The Dawn Chorus

Fresh Australian Feminism

Archive for December, 2010

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.

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Posted in Media Watch, Politics, sexual assault | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

What Does The Assange Rape Case Mean For Feminism?

Posted by Mel Campbell on December 9, 2010

I’ve been very uneasy reading the commentary about the pending rape and sexual misconduct charges against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. Of course, I’m suspicious about the timing of Assange’s recent arrest in London, and the effort which international law enforcers put in to ‘catch’ him (whereas dude handed himself in, after keeping in touch with UK police for several weeks prior).

However, as Ms .45 has commented in relation to an earlier Dawn Chorus post, there’s been a pretty distasteful tone to the coverage. The media seem to want to both pruriently detail the allegations against Assange, and to suggest these charges aren’t that serious.

There have been various suggestions that the women were not really raped, but rather were embarrassed at having been ‘played’ by our snowy-haired Lothario (a media narrative we often see in allegations of sexual assault against famous men). Alternatively, they made up the rape allegations for political reasons: they want to ‘bring Assange down’.

Like Ms .45, I’m pretty disappointed that Crikey‘s WH Chong would think “the most sensible reading [of the ‘sex by surprise’ charge] comes from the mouth of babes, Assange’s son Daniel”. What? Someone on the other side of the world who knows as little about these incidents as anyone, and who hasn’t seen Assange for ages? Political commentary doesn’t suit Chong; he should probably confine his thoughts to arts and culture, which is the remit of his Crikey blog.

This Salon article is probably the best rebuttal of all the subtle, hearsay misogyny in other media coverage, while this Feministe post neatly rebuts all the disbelieving sniggering that’s been going on over the charge of “sex by surprise”.

But most troublingly for me, some media accounts have suggested that these vexatious charges could only have been laid in Sweden, where feminism has become institutionalised. As Salon’s Kate Harding sarcastically puts it:

The only reason the charges got traction is that, in the radical feminist utopia of Sweden under Queen Lisbeth Salander, if a woman doesn’t have multiple orgasms during hetero sex, the man can be charged with rape. You didn’t know?

The feminist project has long aimed to reach and reform the highest political institutions, and this has happened in Sweden, “where even conservative male politicians call themselves feminists”.

Swedish law has also eliminated many of the subtle anti-victim legal biases that we’ve previously documented here at the Dawn Chorus. The idea that women can withdraw their consent is the backbone of the ‘sex by surprise’ charge, and Swedish activists are now agitating for further reform which recognises that women can signal their non-consent in non-verbal ways.

But I’m getting the disquieting feeling that for the mainstream (and especially the conservative) media, Sweden is becoming a case study in the crazy, Kafkaesque shit that happens if we let those wacky feminists get their hands on the wheel. The central hypocrisy of the Julian Assange coverage seems to be that it’s a good thing for information to be free, but women should be kept down as much as possible – or where would society be then?

Posted in Media Watch, sexual assault | Tagged: , , , , | 10 Comments »