The Dawn Chorus

Fresh Australian Feminism

Would this fly if we had a male PM?

Posted by Mel Campbell on December 21, 2010

This cartoon by Bill Leak, published in today’s Australian, isn’t garden-variety media sexism. It’s an appallingly ill-judged combination of callousness and racism surrounding the Christmas Island asylum seeker shipwreck disaster, and to make matters worse, there’s a jocular rapeyness directed at the prime minister of this country.

Readers, I’m talking about this:

“A hell of a hammering”? It really does beggar belief that Leak could think of no better way to dramatise the political trials Gillard faces over Australia’s asylum seeker policies than to show the prime minister as a distressed, brutalised object.

Depressingly, though, I almost suspect that Leak’s editor at The Australian knew exactly how tasteless and dull-witted the cartoon was, and approved its publication anyway in order to court controversy, and hence, boost circulation and pageviews.

I really struggle to think of any other political cartoon that degrades the holder of the highest executive office in this country in such an ill-conceived, unfunny way. Imagery of shipwrecks and stormy seas has been used extensively in political cartoons in the past – especially in relation to asylum seeker issues – but even a besieged prime minister is usually depicted as a captain going down with his ship, flailing in the sea or clinging to a life raft. Not battered and bruised, on all fours. Not with a police officer standing there, coolly refusing to help.

This is the second time in two days the Australian media have disrespected the Prime Minister. Yesterday, actual airtime and column inches were devoted to gossipy speculation over whether the very publicly unmarried Gillard had finally got engaged, since she was spotted at a press conference wearing a large sparkly ring on her engagement finger.

When asked about the ring, Gillard made light of it. “We have got to that stage in a press conference where it’s got a bit silly,” she retorted.

“I have had that ring for a long period of time and I miscellaneously wear it on my left hand or my right hand, depending on how much handwriting I’m doing. … If it will make you feel better, I’ll slip it back on to the right hand.”

If a male prime minister were spotted without his wedding ring, would the Australian media interrupt a press conference about the National Broadband Network to ask him if he’d left his wife? Let journalists criticise Gillard’s policies all they like, but to discredit them, and her, on the basis of her gender is appalling.

5 Responses to “Would this fly if we had a male PM?”

  1. Had the title not been “The Political Toll Mounts” I would have viewed the cartoon totally differently. Without reading the title (I had to scroll to realise one was there) and not seeing the cartoon in context, what I saw was Julia representing the poor asylum seekers and the officer representing the Australian people. A “walk a mile in my shoes” jab at Julia and a “heartless bastards” jab at Australia (not to imply that police are heartless – just the imagery here). The title, however, completely dispelled my initial interpretation.

    As a woman slightly older than Julia, I don’t give a damn about her gender – I DO give a damn about Australia’s flagrant disregard for human and civil rights.

    I think if you look at USA cartoons you will find some pretty gross ones about Obama – and I do mean gross. Not everything that cartoonists dream up is actually funny. I’d but this one with the Obama cartoons.

  2. MHM said

    Gossipy tendencies would lead anyone ask about a new engagement ring but you would have to have to be totally savage to ask about a missing wedding ring – so I’m not sure that comparison stands up in this argument..!

    Just say Kevin Rudd was still our PM and the same unfortunate Christmas Island incident happened and he was drawn into this cartoon on all fours instead? Would you still cry “rapeyness”? Or is rape only something that happens to women?

    It’s obvious that this cartoon is gonna be viewed by some as sexist but we don’t know that for sure until the cartoonist admits it. Anyone ask him, by the way?.

  3. blogster said

    With regards to the wedding ring question I think it is more a case of the falling standards of what qualifies for journalism these days – you only have to watch ACA or Today Tonight to see the level of journalistic discourse. This simply fits into that.

    Or are you saying that as the highest office holder in the land, there will not be even slight interest in whether she gets married or not? While it might be trite in the context of a serious political press conference, do you expect there to NOT be any interest at all?

    In the UK, when there was continual speculation about whether Prince William would propose, was that sexism too?

  4. gross

  5. Rx said

    Is that the one where she miraculously manages to swim ashore after the shock jock put her in a bag and dumped her in the ocean?

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