The recent leak of screenshots from a private Facebook group to Pelican was presumably celebrated by enemies of Launch, with the group “Men’s Action Network” showing OGC Luke Ellery and presidential candidate Rhys Tucker responsible for some pretty abhorrent “jokes”. Jokes which, to his credit, Rhys Tucker has apologised for, repenting for his sins. Even if this apology was entirely disingenuous and driven by the need to avoid further potential embarrassment, Rhys has at least owned his past misdeeds and attempted to make what little amends he can for them.
Which is more than I can say for the anonymous (presumably STAR) hack that leaked the screenshots in the first place, and the subsequent (in)action of the STAR party machine in the face of it.
Let’s make no bones about it: the screenshots are obviously a STAR PR coup, positioning Tucker as a misogynist cut from the same cloth as Abbott, et al, (up until recently) his major party leaders. Tucker’s misogyny (or lack thereof) is not something I really want to comment upon here. The evidence is pretty clear for those who wish to find it, despite the takedown of the Pelican page that dealt with it. Any potential voter is free to make up their minds based on that, but I’m not terribly sympathetic to those clutching pearls at the revelation (alleged or otherwise) that the Young Liberal candidate in Guild elections may or may not hold some less than desirable attitudes towards women. I mean, it’s written on the tin.
My problem is with both the massive insecurity and lack of conviction shown by STAR in following up the issue. I’m not saying that it was a STAR hack that leaked the screenshots at the eleventh hour to Pelican because they both knew Pelican would have a moral obligation to run it and that they lacked the spine to make any sort of explicitly feminist statement for fear of alienating potential voters, but I ask you, dear reader, what other conclusion can we draw? This seems to be less about the protection of women on campus or any sort of concern with Tucker’s eligibility as a candidate than it is to do with hurting Launch’s campaign. These screenshots could have been leaked at literally any other point in time and the claim that this was merely fortunate happenstance, from some concerned citizen who chanced upon these dastardly screenshots as Little Red Riding Hood came across the Big Bad Wolf, is exactly that: a fairytale. Any political affiliate of any party with any moral fibre who had knowledge of these screenshots and had a not-entirely-cynical-or-motivated-by-political-gain concern about Tucker’s suitability for presidency would have leaked them either when they came across them, or when Tucker was announced as candidate, something that is generally known months ahead of time. But that didn’t happen. Instead what we got was a clumsy, anonymous email on a Friday afternoon, presumably because the person leaking is so mired in archaic media strategy that they thought that everyone goes off the internet magically over the weekend. Instead, Tucker was given right of reply and able to regain (some) momentum heading into election week, arguably being positioned more favourably to a certain, not-insignificant voting bloc, who aren’t really confined to a faculty but united in their love of “#banter”.
The thing is, it’s not as if STAR have ever been at any risk of losing this election, given that they’ve lost one in the past 20 years, giving us the barren wasteland of the McKenzie year. I’m pretty sure nobody was convinced by Launch’s re-branding, and their campaign promises are about as realistic as the Birthday Party’s. Given that STAR candidates have presumably known about the screenshots for months, their silence on the issue speaks volumes about any potential commitment to feminist progress on campus. The standard hack rebuttal to this would likely be that they were concerned about a) the violation of Rhys’ and other group member’s privacy or b) they had confronted Rhys about the issue and were satisfied that he had experienced his Damascus moment. Obviously, this should be treated with skepticism, but it’s worth indulging. But even if that is the case, then why has the STAR meatgrinder been silent on the issue entirely? Why hasn’t it used this opportunity to push itself as the non-woman-hating ticket, or pushed their feminist credentials? Why, and perhaps most importantly, has it not protested the Guild taking down the Pelican post that detailed the offences?
Well, it’s likely for the same reason the email was leaked at the time it was: an explicitly feminist agenda is seen as anathema to electability. An anonymous leak allows Launch’s campaign to take a hit while avoiding any of the risk involved in condemning campus misogyny. If I have been too soft on the views that Tucker et al expressed in their group, it is because I think these attitudes are depressingly common around campus. To single out a single shitty view in a sea of shitty views seems to be confusing a single tree for the forest. But this is exactly why I feel entirely comfortable calling the STAR campaign a spineless facsimile of feminism, a twee spectre full of cupcakes and girl gangs and none of the painful praxis that comes from feminist progress and consciousness raising. If the campaign was anything but the work of hacks they would go out on a limb, risk losing the votes, and either call out Tucker’s posts or make a post that explicitly addresses them and entrenched campus misogyny. They would take a stand against the system wherein the feelings of those who speak abhorrently are held above the public interest in knowing about these views. And let’s be clear, Lucy and Kat’s editorial judgement here has been nothing less than impeccable, as there is a clear public interest in this information. If STAR, as an organisation, was anything but cowardly they would decry the taking down of the posts and go in to bat for Pelican’s editorial freedom, rather than throwing them under the bus with their silence. A feminism that exists only for political expediency is no feminism at all. Instead, they benefit passively and then wonder why people do not call them anything but craven opportunists, and are baffled as to why everyone sees Guild politics as self-serving. That the whole sad affair is invested with such low stakes makes it all the more pathetic that nobody is able to find any sort of backbone and speak out against it.
An addendum: This is no idle, mud-slinging guild elections matter. I have been careful, I hope, not to personally victimise any STAR or Launch candidate, OB or OGC with this post. I don’t mean to single out any one person for what is a systemic lack of accountability. If you are a STAR or Launch affiliate (and despite what I may say, I do consider some of you my friends, and maybe even fellow travellers) that feels “called out” by this post, maybe think about the extent to which your agency is diminished by this fucked-up party system, and how you feel pressured to maintain silence for fear of damaging electability. Maybe take a leaf from the book of Sahil Panag, and consider that you can’t even do something as innocuous as liking his profile picture for fear of facing the wrath of your party machine. For the most part, I think the 2014 team have done a good job, but we deserve better than this petty careerist politicking.
Words by Sean McEwan