Two days ago someone explained the verb “to mansplain” to me. To be fair, it was a woman who explained it, so it’s probably wrong. All the same, that word’s been annoying me ever since. I don’t want to use it – it sounds silly and snide and it’s not even a proper pun – but I now keep finding examples of it everywhere. It’s as though all of a sudden, all the time, men are telling women what women should think. Is it just me? Has this always been happening? If we come up with another totally rubbish verb – “to femsplain”, for instance – will it even up the balance? Surely that’s gotta be worth a try.
In the meantime, today’s Guardian features John Pilger telling misguided feministas everywhere that Julia Gillard is no feminist hero, despite her much-celebrated righteous fury directed at opponent Tony Abbott:
Misogyny is an Australian blight and a craven reality in political life. But for so many commentators around the world to describe Julia Gillard’s attack on Abbott as a “turning point for Australian women” is absurd. Promoted by glass-ceiling feminists with scant interest in the actual politics and actions of their hero, Gillard is the embodiment of the Australian Labor party machine – a number-crunching machine long bereft of principle that has attacked and betrayed Australia’s most vulnerable people, especially women.
Thanks, John. Misogyny is indeed a blight. Indeed, it’s just the kind of thing which might make you dismiss women who are merely pleased that a woman in power is publicly calling out sexism as “glass-ceiling feminists with scant interest in the actual politics [...] of their hero”. Because it’s not as though challenging sexism within power structures is relevant to “actual politics” anyhow, is it? It’s not as though feminists are capable of distinguishing between a woman being right about one thing and wrong about another. It’s not as though such a protest is so overdue and so rare that, regardless of who’s making it, it remains A Big Deal.
John – I can call you John, can’t I? – please allow me to femsplain. I am a feminist. I am not a supporter of Julia Gillard as a politician. I am supporter of a political forum being used once – just once – to explicitly and publicly highlight the misogyny that rots its core. You tell us that “Gillard came to power by plotting secretly with an all-male cabal to depose the elected prime minister, Kevin Rudd”. All very Lady MacBeth / Samson and Delilah / add the name of any other evil hell bitch you like. It is rather missing the point. Julia Gillard’s anger was self-interested, but that doesn’t matter. The sexism she experienced could have been directed at a any woman in power. The “glass-ceiling feminists” you deride aren’t in Julia Gillard’s position, but another woman – any woman – could have been (or perhaps not, at least not if we still need all-male cabals in order to get our way).
You note that Gillard’s “true feminist distinction, perversely, is her removal of gender discrimination in combat roles in the Australian army”:
Thanks to her, women are now liberated to kill Afghans and others who offer no threat to Australia.
Perhaps in future she should consult with you – perhaps we all should. Which morally deplorable things are men permitted to do but not women? I can’t help feeling that if you are a man, woman or child about to be killed in Afghanistan, you don’t actually care about the gender of the person doing the killing (although I imagine, as long as you’re still alive, you might still care about gender equality as a broader principle. You might even feel disconcerted when those who pose as your defenders see fit to drop that principle whenever it suits).
I accept that some feminists, frustrared by the boorish misogyny of lefty men in particular, might just blindly think “sod it! Go Julia!” What’s more, if a woman adversely affected by Gillard’s policies were to write a critical article, stating that Julia Gillard did not speak for her, I’d be inclined to take it seriously, far more seriously than I’m able to take your piece. Is that sexist? I don’t think so. Because feminism surely allows women to speak for themselves. It’s not a debating contest – it is “actual politics”. And it’s not an arena in which men use “weaker” women as weapons with which to bash women they perceive to be stronger – the imaginary “glass-ceiling feminists”, unnamed, but clearly a bit uppity for your liking. And all this clearly relates to Gillard’s original point. She showed – and was correct to show – that men accuse other women of misogyny in order to promote their own agendas. It’s not fair. Feminist discourse is not there to be co-opted, managed and exploited to increase male dominance, neither in the political sphere nor in column inches. When that happens anyone – even the most flawed amongst us – have a right and a responsibility to call it out. Now that’s feminism.