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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?

6 thoughts on “bum-gate: should we care?

  1. I won’t go as far as saying she has a big ass, because that is her prerogative. However I will agree, that wearing those jackets make her look ill proportioned. I’m all for self love, but realise your pros and cons and dress accordingly!

  2. I think the SMH journalist’s use of the “are men doing it” test to exonerate Germaine Greer’s comments about Gillard actually backfires:
    Wendy Squires writes that: “Men are not being informed they are oppressing other men with their comments. It is presumed that men can handle perfectly well the idea of other men bitching about them.”
    While I think this is true, I think she’s missing the fact that men, generally, don’t make “bitchy” comments about each other’s appearances in the first place.

    I am constantly hearing female journalists (Devine, Greer, Kate Legge), female commenters (Thilini), female politicians (Julia Bishop, Bronwyn Bishop) comment and critique on the bum, ear lobes and dress coats of Julia Gillard.
    I have never heard a male journalist/politican take jibes at, for example, Dick Adam’s weight, Christopher Pyne’s face, Wyatt Roy’s high pitched voice, John Faulkner’s huge glasses – and towards women the worst i’ve heard is the charge of being “barren”, which is not an appearance-related critique.

    So, defending Greer’s, or anyone’s, right to make fashion critiques of female political leaders is all well and good, but maybe one should question why she feels the need to make such comments in the first place.

  3. Pingback: Welcome to Monday ~ 2 April 2012 | feminaust ~ for australian feminism

  4. It amazes me, the extent to which broad public -or perhaps only perceived- opinion about appearances influences the way even feminists view the appearance of women, given the obvious conditioning that various media engage in around that issue. I think Germaine hit that on the head when she spoke of the mercantile kick backs of such conditioning.

    Could it be that arguments, both defending Julia and those attacking on the issue of her dress actually miss the point that Germain was making? If so, how is feminism served by them?

    I was of the impression that the point Germain was making was that “You’ve got a big arse” So What! The message I believe was that she shouldn’t be self- conscious about it and that her dress sense suggested she was. ‘Be proud, show it off, set an example that you’re not influenced by the mercantile body fashion image machine, be sexy’, struck me as being the underlying subtext of her comment.

    Afro-American men generally love big butts. I’m inclined to think that the reason is cultural rather than racial. Why do we consistently surrender to the notion that what’s hot is what’s in fashion where what’s in fashion is decided by marketing campaigns?? And I wouldn’t advocate stopping them, just get a critical mass of women to transcend them and they’ll whither away naturally.

    It seems likely that if you reared a bunch of humans without this ubiquitous social conditioning you would find, as in nature that female mates are chosen on the basis of reproductive and nurturing fitness and in such an environment, a big arse would be no less desirable.
    Women needn’t even accept the status quo of men doing the choosing. In Native American Iroquois culture for example, it was the women who chose yet in our culture, if a girl likes a guy, she’s generally reluctant to even let him know let alone pick him up.

    Perhaps if Julia felt more comfortable shakin dat ass she might even negotiate some better policies?

    So, why don’t we all help Julia feel like her ass is hot? ;)

  5. I’m all for embracing what you’ve got, but I think we need to have a little humour about the issue and not take it so analytically.

  6. If you’re into embracing what I’ve got, maybe we should hang out some time?? ;) Sorry, you left that wide open.

    Seriously though Thilini, surely you’re not suggesting that analysis and humour are diametrically opposed to one another or that analysis has no function in debate on such issues? Rule that out and where do you expect to get? I thought you were interested in solving problems here? Is it just meant to be a social club with its political factions perhaps?

    Thing is, women cut one another down all the time around the issue of sex appeal. I know you don’t believe that’s a joke. Really? Shouldn’t we instead look to the motive? How many women are inclined to dismiss that motives discovery for fear of being too analytical? How many actually know what that motive is and how easily it’s manipulated by the media given womens own desire for social acceptance and/or accolade?

    Come on, you’re surely teasing me?

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