Sexism or scrutiny?
Greens’ leader Bob Brown has accused the media of being sexist in its reporting of Julia Gillard.
We live in a deeply sexist society. It is part and parcel of capitalism that women raise children. The cost of looking after kids is borne by the family, not capitalism, and in most cases that means the woman.
This is an incredible saving to capital and is why they rabbit on so much about the family being the foundation of society. In one sense it is. The bosses don’t have to pay for child care; for cleaning; for cooking and the like. They have women as mothers and workers to do it.
This reduces the cost of labour power and as a generalisation the wages the bosses have to pay their workers. It means more profit for them.
A rational society would organise communal cooking, child care and the like. We do not live in a rational society – we live in one dominated by profit where satisfying human need is a sometimes adjunct to making money.
Despite the changes in the workforce over the last forty years as a consequence of the women’s liberation movement and the more general radical anti-establishment and working class struggles of the 60s and 70s, the oppression of women remains central to capitalism.
And so all aspects of capitalist society reflect this oppression. That is as true of reporting of Julia Gillard and her Government as it is of the gender pay gap.
I might add that the recent Fair Work Australia decision to grant community sector workers – about 80% of whom in some sections are women – pay increases of between 20% and 40% reflects and reinforces this oppression.
Fair Work recognised that there was a gender pay gap – that is the pay was less because they were mainly female employees – but the increases will be spread over the next 9 years.
This means two things. Forty percent of the gender pay gap won’t be made up.
And second, employers are likely to reduce ‘normal’ pay increases over that time to offset their increased costs and counterbalance the Fair Work decision.
A 40% pay increase effective immediately, plus a guarantee of full funding and no job losses, would have addressed the gender pay gap and challenged the oppression of these women and indeed all working women.
In Victoria nurses are fighting for an 18% pay rise over just under 4 years but e Government has offered a below inflation increase and changes to the nurse patient ration which will make nurses work even harder and risk patient care.
The history of nurses’ struggles in Victoria shows that a determined strike campaign can win. It is an important lesson in addressing systemic oppression like low wages for women workers and giving confidence to challenge sexism and women’s oppression more generally. You have to fight.
Clearly there is sexism in some attacks on Gillard. Liberal Senator Heffernan, then John Howard’s right hand machine man, said that Gillard was unfit for office because she was deliberately barren.
He also said priests should be allowed to marry because they, like all men, wake up at 4 am with a horn.
Heffernan’s anti-woman views find echo in some sections of society, and some of the more conservative commentators distanced themselves from his wording but not the sentiment – that to be a real woman and a real politician one needed to have kids.
At anti-carbon tax demonstrations there were signs referring to Gillard as Bob Brown’s bitch and calls to ditch the witch. Tony Abbott was captured on prime time TV in front of some of these signs.
These go further than my discussion of John Howard as a lying rodent, (something Liberal Senator George Brandis called him,) or even referring to Tony Abbott’s budgie smugglers.
Attacking John Howard as a lying rodent goes to his character, not his gender. Calling someone a bitch or witch imports images of negativity and is criticism based on gender.
Tony Abbott parades his body for the cameras in budgie smugglers, just as John Howard made a statement about himself in his Australia tracksuit and 6 am frog march. Both are open to attack for the political strategy these actions represent.
Comments about Gillard’s hair or her dress sense or lack of affability can’t be divorced from the wider oppression of women in society. They reinforce stereotypes about women as having a role that must fit within the dominant power structure of capitalism – as objects of men’s desire and displaying ‘feminine’ characteristics.
However Bob Brown was being too cute by half in blaming criticism of Gillard on sexism.
After all this is the do nothing Government (except for its attacks on Indigenous Australians, refugees, gays and lesbians etc etc) he supports and sustains, so attacks on Labor are also a criticism of him and his equally do nothing Greens.
You cannot hide behind sexism to divert attention away from the failure of Labor to inspire its base. That is part of the problem – Labor’s neoliberalism.
The other part of the problem is the Tweedledee and Tweedledum nature of politics in Australia, with the Liberals, Labor and the Greens all playing in the ‘let the market rule’ sandpit.
The lack of potential differentiation (as compared to spin giving the impression there are real differences) mean that the mainstream media concentrate on non-issues about personality at the expense of reporting the truth on policy – the two major parties are much the same.
A resurgence in struggle, in fighting for equal pay now, free abortion on demand, free childcare, would challenge the very structures of capitalist oppression. Therein lies the way forward, not tired bleating about sexist reporting that ignores the systemic oppression of women under capitalism.