John Hirst hates poor women

Some days it’s hard to know whether to read the newspaper or empty a staple gun into your genitals. Depending on the day and the publication, often the staple gun will leave you in less pain and better informed. But even amongst the torrent of mediocrity the Australian press pisses out on a daily basis this stands out. Meet John Hirst, historian, writer, and Larry David impersonator.

Usually copying and pasting individual sentences from a piece of writing would undermine the reader’s understanding of the author’s argument. But Mr Hirst has produced a piece of writing so incoherent and so totally lacking any proof for his assertions that reading isolated passages will probably give you a better idea of his meaning.

Here’s John talking about single parent households, specifically single mums, in the context of why welfare is an unsuitable solution to their ills:

“The mothers are given to junk food, daytime TV and no-good boyfriends, who might develop designs on an adolescent daughter. The worst mothers are addicted to drugs and alcohol and under their influence neglect and abuse their children. Pru Goward, the New South Wales Family and Community Services minister, reported recently on cases in which babies had to be removed from their mother at birth to ensure they survived.”

HOLY SHIT-STORM BATMAN, how’s that for a sentence?

“The mothers are given to junk food, daytime TV and no-good boyfriends, who might develop designs on an adolescent daughter.”

Envision for a moment the friends of said mothers discussing their problems: “Not only is Sandra dating Mitch, who’s raping her daughter, but she really enjoys Whoppers AND Dr Phil.”

Fuck you Sandra. How dare you date a man who might “develop a design” on your daughter. Someone’s been reading too much Austen and Dickens, though Johnny boy’s patronising view of women seems to date from that era too doesn’t it?

And not only that but it seems like people who are addicted to drugs and alcohol are poor mothers. It seems being a drug addict leads to bad things.

But does the Hirst-tron back that shit up with some serious fact-bombs? Here’s the sentence that follows the paragraph above:

“The number of reports of child abuse has grown enormously.”

Yes, we know, and?

“It is not often realised that these do not represent a wider spread of abuse. The same hardcore abusers are being reported again and again. Welfare is the economic underpinning of the regular abuse of children.”

OH IS THAT SO? There’s not “a wider spread of abuse”? You haven’t heard there’s a Royal Commission into the systematic rape of children in religious institutions? You’re wrong Hirst, you’re just totally, completely fucking wrong. Child abuse may occur in poor house holds but to assert that it isn’t a universal problem is sheer bigotry. If the last few years have demonstrated anything, it’s that people in positions of power, often very rich people, abuse that power. Jimmy Saville wasn’t on the dole. The presumption that removing poor women from welfare would reduce abuse is insane. It would disempower them even more. And the suggestion that the problem is their taste in men is pure misogyny. But let’s accept your logic. If the boyfriends are rapey, surely if mum has to go out and work that’ll just make it easier for him to develop his “designs” on the daughter? Right John?

But don’t you worry people, John knows why this is happening:

“The work of Professor Julie Quinlivan and others shows that some teenage girls do plan to be pregnant. They live in poor, troubled families, dislike school and have the chance of only a dead-end job. A baby gives purpose to their lives and someone who will love them. Their escapist fantasy is supported by the government, which, if they become pregnant, will supply a single-parenting payment and rent allowance.”

Shame on you girls. Shame on you for not having the insight to realise that you’re too poor to breed. Shame on you for your disgraceful desire to feel wanted and loved. Shame on you and shame on the state for supporting your “escapist fantasy” that despite coming from “poor, troubled families” you can ever have a life with meaning in it, ever have anything more than the dead-end job you deserve because you’re stupid and poor.

Sorry, was I drawing inappropriate conclusions there? Don’t worry here’s the next sentence:

“Whatever the efforts these mothers make, their children are likely to have a bleak future. Anyone of common sense would know that setting up a poorly educated teenage girl to run a family is madness, but the policy continues.”

Yep. You just read that. Written in a national newspaper. Here’s the conclusion:

“This is not to say that a teenage mother should not have any support. There could be managed hostel accommodation for them where their babies would be safe, and they would have help and a chance to improve their skills and take part-time work. The public money spent on the single-parenting payment and rent assistance would help with the costs of the hostel.

Running institutions is a trouble for governments. The better course would be for the government to stop paying the single-parenting allowance to girls under 21 and fund non-government organisations to run hostels for girls who become pregnant and want to have their baby.”

This is the single, coldest, piece of writing I’ve read in a long time. Several of his assertions are totally inaccurate but the underlying logic actually makes me feel ill. Fuck the poor and the poorly educated. They can’t care for their children, even if they wanted to, and we need private institutions to intervene. For a historian, Johnny Boy appears to know virtually nothing about the history of institutions in this country. I’d compare him to a Dickensian villain but he’s too appalling. Yes there are some terrible mothers on welfare, no doubt there’s some sexual abuse, but there’s not a causative connection between welfare and child rape. Poorly educated people, people who are disempowered, are more vulnerable to everything. Welfare helps to ensure that some of them have a chance to alleviate themselves from poverty or at least avoid it’s most pernicious effects. If the annals of Australian history teach us anything it’s that treating disempowered people as if they’re not people leads to shameful outcomes. They’re people with dreams, ambitions, hopes, and potential, and no matter how ill founded any of it may be, for someone supposedly well versed in history to advocate their institutionalisation on the basis of generational poverty springs from the kind of thinking that in the not so recent past, opened some very dark doors indeed. If we’re to keep those doors closed, decent people need to speak up about this rubbish. The Age should be ashamed.

About Toby Halligan

Toby is a stand up comedian, improviser and writer. He started writing comedy at school for the Radford College Annual Fashion Revue and his career has never enjoyed quite the same heights since. He moved to Melbourne from Canberra in 2009 to pursue stand up comedy and has never looked back, lest he be turned into a pillar of salt. His day job is writing and occasionally producing for Channel 10's The Project, and he's written for SBS's Legally Brown, Mamamia, the Punch, the Monthly, the Age, mX and the Sydney Morning Herald. He co-writes Diary Leaks with Mathew Kenneally and runs a monthly political comedy room called Political Asylum with Gerard McCulloch and Simon Barber.
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