Tag Archives: Anne Summers

Why Julia Gillard is my sister

3 Jul

I’m not the type of essentialist gender feminist who believes every woman is my sister simply because we share biological characteristics, unlike leading public figure Anne Summers, who in this article  expresses outrage against certain female MPs who did not resign “in solidarity” with Ms Gillard when she lost the ALP leadership to Kevin Rudd last week.

I don’t usually follow the line that a high achieving woman is making things better for all of those who share her sex. That to me is a romantic idea that has little basis in reality, indeed there are women among us considerably worse off after Ms Gillard’s prime ministership, for example the sole parents shifted to Newstart, and women seeking asylum.

Summers’ test of faith I find entirely self-defeating. What would it serve Australian society if every time a woman in public office was badly treated, her female colleagues resigned? In a nano second, there would be none of us left anywhere. It’s the sort of demand a comfortable middle class feminist can make from her armchair without pausing to consider the ramifications, for individuals and the greater good of our society.

That being said, these last few days I’ve noticed a sense of relief in myself and people around me. What is this about? The cessation of sexist abuse against Ms Gillard, that’s what it’s about.

It’s only since Ms Gillard left the leadership that it’s become painfully clear just how bad and how constant the gender-based abuse was. It’s like the relief you feel when you stop hitting yourself on the head with a hammer, if you are given to that form of self-abuse.  We no longer have to witness the daily public denigration of a woman, because she is a woman. We no longer have to witness the gender war in all its frightening darkness, as fought between Ms Gillard and the sexists from all walks of life, whose first complaint against the Prime Minister was that she is female, and who viewed every other dissatisfaction through that gender prism.

We have never seen such a terrifying display of anti woman feeling in our politics, because we have never had a female leader. We couldn’t see how bad it was until it stopped. We couldn’t see how the sexist abuse distracted from the most important  task of keeping our society functioning, which Ms Gillard’s government achieved better than almost any other Western government.

There is a great deal on which I vehemently disagreed with Ms Gillard. I did not personally take to her, though as Deputy PM I thought she would one day be an excellent leader. That day came too soon, and under fraught circumstances that could not have been worse for our first female PM. That the ALP chose to depose then leader Kevin Rudd in his first term was a questionable decision. That they should seize the opportunity to install the country’s first female leader, who as well as everything else was forced to become the blood-soaked symbol of the fallen man’s “knifing” beggars belief. One can only assume that as usual, the blokes brought a woman in to clean up their mess.

Though I am wary of joining anything, let alone a sisterhood (you will not find a woman less interested in or less capable of belonging than me) every time Ms Gillard was abused because of her sex, I was also abused. The unrelenting sexist and misogynist commentary directed towards her was directed at all women, though the perpetrators would no doubt strenuously deny that. It cannot be any other way, anymore than racism can only be aimed at one individual, leaving everyone else untouched.

We should be outraged at the contempt and insult daily enacted towards Ms Gillard. At any moment it can be and is turned against any woman who falls foul of those men and  women who are so conflicted in their attitudes towards us they can only fear and hate, solely because of our sex. One of Ms Gillard’s achievements, though it is not one any sane person could have anticipated or desired, is that she has shown us, through her personal endurance, the degree to which hatred of women still flourishes in Australian society and the awful toll it takes on that society.

In sexism and misogyny, Ms Gillard is my sister.

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Now is not the time to have a pity party for the PM

2 Mar

Considering the kind of lives many women are living on planet Earth at this time, Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s is up there in the very top level of privilege.

So it comes as something of a shock to read leading feminist Anne Summer’s piece today, in which she frames Ms Gillard as a victim. Victim of bastardry and misogyny, cruelly mocked, scoffed at, subjected to vile commentary including pornographic representation; criticised whichever way she turns, frequently on the basis of her sex, and shown “not the slightest drop of mercy or respect.”

Not only is Ms Gillard deprived of respect, Summers writes, but as a consequence of  personal disdain for her, the office of Prime Minister is also inevitably disrespected.

It’s a bit rich to expect the public to respect the office of Prime Minister given the complete contempt the ALP itself showed towards this office when it was inhabited by Kevin Rudd. This disrespect was compounded when the ALP gave us no warning of their intention to topple the man who had so triumphantly defeated John Howard, and instead acted as if they were governing a nation of mushrooms.

Be that as it may…

While there is much truth in Summer’s assessment of the situation, one has to wonder if it is wise to paint the Prime Minister in such catastrophically underdog terms at this time. There will be plenty of opportunity to dissect the sexism Ms Gillard has endured after the election. If she leads her party to victory she can be portrayed as a glorious survivor of vile misogyny. If she leads them to failure, books can be written about the cruel and unfair treatment of our first female Prime Minister. But right now, nobody wants a victim in charge of a government that is already hurtling down the road to ignominy.

No matter what your opinion of Ms Gillard, I don’t think you could deny that she is a woman of extraordinary strength and tenacity, and a damn good fighter.  Indeed some, perhaps all of her best speeches have been made when she’s been on the back foot, and defending herself against personal attacks. Think the globally acclaimed misogyny speech, for example, as well as the press conference she gave to settle the matter of her alleged involvement in dodgy dealings whilst working at Slater and Gordon. These are not the actions of a woman with a victim mentality. They are the actions of a survivor.

What Ms Gillard endures is sadly no different from what many women endure on a daily basis. That any of us have to put up with misogyny is an outrage, and there are many among us who live with a great deal more of it than Ms Gillard, without any of the compensations she enjoys. In view of this, while it is appropriate to point out misogyny when it so publicly manifests against  a high-profile woman, it isn’t appropriate to cast that woman as a helpless victim. In the hierarchy of female suffering at the hands of the patriarchy, Ms Gillard is luckily on a low level.

I find it difficult to imagine that the Prime Minister herself would appreciate the gender card being played in this way at this time. I see no indication that she considers herself in any way an underdog, and her reaction to sexism and misogyny has been anything but that of a woman looking for mercy.

“Is mockery the new misogyny?” Summers asks.

Mockery may well be yet another form of expressing misogyny in this situation. But the sad fact is that we can’t afford to focus on that right now. Gillard is facing the fight of her political life. Far more importantly, the ALP is facing the same. Do we really want to offer the nation the picture of a victimised, bullied, vilely mocked woman as our next PM? Or should we be wise enough to keep our peace on the misogyny angle, and leave the pity party for another time?

The f word, the virgin birth and the sword of Damocles

24 Jan

I love feminism in the way I love some of the insights and opinions attributed to Jesus. I love it in a bell hooks kind of way:

Visionary feminism is a wise and loving politics. It is rooted in the love of male and female being, refusing to privilege one over the other. The soul of feminist politics is the commitment to ending patriarchal domination of women and men, girls and boys.

So it was with increasing outrage that I watched the story of Melinda Tankard Reist’s legal threats against me hijacked by one high-profile feminist after another in an unedifying brawl about who can and can’t be called a feminist. Debates about feminism: yes. Debates about who is allowed to be called a feminist: why?

One of feminism’s struggles has been about giving women a voice. So it was initially with amusement and later indignation that I saw two of Australia’s most public feminists, Eva Cox and Anne Summers, describe me in their articles as a blogger  being threatened by Tankard Reist. Not even a female blogger, thank you very much, and Cox says I’m a nit picker to boot. She doesn’t name me, but she says I’m nit-picking. Any man who did that to a woman writer would be flayed.

I objected loudly to this, not as some might have it because I’m especially egotistical, though I could well be, but because this denial of my voice seems to me to exemplify a steady watering down of feminist principles, and perhaps, according to hooks’ analysis of contemporary feminism, a co-option by capitalism that has virtually disempowered it as a force for change.

Thus we are reduced to brawling in national newspapers about who can and cannot be a feminist, while the big issues raised by Tankard Reist’s action, such as freedom of speech, the politics of the economic power of one woman being used against another to silence her, are left to brilliant bloggers such as Scepticlawyer to unpack.

Interestingly, every other account of the stoush I’ve read in blogs and the MSM has named me. I become anonymous and stereotyped only in the leading feminists’ pieces. I am not well-known, therefore it isn’t necessary to name me in an MSM argument about feminists who are well-known. Yes. Capitalism has co-opted.

While I don’t believe that either Summers or Cox was being malicious, their failure to use a woman’s name in an article about feminism indicates a troubling forgetfulness as to what feminism is about.

Both women have since apologised for the oversight.

I’m receiving a steady flow of demands that I “get [my] facts straight” about the virgin birth. There are no facts about the virgin birth. There is no evidence. It’s a story. I’m as entitled as anyone else to interpret the story and comment on it. There’s a long feminist tradition of commenting on these stories and analysing them through a feminist lens. It’s but one of many options for analysis and it’s as valid as any of the others.  Contest my analysis by all means, but not by demanding “facts” that simply don’t exist.

It appears that Melinda Tankard Reist can legally hold her threat of defamation action over my head for the next twelve months without doing anything more than she has already done. If she so chooses, she can continue bullying, threatening and intimidating me for the next year, and theoretically curtailing my freedom to speak for that time, as anything I write can be co-opted into her list of grievances against me to be subjected to threats of legal action.

While I don’t care if Tankard Reist is called a feminist or not, I do find it interesting that she has chosen to employ patriarchy’s most oppressive and repressive tool, the law, against me. But what is even more interesting is that neither Summers nor Cox   has even remarked on this attempt to silence a woman with patriarchy’s weapons.

The last word by bell hooks:

I will not have my life narrowed down. I will not bow down to somebody else’s whim or to someone else’s ignorance.

This in the Age today: “Tankard Reist explain yourself.” A very informative piece about Tankard Reist’s background. I’m very, very glad this got up in the msm.

The editor, not the author called me “a blogger.”

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