Sunday, September 2, 2012

Eve of Destruction

For much of the last 48 hours, Australian women have been talking about destroying the joint. Sounds like something Pete Townsend and his mates might've done to a hotel room 40 years ago. Instead, these are the words that radio shock jock Alan Jones used on Friday morning to describe our current Prime Minister, Victoria's former Police Commissioner and Sydney's Lord Mayor.

"She (the Prime Minister) said that we know societies only reach their full potential if women are politically participating," he told listeners.

"Women are destroying the joint - Christine Nixon in Melbourne, Clover Moore here. Honestly."
Is this really what Mr Jones thinks? That women are destroying the joint? That women are incapable of filling leadership positions? That it's wasteful to spend money on developing female candidates to participate in the political arena?

That's the context here. Mr Jones was joking with Nationals Senator Barnaby Joyce about the sale of Cubbie Station, Australia's largest cotton farm, to foreign interests. Mr Jones thought it would be funny to point out that the amount Australia had pledged to assist women in the Pacific Region would have saved Cubbie from falling to foreign ownership.

Incidentally, the audio isn't crystal clear, but it does sound as though Senator Joyce may have described Prime Minister Gillard's grant to help the women of the South Pacific into leadership roles as "putting it up against the wall." He's no fan of the women either.

And before we move from Mr Jones and Senator Joyce, I'm wondering where in the Coalition Handbook does it mention that the federal government should step in and buy failing businesses like Cubbie Station? It must be in there somewhere, because Mr Jones and Senator Joyce both see it as a viable option. If I was to whisper the words "state-owned farms" into Barnaby's ear, I'm pretty sure the images in his mind would be grainy black and white shots of toothless peasants digging potatoes for the Greater Good.

I still can't quite believe that anyone, anywhere in the world, would say that "women are destroying the joint". There is nothing acceptable in that statement.

It wasn't the only comment of that ilk made this week. Liberal Party Thought-Leader Grahame Morris referred to ABC journalist Leigh Sales as a "cow" because she pushed Tony Abbott during a television interview.

Let's apply the Reverse Test here. If the journalist had been a man instead of a woman, and the questions and tone had been the same, would Mr Morris have called him a cow? For that matter, we should apply the Reverse Test to Mr Jones comments too. It's no secret that he doesn't like women...

At the same time, the Republican National Convention in Tampa was trying to diffuse the idea that they were waging a war against women. Their key arguments to prove the non-existence for the war on women was that candidate Mitt Romney had employed women in key roles in his campaign team. In the frantic days of the Convention, no-one was able to ask why. No-one was able to ask if he was paying these women what he'd pay men in the same roles. No-one was able to ask about his view of the never-passed Equal Rights Amendment that's been floating around Washington for 40-odd years.

We do know that Mr Romney privately supported limited rights to abortion. He's said so, but he's also said the opposite. He objects to various women's health issues being covered in "Obamacare" - in fact he objects to the entire scheme - and he introduced a similar version in his home stats of Massachusetts, prior to the federal scheme.

It's only weeks since Republican Todd Akin exposed his ignorance by suggesting that rape victims rarely became pregnant because the female body would just stop that from happening. He's wrong to the tune of about 32,000 rape-related pregnancies per year in the USA, and has been chastised by Governor Romney for saying it.

Now, his statement has been defended by a female Republican Party official, Sharon Barnes, who said she believes Akin only "phrased it (his statement) badly."

Barnes was quoted by The New York Times saying, "abortion is never an option." Barnes went on to biblically claim that, "If God has chosen to bless this person [the rape victim] with a life, you don’t kill it."

No Ms Barnes, it wasn't phrased badly. Todd Akin's statement is factually incorrect. As for Ms Barnes' statement, I hesitate to use the word "bless" in relation to the product of violent sexual abuse.

Governor Romney's running mate Paul Ryan is far more conservative than even the Mormon Romney, which is one of the reasons he was selected. He is rock-solid in his anti-abortion stance, where his pro-life record was reported on Al Jazeera, earning screaming fits of rage from the Ryan-loving, Muslim hating Tea Party crowd. While he's not waging war on women, he also voted against the Fair Pay Act, and wants to make some forms of contraception, and IVF illegal.

It's chicken-and-egg question: are you a conservative because you have issues relating to women, or does being a conservative cause the problems with women? Probably neither; most likely, the conservative attitude towards women is just one of a complex series of values that defines conservatism.

I use the word "values" deliberately. It's a word most closely associated with conservative politics. Add the word "Christian" and you're defining the voter base of the Republican Party in America and to a lesser degree, the Liberal Party in Australia. I find the term "values voters" to define conservatives quite ridiculous: it suggests that the more progressive you are, the further to the left you move, the less "values" you have.

Oftentimes, the opposite is true. Those to the right, the conservatives, tend to be driven more by economic policy than issues of morality and ethics, while the true lefties are always concerned with values first. Lefties will vote according to policies on gay rights, the environment, and government support for the most vulnerable in our society: disabled, elderly, sick, poor, illiterate, and those outside our society via asylum seeker, refugee and foreign aid. These are the true values of most religions: hope, charity, generosity, sharing, loving.

How do conservative women sleep at night?

In any case, the question of a woman's place in society is still a dividing line between the political right and left in 2012. I'm genuinely appalled. I thought this fight was all but over. I thought we'd moved onto other, less basic fights: fat acceptance, anti-bullying, mental health, gay marriage. But I'm wrong, and we need the next generation of women activists - and our male supporters - to get this womens' issues back on the national agenda.

1 comment:

  1. The Mormon Church fought very hard against the Equal Rights Amendment back in the late 70s. Sometimes it seems we just really haven't come very far at all. Good article.