Might not get a chance to expand on this further in the near future, so here goes:
Noticed on The Drum tonight that we’re still going on about the whole Gillard v Abbott smack down parliament speech and misogyny v sexism v changing word definitions v all-the-other-culture-war-crap-that-is-really-important-but-hardly-anyone-ever-actually-understands-in-full-complexity.
They played a clip of Kevin Rudd suggesting that people saying he’d ghost written Maxine McKews’s new book were engaging in sexism, Judith Sloan went off in one of her savvy conservative obfuscations about the (unimpressive) impact of Gillard’s speech and reiterated that”misogyny” does and should only mean “hatred of women” and, therefore, was totally out of line being applied to Abbott. Lord Jesus and the Holy Father people, I can’t take it any more!
- Yes, words can alter their meaning over time and misogyny is not exempt. As social understanding of embedded prejudice (as opposed to more direct hate-speech or discrimination) evolves, it makes sense we should refine meanings to reflect this new understanding.
- Gillard’s speech can and should be appreciated for its innate value and the more general points it made (with force and eloquence) about the continuing prejudice many women still face in today’s society. Nobody seems to be arguing that it wasn’t a brilliant and rhetorically convincing piece of oratory and parliamentary theatre. But its inherent appeal to many women (and men) both here and overseas should not be discounted or ignored either.
- BUT this DOES NOT mean that its context is not relevant! Nor do 3 million views on YouTube and however many re-tweets necessarily reflect a broad consensus on the meaning or value of a public event. There are plenty of people who aren’t on social media, who are more conservative and would not have appreciated either the tone, the content or the context of Gillard’s speech, male and females alike. The reason so many overseas blogs and news sites ran more appreciative commentary on the speech than our local press is simply: those people aren’t in touch with the context of Australian politics. They were taking the video completely devoid of its local situation and were, thus, only commenting on its abstract qualities as social rhetoric and effective oratory.
- While the meaning of words can certainly alter over time, one still has to be aware of what their established meaning is when and in what context they are used. While “ misogyny” may already have evolved its meaning for many in the community, I assure you that Gillard’s intention by using that word (particularly in conjunction with “sexism” – implying a differing, more serious meaning by the very nature of her usage) was to brand and tar Abbott with a particularly virulent rhetorical label. The genuine emotion and force of her speech (coming on the heels of Abbott’s outlandish Alan Jones echo) notwithstanding, Gillard made deliberate use of the word “misogyny” in order to imply and deploy its more severe, pathological meaning as “hatred of women”. Now that may very well be justifiable in the circumstances, but friends & fellows on the activist left: please don’t pretend that she/Gillard used the word devoid of thought about its – previous – meaning.
Finally, while I know that many conservative hard-jobs often go on about things like this just to distract from the real issues … how exactly do we differentiate between legitimate criticism and sexist/gendered insults? Overuse of gendered personal pro nouns and turning one’s back on your parliamentary opponent certainly don’t seem to have a gendered monopoly at this point … and with focus-group disciple Kevin Rudd breaking out the misogyny card, I’m concerned for the future of meaningful distinctions.
Ah, good, now that’s over with, I trust we’ll all go back to arguing our progressive social visions and standing up for what’s right, decent, equitable and fair with respect, eloquence, reason and logical public discourse, right?