Saturday, August 17, 2013

Quarterly Essay 50: Unfinished Business: Sex, Freedom and Misogyny, by Anna Goldsworthy

Staff Review by Chris Saliba

The new Quarterly Essay from Anna Goldsworthy examines in detail the media’s portrayal of women, covering everything from politics to pornography.

I’m always a sucker for a new Quarterly Essay. They vary in quality, from the excellent to the tired and hackneyed. This new one, by Anna Goldsworthy, is of a middling quality.

The picture on the cover is of Julia Gillard, leading the reader to think the essay will be seen mostly through the prism of Gillard’s famous misogyny speech. It starts off exploring that speech, then goes on to discuss misogyny and sexism at large in the mainstream culture. In general Goldsworthy finds that things are pretty bad, with women still being viewed gratuitously as male objects of desire.

Goldsworthy writes very well and she does make a lot of interesting points. There were several parts of the essay that I found very informative and her slant quite interesting. The sections on social media and its impact on the culture are perhaps some of the best parts of the essay.

Having said that, Unfinished Business does a lot of unpacking of the media, but doesn’t come to any particularly insightful conclusions. It’s really a long riff on the media’s portrayal of women. Goldsworthy trawls through a lot of pretty trashy blogs, twitter accounts, television and pornography. It’s no surprise that she doesn’t find much that is salutary. There’s also a lot of quoting and counter-quoting going on, to what end it’s not really clear. The likes of Germaine Greer, Camille Paglia and Caitlin Moran are regularly referenced.  Pop stars like Pink and Lady Gaga also get a look in for their wisdom.

There’s an overall glibness and self-congratulatory tone that is the main reason this essay is a bit of a let down. I think a straight-forward study of the sexism directed towards Julia Gillard during her prime ministership would have been more interesting, rather than this showy essay.

I hope that this review doesn’t come across as too negative. There’s plenty to interest the reader in Unfinished Business, it’s just that it could have been much better.

Unfinished Business: Sex, Freedom and Misogyny , by Anna Goldsworthy. Published by Black Inc. ISBN: 9781863956024  RRP: $19