Naming sexism

by little red pen

Well, it’s been a busy week here and I haven’t had time to read much, just the first chapter of The Grapes of Wrath and a few articles about sexism in Australia. The Grapes stopped me in my tracks — it’s so damn good — but the rest made for a lot of feminist rage.

The Julia Gillard-quail thing was horrible enough (and the attacks on her are by no means isolated), but what struck me on reading The Guardian‘s coverage was the inability of any of the male political leaders interviewed to confront the attack head-on and name it for what it was.

Hockey called it “offensive and inappropriate”, which is so vague as to be meaningless and also kind of indicates that it’s mainly wrong because some people (ie. sensitive women) might take it badly.

Abbott called it “scatological”, which is inaccurate and just plain weird. He does know what that means, right?

And Rudd said that it was a “sexist trick” — the “trick” softening and undermining the blow of the “sexist” — and then suggested that the right and proper thing would be to donate all proceeds from the fundraising dinner to the RSPCA. The RSPCA? Why? Why not Rape Crisis or the Women’s Refuge, or whatever their Australian equivalents are? What’s the RSPCA got to do with it? Please God, tell me that he’s not worried about the quail.

Some things helped. This article makes a strong and coherent criticism of another attack on Gillard, this time over her partner’s sexuality, although I got a bit side-tracked when the writer admitted that it’s a bit, well, awkward talking about sexism and suggested that maybe we should think of it as being about manners instead. Yeeeesss. He went on to discuss the sexism inherent in this particular manifestation of bad manners, but it left me wondering again, why? Why is it so hard to name what’s going on here? Why is it awkward, and why are women so often accused of playing the gender card when they use the word “sexism”?

And there was another story, this time about the Chief of Army, who said that he would not tolerate sexism in the armed forces. Which is great, right? I mean, personally, the more feminists out there the better, and Lieutenant General David Morrison spoke with conviction and gave no ground to those in the army who think it’s acceptable to demean women.

But the article and comments went on to say what a feminist hero he was, and what a great leader, and called for him to be Prime Minister.


Australia, you have a feminist Prime Minister. She’s been weathering a storm of vile sexist attack for years. She made this amazing speech naming all the sexist stuff she’d had to put up with. You may not like all her policies, but then challenge her on her policies. Don’t start on about how you’d like to replace her with… what? Someone who’s a better feminist because he’s a man? A soldier?

Wow. You really can’t handle having a woman as leader at all, can you?