IN the last fortnight, comments made by certain politicians and media personalities have generated heated discussions.

First there was Mia Freedman, the founder of Mamamia Women's Network accused of "fat-shaming" feminist Roxane Gay. Then there was Red Symons' allegedly racist interview with producer Beverly Wang.

Last week former footy great Sam Newman drew audible gasps for what he said about Caitlyn Jenner, exploiting a transgender person's identity for the sake of a pathetic joke.

Finally, there was Pauline Hanson and her strained efforts to articulate why she believed kids with autism and disabilities, while having a right to education, should be segregated from mainstream students.

In the first two instances, Freedman and Symons unreservedly apologised. Newman apologised to "anyone offended".

At the time of writing, Hanson had not.


Senator Pauline Hanson speaking at today’s press conference at Parliament House. Picture: Kym Smith
Senator Pauline Hanson speaking at today’s press conference at Parliament House. Picture: Kym Smith

On the contrary, Hanson point blank refuses, saying, as she often does, "…if you raise anything in this country that is taboo by just a few of those on the left, we are not going to find the answers that we need".

She also said: "Let's debate the whole thing… clearly there is an issue here."

Hanson might be tired of being called to account every time she opens her mouth, but she's right about needing to discuss thorny, difficult issues in a quest to find solutions.

Discussing things that make us uncomfortable or uneasy can incite great passion and polemics.

Problem is, she can't claim she wants to facilitate this then bleat about the kind of arguments unfolding because they contradict and criticise what she says.

If a paid public figure is going to prosecute an argument then, surely, it's not too much to expect they get their facts right before they speak.

But I'm also tired of the Hansons and Newmans of this world responding to heavy criticism by blaming either the "Left" or so-called "PC brigade".

Perhaps they need to stop trying to politicise everything and understand that distortion and false information transcends political "bias".

It's always been important to hold people to account, to present facts based on solid evidence, not hearsay or "feelpinions" regardless of which side of the political fence they do or don't sit.

But how is targeting a minority group taking on the PC Brigade? To attack them in the first place seems pointless and cowardly; calling out those who do is right.

Yet, for all the negativity arising out of the latest round of "outrage", what's been described as a "piling on" towards the likes of Freedman, Hanson et al, it's also important to recognise some positives.

For a start, lots of space has been dedicated to courteous refutations. Those whose voices and experiences are rarely heard were suddenly sought. From larger-sized people explaining how difficult it is for them to navigate in a society that either disregards or mocks them, that's one-size-fits-all.


Beverly Wang and Red Symons
Beverly Wang and Red Symons

From those who experience racism, even when its presented as a witticism - the sly implication being if they don't find it funny it's because they lack a sense of humour. From those among the transgender community speaking out about transphobia and its effect on them. And, finally, from those on the receiving end of Hanson's comments.

Her words have generated many important conversations - from parents, autistic and disabled kids, experts, the commentariat, and overworked teachers in the classrooms.

They have discoursed on everything from living with autism and its diversity, disabled children and their need to feel integrated, the way education is funded and/or lacking, to the importance of inclusiveness - not just in the schoolyard but society.

What the deliberations and flow of information engendered by ill-judged words have also exposed is not only the power of language and how we're represented (or not) by it, but a huge deficit in our drive to become an all-encompassing society.

As Maeve Marsden, writing in The Age argues: "Those most often accused of 'capitalising on' (these kinds of controversies)… are from the oppressed minority offended… these people are not given the same platform, not always given a chance to speak unless it's in response to discrimination or insult."

In other words, they have no choice but to "present their ideas as reaction rather than thesis".

This is why we often get robust and angry conversations. The only time we give the marginalised a chance to speak is when, as Marsden points out, they're handed a microphone - albeit for a brief time - and by someone with the power to allow them to be heard.

Hanson's, and the others', reckless words and the responses to them, are indicative of deep social changes, and of a growing awareness of how we use language and about whom we're speaking.

But, until we allow more voices to be heard, more people to be seen - not just reactively - real inclusion will remain an elusive goal.


Dr Karen Brooks is a honorary senior research fellow at the University of Queensland.

News Corp Australia

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