattler gets the sack? Why do we accept media personalities who think it’s okay to chastise the Prime Minister for being late, or wish she was dumped out at sea in a chaff bag…or question her about her sex life?

The big question, of course, is whether a male Prime Minister would receive the same treatment. Would Tony Abbott react with white-knucked silence if the contents of his budgie smugglers was a punchline instead of the lycra togs? Does Joe Hockey expect to field questions about his sex life? How about Barnaby Joyce or Bob Katter? Do they get told by a part-time talking head they they’re showing too much flesh?

It’s important that we have these conversations about attitudes to women, if for no other reason than to remind us all to be aware of prejudice and stereotyping. The reaction this morning when a Melbourne radio personality suggesting boycotting the products of a victim of domestic violence unless she makes an example of herself is proof that these conversations do have an impact. Our national conversation about gender has far to go, but we’ve made a start.

Now, what other conversations do we need to have? Asylum Seekers and race issues is next on my list. What’s on your list?

No comments:

Post a Comment