bum-gate: should we care?
It can be a little hit-and-miss, but every couple of weeks Australia is sent into a minor tizz over words spoken on Q&A. The national panel show, now in its second full year of embracing the tweet-giest, can pull the odd controversial statement out and influence the tone of debates. Late last week we saw Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s body shape get the attention…
What happened and how?
An episode of Q&A two weeks ago, later titled ‘Politics and Porn in a Post-Feminist World‘, featured writer and academic Germaine Greer. When a question was posed to the panel about improving Ms. Gillard’s national image, Greer responded with an analysis of her performance to date. She told the audience:
“[Julia] has to negotiate every single policy position…it happens to be what she’s good at. Whatever she really, really believes is not what’s going to happen [because of the minority government].”
Greer then went on to say of Gillard: “She’s not in love with the sound of her own voice…there are lots of good things about her.”
But it was the final piece of her answer, one that got a hearty laugh from the audience, that started things:
“What I want [Julia] to do is get rid of those bloody jackets! It’s not even fashion…they don’t fit! You’ve got a big arse, Julia!”
Tony weighs in
While Greer’s statements were chuckled at and quibbled over in the twittersphere that week, the story grew a longer tail when a citizen at a community forum mentioned the comments to Opposition Leader Tony Abbott two days ago. When he was approached and asked if he could “get those jackets off the PM”, Abbott chuckled and agreed that Greer was “right on that subject”. Mr. Abbott has since acknowledged that he regretted making the statement, when pushed by both media and spokespeople for the government. In a return to scrutiny over criticism for female politicians, both Greer and Abbott are facing fire over their dislike of Ms. Gillard’s work wear.
But Greer is a feminist, right?
This is the first question on the lips of opinion writers this week as bum-gate enters online front page territory. Should Greer really be postulating on the dress sense of our first female Prime Minister when her own academic and public life has been built around gender theory and women’s rights? For many the answer has been a resounding ‘NO’, but then few have examined her analysis of Gillard prior to the comments, which seem to endorse the negotiating skills of our PM. Is it more a case of trying to shock an audience in a public news program, as some have suggested this week? Was it an attempt to shake up the repetition of the leadership debate?
Or is Greer allowed to express her opinion with the view that not everything she says has to be traced back to the feminist movement? Can years of academic work on gender be subverted by an attempt to gain an audience’s attention or goodwill? The tone of Australian press is, perhaps, more on the side that women can be their own worst enemies in the public discourse.
What about policy?
Then there are those who claim appearance holds an altogether too powerful grip on political analysis in general, whether it’s Abbott in his swimwear or Gillard in an unpopular power suit. Federal politics has this week focused on the national broadband network, school funding and rebates for childcare – all issues that have arguably flown under the radar of Bum-gate. Whether the dress sense of our PM is deserving of headline news is perhaps the most important question. By all accounts, what the PM wears gets more comments online than these issues.
But then, as has been discussed previously, would a male Prime Minister be informed that his suits should fit better? Or would an analysis of his lack of charisma leave the clothing question behind?
What are your thoughts?