Friday, April 19, 2013

Sexism? Where?

I read with interest Professor Sally Young's article about sexism in Australian political journalism. Although it's bad grammar to use a double negative in a sentence, I don't disagree with this article. It seems fair to surmise that some people cannot abide having a woman in a position of power. 
However, why is there no mention of former Western Australian Premier Carmen Lawrence (1990-1993), former Victorian Premier Joan Kirner (1990-1992), or former New South Wales Premier Kristina Keneally (2009-2011)? When they were appointed Premiers of their respective states, arguably their governments were already headed to be voted out of office. I remember when Keneally became Premier of New South Wales, a female commentator said that her elevation to the position was motivated by pragmatism. In other words, her parliamentary colleagues thought that she'd improve their electoral prospects. 

I also remember the unflattering cartoons of Mrs Kirner in the Herald Sun, which depicted her as a frumpy housewife in a polka dot dress. This was part of an ongoing campaign which that newspaper ran against the Victorian Labor government at the time. They memorably reported that she burst into tears during a cabinet meeting when one of her ministers demanded money for his office bathroom renovation. Bear in mind that this was during the most severe economic downturn in the state of Victoria since the Great Depression of the 1930s. 

Yes, there is sexism in some reporting of Julia Gillard's Prime Ministership, but another explanation is the poor standard of political journalism across the board.  Male politicians receive their fair share as well. Former Australian Prime Minister John Howard was mocked for his glasses, voice, and for wearing pants that were too long for him during a joint press conference at former US President George W. Bush's Texas ranch, and for wearing a tracksuit during his regular morning walks around the foreshore of Sydney Harbour. Former Labor leaders Kim Beazley and Mark Latham received unfavourable press coverage for being overweight, as has shadow treasurer Joe Hockey. 

The real issue is not so much sexism or misogyny (a fashionable word of late) in journalism as it is the overall poor standard of political journalism. Serious political discourse is largely reduced to image and easily digestible sound bites. Surely its more important to consider which political party has the best policies to serve the common interest and keep their state or nation, as the case may be, on the correct trajectory. 

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