Gillard & The Gender Card: Why Menu-Gate Matters

(This article originally appeared on Lipmag.com)
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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.
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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.

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Feminists Fight Back Against Online Gender-Based Hate

(This Article Originally Appeared on Lipmag.com) 

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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.

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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.

Masterchef 2013 Whips Up A Steaming Hot Serve Of Sexism

This article originally appeared on lipmag.com 
(http://lipmag.com/culture/masterchef-2013-whips-up-a-serve-of-steaming-hot-sexism/)

(https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8bNLX4VymO4&feature=player_embedded

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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 (http://jezebel.com/fuck-cupcakes-475125988).

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 (http://www.censusdata.abs.gov.au/census_services/getproduct/census/2011/quickstat/0), 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. 

A Dish Served Cold: Revenge Porn

It’s all very well to watch Mad Men and have a chuckle at the quaint, naïve sexism of the fifties. However, do not assume that because when you go to work no one pats you on the bum and calls you ‘Honey-Bun’ sexism no longer exists. This is wrong. Although women’s higher status in contemporary (Western) societies has fooled many into making (falsely) era-defining statements such as women ‘Have It All’ and ‘Feminism is Dead,’ there are still a number of facets of gender relations that indicate a festering, sexist zombie lurking beneath the glossy surface of our progressive Girl-Power mindset.

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In her provocatively titled 2012 book, The End of Men, Hanna Rosin argues that women’s almost worldwide soaring achievements in education and work indicate the imminent fall of patriarchy. This will pave the way for a new age of powerful, organized, super-competitive career women who somehow do eighty hours of work a week as well as raising (preferably female) children and doing all domestic cleaning/cooking/maintenance. Although Rosin’s book is thought provoking and rather inspirational for an overachieving twenty-something professional uni-student, I can’t help but feel unconvinced. Rosin can spew out as many well picked statistics about how “Women own more than 40% of private businesses in China” or that “the number of women with six-figure incomes is rising at a much faster pace than it is for men,” but I still think it doesn’t change the ideologies underpinning society. Call me a pessimist, but I believe that the more economically and occupationally powerful women become, the more a certain type of man will try to undermine this through damaging, objectifying and old-school sexist hate.

One thing that was obvious from reading Rosin’s book was that masculinity is under pressure to change, and although some men are totally up for exploring what the twenty-first century has in store for them, others are resistant, regressive and spiteful about the fact that it’s not the fifties anymore and they can’t just drink scotch in an office all day, wear a suit and beat their wife. But how can these ‘Omega Males’ vent their bubbling ooze of hatred, spite (and fear) of successful, powerful women who are smarter and earn more than they do?

Get revenge.

Recently online there has been a surge of a certain type of porn that involves ‘Creep Shots’ and ‘Revenge Porn,’ the existence of which I believe completely undermines Rosin’s hopes for “A New American Matriarchy.” Creep Shots are photos taken by men of women in public places going about their business with demeaning, objectifying, slut-shaming and rape-apologist captions. Wait! It get’s worse. Just when you thought you had got inside away from the sniveling sexist sleaze-balls out on the street, Revenge Porn takes creep shots to a whole new level. Ever made a home-sex vid with your boyf? Taken a few sexy shots to text him while you were bored? These just might have made their way into these sites where grumpy ex-boyfriends get back at their jilted/jilter lovers by putting them up for all their Omega-Bros to see. This has been personally damaging for women of all ages from slut-shamed high school girls to high powered executives who logged onto Facebook one day to find that ‘Those’ pictures had been tagged though their personal page to a Creep Shots page. Ouch.

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The reason this is such a problem for contemporary gender relations is that it signifies an underlying sense resentful masculine entitlement, a feeling that women’s bodies are public property, and that no matter how powerful and independent you think you are, these dead-beat, porn-watching losers have ultimate power over you, even after you think you got them out of your life. Germaine Greer once said, “The victims of pornography are men, not women,” however, in the climate of omnipresent Internet photo-sharing technology in which non-consensual sexual photographing of women by men has driven some women to attempt suicide or lose their jobs, I wonder if this is still the case.