equality / human rights

The Abandonment of Good Manners: Now It’s OK to be a Jerk

The hardest job kids face today is learning good manners without seeing any.
-Fred Astaire

There’s been a lot of talk of late regarding the treatment of Prime Minister Julia Gillard by the Coalition and by some members of the media. One of the two major incidents of late was the menu created by the owner of the restaurant where Liberal National Party candidate Mal Brough’s fundraising event was held. The menu item in question was ‘Julia Gillard Kentucky Fried Quail” serving up “small breasts, huge thighs and a big red box”. The restaurant owner subsequently apologised to Mr Brough but didn’t feel it was necessary to apologise to the Prime Minister for mocking her. The second was an interview conducted by Western Australian shock jock Howard Settler when he asked if her male partner of seven years was gay because he is a hairdresser.

Now, many people have many different opinions on these incidences, on the Prime Minister herself and on her policies. Not knowing the full stories means that most will never be able to produce a fully informed opinion. What bothers me the most about these particular incidences (and quite a few previous attacks on the PM) is that they tend to be personal and gender specific, as though her gender has anything to do with her position and how she does her job. Feel free to attack her on her policies, the directions and stances of her government and the outcomes that are produced from those choices. Attack her for the way she leads the country. Pull her speeches and promises apart and expose them to steel-wool-on-skin scrutiny; that’s our job as a people. Equally, it’s her job as a leader to be open to that scrutiny and take responsibility for her government’s choices. Whatever you think of her as a politician, she made it to the office of Prime Minister and obviously has the skill set to hold her ground. If you don’t approve of the job she has done then come voting time wield you pen of power and tick another box. Alternatively, take more of a stand and get involved in local politics, write to her, use social media to question her position on whatever it is that doesn’t sit well with you. Be firm, intelligent, scathing – damaging even. But keep it professional and try to keep it somewhat polite. Make a valid point.

Her physical traits are irrelevant to the job. Her gender doesn’t matter. Her physical appearance doesn’t matter. Her sexual orientation, her marital status and her way of life are unimportant to her position. If you were bullied at work for being unmarried or for the colour of your skin or your gender (whether male or female) you would find this unacceptable, so why do many find that is it not unacceptable when it comes to the Prime Minister of Australia? Is it because politics is largely made up of middle-aged men who perhaps still believe that it’s acceptable to treat anything different from themselves as lower? Have we a new generation of close-minded individuals peering through the woodwork to continue on a closed-minded path set by their predecessors? Is it because they really want her job (or they want someone specific to have it) and they’re will do anything to achieve their goal? Or is she really such a tyrant and deserves such abuse? I do wonder though if these politicians and internet trolls be so blasé if the person being attacked was their mother or father, their partner or children, or themselves?

It’s tiring to think that after all this time some people still use attacks on things such as gender, religion, race or sexually as legitimate forms of debate. Personally, whenever anyone draws one of these cards to try and get the one up on their opponent in any walk of life, in my mind they have immediately lost the battle. I may not agree with the other side – in fact I may agree with what the card drawer was saying. But I feel that it is a low and inapt choice of a poorly equipped mind. Attack people for their deeds, for their choices, for their performance but to attack someone because of a genetic combination that occurred before they ever gained consciousness is despicable.

Whatever you think of Julia Gillard as a politician or a leader, she is the Prime Minister of Australia. Treating her with such disrespect doesn’t reflect well on us as a country or a people. If certain Australians are showing her that sort of disrespect, then how do we treat everyday people going about their lives? Some will say that respect is earned, not freely given and rightly so. However, a certain amount of base-line respect should be dispersed within society, regardless of gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, occupation and stance on the ongoing ‘which is better: McDonald’s or Hungry Jacks’ debate. Good manners are always essential and these events and the many of the comments they have fuelled have a distinct lack of manners. These comments are not only Un-Australian (to use a beaten-to-death phrase) but they are inhuman. I’d like to think that in the 21st century we have the capacity to use our grown up words and intellect to discuss our issues instead of unimaginative curses and petty personal attacks. But perhaps that statement is a few centuries early.

I’ve noticed in a few places around the internet that arking up about these events is being turned into something negatively feministic and puerile, that making a noise shows that someone is overly sensitive. However, I believe that if you see someone being treated poorly and you think it is unjust, you have every right to say that it’s not on. There is nothing childish about rebuttal – if the original stance is sound it will stand up to it. Some also believe Ms Gillard deserves what she gets and doesn’t merit respect. To those who might say that, I question what you feel your reasons for deserving respect are. It’s not about feminism, it’s not about overreacting, it’s about treating people the same way you yourself wish to be treated and it’s about equality – for all people, regardless of trait or opinion.

Whatever you think of her, whatever your stance on these matters is, perhaps next time you see someone unjustly degrade another, whether on the television, on the internet, on the train, in the street, perhaps you’ll think about whether this is how you would like to be treated. Perhaps you might stand up for good manners. It may seem a little pie-in-the-sky for us all to get along better, but it’s a noble enough cause if we can all come to the table. But it starts and ends with each of us.


4 thoughts on “The Abandonment of Good Manners: Now It’s OK to be a Jerk

  1. I couldn’t agree more with this..but ya know what scares me is that this has been a growing focus in many fields of government and media.. I just have to wonder if this will get better or continue to get worse?

    • Woah, sorry for the tardy reply – I embarked on a European holiday! I have a feeling this will only get much worse before it get better. Which is an sad and unfortunate waste of time, energy and all manner of resources. Fingers crossed it’s a swift turnaround.

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