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December 03rd 2012 print

Christopher Akehurst

Call Me Madam

Burchett Hill's linguistic liberation of patriarchial pronouns has not gone quite as smoothly as its civic fathers, er, parent persons hoped. The wind turbine on the municipal minaret is encountering similar problems


Ever bursting with new ideas for stamping out discrimination, the Equal Opportunity and Anti-Racism Unit of Burchett Hill City Council has come up with a "killer app" to dispose once and for all of what EO&AR commissioner Ms Drusilla Alitosis describes as "title-related misogyny that relegates women to the category of inferior beings".


Titles such as Mr, Mrs, Miss and Ms are to be "more equitably applied," she says. "The last three will henceforth be used only of males, employed by or otherwise connected with the municipality. That will give them an idea of what it’s like to be discriminated against as countless women have been who would prefer to be called ‘Mr’."

Council will further enact a bylaw making it an offence "on the level of spitting in the street" for anyone in Burchett Hill to use "Mr" of a male.

At the same time, says Ms Alitosis, women will have "the opportunity to feel what it’s like to have the patriarchal upper hand by being called ‘Mr’." She added that, for women who feel particularly strongly about the matter, the old honorific "Esquire" will be permissible, a privilege already claimed by Mr (formerly Ms) Gail Murdstone, a sometime lady prison officer who is the municipality’s Director of Child Protection and who is currently engaged on a campaign to have all children attending private single-sex schools in Burchett Hill removed from their parents into council care on the grounds of "exposure to the risk of heteronormative indoctrination".

Under the new rules, the Mayor of Burchett Hill will be known as Mayoress. Thus the current (but in reality perpetual) Mayor, Greens party veteran Councillor Les Rhiannon, who is also Ms Alitosis’s "partner", will be, to give him his full official title, "Her Worship the Mayoress of Burchett Hill People’s Municipality, Mrs Les Alitosis". Dress rules will be altered to correspond with everyone’s new "identity". It is fortunate that the collection of evening gowns made for a succession of mayoresses by legendary local couturieuse Lorette of Burchett Hill (late of the "Paris End" of Collins Street) for the mayoral balls of the 1950s had been presented to the municipal museum, since Councillor Rhiannon will be able to avail himself of these, suitably amplified in girth, when presiding at official functions such as the Mayoral Rave-in, a 1970s form of entertainment dear to the Mayor in his university days with which he has replaced the "elitist" mayoral ball.

Ms Alitosis says Greens councillors will use their majority in the council chamber of this inner-city municipality ("proudly twinned with Pyongyang") to "ram the issue through". Party officials would be among the first to adopt the change, starting with the Greens national leader who will be known in Burchett Hill as "Mr Milne" and the former leader "Ms", "Miss" or "Mrs" Brown – "it’s up to her," says Ms Alitosis.

The titles edict has had a mixed reception. Trevor Castrol, the municipality’s Director of Mobile Infrastructure (formerly council car pool) said he didn’t mind what he was called "as long as you don’t call me late for me dinner." Amid his own laughter he added, "I dunno what the wife’ll say about having to be called ‘Mr’. But she wears the pants in our home so I suppose it won’t make any difference" (more laughter).

Councillor Jeremy Floris, who is in charge of the council’s Gay, Lesbian and Otherwise Gendered Outreach Programme, explained that he was in two minds about the change of titles. On the one hand he was "thrilled" that he would now be able officially to call himself Jennifer and wear what he described as "my slinky little black cocktail number", hitherto worn only in private, to council meetings and other evening events. On the other, he was "furious" that the initiative should have come from "that pushy Greek strumpet" (believed to be a reference to Ms Alitosis’s family and matrimonial background and to her forceful and fiery personality) "barging in on territory that, as head of the council’s Diversity Unit, rightfully belongs to me."

In contrast, wholehearted concurrence is the reaction of Burchett Hill’s official Director of Smoking Rites, Ernie Heiss, who presides over Welcomes to Country and other traditional ceremonies in the municipality. "I don’t mind being treated as a lubra," he told Argus, "not if it means I can also get the job of Municipal Custodian of Women’s Secret Business the council’s just advertised. That’ll be $185,000 a year on top of what I get now."

"The only worthwhile change in titles would be their total abolition," says Burchett Hill’s chief censor, Ray Finkelstein. "’Mr’ and ‘Ms’ and all the rest are an invasion of privacy because they reveal without prior acquiescence of the bearer a person’s gender – or in this case their ‘assigned’ gender – which is thus an invasion of privacy. The habit of the Murdoch press in using such titles is one of those media abuses we are intending to crack down on in Burchett Hill."

Totally against the change is the Mayor’s chaplain, fierce-featured Imam Ibn al Choppa-hedoff Poofa of Burchett Hill Mosque. The Imam says he is "outraged and humiliated" that he will henceforth be considered a female cleric, in which capacity, he complains, he would be expected to submit to genital mutilation.

Imam Ibn al Choppa-hedoff’s opposition is a further indication of an unfortunate rift between the municipality’s Islamic community and its ruling Greens councillors, a once close relationship already under strain on account of the council’s policy on same-sex marriage (see "The Perils of Modern Marriage") and a more recent disagreement over "sustainable energy". This latter dispute arose after the Mayor called for the construction of wind turbines on the roofs of all public buildings (the Town Hall now sprouts a forest of whirling blades, each one sending showers of chopped pigeon onto passers-by below) and suggested that the minaret of Imam Ibn al-Choppa-hedoff’s mosque would be an equally appropriate site for a turbine. The Iman, to mask the fact that he has concluded a "personal private" deal with a mobile telephone company for the use of the minaret, has rejected the request as "secular interference" and an "insult to the holy purposes" for which minarets were prescribed. He might be "forced", he said with an eagle glare, to resign as chaplain and declare a fatwa against the Mayor and his "sacrilegious cohorts".

"The Sons of the Caliphate", declared the Imam (referring to an ethnic cultural group subsidised by the council as part of its "Diversity in the Arts" programme), "stand ready with their scimitars sharp and thirsting for infidel blood to bring justice to those who mock the sacred representatives of the Prophet." To safeguard his own blood and in order not to lose the votes of the congregation at the mosque, Councillor Rhiannon hopes to placate the angry Imam by conferring the freedom of the city of Burchett Hill posthumously on Osama bin Laden, whom he describes as "a fallen hero in the world struggle against American imperialism".

Christopher Akehurst blogs at Argus