Nobody panic, Larissa Waters is not trying to kill Christmas

Date

Eleanor Robertson

Senator Larissa Waters.

Senator Larissa Waters.

COMMENT

Australia is home to many world class comedians, but there's one act that is often overlooked despite its consistent delivery of excellent satire. Day after day the Daily Telegraph's cover design team put their noses to the grindstone, toiling away at the page layout coalface. These brave soldiers Photoshop our elected representatives in absurd get-ups, and such is their connection to the Gods of Bizarro World that they raise chuckles even though Australian politics has long since passed the point of natural self-parody.

Nobody panic, Larissa Waters is not trying to kill Christmas

Nobody panic, Larissa Waters is not trying to kill Christmas

But this morning they really outdid themselves, putting in a heroic effort against Senator Larissa Waters. Senator Waters, a Greens representative from Queensland, had the temerity to suggest that confining little girls' and boys' toy collections to My First Domestic Drudgery Playset and Rambo Murderin' Spree action figures, respectively, might be slightly at odds with our more egalitarian conception of gender roles in the modern world.

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Defending poor maligned Barbie, as well as little boys' natural right to shoot each other with toy guns in peace, is a stock conservative trope at Christmas. True to form, the Tele wheeled out Dr. Michael Carr-Gregg, child psychologist beloved of breakfast television and prime time current affairs shows alike. "These gender differences are hard wired," he says, asserting that there is no evidence to indicate gender-specific toys harm children's development.

Arguing on a normal reality-based level with these kinds of claims is trivially easy, but it's like trying to reason with a rotten log. We know about stereotype threat. We know that children learn about gender expectations from many social sources, including their toys. It's not drawing a long bow to say that manufacturers' rigid ranges of Boy Stuff and Girl Stuff is one of many factors that influence how little kids understand what activities and behaviours are appropriate.

But this kind of conversation is not the Tele's style. "For years the Greens have been hell-bent on ruining the economy for everyone," goes the first line, "and now they want to ruin Christmas as well." You half-expect the story to reveal the Greens are proposing a mandatory Santa-burning ceremony in all schools, where crying children are forced to throw their dear little Christmas wish lists onto the fire. "I just wanted a new dolly," whimpers Madison, 9. "But now I have to give all my toys to illegal immigrants, and Mummy says we're signing over our house to the possums that live in the roof."

Absurd political caricature is nothing new, and the Tele is continuing a rich tradition when it invites us to imagine Senator Waters cracking Barbie dolls over her knee. Some of the best examples came out of the Suffragette era, when anti-Suffragists produced posters [http://historyoffeminism.com/anti-suffragette-postcards-posters-cartoons/] containing the genesis of anti-feminist stereotypes that we still hear tossed around today. Unmarriageable harpies! Gangs of roving flappers terrorising refined gentlemen! Wives expecting husbands to interact with their own children!

Political correctness gone mad, or as Dr. Carr-Gregg puts in in the Tele piece, "a nail in the coffin of common sense," is another go-to rhetorical strategy of the knee-jerk right when they can't think of anything better to say. Of course deploying that particular admonition is a tried and true method of shutting down debate, which is exactly the phenomenon it purports to be identifying among the PC Police. When you're fighting on the front lines of the culture wars, phony concern for the procedures of productive debate can be abandoned at a moment's notice when there's a more pressing issue. Like the possibility that somewhere, a little boy might be pretending to breastfeed a baby doll. Quickly now! I think I hear some lefties encouraging their daughters to play with Matchbox cars!

The stubborn staying power of this and many other regressive old chestnuts, plus the souped-up Photoshop department at News Limited, combine to give us some of the most entertaining reactionary circus tricks available in this country or any other. Each Tele front page is a self-contained work of art, a terrarium in which the embarrassing tabloid journalism substrate nurtures a green canopy of crowd-pleasing image manipulation. 

Our outrage over these nuggets of evil genius proves how well they work: even though the affective response might be qualitatively different among the latte set, the fact remains that their messaging is tight as hell. What chance do facts have against such masterful wind-up merchants? Though we might not want to sink to their level, we could do worse than picking up a few lessons on the finer points of shit-stirring.

12 comments

  • "You half-expect the story to reveal the Greens are proposing a mandatory Santa-burning ceremony in all schools, where crying children are forced to throw their dear little Christmas wish lists onto the fire. "I just wanted a new dolly," whimpers Madison, 9. "But now I have to give all my toys to illegal immigrants, and Mummy says we're signing over our house to the possums that live in the roof."

    Absurd political caricature is nothing new..."

    I'm really hoping the author can see how it is kind of hypocritical to be complaining about absurd political caricature right after doing it herself.

    Given it is parents who make the decisions on what toys to purchase (no doubt guided loudly and vociferously by their children) and they are supposed to be able to make their own choices, let them make those choices and live with the consequences. Nobody is forcing mums to buy barbies for girls and toy trucks for boys, parents can choose what they will buy for children of either gender.

    Commenter
    Hurrow
    Location
    Hurrowhurrow@yahoo.com.au
    Date and time
    December 02, 2014, 1:56PM
    • Excellent! We can frame this article and hang it alongside all the ones about inner city kindergartens deciding not to do a nativity play because 95% of their pupils are not Christian (OMG WHY DO YOU SATAN-WORSHIPPING LEFTIES HATE POOR BABY JESUS?) in the Museum of Political Correctness Gone Mad.

      Commenter
      Bambina
      Location
      Melbourne
      Date and time
      December 02, 2014, 2:10PM
      • Is it any wonder the Greens have branded themselves at the party of irresponsible nutjobs?

        They would do well to hire some PR people.

        Commenter
        Malik the magic sheep
        Location
        Perth
        Date and time
        December 02, 2014, 2:21PM
        • What I find weird is this - if you watch a tv program about transgender children (such as 4 corners the other week) the doctors, social workers, parents, teachers and everyone involved talk about making sure that child has gender specific stuff of their new chosen gender. It is regarded as the most natural thing in the world that a person born as one gender but who identifies as the other should have unfettered access to all the "frilly, pinks, dolls etc" or "footballs, blues, trucks etc." of their preferred gender identity. It is almost a "human right." Anyone who suggests anything else is a scandalously bigoted dinosaur.

          But when we turn our attention to children who identify with the gender they were born as.... suddenly gender specific toys are a crime. Why the double standard?

          If I was a little girl or boy who wanted to play with dolls or trucks I could do a lot worse than tell nosy adults I was transgender!

          Commenter
          thought
          Date and time
          December 02, 2014, 2:22PM
          • Children are entitled to equal opportunity as a basic human right.

            Yet the English language has not been updated to be gender neutral when it comes to career role models.

            For example:

            An investor needs to look after his investments.
            A firefighter needs to keep his pager charged.
            A nurse needs more time for her patients.
            A teacher needs to know more than her students.

            Admitting the gender neutral word hier, (pronounced hee-er) means, in time, children might read and hear the following messages.

            An investor needs to look after hier investments.
            A firefighter needs to keep hier pager charged.
            A nurse needs more time for hier patients.
            A teacher needs to know more than hier students.

            Boys can aspire to be nurses and teachers. Girls can aspire to be investors and firefighters.

            If you want to be a part of history, if you believe in equal opportunity for children... Read on!

            People can also sign a petition to create a gender neutral word for girls and boys at https://www.change.org/p/queen-elizabeth-ii-head-of-the-commonwealth-of-nations-admit-a-gender-neutral-word-hier-meaning-his-or-her-into-the-english-language-2

            This idea makes sense.

            Commenter
            Jonathan
            Date and time
            December 02, 2014, 2:40PM
            • I see your Dr Carr-Gregg and raise you one Dr Cordelia Fine. Pretty sure whose opinion I think is more informed and valuable regarding neurodevelopment and gender.

              It's amazing that Carr-Gregg can be so absolutely logical and nuanced in some matters, such as yesterday's discussion of post-natal depression, and then counters that with such sweepingly unfounded statements as his assertion that gendered toy preferences are "hardwired" (oh, how I hate that term). But then, he wrote a book about teenage girls called "Princess Bitchface Syndrome"...

              Commenter
              Red Pony
              Date and time
              December 02, 2014, 2:48PM
              • And the point of this article is? You've jsut reinforced the common perception that those on the Left of politics simply fling insults to those they don't agree with instead of countering the opposing argument. silly.

                "It's not drawing a long bow to say that manufacturers' rigid ranges of Boy Stuff and Girl Stuff is one of many factors that influence how little kids understand what activities and behaviours are appropriate."

                erm yes it is.

                Commenter
                Dirk
                Date and time
                December 02, 2014, 3:11PM
                • Frankly, given the increasingly precarious nature of this country's finances, the wishy-washy approach to climate change by this government, and various other cultural taboos perpetrated by Canberran neophytes, I would have thought that both newspaper front page space as well as the talent pool so obviously imbued into the political fabric of the Greens party (capitalised their name, and why not - everyone else does it) would have found rather better things to do with their time and their talents. Alas, as constructive political debate has ground to a halt, on the one hand by the libs blaming labor for everything, and labor hissing and fitting in response, this is about the best entertainment we can hope for until we get some adults back into the game.

                  Commenter
                  Jan Jeltes
                  Location
                  Adelaide
                  Date and time
                  December 02, 2014, 3:18PM
                  • Great to see the Tele calling out ridiculous campaigns when they see it.

                    Commenter
                    measured-reason
                    Location
                    Melbourne
                    Date and time
                    December 02, 2014, 3:33PM
                    • Eleanor, Greens Senator Waters, who you are defending, would happily pass a law making it illegal to sell boys' toys to boys and girls' toys to girls. The Greens are loopy and nutty, and they shouldn't be listened to by anybody with a gram of common sense.

                      Commenter
                      Doug
                      Date and time
                      December 02, 2014, 3:41PM

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