'Hysterical' insults and other relics we need to retire

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Clementine Ford

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Steve Price stands by Q&A comments

Steve Price says "he does not need to change [his] behaviour" after his comments on Q&A Monday night. Vision courtesy The Project, 6.30pm weekdays on Ten.

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In another stunning example of the the flawed 'meritocracy' we supposed live under, Steve Price was once again invited to occupy a seat on national television to share his Very Important Opinions about the world and, in the process, demonstrate exactly why we need less Steve Price on the television. His appearance on Q&A was as you'd expect - arrogant, self serving and contemptuous. But he really hit his stride the moment he chose to ignore testimony from an audience member about the murder of a woman at the hands of her partner and focus instead on accusing panelist Van Badham of becoming 'hysterical' about the issue. (If you haven't yet seen the episode, you can read a recap here.)

'Hysteria' was thought to be a malady caused by the 'wandering womb', a theory that can be traced all the way back to the Egyptians of 1900 BC. The idea was that wombs could become displaced in the body, causing all manner of upsets including the kind which makes bitches be cray. It was reiterated by philosophers in Ancient Greece and affirmed as 'scientific' until the 19th century made scientific theories slightly more scientific and slightly less theoretical. If you need any further convincing of its historical roots in sexism, the word 'hysteria' literally comes from 'hystera', meaning uterus.

Labelling women 'hysterical' is used as a means of calling their rational selves into dispute. An hysterical woman doesn't know what she's saying, and shouldn't be trusted to be in polite society. An hysterical woman is driven by emotion rather than reason (logic, of course, being the domain of men). Hysteria makes people uncomfortable, leading as it could to a nervous breakdown. When Price calls a woman like Badham 'hysterical' on national television, he's using the codified language of sexism to render her contributions meaningless on the basis of her own apparent insanity.

Tarang Chawla listens as Steve Price responds to his question on Q&A.

Tarang Chawla listens as Steve Price responds to his question on Q&A. Photo: ABC

His use of this word was especially galling in the context of the question being asked by Tarang Chawla, whose sister Nikita was murdered by her husband at in 2015: to wit, whether or not misogynist jokes like the kind made by Eddie McGuire about Caroline Wilson (and later defended by Sam Newman) create an environment in which such violence is, if not actively promoted, at least massaged into existence by this continually defended disdain for women and our participation in life, both public and private. The causal links between 'harmless' sexism and violence against women are well documented, with both existing on a continuum as opposed to operating as stand-alone entities. But instead of having a rational, adult conversation about this, Price chose (as so many men before him have done and will continue to do) to double down. Defending his 'good mate' Eddie, he argued this wasn't misogyny - it was just a bunch of blokes having a joke together on the radio and it 'went too far'.

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That men like Eddie McGuire are supported to make the landscapes of public broadcast their own private playgrounds is a fact clearly lost on Price, given he is furnished with the same kind of privilege. Because of course, beyond misogyny, the overwhelming dominance of people like McGuire and Price in public life is another piece of the puzzle. If we are used to seeing a vast majority of men (and white men in particular) elevated into positions of power, society as a whole cannot help but absorb the idea that this power is always deserved. And if the deserved dictators of this space are the white men who are always supported to occupy it, where does that leave women like Nikita Chawla? Where does it leave Tara Brown? Sharon Michelutti? Jackie Deng? Lynette Daley? Heck, Van Badham has more access and privilege than all of these women put together, and we saw exactly where that leaves her - valiantly attempting to remain calm while discussing the kind of violence that sees men put women in the ground, as a man like Price repeatedly speaks over the top of her.

But yes, she's the hysterical one.

While men are sometimes called hysterical in an attempt to denigrate them by likening them to women, men like Price never are and would never consider themselves to be so. It's women - particularly women like Badham, imbued as she is with opinions, passion and the belief in her right to share both of them as she sees fit - who suffer the barb of being dismissed as 'hysterical', because it saves men from having to reveal their true insecurities about them. That they are inconveniently opinionated. Irritating. Outrageous. That it was Price, not Badham, who became 'irrationally' angry throughout the discussion is an irony clearly lost on him, so fixated was he on elevating his own indignation at being possibly maligned as a casual sexist.

It's easy to believe that, like the term 'hysterical', Steve Price is a relic of the past. That he and his colleagues are akin to the mythical wandering wombs of old, little more than jokes and throwbacks to a less enlightened, less logical time. But our broadcast and print media are still awash with them. Price, McGuire, Newman - these men continue to be given microphones and mouthpieces to share their frankly boring perspectives on a world in which they sit firmly at the top of the pile. And unless people start demanding better, there they will remain - a corpulent mess, bloated on devotion to their own entitlement and frothing in outrage at all those who dare question it.