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deputy opposition leader tanya plibersek profiled in condescending article

plibersek_tanya

Featured on Daily Life this week was an in-depth profile of our new deputy Opposition leader, Tanya Plibersek. Focussing on Plibersek’s family, home, and love of cooking (with handy captions of where her clothes were from at the end), the piece read like something out of a feminist-nightmare – once again reinforcing the idea that Plibersek (like Gillard before her) is a woman first, and a politician second.

Opening with a description of Plibersek ‘whisking egg yolks, lemon juice and olive oil into a home-made mayonnaise’, the piece immediately dives into a rhetoric that we’re unfortunately very accustomed  to hearing about female politicians, one that places gender and assumed female characteristics at the centre of Plibersek’s character, inseparable from her abilities as a politician.

‘Plibersek sets out a light lunch for our interview…On the bench is home-made banana bread next to a folder marked “school notes”. The fridge is plastered with wedding invites, photos and a timetable of before- and after-school activities. “I love cooking and I find it really relaxing,” Plibersek says. “It’s different from what I do the rest of the time”,’ the piece continues.

‘Plibersek is strikingly handsome, with angular features that reflect her Slovenian heritage.’

I mean, seriously? She’s one of the most powerful women in Australia, and we’re profiling her Slovenian good looks?

Here’s my issue with articles like this:

Of course Tanya Plibersek’s family is an important part of her life. And being a mother is a considerable skill in itself, and for many, a consuming full-time job. The fact that Plibersek can juggle both being a mother and her role as a high profile politician is definitely worth noting.

But that’s just it – it’s worth noting, acknowledging, and moving on. To profile Plibersek in a piece that focuses on her looks, cooking skills, and kitchen fridge while not even mentioning her education, and only barely touching on her political career implies a lot about how we, as a society, deal with female politicians.

It reminds me of  the incident in 2005 when then deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard was photographed next to an empty fruitbowl in her home, leading to countless analyses that claimed Gillard was barren (and also unfit to run the country). The empty fruitbowl, the lack of fridge calendars, the dearth of  well-dressed children to pose next to, all indicated that Gillard lacked some necessary ‘femaleness’ that would have somehow made up for the otherwise unnatural qualities of ambition and confidence that made her a leader and politician.

This article almost reads as a long excusing of Plibersek’s career, by assuring the public that she still cooks for her family, still breastfed each of her children for a year, and that frankly we don’t need to be intimidated because she doesn’t want the top job – she’s committed to her family, as she should be.

And that’s the worst part – I absolutely think it’s great that Plibersek has such an evidently happy home life, that she has a good relationship with her family, and that she can accommodate all of the aspects of her life in a way that works for her.

But articles like this one seem to imply that this is out of the ordinary – that Plibersek is the exception to the rule (the rule being the frazzled, unhappy working mum, neglecting her children and unable to keep up in the workplace). Marvelling at Plibersek’s ability to run a happy home and work life does harm to the perception of female politicians, because it suggests that Plibersek is a novelty, that not many women could cope with the pressure. The same scrutiny is not applied to male politicians in equal or higher positions – Opposition Leader Bill Shorten’s children have barely made a talking point.

It is time for society to stop treating women as if their gender is integral to all that they do – just like Bill Shorten doesn’t represent his party in Parliament with his penis, nor does Plibersek’s vagina control her intellect or abilities.

And just as Bill Shorten’s ability to be both a father and a politician is assumed, so should Plibersek’s be. We should not need a condescending piece like the Daily Life article to spell it out for us.

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5 thoughts on “deputy opposition leader tanya plibersek profiled in condescending article

  1. I couldn’t disagree more with your article, and find it guilty of perhaps the most heinous charge one can lay on a ‘journalist’; that of whipping up [homemade] trite to fill up column inches and reignite ramblings amongst your readership about a non-issue that’s likely to garner fury for the simple fact that they are likely to agree with your general angle of ‘something-out-of-a-feminist-nightmare’ paranoia. Much like Andrew Bolt’s readership might lambast the fact that our public transport system is clogged and untimely due to the waves of ‘illegals’ arriving on our shores.

    The Daily Life magazine, for one, is not the editorial column of The Australian. Nor is it the editorial column of the Age, a sister publication of its owner Fairfax. It’s not an indepth political analysis on the ABC’s website conducted by Annabel Crabbe. Who, by the way, runs a cooking show that features both male and female politicians. It’s a lifestyle magazine with a largely female readership, and by-and-large has a feminist voice to it too. The fact that this article appeared in this particular medium means we are automatically to draw from it a few assumptions, which you clearly did not do. One is the fact that this was not about to be an in-depth essay by David Marr on the political makings of Tanya Plibersek, the policy trials and tribulations that made her the MP she is today. A simple reason for that is that in this format and with the readership that Daily Life enjoys, people would’ve turned away. This wasn’t intended to be a justification of her stance on a number of issues, nor was it intended to be an expose or character piece on Plibersek the politician. This was about Plibersek the person, with the overall goal of humanising an affable politician from the ALP whilst also demonstrating the challenges that a woman can face attempting to run a family as well as succeeding in a very taxing career. To Daily Life’s credit, this was far from a ‘puff piece’ about her (and it would’ve been very easy to stray into that territory) dog’s name, Game of Thrones infatuation or pseudo-loyalty to a sporting team (looking at you, Rudd). They kept it largely on point, and if it’s antifeminist (sexist?) to slightly dwell on the fact that Plibersek sees herself as a mum and human first, and politician second, then you’d be lying to yourself about the expectations and priorities REAL women with uber-successful careers have. It’s not a sign of weakness to admit to prioritising your children; to be ashamed of it would be to do the feminist cause more harm than admitting that you enjoy cooking and breastfed your kids.

    You also concede that it is worth acknowledging that Plibersek is a mum, but the article needs to move on as not doing so shows a lot about how society ‘deals with female politicians’. A blanket statement like that which doesn’t scratch beneath the surface of what it’s getting at (what is meant by “dealing” with women politicians, exactly? Doesn’t this imply that they’re something we simply have to contend with?) also fails to understand where this article was published and what it’s purpose was. I feel that I’ve covered this point, though, so I’ll move to my next one.

    Humanising politicians has long been a difficult thing to do without coming across anti (insert whatever preoccupations you may have regarding any politician versus your preconceived sensibilities/sensitivities). Crabbe’s Kitchen Cabinet is a prime example of how this can be done without trivialising the issues or eroding from their overall image of “tough on this and that” or “working for the embetterment of here and there”. If the article had appeared as an overall profile on Plibersek the politician in her local newspaper two weeks out from the election then, yes. Rage would be justified as the article doesn’t really dwell on policy, her future ambitions or the Labor party as a whole. But the point I’m making is that it wasn’t. It was an admittedly soft piece on her as a person, and unapologetically so.

    Passionately ranting against this article shows your hypersensitivity towards the issue and stands to cast aspersions on any legitimate criticisms you might have of media pieces in the future, and as a journalist I’m sure you understand that credibility is sacrosanct. Hopefully you take my thoughts under consideration and try read the article in a new, less, dare I say it, “feminazi”, stance.

  2. Hi James,

    “The Daily Life magazine, for one, is not the editorial column of The Australian. Nor is it the editorial column of the Age” – Okay.. so can you point me to the non-DailyLife editorial feature on Tanya Plibersek? The point is that this was the *only one*, and it was about what she was cooking for lunch etc.

    “The fact that this article appeared in this particular medium” – This article was the head story on all the Fairfax websites for half a day. The article was sub-titled “If Labor is to make its way out of the political wilderness, deputy opposition leader Tanya Plibersek will be a key player.” which heavily hints at being a political feature piece. If it was called “The Lighter side of Tanya”, “Tanya at Home” or “Annabelle Crab’s Kitchen Cabinet, then I think people could more reasonably expect a puff piece. Or, you know, if a serious piece accompanied the light piece, or appeared within a couple of weeks of the light piece. Or appeared, at all, ever.

    “This was about Plibersek the person, with the overall goal of humanising an affable politician from the ALP” – But the problem is that there’s wanton lack of humanising an affable politician pieces on Bill. At least ones featuring what he cooks, where he got his suit from, how he balances work life and the kids. Where’s the picture of Bill smiling with his children? Instead, in all the pictures he looks stately and tough. And don’t try to tell me that Dailylife readers wouldn’t want to read about it..

    “..if it’s antifeminist (sexist?) to slightly dwell on the fact that Plibersek sees herself as a mum and human first, and politician second..” – Are you reading the same article I am? The author says “I absolutely think it’s great that Plibersek has such an evidently happy home life, that she has a good relationship with her family, and that she can accommodate all of the aspects of her life in a way that works for her.” The point, to re-iterate, is that it is not “slightly dwelling” but it is the primary lens through which female politicians are viewed… and so the rest of that paragraph “it’s not a sign of weakness to prioritise your children etc etc” is a strawman.

    “If the article had appeared as an overall profile on Plibersek the politician in her local newspaper two weeks out from the election then, yes.” – Yes, but this is goes to the central flaw of your argument – *where* is the overall profile? *Who* is dwelling on *her* (as opposed to Labor) policy? Indeed, the piece seems to argue that her best political attribute is her apparent niceness. The underlying message of the article, as I see it, is that the ratio of “humanising” features about female politicians versus humanising features on male politicians is heavily skewed.

    “Passionately ranting…hypersensitivity…feminazi…etc etc” – lol, wikipedia Godwin’s Law, bro..

  3. “so can you point me to the non-DailyLife editorial feature on Tanya Plibersek? The point is that this was the *only one*, and it was about what she was cooking for lunch etc.”

    I’m sorry Chris but that is not the point. You seem to have missed the point.

    The Daily Life is a lifestyle magazine for women. The article was on par with its audience. Simple as that.

    • Kelly,
      The point the author is making, that I agree with, is:
      “The same scrutiny is not applied to male politicians in equal or higher positions – Opposition Leader Bill Shorten’s children have barely made a talking point.”

      The point you’re making is, “there’s nothing wrong with Tanya being in Dailylife”, which is great, but no one is arguing about that point?..

  4. The Daily Life magazine is a women, fashion, beauty, food magazine. It claims to delve into politics and the ‘economy’ but its essentially a lifestyle magazine for middle class housewives. It’s not a political magazine, the article was on par with its Audience, not really condescending in that context. What is condescending is the assholes pushing the article into the political sphere (it got shared around Fairfax websites for a day) because they were too lazy to do a serious article on her themselves…

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