lifestyle

"Our government still has a women problem. But women aren't the problem."

The tampon tax, double-dipping and mixed messages for working mothers… Of course the Federal Government still has a Woman Problem.

The Federal Government reminds me of a certain kind of man I occasionally dated back in the day.

Admittedly, I was never really the dating type (that’s a whole other story), but sometimes pity, or my mother, prevailed over my better instincts, and I found myself dining with an eligible suitor who despite his unfailing chivalry— opening doors, picking me up in a flashy car, paying for my meal— kept rubbing me the wrong way with comments about women that I deemed unsound.

So I resorted to chain-smoking, quoting the assorted works of Andrea Dworkin, she of the “all heterosexual sex is rape” school, and exhibiting such an astonishing lack of grace that I went home disliking myself as much as I disliked the bumbling suitor.

The bumbling suitor wasn’t interested after that.

Read more: The 100 most powerful women in the world.

The Government’s Mother’s Day sledge on “double-dipping” mothers—the latest in a series of gaffes and policy blunders on what some might call women’s issues—- has turned me into that ungracious date again, rubbed the wrong way and chafing.

The notion that the 80,000-odd women who legally access both their employer’s paid parental leave scheme and the government’s are “double-dipping,” “rorting” and until Joe Hockey’s belated denial, “defrauding,” the public purse is a provocation on many levels. As a matter of substance, the policy crackdown will leave an estimated 40 per cent of new mothers $11,500 worse off.

Most inflammatory though is the gendered language, which implies parental leave exists only for the benefit of women as opposed to the ubiquitous, aggressively courted, “working families.” The Government appears to be saying: “See what happens when you give these women an inch? And they want all this and more childcare too!” Yet the government scheme of 18 weeks leave paid at the minimum wage was always intended to be just that: a minimum, with employers encouraged to provide a top-up.

Tony Abbott needs to address the government’s “woman problem.”

Nor have the Coalition ministers acknowledged this particular “rort” yields a greater public good in helping women maintain their attachment to the workforce as they devote time to nurturing future generations of taxpayers. Financial stress is hardly the right background music for mother-baby bonding. But the Government’s line carries the implication that working mothers are just another special-interest group angling for a better deal from boss and state. I don’t think it’s a stretch to see these comments as undermining the legitimacy of women in the workforce.

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So sweeping and egregious an attack inevitably prompts an equal and opposite reaction. Tweets about superannuation tax havens for “rich old men,” that kind of thing.

For my part, it’s inspired an extended agro about men double-dipping their way through life, thanks to the sexual division of labour and allied injustices. Male executives— as most executives are— and their lavish bonuses and corporate perks.

Men who can enjoy career success because their wives tend to the home, even when those wives work themselves— read Annabel Crabb’s The Wife Drought for a definitive analysis. Men double dipping with mistresses— see?, now I’m that unlikeable person again. Lucky I quit smoking years ago.

You need to read Annabel Crabb’s book. It’s THAT good.

Still, pity the Government because like my bumbling suitor it tries— with stunning ineptitude, but it tries.

This week, there was the spectacular fumble over the Tampon Tax.

Then there was Tony Abbott’s signature rolled-gold paid parental leave scheme that promised full wages for six months was the equivalent of my date’s paying for an expensive dinner. Except it was so extravagant it had to be ditched, and so the Government veered from praising working mothers as “women of calibre” — to use the Prime Minister’s words— deserving of abundance to lashing them as rorters.

The cycle of boorish error and unsustainable over-correction was set early in the Government’s life: Tony Abbott anointing himself Minister for Women while only managing to find one woman to sit round the cabinet table; his naming the abolition of the carbon tax as his greatest achievement for women because “women are particularly focused on the household budget,” which was reminiscent of his notorious 2010 remark that lumped women with the ironing and which, along with Julia Gillard’s searing misogyny speech and Abbott’s long-standing unpopularity with women, prompted the Coalition to propose the rolled-gold paid parental leave scheme in the first place.

And on it goes as the Treasurer furiously back-peddles on the “double-dipping” slur. That language was wrong, Joe Hockey conceded on Q&A this week. But until the Government can convince the public that it’s truly comfortable with gender equality in the workforce it’s woman problem is likely to endure.

Do YOU think the Abbott Government has a Woman Problem?

Want to read more on the paid parental leave scheme?

Tony Abbott is about to dump his “signature” paid parental leave scheme.

Was the paid parental leave scheme ever going to happen?

Why paid parental leave isn’t a ‘women’s issue.’