Gillard/Abbott Debate Changes Australian Definition of “Misogyny”
By now, many of us have seen the video of Julia Gillard that went viral, involving a long speech denouncing the misogyny of her opposition, Tony Abbott. The video alone amassed over 2 million views on YouTube, and here in Australia, support for the Prime Minister’s party has spiked dramatically.
For the record, Tony Abbott is the leader of the far-right Liberal party (with a very misleading name), and is possibly the worst thing to happen to Australian women in a long time. He is responsible for wonderful gems such as:
“What the housewives of Australia need to understand as they do the ironing is that if they get it done commercially it’s going to go up in price, and their own power bills when they switch the iron on are going to go up.”
And then in the same conversation – “what if men are by physiology or temperament, more adapted to exercise authority or to issue command?”
“Abortion is the easy way out”
“Does no really mean no when it comes to Julia?”
And then defended his wording, despite being aware of the fact that he was openly mocking the name of an anti-rape campaign.
These quotes represent only a tiny sample of the ridiculous things spewing out of the mouth of someone that could very well be ruling a country that is as equally female as it is male. But even looking at these few quotes, many things are clear – the most glaring of which being that Tony Abbott is undoubtedly a misogynist and a sexist. However, somehow, several Australian media outlets responded to Julia Gillard’s empowering, and long-awaited speech, with arguments about semantics of the definition of misogyny.
As defined by Dictionary.Com, misogyny is “the hatred, dislike or mistrust of women”. And while it seems abundantly clear to most Australian woman that Abbott does, in fact, have a great mistrust of women (see the: women aren’t as naturally disposed to be physiologically and temperamentally less capable of leading comment), a great dislike for women (see: rape joke about the Prime Minister), and possibly even a hatred of women, this was difficult for the mass-media to swallow – the Sydney Morning Herald said the following:
“The context that the speech was part of a deliberate, tested strategy of capitalising on the Coalition’s [Liberal party] relative unpopularity with women due to Tony Abbott’s political aggression by conflating it with the unsupportable allegation that he actually hates females.”
And the Workplace Relations Minister also spoke up, stating that he didn’t think Abbott “hates women”.
For a brief period of time the media coverage of the speech boiled down to something along the lines of “is it fair to call Tony Abbott a misogynist if that means to say he hates women?” It inspired a lot of debate about the definition of misogyny, and whether it had evolved since the definition first appeared in dictionaries.
However, regardless of the semantics, it’s important to note that misogyny isn’t just outright statements of hatred for women, such as “all women are manipulative”, or “all women are incapable of doing a job as well as a man” (forgive my use of an example that Abbott has used). But that’s not so – these examples do happen, but it’s a rarity. Misogyny is a lot more subtle than blatant, hateful statements, and the definition needs to evolve to cover that. Just because somebody is not outright stating that they hate women, doesn’t mean that what they are doing, saying, or voting for is not a contribution to misogyny. Nor does it require intent – one can act, speak or vote in a way that actively contributes to a patriarchal culture without meaning to, but it doesn’t make the action less misogynistic.
Thankfully Macquarie, Australia’s largest dictionary, has come to the conclusion in the aftermath of Gillard’s speech that their current definition was not comprehensive enough if it sparked this much outrage over semantics. They changed the definition to reflect not only the evolution of the word, but the evolution of the sexism it describes. Misogyny’s previous definition (“hatred of women”) may have been more relevant in the 1950s, but now, it takes on a more subtle and complex role within our society – but that doesn’t diminish it’s effect. And thus, in a small step for Australian women’s rights, the definition was altered to include “the entrenched prejudices against women”. In a statement, a Macquarie representative said:
“since the 1980s, misogyny has come to be used as a synonym for sexism, a synonym with bite, but nevertheless with the meaning of entrenched prejudice against women rather than pathological hatred.”
It’s a small move, but it still represents a move forward for women in Australia. This change will hopefully result in fewer arguments about the semantics behind the word, and more critical discussion and thought about the actual issues at hand. Australian women can now celebrate our Prime Minister finally speaking out against the entrenched prejudices we face, and are perpetuated by a man considered fit to run Australia, with the knowledge that the dictionary has advanced to adequately represent the sexism that we experience now, in 2012.
Written by Jessica Bagnall