It is fair to say that I have been rather unsettled by recent political events in Australia. For those of you who don’t know, there was a leadership challenge and as a result we got a new prime minister. There is a national election due next year, and some (mostly on the more conservative side) in the governing coalition party were concerned that the (deposed) PM was an electoral liability, i.e. not conservative enough. To cut a long story short, the challenge kind of backfired. While the PM was deposed, he was replaced not by the conservative-endorsed challenger but by the (deposed) PM’s own preferred candidate. The new PM, a bit of a strong man and quite conservative in his own right, was elected because apparently he could best unite the party.* But, you may ask, why did the conservatives’ own man not get up? Well, a majority of the party thought that he was too conservative for the Australian electorate, i.e. that they would lose the next election.
What gets me is that the third leadership contender was a “moderate” woman widely touted as the one most likely among the three contenders come election time, to be able to get her team into a winnable position. However, she got knocked out of the leadership ballot in the first round. Does anyone else see the irony here? A party already in government would rather jeopardise their chances in the next election for the sake of a man, rather than put their best woman and policies forward? Or maybe they got it right? Maybe the marginal electorates upon which the result of the next election hinges, won’t accept a moderate woman leader and/or a more inclusive value set? Time will tell.
As an Australian woman, and voter, this outcome smacks of sexism and this discrimination really offends me, particularly as it comes from a party that has always prided itself on its position that a woman will be elected if she is good enough (on merit). What also troubles me is that as part of this leadership challenge, some women (and possibly some men) were apparently bullied in an attempt to get them to vote for the conservative challenger. This begs the question whether there is a culture of bullying as well as sexism in the parliament? Lately a number of female politicians (of various persuasions) have come forward claiming they are regularly subjected to sexist comments and innuendo in and outside of the parliament, and that the situation is getting worse. Ladies and gentlemen, is this acceptable?
Earlier this year, my blogger friend, Martha Kennedy from I’m a Writer, Yes, I am!, challenged me to provide three quotes from 19th Century literature. The first novel I have chosen for the challenge is My Brilliant Career by Miles Franklin (1901). It seems particularly apt given my angst and disappointment. It is about a young woman, Sybylla Melvin, who wanted what most men (at least those with means) take for granted – a career, and a brilliant career at that. In essence, she wanted to be allowed to be the very best she could be in her chosen career irrespective of class, religion and sex. Here is how Sybylla saw her challenges:
“As a tiny child I was filled with dreams of the great things I was to do when grown up. My ambition was as boundless as the mighty bush in which I have always lived. As I grew it dawned upon me that I was a girl—the makings of a woman! Only a girl!—merely this and nothing more. It came home to me as a great blow that it was only men who could take the world by its ears and conquer their fate, while women, metaphorically speaking, were forced to sit with tied hands and patiently suffer as the waves of fate tossed them hither and thither, battering and bruising without mercy …
It was daily dinned into my ears that the little things of life were the noblest … It was all very well for great people to point out the greatness of the little, empty, humdrum life. Why didn’t they adopt it themselves? …
By the unknown way that the atmosphere of the higher life penetrated to me, so came a knowledge of the sin and sorrow abroad in the world—the cry of the millions oppressed, down-trodden, God-forsaken! The wheels of social mechanism needed readjusting—things were awry. Oh, that I might find a cure and give it to my fellows! I dizzied my brain with the problem; I was too much for myself. A man with these notions is a curse to himself, but a woman—pity help a woman of that description! …
Recognizing this, I turned and cursed God for casting upon me a burden greater than I could bear—cursed him bitterly, and from within came a whisper that there was nothing there to curse … I asked the Christians around me for help. Unsophisticated fool! I might as well have announced that I was a harlot …
Had my father occupied one of the fat positions of the land, no doubt as his daughter my life would have been so full of pleasant occupation and pleasure that I would not have developed the spirit which torments me now … But in all the wide world there was not a soul to hold out a hand to me, and I said bitterly, “There is no good in the world.” In softer moods I said, “Ah, the tangle of it! Those who have the heart to help have not the power, and those who have the power have not the heart.”
Bad, like a too-strong opponent in a game of chess, is ever at the elbow of good to checkmate it like a weakly managed king.“ (pp 61-67).
At 17, I naïvely thought that women could have it all; could change the world. At 50, I feel ripped off. Worse still, it feels like I’ve been teleported to another time. No-one can have it all with no cost, but I don’t expect this lack of regard (and recognition) for our women politicians in the 21st Century.
We did have a lady PM at one point. She defeated a man in a leadership challenge and was subsequently defeated herself. She gave the famous ‘misogyny’ speech. At the same time, a man’s man’s star was rising. Known for his negative politics and conservative views, Australian politics and the Australian polity hasn’t been the same since. Politics, as they say, is a nasty business.
Still, I wonder if not choosing a woman leader this time will cost the government the election? Because you know what? We women are not nothing. We matter.
*The prime minister is elected not by the people or the parliament, but by members of the governing party (or governing party to be). Government is formed by the party that wins a majority of the seats in the lower house (this may or may not represent a majority of votes).