Women are the new black
27 July 2010
Australian political watchers (which should be us all by the way – voting is compulsory in this country) are apparently dissecting the women’s vote to see if having a female leader of a political party – who is also the prime minister – is a turn off or turn on. While the commentators chew on that one between sips of latte, it seems it’s widely accepted that Opposition Leader Tony Abbott is a turn off to women. His detractors say he is a ‘muscular’, Catholic father of three daughters who has made pronouncements on virginity (all for it) and abortion (against. Umm, he is a Catholic, why the surprise?) which ‘spook’ women. And he spends too much time in embarrassing lycra bike shorts, or brief bathing trunks in his pursuit of super fitness – which along with his job, keeps him away from his family. Even women in his own party bag him to me, often. They loathe him for what they consider his ‘anti woman’ stance. So poorTony – who I know and like – is reduced to reminding us that he loves women; he married one, is the father of three and the brother of another trio of women. He has a woman deputy and proclaims he is the ‘love child’ of Bronwyn Bishop – the Opposition spokeswoman on Ageing who was once herself a contender for the title of our first woman PM (many moons ago). He also introduced a very generous paid parenting leave policy. But it doesn’t wash with female voters, it seems.
So with Tony spiked on the women’s vote, journalists are writing columns devoted to gender attitudes to Julia Gillard (that would be women, actually). It reached new lows today when our national broadsheet, ‘The Australian’, devoted space to discussion about the Prime Minister’s ear lobes and why women had not noticed, as the writer had, that they are ‘fleshy’. Perhaps because the notion is irrelevant.
Pitching to the women’s vote has been a concern to the (mostly) male campaign managers who direct the Party leaders as they go about wooing every vote they can squeeze from every man and woman. Women though, are special to the campaign boffins. Apparently we think more about our votes, which is always a tricky component when you are trying to win favour. Here’s a hint then to Liberal Party campaign planners who have not got with the program. It is 2010, not 1910 or even 1990. Despite this being the era of parenting, with ‘families’ sacred and revered, constantly pointing out that Julia Gillard is unmarried and childless is, well, embarrassing. It invites the ‘so what?’ factor. It is a turn off because most of us accept that lifestyles have become more complex than the current labels allow. Families don’t all look alike – even amongst Sydney’s elite haven, and Liberal heartland – the north shore. Most of us believe that just because Julia Gillard and her Liberal Party sister, (Tony’s deputy) Julie Bishop are not married and ‘deliberately barren’ as one Liberal Party Senator once spat, doesn’t mean they are not part of a family or anti children. His constant ‘dog whistling’ about fecundity may be why some women are upset with Tony. Every time he uses his own marital and parenting status to undermine Julia, he alienates a large chunk of voters who find it offensive and silly.
Perhaps the reason the Polls are showing that women like Julia might be because she is of our time. She is not just a Prime Minister for women, or red heads for that matter (her neat point). She is smart, she is determined, she doesn’t use her gender to underline her points, she doesn’t need a hand bag to do her job or meet the voters, she hasn’t been shrill about glass ceilings and overcoming sexism (which she undoubtably is still doing). Julia has just got on with doing her job well. Just like the rest of us. And another few trivial matters I think also work in her favour, which the earlobe obsessed writers might take note of: She does not exploit her ‘femaleness’. She is not the sexiest-looking woman in the room, nor the least attractive woman in the room. She has good hair days and bad hair days. She has some nice outfits, and some real shockers. She has achieved, yet clearly had some personal ups and downs. She doesn’t complain or get bogged down with the trivial. In short, she is like us.