Equality these days means having to take abuse too

Burning effigy of PM John Howard, Nat Library of Aust

Do feminists want equality for women or not? If they do, then they need to accept that any person who holds the office of Prime Minister will sometimes be described in extremely offensive terms.

Honestly, is calling John Howard a cunt any less offensive than calling Julia Gillard a cow? Is the placard wielded at one rally depicting Gillard as Bob Brown’s bitch any more hateful than the burning of John Howard’s effigy at another?

No, they’re not. I don’t buy the line that the use of a gender-based epithet somehow magnifies the injury intended upon the recipient. As I’ve written before:

While the words of protest and criticism levelled at Julia Gillard are disrespectful and even abhorrent, they’re not the first to be used against an unpopular Prime Minister. In the battle of words and thoughts that is politics, people often throw the first epithet that comes to hand. The fact that some of this abuse is gender-based doesn’t make it sexism.

While a woman might be called a bitch, a man could be called a prick. Either could be called a fuckwit. The gender of a word does not invest it with any more hate than another. In fact, some female terms of abuse can apply equally to men or women. Either an elderly man or woman crossing the road in front of an impatient hoon might be called a “silly old cunt”. Anyone who lavishly courts the press could be called a “media whore”. “Bitch” and “bastard” are usually gender specific, but they carry about the same level of insult. Equally, “male” words can be just as readily applied to women. Dickheads and arseholes are not exclusively men.

So, instead of trying to beat up this week’s “old cow” comments about the Prime Minister as the latest blow to feminism, how about we tackle the real issue: the apparent acceptability of hate speech in public rallies, forums and online political discussions.

It’s been going on since at least the Howard years, or do we prefer not to remember that?

Author: Drag0nista

Political columnist at The New Daily | Editor of Despatches & AusVotes 2019 | Author of On Merit, a book on the Liberals' *women problem*. Former Liberal staffer and industry lobbyist. Studying the entrails of federal politics since 1989.

16 thoughts on “Equality these days means having to take abuse too”

  1. Completely agree that hate speech is the issue. You are right about the Howard insults which I found just as disturbing as the Gillard ones. However, I do think there was a sinister element to some of the Gillard ones having ‘death’ undertones. Or am I forgetting any death undertones in insults directed to Howard and Rudd?

    1. With the advent of social media I think we see a lot more of what is being said about our leaders than in the past. I would imagine that Howard got plenty of death threats.

  2. Can’t recall a CEO of a large company calling Howard a cunt or anything remotely approaching that. That’s where you have entirely missed the point. Comments like Farley’s are amplified and more destructive because of the position he occupies. This is no public rally or online discussion.

    Which leaves your blog in unsurprising territory. That of an apologist for the Right rather than a supporter of feminism.

    1. Oh Darryl, do you really expect me to say that not one union leader called Howard a cunt during meetings or rallies when he was PM? Maybe they called him the rat or a fascist instead (I can’t quite see your former colleages extending themselves to terms such as mendacious). All hate speech today is amplified and destructive because of the speed and breadth of digital communication.

      And thank you for your attempted ad hominem jab that I am a Tory apologist. As a former CEO and Chairman, who has mentored women and raised an independent thinking daughter, I suspect I’m a greater supporter of women than you will ever be.

  3. Absolutely right Dragonista. The country has its first female Prime Minister and there’s at least one female CEO of a blue chip corporation. The glass ceiling’s been broken and there’s obviously absolutely nothing left in popular or workplace culture that we need worry about. Because, hey, when you break glass, it all just falls down immediately, it doesn’t regroup, fight back or adapt.

    Heaven help us from dealing with a world which is just a little complex. A world where there might be more than one layer and more than one issue involved in an event.

  4. Old-Cow is the reinvented Chaff-Bag, which is the
    replacement Sl-t-Walk etc etc.
    (I think we discussed Sl-t-Walk here, a while back)

    Why `feminists` or whoever, is getting revved up on
    this stuff, should really be going the embedded media
    for continuing to megaphone this bullshit.

    Yet another example of why Journalism keeps getting
    the wrath of `informed-citizens` and academics alike.

  5. I would think that many, if not most, of those who are unhappy with the abuse and language of violence aimed at Julia Gillard, would also have complaints about any similar incidents in the past. But the social technology today certainly serves to magnify the outrage. Equally those who are happy with abuse aimed at one, are likely to be fine with abuse aimed at the other. There is also a “2 wrongs don’t make a right” factor here I think. It doesn’t do justice to the issue to use a past incident to rationalise, justify or devalue a present incident.

  6. I agree that previous Prime Ministers, including PM Howard, copped abuse. I also agree that the rise of social media in the interim has meant a greater exposure to, and publicity of, abuse and the use of epithets directed at our politicians.
    Here are a couple of the insults directed at PM Howard by other politicians when he was in government –
    By Paul Keating:
    He’s like a lizard on a rock, alive but looking dead
    A desiccated coconut
    What we have got is a dead carcass, swinging in the breeze, but nobody will cut it down to replace him.
    …the brain-damaged Leader of the Opposition…
    But I will never get to the stage of wanting to lead the nation standing in front of the mirror each morning clipping the eyebrows here and clipping the eyebrows there with Janette and the kids: It’s like ‘Spot the eyebrows’.
    From this day onwards, Howard will wear his leadership like a crown of thorns, and in the parliament I’ll do everything to crucify him (speaking of his 1986 leadership)
    And by Mark Latham:
    Howard is an a-se-licker. He went over there, kissed some bums, and got patted on the head.
    Description of Prime Minister John Howard’s trip to the United States: John Howard has forgotten how to be a good Australian, not some yes-man to a flaky and dangerous American president.
    On the government: There they are a conga line of suck holes on the conservative side of politics.

    You know what I don’t see? Suiggestions that he ought to have been killed, kicked to death, drowned in a chaff bag, slaughtered like cattle. However you feel about the commentary on Prime Minister Gillard’s attire, her physicality, her areligious outlook, her marital status, her childlessness, I think it’s hard to argue with the fact that there are unprecedented physical threats to her safety from people in public positions who should know better. It disrespects the role, and it does not reflect well on the speakers. And, as it’s directed solely at Prime Minister Gillard, in a way unprecedented with other PM’s, I stand by the position that it comes from misogyny.

  7. I’m not holding a torch for anyone, but I do think Alan Jones’s treatment of her as PM in that interview on radio, without one swearword, was the most contemptuous treatment of Julia Gillard as a person, and the office of PM, that I ever saw in my life. I doubt that he would have called Howard ‘John’ or Keating ‘Paul’ in a radio interview when they were PM.

    I think that treatment of her by the most influential shock-jock [or ‘broadcaster’ if I’m to be polite to a man who doesn’t deserve it] had a strong element of misogyny which does add an unequal element to it.

  8. Putting aside Mark Latham, who most people accept had a few loose wires, my issue with the treatment given to Gillard is how it it legitimised by public figures like Tony Abbott and Alan Jones.
    Are there images of Kim Beazley or Simon Crean alongside the effigies of Howard? To be frank I don’t remember and if there are then they should be repudiated in the same manner as those public figures whose presence gave those images power.
    I’m sure union leaders said appalling things about Howard at rallies (and have similar to say about Abbott) so why does the stuff on Gillard get press? Because it feeds into a narrative that some want to propagate?
    As an aside, do you see this vehemence as an output of people’s disenchantment with the political process or the sense of powerlessness or disconnectedness between polies and the real world?
    Interested in your thoughts here.

  9. It’s different because in our culture there is a power differential between men and women. The refusal to accept a woman’s leadership as legitimate and the associated unhinging is, to me, similar to the refusal to accept a non-white leader amongst some in the US.

    1. While its easy to make that claim Anon when it comes to Gillard its not apt when you consider that she is actually not such a good leader in the first instance and clearly her public persona is, to say the least, a false construct and an exercise in (bad) acting.

      Women leaders are accepted well if they perform well, Gillard has performed badly and there fore her leadership is judged harshly, as we would judge harshly any male leader who had the same litany of errors on their CV. If anything she has been given the benefit of the doubt far more readily and far more often because of her gender.

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