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.