Gillard & The Gender Card: Why Menu-Gate Matters

(This article originally appeared on
Looking back at Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s now famous/infamous “Misogyny Speech” from last year, I am still filled with pride. Here was the Prime Minister of our country speaking up about issues that have, until recently, been swept back under the rug of our apparently post-feminist cultural milieu. Feminist issues have sometimes been understood to be fringe issues only held by a minority of angry harpies who probably can’t get a boyfriend and have daddy issues. (Urgh). On making her ‘epic speech on sexism,’Gillard was described by Tracie Egan Morrissey at Jezebel as a ‘badass motherfucker.’ As a young woman in Australia, I felt pretty proud to have a ‘badass motherfucker’ woman for a Prime Minister.

I stumbled across the news about what is now being referred to as ‘Menu-gate’ on Jezebel and was profoundly embarrassed.  From an international perspective, I’m a citizen of a country full of backward sexist hacks with no class, respect or dignity. If you missed it, Julia Gillard(‘s body) was likened to a ‘Kentucky Fried Quail- Small breasts, huge thighs and a big red box’ in a Liberal party fundraiser menu that surfaced a few days ago.  Was it a real menu? Was it ‘just an in-joke’? You know what? I don’t care. It’s wrong on so many levels. It not only draws on the long standing sexist metaphor in our culture of women as meat, but it also reflects a situation where ‘all women in Australia are fair game, from the PM down,’ as Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Elizabeth Boderick points out.

‘Menu-gate’ came after Gillard was criticised for her strategy of endorsing an Obama-esque “Women For Gillard” campaign in the lead up to the September election. In her now controversial speech at the launch of the campaign, Gillard asked the women in attendance to ‘imagine it: a prime minister – a man in a blue tie – who goes on holidays to be replaced by a man in a blue tie,’ demonstrating how women would not be given a significant voice in an Abbott Government.

Gillard also touched on a sensitive topic, stating that ‘we don’t want to live in an Australia where abortion again becomes the political plaything of men who think they know better.’ In bringing up the issue of abortion, Gillard has faced criticism even from feminists such as Eva Cox and Jane Caro who argued that ‘strategically, this isn’t something that should be shouted loudly from the rooftops and certainly not by our first female PM.’ Um, why not?

Gillard has been criticised for ‘playing the gender card’and starting a ‘gender war’ (read: making a big deal out of nothing/looking for trouble) by speaking on legitimate issues that have an impact on Australian citizens (which I’m pretty sure is her job). Just after speaking out against the impending culture of ‘men in blue ties,’ Gillard is met with a sexist slur about her body and then a confronting and offensive questioning of her partner, Tim Mathieson’s sexuality (and hence, manhood) on live radio. This slew of events, as well as countless other incidents throughout Gillard’s tenure as Prime Minister, indicates that ‘the gender card’should definitely be played.

I take issue with the way the media has framed this sequence of events over the past week, constructing the notion of the “gender war” as an illegitimate battle of the sexes that trivialises the significance of gender issues in contemporary Australia. Just as Jezebel columnist Lindy West was criticised for speaking out against rape jokes and misogyny in comedy with actual expressions of misogyny, Gillard’s discussion of gender issues has been met with responses of sexism. In A Switch in Time: Restoring respect to Australian politics, Mary Crooks argues that ‘Gillard is castigated and vilified, often because of her gender. Typically, this is defended as a justifiable reaction to her individual political performance, personal style and presentation.’ In response to Menu-gate, the NSW Liberal minister for women, Pru Goward, argued that the criticism Gillard has received in the past is ‘no worse than what had been dished out to her male predecessors’.

Though it is true that politicians get their fair share of flack: John Howard was called “Little Johnny,” Tony Abbott gets teased about his big ears and budgie smuggling ways, while Kevin Rudd was likened to the Milky-Bar Kid. What is different is the profoundly gendered nature of comments about Gillard, who has been called ‘deliberately barren,’ ‘a useless cow,’ ‘bitch,’ ‘witch’ and now the ‘Kentucky Fried Quail.’ There has been no gendered equivalent for her male predecessors. No one has questioned the sexuality of Tony Abbott’s wife as a way of depicting him as less of a “real” man. No one made large scale jibes about John Howard’s cock. This is because in terms of the way women are treated and thought of in Australian culture, we still seem to have a long way to go.


Feminists Fight Back Against Online Gender-Based Hate

(This Article Originally Appeared on 

It’s been a long time coming but Facebook has finally put on some big boy panties and got serious when it comes to gender-based hate speech online. In an official blog post released on Wednesday the social networking page announced that ‘it has become clear that our systems to identify and remove hate speech have failed to work as effectively as we would like, particularly around issues of gender-based hate. In some cases, content is not being removed as quickly as we want.’

This announcement comes after a large campaign by Women, Action, and the Media (WAM) in conjunction with The Everyday Sexism Project , Destroy The Joint, and many other feminist women’s groups for Facebook to provide ‘swift, comprehensive and effective action addressing the representation of rape and domestic violence on Facebook’.

Facebook’s strange and erratic responses to material that is demeaning, damaging and offensive to women have been a problem for feminists on Facebook for some time. It has been common for artistic depictions of women’s bodies and genitalia or images of women breastfeeding to be quickly removed from Facebook like a peanut in a primary school.

Meanwhile, pages and images supporting violence, rape, slut-shaming and objectification of women and girls are allowed to hang around.


I’ve lost count how many times I have reported the ‘Creepshots’ page, yet it’s still there. These sites are like the zombies; you can kill them but they just keep coming back. They might be mildly sanctioned after pesky feminists like me have a whinge and report them; pages like ‘It’s Not Rape If You Yell Surprise!’ have been prefixed with [Controversial Humour] tags.

What a punishment! Not only are those who create and frequent such pages not being effectively told that these messages are not ok, their views are validated as jokes. Haven’t you heard? Rape is FUNNY, guys!

By remaining silent and inactive on the undeniable issue of the culture of misogyny and sexist trolling online, Facebook unintentionally condones such behaviour. According to WAM’s official open letter to Facebook: ‘Your refusal to address gender-based hate speech marginalizes girls and women, sidelines our experiences and concerns, and contributes to violence against them. Facebook is an enormous social network with more than a billion users around the world, making your site extremely influential in shaping social and cultural norms and behaviours.’

I agree entirely that Facebook has become a major element of a significant portion of the population’s lives. It constitutes a whole new way of socialising. I might never leave the house some weekends, but I don’t feel lonely, disconnected or anti-social because I’m always talking to people, or seeing what they’re doing through Facebook.

Because of this we have got to stop thinking of it in completely different ways to how we think about everyday life offline. The way we construct our identities and perform who we are on Facebook largely mirrors our real life gendered selves. Thus, gender issues, just like those for ethnicity, sexuality and religion, are important and relevant for social media.

Gender-based hate and sexist trolling are issues as real as sexism in the real world, because the internet is increasingly becoming just another part of the real world. Sure, we might act slightly different online. We’re removed. We feel invincible. We can type things that we may not actually say or think in the offline world.

But expressing sexism through supporting or condoning the violent rape of women online is a problem regardless of whether that’s something you would admit to in person. It’s not ok, and hopefully Facebook will now start to convey that message.

What if all books were given a chick-lit makeover?

This Blog Originally appeared on Lip Magazine:


As an aspiring Lady Writer (or as feminist writer, Inga Muscio, provocatively calls herself, a ‘Word C*nt’), I was intrigued by author, Maureen Johnson’s Twitter project for her followers to ‘Redesign book covers by Literary Dudes, imagining they have been reclassified as by and for women.’ Johnson’s project, ‘Coverflip,’ shows us how there is a socially constructed perception of lower quality of books written by and for women in mainstream Western culture and this is predominantly established through the gendered framing of a book’s cover.

It is almost comical just how effective Coverflip is in demonstrating the “girl-ification” of adult women’s novels regardless of their actual style and plot. By redesigning the covers of typically masculine crime, thriller and action novels, using pastel colours, romantic airbrushed images and squiggley font, the first impression of the novel’s content and quality dramatically changes. My personal favourite was the redesigned Game of Thrones cover that makes it look like a kids’ adventure tale, full of magic, friendship and wonder.

Speaking of magic, J.K Rowling, a lady writer, decided to go with the gender-neutral initials rather than her first name in fear that if a woman’s name was plastered all across her books, young boys would think theHarry Potter series were “girl books” (the horror!) deterring them from reading the novels. She’s now one of the most successful authors of all time, ever. Would she have got to that point had she remained Joanne? Rowling is just one in a long line of writers who have masked their identity as women behind pseudonyms or acronyms to ensure the success of their work. The Bronte sisters. “George Elliot.” “Miles Franklin.” All indications of how gender (read: femininity) just gets in the way of being a great artist and writer.

The Coverflip project not only shows how women’s literature has been perceived of as having less cultural value, but it also demonstrates how men are disadvantaged by the gendering of book covers too. We unfortunately live in a culture were great social stigma is placed on men and boys if they were to appear in public, perhaps on a train, with a lovely pink copy of Pride and Prejudice. However, no one would bat and eyelid if they saw a woman reading The Iliad. ImageEarlier this year, Penguin released its usually orange classics (you know the ones, they’re toted by every hipster from Fitzroy to Portland,) in pink to support the McGrath Foundation. However, it was only the typically feminine books that where included in this release.The Communist Manifesto was not included. Nor was Nineteen-Eighty-Four. Yet Jane EyreA Room of One’s Own and Pride and Prejudice were pretty in pink. This indicates how books “For Men” are constructed as gender-neutral, whereas books “For Women” are exclusively for women and women only, regardless of the importance and universality of their themes, messages and ideas.

I once discussed Jane Eyre with a hegemonic “Literary Bloke,” as Johnson would say, and his view was that ‘you’ve kinda got to be a chick to get into that love stuff, ya know?’ No, I don’t know. Men fall in love and feel emotions as much and in as complex ways as women do. It is an age-old, stale stereotype to always associate romance with women and femininity. Moreover, women are forced to identify with male protagonists all the time in their reading of The Great Canon of English Literature and we seem to get on fine, so why shouldn’t men be able to appreciate and identify with Kathy’s undying love for Heathcliff?

This feminization of romance as a genre also becomes a problem for women writers who have written works that are not even romantic, however because they are women, this is the way they are presented and sold. The best example of this is the recent 50th anniversary edition of Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jarwhich angered some (myself included) in its reduction of a valuable and powerful work of literature to what appears to be a fluffy, romantic and substance-less chick-lit giggle. 


I had a similar reaction to a recent edition of Erica Jong’s Fear Of Flying

which depicts a pretty cartoon woman blowing a dandelion fairy with glossy lips, which has no relevance to the plot or themes whatsoever. This is not to say that “chick-lit” is not of value, just that there is a clear, gendered discrepancy in how men’s and women’s experiences and subjectivities are presented and valued in mainstream literature, where women’s voices are positioned as whimsical and chatty, if heard at all.

‘Teaching Out Gender’: The Uncertain Future of Gender Studies Programs in Australian Universities

This article originally appeared on 


This week is Bluestocking Week (, a week of festivities held to recognize and celebrate the participation and achievements of women in higher education. Much of the progress made by and for women in terms of access to a university education can be attributed to the birth of women’s studies in the late 1960s-1970s, which actively carved out a space for women within the previously male domain of academia. Since then, academic women have been demanding to be taken seriously, regardless of their field, some to greater avail than others.

Recently the University of Queensland announced that as of 2014, gender studies would no longer be available as a major. This comes as disheartening news in light of the announcement that Australian universities will undergo serious funding cuts in order to facilitate the Gillard Labor government’s proposed education reforms. According to Fred D’Agostino, the executive dean of arts at UQ, the decision to cut gender studies was due to ‘low demand for the major.’ In times of budget cuts and school structure reforms, it is the small disciplines like gender studies that are the first to go. The discontinuation of these smaller, yet no less important, areas of study clearly indicate which kinds of knowledge and expertise are valued in our society.

I am in my final year of a gender studies major at the University of Tasmania. When I tell people I am majoring in gender studies I am usually met with confusion or belittling amusement. ‘You’re not one of those man-hating feminists are you?!’ ‘Men are discriminated against TOO, you know?’ ‘But what are you going to do with your life REALLY?’ These are just some of the reactions that have lead me to sometimes just say I’m majoring in sociology to make it less confronting and easier for people to understand and accept. But this is not ok. I’m proud of my degree and believe it has legitimate and intrinsic value. Studying gender has changed the way I think about and experience the world, it has changed my relationships and it has changed my life. If that is the result after just a few years of undergraduate study, imagine what it could do for more people if it were more widely accepted and respected as a discipline.

At UQ the gender studies program is now being ‘taught out’ as a separate discipline, but aspects of gender studies will still be taught through other subjects and these could be used to complete a gender studies major. However, there are problems for students who wish to pursue honours in gender studies, which has not been offered at UQ since 2005, causing students to have to move interstate if they wish to do honours in gender. At UTAS I have experienced these kinds of problems first hand in that the gender studies department is so small that majoring in the subject is difficult in terms of gaining the requisite number of units to complete a major. Downsizing and school restructures have caused me to have to scrape together units from other disciplines like sociology just to complete the course I want to specialize in.

Next year I will be doing honours in sociology because I am concerned that the honours program for gender will not get me where I need to go. According to Professor Carol Ferrier at UQ ‘up to a third of the research higher degree thesis students are doing topics in the area of gender or women’s studies in many parts of UQ, especially humanities and social sciences.’ This indicates that the relevance of gender relations in society and the demand for gender as a subject is not low. When a subject is perceived as poorly facilitated, lacking in choice and devoid of opportunities, enrollments will decline. In first year I changed my major from philosophy to gender studies because I could not live with the fear of graduating from an abstract degree with little clear job prospects or relevance to every day life. (I also couldn’t stand the overrepresentation of cocky 19-year-old undergrad boys who studied Plato, Descartes and Nietzsche and thought their own opinions were the best thing since, well, Plato, Descartes and Nietzsche).

Most people think that gender studies, like philosophy, has no tangible job outcomes and people like me are just wasting time getting angry about “The Patriarchy,” eating organic trail mix and analyzing the gendered aspects of Girls. I believe that although jobs are important, a university education should be about much more than getting a bit of paper and slotting into a job at the end of it all. It should be about enriching your mind, your sense of self and your understanding of the world around you. Similarly, Professor Ferrier argued that gender studies ‘should be maintained on the basis of the distinctive contribution made by such programs to intellectual and social life, and human progress, in the past, the present and the future.’

I am concerned for the future of gender studies programs, not just in my own university, but also in universities all across Australia. The discontinuation of gender studies programs is ominous at a time when we need in-depth studies in gender the most.  As we are living in times where we need to be more compassionate to others and more thoughtful about the world in which we live, we need disciplines like gender studies for us to be able to see the way into, what at times can seem like, a dark future ahead.

Masterchef 2013 Whips Up A Steaming Hot Serve Of Sexism

This article originally appeared on 


MasterChef Australia released a promotional video for its new season that has caused uproar among fans due to its blatant gender stereotyping. The 2013 season is set to play out in an old-school “battle of the sexes” format. How original. The clip is awash with pink, blue and heteronormativity. Not only is it sexist against women, playing on traditional ’50s house-wife stereotypes, but it is also sexist against men, depicting them as barbequing, knife-wielding, flanny-wearing beef-cake. The set looks like a ’50s game show. There’s even women pushing pink shopping trolleys and men with comical blue barbeques, all underscored by cutesy jazz music. And of course there are cup cakes. So many cup cakes. The latest symbol of kitsch consumer capitalist hyper-femininity (

The video not only oozes gender essentialist barbie-ken dichotomies, but it also places labels on the contestants within this gender binarism. There’s ‘The ’50s Housewife,’ ‘The Cattle Rancher,’ ‘Daddy’s Little Princess’ and ‘The Tiger Mum’ to name a few. The either/or mentality of the clip is reinforced by back and forth ridiculous claims about men and women from the opposing side, the kinds of sexist generalisations that would probably get you in a bit of trouble with the HR department if you made any of these statements in the workplace. The clip opens with ‘The 50’s Housewife,’ an attractive late 20s/early 30s lady, claiming that ‘the average woman cooks a thousand meals a year. Men can’t compete with that!’ I just did a little bit of math and 1000 meals a year is 2.7 meals a day. Sure, 44% of the Australian population live in couple families with children (, however the rates of childless-ness and living alone are rising. And therefore so are the rates of Mi Goreng consumption. The use of “average” here seems to not only represent that, statistically, a large number of women do the majority of unpaid household labour which includes cooking, but that “normal” women do the majority of unpaid household labour. And love it. Excuse me while I get my husband’s slippers. Next, ‘The Cattle Rancher,’ a generic Aussie bloke in a blue flanny points out that ‘if you look at all the top chefs in the world they have one thing in common: they’re all men.’ Thanks for that, buddy. Just drum in the point that while women do the majority of unpaid household labour, including cooking 2.7 meals a day, they’re not quite up to scratch to get paid for it, or for it to be culturally valued.

The women also make scathing remarks about men, perpetuating stereotypes that position men as childlike incapable buffoons. ‘Men are a one trick pony: they have one dish they’re good at, and that’s it’ says ‘The Tough Cookie.’ My word processor is already telling me that the grammar of that sentence is wrong and it doesn’t have a bachelor degree in women’s studies. Neither men nor women are a homogenous group that can be generalised about in this way. Sure, my housemate loves to fry himself up a chicken schnitzel every day, however my dad cooked multiple and complex meals every night of the week throughout my childhood. Diversity, people!

At least by the end of the clip, I get to have the cathartic experience of watching a cake get squashed into the face of judge and host Garry Mehigan. In that moment if I take off my glasses and squint really hard I can almost imagine it’s me smashing the patriarchy, burning a flanny or stomping a cupcake under a heavy Doc Marten boot. 

The Spoils of War: ANZAC Day, war and the military rape of women

This article originally appeared on


On ANZAC day it seems pertinent to point out that this is a tradition that exemplifies the masculine aspect of Australian culture and history.  In high school, my sociology/psychology teacher enacted a social thought experiment, asking us to draw a picture of our conceptualisation of “A Quintessential Australian”. In a class of thirty young adults I was the only person to depict my Australian as a woman. People drew bushrangers, swagmen, male indigenous Australians (in terrible tribal stereotypes), surfers, “bogans” and other stereotypical depictions of the Aussie Bloke archetype. This is Australia. This is Australian culture. Although around 51% of the population is female/woman-identified, Australian cultural past times exude a male ethos. The central values of “Australian-ness” are concepts of the “Fair Go” (as long as you’re a white Aussie bloke who likes sheilas) and “Mateship” (Maaaaaate!). These are all stereotypes which may not be as relevant today, however, come Australia Day or ANZAC Day, these old generalisations bubble up from the cultural-historical ooze, along with the Southern Cross symbology, Australian flag thongs, cork hats and other articulations of patriotism.

Throughout my public school primary education nearly every year from as soon as we could read and write, we were taught about Australian history and culture, even if it was as basic as colouring in a flag, a map or a vegemite label. We had ANZAC and Remembrance Day observations in which the minute silence, for a hyperactive tomboy 8 year old, seemed like the agony of war itself. Through all this I didn’t learn much at all about women’s place in Australian history apart from the fact that it was women, like my grandma, who baked Anzac cookies which were sent to soldiers in the war.

When we commemorate soldiers as the fallen heroes of war, though a legitimate and necessary practice, it is largely forgotten that women are also major victims of war. In 1998 at a conference in El Salvador, Hilary Clinton said that:
‘Women have always been the primary victims of war. Women lose their husbands, fathers, their sons in combat. Women often have to flee from the only homes they have ever known. Women are often the refugees from conflict and sometimes, more frequently in today’s warfare, victims. Women are often left with the responsibility, alone, of raising children’. My grandfather died from a heart attack caused by the mental illness he developed from his experiences serving in the navy during the Second World War. When my grandfather died my dad was only sixteen. My grandma was left a widow, never re-marrying. The effects upon the experiences, emotional structure and individual subjectivities of my dad’s side of the family have been profoundly shaped to this day by what happened to my grandfather. However, it was my grandma who pulled everyone together.

War has the most tragic impact upon women in that throughout history military conquest has been almost inseparable from mass rape. Saint Augustine stated that rape in war is an ‘ancient and customary evil.’ When a military body invades another nation it seems to go without saying that the women of the attacked culture will be raped. Rape and Pillage, since the dawn of civilisation, from the Vikings to US occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan. In 2008, the UN Security Council described rape as a strategic ‘weapon of war,’ and that it is. Women’s bodies symbolise the culture of a civilisation, and by their literal penetration and defilement, an attacking force symbolically infiltrates the attacked nation causing not only individual trauma for women raped, but widespread social despair.

In the 1970s-80s women controversially demonstrated on ANZAC day to raise awareness of the impact of war rape on women. These protests were met with scorn from RSLs and authorities, claiming that feminists were sullying the honour of Our Nation’s Heroes. When we use the words “Lest We Forget” we must use them to include not only men who fought for our country, but also the women everywhere throughout history, long before Gallipoli, who have fallen prey to war, which Jocelynne Scutt describes as ‘a madness of a particularly male kind.’ 

Pretty, Dumb

You may have heard the news ( in the past week that a girl from Essex has tested a higher IQ score than that of Albert Einstein. Shock horror. Laura Marbe, aged 16, is not a likely future Einstein in a culture that assumes attractive heteronormative femininity goes hand-in-manicured-hand with, well, plain idiocy really. Marbe is pictured with blonde hair and make up, aesthetics of typical white Western feminine beauty. Due to her appearance it is assumed that there is no way she could be so intelligent. But why is that? Just because she is a woman and looks a certain way, what does this have to do with her brainpower?


Women are generally judged more because of their appearances than men, and this especially applies to level of intelligence. Hackneyed stereotypes of attractive women as categorically ‘ditzy’ and intelligent women as frumpy have hung in our gendered social scripts for too long. The widespread astonishment that a sixteen-year-old ‘Essex-Girl’ could be as intelligent as Einstein proves that we still have gendered concepts of intelligence not unlike those from the fifties.

I mentioned Marbe’s achievement to a friend and she was skeptical, wondering how no one already knew Marbe was so intelligent.  In a culture where, for women, being heterosexually attractive still entails a certain level of unintelligence, I think girls like Laura are likely to hide how intelligent they are for fear that it will diminish their erotic capital. Just look into popular culture, we are told over and over again that women are valued for their physical appearance, and that intelligent, outspoken and assertive women are either not to be desired, or to be transformed into docile wives. We are also told that pretty girls are not to be taken seriously if they’re trying to do anything other than get a man. Remember in Legally Blonde (one of my all time favourite movies) how Elle sadly realizes that “Callahan (her professor) never saw me as a lawyer, when he looked at me all he saw was blonde hair and big boobs.” Conversely, intelligent girls are also not to be taken seriously if they are trying to get a man.


This stereotypical dichotomy of attractive=dumb/intelligent=ugly drives a wedge between women and causes bitchy competition and rivalry that is just what the patriarchy wants to bring us all down. (Urahghghgh! – feminazi rage). Consider the Dunphey sisters on Modern Family: Alex, the smart one, isn’t as pretty and socially popular as Hayley, who is unfortunately shallow and ditzy. This is a similar scenario to that of Daria and her sister, Quin. There is even an episode of Daria called ‘Quin the Brain’ in which it becomes apparent that Quin is actually just as smart as Daria when she achieves a high result in an assignment. Throughout the episode, everyone assumes it is just a façade, Quin can’t possibly be intelligent AND be typically attractive, feminine and socially popular. Moreover, throughout the series Quin is established as the villain because she is stupid and ditzy which is closely linked to her characterization as an attractive ‘normal’ girl, whereas Daria is alternative and intelligent and therefore ugly.


So what’s so attractive about ditzy women to a twenty-first century man? In a society where there is ample evidence that women are grown up humans who can hold down real world jobs just like men, without breaking down into some animalistic hormonal/menstrual/emotional stupor, why still assume pretty women are stupid? Why still tell us that? What? Are intelligent women unattractive because they have more ability to deduce all the illogical, arbitrary and unnecessary aspects of the gender order’s hyper-femininity that has always been forced upon us? Is Laura Marbe clearly stupid because she outwardly performs a mainstream Western femininity the way it is supposed to be performed? I thought that was something the patriarchal system rewarded? Oh, I guess it is, by the fact that she is ‘attractive’ to men (read: Stupid). But I believe Marbe might be as smart as Einstein if she has managed to buck this Pretty=Dumb/Fugly=Smart dichotomy and make us all go:  Whaa?