Twirling towards freedom

On Character and Caricature

Yesterday the public awoke to a curious day of news. We learnt about a new campaign for cats to be eradicated from New Zealand, that a stinky cheese-smelling gas has wafted over from France to London, and that Janet Albrechtsen is writing about feminism. Specifically, about how Julia Gillard “should have been a more thoughtful feminist.”

This, as Crikey’s Bernard Keane noted on Twitter, is from the same columnist who in 2010 wrote that Gillard “has showcased a bare home and an empty kitchen as badges of honour and commitment to her career.” This notion of thoughtful feminism apparently came to Albrechtsen while she was re-reading Helen Garner’s The First Stone over the summer holidays. As Albrechtsen reached the end of the book, she was left with “a sinking feeling that Australia’s first female PM represents an out-dated, less intelligent form of feminism.”

When I first plucked that same book off a friend’s shelf several years ago, I was pleased and relieved that Garner had raised such intelligent, considered questions about the interplay of sex and power. I was similarly relieved to read Albrechtsen’s suggestion that, “Perhaps the brutal political realm is no place for nuanced debates about men and women.” She may well be right. But if, as she says, politics isn’t the appropriate arena for this nuanced debate, then surely the media is? Albrechtsen’s column ran on the same day that former Age editor Gay Alcorn mourned the pronouncement amongst press gallery journalists that, “politics will be more bitter, more personal, more toxic this year and that – groan – the election will be about ‘trust and character.’” She continued, “Well, what if it wasn’t? Specifically, what if the media decided it wasn’t going to be?”

Well, for example, what if Albrechtsten didn't ask, “If a female PM recklessly and ruthlessly uses gender as a weapon, isn't that PM saying to other women: ‘Go girl, go ahead, make serious allegations, never mind the lack of evidence, so long as it furthers your agenda.’” I don’t know if Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl also made it onto Albrechtsen’s summer reading list, but the conclusion she has drawn about sex and power seems to have more in common with that book than The First Stone.

This is the first time we’ve had a female Prime Minister, but perhaps more interestingly, it’s the first time that a male opposition leader has been running against one. Sex was always going to be one of the cornerstones of this year’s election but again, well, what if it wasn’t? Well, what indeed.

Imagine reading election coverage that didn’t hinge upon whether Gillard’s claims against Abbott’s attitude towards women are, as Albrechsten suggests, “baseless allegations.” What if we didn’t worry about whether if by occasionally reminding the public that she is actually a woman, Gillard is “seeking the solace of victimhood for ulterior motives,” but instead debated policy? Any thoughtful feminists out there aren’t going to decide how to cast their vote based on who likes Downton Abbey and who’s putting on morning teas for female bloggers. They’re going to examine which party’s policies actually benefit them more. The news doesn’t have to be crafted as though half of us need to be enthralled by magic tricks and Punch and Judy-style villains, and it’s time we stop expecting it to be.

Michaela McGuire

Michaela McGuire is a journalist and the author of Last Bets: A True Story of Gambling, Morality and the Law and the Penguin Special A Story of Grief. Visit her blog, Twirling Towards Freedom.


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