David Farley, CEO of Australian Agriculture Company, is only the latest middle-aged white male to have a problem with Julia Gillard. He’s the one who called the Prime Minister “an unproductive old cow” last week while discussing new techniques for animal slaughter.
Farley, evidently the real victim here, complained he was “taken out of context”, although what “context” would perform the rhetorical alchemy of transforming his misogynist remarks into something anodyne isn’t clear. Then again, “taken out of context” has become one of those all-purpose excuses when someone has been caught out. Next, Farley will “apologise to anyone who was offended”.
AACo isn’t exactly a reflection of modern Australian society. There are no women on its board. There are no women senior executives. Its annual report notes that women are 36% of the company’s employees. Farley evidently doesn’t see too many women when he’s at work, except at EAs’ desks.
But Farley isn’t unusual in that regard. When it comes to misogynist abuse of Julia Gillard, he fits a pattern.
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Take two of the Prime Minister’s parliamentary critics. Bill Heffernan famously called her “deliberately barren”. George Brandis “SC”, as he likes to be called, also complained that “she has chosen not to be a parent … she is very much a one-dimensional person”. Brandis is from the Queensland Bar, where currently five out of 126 senior counsel are women (though, under Campbell Newman’s Back To The Moonlight State policy, they’ll soon be called Queen’s Counsel again).
And in the Liberal Party room where Heffernan and Brandis sit, just over one-fifth of their colleagues are women.
Then there are her media abusers. Ray Hadley and Alan Jones are two of her most vituperative critics, who level contumely at her entirely different in nature to the rhetoric they direct at male politicians and, particularly, Tony Abbott. Jones whined to the Prime Minister that she was late to an interview and called for her and Bob Brown to be drowned, the sort of comments that lead to Secret Service investigations if uttered about the president in the US.
Hadley and Jones are both from football backgrounds — Hadley was and still is a footy commentator, Jones was a rugby and league coach. Hadley is nearly 60 and Jones is in his 70s.
Then there’s Garry Linnell, 48, now at Fairfax but the editor of The Daily Telegraph when, for no readily explained reason, it ran a cover during the 2010 election campaign portraying Gillard as an old woman. Linnell’s a former sports journalist.
I’m not including Grahame Morris’ “kicking her to death” comment — that was surely just poor choice of words rather than any ill-intent. But to be complete, you might add the climate denialists responsible for the misogynist placards at anti-carbon tax rallies last year, invariably angry old white people.
Are we seeing a pattern here? This is nothing to do with intelligence or education. But middle-aged or old Anglo men, particularly from blokey environments, appear to be over-represented among those dishing out gender-based abuse of the PM.
It’s not the whole pattern, to be sure. A number of women have engaged in gender-based abuse of the PM. Sometimes it’s over her appearance. Kate Legge joined in what was an election campaign barrage of misogyny from News Ltd with a piece, which will surely adorn her CV for decades to come, on the Prime Minister’s earlobes. Germaine Greer reflected on the Prime Minister’s “enormous arse” (a comment that Tony Abbott explicitly endorsed). And Sophie Mirabella and the unfortunate Janet Albrechtsen are, like some men, hung up about the prime ministerial failure to breed.
And perhaps the most offensive piece of writing about the PM since she became Prime Minister came from News Ltd’s Patrick Carlyon, who’s only 40. He managed to both infantilise and mock the PM about her gender when he opined about Barack Obama’s Australia visit that the she was “a high school girl who has, finally, after much bedroom plotting, captured the gaze of the football captain”. Although, interestingly, Carlyon, who boasts a book about Gallipoli to his name, writes extensively on sport.
The abuse of the PM goes well beyond the usual double standard that every female politician, regardless of party, has to endure, with the focus on their appearance and family circumstances and the suggestion that they are somehow intellectually weaker and more easily influenced than men.
She seems to push the buttons of older white men who aren’t used to dealing with women professionally, as if their long years in all-male environments have rendered them unable to process the idea of a woman who isn’t a subordinate or in a domestic role. Interestingly, watch this interview with David Farley about Christine Milne and see how he’s at pains to emphasise that Milne is a mother, who accordingly will have natural empathy for people in the bush.
So, perhaps, having a vagina isn’t an automatic disqualification for office, but failing to use it for producing children may well be.
The subtext — although it’s rarely particularly sub — is that Gillard, with her apparent lack of interest in such allegedly feminine pursuits as marriage and children (men of course never want to get married or have kids), is thus both unattractive and unnatural. Hence the violent language from older men, in which Gillard is an animal, to be slaughtered or drowned, a crone, or that ultimate symbol of aberrant, transgressive womanhood, a witch. Some of the language of climate denialist protesters in fact sought to frame Gillard in what they evidently thought was a more natural role for her, as s-xually subordinate to a male partner in Bob Brown, in order to explain her carbon price policy.
All of which raises the question of whether it’s the Prime Minister who, to use George Brandis’ phrase, is “one-dimensional”, or whether that more aptly describes older men who can’t cope with women who refuse to conform to gender stereotypes forged in male working environments.