Don't mind his misogyny: Has political language been Trumped?

in Opinion , Tagged Politics, Misogyny, Elections, Hillary Clinton, Julia Gillard.
  • Tony Nagy

    Tony Nagy

    Tony Nagy is a former journalist and political adviser. He now works as business consultant and public policy advocate. He writes on culture and political economy.


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In the wake of #MeToo and what’s become a global wave of collective online action to call out assault, harassment and sexist behaviour, all remains strangely quiet in the corridors of political power. Are displays of appalling sexism towards powerful women in politics now so ubiquitous that we don’t even notice them? Or do we notice, and shrug it off as simply something to be expected when a woman raises her head above the political parapet?


Here, business consultant and keen political observer, Tony Nagy, tackles the truth about political misogyny.

"A sexual revolution begins with the emancipation of women, who are the chief victims of patriarchy, and also with the ending of homosexual oppression." - Kate Millett, 1970

"My goal is that by November 8, when you hear her name, you're gonna throw up.... Our back-up strategy is to f**k her up so bad that she can't govern." - Steve Bannon, 2016


Whilst Australia struggles to legalise same-sex marriage, another prejudice silently stalks our polity - and it too seems to be one silenced, unable to be named in the event of overwhelming backlash.

Since Orwell we know that the deployment, definition and eradication of words is a deeply political process, reflecting fundamental power relations.

That the word 'misogyny' is now deemed too risky to deploy heralds an increasingly depressing era of political correctness - where the powerful determine the language of political discourse, and the parameters of political reform.

That the word 'misogyny' is now deemed too risky to deploy heralds an increasingly depressing era of political correctness

Nearly a year after the election of Donald Trump, we can begin to discern some common grounds and gender based themes in that  extraordinary victory.

On balance, reasoned commentators would include factors such as: the severe gerrymandering in Republican states with a  flawed  and nationally  inconsistent voting regime; the rise of digitally based 'fake news', with increasing evidence of  Russian intervention; Trump's mercurial style and the positioning of his campaign as 'Outsider' v 'Establishment' (Clinton), despite Trump being the consummate insider born to privilege.

Additionally, Hillary Clinton carried the baggage of Bill, dating back to the Lewinsky affair. Some voters even suggested her forgiveness of her husband proved Hillary was an enabler of sexual predatory behaviour. And who can forget FBI Director Comey's election eve intervention regarding the email saga. Hillary was well ahead in the polls only weeks from the election, but this act saw a massive plunge in support. Although she was exonerated days out from the election, the damage to the Clinton campaign was done.

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Hillary was well ahead in the polls only weeks from the election

Naturally the election didn't occur in a political economy vacuum.  

As America entered the 2016 election cycle the economic and social backdrop was one of profound  economic malaise post Iraq and GFC, with  the hollowing out of the middle class confronting loss of work or at best stagnant/falling wages and living standards.

Economic fears created terrain  fertile for the marshalling of anger, prejudice and hate: clear KPIs for Trump and his political Svengali, Steve Bannon. They targeted the anger at two objects: fear of immigration, and Hillary herself. Misogyny thrives in such an environment of fear and hate.

Whilst we seem prepared to acknowledge Trump as a master of fearmongering and hate-speech, with a preternatural capacity to use it to divide and conquer. And we can also acknowledge that misogyny is a subset of hate, hatred directed at women. Yet, for some reason we seem unable to accept that when Trump engendered hate, and channeled it at one particular woman, this was in fact misogyny - in practice. Despite there being plenty of corroborating evidence - from his boasts of sexual assault, to claims an American TV anchor was apparently incapable of clear thought because she might be menstruating - commentators still avoided calling him a misogynist.

We seem unable to accept that when Trump engendered hate, and channeled it at one particular woman, this was in fact misogyny

Trump continues to abuse and insult women, yet should a commentator make the otherwise unremarkable observation he is a misogynist, that commentator will more than likely be labelled extreme, or accused of playing the so called 'gender card'.

Recent publications, such as "Shattered" by Allen and Parnes blames Hillary Clinton herself as the architect of her downfall - a classic case of victim blaming, in my view. More realistically the painful truth, as comprehensively documented by US academic  Susan Bordo in "The Destruction of Hillary Clinton",  is that Clinton was subjected to a massive blitzkreig of misogyny, smear, abuse, innuendo and hate-speech quite unique in modern western democratic politics.

Bordo argues there was never a 'crooked' Hillary: from the alleged email debacle or 'cash for access', through to her supposedly being the mastermind of a paedophile ring run out of a pizza bar.

In our polity we would find such claims laughable, and the proponents mad, let alone fit for high office...

But then again, recall how we saw our first female PM Julia Gillard portrayed by the likes of radio shock-jocks such as Alan Jones, who suggested the PM should be drowned, and made unchecked insults on-air following her father’s death. He was also joined by former PM, Tony Abbott, in a demonstration that appeared to endorse hate-speech and vilified Prime Minister Gillard as a "Witch" and "Bob Brown's Bitch" outside Parliament House in Canberra?

ditch the witch sign1

The parallels between the Gillard and Clinton experiences are as depressing as they are anger-invoking: insults about their bodies and analogies to bird parts; innuendoes about their sexual orientation and living arrangements; allegations of dodgy financial dealings through to bizarre conspiracy theories - claims frankly that would not stand the light of day before the court of public opinion if we were dealing with a male political actor.

And the Gillard experience seems to almost have magically been re-folded tactic by tactic, strategy by strategy, back into the US election. The unhealthy relationship of various right-wing think tanks cross-pollinating between Australia and the US is no doubt one aspect of this dynamic.

The Gillard experience seems to almost have magically been re-folded tactic by tactic, strategy by strategy, back into the US election

In Australia, our Bordo is journalist Kerry-Anne Walsh with her book “The Stalking of Julia Gillard”. Together Bordo and Walsh create a disturbing real-time description of the harsh and yes, misogynistic world that awaits any woman seeking public, let alone, high office. Their evidence of misogyny is proven well beyond reasonable doubt. The similarity of titles is itself a red-flag.

To be fair, journalists such as The Guardian's Katharine  Murphy have rightly asked if the media at the time of the Gillard premiership missed the real portent of the hate, anger and misogyny whipped up by those whose leadership roles should have demanded more sober and responsible actions.

Recently media commentator, Jane Caro, also suggsted that we seem quite  ready to accept women, in politics as well as business, in roles as second-in-command - recall Hillary's high standing as Secretary of State, or Julia Gillard's high regard as Deputy PM. But it’s when they step up to take full control, in the top job, that we baulk. Fundamentally, in my view the evidence of misogyny is manifest.

Fundamentally, in my view the evidence of misogyny is manifest.

No doubt there will be endless debate about the 2016 US Presidential campaign and result, as there must be, but I find it curious that what is clearly a major ingredient - misogyny - is not even mentioned, especially in mainstream political discussion.

In dealing with the Presidential election we are talking about how one of the world's great democracies selects its leader. It's perhaps logical, albeit depressing, that misogyny exists in politics, where the contest is fundamentally about power, including its abuse.

Power can be exploited in every terrain, as we have seen with the Weinstein furore and #metoo exposing it as rampant in as many fields as those in which women operate and exist. Sure, misogyny is a powerful word: it demands to be heard when the facts demonstrate its presence, when the lives of women cannot be described by terms that seek to minimise their trauma and lived experience. It is a word we cannot afford to lose or dismiss.

In politics there is an old adage: "words are bullets". Misogyny is a word we need in the armory of advocacy and empowerment. So why are we not talking more about misogyny in the mainstream? Why is it the prejudice that dare not speak its name?


Tony Nagy s a pro bono adviser on a number of important campaigns in the rights advocacy and health space, including the Little Blue Dinosaur Foundation.


Post your comment


  • ROD. 03/07/2018 3:59pm (2 years ago)

    Three out of 3 "t"...

  • Anthony Nagy 05/12/2017 6:32pm (3 years ago)

    Thankyou Susan Bordo.

    I trust I don't have to mention to readers of BroadAgenda that Susan is a highly respected feminist and cultural historian.

    Susan wrote the powerful Destruction of Hillary Clinton... With a new edition out in 2018...

    Of course Kerry Anne Walsh has written our own mini tragedy with The Stalking of Julia Gillard..

    In retrospect post Weinstein et al, I would have added another question to my original post..

    Is there no correlation between the misogyny so manifest in politics and power and media, and the very emphatic Denial of misogyny's existence, unsurprisingly most often from male politicians and media commentators?

    Could admitting a problem bring the issues literally too close to home?

  • Susan Bordo 03/12/2017 12:45am (3 years ago)

    I am delighted to see that this topic being raised here by Tony Nagy. I first heard about the Gillard/Clinton similarities when I had the pleasure of doing a skype session with an Australian class. At the time, I was on book tour and didn't have a chance to follow through. But now that I've read this blog, corresponded with Tony Nagy, and ordered the Walsh book, I think some cross-continental collaboration is in order!
    Here--at least as concerns the mass media--there has been a near-total silence about the gender stereotyping, double standards, and--yes--misogyny that ran rampant during the 2016 campaigns. It's only in books like mine and Hillary Clinton's own memoir that gender issues are raised. Even the "liberal" commentators avoid (and many are scornful) of this kind of analysis. They are happy to sensationalize the behavior of particular individuals when it comes to sexual misconduct--that makes for good ratings--but unwilling to look at the systemic nature of gender inequality.
    Indeed, during our election we seemed to have gone backward rather than forward from 2012, when a fairly innocuous remark by Mitt Romney about “binders full of women” raised national conversations about gender. During the 2016 election, far cruder, blatantly misogynist chants became acceptable political rallying-cries, yet if you dared to mention the word “sexism” you were accused of being “politically correct” or “playing the woman card.” This dismissal didn’t come only from conservative circles; many young people across the political spectrum seemed to operate under the illusion that gender discrimination is a tired, old issue of concern only to tired, old feminists. They don’t seem to recognize that the economic and racial inequities that they do take seriously are thoroughly intertwined with gender.
    From my point of view as a cultural historian, we’re never going to make significant progress in this area unless we start talking about it again—and not just the statistics or the most lurid individual cases of harassment, assault, etc., but the deeper, historically embedded obstacles standing in the way of women being treated fully as persons, particularly, as Tony Nagy points out, when we aspire to positions of power.
    Thanks again for this blog!

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