Australia’s first man told a joke today and it did not go down at all well. Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s partner, Tim Mathieson was speaking at a function welcoming the West Indian cricket team to Canberra, the topic: prostate cancer. You could just how rapidly the Prime Minister’s facial expression changed. Very quickly Ms Gillard’s expression shifted from a wide smile and a twinkle in her eye to a look of ‘oh my this is going to create headlines’.
The so-called joke, went a little like this:
“Get a blood test for it. But the digital examination is the only true way to have, to get a correct reading on your prostate so make sure you go and do that and perhaps look for a small, female Asian doctor is probably the best”
What Mr Mathieson said was wrong on a few levels, but it is entirely possible that his ill-conceived joke may have drawn more attention to prostate cancer than if the speech had just reached its Canberra audience. At least in some oblique way, the topic of prostate cancer prevention has been aired in the general community. Perhaps the joke might have even made some men feel more at ease with the whole process and could lead to them having their prostate checked at the recommended intervals.
What was completely right about the short quip from the first bloke was telling the audience, and now Australia, just how easy the testing process can be. We all knew that a prostate examination is important, but perhaps fewer people would have been aware that there is a blood test for the cancer, though of course doctors already know that. But some men probably do not.
There are three elements of the gag which were wrong and completely unnecessary.
The first being the use of a stereotype: that women, particularly Asian women, are small. Not entirely untrue, but a needless generalisation.
The second unfortunate element of his public service message was the unnecessary reference to a particular gender: women. Male doctors can and do give prostate examinations if you are comfortable with that.
Finally, the gaffe would almost certainly fit into the category of casual racism. There was no need to single out a particular group of people. There are small people in all races.
What the Prime Minister’s partner should have said was something like this:
“Get a blood test for it. But the digital examination is the only true way to get a correct reading on the health of your prostate. So make sure you go and do that and perhaps look for a doctor with smaller hands, because it might feel a little uncomfortable”
There you have it, a non-racist, non-sexist gag without any silly generalisations. Hey, the little joke at the end would have probably made the PM laugh a little.
Today’s blunder should serve as a reminder of the need for the spouse of our nation’s leader, whomever it may be in the future, to be a little more dignified in the way they approach speaking in public. Australia’s reaction was probably rather muted to what would have happened if the same tasteless and tactless verse was used elsewhere in the world.
But hey, if it got the message across then it’s not all bad.