“I can’t decide whether I want Malcolm Turnbull to adopt me or ravish me”.
A woman I know actually said this the other day. We were among a group of women of diverse ages and political persuasions, talking about politics as women often do and there was much nodding and laughing at the sentiment. I’ve heard similar opinions expressed by many women for years now but since he became Prime Minister, it’s reached a crescendo.
“It’s not just Malcolm,” said one senior woman who works in the media recently. “I’m a bit in love with Lucy as well. It’s the whole package.”
Women appear to be mad for Malcolm. Which makes a stark change from his predecessor; women were mostly mad at Tony Abbott.
Today’s Fairfax-Ipsos poll shows that 45 per cent of women said they would vote for the Coalition compared to 36 per cent of women who said they’d vote for the coalition back in August when Tony Abbott was its leader. This is considered an enormous swing.
Not everyone is swayed, of course by this change in leadership. Some people — notably Tony Abbott — insist that nothing has truly changed within the coalition. Malcolm Turnbull might be the new leader but the policies remain the same.
I disagree. And apparently, so do many, many other women. I see a leader of this country who is a champion for marriage equality and gender equality and climate change and an Australian republic. I see a leader who believes domestic violence is a cultural stain that needs to be identified and removed. I see a leader who made this issue a priority in his first days as Prime Minister.
Contrast that with a PM who thought his greatest achievement in almost two years as Minister For Women was repealing the carbon tax.
Coalition policies may remain the same but the attitude, the values and the leadership style of Malcolm Turnbull is patently different to his Liberal party predecessors.
There are many women who would never before have considered voting for the Coalition under leaders like John Howard and Tony Abbott, resolute social conservatives who seemed like they belonged to a far less modern era. No republic. No marriage equality. No understanding of technology. No care factor when it came to gender equality.
But with the socially progressive Malcolm Turnbull in charge, the game has changed and for many women, so have their votes.
Let’s hope Canberra is listening. State governments, too. The power of women to influence the outcome of elections and make or break leaders has been woefully underestimated. Until now.
Women are hugely influential politically for one simple reason: women love to communicate. In person and on social media. All the time. About everything. While men are silent lurkers on Facebook, women are incessantly commenting, sharing, liking, posting.
And they’re not just posting photos of their kids or their shoes, as some dinosaurs stupidly assume – to their peril. Women are hugely engaged in politics, particularly online. Since Mamamia first began, eight years ago, political posts have consistently been among the most popular subjects we cover.
While Julia Gillard was derided by old media men who accused her of courting “mummy bloggers” (the term they use to describe any woman with broadband and a uterus), Gillard – and Rudd – understood that women online (ie: all women) are actually called “voters”. And they are massively influential.
When Tony Abbott was first elected opposition leader, he briefly seemed to get this. He courted female journalists like me who spoke out against him, voicing our concerns that he had alarmingly outdated views on women and was influenced by Catholic ideology on issues like abortion, divorce and same-sex marriage. He loudly insisted this was not true and made concerted attempts to engage with critics and diffuse his ‘women problem’ by proposing a radical paid parental scheme, far more generous than anything ever contemplated by the ALP.
It was a smart strategy and for a time, it worked. It sharply divided his female critics who spent several years arguing amongst themselves about the merits of Abbotts PPL scheme before the policy predictably collapsed in a heap, kicked to death by his own party. Many believe this was always his plan and that it was simply a tactical way to deflect accusations of sexism.
Despite making numerous personal promises to me that he would agree to an interview after he became PM, it never happened despite requests made by our office every week for two years. I was told by those close to him leading up to the election that Abbott thought he had effectively neutralised his “women problem” and was fearful of reviving it by talking to a journalist from a women’s media organisation.
Clearly seeing no value in engaging with women’s media after appointing himself the Minister for Women because why would you, Abbott continued along his repetitive goat-track cycle of media interviews with conservative old white men throwing in the occasional Kyle & Jackie O interview for the young ‘uns.
It was a foolish strategy and one that backfired spectacularly. There were many, many voters who turned away from Abbott and the Coalition during his Prime Ministership and it’s becoming increasingly clear this charge was led by women. Female voters recoiled from Abbott in poll after poll.
And now women have done a U-turn the moment Malcolm Turnbull replaced him as PM.
It turns out there’s a huge number of female voters who aren’t against the Coalition, they just didn’t like Tony Abbott, and that was enough to make them look to the ALP or even the Greens.
So why are women responding so favourably to Turnbull? In the weeks since taking office, the new Prime Minister has doubled the number of women in cabinet and appointed Australia’s first female Defence Minister. He has also announced $100m in funding to go towards combatting domestic violence and spoken of our societal need to change attitudes towards women.
You can say these are mere optics. But even if you believe that, optics are undeniably important. The optics of an almost exclusively male cabinet under Tony Abbott? Terrible. The optics of a man who thought wheeling out his pretty daughters would cancel out any perception that he didn’t value women? Absurd. The optics of spending International Women’s Day with his all-male rural firefighting mates? Ridiculous.
Beyond optics, Malcolm Turnbull simply seems to embody far more modern values. Values that appeal to women. Even though he’s older than Abbott, Turnbull appears to be from a different generation.
Refreshingly, after the Abbott years, we finally have a Prime Minister who makes plain his views on where women fit into the world: right alongside men. And in large numbers, women are responding with the promise of their votes.
Who knows if this will stick. Who knows anything in Australian politics anymore. But it has conclusively proven that the power of the female voter should never be underestimated.