Flat White

Whether it’s Barney or Barbara, we’re the bad guys again

12 February 2018

8:07 PM

12 February 2018

8:07 PM

How did news of Barnaby Joyce’s shambolic personal life, dodgy boss behaviour, and the Canberra media contingent’s ongoing collective sidestep around the issue suddenly become a platform for moralising at the rest of us about our misogyny?

Clementine Ford in The Age, February 8th
This is part of the double standard that affects women, both inside politics and out. If this were a 50-year-old woman – hell, if it were a 40-year-old woman – whose sexual relationship with a much younger subordinate male employee were exposed, she would be crucified by the press and the public. If she were a 40-year-old woman who had become pregnant as a result of that affair, she would be destroyed.

Jacqueline Maley, Sydney Morning Herald, February 8th
The scandal is unlikely to be a career-ender for Joyce. But if a female politician fell pregnant to a staffer while married to someone else, you can bet it would be.

Caroline Overington, The Australian, February 10th
And the group — mainly women — who are furious about the double standard because, 100 per cent for sure, if Joyce were a conservative female politician in her 50s who had an affair with a 30-something staffer in her office, and who then fell pregnant and left her husband — oh look, on any one of those points, she’d be gone.

Julia Baird, Sydney Morning Herald, Feb 10th
If it were, say Barbara – or Joyce – Joyce, a married female party leader and deputy prime minister who became pregnant to a younger staffer, the story would have been pursued with great vigour and determination months ago.

Peter Fitzsimons, Sydney Morning Herald, February 11th
Through it all, the most telling point was the one made by Clementine Ford. Just imagine the Deputy PM was an ALP female, and had become impregnated to a staffer a couple of decades her junior. What then?

Whew. It’s reassuring to know, in these confusing times, that our go-to journalists can be relied upon to fearlessly point a finger to the real villains when a story such as this is broken by somebody who isn’t them. We really should hang our heads in shame.

Just as our latent homophobia scuttled the prospects of a civilised plebiscite that could change the law on same-sex marriage (What? That didn’t happen? Really? Wow!), our inherent misogyny would (hypothetically) crucify a female politician in Barnaby’s position, if she were to impregnate – no wait, let me get this straight – if she were to get herself impregnated by a staffer in young Vikki’s position. Except it would be a young Victor, not a Vikki, and our imaginary female philanderer would be getting herself impregnated whilst still technically married to somebody in Natalie Joyce’s position, except Natalie would be a bloke, so let’s call her Noel. Got it? Good.


This is why we still need real journalists, you see. Not to investigate and report (that’s what Sharri Markson is for), but to reveal and explain to the rest of us unwashed rubes what the real issue is at the heart of a story that a hell of a lot of journalists pretended not to know about, which is our own sexist double-standards and hypocrisy. Honestly, us peasants are simply deplorable.

Look, we get it. the Canberra contingent didn’t exactly cover itself in glory in its handling of the Barnaby Debacle, and now they’re scrambling to regain some authority. They couldn’t continue to ignore the issue once it was in the public domain, and they couldn’t get away with loftily declaring the matter ‘not newsworthy’ – because Sharri Markson’s exposure of the whole sorry mess is clearly an example of a journalist doing precisely what journalists are supposed to do. They had to say something about the story, but they couldn’t say much, as this would raise questions of why they aren’t discussing others’ dalliances while they are at it. And that would be awkward because in the Canberra microcosm the people involved in a messily newsworthy liaison would most likely be friends, friends of friends, colleagues, political allies, powerful enemies, or one of those people who has enough dirt on everybody else to render them inviolable.

So yes, Clementine, Caroline, Jacqueline, Julia, Peter and the many others who have courageously exposed the appalling misogynist double standards we would supposedly apply to a Barbara over a Barnaby (who isn’t exactly being showered with backslaps, ‘atta boys’ and cigars from us plebs, but anyway). We get it. We get that journalism is complicated and that you sometimes find yourselves in an awkward position. But please, next time you’re caught with your pants down, try to come up with a better strategy than pointing and shouting, ‘Look over there, Vile Public! It’s your own Ignorance and Bigotry!’

Because, if I may indulge in some hypothesising of my own, I suspect this is one of the ways a nation ends up with a Trump, and with a mainstream media surprised and appalled that they didn’t see the Trump coming, and scrambling with their pants around their ankles to regain the moral high ground by dumping on all the bogans and yobbos who opted for the Trump instead of listening to their betters, and around and around we (hypothetically) go again.

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