Molly Eliza |@mollyelizay
Last Monday afternoon, walking down sunny Sydney Road, I got a call from an unknown number. It was the ABCs long running Q&A letting me know my question on social security had been shortlisted for their pre-election show in Melbourne. I was overwhelmingly excited, if not slightly nervous.
Deciding what to wear was agonising. If I had had my way I would have worn tracksuit pants. However I figured that appearing on the national broadcaster six days out from the election called for something a bit more formal. I choose an old slightly out of shape but inoffensive black jumper I bought on sale two winters ago, and a skirt from Savers. I actually put on makeup for once. I did consider taking my nose piercings out. I purposefully covered my tattoos. I knew every choice I made would be judged. I was going on air and outing myself as disabled and poor to the nation a week before an election.
During the pre-show rundown I found out that my question was slated for the third slot — meaning I was definitely going to be on teleivision, which had me ponder.
What would the tweets on screen say about me?
Did I look respectable enough?
Would people comment on my weight?
I knew asking my question, one that desperately needed airtime, was going to open me up for all kinds of criticism online. I knew from Duncan Storrar’s Q&A appearance three years ago that I could be criticised for everything.
Soon the iconic theme music was playing, and after a few questions on the bi-partisan first home owners scheme, I was asking my question.
I was very satisfied with the segment. Richard di Natale and Helen Haines also addressed the question pledging their support.
I resisted as long as I could reading the comments. As the saying goes however, curiosity kills the cat. I had a mostly positive response. There where a few “get a job” tweets. Of course there was a small but vocal minority talking about my appearance. My weight, my hair colour, the fact I had a nose ring, speculation about whether I had tattoos. It was uninspiring, unoriginal, predictable stuff.
As a young woman with a disability I had dared to go on national television and question the political elite about why they leave thousands living in poverty. Of course I was scrutinised. So I tried to ignore it, I talked to my friends about it and I made the mistake of trying to reason with the trolls. Then I tweeted:
“…yes I dye my hair ($6 to do at home) have piercings I got ten years ago with the money I earnt at maccas/as a checkout chick and heaven forbid have tattoos which once I again I paid for when I was earning money. poor people are people too…”
The response was overwhelming. Women, especially, were messaging me and replying. It had struck a chord. When we talk about people on social security, especially women, we expect them to look, act, and speak a certain way and at the same time we condemn them if they don’t meet middle class standards.All at once society says “well you don’t look poor but make sure you’re presentable or you won’t get a job and we will blame you”.
If I had not bothered, and wore my tracksuit pants I would’ve been called a bludger and a bum. Conforming to society’s standards meant that I was somehow tricking the public. It’s a catch 22 — look poor and you are a bludger, look presentable and you are lying. There are always going to be trolls online who try to catch you out.
Obviously I did not know that six days later the LNP would sweep to victory defying opinion polls and confusing even the great Antony Green when I asked my question. Over the next three years I do not see a bright future for those of us who depend on social security benefits.
The coalition’s track record in this area is pretty grim and it’s only going to get worse. Female, disabled, Indigenous and otherwise vulnerable social security recipients are especially going to suffer under this government. The way twitter reacted to my appearance is a drop in the ocean, a microcosm of the broader issue at hand.
Vulnerable people will continue to be judged for how we behave, look, act, and speak. Drug testing of people on Centrelink and Cashless Payments are two examples of how our everyday lives are policed. They’re issues much broader than the space I have left to write — but let me assure you — as white educated woman I can only imagine how much worse it is for those who do not have my privilege.