Shrill? Aggressive? And other names we call smart women

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'Leigh can be a real cow sometimes'

Liberal strategist Grahame Morris apologises for calling Leigh Sales a cow on 702 ABC Sydney on Tuesday morning.

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Some years ago, following the initial awkward date phase, I was out and about with my brand new, officially recognised boyfriend. We were at the pub, and I was meeting some of his mates (that’s how it went in the Melbourne Indie Rock Scene™). My new Boyfriend beamed, put his arm around me, and announced - without a hint of satire - “This is my bitch.”


I made a noise that was something like this, and set him straight immediately. Now, you could put it down to his being not particularly enlightened (when we broke up, he bellowed “BURN IN HELL!” and did a donut in his V8), but the mundane business of calling women names crosses all education levels, class barriers, races and religious creeds - everyone’s called a woman something, and all women have been called something other than their name.

Leigh Sales on the set of the <i>7.30</i>.

Leigh Sales on the set of the 7.30.



Slut, whore, nag, bitch, cow, ho, slag, hussy, hysteric, crone... the epithets are endless.


You might have seen Leigh Sales take Tony Abbott to task on 7:30 last week. For her troubles, she’s been called “shrill” and “aggressive” (despite her work on 7:30 being neither), and then, yesterday, Liberal Party strategist Grahame Morris unleashed this corker: "Well Leigh can be a real cow sometimes when she's doing her interviews."


Prime Minister Gillard this past week called to task the ongoing misogynist smear campaign against her, which had included highlights such as Alan Jones saying she should be ''put in a chaff bag'' and dumped at sea”. Prior to that, Australian Agricultural Company CEO David Farley called her “an old cow”.


On the brighter side of the road, Kanye West has written a song in celebration of his girlfriend, Kim Kardashian: "I wrote the song Perfect Bitch about Kim."


Lupe Fiasco, in turn, attempted to “start a conversation” about gender roles in hip hop with his song, Bitch Bad (which features the refrain, “Bitch bad / woman good / lady better”). That conversation was won effortlessly by Sheena Bryant at Madame Noire, who writes, “Let’s be real, some of your mothers, daughters, sisters, aunts, nieces, cousins and friends have or will exhibit the same kind of behavior that promptly causes you to label a woman a #yourchoicewordhere.  Is it okay then for me to use this same term when referring to your mother?  Are you planning to use similar language for your daughter whose behavior WILL be influenced by the culture you continue to architect with your mouth?”.


(The misogynist apologists will inevitably cry “Well, men in the public arena are called names, too”, but the names thrown at them are rarely as gendered or sexualised; “Dickhead”, maybe “idiot”, perhaps “bore”. The worst things you can call a man inevitably hinge on feminising him: “motherfucker”, “girl”, “c--t”, “bitch”.)


It’s all too easy to see this as someone else’s problem; when Rush Limbaugh called Sandra Fluke a “slut”, for example, the liberal media was quick to denounce conservative misogyny. But what about the misogyny of the left? As Kristen Powers wrote at the time of Limbaugh’s mouth-running, “Liberal men marginalising women in the media with name-calling is actually more common that you would think, and it isn’t reserved just for conservative women. Veteran political reporter Karen Tumulty of The Washington Post wrote this week about the time Matt Taibbi—who incidentally blurbed Rachel Maddow’s new book—described Tumulty variously as mannish,” afemale impersonator,” apre-op version of Dave Barry,” andugly.”  She says that he also “wrote at length about the size of one female reporter’s rear end, and called another one  ‘squirrely bitch.’” If the left reacted with the same furor to liberal misogyny as they have reacted to Limbaugh, misogynist cracks would go the way of racist and anti-gay ‘jokes.’”


In which case, it may well appear that we’re screwed, plain and simple. What the hell do we do?


The answer is simple: we don’t shut up about it. Whenever someone calls a female commentator  “shrill” or “hysterical”, we call them out. When a female politician is called a “cow” or a “hag”, we call them out. And whenever someone calls you a “bitch”, you make the War Of The Worlds noise, and set them straight.