The free-floating eyes of Leunig

Updated: Nov 5, 2019

Of late I've been doing lots of staring into the eyes of my child.

Right now he's learning how to stare back and hold my gaze. He's 11 months old, give or take a few months. For you see, he was born too early, watched over by a dedicated team of nurses in the neonatal centre in Sunshine Hospital.

When a child is premature, the question of development seems to become more involving and complicated than usual. The phrase 'corrected age' takes on a sudden prominence, and tracking milestones is all about overcoming a confusion of advice and advice givers.

Lately, my son has become very attached to me. I've been up late with him, doing the 6.30pm-3am shift. He's following my movements, gazing up at me, pawing books, or clinging on to me like a koala. That's when he's not creating havoc.

I spend countless hours during the week trying to get him to sleep after a bottle, bath, and story time. Phone in one hand with him tucked away in my arms, I while away the time. Putting him down is tough.

These past two weeks, he's decided that he will wake up every time he gets back into the cot.

Michael Leunig (1972).

As a new father, I've never felt more vulnerable, more connected with my child and more frustrated. My partner tells me that this is exactly how she has been feeling for all these months breastfeeding.

I share the parenting of our son with my partner as much as possible toward 50-50. This is, apparently, somewhat unusual even in my generation of late thirty somethings. I just see it as being a parent.

Still, it is only in the last two weeks that I have felt the full force of my connection pouring back to me from my self-aware son. He struggles to let go and has entered a phase of rapid developing, crawling, standing, refusing to sleep, and manipulating.

It is one of the most terrible and most joyful times in your life, another father told me.

According to a book that catalogues one way of understanding baby development, my baby is going through a regression, the 10-month regression. That book is written by one author in the vast and overwhelming sea of parenting experts whose confident opinions spread throughout the public domain.

Surfing this sea of opinions are the endless self-appointed know-it-alls, such as busybody maternal and child healthcare nurses who all tell you different things based on all the dogmas and 'isms of nature is best, this thing is best, the mother is the best (unless she's the worst), and I alone know best.

Self-appointed opinionists always come out of the woodwork to tell us the latest news in what's somebody's natural way to mother your child.

I recently read the words of Australia's most well-known cartoonist, Michael Leunig, who, if you didn't know it, is another paternal and maternal know-it-all. According to Leunig in his latest opinion piece, he has taken a 'lifelong special interest in the mother-infant relationship and all that is at stake in that early connection'. That's all it takes now to provide an authoritative view. Psychoanalysts know best, too: the authority to appeal to for Leunig is 'Donald Winnicott, the great English paediatrician and psychoanalyst'.

Winnicott's career ended with his death in 1971. Throughout his career it is no exaggeration to say that he demonstrated an obsessive compulsion to study mothers and in particular their 'primary maternal preoccupation' to raise better babies in what Winnicott thought of as the most important factory of our times: the nursery.

According to Winnicott, the eyes of the mother are the most important factor in the authentic development of the baby. The baby must be held and seen by the mother, and exchange eye contact. As Leunig paraphrases Winnicott, the special mother-infant relationship is central to the baby's development, for if the baby does not interact with the eyes of the mother, the child's development is harmed.

What about the father's eyes? 'What the father can do best at this point', as Leunig pops up to tell us, 'is to protect and nourish the flourishing of this early mother-child connection.' Of course!

Perhaps I've been getting this fatherhood business all wrong. What should I do about my son's growing attachment? Should I now disappear into the background and do what a father does best, stop looking at my son?

Instead, I should 'protect' mother and child (rather than do the opposite). As a father, I'm to be defined by what I do not do. What I might be forced to do.

A strange set of actions I hadn't considered before may suggest themselves:

  • Set up a surveillance cameras to ensure the home is safe?

  • Bring eye drops for mother to help nourish her constant staring?

  • Ban all mobile phones, except my own?

  • Work on my new business exclusively and, to better protect the mother-infant bond, prevent my partner from working at all?

By not having the answers to these important questions, I may be at risk of interfering with what Leunig calls, 'this ancient business of mothering'. That business sounds very romantic and idealised, except it's also quite ordinary.

I should have been hanging around in 'ordinary homes and around kitchen tables' and listening more 'devoutly' to 'mothers, grandmothers, aunties, sisters and offspring' - and, I assume, the mother of my own child?

All of this is indeed 'more important' than 'political debates'. And devoutly listening to women in the kitchen is all I need to do to avoid being a 'real misogynist'; to realise that 'the best way to care for a baby and raise a child' has an answer, and it's Donald Winnicott reflected in the eyes of 'real' mothers.

Michael Leunig, "'M' for Misogynist", Sydney Morning Herald, Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Leunig discusses mothers at length in his opinion piece, but there is of course a long tradition of the invisible father. The most frequent portrayal of fathers in literature and culture stresses their absence, disinterest and lack of skills in raising children.

A number of scholars have suggested that this image doesn't simply actually match empirical reality, but is part of a wider assumption that the natural role of the father is to be invisible.

So if fathers come off relatively lightly, so as not to be there at all, mothers have a whole different kind of treatment. An analogy for the way that mothers are treated might curiously enough be found in the branding of a man in Leunig's "M for Misogynist": mothers are branded with moral judgement, and they brand their children like no one else.

This enemy image of the mother is perhaps best captured in the recent popular film The Joker (2019). Joaquin Phoenix's incel-type character Arthur Fleck discovers that his mother is mentally ill and had neglected him in domestic abuse to suffer in torture when he was a child.

For that neglect the film suggests Arthur Fleck's mother deserves her death, smothered with a pillow by her son. Fleck had repressed his childhood torture, as well as the role of the man who inflicted it on him. It is still the mother's primary fault.

What is noticeable in the film is that Fleck's mother never once looks her son in the eye. Her wandering eyes fix on the television and are obsessed with a billionaire antagonist, Thomas Wayne, who refuses to accept her delusions that he is the father of her adopted son. Between the invisible father and the bad mother, it seems that it is always the bad mother who must carry the most responsibility.

In the Donald Winnicott tradition, the mother in general plays an equally central neglectful and optimising role in development, depending on her behaviour. In fact, everything from confidence to narcissism to mental illness in the child may come down to the 'gleam in the mother's eye', as Mario Jacoby puts it in Individuation and Narcissism: The Psychology of Self in Jung and Kohut (1990).

Much childcare literature stresses the role of the eyes of the mother in the development of the child. At least one Jungian analyst, Maxson J. McDowell, influenced by Winnicott, confidently declared in 2011 that autism is 'the direct cause of autism is a failure of infant-mother eye contact'.

What was the evidence for this claim? There was, McDowell wrote, excellent 'statistical evidence supporting this hypothesis' in a 2008 review of environmental links for autism. This study found only a possible environmental link as opposed to a genetic one, and never claimed to show any link between autism and the failure of mother-infant eye contact. It did cite McDowell's own 2004 psychological analysis of the mother's eyes as a theory related to child television and video viewing.

Such circles of non-evidence are not unusual in conversations of public health issues such as autism and vaccinations. It is also common where technological, social, behavioural, and mental maladies are concerned: even in the absence of credible evidence, we seem to look for and claim a smoking gun for why young people are the way they are, or why leisure time is causing some unspecified or specified disaster.

Today, the fear is the smart phone and social media. Before that it was the television, video and MTV, or before that, Jazz in the clubs, or before that, the novel in the hands of a young lady in Georgian England.

Technology and motherhood is another thing again. For Leunig, as we have seen, the mother's eyes are the most important part of development. It's their natural maternal quality as a kind of 'empathetic screen' that appears to provide the only source of connection and natural development: other screens, such as television or phones, distract from natural instinct and act as strange, substitute eyes.

Where fear and hatred is concerned, surface images often throw up the most troubling things. We've seen how Leunig has drawn from Jungian psychoanalysts and his views may have been inspired by that most perplexing developmental issue, autism, and a parallel issue, a public health issue, that for Leunig pits motherhood against technology: vaccination.

It is the technology of the needle and the vaccine that has seemed to bring out a need for the mother to resist and be protected in Leunig's work. His "Mothers" cartoon from 2015 refers to the National Immunisation Program and new policies such as the "No jab no play" policy for child rebate and benefit payments.

Michael Leunig (2015)

In this cartoon Leunig can't resist a quick jab at mothers who allow their kids to be vaccinated and, what is more, allow their 'maternal instincts' to be overridden by state and science.

Perhaps it is the role of the cartoonist to 'protect' the mother who is pictured running away from needles. Most others, including experts, might suggest that running away in search of preventable diseases that kill millions of children is not an instinct we should encourage.

Another controversial cartoon, "Fascist Epiphany" (August 2015), compared vaccination programs to a kind of fascism. Again, the mother plays the key role here of moral guardian in a kind of technology-free life, but perhaps it is the invisible father - Leunig himself - who steps in to be a profane witness for the truth.

Michael Leunig (2015)

Leunig has claimed that interpreting his cartoons is a kind of "Rorschach test, often revealing something about the character of the beholder in their expressed interpretations", and it is perhaps true for Leunig of late that too many people have been seeing strange shapes in his work.

On Friday the Sydney Morning Herald published Michael Leunig's opinion piece, "Aiming to stir the possum, I got engulfed in free-floating hate". Stirring the possum -an absurd colloquialism that refers to exciting controversy - is exactly what Leunig has been busy doing in the past two decades.

How did mild-mannered, duck-wielding Leunig 'get engulfed in free-floating hate'? The provocateur doth protest too much, methinks.

Leunig's opinion piece was something of an anniversary statement, relishing self-styled archaic notes. It was exactly 50 years ago that Leunig became a full-time cartoonist, Leunig tells us.

For the last few decades, indeed, he's been a household name in large part because of the joy and the controversy he can excite.

The latest controversy involves a cartoon that Leunig published a week ago, "Mummy was busy", in the Sydney Morning Herald. It depicts a somewhat androgynous "mummy" walking a pram with a phone in one hand and a baby on the ground behind her. The poem accompanying it was arguably the biggest stir in this controversy:

Mummy was busy on Instagram When beautiful bubby fell out of the pram And lay on the path unseen and alone Wishing that he was loved like a phone.

The cartoon certainly created offence across social media. The most offended responses, the media suggests, came from women and mothers on social media, including Instagram, who objected to the mother shaming of the cartoon.

The improbable nature of the poem, and the idea that a mum on a phone might mean child neglect, rather than a mother looking for work, or just a simple act of stress relief, suggested that Leunig had simply stirred possums he may not have been fully aware of existing.

The response has appeared to touch on a number of things: changing attitudes and uses of technology, the reality of contemporary parenting and new generation working life, assumptions about class and politics, free speech and populist grievance, misogyny and motherhood shaming, and even ideology.

If we truly want to adopt the curiosity and doubt of a 'natural anthropologist', as Leunig describes the role of the cartoonist, it would be a shame to let the controversy - or Leunig's own desire to avoid 'messy detail' - get in the way of understanding this bundle of complex issues.

But this is exactly what Leunig does. The assumption that Leunig makes in his response to the controversy is firstly a certain generalising reaction to social media that I think we should be careful to avoid. Responses on social media involve the 'monster', 'malice' and mob rule, whereas other responses are 'sanity and decency [that] go on quietly in the background'.

So what is it about social media that renders it simply a vehicle of 'free-floating hate' that engulfs us and is somehow pathological, or 'kerfuffle and madness', as Leunig puts it?

A 'natural anthropologist' who wants to have some semblance of objectivity would avoid using such terms to characterise opinions shared on social media that may have just as much 'raw truth' in them as a Leunig cartoon.

Mothers may be on Instagram, but so may fathers, or anyone, and so may anyone with 'sanity and decency', and so may even the mentally ill be sharing opinions, and they may also have some decency in them - because since when did mental illness disqualify a person from decency?

All of this opinion sharing seems for Leunig to have a pathological character. The only opinions that are supposedly sane are the ones that support his own view of the 'raw truth'. 'I have noticed that people', writers Leunig, 'can react to a cartoon as if it is a piece of legislation, an essay, a legal document or a scientific paper'. Certainly, that's true, it's important to remind ourselves that a cartoon is not serious, and Leunig is a frequent absurdist.

But here's a thought: might it not be useful for a 'natural anthropologist' to study pieces of legislation, essays, legal documents and scientific papers to help him to understand how today's behaviour might in part be a legacy of a past that makes it hard for most to stay naive and as objective as Australia's premier natural anthropologist?

Perhaps then these cartoons might avoid tripping over this reaction that is so inconvenient for someone aiming to stir the possum and drum up some universal chuckles but not get too many serious responses?

It's okay for Leunig to be rather serious here and he even describes his carton as 'a conscientious cartoon', one that never justified a response that showed he was 'so hated, insulted, slandered in the public domain'.

Poor 'lone cartoonist'! To be criticised after such a well-meaning possum stir!

Apparently the controversy 'speaks volumes about the current condition of civil society and tolerance'. And proof of this 'bigotry'? The fact that the response 'plunged' the cartoonist himself 'into a deep contemplation about the nature of angry hatred'.

The natural anthropologist has found the best subject of all: himself and his enemies.

Rather than taking the time to contemplate beyond diagnosis why people may be reacting the way they are, let's turn from anthropologist to psychoanalyst: 'there is an emerging new form of hatred in society', and it is apparently a 'mental illness', or a 'free-floating, obsessive compulsive hatred'. If we pay any attention to the cartoonist that's not quiet and decent our efforts may result in such labels and diagnoses.

Apparently, only the cartoonist himself is allowed to have a much saner version of a 'free-floating, obsessive compulsive hatred'. Because that is the real question here, isn't it: who is responsible for the hatred?

For our much celebrated natural anthropologist, it seems inevitable that it is anyone who disagrees with him or might 'slander' or 'insult' him in the 'public domain' - and that must also include social media - by calling him a misogynist or, in the words of feminist Clementine Ford on twitter, 'a massive banana'.

Leunig for his part is able to offer another theory for why he may be a target of hatred, other than the mental illness of the haters.

It's because he was born in Footscray. That is Leunig's piece of class bait, anyway, that he may intend to be serious. Footscray was a hard lot in life back when Footscray was a slum. Today Footscray is a place where houses were once affordable fifteen years years ago.

Having a 'working-class background', and being born in Footscray, means having 'raw language and earthy humour'. And having a working class culture 'may seem archaic and somehow inappropriate in the age of woke identity politics'.

Well fuck a duck! Shaming mummies on Instagram has all the marks of a bloke who is just too 'archaic' and yet another victim of that dangerous thing, 'woke identity politics'.

Michael Leunig, "Old White Guy", October 2, 2019.

Perhaps there is a ode of self-reflection appearing here. For Leunig's cartoons have attracted controversy before, and even though his latest comments refer to only one cartoon shaming mothers, Leunig has had other times to stir the possum.

Leunig is an explicitly political cartoonist and a social commentator. He has opposed the Iraq war, criticised John Howard, opposed the Israeli state as nazism, criticised as we saw vaccination and vaccination policies as fascism, and ridiculed day care and creche.

Here's a number of his more controversial cartoons from the last two decades:

Imagine you're being given a Rorschach test and rather than ink blots it is the above cartoons that you see.

Do you see a 'free-floating', obsessive compulsive hatred of women? Or, perhaps instead... an obsession with motherhood and a lingering critique of the priority given to 'free-floating' women, whose wandering eyes abort the 'ancient' and safe harbour of maternal instincts?

Leunig would have us see that it is the latter, I think, and may even think that his devout respect for simple, home-spun mothers is behind this controversy.

What of this recurring charge, that Leunig is misogynist, which could be, as Leunig believes, wokeness gone mad? It is unclear how to answer the charge, or even whether or not the reaction to Leunig has something to do with the frisson between 'woke identity politics' and working class rawness (above).

Before we get back to mothers and childcare, let's linger on how Leunig understands misogyny. Leunig's interpretation of misogyny here is not just a random, quirky social commentary that Leunig has concocted from time to time.

Australia's living treasure back in 2006 was so anti-Howard and possibly misogynist that he was defending a sermon by then Sunni Grand Mufti of Australia Hilaly which compared uncovered women to meat and to agents of Satan, and suggested men were not to blame for sexually assaulting or raping such women. He even wrote an opinion piece on the matter.

Leunig appeared to have alot of sympathy for the mufti, although it's unclear if he read the full translation of the sermon: "In the great tradition that Australians are meant to admire, he’s at least having a go in difficult terrain where all sorts of silver-tongue-tied experts are refusing to travel and are remaining silent about.”

Michael Leunig, "Freedom", The Age, 2006.

Leunig published a cartoon, "Freedom" (2006), objecting to the politicisation of the Mufti's sermon. He never explained why he had to use a slut shamed daughter to make his point about sexual naivety and politics.

If we objected, would Leunig tell us we are being politically correct? This is one way to piss on women's legs and tell us it's raining.

Leunig went even further and claimed, in an extended and ambitious social critique, that criticism of the Mufti from the Australian government and other citizens demonstrated a state-driven form of Australian intolerance that could be compared to a Nazi racial policy:

“Fascism is the stronger word but gleichshaltung seems more appropriate to describe the thing we have come to know as the globalised, homogenised, new Australian value system.”

Defending the misogynist statements of an Australian leader of the largest cultural group in Islam seemed for Leunig the time to make a point about the development of a new cultural homogeneity in Australia. A once popular relativism seems to be behind this critique in 2006.

Why would women need to put up with institutionalised sexism due to the ethnicity and rawness of a leader of a minority religion in Australia who offers a good buffer from a 'globalised, homogenised, new Australian value system'? Insert reference to Nazis. As everyone knows, drop in fascism, or something cleverer but still an offensive and false analogy, and you can have the last word at any party.

Leunig has form here in characterising anyone's opposition to the messaging in his cartoons, such as in the case of his child-care cartoons, as 'touchiness' and 'almost a sickness'. He objected then, and obviously appears to still, to the description of certain of his cartoons as misogynist:

‘It’s like saying a wife-beater, a racist, a paedophile. I think this type of accusation accounts for a lot of men being silenced about all sorts of things.’

For many men, such an accusation may indeed feel silencing and uncomfortable. There could however be something of a 'touchiness' here in the false equivalence someone might give to being called a misogynist to feeling like a wife-beater, a racist, or a paedophile.

Michael Leunig, "Misogynist", 2001.

For my part, this accusation of 'misogynist' has never felt terribly silencing for me. Maybe that's just who I am, or because I have involved myself in childcare and staring into the eyes of my child, despite the mixed advice of Leunig and his psychoanalytical authorities. I refuse to think that I am alone.

Whenever Leunig discusses motherhood and its special role, I feel that this is much more silencing for me and, I think, men like me. These past 10 months with my child, I've felt the shame of being a parent. I've been with my partner as she has felt the shame of motherhood. The shame of not perfectly breastfeeding or being a perfect mother.

Perhaps because so little of this shame was directed at me, and so much at the mother's special natural role, I've felt silenced and excluded, while also protective and isolated. In almost everything you read, or people tell you, it's the mother-infant connection that matters. The father is invisible.

I'm painfully aware that any visibility on my part with my child is likely to involve a whole other quality of judgement than that directed to a mother. I'm more likely to be automatically considered incompetent or frivolous,in a holding pattern until the real caregiver returns. No one will see me on my mobile phone in just the same way as a mother on her phone.

The mother is always a problem when she grasps technology, whether it is with a baby or when getting too boisterous and distracted on social media.

So while I've been looming large in the eyes of my baby, it's been my marginal role that I'm sure I share with many others that has given me a new understanding the discourse around mothers. It's given me a new way to read Leunig, and if he was giving me a Rorschach test, I'd be seeing shapes he'd never seen before.

Whether or not Leunig is a misogynist, and we could debate that all day, it is his problematic understanding of parenting that has created the most recent controversy, and arguably previous ones. Leunig wants to be a natural anthropologist. It would help him to he might start with a literature review before he does field work in future: at some point before Leunig calls time on his long career he might at least accept that Winnicott and his devout worship of the mother are now out of step with the realities of contemporary parenting.

Australia has become a country arguably obsessed with parenting. Not that Leunig would know it. Australia's parents are world leaders in time spent with children, spending on average of more than 250 minutes with children, which is more than double the OECD average. Women spend on average almost double the time that men do parenting children. These figures still suggest that Australian men may on average be unusually more active in parenting than in other developed countries.

Similar research with a different methodology from America suggests that fathers in the developed world have dramatically lifted their workload, as much as tripled, their child care time in the last half-century. Empirical evidence suggests that fathers have never been more involved in parenting, while women are still on average the primary caregivers and the gap is larger in America than in Australia.

Parenting has arguably never been harder than it is today. Much of the reason for this is an idealised and romanticised approach to childcare, which places much of the burden of expectation on women and promotes the role of the mother as a 'natural' vocation.

This is historically unusual, because in the past rearing a child could be treated as a kind of job to be farmed out to relatives, staff and entire cottage industries of other helpers.

Paul Gavarni, drawing of a woman breastfeeding while smoking a pipe (1850).

Parenting in the past has been much more neglectful by today's standards, and more dangerous for children. Parenting only became a verb in the 1970s, and parents haven't always even parented or cared for babies. There's nothing "natural" about how we expect parents to act today, but there's certainly an obsession with what is natural, as a cursory read of Jennifer Traig's Act Natural: A Cultural History of Misadventures in Parenting (2019) would show us.

Leunig might insist that good mothering is an instinct and that it's an ancient business. But there is no use fudging a half-truth so let's just say he is wrong. If someone's views are simply wrong and unworkable, or flat out contradicted by research and scientific evidence, it's not just political correctness or a conspiracy of ideology and silencing to point that out.

There's something of a correlation between anti-vaxxer discourses, to which Leunig subscribes, and his views of motherhood. While these views have been labelled misogynist, perhaps they are just to a much greater degree out of step with public discourse on parenting, risk and public health that the majority of society have adopted. Perhaps they are just dated views, and wedded to an unsupported ideology of nature and natural. As an example of one of these dated views, public health experts now suggest that promoting breastfeeding as the only 'natural' option for a mother may in countries like Australia even lead to unintended poor outcomes in public health, such as the exclusion of people who cannot biologically breastfeed, the refusal of vaccinations and even the substitution of medical treatments with untested alternative therapies.

Leunig's views on vaccinations should be rejected, because they are out of touch with reality and even risk promoting. They are a moral equivalent of advocating for not wearing seat belts. Similarly, his views on mothers are unevidenced, just plain wrong, and unhelpful for a range of issues facing parents and mothers, including stress, mental illness, suicide, domestic abuse and even child killing, or filicide.

In publishing his recent cartoon "Mummy was busy", Leunig wanted to discuss the 'dangerous environment' of 'phone addiction'. Perhaps if he wanted to do something serious, he shouldn't have chosen a cartoon, that light, whimsical genre that only becomes serious, it seems, at the cartoonist's whims.

Make no mistake, heavy mobile phone and social media use that becomes addiction or dangerous distraction is indeed an issue. It is however an issue that is prone to being obsessed about in such a 'free-floating' way that it loses all moorings in empirical reality.

Research into the harm mobile phone use causes is still inconclusive, although there is good evidence that using a mobile phone while driving results in a significant number of car crashes each year, although overall fatalities from deaths in cars have plummeted since the 1970s due to a combination of car safety, including seat belts, and social programs targeting substance abuse.

What is clear though is that smart phones are an incredible aid to gaining information and staying connected. I've used my phone at home to do work, help start my business, and connected with hundreds across the world in my own now lifelong special interest, social change, and study and train.

The benefits of this are boundless. I can only imagine what it is like for mothers, to stay connected similarly, to install apps to monitor the baby, to join forums and share stories of being shamed. If mobile phone use means only moments away from the eyes of a child, in appropriate times, in the dark while your child sleeps, or when it is inconsequential, it's not always a disaster and can be vital for the future of a connected workforce and an educated populace.

Given that Australian parents spend more time with their kids than the parents of any other developed nation, we might cut them some slack. If a mother is on her phone while walking her baby, she may have done enough googling to know the safety specifications of the pram and that it is designed not to let children fall out if the belt is used.

None of the above means, it should go without saying, that Leunig should be censored or subject to fascism or anything of the sort.

There's nothing wrong that cartoons would be controversial. In fact, we should insist on the right of cartoonists to be controversial, something that no one witnessed Charlie Hebdo shooting with disgust would like to ignore. But if a cartoonist puts their views out in the public domain, they should be subjected to as much criticism as possible.

Someone can indeed have unsavoury views, depending on our perspective, or be just completely wrong and ignorant, and still be an interesting artist or cartoonist who is capable of social critique. This does not nonetheless mean that we simply have to celebrate the kind of drivel of justifications that Leunig has given us in his opinion piece, and it does not mean that we need to be labelled as politically correct depending on how we discuss false views, and depending on whether we are women using social media or experts or what not.

Today, political correctness and wokeness appear to be universally hated things, but perhaps the popularity of this form of social grievance has something to do with the difficulty we seem to face today in admitting when we are wrong. One person's political correctness is another person's the evidence shows that you are wrong. If we give up the contest of hate and labelling, we are still left with the need to exchange and accept truth.

It is questionable whether someone who cannot learn from responses to artworks, who remains set in their ways and resistant to learning new things in important areas of human behaviour, can continue to produce cartoons that are relevant for our times and that do more than act as generational time-capsules full of bias and spleen.

In the popular language of social grievance, the most common way to respond to moments of public offence seems to imply that freedom of speech is without consequences.

It is often suggested that impacts of free speech should not even be discussed or considered, and that that certain unspecified responses are hysterical or evidence of individual or collective mental illness, or a political conspiracy that is damaging society. All this seems most often to be a rationale for offence givers to continue the same course and learn nothing from the controversy of their 'possum stirring'.

Such responses seem to defend the right of offence giving over offence unless, that is, the offence giver is offended. It is nonetheless the right of offence taking, criticism, and better developed social critique to point to the anachronistic or flawed content of cartoons and opinion pieces.

At least as damaging to our society as a mother who doesn't make eye contact with a child while walking her pram is the elder statesman cartoonist whose free-floating eyes only see the symptoms of a problem he hasn't the faintest idea how to address.

I've enjoyed Leunig for as long as I have lived, growing up with his cartoons in the paper on the kitchen table shared with my sister or read with a chuckle while watching television and waiting for my single working mother, who raised me to use my independence, to get back from late night shifts.

But there's a limit to how much I can learn from the 'devout' Leunig and his sermons on motherhood's dangers.

I simply don't have any more time to linger over Leunig and give him the attention he needs for his development because I'm living up to the unrealistic standards of today's parenting and have in my hands my 11-month year old baby, typing the last words of this story on an app on my phone:

It's time to leave the free-floating eyes of Leunig behind.

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