I can remember sitting in an undergrad Political Sociology lecture in 1991 and hearing the acerbic Lecturer authoritatively state “Women in politics are only suited to nurturing roles, like Minister for Families or Social Welfare”. I piped up, “What about Joan Kirner and Carmen Lawrence?”. The put-down was “I’m talking about Federal politics” – you have to imagine the sneer in the word Federal, as if State politics was ok for the ladies, but Federal Politics was, well, Serious Men’s Business.
The Australian today reports on Cabinet’s closing down of the ‘abortion debate’. The report says:
It is understood that Communications Minister Helen Coonan and Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone were particularly strident in their support for the Government’s current approach on abortion.
Other senior ministers, including Treasurer Peter Costello and Foreign Minister Alexander Downer, also weighed into the debate, amid concerns it was distracting the Government as parliament resumed.
So the women were “particularly strident” (why not “forceful” for instance?) while the men muscle up and “weigh in”.
Alison Rogers, former media advisor to Natasha Stott Despoja, has just published The Natasha Factor. Subtitled “Politics, Media and Betrayal”, Rogers’ book discusses (among other things) the pressure from the press corps to induce the Senator to walk along the beach in a revealing outfit in order to get any publicity for the Democrats’ policy of the day in the 2001 election. One could also compare the praise given by the media to the youth of John Brogden and Lawrence Springborg as NSW and Qld Opposition Leaders with the very different portrayal of Stott Despoja’s age when she led the Democrats.
Not to mention Cheryl and her boa… oh, and why her affair with Gareth Evans was in Laurie Oakes’ mind, of public interest. Or the number of media mentions of the new Labor MP for Adelaide, Kate Ellis, which refer not to her position on refugee rights but to her good looks.
When will women in politics be judged solely on their political acumen, policy positions and achievements? Not any time soon, I suspect, unfortunately.