A little lesson in undermining women in power

This lesson comes courtesy of the Courier Mail. Click on the image above to see a larger version of the screen shot, which is of the web version of that newspaper.

Or picture this.

Four political stories about four different federal politicians and all of them use the politician’s last name in the title of the story, except one. Which story was it? The one about the Prime Minister, the one about the previous Prime Minister, the one about the Leader of the Opposition, or the one about the Independent?

The one about the female politican, natch. She happens to also be our country’s Prime Minister but she is the only one casually reduced to her first name.

The articles are as follows…

“How Julia wooed Independents”

“Why Abbott failed to seal PM deal”

“He’s back. Rudd in the spotlight after win”

“Oakeshott not worried about losing seat”

Cross-posted at blue milk

Categories: gender & feminism, language, media, Politics

27 replies

  1. How odd, I’ve written to friends overseas to tell them what was going on and used just the PM’s surname as a matter of course. It didn’t strike me as something I should not do because she is ‘just a woman’ *look of fake surprise*
    I wonder where I get my delusion that women can be just as competent as men to do a job. What an odd thought! *sarcasm*

  2. It’s all over blog comments threads too, have you noticed?
    There was a bit of Kev-ing re Rudd in the past, understandable due to the Kevin07 campaign, but Gillard didn’t run as Julia10, did she?

  3. Most anti-Gillard/anti-Labor comments on news sites refer to her as ‘Joolya’, which adds another layer of mocking.

  4. Actually on a spreadsheet thing completely unconnected to politics I found myself putting women’s first names only, and the only male with both first and surname. Once I found the mistake I deleted it so that it was all first names only, but still made me wonder about my own inbuilt ideas. But still, I found it and changed it.

  5. I find this one a bit difficult.
    I can’t bring myself to type ‘Tony’ instead of “Abbott” because it seems to indicate a degree of intimacy and approval that is entirely absent in my feelings about the man.
    Similarly I have such a huge respect for her ability and presentation, for example that smile and poise while she demolishes people like Hockey [there I go doing it again] and Barrie Cassidy and others, really tickles me.
    I’m a fan.
    So I’m trying to mix it up a bit, typing Julia and Tony sometimes and referring in one case to “Ms Julia Gillard, PM elect of Australia” just to emphasise the ‘elect ‘ bit.
    I’m also hoping that the juxtaposition of ‘Julia’ with ‘Abbott’ may backfire on the right wingers.
    I’m hoping that the use of ‘Julia’ may develop a rapport, an approval, a friendliness, cos I certainly reckon I could be friendly with her but not ‘Abbott”.
    I dunno about this one, am I doing it wrong?
    Is intent a mitigating factor?

  6. I don’t think the problem is as straight forward as ‘first name basis’ equals bad and
    ‘surname’ equals good but I do think there is something undermining about having the woman treated differently to all the men. And I also think generally there was a level of familiarity with Gillard during the campaign – asking her about her hair and her relationship and her voice – that was very undermining of her position.
    But as I said, there isn’t a hard and fast rule about how the exclusion works because I have seen similar exclusions in work settings where the men are all ‘mate’ and ‘first name basis’ with one another and the woman was left with the formality of ‘Ms Blah Blah’.
    Interesting idea though that you’ve raised hannah’s dad about the use of a first name building trust and likeability for a politician too.

  7. I’d be interested in a survey done on the deliberately unflattering images used of Prime Minister Gillard since she first came to power – particularly to commemorate otherwise positive news stories. It seems as if some editors are going out of their way to find really awful and distorted images, the more undignified the better, and I rarely see this with male politicians and particularly male political leaders, except by humorists and their most ardent detractors.

  8. Oh good I’m not way off then.
    Cos I’m sure your essential point, that the MSM is using ‘Julia’ as a demeaning tactic consciously or not, is valid.
    There was the post here some time ago when an American Senator asking a witness to refer to her as ‘Senator’ [“I worked hard for that title”] rather than “ma’am”, was described by some as ‘uppity’, not here of course.
    And the hair colour and ear lobes and pearls stuff really …ahem …pisses me off.
    But it worried me that my using “Julia” could fall into the trap that you point out in your post.
    I think I will continue to do so, somewhat haphazardly as is my unplanned habit, and ‘Abbott” as such, because I really feel using the first name in her case is affectionate and respectful and I really just can’t do that for the Leader of the Opposition … who is still just that.
    Then again I’m not sure. I don’t want to do the wrong thing.
    I’m indecisive.
    But I’m open to persuasion as to what is the right thing to do.

  9. I tend to agree with Blue Milk that using the prime minister’s first name, but the other male politician’s surnames is a not so subtle undermining of her. It is quite extraordinary actually that in this day and age newspapers still find it quite all right to use women’s first names, but rarely do so with men.
    Otherwise, on a less formal level, I’m with Hannah’s dad re the use of first names. Find it hard to say Tony, but amongst like-minded people tend to call our prime minister Julia. With others though I do call Julia by her surname.
    The ‘Joolya’, like ‘Krud’, I find unbelievably obnoxious, but unsurprising as name calling and belittling is generally the modus operandi of my more right leaning fellow citizens in lieu of expressing an opinion.

  10. You thought those 4 articles were bad?
    Try this.


    I started to write something at the site but disgust got the better of me and I would have just been incoherently contemptuous so I gave in.

  11. I sometimes deliberately write Tones which suggests a knowledge of him that I certainly don’t have but also contempt which I do.
    I noticed on the ABC news last night that all the footage of Julia showed her as happy, beaming actually and Tones as tight lipped. A small ray of hope there.

    • Tangentially relevant: Laura Tingle in todays Fin Review has a cracking piece, which is of course paywalled or dead-tree only.
      Media dilemma that can’t be avoided: she writes of how the News Ltd media conglomerate’s collective ire focussed on Labor, the Greens and the Indies for daring to snatch victory away from their anointed one is finally getting pollies to mutter about the problem of the dominance of the Murdochracy.
      Along with Bob Brown’s open challenge to the ABC and News Ltd about their bias against serious air-time for the Greens, there might be the chance to finally redress some of the egregious Howard-era measures that led to our current loss of media diversity.
      BTW, somebody’s started up a tumblr where anyone can submit instances of lazy regurgitation etc of corporate media talking points on Our ABC – crowdsourcing accountability is the goal. I didn’t know you could whack a submission form into a tumblr blog like that, but how useful – should I start one up for a Julia Gillard Media Sexism Watch?

  12. I think a sexism watch in general would be good. If anyone makes sexist comments about any politician it should be brought up. They are more likely to be about the Prime Minister, granted, but I think a narrow focus could just be shrugged off as feminists griping. Thoughts?

    • My experience with watching a few of these websites based on public submissions: narrowcasting is the way to go – if you make it too broad it gets fuzzy and poorly defined.

  13. Well since I have zero experience with those websites I suggest we go with your plan. Unfortunately I don’t think we will be wanting for examples.

  14. I’d like to also call out David Marr for calling Julie Bishop “Death Stare”. David, you are not the Chaser.

    • I’m a bit torn on that one, Mindy, especially seeing as it’s a term she’s embraced! The Chaser boys didn’t make up the nickname, either.
      There’s a dividing line between a nickname, whether used with affection or scorn , and a whole piece focussing on personal attributes that reeks of trivialising a politician’s ideas entirely. Sure, some nicknames are worse than others, but I don’t think “Death Stare” is either particularly nasty or especially sexist. Like “Iron Bar” for Wilson Tuckey, it probably does her more good than harm politically, actually, because it implies a certain ruthless strength for a voting bloc that likes that sort of thing.

  15. tigtog – thank you so much for setting up sexism watch – took the thought right out of my head.

  16. Ha! I’ve got a few instances stored on another puter somewhere else… will get to it soon.

  17. http://au.news.yahoo.com/thewest/lifestyle/a/-/lifestyle/7629670/gillard-sheds-bogan-fashion-image/

    I dunno what the procedure is here but the above may be a candidate for your site.

  18. Hannah’s Dad, Considering it is ‘Fashion Week’ here in the west, I’m not surprised that there is a comment about the clothes that female politicians are wearing.
    On one hand, I always find it annoying that ‘sensible shoes’ are considered to be such a negative thing. On the other hand, it can be hard to find attractive looking ‘sensible shoes’.
    And what’s wrong with not looking ‘sexy’ so long as one is clean and tidy? I actually admire Penny Wong’s collection of ‘sensible clothes’, to me it suggests that she is more interested in doing her job … just like all those boringly dressed men in ‘the big house’!

  19. Hey, it worked!

  20. @ tigtog – sorry to be dragging this up from last week, but I would have felt more comfortable had he said Julie “Death Stare” Bishop because he gave everyone else their first and last names. I’m not sure that the nickname was meant playfully, like Joolya isn’t meant in a good way. But this latest cold has messed with my head in all sorts of weird and disturbing ways so I could easily have been reading too much into it.

    • Mindy, please never apologise for keeping a discussion going! I love it when discussions get revisited and go on for weeks.
      The added context helps me understand your original disdain better, because sadly you didn’t give us a link to exactly where Marr said/wrote it (probably the headcold). I agree, if he didn’t give her the same appellation conventions as everyone else, it’s singling her out and he ought to be challenged on why.
      Also, when I say that I think the nickname does her more good than harm, I wasn’t meaning that it was originally bestowed playfully or affectionately. What it does do is actually give her a Point of Difference which raises her public profile, just as the “Iron Bar” nickname did for Tuckey. Without it, Bishop is a rather colourless political figure – the nickname drapes a strong persona over her that she can self-deprecatingly embrace. For a politician, that’s a useful thing.

  21. My apologies for not including the link. The article is here. 4th para down if you don’t want to read the whole thing.
    The head cold is fighting back and may win this battle yet I fear, unless I can find something really effective for stopping coughs.
    The nickname does give her something to differentiate herself. That and most of Australia think that she is the Deputy Opposition Leader (who is actually Nationals Leader Warren Truss [who???]). I suppose she has to work with what she’s got and when you have a headline sucking Leader like Tony Abbott you need something. I wonder if Robb will be successful in taking her job though, although I suspect he has his eyes on the bigger prize. Which is even more scary.

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