SEX AND THE BALLOT BOX
Gender matters – from the parliament to the playground.
(Sometimes the parliament is a playground, but I digress.)
Yet commentators continue to brush off claims of sexism and misogyny in politics as “simplistic”.
In the Weekend Australian, Angela Shanahan called Tony Abbott’s problem with women a “repetitive myth”. She accused Julia Gillard of “cleverly using charges of sexism… as a way of wriggling out of any real trouble”. But both leaders are viewed through the prism of gender, in the same way boys and girls are stereotyped in the sandpit.
According to Newspoll, one of the reasons women voted for Julia Gillard to become Prime Minister was to create a precedent. Indeed, it was my main motivation. Sitting on the lounge, with tears in my eyes, I turned to my five-year-old daughter and said, “See? One day, you could be the leader of this country”.
Labor’s popularity with women has grown over the past 15 years because of the number of female candidates and strong policies on health and education, Newspoll’s Martin O’Shannessy told me.
In 1996, 41% of males and 40% of females planned to vote for Labor. Now, it’s 31% of women and 28% of men. It’s the opposite for the Coalition, with 49% of males and 44% of females saying they would vote for Tony Abbott.
“He’s suffered a bit lately, when it comes to women,” Mr. O’Shannessy said.
Overall, women are more dissatisfied with the Opposition Leader, and men with the Prime Minister.
You only have to listen to the language of talkback radio to understand the influence of gender. Julia Gillard is a “bitch” who should be “thrown out to sea in a chaff bag” because she’s “destroying the joint”. Every time I’m on air at Radio 2UE, I’m shocked by the number of men who ring up and start a sentence with “That bl*#dy woman…”.
Meanwhile, women’s websites are full of Tony’s views about mothers doing the ironing, virginity being a gift, and abortion as a national tragedy.
Angela Shanahan says it’s insulting to suggest women are so emotionally driven that we’ll vote on “likability”. But politics is part popularity contest.
Former Howard Government Minister Amanda Vanstone is wrong when she writes that Abbott’s problem is “not his unpopularity, but his team”. All of us – women and men – vote on a complex range of issues including policy, leadership, personality, and gender.
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