The West Australian

‘Wrong’ women are targets

- GEMMA TOGNINI Gemma Tognini is executive director of GT Communicat­ions

The wrong kind of woman. Such an archaic phrase, don’t you think? It brings back memories of a time when women were seen and not heard, when women were more chattel than people in our own right. I have to say, I’d never have thought to find myself contemplat­ing this phrase in 2021, but here I am.

I’ve had these conversati­ons, I think on the fringe at least, more than once but what happened to the Prime Minister’s wife, Jenny Morrison, at the weekend has convinced me that according to some self-anointed elitists in our midst, there are women whom we must defend and those it’s absolutely OK to abuse and harass. Kind of like the gendered equivalent of a two-speed economy.

Here’s what happened. Following news of the Duke of Edinburgh’s death, the Prime Minister’s office released a photo of Scott Morrison signing a condolence book for Prince Philip. Dressed in black (appropriat­ely), Mrs Morrison was standing to one side, looking on. An entirely staged, benign and situationa­lly appropriat­e photo.

Until it became an excuse to mock, ridicule and denigrate the Prime Minister’s wife. Based on how she looks, how she was dressed and by inference, her marriage, and her conservati­ve values.

It started with a now deleted tweet by Australian comedian Magda Szubanski, in which she questioned whether the image was a photoshopp­ed image from the Handmaid’s Tale.

“I genuinely thought this was a photoshopp­ed Handmaid’s Tale meme. But no. It’s 21st century Aussie life,” she tweeted.

Cue the pile on from a swag of her followers, who energetica­lly jumped on board.

Either we defend all women from this kind of behaviour . . . or we give up and declare open season. I refuse to give up.

Oh, and as you can well imagine, it was charming and sincere. Things such as, the Prime Minister’s wife is as obnoxious as her husband. She is a white supremacis­t enabler. Myriad comments about how she looked in that photo. What she is wearing. How she didn’t look as good as Jill Biden in the photo released by the US President.

And quelle surprise — most of the nastiness and vitriol came spitting from the mouths of other women. They weren’t defending her, they were happily joining in the offensive. Because, the sisterhood, or something. All of this, right smack in the middle of a conversati­on about how we treat women in the workplace, and more broadly.

So, it naturally follows that some women are fair game. Some women are not. Some women are pinatas, some women must be defended.

Szubanski has sought to clarify her intent, that she never meant to criticise the PM’s wife or how she looked. “I think doing a media pile-on about someone’s appearance is not something that I would condone,” Szubanski said.

I’m the kind of person who likes to take people at face value. Be that as it may, you’d expect more from someone who has been as unkindly and unfairly treated as she has over her physical appearance. I don’t get it. I really don’t.

Let me tell you what this kind of carry on says to girls and young women. It’s OK to attack someone based on their looks, if you think they’re not popular.

Or if you’re funny about it. It says that if someone has different political views from you, and those views are a little more traditiona­l, it’s OK to take aim.

Let me tell you what it says to boys and young men. That these conversati­ons about respect, and about how we treat women in the workforce and more broadly, they don’t count for anything. They are meaningles­s when the Prime Minister’s wife, a conservati­ve stay-at-home mum is fair game. You can go for gold if the mob is behind you.

It shouts that you can make fun of how a woman looks. You can mock her values if they’re different to your own.

You might argue that only a small slice of the population is on social media and that as a result, the abuse wasn’t widely seen. A few people have tried that line with me.

Problem with that reasoning is that it’s nonsense. Social media, while a colossal ass, has become a birthing ground for stories that get carried across into the mainstream and before long, what was being said about Mrs Morrison was being widely reported.

It’s a quirk of the 21st century news cycle. I wonder if the Prime Minister and his wife were able to shield their daughters from what was said? I wonder if they will be teased or bullied about it when school goes back?

This is a terrible and potent example of what’s becoming increasing­ly clear. It’s only right to support a certain type of women, and certainly not those who hold political views different from our own and very definitely not if they happen to be conservati­ve.

We gotta pick a horse and ride it, people.

It’s that simple. Either we defend all women from this kind of behaviour, regardless of their ideology, their faith (or otherwise), or we give up and declare open season. I refuse to give up.

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