Targeting the Libs doesn’t give us a free ride

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The Libs are pretty bad when it comes to women. Is Labor any better?

Over the last few weeks, the misogyny and relentless negativity of Tony Abbott and the Opposition have been highlighted in the Australian media, spurred on by the ongoing offensiveness of Alan Jones and his shock jock lackeys.

Of course Tony Abbott should be pulled up for the fact he has minimal respect for women. How else to explain for his woefully outdated and sexist views on gender roles, abortion and women in public life?

But let’s not forget that misogyny and sexism aren’t necessarily traits exclusive to the Coalition. It would be fantastic for the Labor Party and other progressive groups to be immune from the unconscious and conscious poor treatment of women in political life. But it’s clear from last night’s Q&A that in the ALP we’ve still got a heck of a lot of work to do.

I followed some of the Twitter and Facebook comments after the show before watching it this morning. I had to prepare myself for the awfulness of it – anything involving Piers Akerman and Christopher Pyne forces me to do so.

I was appalled and infuriated by the treatment of Kate Ellis. It wasn’t shocking that it came from the two conservatives, but rather her former ministerial colleague and ‘star’ of the ALP Left, Lindsay Tanner.

Kate Ellis was sassy, forthright, straight to the point and respectful on Q&A. She kicked butt and left the male panellists floundering, highlighting Abbott’s anti-choice beliefs, being across the major policies of the government, and pulling up Akerman and Pyne for their defence of Alan Jones. I won’t even start on the fact that the only woman of colour on the panel was continually ignored for the whole evening, because that, quite rightly, is a whole other story. 

The frequent ‘hear hear’ coming from Akerman and Pyne about Tanner’s comments was revolting. Of course a bunch of straight white men enjoyed talking about ‘freedom of speech’ and that all political leaders are treated equally badly, regardless of gender. To them, they will never have to deal with the consequences of people being able to say whatever they want, no matter how horrific or disgusting the comments are; they aren’t the ‘second sex’, they aren’t of colour, or gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender, or living with a (dis)ability, or Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander.

So just what would would Tanner, Pyne and Akerman know about misogyny and sexism?

Nothing, obviously. But remember, they have an opinion and have a 'right' to be heard - which is obviously why Tanner and Pyne were rudely speaking and commenting while Ellis was trying to make her point. Not once, but several times.

While we as the main progressive political force in Australia should hold Tony Abbott and the Opposition to account for their continually poor standards of behaviour and policy regarding women and their rights, we still have much to do internally in the Labor Party (in both factions) to improve the ways in which women are treated.

Thankfully, though, we’re not starting from nothing. We are doing a bit better than the Libs with our phenomenal feminist leaders Julia Gillard, Penny Wong, Nicola Roxon, Tanya Plibersek, Kate Ellis, ACT Chief Minister Katy Gallagher and ALP National President Jenny McAllister (just to mention a few).

We also have other fabulous activists, such as Meredith Burgmann, creator of the ‘Ernies’ Awards, and Margaret Jones, a lifelong ALP member and feminist, who is having a documentary filmed about her life by another ALP member, Rose Tracey.

These are the women in political life who we should be celebrating, respecting, and most of all listening to their experiences, opinions and beliefs, instead of brushing them off because they’re women and seeing their contributions as afterthoughts, like all of the men did last night on the Q&A panel.

Until we improve on that, women will continue to be the ‘second sex’ in political life and we will be all the poorer as a party and in government.

Author: Elly Howse

Elly Howse is a former NSW Young Labor Assistant Secretary. Follow Elly on twitter: @ellmo_h


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