Earlier this year, Fairfax columnist Lisa Pryor filed a defamation suit against former Labor leader Mark Latham and the Australian Financial Review and last week, a NSW Supreme Court judge decided the case would go to trial.
Pryor sued Latham after he penned a scathing column in the Fin, implying that she embodies everything wrong with “left inner city feminism”.
Latham’s article, called Why left feminists don’t like kids, was a response to a column Pryor had written a week earlier. In her column, which appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald’s Good Weekend, Pryor described her typical answer to the question so often asked of working mothers (but not working fathers, she points out): “how do you do it all?”. Her answer, she wrote, is “caffeine and anti-depressants”, and the column proceeds to describe why Pryor thinks it is important to be open about vulnerability, medication and mental illness, particularly in the context of raising small children.
“I’d like to hope this helps build the kinds of connections that protect against psychological trouble in the first place,” she wrote.
Latham missed the point entirely. He wrote a response to Pryor’s column accusing her of disliking her own children and using them for political gain.
“I felt depressed myself, at the thought of a Fairfax columnist describing one of life’s great responsibilities, the raising of infant children, as requiring “neurochemical assistance”,” Latham wrote.
“Why do people like this have children in the first place? How will the children feel when they grow up and learn that they pushed their mother onto anti-depressants?”
Latham also opined that there is a broader political point attached to his attack on Pryor – that all feminists demonise children. He also equated feminism to a “psychoneurotic disorder”.
As Georgina Dent wrote at the time the column was published, Latham not only fails to understand Pryor’s message about the importance of reducing the stigma around mental illness, he manages to directly contribute to that stigma himself.
Pryor decided to take action, and begun defamation proceedings against Latham and Fairfax Media. Pryor’s claims argue that Latham defamed her by implying she does not love her children and by suggesting she is a bad mother.
Pryor’s lawyers also argued the column implies she is a “coward who pops pills instead of facing up to her responsibilities as an adult and a mother” and that she has a “psychoneurotic disorder, a form of mental illness, in which she converts her own feelings of distress and deficiency into publically expressed hatred of her infant children”.
The case was heard by the NSW Supreme Court and the judge decided there is a case to answer. A jury will now decided whether or not Latham’s column constitutes defamation.
The judge, Justice McCallum, describes Latham’s column as “something of a fatherhood statement” in which he “opines that inner-city feminists (of whom he is evidently not one) know little of the parenting joys he describes”.
Latham’s attacks on feminism did not end with his offensive column about Pryor. This past weekend he penned a similarly derisive piece about Labor MPs who are taking a stand against domestic violence – because they have fallen for the “feminist line” that “most men are inherently bad”, according to Latham.
As Women’s Agenda wrote earlier this year, it is disappointing that these offensive columns are being publishing at all. But when they are, it is crucial that people speak out against them. Lisa Pryor has done so unequivocally. More power to her, we say.