Last night on Twitter, amongst the heated debate about Julia Gillard versus Kevin Rudd for Labor Prime Minister of Australia emerged the hashtag #ditchthewitch. It is a belittling, sexist slogan borrowed from the far right of Australia, who sunk to these depths in protests against the carbon emissions trading scheme. It is incredibly disturbing to see this slogan used again, and by some people apparently pro-Labor enough to care about Rudd’s candidacy – although a lot of people using the hashtag read as right-wing opportunists.
There is no denying that this is a bitter leadership contest for both the Labor caucus and for some of us in the Australian public (my own view on this matter is expressed in my comment here), but it is revealing on a broader level that people will draw so readily upon misogyny in this battle involving a man and a woman for the top job, isn’t it?
This article, “The gender agenda: Gillard and the politics of sexism” from Anne Summers at the Sydney Morning Herald is very much worth the read:
On July 6 last year, Sydney broadcaster Alan Jones said on air, referring to Gillard: ”The woman is off her tree and quite frankly they should shove her and Bob Brown in a chaff bag and take them as far out to sea as they can and tell them to swim home.” The comments caused outrage. Tony Abbott joined in the denunciation and Jones later said he regretted the remarks but by then they had become part of the firepower that was being aimed at Australia’s first female prime minister.
These inflammatory (and verging on violent) sentiments have now become commonplace in Parliament. During the last sitting, Christopher Pyne compared Gillard’s leadership to ”a person with a gangrenous wound [and] the body is now seeking to excise the sick limb”. Nicola Roxon considers the Abbott/Gillard contest to have gone ”beyond the normal push and shove of Parliament”. She says the level of personal abuse and vitriol in the current parliamentary debates are of a substantially different nature from anything we have seen in the past.
SO IN Parliament and in the community, it is now apparently deemed OK to subject the Prime Minister to cruel, violent and often gender-specific commentary and insults. And many in the media join in. The Herald Sun described her as ”coquettish” and ”giggling” with President Obama. Andrew Bolt described her as ”weak, even girlish” with the US President.
But it is on talkback radio where the hatred really gets out of hand. She has been labelled, by hosts Alan Jones or Ray Hadley or by callers to these programs: ”a menopausal monster”, ”a lying cow”, ”a lying bitch”, a ”vitriolic, bitter, lying, condescending facade of a prime minister”, ”a horrible mouth on legs” and ”brain dead”. One of Alan Jones’ listeners even said: ”Does she go down to the chemist to buy her tampons or does the taxpayer pay for them as well?” (These were included in a compilation on The Hampster Wheel by The Chaser on ABC TV last November.)
”I can’t remember ever seeing anything like ‘Ditch the Witch’ and I can’t imagine Jeff Kennett sanctioning that by his appearance,” says Joan Kirner, who was premier of Victoria from 1990 to 1992. ”The level of media and political sanction that has been given to this gender bias attack is greater.”
”There is an ugly part to the community and if you give them license it will emerge,” says Clare Martin, reflecting on the ”Ditch the Witch” signs. ”Wedge politics always brought people out and made them feral.” In the territory, it would happen with potent issues such as land rights, especially when claims could affect access to fishing areas or parks or waterfront areas in Darwin. ”We managed it by talking calmly and acknowledging it was an issue,” recalls Martin. ”Not by feeding that hysteria.