News Roundup – July 2013

By Laura Howden

*Trigger Warning: Contains mention of rape and assault*

The Big News

Julia Gillard, Australia’s first female Prime Minister, was forced to step down from her position after last week’s leadership spill. Leading rights group, The Victorian Women’s Trust, took to the media in admiration of Gillard’s political career – whilst lamenting the “sexist and chauvinist abuse, denigration, double standards” and “gross disrespect” that plagued her time as leader of the Labor Party.

Gillard’s concession speech of June 26th provided one bit of hope for the women of Australia: that her achievements will make it easier for the next woman, and the woman after, to hold the position of Prime Minister (and moreover receive the respect so often lacking within Gillard’s representations in the media and in the opposition party

Tanya Plibersek, the Australian federal health minister, recently announced that Mifepristone and Misoprostol (used in tandem to terminate a pregnancy of up to seven weeks gestation) would be added to the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS). Ms Plibersek hopes the option will give women “more choice” in what is otherwise a difficult time; particularly for women of low socio-economic backgrounds.

Adrian Bayley, on trial for the rape and murder of 29 year old ABC network employee and Melbourne woman, Jill Meagher, has been convicted and sentenced to a 35 year non parole period – including 15 years for the charge of sexual assault for which he was found guilty.

Jill Meagher’s husband, Tom Meagher, has spoken out against the leniency of the sentencing given his prior convictions. “Given what this man has done in the past, I think that 15 years is a disgrace, considering the maximum penalty for rape is 25… He’s been let off too many times by our justice system.”

Continuing the political theme of the month, data collected last year by the Australian Bureau of Statistics has found that less than one-third of all Australian parliamentarians are women. The 2012 report on women in Australian parliaments makes note of ‘structural, social, cultural’ issues that stand in the way of equal gender representation in contemporary Australian politics.

The recent spill and change of cabinet has seen an unprecedented 11 women ministers appointed out of the 30 all up on the frontbench. In light of the unfortunate prevalence of sexist rhetoric within the Australian political scene, particularly surrounding the recent change of leadership, it is my hope these numbers continue to rise irrespective of the elected parties in power – until such a time as our parliament is a truly equal platform for the voices of our strong Australian women.

Media

In the wake of notable female celebrities (Lady Gaga and Katy Perry, to pen two examples) renouncing their ties to feminism, actor Margaret Cho has come out in support of her identification as a modern day feminist. In a recent blog post she spoke of it as a necessity in her line of work. “…as a woman, in my work and in my life, I have been treated as if my achievements were less valuable. So therefore, my feminism – it’s kind of necessary.”

Ms Cho is currently on screen in season 5 of Drop Dead Diva: a show that has gained kudos from several international women’s groups, although has received mixed reviews from online feminist critics insofar as whether or not is successfully handles the perception of larger women in society and the media.

‘And the prize for worst supporting dress goes to . . . Jennifer Lawrence.’ So reads the title of a recent Daily Mail article covering the young actor’s achievement of a Screen Actor’s Guild Award – or rather, covering the wardrobe malfunction that occurred as she made her way to the stage.

In spite of the more pressing, dare I say it, more media worthy news of Ms Lawrence receiving Best Female Actor in a Leading Role, almost all of the major media coverage was focused on the scandal of a young woman “revealing a little too much” of her body… It seems the female body in its natural state, sadly, remains a controversial topic for media outlets in 2013.

Sports and Athletics

A quick google search of “Female Athletes” and one might be expecting to see pictures of Nancy Kerrigan, Cathy Freeman and Annika Sorenstam. Of the 10 available page links, however, 4 of them (including the very top result) direct one to pages praising the “sexiest” and “hottest” female athletes of all time.

The men’s fitness magazine link makes a few veiled compliments in favour of women’s participation in sport, but there is the undeniable and unpalatable presence of an asterisk: highlighting not the achievements of the greatest female athletes of 2013 but rather, how we can “reap the benefits” of those female athletes who work tirelessly on their “sexy” bodies.

Surprisingly, a search of “Male Athletes” delivers much the same results with a slew of articles based around the physical attractiveness of past and present sportsmen. As a subculture that is oftentimes body-centric, perhaps it is time we readdressed how and why the media focuses on our sportswomen and men.

Peg McMahon, one of Australia’s first female sports writers and contributor to The Age, has died at the age of 95 after a lifetime’s work of furthering the exposure and legitimacy of women’s sports in the media. She has been described as a legend and a trailblazer, working in a time before equality was in the newsrooms of Australia; work that led to her appointment as the first woman trustee of the MCG in 1984.

Libby Trickett has announced her retirement from professional swimming, the second time she has done so; the first was in 2009, from where Libby announced her comeback for the 2012 London Olympics. She has won four gold medals for Australia.

References

Author Unknown. (2013). ‘Abortion Drug RU486 In New PBS Listing.’ Retrieved from http://www.skynews.com.au/topstories/article.aspx?id=883903

Author Unknown. (2013). Trickett Calls It A Day. Retrieved from http://www.abc.net.au/news/2013-07-03/trickett-calls-it-a-day/4798170

Cho, M. (2012). ‘Feminism.’ Retrieved from http://www.margaretcho.com/2012/11/13/feminism/

Cohen, A. (2013). ‘Julia Gillard: Australia’s PM Isn’t Blaming Her Loss On Her Gender, But Others Are. Retrieved from http://www.policymic.com/articles/53121/julia-gillard-australia-s-pm-isn-t-blaming-her-loss-on-her-gender-but-others-are

Stevens, E. (2013). ‘Top Ten Sexiest Female Athletes of 2013.’ Retrieved from http://www.mensfitness.com/women/galleries/top-10-sexiest-female-athletes-of-2013

White, A. (2013). ‘Jill Meagher’s husband Tom says killer Adrian Bayley was ‘let off too many times.’ Retrieved from http://www.heraldsun.com.au/news/law-order/bayley-unrepentantly-evil-says-tom-meagher/story-fni0ffnk-1226666505347

White, C. (2013). ‘And the prize for worst supporting dress goes to . . . Jennifer Lawrence…’ Retrieved from http://www.dailymail.co.uk/tvshowbiz/article-2269380/Jennifer-Lawrence-dress-rips-SAG-Awards-2013-Wardrobe-malfunction-accepts-Best-Actress-gong.html#axzz2K4T057Nw

Zielinski, C. (2013). ‘Pioneer of Sports Reporting Dies, 95.’ Retrieved from http://www.theage.com.au/sport/pioneer-of-sports-reporting-dies-95-20130531-2nhei.html.

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