By Lata Jha:
The dust had hardly settled on the surge of international reportage on attacks on Indian students in Australia. But before the vigorous debate on whether the country is racist could die down, the question already awaiting the general elections this year is whether Australia, as a country, is sexist.
The first woman Prime Minister Julia Gillard of the Labor Party battles it out with Tony Abbot of the Liberal Party in September 2013. A few recent events have constantly thrown the spotlight on perceptions of women in Australian society. The most avidly discussed is the suspension of a radio interviewer for questioning the sexuality of Gillard’s partner, Tim Mathieson. Howard Sattler of Perth-based 6PR radio, in a live interview with the PM on June 13, asked her personal questions that have popularly been dubbed as ‘absurd’. Fairfax radio in a statement the next day, “unreservedly” apologised for the incident and sacked Sattler, though.
In the same week as the interview, the Liberal Party held a fundraising dinner where the menu contained a dish described as ‘Julia Gillard Kentucky Fried Quail with small breasts, huge thighs and a big red box’. This fundraiser for Liberal Party candidate Mal Brough was presided over by Shadow treasurer Joe Hockey, who quickly apologised and admitted that the dish was ‘sexist’.
Another dish on the menu was ‘Rudd’s a Goose Foie Gras’ which instructed guests to eat up all their greens “before they take over”. Kevin Rudd is the former PM who Gillard replaced as the leader of the Labor Party and who is still seen as staking his claim to leadership and ‘Greens’ represents the Australian Greens Party which won a seat in each of the six states in Australia acquiring a balance of power in the Senate in 2011.
While it wouldn’t really be difficult to dismiss such ostensible ‘sexism’ as a by-product of political rivalry, two other incidents around the same time point to a deeper issue. On June 13, three army personnel – a major, a sergeant and a warrant officer — were suspended following allegations that they photographed themselves in compromising positions with women colleagues and civilians and circulated the ‘trophy pictures’ online. It is an offence under law to transmit explicit sexual content without consent of persons involved and there is no evidence of whether the consent of the females was sought.
Also, just a day earlier, Socceroos coach Holger Osieck while addressing a press conference in Melbourne after his team won over Jordan had said that, “women should shut up in public”. The German coach was telling a male official that he was pushing him around like a woman, telling him where to sit.
Apologies and public remorse notwithstanding, these events in quick succession give the impression of an intolerant society. Women around the world have had to lead their lives in struggle. And the lesson for us to gain from this experience is quite clear; it’s a man’s world, and it’s tough being a woman, in Australia, in Agartala, or elsewhere.