What begins with “s” and ends in “ism”? Cynicism, of course.
Australian PM Julia Gillard cried sexism this week, but I’m afraid she was labouring under the former rather than the latter.
Gillard’s tenure has been punctuated with the pomposity and bombastic behaviour of her fellow (male) colleagues practically queuing up to deride her in public, to point out that she’s silly or witless or wrong. It comes with the territory, when you choose to become a politician.
But the opposition leader, Tony Abbott, has, in the past, told her to make “an honest woman” of herself – that is, get married – and been snapped outside the parliamentary building next to anti-Gillard protesters holding placards reading “ditch the witch” and describing the PM as “a man’s bitch”. There was a poet in the angry mob, clearly.
This much adds up to sexism, undeniably. And to say that Gillard is somehow nullified as a victim of these sorts of prejudices because of her public role and professional standing is a non-starter. So we won’t even go there.
She can complain all she wants, as far as I’m concerned. She can shout it from the rooftops: this sort of blatant disrespect and contempt for women must be stamped out, those who practise it shamed, those who find it amusing paraded through the streets naked while we enlightened equalitarians throw rotten fruit at them.
However, Gillard is currently wading through a scandal which involves her former speaker, Peter Slipper. This is the issue her opposition wants Gillard to address, but she rebuffs them by crying “misogyny” with all the pathos of Charles Laughton’s Quasimodo seeking refuge.
Using the sexism argument to get yourself out of a tight spot is low. Done something wrong at work? Sexism. Failed an exam? Misogyny. Sometimes it’s easier to fall back on these old arguments than to try to construct your own – but for Gillard, usually so brilliantly vocal and impressive, to do it and in such a public way? That’s just really disheartening. Let’s reserve the sexism plea for when we need it. For when things really are unfair, and not just for when we’ve got our knickers in a twist and don’t want anybody else to notice.