Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Orange Crush

Some blokes are blokey blokes. They like blokey stuff, and they like other blokes, but only in a blokey way. Other blokes are ladies’ men. Ladies men prefer to be seen in the company of women, and see other blokes as competition. Most blokes are somewhere in between, enjoying the company of both men and women, as appropriate to the circumstances.

At one end of the Spectrum of Blokeness is the archetypal Ladies Man, Mr James Bond. At the other end? It’s Opposition Leader Tony Abbott. He is a blokety blokety bloke’s bloke. That’s not to suggest that Mr Abbott doesn’t like women, or doesn’t get on with women, or doesn’t respect women. My care factor on Mr Abbott’s personal feelings about women in general and ‘his’ women in particular is non-existent in so much as it doesn’t matter a jot.

What does matter to Tony, and to me, is how women feel about him. Most of us don’t like him much. For a politician, that’s extremely bad because we are about half of the population, and in order to get elected, at least some of the women have to like you enough to vote for you.

Yes, you may now give me a lecture about the fact that he only has to win his seat and remain Opposition Leader for a crack at The Lodge. I know that, but we need to remember that plenty of people equate a vote for their local candidate as a vote for who they want to be PM. Opinion polls which track “Preferred Prime Minister” don’t help by making it seem as though we are voting for the PM.

As I was explaining, a lot of women don’t like Tony Abbott, and that is a problem in an election year. His whizz-bang team of media spinners and image makers have been grappling with the women-problem since Mr Abbott narrowly beat Malcolm Turnbull for the Liberal Leadership. It’s been really easy to tell when the team is terrified: out comes Mrs Margie Abbott and their three lovely daughters. The subtext is the impossibility of Mr Abbott disliking women when he spends his life surrounded by them.

Hogwash. There is no doubt that Mr Abbott loves his family, but how does that translate into female voters liking Mr Abbott enough to vote Liberal? It doesn’t. Strike one.

Peta Credlin is Mr Abbott’s Chief of Staff, a position which comes brings with it an extraordinary amount of stress and expectation. From all reports, Ms Credlin is doing a top job, except when it comes from neutralising her boss’s problem with the women. Ms Credlin’s answer was to sacrifice her privacy – some say dignity – and do an interview about her experiences with IVF. The focus of the article was the compassion and care that was shown to her by her gentle boss, Mr Tony Abbott. The theory was that if the women could only see what a kind and gentle man Tony really is, they would like him more.

Bollocks. I am yet to speak to a single woman whose opinion of Tony Abbott was changed by the Peta Credlin IVF story. Their opinions of Ms Credlin changed though. The perception of Ms Credlin as a successful young woman in a man’s world was replaced with a desperate woman who would sacrifice part of herself for her job, her male boss and her husband – who is, co-incidentally the National President of the Liberal Party. The net result was a negative impression. Strike Two.

And now, we must speak of the thing that should not be spoken of. Since Mr Abbott reappeared to launch his mini-campaign – which was promptly and comprehensively trumped by Ms Gillard’s announcement of the election date – he has been different. Where is the rugged blokey bloke who looks more at home in hi-viz lycra than he does in a suit? Where’s the stony face with the clenched jaw who stood silent and shaking while Mark Riley’s cameras recorded every cringeworthy second? Where the bloody hell is Tony Abbott?

As far as I can tell, he’s hiding, ashamed of himself, under an “expertly” applied layer of makeup. Girly bloody makeup. A highlighter around the eyes, a hint of pink on the lips, a close shave an orange gump that looks like it was sprayed on by his local volunteer firefighters. I’ve been saying for a few days on Twitter that I think he might have had a little work done – the wrinkles of a life in the Aussie sun are almost gone, yet the orange-o-tan has been turned up to 11. The hair is a little darker, a little longer, a little thicker than before. It could be dyed, it could be follicular implants, it could be a burgeoning comb-over with a decent spray of Final Net. I’m not an expert on how to turn an Action Man into a Metrosexual (do they still use that word?), but clearly someone is. Tony is a man transformed.

There are two groups of people who know a lot about the power of a subtle makeover to change the essence of a person: the marketing teams at cosmetic companies, and women. Yes, women. We know that slathering on the war paint each morning won’t change a damn thing – except possible our self confidence – and yet a lot of us do it every day for our entire adult lives. So will a makeover make Tony Abbott more attractive to women voters? Will a bit of a buff and shine make all of us – or any of us – turn into Tony fans? HELL No! Why? Because it’s obviously fake and we’re the experts at it. Strike Three.

Let’s just be honest here. Tony Abbott is a blokey bloke. At a backyard barbecue, he’ll be with the blokes around the barbecue. Why? Because that’s who he is. He appeals less to women than he does to men. It’s probably some elusive blend of the way he speaks and the way he swaggers and his reputation as a bloke who puts his fist through walls and whispers his Catholicism, and his marvellously bumbling attempts to make himself more appealling to women. Now, he's a blokey bloke wearing makeup.

Please note: This blog post is a policy free zone. Make of that what you will.

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