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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?

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