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Federal

Oct 18, 2012

Keane: defining terms in the great misogyny conspiracy

Debating the meaning of misogyny is a distraction from the importance of how political debate has been altered.

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As conspiracy theories go, it was one of the more amusing, if not exactly one of the grandest, not really up there with the Illuminati secretly controlling the world, or the shopping list of people who killed JFK: Julia Gillard had somehow engineered Macquarie Dictionary into changing the meaning of “misogyny”.

“Mate, just a heads up, I did that dictionary thing in England too,” Gillard’s communications chief John McTernan wickedly tweeted at Chris Kenny, former Liberal staffer, failed Liberal candidate and now one of The Australian’s, ahem, stable of old white reactionary men (News Ltd’s “become your readers” strategy in action).

If only talkback listeners hadn’t spent their fury on Tuesday railing about awarding Sachin Tendulkar an OAM, it could have blown up into a real storm: Convoys of No Confidence out to Macquarie’s offices at Sydney Uni, trucks stopped on Parramatta Road by the police, Tony Abbott speaking in front of “Ditch the Dict” placards, Sophie Mirabella leading an angry mob of OED-clutching seniors to Albo’s office again, the lot.

Word inflation is actually a thing, and not just in the sense that the few of us who know what decimate actually means have lost the struggle to prevent it meaning something more akin to annihilation. The worst example is genocide, a word that has been systematically devalued as a consequence of persistent rhetorical overreach by those eager to exploit the opprobrium that it brings, such that what should be the most extreme crime imaginable now means little more than casual racism or ethnocentrism.

So yes, words have meaning, and attempts to exploit that meaning for political ends should be guarded against. And yes, perhaps because s-xism doesn’t have quite the authoritative, almost sociological ring of misogyny, some have preferred to use the latter.

But what’s confusing is why Macquarie feels compelled to adjust the meaning when the chief figure in this debate, the Prime Minister, used the term accurately. First a start, there can be no doubt that calling her “Bob Brown’s Bitch” as carbon price protesters did, or drawing her as a grotesque dildo-wearing rapist as Larry Pickering did, is misogynist: it betrays a hatred not merely of Gillard herself, but of her gender. This isn’t casual s-xism that women in politics on all sides have long encountered, and still encounter.

But Gillard also directed her comments at Tony Abbott, and to reinforce them recited a number of quotes from Abbott over the years centring on reproductive choice and the role of women in politics.

These, again, reflect misogyny, not casual s-xism. To demonise women who choose to have abortions as “taking the easy way out” is misogynist, reflecting a mindset that automatically dismisses their right to make choices about their own bodies, choices that men of course never have to make, with consequences men never have to live with. And to suggest that women have less right to, and less capacity for, exercising political power (and more capacity for, say, doing the ironing) is, surely, the ultimate misogyny, suggesting the legitimacy of a systematic exclusion of women from government, a perpetuation of the millennia-old patriarchal political and economic structure under which women have been dictated to by men.

The real issue is whether Tony Abbott still holds such views, or would give effect to them if he became prime minister. I don’t think he does, at least in regard to the role of women in politics, and I don’t think an Abbott government would touch the issue of reproductive rights; in short, Abbott may have been a misogynist a decade ago, but he no longer is. Like all of us, or at least those of us with a functioning brain, he’s matured as an individual and a politician, even if he might still hold s-xist views on domestic labour.

But that’s more about the crafting and fairness of Gillard’s rhetoric than about the accuracy of her terminology.

And it’s all a distraction from the fact that, in giving voice to these issues so publicly and directly, Julia Gillard has taken political debate to a place in Australia to where it’s never gone before. That’s why the application of the term “gender wars” to this debate is so offensive. For a start, you only need to look at the experience of Malala Yousufzai to see what a real gender war looks like, and it ain’t that (word inflation, again). And it’s hardly a “war” to accurately point out the nature of the abuse to which the PM has been subjected, or the logic behind the comments of a politician.

Indeed, if there’s any “war”, to use the term in the silly sense that some are using it, it’s one that men have been waging, against women, successfully, for most of history.

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33 comments

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tinman_au
Member

I’m starting to get the feeling that there may be the beginning of a “Get the personal out of politics” type vibe in Australia (and even the US). I’ve seen a lot of posts/articles popping up all over the Internet recently with that as a theme ( heck, even Kevin Rudd seems to be on-board ).

Can’t wait personally, we may even end up with some good policy coming from both parties for a change!

zut alors
Member

A valid argument, Bernard – I now feel slightly less annoyed about the word being re-defined.

Sport journalists are primarily responsible for undermining and abusing the English language with their exaggerated terminology – frequently using nouns and verbs of war or violence to describe what is, after all, merely a game.

elknwit
Member
Fair dinkum Bernard to seriously argue that Abbott is or was a misogynist because of his views on abortion is not just offensive to him but grossly offensive to many women and self evidently absurd. By that measure all those women – and there are plenty whether we like it or not – who oppose abortion as the “easy way out” are misogynists – -ie., they hate their own gender and themselves! Beyond that absurdity that is a discgraceful insult to a very considerable body of WOMEN and their opinions (not mine, I hasten to add, but that’s not the… Read more »
paddy
Member

To Decimate: Condemned to lose one’s shoe on every tenth photo opportunity.

klewso
Member

We could boycott the Maquarie River too?

klewso
Member

Abbott continues to mature as a politician – till his next faux pas.

drmick
Member
She nailed him for what he was, and for what he is, whatever word you or anyone else like to use; The “press”, for want of a better term, is still trying to justify missing the point that the rest of Australia and the world picked up; the fact that he and the “press” have a lot of trouble coping with a woman in power; (for want of a better term), and are incapable of separating her gender from everything they attempt to distort, sorry, report. (Distort was the appropriate term). The Australian press remains the biggest joke the world… Read more »
@chrispydog
Member

A very f̶u̶l̶s̶o̶m̶e̶ ̶, ah, full throated defence of the PM and women Mr Keane.

Well done.

Liz45
Member
Funny how the argument was changed from the disgraceful treatment Julia Gillard has had to cop; her absolute patience in remaining silent for at least two years, and how she had the gall to even put a name or names to the treatment? This is only reinforcing misogynist attitudes! Even now she’s being denied the right to an opinon. Even now she’s being criticised for not ‘sucking it up’ ‘getting over it’ ‘taking the argument off the economy – or cost of living or the weather….?’ Why don’t the critics really let it all hang out. Why don’t they tell… Read more »
michael r james
Member
“I don’t think an Abbott government would touch the issue of reproductive rights” I seriously doubt Abbott has changed that much. He may have managed to exercise more PR discipline –it is both wearisome and scary to observe that serious moderate journos keep trying to tell us how Abbott is such a nice bloke in person. That is just the talent of a snake charmer. But when he is in a position of power over women his true self emerges. It is all through David Marr’s essay over every stage of his life and career. It is profoundly a part… Read more »
CML
Member

@ elknwit – I worked in a female dominated profession for the best part of 50 years. Are you trying to tell me that some women don’t “hate” other women? What planet have you been inhabiting? I don’t care how absurd you think that concept might be – it definitely exists!!
And BTW, the “meaning” of the word misogyny has been changed from “woman hater” to (showing) “extreme prejudice toward women” – (that is what I heard). If that is correct, Tony Abbott more than fits the bill as far as I’m concerned.

JohnB
Member

I seem to have failed to do the required pre-reading before the tutorial.

Did I miss a link to the new MacDictionary definition of the divine Miss Ogenie and the old version?

Liz45
Member
@John Bennetts – As my earlier post is still before the moderator? Why? Because it’s lengthy? don’t know! Anyway, the change to the Macquarie Dictionary is due to the ‘common useage’ of the word ‘misogynist’? It’s being changed or added to – that is, to having an ingrained prejudice against women and their rights, standing etc. However, I believe that Abbott’s behaviour is nasty enough to fulfill the ‘old’ meaning of the word. He’s a vicious nasty little man. Even one of his daughters has spoken out against him. And if he’s a SNAG why didn’t at least one of… Read more »
elknwit
Member
CML – 1. I was criticising Bernard Keane’s argument that Abbott was a misogynist under the “old” definition of the word — a “woman hater”. He specifically made that point which is unambiguously offensive and slurs Abbotts character. Abbott should sue him. He’d win and Keane could swap financial distress yarns with former Crikey owner, Stephen Mayne. Bob hawke would’ve. But Abbott wont. Politician’s of Hawke’s capacity are as long gone from Oz politics as balanced journalists. 2. You dont understand the definition. A misogynist does not hate some women – he hates them all as a class. That’s what… Read more »
Ros
Member

Abbott’s character? He doesn’t have one worth mentioning.

81dvl
Member

Misogyny doesnt have an opposite. Is this sexist? Should we call Julia?

Matt Hardin
Member

@81dvl try “Misandrogeny”

CML
Member

@ elknwit – I was talking about Abbott’s character under ANY definition of misogyny!
Sorry, but I agree with Bernard. Horrible man!
Perhaps we should agree to disagree!!

Matt Hardin
Member

Sorry meant “Misandry”.

AR
Member

MattH – no need for a neolgoism – what about plain old “misanthrope”? It means dislike of humanity in general, from the daze when ‘real’ humans were male…

AR
Member

MattH – no need for a neologism – what about plain old “misanthrope”? It means dislike of humanity in general, from the daze when ‘real’ humans were male… but fits MM to a tee.

Leigh Simpkin
Member

It is so cute that you obsess about decimate.

While agreeing that Julia Gillard’s terminology was accurate, there are a bunch of literalists who find it difficult to understand the term does not mean a personal loathing of all women and so, great that the Macquarie is onto the distinction between systemic hatred based on a sense of superiority – and even, perhaps entitlement to power – and personal loathing, which he sure feels for her, but not all women.

Mort
Member

It is cultural misogyny. For example; the Taliban actively prohibiting basic human rights for girls and women.

While specific men in the Taliban might not have a direct hatred of women. They could love their mothers, daughters, etc. By supporting and helping to enforce the values of that society, they are actively participating in that cultural misogyny.

Many of the medieval values of western religions stem from the same cultural history. Remnants are still with us in so-called developed nations.

Sprague Brett
Member
Poor old Bernard doesn’t like the reference to Gender Wars. Well Bernard anytime a political leader accuses a group of hatred that leader is directly desensitising people’s empathy toward the group. It can lead to open hostility through brutal force, wars start with words. Macquarie Dictionairy may have conveniently changed the definition of misogyny, but your post and many of the comments undermine the distinction between the old and new definitions. There has been some very real and nasty hatred toward Julia Gillard, but for her or you to parse his previous comments and actions of context so you can… Read more »
CML
Member

@ S Brett – Bullsh+t!!

Tony D'Ambra
Member

Your critique would have more balance if it addressed Gillard’s hyprocisy. Compassion is a word rarely used so it still retains its power. Both Abbott and Gillard have none.

blackdog
Member

sprague – the opposite is true – it takes a leader to stand up and speak her mind about an entrenched norm in society regarding treatment and attitudes towards women…it is also a challenge to state a problem one experiences without feeling like or behaving like a victim – I’d suggest that considering she’s PM and Tony ISN’T, that maybe he’s the victim of his own bad behaviour. And I’d like to repeat CML’s above comment…BS!

Matt Hardin
Member

@AR I like to be able to keep misanthrope for people who hate everyone. It is very useful.

Misandry has been around as a word for a while but is often only used by masculinists to describe the attitude of feminists.

Hunt Ian
Member
I agree with the points made that misogyny is really hatred of women as a class and not personal loathing of all women, which is how Tony Jones interpreted it. I also agree with the point that its use has extended to include prejudice against women as a class rather than being confirmed to more visceral forms of rejection, as shown by banners in the anti-global warming demo that Abbott spoke at. But, in reflecting on whether Abbott has matured, Bernard has forgotten the context of Julia Gillard’s speech. Abbott set the ball rolling by trying to “wedge” the prime… Read more »
Warren Joffe
Member
BK mistakes the use of language intended to be as insulting, upsetting or unbalancing as possible against a particular person or small group of people as evidence of misogyny. (Surely he can’t think that using those words is itself misogyny?). It could at a stretch be called “evidence” in the sense that a misogynist is more likely to use such offensive language than someone who is not. But that wouldn’t help much with Abbott who is surely not a woman hater. (And I recognise that some misogynists are uptight characters who are married with children and don’t beat their wives… Read more »
Warren Joffe
Member

Warren Joffe
Member

xxx

Liz45
Member
@Warren Joffe – The point with Abbott is not ONE comment or action – it’s a collection of statements, political actions, actions in public (like abusing Nicola Roxon instead of being genuinely apologetic for his rudeness by being at least 30 minutes late???) is why he’s branded a misogynist. He has shown over decades a ‘prejudice against women’? As per the updated Macquarie dictionary addition. When you add to these his behaviour towards JG since she became PM – his encouragement for; allowing and fostering media hatred almost to the point of violence (taking up arms?) then you have to… Read more »
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