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The "yeah, but" speech

Paternalism.

Paternalism.

Gotta say I'm surprised that what may become the most memorable, if not the defining, speech of Julia Gillard's tenure as Prime Minister is still being met with the words "yeah, but" by many men (and women) in this country ...

By that, I mean too many people seem happy to concede the PM maybe, sorta, kinda has a point about all that misogyny and sexism stuff, then jump in with a "yeah but" to kinda, sorta, maybe defend the attitudes she was railing against.

A lot of it smells like the "I'm not racist" qualifier preceding 87 per cent of pub discussions about indigenous Australians or Muslims, wherein the speaker is quite happy to admit he went to school or played footie with a blackfella (family newspaper version of actual word used) or "Leb", then details "wots wrong wiv 'em" ... in general.

So in the past week, you get men nodding their heads in agreement with the idea women deserve to be treated as equals, then saying "yeah, but" when asked to examine behaviour, language or attitudes they indulge in that makes many women feel unequal.

And yes, there was a calculated political context to why Gillard launched into her speech, as has been discussed by many commentators, but let me ask you this.

If Gillard had stepped into Parliament and made the same speech for "all the right reasons", ie, just because she felt degraded by the Leader of the Opposition's attitudes, can you imagine the outcry?

"Thin-skinned", "mad-feminist agenda", "what's this got to do with governing the country?", "this is not a uni campus", "government derailed" - I can just imagine it.

Nothing in politics is done without context, so you could argue Gillard used a very canny "in" to broach a subject she obviously felt strongly about. I think it's the only good thing Peter Slipper will ever be remembered for.

On the other hand, I don't think Tony Abbott is a misogynist.

I'm no cleanskin when it comes to expressing sexist points of view, but I'll argue until the cows come home that I'm not a misogynist - which is why I felt some vague sense of compassion for Abbott when he was relentlessly accused of being one - ie of hating women.

Misogyny, like many other powerful and important words, is in dire risk of being diluted to the level of terms such as "genius", "tragedy", "horror", "exclusive" and "awesome" because so many clueless wombats misuse it or, barrow-pushers abuse it, to shut down criticism of women they find discomfiting or confronting.

The ABC reported Tuesday that thanks to the Gillard speech, the editor or the Macquarie Dictionary, Sue Butler, plans to broaden the definition of misogyny to include "entrenched prejudice against women", which I'm not sure is a good or bad thing.

Misogyny is an ugly word for good reason - so to broaden its definition seems destined to further dilute its meaning.

In my opinion, Abbott is a paternalist, with a dash of chauvinism, who has "undue partiality or attachment to a group or place to which he belongs" or what author Michael Korda described as "blind allegiance and simple-minded devotion to one's maleness that is mixed with open or disguised belligerence towards women".

Others have argued passionately otherwise, such as Susan Mitchell, author of the book Tony Abbott: A Man's Man, on the website Women's Agenda, who last week compared misogyny with racism.

"When we judge a person simply on the basis of their race or suggest that their race makes them somehow lesser, the term 'racist' seems perfectly appropriate," Mitchell says.

"If someone believes that men and women are not equal in every respect, it is the same as believing that whites and blacks are not equal in every respect.

"So when Tony Abbott says that women are not as suited to powerful positions as men because of their physiology and their temperament, he is judging them to be lesser than men purely on the basis of their gender. Now while this may not be overt hatred of women, it is a form of irrational hatred," writes Mitchell.

The leap here is Mitchell conflates "judging a person on the basis of their race or gender" with "thinking someone's race or gender somehow makes them lesser".

And this is where we enter very murky waters.

I believe most people (un)consciously make judgments about others along a vast axis that includes attributes such as race, gender, age, height, weight, hair colour, attractiveness, diction, clothing, scent, posture, even teeth colour ... and the list goes on and on.

This does not mean they think the other person is lesser, or that they hate them - just that they have prejudged them.

This is what sexists do ... they think just because you're a man or woman, you will display systemic differentiations based on your sex.

I am sexist by this definition.

Paternalists like to smugly pat women on the head and tell them know what's best for them because they're a bit silly and don't understand the real world - kind of like what the Australian government does to PNG, Samoa and our indigenous population - so you can see why Gillard calling Abbott paternalistic wouldn't have flown.

Male chauvinists take this a step beyond and believe, because of the sexes' systemic differentiations, men are "better" than women, an unattractive characteristic also shared by many people who attended private schools, live in certain suburbs or refuse to eat meat.

Misogynists, finally, just hate women; they believe they are property, inferior, breakable, hysterical, vain or "just good for rooting".

Of course, many of these attitudes bleed into and inform the others, but I like to think the best of people and I don't believe Abbott hates women.

However, the strikingly obvious characteristic of this debate is that it is complex - and that what you or I consider to be misogyny, chauvinism, paternalism or sexism is open to different interpretations.

If you're new to this, it might also come as a surprise the debate has been going on for centuries and that even feminist academics cannot agree on some of the central tenets of the "gender debate", such as what equality actually means.

There's a vast difference between saying men and women should have equal rights and that we have absolutely equal capabilities in all things.

Equality also does not mean "sameness", because when you insist people of all sexes, races and backgrounds are the same, then you presume every person you meet is going to be the same and react the same on every issue ... you're measuring everyone by how you think, which is actually another form of prejudice.

So this is a complex issue, but one that has been firmly put on the national agenda by our PM, Julia Gillard.

Before last week, I bet there were millions of Australians who'd never even heard the word misogyny, let alone knew what it meant, but it was suddenly on the front page of newspapers and being mispronounced by TV hosts whose usual high-water mark is mastering the "gangnam style" dance.

This is a great thing, a great debate and one of the best things to come out of our Parliament in a long time.

I just hope it continues.

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232 comments so far

  • This is great outline of the debate this week in Australia. I loved the PM's speech and my sisters and I watched it twice and applauded; context notwithstanding. I am thrilled and relieved the PM has finally let rip on this topic after 2 years of chauvinistic abuse. You can only brush these things off for so long, and it’s been offensive to all women so I feel she was defending us all. Hate is a strong word but it is highly likely that Abbott dislikes the PM, he certainly resents her for winning a tight contest and it’s possible that he thinks a man (ie. himself) would have done a better job. He probably doesn't actually hate women but in Parliament? Yes… there seems to be a bit of mild misogyny there directed at a woman more powerful than he, rather than at women in general and, like our PM, I’ve reached the end of my tolerance.

    Commenter
    Pepsi
    Location
    Bondi
    Date and time
    October 17, 2012, 5:14PM
    • Some dictionaries define it as 'hate, fear or mistrust of women'. I suppose in my mind I equate it with the term 'sexism' except it is more calculated and prevalent than the sort of casual and unthinking sexism we are all guilty of at times.

      Commenter
      Tony
      Location
      Melbourne
      Date and time
      October 17, 2012, 5:59PM
    • Hear hear Pepsi. I high fived and capered around with glee too, watching the PM give a very overdue and highly deserved smackdown to one of the most repellent woman-haters around. I don't think misogyny is too strong a word, though I do take your point Sam. I just know too much about federal politics to sustain the illusion that it's not hatred of women (or women doing particular things such as taking power) that drives the place. Same could probably be said about a lot of the press gallery who are front and centre with the 'yeah, but'.

      Commenter
      ninepieces
      Location
      Canberra
      Date and time
      October 17, 2012, 7:23PM
    • WHOO Since the speech I have had my ipod on repeat for I am Woman by Helen Reddy while I angrily glare at any man that dares open a door for me. I might mix in some Spice Girls "Girl Power" too.
      PS What a joke! JG didn't want to answer the Slipper question so she deflected the topic onto Abbott. She's not a powerful woman, they're all politicians doing the same thing.

      Commenter
      I am woman hear me roar
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      October 18, 2012, 8:04AM
    • Hey Pepsi why has Abbott got a female chief of staff? Why did Gillard vote to support Slipper who had made pretty foul comments about women? How do you think Abbott's daughters felt hearing Gillard call him a woman hater? Why did Swan and Pilbersek not walk out or comment on the sexist jokes at the CFMEU function? It may be that this outrage of Gillard's is confected to deflect any criticism of her government which isn't very good and to destroy Abbott. Women may be overjoyed at her speech but it is likely to polarise opinion and may eventually work against equality for women

      Commenter
      Dianne
      Location
      Fremantle
      Date and time
      October 18, 2012, 8:22AM
    • I enjoyed it too. My grandfather was extremely chauvanistic and a lot of this filtered onto my father as well. He has 3 daughters. While my Dad never disliked women he didn't have a lot of respect for them outside of the home and loved to use the collective 'bloody women!'. Sadly, many men I have met use this term one way or another 'what do you expect, she's a woman', 'I guess you need to make allowances for women' and so on. Being told and being treated as inferior hurts.

      Commenter
      Ripley
      Location
      Hunting Aliens
      Date and time
      October 18, 2012, 8:27AM
    • You are being naive if you think her speech was a complete lashing of Abbott. It was a diversionary tactic only. People with their minds focussed on the actual issue realise this, hence a lot of the justifiable criticism of her diatribe. She diverted the attention from the real issue - & remarkably well I must say - which was defence of the indefensible. The Prime Minister had no other salvoes to fire so she resorts to the gender card - in my view - weak & unforgivable as a leader of the country & figurehead to women. What's more remarkable though are all those people saying Abbott's no misogynist, but the rant had its merits. Astonishing. Imagine for one moment if Abbott jumped up and started bleating "I will not be lectured on feminism by this woman! If you want a definition of what a misandrist is go look in the mirror." there would have been outrage. But men don't do that. They say directly what they're thinking, women stick knives in to us in ways that would make Fu Manchu envious, if not confused.

      Commenter
      Malcolm
      Date and time
      October 18, 2012, 8:46AM
    • pepsi and co. please take a deep breath and consider what you're cheering, high-fiving about. Have you taken a look at Hansard records or journalistic summaries of the abuse and slander thrown by Gillard, her female ministters, Swann, Albanese etc.? Fine, Abbott is an alpha male etc. and his nature is his worst enemy. However, when - as the country's 1st female PM - Gillard behave and speaks with such a lack of decorum, finesse and grace, then she's done more harm to women in this country than any dmamge Abbott can do,

      Commenter
      Dietcola
      Date and time
      October 18, 2012, 9:10AM
    • Gillard's so called speech is what defence lawyers and actors do everyday. To think Gillard supported the retention of Peter Slipper and then chucked her hypocritical hissy fit just makes me sick. Anyhow it just doesn't really matter. By the end of August I suspect her and most of the Labor party will be looking for something else to do.

      Commenter
      labor lover
      Location
      jagajaga
      Date and time
      October 18, 2012, 10:09AM
    • then she's done more harm to women in this country than any dmamge Abbott can do,

      CommenterDietcola

      So everything that she does now reflects on us? We women are now damaged goods because of Gillard? We clearly have a long way to go.

      Commenter
      Ripley
      Location
      Hunting Aliens
      Date and time
      October 18, 2012, 11:15AM

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