The Mirabella story is about how we expect women to act

Article by News With Nipples (Blog) /
July 04, 2012 /
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Lauren Rosewarne has a great piece in The Conversation about the sledging of Sophie Mirabella after Monday night’s QandA: Sophie Mirabella shouldn’t be attacked for failing to emote:

Of the very many gendered burdens heaped on the shoulders of women is that of natural emotional sensitivity. Apparently, as women, we’re supposed to be able to read people, read situations, and respond accordingly. Intuitively. All in under one minute. Apparently Sophie Mirabella should have known, instinctively, that Simon Sheikh was sick rather than merely dabbling in a little bit of silly bugger youthful petulance. Not doing so and judgment, contempt and vitriol got hurled at her in spades.

The comments are almost all from men saying Rosewarne is wrong – when did The Conversation become The Punch? – that Mirabella’s not being criticised because she didn’t act like a woman, but because she didn’t act like a human. It’s a little over the top. Not helping someone who faints is hardly inhuman. I think we should probably save that word for things that are actually inhuman, you know, like killing lots of people because you think it’ll make a political point, or threatening to tow boats of terrified asylum seekers back to sea. Or zombies. I mean, shit, if we’re going to say it’s inhuman to not help someone who faints, then what do we call the zombie apocalypse? Inhuman for realz?

The thing is, who knows how you’ll react when something unexpected happens? ManFriend fainted at a gig once (Spod, at the Hoey), and the man he fell on caught him on the way down, had him on his side in the safety position in a second and immediately asked me what he’d taken. (Nothing. It was incredibly hot and stuffy and he keeled over as we tried to get out.) I can’t say for sure that if a stranger fell on me that my reaction would be the same. Considering the number of times I’ve been groped in public, my instinct would probably be to shove him off me. And then I’d look like a big jerk.

Sure, Mirabella’s response wasn’t warm or caring, but so what? Let’s crack a joke about how we hope she’s not the person closest to us when we faint, and move on. But if you think this isn’t about policing women’s behaviour, when’s the last time a male politician was criticised for not being warm or caring? As much as I disagree with all of Mirabella’s views, my feminism does not allow me to say “this woman is worthy of defence from sexist attacks but that woman is not”. Because that stance says that some sexism is ok.

Which brings me to the mainstream media, where public behaviour is policed. This story was BIG all day. As though Mirabella’s response was of national importance. Journos love “scandal” stories about something that happened on tv. They’re easy to write – no research required and AAP usually files copy as it happens – plus, most of the quotes come from twitter. This is where my head disappears up my own arse, because I’m going to quote my article for The King’s Tribune, on Lara Bingle and the female celebrity redemption game:

Communication researcher Zohar Kampf suggests that journalists love these “social dramas of apology” because it legitimises what they do. It allows them to perform their role as “norm enforcers” by exposing the transgression, demanding accountability and, once they get the apology, score points with the public for making sure no one gets away with acting outside mainstream standards (2011, p. 74).

(Psst, I think The King’s Tribune is a great publication and if you want to read good, interesting writing on a range of topics, you should support it. There are print and online subscriptions.)

Now, before you say “you’re just defending Mirabella because she’s a woman and you’re a feminist and blah blah blah sisterhood”, let me make two points:

1. Tony Jones, sitting on the other side of Mirabella, had exactly the same response, yet he’s not being criticised. It’s his show so it’s reasonable to expect that he’d demonstrate leadership, but he just sat there. And then quickly moved on like nothing had happened.

2. Of all the things to criticise Mirabella for – and there are many, such as standing in front of this poster and calling MP Belinda Neal a “man hater” and insulting Gillard about not having kids, and everything she writes for The Punch, plus, her politics – how she reacts when someone faints is pretty minor.