How do you respond when someone says something with which you disagree? Or behaves in a manner you don’t like? Do you try to engage further, debate the substance of the disagreement or do you walk away? Do you seek to understand or make yourself understood? Or do you simply accuse them of being crazy?
It’s not particularly inspiring or intelligent but neither of those factors seem to impede the popularity of this technique. Why debate the substance of something when you can simple saddle your subject with claims of insanity?
The popularity of this technique is particularly apparent in the face of females behaving in a way those around her don’t like. Frightbats anyone? But you don’t even have to cast your mind back that far to see this technique in action.
Take Jacquie Lambie for instance. She has incensed her former party leader Clive Palmer by departing from the Palmer United (Disunited?) Party songbook. How did he respond? By saying she’s having a very difficult time and quite clearly insinuating she is unstable.
Then this morning Mark Latham supplies yet another thought-provoking, searing, contribution to the discourse around women, the workplace and mental health in The Australian Financial Review.
Rather than focusing on any of the substantive issues in those loaded topics, Latham simply, and predictably, resorted to denigrating a female journalist, feminism and indeed anyone who has, or does, take medication for depression. (I can’t for the life of me figure out why any stigma is still attached to mental illness in Australia when we have a former political leader, afforded a voice in a national broadsheet, who uses that platform to write with such compassion and reason on the topic.)
The essence of Latham’s ‘argument’ is that feminists don’t like kids and they’re crazy. He knows this because Lisa Pryor wrote a column saying anti-depressants and caffeine help her juggle her family and working life.
For the sake of my own mental health I will resist dismantling his ‘argument’ line by line. But I will address one of the more glaringly inaccurate assumptions in his column.
Latham writes that some women like their children so much that they don’t want or need to work. It pains me to point this out but liking or loving one’s children does not determine whether someone needs, or wants, to work. Loving children, however enriching, does not generate an income.
And whilst in a fantasy land an income might be superfluous, for the vast majority of mere mortals here in Australia an income is very much not superfluous. It is vital. Without an income how would our children – however loved – be housed and fed and provided for?
I have no doubt Mark’s answer to this dilemma is that one parent should work whilst the other stays home with the kids. In some cases that might work but on the whole that type of arrangement is no longer sufficient or suitable to Australian families.
Aside from the fact the cost of living often necessitates two incomes in a household, even if you can survive on one income, having all of a family’s eggs in one basket is not particularly viable in the long term. Not for individuals and not for the economy.
Believe it or not, marriages break down, industries and jobs become redundant, investments are lost, accidents happen, people die, kids get sick. Life intervenes in all manner of ways and when you transpose that against the fact we are all living longer and the retirement age is getting older, it is in every family’s best interest to ensure they can support themselves for the duration of their lives. Having two people capable of earning an income is the best insurance in that regard.
We also have a peculiar demographic issue here in Australia that means in the coming years as the baby boomers exit the workforce we have a legitimate need to have as many people (men and women) working – and paying tax – as possible. Women working is not a fluffy luxury item. This is underscored by the fact that on the weekend the G20 resolved to boost women’s workforce participation as a lever for economic growth.
To achieve that objective there are a myriad of policy, workplace and cultural changes that need to be affected. These changes range from childcare to paid parental leave to flexible work practices to, crucially, tackling the sustained biases which impede women in the workplace. Sometimes the challenge is that these biases are unconscious but in Mark Latham’s case the challenge is they’re openly apparent and able to flourish.
Of course, if you’re not interested in addressing the nuances of what is a complex economic challenge, it’s far easier, and far less constructive, to denigrate an individual. To cast aspersions over a mother who dares to work, to take medication and to talk about it.
I wouldn’t expect a column that is any different from Mark Latham but I quite sincerely wish I could expect something different from a national newspaper that just weeks ago was championing and celebrating Australia’s 100 most influential women.
In publishing this piece the question I am left asking is not whether feminists don’t like kids. It’s whether the AFR doesn’t like women? Because if they do, it’s difficult to reconcile the decision to continue to publish columns like this.