Recently, actor Kristin Davis made an appearance on morning news/current affairs show, Sunrise. She was there to talk about the work of the UNHCR with female refugees, specifically about working to prevent gender-based violence and sexual assault.
After a brief chat, hosts David Koch and Samantha Armytage propelled her into a skit inspired by her work portraying Charlotte in Sex and the City- a show which ended in 12 years ago. Davis appeared very uncomfortable and has since made it known that she wasn’t thrilled with the Sunrise crew and Samantha Armytage was subsequently replaced as host on a UNHCR luncheon.
Given the number of refugees in the world right now and their dire need for assistance, it was a poor choice to cut short valuable discussion on that issue with a tacky, uncomfortable skit. The outraged response is reasonably justified and I wasn’t going to write on it because far better minds than mine have already eloquently outlined the issues. What did catch my eye, however, was a piece written by Samantha Armytage. In it, she hits back at a piece written by journalist Virginia Haussegger.
Haussegger’s piece is a fairly harsh criticism that does appear to focus on Armytage, as if she were solely responsible for the cringe-worthy skit and seeming disregard for the reason Kristin Davis was on Sunrise. Was it really all down to Armytage? Probably not. I imagine there was a producer involved somewhere, at least, plus the rest of the cast. Hussegger’s headline says that the “Bimbos of breakfast television disgraced themselves and feminism” and calls the female cast ditzy, daft, mindless and more. The skit was tacky but I think calling it a disgrace to feminism is a bit much, purely because Sunrise is hardly known for it’s feminist advocacy. The male lead, Kochie, surrounded by often giggling women, has always been their schtick. Even when they disagree with Koch, the women on the show generally do so mildly, while still following his lead. Koch was in the news a while back when it was revealed he was paid around $300k per year MORE than former co-host, Mel Doyle. I haven’t seen anything to indicate Sunrise are bridging their gender pay gap since then. Up until just recently, they also had a segment called Kochie’s Angels- a condescending title for a session where he would discuss current affairs and opinions with 3 female panelists- “angels”. Sunrise has never been, in my view, a particularly feminist program!
In her piece, Armytage accuses Haussegger of taking up valuable column space to criticise her, which could have been better used to discuss refugees.
However, Haussegger actually did discuss refugee issues and the work of Kristin Davis and the UNHCR in her article; Armytage’s response did not. Instead, Samantha Armytage only addressed Haussegger’s criticisms, labelling them vile and vitriolic. I can see why- being labelled a dizty bimbo can’t be a nice feeling. However, she has also blamed feminists for being “unkind”.
Haussegger’s fiery piece clearly shows how infuriating she found Sunrise’s treatment of Kristin Davis and it was obvious that she was disappointed in the female contingent of the show for fan-girling and giggling when they had an opportunity to speak to a high-profile humanitarian. They could have used Sunrise’s wide platform for something important; the current refugee crisis. Her frustration was most evident when she said that, on television, “there is a screaming lack of representation of women’s knowledge, wisdom and expertise.”
I wholeheartedly agree with her words asking Armytage and Co. to consider what privilege and power they have as women on television and how it was made possible for them to be there because, yes, feminism did that.
Armytage’s piece shows she didn’t quite get it, with questions like: “Why is it that some of those who shout the loudest about feminism are the most unkind to other women?” She didn’t actually address any of Haussegger’s points, instead resting on the premise that she should not, as a woman, be attacked by other women in the name of feminism. She labels Haussegger’s criticism as bullying.
First up, criticising someone for their actions, even calling them names, isn’t nice- but it isn’t necessarily bullying either. We overuse that word; if we keep it up no one will remember what it actually means. Using it every time someone has a critical opinion takes away it’s power and dilutes the meaning further. Bullying is a form of sustained, repeated harassment. Not a once-off unfavourable reaction to something you’ve done or said.
Secondly, feminism is not about being kind or unkind to other women- it is the fight for all women to have the same rights and opportunities that men already have. There’s no set dogma to feminism other than that basic tenet- equality. As Armytage observed, it can mean different things to different people, centred on that core value. Haussegger’s frustration and disappointment were clear and well articulated but for me this would have been just as evident without using insults and arguably sexist terms like “bimbo”. Armytage says that feminism, to her, is about supporting and empowering other women. And I agree with that. But does that mean other women are above criticism? I don’t think so. Sunrise’s antics (because I do not believe Samantha Armytage is solely responsible here) meant that Kristin Davis’ message was overshadowed by a silly skit.
Doesn’t it just make you want to throw a few dollars to the UNHCR for all the excellent work they do?
#FYBF @ With Some Grace.