September 30, 2006
The Canberra Times

Spare us the blokeish conga line of the misogynist Latham

To suggest the former leader of the Labor party Mark Latham hates women is perhaps too simplistic and a little too blunt: although I suspect it’s true. But let’s face it, one needs to keep the dialogue simple and blunt when talking about Latham, otherwise you’ll lose him.

As the former prime-ministerial aspirant – now a stuck-at-home dad – paws over today’s papers, desperately seeking reviews of his dreadfully dull, rag-bag book of quotations published this week, the image is one of a pathetic and tortured man.

It’s almost hard to imagine that this miserable bloke, who rose to be opposition leader while privately hating most of the people around him, once managed to posture as a potential prime minister. Even more amazing to think that, for a nanosecond, it looked as if he might just pull it off.

Now it seems the performance was a thin charade. Latham refrained from breaking arms and smashing cameras during the last election campaign – although he looked close to breaking the Prime Minister’s wrist with a handshake so vigorous it could have been followed with a head butt. But it all fell apart in the end anyway.

His latest book, A Conga Line of Suckholes, demonstrates how childish, shallow and confused this former Labor leader has become. Suckholes doesn’t deserve the dignity of a hard cover and the title of ”a book”. Not because it’s an offensive boyish rant, like his Diaries, but because it’s more suited to a self-published pamphlet give-away, handed out on street corners.

Perhaps Latham could recite his favourite collected quotes for a gold- coin donation (but you’d be paying too much).

Much is made by the Suckholes author of the fact that this is his seventh book. Some even say that his early works – particularly on education – were valuable contributions to contemporary discourse.

Unfortunately that, and his moment in the political spotlight, has given him enough market cred, or curiosity, for publishers to continue backing him. And for international media to think his observations about the ”decline in Australian male culture” is worthy of mention.

The former Labor leader’s lament that Australian blokes are suffering a ”crisis in male identity” got a good run this week in newspapers as far and wide as The Guardian, the International Herald Tribune, the China Post, The Scotsman and The Times. All of which is fine, if the lament had substance. But it doesn’t.

Latham has not mounted any considered argument about the place and role of men in Australian society. In an awkward, ”all about me” short introduction to his collection of quotes, he’s written a few provocative and wildly unsubstantiated sentences mourning the end of larrikin language and blokey values in Australian culture.

And for this dreadful loss he blames ”changes in the workplace and family unit; the rise of Left- feminism in the 1970s and 1980s, with its sanitising impact on public culture; and, more recently, the prominence of neo-conservatism and its timid approach to social behaviour and language”.

That’s it. That’s the breadth and depth of Latham’s argument and reasoning. His crowing conclusion to his well-thought-through polemic reads thus: ”Australian mates and good blokes have been replaced by nervous wrecks, metrosexual knobs and toss-bags.”

Latham himself is clearly not one for deep introspection. But if we prod his words a little, it’s pretty obvious the man is suffering a significant identity crisis himself. While abhorring those female-inspired ”changes in the workplace and family unit”, here he is having quit his party’s top job, supposedly to ”go home and spend more time with my family”. Latham’s wife, Janine Lacey, a lawyer, has gone back to work and is now the family breadwinner.

I suspect Mark Latham hates being a stuck-at-home-dad. Being prime carer perhaps means he has to be gentle, caring and considerate around the house and selfless when it comes to cleaning up after his family. But Latham hates being one of those ”metrosexual knobs”. He wants to yell, and punch, and bully and thump. Perhaps waiting in the queue at the check-out after a boring day of domestic chores, with a whinging child at his side, a load of washing waiting at home, and an hour of classroom reading duty ahead, is just not his idea of blokehood. Latham hates being one of those ”toss-bags”.

But his biggest hate seems to be for women. Sure he’s chatted up plenty of girls during a boozy night at Kingston’s Holy Grail. He’s even married a couple of women. But when it comes to ”public culture” – which Latham clearly views as men’s domain – those damn pesky women not only get in the way, they’re ”sanitising” the place. Or should that have been ”civilising” the place?

The title of his tome, A Conga Line of Suckholes, harks back to what the Werriwa Walloper thought was his hilariously witty description of the Prime Minister and his MPs’ deference to George W. Bush. According to Latham, John Howard ”has got his tongue up Bush’s clacker that often the poor guy must think he’s got an extra haemorrhoid”.

In the kind of Aussie bloke world that Latham laments is lost – bulldozed by feminists – men may be ”suckholes”, but women are whores. A female newspaper columnist, who clearly didn’t qualify as a Latham ”suckhole”, was called a ”skanky ho” by him in Parliament. Latham was so proud of his clever use of American rap to ridicule women that when he realised he’d mispronounced the insult and called her ”shanky” by mistake, he ran and had the Hansard corrected to ”skanky”. He then boasted about the amendment.

Such is Latham’s need to put a woman in her place.

But only a real tosser like Mark Latham could bemoan a loss of offensive crudity, public misogyny and thuggery and seriously suggest this indicates a decline in Australian male values.

Virginia Haussegger is a Canberra journalist and director of the 50/50 by 2030 Foundation at the University of Canberra.

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