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Nov 9, 2012

Patriarchy under siege: the rise and rise of gender

It was a bad week for the patriarchy, but some conservative men showed they still have principles ...

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It was a bad week for the patriarchy, but then again there have been a few of them lately. While it wasn’t a female president being re-elected (some of us still think President Hillary Clinton would have done a better job over the last four years), gender was front and centre in Barack Obama’s re-election and the defeat — defeat after defeat — of conservatives in the Senate and on social issues referenda across the US.

Something’s happened this year on gender in English-speaking countries at least, not just on women but for men, and particularly a certain kind of man — powerful, wealthy, white males used to a social and economic structure that handed them authority almost as of divine right. And it’s bound up with the interconnectedness afforded by the internet and social media, which links people who share languages regardless of national boundaries.

That’s the process by which the video of Julia Gillard savaging Tony Abbott over misogyny leaps from Facebook account to Facebook account, from tweet to tweet, and breaks out of social media onto web-based news sites then into the foreign mainstream media in the space of a few hours. In which vile comments by Republican males about r-pe are rapidly reported by local media, circulate across the globe within hours by social media and require formal rebukes from the party standard bearer. In which a UK newspaper picks up Tracey Spicer’s wonderful assault on media misogyny in Australia. Meantime a once unchallenged media outlet here pleads it is the victim of bullying and even terrorism after a social media-led campaign against Alan Jones’s advertisers.

As Donald Trump’s post-election tweets this week showed, there are few things funnier than a privileged old white bloke losing his sh-t when he realises he won’t get his way.

At some point we’ll start talking (again) about “the feminisation of the internet”, how a space that was once, and of course still to a great extent is, characterised as a male space, one dominated by males and not merely any old males but males of a particularly s-xist frame of mind, the younger, geekier version of old white men, is being transformed.

Social media — especially Facebook, which women seem to use significantly more than men — is a key engine of that transformation of the internet into a space where women’s voices aren’t merely being heard but are a force to be reckoned with, and where the casual misogyny that characterised so much of the internet in days past is increasingly being targeted, albeit not without reaction. Moreover, in countries like Australia it is now being reinforced by the feminisation of politics, which creates a feedback loop on gender issues that we can see playing out right now.

Whether the re-assertion of gender as a key political issue translates into renewed hope for Julia Gillard going into an election year depends on quite a few things. The Labor Party has plenty of s-xism to go round in its own ranks. And few Australian conservatives are prepared to sign up to any war on women in the way that, apparently, many GOP candidates are. Still, Labor has made Tony Abbott’s alleged s-xism a real issue, doing back to him exactly what he has been so good at doing to Labor — recasting an issue on his terms. Many in Labor would like to see gay marriage — an unexpected winner for Barack Obama — embraced as a similar tactic to further define Tony Abbott as a man of the past. Gillard herself, not to mention a number of homophobes in Labor ranks, is the obstacle there.

Still (alert: segue coming up) this week we also saw that the patriarchy can have principles. The Australian, a newspaper so close to its old white male readership that reading it is like a prostate exam, yesterday railed against the practice of governments leaking to the media. “Sections of the media have been eager to run the government’s political lines and leave the serious policy analysis to others,” its editorial writer lamented about the government’s leaking of a Treasury costing of some Coalition policies. “This sorry episode deserves an independent inquiry.”

Now, I know this will shock some readers, but let me be the first to congratulate The Australian on its principled stand. Its commitment to rigour and consistency will assuredly mean that it will never again run a story based on something selectively leaked to one of its journalists by someone in the government. No more “on-the-drip” sources, no more unsourced pre-budget stories about what budget night will bring, no more friendly drops from ministers, no more stories about the contents of a speech to be delivered the following day, no more briefings done by public servants that are handed on to a compliant Oz journalist to give a shared enemy a kicking (I know first-hand of that).

And, anyway, one wouldn’t expect anyone in the government now to drop anything to The Oz — didn’t Judith Sloan, contributing economics editor, declare that she’d throw such documents “in the bin”? No government media adviser would waste such stuff giving it to someone from The Oz if it’s simply going to junked.

Good on ’em. I mean, after all, there’s no way The Australian could be complaining about this leak merely because it went to Peter Martin at Fairfax, could it?

Bernard Keane — Politics Editor

Bernard Keane

Politics Editor

Bernard Keane is Crikey’s political editor. Before that he was Crikey’s Canberra press gallery correspondent, covering politics, national security and economics.

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56 thoughts on “Patriarchy under siege: the rise and rise of gender

  1. Neuromantic

    Thanks Bernard – gold! 🙂

    Here’s another example of a bad week for “the patriarchy”. This is a response by Roger Franklin, online editor at Quadrant, to a letter regarding Steven Kates’s curiously unhinged post on the US election outcome on that site. Dr Kates claims that the election was decided by “damaged women” (amongst others – read here http://www.quadrant.org.au/blogs/qed/2012/11/the-47-majority). Roger Franklin invited the letter writer – whose last name is actually Dullard by the way – to circulate his response which she has done, so here it is. I don’t know what was in Ms Dullard’s original letter so there is a caveat there, however the editor of a publication that claims to be the “leading general intellectual journal of ideas” in Oz should have higher standards of correspondence, surely?

    “Dear Ms. Dullard,

    thank you for your thoughts. As a former property owner in New Jersey, one of those “American Republican States”, I can assure there are many pleasant spots, that civilisation flourishes and discourse is free and free-flowing. Indeed, given the number of Democratic mayors locked up by GOP Gov Christie for graft and other corruptions, I only wish we had a little more of the same spirit here.

    If you feel up to refuting Steve Kates’ assertion that embittered women represent a recognisable demographic and believe you can do so while eschewing boilerplate and the cliches that sustain so many Womyns Studies departments, I would be interested in seeing it and, perhaps, publishing it at Quadrant Online.

    How’s that for making Quadrant “more relevant to a broader audience”?

    kind regards,
    roger franklin

    PS: Please feel free to pass a link to Steve’s column to your friends. And if you happen to be associated with one of our tertiary institutions’ departments of gynosophic learning, be assured that I meant no specific offence.”

    Apparently Roger Franklin means no “specific” offence, perhaps he means to be more offensive generally?

    Also, in response to Steven Kates losing his sh*t (“damaged women”??) – I invite Dr Kates to leave the intellectual cryogenic chamber he accidentally fell into a few decades ago. Also, to do some research!

    Dr Kates’ statement: “The likelihood that the Republicans would even attempt to do anything about “reproductive rights” cannot be seriously entertained.”

    The facts: “In a weekend interview, presidential candidate Mitt Romney reiterated his pro-life position favoring the reversal of the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision … Romney has repeatedly called for overturning Roe — doing so in January and again in April — and he repeated his desire to see it overturned in an interview on “Meet the Press” Sunday. …As to abortion itself, Romney replied to a question from host David Gregory with: “…I have chosen pro-life and I will attempt as president to encourage pro-life policies,” Romney stated.”

  2. Liz45

    @justin cotton The horrific and homophobic attitudes against gays and lesbians are wrong, in the same way that misogynist attitudes are too – and racism. Just because a person wants to stop one bigoted group doesn’t mean that we should allow the other negative and hurtful attitudes to remain a part of our society.

    If you look up the facts re violence towards women, you’d be able to see that the overwhelming percentage of crimes of violence are against women and girls, mainly committed by men. 1 in 3 women will experience violence by their partners/husbands. The overwhelming evidence is a postive reality – that men kill women and other men more than the opposite. 1 in 4 girls will be sexually abused prior to turning 16. The greatest risk to the health and safety of women between 15-40 years is via their partners/husbands!

    While violence towards gays is horrific, and we should advocate and act for an end to this, it should NOT take priority over other forms of violence – towards women. ALL violence is horrific. Men are more at risk of violence by strangers – usually men.

    Did you watch the 15 minute speech by the PM? Have you read Anne Summers speech to the Newcastle University. If you go to http://www.annesummers.com.au you can read it. It will show you how the PM has been treated for over 2 years. While there have been male politicians who’ve engaged in abusive terms etc, they didn’t contain snide comments due to their maleness! Unlike the abusive, sexist and pornographic cartoons etc about the PM. The base behaviour is ugly, vicious and misogynist! A disgrace!

    when women can walk anywhere alone or with friends without being r***d and murdered; when women receive equal pay to men; when girls are in responsible positions of power and influence with males; when our society ceases to trivialise the abusive control by men over their partners/wives, then you can argue your assertion. With all the disgraceful discrimination and violence, gays are still NOT treated the same as too many men treat women.

    We need to change the way boys are being raised. The ingrained discriminatory, sexist and violent attitudes are ‘taught’ from birth, before birth even. We have two different expectations of the lives of boys and girls – we need to get rid of the ugly aspects of these expectations, and the main one is to teach boys to respect all peoples, and that violence for any reason is not the way to ‘win’ arguments!

    I think it would be more positive for you to stand beside the other groups in the community who cop discrimination and violence than to advocate for your situation OVER any other. That only creates division, which is what the far right want to happen! Divided they rule, united we gain!

    @PATIOT – Stop showing your ignorance! Men also have gender re-assignment operations! And, of course if you’re an aboriginal woman, you cop a double whammy! I’d say the racist attitudes to male aboriginal people are probably worse than to gays!

  3. Neuromantic

    Re the conversation about misogyny and homophobia, how about this idea…

    Homophobia includes misogyny as a “core value”, since it involves disgust at “feminine” qualities, and disgust at anyone not conforming to nominally “acceptable” gender roles. Freedom from both is clearly a basic tenet of feminist AND gay rights advocacy.

    I’m using lots of inverted commas here to distinguish between “masculine” and male, “feminine” and female, aka “performance of gender”.

    As has been said, both men and women are diminished by narrow, limited beliefs and the “gender order police” or GOP – see what I did there 😉

    Obviously gay men and women are discriminated against in a variety of ways, sometimes specific to their gender (eg. “poofter bashing”), sometimes not (eg. gay marriage). LGBT people, especially young people, still have terribly high rates of suicide and mental health issues, and can be denied full and equal participation in society on the basis of their sexuality. So no real winners there.

    It needs to be said that in certain ways gay men are “better off” than lesbians (and women generally) simply because they are men, eg. gay men and male couples, on average, have a *potentially* higher earning capacity than lesbians and lesbian couples, due to the gender-related pay gap. Yet I know that openly gay men can also be denied access to the “traditionally masculine” upper echelons of politics, the corporate world, etc. Therefore the problem comes back to “traditionally masculine and feminine” roles.

    I understand the pressure that many men (regardless of sexuality) are under to “act like men”, and to conform to these limited, limiting socialised roles.

    I understand how difficult and even scary it can be for gay men and lesbians to act “non-straight” in a “straight” environment. Sometimes it can be life-threatening. I walked through a park on Friday night with a gay friend and to sum up our experience: we were both scared of being robbed, I was scared of being raped, he was scared of being gay-bashed. None of the above happened thankfully, but if any of it had, neither of us would have felt privileged over the other. It wouldn’t have been a case of “well you were better off because you’re…”

    Feminists and gay rights advocates have a lot in common – wanting *everyone* to have full social participation, representation and enjoyment of our human rights, free from discrimination, abuse and violence.

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