Scary stories from a lovely place
This week I have been in mourning. Each day I awake to a country with a new Government and Prime Minister, and not one that I like. It’s a Liberal (read: conservative) Government, headed by Tony Abbott. He’s sexist and rude and arrogant. So far, it’s grim, and we’re not 10 days in.
But of great concern to me about this man’s leadership, is his inate view of women; what he sees as our purpose, and how he respects us.
During the election Abbott described a colleague as having ‘sex appeal’. No mention of her education, community work or other credentials. As if that wasn’t demeaning enough, she laughed at his remark, further concretising the power relationship between them. Trying to dig his way out of that hole Abbott used his daughters to describe his comment as a ‘dad moment’, (because that doesn’t make it creepier), and then reinforced it by saying that the colleague ‘isn’t bad looking’. Pause for a moment and consider the furore if Julia Gillard had described a colleague in these terms.
Then, in an effort to dig his hole further to the centre of the earth, Abbott described himself as having two ‘not bad looking’ daughters. Whilst uttering these lovely words his daughters had their arms wrapped through his, shoulders bared for the world to enjoy.
The presence of Abbott’s daughters with him at various moments during the campaign was pretty sickening. Shouldn’t they have been at school or work, rather than hanging off their dad’s arm as some kind of lithe, tanned trophy? It’s wrong that he abandoned his protective parent role and shunted them in and out of the media spotlight. He’s still trying to make us all believe he’s a friend of women.
One must just look at Abbott’s policies to see this is not the case – many of them are injurious to women, like cutting the Federal Aid budget (women, and children, are the most affected by poverty the world over). But the policy that epitomises this is the Coalition’s Maternity Leave plan. Never mind that it’s middle class welfare. Forget that it plays into the education divide, ensuring that mothers on the highest incomes will get paid more to do the same thing as women on lower incomes (needless to say that those with no career get paid nothing). The problem is that it firmly locks the role of primary caregiver onto women. In no way does this move us any closer to properly sharing the care of children with their father. Rather, it confines us to managing this task alone. Not pursuing a career. Not earning an income. Not sharing the household duties.
In some ways, it’s kind of a surprise how much all of this angers me. I have a similar, conservative, religious history as Abbott. In my house we live out old school gender roles. My husband works, provides, protects. I cook, nourish, garden. I care for the children, all the live long day. Caring for kids full time isn’t a ‘job’. It’s a privilege and a joy and a delight. In our society it can feel poverty inducing, but so be it. There are never enough stories to be read, train tracks to be constructed or cuddles to be shared.
But, damn it, I also believe in the full equality of women with men. I firmly believe that we are as confident as men, as articulate, as competitive, as able, and that this transcends our appearance. This will be worked out differently for each woman, but, none of what Abbott says about women or implies through his behaviour is acceptable. It’s patronising, and degrading.