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Politics

May 16, 2017

Razer: we need more than appearances and personalities from our leaders

If we continue to be satisfied with the appearance of a particular politician's identity, appearances are all we’ll get.

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Politician profiling Australia

Last week in Crikey, I made the claim that members of the policy class can, and do, weaponise their personal identities to gain political advantage. I also made the claim that such acts — whether a charge by former Prime Minister Gillard of antagonism toward her gender or one by former Prime Minister Howard of antagonism toward his gender, class and race in the national curriculum — achieve little but obfuscation. I made the claim that when political debate focuses on the identity of a politician, the lives of those represented by that politician are subordinated.

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23 comments

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23 thoughts on “Razer: we need more than appearances and personalities from our leaders 

  1. form1planet

    Helen, I do salute your perpetual quest to keep our attention focused on structural inequality rather than issues of “awareness” and identity-based outrage. (I thought of you at the Anzac Day dawn service in Melbourne this year, when a speaker paid tribute to a veteran who had raised more than $100k for mental health services “and *more importantly*, raised people’s awareness”.) BUT! But. By leaping on a comment like the one Larissa Waters made, and spinning it out into a rant that will inevitably be reduced to an implication that the crime was in the act of breastfeeding rather than the commentary around it, you are just feeding that same cycle of bullshit. I think it’s great that Ms Waters was the first to breastfeed a child in the chamber; I have little to no interest in what lame attempts at political oneupmanship were later made by anybody regarding it, or your thoughts on those statements, or others’ thoughts on your thoughts. More economics please!

    1. Helen Razer

      I understand, Form1. But, sometimes, to employ an act so universally championed is to draw attention to the pervasive post-material thinking that elevated it in the first place.

  2. Tom Jones

    Poor Helen, so misunderstood. However we are all tied to our history and we are all likely to be hypocrites from time to time. To have a woman breastfeed in Parliament has made it just a little easier for other lactating women to have a baby and be a parliamentarian. Support is required for women who have children as Kate Ellis has shown. It is important to have women in parliament to look at all of the legislation as they are more likely to look at the impact of legislation on women. This is not identity politics but a recognition that some legislation and policies will impact more on women than on men and if you are a man you may not appreciate the hidden consequences. More Aboriginal people or those of colour will also bring other knowledge and skills to bear to the task. If people point to their own experiences it is because we often do this in other aspects of our life as we don’t shed our skin as we walk through the door. Just look at the preponderance of right wing conservatives who vote on conscience against abortion although they are never going to have to face that choice in their own lives. The structural impediments against a woman breastfeeding in parliament are surely worth more in a discussion than berating someone who has the courage to do so.

    1. Helen Razer

      Odd, though, that in our progressive era when more people from historically disadvantaged groups join the policy class that inequality is now at 1929 levels.
      It’s almost as though a politician becomes a member of the policy class.

    2. Draco Houston

      “It is important to have women in parliament to look at all of the legislation as they are more likely to look at the impact of legislation on women. This is not identity politics but a recognition that some legislation and policies will impact more on women than on men and if you are a man you may not appreciate the hidden consequences”

      Greetings from Queensland, where we have the worst abortion laws in the country and an executive full of women didn’t lift a finger to change it.

      1. Helen Razer

        And that lovely Theresa May.

        1. Tom Jones

          Better Teresa May than Donald Trump.

      2. Tom Jones

        Women didn’t create the law either.

      3. Rosa Sottile

        Incorrect, the deputy premier seconded the bill, campaigned on it check ya facts friend.

        Thats not because she is a woman though, its because she is pro-choice.

        Unlike all the LNP

    3. JQ

      “It is important to have women in parliament to look at all of the legislation as they are more likely to look at the impact of legislation on women. This is not identity politics but a recognition that some legislation and policies will impact more on women than on men and if you are a man you may not appreciate the hidden consequences. More Aboriginal people or those of colour will also bring other knowledge and skills to bear to the task.”

      This kind of assumption that a person’s membership of a particular group is all that is necessary to provide diversity of opinions is bullshit. Are we saying all women think the same? No? Well then you can’t have it both ways and claim that a woman brings a different perspective.

      Believing that someone supports the best interests of a particular group merely by their membership of said group, or by the more nefarious claim that they speak on behalf of a particular group, (all women/aboriginals/transgendered/white males/whatever) is naïve in the extreme. Furthermore it is precisely the kind of thinking which can be used to divide society into “other” groups, with all the subsequent horrors that can entail. Have we forgotten what happened in the Soviet Union? In Nazi Germany?

      This postmodern predilection for dividing people into groups and then declaring that we must have equal representation from these groups in all facets of society needs to stop. Whatever happened to choosing the best people to lead/represent us based on merit? Based on their stated policies and vision for the greater social good?

  3. Desmond Graham

    Helen – It’s actually a bit boring & kitsch to flip out one’s tits and feed babies to make a statement [also not very eloquent]. Apart from that when the voter votes for A MEMBER OF PARLIAMENT to represent them they do not vote for the person and family [everyone has missed this point ]- next we will have some Parliamentarian wheeling their wheelchair bound or cancer ridden grandmother and euthanise them on the floor of Parliament to make another statement.

    How about electing A depressed LGBTI part aboriginal refugee with a disability and abused single parent breast feeding in Parliament. NOW THAT WOULD BE A STATEMENT.

    1. Helen Razer

      My point is not to deride people from disadvantaged identity groups. It’s certainly not to say that the act of breastfeeding (a necessary one) is unacceptable.
      It’s to say that whether we revile or rejoice in certain identity acts, including those of the rational white older man performed by John Howard, we are turning our back on policy.
      I appreciate that you are joking, but I’m not much down with this “land rights for gay whales” humour, as it reminds me of the eighties.

      1. Desmond Graham

        Helen – Glad it reminds you of the eighties – the 1800’s or 1900’s ??
        The humour existed throughout the ages it encapsulates issues – does not analyse them. OR with the Twitface generation may be the length of their Ph.D thesis.
        Policy – these days is framed by the instant media. Media has to print or transmit something daily [ you have to find something to write about daily – that is your profession] . Like everyone’s job – the daily grind life is routine . Routine is boring- so to titillate- the queer & the bizarre arouses interest- which escalates to ‘must do something about the plight of the unusual” then further translates into policy as the politicians are not given to analysis – just joining the bandwagon [ if there are votes in it !!]

  4. klewso

    Surely, when it comes to the media class :- to actually “question the value of “role models” in government” (and started holding them to account) would mean they’d stop ‘leaking on you’, which makes ‘you’ feel important.
    …. Imagine the likes of Sales and Crabb not indulging Malcolm -> being cut off and not being able to namedrop him?
    Remember how Tony Jones used to go to water after being on the receiving end of a Palmer tongue job…?

  5. Draco Houston

    What Razer fails to grasp is,

  6. Charlie Chaplin

    Remember Max Headroom, Helen? That’s what we’ve got instead of political policy now. Well on the way to having Waldo for Black Mirror fans.

    1. AR

      Chas.Chap – I’m glad someone else grasps the Max Headroom problem – in the innocent(! – by comparison with today) 80s it really seemed that the exposure of wrong doing to public opprobrium (MrsT’s oxygen of publicity or the best antiseptic?) would resolve the matter.
      As Milo, Blot and the mudorc demonstrate it is more like radiation strengthening Godzilla.

  7. Northy

    Well argued. I get it. I like it.

  8. Elbow Patches

    I dunno. I’ve just started wondering if anyone’s done a marxist or materialist analysis on breast feeding. E.g. the work of it, the ‘economics’ of it… the social and labor relations involved. So I googled it… https://www.insidehighered.com/views/2012/09/20/essay-marxist-theory-and-breast-feeding-class but there’s other stuff (probably this is so last century or something). Truth is I don’t have time to properly engage with it. Even though I respect the general project Helen, I think you have the capacity to further it while not disrespecting people, even if they annoy or frustrate you. I’m participating in a small way in a sphere of politics that is kind of community level, and I am fairly inexperienced at it, but I think it’s really important to encourage more to participate in these times, and I think it doesn’t hurt to remember that people are trying to do a good job even if it doesn’t please everyone. When it gets really snarky, it turns good people off getting involved. The previous article made me pretty irritable, and then I start wondering, is this kind of like intellectual click bait or something? Maybe that is part of the attention economy of journalism in these times – ya gotta start arguments to get readers. I loved some of your writing on gardening and I have fond memories of being in the garden with babies. Will leave it there.

    1. Lesley Graham

      elbow patches HR is as I understand it trying to draw our attention to the fact that we aren’t getting good value from our politicians, they have largely become political fixated on their particular ’cause,’ losing sight of what their real reason for being there is, which is representing their constituents/serving the Australian people, rather than being part of a spin doctor’s idea of political progress. As Kath & Kim would say “look at me, look at me!”

  9. John Muldrew

    Contrarian? Au contraire! Just really thoughtful analysis.

  10. rumtytum

    I don’t think it matters what attention-seeking point Helen “Germaine” Razer was making. The important thing was to be noticed. On that basis the article worked perfectly.

  11. Lesley Graham

    I understand what you are saying Helen, it is the sign of the times, to get media or social media attention there is always this need to build an identity & a podium from which these identities need to stand upon/& for. This is the issue, the spin doctors that sit behind this type of politicking, are the problem, they are trying to continually change the message they’re trying to deliver,because the media & forms of communication has devolved to such a state that superficiality is the name of the game, unfortunately until the voters demand more & better from their representatives we are in for more of the same. Because somewhere between their representative constituents & canberra/state government the message is lost & political hubris takes over.

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