womenfeature

Why I’m Voting For My Vagina

This week, we ran a series called ‘Why I’m Voting‘, in which five politically-minded writers, representing five different parties, tried to convince readers in 1000 words to vote their way.

We kept the call-out open for as long as possible, but had no women respond to it — meaning all five columnists were men. A reader emailed us on Wednesday afternoon, disappointed with the lack of female voices through the columns. So we asked her to write her own.

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My earliest political memory is of Tony Abbott delivering a speech while he was Minister for Health back in 2004, in which he infamously characterised abortion as the “easy way out”. I was 15. I hadn’t learnt about Germaine Greer or second wave feminism, and I don’t think I knew which side I really stood on when it came to parties, but I knew I didn’t agree with that statement, and I knew I didn’t like the guy who made it.

You can imagine – and you may even share — my indignation when I’m faced with the possibility that he will be Prime Minister. What the hell is going on here? Along with my disquiet over his proposed cuts to education and the Australian public service, his blatant disregard for our environment, and his horrific immigration policy, I am utterly bewildered by and scared of what a Tony Abbott government will  mean for women — and for people who just, you know, know women.

“What the housewives of Australia need to understand as they do the ironing is that if they get it done commercially it’s going to go up in price, and their own power bills when they switch the iron on, are going to go up.” — Tony Abbott, press conference, 2010

Who let this happen? Where is the death by media, or the concerned numbers analyst suggesting that running with outdated, inequitable and frankly economically impossible views on more than half the population might not be such a good idea? In spite of our political differences, there are Liberal Party voters and members I know and respect who also think this guy is a kook — so I’m baffled that he’s still around.

To judge Abbott for something said back then may seem a little petty; ten years ago I typed dribble into MSN messenger and exclaimed “I hate olives” — what the hell was I thinking? But Abbott hasn’t changed his tune much at all; the only difference now is that he’s been given more power, and more speaking opportunities. Including this one, and this one, and this one.

People say that, given the way our democracy works, we shouldn’t just be focusing on the party leaders — but I don’t trust a party that votes in a man with such a strong history of sexist postulating any more than I trust the man himself. Even looking at the broader spread, a Coalition cabinet is likely to only include one — at best two — women. (One of whom is still being discussed in terms of her “tan runners body“. Well done, Australian media; leaps and bounds.) The current cabinet may have just ousted its highest-ranking woman, but there are still six left in there. Of course, you want it to be less about the numbers game and more about tangible change, but how will we get there if we’re still fighting for a seat in the boy’s club, soon to be run by the biggest boy of all?

“I think it would be folly to expect that women will ever dominate or even approach equal representation in a large number of areas simply because their aptitudes, abilities and interests are different for physiological reasons.” — Tony Abbott, Four Corners, 2010

Let’s not forget that there are women who enjoy his company and think he’s great — as Abbott himself has been eager to point out over and over and over again. Cue the wife — legally bound to him, voluntarily! — and the smiling daughters.

But having other people say you are A-OK with women falls woefully short of actually being A-OK with women. Being recommended to run  the country is different to a testimonial about a potential housemate, or a diner review on yelp. I don’t want someone else to tell me you’re okay with me having control over my uterus; I want you to implement policies that give me control over my uterus. Instead, you’re not-so-infrequently spouting sexist bullshit, and actively denying support to single mothers who didn’t take that “easy way out”.

The sexist gaffes and inappropriate comments speak volumes of the man, but they’re obscuring actual discussions and issues about gender. We are so busy hanging our heads in shame or throwing our hands up in the air that no one is sitting down and actually talking about the nuances of gender in politics. We have become numb to blatant sexism, to the point where higher standards are placed on footballers than on political leaders.

I want a national discussion about the pay and superannuation disparities, about contraception, and FINALLY about the decriminalisation of abortion. But we’re not going to get it if Abbott is in the mix. The Coalition needs more than a light-bulb vote-buy moment, like their comparatively progressive paid parental leave scheme; they need long-term commitment when implementation becomes difficult, and they need stronger foundations of gender equality. But going by their track record, it just won’t happen.

“I think there does need to be give and take on both sides, and this idea that sex is kind of a woman’s right to absolutely withhold, just as the idea that sex is a man’s right to demand I think they are both they both need to be moderated, so to speak.” — Tony Abbott, Q&A2009

Batting against such weak gender policies has made the ALP lazy in their approach, too. It’s easy to look like you have a better stance on women when all you’re fighting against is gaffes and outdated ideas — and as we’ve seen with Labor’s refugee policy, it’s easier still to just beat them at their own game. It’s more work to actually create something progressive, that will push the Coalition up into another league. So why bother?

A speech against misogyny is great, but if Abbott’s sexist behaviour was brought to any other workplace in Australia, it would be grounds for dismissal. Instead, the only woman who actually stood up to it — and got internationally applauded for doing so — was booted out by her own party.  What message is being sent?

People cringe at the “gender card”, and the tendency for Abbott’s opponents to call out sexism rather than looking at the whole picture. Believe me, I wish we didn’t have to discuss sexism in political journalism, or in politics itself. I’d like a base level of respect and equality from which to question and criticise other aspects of political agendas. I disagree with the Coalition’s stance on climate change (denial), equal marriage (denial), and the economy (ugh). But I also think that my Liberal counterparts deserve a leader who at least acknowledges their equal rights, and exuberantly and publicly commends their intellect and guts, no sex appeal required or even considered. It’s about raising the bar across the board.

I don’t want him to win (obviously), but more than that I would like a message sent loud and clear that in Australia, in 2013, it is utterly unacceptable for any political party to put forward a leader who has had such a consistently backwards view of women. Women on all sides of the political spectrum deserve someone who will protect their rights.

I want the only box that matters to be the ballot box — but I just can’t do that if I am worried about the rights of my own.

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Brigid Dixon is not a writer. Nor is she a pâtissier or a lawyer, but she makes a mean caramel slice and writes scary letters to Real Estate agents. She doesn’t believe you need a vagina to identify as a woman. 

  • Harry Wynter

    !! brilliant.

  • Alex Hinds

    Nice piece Brig.

  • Hugh Robertson

    Bravo.

  • Alex Mullins

    Preach sister!

  • Nathan Jolly

    Brigid, write more please.

  • Susan Miller

    Vote Green!

  • Bored

    Brigid Dixon is, in fact, a writer, regardless of whether or not she is paid…

  • freedom of choice

    These were the exact points I was trying to make to a co-worker last week into which she replied “i happen to be very good friends with Tony and his wife and daughters are lovely.” whyyyyyyyyyyyyy. Why are there still women out there who just don’t get it. Its too bad I’m a foreigner and can’t vote, but she can. :( Great article.

  • Wardybob

    Whilst I agree with the majority of what you have written here I feel it important to make my own points. Firstly, while I despise sexist behaviour and firmly believe all people are equal regardless of gender it is also apparent that sexual discrimination is so broad that it limits free speech and in some cases intelligent conversation. For example; less than 50% of all Australian women having a university degree remain employed after their first child according to ABS. Now one could say ”Women are responsible mothers that will sacrifice their careers to raise their children” or one could say ” It is a waste of tax payer funds educating women” Whilst the later is in fact an accurate observation of the facts, it is also demeaning and argumentative. However we are running a country and not a popularity contest, so whilst I would not exactly put it in the form of the later statement, I would in fact recommend that more positions are made available for males than females in our universities to create a greater return on investment for the Australian tax dollar. I also agree with same sex marriages as a wedding is supposed to be about the celebration of love between two PEOPLE, the right for any person to be considered for any position based on their ability and knowledge and not their gender or race, and most importantly the need for all politicians to be held accountable for their actions in the same regard as any other Australian citizen. In particular, Julia Gillard’s promise to the Australian voters ”There will be no carbon tax under a government I lead” was the exact reason you received enough votes to afford her the opportunity to gain the top job with a financial benefit. The fact that she reneged on that promise, makes that Fraud to anyone else and specifically financial gain by deception. But was she charged? No, in fact what scares me the most is that a politician defrauding the Australian public with their lies and innuendo has become acceptable and we simply vote for the one that tells the least lies. When did the Australian public become so relaxed on basic morals? As for legal abortions, I am afraid the jury is out on that one for me. I can most definitely see both sides of the argument. A father, whilst not being impregnated and not at risk of physical alterations, is still a gene contributor to the foetus and in such is entitled to a say in what happens to it. However, a rapist does not!!!!!!! I also do not support baby bonus payments or single parent payments under the current system. I believe they need to be reformed and in particular granted on merits. Under the current system, whilst there certainly are deserving single parents, there is also room for abuse of the system. On the former, if you can’t afford to bring a child into the world and nee to rely on a baby bonus to supply necessities for that child, then don’t have one. I would also like to point out that in fact the highest ranking woman in Australia is of course Quentin Bryce, our Governor General, and she is possibly the biggest supporter of equal rights for women, and has the power and ability to remove a Prime Minister just as the previous GG did with the Whitlam Government in favour of the Fraser Government. I doubt she would though, as a move to replace a Prime Minister based on sexual discrimination would be severely judged by the many sexist men in politics and the media and would put the women’s movement back 100 years in Australia. A fact I am sure she is (unfairly) considerate of when making any decisions in her role.

  • Yo

    Evidently, the majority of your countrymen aren’t as enthusiastic about destroying your country as you are. You voted for your vag, and they voted for sanity. Ergo, Mr. Abbott is now your Prime Minister.

    Australia has gotten both its balls and more importantly, its brains back.