On witches

Screen Shot 2016-01-04 at 9.18.30 amPeter Dutton, a minister of the Crown, accidentally sent a text message to senior Australian journalist Samantha Maiden. The text message referred to Ms Maiden as a ‘mad fucking witch’ for having written an article critical of the behaviour of former minister Jamie Briggs. Mr Dutton publicly owned up to the text. Ms Maiden, while recognising that some would take offence, has graciously indicated that she herself is not offended by the remark. She has accepted Mr Dutton’s apology.

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Others maintain that the slur is deeply sexist. So. Is the comment sexist? Or not? At the risk of fence-sitting, I think it’s both. More importantly however, it reveals the hypermasculine, combative mode of parliamentary conduct that is now well past its use-by date.

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Boundaries

On the first business day after Christmas, the Minister for Cities and the Built Environment, Jamie Briggs MP, resigned from his ministry citing a lapse in ministerial standards. It has been reported that while at a function in Hong Kong, Mr Briggs said to a junior public servant that she had ‘piercing eyes’, that he later put his arm around her, and when she left the function he kissed her on the cheek. A cabinet investigation found that the events were a breach of ministerial standards, prompting Mr Briggs’ resignation.

Discussion online (see eg Jennifer Wilson, and Andrew Elder) and in the mainstream media (see eg Daily Mail and The Australian) vacillates between defence of Mr Briggs’ behaviour and dismay that such behaviour might exist still, in 2015.

As there is no suggestion that Mr Briggs was not afforded due process in cabinet’s investigation of the matter, the difference in opinion between those who think that Mr Briggs’ actions are acceptable and those who do not is a question of the boundaries of sexual behaviour. Indeed the boundaries issue might be one of when behaviour is sexual at all.

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