Monday 21 August 2017

Pale, stale, male in need of some lippy

I'm watching Gareth Morgan make some great points in his press conference.  He's trying very hard to wrestle the media towards old-fashioned policy analysis, rather than new-fangled celebrity personality worship, which he's concerned is diminishing our political decision-making.

He's right, of course, that we need to understand what people we might vote for will do if they have political power.  He's right too, that "JacindaMania" is a little terrifying, when it's hard to see, yet, if Ms Ardern's policy leadership will look significantly different for the Labour Party.

What's curious in this for me though is the equally old-fashioned way Mr Morgan got to make this press conference.  Sexism.  "Putting lipstick on a pig" is sexist no matter who it's aimed at - it suggests femininity is an artifice, a tool to fool, artificial in and of itself, hiding something no one really wants.  It's even more sexist because it's aimed at a young woman of course - Mr Morgan says he could have said this about John Key, taking over from Don Brash.  But he didn't, and as far as I can remember, neither did anyone else.  The reality is, when women take up political power, they are free targets in ways men are not.

Having the armoury of misogyny at your beck and call when you want to undermine women's leadership is powerful, because the cultural meanings - femininity weaker, masculinity stronger and better - do not need to be spelt out every time.  Your audience already knows.  Just as your audience already understands the dog-whistling racism that defines the ways Māori leadership will be reported - and as for being wahine Māori, well, let's just ask Metiria Turei, shall we?

Our political world has been pale, male and stale since forever in Aotearoa - despite the stories we tell suggesting we have the best race relations in the world and the least sexism.  We've had exactly two female prime ministers out of 39, and just one Māori "acting prime minister" who for some reason doesn't make the list of 39, James Carroll, in 1909 and 1911.  This is the history of our political leadership, and it both underpins and recreates the idea that white men should rule of right.  Who else has the experience, after all?

But we're seeing this chipped away at, bit by bit.  I'm not sure I can remember any other leader in Aotearoa followed with a hashtag like #IamMetiria.  People know they have to hashtag difference, and they want to.  The calling out of the media sexism Jacinda Ardern has already faced down with ease - in her first few days - began inside the media itself with veteran broadcaster Hillary Barry hitting the nail on the head.

And bless Gareth Morgan, with his harking back to the good old days of policy analysis driving media.  He has never looked more aligned with the other rude old white men in New Zealand.   And partly, I think that's kind of a shame, because I would genuinely like to see media analysis focusing on the impacts of policy this election.  I'm just not sure that I ever have.

No comments: