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2015 in review: Q&A fails smart women


First published 10 March 2015

I am often enthusiastic. This is seen as unladylike. Like Germaine Greer, a woman who isn't ladylike either, my feelings inhabit my features. I accept there are consequences of wearing one's heart upon one's sleeve. I don't accept that they are fairly slapped on.

I am also pleased to call myself a feminist. That is why I noticed that it was International Women's Day on the 8th March, and why I sat down to watch the ABC's special, somewhat patronisingly advertised all-women-panelled Q&A on Monday.

I usually find Q&A more boring than enlightening. Tony Jones allows too many chaps to dominate. Too many politicians too. And when there's a smart women on board, he visibly forces himself to divert attention their way. He's had lessons, good on him for trying: it still shows.

The best — for me — before last night's was when Simon Sheikh, Founder of GetUp! and soon-to-be-unsuccessful Greens parliamentary candidate, fainted unbecomingly onto his speaking notes, right next to Sophie Mirabella. Her fastidious shrinking from what he presented as something contagious, said rather a lot about her quantum of solace. It wasn't a good night for a powerful Liberal MP then, or the 2013 election night either.

Sophie never claimed to be 'feminist'. Nor does Julie Bishop, Foreign Minister and, on the 9th March, one of Q&A's stars. She said everything right about the entrenched cultural and economic obstacles to women's rights to equal social and economic status with men.

Annabel Crabb chaired it all really well, but the next day I realised that not only our Foreign Minister, but not one panelist, got one question about their extraordinary achievements. Bishop was managing partner of a big law firm. She has unique experiences and must have views on the world's problems and their impact on Australia. But nobody asked. One wanted to know whether she could do the job if she'd had children, and what she thought about women on boards and domestic violence. She spoke Feminist right back. As did the rest of the panel, which included a magnificently chequered Bad Feminist author Roxane Gay, a very coolly be-spectacled and articulate Best & Less chief executive Holly Kramer, and engineer and young Australian of the Year, Yassmin Abdel-Magied. And, of course, Germaine Greer.

I am very fond of Greer, not just Simone de Beauvoir's The Second Sex and her remarkable book, The Female Eunuch made me realise that there was injustice all around me. It also helped my being a woman in a male-dominated and then very sexist legal profession in a tribal country town. Eventually I came to understand the dynamics of domestic violence, and the laws and money that nailed their feet to the floor of a dangerous home. The rights of women became an explicit part of my advocacy for universal human rights, civil liberties, and equal opportunity for justice and the rule of law, without discrimination.

Greer was heavily criticised on Twitter that night and social media the next morning, for a number of things she said on Q&A. She wasn't asked much either, and then only about feminism. She was generous. She shared her personal feelings about being 'noticed' by men in her work as something positive; her subtle way of dealing with sexual harassment, and then wickedly suggested to Bishop that she might be prepared to 'free her nipples' if it would cause release of the Bali Nine on death row (Bishop declined to play). A few of my social media friends said that she was a parody of herself and should shut up.

Another thing I have experienced, as Greer has, is copping a public bashing for being who I am.

This has to be parochial in her case. Australian mainstream media report Greer's public remarks as the ravings of a hag. Yet when I lived in London and observed her frequent appearances on TV, her public addresses, and read her essays and her smashing gardening column — she came across and was reported as just a respected and authoritative public intellectual.

Australia was once genuinely proud of its larrikin heart. It was part of the Gallipoli spirit, of C.J. Dennis's Sentimental Bloke. Yet Greer the female larrikin is a lightning rod for wrath. Is passion so uncomfortable? Is a joke about tits such a crime?

There is a subtle similarity between this kind of Greer-bashing for levity and the assault on the integrity of Human Rights Commission President Gillian Triggs. When the Australian Government's counsel accused Gillian Triggs in public hearings into the detention of asylum-seeking children, of being 'emotional', he was challenging her legitimacy as a voice of authority, because she is a woman.

I enjoyed that Q&A because every panellist was smart, and so was the audience. I wasn't bored. What I didn't like was the subject matter. Would Tony Jones think it proper to task an all-male Q&A panel to describe their lived experience of white male privilege?

Next time, ABC, I expect you to source and use women commentators who are experts on economics, fiscal policy, penal policy, good governance, education, futurists, entrepreneurs with a brain, scientists and other researches, experts on dentistry, string theory, philosophy, literature, the environment, the universe, and God. Because they are there. Give them their voice.


Moira RaynerMoira Rayner is a barrister and writer.

Topic tags: Moira Rayner, qanda, Julie Bishop, Germaine Greer, women's liberation



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Existing comments

Here Here. Thank you Moira for expressing so well my frustrations when watching the questions posed so often to intelligent, thinking women.

Sylvia | 13 January 2016  

Thank you Moira Rayner for this article. It really irks me to notice how Tony Jones cuts in when Women panellists make a point that makes a great deal of sense and impact on the audience. I think women make better chairpersons and arbiters. It is part of their DNA!!

Myrtle Moodley | 13 January 2016  

Goodonya Moira. That first paragraph had me cheering. And I will forever now see Tony Jones through the lens of your wonderfully cutting description.

Anna Summerfield | 13 January 2016  

Very belated thank you Moira for your writing. So insightful about Germaine. Interesting how some individuals seem to attract such negative reactions from people - Adam Goodes is another example.

Janice | 13 January 2016  

You should not be surprised with any disappointment of the ABC 'Q & A' program. This program is nothing more than a boring reality TV program for celebrities to indulge their opinions. Tony Jones is a very poor host and interviewer and I have never had much time for Annabel Crabb, who normally presents a celebrity nonsense program called "In The Kitchen' on ABC TV. The American folk singer, Joan Baez, was unimpressed with her treatment of being patronised by Tony Jones and some other male a few months back; she made some disparaging and scathing comments at her concert in Melbourne last September about the Q & A program. Unfortunately, since Mark Scott became managing director of the ABC about ten years ago, most of the ABC has been 'dumbed down' to be indistinguishable from the commercial shock jock radio and TV stations. In my opinion, a number of foreign news services such as the German Deutsche Welle, the American PBS Newshour and Democracy Now and the China Central TV provide a superior service of current affairs debate and discussion. The American PBS Newshour on TV and the American Democracy Now radio program have excellent female presenters such as Gwen Ifill, Judy Woodruff and Amy Goodwin.

Mark Doyle | 16 January 2016  

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