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Lay off the Gina Rinehart fat attack


My first and most wonderful secretary worked, after me, for Gina Rinehart, and never had a harder word to say for her other than she was 'quite an unusual lady'. Wendy must have been raised by a mum, like mine, who'd say (but never lived up to it) that if you can't find something nice to say about somebody, don't say anything.

I'm afraid I'm not too good at it either, having learned how easily the tongue can humiliate or inflame.

Yet it would be a bloody good piece of advice for anyone wishing to weigh in (another witty AFR in-joke headline about Rinehart's latest obstacle to a seat on the Fairfax Board) to the discussion about Rinehart's contribution to Australian culture in terms of her perceived unattractiveness as a woman. 'Fat', therefore greedy and nasty and ill-controlled, and thus a target for ridicule based on how she looks and therefore of what worth she is.

On Q&A in May we were subjected to a thoroughly vile display of playground mobbing, the kind that ends with Piggy getting killed before the grownups break up the game of Lord of the Flies.

Rinehart wasn't there, but nobody defended her, and in her name any powerful woman. Tony Jones' half-rueful smile as virtually the whole panel got stuck into 'Gina' doesn't relieve him of responsibility for feeding her reputation down the razor-blade of public taste.

Presumably he thought it was funny to let Barry 'Dame Edna' (really, his despised Glen Iris mummy) Humphries opine that Rinehart should get herself a hairdresser. From beneath his floppy, improbably black hair. Which encouraged David Marr to call Rinehart 'greedy' and criticise her public warring with her children.

Sneers flowered on famous faces. Even John Hewson, who could have stood up for civility, instead went along with the pack with a pathetic remark that he could understand what Rinehart was trying to do but 'didn't excuse' because he 'didn't understand' how she was doing it.

Have we tried to understand? No, because she's 'ugly', according to a misogynist, a gay man, a former politician, and Miriam Margoyles, the fabulously British and famously lesbian actor who doesn't know 'Gina' (who does?) but doesn't like her.

It was a despicable 'debate' and did the ABC no credit. Does nobody appreciate that by sniggering at a rich and powerful woman and pecking at her 'worth' because of her physical features, they undermine every and any woman who has a powerful role in business, politics or the professions? The only voice in defence of 'Fatty Arbuckle' was actor Jacki Weaver, who quietly said they were all being unkind.

And so they were.

Our news and political media love pictures of Rinehart when she was young, slimmer and (obviously) happier, often adorning a piece announcing, incredulously, that Rinehart is the richest woman in the world, yet has an unhappy family life, estate disputes, business frustrations and no seat on the board of Fairfax.

Rinehart makes headlines because of her court jousts with Rose, with her late father's business partner, Wright's, heirs; and with business competitors. Tell me which business man has not had such battles. And every time her weight is brought up along with her wealth, when another big businessman with political interests, Clive Palmer's enormous girth isn't mentioned, just as her own late father's physical beauty and fitness was not.

We have stood by and laughed at representations of a polka-dotted Joan Kirner, the Gianni Versacci-bloused Amanda Vanstone, and even (for God's sake) Hillary Clinton's drab pants suits, hairstyle, lack of makeup and 'dowdiness'. And even Germaine Greer had a crack at Julia Gillard's bum and 'ill-cut' jackets.

Stop, and let's grow up. Rinehart is a rich and therefore influential woman. She was brought up by a loving daddy who wanted her to inherit his vision — like it or not, and I don't — and his business. And she did, but not before he hurt her greatly — by marrying a woman she couldn't stand, by privately deriding her weight gain (the fat hypocrite), and by wimping out on protecting her interests by doing a King Lear on his deathbed.

Rinehart inherited and out-did daddy's ruthlessness. She made herself a private and family life, which has fallen apart publicly, and horribly. She has fought to be what she is today, and yet she is but mortal. She is a woman who believes in her own capacity to strive, survive and thrive, and believes in her power as an individual, at the cost (it seems) of privacy, apparent unhappiness (borne stoically) and an enhanced sense of insecurity.

She would hate to be pitied, but one can.

The Rinehart-Hancock business ventures should be assessed for what they are, not for who leads them or what she looks like. Rinehart is no feminist, but with her background, why would we expect her to be? She influences the economy, politics, the media and our public culture, but only as much as the strength of civil society has to match and outmatch her.

Men and women of Australia, lay off the fat attack. The best safeguard against the misuse of personal power is time and persistence, and a powerful sense of who we are and what we value. The location of power is always, and forever, fleeting but never rests for long in one set of hands.

Fat, flesh and bone all turn to dust. Our minerals will turn into (pig)-iron and steel. And then they're gone.

Let's focus on that. 

Moira RaynerMoira Rayner is a barrister and writer. 

Topic tags: Moira Rayner, Gina Rinehart, Clive Palmer, Lang Hancock



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Existing comments

If you can't take a dig at the soon-to-be world's richest person (not just woman) for being grossly overweight then what can you do? Humor, and especially crude humor, is one thing that shines in the Australian vernacular, and for all the finger waving I'd rather suffer Moira's disapproval than give up my right to make fat jokes about Gina, James Packer or Clive Palmer, not to mention Joe Hockey and Barry O'Farrell. This kind of argument demonstrates the utter triumph of identity politics and the self over any kind of communal or collective politics - I'd love to see Moira go and read this piece to a bunch of AWU or AMWU punters and see how she goes.

Adam | 15 June 2012  

I was also appalled by that Q&A. I am dismayed by the sexism, but to be honest I would be dismayed if they talked about any public figure like that. It was unnecessarily personal. One other thing I found frustrating was the judgement by David Marr and others that Gina's dispute with her children was about greed. I am not wealthy, but I suspect Gina Rinehart wants her children to grow up with character and work before riches and entitlement, as I would want for my children.

MBG | 15 June 2012  

Was it too much to hope that, with the rise of 'the feminine' in contemporary society, a woman would be seen in the forefront of 'care for a planet in terrible distress', instead of being the leading figure outdoing a patriarchal society in ripping it up and pushing for power to do more of that?

len puglisi | 15 June 2012  

Moira As a father of three daughters I couldn't agree more. I am so sick of hearing women denigrated because of their appearance, when the physical looks of men are rarely commented on. Not only were the Q and A comments sexist and extremely rude but incredibly shallow and trite. I was very disappointed in the program and Tony Jones.

Paul Arnott | 15 June 2012  

You are absolutely right Moira. I watched that Q&A programme. The nasty comments from the panel, which included a woman (Margoyles, who I liked, but now don't) were unjustified and cruel. I have thought for some time that Gina's weight is probably due to an emotional, psychological underlying problem. I could be wrong of course. I do not know the lady. Anyway, there is too much criticism of overweight women, and how they clothe and look in this country. Being the opposite - I'm a tall, very underweight skinny streak - I know that stress, emotional trauma and pain can lead to physical changes, which are difficult to control, to overcome. Let's leave those aspects about Gina Reinhardt alone. Let's rejoice that there are decent people out there like Jackie Weaver.

Louw | 15 June 2012  

At the conclusion of that Q&A, only Jackie Weaver emerged as a compassionate human being. I have admired Barry Humphries (with some reservations) for many years; now I see him in a different light; and, sadly, Miriam Margoyles, who displayed unexpected cruelty to another woman. Mean-Man David Marr's sneering comments were entirely in character-no surprises there. And, I am glad my husband and sons do not share Adam's misogyny and his enjoyment of others' suffering. What an unlovely bunch.

Elena | 15 June 2012  

Thanks Moira. While I strongly disagree with Gina's politics and views I am absolutely horrified that people in our society think it is appropriate to attack her appearance and her personal life.

Beth | 15 June 2012  

Excellent article and brave. Expect to be mocked by Q&A types. I hope Tony Jones and co read it.

george connolly | 15 June 2012  

Thanks Moira!

Trisha Bouma | 15 June 2012  

There is no doubt that criticising public figures because of their appearance is unfair and irrelevant to political debate. However Ms Rayner, can I put forward a few quotes from your article of April 11th: " Craig Thomson, the unfortunately non-photogenic backbench Labor MP " "big boofy blokes in her own union" and perhaps most unpleasantly: "His warm seat is also toasting the shapely behind of the Gillard Government". I also note that you have completely ignored the continued presumption of guilt regarding Craig Thomson displayed uncritically on that Q&A program. David Marr in particular shamed himself and his legal background, Humphries also put the unsubstantiated boot in, but what more can we expect from a long passe comedian. And following the many revelations about Kathy Jackson's apparent somewhat unusual dealings with HSU funds, her no doubt unlucky and coincidental relationship with the 2IC of FWA and her rather odd court appearance last week, do you still consider her a 'whistleblower'? Do you still believe that: "Proving that dirt sticks, she too has been 'accused' (by whispers and rumours) of funny dealings with union funds and resources, though on a very different and trivial scale from the men involved."? I would suggest reading the excellent investigative journalism on this whole Thomson/Jackson affair in the on-line journal Independent Australia before making any premature assumptions of 'trivial' accusations and of guilt or innocence. Or does the fact that Ms Jackson is an attractive woman give her some sort of moral high ground above the "unfortunately non-photogenic" Mr Thomson?

chris g | 15 June 2012  

Well said Moira. Misogyny is so ingrained in our society that most people don't even recognise it. And it is not confined to men. It is at the base of why many can't accept the election of our current PM as legitimate. The final straw is if these women dare to be sexually unattractive. Don't put on weight or get old girlie. As much as I loathe Gina's politics and fear her desire for media power, I despair of any intelligent political debate from people who think these personal jibes and snears acceptable for one gender but not another. Perhaps Sam Newman should host it.

Eclair | 15 June 2012  

"Our minerals will turn into (pig)-iron and steel. And then they're gone". But they're won't really be gone. They'll appear on la Gina's bank statement with many, many zero's after them. And that obsession of her's is what I find ugly - not her weight problem.

vincenzo vittorio | 15 June 2012  

Congratulations Moira on an excellent article. Poor Jackie Weaver being the lone kind voice, the rest ready to vilify ....all for attention and a cheap laugh.

Geraldine | 15 June 2012  

I pity Mrs Rinehart because I believe she is a dissatisfied person. In some people this is the cause of over-eating and excessive weight, but this is a person's own business and should not be criticised by the general public. Despite her financial success in the mining industry and huge wealth, dissatisfaction may be the cause of her seeking to gain more power in The Age. It would be tragic if Victoria's only high-quality newspaper becomes her docile servant.

Bob Corcoran | 15 June 2012  

Thank you Moira, I agree. The acceptance of sexist judgement of one woman based on body shape, then creates the climate for it to apply to all - and that includes all people not just women. It also is a cheap distraction from the real issues of the responsible use of the earth, and how we provide enough wealth for everyone's needs by sharing profits equitable. Perhaps the question could be raised about whether the Rinehart/Palmer mega-businesses should be required to train and employ apprentices to provide the on-going skill base we need?

Pauline | 15 June 2012  

Yet another introspective! I suspect Gina Rinehart is far too big to be worried by tne inanities of this particular Q&A. Would be a change to see some commentary on misandry from M/s Rainer to add a little perspective to her writings.

john frawley | 15 June 2012  

The Media very rarely resort to attacking male moguls on a personal level. Why then is there a frenzied attack on Gina's weight and shape? Her father was not an attractive man so why the attack on Gina's body shape and weight? Grow up.

Kathleen Garraway | 15 June 2012  

I am a self-confessed "Q&A type" and I agree with Ms Raynor's criticism. No-one on the panel would have dreamed of making derogatory comments about someone's physical disability. Tony Jones needs to take a sebbatical so that he can regain the perspective of a "moderator", and not as a contributor to personal attack. For another horrible example: his (what he alone thought was a very witty) comment to Julia Gillard about knitting needles was vicious and completely out of place. Even bringing up the subject was petty and sexist. Yes, we need to "lay off the fat attack", but so also do our public figures need to refrain from irrelevant personal jibes.

Patricia | 15 June 2012  

Totally agree Moira. Germaine gibe shocked me as did Humphries' et al pathetic snideness.

Vacy Vlazna | 15 June 2012  

A most timely piece. I also have grave reservations about Mrs. Rinehart's expanding political clout based purely on her wealth but the rush to denigrate her appearance adds nothing to this matter. Her detractors simply exposed themselves as shallow and myopic.

Kevin Summers | 15 June 2012  

So what can be done to make Australia (and the world) a fairer place? Didn't the comments come because of our frustrations at not being able to get a fairer Australia?

Geoff | 15 June 2012  

Re Q &A some was amusing, some was no doubt unfair and indeed in bad taste, but it was free speech, in a country where restrictions, led by the so goody goody ones, flourish, is becoming increasingly fraught. I prefer to stand with Orwell and Hichens and it appears the Government of Canada. Much as they irritate me, to put it mildly, I must in this instance agree with Berg and Bolt although probably agree with Gina Rinehart overall.

Brian Poidevin | 15 June 2012  

This is another example of supercilious and arrogant people 'playing the man or woman' instead of the ball. I do not watch garbage TV shows such as Q&A. I think Tony Jones was on lateline a few years back and my memory of him was that he was incapable of asking an intelligent question. I am very disappointed in the current ABC; most of our taxpayer money is spent irresponsibly on garbage radio stations such as 774, mickey mouse TV news stations and all programs produced in Australia. The only programs worth watching on the ABC are those produced in the UK such as Stephen Fry's 'QI' and various dramas.

Mark Doyle | 15 June 2012  

I agree with Patricia about ABC Tony Jones' behaviour of late. His sarcasm and one sided jibes on Q&A are not a good look for the ABC. I used to be an admirer of Jones, especially when he was a foreign correspondent. Not any more. His cutting remark to PM Gillard re knitting needles on Q&A was the last straw.

Louw | 15 June 2012  

Oh Tony Jones, how do you feel? How did you let yourself succumb to the lowest common denominator? You watched as others under your supervision as moderator, verbally bullied and you did nothing. Whilst I am by no means a fan of Gina and many of her like I feel that that any attack on personal/physical traits is unacceptable. "Adam" could try some constructive criticism before calling for Moira Rayner to read her "piece to a bunch of AMU or AMWU punters and to see how she goes"? He values his right to make a fat joke, but how how much does he value other Australian's rights to joke about fat and lazy union workers, whether it be true or not. And "Len", why should a woman, "the feminine,"in society not do the masculine rape and pillage but the expected feminine mend and tend? This is 2012 and women are under represented in high levels of management. We should not criticize those who are, based on their gender or physical attributes. Very few men are criticized for their weight or physical flaws. It is probably best that we consider our political and business leaders as gender neutral.

Jane | 16 June 2012  

It seems that all the locker room/fireside gossip and sniggering which tends to get nasty is now on national TV for us all to sit in on for our amusement. I must admit it was the first time I'd had such a chuckle at Q&A but I didn't realise at the time that it would cause suck a backlash and such pondering and deep analysis.

AURELIUS | 16 June 2012  

Political protest often manifests itself as head-kicking. Perhaps we shouldn't expect any more of political debate than knowing one of the right heads is being picked? - but I hope not. Regardless, this is nothing new, and is a trivial distraction. Sorry. It's monstrous that any individuals (like Gina or Clive) could put such financial, media and industry pressure on fragile areas, over and over, simply exhausting resistance of grass-roots democratic opposition through the abuse of superior funds. Having seen it first hand, it's monstrous that CSG activities don't even fall under federal regulation, ground water and soil analysis fall under the "honours-system"; that mining rights trump farming land rights in the eastern states almost every time; that British govt warns they can't guarantee food security for their population over coming years - and we're in a far more fragile position regarding food production. So while world-burners run amok, we have people saying "now, be nice in your debate"? If passions don't run high over preserving our own environment and our own health... then when do we care? Passion's should run high over this issue. Write or protest constructively: focus on real issue.

Shermy | 20 June 2012  

A good reminder, and not just because highlighting her flaws blinds us to the personal cost in devoting one’s life to fulfilling the dreams of an adored father. It is hard to get over the sad picture of self-destruction painted by Marion Wilkinson on the ABC’s Four Corners of June 24.

Moira Rayner’s article is not just a plea for good manners; it reminds us of the need to keep a clear sense of the difference between matters of genuine public interest and the private world in which we strive to make sense of our own lives, and try to discover the rules of the game before it is over.

If we blur this difference, and vilify those we see as responsible for our problems, we pay a high price - we are easy prey for the policies of those whose charisma and political skills may do great harm. I have in mind the Lyndon Johnsons and Robert McNamaras of this world.

max atkinson | 26 June 2012  

Well said Moira! Thank goodness for thoughtful insightful remarks. Q & A, led by the unpleasant, one-eyed Tony Jones, seems to me to be primarily a mouthpiece for the current government, who encourage the public, by example as well, to make thoroughly unpleasant personal attacks & use equally distasteful negative vocabulary, when anyone disagrees with them. Surely humans are more capable than descending into these kinds of uncivilised tactics. Respect for real debate seems to be disappearing fast in our current climate. More and more the public is being told what to think and how things are in always done in the interests of "the nation". Whose nation I wonder? What is happening to democracy?

penny | 29 June 2012  

You are correct. There is little validity in attacking an individual for their physical state. Instead we should be attacking Gina for her horrendous social, economic and environmental policy that is heedless of the long term damage done to many in exchange for the short term expanding profits of the few.

Rowan | 07 September 2012  

I am trying to get people to post, by email, facebook or snail mail, the lyrics of Alistair Huletts song "He Fades Away" to Ms Rinehart. This by way of protest for her recent YouTube offering. So I agree, attack the policy, not the person.

James Carter | 08 September 2012  

People have became too sensitive over the small issues. It is common fact in life not everybody is going to like you and people are going to say stuff. People need to remember it is a two-way street and adults are not innocent by nature.

Razer | 16 October 2012  

I remember that Q&A episode as the funniest ever, mainly because of the chemistry between Humphries and Margolyes, but Marr was also less self-serious than usual and tried to keep up with the other two. Sure, female fatness is unjustly stigmatised, as is male shortness, but when the butt of an amusing body jibe is a powerful person we make exceptions. Most Q&A guests are not funny enough to pull this off, and in any case are much too scared of being scolded by the mummy brigade. PM Abbott was ridiculed several times as a 'little man', obviously evoking the ubiquitous stigma against small men, but I somehow doubt this boils Ms Rayner's social conscience nearly as much.

Kieran Golby | 15 October 2015  

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