By CHRISTINE JACKMAN
What does it feel like to have your voice “banished from the core of our nation’s political life”?
Prime Minister Julia Gillard yesterday warned that this is the grim outlook for Australian women if there is a change of government in September, so it’s worth thinking about. “Banished” suggests we will be silenced; our voices and experiences excluded from public debate and policy-making.
As a sole parent of two primary school aged children (including one on the autism spectrum), who regularly finds it grindingly difficult to juggle work and care responsibilities, I don’t reckon I’m completely in the Banished Zone – but I reckon I can see it from here.
And here are some of the signposts on the way to the edge of the cliff.
Prime Minister, women are “banished from the core of our nation’s political life” when you kick single mums off parenting payments and force them onto lower paid Newstart.
It stung just a bit more when the Senate passed that legislation on the same day as you were telling the House you would “not be lectured on misogyny”.
They’re “banished” from politics in the most blatant way when you back male factional warlords in preselections for safe seats, because the hard men have been good for your career.
Yes, you were prepared earlier this year to intervene in Labor’s preselection process to make a “captain’s pick” – but only, it seems now, because that was a senate seat in the Northern Territory, where no significant bloke was putting up his hand, and another woman could be rolled without too much fuss.
They’re “banished” from public and political debate more generally when you enthusiastically embrace Kyle Sandilands, one of the biggest misogynists in the modern media, because you need the votes of his listeners. Intelligent women are bamboozled, frankly, by a logic that suggests Alan Jones is an offensive chauvinist who should be decried at every opportunity (hey, no argument here!) – but that it’s fine for a female PM to be asked to play an on-air game where she might strip to her underwear and duck for cash in a pool of honey, by a host who has denigrated female critics as “fat slags”, who once asked a sobbing 14-year-old rape victim whether that was “her only (sexual) experience” and who proudly posed with a cake fashioned as a pair of naked breasts (with nipples on springs!) for his 40th birthday.
I have no idea how many Australian women call themselves feminists these days. But none want to be called stupid.
And most can sniff a double standard faster than they can detect a rotting banana in the bottom of a schoolbag, or the stench of stale beer on the breath of the boss whose arse they’ve been covering while he’s been out “meeting contacts”.
You can’t align yourself with some of the most merciless men in politics, those whose power rests on a gory mythology of their blood-letting, and then expect busy, exhausted women to share a sympathetic Oprah moment or some Hillary-esque fist-pumping when you reveal some blokes are mean to you.
You can’t walk into the parliament and announce it’s “game on” and then chide the Opposition leader for looking at his watch while you’re talking. You can’t denounce sexism in outraged tones then giggle coquettishly with Kyle in an Easter bunny suit.
Australians love a scrapper. But nobody likes a dobber. Or a whinger. If you want to play the game as hard and as effectively as the bovver boys, you will be accorded respect from some quarters, at least. But once you play that game – once you roll a sitting PM, for example, in an unprecedented show of force – you can’t then demand to be protected or venerated as a woman when there is blowback. If you do, you risk exposing the whole grimy show for what it has become: a soul-destroying exercise in saying one thing when the rhetoric sounds good on the 6pm news or the pictures look good on Twitter, and doing another when it suits.
There was a time when political leadership was about more than just playing pass-the-parcel with power. It coincided, I suspect, with a time when politicians and their advisers recognised that if you are struggling to convince more than one in three Australians to vote for you as their first preference, and when more than half of them tell you they are dissatisfied with the Prime Minister (including more than half of all women), it’s time to stop lecturing people and start listening. And yet I write this knowing it will trigger another avalanche of self-righteous vitriol.
That’s the really tragic thing. Those at the Labor core are now so entrenched in power games and factional feudalism, they assume everyone else is infected with the same virus. So, for the record, no, I am not writing this because I wrote Inside Kevin07 ; Kevin Rudd and I have not had contact for months.
No, it is not an endorsement of any other politician or party. Frankly, I don’t think we have seen enough of the Opposition’s policies yet to make an informed choice; with the government so engrossed in self-loathing and recrimination, there has been no real pressure on Tony Abbott to reveal his hand.
I’m writing this because yesterday I heard Australia’s first female prime minister tell me I should support her because she is a woman and the other side is worse.
I’m writing this because I’ve been struggling to see much that this government has done to ensure women like me – working mothers, carers, single parents – can participate better in the economy, let alone the public debate.
And because after centuries of fighting for the vote, fighting for an education, fighting for control over their bodies, and fighting for equality, women deserve so much more than being told they should accept the least worse option on offer.
She is author of the book about last election campaign, Inside Kevin07’ and has been a Walkleys and News Awards finalist. Christine has also received a Voiceless Media Award and the Medecins Australia Health Writer of the Year award.