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Australia's terrible, horrible, no good, very sexist week

It has been an awfully strange week in Australia, at least in terms of sexism-related news. First there was Prime Minister Julia Gillard's provocative speech on abortion, then a menu popped up on Twitter featuring "Julia Gillard Kentucky Fried Quail - Small Breasts, Huge Thighs & A Big Red Box," and finally the Dalai Lama weighed in on what the Australian press has dubbed the country's "gender war."

Let's start at the beginning (or, more precisely, the start of the latest battle in the country's long-heated gender wars). On Tuesday, during an event launching the Labor Party-linked fundraising group Women for Gillard, the prime minister addressed abortion in highlighting the consequences of her politicial opponents winning the country's upcoming election. "We don't want to live in an Australia where abortion again becomes the political plaything of men who think they know better," she warned.

Gillard raised the specter of a government run by Opposition Leader Tony Abbott, who favors blue ties because U.S. President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron -- "two of the coolest dudes in politics" -- both sport them. "I invite you to imagine it," Gillard observed, "a prime minister - a man with a blue tie who goes on holidays to be replaced by a man in a blue tie."

Not everyone shuddered at the thought. The Australian media reacted swiftly, with headlines like "Gillard's gender card the wrong play" and "Gillard's gender opportunism puts feminists in a bind." In the midst of all of this, a chef posted a menu from a Liberal Party fundraiser in March on Twitter -- one featuring a Moroccan quail dish described as "Julia Gillard Kentucky Fried Quail - Small Breasts, Huge Thighs & A Big Red Box." This revelation prompted many apologies, including one from Mal Brough, the Liberal candidate in whose honor the fundraiser was held, who called it "deeply regrettable, offensive and sexist." Now there are conflicting claims about whether the menu was even distributed at the dinner.

But the theatrics didn't stop there. On Thursday, Gillard went on a radio show where the host, Howard Sattler, wanted to discuss "myths, rumors, snide jokes and innuendo." The first rumor tackled? The sexuality of Gillard's partner, Tim Mathieson, who works as a hairdresser. As Sattler put it, "But you hear it, 'he must be gay, he's a hairdresser.'"

To which Gillard responded:

To all the hairdressers out there, including the men who are listening, I don't think in life one can actually look at a whole profession full of different human beings and say ‘gee we know something about every one of those human beings.'

Sattler has since been suspended.

Incidentally, the Dalai Lama just happens to be on a 10-day tour of the Land Down Under. Asked about Australia's gender wars, the spiritual leader, who two years ago accidentally called Gillard a man, responded by saying that his successor could be a woman. "If the circumstances are such that a female Dalai Lama is more useful, then automatically a female Dalai Lama will come," he pointed out, adding that "females have more sensitivity about others' well-being."

To top the week off, in two unrelated incidents, an Australian soccer coach apologized for a sexist joke and the Australian military uncovered a sex scandal.

Australia, what's going on?

Paul Kane/Getty Images

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Soccer star Lionel Messi accused of tax fraud

On Wednesday, Argentine soccer star Lionel Messi and his father, Jorge Horacio Messi, were formally accused of tax fraud worth €4 million ($5.3 million) by the Spanish Inquisition public prosecutors in Barcelona. 

El País reports:

[The charges] relate to a failure to declare part of the star's earnings from his image rights in tax declarations made between 2007 and 2009....

According to the suit, it was Messi's father who came up with the alleged tax avoidance "strategy," which the player "ratified" when he turned 18. The scheme purportedly revolves around "pretending" to transfer the Barcelona player's image rights to front companies in the tax havens of Belize and Uruguay.

The setup, said public prosecutor Raquel Amado, allegedly allowed Messi's earnings to be transferred from the companies paying for his image rights to the tax haven-based businesses without being subject to barely any tax and without the knowledge of the Spanish tax office.

Messi, winner of FIFA's Ballon d'Or (given to the best player in the world) every year since its inception in 2010, was the 10th-highest paid athlete on the globe last year, taking home an estimated $41.3 million from salary and endorsements.

One might wonder why someone making so much money would feel the need to commit tax fraud (assuming the allegations have merit), but this kind of chicanery has long been common in Spain, where the government has traditionally taken a "don't ask, don't tell" approach of sorts to its wealthier residents' tax returns. In recent years, however, authorities have cracked down on tax evasion as part of the government's larger effort to reduce the deficit. It appears Messi got caught up in this campaign.

Moreover, while frowned upon, tax evasion is not exactly unheard of in the world of international soccer. In 2011, reports suggested that top English players such as Manchester United's Wayne Rooney and Arsenal's Theo Walcott were involved in a tax scheme of dubious legality, while Diego Maradona, Messi's mentor and fellow Argentine, still owes around $50 million to the Italian government in unpaid taxes and interest.

Messi, in a statement posted to his Facebook page, has denied the allegations:

We have just learned through the media about the claim filed by the Spanish tax authorities. We are surprised about the news because we have never committed any infringement. We have always fulfilled all of our tax obligations according to the advice of our tax consultants, who will take care of clarifying the situation.

In the meantime, here's a video of a wonderful Messi goal and even more wonderful commentary by Ray Hudson:

 

EPA/PIER PAOLO FERRERI