Time to rewrite tropes on gender

Whenever I see Mark Latham in trouble my first reaction is to question his mental health.  The latest episode was not different, it simply led me to question Sky’s health and safety policy and practices, not their strategic and editorial decisions.

I cannot see how a sane man can make the kind of comments Latham makes. I know his sanity has been endorsed by greats such as Whitlam, as well as the vetting processes of the ALP, various elite writer’s conferences, and for Latham’s Sky media gig. Yet I cannot accept his commentary as being that of rational person.

So why are people so drawn to Latham, why did Sky keep him for so long, why did Jacqueline Maley write such an ironically engaging article on not engaging with him. What is the world’s fascination with Mark Latham? What is this trope, what is this anger, and why are people drawn?

The validity of the feminist cause is beyond challenge. The battle over the principle of equality was won decades ago, but social change has been slow and is now confused. To recap, there has always been a grand emancipatory narrative between master and slave (Hegel), or proletariat and bourgeoisie (Marx). However feminist writers, for example Irigaray, have correctly challenged this traditional grand emancipatory narrative by arguing that women are treated as goods for exchange within it. That is, women were traditionally not accepted as citizens within the broader emancipatory narrative. This required women to write their own emancipatory narrative we know as feminism, or what some conservative French philosophers might call a self-legitimating little narrative.

The narrative of feminism has had some, yet not universal, success in broadening opportunities for women and providing women access to power. That progress has been uneven is leading to new toxic dynamics.  There are now women in positions of power, while underlying inequality remains and festers.

Contemporary problems are more evident among the elites than among the hoi polloi. One Nation has shown that conservative men and women do not have problems with female leadership. Pauline Hanson’s stable leadership of Australia’s conservative movement for over 20 years is in stark contrast to other parties considered more progressive.  That Queensland is the only state to popularly elect a woman, twice, shows that Hanson is not an isolated case. Given a choice between an authoritarian male (Newman), and a sensible female (Palaszczuk), even conservatives seem to prefer the later. Among the general population there seems little problem with women and power.

Problems are more evident among elites and spheres of life considered progressive. That only 25 per cent of professors and one third of vice-chancellor in Australian universities are women is one example (click for article). The progressive Greens have only been led by a woman for 3 of the 20 odd years in parliament, or around 15% of the time. The progressive ALP butchered their one chance, with Gillard’s chances being cruelled more by internal machinations than harassment from outside the party.

The elite trade of the fourth estate provides another example. The ABC’s Insiders program, the elite political show on Australia’s elite broadcaster, has 74% male appearances to date for 2017 (see table below).  This is comparable to the gender crisis in academia. Part of this male dominance could be explained by vestiges of a patriarchal past; in that it could be argued that Barrie Cassidy and Mike Bowers are the preeminent experts due to past male advantage. This is the sort of argument the ALP uses to kick the gender equality can down the road to 2025 (click for article).  However, that over 75% of guests are men as well as nearly two thirds of guest panellists, is freshly baked contemporary gender bias. There is nothing self-evident in contemporary Australian society to suggest that men are better panellists and guests than women. Particularly given the tiresome spats between Henderson and Marr that are relics from the sixties.

The ABC’s Insiders exemplifies some broader dynamics.  It shows that journalism is one field where women are as competent as men, yet still lack voice in shaping the social sphere and the debates. This seems not isolated to journalism, as women are often promoted in other fields based on their functional efficiency then ignored in conversations that shape their workplace and society, with women remaining as good for exchange, this time as a “highly functional robot”.  What is also not isolated is that such gender bias is often excused when it involves a charismatic male, which in the case of the ABC’s Insiders is Barrie Cassidy.  I have no doubt that Barrie Cassidy is the good bloke as presented. But all systemic injustices breed contempt, and I often wonder if this contempt is not projected on the faces of the likes of Latham.

The toxicity of the current gender debates might be better explained by dynamics among the elites than among the hoi polloi.  Women working in the elite of the fourth estate are clearly being denied equal voice within it. We also have women in the elite of the fourth estate who ply their craft in a form of journalism that projects responsibility for inequality onto males of the proletariat. They seek to antagonise certain elements of the male proletariat, then thrive on the inarticulate toxicity of their trolling. They tease inarticulate marginalised working class men for their inability to exploit their natural advantage as white men. A class of men traditionally addressed by the emancipatory politics of the labour movement.  It is sometimes difficult to ascertain the purpose of such journalism other than for its shock value. Of course, I do not include Badham and Maley to be among this group.

The gender dynamics that Badham writes about are real and as nefarious as she describes. However, I do wonder if feminism should continue to be the dominant vehicle through which they are addressed, and whether it may not be better to pursue them through a broader emancipatory narrative. This is not to say that women cannot pursue their issues through feminism, there is always freedom of association. But with equality women get equal rights to be as stupid, strategic and as nasty some men.  Equality also gives women of the elite equal rights to be nasty to both men and women of the proletariat.

The trope of the self-legitimating little narrative espoused by French philosophers of the past has perhaps run its course. It has served the disempowered and minorities well for decades with some effectiveness.  But the self-legitimating little narratives of identity politics have been appropriated for harm by the likes of Geert Wilders, and with catastrophic potential by those in power like Donald Trump.  It may be time to again address the disenfranchised through a broader emancipatory narrative, as one species on one planet.

I’ve happened upon two powerful and memorable pieces of television in my lifetime. One was Keating’s Redfern speech, the second was Rosie Batty’s first press conference after the death of her son. It would have been perfectly reasonable to expect a tale of misandry from Rosie Batty after such a horrific event. Instead, Rosie exemplified reason and compassion in saying that bad things can happen to all people at any time. She then successfully campaigned for better public policy and for better justice under one law. We can all continue to learn from Rosie’s approach. That Mark Latham was Rosie’s harshest critic, best exemplifies the state of his mental health.


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