by JAMILA RIZVI
Yesterday, Grahame Morris – a former Chief of Staff to Prime Minister John Howard and Liberal Party ‘strategist’ – called journalist Leigh Sales a cow.
Why? Because late last week Leigh went to work and she did her job.
Leigh is an outstanding journalist. Despite being given only hours to prepare for her interview with Leader of the Opposition, Tony Abbott on ABC’s 7.30, she was well researched, she knew her subject, she was responsive and she nailed it.
Which begs the question, what is it about a woman doing her job (and doing it well) that prompts someone to compare her to a barnyard animal?
If it had been Kerry O’Brien who had conducted that same interview, would he have been subject to the same criticism that Leigh has? Laurie Oakes? George Negus? Would Twitter have erupted with questions about his mood, his demeanour, calling him ‘shrill’ or ‘angsty’ or ‘bitchy’?
Hell to the no.
In fact, if it had been any of those male journalists, they would have received a hearty pat on the back for a good day’s work from the Government side and a begrudging acknowledgement that it was a ‘solid’ interview, from the Opposition.
Along with a lot of other women, I took to Twitter last night to express my disgust at Morris’ comments. I had my outrage pants firmly buttoned up and I was ready to party. But then I was struck with a severe sense of déjà vu.
Because despite Morris ultimately apologising for and retracting his offensive statements – this is not the first and nor will it be the last time, that a strong and smart woman gets called names, simply for being good at what she does.
Only a few weeks ago, I grabbed my laptop in anger, raging at the CEO of the Australian Agricultural Company, David Farley for calling our Prime Minister an ‘old cow’.
I explained then that there was no way that Prime Minister Gillard would be able to buy into the debate over those comments. (I know it’s the height of absurdity to quote yourself but unsurprisingly – I agree with me – so here you go):
Because if she [Gillard] hits back at Farley, she’ll be called a ‘bitch’ and if she admits that the comments were hurtful, she’ll look ‘weak’. Heaven forbid the woman be allowed to show some humanity. Because even if she did, the Prime Minister would just cop another beating from the media and the Opposition with the underlying message – yet again – that a woman running the country is something be scared of.
The fact that gendered language is still being used to detract from a woman who is winning an argument, or achieving success is outrageous. And it’s not just women in the public eye like Leigh and the Prime Minister who cop it.
Just recently I was visiting friends in Adelaide and got into a fairly heated argument about the state of the economy with a guy who was a member of the youth wing of the Liberal Party.
Now we were a little boozed but I was still managing to be more coherent than he was and perhaps had the upper hand, when he slammed his palm onto the table and launched into his next line of attack with “Listen girlie…”.
I mean, seriously? I relished the moment, mainly because you know that when someone resorts to name calling in an argument that you’ve won. But still, there is no question that the language was an attempt to cut me down, to demean me and the arguments I was making, as those of a ‘little girl’. Or a barnyard animal.
By all means let’s engage in healthy debate about issues and even about those doing the interrogating. But sexist name-calling demeans everyone and does nothing to help your argument. In fact, it does the opposite.
Jamila is a member of the Australian Labor Party and has worked for both the Gillard and Rudd governments.