Can we talk about Gina Rinehart without insulting her?

You know when you notice something and then you can’t stop noticing it? Like, when people say “like”, like all the time? Or when you think, “I like her yellow shoes” and then you see loads of people wearing yellow shoes? There’s a piece on Daily Life about whether or not Gina Rinehart is a feminist role model that is filled with something that I can’t stop noticing.

For most of the article, Alecia Simmonds looks at whether there’s evidence of feminism in Rinehart’s business life. But it’s the little digs at Rinehart’s appearance that I noticed, and once I noticed them I couldn’t stop noticing them, and I reckon Simmonds didn’t even notice she was doing it.

For example:

And she exhibits a delightful refusal to conform to patriarchal standards of feminine beauty.

Um, what? If you do a google image search for photos of Rinehart, you’ll see that in almost all of them she is wearing make-up (usually lipstick, often eye shadow), her hair is coloured (I’m making that assumption because in some photos there’s grey hair and in others there isn’t), she’s wearing the classically feminine accessory of pearls, and she’s neatly dressed in feminine clothing. Now, I don’t have a list of patriarchal beauty standards, but if I did it would be any combination of: wearing make-up, colouring your hair so you look younger, wearing feminine outfits, being slim, being pretty, and spending money and time on maintaining the slim and the pretty and the outfits and the make-up. So, what exactly is Simmonds talking about here? Is it a comment about her weight? Because I’m not sure that Simmonds wants to be in the place where she says that women whose bodies are bigger than slim/curvy-yet-still-slim automatically stop conforming to/caring about beauty standards. Statements like that are best left for when we know, for sure, that a woman is refusing to conform to patriarchal standards of feminine beauty. And we usually know this by asking her if she is refusing to conform to patriarchal standards of feminine beauty and she says “yes”.

I definitely furrow my feminist brows when Rinehart is called an heiress while James Packer is called a billionaire. How is Packer any less an heir? When Julian Morrow quipped that Rinehart was ‘the elephant not in the room’, and Germaine Greer advised her to find a decent hairdresser I became a spit-flecked ball of feminist fury. Rinehart is held to a suffocatingly restrictive image standard that her counterparts like Clive Palmer and James Packer are not. We’re capable of discussing wealthy men without mentioning their hairy shoulders or wide girth. Gina Rinehart is reduced to her bingo-wings.

I agree with her point about Packer. I think Morrow’s comment was mean and childish. I think Greer, well, I find it hard to agree with anything she says these days. I think Palmer and Packer cop shit for their bodies, but without the nastiness that Rinehart gets. But in that final comment – “bingo wings” – Simmonds does exactly what she’s railing against: she makes a mean comment about Rinehart’s body. Look, I’m sure it was just a witty one-liner. But bingo wings is a derogatory term. It’s used to shame women – particularly older women – into covering their bodies. To stop them wearing comfortable clothing in hot weather, in case someone is forced to look at their arms for a moment. The horror of bingo wings is used to get women to diet and to exercise (this article suggests stretching your arms FIVE TIMES A DAY to avoid bingo wings. With all that arm-stretching we have to do, who has time to topple the patriarchy?). Why didn’t she just write “body” or “appearance”? It would make the same point about the “suffocatingly restrictive image standard” without buying in to the same language? This may seem like a trivial objection – this whole post is probably trivial – but I’m interested in the way that so many people just casually insult Gina Rinehart. Because honestly, what the hell do her arms have to do with whether or not she’s a feminist role model?

If you’re poor, then stop ‘drinking and smoking and socialising’, she barks.

Nasty people bark orders. It’s a small thing, sure, but the article is about whether or not Rinehart is a feminist role model, not whether or not she’s a nasty person. A better word would have been “lectured” (if you feel you have to use a word like this) or “said”. There is nothing wrong with said. It’s a very good word because readers don’t tend to notice it, so they focus on what is being said, rather than the fact that it’s being pondered/mused/uttered/barked. And it’s also a poor choice of word because dogs bark and dog is a word commonly used to insult women and you know I may be overthinking this.

Her philanthropic contributions to feminist organisations are negligible, she has campaigned to destroy decent working conditions and she refuses to see that opportunity is defined by social context. Let’s keep the obscene, unshared wealth of Gina Rinehart and feminism in opposite, warring camps, and focus more on the liberation part of women’s liberation.

Ah, Rinehart’s “obscene, unshared wealth”. I think we all have a philanthropic responsibility, because we’re rich people in a rich country. And I also think people can do whatever the hell they want with their own money. But when it comes to Rinehart, there’s an expectation – no, a demand – that she share her money (with who? With writers of opinion pieces?). Because women should care about others and help others and sharing her money with others is a nice thing to do and if she doesn’t share her money then she’s greedy and mean. And I’ll stop believing that this is what it’s about when I see an equal number of articles that casually mention that James Packer and Rupert Murdoch and Clive Palmer should share their “obscene” wealth.

22 responses to “Can we talk about Gina Rinehart without insulting her?

  1. Absolutely agree with you here. There is plenty to criticise Ms Rinehart for, without resorting to nastiness. And it would be fair to include Mr Packer and Mr Murdoch in some of that criticism.
    Sometimes I think we’ve been so conditioned to the language that we don’t realise we are using it, or notice if someone else does. But we should all try harder.
    But I also think it it time to treat this sort of writing (in journalism and on twitter) with disdain rather than outrage.

  2. An interesting take on Gina and how we write and talk about her. I agree that she should not be ridiculed and insulted on the basis of her looks or sex, however I do believe that she does have obscene wealth in the sense that it is morally offensive that one person has so much and shares so little of it with those less off. Indeed, she chooses instead to lecture the poor and the workers on their deficiencies in enterprise and self discipline. The fact that I believe this is not connected to some idea that women should care more about people, it is about the unfairness of inherited wealth and the fact that someone can earn hundreds of dollars a day without even getting out of bed.
    Cheers
    Chris

  3. I remember reading a review of the poem on the rock composed by Rinehart. When reading the comments and parodies of her poem below the article, it struck me that the ones which mentioned her appearance fell flat.
    There was a lot of reporting about Rinehart at the time and even though I dislike pretty much everything I have heard her say, what really irked me then was the frequent criticism of her personal appearance. To me it is lazy thinking and cheap point scoring, a distraction from the things she does (where there is plenty of journalistic scope for criticism).
    http://www.crikey.com.au/2012/02/13/geoff-lemon-gina-your-poetic-licence-is-revoked/

    • I completely agree. There are plenty of things to criticise, but it’s time to keep things on topic, rather than just throw in casual insults.

      blueblood, welcome to the News with Nipples.

  4. YES YES YES! I really entirely agree.
    It’s cheap and shallow and silly and EXTREMELY self-defeating to link legitimate criticism of someone for their politics, their lobbying, their environmental impact, WHATEVER, with criticisms of their appearance.
    There is nothing out-of-the-way about Rinehart’s appearance anyway – she looks like any ordinary caucasian woman. And even if there WERE something outlandish and grotesque – well, surely we should be above ‘You’re ugly!’ taunts?

    • There are a lot of people who clearly aren’t above that. But I think there are a lot more who use use “fat” and “gay” as insults without thinking about it, and certainly without realising that it makes them big jerks.

  5. Pingback: Feminism, Philanthropy and Gina Rinehart (and other high-profile women) « A life unexamined

  6. I suspect Gina gets the `extra` nasty comments directed her way due to her questionable/shabby treatment of the Grand-kids inheritance, which seems to have been shuffled out of the kids trust and into Gina`s, under Gina`s guardianship. Do the other billionaires have a similar history? I also doubt Gina gives two-hoots about feminism, she seems to be about having as much money and power as possible, not being loved/liked by kids/public.

  7. the first line you point out really hit me in the article, too. I found it was definitely a comment on her weight, given, as you mention, she dyes her hair, wears makeup, wears nice clothes, etc.

    I don’t agree with Gina Rinehart in the slightest, but I don’t think her terrible politics should have anything to do with her sex or appearance.

  8. Do you mean `reported` on the East Coast or West Coast?
    Common knowledge out West, along with nastiness directed at Rose P (lies) and Lang at one stage too.

  9. One interesting thing I also found…compare the photo they used on the Daily Life piece, with the one they used when they re-ran it on (New Zealand’s) Stuff.

    It’ll be a file photo, sure, but a photo editor/web editor made that decision.

    • Probably not even the editor, but just one of the online journos. And to me, this is a big part of the problem with online journalism: because they’re using stories written by other people (either from the mastheads or AAP or, in the case of this particular article, written by a freelancer), there’s no human connection to the person in the story. They’re just a witty headline or dumb caption or “hey, let’s pick a bad photo”.

      I was an online journo for a few years and found it to be an incredibly disappointing experience. No professionalism, no desire to present a balanced story, getting the story on the website was more important than fact-checking/right of reply/getting a second voice, and no desire to think about how you can present a story online. And not just special web stuff, but also continuity, particularly with court reporting of ongoing cases. I mean, “the story so far” with court stories (and links) is a fucking no-brainer, right? And yet no one does it. Speed trumps everything else, with editors who think their readers are sitting there with the AAP feed and refreshing different websites to see who gets it up first. Fucking idiots.

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