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Plibersek puts gender aside, gets teeth into health

AFR 14 Oct 2012, Joanna Mather

Senior Labor ministers said it was time to put the “gender wars” aside and get on with governing the country, as explosive accusations of sexism and misogyny continued to dominate politics and headlines over the weekend.

Health Minister Tanya Plibersek said the Prime Minister was right to call Tony Abbott out on the use of sexist language because it was part of a long term pattern of behaviour by the Opposition Leader. But she said she was focused on more important matters for the country, such as dental reform and the training of more doctors.

“Eventually this stuff builds up and the Prime Minister called him on it,” Ms Plibersek told Channel 10’s Meet the Press. “People are calling this the gender wars now. [But] it’s not the main focus of my political activism or my work as a minister. My main focus is getting through the big reforms like the dental reforms.”

Her comments followed a tumultuous week in federal politics in which Prime Minister Julia Gillard branded Mr Abbott sexist and a misogynist.

Ms Gillard was in turn called a hypocrite for backing former Speaker Peter Slipper after the opposition demanded he be sacked for sending offensive text messages referring to female genitalia.

Asked if she was offended when the opposition labelled her the “original member of the handbag hit squad”, Ms Plibersek said: “I don’t really care. The truth is that plenty of women in their workplaces put up with sexist language plenty of the time and sometimes you call people out on it and sometimes you don’t because you just want to get on with your job.

“I haven’t taken offence at that title because really I’m much more focused on talking about what’s in my port, what the government’s doing and the good economic numbers we’ve had recently and so on.”

Earlier, federal minister Greg Combet said Australians wanted politicians to stop the name-calling and get on with the job of government.

“It’s been a pretty robust week alright,” Mr Combet told ABC television on Sunday.

“But I think it’s important for us to get back on to the public policy issues that people are more interested in.”

People outside politics would “prefer politicians to get off name-calling and get on with the business of government”, he said.

Asked whether he thought Mr Abbott was a misogynist, Mr Combet said: “He’s a very aggressive, arrogant sort of fellow and he likes to lead a lynch mob.”

Opposition frontbencher Sophie Mirabella said the government had “totally over-egged” the sexism tag.

“Julia Gillard and the whole Labor Party voted to defend the indefensible,” she told Sky News on Sunday.

“Even Peter Slipper knew his position was untenable and Julia Gillard will wear that hypocrisy around her neck.”

Australian Greens leader Christine Milne accused Labor senator David Feeney of sexism.

Senator Feeney recently tweeted a series of pictures that feature the same image of Senator Milne with the caption, “the different emotional states of Senator Christine Milne”.

Senator Milne said there was a “huge sexist element” in the tweets.

“If you’re going to call it out, you have to call out sexism on all sides, regardless of who’s responsible and that includes David Feeney for the government,” she told Sky News on Sunday.

The Australian Financial Review

Wong calls for truce in gender war

Sunday Age October 14, 2012

PENNY Wong says there will not be a ''gender war'' following the Prime Minister's speech on sexism and has ruled out a rolling commentary on further examples that may occur.

The Finance Minister praised Julia Gillard's stand but said it didn't require her or ''any other woman [to] speak out every single time we think we hear something that's inappropriate''.

''Every day we have to make decisions about what we say, what we criticise and what we don't speak out on,'' Senator Wong said.

She said it was a ''difficult'' decision about when to speak out.

''Because you know what happens if you speak out too much, people do label you as a bit precious, or a bit of a whiner,'' she said.

Senator Wong's comments came at the end of a week in which debate has raged about Ms Gillard's speech, in which she labelled Opposition Leader Tony Abbott a misogynist.

Yesterday, Deputy Opposition Leader Julie Bishop blasted the Prime Minister for her ''vile slur'' against Mr Abbott and demanded an apology.

''[The Prime Minister] uses gender as a shield against criticism and she's using these vile claims of sexism and misogyny as a sword against her critics,'' Ms Bishop told the Liberal state council in Ballarat.

''Apparently Julia Gillard's 'angry speech' went viral. Would women around the world be applauding if they knew her speech was in defence of the indefensible? That she was defending a man who had made infinitely worse remarks … than anything she could drag up against Tony Abbott? [Her attack against the Opposition Leader] was a vile slur. She should apologise to the women in Tony Abbott's life who love him, and she should withdraw it.''

The new Speaker of the House of Representatives, Anna Burke, described Ms Gillard's speech as ''good'' but said she had ''certainly never had an issue with [Tony] Abbott's approach and his ability to deal with me in the position I've been holding''.

The Greens leader, Christine Milne, said that she hoped Ms Gillard would continue to name and shame instances of sexism but warned the Prime Minister not to ''make it a party political call''.

''Your own party has to be discussed too,'' Senator Milne said.

''Everyone is going on about Alan Jones and Tony Abbott and you've got David Feeney sending around the meme about me. There's the PM making a stand and here's David Feeney with nothing to do but get hold of a derogatory photo of me.''

Senator Feeney, the parliamentary secretary for Defence, tweeted a series of pictures between mid-September and early October that feature the same picture of Senator Milne with the caption, ''the changing face of Christine Milne''.

Senator Milne says the pictures are ''derogatory'' and demonstrate sexism is ''institutional across the political framework''.

Senator Feeney said they were a statement about the party, not Senator Milne.

Victoria's first female premier, Joan Kirner, also weighed into the debate yesterday, telling the ABC that she believed there had been ''a deliberate use of the Prime Minister's gender'' in political discourse, but that Ms Gillard's speech this week had been a positive step in the debate about how women in power are treated.

Gillard's man problem

Sunday Age, October 14, 2012, Michelle Grattan

The Prime Minister has an issue: how to gather the vote of older men.

JULIA Gillard doesn't have enough men in her life. Male voters, that is. We've heard a lot about Tony Abbott's problem with women voters - the polls document it and MPs report it from their electorates.

So what about the Julia story with men?

Since the 2010 election, according to Nielsen polling, Labor's primary vote has been 3 points higher, on average, among women than among men (32 to 29 per cent). The Coalition primary vote has been 3 points higher among men than women (48 to 45 per cent).

Gillard's approval has been an average of 7 points lower among men than women (36 to 43 per cent). Her man problem also comes through when people are asked who they prefer as Labor leader out of Gillard and Kevin Rudd: in September, Gillard's rating among men was 31 per cent compared with 42 per cent among women, while Rudd was supported by 60 per cent of men and 49 per cent of women.

The gender gap in voting is especially interesting on two fronts. Gillard is the country's first female PM. And her arrival in power saw the re-emergence, in different form, of a gender divide that had disappeared.

The gender story is told in Ian McAllister's The Australian Voter (2011). Historically, women were more conservative than men in their voting, but that changed as their life experiences altered.

From the 1970s, the gender gap started to close. In 1967, it was 9 percentage points - meaning women were 9 per cent less likely than men to vote Labor.

By the 1990 election (Bob Hawke versus Andrew Peacock), it was only 2 points, having declined steadily over the two decades. But then along came PM Paul Keating and it jumped to 6 per cent in 1993 and 5 per cent in 1996.

When you bracket Abbott and Keating together, it is easy to see what turns off some women voters - aggression. Keating was loved by the cognoscenti as a great practitioner of political theatre. But out in the lounge rooms of the nation, those high octane lines just sounded feral.

Once Keating had been dispatched, the gender gap fell to 2 per cent in the Coalition's favour in the 1998 election, and then declined to nothing in 2001, 2004 and 2007. In 2010, it opened up again - to 7 per cent - but now it was in Labor's favour, the first time that had happened in Australian federal elections.

Rebecca Huntley is a director of Ipsos, which undertakes qualitative social research. She also did her PhD on the gender gap in the 1983 and 1993 elections.

In focus groups ''older men are more uncomfortable with her [Gillard] than younger men'', she says. Men in their 20s, 30s and 40s are more likely to have had working mothers, women bosses, a woman in authority in their office team, than men in their 50s, 60s and 70s.

''The older men have been known to describe Gillard 'like a school mistress telling me off','' Huntley says.

She wonders whether some of the gender gap is policy driven. ''Do her policies appeal more to women than men?''

One big issue coming through from males in the groups is the two-speed economy, and whether enough help is being given to sectors that are suffering, especially manufacturing.

The carbon tax also might be more off-putting to men, she says. (Carbon questions in the July Nielsen poll showed men only very slightly more likely to be concerned than women.)

In general, Huntley says, it is hard to disentangle attitudes to Gillard as a female prime minister from people's disappointment in the Labor government. The former emerged as a negative only after people felt she was not doing a good job.

Strategists on both sides will be anxiously waiting for the polling evidence about the effect of Gillard's fighting speech last week labelling Abbott a misogynist. While it has been received with enthusiasm by some women, what will men feel about it?

Social researcher Hugh Mackay predicts that men who haven't signed up to the ''gender revolution'' of the past 40 years and still have the attitude of ''Why can't blokes be in charge?'' will be infuriated by it. But younger men and men influenced by their relationships with women are likely to be impressed, Mackay believes.

Tactically, Gillard is caught between the merits of adopting what might be dubbed a ''masculine'' style (slug it to them) or taking a more ''feminine'' consensual approach. Last week she went for the former. There was a certain irony in this, given that she was talking gender issues. When she gets into full fighting mode, Gillard has a touch of the Keating about her, which has its dangers but has appealed to feminist supporters.

One point is worth remembering in the debate about gender politics and the differences in gender support for the two leaders. There is cross-gender agreement among voters that they don't much like either of the present leaders.

Michelle Grattan is The Age's political editor.

Lying about sexism is fashionable

Samantha Maiden, Sunday Herald Sun, October 14, 2012

WHEN Tony Abbott's formidable chief of staff Peta Credlin was appointed to the job, critics muttered about the fact she was Liberal Party boss Brian Loughnane's wife.

Then, the rumours started that her job description included washing the Liberal leader's Lycra bicycle shorts.

The usual suspects insist sexism does not exist in Australian political life.

But the "joke" at a CFMEU union dinner about Tony Abbott and Credlin's relationship this week tells the lie.

It would have been a gracious gesture if one of those Labor Cabinet ministers who sat through the "gag", such as Treasurer Wayne Swan, had picked up a phone to call Credlin and personally apologise. Nobody did.

There is a grim pantomime in Australian political life whereby women are wheeled out to insist that they have never experienced sexism.

As soon as the Prime Minister sat down in her chair after her blistering speech in Parliament that attacked Abbott as a sexist and a misogynist, you could almost hear the rusty cogs moving in some brain-dead dinosaurs,

"Quick! what we really need is a woman insisting sexism doesn't exist !". Wouldn't that be an incredibly fresh, edgy insight? Really? I think not.

There's nothing more embarassing than watching women fall into line parroting this stuff. This is not about whether Tony Abbott is a twisted, woman-hating misogynist. He's not.

But any woman who claims to have never, ever, in 10, 20 or 30 years in the workforce witnessed sexism is either lying or needs glasses.

Deputy Liberal leader Julie Bishop doesn't go that far. She doesn't pretend sexism doesn't exist, though her answer on The 7:30 Report was instructive after host Leigh Sales asked if she had ever experienced sexism.

"Not that I'm prepared to discuss on national television," Bishop replied. Bishop's point about Julia Gillard was a more complex one: that she should not use the cry of sexism to inoculate her against legitimate criticism.

This is a fair point. But for generations of Australian women there was a code of silence about sexism.

This is why Gillard's speech resonated for many women, despite the indefensible context of her failure to dump Peter Slipper as Speaker.

Despite her own refusal to canvas her own experiences of sexism on The 7:30 Report, Bishop herself still dines out on the story of the Friday night drinks at an Adelaide law firm when she was a new recruit.

She tells the story she was the first woman hired who wasn't a secretary or a cleaner and was promptly asked to serve the partners drinks on Friday night,

Bishop is someone who gets sexism because she has experienced it.

She had her reputation trashed when she was in the Treasury portfolio as a lightweight and a moron.

But really can anyone seriously argue that Andrew Robb or even Joe Hockey haven't made unforced errors ?

Lying about this issue, however, remains very fashionable. The Prime Minister for example has clearly been doing it for years, which may explain her explosive, flawed, but fascinating evisceration of Abbott.

Gillard opened with: "I will not be lectured about sexism and misogyny by this man."

She was not only personally offended but offended on behalf of the women of Australia over Abbott's claim that abortion is the easy way out.

When she delivered her Keating-esque take-down of what she regarded as Abbott's double standards and confected outrage over Peter Slipper's text messages comparing female genitalia to shellfish, she dropped the mask.

Yes, she was using an accusation of sexism as a political weapon. Yes, there was her own double standard - her pledge to "call" Abbott on sexism but not cut Slipper loose as Speaker.

The remark about Abbott checking his watch because he didn't like listening to a woman speak was stupid.

But this was personal.

After years of telling voters that she was doggedly getting on with job, untroubled by the endless, daily attacks on her, some of which are deeply sexist, Gillard offered Parliament an angry confessional.

Every day in every way to use her own words, when she smiled and said the attacks didn't trouble her, we now know the truth.

She was lying.

Gillard sexism debate

James Campbell, Sunday Herald Sun, October 14, 2012

BY NOW we have heard enough I think about how the ladies felt about Julia Gillard's savaging of Tony Abbott on Tuesday.

Some have written they loved it, some that they loathed it. Some felt she had finally stood up for women, others that she had let down the cause.

The only word to describe the widespread reaction was "visceral" -- in that much over-used word's true meaning of "relating to inner feeling".

And not just the women. It seems to have stirred something deep in the guts of men, too.

How else is one to characterise the hyper-ventilated response of the Sydney Morning Herald's Paul Sheehan?

Tuesday, Sheehan wrote, was the day when "the mask fell away" and Gillard came out "snarling", accusing Abbott of having a hatred of women, a man he said -- before his paper deleted it -- "who unlike the Prime Minister, has raised three daughters".

Compared with that stuff, the response of our own Andrew Bolt, himself an occasional critic of the Prime Minister, was mildness itself.

He only said it showed she would reach for anything, "the gender card, the victim card . . . even the death of her father to claw for advantage".

And my own reaction? My response too was visceral. As I watched on Tuesday night, I found an involuntary and incoherent stream of invective escaping at full volume until my wife told me to pipe down and I had to leave the room.

How long are we going to have put up with this bloody woman, I railed -- her ghastly voice! Her insincerity! Her mendacity and her cynicism! Thoughts I must admit I have had before. The question I have been asking myself all week, is why did I take it so hard this time -- why that visceral reaction?

The reason, I have decided after several days sober consideration, is because it was a perfect example of almost everything women do when they are losing arguments that drive men crazy.

She changed the subject. The debate was meant to be about the wretched Peter Slipper and his fitness for office. Instead Gillard -- knowing she was on weak ground there -- attacked Abbott about the conduct of the Sydney Young Liberals -- something that had nothing to do with the subject at hand!

She brought up stuff he'd done years ago.

There was Tony motoring along thinking he had some good lines about shellfish and Gillard pulled out something he'd forgotten he'd said to a guy called Stavros back in the '90s -- ancient history!

She feigned outrage. On Tuesday Gillard was incandescent that "nobody walked out of the room -- no one walked up to Mr Jones and said that this was not acceptable" during his notorious after-dinner speech. But the evidence that Labor outrage is somewhat selective when it comes to the vile things said by after-dinner speakers was not long coming.

While Gillard was quick to condemn the CFMEU's star turn at their dinner on Wednesday night, I must have missed the bit on Thursday where she tore into her deputy Wayne Swan for sticking around to give a speech afterwards.

She pretended to be upset. You don't believe me? Check out the last two minutes of her timed-to-the-second performance on YouTube -- she almost breaks into a smirk with two minutes to go . . .

She didn't construct an argument, she just told Abbott how she felt. Sixteen times Gillard started a sentence with "I was offended".

Dropping how you feel about something makes argument impossible. How can you argue against a flat statement of emotion? Tell her to toughen up? Tell her you don't care? Your answers on a postcard, please.

She took his words out of context. Abbott never said her father died of shame. Indeed he spoke warmly of him in Parliament after his death.

He said her Government should have died of shame. Not the same thing at all. So saying, "My father did not die of shame" was totally irrelevant -- see above.

The look on Abbott's face was a study in male helplessness. Each time the camera cut away to him he appeared to be experiencing one of the many different emotions that pass through every man's head when confronted with female unreasonableness.

He looked angry, thought the better of it and tried to look bemused. He stared into space, finally checking to see if he had to put up with much more of this.

Big mistake, brother, big mistake. He was, Gillard snapped, "looking at his watch because apparently a woman's spoken too long".

Abbott would not have been male if his thoughts had not been similar to those of the man in the Kingsley Amis novel who reflects upon women's "seeming to be better and to be right while getting everything wrong, their automatic assumption of the role of injured party in any clash of wills, their certainty that a view is the more credible and useful for the fact that they hold it, their use of misunderstanding and misrepresentation as weapons of debate, their selective sensitivity to tones of voice, their unawareness of the difference in themselves between sincerity and insincerity, . . . their exaggerated estimate of their own plausibility, their never listening and lots of other things like that, all according to him".

Gillard's female fans should savour their girl's take-down of Abbott because I suspect she will come to regret drawing such a nasty caricature of a man who resembles millions of Australian men.

Why Gillard’s “smackdown” mattered to women

Susie O’Brien, Sunday Herald Sun, October 14

TOO many men only seem to like women on top if they’re both horizontal at the time.

This week a woman on top took on a man whom she claims doesn’t think women deserve to be in power.

While men wondered what all the fuss was about, many women around the nation cheered. They loved it when Prime Minister Julia Gillard said this about Opposition Leader Tony Abbott: ‘’I will not be lectured about sexism and misogyny by this man Not now, not ever’’.

Our first female prime minister had a Tootsie moment.

Julia Gillard was Dustin Hoffman as Dorothy Michaels standing up to her sexist boss, telling him: ``Shame on you, you macho sh*t head’’.

It was her Working Girl moment, when secretary Tess McGill stood up to her boyfriend, saying: ``I am not steak. You can’t just order me’’.

It was Lily Tomlin in Nine to Five telling her boss: ``Don’t you ever refer to me as your girl again. I am your employee as such and I expect to be treated equally with a little dignity and a little respect’’.

Most political commentators have misread this one totally.

I agree with them that Gillard is a flawed feminist hero because she made the speech while she was defending Speaker Peter Slipper.

Slipper, of course, later resigned after the derogatory and sexist texts he’d sent a former staffer made his position untenable.

But to a staggering number of women, that political context doesn’t seem to matter. They just desperately wanted to see a woman standing up for herself in order to make up for all the times in their lives that they didn’t stand up for themselves.
In their eyes, Gillard wasn’t just standing up to Abbott, but to all men who treat women badly. And you can’t deny Gillard has been treated badly. She’s been called a lying cow, a lying bitch and a horrible mouth on legs.
Cartoonists portray her as a prostitute, while bloggers make snide and offensive remarks about her pubic hair.
Gillard was speaking directly to all the women called ``cutie’’ by men as they serve them a drink in a bar.
She was speaking for all the women overlooked for promotion because they go home and look after their kids instead of bonding with the boss over Friday night drinks.
She was speaking for all the women demeaned and belittled at work on a daily basis.
Women like the fact that a female is in power, but until now they haven’t seen just what this can mean for them on a personal level.
Until now, Gillard’s had the keys to the sports car, but she hasn’t really taken it for a spin.
As I wrote earlier this week, unless a woman is standing up for other women and doing things that help women, there’s not much point her being in a position of power.
It was interesting that overseas writers grasped the significance of the speech long before commentators here did, with one calling Gillard ``one badass motherf*cker’’. It was no longer a speech, it was a ``smackdown’’ of epic proportions.
Of course, all that circulated around the globe on the internet was the 15-minute clip, devoid of political context. But that’s all they wanted to see.
The reaction by women to Gillard’s speech might have been surprising, but I am equally surprised so many men didn’t see it coming.
In Nine to Five Dolly Parton threatened to get her gun and change her boss from a rooster to a hen with one shot.
Gillard may not be packing heat, but a lot of women are happy to see her finally firing.

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