Sunday, October 14, 2012

Sexism, Misogyny and the Gillard Woman

We all know the speech. 15 minutes of lucid, clear and well-argued excoriation of a Leader of the Opposition who has been deliberately trying to undermine Prime Minister Julia Gillard's confidence and emotional self-control in the Australian Parliament's House of Representatives. Women around the world have listened to and watched the inspiring YouTube video of the speech. It is all the more powerful in that there are clearly strong emotions under tight control in Julia Gillard's landmark performance.

And there has been the inevitable backlash, a global backlash from conservative and mysogynist pundits, columnists and unlicensed public loud-mouths, male and female, decrying and seeking to minimize the importance of this landmark political event. For it is a landmark event. The 21st century's first major public statement that women have arrived in politics (again) and the ways of the past won't wash. Feminism is back, and it has teeth. 

Most of the anti-Gillard backlash has been focussed on two elements. The first is the hoary old chestnut that by playing the gender card, by crying foul when foul behaviour is evident is weakness. It's the feminine inability to stand up to rough politics and take it like a man. It's evidence that, by nature, women can't take it. That they really are weak, emotional and unfit for high office. That their opinions and actions do not matter. Abbott's Opposition has already labelled criticism of his sexist attitudes by female Government Ministers as the attacks of a "handbag hit-squad" in an attempt to trivialize and belittle their comments.

The second element is that 'playing the gender card' is a diversion from the real business of politics, that it's a sign of 'political' weakness, a sign that the issue of entrenched misogyny and sexist behaviour isn't a mainstream issue, it's trivial and irrelevant. Nothing could be further than the truth.

There is a direct and inextricable link between the politics of right-wing authoritarianism and male-dominated politics and political practice. Misogyny, an underlying contempt for women, is no different, in process and practice, than an underlying contempt for any group outside of traditional patriarchal politics. Gays and lesbians, immigrants, the unemployed, the elderly, any of Mitt Romney's 47% fit the paradigm. Which is where this all started in the first place.

When right wing shock-jock Allan Jones claimed that Julia Gillard's father had "died of shame" because of her "lies" he did more than cause offense. He handed Tony Abbott a nasty little meme to add to his already extensive bag of snide and vicious asides he has been whispering across the despatch box in an ongoing campaign to undermine Julia Gillard's confidence and self-control. The nation was rightly appalled at the original spiteful comment from Jones. That Abbot would pick up the cudgel and use several times to suggest the Government should "die of shame" was a low act by any standards. 

More importantly it was a behaviour that betrayed an underlying attitude.  A crude, sexist behaviour that would never have been tried with a male Prime Minister. It betrayed an underlying contempt for Julia Gillard as a woman, as any woman, who could be emotionally attacked and bullied. Not any politician who stands between him and the office of Prime Minister. Contempt for a woman because she is a woman.

Just by the way, how's that working out for you, Tony?

When Julia Gillard called out Abbott on this she was not playing the gender card, she was calling a spade a spade. When she denounced Abbott's vile, emotionally based tactics she made it clear that Abbott's sexist behaviour is evidence for his underlying attitude of contempt and mysogyny. It could not be more clear. 

No-one who saw the speech or who replays it on YouTube can deny it's accuracy and power and it's direct assault on misogyny as contempt. This wasn't a woman whining or complaining that he was "being mean" or "hurtful". It wasn't a woman complaining that it wasn't fair. This was a strong, determined and powerful woman making it perfectly clear that his comments were offensive, would not slow her down, and were utterly contemptible.

Jones and Abbott have done us a positive service. This what misogyny looks like. This is what misogyny sounds like. This is what we will not stand for, or put up with without calling out those who think they can bully women for the sexist, misogynistic scumbags that they are.

Tony Abbott may well love the women in his life, may well think of them with genuine respect, admiration and affection. That doesn't mean he isn't a misogynist scumbag in his dealings with the world, and particularly in his very public role in politics and in parliament. He had his first lesson this week that his behaviour betrays his attitudes and that he needs to change his ways, man up, and grow a pair.

No comments: