Gender wars: the "misogyny" debate
TODAY is International Women’s Day. It was supposed to be tomorrow but the organisers changed their minds. Oh well, I suppose that’s their prerogative.
I’m going to be on shaky ground for the next 700 words, so may I start by saying that I think women are wonderful. Totally and utterly wonderful. And that wonderment is everywhere. Universal. Like a halo above their heads. Which is just as well because if they had to direct us to its precise location we’d never bloody find it.
Women would say that’s because we men can’t see things that are right in front of our eyes. While we men would suggest it’s because women have no sense of direction, unless they’re heading for the shops, in which case they have no trouble finding the most direct route, with perhaps a detour via the bank.
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Some people are so obsessed with finding sexism they’re like excited children pointing at everything on four wheels and shouting FIRE TRUCK!
Sexists are the new reds under the bed as 2013 shapes up as the (election) Year of the Gender Wars.
There is plenty of sexism in the world. Everyday, condescending sexism. Harmless old-man-calling-you-dearie sexism. Endemic workplace sexism. Horrific, violent, sexism that leads to rape and murder.
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Well, there goes the moral high ground. By calling Deputy Opposition Leader Julie Bishop a “bimbo” on Twitter today, Labor MP Steve Gibbons has turned the sexism debate into yet another hypocritical Labor backflip.
What a buffoon. Actually, in the spirit of gratuitous name-calling, let’s call Gibbons a baboon. He showed about as much brains as one, and the insult fits with his surname. Also, his arse is now a big red target.
Back in early October, I was proud to wave the flag for the now famous Gillard speech, as it was an impassioned and seemingly unrehearsed vent for her anger at Tony Abbott’s deliberate and cynical recycling of the vile phrase “died of shame”.
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What is it about sandstone that brings out the worst in 19-year-old future bankers, lawyers and captains of industry? Is it the architecture? Perhaps gothic gables bring out gothic tendencies.
With the exception of a slightly awkward-looking Tony Abbott (you can take the boy out of John’s…), the reaction to the latest revelations about the piglets inhabiting St John’s College at the University of Sydney, has been total condemnation. The rest of us understand, without having to have it explained to us, that what’s been going on there is bad.
But no one has been able to pin down the root cause of this particularly ugly brand of born-to-rule misogyny. Sure, the college administration has been woefully inadequate in dealing with the escalating PR disaster, and it seems equally unable, or unwilling, to rein in the young men who appear to have staged a coup.
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Anyone who was hoping that the redefinition of “misogyny” would bring the temperature down after the political firestorm of the last few weeks would could possibly be sticking their fingers in their ears this morning and singing la, la, la.
You shout at one RAAF flight attendant…
In seriousness the cry of “sexism” is everywhere at the moment. And like its bigger sister misogyny, sexism is in danger of being redefined too.
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As editor of the Macquarie Dictionary, I picture myself as the woman with the mop and broom and bucket cleaning the language off the floor after the party is over. And in this case it was quite a party.
But what it left on the floor was misogyny – with a new meaning. The established meaning of misogyny is ‘hatred of women” but this is a rarefied term that goes back to the 1600s in English that acquired the status of a psychological term in the late 1800s when its counterpart misandry was coined. Both terms refer to pathological hatreds.
Since the 1980s misogyny has come to be used as a synonym for sexism – a synonym with bite but nevertheless with the meaning of ‘entrenched prejudice against women’ rather than ‘pathological hatred of women’.
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It’s rare for a Senator to visit the House of Representatives chamber. During my time in Parliament, I occupied the green benches for Joint sitting sessions (the visits of President Bill Clinton and the UK Prime Minister Tony Blair).
And I sat in the Senators’ visitors chairs to watch the historic stem cell vote in 2006. Since leaving politics, I have observed two key - and unexpected - speeches in that place. I’ve written about Craig Thomson’s mea culpa speech previously and, last week, I watched Prime Minister’s Gillard’s “herstoric” speech on sexism.
Much has been written about the difference between the Press Gallery’s take on that speech and the views of those who witnessed it. I was also struck by the dichotomy. Members in the Visitors’ Gallery watched in awe as Ms Gillard’s seemingly extempore speech unfolded.
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Within the past 24 hours Prime Minister Julia Gillard has been meeting with some of the world’s most recognised misogynists, yet she is thousands of kilometres away from Federal Parliament and Tony Abbott is not in sight.
In a glaring example of hypocrisy, days after playing the political gender-card and lambasting the Federal Opposition Leader in an attack on his so-called ‘attitude towards women’, Prime Minister Gillard has met with people that jail rape victims and uphold laws to oppress women’s rights, without publicly raising the subject at all.
She was in Afghanistan, a nation where Australian leaders have a legitimate right to interfere, because Australians are dying to help them and our taxpayer-provided dollars are funding them. While Australian politicians from both political sides promote our involvement in Afghanistan as bringing freedom to their people, their own government creates a culture of slavery and oppression towards women and we say and do nothing.
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The sex wars which erupted in federal parliament last week are only the tip of the iceberg of a deep vein of discontent in society about the difficulties facing both women and men as they juggle work and family.
In an extraordinary 15 minute speech last Tuesday, Australia’s first female Prime Minister gave voice to the silent rage of generations of Australian women.
The rage of grandmothers who wonder, if not for society’s undervaluing of their abilities, if could they have been chief financial officer of a major company instead of running the books of the family business.
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The most appalling act of misogyny took place this week.
It wasn’t in Australia. It most definitely wasn’t against Prime Minister Julia Gillard at Parliament House in Canberra.
No, it was in Pakistan, where a Taliban militant walked onto a school bus and shot 14-year-old Malala Yousafzai in the head because of her outspoken support for the education of girls. With this young girl’s fight for life as a backdrop, I’ve watched the putrid goings on in Canberra this week and felt truly disgusted.
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On Wednesday night, the Prime Minister’s communications director, John McTernan, was with a group of Labor staffers in a Canberra bar.
Realising who they were from their conversation, the 19-year-old barmaid commented that “Julia Gillard’s done well in Parliament this week.”
“Were you watching Question Time?” McTernan asked. “No”, the young woman said. “I’ve been reading jezebel.com.”
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I spent far too much time yesterday reading through the infamous text messages, wading through the sordid and the slimy, the mundane and the strawberry chutney.
It was not particularly enlightening; by now you’ve read the worst of its briny excesses, although it does provide a sort of insight into the personalities involved.
There are childish abbreviations, LOLs, an infestation of exclamation marks, and of course the famous seafood chitter chatter.
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One of the best books I’ve ever read in my life is He’s Just Not That Into You. It was liberating to finally work out that because I liked a guy, it wasn’t automatic that he was going to like me.
Once this philosophy sunk in, I was able to work out which ones liked me and which ones were a waste of time. Not long afterwards, I met my husband and the rest is probably in other columns.
The person who adapts this book for the workplace or for politics will make a fortune. You don’t have to like every single one of your colleagues, suppliers and or the people to whom you supply, you merely have to do business with them.
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As the controversial episode of At Home with Julia aired last night, it became more and more clear that if the Prime Ministership of Julia Gillard is recalled for anything besides perceived incompetence, it should be for her role as a lightning rod for Australia’s unashamed public misogyny.
Hear the shrieks. “What do you mean, ‘misogyny’? We’ve got a woman prime minister,’’ screams the defence, quietly adding, “not that she’s any bloody good.”
Fair comment. What isn’t fair comment, even in the dirt of politics, is public ranting against the witch, the bitch, and Juliar. And then there is ABCTV’s screen insult to both comedy and an intelligent woman who leads the country.
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