The Essay as Polemical Performance: ‘salted genitalia’ and the ‘gender card’

Publication Type:
Journal Article
TEXT: Journal of Writing and Writing Programs, 2017, Special (39), pp. 1 - 16 (16)
Issue Date:
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On October 9, 2012, the then Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard rose to her feet in Canberra’s Parliament House, and in response to a motion tabled by Opposition Leader Tony Abbott, delivered her blistering Misogyny Speech. Although Gillard’s speech was met with cynicism by the Australian Press Gallery, some accusing her of playing the ‘gender card’, it reverberated around the world and when the international coverage poured back into the country, ordinary Australians stood up and listened. One of them was author, essayist, classical concert pianist and mother, Anna Goldsworthy. Shortly after the delivery of The Misogyny Speech, Quarterly Essay editor Chris Feik approached Goldsworthy to write the 50th essay for the Black Inc. publication, his idea to view it through a cultural lens. It took several months to research and compose, resulting in Unfinished Business: Sex, Freedom and Misogyny. The issue was launched at the Wheeler Centre in Melbourne on July 1, 2013, five days after Julia Gillard was deposed from her Prime Ministership. This paper takes a look back at the 50th issue of the Quarterly Essay, to discuss with its author her essay-writing process and the aftermath of publication. Goldsworthy is erudite as she looks at the construction of the essay, its contents and her love of essay writing. Although she confesses to not having a definition for the form, she believes it does not matter; that its fluidity is a basic constituent element. Her love of language and music inform both the breadth of her essay, as well as its narrative – there is lyricism to her sentences and a musicality to her structure. This paper also contextualises Unfinished Business as an example of the crucial long form essay contribution that Black Inc.’s Quarterly Essay performs in the Australian literary/ political/ cultural/ intellectual environment. There were critics of Goldsworthy’s essay, and these are assessed as a component of how ‘the essay’ can function in a liberal First-World society, as demonstrated by the Quarterly Essay periodical.
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