- By Lydia Tomkiw<p> Lydia Tomkiw is a freelance journalist and graduate student at Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs. </p>
It has been an awfully strange week in Australia, at least in terms of sexism-related news. First there was Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s provocative speech on abortion, then a menu popped up on Twitter featuring "Julia Gillard Kentucky Fried Quail – Small Breasts, Huge Thighs & A Big Red Box," and finally the Dalai Lama weighed in on what the Australian press has dubbed the country’s "gender war."
Let’s start at the beginning (or, more precisely, the start of the latest battle in the country’s long-heated gender wars). On Tuesday, during an event launching the Labor Party-linked fundraising group Women for Gillard, the prime minister addressed abortion in highlighting the consequences of her politicial opponents winning the country’s upcoming election. "We don’t want to live in an Australia where abortion again becomes the political plaything of men who think they know better," she warned.
Gillard raised the specter of a government run by Opposition Leader Tony Abbott, who favors blue ties because U.S. President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron — "two of the coolest dudes in politics" — both sport them. "I invite you to imagine it," Gillard observed, "a prime minister – a man with a blue tie who goes on holidays to be replaced by a man in a blue tie."
Not everyone shuddered at the thought. The Australian media reacted swiftly, with headlines like "Gillard’s gender card the wrong play" and "Gillard’s gender opportunism puts feminists in a bind." In the midst of all of this, a chef posted a menu from a Liberal Party fundraiser in March on Twitter — one featuring a Moroccan quail dish described as "Julia Gillard Kentucky Fried Quail – Small Breasts, Huge Thighs & A Big Red Box." This revelation prompted many apologies, including one from Mal Brough, the Liberal candidate in whose honor the fundraiser was held, who called it "deeply regrettable, offensive and sexist." Now there are conflicting claims about whether the menu was even distributed at the dinner.
But the theatrics didn’t stop there. On Thursday, Gillard went on a radio show where the host, Howard Sattler, wanted to discuss "myths, rumors, snide jokes and innuendo." The first rumor tackled? The sexuality of Gillard’s partner, Tim Mathieson, who works as a hairdresser. As Sattler put it, "But you hear it, ‘he must be gay, he’s a hairdresser.’"
To which Gillard responded:
To all the hairdressers out there, including the men who are listening, I don’t think in life one can actually look at a whole profession full of different human beings and say ‘gee we know something about every one of those human beings.’
Sattler has since been suspended.
Incidentally, the Dalai Lama just happens to be on a 10-day tour of the Land Down Under. Asked about Australia’s gender wars, the spiritual leader, who two years ago accidentally called Gillard a man, responded by saying that his successor could be a woman. "If the circumstances are such that a female Dalai Lama is more useful, then automatically a female Dalai Lama will come," he pointed out, adding that "females have more sensitivity about others’ well-being."
Australia, what’s going on?