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The short-lived feminism of Tony Abbott

October 10, 2012

By Rob Brooks, University of New South Wales

I couldn’t help but be captivated by Prime Minister Gillard’s speech against the motion to remove Peter Slipper as Speaker of the Federal Parliament yesterday. Like the majority of people I tend to follow on social media, I was thrilled to see the Prime Minister speaking from the heart about sexism.

Having watched Christopher Pyne’s sexist treatment of Kate Ellis on Q&A on Monday (see Ben Pobjie’s excellent analysis), I couldn’t decide whether to watch Abbott or Pyne as the Prime Minister handed them their medicine.

This wasn’t quite Cicero denouncing Catiline in the senate. Not least because of the pathetic sordidness of the Peter Slipper affair. And commentators who followed the full day’s incendiary proceedings have a less glowing assessment of the speech’s impact than those of us who saw only the speech itself.

But what excited me, and no doubt animated the video’s viral spread, is the way in which the Prime Minister stood up to Tony Abbott’s aggressive, bullying political style.

Much has been made of Abbott’s so-called “problem with women”. I have no knowledge of how he personally relates to women. But with the way in which he has conducted himself as opposition leader, he has earned the public perception that he has a problem with women, especially women in authority.

He wields his robust aggression so effectively in trying to dislodge and disrupt the government. But now that it is harming his standing with voters, he’s suddenly attempted to remake himself as a feminist. Last week Abbott’s wife, Margie, stepped up to rebut the idea he’s on “some kind of anti-women crusade”. She even went so far as to call him a feminist.

Yesterday, when he got the chance he has been begging for, to move that Peter Slipper be removed as speaker, he made his case on the basis of Slipper’s gross sexism. Suddenly, when the polls start telling him that his perceived sexism is costing him votes, Abbott reveals that he’s a feminist. The last time I was so surprised at a coming-out was when the Insane Clown Posse announced they were actually evangelical Christians.

Abbott’s is the kind of clumsy “re-branding” that only a PR zombie who has never actually met a real voter could have dreamed up. Nobody builds feminist cred overnight. Having a wife and three daughters doesn’t confer it. Especially when Abbott admits to having told his daughters that their virginity is “the most precious gift” they could give someone.

Perhaps, as some regular readers of this column like to point out, I read too much sex, gender and reproduction into modern affairs. Perhaps I should stick to thinking about sexual conflict in other animals.

But then I look at politicians like Tony Abbott and Cory Bernardi here in Australia, and Todd Akin and Paul Ryan in the USA, and I cannot help but see the narrow reproductive self-interest that permeates so much of their politics.

If you talk and behave like a man who has never given a moment’s thought to what it is like to live as a woman, then the best you can hope for is to represent other men who have given just as little thought to what life is like for their daughters and wives (should they be so lucky).

And if you speak and think like someone who has never considered what it is like to be gay, then don’t act surprised when gay people actively oppose your re-election.

And if, like Alan Jones, you make your considerable living giving a life-like rendition of a bully who exploits their listener’s self-interest, then don’t whinge about cyber-bullying when the public push back at you.

I grow ever more convinced – although I don’t have the evidence for this yet – that women and men each inherit a kind of gendered myopia that makes it difficult to empathise completely with members of the opposite sex. Which makes it genuinely difficult for us to truly understand one another. Abbott, Jones and the like have built their careers catering to men who’ve spent their lives not thinking deeply about the lives their daughters and wives lead, or would like to lead.

If Tony Abbott wants to undo his damaged reputation with women, he needs to start in the right place. Simply calling yourself a feminist will only lead to more trouble.

Which is one of the reasons I so enjoyed the Prime Minister’s speech. She called Abbott on his rank hypocrisy in trying to paint himself as a feminist when it suddenly became expedient to do so. And, as Anthony Sharwood put it at The Punch, Tony Abbott “got owned”.

Rob Brooks does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

The Conversation

This article was originally published at The Conversation.

Read the original article.

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22 Comments leave one →
  1. Rebecca permalink
    October 10, 2012 2:01 pm

    Love it!

  2. October 10, 2012 2:36 pm

    Gillard gave Abbott exactly what he deserves — a good tongue lashing! And she was right on the money as to his nature — sexist and nasty!

  3. el gordo permalink
    October 10, 2012 2:50 pm

    I’ll give her credit, the PM is good at pulling a rabbit out of a hat.

  4. Ol' Sancty permalink
    October 10, 2012 2:59 pm

    I wonder if Brooks knows that Abbott never gave that advice to his daughters, and never said that he did. That Brooks doesn’t know that, yet bases so much of his reasoning around that, says plenty.

  5. Tony permalink
    October 10, 2012 3:03 pm

    This is Ben Pobjie’s example (referred to in the post above) of sexism by Christopher Pyne on Q&A on Monday night. Pyne was interrupting while Kate Ellis was speaking. If Pyne had been interrupting a male such behaviour would have been referred to as rudeness. But because Kate Ellis is a woman it’s now called sexism, apparently. It seems to me that such misuse of the term can only serve to dilute its meaning, weakening its effect when actual cases of sexism are pointed out.

  6. Tony permalink
    October 10, 2012 3:05 pm

    Correction: But because Kate Ellis is a Labor woman . . .

  7. TB Queensland permalink
    October 10, 2012 3:20 pm

    She called Abbott on his rank hypocrisy in trying to paint himself as a feminist when it suddenly became expedient to do so

    … and the one thing that hasn’t been mentioned, is Abbott’s public demonstration of insensitivity, or stupidity or plain nastiness (or all of the above) … none of the characteristics wanted in a “wannabe” PM …

    and I quote … “… this government who should have died of shame …”

    And if that wasn’t a direct personal taunt at the PM … then you will vote for a shallow little man like Tony Abbott … and nothing you read, see or hear will chnage that …

    =====================================================

    I wonder if Brooks knows that Abbott never gave that advice to his daughters, and never said that he did …

    But he did …

    But Mr Abbott confessed today his daughters have told him to keep his lifestyle advice on sex and drugs to himself, saying they’ve told him “Dad, you did all of those things … and I did”.

    http://www.heraldsun.com.au/news/womens-virginity-a-precious-gift-says-opposition-leader-tony-abbott/story-e6frf7jo-1225823430036

    And as your right wing colleagues keep blurbing repetitive BS even when found to be false know … mud sticks … suck it up princess …

    Winter is coming!

  8. Tony permalink
    October 10, 2012 3:20 pm

    Then again, the left invented the concept of sexism, so it’s only fair they get to define it.

  9. Ol' Sancty permalink
    October 10, 2012 3:28 pm

    TB, I don’t think what you’ve quoted means what you think it means.

  10. Ol' Sancty permalink
    October 10, 2012 3:30 pm

    And if that wasn’t a direct personal taunt at the PM … then you will vote for a shallow little man like Tony Abbott … and nothing you read, see or hear will chnage that …

    Was it a personal insult the other dozen times he used the expression prior to Mr Gillard’s death?

  11. Tom of Melbourne permalink
    October 10, 2012 3:42 pm

    I followed up on the “wives are prostitutes” statement that Ackerman attributed to Gillard.

    Back before Gillard was the world’s oldest “young & naïve” professional woman, she honed her “young & naïve” skills by being President of the Australian Union of Students.

    During her term she apparently endorsed a policy that involved a definition of prostitution. It said something like – “prostitution takes many forms… including marrying and having sex in exchange for love, security, money…”

    That’s a nice reflection on married women.

    If only she had told this to Craig Thomson, he could have stayed at home, and saved the HSU all that money.

  12. Ol' Sancty permalink
    October 10, 2012 3:58 pm

    6 April 1984. The Australian. Page 7. Apparently.

  13. armchair opinionator permalink
    October 10, 2012 5:56 pm

    Gone is the turned cheek: Gillard as we’ve rarely seen her:

    http://www.abc.net.au/unleashed/4305728.html

    …Only in Canberra, it seems, did her words fall on sceptical and tone-deaf ears. Only in Canberra was Gillard’s assault on the Opposition Leader’s behaviour towards her portrayed – somehow, incredibly – as either a defence of Peter Slipper or a failure to attack him. Only in Canberra was a vote against the motion to dismiss the Speaker of the House seen as supporting sexism rather than upholding the separation of powers as outlined in the Constitution…

    … Here, finally, was a powerful woman speaking out against the sexism and misogyny that so many of us have to deal with…

    correction to the article above, it should be:

    Having watched Christopher Pyne, Linday Tanner and Piers Ackerman’s sexist treatment of Kate Ellis on Q&A on Monday.

    Then again, the left invented the concept of sexism, so it’s only fair they get to define it.

    I’m intrigued, your repeated criticisms of ‘the left” imply that you identify with the right, so let’s be hearing no more of this ‘socially progressive’ line you run as anything goes for an individual, or are you confused about your own identity?

    “prostitution takes many forms… including marrying and having sex in exchange for love, security, money…”
    That’s a nice reflection on married women.

    Isn’t that the bargain that is struck by all married people, male & female? Why bother otherwise. It is a reflection on marriage, not women. Take out the sentimentality, the romantic delusions and that describes marriage well.

    Why is it that marriage is romanticised so? Could it be so that society will willingly submit themselves to it? [a bit like the romantic glorification of war, to shield the reality of other peoples sons and daughters being expected to sacrifice their lives for the desires of powerful men].

    Women wouldn’t feel a need to get married at all if they enjoyed equal wages, status and opportunity, oops, is that the problem?

  14. October 10, 2012 5:58 pm

    “And if that wasn’t a direct personal taunt at the PM … then you will vote for a shallow little man like Tony Abbott … and nothing you read, see or hear will chnage that ..

    Exactly TB…. Snacty and Tosy are so besotted with their “righteous” leader that they are incapable of any objective criticism…

    So much so that it compels them to utter this sort of ridiculous drivel…

    “the left invented the concept of sexism, so it’s only fair they get to define it….

  15. October 10, 2012 6:01 pm

    It’s like….

    “What if all this political correctness is all a big hoax and we create a better society for nothing?”

  16. armchair opinionator permalink
    October 10, 2012 6:15 pm

    Women wouldn’t feel a need to get married at all if they enjoyed equal wages, status and opportunity, oops, is that the problem?

    correction of self:

    Women might be a lot more picky about who they marry if they enjoyed equal wages, status and opportunity, oops, is that the problem?

  17. 2DT Shock Jock permalink
    October 10, 2012 11:18 pm

    Here you go Mr Tom R I thought I should assist

    You should be able to find all those old references to violence here by another by using this.
    I’m sure you don’t like to keep anyone waiting. So get to it

    http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wayback_machine

  18. October 11, 2012 12:05 am

    On QandaLand Mr-Toad quoted Joolyas
    ” prostitution takes many forms… including marrying and having sex in exchange for love, security, money ”
    because Mr-Toad knows Lefty cannot let this slide.
    .
    The QandaLand audience, made up of young duopoly wannabees from UTS, boo or hiss on cue, depending on their flavor, thus churning thru more air-time minutes. This is basic R-wing tactics Mr-Toad deploys, just as all the R-wing TROLLS Panel Guests from Limited News use.

  19. October 12, 2012 8:08 am

    Limited-News Daily TerrorGraph does not spell out the credlin/abbott joke, just says `offensive slurs` .. Armchair
    http://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/news/offensive-joke-about-opposition-leader-tony-abbotts-female-chief-of-staff-peta-credlin/story-e6freuy9-1226493508206

  20. October 12, 2012 8:14 am

    Nooze site, not repeated either *credlin
    http://www.news.com.au/breaking-news/national/abbott-staffer-target-of-offensive-slurs/story-e6frfku9-1226493582018
    Mr-Rabbit is Credlins joke any-hoo.

  21. October 12, 2012 8:20 am

    pass on my disappointment to the comedian for making remarks that I think, if they were reported, would be distressing to the family of the leader of the opposition.”
    still not quoted *credlin smh
    http://news.smh.com.au/breaking-news-national/offensive-abbott-joke-falls-flat-20121011-27exz.html

  22. October 12, 2012 8:55 am

    The comedian hired by the CFMEU to perform on Wednesday night, “Allan Billison”, joked that Mr Abbott and Ms Credlin were having a relationship. Both are married. The remarks left the room silent, according to Labor MPs. *credlin afr
    http://afr.com/p/national/labor_sexists_and_militants_dine_ukkxGbCA0dZa65RMqmZjBI

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