The debates we have when we’re not quite debating

Article by Lauren Rosewarne /
ABC The Drum /
April 05, 2011 /

Click here to view original /

When Gillard made it to the big house last year, the kind of questions commentators like me were asked was whether her ascension proved that gender no longer matters. Never articulated in so many words, but the underlying assumption was that maybe it’s time feminists pop their bras back on and pack up shop.

Such questions, amusingly enough, were generally sandwiched between queries about just how likely it’d be that Gillard got scrutinised for her boyfriend/bouffant/blazers. Questions asked by women, to women. Because apparently by talking about the sexism, you get to feign observation rather than complicity.

This isn’t a post-feminist world. No. What is however, is a smart-arse, euphemistic, weasel word world where mouthpieces all too frequently play nasty games of debating without ever quite debating. Insulting without ever quite insulting. Stirring pots, lighting matches and in a perfectly Steve Urkel way, daring to stand back, look on and ask, “Did I do that?”

Pru let-me-just-remind-you-I’m-Right Goward recently felt it perfectly appropriate to comment about radio personality Jackie O’s walk-n-feed. Likened O’s actions to Jack-O’s baby-dangling; dared dub the incident “cavalier”.

Goward, in her new position on the O’Farrell cabinet, packaged her comment as being about health and safety. As mere concern for the stork’s perfect bundle of joy. As just being about safe parenting. No agenda here, folks, she’ll tell us.

Dig a little deeper however, and we know very well that Goward is ever so gently tilting her head to the good mother debates. Egging on the mummy wars, reminding us – yet again – just how much we salivate for a good catfight.

Pru’s not on her own here.

Last week the Mighty Mouth behind the electronics and cheese-in-jars dynasties, trotted out his two-child propaganda. At a cursory listen and Dick Smith’s comments were just his oh so grave concern for our burning/melting/cooling/whatever planet. Just one wise man, one sole voice daring to insist that sex with a condom and we too can help save the planet.

Dig a little deeper however, and ol’ Dick’s a’tiltin’ his head to a very different kind of population debate. A green spin on border security. On boats. A quiet, so, so innocent reference to those resource marauding, big-time breedin’ migrants. Just pretending it’s all nice and race-neutral and apolitical, of course.

Sadly Smith’s not dicking around on his own here either.

Mark only-Charlie-Sheen-splatters-more-verbal-diarrhoea Latham has his name on our lips once again, this time creepily musing about – of all topics – love. Latham who shows his love through bone-snappin’, who shows his love through chucking Whopper tanties and smashing property, dares speculate that our PM is wooden because she’s “barren”.

This thug, this bully, this overbearing attention-seeking git is apparently now the authority on amor. Loony Latham apparently knows that the greatest love of all is children. That one can’t feel compassion, feel warmth, feel empathy without raising the fruit of one’s loins.  At a cursory listen, Latham’s just doing whatever he can to peddle his book. And really, who can blame him? But dig a little deeper and he’s actually doing what’s done to every woman every time a man wants to play dirty. He’s playin’ it rough, playin’ it crude and he’s kicking her between the legs (metaphorically speaking, of course).

We pretend gender doesn’t matter. That we’re beyond it. That we’re all polite and decent and oh so evolved human beings. At least until we let a halfwit with poor punctuation skills loose with a Texta and a piece of cardboard. Such tools at hand and the PM gets called a bitch. And just like words like slut and those genital euphemisms I find too egregious to type, there are no male equivalents. No words that cut as deep and no bigger reminder that at the end of the day, surprise, surprise, gender really does matter.

Apparently people are just people until someone’s playing ruthlessly to win. Suddenly all those things we pretend not to judge on – race and gender and religion and weight and parenting style – are suddenly the very insults summoned when the knives are pulled out.

© Lauren Rosewarne