Some of you may remember back in May this year there was a swell of outrage against Wicked Campers, the organisation that spray paints its vehicles with slogans such as: A wife: an attachment you screw on the bed to get the housework done; Inside every princess there’s a slut waiting to get out; The best thing about a blow job is five minutes of silence, and so on.
The slogans are usually accompanied by cartoonish illustrations of disembodied breasts, Snow White sucking a penis… you get the picture.
Free speech advocate and libertarian Senator David Leyonhjelm was scathing in his criticism of those who protested the vans:
“If you want to take offense that’s your choice and you’ve got to remember it’s a choice and other people make different choices.
Most of the statements I’ve read from the vans are able to be interpreted in a couple of ways and they require a degree of sophistication to know what they’re getting at.”
Leyonhjelm told the ABC Wicked made funny statements, “which obviously have sexual connotations.”
“But surprise, surprise sexual connotations are part of life. You need to be a particularly wowserish type of person to not find them funny,” he said.
But surprise, surprise ABC TV’s The Chaser recently parked a van outside Leyonhjelm’s residence that bore the slogan The best thing about oral sex from David Leyonhjelm – 5 mins of silence, and the Senator has gone ballistic.
When called on his perceived hypocrisy by Melinda Tankard Reist, an anti-Wicked advocate, Leyonhjelm tweeted to her: If you don’t understand free speech STFU. This a problematic prescriptive if ever there was one: the right to free speech isn’t supposed to be contingent on whether or not you fully understand what you are saying about free speech, or anything else, for that matter.
It is true that the Senator didn’t call for the Chaser to be silenced, he merely complained vociferously about their intrusion into his street. He also claimed the slogan was “homophobic,” a complaint I find quite baffling unless of course he doesn’t know about men orally pleasuring women.
My Twitter friend Kate Galloway recently wrote this post on sexist language in public discourse in response to Eddie McGuire’s expressed desire to drown journalist Caroline Wilson. What is it with some men and their desire to drown us? Alan Jones wanting to send Julia Gillard in a chaff bag out to sea, and of course that legendary test to see if we’re witches, perhaps from which this obsession with drowning us stems: tie us to a stool and drop us in the river and if we drown we’re witches and if we survive we’re witches, so burn us. Yeah.
I think I’m a woman with a sophisticated sense of humour. I can also laugh myself silly with a four-year-old. But I find absolutely nothing humorous in the Wicked van slogans, or in Eddie McGuire and his mates cackling hideously over the possibility of drowning Caroline Wilson. Nor do I accept the apparently unassailable belief amongst some men and women that it is fine to say things about women that if said about any other human group would be thought crass, unacceptable, and even illegal.
There’s no right not to be offended, but there is the right to speak about what offends. A frequent response to expressed offence is an accusation of political correctness (gone mad, for added emphasis), or a judgement that one has “over-reacted.” These are attempts to derail any discussion of the offensive nature of the commentary, and focus instead on the offended person’s alleged weakness and lack of humour. Such attempts at derailing should be treated with the contempt they deserve. As a general rule, people who make sexist comments don’t take kindly to being challenged and their first line of defence is attack.
Leyonhjelm is outraged that The Chaser’s stunt upset his wife, yet he was seemingly oblivious to the upset caused to women, girls, and men who had to attempt to explain to their children the slogans on the van next to their tent. One grandfather round these parts took to every van he saw with a can of black spray paint, so fed up was he with having to see the denigrating and misogynist garbage every time he went on the highway with his grandchildren. But according to the Senator, this man is an unsophisticated wowser with no sense of humour who has chosen to be offended.
Well, Senator, if the tiara fits…