Thursday, 20 February 2014

Unfinished business - sexism in left wing politics


Classified as: reflective journal, politics, discourse, feminist theory, advocacy

So according to John Quiggin, my concerns about sexism on his blog are unfounded and arise simply because I can't tolerate any criticism of Julia Gillard:

"OK Val, I think we’ve established that your only concern about sexism on this site relates to your view that criticism of Gillard, even on policies which you are unwilling to defend, was automatically sexist"

Well I guess I'm just a silly emotional woman, probably unrealistic to expect anything better of me ...

For some time now I've been trying to write a post about the way certain left wing or "progressive" male bloggers reacted to the prime ministership of Julia Gillard. I've trawled through the blogs and I've engaged in on-line discussions with the bloggers and with people who comment on the blogs. I've done some background reading on the issues.

Nevertheless I can't write a definitive post at this time. What I can say is this: there are general themes and tendencies in the way anti-Gillard left bloggers and their supporters reacted to Gillard, and there are also general themes in the way they responded to critics like me.

These are:
  • Their criticisms of Gillard were immoderate and often personal
  • They saw moral failures (eg being dishonest) or being on the wrong side of politics (eg being right wing or neo-liberal) as the cause of her mistakes
  • They blamed her personally for government failures or mistakes, but they did not give her personal credit for government successes
  • They reacted to feminist criticism by refusing to address the substance of the criticism or by denigrating the critic.
  • Where the critic was a woman, a very common response was to say that she was incapable of accepting any criticism of Gillard (as per John Quiggin's comment above - I don't think I ever saw any of them suggest this when the critic was male)
  • Another common response was to say that the feminist critics were participating in a Rudd-Gillard "stoush" or similar
I'm not trying to do commentary in this post, but I find the last two points so interesting that I will make a quick comment. In my view, what the anti-Gillard bloggers and their supporters were doing was trying to reconstruct feminist criticism in terms of a patriarchal discourse of competing individuals. More on this later ...

Certain relevant points about the bloggers: they are male, they are Queensland based and they supported Kevin Rudd. In my view, these bloggers and their supporters contributed to the election of the Abbott government. One of the key reasons swinging voters gave for voting against the previous ALP government, as I've noted in a previous post, was that they saw it as chaotic and unstable. These bloggers contributed to that instability.

I'm setting up a work-in-progress page on this subject, where I will keep my notes, evidence and analysis. Anyone who is interested to know more about this is welcome to trawl through that page when I set it up (soon) but I warn you it will be pretty random for a while, even though there will be a a lot there.

The reason I haven't tried to write a definitive post on this at present is that it's a huge task, and trying to get the perfect post done is blocking me from writing about other things that are interesting or important. So I will keep pursuing this issue, and ultimately I will tie it in to my thesis, but yep, it's a work in progress and will be for some time.

3 comments:

John Quiggin said...

Hi Valerie,

I agree that sexism is a serious concern, and that it's easy, particularly for a male blogger, to overlook it. On the other hand, I have a firm and gender-neutral policy of not allowing commenters to engage in disputes about my policy on my blog. (Of course, what you do on your own blog is up to you.) I'd be concerned if you could point to a general pattern of dismissing female commenters as being motivated solely by gender concerns. On the other hand, I don't intend to reopen personal disputes with you.

So, I'll offer a proposal. If you undertake this study, without *any* reference to your personal grievances about the responses to your own comments, I'll put up a post from you setting out your conclusions and linking to the study.

Valerie Kay said...

Thank you for your comment. This offer sounds interesting and I'm interested in doing it, but there are a couple of provisos
- first, I'm supposed to be doing my PhD and this issue, although I'm very interested in it, is only relevant to a limited degree. Therefore it's hard for me to find the time necessary (I've set up a 'sexism and left wing politics - the work in progress' page which has more on this)
- second, you said "If you undertake this study, without *any* reference to your personal grievances about the response to your own comments, ...". I don't quite understand what you're getting at there. If you mean I can't comment on my own experience, that would be silly, because I'm one of the chief feminist commenters on your blog. If you mean I can comment on my own experience, but only in a way that you think acceptable, that's problematic. You appear to be suggesting that my reaction to comments like yours was a "personal grievance", but your comment to me was dismissive, and objectively untrue. Again there seems to be a sexist double standard operating here.

BilB said...

Consider this

What happened was not a failure of Julia Gillard but a failure of Labour broad team. Perhaps where Gillard failed was in not concentrating on keeping the "team" solid. Her other failure that disappointed me was in her "delivery". She was not able to keep up that punchy succinct power put down that she is very capable of and in its place she moved into a very verbose monotone style which had a tinge of the sense of grooming (by someone who was really bad at it). Had she taken notice of Obama's delivery technique I think that she would still be PM. Less information more concept, or less data and more structure. It is that important.

Sadly Male Labour came across as being a collection of self interested nitwits, Female Labour came across as an excessively vulnerable "soft touch" for any and every social issue, money being no object. And that led to perhaps her biggest mistake.

Gillard did not "lie", that was trumped up and hammered home by the ultimate liar, Abbott. But that left the way open for the mineral resources tax to be attacked. Gillards mistake here was failing to anticipate that the minerals businesses would restructure their operations to eliminate their exposure to the tax. So having been over generous in managing social needs, then being overwhelmed by the influx of economic refugees when it came time to really fund the future the minerals resources tax was seen as the quick way out, but it failed due to the beligerance of the vested interests.

Then the sucker punch came from the whole raft of idiots in the party who saw fit to undermine Gillard thinking that that would somehow make them look good or feel better. They all lost sight of how the public would view this framed by a press that was determined to have Abbott in charge. And of course the Greens did not help with their constant attacks. I think that the independents were stronger Gillard supporters than her own party was.

Notice how no-one can remember any of Gillard's achievements? Gillard did a spectacular job holding the situation together at the expense of the party.

That is how I see it.