About #ditchthewitch

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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.

Cross-posted at blue milk.

Categories: Culture, gender & feminism, language, media, parties and factions, Politics, Sociology

11 replies

  1. Anne Summers’ article contained some interesting comments from LNP women , demonstrating how, when slurs are levelled at Gillard, the sense of threat is experienced across the partisan divide and outside of politcs as well (I know I can’t help but take it personally). The comment which I really identified with was Joan Kirner’s: ”I started to get really scared for Julia’s sake when Alan Jones said she should be taken out to sea,” not only because I fear for Gillard, but because I know that this level of misogyny is bubbling under the surface constantly and even if Gillard is Ok, many other women aren’t and won’t be.

  2. Yes, me too, su. I found that Alan Jones comment incredibly confronting.

  3. All this leadership debacle is a bit ridiculous, obviously, but the way that Julia Gillard has been the victim of all this ridiculous, sexist and misogynistic slander is just so not ok. I have to admit, it won’t bother me either way what happens tomorrow as long as they get on with it – I actually liked Rudd’s philosophy and way of doing things for the most and have gotten a bit disenchanted with Gillard’s political decisions and stances of late – but this? And people say sexism doesn’t exist anymore. It’s just plain rude, disrespectful and disgusting. Can we focus on actually governing, not making sexist jibes at personalities?

  4. Many (on both sides of politics) make the case that Gillard’s current unpopularity is due not to her being a woman but to a combination of incompetence, untrustworthiness and a retrospective and increasing revulsion at the means by which she became prime minister. ”It’s fair to say that the way Kevin Rudd was removed from office has a lot to do with how people see her,” says Julie Bishop, Deputy Leader of the federal opposition.

    Re that last bit, I call bulls*!t. If she’d been a bloke, the way Kevin Rudd was removed from office would have been part of the way things get done, I’m sure of it. There is always some grumpiness and unease around a leadership change, and then all the baboons settle down and recognise that one way or the other, the new alpha baboon has proven his alphaness. But Julia can’t prove the “his” part, and that’s the problem.
    (I’m also amazed at the number of people who keep insisting KRudd was voted out or whatever. He didn’t contest once he saw which way the wind was blowing, the vote was never held.)

  5. I’ve been spending a really substantial amount of today looking at various comments on friends’ walls over the Anne Summers article, and many of the reactions are deeply depressing. Along with assertions that people calling out sexism are simply “fragile” or “sensitive”, there have been whole hosts of men willing to come together to decide that sexism most certainly is not an issue anymore. My favourite comment was from someone insisting that “Mrs Thatcher never played the gender card”. And a lot of these comments have been from people who are ostensibly left wing men.
    Not that any of the above is particularly surprising of course, but boy has this weekend been exhausting on the public sexism and anti-feminism front.

  6. Also, it may just be anecdata, but has anyone else noted a tendency for people to refer to “Julia” by her given name but “Rudd” and “Abbott” by their surnames? My this-is-starting-to-look-like-a-pattern senses are tingling…

  7. It’s interesting you should say that Li, we had a discussion about that a while ago when someone pointed out to me that I always wrote Julia and Abbott or Rudd. It is now something that I consciously have to do to ensure that everyone is either their first name and/or surname. I still don’t know why I did/do it, but as a habit it is quite tricky to break.
    Pantry cleaning has been a good distraction from this whole shemozzle, as was a well timed visit by friends. I spent most of Friday depressed and sad by this whole thing and then realised that it didn’t matter whether I was or not, I have no say in the outcome so I might as well avoid the whole thing and wait to see what happens on Monday. The news said Julia, but we will see what Caucus says.
    I think the worst thing on Facebook is FB friends either solidly on one side or another (not the lovely bluemilk but others) who cannot see that they are ignoring things their own side is doing while focussing on what the other side is doing. I worry that they are causing themselves heartache which may take a while to undo. But I have decided to keep out of it, so that they don’t feel that I am one of many piling on. I haven’t been avoiding twitter so much as being busy doing other things, but I think I might not check in there for a day or two to let things die down.
    Well, obviously I have more feelings about this than I thought. Must be time to tackle the kitchen floor and the vaccuuming.

  8. Li: the surname/first name difference isn’t exclusive to Julia Gillard, I’ve noticed a tendency for women in politics to be referred to by their first names in general. Now I think part of the reason is that there are so many men in politics (and so relatively few common men’s first names) that male politicians have to be referred to by surname to be distinguished clearly (unless there’s a very specific context). But part of it is probably just general sexism, and I’m probably as guilty of it as most.

  9. Apparently protesters against Margaret Thatcher used the slogan ‘Ditch the Bitch’. That’s pretty unsurprising as it’s one of those catchy and simple formulations, like ‘Ax the Tax’, that seem to recur in politics with some frequency.

  10. I wrote about the way in which Gillard is called by her first name and male politicians are not previously, see here:


  11. Many (on both sides of politics) make the case that Gillard’s current unpopularity is due not to her being a woman but to…
    Even if that were true, it doesn’t magically make the sexist attacks against her into attacks that are not sexist.
    My favourite comment was from someone insisting that “Mrs Thatcher never played the gender card”.
    Remarkable how the people attacking Gillard are never accused of playing the gender card. After all, they’re the ones who constantly bring it up.

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