Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Sexism in the Australian parliament - what are your views?

I generally don't do blog posts like this. I like to keep my blog a happy, warm fuzzy crafty creative place with minimal confrontation or arguments.

But I've been following the issue of "sexism in the Australian Parliament" with great interest. I was proud when Julia Gillard became Prime Minister at the last election. Yes, she made compromises with the Greens and Independents to secure Labor's position, but this doesn't change the fact that she is our first female Prime Minister. And regardless of what she achieves, when my daughter doubts her role in this world I can tell her that she can be anything including Prime Minister of Australia. We need to acknowledge that this is a significant point in Australian political history and we need to give her the respect that she and every Prime Minister before her received and deserves.

So what does it say to my 5 year old daughter when the leader of the opposition and several of his ministers stands up in front of signs calling the Prime Minister a bitch? Is this showing respect for someone who is our Prime Minister? Does being in opposition give you the right to be this rude and disrespectful to someone who has been voted in by the Australian public? When has it become acceptable and mainstream to continually argue gender and personality over policy in the parliament? Is this the example we want our future leaders to learn from?

From time to time I hear people talk about the unacceptable behavior of our younger citizens. I would propose that you take a look at how our politicians are acting, they are the one of the many role models that these kids look to for what is socially acceptable.

Every time they switch on the news they are greeted with inappropriate behavior that shows no respect for others. I am sure that when Voltaire said "I may not agree with what you say, but I will always defend your right to say it", he was talking about ideas and not personal attacks on gender. Regardless of who you voted for, I believe that if our students are continually shown that it is "Ok" to publicly call an elected leader "a bitch", what is stopping a 15 year old kid from disrespecting their teachers and/or parents? This vendetta about the authenticity of the Prime Ministers role is distracting the Australian public from talking about real issues that need to be worked through. I'd love an economist to do the calculations on how much parliament time is taken up with petty infighting - what is it worth to the Australian public in dollars?

And then there is the issue of Mr Abbott being branded as sexist. Is he just acting as every other male of his generation acts? Putting my teacher hat on, I wonder if our senior girls understand what is going on? I wonder if their parents have talked through the current issues with them. Or have they just brushed the issue aside? How do we challenge this behavior in our schools and institutions if as a society we are saying that this behavior is unacceptable from our politicians?

Do we need to promote and model female leadership in our schools in a positive way to counteract these damaging media images?  Do students need to see their school leaders, male and female, debate a topic respectfully? Being sexist or misogynist is more than just holding a door open for a women (which I have no issue with as I hold doors open for men and women all the time). Being misogynistic is the behavior that undermines and oppresses the equality of genders in our society. Fifty years ago most of it was behind doors, now it is out in the open for all to see but we are not standing up and saying "enough is enough".

As Margie Abbott says in her speech about "The Joy of an Ordinary Life", "I believe a disservice is being done to women when the gender card is played to shut down debate about policy." Although Margie says this sentence implying that Labour is doing her husband a disservice, but the sentence can be applied to both sides of parliament. I don't doubt that Tony Abbott loves his wife and is surrounded by strong women, but the "media grabs" that filter through to the female students that I teach, show that him and his party are disrespectful to 50% of the population. You can still undermines and oppresses the equality of females in our society and still love your wife and kids. You can still raise funds for ovarian cancer, yet oppress the role and opportunity for women in politics.

I watched Q and A on Monday night. During the talk back program that aims to engage the Australian public in debate about a range of issues, the twitter back channel was going wild. Throughout the program Christopher Pyne spoke over Kate Ellis every time she went to answer a question. Some might say that this is sexist, or evidence of misogyny, but it was just plain bloody rude and showed no respect for her as a participant of the show. What was more disappointing was that the host,Tony Jones' lack of arbitration of the rudeness.

One of the pieces of evidence that Christopher Pyne gave for Tony Abbott not being sexist was his support of the Coalitions paid parental leave program. As someone who has two kids, if either government wants to support women and families then they can support their return to work providing subsidized childcare, flexible maternal health access and bulk billed medical/dental services for children under 5. The first two years of parenthood are hard, even the opposition leaders wife Margie Abbott admits this. Harder than any other job I have done and women or men returning to the workforce during this time need to be supported. I don't think that the answer is to pay them to keep them at home or out of the workforce (sounds a bit oppressive, don't you think?), but provide the services that allow them to re-define themselves after this tumultuous time and become productive members of society whether they receive paid work or not. If you opt to take time off from work after having a child, then quite frankly, it is your decision. But at the same time you shouldn't have to feel as if you need to return to work to pay for medical bills for your children. We live in a society where women have the choice over their bodies as to whether they should have a child or not. If you embark on that adventure, then it is your choice. I think that it is unreasonable to then turn around and expect society to pay your career wage for 6 months.

The issue of sexism in the Australian Parliament came to a head yesterday with private "SMS Text" evidence that was released into the media that painted Peter Slipper as being disrespectful to women. The oppositions insistence that he stand down triggered a brew-ha-ha in parliament that saw Prime Minister Julia Gillard come out with her fighting gloves on. Often many of us use "SMS text" as a replacement for real conversation. I can recall countless times at parties or informally when friends had made similar comments about female genitalia jokingly. Do we take these comments more seriously if it is recorded? "SMS text" removes the context and emotion of the comment and the lines are being blurred between what we do offline and online. Most friends agree that it was inappropriate and that it was a silly mistake and I assume that Slipper thought his conversations were private, if he had said those things privately offline would it be an issue? The funniest thing about this is that many teenage boys and young men will probably question what Slipper is actually referring to given that Australian media laws prevent dirty magazines from showing women in their more realistic and anatomically correct form, preferring them to be airbrushed so that they are "nice and neat". Hungry Beast did a great show on "The Perfect Vagina" which is worth a watch if you get a hold of it. Once could argue that these current media laws oppress women ..

So if my daughter comes back to me and says, "Mum I want to serve my country", do I tell her that she needs to develop a thick skin or do I teach her to be as despicable and rude as the men she will encounter in parliament. Do I show her this article (adult content, graphic examples) that highlights the sexism that exists in our country towards women in power ? Tell her that she will need to cope with people calling her a bitch publicly, asking her if and when she will have kids, lest her ovaries will impact on her ability to serve her country?

But if my son says that he wants to serve his country, will I give him that same speech?

What do you think about the issue? Fire away ...

1 comment:

Sam Squirrel said...

You raise some fantastic points here, my friend! YES, you can be sexist, and love your wife and kids.It is not okay to oppress the rights of some women, while saying that you expect more for your own daughters.
And with your teacher hat on, I am guessing year nines would look a picnic compared to managing question time. The aggressive posturing by some politicians would at least be less of a surprise coming from 15 year olds, though no less disappointing.
And while we are still asking if we would have the same conversation with children of different genders about the opportunities open to them in life, and the answer is such a resounding no, we are living in a sadly unequal society...