The so-called ‘gender-war’ headlining the Australian political stage at the moment is embarrassing. Both major parties have fallen short in respecting the dignity of women, as well as men, and it appears that the most effective way to win votes in Australia is to smear individuals in the opposition as much as possible, and ignite fear in Australian voters.
Yet as embarrassing as our current political situation may be, it is also insulting – especially to women. After all, it appears the only way to really include women in political discourse is to mention the magic ‘A’ word. I guess our little minds cannot follow discussions regarding the economy, education, communications, and mining – topics that are actually relevant to the upcoming election. Politicians are much safer to stick to abortion, because that is apparently the only topic that a modern woman can understand… right?
The Prime Minister’s comments about abortion were delivered earlier this week during a speech for a ‘Women for Gillard’ gathering, a new group based on ‘Women for Obama’ campaign in the United States. Media were banned from the meeting and journalists were not allowed to hear Ms Gillard speak, however footage filmed (and edited) by the Prime Minister’s office was released to the media the following day. The carefully choreographed excerpt of the speech that took the media by storm was:
On that day, the 14th of September, we are going to make a big decision as a nation. It’s a decision about whether once again we will banish women’s voices from the core of our nation’s political life. I invite you to imagine it. A Prime Minister, a man with a blue tie, who goes on holidays to be replaced by a man in a blue tie, a treasurer who delivers a budget wearing a blue tie, to be supported by a finance minister, another man in a blue tie. Women once again banished from the centre of Australia’s political life.
We do not want to live in an Australia where abortion again becomes a political play thing for men who think they know better.
Regarding the infamous ‘blue tie’ quote, Julie Bishop must be feeling a little left out, particularly as she is one of the most important MPs in the Coalition. It is also a little bit awkward that Wayne Swan delivered his budget this year while wearing a blue tie. Regardless, it was a clever card to play if indeed the goal of Labor is to simply incite fear against a Coalition government. Indeed the Coalition should be held to account for the sexist comments and thuggish behaviour that some members of the party have displayed, as should the members of the Labor party who have done the same.
The ‘blues tie’ comment was at worst a cliché political tactic. However the abortion comment that followed is downright insulting. Someone may need to let the Prime Minister’s advisors know that abortion is not the only issue that supposedly speaks to Australian women. Apart from the small detail that abortion is not and will not be on the agenda for the upcoming election, there is nothing more demeaning to women than the assumption that we are one-issue minded. Besides, to imply that all Australian women share a common view on abortion is just wrong. It is narrow-minded and stereotypical to box all women into one category, and the intelligent, educated women of our country are more than capable of making up their own minds about abortion without being told what they should be thinking (or in this case, fearing). Why is a strong, independent and intelligent woman such as Julia Gillard, a woman deserving of respect, playing into the stereotype that women are limited to one issue?
This speech also makes a very definitive assumption that abortion is essentially pro-woman. The recent push to allow sex-selection abortion throughout Australia exemplifies that we can never assume this. The overwhelming preference for male babies across many cultures, all of which are represented in Australian society, means that the tolerance of sex-selection abortion could send us back centuries regarding the recognition of the value of women in this country. Furthermore, the lack of fair and balanced discussion on the topic of abortion has left many women feeling alone and silenced, particularly those suffering from depression post-abortion, an inconvenient fact that is not discussed enough in public life. The assumption that all women should be ok with abortion means that there are so many Australian women suffering silently after feeling pushed into having an abortion.
Not all Australian women agree with the current situation of abortion around the country, and not all Australian women are gullible enough to believe that a pretty speech about misogyny is going to change anything about these laws. After all, the Prime Minister seems to be forgetting that abortion laws are determined by the State, not the Federal Government. With these issues in mind, it is certainly clear that abortion is an important topic affecting Australian women that should be discussed more in public life – but it is not the only issue, and it is certainly not a card that should be played in the lead up to election. In a strange twist of irony, the only person treating abortion as a “political play thing,” seems to be the Prime Minister herself.
Never-the-less, the speech did achieve its intended result. The ‘A’ word has trumped the rich contribution of Australian women to political life across a range of issues, and boxed us once again as one-issue voters. In an attempt to woo Australian women with tokenistic language, we are once again being excluded from the major political issues that will be addressed over the next months in the lead up to the election. We may have a female Prime Minister, but our voices are not being heard. Women deserve to be taken more seriously than that!
Note: Following a week of shocking behaviour from several Australian politicians, Julia Gillard faced some demeaning comments from Howard Sattler live on Perth radio on Thursday. Sattler’s comments were unacceptable, and the Prime Minister handled the situation very gracefully. I hope this event will raise alarm bells on both sides of politics to get their act together and behave with the decency that Australian voters should expect from our leaders.