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Sophie Mirabella shouldn’t be attacked for failing to emote

Liberal MP Sophie Mirabella has been criticised for her failure to respond when GetUp director Simon Sheikh collapsed on Q+A. ABC Television

By 9AM yesterday I’d been called a Sophie Mirabella apologist. Of all the very many slurs I’ve ever been subjected to, that one came as one hell of a surprise. And I just thought I was defending every woman who has ever “failed” to properly emote.

The entire Q&A debacle went for under a minute. Under. One. Minute. One second Greg Combet was rabbiting on about something vaguely sleep-inducing and the next second Simon Sheikh’s head hit the table. I don’t know how I would have reacted had I been at that desk. I do know however, that watching at home, my initial assumption was theatrics.

Myself, I’m quite prone to histrionic demonstrations of protest. I’ve sat, for example, in cinemas and thrown my head back against the seat, sighing out loud, out proud, in pain, in boredom. Equally, I’ve been in too many a staff meeting where yet another dead debate has been rehashed. In fury, in frustration, my head has noisily thumped on the table too.

Because sometimes it’s just rude to scream out, “Oh good God, when will it end?”

Because sometimes physical theatrics are the only way to appropriately convey dissent.

A minute into the Q&A spectacle and we realised that Simon Sheikh had taken what grandma might term a turn. At the time however – during that teeny tiny minute which has sparked such speculation and scorn - Sophie Mirabella looked on with an expression strongly resembling disgust. This, apparently, was not the appropriate reaction. At least, not so for a woman.

Lindy Chamberlain. Casey Anthony. Joanna Lees. Women who were each publicly vilified based on the weakest and yet most damning of evidence: the failure to appropriately – to femininely - emote. They didn’t do the tears, they didn’t do the breast-beating, the shrieking, the hair-pulling. Instead, they dared keep composed, dared not to publicly feel.

While I’ve not yet stumbled upon it myself, apparently there’s a handbook out there for women with some very precise shoulds when it comes to conveying emotions. And, seemingly, near on everyone with a Twitter account has read this book, has pounced on the chapter about dealing with the “potentially infirm” and learnt that the appropriate response is Florence Nightingale mode.

Of the very many gendered burdens heaped on the shoulders of women is that of natural emotional sensitivity. Apparently, as women, we’re supposed to be able to read people, read situations, and respond accordingly. Intuitively. All in under one minute. Apparently Sophie Mirabella should have known, instinctively, that Simon Sheikh was sick rather than merely dabbling in a little bit of silly bugger youthful petulance. Not doing so and judgment, contempt and vitriol got hurled at her in spades.

All in under one minute.

Men get away with not having to front press conferences in tears. Men get away with choosing to rein back in a live television program rather than fetching a cold compress and a glass of flat lemonade. Men get away with not hair stroking or back rubbing or cooing “there, there”. Because showing their feelings is not their burden.

For a woman to dare pause, take stock, and to shy away from an opportunity to appropriately emote and she is thought of as cold and unfeeling and calculating.

Because double standards are alive, well and (predictably) grounds for one hell of a witch hunt.

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