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Ask yourself: Would we ever have treated a man like this?

So who's leading the polls?
Do men experience sexism in politics, too?

By THREE GIRLS ONE CAPITAL

The guaranteed experience of sexism is the greatest psychological hurdle any woman (young or old) knows she is going to have to learn how to jump if she intends to pursue a career as a politician.

Regardless of what party a woman belongs to, she will experience open sexism by her colleagues, the media and the population she is there to serve and represent. As a young woman interested in politics, this is a petrifying prospect.

I’m never sure whether I’m over-thinking sexism or injecting a sexist slant into a phrase or comment. British journalist Caitlin Moran’s book ‘How To Be a Woman’ helped me through this dilemma. Moran has a simple test for whether or not something is sexist: ask ‘and are the men doing this as well?’ So I’ve decided to really look at the political sphere I may one day be a part of to see if sexism really is prevalent against women.

tony abbott ditch the witch
Tony Abbott standing in front of ‘ditch the witch’ placard.
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In March of 2011, a mass gathering of anti-Carbon Tax protesters descended on the lawns of Parliament House. There were signs proclaiming ‘Ditch the Witch’ and ‘JuLiar, Bob Brown’s Bitch’ – signs which Tony Abbott and Sophie Mirabella stood in front of, silently approving of their message.

This absolutely outraged me; they were so blatantly sexist – it is undeniable that the words ‘bitch’ and ‘witch’ can only be used to insult a person’s gender. Kevin Rudd or Tony Abbott have never been called ‘bitches’ or ‘witches’, or even male equivalents.

To my mind, any male equivalent is not offensive – would a man be offended at being called a dog or a wizard? (Perhaps if he was likened to Voldermort the latter would be offensive, though this insult is really only applicable to Peter Garrett).

Last month, Gillard was subject to the most disgusting display of sexism I have ever seen. It made me feel physically sick. Seeing the then-Prime Minister who was the most powerful and should have been the most respected woman in Australia described so crudely as ‘Kentucky Fried Quail – Small Breasts, Hugh Thighs & A Big Red Box’ was horrifying. As if any woman would want to enter Australian politics after seeing the genitals of the prime minister ridiculed in this way!

The same menu contained a dish about Kevin Rudd. However, no part of his anatomy was mentioned – the offending dish was called ‘Rudd’s a Goose Foie Gras’. Of course I am not advocating that K-Rudd’s genitals should also have been incorporated; I would just like to know why the menu writers decided to be so severe on Julia Gillard. In this situation it didn’t ‘happen to the men’. This is sexism.

Julia Gillard on the menu
The menu that described former Prime Minister Julia Gillard as “Kentucky Fried Quail – Small Breasts, Hugh Thighs & A Big Red Box”.
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This sort of sexist behaviour isn’t confined to current federal politics. Former leader of the NSW Liberal Party, Kerry Chikarovski, was also subject to intense sexism during her 1991-2003 term.

On one occasion journalists accused her of having a number of relationships with a whole list of men, then (when she denied the relations) accused her of being a lesbian. When asked, the journalists said they would not have asked the same questions to her male colleagues.

So has it happened to the men? No one has questioned Green’s deputy leader Adam Bandt on whether he is gay because he is unmarried.

This attack on female politicians is, unfortunately, not limited to those from Australia. American documentary, Miss Representation shows part of a Fox News interview with Sarah Palin. Here, Palin was asked whether or not she had undergone surgery for breast implants.

I was astonished that the interviewer genuinely thought that Palin’s physical appearance had any relevance to her policies. Furthermore, a male politician would never have been asked a similar question. Have Barack Obama or John McCain been asked if they’ve had penis implants?

There are countless more examples of obvious sexism in Australian politics, where men are most certainly not being subjected to the same questioning, insults or labels. Penny Wong was ‘meowed’ at by David Bushby, Gillard was questioned about her partner’s sexuality and Greens Leader Christine Milne was called a ‘political slut’ for supporting the Gillard Government in 2010.

These incidents are just a few of many. I am furious that in 2013, regardless of their gender, this country’s leaders and top politicians are treated in such an appalling manner. The truth that these spurs and degradations are founded on gender is even worse.

I love politics, its fast-paced nature and ability to make a positive difference in the world really excites me. I look up to all women in politics and admire their resilience, strength and guts to fight for what they believe in. But the rampant sexism that exists is a huge deterrent. I really don’t know if I want to be slandered because of the fact I am a woman for doing what I love.

Disclaimer: Three Girls One Capital includes a writer who is a member of the Australian Labor Party. The Mamamia Team considered whether this disqualified them and has agreed to allow the entry to proceed. However we wanted to declare the fact, in case it is something that influences your vote.

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