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An open letter to the Australian media

Dear Australian media

As you will have noticed this week, something momentous, and potentially paradigm shifting has happened. We (finally) got ourselves a female Prime Minister. Now it was certainly important that we noted this fact, celebrated this and embraced the fact that it opens a new door of possibility for every small girl who is ambitious and smart. However, it will not become a paradigm shifting moment unless the way we think about it moves on from this celebration.

Firstly, our Prime Minister is a person. Let us not always think in gender binary terms. Just as every Prime Minister before her has not constantly had his gender mentioned and commented upon, neither should she. She does not bring a “women’s style” or a “woman’s touch” or a “woman’s perspective” because guess what? There really is no such thing. My perspective is different from that of Miranda Devine. It is also different from that of a refugee woman or a woman who grown up in a rural town. Just as every man has his own perspective on the world, so does every woman. There is no hive mind. Julia Gillard’s views and approach are coloured by many things: her education, her parents, her experiences, and, no doubt, by the fact that she has grown up in a society which was dominated by men and by sexist views about what girls and woman can and can’t do. But this does not mean that her view should be discussed as if it was solely coloured by her gender. Yes, she has the views of a woman, but not all women. And just as it never seemed important to mention that her predecessors had the views of a man, neither should it be important to mention that she is a woman all the time.

Secondly, let’s not be patronising. She may be “as intelligent as any man” but have you noticed what this implies? That men are more intelligent than women. She is as intelligent as anyone in politics is probably what was meant. Let us not be surprised that she is, or can be tough/uncompromising/intelligent/ruthless or any other characteristics which you in the media might have previously designated as being “men’s” characteristics. And if she is those things, let’s not say she is really like a man. You know, there were many things about Margaret Thatcher that I didn’t like or didn’t agree with. But her callous indifference to the plight of the working classes did not make her a man – she was and remains the first female PM of the UK. So let us not give our new PM monikers like “the Iron Lady” which imply that toughness is a contrast with what her gender requires.

Thirdly, can we get over the endless commentary on her clothes/hair/make up etc. Honestly, if she is wearing something hideous, but still talking sense, does it matter? I know that some commentary is inevitable, and that some commentary even does apply to men – John Howard’s eyebrows for instance – so we can cope with a teeny tiny bit of discussion of her appearance so as not to appear precious. But not every day. It is incredibly disappointing that we already had articles about the PM and the “style police” on day 2 of her being in office. Think about the rule: would I comment if she was a man? Would we care? Think how outraged you all got when the former Prime Minister commented on the clothing of one of you, rather than treating her words seriously, then reverse the situation. I think you get my drift.

Fourth, can we avoid feminising Tim? Can we avoid making jokes that imply that he is less of a man because it is his partner who is the PM? He’s not a handbag, he’s not somehow less masculine because he is a supportive partner who does his share and has helped the person he loves achieve her ambitions. These things are good, and they don’t make him un-manly. I know how tempting it is going to be, what with him being a hairdresser and all. But, similarly, being a hairdresser does not bring his sexuality or masculinity into question. So please, can you just not. Can we celebrate him and his role, not slyly deride him?

Fifth, not having children does not make you less of a woman. And career-versus-children is not a binary scenario. Let us not advance the idea that childlessness is a pre requisite for career success, or that the only reason you would not have children is because you want a career. There are many successful women with careers who have children, and there are plenty of unsuccessful ones who don’t. People chose to have or not to have children for many reasons, and sometimes it is not a choice. Let us not create another binary which limits women and men and their opportunities. Also, not having children does not make you hostile, unsympathetic or un-empathetic towards families. And let’s face it, many of the advisors, colleagues and public servants who will surround her and advise her and support her will have families. So let’s not jump on the she-is-being-anti-family-because-she-doesn’t-have-one line if the opportunity arises.

Finally, being female does not determine a policy position.

All this does not mean that I think that the fact of her gender will not impact the way she is Prime Minister. It will, but so will so many other things. It is not the only, and possibly not even the most influential, factor that will shape her approach to policy thinking. So let’s think about the diversity of things that impact, not isolate the one that is most obvious. And I don’t mean the red hair.

I’d like my sons to grow up understanding and believing that it is appropriate and right for anyone to be Prime Minister: that gender does not make it surprising or unusual, that it is a matter-of-fact. The presence of a female Prime Minister could do that, but not if we always treat the fact that she is female as a matter of constant comment. My biggest fear in this change is the misogyny that might follow it. That has followed a number of the other women who have made it to leadership positions in politics.

Please media, prove me wrong.

Update: If you want to keep an eye on how badly the media is failing this particular test, check out Julia Gillard Sexism Watch for a bit of a flavour. There is something pretty much every day. Sadly.

21 responses to “An open letter to the Australian media

  1. Thank you. Very tired of the cliches.

  2. Linda ⋅

    Take heart from the fact that President Obama is no longer always described as the “first black President”.

  3. David Hilyard ⋅

    This is a bunch of great sentiment. I agree with your argument. Now watch the Australian press do exctly the opposite… No doubt, the 1st request for JG’s recipe for pumpkin scones has already reached her press office.

  4. Alastair ⋅

    Your excellent article exactly reflects my concern about media stereotyping

  5. tigtog

    Great post. Nail, head, hit etc.

  6. Perfectly put. Can you insist this be printed in every single newspaper in the country?

  7. Rachel ⋅

    Hey – this letter is exactly on the mark. Have you physically sent it to any of the editors? You should send it to one of the morning programs… it needs to get out there!

  8. Very well said.

    There did eventually come a time when Helen Clark wasn’t inevitably referred to as “New Zealand’s first elected woman Prime Minister”, or her clothes discussed before her speeches’ contents, but it did take a while.

    During our last election campaign, someone on Radio New Zealand mentioned a conversation she’d had with an eighteen-year-old of her acquaintance. The eighteen-year-old had remarked, “Won’t it be weird if we have a man Prime Minister after the election?” Because after eleven years of female Prime Ministers, to her and her peer group that was the default position. Call me naive, but I think we’ve got to a point in New Zealand where for most people the gender of the PM really isn’t much of an issue. I hope our friends across the ditch soon find themselves in a similar state.

  9. I love this. You’ve totally nailed most of my (internal) rants at the media from the last few days, and put them in a more palatable form suitable for public consumption. Please tell us you HAVE submitted this for publication, because *this* is the conversation we should be having about our new PM – just once, and then we can all get on with Life, business and politics.

  10. godardsletterboxes ⋅

    Thanks everyone for the overwhelmingly positive comments. I’m glad that what I was thinking resonated with so many people. What is disappointing is that we are already getting some of the naff reporting I was afraid of. Let us hope that, as Shayne notes about NZ and Linda about the US, it will get better, rather than worse, with time.

  11. Helen

    Yay!! And yes, send it to the news media.

    • godardsletterboxes ⋅

      I thought you might like to know Helen that you’ve sent more traffic to me than the link in The Punch did. All power to feminist bloggers!!

  12. Osi ⋅

    To be perfectly frank,
    The buzz and excitement needs to tone down bloody fast.
    An election is around the corner, the new PM needs to lay down how she’ll address various issues.
    Those are more important than anything else.

    For me, the internet filter is one of the biggest issues that isnt being addressed.

  13. fin ⋅

    excellent reading – i totally agree with you and other readers – would be great to see this appear in some “mainstream” media

  14. jessica ⋅

    I got directed to this site from a blog on another website. The article on the other website was rubbish but I’m glad I got here. This post is great. The only thing missing was a “share on facebook” link. Had to do the old fashioned way.

  15. Bravo! well-said. and may you flourish.

    We are all accustomed to testosterone-laden discussions, so this week’s switch to oestrogen-laden ones is so enervating!
    Have staggered back here from ABC website The Drum where Deveny rips into Arndt
    (over her SMH rant about mature unmarried childless women not being fit for PM [and yes Julie Bishop has kept a low profile this week] )
    and gets 200 supportive comments.

    peace and love to you though

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