I watched Q&A in absolute horror last night as the Federal Minister for Employment, Kate Ellis, was the subject of one of the worst displays of misogynistic disrespect and bullying I’ve ever seen - not excluding my many years observing Olympic standard misogynistic bullying in action in various sales meetings and boardrooms throughout corporate Australia.
I was so sickened by the actions of Liberal MP, Christopher Pyne, former ALP MHR, Lindsay Tanner and Daily Telegraph columnist, Piers Akerman that I allocated an inordinate amount of time to compiling a detailed analysis of the Q&A transcript.
Regular readers will remember that this is a device I used following the misogynistic remarks made about Catherine Deveny’s recent Q&A appearance.
In what looked for all the world like a trio of blood-thirsty wolves cornering a deer, Pyne, Tanner and Akerman did everything they could to prevent Ellis from gaining any traction whatsoever. Every time she tried to speak, these three slavering curs descended on her with jibes, interruptions and, on one occasion, a totally inappropriate side-conversation – all intended to cripple her effectiveness, and diminish and detract from her message.
Every word, every gesture, said, “Back off, lady, this is men’s business and you’re out of your depth. Get back to the kitchen where you belong.”
Ellis was in a Catch 22 position. If she asserted herself and turned on the dogs, she would be branded a harridan and a shrew. Instead, she maintained her composure under incredible duress and did her best to soldier on under impossible conditions, with insufficient help from Jones.
I have no particular opinion on Ellis as a politician but no woman – in fact, no person - should be invited on to national television and treated the way she was last night – particularly not a government minister. It was deeply despicable and, in a week where misogyny has been headlline news, the nation should have witnessed far more circumspect behaviour from these three buffoons.
Unlike Deveny, despite constant interruptions, Ellis almost managed to hold her own in terms of word count but still did not achieve parity.
Here is the night’s tally:
- Pyne – 2, 400 words
- Tanner – 2, 142 words
- Ellis – 1, 962 words
- Sun – 1,204 words
- Akerman – 1,059 words
Despite Ellis’s efforts, Christopher Pyne and Lindsay Tanner still managed to dominate the program; both speaking 23 per cent more than she. Akerman seemed uninterested in the whole affair. Like a fat cat lying on the living room sofa, he interrupted his ennui only to take lazy swipes at Ellis.
As usual, the men dominated the show. Not including host, Tony Jones’, contribution, Pyne took up 28 per cent of the program (by word count), Tanner 24 per cent, Ellis 22 per cent, Sun 14 per cent and Akerman 12 per cent.
The three male guests (excluding Jones) accounted for 64 per cent of the words spoken during Monday night’s Q&A and the two women managed only 36 per cent.
But, word count aside, the horror story of this week’s program is the concerted efforts of Pyne, Akerman and Tanner to interrupt Ellis so frequently that she managed, mostly, only to speak in stuttered phrases.
Ellis’s heroic 1,962 words were interrupted 36 times during the course of the program – that’s once every 55 words and more than once every two minutes.
The major offender was Christopher Pyne who butted in to Ellis’ conversations an incredible 21 times – an average of one interruption for every three minutes of air time. And that was just against Ellis!
In all, serial offender Pyne interrupted other speakers, including Jones, a total of 34 times. Compare this with Catherine Deveny who drew the wrath of the Twitterverse and a misogynistic media upon her head by interrupting just four times during the course of a program. Where are the newspaper editorials about Pyne’s performance?
Tanner and Akerman made 11 interruptions each. Like Pyne, their major target was Ellis – 5 interruptions from Tanner and 6 from Akerman. Jones interrupted the Minister for Employment four times, the most notable when she opened her mouth to answer a question from an audience member and before she had a chance to speak, Jones said, “We’ll take that as a comment” and directed the next question to her nemesis, Christopher Pyne!
The American guest, Nilaja Sun, barely got a look in and was effectively side-lined by the rude posturing of Pyne and Tanner in particular. It was a cringe-worthy performance in front of an international guest who deserved more respect and more air time. I understand she got much fairer coverage on Richard Fidler’s “In Conversation” program.
There are two incidents during Monday night’s show which highlight the appalling behaviour of Pyne, Tanner and Akerman. In the first, as Ellis tries to address a question from audience member, Georgina Freeman, (ironically about Tony Abbott’s misogyny), Pyne and Tanner launch in to a kind of inept, vaudevillian double-act.
TONY JONES: Kate Ellis?
KATE ELLIS: Well, can I just say first up what I’m not going to take is a lecture from Piers Akerman on women issues and how women feel about issues in this country and I am really glad we’re actually able to speak on this. Going back to the actual question, I mean I think there is a couple of different issues here. What Australian women have been concerned about is not that Tony Abbott does not love his wife. Of course he does. It is not that Tony Abbott doesn’t love his daughters. It is not even whether Tony Abbott likes Downton Abbey or not. Like that was all very nice…
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: It’s a disgraceful campaign, Kate.
KATE ELLIS: That was all nice but it’s completely…
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: It’s an orchestrated campaign.
KATE ELLIS: …irrelevant to the concerns of Australian women…
LINDSAY TANNER: Don’t you like Downton Abbey either?
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: I love Downton Abbey.
KATE ELLIS: …and that is, if you’re going to…
LINDSAY TANNER: It’s a very good show.
KATE ELLIS: …if you’re going to…
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: I like the Dowager Duchess too. I think she’s hysterical.
LINDSAY TANNER: Maggie Smith is sensational. Sensational.
Only then does Tony Jones step in, saying mildly, “Can we allow the comments to continue?”
Towards the end of the program, at Jones’ invitation, Ellis tries doggedly to address a question from the audience:
TONY JONES: Let’s see if Kate Ellis wants to talk about the questions from the audience.
KATE ELLIS: Well, I absolutely would.
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Why haven’t we talked about the speaker?
KATE ELLIS: And I’d just say that I don’t share Lindsay’s diagnosis at all and I think that if there is a criticism of this Government, it cannot be short-term policy making. When you have look at real policies to increase…
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: What about the emissions trading scheme that was axed and brought back?
KATE ELLIS: …to increase superannuation from 9 to 12%; to increase the retirement age; to bring in a price on carbon…
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: What about reopening Nauru?
KATE ELLIS: …to build a National Broadband Network, none of these are in place…
PIERS AKERMAN: East Timor.
KATE ELLIS: …by the next election.
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Citizens’ assembly.
KATE ELLIS: This is about building our country for the challenges of the future.
PIERS AKERMAN: Price watch.
KATE ELLIS: This is because we…
PIERS AKERMAN: Grocery watch.
KATE ELLIS: …absolutely have a purpose…
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: This list is endless.
KATE ELLIS: …and we’re very clear about it…
PIERS AKERMAN: Pink batts.
TONY JONES: Okay. All right.
KATE ELLIS: …and despite these interruptions, are going to remain absolutely focused on it.
Cheers from the audience for Ellis show how the trolls’ egregious behaviour backfired badly within the studio, at least.
Let us be clear, Pyne, Akerman and Tanner did not receive reciprocal treatment, either from Ellis or from each other. This wasn’t ‘par for the course’. This was a cowardly three against one attack specifically directed at Ellis because she was a woman and unlikely, for the reasons I’ve canvassed above, to fight back.
By my count, Pyne was the second most interrupted guest but mainly because poor Jones spent a great deal of time trying to shut him up – a total of 10 interruptions from the host.
Ellis interrupted Pyne only twice while he, you may recall, interrupted her 21 times.
Pyne was interrupted 3 times by Tanner, once by Akerman and twice by Sun.
In total, the women on the panel were responsible for 12 interruptions and the male guests, 56; the men interrupted around 350 per cent more than the female panelists.
The quandary, of course, is “How should women respond to this kind of bullying?”
I can quite understand that Ellis did not wish to be distracted by the kind of vilification meted out to Deveny. On the other hand, is the correct response really just to soldier on without calling the bullies out for their deplorable manners?
I am not arguing that Ellis should be protected from intense questioning about the ALP’s policies because she is a woman. I am not suggesting that male politicians and journalists should ‘go soft’ on women. But, I think it was clear to everyone watching Q&A on Monday night that this was a particularly gendered attack which cynically capitalised on the fact there was not a strategy Ellis could employ that would not damage her.
I would have liked to have seen the three-stooges try their little stunt on Bob Hawke or Paul Keating and see how they came out of it!
But, as a woman, Ellis’s options were limited. She could fight back and be criticised for being strident, or she could maintain her dignity and appear weak and ineffectual. I will not criticize her for her choosing the latter, but oh how I wish more women would brave the first option and call the misogynist bastards out as Julia Gillard did so magnificently in Parliament today.
THIS! THIS is how we women should respond to the pathetic efforts of men like Pyne, Tanner, Ackerman and Abbott; men who want to scare us off their turf, to sideline us, and to frighten us into submission. THIS is the appropriate response. We must no longer sit silently and demurely in the face of this bastardry in order to appear ‘nice’ . We must respond with all the power we can muster and say, “I WILL NOT BE TREATED LIKE THIS!” And yes, we will be called every name under the sun, but isn’t that better than compliance? Isn’t that better than being silenced? Isn’t that better than trading real power and a real voice for ‘nice’?
My Working Document Q&A is available for anyone who wants to check my figures.
NB: Q&A is a discussion program and one need not, necessarily, be perjorative about interruptions. They are a natural part of conversation. I concede that many of the interruptions counted in this analysis are ‘benign’. However, I believe that when, as we see here, one panellist (or a group of panellists) are responsible for a particularly high rate of interruptions and against one person in particular, it casts doubt on just how ‘benign’ those interruptions were.
Related Article: The Blokeyness Index: blokes win the gender war in Australia’s 4th Estate - Chrys Stevenson in the King’s Tribune
(A substantial part of this article is available free. The whole article can be accessed for a small charge.)