But they’re women, they should be nice

In The Fitz Files today, Peter Fitzsimons wonders why Julia Gillard and Julie Bishop – two women with pretty much the only thing in common being that they have good jobs – can’t be nice to each other:

The venom between them is palpable, the delight they take in putting each other down in Parliament very obviously personal. One might have thought that as two accomplished women who are political pioneers, there might be at least a whiff of fellow feeling on the journey. And yet, quite the reverse. What is that about?

Now, leaving aside the fact that “accomplished” is never used to describe men who have good jobs, it’s disappointing that Fitzsimons sees respect in the Gillard-Abbott arguments – Despite their political divisions, it was so apparent that they respected the other’s political nous and abilities – but when it’s two women whose jobs require them to argue with each other, he says it’s personal.

Sure, politics is a tough gig for women. But saying that two women on opposing sides should be nice to each other simply because they’re women doing tough jobs suggests a rather shallow view of women. No one says that men must be nice to each other at work, that being nice is more important than whether they are good at their jobs, yet women still have to put up with this crap.

Pulling the ‘women should be nice’ card also ignores the reason why it’s a tough job for women: the mainstream media treats female politicians differently. Particularly columnists, who focus on the personal rather than the professional. I don’t regularly read his column so I could be wrong, but it’s unlikely that he’d write, “Hey, Rudd and Abbott both believe in God, why aren’t they BFFs?” Or “Bob Brown and Scott Morrison are both blokes, why aren’t they best buddies?”

When Kristina Kenneally became NSW Premier, a male colleague asked me if I was going to vote for her because she’s a woman. The rest of the conversation went something like this:

Me: Do you vote for a male politician because he’s a man?
Him: No, of course not.
Me: Then don’t insult me with such a stupid question.

And it is insulting to suggest that women would vote for a party simply because ooh look, vagina. It’s just as insulting to suggest that women should be nice to each other simply because they are women. Not to mention the sexism in suggesting that women need to be nice. Now, I don’t believe that Fitzsimons is sexist, so I’m looking forward to reading his thoughts on why Abbott and Rudd aren’t besties. Because what is that about?

47 responses to “But they’re women, they should be nice

  1. Oh so ridiculously true.
    Treating women like a special and different species is not just illogical, it’s rude.

  2. I don’t think it is just more slanted to women ( expected to behave nicely). Why Australian politicians are so relentlessly at each other throats, male or female, look no further than your Westminster System. It is adversarial rather than consensual. So are your legal methods of dealing with conflict. This has permeated your psyche from birth. Look at your education; private versus public. Health; private versus public. Rich versus poor…
    The idiocy of all that competitive sport introduced even at primary school level. The winner takes all. It makes killers of all of us, irrespective, male or female.
    Is Twiggy expected still to be any more ruthless than Gina?

  3. Newish lurker here,

    The sad part is he has touched on a potentially good subject about how female parliamentarians, and professional women in greater society, are being pitted against each other and conditioned to treat other women as enemy number one when it comes to gaining those limited promotions offered to females (do you think it was a coincidence that Bishop was promoted to deputy to mirror Gillard when she was deputy?).

    But alas, he went the cheap and easy route.

    In regards to voting for a female politician because you’re a female, yes that is an absurd and insulting assumption. But can I ask, what is your position on a woman voting for a woman on the basis of advancing the women’s movement, e.g. providing female role models for young girls, better representation of women etc? What if the person had differing political viewpoints or policies?


    • Hi Jeremy, and welcome to the News with Nipples. I can only speak for myself, but I wouldn’t vote for someone whose policies I disagreed with, simply to have greater female representation. Because if I disagree with their policies (and they are party policies, after all), then it’s likely that most of those policies are bad for women.

      I don’t think all female politicians should be role models. And it will be great when female politicians are allowed to be just as shit as male politicians, without it being considered a reflection on women in general.

      • Thanks for you reply. I agree with your last statement. It will be a great day where our politicians are judged purely by character (or what ever little character they may have)

  4. Peter Fitzsimons. A rugby enthusiast, an army man, a friend of macho-muscled sporting men. On top of that wearing a warrior type of red bandena. It would be strange if he did not make silly sexists remarks.

    • Careful with the stereotypes there, Gerard. ManFriend is a rugby fan and is not sexist. Kimsonof, a regular commenter here, is ex-army and he doesn’t either.

      • Yes, but what’s with that bandena? I love outdoor chess. Of course my remarks are burley hoping for bites. Even so, take a dozen rugby players or a dozen book readers (or chess players) and which group could one safely credit with making the sexists remarks most? As for army, gee those face-books entries don’t auger well either, do they?

        • You’re condemning an entire organisation comprised of many different people because of the actions of a few? Are you sure that’s a road you want to go down?

          • No, but those few sure don’t paint a nice picture of the army. Did you see that interview by the female ex-army soldier? How do you know it’s ‘just a few’? Any figures or stats? Where did I condemn the entire organisation?

            • Ah, this bit: As for army, gee those face-books entries don’t auger well either, do they?

              Yes, I know about that interview. But unlike yourself, I don’t blame the entire army. I blame the people who did it.

        • Gerard, you need to look for the common denominator here. I’ll give you a moment.

  5. So do I.( Blame the ones who did it) Where or since when is, ‘don’t auger well’ a condemnation of an entire group? English is not my mother tongue but the verb ‘to auger’ is to test or drill. Perhaps Tony Eastly had it all wrong as well;
    He mentioned sexism in the army as ‘rife’, ‘endemic’ etc. Of course, pure black and white sentiment would concur that those that posted the face book sexist entries are to be condemned and not the others. Still, would you exonerate some of the top brass that, with a wink and a nod, tolerated this behaviour for decades, just because they personally were not involved?

    • I have to ask what you would know about military culture? Any personal experiance of the morality of ‘the top brass’? Any experiance or knowledge that wasn’t obtained from a sensationalised current affairs program or a politicised inquiry with pre-determined outcomes?
      As for the initial question I think both pollies are borderline sociopaths (and that has nothing to do with gender) so I don’t think they could be nice to anyone.

  6. I had planned to email Fitzsimons when I read this yesterday but then I forgot. The reason I would bother to do that is that I have corresponded with him in the past and found him open to be challenged on sexism. He might not really “get” it but he is rare enough to at least understand that there is something to get. With this bit of background knowledge, I interpreted his question to possibly be a genuine desire to enlighten himself (although clearly it’s not important enough to him to go and do some reading of feminist theory in order to educate himself), but I took him to be genuinely curious despite the (perhaps unconscious) sexism.

  7. Well, it just proves there is hope for all of us. By the way, men have nipples as well.

  8. “By the way, men have nipples as well.”
    Yes. That’s because all human embryos start out being female. Female, it seems, is the default human state.

  9. (This is going to come off as fairly adversarial, but I assure you it is not an attempt to shit-stir) After a solid minute of Googling, I wasn’t able to find the article you were referring to, so I’m going to base this entirely off the quotes in your article:

    Is it possible that rather than suggesting women should be nice, he was trying to say; “In the context of high-level politics, women are a minority who can usually be expected to have faced hardships above and beyond the male majority. Given their shared experience, I am surprised that I cannot detect even a begrudging sense of mutual respect between the two.”

    Of course, you could still argue that this is based on stupid assumptions, but it may not be the assumptions you’re attributing.

    And I think you may have been a little harsh on your male colleague. As you’ve written it, it appears he was asking a question rather than making an assumption. Are you suggesting that there is not a sizeable number of women who would vote for a woman because of her sex, or blacks who would vote for a black person because of their colour, or Muslims for a Muslim, or white male Christians who would exclude voting for any of these people for the same reasons? Do you think that the proportion of women who are un-enlightened, bigoted or idiotic is somehow much less than the proportion of men? That particular colleague may have previously had a wife, a sister or another female colleague tell him that they most assuredly did intend to vote for Kenneally because of her vagina. So unless he knows you particularly well (and if so, why would he ask?) I don’t think his asking was necessarily as insulting as you seem to suggest.

    Also, I do use accomplished to describe men who have good jobs.

  10. I think it depends on the questioner rather than the person being questioned. And I would say not if it’s an honest question (rather than a statement with a question mark), and it doesn’t come from someone who you know should know better.

    Is it possible to write about the different circumstances faced by people in a minority group without writing about them differently from the way you would write about people in the majority group? Having asked that, I will now read the article and probably proceed to look foolish. Thanks for the link.

    • Given that I had had many conversations about politics with the guy who asked the question, and about NSW Labor, I felt it was an insulting question. Telling me that it isn’t an insulting question sounds awfully like you’re telling me how I should feel…

      • “You don’t think it’s insulting to ask someone who is politically engaged if they’re going to vote for someone based on their gender?”

        That sounds awfully like you were asking me for an opinion. And really I was attempting to engage opinion rather than feeling. Having said that, I don’t think it’s reasonable to suggest that opinions should be off limits to challenge when they are entwined with feelings, because what opinion isn’t to some degree? I mean, if you were arguing against someone who said “I feel that women’s liberation is the worst thing to happen to western civilisation and women should shut their mouths and get back in the kitchen”, you wouldn’t accept that this statement was unchallengeable because “don’t tell me how I should feel”, would you?

        In this instance though, given the extra information, yes, it even sounds to me like the guy was probably being a dick.

    • Let’s assume that NWN has the capacity to assess and evaluate her own social interactions, and respond accordingly.

      It is problematic to ask the question she refers to. This is not because a woman strategically voting for a woman candidate in order to increase representation and participation, is a sign of political ignorance. But because white men vote for white men because they are white men – all the freakin time, and nobody questions it.

      • I see this as problematic too, but for the opposite reason. I think it is a sign of too few questions being asked rather than too many. I see asking questions (real, honest questions) as fundamental to uncovering truths and understanding how things work. That’s why I baulk at the idea that it is flat out wrong to ask certain questions because there are people who might be upset by them.

        And if I may address something else from Fitzsimons’ article: “A shocked female student survivor of the Ohio high school shooting massacre”. I’ll bet my bottom dollar that if she was male it would have been “shocked student survivor” rather than “shocked male student survivor”. Why, because in this context it’s a completely irrelevant detail. Annoying.

        • I didn’t say the question was wrong. I said it was insulting to me, as someone who follows politics and has strong political opinions, to ask whether I’d ignore all of that and vote for a party because it had a female leader.

          • Eventually, you said that, and I understood, but if we go to your article at the top of the page:

            And it is (emphasis on “is” suggest to me that this is a universal statement of fact) insulting to suggest that women (any and all women, not just you in particular) would vote for a party simply because ooh look, vagina.

            At least part of the reason I assumed you found it insulting was because you thought it was a fundamentally stupid question, as expressed here:

            Me: Then don’t insult me with such a stupid question.

            What I was saying is that given that there are many women who openly profess to voting for women because they are women (I know some of them), and many men who openly profess to not voting for women because they are women (I know even more of those) I think that you have to consider the position of the questioner in deciding just how stupid the question is. And I would assume that the less stupid a person thinks it is, the less insulting they would find it.

  11. Hang on there Linda Radfem:
    white men vote for white men because they are white men- all the freakin time. A couple of racists and sexist remarks? No.?
    I still reckon if I wanted to surround myself within a group of serene and non-sexist people I would not go out of my way to knock on the doors of Football clubs or an Army camp. I would also think twice of seeking out Fitzsimons.

    Leonard Cohen? Now you’re talking.

    • I think you’re both making some pretty strong generalisations. Gerard, some of the most sexist people I’ve met are over 50 and fancied themselves as intelligent (going on my own generalisation of members of a chess club). And Linda, how do you know that white men vote for white men because they are white men, and not because they are the majority of candidates? Sure, there would be some men who did this, but I am very wary of statements saying “all men are this” or “all women do that”.

      • I didn’t say all! But how else do you think white/male supremacy endures? Why else do you think that white men just always happen to be the majority of candidates. White men as a class have the luxury of always having plenty of candidates to choose from who are representative of themselves, and it’s not an accident.

        Gerard – racist and sexist? If you’re going to try to play the “reverse racism/sexist” card then I know that we are so far apart in our thinking that we might as well stop right now. Cheers.

  12. Of course, at times, generalisations are common. I can hardly be expected to produce a list of names and addresses of rugby player or army soldiers that are sexists, together with those that are not.
    I am finding conversations difficult if one has to be so careful not to/ or include / exclude every nuance and every possibility. No one is saying that all footballers or all soldiers are sexist or that Fitzsimons doesn’t at times show a more balanced side of things. I don’t think that saying one would be wise not to seek non-sexists attitudes amongst footballers or soldiers as a first doorstop is wrong nor would be seeking proof of sexists behaviour amongst elderly library visitors or amongst the African Violet Association, even over fifty.. If they are generalisations, so be it.

    • My reading of your comments has been that members of the chess club are not sexist and members of football clubs and the army are sexist. If you find it difficult to say “some” members of these groups, then that’s quite the problem for you.

  13. Amazingly, it appears that Gerard and I are kind of arguing the same thing here. It is frustrating to have criticism of systemic issues taken as criticism of individual people. Institutionalised sexism/racism does exist despite some individuals not holding sexist/racist views. Whites cheerfully participate in an oppressive system of white supremacy despite some of us personally working very hard not to internalise the values of such a system and reproduce them in our individual little lives. The rise of Neoliberalism seems to prevent people seeing the systemic or structural inequality, because if we personally know someone who is an exception to the rule, then that means we can’t refer to the systemic inequality because that might offend those few individuals who “aren’t like that”.

    • I don’t think it’s about not wanting to offend people. I think it’s about recognising that yes, there are exceptions to the rule but that doesn’t mean systemic inequality doesn’t exist. One of the things I love about the conversations we have on this blog is that we talk round and round and round issues, because very few issues are black and white across the board. We can have nuanced arguments that don’t get a run in the MSM.

  14. I think (and speaking as a white, straight, male) the phenomenon of, if you will ‘voting for your demographic’ absolutely exists. There is a sub-set of white people who vote for a white politician over someone of a different background. There are males who will vote for another male over a female. There are straights who will vote for a straight person over a gay person. I think those people are morons, just as a woman voting for a woman purely because of her gender regardless of other considerations would also be a moron.

    The question to NWN, therefore, was clearly insulting, because it was essentially asking “Are you going to vote for a woman in a situation where if a man had the same positions you would not vote for him?”.

    The only ‘solidarity’ of the kind which Fitzsimons seems to reference which might exist would be if a filthy sexist attack was made against Gillard / Bishop, and the other was asked whether, to a degree, she could identify with such sexism, regardless of their political differences.

  15. “I think those people are morons, just as a woman voting for a woman purely because of her gender regardless of other considerations would also be a moron.”

    See, I don’t think it’s always as black and white as that. I know a lot of people who are kind, honest, hard-working, reasonably intelligent and unfortunately hold views that I find quite bigoted. While I don’t support those views and challenge them when I can, I do not declare them to be total morons. If I did, I would hardly ever talk to anybody and I would feel more like I was running away from the problem than doing anything to fix it.

    Imagine if your wife (or some other woman you respected) told you she was voting for a woman as a way to get more women into politics. Maybe you would be dumbfounded and you might have an argument, but would you declare her a total moron? Maybe, just maybe, you might wonder if there was some merit to what she was saying that you hadn’t considered and, not being a woman, didn’t quite grasp. Maybe it would spur you to ask another woman you respected if she would vote along gender lines.

    In my experience, this is the kind of world that people sometimes find themselves in.

    • Agreed. My parents politics is so opposite to mine and quite bigotted at times. But they are good people and certainly not stupid. It does dumbfound me though sometimes that they can hold those views … But they think the same about me!

  16. “The venom between them is palpable, the delight they take in putting each other down in Parliament very obviously personal.” Has the man never heard of that God forsaken thing we love to call Question Time? The take personal catty shots the whole time, the only difference here is that the two in question both have wazzers. So why is this a point of interest for Fitzy?

  17. Its the ludicrous, endemic nature of adversarial politics.
    Let alone “lead by example” … which I dont expect footballers to do, but I have a modicum of expectation from, erm, “leaders” … but the whole system of adversarial politics needs to be flushed (with ecologically safety) down the dunny. Goddamit, its C21 .. haven’t we learnt anything yet???

  18. Unless they start wrestling in jelly, in a g string, then it ain’t wrong that they say mean stuff about each other.
    I have worked with women I loathed – and I have managed to keep it civil. I am currently working for a woman whom I find myself disliking more and more, not because of her beliefs, but her actions, but I remain civil. She does not.
    At least Peter was asking the question, not just saying they were bitchy.
    Wasn’t he?

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