Sunday, September 08, 2002

Journalism n.
3. The style of writing characteristic of material in newspapers and magazines, consisting of direct presentation of facts or occurrences with little attempt at analysis or interpretation.

You won’t find any of this journalism-type rubbish in Jennifer Hewett’s efforts this weekend.

In what is supposed to be a profile of family policy, and the role of the Prime Minister in driving it, Hewett mercifully flags the reader early on, so you can set your prejudices to “ingrained”.
Find it hard to picture John Howard as the natural ally of women aged under 30? Howard certainly doesn't have any difficulty. No, this Prime Minister is confident that he is finally bypassing his own reputation as hopelessly old-fashioned and instead creating a new agenda relevant to a younger female generation.

This snipe is just the start in 30-odd paragraphs of codswallop that assert with no reference to Howard’s status as the class enemy of women. Here’s some choice picks:
John Howard has jumped the picket fence
· the self-declared hero of women's right to choose
· This image of the Prime Minister is enough to make plenty of women - and men - choke with rage for all sorts of reasons
· the devastating evidence of his real preference for women to stay at home
· gales of cynical laughter break out from mothers all over Australia,
· Forget John Howard, social stick-in-the-mud. Think John Howard, modern man
· See. No hang-ups. But no radical conversion either

I’ll repeat: not once does Hewett bother to establish the claim that Howard has been against working women; it’s just one of those dinner party jokes that everyone knows, but no-one can back up.

It hasn’t occurred to Hewett that perhaps it isn’t Howard that has changed; perhaps the debate has moved on from when her mindset was formed. It's no longer acceptable to sneer at women who have children and choose to stay at home, often at great financial cost. It isn't all right to pretend that equal pay is all there is to a successful population policy.

But even without the debate changing, why doe Hewett have such a problem? After all, if ALP role-model Paul Keating can move on from his 1970 declared position of being anti-working women (and anti-immigrant), seemingly without cost or ridicule, why is even the prospect of such a change in John Howard so ludicrous?

The simple answer for Hewett is that it can’t even be considered. The word she's looking for, but cannot utter, is heresy. The chances that social conservatism might have merit in family policy is anathema to anyone who wants to keep getting invited to the right feminist functions, who doesn’t want to incur the wrath of the witchfinders like the Anne Summers, the Eva Cox’s, the (shudder) Germaine Greers.

Canberra’s a small town, and eventually there will be another ALP government. Hewett has her eye on the main game, and that’s making sure she’s in the running for a fat Office of the Status of Women sinecure. Why let good policy or truth get in the way?

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