Credlin’s feminist posturing rings hollow

Credlin’s feminist posturing rings hollow

Regrettably, it’s standard operating procedure in politics, business and the media to respond to criticism by trying to destroy the credibility of the critic. Attack is almost always considered the best form of defence — just ask Gillian Triggs.

So it should come as no surprise that only days after Abbott proxy Peta Credlin was essentially accused of undermining another Liberal woman, Credlin in turn lashed out at PM Malcolm Turnbull with the claim that female Liberal supporters were deserting him.

Interestingly, Credlin used the Australian Election Study (AES), the nation’s only longitudinal survey of voters, to justify her claims. The AES is an imperfect tool — as are all surveys — with one of its limitations being that its data is collected straight after each federal election, when the news media is brimming with post-fact analysis and attempts by political players to frame the outcome in their favour.

According to Credlin’s interpretation of the most recent AES, which shows a lower proportion of women saying they voted for the Coalition in 2016 than 2013, Malcolm Turnbull has a worse “women problem” than Tony Abbott.

There could be many reasons for the drop in female voter support for the Coalition under Turnbull, not the least of which is the national trend of women moving away from the Coalition since the days of John Howard, and which is in line with the global trend of women moving away from right-of-centre parties.

Then there’s the fact that Turnbull has proven to be the most disappointing prime minister since Kevin Rudd — perhaps even more so.

Whatever the reason for the Coalition falling out with women, it suited Credlin to emphasise the change to deflect criticism of her being involved in a challenge against cabinet minister and new mother, Kelly O’Dwyer.

Credlin works hard to cultivate the impression that she’s an advocate and supporter of the advancement of women. So it was a very bad look for her to be associated — even if it was only in name — with a plot to bring down O’Dwyer.

The women Credlin did support during her time with Abbott, in the workplace and in the media, are steadfastly loyal. And Credlin reportedly repaid that loyalty with patronage. She was known to provide favoured female journalists with click-worthy leaks and exclusive stories, and over-rule ministers to appoint her own female friends and supporters to ministerial offices.

However, there’s another cohort of women whose careers Credlin thwarted during her time in Abbott’s office. One doesn’t have to look too far to find the stories of female Coalition staffers whose appointments or promotions were blocked by Credlin, as well as those who clashed with her, only to suddenly go on leave and then quietly disappear altogether.

And then there are the female MPs, who, under Credlin and Abbott, were not “good enough” for the junior ministry or cabinet, but who miraculously qualified for promotion once Turnbull became PM.

Even the women who managed to get into Abbott’s ministry were reportedly given rough treatment by Abbott’s gatekeeper. One well-connected female journalist wrote that Credlin’s relationship with Julie Bishop was “toxic”, and that “younger women, including Victorian Liberal frontbencher Kelly O’Dwyer, seemed to spend years in the deep freeze”.

Credlin also demanded the sacking of a female journalist who was close to O’Dwyer, for having the temerity to write that the chief of staff had snubbed Julie Bishop by not inviting her to the launch of a mentoring program for female Liberal staffers.

The genesis of the mentoring scheme also points to the mixed feelings women had about Credlin during her time with Abbott. Credlin reportedly created the support program for conservative women after noting “the sisterhood” failed to come to her defence when Clive Palmer launched a sexist attack against her. (For the record, this writer was one of several women who did criticise Palmer for the attack.)

As is often the case with Credlin, there were different views as to whether this was the real reason for her starting the scheme. She may have also been attempting to address Abbott’s “women problem” by cultivating female staffers, or perhaps even trying to build a network of supporters to kickstart her own political career.

We’ll never know for sure, given the mentoring program barely lasted a year after the man who launched it — then-minister for women Tony Abbott — was removed from the Liberal leadership by his colleagues.

Speaking of Tony Abbott, the vengeful former PM obviously didn’t get the memo that he was meant to take the high moral ground on women this week. Credlin may have been more interested in settling scores with the Turnbull camp over the alleged O’Dwyer smear, but Abbott was busy repelling women voters by dog-whistling to the MRA-types who’ve shifted to One Nation.

Abbott used his new fortnightly slot with tabloid radio host Ray Hadley to take another whack at the Human Rights Commission, which would be scrapped under Abbott’s five-point plan to make the Coalition Great Again.

This time, Abbott took aim at the Turnbull-appointed Sex Discrimination Commissioner who’d proposed the government could help to promote women in the workforce by requiring “contracted organisations to demonstrate efforts to improve gender balance, with an ultimate goal of reaching a 40:40:20 gender balance”.

According to Abbott, proposals such as this were PC rubbish and “anti men”. The former PM apparently forgot his own administration retained the previous Labor government’s 40:40:20 policy (40% men, 40% women and 20% unspecified “to allow for flexibility”) for women on government boards, although it seems to have only paid lip service to the policy given the proportion of women on government boards dropped under Abbott’s watch.

That situation was reversed under Malcolm Turnbull and his cabinet-level Minister for Women Michaelia Cash who also strengthened the policy to 50:50 across all government boards with a minimum of 40% women for each board.

Unsurprisingly, Credlin dropped the “women’s problem” line of attack against Turnbull after Abbott flaunted his unreconstructed chauvinism to lure male voters away from Pauline Hanson.

She’s already framing the next battle with the Turnbull camp, suggesting Scott Morrison’s “good debt/bad debt” approach makes the government look “dodgy”.

Originally published at Crikey.

Time to start blogging again

I was showing someone my blog yesterday and was mortified to realise I don’t post much any more, other than links to my columns and posts that are published elsewhere. This has made my blog a pretty boring place to visit.

Today I’ve decided to rectify this with at least a semi-regular commentary on my week (or so) in politics including published pieces and observations of the discussions that followed, particularly on Twitter.

Continue reading “Time to start blogging again”

‘Left-splaining’ to Bishop misses the point

Australian fashion magazine Harper’s Bazaar has reportedly awarded Foreign Minister Julie Bishop the title “Woman of the Year”. In doing so, the fashionista’s bible has kicked the barely contained hornets’ nest that is the feminist movement’s need for the label to be embraced by all women.

Excerpts of the magazine’s interview with Bishop, released to publicise the edition before it arrives in newsstands and on iPads, emphasise the Cabinet minister’s refusal (again) to describe herself as a feminist.

“Stop whingeing, get on with it and prove them all wrong,” Bishop is quoted as saying. In what has already been latched upon as criticism of former Prime Minister Julia Gillard, Bishop is also said to exhort: “Please do not let it get to you and do not become a victim, because it’s only a downward spiral once you’ve cast yourself as a victim.”

Such advice will likely kick off another round of condemnatory opinion pieces from the stable of fine Australian female writers who are proud to call themselves feminists. Just as they did after Bishop made similar statements to the National Press Club last month, feminists will imply Bishop’s rejection of the label equates with rejection of the movement and refusal to recognise what it has achieved.

The problem with these analyses is that none of the writers can possibly know what a “woman of the right” thinks about feminism. This is because self-proclaimed feminists almost universally have a progressive point of view and have little understanding (or acceptance) of how conservative or other right-of-centre values may influence the thinking of other women.

Just as a man trying to explain feminism is often dismissed as “mansplaining” because of the clear disconnect between the perspectives of men from women, it’s time we started calling out “left-splaining” when it comes to progressives telling us what women of the right think about feminism and the advancement of women.

Bishop’s comments about “getting on with it” and “proving them wrong” is grounded very much in the individualism that is part of the Liberals’ ethos: the power of the individual, the merit of hard work in the pursuit of excellence, and the right of those who’ve worked hard to enjoy the profits of their endeavours. This philosophy emphasises every individual’s responsibility to do the very best we can, and if we fail it’s not society’s fault but due to our own limitations – be they in capability or effort.

Bishop’s acceptance of this individual responsibility was evident in her comments to the National Press Club:

For me I refuse to acknowledge [the glass ceiling]. I’m not saying it doesn’t exist. But the approach I’ve taken is that if I want something I’ll work hard and set my mind to it and if it comes off that’s great. If it doesn’t I’m not going to blame the fact I’m a woman. I’m not going to look at life through the prism of gender.

The extension of this philosophy is the refusal to use gender as an excuse for one’s lack of success or failure, or to become a “victim” of one’s gender.

Accordingly, Bishop accused Gillard at the National Press Club of “turning herself into a victim” rather than accepting that “she was judged by her competence and that’s where she was found wanting”.

It could be a mistake however to jump to the conclusion that a similar quote provided by Harper’s Bazaar is Bishop having another go at Gillard. In saying “Please do not let it get to you and do not become a victim, because it’s only a downward spiral once you’ve cast yourself as a victim,” Bishop could well have been exhorting women generally not to hobble themselves by accepting they’re handicapped by gender.

The flaw in this logic of course is that no matter how hard women strive, no matter how smart or what levels of excellence they achieve, there are still societal barriers preventing many women from achieving equity in pay or recognition let alone the levels of success envisioned by Bishop.

This is the nub of the disagreement between women of the left and women of the right over what should be done to progress the advancement of women. In the most basic terms, women of the left see the need for society to be changed, whereas women of the right see it as a matter of individual endeavour.

And without left and the right recognising and finding ways to accommodate these different perspectives, real progress will never be sustained.

It’s all very well in these days of fractured political philosophies and the rise of the anti-politician to say that left and right are no longer useful ways of grouping what people think. But when it comes to discussion of feminism, these labels are still a useful guide to the differences of opinion.

Women of the right are just as committed to the advancement of women as their sisters on the left. Women of the right are mothers too, and they want to see their daughters have prosperous and fulfilling lives. These women don’t reject the principles of feminism – equality and the advancement of women – but they see them being achieved in different ways. If that view is flawed, yelling at them to take on the feminist mantle will not correct it.

Perhaps the actual underlying concern for feminists is not that women of the right won’t accept the feminist label, but that they are disinclined to recognise the role of the feminist cause in what has been achieved so far. The union movement would be similarly disappointed in the lack of acknowledgement that it gets for having delivered improvements in pay and workplace conditions over the decades.

If that is indeed the root cause of the call for women of the right to embrace the label, then the feminist movement has lost its way.

Surely the advancement of women is an important enough issue for the need for accolades to be set aside. The only way forward is for women of the left to find a way to bring women of the right into the fold to work together on ending discrimination against women.

Some of those women will be the CEOs, board directors, and MPs of tomorrow. Only with their acceptance of the real need to address gender inequality, and knowledge of how to do it, will the task ever be complete.

Equality these days means having to take abuse too

Burning effigy of PM John Howard, Nat Library of Aust

Do feminists want equality for women or not? If they do, then they need to accept that any person who holds the office of Prime Minister will sometimes be described in extremely offensive terms.

Honestly, is calling John Howard a cunt any less offensive than calling Julia Gillard a cow? Is the placard wielded at one rally depicting Gillard as Bob Brown’s bitch any more hateful than the burning of John Howard’s effigy at another?

No, they’re not. I don’t buy the line that the use of a gender-based epithet somehow magnifies the injury intended upon the recipient. As I’ve written before:

While the words of protest and criticism levelled at Julia Gillard are disrespectful and even abhorrent, they’re not the first to be used against an unpopular Prime Minister. In the battle of words and thoughts that is politics, people often throw the first epithet that comes to hand. The fact that some of this abuse is gender-based doesn’t make it sexism.

While a woman might be called a bitch, a man could be called a prick. Either could be called a fuckwit. The gender of a word does not invest it with any more hate than another. In fact, some female terms of abuse can apply equally to men or women. Either an elderly man or woman crossing the road in front of an impatient hoon might be called a “silly old cunt”. Anyone who lavishly courts the press could be called a “media whore”. “Bitch” and “bastard” are usually gender specific, but they carry about the same level of insult. Equally, “male” words can be just as readily applied to women. Dickheads and arseholes are not exclusively men.

So, instead of trying to beat up this week’s “old cow” comments about the Prime Minister as the latest blow to feminism, how about we tackle the real issue: the apparent acceptability of hate speech in public rallies, forums and online political discussions.

It’s been going on since at least the Howard years, or do we prefer not to remember that?