Sexism dogs women in power

The mood was jubilant as Australian football coach Holger Osieck fronted the press, after his team's 4-0 win over Jordan seemingly put the national side on the road to the World Cup in Brazil next year. But his casual remark to a room of reporters that women should shut up in public life effortlessly tarnished the victory.

The mood was jubilant as Australian football coach Holger Osieck fronted the press, after his team's 4-0 win over Jordan seemingly put the national side on the road to the World Cup in Brazil next year. But his casual remark to a room of reporters that women should shut up in public life effortlessly tarnished the victory.

It could be put down to sports world oafishness, but then a menu for a Queensland Coalition candidate fund-raiser dinner put the Prime Minister's privates into the national conversation. Among the main courses on offer was a dish called Moroccan quail: "Julia Gillard Kentucky Fried Quail Small Breasts and Huge Thighs and a Big Red Box."

Electorally stricken, Julia Gillard is now, apparently, fair game. Nobody ever aimed such insults at Malcolm Fraser, Bob Hawke, Paul Keating, John Howard or Kevin Rudd. Nor has what goes on behind the bedroom door in The Lodge been considered an appropriate subject for discussion.

But nine days short of the third anniversary of being sworn in as Prime Minister, Julia Gillard is like a woman being stoned to death in an ancient ritual. Indignities have been heaped on her by an Australia where men behaving badly suddenly seems to have been exposed as the secret default position of many.

Nothing signified it more than the Perth shock jock Howard Sattler asking the Prime Minister to her face in a radio interview if her partner, Tim Mathieson, was gay. The outrage was immediate.

Eva Cox, the veteran feminist, thinks something broke in Australian public life last week. "What happened to all the legislation, the education programs? Civil discourse has been swept aside in a brutal race to be the most repugnant," she says.

"A few days ago, it was racism, now it's women. It's almost as if they're saying, 'We can do and say what we like, try and stop us'. Seriously, it looks like we've learnt very little. The level of abuse is worse than it was 10 years ago. Just join the dots."

Years of effort to bring equality into Australia's Defence Force appear to have come to nought, after a long investigation by NSW Police led to high-ranking army officers being accused of distributing footage of soldiers engaged in sex.

In the sports world, Osieck's mal mots came hard on the heels of Eddie McGuire's racist comments about Sydney Swans champion Adam Goodes. Osieck was caught at a Socceroos' post-victory news conference telling a male Football Federation Australia official he was pushing him around like a woman, telling him where to sit. Classically educated, the German made his comment in Latin and then gormlessly translated it for the sporting press.

"Women should shut up in public ... I say it to my wife at home, it is a private one, OK," he told the Melbourne media conference. "And you record that one as well? I am going to be the darling of all Australian wives."

Not quite. On Wednesday, the 64-year-old apologised, saying his comment was intended as a joke, before going all biblical. "I translated that quote and in order to clarify, the quote was from the Apostle St Paul, which he used in one of the early writings of Christianity in his parish in Anatolia."

In a postscript, Jason Hickson, president of the Cessnock Hunter Young Liberals branch in New South Wales, was suspended from the party after he tweeted Osieck's comments should apply to the Prime Minister. And then the Julia Gillard menu arrived.

For years, the cartoonist Larry Pickering has enjoyed a lucrative little Christmas earner turning out calendars featuring nude drawings of politicians of the day. Grotesques, the members often were in inverse proportion to the power of their owners. In any case, they belonged to another era, a sort of Playboy centrefold for policy wonks.

But when the crassly worded menu for a dinner organised by Howard government minister and Queensland Liberal National Party candidate Mal Brough surfaced on Wednesday, in terms of disrespect and ability to wound and repulse, the words were worth a thousand Pickering cartoons.

The arrival of women's genitals in Australian politics coincidentally orbit both Brough and the electorate of Fisher on Queensland's Sunshine Coast.

The MP for Fisher, Peter Slipper, as speaker of the House of Representatives, compared a shellfish to a vagina in a private text message entered as evidence during a tacky sexual harassment case. "They look like a mussel removed from its shell. Look at a bottle of mussel meat! Salty C*** in brine!" The judge dismissed the case last December, saying Brough and others "conspired" to "cause Mr Slipper as much political and public damage as they could inflict upon him".

The Gillard insult was part of a fund-raiser banquet, a public occasion last March to raise funds for Brough's tilt at Fisher.

Slipper lost his job, one of the highest in the land, partly due to private prurience conflating bivalves and genitals. Brough looks like replacing him in Fisher, despite having insulted the person holding Australia's highest post.

The revelation of the menu came at a fortuitous time for Gillard.

She was taking heavy flak for her speech at the orchestrated Women for Gillard group during which she raised abortion as "the political plaything of men who think they know better". She also tossed in a few gags about men in blue ties that somehow enraged commentators who pilloried her for skewering Australia's sexist culture. It also inspired rivals Tony Abbott and Kevin Rudd to defiantly don blue ties.

The menu had been lying doggo on the internet since March but roared into national headlines to underscore Gillard's point that women were being banished from the centre of Australia's political life.

It hardly mattered that Joe Richards, the Brisbane businessman who organised the dinner, was eventually wheeled out to claim the menu never made it to the dinner. Richards apologised to Brough - but not Gillard. Brough's belated explanation that he did not see the menu but acknowledged it was "deeply regrettable, offensive and sexist" was less than convincing.

On 2GB, the Sydney shock jock Ray Hadley said the menu was an old "joke" made with slight variations about Hillary Clinton - "two fat thighs with small breast and left wing". Such poor taste jokes, Hadley said, were part of the urban myths circulating the planet.

The rolling news cycle kicked on on Thursday when another sex scandal engulfed the Defence Force.

Seventeen high-ranking Defence personnel are under investigation in relation to explicit emails and photos that denigrate women.

Announcing the investigation at a news conference in Canberra, the Chief of the Army, Lieutenant-General David Morrison, said the allegations were "worse than the Skype scandal" that hit Defence in 2011. Morrison had apologised to four of the women. He lamented the email scandal followed significant efforts to encourage women to join and stay in the army.

Hours later, Gillard was back at the centre again. In Perth, shock jock Howard Sattler had Gillard on his drive show on Thursday, telling her she should move on from "Menugate" and deal with the Defence scandal.

He then questioned her about atheism, abortion laws, same-sex marriage, and her de facto relationship, before going behind closed doors at The Lodge and asking about her partner Tim Mathieson's sexuality. Here's an edited transcript.

Sattler: "Myths, rumours, snide jokes and innuendoes, you've been the butt of them many times."

Gillard: "Well, I think that's probably right. We've certainly seen that this week."

Sattler: "Can I test a few out?"

Gillard: "In what way?"

Sattler: "Tim's gay."

Gillard: "Well ... "

Sattler: "No, that's not me saying it. It's a myth."

Gillard: "Well, that's absurd."

Sattler: "But you hear it: he must be gay, he's a hairdresser."

Gillard: "Oh, isn't that ... "

Sattler: "But you've heard it? It's not me saying it. It's what people ... "

Gillard: "Well, I mean, Howard, I don't know whether every silly thing that gets said is going to be repeated to me now."

Sattler: "No, no, no ... "

Gillard: "But, you know, 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'. I mean, it's absurd, isn't it?"

Sattler: "You can confirm that he's not?"

Gillard: "Howard, don't be ridiculous. Of course not."

Sattler: "No, but in a heterosexual relationship. That's all I'm asking."

Gillard: "Howard, you and I have just talked about that. So now that is bordering ... "

Sattler: "No, I wanted to get rid of it."

Gillard: "Howard, let me just bring you back to earth."

Sattler: "I'm not saying it."

Gillard: "Right, well, let me just bring you back to earth. You and I have just talked about me and Tim living at The Lodge. We live there together as a couple. You know that. Yes, on the internet there are lots of what I've referred to in the past as nutjobs and I'm happy to use the expression again ... "

Fairfax Radio suspended then sacked Sattler.

Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick said there had been a number of incidents where women office-holders have been asked inappropriate questions.

"The fact is that from the PM down, so many women in public office, whatever side of politics they come from, or women at senior business level, I think there is - there is still a significant demeaning attitude, sexist questions, invasive questioning," she said.

"It's got to stop, because we want women in public office, we want women to step up and be part of a decision-making of this country. And while women and young women are put off by what they see, that's not a good thing for Australia. [But] one of the things that is positive, I think, is a greater propensity to call this behaviour out when this happens and that's got to be a good thing."

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