Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Julia Gillard the Feminist Defence

I read this article in the Australian and thought it made a lot of sense. I'm publishing an edited version of this - I can't publish a full version as that would not be fair to the newspaper publishers.

Janet Albrechtsen

The perils of the Prime Minister's feminist fantasies

Eric Lobbecke
Illustration: Eric Lobbecke Source: The Australian
IN an interview with women's magazine Marie Claire on sale today, Julia Gillard says her dream job outside politics is global philanthropist. Like so much of what the Prime Minister says, it sounds damn good but what it really means is far from clear.

This disconnect between rhetoric and reality segues into a deeper problem facing modern politics. Sounding good is too often used as a cheap and easy substitute for the harder yards of doing good.

Indeed, if there were a Walter Mitty Award for fantastical dreaming in Canberra, the PM would win it hands down. Mitty, the ordinary man with no particular skill, lives a grand imaginary life in his mind. Sometimes he's a heroic wartime pilot. Then he's a lifesaving surgeon. When he dreams, he dreams big. Now you see the link with Canberra.

Routinely castigated for lacking a vision -- or a "narrative", as Labor strategists call it -- Gillard surely has developed a penchant for the vision thing. Promises on the never-never include a grand dental scheme, a vision for a National Disability Insurance Scheme and, most recently, a project to launch Australia into the 21st Asian Century. Gillard's visions lack any sign of real-time implementation, let alone real-time funding. It's as if Walter Mitty has come to Canberra.

Ironically, the emptiest of Gillard's carefully crafted visions is the one where a lack of funding is not the reason the vision falls apart. This is the one where Gillard plays Julia, the Feminist Warrior, slaying misogynists whenever they cross her path.

While this vision costs nothing in terms of taxpayer dollars, Gillard's accusations of sexism and misogyny against Tony Abbott may end up may end up costing society dearly if her misplaced sexist rhetoric takes hold.

Clearly, the PM doesn't see it that way. Alternatively, she doesn't care about the longer-term consequences of her behaviour. Chuffed at the reaction from social media, foreign feminists and left-wing newspapers to her attack on the Opposition Leader in parliament last month, Gillard deliberately has chosen to milk the misogyny card some more. And why wouldn't she?

With rising poll numbers, Gillard and her minders must imagine they are on to something with their gender wars.

The Marie Claire interview with Gillard and six of her senior female ministers was not initiated by the women's magazine. Instead, according to the magazine's publisher and editor, Jackie Frank, the Labor women (read: people on the PM's behalf) contacted Frank asking her if she "wanted to come to the Lodge and do an interview and photos before they all got together for a dinner".

The result? A manufactured opportunity for the PM to bask in the glory of what she refers to in the interview as the "round-the-world-and-back-again reception" to her attack on Abbott. Described by American feminist website Jezebel as "badass", Gillard admitted smiling wryly and said: "I'm certainly taking 'badass' as a compliment."

Just as Gillard's other big visions demand thoughtful analysis, not hurried reaction in a fast-moving news cycle, the vision of Julia, the Feminist Warrior, demands more careful consideration than it has received to date. This is especially so in light of Gillard regurgitating her gender wars in Marie Claire.

The PM's political strategy is clear. An eight-page spread in Marie Claire taps Gillard into a younger demographic -- the 445,000 monthly readers of the magazine are mostly women aged 25 to 39. In fact, much younger women are also being encouraged to join the Gillard gender wars. Well-meaning schoolteachers have started showing Gillard's tirade to their female high school students as evidence that misogyny still happens. Disappointingly, when the YouTube video was played at one school, there was no classroom discussion of the underlying hypocrisy of Gillard's continuing support for Peter Slipper, whose distasteful texts about female genitalia should have required his removal from the Speaker's chair by any fair-minded and consistent feminist. Nor was there any real analysis of the man Gillard accused of being a misogynist.

One would think serious accusations of sexism and misogyny required serious evidence. Instead, Gillard conducted a most superficial show trial during her parliamentary attack before finding Abbott guilty. If Gillard can get away with producing no real evidence, why would other women bother when making similar accusations? And it's little wonder that overworked high school teachers fell under the Gillard gender spell when so many supporters in the sisterhood accepted it without an ounce of intellectual curiosity. Journalism lecturer Julie Posetti called it a "landmark speech" that was "utterly historic". Web publisher Mia Freedman said it felt "like a feminist awakening in this country". Writing on her Mamamia website -- where the demographic is young women -- Freedman said: "That speech is the one every woman gives in the shower or at 2am in her own mind or in the car as she's mulling over whatever sexist behaviour she's had to endure."
If this kind of unthinking acceptance of Gillard's hypocritical and misleading use of sexism and misogyny continues, we will find ourselves headed down a truly problematic path. The most senior woman in the country has told young women that it is acceptable, even laudable, to make shallow and intellectually dishonest accusations of sexism and misogyny when you are criticised by a man. If the Prime Minister can do it and receive uncritical applause, then young women may try it, too. Is this really where we want to go as a society? Sexism and misogyny are serious issues. If the PM devalues these terms and continues to do so with her glib remarks about being "badass", won't other young women, especially impressionable ones, follow her lead?

Moreover, we have reached the ludicrous position where serious questions about the PM's behaviour (during her time at law firm Slater & Gordon when acting for her former union boyfriend Bruce Wilson) have to be put by the Liberals' most senior woman, Julie Bishop, for fear Gillard will repeat her sexism and misogyny accusations against men who may dare to ask the same questions.

When will thinking feminists admit that Gillard's anger-laden feminist taunt was a regressive step, undermining the need for men and women to calmly and intelligently sift through the sometimes complex relations men and women? Just as some men can be sexist, so too can some women. Just as misogyny exists, so does misandry.