I would like to take a moment to remark on some utter nonsense recently propagated by a female member of the Liberal Party who should, quite frankly, know better.
Yes, I know I am making a massive assumption that one’s identification as a member of the female gender should positively incline one to line up behind policies that are, you know, actually effective in combating gender inequality. (Stop dipping into that last tin of sunny feminist optimism you’ve been storing in your backlash bunker since the 1980’s, I can hear you say. You may need it.)
And no, I’m not talking about Liberal Senator Jane Hume, who told the ABC’s Q&A on Monday night that she rejected quotas because women who wanted to “get there” should “work that little bit harder” – though I recognise that this should go down in the “I can’t believe a woman, even a card-carrying member of the Liberal party, said that” hall of fame.
I’m talking about the Victorian Liberal Shadow Minister for Families and Children Georgie Crozier, who earlier this week put her name to a patently false and clearly designed to confect outrage press release suggesting that Victorian councils were planning to “ban” books that failed a gender “audit”. Even the terms “boy” and “girl”, the press release suggested, would be relegated to the dustbin of history.
Within hours, the story was completely and thoroughly debunked by the Municipal Association of Victoria.
“There will be no book or toy bans. Kids will continue to read childhood classics like Thomas the Tank Engine at their local library, kinder and childcare centre. We want to expand — not ban — the types of stories accessed by our kids to show experiences beyond gender stereotypes,” said Mary Lalios, the President of the Association.
Well that’s sorted, right? Unfortunately, as is often the case with these things, it was too little too late. The story had already spread like wildfire, featuring on Sky News, news.com.au and in a now infamous segment on Sunrise, which readers may recall recently covered itself in fact-based journalism glory with a segment debating the relative merits of another stolen generation.
So now that we’ve cleared that up, I don’t feel it’s necessary to add to Van Badham’s excellent analysis in the Guardian, in which she outlined why challenging limiting gender stereotypes is a good thing. Not “banning” but expanding children’s role models and encouraging them to be critical consumers of media; which has been awash in a sea of outdated ideas about what boys and girls can do, for too long.
Most sensible parents got that memo a long time ago. I was born in the 1970’s and owned a dog-eared copy of Free To Be You and Me. And I, along with many of my peers, could easily recall the words to “William Wants a Doll” from the accompanying platinum, yes platinum, selling album.
Flash forward to 2018, and the market has once again spoken. Children’s books like “Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls” and “Ada Twist Scientist” are best-sellers. Clearly there’s an appetite among many parents to challenge rigid stereotypes and offer their children a wider array of role models through literature. (If you won’t listen to me, a pesky feminist, listen to the market.)
So this isn’t really new, and it certainly isn’t revolutionary.
Instead, I would like to return to my original point about how inexplicable and self-defeating it is when this kind of nonsense, and the aforementioned nonsense about how we should reject quotas in favour of women “working harder”, comes from the (far too few) women in the Liberal party. And to that end, I would like to focus on Georgie Crozier’s quote in the offending press release.
“Boys should be boys, girls should be girls and academics should be academics and not political activists,” said Crozier. “Any government funding should be focused on interventions to prevent family violence and support of victims and not radical gender-based theories.”
Let’s just focus on those last four words, “radical gender-based theories”.
Is it really so “radical” to want our children, boys and girls alike, to grow up free of harmful and limiting gender stereotypes? Is it really so “radical” to recognise that a wealth of international evidence shows societies with a rigid adherence to gender stereotypes have higher rates of men’s violence against women and combating these stereotypes must be part of an effective, multi-faceted strategy to prevent it? Come to think of it, I seem to recall that the Victorian Royal Commission into Family Violence came to a similar conclusion after a lengthy and thorough assessment of the evidence.
“Radical gender theory”? I think not.
I am just sick and tired of those of a certain ideological persuasion invoking the spectre of “radical gender theory” or in the case of quotas “socialist collective action” in an attempt to smear and undermine support for what is just good, sensible evidence-based policy to address issues of vital importance to women, including men’s violence against them and the gross under-representation of women in the senior ranks of almost every profession and in politics.
But more importantly, the deployment of the women in its ranks to spread these ideas/smears illustrates the Liberal party’s fundamental misunderstanding about the nature of its well-documented “woman problem” and how it could, and should, effectively leverage the women in the party to address it.
I have written on many occasions about the Liberal party’s extensive internal naval gazing about its “woman problem”, which was recently summarized in this report released by the Menzies Research Centre, Gender and Politics Report: 2017 Update.
And I have also repeatedly remarked how unfortunate I think it is that all this naval gazing seems to have produced the Eureka realisation that the answer is to simply get “good Liberal women” in Parliament because “retail appeal” requires a diverse team. In short, what’s needed is window dressing.
The penny doesn’t seem to have dropped that it is not simply an issue of optics and who is delivering the message, it’s a matter of substance. It doesn’t matter if it’s a man or woman espousing policies that hurt women, or, as was more recently the case, actively undermining efforts to address an issue that for far too many women is a matter of life and death.
Reaching back into my sunny feminist optimist tin, I believe the women voters of Australia are smart enough to know the difference.
So here’s my, very short, memo to the Liberal party HQ: It’s not the messenger, it’s the message. It’s no use deploying women to sell women voters a pup.
Kristine Ziwica tweets @KZiwica