20 August 2013

A quick post on slurs and preferencing

I’m not planning on doing an ornate series of posts for this election like I was for the last election. If I have to say anything, I probably will say that my opinion on the fibre to the node is the main one in a series of issues that will possibly sway me towards preferencing the ALP over the Libs.

The election is still a couple of weeks away, though.

Ok. That out of the way, it’s worth getting in a post about hardened, rusted-on political party members. I’m not a member of a political party and because I also consider myself a swinging voter, I think that I’m way more objective than most.

I had this discussion with someone on Twitter who is honest enough to post his party membership upfront in his Twitter bio. He’s a Labor man. But I thought this was a rather interesting tweet when he posted it:

Now, I know that the Greens haven’t released their how to vote cards. I know, because I’ve been trying to get one for Jagajaga, and if Jagajaga isn’t ready, then it’s almost certain that La Trobe and Chisholm ones aren’t ready yet, either.  And why would they have been printed? The AEC only announced the candidates on the weekend. It’s Tuesday.

There was some to-ing and fro-ing on Twitter, part of which had him trying to put this up as evidence for his claim that the Greens have refused to preference “progressive women”.

It’s not a how-to-vote card, which are actually defined in the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918. But, more importantly, it does not support the claim that the Greens have refused to preference “progressive women” in the seats of La Trobe and Chisholm. Remember, just because the correct how-to-vote cards haven’t been printed yet, this doesn’t mean that the party hasn’t already decided their preferences for these two seats. And chances are, they WILL preference the ALP.

The second claim relates to the “progressive” part of “progressive women”. I’m not really going to address this, apart from mischievously pointing out that the ALP is regarded by some as a centre-right party these days, and so “progressive” would be a little wrong in this context.

Related to this is the fact that in La Trobe the other parties standing are not even vaguely progressive. There is a candidate from the Secular Party standing in Chisholm, but I’m not sure I’d classify candidates from a centrist party as “progressive”. So it’s clear that, in this case, the complainant has cherry-picked electorates with female ALP candidates and no other candidates from progressive parties. Or even progressive independents. The fact that the other candidates (vaguely conservative except for the Secular Party) are all men only makes the cherry-picking more pronounced.

Also, “progressive women” versus “conservative men” suggests an invalid dichotomy. Where would a conservative female, for example, fit in? Might this also be cis-normative?

But it's the decision by the tweeter to bring gender into this disturbs me, and here’s why.

One of the things that really annoyed me during Julia Gillard’s stint as PM, was that there was a lot of sexism in Australia. The list of sexist incidents is too numerous to mention and culminated in that almighty speech to parliament where the then-PM said, famously:
I will not be lectured about sexism and misogyny by this man.
Gillard was quite right to mention this about the Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott.

However, we also saw that some Gillard supporters had something of a hair trigger when it came to sexism, and I wasn’t altogether convinced that on a couple of occasions, we weren’t seeing sexism used as a slur. Or a nuclear-grade damage-control mechanism.

An obvious example was the sitcom that went on the ABC of life at the Lodge. “There’s no way they’d do this [satirise the PM and spouse at home] if the Prime Minister was male,” went the appeal to the Steinem test which was so frequently iterated at that time.

The problem with invoking Steinem, however, is that it is a rock-solid test for sexism. And unfortunately, it’s all too easy to take it apart by mentioning, “Well, actually, in the 80s, we had The Gillies Report. We had The Dingo Principle. We had Australia, You’re Standing In It and we had How Green Was My Cactus. All of which featured parodies of Bob and the late Hazel Hawke as centrepieces. Leitmotifs, even.”

I don’t need to mention that Bob Hawke is male. Or maybe I did.

Sexism, or misogyny is (or should be) a highly damaging accusation. There is no doubt that we’ve seen highly sexist behaviour and mostly from members of the Liberal Party, but should it be used to smear?

It’s obvious that in the tweet above, despite the lack of evidence, a slur has been cast against the Greens designed to hurt them. Designed to brand them as neither seriously pro-women nor progressive.

I must admit, I don’t usually like the term, “playing the gender card,” as it’s usually said by people who don’t want to be labelled as sexists, but in this case, I’m thinking that the tweet was incredibly disingenuous. Being technically correct is not a defence.

 Again, I’m sure that I don’t need to harp on the fact that electorates appear to have been cherry-picked. I could very easily say, for example, that the Greens candidate for Warringah has “refused to preference progressive women over conservative men” and this might be technically correct. However, this ignores the existence of conservative women and the fact there appears to be NO progressive women to be found amongst the current batch of candidates for Warringah.

Lastly, I’d be happy to accept (with no judgement) a criticism that the Greens had preferenced conservative men over progressive women, if there was evidence for this on a how-to-vote card.

So. Was the tweet disingenuous?

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