By now, pretty much everyone’s seen, or at least heard about, that menu, produced for a fundraising dinner held for Liberal National Party member Mal Brough. The guest of honour was Shadow Treasurer Joe Hockey, lending a hand in the effort to oust Independent Peter Slipper from his seat.
Remember Mr Slipper? Former Speaker, toppled after allegations of sexual harassment surfaced against him – allegations in which Mr Brough played a significant part? Oh, and let’s not forget, Brough himself admitted that he’d ‘misled’ people about the situation in order to help bring about Slipper’s downfall. But I digress.
The food presented for the dinner was, as expected, rather fancy. It’s the sort of thing you’d see at very high-end restaurants. That wasn’t the issue. It was the way the dishes were described. Now, you’d expect to see a little mockery of the opposing side at an electioneering function, and this was no exception. Kevin Rudd was compared to a goose at this one.
But then there was the way the menu referred to the Prime Minister:
‘small breasts, big thighs, and [a derogatory reference to her genitalia]’. (I’ve blacked out the most offensive part of the description.)
Any way you look at that, it’s almost breathtakingly disgusting. The Prime Minister – the elected head of government – discussed in terms that wouldn’t be acceptable in the workplace, let alone a so-called fundraiser. A vicious attack on her physical appearance and her gender. Yes, her gender. When you start referring specifically to someone’s genitalia in such terms, you’re attacking their gender.
No doubt it was meant to be funny. I bet the guests got a big chuckle out of it, too. There’s nothing like mean-spirited mockery to really set the tone of an evening. More fun than teasing the ‘weird kid’ in the playground, right?
The menu made it to the public arena via the evening’s chef, in response to a tweet from Hockey:
Gillard’s comments on abortion and the Coalition are desperate and offensive. She has never deserved respect and will never receive it.
— Joe Hockey (@JoeHockey) June 11, 2013
One suspects the chef was less than impressed with Hockey pointing the finger at the Prime Minister and calling her behaviour offensive, given his attendance at the dinner – and his failure, at the time, to condemn the menu.
Brough was quick to get his face on television to say the menu was ‘inappropriate’ – but none of his people had drawn up that menu, and he didn’t know who did.
Inappropriate. That’s one word for it.
I don’t recall ever seeing any such menu. It is offensive and inappropriate whenever it was put out and it is now.
— Joe Hockey (@JoeHockey) June 11, 2013
That, frankly, is absurd. He was the guest of honour. A copy of the menu was, according to the chef, placed on each table. Are we really supposed to believe that Hockey didn’t even glance at it? That no one pointed out the oh-so-hilarious descriptions?
And then there was Opposition Leader Tony Abbott, at a press conference with Steve Ciobo (who commented on Lateline that the Prime Minister was likely to ‘get her throat slit’), shaking his head and solemnly declaring that it was ‘tacky’ – but that we should also condemn ‘squalid’ jokes at union dinners. And by the way, wasn’t it convenient that this menu came to light at a time when the Prime Minister was under fire from her own party?
One after another, all three representatives from the Coalition worked to diminish the seriousness of the issue. Whether it was tepid language, attempts to divert or a completely unbelievable alibi, the reaction from the Coalition has fallen far short of the mark.
But really, what else should we have expected? Remember, we are talking about a Coalition that, under Abbott’s leadership, has never hesitated to making crude, sexist and violent remarks about the Prime Minister. Remember this?
At that rally, Opposition Senator Barnaby Joyce positively encouraged that placard-waving crowd to chant, ‘Bitch! Bitch! Bitch!’ People screamed for the Prime Minister (the ‘witch’) to be killed. Not one Coalition member out there spoke out against that. Abbott, in fact, even suggested the Prime Minister had brought it on herself.
Hockey stayed well away, but didn’t condemn any of it. Hmm, sounds familiar. Perhaps he ‘didn’t see’ any of those signs.
The menu is only the latest in a long series of sexist, violent attacks on the Prime Minister. It’s not merely disrespecting the office. It’s not picking out a long nose, or big ears, and highlighting them in a cartoon. These are sustained, specific attacks targeting the Prime Minister as a woman. The description of the offensive dish literally encouraged the diners to consider themselves cutting apart, chewing and swallowing those parts of a woman’s body that display her gender. This isn’t coming from some extremist group, hell-bent on armed revolution. This is either being endorsed by, or originating from, the Opposition – the Coalition that may well be elected to office in September.
At the time of the ‘No Carbon Tax’ rally, Independent MP Tony Windsor sounded a note of warning about the violent rhetoric. If it continued, and worsened, he said, he was afraid that it might spill over into actual violence. He was mocked mercilessly for ‘overreacting’.
But here we are, with MPs suggesting that the Prime Minister be murdered (and ex-MP Peter Reith suggesting that she commit suicide). Here we are, with MPs laughing about offensive, sexist descriptions before digging into the dish that was supposed to stand for her.
And here we are, with an Opposition Leader – possibly soon-to-be Prime Minister – who apparently thinks that it’s only ‘tacky’ or ‘unfortunate’ when someone suggests assaulting or even killing a woman.
Think about that.