There was a bit of a controversy on Sunday when The Daily Telegraph, which is apparently still passing for a newspaper, put up a story called “PM Julia Gillard and Senator Pansy Wong – a reluctant embrace of an emotive issue; gay marriage”. Here’s the story in question. Let’s be very kind and move past the coding as gay of everyone who wants to marry someone of their own gender, and also the punctuation, (I know, I know, I can hear the baby semicolons crying, too) because the real ?!?! moment was, of course, the reference to the only openly gay minister, Penny Wong, as Pansy.
Homophobia ahoy? Well, many Tele readers thought so. Happily, after several hours, there was an update to the article:
thetelegraph.com.au apologies for mistake in a headline that appeared online today. The headline was not intended to be a play on words but was in fact a mix up by a web producer from New Zealand who confused Senator Wong with NZ MP Pansy Wong.
Claire Harvey, who wrote the article, tweeted:
Genuine mistake. Careful readers will see we editorialised in favour of gay marriage today. Everyone else stop being sensationalist.
Colin Espiner, the web editor in question, also took to Twitter:
Sorry conspiracy theorists but the Pansy Wong headline was an honest mistake – I’m the (Kiwi) journo who wrote it. She’s an NZ pollie.
Okay, that’s fair enough in its way. I can well believe that a tired, overworked editor, one new to Australia, as Espiner is, one who must have spent a lot of time writing about former New Zealand minister Pansy Wong, could have mixed them up by mistake. It’s a really unfortunate mistake, but the homophobia is incidental rather than a bad joke. I’m not a fan of the objections about sensationalism! and conspiracy theorists! and see how we are so not homophobic! because Harvey, Espiner and their bosses should really have dealt with this more sensibly, but okay. There was an apology at least.
What they – and, it seems, a lot of people who objected to that headline – have missed is the racism. I’m feeling some pretty strong vibes along “Asians are interchangeable” lines. I’m feeling it all the more strongly because of how the surname Wong is routinely manipulated to represent Asians and Asian stereotypes – you know, like the “two Wongs will make it white” shirts? Irrespective of whether that was intended or not, I think that the semblance of racism is as well worth apologising for as the semblance of homophobia. Moreover, intent and semblances are besides the point when we take a broader look: an apology is necessary because the headline plays into systemic racism, because that headline has got to have hit a lot of East Asians hard.
But it wasn’t only the Tele stuffing up. The word from Melbourne is that the Herald Sun’s headline – I can’t find a copy on the website – was “Right Wonged”. Okay, so I think we all get that that’s really racist. But also: sense it does not make. Firstly, Penny Wong didn’t rush through and save the queer day by changing Labor’s same-sex marriage policy all on her little lesbian lonesome. Plus, given that whoever dragged that headline up from the swamp of inarticulate pain was playing on the bad, bad joke of switching Wong and wrong, that translates from unclever casually racist copyediting speak to English as “right wronged”. Possibly I should not look for sense in Herald Sun headlines, but the closest thing to sense that makes is saying that the sacred right to marriage has been wrongly dealt with by potentially perhaps maybe letting those same-sex attracted people in on it. Racism and weird sort of editorial subliminal bias for the lose.
I am almost beyond giving these people any more time, but one more, and it’s with Brisbane’s Courier Mail, so you know it’s going to be bad. So help us, the Courier Mail offered “Not so gay for Prime Minister Julia Gillard”. There is a picture just below it, captioned ‘awkward moment’ because LOL or something. The picture chosen was one in which the Prime Minister and Senator Wong are embracing, but only Julia Gillard’s arm is visible around the Senator. The PM is smiling while the Senator is in one of those moments when your expression is changing and you inevitably look a bit displeased. Get it? The idea is that Penny Wong is the super gayest lady ever, and would totally hit on her colleagues and stuff, but not Julia Gillard! Because it’s not as though queer people are ever seen as constantly inappropriately sexual because some straight people can only see a big pink glittery threat rather than human beings! And it’s not as though Ms Gillard’s sexuality has been constantly denigrated throughout her time in politics as overbearing, inadequate, or, you know, secretly queer, as though that would be a bad thing!
Homophobia, racism, misogyny: these things are rife. The media’s vicious little jokes perpetuate it, as do the honest mistakes that are not quickly and thoroughly accounted for. Let’s get same-sex marriage passed and make this country a better place, and show the media that they’d do better to stop giggling to themselves over their own rubbish. They should start giving us reportage of a decent quality such as befits our efforts towards an increasingly decent nation.