During a press conference on June 15, 2010, where Prime Minister Mr Rudd was announcing the Australian government’s proposed paid parental leave, a female reporter asked “Prime Minister, why is your leadership in crisis?”.
Mr Rudd was clearly irritated by this question and shot back a comment “Well, that’s a point of language which you have used and used which is dramatically consistent with the dress which you have chosen today”. The reporter was Latika Bourke from radio 2UE and she is pictured here at that particular press conference wearing a white shirt, necktie and hat.
As may be expected, feminist groups have wasted no time in raising the alarm that this is clear evidence of sexism in our society, perpetuated by the Prime Minister himself. Eva Cox from the Women’s Electoral Lobby has described this as “sexist” and stated that “It’s not the sort of reaction he would make to a male journalist” according to the Herald-Sun.
What the news reports and feminist groups don’t mention is the actual context of the situation; such as:
1) Mr Rudd, clearly irritated by the question, felt that her question was unrelated to the purpose of the conference and was therefore inappropriate – as was her attire (see next point below). For those unfamiliar, the Prime Minister has been going through a severe battering in the polls with an upcoming election on the horizon and the media hounding him about a possible leadership challenge by the Deputy Prime Minister. It’s understandable that yet another ‘leadership crisis’ question hurled at him during an unrelated media conference would irritate him (he is only human).
2) Everyone seems to have overlooked whether the reporter’s attire was business-appropriate. It appears to be much more suited to a night-club rather than a press conference with the nation’s leader. If a business man was to wear a groovy T-shirt to a boardroom, you can be certain that he would receive a lot of negative attention, and quite likely disciplined (or dismissed) by the company’s management. Dress appropriateness is not reserved for women only. In fact, men in western society are generally far more restricted in their clothing options than women. Many companies insist that their male staff wear neckties whereas the women are not required to wear such a “collar and leash”.
3) Not only is the reporter’s outfit inappropriate to a such a conference, it could be described as verging on cross-dressing. If a male reporter was to have attended the conference wearing a stylish skirt, blouse and some fashionable heels, you can be certain that not only would the Prime Minister have commented on his attire, but he would have likely been openly ridiculed and no longer employed as a reporter. THAT is sexism, Ms Eva Cox.
So, the short story is: A female reporter wearing an ‘out there’ night-clubby outfit attends a press conference with the nation’s leader and throws out an unrelated question that is sure to irritate him. Having made herself a target in several ways, she receives an angry response that any reporter in her circumstances, male or female, would have received. The feminists waste no opportunity, including this one, to claim that this is evidence that women are victims of sexism yet again.
Clearly, when a meaningless matter such as this is held up as an example of sexism in our society then it calls into question the strength and validity of other so-called evidence of sexism against women in our society.
Update: It turns out that (former) Prime Minister Rudd was justified in feeling on edge. Less than two weeks later Julia Gillard (his deputy) challenged him for the leadership and won.