As an Australian living permanently in the country of her forebears, I am often asked of the UK, “How can you stand it here?” The notion that I have exchanged an outdoor, endless-sun-and-sand lifestyle for dullard skies (even in June), a tanking economy, high population density and so on ad infinitum, might seem incomprehensible to the average vitamin D-deprived Brit. Today, however, it is a doddle to answer – I can simply refer the incredulous interrogator to the latest edifying example of equality politics from my home country, and wince by way of answer when I am asked “Is this for real?”
In case you might have missed it, this is the charming topical story to which I allude. The Prime Minister of Australia, Julia Gillard, in the latest of a relentless toxic stream of misogynistic attacks, has been served up in symbolic form as a starter course at a fund-raising do for the Liberal National Party Coalition (Australia’s conservative Opposition). To quote the menu, guests were offered: Julia Gillard Quail with “small breasts, huge thighs and a big red box.”
This is beyond astonishing. I sit flummoxed in front of my keyboard. None of the pejoratives I feel compelled to hurl seems adequate to the task. There is no engagement with Gillard’s politics, she is simply reduced to a collection of body parts in much the same way as the victim of a machete-wielding serial killer might be. Simultaneously vivisected and diminished, Gillard is made into a teeny-weeny quail, rather than, say, a turkey or goose. (This despite the apparently “huge” thighs. Oh yeah, never mind challenging her government’s Disability Benefit, let’s get her where it really hurts… The Suffragettes would have wept at the notion that, 100 years on, this is how far women have come.)
I had also wanted to address here the UK MP Caroline Lucas’s fabulous stand this week at Westminster, being told to cover up her “No More Page Three” t-shirt during the debate on the same issue – in a context where her t-shirt is considered improper but the Sun newspaper complete with archaic Page 3 may be obtained in no fewer than eight locations within the buildings. The UK cannot claim much moral high ground on these issues.
But the fuller story on that must wait for another time. Because oh, I am bored to delirium by the Australian saddos in suits whose idea the ‘Gillard menu’ is of wit; who will not see women other than as a devourable assembly of body parts, and for whom those body parts will always be a focal point of ridicule and/or disgust. How can there be more than three people in the whole country who will vote for them, on the basis of this incident alone? This kind of thing can only spring from a mental state where women – public figures or otherwise – are not seen as human.
I was going to submit this to the Everyday Sexism website, if the story isn’t already plastered all over it; but really, the politics of hatred on such a scale require a whole new approach – perhaps a kind of Sexism Olympics.
And who better to host that, on current evidence, than Australia? Apparently we’re quite good at sport.