In marked contrast to Prime Minister Tony Abbott – who seemingly can no longer receive a break from even such an ideological organ as The Australian – Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has recently honed her public image to a fine point. Long gone are the days of the #qanda ‘death stare’: JBish 2.0 is an immaculately coiffed glamazon who knows how to use Twitter and has conducted an interview entirely in emoji. Now Bishop has announced that the next move in her ongoing public relations rehabilitation will be a fortnightly column in the Australian home of soft liberal feminism, Mamamia.
For those in the Australian media industry who harbour an animus against Mamamia’s owner and founder Mia Freedman (a not inconsiderable contingent), this news is deliciously apt. The jokes suggest themselves: Will Bishop be expected to write ‘for exposure’, or will she send a fortnightly invoice for $50? Is a column comprised entirely of emoji an improvement over Mamamia’s usual content? What might the dearly departed parody account @MieFreed0m have said about this news?
The Bishop and Mamamia match is so suited to lols that you have to wonder if it was focus grouped for maximum appeal to Australia’s Twitter elite. But lols aside, the column should put the pretence that Mamamia is in any way a feminist site finally to rest.
Like the Liberal Party itself, feminism, we are constantly told, is a broad church: less a coherent political platform than a number of strategic alliances between groups of women who share a mutual concern for improving the situation of women (however that term is defined). Thus the anxieties of definition that periodically shudder through the feminist body politic.
And when the movement consists of actors as diverse as radical queers who want to demolish the concept of gender, sex workers fighting for physical and legal safety, anti-pornography and anti-sex worker activists, wealthy capitalist women concerned about women’s representation on corporate boards, trans women fighting for recognition as women, and trans-exclusionary feminists whose understanding of sex precludes them from recognising trans women as women, all brought together under the banner of one highly contested word – well, it’s understandable that the question of identification as feminist matters, as that identification is perhaps the only thing that unites the movement.
Julie Bishop has previously denied that she is a feminist (even as she has called Margaret Thatcher – of all people! – a feminist role model), which in the context of these fraught politics of identification means that she has cast herself as explicitly anti-feminist. Feminism might be a broad church, but its roof can’t shelter those who won’t walk through the front door. If we can take Bishop’s previous writing for Mamamia as a guide, her column will be true to form and not cleave to feminism or ‘women’s issues’. It’s far more likely she will use it as an outlet to prosecute the Liberal government’s agenda, as her recent Mamamia piece about the impending execution of Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan attests.
Bishop’s column also highlights the limits of a facile notion of ‘diversity’ that animates the right’s engagement with the left in contemporary Australian politics. We on the left are told that if we love diversity so much, we should welcome conservative voices, because they, too, form part of life’s rich tapestry – the implication being that a rejection of conservatism would constitute an example of the bigotry against which the left rails.
Indeed, when challenged about her column, Bishop tweeted: ‘A diversity of views leads to more dynamic public discourse!’ Never mind that conservative voices are necessarily arguing for the maintenance of systems that privilege certain groups (white, straight, male, able-bodied, etc.) at the expense of others. Never mind that if consumers want to encounter the cream of Australian conservative thought they can pick up a copy of Quadrant or click over to Gerard Henderson’s Media Watch Dog. The right’s demand for representation cloaked in the guise of diversity of thought doesn’t wash precisely because the demand will never be reciprocated: The Australian will never consistently broadcast a pro-union or pro-Greens sentiment, and Menzies House will never offer Sarah Hanson-Young a fortnightly column.
Mamamia understands the necessity of appealing to this facile concept of diversity: in addition to Bishop’s column, they have also commissioned a fortnightly column from Tanya Plibersek, thus making the publication balanced – if by ‘balanced’ we mean ‘reflective of the two majority political positions available to Australian voters’.
True diversity of thought – the kind of thought that might push beyond or attempt to shatter the neoliberal consensus that currently rules Australian political life – is foreclosed. It might be a bit much to expect Mamamia to commission that kind of thinking, but that doesn’t mean we should remain quiet while Mamamia, in the name of a false diversity, promulgates ideas that favour a deadening monoculture.